Editor Note: The topic of these articles is the environmental aspect, as the President elect of the United States of America – Who was voted in accordingly to the laws of that country – has made a number of comments on the topics of climate change and the environment, these are relevant to the Permaculture movement as it impacts the overall framework of the work we do and the systems we put into place.
As the election results pour in, news outlets globally are ready to report (1) (2). It’s just one country, but it seems for whatever reason that many people believe our fate is tied up with that of the USA.
America is an eerie society. It seems to want to live on a dust bowl. But as one of your own Indians said, “If you shit in bed, you’ll surely smother in it.”
Bill Mollison (3)
What does the election result mean for the other human societies around the world? What are the possible connotations for the global environment? And how can we from the perspective of permaculture, as a tool for positive societal change, react?
The winner of the 2016 presidential campaign has turned out to be Donald J Trump (1), a businessman, TV producer and regular appearer in court (4). As someone who is supposedly representing the people of the country in their quest to thrive, he can be seen as either laughably inadequate or a potentially eerie symbol of US society. If the former, it seems important to note the idea that the job of a president, especially a high-profile one, may not actually be to wield power but to draw attention away from it (5).
One surprising result of today’s election was that the Republican party have gained the majority in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate (1), meaning that the US government is now majority Republican and as such theoretically is more likely to go along with Trump’s policies.
A black sky enclosed by a big, big wall
However, since these include proposed actions which even members of the Republican party have distanced themselves from, such as starting a database of all Muslims in the USA (6), increasing surveillance of mosques (6), and the infamous “big, beautiful wall” which Trump plans to build on the border between the USA and neighbouring country Mexico (7) (8), there still seems to be a lot of uncertainty about whether or not these plans will go ahead.
While the Muslim database and the wall would cause a lot of inconvenience for many citizens of the state, perhaps more concerning on a global scale are Trump’s energy policies. A glance at the Trump campaign website at first seems to show some concern for the environment:
“Make America energy independent, create millions of new jobs, and protect clean air and clean water”. (9)
Such a statement can be seen to be in line with permaculture; the USA has a lot of land which could be used to create solar and wind energy, and thousands of miles of coastline giving potential for wave energy. In Britain, the potential for renewable energy has been mapped out by the Zero Carbon Britain group (10) which has published a detailed report for how the country can switch over completely to zero-carbon energy sources by 2030 (11). Since Britain is much smaller than the United States the latter could probably embark on a similar path.
However, Trump seems to be leaning in a different direction; his vision centres on his plan to
“Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in ‘clean’ coal reserves”. (12)
Such quotes can seem depressing in their lack of consistency. How can Trump claim to protect clean air and clean water if he is unleashing fossil fuels into it? And why did he get so many votes with such clear lack of integrity? Yet now more than ever it is important to remember that at the heart of permaculture practise we understand that the problem is the solution. Perhaps Trump’s outrageously environmentally damaging behaviour will be so extreme that it will be the cause of a new wave of people acting for themselves and for the planet.
People for change?
Probably one of the ways in which Trump’s ‘unleashing’ would happen is with the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline planned to span 1,170 miles across the states of North Dakota and Illinois (13) which has caused controversy worldwide as its planned course runs next to some Native American tribes (13). Trump has invested in Energy Transfer Partners, the operators of this pipeline, and its CEO donated to his presidential campaign (13). Now he is the president-elect, will the pipeline be more likely to go ahead?
…Not necessarily. It is already the subject of controversy around the world and thousands of people are camped at the pipeline site in protest (13). Trump being elected may well raise the profile of the campaign rather than halting it.
Indeed, the very easy-to-ridicule nature of Trump’s character – from his giant wall plan to keep immigrants out (coming from a man whose grandparents were from Scotland and Germany) (14) to his tweet that climate change is a ‘Chinese hoax’ (15)- could seemingly be the instigator of much positive societal change. Some of his views seem so detrimental to flourishing life, and the potential threat of him putting them into action is now so real, that the incentive is here more than ever for people to join together and do what they feel is right, regardless of what any politician appears to be up to.
This could be in large public actions such as the Stop Dakota Pipeline campaign (see for example 16). Much of what has raised the profile of the pipeline is the fact that it will pass through ‘sacred’ Native American lands and potentially poison ‘sacred’ waters. The giant wall across the US-Mexico border, should it ever come to exist, would cut right through the land which has already been divided of the Tohono O’odham and other tribes which also see the land as sacred and therefore would be violating their rights (as the current border is now) (17). This argument, though highly relevant, misses the point to some extent. As the letter usually attributed to Chief Seattle puts it,
“Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us.” (18)
This view is shared by ancient societies and current tribes around the world (19). It is not just one particular piece of land which is sacred, though by sacrilising it we can add practically relevant properties which can help us in our own lives. It is all land; the entire Earth, and everything in it.
Ancient tribes have been moved around for generations but if they have a strong enough culture they can re-generate wherever they find themselves, as long as they have the earth and the sky. One example is the Wixarika of present-day Mexico, whose culture has been going unbroken for 5000 years in spite of their being moved away from their desert homeland into the mountains. They simply adapted to make the mountains sacred as well as the desert (20).
It may seem like a small, or even irrelevant, but if we do not do the same then we are always vulnerable to being carried more by human words than by the rhythms of the Earth. One of the main inspirations for the development of permaculture came from Mollison and Holmgren studying the most resilient societies of our planet to find out what they were doing right (21) and we can continue to take inspiration from this.
However we do this – metaphorically within ourselves, socially within our communities, physically with the land itself or all of the above, then we can become much stronger and able to deal with such potential environmental crises as may or may not occur under a Trump presidency. Trump may be one of the most wealthy men on Earth but he is wealthy in money only.
You want a definition of wealth from Eskimos, the Inuit? Wealth is a deep understanding of the natural world.
Bill Mollison (3)
Now seems a better time than ever to heed the above words of Bill Mollison. We are unique in that our ‘tribe’ spans across many continents and is linked not only by our love of and co-operation with the systems around us, but also by our global technology.
The presidential election results may be heralding the start of a new culture in the USA, or they may merely be the ushering in of a new puppet, fodder for tomorrow’s tabloids. Either way it is a great inspiration to us to be strong in our own, multi-faceted, unique culture.
• ABC News, 2016. ‘US Election Live’. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-08/us-election-trump-pulls-ahead-of-clinton-live/8006596
• Alexander, Lawler, Sherlock, 2016. ‘Donald Trump set for US election victory in America’s Brexit’. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/donald-trump-set-for-us-election-victory-in-americas-brexit/
• AtKisson, A, 1991 (1996). ‘Permaculture: Design for Living’. Making it Happen: The Context Institue. https://www.context.org/iclib/ic28/mollison/
• Penzanstadler, Page, 2016. ‘Exclusive: Trump’s 3,500 lawsuits unprecedented for a presidential nominee’. USA Today, 1/6/16. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/06/01/donald-trump-lawsuits-legal-battles/84995854/
• Adams, D, 1979. The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Pan: London
• Hillyard, V, 2016. ‘Trump says he would certainly implement Muslim database’. NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/trump-says-he-would-certainly-implement-muslim-database-n466716
• Lopez, Kahn, 2016. ‘Donald Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall’ with Mexico isn’t popular in Southwest US’. Business Insider, 23/10/16. https://www.businessinsider.com/r-a-waste-of-money-trumps-border-wall-falling-flat-in-arizona-reutersipsos-poll-2016-10
• Donald J Trump, 2016. ‘Policies: Immigration’.
• Zero Carbon Britain, 2016. ‘About ZCB’. https://zerocarbonbritain.com/en/zcb-about
• Zero Carbon Britain, 2016. ‘ First Report: Zero Carbon Britain 2030’. Available as a PDF here: https://zerocarbonbritain.com/images/pdfs/zerocarbonbritain.pdf
• Donald J Trump, 2016. ‘Policies: Energy’.
• Dakota Access Pipeline Facts, 2016. ‘About’. https://www.daplpipelinefacts.com/
• Milman, O, 2016. ‘Dakota Access pipeline company and Donal Trump have close financial ties’. Guardian, 26/10/16. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/26/donald-trump-dakota-access-pipeline-investment-energy-transfer-partners
• Blair, Gwenda, 2001. The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster: New York City.
• Griffin, A, 2016. Donald Trump not deleting climate change denial tweets, despite ‘Chinese hoax’ global warming claims’. Independent, 27/9/16. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-not-deleting-climate-change-denial-tweets-despite-chinese-hoax-global-warming-claims-a7332396.html
• Rezpect Our Water, 2016. ‘What We Stand For’. https://rezpectourwater.com/
• Democracy Now! 2014. ‘Caught in the Crossfire: Us-Mexico Border Militarization Threatens Way of Life of Native Tribes’. Available on Youtube here.
• Chief Seattle (attributed), probably 1852. ‘Letter to the President of the United States, 1852’. https://www.ascensionnow.co.uk/chief-seattles-letter-to-the-american-president-1852.html
• Campbell, J, 1959. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Griffin: New York City
• Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Sacred Spaces’/ Abundance Garden, 3/3/15. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/sacred-spaces/
• Mollison, B, Holmgren, D, 1978. Permaculture One. Tagari: Tasmania.