Laine has a link to a post by Toby Hemmenway about whether permaculture is capable of providing us with self sufficiency, self reliance etc and even whether that would be a good thing.
I think he misses the point.
Permaculture itself is a response to the question about how long we can go on using the land in an unsustainable way. To be clear about unsustainability; it is the recognition that, if we continue along a path that we already know is unsustainable, then the path will fail and, when it comes to food production, people will die of starvation. Millions of people, no, hundreds of millions of people, will die of starvation.
Permaculture was developed in Australia in response to the very obvious reality that the Australian landscape is very, very poor in available resources for growing food for humans. It is short of water, its soils are depleted and getting worse. But anyone with a calculator can figure out that much of the world is heading in that direction.
I live in Bombay, if you drive from my place to Pukekohe you pass field after field of rich, dark brown soil growing tonnes of vegetables for the 1.4 million people in Auckland. What you may not see is that most of that soil is dark brown, but it is not rich. It is essentially a pace to prop up plants while farmers feed them fertiliser and water.
The fertiliser is all imported, and depends utterly on cheap, plentiful oil. The water is pumped from local streams and they are utterly dependent on this drought not lasting too much longer.
As well, the system that Toby, and all of us depend upon is financially broken. Every major transaction, the kind that brings us oil, or fertiliser, or 60% of our food in NZ, is wholly dependent on a financial system where letters of credit enable transactions to occur. They permit the process to proceed until payment is received. If we all, at every level, had to pay up front for every transaction, life would be very much smaller, harder and much less comfortable.
The GFC of 2008 occurred because the global banking system suddenly realised that it could not trust its members to pay on their letters of credit. It came very close to seizing up. Since then, instead of moving away from the massively leveraged debt that triggered the crisis, the world's decision-makers have doubled, then trebled the amount of debt in the system. That debt is now mostly held within banks who are using it to prop up their terminally sick accounts. The GFC is not over, as today's report from the Salvation Army shows, poverty in NZ, along with unemployment, ill health and homelessness are steadily rising. If our economies were "recovering" at all from the GFC, those things would not be happening. They are. There is worse to come.
Toby talks about how his work as an educator is a worthwhile thing and, as part of a community, at least as important as growing food. He is wrong. Yes, we need education, we need to learn many things, but there are severe limits to how much education we can afford in a shrinking economy and the benefits of that education. Especially when it comes at the cost of massive, crippling debts that mean young people can't afford homes, families or the taxes to support the elderly. But there are many more "jobs" that are much more optional. Manicurists? Marketing assistants? HR managers? Talk-back hosts and gameshow presenters? There are millions of people now "employed" whose work will become unnecessary or unsupportable as the costs of mere survival continue to rise. Feeding poor people is going to be the overriding challenge of the next stage of human occupation of this planet, because if we can't, we will very quickly find ourselves in the kind of turmoil that we currently, but increasingly nervously, call the Arab spring.
The drought in the US - you had heard that the upper 3rd of the Mississippi river is pretty much unnavigable because there is not enough water? Fortunately, because the grain belt of the central US is also not producing much food, there is much less to move these days. Much of what is not being produced is corn, source of corn syrup, an essential ingredient in a vast variety of foods which would otherwise be unpalatable.
Toby thinks that we might be faced with shortages of some foods from time to time. But with a failing letters of credit system, and massive losses in the corn syrup production, oh, and horsemeat in the food supply chain throughout Europe, we are being faced with much more problematic issues.
The whole point about Ooooby is that Pete Russell worked inside the global food supply chain and saw for himself how brittle and unreliable it actually is. Whether it is horsemeat or melamine in milk or the rising resistance to antibiotics in US food production, we are faced with an entire food supply system that we will learn not to trust. THAT is the crisis that permaculture, and those interested in self reliance/self sufficiency are really addressing, we have stopped trusting the system on which we depend to supply enough, affordable, safe food, and we are trying to do something about it.
Toby says that we can't be self-sufficient on our own and he is right, but we also need to ask at what scale we CAN be self sufficient. On a global scale, right now, the sufficiency part of that expression is falling apart. If the global economy can't be self sufficient, then we need to find some other form of living that can be. It is a Long, very long way away from the processes we now use to sustain our lives. Is the answer permaculture? I don't know. Permaculture itself can't prove that it can be permanent.
What I am certain of is that depending on an unsustainable system that is visibly breaking down is NOT a path to sufficiency. My best guess is that some form of permaculture will help us make the transition to whatever comes after the failure of our present system. But its still only a guess.
Its a bet. I'm betting my life on it. And, whatever way you choose to earn your livelihood and get access to food and living resources, so are you