COVID-19 RESPONSES

COVID-19 — PERMACULTURE RESPONSES

QUESTIONS for DISCUSSION on UNDERSTANDING & RESPONSES

 

USING PERMACULTURE PRINCIPLES

 

1)  Observe & Interact – creatively interact with people and the planet

The 1st step is to observe and collect information on our time and place, given the spread of a very infectious but not that lethal virus.

What is happening, and what are the direct impacts of this coronavirus on people, government policy and businesses.  Given the rapid (hard and fast) roll out of a ‘suppression’ lockdown approach, how are people responding, how effective and well thought out is the government response as we go through this lockdown? What is happening at a local community level, and where are there gaps in information and support?

What are the initial reactions and how diverse are they? How can we personally improve our access to information?

2)  Recognise Patterns & Pulses – the patterns of natural processes and their pulse dynamic

The 2nd step is to use pattern recognition to provide a wholistic overview and an understanding of the particular system dynamics of this virus/lockdown bio-social ecosystem.

What can we foresee about the longer term implications of this  ‘suppression’ lockdown approach and how people, governments and businesses are going to respond as the lockdown continues?  (A ‘mitigation’ community empowerment approach would be very different in actions and consequences)

What are the likely longer term consequences, especially those that are not been recognised or thought about by governments or the financial/corporate elite?  (From what we can tell.)

What are some likely changes in the patterns of responses?

Continue reading COVID-19 RESPONSES

EQC INQUIRY

PUBLIC INQUIRY into the EARTHQUAKE COMMISSION

SUBMISSION TO THE INQUIRY

 

BACKGROUND:

I am a professional engineer practicing in the field of Natural Environment engineering, including the assessment and mitigation of natural hazards, mostly concerning flooding, erosion and land slipping. For the last 30 years I have worked as a consulting engineer on catchment and river management issues throughout New Zealand, including hazard assessment, design and construction of works, water and soil resource investigations, the evaluation of environmental effects and economic impacts, and the management of assets.

I am a Fellow of EngNZ for: “his role in designing flood management schemes that harmonise with the natural environment. He has led the development and dissemination of an approach based on working with nature by understanding natural behaviour and the form of waterways, and then adding channels or fairways that augment rather than modify the natural behavoiur.”

I also provide a permaculture design and advisory service, and facilitate and tutor permaculture courses and workshops. I initiated the forming of a permaculture emergency response team, and was part of a small team that responded to the Christchurch earthquakes by providing information and guidance on compost toilets as an option, given the damage and disfunction of the city sewerage system.

With my partner, we manage a small 50 hectare property, with a diverse range of farm and forest activities, following the practices and methods of organic and biodynamic agriculture.

My academic qualifications are: Bachelor of Engineering (Civil – Hons 1st), Bachelor of Science (Physics) and Master of Commerce (Economics – Hons 2nd).

Continue reading EQC INQUIRY

PATTERNS

NATURE’S PATTERNS

SPIRALS OF CONNECTION

A pamphlet about the patterns of nature that guide our perception and our understanding of the world we live in.

 

It starts with the following prologue:

The patterns of nature are all around us, and we have the ability to perceive and understand these patterns because we are a part of nature.  Or we should be able to.
But our world has been greatly modified by our technology and the power and control it gives us.  The world many of us live in is, thus, a very constructed and artificial one, of an urban-industrial world.  The world we live in and learn about has, then, a manufactured character where the rules (about knowledge and behaviour) are set by cultural conventions and beliefs
Central to this constructed world of humanity are beliefs about progress and growth, human-centred growth of material consumption and comfort, based on attitudes of exploitation and individual self-seeking.  ‘Nature is outside of us, and there to provide resources and services for us.
This presents us with a dilemma if we want to understand the ways of nature, of the world we do, in fact, live in.  To appreciate and understand the patterns and processes of nature we have to have an intimate engagement and awareness of the world around us, as a fully connected being of that world.  To be fully connected and intimately engaged, however, we have to appreciate and understand the patterns and processes of life on Earth, the place we inhabit.
Humanity has, though, studied and reflected on its place, for a long time, and there are guides and aids that can assist us in re-connecting and really engaging with the world we share with so many life forms, which are all inter-related in very complex and diversified ways.
Writing about the patterns of nature is an intellectual activity using the formalities of language and cultural conventions.  It can only provide some mental aids, but this can be a starting point for a real appreciation of the natural world we are part of.
We do have a natural ability to live in the world we are born into, and we can reclaim our natural heritage, to become a people of the place we live in, understanding and sharing it in a compassionate and responsible way.  Our technology does not have to be alienating and destructive, or our culture one of control and domination.
We can un-learn and re-learn, reclaiming our place in the natural world and our role as a connected and responsive part of the greater scheme of things that is life on this planet.

Reconnecting and experiencing our world in all its wonderful diversity and vitality is not only possible, it is a really practical way of bringing about a transformation in our lives, to a more balanced, healthier and creative way of living.  We just need to start doing it.
Then we will change, our worldview will change, and we can be part of the solution instead of the problem.

Download as a PDF

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PART 3 — “SHARING POWER”

COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE

COMMUNITY DECISION-MAKING & FAIR SHARING — THE POWER OF MANY – TOGETHER

How can we share power equitably, making decisions as inter-dependent communities of people, with engagement and respect, and for our common interests?

 

The third of three pamphlets outlines a governance system that is socially equitable and mimics the natural systems of our world.

It starts with the following prologue:

Democracy means people power, or rule by the people for the people.  But which of the people rule and for whose benefit?
In the large centralised nation states of our present world, where there is a form of democratic governance, it is one of a few people representing large electorates, who are easily influenced by lobbyists for the rich and socially powerful.
Where the social aims of these large states revolve around material consumption and comfort, and economic activity is controlled by private enterprises for ownership profits, politics becomes subservient to economics and the power of money and wealth or capital.
Social aims and economic activities are, though, defined and directed by laws, standards and regulations that are decided through governance structures and political processes.

Power can be taken by force of arms, intellectual prowess or emotional manipulation, but fundamentally it has to be given, however begrudgingly — orders have to be accepted.  It does involve an imbalance, but the needs of all parties do have to be considered  in some way to sustain the arrangement.
The tools of power may be superior weapons and extensive surveillance systems, but social power is a matter of belief and imagination.  It depends on stories of origins and purpose, and ultimately words can be more powerful than guns.
This basis in imagination allows both great extremes of power and sudden radical alteration.
Can a participatory democracy, based around collaboration and cooperation for the common good, have a governance system that is socially resilient and allows large complex societies to be dynamically stable?
The present crisis of political economy can provide the opportunities, provided we have formed the seeds, to sprout vigorously in the social clearings.

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PART 2 — “LIVING IN OUR WORLD”

NATURAL ECONOMICS

LIVING with SENSITIVITY & RESPONSIBILITY — PLACE & PEOPLE CONNECTED

What is our relationship with the world that sustains and nourishes us, and how do we act and interact in a healthy and productive way?

 

The second of three pamphlets outlines a possible and internally consistent economic system based on the patterns and processes of nature, where we are one part of a much greater whole.

It starts with the following prologue:

There should be less spending on weapons of war and more on humanitarian development.
There should be enough food in the world to feed everyone.
There should not be any poverty.
Kids should not go to school barefoot and hungry in an affluent society.
There should be a restraint on the use of fossil fuels, and a reduction in our output of carbon to the atmosphere.
We should reduce our ecological footprint and protect the habitats of other species.
Food should be nutritious and healthy.
We should be able to swim in our rivers and fish in our seas.
Governments should listen to their people.
Legal systems should be just.

There are lots of ‘shoulds’.

But wishing or desiring is not reality, and is not realising.
There are good reasons why things are the way they are, and much of it has to do with the economy.
“It’s the economy, stupid.”
But it is a rapacious and highly exploitive economy with an in-built driver of economic growth.
An economy controlled and managed by corporations for private profit, where everything is a commodity to be bought and sold.
An economy driven by financial power, to give excessive wealth to a few from unearned income.
Without fundamentally changing the way the economy works, all attempts at social redress and a fairer sharing will, sooner or later, fall flat. Repeatedly.

There is a disconnection between our way of life and the economy that provides it, and the ways of nature and life on planet Earth.

To understand an economy that allows and encourages us to live in partnership and with respect and responsibility, we have to understand nature.
This means we have to reconnect.
Then we can envision a natural economics, of healthy sustenance and good living for all.  
An economy that is constructive and regenerative, providing sufficiently for our needs, while maintaining the ecosystems and habitats of our environments.

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PART 1 — “THE CHALLENGES OF OUR TIME & PLACE”

COMMUNITY DEMOCRACY

TO BE A PEOPLE OF OUR PLACE — WELL NOURISHED in BODY, MIND & SPIRIT

What is the character of our place and period, the conditions of our lives as human communities in the present age?

 

The first of three pamphlets sets the scene about our time and place, and its social conditions, trends and influences.

It starts with the following prologue:

If the water in a glass is half way, it is half full to an optimist and half empty to a pessimist.  Or so they say.
But being a pessimist or an optimist is just a state of mind, and is irrelevant to the reality of the situation.  When it comes to the crunch, what is important is being realistic.
Whether the level is half way is also not really the point.  What matters more is whether the level is rising or falling.  It is the direction or trend that is informative, with life being about change and processes not static states.
We live in the present, with the conditions of our time and place, but with imagination we can foresee trends and patterns of change.  This allows us to be responsive and proactive, and thereby more capable and creative in the way we live our lives.

If we look at the ‘glasses’ of our time and place, many are reaching empty, while some are overflowing.  There are severe imbalances, which have a very destructive potential.  Life is all about exchange, and the continual cycling of energy and nutrients through all parts of the whole integrated system.  Excessive accumulations and over consumption by some parts at the expense of others is distorting, and brings forth countervailing forces of destructive cleansing and re-balancing.
We respond to our excesses, or we are destroyed.
The present human population and its consumption is clearly an excessive burden on the world and life on planet Earth.
Where are the responses to this excess?  Will people respond sufficiently, and say, “Enough.”  Or will we suffer a destructive cleansing by the forces of the Earth, with a withdrawal of support from the ecosystems of life?

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TRANSFORMATION

There are different processes of change in nature.  Some are more gradual and progressive, with small step changes, and others involve radical reformulations or transformations into quite different states or functional arrangements.  The dynamic and system implications are very different, and as with much of nature, there tends to be an oscillation between progressive or gradual change and radical or transformative alterations.

When the system driving forces become especially intense, or feedback adjustment measures become overloaded or dysfunctional, then the system may be driven towards a breakdown, which then allows a radically different system to establish.

Are we, in our living systems, in a time of such strong forces and expansionary processes towards a transformative dis-junction and alteration?  What then are the processes of transformative change.

 

TRANSFORMATION — OF BODY, MIND & SPIRIT

 

THE UNIVERSE

Let’s start with the Universe.

The universe exists because there is change, a movement and exchange between entities that are different.  Difference drives changes, which generates further differences (in a fractal expansion).

Difference ⇔ Change

Difference involves polarity or distinction, with exchanges between polar opposites.  These oppositions, though, become increasingly intertwined as exchange systems develop.

Polarity ⇔ Exchange Systems

Life is a creative development of differences and generator of change.  Life comes from connection and exchange developing difference and diversity.

Connection & Exchange ⇔ Life ⇔ Evolving diversity

This dynamic becomes increasingly complexified as connections are made and exchange becomes more and more systemised, with multiple relationships at varying levels, and diverse feedback loops.

Continue reading TRANSFORMATION

CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKES — COMPOST TOILETS

This article was written about our actions in Christchurch after the damaging earthquakes, as a voluntary response, to bring information we had about compost toilets to people who were unable to use their flush toilets because of the damage to the centralised city sewer system.

It may well be useful to you if you find yourself in the same circumstance!

 

COMPOST TOILETS

THEIR USE AS AN EMERGENCY RESPONSE IN CHRISTCHURCH

 

INTRODUCTION

There have been many responses to the earthquakes in Christchurch from people outside the region.  A network of people interested in a permaculture response to emergencies was initiated following discussions at the annual permaculture hui in Raglan during April last year.  Within 6 months, the first large earthquake affected the Christchurch area.

Following the devastation of the February earthquake, there was an informal and personal response by some members of the permaculture emergency response network to demonstrate an emergency use compost toilet to local communities most affected by the loss of the city sewer system.  A simple bucket method was developed, which was easy to use with locally available materials, and contained the human manure until it was well composted.  Simple, contained, hygienic and recycling our ‘wastes’ as beneficial resources.  A website was also set up: www.composttoilets.co.nz to provide and share information.

There was major damage to infrastructure services in Christchurch, with the sewer system in particular suffering major and very extensive damage.  There was not going to be a quick return to normality, and ‘flushing it away’ could be to your own garden or to the street or nearby waterway.

An emergency kit includes stored water and food, among a range of personal items, but when we take stuff in, other stuff comes out.  Toilet paper and a bucket is about as far as most preparedness advice goes for our most basic ‘call of nature’.  So what do you do when the municipal sewer system is busted apart, and the ‘flush out of sight’ no longer works?  This has been the case in many parts of Christchurch for over six months now.

Over time, requests from local communities resulted in a series of workshops on emergency compost toilets, with increasing interest from people (and the media).  Recently, there has been some real interest from local authorities and organisations.

These workshops have been organised and undertaken by the following members of the emergency response network (in no particular order):  James Bellamy, Lisa Johnston, Matt King, Gary Williams and Felicity Yellin.  They have been supported directly and indirectly by many other people, not least their families and friends.

From this experience, the workshop approach and content has been refined, and is now being taken to other communities around New Zealand, starting with Whangarei and Wellington.  The workshop includes a practical hands-on demonstration of the emergency compost toilets.

The permaculture emergency response network now has a project on its books, and the start of a track record.  This project was undertaken on a voluntary basis by everyone involved, as neighbourly assistance where a real need was evident and we could provide a realistic and practical option.  The direct travel expenses have now, though, been covered by a generous donation from the members of the permaculture movement, through its coordinating council.

Continue reading CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKES — COMPOST TOILETS

WATER — Medium of Life & its vitality

The basic (physical) necessities of life are air, water, food and shelter.  We can live only a very short time without air to breathe.  Water we need regularly, while we can live for weeks without food, if necessary.  Our bodies are mostly water, and water is used to mediate all our bodily exchanges, transporting life-giving nutrients to all our organs and cells, while carrying away toxins and wastes.

Air and water are the great transporting and mixing media of life on planet Earth, that allow plants to thrive, while staying in one place.  Air blankets the Earth as an atmosphere of gases, which circulate through the heat of the sun and climate processes.  Water circulates through the processes of the hydrological cycle — as water vapour in the air, as liquid water on and under the surface of the Earth, and as solid ice or snow at high latitudes and altitudes.

Air and water are both energised and purified by these circulatory processes, and these processes and the nature of air and water can be adversely affected by the pollution of excess.  There is also an essential inter-connection between these physical processes and the ecological systems and networks of life.  The nature of the air and the complex states of water on the planet arise from, and are dependent on, living processes and eco-systems.  Water can have many ionic states, and form molecular links and networks that reflect the substances in it.  Water is the most universal of solvents.

The burning of fossil fuels over the last couple of hundred years, and the accelerating rate at which we have burned them, especially oil in the last 50 years, has changed the gas composition of the atmosphere globally.  The cheap energy this has provided has been used to build an industry and urbanisation that spew vast amounts of concentrated wastes and toxic materials into waterways and the oceans.  This water pollution is most obvious locally, but there are global impacts through the circulations of rivers, the oceans and the atmosphere, as there is with the pollution of the air.

The vitality, purity and availability of water is directly affected by the loss of forests and the degradation of soils by agriculture — which also affects the air, locally and globally.  The loss of riparian vegetation and habitats along the margins of rivers and streams alters the nature of the waterways, and affects the transport of sediments and nutrients, and their exchanges with groundwater and across floodplains.

Natural systems are full of exchanges, transitions from one state to another and storages, level on level, in a repeating and interwoven way.  Our human systems, to be healthy and sustainable, must be part of and mimic the natural systems that contain and support us.  Thus our water supplies and re-use of ‘waste’ water should consist of multiple systems at different levels, with different types and size of storage and a diversity of re-use through different processes.

Urban areas need some large central supplies and a distribution network, but the supplies should be diverse, including rivers, reservoir storage and groundwater, as well as direct rainfall collection.  For a robust water supply the distribution network needs to have in-built redundancy, with looped or multiple primary feeders and mains, connected to the different supply sources spread around the network.

The best storage is natural groundwater, which is facilitated by forests.  It provides a vast reservoir and distributes itself, through its flow through the ground.  It is a diffuse rather than a concentrated source, which can be taped into for small supplies spread throughout a town or agricultural area.  In dry climates and near the coast it is vulnerable to salination, and the removal of forests lowers groundwater levels generally, while also bringing the salts in the soil close to the surface.  Groundwater away from forested hills, and especially on alluvial or coastal plains can be very variable in quality.

Storing rainwater directly from hard surfaces in rainwater tanks or storage basins provides small-scale distributed storage, which can be used on gardens and for washing etc.  However, hard surfaces should be minimised, and shrub and tree areas maximised.  Mulching of gardens increases ground storage by improving rainfall infiltration and the retaining of soil moisture.

Rainwater is slightly acidic and is best used for washing our bodies, as our skin moisture is slightly acidic.  The best water for drinking is slightly alkaline (like the water in our bodies) and mineralised.  This water is supplied naturally by ‘relief’ springs, which arise from base rock materials as dense cool water, and by the forest enclosed streams that flow from them.  Drinking water is then better supplied separately from appropriate sources, and not as part of washing and industrial water.

The re-use of water, following washing and industrial uses, can be diverse and multi-functional, by having distributed and varied re-use at different scales.  The type and degree of treatment required before re-use depends on the initial use, for instance when natural and biodegradable cleaners are used, and the re-use.  Water used by a single family for washing and then re-used on their own garden has a very low parasite hazard, while the combined washing water from many households sent to a central treatment plant has a much higher health hazard, due to the mixing of microbes from many sources.

Thus, greywater from a household can be simply drained to mulched vegetation beds, following minimal storage for sediment deposition and scum removal.  Runoff from roads and paved areas can be directed to grassed or vegetated swales alongside, or to vegetated infiltration areas.  Contained wetland areas, with or without naturally contained sand filtration areas, can be used to treat road runoff and the greywater from a group of houses or ‘high quality’ industrial ‘waste’ flows, to allow re-use in community gardens and reserves etc.  As far as practical, re-use should be designed around gravity flow systems, with a cascade of ‘units’ along and down the contour.

This re-use fits in very well with the growing of food in towns, in either family or community gardens, and as public ‘orchards’ or food forests along reserve land and waterway corridors.

Toxic waste streams must be carefully treated, being mixed and diluted and then adequately treated before discharge to the natural environment.  Loading and the concentration of harmful substances is the critical issue, but in the end it is natural systems, mainly the reducing microbes, in the natural environment that will transform the ‘wastes’ and make them available for re-use again.  Maintaining healthy and robust eco-systems to do this is then essential for effective processing and re-use of our output ‘waste’ streams.

Air and water are common ‘resources’, which flow across private property and state boundaries.  Their management for our use and enjoyment must, therefore, be handled through community decision-making processes, which allow fair sharing and appropriate care.

MONEY – A Means of Exchange or Power?

Money makes the world go around — or so they say.  We certainly like to get our hands on money, as it is so useful for obtaining a vast array of goods and services, without any other effort or contribution to the provision of those goods and services.  But how does money come into existence, who issues it, in what form and with what conditions?  If we earn some money, or we take out a loan, where does the money come from?

Money allows us to buy goods and services, it is a means of exchange, and facilitates exchanges between people or organisations that cannot directly trade goods and services that both parties to the transaction want.  It allows a complex economy to develop, beyond the constraints of direct barter and one-to-one exchange.  It has been around for a long time, as tokens, pieces of gold or silver and notes that represented an amount of gold or other valuable resource.  It can be a ledger entry of debits and credits, which record trades, as in local bookkeeping systems of Green Dollar exchanges.  Mostly these days it is ledger entries on the computers of banks, which allow the account holder to make transactions by debiting their account.

An economy basically facilitates the production and transfer of modified resources or information services, and this requires a means of exchange and some rules of ownership.  Ownership defines rights to natural resources and the products of economic modification, while a means of exchange allows multiple party transfers to take place across a social group or with other social groups.  When ownership is not held in common it gives rise to privileged positions, with an exclusiveness of access to or utilisation of resources, such as land, forests, water or minerals, while preferential access to money or loans also bestows privileges.

When we were hunter/gatherers obtaining our needs from the local environment without significant modification there would have been little trade, and no need for any formal money system.  Once we lived in settlements where there was an agricultural modification of the natural environment to obtain our food and other requirements of life, then rights of ownership developed, and trade became a significant part of an organised economy.  Civilisation gave rise to a privileged class that extracted production through rights, enforced by laws or force of arms.  Tokens that represented a bundle of goods or an amount of precious metal then allowed products to be purchased and exchanged for different products or services.  Warriors who enforced the laws and rights of the privileged could be paid in these tokens, as could other professionals who provided services valued within a given social group.

Over time money has taken on a life of its own, but there has generally been some constraint on the issuing of money or loans.  When money (as tokens, notes or bookkeeping entries) is backed by gold, then the people who have gold resources are in a privileged position, but the supply of money is limited by the amount of gold in circulation or stored in vaults.  Today there is no limit on the issuing of money, and governments (as low risk borrowers, given their rights to raise taxes from their citizens) can borrow more and more, as treasury bonds, without any direct constraint.

Over the last couple of hundred years, in the capitalist world, there has been an increasing privatisation of ownership and progressive extension of the market (of monetary exchanges), allowing money (as capital) to buy ownership and extract a surplus from more and more resources and services.  First land, then water rights have been privatised, and now air rights are to be privatised through carbon trading schemes.  Everything it seems has to be tradable and have a monetary value — and if not, then it has no value.

At the same time there has been, first, a separation of finance from entrepreneurship or company ownership, with investment loans being provided at a fixed interest rate.  Then there has been a separation of ownership and managerial control in large shareholder companies or corporations.  The return to financiers arises from the interest payments they receive, and they have no (economic) reason to be concerned about the nature or impacts of the activities of the companies they lend to.  Similarly shareholder returns arise from dividends, and they invest for the highest possible dividend or monetary return.  They often have little say about company activities.  There is then a profound disconnect between both finance and shareholding owners and the activities of these economic organisations.  The quality of their goods and services, and the social and environmental impacts are of no direct concern, their only economic interest is the return on their (monetary) investment.

Money has become paramount, and a commodity where money earns money.  The way to make money is through the mechanisms of money and ownership, as unearned income.  Payments for the investment of past earnings, or is it?

When a bank issues a loan it does not transfer the savings of other people into the loan account.  On the contrary, it creates the loan out of thin air, and then has the cheek to charge interest on that created money.  It’s called fractional reserve banking, which just means that the bank only has to have a fraction of the money it lends.  This loan then has to be repaid with interest, which for longer term loans may be as much or even more than the original loan or principal.  Where does this extra money come from?  To obtain it, further money has to be issued, which under current banking arrangements means more loans.  But those loans also have an interest charge.  In this way there is a spiralling expansion of the money supply, as further loans allow past interest liabilities to be paid off, but in doing so generate even more interest liability and debt.  The overall debt expands, and this expansion is cumulative, driving an ever-increasing supply of money.

The overall level of debt can be reduced by monetary inflation or through bankruptcy discharge or cancellation.  But if the money supply begins to decline, the capitalist world economy goes into recession.  In the end, the choice is depression or hyperinflation!

This debt issue of money then drives economic growth — regardless of sense or need, everyone must work harder (or longer) and consume more.  Technology is used to continually find new gadgets or high-tech services to match the additional money of this expansionary system.  Population and consumption growth allows the financial system to continue to operate and bleed off its interest and dividend returns.  A very small minority of people, the financial elite, then gain most of the money, and hence exchange power and access to resources.

We live in a financial empire, where control and privilege is exercised though the financial and banking system.  There is no need for armed forces, just the upholding of the law by the local police, then we can all be exploited like peasants or economic slaves.  We work in an economy based on hierarchy and dominance.  It is a dictatorship model, and any political democracy is sidelined by the power of money.

We need to rebuild a more diverse and community centred ownership structure, based on common, public and private forms, with a diversity of means of exchange, including gift and obligations, barter and local bookkeeping or note currencies, as well as wider state and international means of exchange.  The money system has no power except through our acceptance of it, and we can issue our own money for our own purposes.  Let us do just that, and turn our backs on the banks and their financial empire.