Thursday, February 20, 2014

Andrew Faust: Applying Permaculture to the Bigger Picture

By Colin English

At the second lecture of Ramapo College of New Jersey’s series of environmental speakers, on February 6, a modern Thoreauan comfortably paced the front of the room.  Knowing that the audience constituted students and faculty predominantly of the Environmental discipline, Andrew Faust, director of the Center for Bioregional Living in Ellenville, NY, dove into the depths of Permaculture with an eloquent intellectuality.

He carefully unfolded a human movement to simpler solutions for our economic woes, to a consideration of existing ecological systems already meticulously honed by nature, and a methodology that can give anyone the Thoreauvian waltz into the sensical synergy between humanity and the environment. Permaculture, he described, “attempts to balance and simultaneously achieve human needs and preserve ecological integrity.” It was during his own journey into Permaculture, however, when he realized his mind had become too narrowly focused. By removing himself from the human juggernaut, his micro-solutions operating off-the-grid would not spur the global revolution we need. There needed to be something more.
Permaculture must move beyond a simple sustainability for a given time period and away from micro-scale isolationism to a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, ethical solution. Permaculture has the opportunity to transform corrupted for-profit institutions into formidable forces for ethical, environmentally sound business. Instead of separating his ideas and principles from the larger system, he needed to engage the world head on. Through Permaculture, we can ask ourselves: “What are we designing for?” Are we designing for only the short-term, crash-course endings, as well as the pursuit of profits? Have we designed our system at the expense of a true understanding of the Earth? Yes, he argues.
The ecological realm that we have pillaged and exploited in a dangerous narcissism has only served to artificially separate us from our most natural caregiver. Nature has given us all the tools and lessons we need to live happily and well, and even given us the knowledge to create a sound, and diversely efficient economy. Economy and ecology do not need to be mutually exclusive adversaries like they are in modern times. Yet, we still erroneously model our socio-economic culture on an infinite growth syndrome, and our methods of life remain utterly contrary to natural systems. For example, we need only to look at an act as mundane as brushing our teeth for evidence of our misunderstanding. Our centralized, globalized, and massive scale system of transportation, exploitation, and production of resources is completely utilized to make a single toothbrush. There’s a much better way, and it has been just outside our window and mindsets every day.
Andrew Faust argues for a refitted, not reconstructed infrastructure; a regionally diffuse model of community, ecology, and economy - not a uniform disregard for local diversity. We must design for a local and regional variation that appropriately meets both place and culture. Permaculture can be expanded to understand how the Earth works at a given location, why the area has developed as such, and how a community can make every effort to assimilate into it. Through a mix of public and expert planning, humanity at any location can combine the intuitive knowledge of the local people with technical expertise to create something that works without global expense.
Look out your window and ask yourself a series of questions. Do you see an arid desert or a lush valley? What is the physiography (defined as the physical geology and geography)? Do you know the composition of the rocks under your feet or the flora and fauna around your house? How do the hydrological systems function, and are there other areas like yours? These are the simple questions both individuals and communities can ask to make our system fundamentally sound, not removed from reality. As we begin to align with the natural principles and systems honed through millennia, humanity can make a regionally diffuse system that is adaptable to unique situations and hazards, resilient to human failure, and one that has a multiplicity of sensible resources and structures.
To complement the distribution of systems to fit the natural ecology, we must also rethink our logic behind environmental regulation. Establish rigid protocol that must be adhered to in order to operate with American business and economic sectors, instead of relying on a punitive system that continues to be inconsequentially violated by repeat offenders. We must address the true costs of the military industrial monstrosity we have supported for decades. The disastrous impacts are apparent around us, notably encapsulated by endemic warfare, entire populations languishing in poverty and starvation, incredible daily losses of biodiversity and ecological integrity, and how we live in a world in which a child is often afraid to touch the grasses, the trees, and the bugs of the Earth. From his lecture, a defining trait of Andrew Faust is his encyclopedic knowledge of history and literature. As his last thought to the audience, he proposed a meditation on a quote by the ancient Herodotus: “The point of history is not to repeat it.”

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