Permaculture Part 2 – Elaboration

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Barriers of Entry

I began mentioning in my previous post that the key task in the coming decades to avert severe, long term ecological consequences will likely be a transition of the masses to a more sustainable/regenerative ways of life. But the barriers of entry is still quite high and interspersed, making it difficult to make that jump for those that are interested but are not 100% sure if it will work.

From what I’ve seen and researched, reaching full self-sufficiency on your own is far too much work. Some hard minded stoicist do it but it’s definitely not for everyone. Small communities living sustainably also exists, which may reduce the workload by a good percentage but many will;

  1. have restrictive rules and limited availability of positions
  2. have spiritual/pseudo scientific slant of varying degree
  3. have inter-relationship/heirarchical/decision making problems
  4. have issues integrating with the local communities
  5. be living in ecologically sound but less appealing houses.

A good alternative available at the moment are the transition towns that are popping up all over the place, most notably Totnes in South Devon. A noble effort to say the least and successful in some cases but changing the minds of the people through grass-roots effort is like retro-fitting an old car with new parts. You need to remove the old rusty broken parts first and it takes significant effort and time. It also does not solve the issues of affordability which I’ve written in more detail below.

I’ve proposed in my last post that building a village sized, secular, loose co-operative of well built eco-housing with self sustaining systems in place might overcome a lot of the barriers to entry listed above. Re-branding the concept from ‘some hippies living in huts doing something weird’ to a ‘healthy, affordable, beautiful place where I don’t need to work as much’, wouldn’t take too much effort when you take into account the interest towards such lifestyle amongst the younger generations. I have a feeling that the governance of such a village will probably be the crux of its long-term success, but I have yet to ponder deeply on the subject and so will be hunting for more working models and studying in depth in the coming year or two.

Me and friends learning how to plant trees with guilds of beneficial plants

Affordability

One of the other points that I’d made was the issue of entry affordability. How do we make the lifestyle so affordable that a single mother juggling part-time jobs with 3 children, or a university graduate with a mountain of debt could transition to it. Buying a plot of land, designing it well, going through the process of gaining a planning permission, building a house, planting trees and vegetables requires time, expertise, a decent amount of cash and a lot of determination, particularly if you’re working at the same time.

What if, an eco-housing company, backed by ethical investors and part funded by the government housing initiatives purchased large pieces of land, gained permission, built passive solar straw-bale houses with off-grid elements inspired by earth ships and a rocket mass heater? (I will probably do a series of in depth posts for each of these areas later)

What if, professional permaculture designers set up the garden and planted trees to supply all of the inhabitants needs and provided ongoing courses/support/consultations for sustaining and developing it?

What if these habitats were offered as rent to buy at a price point dependent on an income scale? Or by participating in building, say, another 10 to 20 houses as part of the company. I tend to think 5 years of work (3/4 days a week) to gain full ownership of a decent off-grid property is a good price to pay, and compared to a crippling 30 year mortgage, totally minuscule.

What if investing your money and time on caring for the land, caring for the people and for the future generations yielded financial returns? Say in 5 years, you own the property outright, and in 10 years the system matures to fruition, provided you learn to take care of it. The time and effort you’ve put in could help create a functioning community, exporting produce to local villages and towns. Small scale business enterprises will be funded perhaps by a communal reserve, serving newer layers of needs.

But How?

So how do we reach that price point? What makes it so cheap? Government subsidies may come into force if several pilot projects were successful, but failing that, I imagine the housing company to be run by architects, carpenters, builders and landscapers already living in such houses – low cost, passive solar, super insulated, off-grid with a productive garden, requiring very little income to sustain themselves. An excellent idea proposed by a good friend of mine and lit up a whole new spark of imagination.

Another factor to consider is that purchasing a large plot of land usually makes it far cheaper per acre than buying a single, small plot of land. If done well, (and it’s one of the most appealing ideas in permaculture) a depleted, less productive and less valuable land can be brought back to life, regenerated to a point where surplus produce is exported for revenue. Excess solar energy can also be set up to be sold to the grid.

Passive solar straw bale house

Aesthetics

The third and final point I made was the issue of aesthetics. I’ve long been saying that if compost loos can be done beautifully, it’ll get more people into this lifestyle. It’s a deductive example but the idea can be applied to all other aspects of sustainable living. It has to be packaged in a way that is easily digestible and superior in function and design compared to other modern ways of life. Not only does it need to work well, but it needs to look good.

Another example of straw bale house

I was really pleased to know that Ben Law’s house, which featured on Grand Designs a while back and the subsequent revisits, remains one of the most popular episodes amongst all the other grand houses on the show. If you haven’t seen it, check this out. It seems that a sustainable, affordable house done beautifully well has a powerful appeal that surpasses slick dwellings that are far out of reach of most people.


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