#003 “Use biological solutions before technological” — Interview with Jesse Grimes — Pt2
In Part 2 we talk Technology, bikes and the future!
This post is mirrored on the solarpunks.tumblr here if you prefer.
SPS! From your videos it seems that bikes and BMX played a big role in your life growing up. When did you start riding and how has it influenced you as a person?
I’ve been riding BMX since I was 5 years old. I lived right next to the first ABA race track in the country in Chandler, Arizona, and my dad started bringing me there. My bike was stolen, so I stopped riding for a while, but I got back into it in a big way when I was 12 and moved to Southern California. All through high school I rode BMX, and pretty much all my friends came from riding. I really think it kept me away from drugs and alcohol during my teen years. I had a social group that was organized around doing something active and positive, instead of around partying, we got our thrills through learning new tricks and discovering new spots to ride. To this day, riding BMX has given me a community that I can connect right into no matter where I go. I can just roll up to the skatepark or a set of jumps and instantly make friends with other riders.
SPS! I’m not into BMX / trials biking myself, but I have a bunch of friends who are. They’re the sort of people that love spending their spare time digging up dirt in the woods not minding the rain is there a little bit of that in you?
Most definitely, I have been doing that since I was a kid. Creating dirt jumps is one of my favorite art forms. It’s like large scale, interactive, ceramic sculpture. Of course, the main motivation is the experience of doing the jumps once they are finished, but anyone who has a passion for creating jumps or trails will put their own artistic touch into the way the lips are shaped, or how the line twists through the woods. There’s also a community aspect to it, getting together with a group of friends and working long hours to create something that you all can enjoy.
SPS! You’ve talked passionately about the idea of combining permaculture with bike parks and really want to make it happen. Could you tell us a bit more about your vision for the Permaculture Bike Park?
Once I started learning more about water harvesting earthworks through permaculture, it changed the way I looked at building dirt jumps. Anyone who is an experienced trail builder thinks about drainage, but through permaculture eyes I started thinking about how all that water could be directed towards growing plants, to help mitigate the environmental damage that is caused by all that digging. Having trees around the jumps also happens to make the riding more enjoyable. Public bike parks are becoming more and more common, and I think that is a very good thing, given all the positive impacts that riding BMX can have a on a child’s life.
The sport of BMX is a gateway to a lifelong love of cycling. Talk to anyone who is riding a road or mountain bike in their 30s, and most of the time you find out that they started on a BMX bike as a kid. So, I think building more bike parks and providing the youth with a welcoming invitation to the sport of BMX is a great way to ensure that more people will be riding bikes in the future. I’ve been to a lot of public bike parks in my travels, and unfortunately, most of them are quite poorly built, and nearly all of them just look like bare dirt lots. Knowing what I do about building jumps, along with my knowledge in permaculture, I see a huge opportunity to create a much better bike park. To start with, permaculture design can be used to organize the cycling community around getting the parks built, to help make those connections and create those positive relationships that are necessary when working with public agencies to even get the idea of a bike park off the ground. When it finally gets to the point of designing and building the park, permaculture design can be utilized to take a more holistic view of how the visitors will interact with the park, and how the park itself will interact with the community around it. Another very important aspect, is making connections in the local cycling community and providing resources to trusted individuals to ensure that the jumps and riding surfaces continue to be well maintained. I’ve seen too many bike parks that are damaged to the point of being unsafe, because there was never any maintenance program set in place. By using permaculture design, we can better ensure that the park will actually be useful, fun, and safe for the riders, as well as a benefit for the neighborhoods around it. Instead of some forgotten mounds in a dirt lot, we could build a beautiful forest garden that is a draw for both cyclists and the general public. On top of the parks being a great place for children to gain a love of cycling, it would also be an incredible opportunity to educate the public about how permaculture can be used to create abundance out of damaged landscapes. I think that well beyond the possibilities of the permaculture bike park, there is a huge potential to improve the design and operation of public parks and public space as a whole.
SPS! Permaculture is a big part of Solarpunk and is certainly a real world origin point for it’s aesthetic. In your experience, what do people in the permaculture community think about new technologies?
I think there is quite a wide range of opinions on the subject. There is certainly an element that is trying to move away from technology as much as possible, but there are also those who fully embrace it, and everything in between. One of the principles of permaculture is to use biological solutions before technological. So for example, you would use a constructed wetland to treat and clean your grey water instead of some mechanical means of filtration. The biological solutions are almost always easier, cheaper, and more effective, plus by adding another biological element into a system, you are increasing the diversity, and therefore the resiliency of that system. However, that doesn’t mean technology is out of the question. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to reverse the damage that our technological society has caused, and ironically some of that same technology is the best and quickest way to start doing that work. An excavator can be used to mine the tar sands, but it can also be used to create water harvesting earthworks that will improve the hydrology of a site for thousands of years. So, I think it is important when considering a new technology to look at the problem it is trying to solve, and strongly consider whether nature has already come up with a solution to that problem. Also, what are the inputs required to create that technology, and what are the outputs of using it? Can we partner with biology to find a solution to that same problem that requires a much lower input of energy and materials, while providing a number of beneficial outputs that might not be produced by a purely technological solution? There are certainly situations in which the best solution in technological, but I also feel that on a planet with finite resources, there is a real danger to the idea that all of our problems will eventually be solved through technological innovation. Technological systems almost always require outside inputs to continue functioning, and inevitably have a finite life span, while biological systems become more resilient with time, utilize the inexhaustible resource of sunlight as their primary input, and have existed on this planet for billions of years.
SPS! In his essay ‘Political Dimensions of Solarpunk’ Andrew Dana Hudson proposed the slogan “Move quietly and plant things” as a counterpoint to silicon valley’s “move fast and break things”. What do you think technology’s role will be in the abundant future we are all hoping for and what does it need to do differently from today?
I think technology has a huge role to play in helping us understand the problems we are faced with, as well as in helping us do the work necessary to transform our world in preparation for that abundant future. However, once we have built a world where all the necessities of life are provided by an abundant biological system right outside our front door, I think that many of the technologies we see as indispensable today will simply fade into obscurity. Why would everyone want their own electric car when they don’t have a need to drive every day? Would we need complicated medical equipment when everybody’s food is so nutritious and of such high quality that hardly anyone gets sick anymore? Technology is incredible when it comes to helping us communicate and gather information, and because of this I think it will continue to play a huge role in our social and intellectual lives. The problems come about when we try to use technology to deal with the biological problems of being an animal living within an ecological system. Nature has long ago perfected ways in which to feed us, clothe us, shelter us, and give us clean water and clean air. Somewhere along the line we decided that it was better to use technology to do these things, and so we started ignoring the importance of the ecological systems that were supporting us. We can’t continue to do this and hope to have a positive future.
SPS! Our Tumblr’s tagline is “At once a vision of the future, a thoughtful provocation, and an achievable lifestyle. In progress…” Do you think if everything humanity need to do, gets done, is there reason to be optimistic about the future?
Optimism is the only option in my opinion. It is certainly important to take a critical look at our situation and identify challenges, but only so much that we are aware and understand them clearly. If we focus on the challenges we will be more reluctant to act, and action is desperately needed in our world right now. A phrase that has been repeating in my mind for quite some time now is, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” To me, it means that we could sit around all day and find flaws in our designs, or in our plans for improving our situation, but we can’t let that stop us from doing the work necessary to at least move us a little bit closer to our goals. Even if we do a lot of work for very little improvement, we are still better off than if we did nothing, and we are in a better position to start from the next time. The problems facing us are so numerous and so massive, that it is easy to get discouraged and start thinking that the abundant, equitable, and peaceful society we would like to live in is so far away that it becomes impossible to reach. We have to remain optimistic that we have the power to improve our society as a whole by making small improvements in our own lives. We all have to find some way in which we can contribute and just get to work, even if we make mistakes along the way. All of these small hopeful acts will build on top of one another until one day we look around and see that although the world is not perfect, it is much, much better off than it once was.
The first time I ever heard the word permaculture was back in 2011, during a short introductory workshop. That day, a whole new world of ideas opened up to me, an entirely different way of looking at the people and environments around me. I saw that permaculture held the tools to create a better future, the possibility to teach us how to live on this Earth in a way that benefits not only ourselves and our communities, but all the rest of the natural world as well, all of our relatives here on this planet that is our home. My life was changed forever by this moment, and since then I have dedicated my life to learning more about permaculture and sharing this knowledge with others, in the hopes that they might have a similar life changing moment and join in the work of creating a positive future for humanity and the planet.
In the time since then, I have taken two permaculture design courses and various other workshops, gained experience and skills through many hours of volunteer work at permaculture farms and natural building projects, and dove head first into the world of permaculture homesteading by joining the Ant Village community at Wheaton Labs in Montana. Throughout all of this I have pursued my mission of sharing permaculture with the world by talking with people and hosting small workshops, but primarily by creating videos about my experiences and sharing them on the One Heart Fire Youtube channel. I have also started to build a right livelihood by doing permaculture design projects and installations for friends and family, turning my knowledge and energy into real soil, water, and permanent food sources for my clients.
The Ecological Landscaper Immersion Course: http://www.permacultureskillscenter.org/copy-of-ecological-landscaper-immer
Jesse’s GoFundMe Campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/sendjessetotheeli
Jesse’s Youtube Channel: Search “Oneheartfire” or https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpTOy6AFv_Qqr9J8n50f71Q
Jesse’s Patreon, which supports the youtube channel: https://www.patreon.com/jessegrimes