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February 22, 2012

Diary of a Permaculturalist 22: Social Ecological Revolution

Follow-up to Diary of a Permaculturalist 21: Socially Necessary Labour Time (tm) from George Ttoouli, Warwick Writing Programme

Reading this John Bellamy Foster stuff is both highly depressing and highly inspirational. In creative terms, there's a drive that stems from desperation. Not just in the Dostoevskyan sense of, 'Oh shit, deadline', but also in the craving arising from having to read repetitive, depressed ecomarxist theorists, for something imaginative, creative, lucid, original.

At the same time, here's what Foster takes 260 pages to finally come to, about the social ecological overhaul:

the new system... must put the provision of basic human needs--clean air, unpolluted water, safe food, adequate sanitation, social transport, and universal healthcare and education, all of which require a sustainable relation to the earth--ahead of all other needs and wants.

Let's break that down into a concrete list for social revolution. In order for the Great Transition to happen, people will need to:

(In short term transition phase)

1. Seize control of the means of food production.

2. Seize control of the means of energy production.

3. Seize control of the means of food, energy and water distribution.

4. Revolutionise methods of production in these areas along ecologically sustainable lines.

(And in longer term transitions)

5. Seize control of sewage management and redirect city waste into natural fertiliser production.

6. Develop ecologically-balanced systems of education and health.

7. Develop a system of maintenance for all systems, a monitoring loop, which is in itself ecologically neutral, or positive, in balance and process.

Methods/systems for ecological sustainability exist already in all these areas, but are anti-capitalist by nature, so overlooked for their lack of profitability. They would merely need to be championed and implemented by people - in fact, some areas of Britain are already working along these lines, divorcing their internal systems from the capitalist production flow.

One or two algorithms/data sets would need to back up the transition. In particular, a ratio of land needed - according to permacultural methods by regional specificity - per person, for a basic balanced diet. Secondarily, a social accounting that would provide vital services of health, education, sanitation and so on, by unit of society, which doesn't fall into obvious traps of over-abstraction (i.e. an alternative metabolic rift to that of capitalism) or communalist issues of redistribution and misapplication of personal skills. If a given unit - a village, say - requires one doctor, one biodigestor, one x, one y, etc. per z population, all well and good, but what if there's a major shortfall in, say, doctors? Do you demand the village idiot retrain as a surgeon? Or the spare surgeon retrain as a sanitation supervisor? Certain problems in social accounting in communal systems have not been solved for me, from my reading. Utopianism is rife.

Interesting comparative example of rice versus wheat growing in Foster, suggests Europe will need to move to a rice-based diet in order to maximise calories per hectare, along the Fukuoka Method of growing. However, there is a risk of monoculture in this that may not be effective.

This all said, the transition will probably require an unacceptable degree of 'Barbarization'. I've not yet read the Global Scenario Group's document, 'Great Transition', which outlines the main pitfalls of social upheaval. Foster isn't particularly helpful on this document, given his militant ideological stance.

Alternatives, then, would involve democratic transitioning - like transition towning, but taken beyond just food: transition of food and energy resources by area which see villages and region literally cutting off from capitalist providers of electricity, gas and food. The reduction of overheads and the need to only pay for council services could see a form of privatisation into communal management, particularly of waste systems, so that soil nutrients are valuably regenerated, even positively. Food and energy supplies by region could therefore be freely distributed to residents, with growth carefully managed to maintain a positive soil-nutrient return ratio, either through fallowing/rotation or similar.

Water management is something I can't fully encompass in my head yet - suggestions welcome if anyone's reading. Clean water supplies are limited and water tables are essential to biodiversity, so rainwater and river harvesting would have to be very carefully managed. Resevoir systems, grey water recycling, etc. Every house would have to become a resevoir of sorts, in balance with groundwater reserves. I've been to houses in Herefordshire villages which are disconnected from a mains supply, and their personal wells have run dry, forcing a switch to bottled water.

Anyway, early thoughts about unsustainability and untenable revolutions, but the possibility of outcomes. Cities look doomed from any which way I look at them.


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