New Brighton Permaculture Trust trustee John Coote shares his personal observations on the challenge that Extinction Rebellion (XR) has laid down not only to business-as-usual, but to the whole environmental movement. How does permaculture respond to the opportunity that XR has presented?
In one of the less reported of Extinction Rebellion’s actions, last October activists held a sit-in at the UK headquarters of Greenpeace. Arriving with cake and flowers, the message from XR was that Greenpeace is not radical enough to meet our environmental challenges.
XR’s assertion is that conventional approaches of voting, lobbying, petitions and protest have failed because powerful political and economic interests prevent change. That challenge extends to any organisation trying to address climate change and species loss.
Permaculture was born out of a desire to move on from protest to a solutions-based approach. However, the sum of the environmental movement’s work to date – from Greenpeace’s high-profile actions to the most inspiring of small-scale solutions – still does not add up to an effective response to our multiple environmental problems.
XR is right. We need to tell the truth: the scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that business-as-usual has us on a trajectory towards catastrophic climate change.
Perhaps we take it for granted that permaculture, by definition, is part of the solution. Our solutions-based focus means we don’t talk so much about the big issues we are trying to address, but perhaps we should?
Is there a danger that the warm feeling of making a positive contribution works as a distraction from the wider context? It is certainly the case that vested interests will use any successes as greenwash. In the eyes of the wider public, our successes can have the unintended consequence of providing cover for business-as-usual.
Can XR be the catalyst that refocuses the wider environmental movement?
The disruptive urgency of XR’s strategy of non-violent, civil disobedience might appear to be at odds with the approach of more moderate elements of the environmental movement. One critique of XR’s strategy argues that it will not be enough for XR to establish its own critical mass. XR “must reach out beyond true believers and connect with a wider base of potential supporters”.
The 10 core principles of XR recognise that this needs to happen: “we value reflecting and learning… learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.” If XR acts as the radical flank of the whole environmental movement, then the political and social space might open up for solutions that really do shift us away from business-as-usual towards a viable future.
For that to happen, not only do we have to agree on the critical state of the planet, but we need a shared vision of that viable future. Only if we work towards that can we ensure that our solutions do not become absorbed back into business-as-usual.
Can permaculture provide an approach that complements XR’s vision of regenerative culture?
One of XR’s core principles is that “we need a regenerative culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable”. This is “not only essential to our rebellion, but essential to the way we repair a system which is currently degenerating our planet and all that lives upon her now and beyond.”
In Designing Regenerative Cultures, Daniel Christian Wahl draws on a wide range of regenerative theories and methods, including permaculture, to argue that a new generation of designers can design a world in which all can thrive and not just survive.
Clearly there is a shared vision in XR’s core principles and permacultures principles. Indeed, personal experience of XR’s occupation of Waterloo Bridge is that it could have been a permaculture design for rebellion; an embodiment of permaculture ethics and principles.
At the edges, however, that we find differences that might spark creative change. While permaculture can demonstrate the value of small, slow solutions; XR is saying that we no longer have time to act incrementally. XR urges us “to openly challenge ourselves and our toxic system… leaving our comfort zones to take action for change”. Permaculture principles assert the need to “observe and interact” and to “creatively use and respond to change”.
The challenge for permaculture then is not about our approach to design. We probably do need to renew our vision of what a future regenerative culture really looks like, but the challenge is to replicate the proactive urgency that XR has brought to the environmental movement. If we can do that, then XR might open up opportunities to expand the rate at which permaculture is adopted and implemented.
One way or another we are entering a time of unprecedented change. XR is right in saying that we have run out of time to act incrementally. For the same reason, we don’t have time to get our response wrong.
Join the discussion!
Picnic and Workshops organised by XR Brighton’s Regenerative Culture Group
SUNDAY 11TH AUGUST 2019 STANMER ORGANICS 12-5.15pm includes:
Imaginal Ecology with Toby Chown 2.00-4.30pm
Truth Mandala with Katy Young 2.00-4.30pm
Reimagining Nature through life Drawing and Creative writing with Maayan Cohen 2.00-4pm
Tours from Brighton Permaculture Trust with John Coote – Meadow Orchard 2-2.45pm; Brighton Earthship 3-3:45.