This episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with David Holmgren, an internationally renowned environmental designer, ecological educator and author, best known as one of the co-originators of the permaculture concept with Bill Mollison.
We discuss the science and heritage of the permaculture model, what sustainability really means on the larger scale, and how we can enjoy a richer, more meaningful life through radically changing the way in which we relate to, and draw resources from, the earth.
Join in the conversation #hivepodcast
Following the publication of David and Bill Mollison’s book, Permaculture One in 1978, David went on to develop, consult and supervise various urban and rural projects, and has since been presenting lectures, workshops and courses all around the world, although he gave up international air travel on environmental grounds over a decade ago.
As well as being involved in the practical side of permaculture, David is passionate about the philosophical and conceptual foundations for sustainability, and these are the core themes he explored his seminal book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Interestingly, this book has had a significant influence on the development of Transition Initiatives around the world, which we’ll be hearing about shortly…
RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future
Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability – Revised
The Art of Frugal Hedonism
Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements
More useful resources
Written, recorded & produced by Nathalie Nahai © 2019.
NN: Hello, and welcome to The Hive Podcast. Today I’m very excited to be talking with David Holmgren from his home in Australia. David is an environmental designer, ecological educator and author, best known as one of the co-originators of the permaculture concept with Bill Mollison. Following the publication of their book Permaculture One back in 1978, David went on to develop, consult and supervise various urban and rural projects, and has since been presenting lectures, workshops and courses all around the world, although he gave up international air travel on environmental grounds over a decade ago.
As well as being involved in the practical side of permaculture, David is passionate about the philosophical and conceptual foundations for sustainability. These are the core themes he explored in his seminal book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Really interesting thing about this book is that it’s had a significant influence on the development of transition initiatives around the world, which we’ll be hearing about in a little bit, but first of all, David, thank you so much for joining me.
DH: Good to be speaking with you.
NN: Before we dive into the other questions, let’s start from the beginning. What is permaculture and where does it originate?
DH: Yeah, permaculture is a concept that emerged out of what I call the first wave of modern environmental thinking, and action, and ideas in the 1970s. It’s really a design system for both sustainable living and sustainable land use. It’s concerned with both the production side of the equation, how we get our basic needs, primarily food from a working relationship with nature, through agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, all the different aspects of what people mostly think of as rural land uses. But similarly concerned with how we live, how we consume, the other end of that equation, and bringing those two sides back together.
I suppose over the years, it’s been associated with the counterculture to some degree in the early days and in many developing countries, sort of ecological Third World development. But in a lot of economic countries today a lot of people say, “That’s a cool form of organic gardening or self-reliant living.” Of course, those popular perceptions of permaculture sort of are part of the picture, I suppose, but it’s grown and changed and evolved over those decades as well.
NN: What moved you to explore this path when you started out, investigating these ways of relating to our environment and the ways that we get our food and our shelter?
DH: Well, I think I was, at the time that I met Bill Mollison, a student in a radical course called Environmental Design, which was training architects, landscape architects and urban planners. But on the premise that world is changing so fast that there’s no point in teaching them a particular set of skills, one has to teach them how to problem-solve and think. In a very radical, free form, education environment, I effectively found myself an external mentor, who was not a designer was an ecologist, or at least met my criteria of what I thought an ecologist should be, rather than a lot of the reductionist scientists, biological scientists who I’d met who call themselves ecologists.
Yeah, Mollison was a true renaissance man, enormously skilled and in a practical world. But he actually, when I met him, he was a senior tutor in the psychology faculty of another tertiary institution.
NN: Oh, that’s so fascinating.
DH: He didn’t have any of the labels that would have made … Oh, yes, he is the ecological designer, who I want to be my mentor, and sort of didn’t really work like that. But I was interested at the time I met him in the nexus or the overlap between landscape architecture as a design profession, ecological science and principles drawn from nature, and how we could apply them to the redesign of agriculture. I couldn’t see anywhere in the academic literature where these three things actually came together. I could see quite a few examples of where two of them came together, but not all three.
That was really the seed of the idea that we hatched over the next two years of intensive working relationship. That led to the publication of Permaculture One in 1978, at a time where there was a huge interest in ideas of this sort. If that timing had been not many years later, in the early ’80s, the idea probably would have sunk like a little balloon.
NN: That’s so fascinating.
DH: But it got enough of a boost at that time to carry it through, if you like, the dark decades of the ’80s and ’90s.
NN: But what a fascinating way of exploring ways to kind of bring existing ideas together in … Because I think one of the interesting things that I find that I also query is the usefulness or robustness of an academic or educational method that tends to split all the disciplines without seeing ways in which they can enrich one another. I’m so interested in the, I guess the fact that your ecological mentor was also a psychologist. Did he bring his psychological background to the problems that you were seeking to resolve? Was that part of the mix?
DH: To some extent, I never went to one of these lectures at the university. He was incredibly popular, but also very controversial. He was running a course that would sort of be called today a hybrid between environmental psychology and socio-biology. But he was a very broad thinker, and it’d come out of wildlife research originally as an educated rabbit trapper who was employed in the great rabbit research program in Australia that led to tackling the plagues of rabbits with biological control. I was more interested in his sort of ecological knowledge than the psychological side of things.
But we definitely saw all of those things is connected. Although permaculture focused primarily on the redesign of the food system, it was really in a context where the ideas of the limits to growth was suggesting that industrial civilization was headed for basically some sort of collapse in the 21st century, if not before, due to the limits of resources and the limits of how much damage you could cause to the global environment before that started to radically affect human systems.
That meant that we were really seeing the need for everything to be re-designed from first principles, and very strong in that mix at the time was of course the awareness of society’s dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil, because of the first oil crisis in 1973, one year before I met Bill Mollison. The second oil crisis in 1979, one year after Permaculture One was published. That was part of what was driving public awareness of what we would today call sustainability issues.
NN: Actually, in your book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, you write about some of the philosophical and conceptual foundations for sustainability, what we now call sustainability. Can you talk us through some of these and maybe why they’re more relevant than ever, especially as we near this crisis point of no return?
DH: Well, I suppose the sustainability concept is a tricky one, and it’s being debased by the mainstream discourse that is really seeking to sustain the unsustainable. I mean, it’s a bit of a no brainer that a society, not just a society, but a culture, and in fact, a civilization now, we can call the industrial civilization, is based on energy sources that are non-renewable. Because at some point, you face the depletion crisis. That was sort of understood at the beginning of the industrial era. Exactly when that would happen, obviously, there’s been many considerations of that.
But I think one of the important things about sustainability is that it’s got to be considered in the context of the system scale. If you look at the financial sustainability of a business, you might evaluate that over its ability to persist for some years or perhaps decades. But a civilization really needs to persist for thousands of years to be regarded as demonstrating some sustainability. With the sign of industrial civilization filing after only 250 years, that’s really the very antithesis of sustainability. We can look at a lot of civilizations in the past that depleted their resource base, and most of them lasted longer than that.
Now, of course, the techno-optimistic view of the world is that there’s always been that there’ll be something bigger and better. I mean, it used to be nuclear power, and then for the green tech optimists were of course for the last 30 or 40 years, it’s been renewable energy. But these ecological energetic understandings of human systems really, unfortunately, at a very could we say, the kindergarten level of understanding. It’s really tragic that in a supposedly scientifically literate society, we actually have a sort of a religious faith in the magic of technology, and underpinning that, the magic of or the innate brilliance of the human species to avert or avoid the limits that constrain other species of animals, and in fact, all life.
Permaculture has always sort of recognize that there are these two sides to the coin, the limits, the hard limits that society and its economy is a subset of the natural system, and that natural system is really ancient, and the energetic laws that govern it govern us. The other side is that recognition that humans can change themselves to an amazing extent by changing how they think, the way they behave, and that side is there in Permaculture Two, recognizing by faith limits, and as Mollison’s tended to say the yield is only limited by the imagination.
Well, I tended to sort of push the other side that know the yield is limited by hard energetic, and by physical realities. But understanding the balance between those two views in our industrial civilization, and recognizing that the no Limits idea in the material realm has been one that’s been the dominant one. Environmentalism has been rising. Oh, actually there are limits to what we can do. Sustainability is a concept, of course, has been struggling with that, how do you have your cake and eat it too type of problem. Permaculture sort of really is coming from outside a deeper framing of that issue, understanding it through that lens of the energetics that drive ecological systems.
It really is bringing those, the energetic and ecological literacy to ordinary people in a sort of not in an academic high academic sense, but primarily reframing how we live. I mean, once we actually get connected to our sources of sustenance by like growing some food, we start to understand real limits, whereas when we live in the technosphere, we have the habit that the elites of past civilizations used to have just the small urban elites that somehow there been this bubble where the king could mandate things and whatever, and it just happened. But outside that bubble, of course, most people who in previous civilizations were peasants or connected to the natural world and working with it didn’t suffer those delusions. But now the whole of society suffers those delusions because of that separation from nature.
NN: I do wonder, this separation from nature or desire to live in more of a virtual space, a sense of disconnection, how else do you think that’s impacting the ways in which you perceive or relate to our living environment? Because I think we can think about supermarkets and going in and seeing whatever food that’s there that’s already been sanitized and plastic shrink-wrapped and the rest of it, but from a perceptual perspective, so from the sense of our perception of our relationship with nature, of which you are a part, how do you think this tech and virtual environment has shaped that and disconnected us potentially?
DH: Well, I think we don’t have any idea but it’s emerging very rapidly. I, in my work on reading landscape and trying to teach people how do you reconnect to being able to absorb and understand from your environment without being told something by someone else, or being taught something, or just having been in a place for years or longer, so you actually experienced something. But how do you actually learn directly by observing, and interacting, and this process we call reading landscape.
Given that I didn’t grow up as a complete nature by the sort of child in the woods, at least by the standards of the baby boom generation in Australia and growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, how did I develop this. One of the stepping stones is there was realizing I grew up without TV. Even something as long ago and universal as television, I believe, has reshaped the modern mind in ways that we are only just coming to grips with now. When you then deal with interactive media, I think where it just really only Bill going to speculate on that. These of course are liars of both new capacities that make us better adapted to the technosphere, but actually decrease our abilities to actually have a harmonious working relationship with nature.
Now, clearly, you can vary the content, what is the content on TV, or what is the content that’s being us through technological media and that the margins, that all helps, what’s the intent and focus of the content. But the way in which these mediated world disconnects us is only comes to the fall when you try and redevelop the skills that our ancestors had, and you realize we’re sort of very, very lacking. Of course that directly … A lot of people who are interested in things like permaculture directly recognize that people who are university-educated and go, “Gee, if I had to, I couldn’t grow any food to feed myself for … or often do anything, fix any technological, or even simple things, or maybe even just sharpen a knife.
There’s, of course, this great interest in sort of reskilling and feeling at home in our environment, in a way where we don’t fit everything depend on it being mediated through a device. It’s a tricky one, the relationships, and I think permaculture has always been in a role of an ambiguous relationship to that technology. It’s spread around the world and become effectively a globally spread concept and people involved in permaculture are not actually techno-Luddites, but we also recognize that it’s a two edged sword.
NN: Yes. I think for people who are immersed in this more city-based or technologically-based environment, so for instance, I live in a city, it can be quite difficult to imagine what it might be like to overhaul our current ways of living and experience something else. It can be quite frightening. One of the things that I think is really inspiring about your life and your life’s work is that you show, through your own personal lived example, the sustainable lifestyles can be realistic and provide actually what’s actually very attractive and powerful alternative to the more widespread dependent consumerism.
What practical steps for people like me who are living in a city who don’t … I do like plants and I like to be able to grow my own food occasionally, but that’s a bit limited, what practical steps can we make to make our lifestyles more sustainable?
DH: Yeah. Well, the difficulty with I suppose those general questions is that often there is a frame that there will be some sort of general universal pattern, or even more than that, that this particular strategies and techniques. That may be quite a logical thought process when we look at the industrial and the technological world. The design pattern of airports is pretty much the same around the world. Software can be used sort of everywhere.
But when we re engage with nature and people in a way that’s unmediated, then we know with people, language, context, culture, what’s our relationship, navigating power relationships, all those things were incredibly complex. With nature similarly, it’s very specific situation and context-specific. That means everyone’s context is different. Often in mass media, there’s a search for where is the message that will suit the largest number of people. Whereas permaculture is often been working with, okay, how do enable people who are on some fringe of thinking about their context to help them find those particular things.
But in practical terms, the original permaculture focus on food is pretty fundamental. We need to eat pretty much every day, and certainly grow food every year. Whereas, if we have to, and in countries like Australia, there’s more than enough buildings to not just house all the people there are, but probably house double the population. In that sense, we actually don’t need any more buildings. It’d be great if new buildings were ecologically designed, and it’d be great if we spent significant efforts retrofit and adapting buildings, but we need to produce food every year, and do it again the next year, and you can’t fast track with seasons.
Becoming connected to our sources of sustenance for all of us is important. Obviously for people in more rural or suburban environments, there’s a lot more opportunities to directly become, to some degree a garden farmer. But for all of us, there’s the potential to say, “Who are the people producing my food? How do I get a direct connection to that?” Of course, that means really stepping outside or making a step away from the centralized, corporate-dominated industrial food system. Because there’s no way through that to connect to where does this actually come from?
Or if the connection is there, again, it’s a mediated marketed connection. Oh, yes, this is produced by fair trade, organic on the other side of the world. Well, that may be good as a substitute for genuine connection, but how do we make that … those more genuine connection. That’s both for our own resilience and security in a world of challenging futures, but it’s also as a way to influence what’s really the greatest damaged environment, which continues to come really through industrial agriculture. In the 1970s, we saw that agriculture industrialized form of agriculture was the greatest source of damage to nature. We can say more generally, since then, the burning of fossil fuels to run agriculture, and for whatever purposes you might say is now the biggest single source of damage to nature.
But agriculture in all its manifestations still sits there as an enormously complex issue, and it was clear with the … as energy prices went out that a lot of people in the tech world thought that move into farming, and land use, and transform those activities the way they had information technology, especially with the biofuels boondoggle in the United States with corn ethanol. They quickly found that Moore’s law does not apply in agriculture. There’s some enormous complexities obviously, in that aspect that we sort of tend to take for granted, and on the other hand, the empowering side, when you experience just growing some food and how wonderful nature is in how seeds turn into abundance, many people find that is incredibly uplifting, and the sense of the free innate ancestral connection to what sustains us, rather than that being through handing a plastic card or bank notes over, and through that means having the right to wait.
I mean, I often find those … I don’t emphasize those things because I take it for granted. But so many people continue to say that that experience of growing even some of their own food was at a personal psychological level, and the sense of the world just that it was good for their mental health.
NN: Yeah, and deeply exciting. I mean, I think, for me, it’s a bit like magic. If you plant seeds, especially with, for instance, chili plants, which you can’t find chilies where I live very much in Barcelona. They’re quite tricky to grow. If you get one out of five sprouts and becomes this beautiful little chili plant, the excitement of actually seeing this thing happen without really much intervention from my hands at all. It’s magical. For me, it feels magical. I wonder if the way in which we kind of lift science and technology and we put that at the centre of our understanding of what it means to be human, to be advanced, we kind of miss out on this more magical thinking that’s kind of way of experiencing our environment as really rather special and mysterious. Yeah. That for me feels quite fundamental that we’re lacking that experience somehow. Yeah. That many of our previous generations, I would imagine, would have had a keen and everyday present sense of.
DH: It’s interesting that people doing that were found over the decades has led to people who most of them don’t go on to become farmers, but they … people who then incredibly appreciate people who earn a living by producing food, they actually become very good customers of not just organic, small scale local production, but often community-supported agriculture where people are paying in advance commitment to purchasing fresh food for a season from a farmer and allowing that farmer to give them a much better, more equitable living than most people in the field of agriculture. Which is still in terms of economics the dead end of our economic spectrum.
NN: In terms of those sorts of systems, so the agricultural system that’s currently in place, which is supported and then try and buy our political and economic structures, do you think there are ways in which permaculture principles can be applied to the systems to overhaul them to help us transition to something which is more sustainable, is less damaging?
DH: Well, definitely, in the broad sense permaculture ethics and design principles can be applied across we say the seven domains of the permaculture flower of everything in society. But the scale and the entrenched nature of those current systems means the resistance to that is very, very deep and structural. But even if it wasn’t and there’s through desperate crises, I got run up by the prime minister or even became the ecological dictator of Australia and said, “Right, we need to do this, this and this.” At that scale and the rapid change, it’s inevitable that that process would be not just chaotic, but have massive unintended consequences.
Part of the problem is that in society, we are trying to reform these existing entrenched and very rigid systems that have emerged out of industrial processes powered by fossil fuel, when we don’t actually have any experience of how to redesign whole systems at a small scale. When permaculture focuses mostly at a household level, personal change within a household context, community label, small enterprise, so this process where we actually completely reshape our thinking and build systems from the ground up often in the shadow of the centralized system is a more realistic pathway, then how could we redesign that system from the top?
I think, to some extent, that centralized system will inevitably produce a lot of lock-in, and as the sustainability crisis gets worse, one of the last things that government will give up on is actually ensuring that there’s food in the centralized supermarket system. The resources will go towards that, whereas what can happen with growing your own food, farmers, markets, community-supported agriculture, small scale, local food supply systems is that those can develop and build up to an alternative model. Inevitably, that involves a degree of parasitizing of the system which is … has no future in a larger historical sense, and is highly resistant to reform.
For example, we use containers, both for our own preserve food, and for packaging up bulk food that we buy from farmers for our local food share. It’s great to have Ziploc plastic bags and screw-on cap bottles and all of these things that are of course just going into landfill from the mainstream food system. But effectively, we get container technology, the world’s best container technology, and can choose, “No, we don’t want those, thanks. You can leave these ones for us.” Whereas, of course, our ancestors container technology, pottery, urns and all that sort of stuff was a critical part of being able to store food.
That’s an example of how a lot of these parallel systems that need to be evolved won’t be supported by government, and supported by corporations because there’s not a business model, but they can get going in the shadow of those systems. I think that’s entirely appropriate that the innovators and experimenters in that world also get first dibs. It’s a bit like getting your clothes from the opportunity shop while recognizing that if everyone got their clothes from the opportunity shop, there might be a lot of competition.
DH: Recognizing if you push against the tide of consumer capitalism, there’s a huge amount of social pushback that you are doing the wrong thing. At the extreme, there will be legal pushback too, because everyone’s responsibility, primary responsibility in our society at a political level, is to be a consumer. It’s incredibly subversive to show that you can live in a way without being that consumer. Some people have described permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening.
NN: I like that.
DH: It doesn’t set out to be revolutionary, but it’s inevitable that if you actually design things from ecological principles, then that will eventually run directly up against the way our society works and it’s governing power structures. I see at the moment there’s still enormous opportunities to play, or we can call it experimentation, or research these new models, to some extent the fringe of society and reflecting available wealth in society. While at the same time the large centralized systems, whether they be of health education, or food supply, reasonably functional and intact.
But the prospects for those things, even in our lifetimes, let alone our children and grandchildren’s lifetimes, is it is very, very different. Permaculture, so really has always started from a premise of a fairly dark view of the state of the world, but a very positive empowering. What can we directly do to create the world we want rather than just focusing on fighting the world we don’t?
NN: Let’s talk a little bit about what that might look like because your work has played a significant role in the development of transition towns. What are these, and how they helping to save the way in which we live?
DH: Yeah, well, transition towns began from Rob Hopkins work as a permaculture teacher in Kinsale Island more than a decade ago. His realization and activism in raising awareness between crises of climate change and peak oil demanded a whole of society bottom-up approach. Really in response to the denial and reaction from government. In framing transition towns, he was using permaculture ethics and principles, and a host of sort of related psychosocial change methodology, some people would say technologies to sort of galvanize so local community-led action to model the necessary change.
That really had a very strong and has a very strong community level focus. The level of government that it’s connected to it has been local government as the most sort of upfront, direct classes to people level. Yeah, while it began it Britain, transit activism has spread around the world, including back to Australia, the birthplace of permaculture. Yeah. Of course there’d be many people involved in transition, who wouldn’t necessarily been aware of that relationships between permaculture and transition.
Transition has involved that what I was mentioning about what Rob Hopkins calls the great reskilling, quick just learning to do stuff again. But also thinking about, okay, how would we organize beyond the household level. It naturally attracts people who like people and like community process. Whereas there’s also been a lot of permaculture influence on people who are more sort of home bodies or don’t necessarily want to get together with a great group of people even though they recognize that you can do everything at the household level.
These different strategies that also attract people with different personality and priorities. I mean, my role in the triggering transition towns was indirect in a way, but Rob Hopkins was very influenced by my book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability that came out in 2002. He’d been pestering me for several years to come and run advanced permaculture course at Kinsale in Ireland, where he lived at a rural permaculture centre called The Hollies.
I eventually agreed in 2005 as part of a round the world teaching and study tour, and that also involved a conference that he organized in tiny, little Kinsale called Fueling the Future, which brought together huge number of global experts on peak oil, and sustainability, and climate change. That was that little sale there starting in Kinsale sort of triggered the birth of transition, which really took off, of course in tautness in Durban.
NN: Because we’re coming close to time, there’s a few other questions I want to dive into, and one of those I want to quickly touch on, because I love the idea of it, is one of the other books that you’ve written more recently, which is called The Art of Frugal Hedonism, which explores the art of spending less and enjoying everything more. We discussed earlier about the fact that we are hyper consumers culture, what are some of the most important habits of mind and actions do you think for living frugally and hedonistically? Because I think some of the issues that we face will only be resolved when we reframe the way in which you perceive the issues, and what it means me living in a different way. Yeah, frugality and hedonism, how do they fit together?
DH: Yeah. Well, I think one of the great examples is living frugally by self-reliance, doing things yourself does involve a lot of mundane jobs that don’t require the whole of our attention or capacity. [inaudible 00:42:07] in The Art of Frugal Hedonism talks about shelling broad beans and feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the self-reliance tasks, saying and going off to visit a neighbour who she hadn’t caught up with and having a social time potting the broad beans while talking about all sorts of different things. Before you know, the broad bones have been potted, so that just rebuilding what our [inaudible 00:42:38] of socializing while doing some productive activity instead of the default of socializing while consuming.
DH: That’s one little example, and I think treating frugal living as an exploration where novelty and surprise make it stimulating, and also the idea of minor deprivation, whether that’s in the use of showers, suites, or other desirables that those minor deprivations actually increase our appreciation of that thing, instead of it just becoming, the special thing becoming ordinary. Like the first fruit of the season is special because we haven’t had it, and we will lose that special experience, that hedonistic experience by the treadmill, what’s called the hedonic treadmill where you just … humans just adapt to every situation and just treat everything relatively. They look, they compare with what someone else has, and they compare with what they were doing yesterday, or what their experience was.
We can actually, through restrained, through frugality, actually shape our experience so we have actually the best, most intense, most hedonistic experience. Just as a by-product of that, we find out we’re living much more lightly on the planet.
NN: Oh, that sounds wonderful. I really like the sound of that, the scarcity principle coming into play there as well and expectations. If I wrap up with the last three questions, I’d like to ask you first of all, what’s your biggest concern the future?
DH: Well, as I said, permaculture has always been informed by a very dark view of the state of the world, and I came from a family of political, radical leftist activists who saw huge in justices in the world. None of those things have gone away, and they have intensified. But I think the focus on what we can do now while having a sort of, to some degree, an over the horizon radar view, which is a lot of my work in future scenarios work has been to inform people who are already on that positive path, they already have that positive feedback.
The more positive and empowered we are, the more we can grapple with deeper and darker understandings of the challenges of the future. But if you sort of dump all those and the ones that people know about already, they’re already reeling from all of those in a sort of a process of denial or avoidance. In some ways to point out further of those consequences is not so useful.
But again, it depends on the context. Different people need descent messages at different points, and some people are incredibly galvanized by the sense of urgency and action, and even fear, and others only respond through a process of a sense of hope, or vision. Whereas personally, I haven’t had that grand vision of this is this world I’m trying to create. I’ve never needed that to act positively in the world. To some extent, it seems those visions can sometimes be sort of a bit like master planning in landscape design way, where there’s two problems, either people ignore the plan, the grand plan. In which case, it was a waste of effort to put away to the time that could have gone into direct action of what’s needed immediately, or people follow the plan exactly, which always turns out to be wrong anyway.
NN: Oh no.
DH: I’m very sceptical about the charismatic, this is the solution. It’s great to see political discourse around things like green new deals. But unfortunately for some of us that have been in this game for a long while, gee they look really naïve.
NN: Well, that’s interesting.
DH: Maybe they’re useful in in sort of rallying people to an idea. But of course that can also be rallying to ideas that are not actually useful even if they’re well-intended.
NN: Okay. I’m not going to ask you about what vision you’re working towards achieving. Because I think it sounds like that looks very different for different people, but involves reframing and reconnecting our relationship with the environment and with local producers.
DH: Well, I’ll give one example. My essay feed in RetroSuburbia from the backyard to the buyer region, it was written to help inspire and motivate the RetroSuburban garden farmers who I’m trying to live and to do more everywhere. But showing them how what they’re doing could potentially produce about 25% of a re-localized food system that included commercial urban farming, wild harvesting, and hinterland agriculture, at least in the Australian context. That’s an example of what I have done, the positive vision thing and said, “Look, what we’re doing, this is what it could actually realistically develop into.”
That, I recognize is something that a lot of people go, “Yes.” Therefore what I’m doing is contributing to that, and that empowers a lot of people to do great stuff.
NN: Yeah. You’re talking about this RetroSuburban way of encouraging people to make teams have a see that they’re making a contribution. If people are listening now and I thinking, oh, I’d like to start somewhere, what single action can we take as individuals to start somewhere to build a more resilient future, bearing in mind that obviously context makes a huge difference? Yeah.
DH: Yeah. Well, I think we can all and should get our own house in order. I think a lot of that can come through radically changing our daily habits. If family, colleagues, and friends don’t agree at least to some degree, then find a circle of support to allow you to be true to yourself in modelling the change you want to see in the world. As we gradually look at what’s the most obvious things to do, and that is, sometimes it’s starting small. For other people, they need to make a big step to break out of the gravitational pull of past patents.
But it really is in those very personal, daily things where we do have control. That’s where we have power, and that’s where we can therefore make the greatest changes away from whatever dysfunctional patterns. That might involve something as talking to a neighbour you’ve never spoken to and doing some non-monetary exchange of food, or produce, or anything, building those connections at that level and internally in whatever the household is, I think is the way forward for all of us.
NN: Wonderful. Thank you. If people want to find out more about all of these fascinating topics that we’ve discussed, where are the best places for them to go?
DH: Well, of course that’s different in different parts of the world, but our retrosuburbia.com website is talking about all of the resources and action that is spilling off from my latest book, RetroSuburbia: A Downshifter’s Guide to Resilient Future. I know in Britain, the British Permaculture Association is developing a soon to be launched website of 52 climate actions that is all for people in society generally, but it’s all framed, informed by permaculture thinking. Lots of things depending on, yeah, where you are in the world, of course.
NN: Okay. I’ll also link in the show notes to you homegrown.com.au to retrosuburbia.com, transitionnetwork.org to your wonderful books, and also to your store. The permaculture store, I will link to that as well in case people want to dive in a bit deeper.
NN: David, thank you so much for spending the time with me this morning. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation with you.
DH: Great to talk with you.