Think before acting

Before making a decision we should start with observing what’s before us as clearly and objectively as possible (as clear as possible because pure objectivity doesn’t exist, though we can try) before allowing our mind to jump to any analysis, or worse yet, actions.

First, let’s just see what is going on. If I were looking at a garden, I might be looking for where the sun rises and sets, not just right now, but what about at the height of winter, or summer? Where does the prevailing wind come from? What’s the soil like? Is it clay-based? Sandy? What species of animal can I observe? Are there any parts of the garden that are prone to flooding? Or perhaps it could be the human element of the garden. What does the owner want from it? What are the budgetary and time constraints? And so on the list goes (this pdf gives a good overview of the SADIMET framework for decision making).

Before we even think about making a decision (yes the mind will do it, but try your best to ignore it), we must first see clearly what is before us. This period of obvservation in an ideal world would take place for many months before we even begin to analyse, and start to think about why these things are happening, and how we may address them.

Why is the soil always soggy in the corner? Is it because it slopes down to that wall? Why is there little top soil left? What is it we want to achieve with this garden? Do we want to grow herbs? Salad crops? Do we want to provide a relaxing space? How are we going to achieve all this within the budget and timeframe? How are we going to shield the wind? Etc.

Once we’ve explored the why and how, then we can move on to designing or planning solutions, bearing in mind the whole system. There are many ways of making a site less soggy under foot, but what if the proposed solution just contributes to more flooding further down stream (as is often the case when people put in ‘drainage’)? Then we’re not considering the whole system, because with permaculture-thinking you can’t just make a decision that makes it ‘better’ for yourself without considering your impact on others in the wider eco-system. It forces us to think beyond merely what we may want for ourselves. It forces us to think beyond that which is immediately in front of us. It forces to think about the future and others.

Once you’ve designed a system to meet the needs of the site and owner, without jeopardising the needs of the wider eco-system, both now and in the future, only then we can move on to action. Then we can look to implement our proposals. Yet they are still only proposals, they mustn’t be completely fixed, as we must listen to the feedback we get when we start implementing our ideas and adapt accordingly.

In our culture, that is obssessed with doing, we love to skip straight to the implemetntation stage, but without clear and detailed observation, in-depth analysis, and comprehensive, whole-system planning, the actions we take fall into the serious danger of making things worse than they were in the beginning. Or perhaps worse we initiate a cascading of events that lead to worse situations somewhere else, either right now, or in the future.

Myopic thinking has put our world in many very serious situations right now. Evidenced by climate change, precarious economic systems, the chaotic geopolitics of the Middle East, or the fact that we have a global food system that is inextricably linked to the destruction of vital, fragile eco-systems, and uses vast amounts of dwindling oil reserves.

These things didn’t happen overnight. They’re the consequence of over a century of short-term, narrow-minded thinking. We all merely considered ourselves, and not the consequences of our actions. And now all the chickens are coming home to roost at once.

Permaculture is a way of forcing us to think differently. Or perhaps one could argue to even think in the first place.

This article has been inspired by the discussion around the recent atrocious attacks in Paris. Many people in the mainstream media, and online are baiting for blood. I think I understand why. They’re fearful. They’re scared that it’s going to happen here, but not only that, that we are going to be invaded by extremists like IS.

Our leaders in turn think that they must respond with violence. As François Hollande put it, ‘France will be merciless.’ But is that what we really ask of our leaders? And more importantly is this the right action? Since when was being ‘merciless’ desirable?

In my opinion IS is baiting us to fight with them. They are pleading with us to engage in war. The more chaos in the Middle East, the more extremism thrives. Extremism doesn’t thrive in stable, prosperous states. The degradation of the Middle East of the last few decades has left the region in turmoil and chaos. Consequences of which we are now facing.

It seems abundantly clear to me, based on the evidence, that airstrikes don’t work . They’re just a way of making us feel better about ourselves, of making us feel that we are doing ‘something.’ I was tempted to right ‘positive’ but actually, we aren’t that worried about that in modern, Western society. We’ve fallen in love with the idea that we must do something, anything. Inaction is worse than bad action, in the so-called logic of our society.

The idea of waiting, observing, and really seeing what is happening. And then discussing why and what can be done. Then making detailed plans and designs for achieving what it is we all really want (the conservation not even going beyond discussing the eradication of IS – we haven’t even discussed what it is we want, we’re still discussing what we don’t want – never mind whether it’s possible or not, which is another conversation). And only then taking action – and remember that action is still open to continual, constant feedback and adaptation, in accordance with what happens when we take that action.

That’s an idea isn’t it? To engage in a rational, logical thought process before discussing actions.

Instead Cameron and Hollande have both come out saying that we must bomb Syria. Because that’s been working hasn’t it?!

The French cockerel had hardly crowed in the matin before we were discussing military action and airstrikes.

Why do we always assume that we must meet violence with violence? It hasn’t been working, so why not try another strategy? (Indeed do we even have a strategy?).

Instead our leaders – our because collectively as a nation we elected them – engage in childish posturing. Almost revelling in the lack of rationale. We have come to pride ourselves on acting on our emotions, rather than using calm, collected logic guided by compassion.

Compassion. Humanity. Peace. Three concepts that must inform the intellect and our decision making if we are not to just create even more suffering.

How do we ever expect ourselves to find a peaceful solution when we act like children?

The decisions we make now will have lasting consequences. It bequeaths us to act rationally and sensibly in response to the attacks in Paris. History (read: our grandchildren) will judge us. Do we really want to act recklessly?

Let’s pause, think, and let the emotions die down. Let’s consider the whole system and all of the consequences of our actions. That is demanded of us – but will we listen?

Our fossil-fuelled ignorance

You might have read my post a few weeks back, about newspaper claims that Sweden will soon be going fossil fuel free. We should all of course be jumping around celebrating a victory against all odds. But only if we’re naive enough to buy into the collective amnesia. Just because a country is aiming to generate its electricity free from fossil fuels (not technically true, but let’s run with it for a second, because even if it were true it still isn’t the emphatic victory we’re looking for) doesn’t mean it’s going ‘fossil fuel free’ as the headlines proclaimed.

This isn’t a small point. Electricity generation is just one small fraction of the total usage of fossil fuels we currently gorge on. Transportation, agriculture and manufacturing are just three other areas that use vast amounts of fossil fuel. Fossil fuels that are rapidly depleting, never mind contributing significantly to anthropogenic climate change.

Yet once again this week I read another eager journalist discussing how technology is once again coming to save us. And don’t worry chaps, none of us have to worry about doing anything ourselves. Just carry on mindlessly consuming. Do your bit for your country and all that. I mean, how else are we going to get ourselves out of this economic mess other than to consume, consume, and bloody well consume some more? I digress…

Is it too much to ask that instead of trying to continue our unsustainable, destructive use of energy that we actually discuss energy conservation? And is it too much to ask that we understand our full usage of fossil fuels extends beyond electricity generation.

The article states with its final emphatic paragraph, “Technology takes no prisoners. Nor does politics. World leaders have repeatedly stated that they would defend the line of a ‘two degree planet’, and now they are taking the concrete steps to do so. Fossil investors have been warned.”

Where do I even start? This rhetoric is straight out of the ministry of propaganda. We are nowhere near averting a ‘2 degree planet’ and we are a long way from taking the concrete steps necessary. Does the journalist even know what he’s writing about? And where did he find such platitudes such as politics and technology taking no prisoners. I’m almost speechless, and just want to put my head in my hands. Where does one start, when trying to respond to such crass naivety?

World leaders indeed have repeatedly said that they would take the necessary steps. But as we all know with the planned tax credit cuts in the UK, what a politician says, and what a politician does, are usually two diametrically opposed actions. So yes repeatedly they have said they will yet still no real action gets taken – instead the situation gets worse.

There are many flaws in this article, like where are countries going to get the $90 trillion from to fund this ‘energy revolution’ it discusses? In case the author’s missed it, most country’s economies are in dire straits.

It also overstates the importance of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) which whilst it will become an important technology, still will only be a small part of the picture. Further, we’re still waiting for it to be rolled out, and the clock is ticking steadily.

Once again we understate how difficult it will be remove ourselves from fossil fuel, and avert dangerous climate change, without addressing the main underlying problem that our economic system is inextricably linked to fossil fuels. We can either have economic growth or a liveable environment, we can’t have both, and the sooner we recognise that the better. People need hope, and need something to believe in, but false hope, and Disney-like fairy tales aren’t what we need. We need something we can believe in that will actually make a difference. We need to be told the truth.

The future’s bleak, but there’s much we can all do to make it less bleak, and even in bleak times, humans can find much to be cheerful about, such is our resilient nature.

But it seems our current propensity to buy into grandiose self-delusions about the power of human ingenuity will once again prove to be our achilles’ heel. We watch so many stories about superheroes that we actually believe that one will come flying past our window any moment now to save us all.

So when politicians tell us that they will ‘defend the two degree planet’ we will of course believe them. Because to not believe them would be to burst our bubble of delusion and to leave us with the sober reality of having to do something about it.

So yes, let’s all continue with business as usual. Let’s all buy into the fantasy that “The old energy order is living on borrowed time.” And that we’re on the cusp of an energy revolution.

No harm ever came from believing in fantasies, did it?