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Discussion: Permaculture and Capitalism

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th September 2013


This is only the introduction to the dialogue, see the original article for the full version. See also the earlier treatment of the same issue here.

Rafter writes:

“I’ve written before about the challenges faced by permaculture enterprises. Farms, like other land-based permaculture projects, are faced with the formidable task of regenerating ecosystems and communities, while surviving in a system that rewards the destruction of the same systems. Permaculture projects have to compete with degenerative enterprises and institutions that are happy to take the efficiency ‘bonus’ from unsustainable and exploitative practices.

The consequence is that it’s hard for permaculture enterprises to keep costs as low, and therefore people with less of an economic buffer, who have to minimize costs as much as possible, find it hard to support regenerative enterprises as consumers. That’s most of the world, in case you were wondering.

So the regenerative enterprises that we would like to create have a difficult time offering products and services that most people can afford, and most people can’t afford to support the regenerative economy. If we want real change, then this impasse demands our attention. We need new strategies for scaling up from gardens. We need new institutions – ones that can provide an interface between our regenerative practices and the degenerative economy.

Permaculture’s take on institutions is not as developed as its take on landscapes. This is probably not news to anyone – but it’s important to spell it out. While some attention has always been reserved for alternative institutions (e.g. Chapter 14 in the Designers’ Manual), the focus of permaculture’s principles, strategies, and techniques, has always been on the human-landscape connection, not the human-human connection. We have to look outside permaculture for more substantive insight on these questions.

Enter Emily Kawano, and the Solidarity Economy perspective.

Emily is the director of the Center for Popular Economics and the US Solidarity Economy Network, and works with the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy. I had the opportunity to teach with Emily last January, and I don’t mind saying that it was a little bit of a revelation for me. For the first time I felt like I was encountering a way of thinking about economics that resonates with the best of permaculture thinking.

I knew that it was going to be good when the subject of capitalism was introduced in an email discussion leading up to the course (thanks to Patrick Gibbs) The discussion soon turned to whether and how naming capitalism would serve the course, particularly in terms of the risk of alienating politically mainstream attendees. I found Emily’s contribution very useful, and I’ll reproduce some of that discussion here (with her permission).”

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One Response to “Discussion: Permaculture and Capitalism”

  1. Loclynn Says:

    What we need is language or better yet Memes that work on multiple leaves. We need to speak about watersheds, mycelium and the ecology of the pedasphre as a whole. We also need to expand our tent to include bio-tech and the transhumanist vision. Thus we might start by building an image of the future that focuses the drive of capitalism on the the health of the ecosystem.

    We need to think in terms of whole new ideas in design. The waters shed of any community is its life blood, thus design improvements in water capture, management and usage is the first step in community re-design. Permaculture needs to reach past the garden and into the whole formation of community. At the market level tons of food is thrown away into land fills from markets to food venders wait is a common theme. Composting, recycling and reuse should be the mandate of waist treatment.
    Think of all the folks out there who grow indoor house plants, now imagine an ethos in which all house plants were edible. Exchanging house plants for edible ones is a shift in cultural priority, but it is also a Meme. But this type of meme must get into a “Vanity fare or a Vogue ” magazine in order to reach the scalability we need. Thus permaculture needs o find ways in which it becomes fashionable.

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