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Crash on Demand – or Rapid Transition?
The Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb (Duration: 1:11:11)
Please watch before continuing with the article.

Can we talk about transition, please?

Regular readers will have noted the semi-recent flurry of conversations over ‘crashing’ the system (if not, see here, here, here, here and here) and possible pathways to transition (see here and here). I’d like to see this conversation continued, as it is not insignificant. Hence this post.

For those wondering why on earth people might be talking about any effort to actually, intentionally bring down present socioeconomic systems, I have prefixed and suffixed this article with two videos.

The Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb

The first video, above, does a very good job of covering the most significant aspects of what we’re observing in our global climate systems, covering many of the tipping points that are already proving challenging, and which could ultimately — and in the not-distant future — become overwhelming. It is essential, I believe, that as many people as possible are aware of these issues, so I hope you will take the time to watch the video and share it.

Frustratingly, I’ve recently seen not a few people commenting to the effect that global warming is: 1) not to be discussed, and 2) not important in comparison to other problems we’ve created, like air/water/soil pollution, GMOs, etc. Hopefully the video above will help people to see that: 1) it is a topic we cannot afford to ignore, and must discuss, and 2) global warming is not only not "the least of our problems", but, rather, it threatens to make all other problems academic….

I do believe the more people believe this, the more likely they are to act. […] I think that in many ways that changing social opinion is the most important thing we can do at present, to deal with this problem, because then people might start moving towards what the scientists are saying we need to do. — Dr. Richard Milne, University of Edinburgh (from video above)

When enough people objectively examine and become aware of the importance of our times, and what we (as the fire-creating species we are, with a unique ability to think and act) choose to do with this time, then we have some hope to generate the collective will where people of all walks of life — from the idealistic social activist to the corporate captain — finally acknowledge the need to humbly and purposefully come together with the common desire of finding ways to cooperate and participate in a mass mobilisation towards transition. And, to be clear, global warming is, indeed, only one of a raft of reasons we need to transition our society onto a sane path, but it just happens to be the one problem that threatens to eclipse all others, with its potential to make sudden and dramatic shifts in global ecosystem processes — shifts which, if left to continue, we may never be able to either reverse or adapt to.

From my observations, most people who would prefer not to talk about global warming are angry at the government for their simplistic responses to it. (For many it’s a ‘government conspiracy’ to make money out of carbon trading and the like — for more on carbon trading, see here, here and here.) But, isn’t that just an even greater reason to discuss the issue — so we can get more intelligently, and effectively, involved in the decision-making process, so as to ensure that meaningful change is made, rather than superficial, vested-interest changes that only benefit the people who have made the greatest contribution to the problem in the first place?

And, really, what will we say to our children in 20 years from now, when they’re swimming in a sea of troubles and asking us what people were doing back in the day to try to reverse global warming? The answer "Well, we all decided not to talk about it" just doesn’t seem to cut it…. To me it’s plain unethical.

Taken For a Ride

While the first video covers one aspect of the symptoms born out of our socioeconomic invisible structures, i.e. the effects of our actions, the video at the very bottom of this article covers one aspect of the causes that have brought us to this juncture — that being a greedy, unrestrained and self-interested, every-man-for-himself mindset. The particular example of this, featured in the documentary at bottom, is infuriating in the extreme — where profit-centric forces create problems to capitalise on (a painfully common habit in the marketplace) — manipulating every situation to bring about a desired end for the few, regardless of the consequences for the many. You will learn how General Motors, in cahoots with a cabal of transport-related industries actively worked to derail (literally and figuratively) cities around the USA, buying up urban light-rail systems before destroying them and supplanting them with smoke-spewing buses, cars and motorways — all under the guise of gifting ‘freedom’ upon the public, whilst actually imprisoning them in their cars for hours every day.

These industries orchestrated a shift from quiet, clean, space- and cost-saving public transport systems (which encouraged localised communities, by the way) to a gas-guzzling, smog-producing, space-wasting nightmare of road expansion — which dismantled all the many communities that stood in their way. And then, when people found themselves having to actually live in this ‘ideal GM world’, crawling at great expense in purse and health along choked roads and highways, GM then manipulated this unhappy situation of their own devising to their advantage as well — by convincing the public to demand yet more road expansions…. The end result is the tragedy of suburbia — an entire country that spends much, much more energy every second than it would have otherwise. With a mere 4% of the world’s population, the USA consumes 25% of its energy….

This latter video is a tangible, graphic representation of how faulty, and dangerous, is an economic system that relies solely on self-interest to wield the ‘invisible hand’ of the market — an invisible hand, it needs to be recognised, that has no big-picture view, no brain, and no ethics to guide its mechanisms unless we build these in through the collaborative, holistic decision-making mechanisms we have yet to (talk about and) develop and mature.

Big problems call for big collaboration

As mentioned, I begin this article by sharing these two videos to help people come to grips with what’s wrong in the world — i.e. to help give perspective for why some of our contributing authors are talking about collapse as being something of a desirable, or necessary, outcome. I don’t think discussion in these areas should be taboo at all. Indeed, along with how to implement some kind of steady state economics, and how to create political and education systems that actually work for the benefit of society, global warming has been put in the ‘too hard basket’ for far too long — and I’m talking decades here. If we as permaculturists — professing to be designers providing solutions for all problems — are scared to talk about the really big problems, the really complicated problems, then what is our real worth in the world?

The need to redesign society is at least as important as that of redesigning our back yards.

Some commenters talk about these issues being ‘divisive’. Hell, difficult times call for hard discussions. Look at history folks — no new era of positive change came about by accident and mental apathy. I’d personally like to see people getting away from mainstream media and getting involved in these hard, real, meaningful discussions worldwide — where people study and present their ideas for positive change in all the ‘invisible structure’ areas of our lives (politics, economics, education, community, etc.), and where these many ideas are then debated, both at the level of those with a particularly relevant life experience, as well as the high school and university levels to get young people thinking about these very real issues.

As Albert Bates astutely noted:

Would we have ever learned that a mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere if we had not been so frightened of climate change by Al Gore and other scaremongers?

And, I’d take these thoughts a little further — too often I see people commenting just with the goal of ‘being right’. Where are the discussions where people are seeking to collaborate — to augment and develop the thoughts of those who are sincerely trying to study problems in depth, with the goal of finding holistic solutions, rather than ridicule them through their supposedly superior outlook? What I’m trying to say is this: are we in this together, or not? Do we have a common interest at stake to secure some kind of peaceful and healthy future, or are we only here to criticise, pull down, and make ourselves look clever? In other words, debate should not be confused with arguments.

Indeed, the economic system we have based the last 60 or so years on is one that encourages atomisation and individualism — it encourages a competitive, rather than a cooperative, spirit. And thus, our conversations deteriorate into a painful mass of egotistical hyperventilating, where people fail to objectively consider the other’s view, and just look for points of contention. How will we ever design our way out of this madness if we keep this up? This is a game that the powers that be would love to see us play forever.

Global Warming

Somewhere in the heart of the video at top it is said that we may have already reached a point where man’s influence on climate systems is no longer relevant — in that tipping points are being reached that are making global warming unstoppable. It’s a statement that may send shivers down your spine, particularly in the context of the other tipping points we are now reaching, and others we may soon reach (again, see video at top if you haven’t already!), but while it is increasingly clear that this statement is based on hard evidence, I want to propose that it is totally wrong.

What I’m saying is that, despite how far we’ve come — how long we’ve avoided the issue — we can fix this.

To illustrate, I want to take you back several centuries, to the pre-Columbian era — a time that was very different, and yet not so different…. In the Americas of that time, civilisation had developed independently of European commerce and conquest. People lived off the land as either hunter-gatherers or in many of various forms of agricultural cultures — from simple in some places, to highly complex in others. Central America in particular had cleared a lot of land, grew food in abundance, and had developed large and prosperous civilisations.

But, then came European interventions…. The population of the natives of the Americas (which some scholars pegged at up to 50 — 100 million people) plummeted. Several factors were at play here — from genocide to outright war to decimation from diseases Europeans brought with them, for which the natives had no natural immunity. Some studies estimate that the Americas suffered up to, or even over, a 90% loss of life — and very rapidly.

But, inadvertently, it seems massive loss of life was not the only consequence of these deadly explorations and conquests; there is compelling evidence that it also had a global, biophysical impact.

A team comprised of geological and environmental science researchers from Stanford University has been studying the impact that early European exploration had on the New World and have found evidence that they say suggests the European cold period from 1500 to 1750, commonly known as the Little Ice Age, was due to the rapid decline in native human populations shortly after early explorers arrived.

Following up on their paper published in 2008, the team has now brought their findings before the Geological Society of America. The researchers say that the population decrease, which came about due to the introduction of previously unknown diseases, led to the rapid reforestation of the Americas. This led to a sudden increase in the amount of carbon dioxide being pulled from the air, which meant the atmosphere wasn’t able to hold as much heat, which led to colder air covering Europe. — (October 17, 2011) (For more on this, see also here, here and here.)

While some might now conclude that all we need is a massive loss of life to effectively restore biospheric integrity — through the mass self-reforestation of land cleared of human activity — this is of course not at all what I am proposing (although it is certainly ‘on the cards’ if we don’t wake up, and fast). What I am instead trying to get across is that land use changes are a, if not the, primary driver of atmospheric change. I covered this quite fully in The Biology of Global Warming, so will not expound further on this here, except to encourage you to also watch this video, showing ever-so-logically how land use changes can, very quickly, remove as much carbon as we need to grant us an enlarged window in time that we can utilise to make further transition possible.

In short, a dramatic increase in biomass globally could grant us a period of grace in which to reinvent society along sustainable lines. And, as it happens, that "dramatic increase in biomass" would bring with it a significant number of benefits in many areas of existence for ourselves and the rest of the interconnected web of life we’re a part of (food, water, fibre, employment, health, community, etc.)

Global cooling?

It’s on this note that I want to look at the supposed ‘flattening’ of the global warming trend, oft-cited by climate skeptics/deniers, as from experience I know this will otherwise show up in the form of short out-of-context comments below this article.

This is how a climate denier shows global warming

I put the graph above, with the direct intent to now show this ‘flattening’ in context, via the image below:

This is how a climate scientist shows global warming

I could wish that climate deniers would quit pulling the trend of the last few years out from the context of last several decades…. Doing so only shows an agenda, not an objective search for truth. Climate is not a linear mechanism. Rather, it’s a highly complex system that reacts — dynamically — to a broad range of factors within our biosphere.

There are a great many potential reasons for a brief flattening of the global warming temperature increases (read here, here, here, here, here and here). For example, in the first paragraph of this article I gave several links to studies explaining what is called the long tail of global warming. In essence, this means that emissions we put into the atmosphere now can bring reactions much further down the (time) line than today. (It also means that drops in emissions can cause a response much further down the line than today also….)

The collapse of the USSR in the early nineties, for example, caused a major industrial crash of the Communist superpower, and thus a major drop in global emissions.

… the vast collective farms that symbolized Stalinist nationalism at home — and were symbolic of the state’s socialist failures abroad — were gradually returning to the wild. The transition of those 111,197,421 acres, the largest land-use change in the 20th century, has played a significant role in offsetting the country’s carbon emission — albeit a completely accidental one.

New research published in the journal Global Change Biology reports that the abandonment of those farms, which amounts to 23 percent of arable land in Russia, is sequestering 42.5 million metric tons of carbon per year. — From Russia with Climate Love: Abandoned Soviet Farms Improve Environment

This would logically translate, eventually, to a reduction in temperature increases (we’re now looking at that economic crash two and a half decades after the fact). At the same time, China’s economy was exploding, and yet in an extremely ‘dirty’ fashion — majoring in coal — which results in a massive increase in airborne particulates, which, while causing major health issues on the ground, also causes less warming, as fully explained in my article on global dimming.

Government conspiracy?

Some people come to the inexplicable conclusion that global warming is nothing but a government conspiracy to increase taxation. But, as I’ve expressed before, why would someone invent a disease when their complete reluctance and ability to even acknowledge — let alone deal effectively with the disease — just highlights their complete incompetence? Hell, governments don’t even want to talk about it (see also), and this is particularly true given their increasing inclination to give corporations whatever they want — and corporations want business as usual, and more of it! The evidence is clear — governments have been delaying any action for decades now, putting global warming in the ‘too hard basket’ in the face of corporate and consumer demands for more, more, more.

Getting to the heart of the matter

At the heart of our problems, I would propose, is an economy run amuck. It’s an economy based on self-interest. It’s an economy where greed is encouraged, and profits are paramount. People and resources are regarded as a commodity on a screen. We’re separated from, and thus made ignorant of, natural systems, being atomised into specialties that make it harder for us to be fully holistic and objective in our decision-making — making it hard for us to join the dots between our problems and between our solutions, and to find the bridge from one to the other.

There are of course still pockets of humanity who yet live low-carbon lives on the land, but for how long? The North is trying to bring the South, with all its resources ‘into the fold’, as it were — and increasingly so, as the North runs up against limits to growth.

If we’re to save what’s left, and to build on that, we must work fast to turn this stupidity around — before we’ve even more fully painted ourselves into a corner we cannot escape from. The law of diminishing returns tells us the sooner we turn this runaway train about, the easier our transition will be.

But how?

‘The system’ will change. That is non-negotiable. It will either rapidly adapt to the needs of the hour, or it will crash. Nature doesn’t care about our political/economic ideologies. Its processes can’t and won’t compromise to meet our artificial demands. We either learn to live synergistically with Nature — holistically harnessing its processes to provide for ourselves in ways that leave our children with greater resources and health — or it will shrug (most of) us off.

And yet, that ‘system’ — centralised, ignorant, and faulty as it is — keeps most of us alive. I believe that crashing it is a lot easier to talk about, theoretically, than it is to experience, in reality. If I were to shun society, turn my back on it, and walk off into the forest today, I don’t fancy my chances. Or, if I were to remain here in my garden, and society collapsed around me, it would likewise not bode well for me. We underestimate too easily how dependent we are on what society as we know it currently provides us. A small fraction of our readers may argue this point — since some of our readership have a greater degree of self-reliance than most — and yet, as we make up a complete minority of the surrounding population, we would soon realise the truth in the statement that "no man is an island". Past revolutions, historically, have rarely ended well. They can all too easily plunge humanity into very dark periods, based in survival of the strongest — not a pretty, or just, picture. Selfishness merely continues in a different, and potentially much more dangerous, form. We’ve seen it time and time again — collapse easily results in a rapid reorganisation into gangs, mafia type groups, oligarchies, and so on.

And today we have population levels never, ever seen before. Peak Everything, combined with an aging baby boomer generation (will we care for them in their old age, with a far smaller and economically strained youth to pay for it, or will we eat them instead?!), and combined with the potential for runaway climate change, means that our vulnerabilities as a race have never been so acute.

So, I will make a few small suggestions now. Again, this is a discussion. I’m no high priest. I’m no economist. I’m not a politician. I’m merely a fellow pilgrim on this planet, observing as I go. You may disagree with me, and that is fine, but I hope your disagreement comes by way of either augmenting, improving on, my suggestions, or replacing them entirely with a well-thought-through better approach.

To save time, I will pillage from articles I’ve previously written:

What I think should be on the negotiating table … is:

  • How to build a participatory democracy network (see here, here, here and here) that ensures full bottom-up representation and information-sharing and which encourages participation. (The information-sharing aspect involves shifting, carefully, from a competition mindset — everyone working in their own self-interest, which is the basis of modern capitalism — to everyone working cooperatively for the good of all.)
  • How to conserve remaining oil supplies and to best use what’s left to speed a transition to a post-fossil fuel society, and to commit to leaving newly discovered oil in the ground
  • How to invest in re-educating the masses worldwide in sustainable farming practices appropriate for their own climate and soil type
  • How to invest in re-educating the masses in all the other activities crucial for our existence (like localised clothing manufacturing, passive solar buildings, etc.)
  • How to shape policies to incentivise a resurgence in small scale polycultures (and how to accommodate the above through a staged and bloodless land redistribution) rather than the ‘get big or get out’ agricultural policies we’ve had over the last several decades
  • How to shift funds from the present subsidising of large profit based corporations into financing small research centres in different microclimates to study and improve agricultural and other life-critical systems, for the public good
  • How to carefully stage the above steps so our present vulnerable, globalised system doesn’t experience wholesale collapse during the transition, with its associated famine, disease, war and a return to violence based feudalism, etc. The emphasis here needs to be on broad spectrum education
  • How to keep nations working cooperatively to achieve all the above.

Given the direction we’ve been travelling for the last few centuries of industrialisation, and the momentum we’ve built up, the points above will seem absurdly difficult, or even just plain absurd, to many. Indeed, it will be unimaginably hard and will take a level of social awakening and cooperation never seen before in human history, but this shift has to happen, whether people acknowledge the science or not. Oil, soil, water, deforestation, phosphorus, chemical pollution, etc. — we are running up against barriers to status-quo-growth in every area. As I’ve said before, permaculture is not an ‘alternative lifestyle’. We really don’t have an alternative. And, the bigger the delay in transitioning, the harder the fall. Looking back at the WWII mobilisation, however, I can’t help but think we could do it if only people could see the broad picture, and determine to step up to the challenge and work together to build a society we’re proud to participate in.

Perhaps we’ll never awake from this nightmare of human stupidity, but I dare to dream of a day where global and corporate leaders are finally and humbly acknowledging the logical need to transition. One way or another, such acknowledgments will come — I just hope it won’t be too late. — Carbon Trading – and What Should Be on the Negotiating Table at Copenhagen


I want to share something else with you. It’s essentially some logic that I find difficult to put aside, and which keeps me on track in my work and purposes:

  1. If you study soil science (as I have, and I could wish it was compulsory in schools) — and not just from a reductionist chemical standpoint as do the agronomists, but from a biological standpoint, where you’re observing the ‘magic’ of biological/chemical interactions and interdependencies — then you quickly become aware that the larger in scale you go with agriculture, the more compromises you begin to make in regards to working with nature. The more land you endeavour to take care of per person, the more you begin ‘forcing functions’ (trying to get nature to do something it doesn’t want to do — a bit like pushing water uphill). With larger scale, two things happen: 1) the larger in scale, the greater the detachment between the land-steward and his land — observing macro-level synergies and tweaking them becomes increasingly difficult to impossible, and 2) monocultures become a necessity to the automation required, and you end up putting more energy in, and getting less out, and you begin the input treadmill of labour, fertilisers, chemicals, etc., that are the inevitable result of trying to maintain what nature doesn’t normally allow. (This post gives a good easy-to-understand rundown on one example of this).
  2. You know very well that, with present systems, we’re using enormous amounts of fossil fuels to produce ‘food’ (‘food’ being in inverted commas, because it’s increasingly empty of nutrition). And, you know very well that we just don’t have that energy to burn any more. Additionally, because of our globalised system, we’re not eating plants we could, simply because they don’t travel well, so are sidelined by BigAgri (think berries, and all kinds of other plant varieties). The system that promised more diversity in our diet has actually reduced it dramatically. Even of that limited range of produce that is ‘approved’ by the BigAgri globalised model, around 25-50% of the food is wasted (according to the FAO) before it even reaches supermarkets (and lots more is wasted post-purchase as well!).
  3. The use of fossil fuels (pesticides, fertilisers) has not only increased our population manifold, but it’s simultaneously consumed our soil life at an escalating rate.
  4. The last three points all mean humanity is in a highly precarious position (dead soils, peaked oil, burgeoning populations). We’re heading into definite famine territory….
  5. Then add in climate change, which is seriously exacerbating our ability to correct the above problems. Much of this climate change is due to the above — the carbon that should be in our soils is now in our atmosphere, due to ignorance and greed.
  6. Add to the above that most people now live in densely packed cities, so are unable to work the land even if they wanted to, and even if they knew how.
  7. The above all inevitably mean two major things need to happen — a massive re-skilling/re-education movement, combined with a transition of people back to the land, for those who don’t have access to it.
  8. Given that in much of the ‘developed’ world, most of the land is held by large farms and even by a handful of very large multinationals (with farmers often little more than serfs on them — ‘managing’ their farms with a colour-by-numbers approach dictated to them by their corporate feudal lords), the above reskilling and transitioning back to the land is complicated with the very difficult necessity of land redistribution — something that historically almost never occurred without revolution and bloodshed.
  9. Where today we have economic incentives that favour large scale and Big Agri, if we are to work in the political realm then I think we need to target the need to see policies enacted which instead incentivise ‘get smaller or get out’, the very opposite of the policies of the last 50 years. Again, this will only work if people managing these smaller plots are educated in the how of it, otherwise instead of increasing resiliency and decreasing food insecurity, we can just exacerbate the situation.
  10. For urbanites, this is a good transitional option in the interim, where we relegate the lawn to its place as a short-lived entry in our history books:
  11. It’s key to understand the biology behind global warminghow the deforestation and mismanagement of our land started atmospheric CO2 increases long before we even began to mine coal and oil. If people would understand this better, rather than only approaching it from a fossil fuel emissions, reductionist standpoint, then we’d be one step closer to understanding the holistic solutions to climate change (reinstating carbon sinks, by way of food forests, and permaculture agricultural methodology — all of which also, themselves, free us from our addiction to fossil fuels).

Education is key. Creating inspiring demonstration sites is key. Collaboration is key. — Hope for a New Era: Before/After Examples of Permaculture Earth Restoration – Solving Our Problems From the Ground Up

Practical hint: Reinventing the U.S. Farm Bill, and incentivising ‘get small, or get out‘, would help with several of the points raised above. (If the ‘get big, or get out’ policies of the last 45 years have worked to change our landscape so dramatically, and so fast, a reverse policy may well do likewise, but in a far more positive direction.) In this I guess I align myself more with Rob Hopkins in regards to the ‘collapse’ discussion, in that rather than trying to wipe away existing civilisation and starting from scratch (at great cost in life and peacefulness), there are already mechanisms in place that we can utilise to advantage through simple policy changes. We just need the collective will to oust corporate interests and to push for sanity and the public good. We don’t ignore negative incentivisation, we confront it and turn it on its head.

A new ideology needed

Communism failed us. While its origins were well-intentioned, people were left with no incentive. As I wrote here, whether people worked hard, or hardly at all, it made no difference to them. Decision-making was centralised, as was control, and rewards…. Many people lost their will to live, or at least their enthusiasm. They were largely robbed of any desire to excel — in anything, let alone for the greater good. The result could be evidenced by the saying born of Communism, "He who does not steal from the state, steals from his family."

Capitalism gave us the incentive, but, divorced of ethics, resulted in what we have today — a vast system of self-interested folk, whose primary goal is to out-compete each other in accruing as much as possible, whilst also working at cross-purposes with each other. There’s no cohesion of purpose, so we accomplish little of real value. Problems in this system are not regarded as something to be solved — rather, they become a valuable resource: someone will profit from your sickness, or from your crime, or from your ignorance. Some of the most profitable companies in the world are also the most destructive. Negatives become incentivised just as much as positives, if not more so. It matters not, so long as the money economy grows. All kinds of nonsense and misery is incentivised by a marketplace devoid of ethics and collaborative goal-setting.

But this has been the question, or dilemma, for millennia — it’s one that philosophers, activists and politicians have pondered and argued for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The hippy generation (or some of them at least) tried to figure this out too. "How do we create a community, a society, where people are motivated to excel, and yet where they’re seeking to excel for the express purpose of working, not only for their own interests, but also for the greater community?"

This question has resulted in different outcomes — like the afore-mentioned Communism and Capitalism. None of them have worked, I propose, only because with these systems we’ve been trying to create ‘mechanisms’ (i.e. economic/political invisible structures) within which to frame and motivate the thoughts and activities of our imperfect human natures. Our species is unique from all other species on earth in this respect — we are the only species capable of destroying the planet, but we can’t seem to help ourselves from going ahead and doing just that. We are not born with an objective, holistic viewpoint. We are not born selfless. Rather, we either learn these traits as we grow up, or… we don’t.

Free will is thus our great privilege, and our great weakness. We can choose to excel at…:

  1. something of great benefit to humanity
  2. something destructive to humanity
  3. something completely meaningless (like, say, skipping stones across a lake)
  4. or we could choose not to excel at anything at all.

(But for all the four above points, it seems, we can make a profit….)

Forcing people to do right doesn’t work — we tend to rebel against compulsion (I’m no exception!). Conversely, in our present insane system, people are incentivised to do wrong. Expanding on what I said above, privatised hospitals have a vested interest in the public remaining sick, so they can charge for dealing with the symptoms — rather than education in prevention. Privatised schools have a vested interest in continued ignorance, so they can deliver year after year of historically inappropriate (and thus impractical) information that keeps people chasing pieces of paper (called ‘qualifications’). Privatised prisons have a vested interest in more criminals, and longer terms — not rehabilitation.

How do we minimise the negative, and maximise the good? The only real way I see this happening is through all the myriad ‘free wills’ of the world becoming acutely aware of where we will be soon enough, if we don’t change course, in tandem with being holistically conversant and inspired with the solutions staring us in the face.

Again, education is so critical here — and it fills me with grief to see our education systems being privatised and financed by corporate interests (see here and here, for example), resulting in corporate Yes Men graduates who regurgitate only what the university funder wants to hear.

And so, my work (personally) over the last 6 years of working to develop the PRI, has been to try to help people worldwide: 1) see the problems in their entirety, and their interconnectedness, 2) see the solutions in their entirety, and their interconnectness, and 3) encourage others to get involved in sharing and educating the same (and I have tried to provide tools for people to network and share to this end). At time of writing, we have about 60x the readership I started with, but, considering where we stand in history, it’s still a drop in the bucket. We need millions and millions of people helping us share a broad-spectrum view of the problems and their solutions, and collaborating to find answers — and fast.

To summarise — I feel we need a great many more people on the same page. Common sense wielded by millions of holistically educated people can only result in one thing: rapid, positive, change. This is in stark contrast to the current trend of people allowing themselves to be kept in a mainstream media bubble, divorced from the realities of others, the realities of the environment, and the realities of an otherwise impending and unrelenting disaster of a future. Let’s not become apathetic, and noninvolved in redesigning social structures. Government needs to become decentralised, and revert to its original intent — that of a service, not merely an authority — but that can never happen by simply ignoring and thus giving tacit acceptance to existing systems.

So, it’s your turn. What kind of world do you want to see built, and how do you see our getting from here, to there? Is a wholesale civilisational implosion inevitable, or can permaculturists and other aligned groups work collaboratively towards raising a new hyper-aware generation who understand exactly what needs to be done? And can they do it in time?
Taken for a Ride (Duration: 56 minutes)


  1. @”Again, education is so critical here — and it fills me with grief to see our education systems being privatised and financed by corporate interests (see here and here, for example), resulting in corporate Yes Men graduates who regurgitate only what the university funder wants to hear.”

    This is a quote from “Ideal Soil” 2nd Edition about how William A. Albrecht, probably the greatest agronomist/soil scientist of XX century was forced to retire:

    “Q: There are a number of conspiracy theories related to the deposition [deposing]
    of Albrecht as head of the Department of Soil Science in Missouri. Can you throw
    any more light on the subject?
    A. I’m afraid I can’t comment on those theories, but I do know that jealousy and
    competition within the University may have also played a part. I once sat down
    and talked with one of Dr Albrecht’s closest associates at the University, and he
    told me that he will always remember a meeting addressed by Dr Albrecht and
    attended by the Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. At that meeting, Dr
    Albrecht suggested that “if we could correct our soils, we would correct many of
    the problems we are having with animal health.” this colleague believed that the
    Dean became convinced that, if the soils program became really successful, then
    this would reduce the need or importance of veterinary science. From that day on
    the Dean was strongly opposed to the soils department, and the veterinary school
    always had far more money. Charles Walters, who was a very close friend of
    Albrecht’s, tells that, when they actually asked the doctor to step down from the
    soils department, he was told that “we need someone who is less of a research
    scientist and more of a fundraiser.”

  2. Thank you Craig for this important article.

    Disclaimer: I fear my words do not adequately convey my intended meanings, so please take this as an attempt at discussion, rather than a final, definitive position from me.

    In my humble opinion, part of our present problems reside precisely in our inability to solve collective problems in general. In other words, yes this mess could all be cured and fixed and regenerated, but only if we (as a species) actually wanted to. And we, as a species, do not have the necessary collective mental framework to make that kind of decision.

    A large proportion of humanity has grown up from early childhood experiencing more or less constant suffering and unfairness of one form or another. That’s what most of us know, and is usually considered just another part of life. We are used to see things go wrong, and not used to see them corrected – much less take it upon ourselves to make them right.

    We do have the tools, the opportunity, the resources, everything, to make it happen. It really is within our reach. But to overcome that conditioning (to expect suffering and unfairness) is just too much to ask of most people.

    We might get there gradually through education, we may still have time to do so in some places of the world (that’s one of the most powerful aspects of permaculture: decentralized, grassroots education that can resist even in isolated pockets). But in my opinion, we will actually choose not to act, at least not globally, until it’s much, much too late.

    Now for the plot twist:

    This faliure, crash, and horrifying destruction of the natural world is exactly the reason why I have so much faith in the long term survival and healing of the human species, and the regeneration of our planet. Because without that heavy, gruesome, physically painful lesson that will be remembered for hundreds or thousands of years, sooner or later we would let it all happen again.

    We have to actually make the mistake, and feel the pain of its consequences, in order to truly learn not to repeat it, as a species.

    So, again in my very humble opinion, I’d say we will be much better off trying to do the best we can, along with those of us who wish to change out of their own free will, rather than trying to convert those who have already decided not to be convertible.

    Because I believe our long-term survival can only happen after we learn how to avoid this recurring pattern of overshoot and crash.

    The Australian Aborigines, the Native Americans, and several other ancient peoples have all had to make this same mistake and suffer through its consequences in order to truly change their mindsets into cooperation with nature.

    So, my own suggestion would be, let’s do everything we can to work together and to give a good example to our children right now, ignoring those of us that choose not to do it, because “The System” is going to fail soon anyway, and the future generations should have something good to hang on to during those times.

    And if it just so happens that our actions are actually enough to avoid the worst of it, so much for the better – but let’s assume we’re wrong from the start, that nothing we do will be enough, and that we really have to do everything we can just to enable a few scattered villages to survive. THEN we will start getting things done for real. THEN we will start cooperating for real.

    Nothing short of a serious threat of death will get us moving fast enough in the direction of life.

    “Life is not light. Life is the light THAT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS.” – Hayao Miyazaki, in Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

    1. Thank you Craig for the article, that demands political action amongst other things – which many abhor to think about.

      Thank you too Tiago for a thought-provoking comment. I tend to agree with you: those few working to prevent a collapse and crash, and as a result much suffering and destruction, will be unable to do so. Many permaculturists believe that by doing what they are doing they can change the world. Such a blinkered view is typical of one who entrenches him/herself in a topic so deeply that s/he begins to forget what the rest of the world is like. This includes myself, at least at times. Living remotely on an off-grid, homestead high in the mountains of southern Spain I tend to forget what it was like in some of the previous places I lived in: London, Stockholm, Dubai. Permaculture will not save places such as London or Dubai, never mind many of the larger Asian metropolises, or those of the Americas, etc.

      But it is painful to think of the inevitable crash and resulting suffering. Very few people can be held responsible ‘for they know not what they’re doing’, as the man with the beard said. We cannot, however, think of ourselves so selfishly, of the ego. Once we accept, or at least try, to let go of the ego, then we are closer to being the creatures that we really are: just another organism on this planet, with no more right to be here than a blade of grass. Which does not mean that we should not work to improve things for ourselves and others, human or non-human, now and for the future. That is, after all, why many of us are here on forums such as this one.

      The least we can do is to be good examples of how to live. More is to spread the word and to work towards helping others change. And more, towards resisting the forces that are driving this planet towards destruction.

      Thank you again. Such articles help to focus my thoughts and efforts.

  3. Masterpiece! Your insights point directly to the basic, individual shifts in perception necessary to become a “viral” force in changing the ways in which our species interacts with the planet. Thank you Craig!

  4. I agree with the highlighted problems.

    Until I read the Designers’ Manual my idea was this world human society was going to completely crash (it has in many parts of the world already) and humans will have another genetic bottleneck, like was experienced 70,000 years ago. Baked in the cake. Done deal. In my mind it was all a matter of luck not to have to meet the ending.

    But now I have changed my idea that more will come through. Life might not be so bad during transition. With the changes made to the landscape, changes that allow the tree growth with minimal human interaction, this will moderate the current trajectory towards annihilation. Fitting the land to the right design and getting this done first is my focus. However, I do agree with the rest of the proposed solutions in the article, just that I don’t believe we have time and need to focus on what is the most important.

    Paying attention to human needs in the current scheme is continuing to step backward. Intensive article, I will have to revisit this on in the dead of winter when I will have more patience to follow the links, thanks.

  5. I am a bit torn between wanting the system to crash and simultaneously fearing the personal consequences on one hand, and trying as hard as I can to crash the system yet failing to make a scratch on it on the other.
    I see the situation a little bit like how Holmgren has reviewed his scenarios, now with concentric circles, overlapping. On the personal level it might be a lifeboats scenario, yet further out the effects are more subtle.
    Like how at my household level we have done almost everything we can, changed banks, work right livelihood jobs, grow our own food, abandon consumerism and popular culture, modify our lifestyle as best we can to lower our impact. That is a huge personal change yet it has all the appearances of doing nothing.
    Yet in the next circle out, maybe I get to influence people who already have some awareness, there might be a few people I can help move forward to change, so there is a tiny bit of collective pull.
    The next ring out, local government and the status quo society, I can make no difference to it at all, I can’t scratch the surface or make a dint.
    So what I get stuck with is the personal sacrifice makes a big difference personally, but it effects nothing out there in the big picture.
    How long can people like myself, and I know there are lots, who are making all the same sorts of actions as myself, how long can we hang on, with our scratching and banging when it all appears to make no difference what so ever.
    I want to crash the system because I have nothing to fear any more, whatever the worst case scenario is it will just be like every other day, face the challenge, rise to the occasion, make a difference where you can.
    We are facing such catastrophic situations, but they don’t all come at once, on the same day in the same place.
    I do not think we will see real change in the world until there is catastrophic sea level rise, and by the time we get to that stage we will be dealing only with adaptation not prevention.

  6. I haven’t read the entire article yet. Just wanted to say before I saw “Greening the Desert”, I thought there was no way for humanity to help the earth recover from the damage that we’ve done over millennia. To see the beneficial changes that we can make to the environment over such a short period of time is the reason that I believe so strongly in permaculture’s ability to make a difference.

  7. The point behind my previous comment which somehow didn’t make it was in part about freedom-of-expression, democracy, uniqueness, personality, spirituality, art, emotion, and stuff like that– important elements, one would think, of a culture that wants to somehow be permanent, if not stagnant or unchangeable.

    In days of old, presumably we allowed ourselves (as oppose to being allowed) to personally and socially respond to our sick, dying or dead and to confront our own mortality, fears, emotions, spirits, and so forth and in the face of the unknown, and through spiritual gestures, dances, noises, chants, art and music, etc., around the campfires, the subjects, objects, imaginations, and just around and about.
    Evolution naturally involves/depends on mutation.
    Permaculture is or wants to be, presumably, a mutation by necessity to transcend the many cultural lines that ostensibly lead to (certain kinds of) impermanence. The irony or paradox seems to be that the only thing that’s permanent is change, while some changes seem to lead to permanence, and so on.

    “What I think should be on the negotiating table … is:
    How to keep nations working cooperatively to achieve all the above.” ~ Craig Mackintosh

    Which nations? Appealing to the nation-states in some senses seems like appealing to the criminals to collectively and cooperatively solve their own crimes. But then perhaps that is possible. In any case…

    “The ‘United Nations’ today is neither united nor represents nations… Many true nations, such as the Iroquois confederation or any tribal alliance with a common ethic, are not represented by such a body, nor are whole nations such as the Basques, Tartars, Kurds, Palestinians, Hawaiians, Hopi, Tibetans, Pitjatjantjara, Misquito, Aranda, Basarwa, Herrero etc….
    Most nations in the United Nations repress a majority of peoples on earth… we need a new concept of ‘nation’, and a new representative body to speak for them. We start by defining a nation as a people subscribing to a common ethic, and aspiring to a similar culture. Such nations may not have a common land base, or language, but do have a common ethic…
    At present, many thousands of organisations, affinities, tribes, bioregions, and spiritual and non-government organisations aspire to such beneficial ends; in every continent, a majority of people– the ethical majority– want peace; a clean and forested earth; a cessation to torture, malnutrition, and oppression; and a right to work towards these ends.
    It would take very little additional organisation for these groups to meet together, count their numbers, and recognise each other’s rights. There are, for instance, far less paid-up or active members of political parties or oppressive societies now than there are organic gardeners whose life works seek peace and plenty. As groups discuss, and accept, the minimal ethic above; they can quickly proceed to recognise each other…” ~ Bill Mollison

    Incidentally, where’s Bill these days and what’s he up to?

  8. Sitting here in the rain in Minnesota, having set up the Gaia U camp at NAPC-1 and waiting for supper. Read your post. Long, but good. You are def. on the right track with teaming with microbes. We can’t do this ourselves, we are not smart enough. We need allies like bacteria, fungi and trees. is worth a look. Net Photosynthetic Productivity as the true measure of wealth.

    I just finished reading Eliz Kolbert’s The SIxth Great Extinction, a worthy successor to Field Notes on Catastrophe. The concluding chapter is very sobering, driving home her epiphany that the problems we face in the Anthropocene will only be solved by an end to the Anthropocene, as soon as possible. Then millions of years from now some bright future archaeologists, perhaps evolved out of present day slime mold, will parse the 1 mm thick layer of radioactive plastic in the worldwide strata and figure out what happened.

    Her point is a bit unsettling, not because we will likely go extinct, but because she concludes WE NEED TO. We likely caused not just the Sixth Extinction, but the Fifth too (megafauna), because of the very things we think of as human process – our ability to collaborate, to care for one another, and to create. We are not going to breed these out, and we are not going to acculturate them out, so we must, sadly, go.

    I am not entirely there yet. I still tend to think of us as having a useful role, perhaps as midwives of the earth’s next great reforestation, but we are going to have to change our ways, soon, quite a bit.

    Good food for thought and discussion over the NAPC weekend. Thanks for the timely post.

  9. I appreciate the documentary and all of the comments following up to this point. You have given me much to think about but there was little here to give me hope. Of course, today people use hope to give them permission to do NOTHING! So, we will go extinct, unless………? I can do my part and those that are committed to make a difference can do theirs. What about the majority who can’t se past their dollar signs and account balances? I can promise you, they will be the ones crying the loudest because IT’S TOO DAMNED HOT!!! They will be the ones demanding that the rest of us suffer so that they can be comfortable. Truthfully, the they/them that I complain about are, at least in part, ME! I can’t live with that thought so I am going to take the bull by the horns and make sure that I am no longer one of THEM. I wish that my life had been more difficult so that I could be physically prepared for what is to come. You know, A./C, hot water, any food I want any time I want. It goes on. Is it going to take going back to living an 18th century life? I guess it does mean that if we want to keep the human component of this planet alive.

    I hate being so negative, but I’m having a hard time see differently right now.

  10. negotiating table => opposing sides => different agendas => never ending discussion unless there is a catalyst to move participants from talking to acting. WADR, Craig, despite the need to act, we will not do so voluntarily. We never have; we never will. And we will never act today to prevent some undesired future until that future becomes today. We will do as we always do – muddle along living in the moment. We only act when we are forced to. At some increasingly sooner-rather-than-later point, an event or events will occur than cause instant change. We’ve had a glimpse of the process with the the SARs outbreak in 2003, 9/11, the 2008 financial mess.

    It will take extreme adversity to get us to move in the same direction. Of the three glimpses, I mentioned above, 9/11 isn’t of the scale needed. So that leaves pandemic and financial collapse. Of the two, let’s hope that it’s the second the occurs not the first. While the numbers in David Holmgren’s 50% reduction of consumption and 50% conversion of assets into building household and local community resilience by say 10% of the population in affluent countries would show up as 5% reduction in demand in a system built on perpetual growth and a 5% reduction in savings capital available for banks to lend are blue sky numbers, the relationships are well founded. We need a recession that dries up consumption. We need a debt-servicing crisis that brings economic growth to a halt. We need asset deflation. These are all very, very painful and will lead to a generation at least with “depression eyes” but it is in this kind of adversity that we will find the smaller solutions that work. If I have no job and no money, I can always swap the fruit that I harvest for the eggs from your chickens. If media shrinks dramatically because advertising has dried up, then I’ll talk to my neighbours for entertainment and social contact. And that car sitting in my driveway will be an endless source of bits and pieces. It will be a smaller world of make and make do.

  11. Great article Craig, very comprehensive, you bring up a lot of interesting points I hadn’t thought about. Makes me think about how Christian Monasteries in Europe kept alive knowledge and good land use practices in the “Dark Ages” I believe we are heading into a new Dark Age, the biggest priority is to prepare by increasing social engagement, collective action, participation in decision making and governments on all levels, and better thinking about the where we are going and what to do about it.

  12. Rick, seventy thousand years ago, Mt Toba erupted and literally paved the way for modern humans to leave Africa and take over the rest of the planet. Modern Humans were more psychologically flexible and more mobile than Neanderthals and Homo Erectus who both were dealt a decisive blow by Mt. Toba and the last ice age.

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