Permaculture Basis of Design
In Permaculture we work to utilize different design disciplines and bring them under what could be described as the Permaculture Umbrella.
In section five (5) of our Permaculture Master Plan, we list out all the different areas of knowledge that we draw upon as Permaculture Designers to pay homage to the vast collection of work that has preceded our own.
The below is the listing which is used by Rak Tamachat in our Permaculture Design Consultancy. The list is not meant to be exhaustive and you may add to or take away what you need for your own Master Planning.
1. Permaculture Ethics and Principles of Design
2. Sustainable Agriculture Design
3. Regenerative Agriculture Design
4. Climate Mitigation Design
5. Catastrophe Mitigation Design
6. Natural Wealth Generation
7. Z.E.R.I. – Zero Energy Research and Initiatives
8. Community Building
9. Natural Building
10. Appropriate Technologies
1. Permaculture Ethics and Principles of Design
Entomology of Permaculture
Perma To persist throughout – Latin
Culture Those activities that support humanity
Permaculture A persistent conscious approach to support humanity
Ethics Enlightened self-interest – looking after yourself and the interests of others ‘…is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence…’
Aldo Leopold, The Land Ethic, 1949
Ethics of Permaculture
CARE OF THE EARTH – Rebuilding Nature’s Capital
The primary ethic
The earth is the primary client
CARE OF THE PEOPLE (CARE OF OURSELVES) – Nurture the self, kin, and community
If we can provide for our own basic needs, then we can care for the earth
RETURN OF SURPLUS (TO THE FIRST TWO ETHICS) – Live Simply so that others may Simply Live
(And setting limits to population and consumption)
Principles of Permaculture Design
Principle 1. Observe and Interact
This icon for this design principle represents a person ‘becoming’ a tree.
By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
In observing nature it is important to take different perspectives to help understand what is going on with the various elements in the system.
The proverb “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” reminds us that we place our own values on what we observe, yet in nature, there is no right or wrong, only different.
Principle 2. Catch and Store Energy
This icon for this design principle represents energy being stored in a container for use later on.
By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
The proverb “make hay while the sun shines” reminds us that we have a limited time to catch and store energy.
Principle 3. Obtain a Yield
The icon of this design principle, a vegetable with a bite out of it, shows us that there is an element of competition in obtaining a yield.
Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
The proverb “You can’t work on an empty stomach” reminds us that we must get immediate rewards to sustain us.
Principle 4. Apply Self-regulation & Accept Feedback
The icon of the whole earth is the largest scale example we have of a self-regulating ‘organism’ which is subject to feedback controls, like global warming.
We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
The proverb “the sins of the fathers are visited unto the children of the seventh generation” reminds us that negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
Principle 5. Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services
The horse icon represents both a renewable service and renewable resource. It can be used to pull a cart, plow or log and it can even be eaten – a non-consuming use is preferred over a consuming one.
Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
The proverb “let nature take it’s course” reminds us that control over nature through excessive resource use and high technology is not only expensive but can have a negative effect on our environment.
Principle 6. Produce No Waste
The icon of the worm represents one of the most effective recyclers of organic materials, consuming plant and animal ‘waste’ into valuable plant food.
By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
The proverb “a stitch in time saves nine” reminds us that timely maintenance prevents waste, while “waste not, want not” reminds us that it’s easy to be wasteful in times of abundance, but this waste can be a cause of hardship later.
Principle 7. Design from Patterns to Details
The Icon of the represents that every spider’s web is unique to its situation, yet the general pattern of radial spokes and spiral rings is universal.
By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
The proverb “can’t see the forest for the trees” reminds us that the closer we get to something, the more we are distracted from the big picture.
Principle 8: Integrate Rather Than Segregate
This icon represents a group of people from a bird’s-eye view, holding hands in a circle together. The space in the centre could represent “the whole being greater than the sum of the parts”.
By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between them and they support each other.
The proverb “many hands make light work” suggests that when we work together the job becomes easier.
Principle 9: Use Small and Slow Solutions
The Icon of the Snail represents that it is both small and slow, it carries its home on its back and can withdraw to defend itself when threatened.
Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
The proverb “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” reminds us of the disadvantages of excessive size and growth while “slow and steady wins the race” encourages patience while reflecting on a common truth in nature and society.
Principle 10: Use and Value Diversity
Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
The remarkable adaptation of the spinebill and hummingbird to hover and sip nectar from long, narrow flowers with their spine-like beak symbolizes the specialization of form and function in nature.
The proverb “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” reminds us that diversity offers insurance against the variations of our environment.
Principle 11: Use Edges & Value the Marginal
The icon of the sun coming over the horizon with a river in the foreground shows us a world composed of edges.
The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
The proverb “don’t think you are on the right track just because its a well-beaten path” reminds us that the most popular is not necessarily the best approach.
Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change
The icon of the butterfly is a positive symbol of transformative change in nature, from its previous life as a caterpillar.
We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.
The proverb “vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be” reminds us that understanding change is much more than a linear projection.
You may also like exploring the Rak Tamachat take on the Permaculture Principles which are represented in the Rak Tamachat Tree of Life. Just click on the Tree below to go to Rak’s Principles Page.
2. Sustainable Agriculture Design
History and Key Concepts of Sustainable Agriculture
Agriculture has changed dramatically since the end of World War II. Food and fiber productivity has soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization, and government policies that favored maximizing production and reducing food prices.
These changes have allowed fewer farmers to produce more food and fiber at lower prices. Although these developments have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, they also have significant costs.
Prominent among these are:
- topsoil depletion,
- groundwater contamination,
- air pollution,
- greenhouse gas emissions,
- the decline of family farms,
- neglect of the living and working conditions of farm laborers,
- new threats to human health and safety due to the spread of new pathogens,
- economic concentration in food and agricultural industries, and
- the disintegration of rural communities.
A growing movement has emerged during the past four decades to question the necessity of these high costs and to offer innovative alternatives. Today this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance of our food production systems.
Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals:
- environmental health,
- economic profitability, and
- social equity.
Sustainable agriculture gives equal weight to environmental, social, and economic concerns in agriculture.
A variety of philosophies, policies, and practices have contributed to these goals, but a few common themes and principles weave through most definitions of sustainable agriculture.
Agricultural sustainability rests on the principle that:
“we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Therefore, long-term stewardship of both natural and human resources is of equal importance to short-term economic gain. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future.
Stewardship of land and natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing the quality of these resources and using them in ways that allow them to be regenerated for the future.
Stewardship considerations must also address concerns about animal welfare in farm enterprises that include livestock.
An agroecosystems and food systems perspective are essential to understanding sustainability. Agroecosystems are envisioned in the broadest sense, from individual fields to farms to ecozones.
Food systems, which include agroecosystems plus distribution and food consumption components, similarly span from farmer to local community to global population. An emphasis on a systems perspective allows for a comprehensive view of our agricultural production and distribution enterprises, and how they affect human communities and the natural environment.
Conversely, a systems approach also gives us the tools to assess the impact of human society and its institutions on farming and its environmental sustainability.
Studies of different types of natural and human systems have taught us that systems that survive over time usually do so because they are highly resilient, adaptive, and have high diversity. Resilience is critical because most agroecosystems face conditions (including climate, pest populations, political contexts, and others) that are often highly unpredictable and rarely stable in the long run.
Adaptability is a key component of resilience, as it may not always be possible or desirable for an agroecosystem to regain the precise form and function it had before a disturbance, but it may be able to adjust itself and take a new form in the face of changing conditions.
Diversity often aids in conferring adaptability, because the more variety that exists within a food system, whether in terms of types of crops or cultural knowledge, the more tools and avenues a system will have to adapt to change.
An agroecosystem and food system approach also implies multi-pronged efforts in research, education, and action. Not only researchers from various disciplines but also farmers, laborers, retailers, consumers, policymakers and others who have a stake in our agricultural and food systems have crucial roles to play in moving toward greater agricultural sustainability.
Finally, sustainable agriculture is not a single, well-defined end goal. Scientific understanding of what constitutes sustainability in environmental, social, and economic terms is continuously evolving and is influenced by contemporary issues, perspectives, and values.
For example, agriculture’s ability to adapt to climate change was not considered a critical issue 20 years ago but is now receiving increasing attention. In addition, the details of what constitutes a sustainable system may change from one set of conditions (e.g., soil types, climate, labor costs) to another, and from one cultural and ideological perspective to another, resulting in the very term “sustainable” being a contested term.
Therefore, it is more useful and pertinent to think of agricultural systems as ranging along a continuum from unsustainable to very sustainable, rather than placed in a sustainable/unsustainable dichotomy.
“Sustainable Agriculture and the Management of Natural Resources”
When the production of food and fiber degrades the natural resource base, the ability of future generations to produce and flourish decreases.
The decline of ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean region, Pre-Columbian southwest U.S. and Central America is believed to have been strongly influenced by natural resource degradation from non-sustainable farming and forestry practices.
A sustainable agriculture approach seeks to utilize natural resources in such a way that they can regenerate their productive capacity, and also minimize harmful impacts on ecosystems beyond a field’s edge. One way that farmers try to reach these goals is by considering how to capitalize on existing natural processes, or how to design their farming systems to incorporate crucial functions of natural ecosystems.
By designing biologically-integrated agroecosystems that rely more on the internal cycling of nutrients and energy, it is often possible to maintain an economically viable production system with fewer potentially toxic interventions.
For example, farmers aiming for a higher level of environmental sustainability might consider how they can reduce their use of toxic pesticides by bringing natural processes to bear on limiting pest populations. This might happen, for example, by planting hedgerows along field edges, or ground covers between rows, thereby providing habitat for insects and birds that prey on the pests, or by planting more diverse blends of crops that confuse or deflect pests. Maintaining a high degree of genetic diversity by conserving as many crop varieties and animal breeds as possible will also provide more genetic resources for breeding resistance to diseases and pests.
Above we can see an example of a clover and grass cover crop which adds biodiversity to an almond orchard, which aids in nutrient cycling and provides habitat for beneficial insects, while also building soil organic matter.
Conservation of resources critical for agricultural productivity also means taking care of soil so that it maintains its integrity as a complex and highly structured entity composed of mineral particles, organic matter, air, water, and living organisms.
Farmers interested in long-term sustainability often prioritize caring for the soil, because they recognize that a healthy soil promotes healthy crops and livestock. Maintaining soil functioning often means a focus on maintaining or even increasing soil organic matter.
Soil organic matter functions as a crucial source and sinks for nutrients, as a substrate for microbial activity, and as a buffer against fluctuations in acidity, water content, contaminants, etc.
Furthermore, the buildup of soil organic matter can help mitigate the increase of atmospheric CO2 and therefore climate change. Another important function of soil organic matter is inducing a better soil structure, which leads to improved water penetration, less runoff, better drainage, and increased stability, thereby reducing wind and water erosion.
Due to a high reliance on chemical fertilizers, agroecosystem functioning has been disconnected from the internal cycling of key plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
Phosphate minerals for fertilizer are currently mined, but global reserves are predicted to sustain food production for only another 50 to 100 years. Consequently, phosphate prices are anticipated to rise unless new reserves are discovered and innovations in the recovery of phosphates from waste are developed.
The recycling of nitrogen and phosphorus (at the farm and regional scale), improving efficiencies of fertilizer applications, and relying on organic nutrient sources (animal and green manures) are important elements of sustainable agriculture.
Recycling of nutrients is facilitated by a diversified agriculture in which livestock and crop production are more spatially integrated. For these reasons, extensive mixed crop-livestock systems, particularly in developing countries, could significantly contribute to future agricultural sustainability and global food security.
The Quesungual agroforestry system in Honduras: Maize, beans, and squash are cultivated between selectively preserved trees that provide green manure and/or fruit and/or firewood. The practice has been shown to reduce soil erosion, increase yield, increase biotic activity, improve soil structure, and enhance soil organic matter accumulation.
In many parts of the world, water for agriculture is in short supply and/or its quality is deteriorating. Overdraft of surface waters results in disturbance of key riparian zones, while overdraft of groundwater supplies threatens future irrigation capacity.
Salinization, nutrient overloads, and pesticide contamination are widespread water quality issues. Selection and breeding of more drought- and salt-tolerant crop species and hardier animal breeds, use of reduced-volume irrigation systems, and management of soils and crops to reduce water loss are all ways to use water more efficiently within sustainable agroecosystems.
Modern agriculture is heavily dependent on non-renewable energy sources, especially petroleum. The continued use of these non-renewable sources cannot be sustained indefinitely, yet to abruptly abandon our reliance on them would be economically catastrophic.
In sustainable agriculture, the goal is to reduce the input of external energy and to substitute non-renewable energy sources with renewable sources (e.g., solar and wind power, biofuels from agricultural waste, or, where economically feasible, animal or human labor).
Sustainable Agriculture and Society
Agroecosystems cannot be sustainable in the long run without the knowledge, technical competence, and skilled labor needed to manage them effectively. Given the constantly changing and locality-specific nature of agriculture, sustainability requires a diverse and adaptive knowledge base, utilizing both formal, experimental science and farmers’ own on-the-ground local knowledge.
Social institutions that promote the education of both farmers and scientists, encourage innovation and promote farmer-researcher partnerships can increase agricultural productivity as well as long-term sustainability.
We can see a great example of Sustainable Agriculture Education at a farmer field school in the Democratic Republic of Congo which encourages farmers to learn about sustainable farming practices from visiting teachers as well as from each other’s on-the-ground experiences.
Questions of social equity often arise in discussions of sustainable agriculture. Wages for farm labor are so low in most industrialized countries that their agricultural sectors rely substantially on migratory labor from poorer nations, leaving farmers vulnerable to changing immigration policies and placing burdens on government social services.
The questionable legal status of many of these workers also contributes to their generally low pay and standard of living, lack of job security, lack of opportunities for upward mobility, and exemptions from occupational safety protections considered standard in other industries.
Pooling resources among many farmers to provide better housing, sharing labor among farms with different crops to even out the seasonality of work opportunities, shared equity in farm profits, mentoring workers to acquire and operate their own farms, and working on innovative ways to provide affordable health insurance and educational opportunities for employees are all alternative ways to increase labor equity and social justice.
Increasing consolidation of food manufacturers and marketers and of farm input suppliers means that farmers lack the economic power to negotiate better prices for their inputs and crops. This means their profit margins get squeezed, leaving many farmers with few resources to improve environmental and working conditions.
Banding together in production, processing, or marketing cooperatives is one way that farmers can increase their relative economic power. Performing some processing functions on-farm before selling their crops, producing higher-value specialty crops, building direct marketing opportunities that bypass middlemen, and looking for niche markets are other ways that farmers can capture a larger share of the economic value of what they produce. Policies regulating consolidation can also protect farmers in the long-term.
Due to these economic pressures on farmers, many rural communities have become poorer as farms and associated local agricultural enterprises go out of business. Economic development policies and tax structures that encourage more diversified agricultural production on family farms can form a foundation for healthier rural economies.
Within the limitations of the market structure, consumers can also play a role; through their purchases, they send strong messages to producers, retailers, and others in the system about what they think is important, including environmental quality and social equity.
Finally, some of the same economic pressures that have hurt on-farm sustainability have also created social equity concerns for consumers in low-income communities, who are often left with little access to healthy food as conventional supermarkets move to more lucrative neighborhoods to bolster slim profit margins.
Food production and marketing arrangements to bolster community food security, including community and home gardens, farmers markets, the use of fresh local farm produce in school meal programs, and local food cooperatives represent efforts to address these concerns.
The picture shows Sustainable Agriculture Education instruction in school gardens and other public gardens which helps children and their families learn to grow fruits and vegetables around their own homes or in community garden plots.
Moreover, a food systems approach also takes into account the impacts of farming practices on the safety and nutritional qualities of the final food products that reach consumers, for example by minimizing or eliminating toxic residues.
Remeber you can always learn from the source at:
3. Regenerative Agriculture Design
- Introduction to Regenerative Agriculture
- History of Regenerative Agriculture
- The late 1800s through 1960s
- The 1970s through 2000s
- The 2010s onward
- Principles and Practices
- Principles of Regenerative Agriculture
- Practices of Regenerative Agriculture
1. Introduction to Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increase biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services.
Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation.
At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities.
The system draws from decades of scientific and applied research by the global communities of organic farming, agroecology, Holistic Management, and agroforestry.
Regenerative agriculture (RA) is an approach to food and farming systems that reject:
- artificial fertilizers and
- claims to regenerate:
- increase biodiversity;
- improve water cycles,
- enhance ecosystem services;
- increase resilience to climate fluctuation and
- strengthen the health and vitality of farming and ranching communities.
Regenerative agriculture is based on applied research and thinking that integrates organic farming, permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, restoration ecology, Keyline design and holistic management.
On a regenerative farm, biological production and ecological structure grow more complex over time. Yields increase while external inputs decrease.
2. History of Regenerative agriculture (RA)
The late 1800s through 1960s
Julius Hensel (1844–1903) was an early advocate of restoring trace minerals to soil with dust from primeval stones and reported success with his steinmehl (stonemeal). He opposed the use of chemicals in agriculture. He claimed that his steinmehl could replace chemical and animal fertilizers.
George Washington Carver (1864–1943) was one of the early proponents of sustainable agriculture.
Botanist Sir Albert Howard (1873–1947) was in charge of a colonial research farm at Indore, India, he documented and tested Indian organic farming techniques. He refined the traditional Indian composting system into what became known as the Indore method. He shared this knowledge through the Soil Association in England and the Rodale Institute in the US.
Ruth Stout (1884–1980) by the 1950s had perfected a “no-till” method of gardening that she promoted as “no work” in her books, How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back and Gardening Without Work for the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent. Her work led to other innovations in no-till practices, such as slash and mulch in the tropics.
Agronomist William Albrecht (1888–1974), promoted the relationship between healthy soil and nutrition.
J.I. Rodale (1898–1971) was an early proponent of organic and regenerative farming and founder of the Rodale Institute. He encouraged organic gardening through his writings, research, and publishing.
Lady Evelyn Barbara “Eve” Balfour (1899–1990) was a founder of the organic farming movement. She was one of the first women to study agriculture at an English university, graduating from the University of Reading to begin farming in 1920. By 1939, she had launched Haughley, an experimental farm, to test organic farming. Her findings were published in Living Soil (1948), which became a classic. Haughley was the first long-term comparative research project to contrast organic and chemically-based farming.
Maynard Murray (1910–1983) pioneered the merger of biology, health, and agriculture from the 1930s when he began experimenting with “sea-solids”–mineral salts that remain after total seawater evaporation. Around 1940, he conducted experiments to determine the proportions of trace minerals and other elements present in seawater that was optimal for growth and health of both terrestrial and marine life. His experiments demonstrated that plants fertilized with sea solids and animals fed sea-solid-fertilized feeds grow stronger and more disease resistant. Murray presented his work in Sea Energy Agriculture (1976). Largely ignored during his lifetime, he helped define the role of trace minerals in healthy growth.
Bhaskar H. Save (born 1922) created Kalpavruksha (“wish-fulfilling tree”) Farm in Umbergaon, India in 1953. After practicing traditional agriculture with poor results, Save switched to organic farming and developed a system of natural farming. He used intensive interplanting in which short life-span vegetables (alpa-jeevi), medium life-span species (madhya-jeevi – such as banana, papaya, and custard apple) and long life-span species (deergha-jeevi–such as chikoo, coconut, mango) are combined and phased in over time until the long-lived species matured.
P.A. Yeomans (1904–1984) an Australian geologist developed the Keyline design, an approach to farm planning and water management. Keyline used maps to analyze the topography to channel rainwater into earthen dams for irrigation, build roads on ridges, plant trees in ‘Contour Strip Forests’, position farm buildings, arrange subdivision fencing and renovate pastures.
1970s through 2000s
Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008) was a farmer, activist, and author of the practices and theory of natural farming that he based on four core principles: no cultivation, no (chemical) fertilizers, no weeding and no pesticides. Among his teachings is that a successful farmer must partner with the natural environment and derive an intimate understanding of it together with the plants. His “seed balls” cultivation innovation is widely used in horticulture and retail products, including lawn seed.
John D. Hamaker (1914–1994) a mechanical engineer and ecologist advocated remineralizing soils. His motivations included a desire to help create a healthy, just civilization rooted in ecological wisdom and his claim that malnutrition and disease followed by famine and glaciation could be ended.
Booker T. Whatley (1915–2005), popularized U-Pick farms and their direct marketing approach through fee-based subscriptions. He was among the first practitioners of sustainable agriculture to focus on the economic concerns of small farmers, encouraging them to identify high-value crops that could be profitable on smaller farms, such as shiitake mushrooms, the husbandry of small ruminants and specialty cheeses.
Charles Walters (1926–2009) was an economist, journalist, farmers advocate in the first phase of his career with the National Farmer’s Organization; and founder, publisher and editor of Acres U.S.A. Walters penned hundreds of articles and was an author or co-author of books, including Eco-Farm, Weeds: Control Without Poisons and Unforgiven. In 1970 Walters coined the term “eco-agriculture” to unify the concepts of “ecology” and “economy” to reflect his belief that unless agriculture was ecological, it could not be economical.
Robert Rodale (1930–1990) was an advocate of RA, fostered the Regenerative Agriculture Association, published books on the subject, funded research, established demonstration fields, sponsored practitioners in the field and spread RA around the globe. He coined the concept of ‘regenerative organic agriculture’ to distinguish it from ‘sustainable’ agriculture. He served as CEO of The Rodale Institute.
Patricia Lanza (b. 1935) authored books about “lasagna” gardening or sheet mulch gardening, as perfected by Ruth Stout. The lasagna method feeds the soil biota from above and encourages the soil food web to do the work of aerating and mixing the nutrients into the soil below.
Austrians Sepp (b. 1942) and Veronica Holzer created hugekultur, a terraced system of mounds on Austrian mountainsides. The mounds are built of organic materials, a traditional way of growing in the region of the Krameterhof in Lungau, but at 1000+ meters above sea level. Holzer’s mounds are considered one of the world’s few perfectly working permaculture systems. After almost 40 years, their farms support pond culture, terraces, a water power station, thousands of fruit trees, thirty types of potatoes, grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs and wildflowers — growing in the forest, on steep hills, on rocky outcrops, on stone pathways and around ponds, all without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. They created a video, Farming With Nature: A Case Study of Successful Temperate Permaculture.
Takao Furuno (b. 1950) is the architect of the Aigamo Method, a modernization of an 800-year-old Chinese technique of using ducks in sustainable rice cultivation. Funuro’s system combines commercial rice cultivation with duck husbandry, aquaculture, and vegetable production. Aigamo ducks are derived from wild and domestic ducks, whose ducklings provide the labor for cultivation, pest control and manure to fertilize the rice. This eliminates dependency on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, molluscicides, fossil fuels and heavy duty equipment, providing a safe and productive environment.
Elaine Ingham a microbiologist popularized the importance of soil health and the soil food web.
John Jeavons created Grow Biointensive, a sustainable 8-step food production method, which combines elements of French intensive and biodynamics techniques.
Jacob Mittleider created the Mittleider Method, a contemporary method of soil-less agriculture. Jim Kennard refined this method.
Bill Mollison and David Holmgren created permaculture or “permanent agriculture”, an approach that combines ecological design with natural principles.
Don Weaver an ecologist and gardener assisted John Hamaker in advocating for policies and practices of soil remineralization, biosphere regeneration, and climatic stabilization.
The Rodale Institute and “Regenerative Agriculture”
In the 1980s, the Rodale Institute began using the term ‘regenerative agriculture’. Rodale Publishing formed the Regenerative Agriculture Association, which published books in 1987 and 1988.
“By marching forward under the banner of sustainability we are, in effect, continuing to hamper ourselves by not accepting a challenging enough goal. I am not against the word sustainable, rather I favor regenerative agriculture.”
— Robert Rodale
However, the Institute stopped using the term in the late 1980s and it appeared sparingly (in 2005 and 2008) until they released a white paper titled “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change” in 2014.
Its summary states:
“We could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture.’”
The agricultural practices described are crop rotation, compost application and reduced tillage, similar to most organic agriculture.
From 1990 to 2010, RA was most explicitly practiced within the permaculture community. Influenced by Carol Sanford and the design and development work of Regenesis, the ecological systems approach of permaculture led regenerative agriculture to incorporate whole farm design, multi-story agroforestry, and rotational livestock integration.
The 2010s Onward
RA is generally viewed as pseudoscience and is more of a way of thinking rather than a concrete farming system.
Sheep grower, historian, regenerative agriculture consultant and advocate Charles Massy published Call of the Reed Warbler: a new agriculture – a new earth, based on his Ph.D. studies. The book frames regenerative agriculture as a savior for the earth using case studies.
John Ikerd advocates for the “small” family farm and farmers and for sustainability in the US food system.
Ikerd is the author of The Essentials of Economic Sustainability, Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People through Agriculture and Sustainable Capitalism (2005).
Vermont farmer and farm consultant Abe Collins created LandStream to monitor ecosystem performance in RA farms.
Mark Shepard founded New Forest Farms in Viola, Wisconsin and Forest Agriculture Enterprises and wrote Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers.
He demonstrated how to grow more calories per acre than corn and soy without inputs.
He does this through a mix of RA practices, balancing nut crops, livestock, and keyline.
Ethan Roland Soloviev and Gregory Landua, cofounded Terra Genesis International (a regenerative agriculture and supply company), published Levels of Regenerative Agriculture (2016).
In this paper, they describe a four-fold framework consisting of:
- Functional Regenerative Agriculture: “humans can do good through their agricultural production”
- Integrative Regenerative Agriculture: “grow the health and vitality of the whole ecosystem”
- Systemic Regenerative Agriculture: “farms are woven into an ecosystem of enterprises operating in their bioregion”
- Evolutionary Regenerative Agriculture: “harmonize with the potential of a place,” and “develop a diversity of global and local regenerative producer webs”
Permaculture designer and researcher Eric Toensmeier wrote The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security (2016).
Toensmeier claimed that regenerative practices hold the potential to sequester massive amounts of CO2 into the soil, all while providing adaptive and resilient solutions given a changing climate.
Guiding Principles and Practices of Regenerative Agriculture
- Increase soil fertility;
- Work with wholes, not parts;
- Progressively improve whole agro-ecosystems (soil, water, and biodiversity);
- Connect the farm to its larger agroecosystem and bioregion;
- Create context-specific designs and make holistic decisions that express the essence of each farm;
- Express the essence of each person, farm, and place;
- Make holistic decisions aimed at specific systems change;
- Ensure and develop just and reciprocal relationships among all stakeholders;
- Design for non-linear, multi-capital reciprocity;
- Continually grow and evolve individuals, farms, and communities to express their potential;
- Continually evolve agro-ecological processes and cultures;
Practices of Restorative Agriculture
Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The term permaculture was developed and coined by David Holmgren, then a graduate student, and his professor, Bill Mollison, in 1978.
The word permaculture originally referred to “permanent agriculture“, but was expanded to stand also for “permanent culture“, as it was understood that social aspects were integral to a truly sustainable system as inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming philosophy.
Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. It combines shrubs and trees with agricultural and forestry technologies to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy, ecologically sound, and sustainable land-use systems. Agroforestry has proven to be positively affecting several ecosystem services in sub-Saharan Africa.
Soil Food Web
An incredible diversity of organisms make up the soil food web. They range in size from the tiniest one-celled bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa, to the more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods, to the visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and plants. As these organisms eat, grow, and move through the soil.
Holistic Management of Livestock and grasslands.
Managing livestock holistically is based on four key insights that highlight the symbiotic relationship between large herds of grazing animals, their predators and the grasslands that support them.
STUN (Sheer, Total and Utter Neglect) Plant Breeding
The method is pretty straightforward… put the trees in the ground, get them started, and purposefully do nothing to them. No water, no fertilizer, no chemical spray… nothing. The technique is well outlined in Mark Shepard’s book Restoration Agriculture listed above.
Keyline design is a landscaping technique of maximizing the beneficial use of the water resources of a tract of land. The “keyline” denominates a specific topographic feature related to the natural flow of water on the track.
No-till farming is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till is an agricultural technique which increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil and increases organic matter retention and cycling of nutrients in the soil.
Minimum tillage and Pasture Cropping
Minimum tillage is a soil conservation system like Strip-till with the goal of minimum soil manipulation necessary for a successful crop production. It is a tillage method that does not turn the soil over. It is contrary to intensive tillage, which changes the soil structure using plows.
Cover crops & Multispecies Cover Crops
A cover crop is a crop planted primarily to manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife in an agroecosystem, an ecological system managed and largely shaped by humans across a range of intensities to produce food, feed, or fiber.
Organic Annual Cropping and Crop Rotations
Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar or different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons. It is done so that the soil of farms is not used for only one set of nutrients. It helps in reducing soil erosion and increases soil fertility and crop yield.
Compost ( or ) is an organic matter that has been decomposed in a process called composting. This process recycles various organic materials – otherwise regarded as waste products – and produces a soil conditioner. Composting is a technique used to accelerate the natural decay process.
Done under the proper aerobic conditions, the thermal composting technique converts organic wastes to rich black gold that is biologically active and naturally fertilizes and condition the soil. Leaf waste decomposes naturally in about two years.
Compost Tea Applications
Compost Tea is all the rave for gardeners who repeatedly attest to higher quality vegetables, flowers, and foliage. Very simply, it is a liquid, nutritionally rich, well-balanced, an organic supplement made by steeping aged compost in water.
Animal Manures Applications
Manure is organic matter, mostly derived from animal feces except in the case of green manure, which can be used as organic fertilizer in agriculture. Manures contribute to the fertility of the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients, such as nitrogen, that is utilized by bacteria, fungi and other organisms in the soil. Higher organisms then feed on the fungi and bacteria in a chain of life that comprises the soil food web.
Natural Sequence Farming
Natural Sequence Farming is a method of landscape regeneration devised by the Australian agricultural pioneer, Peter Andrews, in the 1970s. The method involves implementing major earthworks on a given area of land that has been devastated by deforestation and general agricultural activities, to emulate the role of natural watercourses in an effort to reverse salinity, slow erosion and increase soil and water quality to enable native vegetation to regenerate and restore the riparian zone.
Different cattle feeding production systems have separate advantages and disadvantages. Most cattle in the US have a diet that is composed of at least some forage. In fact, most beef cattle are raised on pasture from birth in the spring until autumn. Then for pasture-fed animals, the grass is the forage that composes all or at least the great majority of their diet. Cattle fattened in feedlots are fed small amounts of hay supplemented with grain, soy, and other ingredients in order to increase the energy density of the diet.
Polyculture and Full-time Planting of Multiple Crops with Intercrop Plantings
Polyculture is agriculture using multiple crops in the same space, providing crop diversity in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture. Before polyculture came into place, farms were the first monoculture. This includes multi-cropping, intercropping, companion planting, beneficial weeds, and alley cropping. It is the raising at the same time and place of more than one species of plant or animal. Polyculture is one of the principles of permaculture.
Borders (Windbreaks, Hedgerows) planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects;
A windbreak (shelterbelt) is a plantation usually made up of one or more rows of trees or shrubs planted in such a manner as to provide shelter from the wind and to protect soil from erosion. They are commonly planted in hedgerows around the edges of fields on farms.
A hedge or hedgerow is a line of closely spaced shrubs and sometimes trees, planted and trained to form a barrier or to mark the boundary of an area, such as between neighboring properties. Hedges used to separate a road from adjoining fields or one field from another, and of sufficient age to incorporate larger trees.
Biochar is charcoal used as a soil amendment. Biochar is a stable solid, rich in carbon, and can endure in soil for thousands of years. Like most charcoal, biochar is made from biomass via pyrolysis. Biochar is under investigation as an approach to carbon sequestration. Biochar thus has the potential to help mitigate climate change via carbon sequestration. Independently, biochar can increase soil fertility of acidic soils, increase agricultural productivity, and provide protection against some foliar and soil-borne diseases.
Aquaculture, also known as aquafarming, is the farming of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic plants, algae, and other organisms. Aquaculture involves cultivating freshwater and saltwater populations under controlled conditions and can be contrasted with commercial fishing, which is the harvesting of wild fish. Mariculture refers to aquaculture practiced in marine environments and in underwater habitats.
Perennial crops are crops developed to reduce inputs necessary to produce food. By greatly reducing the need to replant crops from year-to-year, perennial cropping can reduce topsoil losses due to erosion, increase biological carbon sequestration within the soil, and greatly reduce waterway pollution through agricultural runoff.
Silvopasture or wood pasture, now also known as agroforestry, is the practice of combining woodland (trees) and the grazing of domesticated animals in a mutually beneficial way. Advantages of a properly managed silvopasture operation are enhanced soil protection and increased long-term income due to the simultaneous production of trees and grazing animals.
4. Carbon Farming Design
Introduction to Carbon Farming
WHAT IS CARBON FARMING?
All agricultural production originates from the process of plant photosynthesis. With energy from the sun, plants combine carbon dioxide CO2 from the air with water and minerals from the soil to produce carbohydrates, building their bodies and the soil around them. Carbon is recognized as a key energy currency of biological systems, including agricultural systems.
Agricultural production depends on plant photosynthesis to move carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into the plant, where it is transformed into agricultural products:
- fuel or
Common agricultural practices, including driving a tractor, tilling the soil, overgrazing, clearing forests and degrading water sources, resulting in the return of this soil and biomass carbon to the air. It is estimated that as much as one-third of the surplus CO2 in the atmosphere that’s causing climate change has come from agricultural and land management practices.
On the other hand, there are certain commonly used agricultural practices through which photosynthetically derived carbon can be sequestered and stored in the soil. Carbon farming involves implementing practices that are known to improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and soil organic matter.
Carbon farming is successful when carbon gains resulting from enhanced land management or conservation practices exceed carbon losses.
Carbon Farming is simply farming in a way that reduces Greenhouse Gas emissions or captures and holds carbon in vegetation and soils. It is managing land, water, plants, and animals to meet the Triple Challenge of Landscape Restoration, Climate Change, and Food Security. It seeks to reduce emissions in its production processes while increasing production and sequestering carbon in the landscape.
Carbon Farming can range from a single change in land management, such as introducing no-till cultivation or grazing management, to a whole-of-farm integrated plan which maximizes carbon capture and emissions reduction.
Carbon Farmers have many practices to choose from to develop their plan, including:
- maximum groundcover (no bare earth);
- grazing management;
- no-till cropping;
- pasture cropping;
- green manure;
- stubble retention;
- cover cropping;
- exhaust injection;
- controlled traffic;
- precision application (fertilizer);
- natural fertilizers;
- soil inoculants (probiotics)’
- soil stimulants;
- compost teas;
- Albrecht soil mineral balance;
- Natural Sequence Farming;
- water spreading;
- Keyline Planning;
- Subsoil plowing;
- Activated clays;
- Dung Beetles;
- Rumen inoculants;
- Low methane animal genetics;
- Methane-reducing feed supplements;
- Manure management
The benefits of Carbon Farming include Carbon Sequestration, reduced erosion, and soil loss, improved soil structure, increased soil fertility, reduced soil salinity, healthier soils, vegetation, and animals, increased biodiversity, buffering against drought and greater water efficiency.
Soil Carbon Method
“THE SOIL – THE LARGEST CARBON SINK OVER WHICH WE HAVE CONTROL IN THE WORLD”
The World is moving on Climate Change. Be ready to be part of the Solution.
The impact of human activities on the atmosphere and the accompanying risks of long-term global climate change are by now familiar topics to many people.
Although most of the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations is due to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels, globally about one-third of the total human-induced warming effect due to GHGs comes from agriculture and land-use change.
(The largest being methane from cattle and nitrous oxide from fertilizer )
This means that the spotlight will come on Agriculture to reduce emissions.
It was acknowledged that the SOIL was the largest carbon sink over which we have control AND that as our soils increase in carbon, there are productivity improvements – commonly called ‘co-benefits’.
- better water retention;
- better soil structure;
- Into drought later;
- out of drought sooner.
It is the action of increased biomass above and below ground that does this. If you have more and more productive grasses, the act of photosynthesis takes carbon OUT of the air, as they ‘breathe’ in CO2 and the plant uses the carbon in their own structures and take the carbon down into the soil where microbes use it and over time it is stored in the soil.
So, while Agriculture is a high emitter, Farmers are also the managers of the LARGEST carbon sink – giving Agriculture the BEST chance of reducing the effects of Climate change.
NO amount of lowering emissions or changing light bulbs will reduce the temperature enough – because it is the level of CO2 in the atmosphere from the last 70 years of emissions which are driving the temperature increase at the moment.
5. Natural Disaster Mitigation Design
Resilience to the effects of natural disasters, in the extreme forms of drought, water inundations (Flood, Tsunami), wildfires, earthquakes (and Volcanic activity) and destructive wind speeds (Typhoon, Hurricane) can be designed and implemented.
Approaches are diverse, from prediction and mitigation to resilient and appropriate design and management, such as sustainable land management (SLM) and coastal management in the non-built environment and appropriate building materials, methods, urban and architectural design in the built environment.
Prediction can be in the form of meteorological observation; weather and climate modelling, identifying high-risk zones, forecasting, early warning systems, and geological observation for example monitoring seismic activity, water levels, and flows, identifying natural geographic features and phenomena, such as plate tectonics – plate convergence zones, volcanoes, and volcanic activity.
Mitigation can be in the form of evacuation plans and provision of emergency services, aid relief methodologies, relief programs and organizations as well as designing flood catchment and flood defenses, such as barriers, and coastal defences.
Many prediction and mitigation approaches are largescale and undertaken at the National Government level, whilst aid relief is undertaken at a range of scales, by a mixture of specialist and more general programs, from small and specialist NGOs and Charities, to large International NGOs and International refugee aid, relief and rehabilitation programs.
Resilient and approprite design and placement of buildings, settlements, infrastructure and vegetation can be undertaken from the individual and local-scale to national-scale.
There are many examples of building designs that are resilient to the effects of natural disaster. For instance, Japanese building design has focussed on earthquake resilence for many centuries.
More recent examples range from flexible and absorbant buildings, footings and foundations such as in taller buildings, to aerodynamic and low profile buildings.
Landscapes and planting can be designed to provide wind breaks and wind shelter, to absorb, deflect or collect high rainfall and water indudations.
Breaks in vegeation together with trenches can also halt wild fires from spreading, minimising their destruction of forested areas, and protecting populated areas from becoming engulfed.
Construction materials posses specific properties, such as being flame retardant, or non-combustible, they may be flexible or very ridgid and strong, they may be impermeable or highly absorbant, materials can be chosen and employed specifically for these reasons.
A combination of these and other approches can reduce the terrible effects of natural distasters, reducing the immediate impacts and loss of life, and the longer-term suffering caused by infrastructural damage.
Permaculture in Disaster Area
Permaculture is an effective design for self-sufficient communities using sustainable, environmentally sound principals.
Permaculture works at a grassroots level to train people to become self-reliant using local resources. Villagers can attain food security while learning to create and implement short, medium and long term strategies to rebuild their environment and economies.
Permaculture is the most important aspect on disaster mitigation efforts because it increases community awareness on the importance of sustainability in their natural environment.
One of the practices in permaculture is home gardening, and it can be applicable to answer the economic and food security needs of disaster survivors.
The results of programs are a secure food supply in a disaster-affected community, one that fulfills the need for nutritious food for the family.
In the programs, home gardens of community residents are maximally utilized with an efficient design that can produce a high quality, organic farm, thus reducing community expenditures made to buy outside produce.
After the community passes through the recovery process, home gardens will become economically viable and will increase the welfare of the community on an economic level.
6. Natural Capital and Wealth Generation
“It was thus becoming apparent that nature must, in the not far distant future, institute bankruptcy proceedings against industrial civilization, and perhaps against the standing crop of human flesh, just as nature had done many times to other detritus-consuming species following their exuberant expansion in response to the savings deposits their ecosystems had accumulated before they got the opportunity to begin the drawdown… Having become a species of super-detritivores, mankind was destined not merely for succession, but for crash.”
— Catton, OVERSHOOT
In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes.
The Traditional World View on Economics:
- The traditional economy based on land, labor, and capital
- See environment as only one set of resources within a larger economic sphere
- Environmental economists view the environment as providing goods and services on which humans depend
- The economy is constrained by limits of environmental resources
- The environment provides raw materials and means of absorbing wastes
Economic Activity: Classic View
Economic production is the process of converting the natural world into a manufactured world.
Trees to Paper to Trash
Economic Activity: Environmental View
Resources & Natural Capital
The Term ‘Natural Capital‘ coined by ecologically minded economists.
If properly managed renewable & replenishable resources are forms of wealth that can produce “natural income”
“natural income” = indefinitely available valuable goods and services (based off of renewable and replenishable)
- Marketable commodities or goods (timber, grain)
- Ecological / Life-support services (flood & erosion protection from forests)
- Non-renewable resources = forms of economic capital that cannot generate wealth without being liquidated.
Natural Capital & Natural Income
Natural Capital = Standing stocks
- Stock = present accumulated amount of capital;
- Forests, Fish.
Natural Income = Flows
- Sustainable rate of harvest of a stock;
- Harvests of timber, fishing.
New England Groundfish Fisheries Example
Too many boats, too few fish!
- November 1994 moves to shut down North Atlantic groundfish fishery;
- Public outcry and economic effects;
- What caused the collapse;
- Decades of unsustainable harvest;
- Magnuson Act of 1976 supported unprecedented growth of the fishing fleet;
- 570 boats to 900;
- Bigger boats with more technology to catch fish;
- Removing large breeders and young before they can breed;
- Common syndrome for fisheries collapse;
- The flow (harvest) was bigger than the stock (population) could support.
Classes of Natural Capital I
RENEWABLE NATURAL CAPITAL
- Living species, ecosystems;
- Self-producing & self-maintaining;
- May use solar energy in photosynthesis;
- Can yield marketable goods (wood, meat);
- Essential services when left in place (climate regulation).
Classes of Natural Capital II
REPLENISHABLE NATURAL CAPITAL
- Non-living & dependent on a solar engine for renewal;
- Ozone layer.
Classes of Natural Capital III
NON-RENEWABLE NATURAL CAPITAL
- Like inventories;
- Any use requires liquidating part of the stock;
- Fossil fuels, Metals, & Minerals;
- Some may regenerate on a geological timescale.
The Status of these Resources Changes Over Time
- Cultural, economic, and technological factors influence a resource’s status over time and space
- Uranium – never valued, but with the advent of nuclear technologies now extremely valuable
- Bluefin Tuna – prior to 1970 exclusively sports fish (.05 / lb)
- Japanese specialty market develops – now a single large fish has sold for $180,000
- Solar Power – 1960s space race makes it important ==> 1970s oil embargo makes it critical ==> 1990s compete with dropping oil prices è now peak oil and increasing price make it desirable again
Natural Capital has Value
- Ecological, Economic, Aesthetic value;
- The value assigned based on diverse perspectives;
- Industrial Societies emphasize monetary & economic valuations of nature;
- The economic value determined by the market price of goods or services produced;
- Extrinsic Values.
Ecosystem Capital: Goods and Services
Natural Capital has Intrinsic Value
- Ecological processes have no formal value;
- Still important though è waste elimination, flood & erosion control, nitrogen fixation, photosynthesis;
- Essential for existence but taken for granted;
- Organisms & Ecosystems valued for aesthetic or intrinsic reasons may not produce commodities identifiable as goods or services;
- Unpriced & undervalued from an economic standpoint;
- Value from spiritual, ethical, or philosophical perspective;
- So a diverse perspective needed to evaluate natural capital.
Value vs. Sustainability
- Hard to compare the values without prices;
- Attempts being made to acknowledge the diverse values so they are weighed more rigorously against traditional values (GNP, etc.);
- Is this kind of valuation possible?
- Sustainability debate hinges around the problem of how to weigh conflicting values of natural capital.
Wealth of Nations
- Determined by 3 components;
- Produced assets, Natural Capital, Human resources;
- Complement each other and contribute to well being;
- The dominant source of national wealth may vary between the 3 components.
How Society’s Assets Complement Each Other
The Composition of World Wealth
Wealth of Nations
- Often represented by GNP (Gross national product)è sum of goods and services produced in a country;
- Shows economic health and wealth;
- GDP = GNP – net income from abroad ;
- Often used to compare rich and poor countries;
- Depreciation in materials accounted for;
- Depreciation of natural capital never taken into account;
- This is a problem!
- If a country cuts down 1 million acres of forest;
- We see positive on income side from timber sales;
- Only depreciation accounted is in chainsaws and trucks;
- What about the loss of natural services;
- Situations like this lead to undervaluing natural resources.
Economic Growth as a Limiting Factor for Wildlife
- Living within the means of nature, on the interest or sustainable income generated by natural capital;
- Societies supporting themselves by depleting essential forms of natural capital is unsustainable;
- If well-being dependent on certain goods or services must harvest with care;
- Specifically, long-term harvest or degradation should not exceed rates of capital renewal.
- Economist view ==> stable annual return on investment regardless of environmental impact
- Environmentalist view ==> stable return without environmental degradation
- ore Info: http://www.earthsummit.info/
The Earth Summit (1992) and its Aftermath
- Rio de Janeiro Conference on the Environment and Development;
- Issues that cross international borders;
- Pollution, ocean conditions, atmospheric effects, forest destruction, loss of biodiversity;
- Agenda 21 ==> focus on sustainable development for the 21st century;
- Reconcile future economic development with environmental protection;
- Followed by 2002 world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg.
Calculating Sustainable Yield
- Sustainable Yield = SY;
- SY = Rate of increase in natural stock;
- Amount to exploit without depleting initial stock or potential for replenishment;
- SY for a crop = annual gain in biomass or energy;
- These gains from growth or recruitment (production of offspring).
Sustainable Yield Calculation
- An average bluefin tuna produces 10 million eggs per year but only 10 of those survive to adulthood. Out of every 10, 3 will migrate to other areas of the ocean. If you start with 5000 tuna, what is the sustainable yield in your fishery?
- So what would be a scenario where it would be a simple calculation?
- The calculation of sustainable yield has to take into account many subjective variables, thus the need for a conservative and cautious approach is needed to assure that species depletion is not caused inadvertently.
7. Z.E.R.I. – Zero Energy Research and Initiatives
THE STORY OF ZERI
Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) is a global network of creative minds, seeking solutions to the ever-increasing problems of the world. The members take on challenges, other will consider impossible or too complex.
Starting from ideas, based on science, the common vision shared by each and every member of the ZERI network is to seek sustainable solutions for society, from unreached communities to corporations inspired by nature’s design principles.
Innovative solutions are constantly designed by the ZERI teams drawn from many walks of life and expertise.
Inspired by the work of Dr. Lynn Margulis, ZERI methodology is based on the harmony and interaction demonstrated amongst these five different domains of Life. By understanding how each kingdom operates and interacts with each other, we can learn from nature how to integrate AND separate.
The concept of the 5 Kingdoms of Nature is inspired by the work of Prof. Dr. Lynn Margulis in her milestone reference work “The 5 Kingdoms of Nature.”
The name kingdom is scientifically very much accepted, though some prefer to talk about domains as to make this more gender neutral. ZERI has maintained the kingdom reference since it speaks to the imagination of the children.
In The Symbiotic Planet, Lynn Margulis takes some heavy swipes at what she sees as the dangerously mistaken assumption that humans act as the caretakers of our beautiful blue marble in space: “Despite or perhaps because of Darwin, as a culture, we still don’t really understand the science of evolution.”
The book presents a very different take on evolution and our position in the terrestrial scheme of things. In place of Darwin’s focus on competition, there is a fundamental emphasis on the role of cooperation or symbiosis as the foundation of all significant evolutionary novelty.
The final chapter of the book deals with the history of the Gaia concept and Margulis’s interpretation of this still-controversial hypothesis.
Prof. Dr. Lynn Margulis tells the story in her own terms, which are illuminating and clarifying. In her view, Gaia, the interacting planetary system of life and geophysical processes, is not an organism. No organism feeds on its own waste, for example, whereas Gaia is the genius of recycling:
“the waste of some organisms, such as the toxin oxygen, is used by others as an essential element for energy generation.”
A host of other gases are produced by millions of wood-devouring termites and released into the atmosphere to be used by other organisms as primary materials for life.
But Gaia is alive if by this we mean a reproducing system capable of evolution by natural selection. Margulis describes a thought experiment to make the point: send a selection of microbes, fungi, animals, and plants to Mars, which they might colonize after a period of time for adaptation to Martian conditions.
If successful, this interacting system would have learned to use the minerals and gases on Mars to produce wastes that are recycled within the system. The only input would be sunlight. Gaia would have reproduced and evolved.
Margulis’s punchy conclusion is a wake-up call to all of us to rethink our relationship to the planetary household:
“Gaia, a tough bitch, is not at all threatened by humans,” she says. “Our tenacious illusion of special dispensation belies our true status as upright mammalian weeds.”
Like it or hate it, this is relevant science.
The Blue Economy
The Blue Economy is Zeri´s philosophy in action. Is where the best for health and the environment is cheapest and the necessities of life are free thanks to a local system of production and consumption that works with what you have.
Innovative Business Models
Innovative Business Models are capable of bringing competitive products and services to the market responding to basic needs while building social capital and enhance mindful living in harmony with nature’s evolutionary path.
- Competitiveness is harnessing and optimizing the innate virtues and values connecting untapped local potential – like a natural system, where the seeds lie fallow only to sprout with amazing vigor at the first rain unleashing joy and happiness as the conditions for mind full-living are met in balance and in harmony.
- The Blue Economy respond to basic needs of all with what you have, introducing innovations inspired by nature, generating multiple benefits, including jobs and social capital, offering more with less.
- Solutions are first and foremost based on physics. Deciding factors are Pressure and Temperature as found on site.
- Substitute something with Nothing – Question any resource regarding its necessity for production.
- Natural systems cascade nutrients, matter, and energy – waste does not exist. Any by-product is the source for a new product.
- Nature evolved from a few species to a rich biodiversity. Wealth means diversity. Industrial standardization is the contrary.
- Nature provides room for entrepreneurs who do more with less. Nature is contrary to monopolization.
- Gravity is the main source of energy, solar energy is the second renewable fuel.
- Water is the primary solvent (no complex, chemical, toxic catalysts).
- In nature the constant is change. Innovations take place in every moment.
- Nature only works with what is locally available. Sustainable business evolves with respect not only for local resources but also for culture and tradition.
- Nature responds to basic needs and then evolves from sufficiency to abundance. The present economic model relies on scarcity as a basis for production and consumption.
- Natural systems are non-linear.
- In Nature everything is biodegradable – it is just a matter of time.
- In natural systems, everything is connected and evolving towards symbiosis.
- In Nature water, air, and soil are the commons, free and abundant.
- In Nature one process generates multiple benefits.
- Natural systems share risks. Any risk is a motivator for innovations.
- Nature is efficient. So sustainable business maximizes use of available material and energy, which reduces the unit price for the consumer.
- Nature searches for the optimum for all involucrated elements.
- In Nature, negatives are converted into positives. Problems are opportunities.
- Nature searches for economies of scope. One natural innovation carries various benefits for all.
8. Community Building
Efforts to build community resilience often focus on growing the capacity to “bounce back” from disruptions.
Truly robust community resilience should do more. It should engage and benefit all community members, and consider all the challenges the community faces — from rising sea levels to a lack of living wage jobs. And it should be grounded in resilience science, which tells us how complex systems — like human communities — can adapt and persist through changing circumstances.
What is the problem we’re trying to solve?
Global interconnection is the dominant factor in our modern world. If the aim of community resilience — at a minimum — is to safeguard the health and well-being of people in the face of the 21st century’s many complex challenges, those challenges need to be understood in a global context.
We organize them as a set of four distinct but intertwined “E4” crises:
E1 – The Ecological Crisis
Everything we need to survive—to have life, a society, an economy—ultimately depends on the natural world. But every ecosystem has two important limiting factors: its rate of replenishment and its capacity to deal with wastes and stress.
The last 200 years of exponential economic growth and population growth have pushed ecosystems around the world near or past these limits, with results like severe topsoil loss, freshwater depletion, biodiversity loss, and climate change.
Humanity’s “ecological footprint” is now larger than what the planet can sustainably handle, and we are crossing key boundaries beyond which human civilization literally may not be able to continue.
E2 – The Energy Crisis
The era of easy fossil fuels is over, leading the energy industry to resort to extreme measures like tar sands mining, mountaintop removal coal mining, fracking for shale gas and tight oil, and deepwater drilling. But these practices come with significant costs and risks, and in most instances provide far less net energy than the conventional oil, coal, and natural gas that fueled the 20th century.
Renewable energy is a real but imperfect alternative, as it would take decades and many trillions of dollars to scale up deployment to all sectors of the economy and retrofit transportation and industrial infrastructure accordingly.
Declines in the amount of affordable energy available to society threaten to create major environmental, economic, and social impacts as the 21st century progresses.
E3 – The Economic Crisis
Our local, national, and global economies are currently structured to require constant growth. And yet, with the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, the US reached the end of economic growth as we’ve known it.
Despite unprecedented interventions on the part of central banks and governments, economic recovery in the U.S. and Europe has failed to benefit the majority of citizens.
The end of the age of cheap and easy energy, the vast mountains of both private and public debt that we have incurred, and the snowballing costs of climate change impacts are all forcing us into an as-yet undefined post-growth economic system…whether we are ready for it or not.
E 4 – The Inequality Crisis
Inequity has been a problem throughout recorded human history, and not least in the United States, despite its professed values of liberty and justice for all.
While social progress over the last 150 years has in theory brought political enfranchisement and legal protections to almost everyone, in practice the failure to fully extend both economic opportunity and a functional social safety net—together with the failure to fully address institutionalized racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice—has led to ongoing inequality of economic, social, and political power.
The ecological, energy and economic crises are together exacerbating inequality, which has become increasingly visible in the rapid concentration of wealth among the ultra-rich and in the increasing public anger about police violence against people of color. Community resilience building should aim to keep the community from irrevocably changing for the worse as the result of these crises—and ideally change the community for the better.
These four crises shape the many and complex challenges communities around the world must wrestle with in the 21st century.
By building community resilience, we are trying to keep the community from irrevocably changing for the worse as the result of these crises—and hopefully change the community for the better. But how we go about this is critical to whether our efforts will succeed and last.
To understand why we need to take a close look at the concept of resilience itself.
What is resilience, really?
Resilience is the ability of a system (like a community) to absorb disturbance and still retain basic function and structure. Building resilience means intentionally guiding the system’s process of adaptation in an attempt to preserve some qualities and allow others to fade away, all while retaining the essence — or “identity” — of the system. In a human community, identity is essentially determined by what people value about where they live.
However, what a community of people collectively values is open to interpretation and subject to disagreement. This suggests that people—and the ways they come to a rough consensus — are necessarily at the center of community resilience building.
Around the world, federal and local governments have significant regulatory and investment power over many of the issues affecting everyday life.
This—together with the many ways community members can self-organize and engage in civic life — allows for the kinds of innovations, experimentations, and even stakeholder development, it is both ethical and effective for everyone to participate in resilience building and have some responsibility for it:
“democratic communities have an inherent right to self-determination, and critical community resilience-building processes like social cohesion and system feedback are richest at the local level.”
Local decision-making doesn’t always lead to equitable outcomes, however; one of the weaknesses of decentralization is that parochialism and local prejudice can flourish if unchecked.
This suggests two requirements for building community resilience if it is indeed to be organized at the local level:
- The responsibility for resilience building and the power to decide how it is done must rest with community members.
- The process of resilience building must equitably address both the particular situation of the community and the broader challenges facing society.
The Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience
Although many resilience frameworks and tools for building community resilience are now available, no single approach will likely work for all communities and they’re varied social and economic contexts.
Therefore we have identified six foundations that, in our view, are essential—no matter where or how resilience-building efforts are undertaken, or which challenges are of most concern locally.
The foundations support building community resilience, rather than achieving resilience as a fixed goal, so as to emphasize resilience building as an ongoing process.
The power to envision the future of the community and build its resilience resides with community members.
“We can try to outsource our problems to a new generation of green engineers, designers, and architects, but we will only see broad, lasting changes when the people inhabiting these communities create a vision for the future and lead the process for change.”
Phil Myrick, Project for Public Spaces
WHAT IT MEANS
Communities are products of human relationships. What the community is now and what it will be in the future both result from decisions made by people interacting, negotiating, and working together. Trust and deep relationships are crucial to holding communities together year after year and making resilience durable—but they can be challenging to build, especially in diverse communities.
Resilience building cannot turn a blind eye to the political and economic processes that determine what gets done, how it gets done, who decides, and who benefits. People of all interests and means must be able to participate in and benefit from resilience building; indeed, if they are to build true resilience, communities must embrace dissent and diversity.
The goals of community resilience-building efforts are best set by and focused on the needs of the people who make up the community—not just the needs of the most politically engaged or powerful individuals, businesses, and external stakeholders. Also, community members must collectively have power and responsibility for cultivating the resilience of their community as active participants and leaders—rather than only the local government or business leaders holding power and responsibility.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Resilience is the ability of a system to deal with disruption and change while keeping its basic functions and structure — its “identity.” In a democratic society, we might say that the identity of a community arises from its members and represents a shared sense of what the community’s core qualities are. And because we humans have aspirations and free will, we might also say that identity includes a shared vision of what the community should be like in the future.
We can try to describe a community’s identity by asking people:
- What are the values of this community?
- What defines this community, and why?
- What do we not want to lose?
- What do we need to change?
These kinds of questions can only really be answered by community members.
Identity is the touchstone of a community’s resilience. But as an expression of values, it also shapes perceptions of what is important and what is worth doing. This suggests that for the work of resilience building, the way in which identity is characterized is quite important.
A few considerations:
- Systems are defined by their larger context—and human communities exist within larger social, economic, and ecological systems. So, the voices of outside stakeholders and experts are important to prevent parochialism and include specialist knowledge.
- Systems are also defined by their components—and human communities are aggregates of smaller social groups with varying levels of influence and power. So, the voices of traditionally disempowered or dissenting groups are not only ethically important to include, they can also help prevent discrimination and stagnation(although this responsibility is shared by all).
- In human communities, identity is dynamic. It is a function of people existing in a community together, changing as they and the society and environment around them change.
University of Colorado professor Bruce Goldstein notes that:
“identity and community are collaborative achievements, not just entities already out there waiting to be found and dusted off.”
Resilience-building efforts should constantly revisit and refine their understanding of what the community’s identity is.
In practice, envisioning a shared community identity will be messy, multi-faceted, and constantly open to question.
Opening potentially challenging discussions is essential for uncovering not only inequities and vulnerabilities but also opportunities and resources.
Resilience building is most effective when stakeholders are engaged and invested — and in communities, the primary stakeholders are the people who live there. The people living in a community are the key to the crucial resource of social capital — essentially, the local relationships that make things happen.
They are often the most knowledgeable about the community’s opportunities and challenges, and best-suited to act on them through existing economic, political, and social relationships.
When community members have ownership of and responsibility for resilience building it creates a sense of agency and support for the work—as well as of fairness and shared effort in what emerges. (Indeed, this is partly why resilience building can’t just be a government project.)
It helps with the longer, broader process of social cohesion — the formation of bonds that make us willing and able to cooperate, collaborate, and take care of each other.
Social cohesion is essential for helping us get through acute crises like natural disasters and makes a community feel enriching and nurturing over the long-term.
Social capital accumulates and evolves over time, allowing the community to continually build up its knowledge, skills, and place-based wisdom — things that so many communities have lost over the last century.
It’s more than a renewable resource; the more we use it, the more it grows, and the more it contributes to community resilience.
2. Systems thinking
Systems thinking is essential for understanding the complex, interrelated crises now unfolding and what they mean for our similarly complex communities.
“I have seen repeatedly that a too-narrow understanding of the issue—from only limited vantage points or within only one sector for example—leads to poorly framed interventions. Thinking in systems goes beyond any one segment or sector and pushes groups to include those “unlikely bedfellows” that can help find the leverage points for change.”
Michelle Colussi, Canadian Centre for Community Renewal
“What are you trying to do, and what are the consequences? To me, that’s systems thinking. It’s thinking about how one action here affects the whole. It’s taking responsibility for taking actions.
Doria Robinson, Urban Tilth
WHAT IT MEANS
Our communities are thoroughly integrated sub-systems of a single global socio-ecological system.
They’re connected to or influenced by external factors like regional water supplies, national energy policy, and global climate change.
Our communities are also complex systems in their own right, with innumerable components constantly changing and interacting with each other, the larger whole, and outside systems. Local economic activity, relationships among different social groups, local cultural patterns… they all influence the community from the inside out.
The challenges we face are complex, so we can’t approach them as if they were linear problems.
Systems thinking helps us understand the complex E4 crises, as well as how our complex societies and communities work. It is also the basis of resilience science.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Making sense of complexity
Systems thinking—simultaneously seeing the parts, the whole, and the relationships within a system — helps us make sense of complexity.
Complexity is different from being complicated.
Resilience thinkers Brian Walker and David Salt describe it this way:
“The mechanism that drives an old-style clock is a set of tiny, intricate cogs and springs, often consisting of many pieces. This is a complicated machine…
However, the individual pieces are not independent of one another; rather, the movement of one depends on another in an unvarying way… [In contrast,] although a farm might produce just one item (e.g., wheat), the farm is far from simple. The farmer, the farming practices, the crop, the soil it grows on, and the market are all interacting and changing over time. This is a complex adaptive system.”
Engineering helps us understand the clock but it will only get us so far with the farm. Weather, market prices, soil nutrition, government policy and countless other factors are all in flux and often unpredictable.
Systems thinking gives us concepts that help us model the dynamics and relationships that exist. We can start to think of the farm in terms of “stocks” (resources like the wheat in the storehouse; the nutrients in the soil), “flows” (sales of the wheat; depletion of the soil’s nutrients), “feedback loops” (higher demand for grain spurs the farmer to plant more wheat; more cultivation means the farmer needs to replace more lost soil nutrients), and so on.
An essential part of systems thinking is setting a boundary: deciding the limits of what we’ll consider in detail. By setting a boundary, we are not pretending that everything outside the boundary doesn’t exist — rather, we are choosing one of many possible perspectives, and accepting that we can’t know everything we might want to know. Indeed, recognizing that there is more than one way to see things is at the heart of systems thinking.
This is especially important when we are talking about human communities, where there is rarely a lack of diverse views and interests.
If we’ll never have complete information, it follows that there will always be blind spots. During the run-up to the Iraq War, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously described this as the problem of “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.”
This suggests that an open-ended, adaptable response to a problem may be preferable to a static solution. As we’ll see with the next foundation, Adaptability, resilience science gives us tools for anticipating and dealing with uncertainty.
Making the E4 Crises Relevant
Modern industrial society operates today at a global scale, and every community is deeply dependent on resources and processes far beyond its own region.
International trade and relations are of course nothing new, but over the last half-century, we have created extraordinarily complex interconnections between economic, social, and environmental systems around the world.
Building community resilience in the face of the E4 crises means we need to think about the myriad challenges (of which only some are predictable) that we’ll face in the foreseeable future.
Understanding the E4 Crises can help Guide Actions at the Community Level.
For example, if we assume that the market will automatically supply affordable energy as long as there is demand, there is no point in worrying about the trend of diminishing cheap-to-produce oil resources.
On the other hand, when we understand the basic mechanisms of our energy crisis — i.e., that our economy and infrastructure remain extremely dependent on oil, and alternative energy sources are all limited in their capacity to substitute for it — we get a better sense of what to expect in the future and what it might mean for our community.
Systems thinking makes the E4 crises relevant to communities in one other ways:
It helps us see that actions even at the relatively small community level play a role in what is happening at the national and global levels. They are all parts of the same system.
Building community resilience contributes to the resilience of our global socio-ecological system.
A community that adapts to change is resilient. But because communities and the challenges we face are dynamic, adaptation is an ongoing process.
“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition
WHAT IT MEANS
When complex systems are resilient in the face of a disruption it is because they have the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, thanks to system characteristics like diversity, modularity, and openness.
In human systems, resilience-building efforts aim (in part) to cultivate such characteristics — but if those efforts themselves don’t adapt to changing circumstances, they may unwittingly cultivate the resilience of things that aren’t desired. (Poverty, drought, and authoritarian governments can all be resilient in their own ways.)
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
The qualities of resilience?
There are many different ways to think about how resilience is built and how adaptability is supported.
In their influential book Resilience Practice, Brian Walker and David Salt list “attributes” like diversity, modularity, openness, and reserves.
The Stockholm Resilience Institute identifies “principles” like manage connectivity and broaden participation.
The Rockefeller Foundation lists “qualities” like robust, redundant, flexible, and inclusive.
While some of these terms and approaches differ, they essentially point to the same ideas.
For communities, what matters is that resilience is understood as a quality to continually cultivate by taking on the right patterns, not a goal to be achieved by ticking off a list of characteristics.
Andrew Zolli (author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back) evokes this approach with his “verbs of resilience” — four things that are happening all the time in a resilient community:
- Building regenerative capacity.
- Sensing emerging risks.
- Responding to disruption.
- Learning and transforming.
Initiatives, activists, and politicians come and go, but if resilience building is ingrained in the community culture, it can evolve as the community evolves.
Adaptability is both about responding to change (both external and internal) and learning from the experience.
Learning happens through feedback loops. In a model system, feedback loops send information from one part of the system to another so that it can self-regulate; resilience is built by having tight feedback loops.
A community lacking in resilience is probably suffering from poor or incomplete feedback loops: perhaps community members don’t know what business and government leaders are doing, or certain groups of people don’t have a voice in the community.
Effective resilience building aims to identify what types of feedback (and from where and to where) are important, including those that are being overlooked or ignored.
The problems of complexity and efficiency the adaptability of a system is influenced by many things, and often not in obvious ways. For example, too much complexity in a system can be a symptom of low resilience: it can reduce flexibility and create resistance to change.
One way to potentially reduce excess complexity is to improve efficiency — but this can also have unintended consequences. For example, the post-World War II push to move poor families into oversized, anonymous public housing projects was deemed an efficient way to provide housing cheaply.
But it also cut the rich social ties and emotional roots people had in their old neighborhoods, making it easier for crime to flourish and destroying the social capital that might have been tapped to address community challenges.
These “planned” social systems were less able to adapt because they had too little complexity.
Too much resilience Communities, their subsystems, and the systems they are part of are all constantly changing, and in ways that are often unpredictable.
A system that cannot cope with change will ultimately cease to exist. The collapse of the Soviet Union may be the most dramatic example in living memory of a human system whose failure to adapt to both external and internal changes proved fatal.
In contrast, the U.S. political and economic system has been quite resilient—largely because of system characteristics that build resilience, like diversity (competition is encouraged), innovation (financial and social incentives exist for profitable ideas), and reserves (when markets fail, governments have stepped in with bailouts).
Resilience can become a problem, however, when the decisions that cultivate resilience-building qualities themselves fail to adapt.
The severe market failure of 2008 was essentially brought on by the U.S. system’s overdependence on debt and cheap oil (which is a complex function of public sector policies and private sector investments).
The economic collapse was avoided, but at the cost of actions that ultimately reinforced dependence on debt and oil — that is, the system achieved short-term stability but increased its long-term vulnerability.
Unless the system can “learn” and truly adapt to the changed reality (i.e., stagnant real economic growth and the end of cheap and easy fossil fuels), it may not get through the next crisis without deep — and likely undesirable—transformation.
Some challenges are so big that it’s not possible for the community to simply adapt; fundamental, transformative changes may be necessary.
“The way you maintain the resilience of a system is by allowing it to probe its boundaries.”
Brian Walker, resilience scientist
“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
a character in The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
WHAT IT MEANS
Communities generally adapt to the world around them changes. But if adaptation happens too slowly or is constrained, challenges can outpace the ability to cope and eventually threaten overall resilience.
When automobile manufacturing started moving out of the Midwest, for example, many communities were so dependent on the industry that mere adaptation wasn’t an option:
“they needed to radically rethink their economic basis (and the social and governance implications of radical change) if they hoped to maintain any ability to chart their futures.”
In other words, these communities needed to change some part of their identity (while retaining their most valued qualities) and transform to a new state that could be resilient under the new circumstances.
Resilience building usually tries to maintain the basic function and structure of a system in the face of disruption.
Transformational efforts are purposefully disruptive to the system, changing some of its functions and structures so that it can build resilience in ways more suited to the new reality.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
It is hard to get new results from old patterns. Past investments in now-outmoded infrastructure aren’t easily abandoned; entrenched leaders rely on existing relationships and hold on to outdated assumptions and prejudices; bureaucracies ossify in decades-old procedures that everybody hates but nobody seems to be able to change.
A system’s ability to potentially remake itself—to transform—is a key component of its overall resilience (the other components are its general adaptive capacity and its ability to cope with vulnerabilities specific to its situation).
In some situations, it may be necessary for the entire system to transform. In the 1990s, the Austrian community of Güssing transformed itself from a poor agricultural town into a minor industrial center by completely remaking its relationship with energy, going from importing all of its (mostly fossil fuel) energy to becoming a net renewable energy producer.
In other situations, it may just be a single but essential part of the system that must transform in order to achieve greater system resilience. Imagine a community police department with an entrenched culture that disproportionately arrests and harms young black men.
This essential subsystem of the community — the law enforcement function — is undermining overall resilience by violently disrupting lives and households, feeding resentment towards local authorities, and raising the chances of social unrest.
The police department needs a different culture, different internal policies, and possibly different leaders; it needs to transform into something significantly different from what it currently is.
Community resilience-building efforts can be transformational by tackling those aspects of the community that need fundamental change, and sowing the seeds of transformation generally for when change is needed in the future.
In resilience science, transformability depends on three attributes:
- Getting to acceptance. Transformation is intentional disruption, so it will not be successful unless the people involved and affected recognize the need for it. Information, transparency, dialogue, and inclusive processes are all important.
- Having options for transformational change. New ideas for dealing with new situations will only be available if there is room for them to be developed and tested. Resilience-building efforts might aim to allow and create space — regulatory, economic, social, and even physical space — for experimentation and novelty within governments, businesses, and neighborhoods, as well as seeking out innovations from the margins (which is where transformational change often starts).
- Having capacity for transformational change.
As Brian Walker and David Salt describe it:
“transformative change needs support from higher scales and also depends on having high levels of all types of capital natural, human, built, financial, and social.”
Support from “higher scales” could mean that state policymakers have good working political relationships with local elected officials; or that there is a solid regional network of charging stations in place to support the city’s new electric vehicle program.
Of the “high levels” of capital needed, the potential of social capital is particularly compelling; consider, for example, the deep social and cultural relationships that were integral to the success of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
Community resilience is not sustainable if it serves only us, and only now; it needs to work for other communities, future generations, and the ecosystems on which we all depend.
“For those who embrace sustainability in the fullest sense—as an environmental, social, economic, and political ideal—we’re at a crossroads in our civilization.”
Jeremy Caradonna, Sustainability: A History
There are two paths to take:
- continue with business as usual, ignore the science of climate change, and pretend that our economic system isn’t on life support—or,
- remake and redefine our society along the lines of sustainability.
WHAT IT MEANS
As discussed eearlier, sustainability and resilience are distinct concepts that complement each other. Resilience helps us understand the nuts and bolts of how socio-ecological systems work and how they might adapt (or fail to adapt) to changes over time.
Sustainability helps us understand in a more general sense our extremely complex relationship with the natural world, and the consequences of getting that relationship wrong. Where resilience is process-oriented and, in ways, value-neutral, sustainability forces us to confront deep questions and uncomfortable potential futures.
Sustainability is a guiding light for resilience building, where there can be a danger of getting overwhelmed by endless system factors and dynamics.
Its tools help us make sense of the torrent of information that systems thinking requires us to explore. The perspective we get from it informs the long-term goals of resilience building.
But we also need to be careful in our pursuit of sustainability that we don’t mistake what we want for what’s actually possible.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Tools Sustainability starts with the obvious but still often ignored observations that humanity’s actions are ultimately limited by the carrying capacity of our finite planetary biosphere, and that we are already running afoul of this limit.
In general, it is concerned with exploring how our actions impact the biosphere, how the biosphere in turn impacts us, and how our actions need to change over the long term.
Community resilience-building efforts will find useful guidance for grappling with the E4 crises in certain observations and analytical tools that have been developed in sustainability thinking:
- Limits to growth.
At some point in time, humanity’s ever-increasing resource
consumption will meet the very real limits of a planet with finite natural resources. The related “ecological footprint” concept shows us how humanity is using the Earth’s resources faster than it can regenerate them, and challenges us to think about whether everyone can and will get a fair share.
Community resilience-building efforts may ask:
- Are we assuming that economic growth will continue?
- What does our future look like if the natural resources we depend on become scarcer or more expensive?
Capital and Services
Environmental and human resources are often thought of as forms of capital—namely, natural capital and social capital — when considering the services and benefits we receive from them: natural capital, perhaps in the form of
a forest can provide services like cleaning the air and filtering water; social capital includes the relationships found within a community, and is the basis for organized action.
Sustainability thinking can help us think about how these and other resources might be valued against each other—and if it is even possible (or ethical) to do so.
This has practical implications for communities. For example, if we cut down a nearby forest so that our expanding community has more room for homes and jobs, and we offset the loss by building parks elsewhere, is that a defensible trade-off?
If gentrification pushes established long-time residents out of a neighborhood but spurs overall community economic growth, is that a defensible trade-off?
- Safe operating space for humanity.
In 2009, Johan Rockström and colleagues proposed a model of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity must remain to avoid catastrophic environmental change.
They include limits on climate change, interference with the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, biodiversity loss, and ocean acidification.
Community resilience-building efforts may ask:
- Are we contributing to humanity pushing past these boundaries?
- Are we prepared for catastrophic environmental change?
- What can we do to reduce our impact—and prepare for the unavoidable changes—locally?
The essential aspiration of sustainability is for human civilization to persist on this planet indefinitely.
This suggests two requirements for community resilience-building efforts that do not necessarily emerge from
resilience thinking on its own:
“they must benefit both present and future generations, and future generations must be able to continue them.”
A Non-negotiable Yardstick
Of course, sustainability is far more than a suite of useful tools and a theoretical goal to which we should aspire for the sake of future generations:
“It presents us with a non-negotiable yardstick
against which all our actions, goals, and plans must be measured.”
Quite simply, these are either sustainable or nsustainable.
But rather than face the reality that many of our individual and societal activities — and even our well-intentioned environmental strategies — are incompatible with true sustainability, we’ve re-appropriated the term to refer to practices that are merely more environmentally sound than others.
How can sustainability, as a way of thinking about the world, remain meaningful if it doesn’t seem to be leading us where we urgently need to go?
The problem is not the concept of sustainability per se, but rather that we’ve collectively lacked the courage to engage with it as honestly as needed.
We too easily use sustainability to think critically about the present but only optimistically about the future.
In the 1990s, when sustainability was first becoming a household word, it evoked shocking images of disappearing rainforests and stranded polar bears — but inevitably with a hint that tragedy could be reversed if only we each did our small part.
Two decades later, with the rainforests still burning and the polar bears still starving, it’s clear that a more pragmatic and sober approach is overdue.
Such an approach to sustainability recognizes that if we don’t find strategies to keep the human project operating within the limits of the biosphere, that project will ultimately fail.
It challenges us to confront a damaged future and, even more importantly, to learn from our mistakes so that we stop making things even worse.
Pragmatic, sober sustainability lends urgency and depth to resilience-building efforts at the community level:
“We each need to do our part indeed—and it can’t be small. There’s too much at stake.”
As individuals and as a community, we need the courage to confront challenging issues and take responsibility for our collective future.
“More and more I see people who just know the status quo isn’t working — they don’t have courage, they just know they need some different answers.
Accepting the answers may require courage but if they are engaged in co-creating them, there is ownership and commitment.”
Michelle Colussi, Canadian Centre for Community Renewal
“Hope is…an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed… It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the Peace
WHAT IT MEANS
Community resilience building is not an engineering problem solvable just by knowledge and skill. It is a social undertaking, involving thousands or even millions of people and their most meaningful relationships, hopes, and fears.
It confronts us with the worrying threats of the E4 crises and compels us to engage with people with whom we may disagree—perhaps quite strongly.
We need motivation and emotional strength to take on such personally challenging work.
Individuals need the courage to speak out about their views and needs, and make themselves personally vulnerable.
Communities, too, need the courage to create space for difficult conversations, make far-reaching investments and policy changes, and risk sharing political and economic power.
Courage is the ability to do something you know is difficult, and building community resilience in the face of the E4 crises can be difficult indeed.
Resilience-building efforts need to cultivate courage in both individuals and the community as a whole to confront challenging issues and take responsibility for their collective future.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Facing Problems Head-on
Resilience building makes us grapple with complex problems that don’t have easy or obvious answers. It can be overwhelming to try to make sense of the global E4 crises, not to mention local challenges.
Moreover, these are challenges that literally hit close to home.
From the daily injustices of the equity crisis to the existential threat of climate change, the E4 crises threaten our physical, economic, and emotional well-being, as well as some of the things we most hold dear:
These are big, long-lasting that problems will affect our children and grandchildren — as will the actions we take in response to them.
Collaboration Isn’t Easy
It’s hard enough to work on these issues as individuals and households; it’s harder still to work on them as a community, with people who may see things differently.
Take, for example, the challenge of finding basic agreement about the “identity” of the community:
- Should the community aim for growth or stability?
- Should it preserve the dominant culture, or be open to new people and new ideas?
There will inevitably be disagreement and even struggle over such questions, because social change is always negotiated and contested.
Even finding agreement on which problems are most urgent can be contentious.
Talking seriously about the community’s future also means talking about the community’s past:
- How did its current trajectory come to be?
This can lead to uncomfortable but important conversations about the present and past injustices, and how power is wielded in the community.
Although they can be awkward, such conversations open the door to deliberation about how power can be more equitably shared in the community.
In fact, if community resilience-building efforts aren’t challenging, they’re probably not going deep enough.
Sticking with the Work
We humans form communities in part because we want stability and predictability. We’ve evolved systems over millennia to provide us with food and water, enable us to move long distances, and interact with each other without constantly fearing for our safety.
Those systems — built infrastructure, social institutions, cultural patterns — are understandably resistant to change. It takes courage to imagine and then do things differently than they’ve been done before, whether it is adapting current practices or transforming them more fundamentally.
Courage also supports us through the practical challenges of collaboration and public process; logistical obstacles pop up, volunteers disappear, funding runs out, or we simply don’t get what we want. It takes courage to collaborate with our neighbors — even on seemingly inconsequential matters.
Courage brings us back around to the first foundation, People, because it is the people of the community who will build resilience — and they are the ones who need courage for all the pieces of resilience building:
“Courage to work with other people and share in taking responsibility for the community.”
Courage to tackle the complex, systemic issues we face.
Courage to learn from experience and adapt our thinking and methods.
Courage to accept uncertainty and make big transformations when necessary.
Courage to commit to far-reaching and long-term resilience building that is truly sustainable, for generations to come.
Community Development Model
Community Development Principles
9. Natural Building
10. Appropriate Technologies
Introduction to Appropriate Technologies
Appropriate technology is a movement (and its manifestations) encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally autonomous.
It was originally articulated as intermediate technology by the economist Dr. Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher in his work Small is Beautiful. Both Schumacher and many modern-day proponents of appropriate technology also emphasize the technology as people-centered.
Appropriate technology has been used to address issues in a wide range of fields.
Well-known examples of appropriate technology applications include:
- bike- and hand-powered water pumps (and other self-powered equipment),
- the universal nut sheller,
- self-contained solar lamps and streetlights,
- and passive solar building designs.
Today appropriate technology is often developed using open source principles, which have led to Open-source Appropriate Technology (OSAT) and thus many of the plans of the technology can be freely found on the Internet.
OSAT has been proposed as a new model of enabling innovation for sustainable development.
Appropriate technology is most commonly discussed in its relationship to economic development and as an alternative to technology transfer of more capital-intensive technology from industrialized nations to developing countries.
However, appropriate technology movements can be found in both developing and developed countries. In developed countries, the appropriate technology movement grew out of the energy crisis of the 1970s and focuses mainly on environmental and sustainability issues.
Today the idea is multifaceted; in some contexts, appropriate technology can be described as the simplest level of technology that can achieve the intended purpose, whereas, in others, it can refer to engineering that takes adequate consideration of social and environmental ramifications.
The facets are connected through robustness and sustainable living.
History of Technology
Technology can be described as the development over time of systematic techniques for making and doing things.
The term technology, a combination of the Greek technē, “art, craft”, with logos, “word, speech”, meant in Greece a discourse on the arts, both fine and applied.
When it first appeared in English in the 17th century, it was used to mean a discussion of the applied arts only, and gradually these “arts” themselves came to be the object of the designation.
By the early 20th century, the term embraced a growing range of means, processes, and ideas in addition to tools and machines. By mid-century, technology was defined by such phrases as “the means or activity by which man seeks to change or manipulate his environment.”
Even such broad definitions have been criticized by observers who point out the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between scientific inquiry and technological activity.
A highly compressed account of the history of technology such as this one must adopt a rigorous methodological pattern if it is to do justice to the subject without grossly distorting it one way or another.
The plan followed in the present article is primarily chronological, tracing the development of technology through phases that succeed each other in time.
Obviously, the division between phases is to a large extent arbitrary.
One factor in the weighting has been the enormous acceleration of Western technological development in recent centuries; Eastern technology is considered in this article in the main only as it relates to the development of modern technology.
Appropriate Technology Movement
Indian ideological leader Mahatma Gandhi is often cited as the “father” of the appropriate technology movement.
Though the concept had not been given a name, Gandhi advocated for small, local and predominantly village-based technology to help India’s villages become self-reliant.
He disagreed with the idea of technology that benefited a minority of people at the expense of the majority or that put people out of work to increase profit.
In 1925 Gandhi founded the All-India Spinners Association and in 1935 he retired from politics to form the All-India Village Industries Association. Both organizations focused on village-based technology similar to the future appropriate technology movement.
China also implemented policies similar to appropriate technology during the reign of Mao Zedong and the following Cultural Revolution.
During the Cultural Revolution, development policies based on the idea of “walking on two legs” advocated the development of both large-scale factories and small-scale village industries.
Foundation of the Appropriate Technologies Movement
Dr. Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher is credited as the founder of the appropriate technology movement. A well-known economist, Schumacher worked for the British National Coal Board for more than 20 years, where he blamed the size of the industry’s operations for its uncaring response to the harm black-lung disease inflicted on the miners.
However, it was his work with developing countries, such as India and Burma, which helped Schumacher form the underlying principles of appropriate technology.
Schumacher first articulated the idea of “intermediate technology,” now known as appropriate technology, in a 1962 report to the Indian Planning Commission in which he described India as long in labor and short in the capital, calling for an “intermediate industrial technology” that harnessed India’s labor surplus.
Schumacher had been developing the idea of intermediate technology for several years prior to the Planning Commission report.
In 1955, following a stint as an economic advisor to the government of Burma, he published the short paper “Economics in a Buddhist Country,” his first known critique of the effects of Western economics on developing countries.
In addition to Buddhism, Schumacher also credited his ideas to Gandhi.
Initially, Schumacher’s ideas were rejected by both the Indian government and leading development economists. Spurred to action over concern the idea of intermediate technology would languish, Schumacher, George McRobie, Mansur Hoda and Julia Porter brought together a group of approximately 20 people to form the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in May 1965.
Later that year, a Schumacher article published in the Observer garnered significant attention and support for the group. In 1967, the group published the Tools for Progress: A Guide to Small-scale Equipment for Rural Development and sold 7,000 copies.
ITDG also formed panels of experts and practitioners around specific technological needs (such as building construction, energy, and water) to develop intermediate technologies to address those needs. At a conference hosted by the ITDG in
1968 the term “intermediate technology” was discarded in favor of the term “appropriate technology” used today.
Intermediate technology had been criticized as suggesting the technology was inferior to advanced (or high) technology and not including the social and political factors included in the concept put forth by the proponents.
In 1973, Schumacher described the concept of appropriate technology to a mass audience in his influential work, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered….
Appropriate Technologies Showing a Growing Trend
Between 1966 and 1975 the number of new appropriate technology organizations founded each year was three times greater than the previous nine years.
There was also an increase in organizations focusing on applying appropriate technology to the problems of industrialized nations, particularly issues related to energy and the environment.
In 1977, the OECD identified in its Appropriate Technology Directory 680 organizations involved in the development and promotion of appropriate technology.
By 1980, this number had grown to more than 1,000.
International agencies and government departments were also emerging as major innovators in appropriate technology, indicating its progression from a small movement fighting against the established norms to a legitimate technological choice supported by the establishment.
For example, the Inter-American Development Bank created a Committee for the Application of Intermediate Technology in 1976 and the World Health Organization established the Appropriate Technology for Health Program in 1977.
Appropriate technology was also increasingly applied in developed countries. For example, the energy crisis of the mid-1970s led to the creation of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) in 1977 with an initial appropriation of 3 million dollars from the U.S. Congress.
The Center sponsored appropriate technology demonstrations to:
“help low-income communities find better ways to do things that will improve the quality of life, and that will be doable with the skills and resources at hand.”
However, by 1981 the NCAT’s funding agency, Community Services Administration, had been abolished.
For several decades NCAT worked with the US departments of Energy and Agriculture on contract to develop appropriate technology programs. Since 2005, NCAT’s informational website is no longer funded by the US government.
A Decline in Appropriate Technologies
In more recent years, the appropriate technology movement has continued to decline in prominence. Germany’s German Appropriate Technology Exchange (GATE) and Holland’s Technology Transfer for Development (TOOL) are examples of organizations no longer in operation.
Recently, a study looked at the continued barriers to AT deployment despite the relatively low cost of transferring information in the internet age.
The barriers have been identified as:
- AT seen as inferior or “poor person’s” technology,
- technical transferability and robustness of AT,
- insufficient funding,
- weak institutional support,
- the challenges of distance and
- time in tackling rural poverty.
A freer market-centric view has also begun to dominate the field. For example, Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises (an organization that designs and manufactures products that follow the ideals of appropriate technology), declared appropriate technology dead in a 2010 blog post.
Polak argues the “design for the other 90 percent” movement has replaced appropriate technology. Growing out of the appropriate technology movement, designing for the other 90 percent advocates the creation of low-cost solutions for the 5.8 billion of the world’s 6.8 billion population “who have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted.”
Many of the ideas integral to appropriate technology can now be found in the increasingly popular “sustainable development” movement, which among many tenets advocates technological choice that meets human needs while preserving the environment for future generations.
In 1983, the OECD published the results of an extensive survey of appropriate technology organizations titled, The World of Appropriate Technology, in which it defined appropriate technology as characterized by:
“low investment cost per work-place, low capital investment per unit of output, organizational simplicity, high adaptability to a particular social or cultural environment, sparing use of natural resources, low cost of final product or high potential for employment.”
Today, the OECD website redirects from the “Glossary of Statistical Terms” entry on “appropriate technology” to “environmentally sound technologies.”
The United Nations‘ “Index to Economic and Social Development” also redirects from the “appropriate technology” entry to “sustainable development.”