Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Houston Moment

A few years ago, when I was writing The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide, I was coming off a career in appropriate technology, UN-style development consulting, ecovillage design, permaculture teaching and grassroots organizing, and the book in many ways resembles a course book from the Ecovillage Training Center, Gaia University, or Gaia Education Associates. It is an A-to-Z of how to downsize and rebuild civilization if you wanted it to sustain for another century or more.

Well, time marches on, and since putting that book out, I had what I have come to call my “Houston Moment,” as in, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” but actually so-named because I happened to be in Houston, Texas when it fully sunk in, in October, 2007. It had been latent for a while, and nothing new happened to me in Houston to make the pieces fall together, but it was like watching a slot machine, the lever having been pulled, the tumblers spinning, and finally, chunk, chunk, chunk, three lemons came up.

The three lemons are human destiny, the evolutionary track of the earth, and non-linear climate change.

Energy plays a role, but really, it is more of a symptom now. Complexity (especially in the ecosystems of finance), memes and temes, the losing competition with other life-forms for this planet, the technological singularity, the voice of a plant or fungal world speaking though our bloodstream, unmanned biotech predator drones, foglets of transhuman intelligence wafting off to other solar systems, the Republican National Convention — all symptoms.

So it seemed to me another book is needed, and last month I began work on that. Tomorrow I am flying off to England for a research trip. I will be covering the International Biochar Conference in Newcastle as a correspondent for Organic Gardener (Australia) and then training down to Totnes for a walking tour of the Transition Towns movement with Rob Hopkins. Future trips will take me far up the Amazon river, to kelp farms in the Gulf of Mexico, and to little-known islands of biodiversity where hope is still alive.

The funny thing is, I find myself inhabiting this strange amphibian skin, crawling out on the beach with my tail in my own past and my nose in my future. Here at the Training Center we are just starting another month-long apprenticeship program with a brilliant and beautiful international group of activists, and we have upcoming workshops in advanced permaculture (water catchment and retention systems, forest gardening, Facilitating Deep Ecology and The Work That Reconnects, forest mushroom cultivation, and solar PV systems) going on the whole time I’m gone. Under my denomination as a loyal ecovillage movement person I will be spreading the gospel of the Oct-Nov EDE training of trainers at Findhorn and Gaia U’s action learning modules in ESR, Conflict and IESD, also at Findhorn, in December. I will be ramping up to teach permaculture in Belize again this winter with a great group of international instructors.

But the whole paradigm of rapid, action-learning education — to transform our swing to something that might hit the fast ball Mother Nature is hurling at the plate — seems to me, post-Houston, too little too late.

Apart from the facilitation and conflict in Module One of the EDE, much of the ecovillage design curricula now seems hopelessly tame. All the financial permaculture stuff (“Green Economics”) is likely to be worthless soon, except perhaps some skills in building alternative currency, barter or local exchange systems from scratch in the midst of famine and panic. The world money system is teetering on absurdity, and can't last much longer unless it dumps the US dollar out of the lifeboat and watches it sink into the icy depths like Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of Titanic. And even then, there is no guarantee it won’t reach an icy arm up and tip the whole boat into the ocean.

The Integrative Eco-Social Design meme propagated by Gaia University may yet have some usefulness. According to a recent promotional brochure, “This 2-year-long program is for people working at an advanced strategic level in the regeneration and world change fields, using approaches informed by the permaculture and ecovillage design disciplines (e.g Dip.Perm.Des or EDE certificate).” Presumedly the advanced strategic level employs Geoff Lawton/Darryl Doherty and David Blume paradigms to shift us toward the human tipping point. We need armies of permaculturists transforming deserts on land and sea to be massively sequestering carbon and switching the direction of atmospheric chemistry or we are all toast.

That is really the only thing worth teaching now: how to muster, equip and field those armies.

Does Gaia U also give out condoms? I am noticing some more sites popping up with some basic survival skills in database format; subjects like home medical, caring for kids, water, latrines, greywater, home heating, food storage, cooking, lighting, and recycling grocery plastic bags into sheets and clothing. Unfortunately, unlike our decade-old free database at the Institute for Appropriate Technology, these new sites tend to be copyrighted, which is same-old same-old paradigm. That selfish gene is slowly killing us.

I applaud some recent inventions such as the Permaculture First Responder course created by the Solar Living Institute in California, or the Transition Gathering Camp in Suffolk, UK. I am going to the biochar conference hoping to find some solutions that will lift the ennui many of us are feeling about the future. If nothing more, getting out and doing something helps the grieving process.

Houston, firing on your signal, three… two… one.

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