How to make your climate activism regenerative
There are parallel movements, some older, some newer, all with great intention and purpose, aimed at giving us the tools to do something about the downfall of capitalism, the excesses of over-consumption, increasing inequality, and critical environmental devastation. However, rarely are any of these tools pulled together, in collaboration. It is time that three of them finally share a table and spark the synergy needed today: climate activism, permaculture design thinking, and deep adaptation enlightenment.
Climate activism, for the purpose of this discussion, focuses mainly on Extinction Rebellion (XR) and its tactics and goals. Permaculture is a design method that helps us creatively work with nature, rather than against her, in achieving a regenerative lifestyle to help heal, rather than destroy her. Deep Adaptation (DA) is a concept coined by Jem Bendell, a professor of sustainability at Cumbria University, in 2018, when he published his findings of the true climate data that had been hidden from the public. He developed a psychological framework to cope with this information. The 4 R’s, as he calls them, are to categorize our thoughts and decisions into 4 categories:
- Resilience, those things we will attempt to keep to help us through the coming climate chaos (like compassion, collaboration, information dissemination systems…);
- Relinquishment, those things we will have to ditch to become efficient and compassionate as we navigate an uncertain future (our idea that economic growth is “progress”, our dependence on current forms of security and status, built-in obsolescence, plastic…);
- Restoration, those things we can bring back that were thrown by the wayside of industrialization (simple tools with few moving parts, the kitchen garden, community canning, bartering and time-banking…); and finally,
- Reconciliation, making peace with those we have hurt, excluded, human and non-human, with earth herself, and recognizing we are all mortal and vulnerable as individuals, but everlasting, healthy, and strong as a biodiverse and equitably interdependent system.
Here, I will present how these three movements can work together by presenting climate activism within the framework of the twelve design principle of permaculture, highlighting where deep adaptation philosophy can provide some of the “why.”
I will preface this list, for those not familiar with permaculture, with the three basic Ethics on which permaculture is based. The first and foremost is “Care of Earth.” This ethic sets the tone for all decisions and considerations. Nothing moves forward if this ethic has not been met. The second ethic, “Care of People,” is equally weighted, yet secondary, nonetheless. The wisdom of this lies in the fact that while people are important, if the earth is not cared for, people will eventually suffer the consequences anyway. So earth comes first. Lastly, but also vitally, “Fair Share.” This ethic encompasses a wide range of thoughts that boil down to this: take only what you absolutely need, recycle the rest to benefit those people and systems closest to you, then those further out, then even further out. In other words, you are reinvesting excess yields (surplus) in your system, then your community, in order to support the first two ethics.
The twelve design principles below are used as a checklist to make design thinking decisions. These design decisions can be for food production, as they were first intended, or they can be for decisions on how to organize a protest, how to build a village, how to raise children, what company to invest in, where to place a building, and so on. It is limitless, as is any design philosophy. This design thinking is a “closed-system” design philosophy, and is an attempt to replicate nature. Therefore, it has seen much success.
- Observe and Interact
Extinction Rebellion has borrowed many of their tactics from Gandhi and MLK. They observed that both were passive, non-violent, and often approached authority figures as if they could, even under the absurd circumstance, be friends. XR leadership has done a great job observing previous successful protests and their techniques and translating them to modern day tactics.
Permaculture practitioners are trained to be observant become involved, especially those with experience and interest in the social permaculture branch. This group has much to contribute to a conversation on how a regenerative lifestyle can be formulated parallel to the activism that demands policy and legislative changes and the philosophical and emotional support that DA provides.
Deep Adaptation has interacted with XR leaders, especially in Britain and online in forums. The talent to observe the inner world as well as the outer, makes DA practitioners extremely useful in guiding decision making.
2. Catch and Store Energy
It seems a lot of the “energy” that is felt these days is popping up from left field… literally. You’ve got the “Greta Effect,” the “Feel the Bern” movement, the outrage over Australia burning and England leaving the EU, both after right-wing governments are elected. Not to mention the Trump-fiasco that is rolling back decades of environmental achievements and firing up the liberals to get back to the polls. There is a real potential to catch and store that energy and use it to fuel a synergy of deep adaptation, climate activism and permaculture.
This is the moment in history, when all the positive energy, the potential to do good, to create a shift is ready to be directed into something concrete. From transition towns to kitchen gardens, from city-wide protests to switching out lawns for pollinator meadows, everyone has some form of energy that can be ignited and directed.
3. Obtain a yield
Sure, getting parliament or congress to declare a climate emergency is a good goal, however, that has not happened. What has happened, is that a variety of towns, municipalities and smaller countries have declared a climate emergency. More importantly, however, many individuals have taken note and realized that the situation is dire, thanks to Greta and XR’s actions. This is an excellent yield. It is important to redefine yield and be flexible in valuing unexpected yield.
Another yield becoming apparent is the trends developing around minimalism, zero-waste, anti-consumerism, ethical fair-trade, organics, chemical-free gardening, and a growing awareness of the insect extinction. It is perhaps frustrating to see these diverse and insufficient streams of yield build so slowly. However, like everything in nature, this growth is exponential, not linear. And as long as the pressure remains steadfast, the growth will snowball.
4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
XR has been repeatedly labeled as extremist. Now, this can be a good thing. It can also be a bad thing. One thing is certain: it is eye-catching. And that, in and of itself, is good. So accepting that feedback for the asset that it can be, we can look at it from a permaculture perspective and use it to our advantage. The youth are attracted to danger and risk, to rebellion and extremism. So even though the movement was founded my middle aged people with 20/20 hindsight, XR has the advantage of a name and a calling of risk and anti-authoritarianism that attracts precisely those who will take the movement to the next level.
On the other side of the coin, it is these younger people who will have to work within the framework of a broken ecological and climate environment. They need the practical tools, skills, and connections to make it in a brave new (to them) world. Once the chants die out and the new legislation has been inked (or not), the real work of producing food, educating the young, communicating, of being human continues, but in a world totally unfamiliar to us today.
This world will not grow the foods that we once expected, it will not have the clean water where we once enjoyed it, it will not have the abundant resources where they once grew. It will take skill, creativity, ingenuity, collaboration, innovation, wisdom… in short, closed-system design thinking. And it will take Deep Adaptation keep our compassion as we struggle with the unfamiliar.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
There is nothing more renewable than an idea. Except perhaps, a pattern. If I look at a the momentum of climate activism, I see a pattern of renewable energy… despite the fact that no legislation has been achieved, the original goal, the energy is self-sustaining, because it is renewable. Enough catastrophic events feed the panic, enough new people feed the protests, enough media coverage feeds the dissemination of information, and enough people on the fence then hop off and join the whirlwind to renew the energy.
However, when no legislation has been written, or once legislation is written but no action is taken (as with the Paris Climate Accords), some protesters will shake their head and walk way to deal with the fiasco of their personal lives. It is at this precise and critical point that another renewable resource needs to be there to plug the hole. There must be something that can address the climate chaos happening in your own backyard.
When we go out and protest on the steps of parliament or congress, we are protesting to have words written, we are protesting to have governments take action, we are hoping to make long-range, international, somewhat abstract changes that impact future generations. This action is critical. However, when we go home, we face problems today that this legislation, these words, do not address.
The renewable resource of design thinking is a bottomless pit of ideas, creativity, connection, synergy, and energy that leads to innovative and wise solutions to real, everyday problems. It allows us to address what plagues us right now, to make our lives a little easier, to alleviate suffering for our loved ones. And a deeply adaptive perspective will temper this patience and persistence.
6. Produce No Waste
The greatest waste is time. So the saying goes. But is it really? In the eyes of Mother Earth, your lifetime is meaningless. Unless, you have spent it waging destruction on her. So my question with regard to climate activism and permaculture is: are you producing waste?
To answer that, we will have to examine our goals and our actions. The goals of XR include the legislation to declare a climate emergency, halt biodiversity loss, bring emissions to net-zero by 2025, and be led by a citizens-assembly. Do these goals or any of the means to achieve them, create waste, whether that is physical waste or time waste?
For each individual, this has to be answered from the perspective of their own opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the cost of what you are missing out on by doing something. For example, are you missing work? School? Is it costing gas? Time away from family? It is for each individual to weigh the intrinsic value of climate activism and regenerative lifestyle choices against the opportunity cost of alternative options.
If we are to view climate activism as something that is far-reaching, long-range, and possibly more on the altruistic end of the activist spectrum, given that you will likely not personally reap the results of your actions, permaculture living can give you instant satisfaction and ROI, while deep adaptation can bring value and fullness into your life.
7. Design From Patterns to Details
A general pattern that emerges in activism is media momentum. Whether its YouTube or Facebook’s algorithms or what a celebrity actions, like Jane Fonda getting arrested, it all fans the flames. Flames create conversations and twitter wars, which lead to discussions at UN climate talks. As strange as it is for someone who comes from a generation where personal opinion was strictly separated from the actions of state, the reality today is that lay discussions on social media are now infiltrating the upper echelons of leadership and vice versa. That the president of the United States would tweet publicly like a schoolboy about a 16 year old girl who is leading a climate movement would have been unheard of a generation ago. But that is today’s pattern. Recognizing and using this pattern can be a useful tool in designing a strategy for a climate conversation and, ultimately, a transition.
8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
Obviously, I am advocating for the integration of climate activism with a permaculture lifestyle and deep adaptive compassionate thinking. However, I would like to examine a little closer where ideally these intertwine most efficiently.
Take the third principle of XR: “We need a regenerative culture — creating a culture that is healthy, resilient, and adaptable.” This could just as easily be a quote out of a permaculture textbook or part of the 4 R’s of deep adaptation. And honestly, who would disagree with such a statement. From a deep adaptation perspective, healthy, resilient people are those that adapt well to chaotic, unpredictable situations. A focus on regenerative culture is therefore a priority. But what does that mean??
Regenerative has taken the place of sustainable. For years the green movement used the word “sustainable” to indicate that something could be produced in a manner that did not degrade the environment further. But we have come to realize that this was simply not enough. So we have graduated to “regenerative,” meaning that our actions needed to restore and improve the functions and capability of the land to complete its own cycles of healing and rejuvenation. This is where a permaculture approach to land stewardship comes in handy. Using techniques that are infused with indigenous wisdom and compassion, we can find ways to honor earth’s natural cycles, working with her, instead of disrupting and working separate from her.
But much more than that, we can apply the regenerative approach to all decisions and life choices. I can jump on the bandwagon and outfit my entire 2400 square foot house for solar. This is a step in the right direction. However, examining this decision from a regenerative perspective, I have to ask myself a few questions:
- How are these panels produced (extractive resources, child labor)?
- Am I actually able to repair a broken panel (built-in obsolescence, too technical)?
- Where will they go when they no longer function (pollution)?
- How will I pay for such an expensive energy gadget and how many years will it take to reach a break-even point?
- But the most important question is, could I live without electricity? Do I have the skills and the backup means to live a simple yet full life without the consumption of vast amounts of energy?
Obviously, the answer to the last question is critical. People today all over the globe live comfortably with with no or significantly less electrical dependency that we do. Yes, it is more difficult once you are enmeshed with a highly technical society that uses high amounts of energy and relies on it to communicate, transport, and even govern. But on a personal level, it is not impossible, or even that difficult, to simply dramatically reduce energy use.
Integrating this assurance, climate action can confidently target extractive energy sources and help educate the public on alternative options to energy-intensive activities.
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
One thing climate activists, permaculturists, and deep adaptation adherants have in common is an urgency. We want to see action now, we want to get a response, transition, massive shift today, not in 10 years or even 5. And it is true that time is of the essence. We literally have only 60 years of agricultural fertility left for humanity if we maintain the status quo. We are in the middle of an administration in America that is rolling back ecological standards, environmental protections, and judiciary separation… paving the way for a fascist regime.
However, much of what has happened was made possible by NOT stepping back and taking a look at how things are developing. Taking the time to analyze, to evaluate, to weigh the possible outcomes of action, can pay off in the long run. For example, thinking through the effectiveness of protesting one institution over another, of acting on this project, rather than that corporation, can lead to more productive protests. Collecting data on who attended, measuring the pulse of social media responses, these can all help to guide better decisions on climate activism. In permaculture, the habit to implement step-wise, to reassess at intervals, to be humble and admit when the trajectory is off, that is priceless. Calculating risk and ROI before taking to the streets is critical to successful action.
10. Use and Value Diversity
In the misunderstood “Darwinian” worldview, where competition determines who procreates and evolves, the successful are those who out-compete their rivals. But when we examine Darwin’s actual observation, we see that it is cooperation and collaboration that determine a successful outcome. Early human settlements succeeded if there was an equitable and diverse interdependence among members of a tribal group. Likewise, fish who establish relationships with other sea creatures who have a different set of skills and hunting techniques, are more successful than those who are solitary.
One might look at the wealthy and their claim that hard work got them there, that they out-competed their enemies, but the reality is that even the 1% are highly dependent on cronyism, kickbacks, and bribery… all forms of cooperation, if unpleasant ones.
Incorporating as diverse a network of ideas, skills, experiences, and cultural backgrounds can strengthen a movement. When we look at the web of life, we can see it is like a hammock, with each species a knot in the ropes. Humanity is able to lay comfortably in this hammock. Even if a few knots tear or disappear, the hammock could still hold us… but eliminate too many of these knots, and the web of life collapses, dumping us in the process. We can use this observation as a model on which all endeavors should be replicated, from who we hire for our small business, to the marginalized customer, to the diversity in our protest participants and targets. More diversity ALWAYS leads to greater strength and resilience.
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
In the US, XR demands a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people, those marginalized by economics, colonization, and political and racial agendas. These demands are noble and right, but it is not just in the goals that the marginal should be prioritized, rather in their value as a means to achieve the goal. For it is not in our echo chambers that we find our energy. It is not at the rallies where they are shouting what we are thinking that we will find our momentum. It is not in that Facebook group where everyone gives us a thumbs up for our post that we will find the next collaborator to take us to the next level.
The person who will boost our enthusiasm to make a difference will come from a world we did not experience. The person who will show us a new perspective will have a different skin color or have grown up in a different economic class or a different country and culture. The person who will motivate us to stand up to authority will be of a very different persuasion than our own.
For it is not in the middle of the meadow that we see the greatest activity of life. It is not in the middle of the pond that the greatest number of interactions occur. It is at the shore, where the two worlds collide, that we see plants, animals, minerals, bacteria, fungi, air and water intermingle, cross over, mix, exchange nutrients… grow legs and lungs and meta-morph into something totally new.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change
In nature, change is life. Without it, death occurs. The frustrated gardener, pulling the same invasive weed over and over would do well to sit back on her heels, take a deep breath, and realize that weeds are just succession, and succession is change and the growth of diversity. So as the founders of permaculture never considered an insect extinction, and therefore new ideas can bridge the gap, so, too, can XR adjust it’s vision and implementation according to how the world changes, what country they are in, and who their possible collaborators might be. Right now, the Wet’suwet’en indigenous Canadians are fighting for the right to autonomy and consultation regarding their ancient homelands. Is this not a fight for the future, as well? Those who would protest for the climate, those who want to live a self-sufficient permaculture lifestyle, those who want the most compassionate relationships to happen in the time we have left, all have something invested in helping these tribes achieve their goals. Only when we adopt in solidarity the fight that is already being fought, can we hope to inspire participation in our own battle.
Climate activism is altruistic in that is considers the future as a present responsibility. Permaculture is practical, in that it considers the present in terms of future implications. Deep Adaptation is the compassion needed to fuse these two ideals into a functioning paradigm that allows us to care for the earth, provide for all people equitably, and reinvest all surplus into making these possible. Destroying the biosphere we need to survive as a species, fueling enmity between counties, classes, races, and even species, and hording wealth while the hard working go hungry is no longer acceptable.
“Love your earth as if your life depended on it, for ultimately, it does.”
~ Adriana Chanmala, 2020
For more information on permaculture, deep adaptation, personal climate action, and much more, check out The Earthius Project. Join the discussion on Facebook on the groups “The Earthius Project: Permaculture Solutions” and “Adapting Deeply: The Earthius Project.”