Andy Goldring's After Dinner Speech

Thanks to Robin. Thanks also to Celia for organising these after dinner talks - a space came up, and she asked me to fill it – I'm feeling slightly daunted! Thanks to you for coming to listen. I hope you will have some questions at the end.... I'll try and keep the talking to about 15 minutes, so we can have a discussion after. Robin told us about the start of permaculture's journey and the important agreements that were made back in 1984. I want to look forward and think about our intentions for the future, maybe for 2084...


My permaculture journey

My permaculture journey started back in 1993. I went to see a film in London, and met Bryn Thomas in a phonebox... He was the first person to tell me about permaculture... He had just been to a 'permaculture convergence' in Denmark (thanks Tony!) – so the two things have always gone together in my mind. When I got back to Leeds I ordered the Designers Manual – devoured every word and told everyone about it. A few months later, someone told me about a course at Bradford University – and I was lucky enough to get a place - practically every permaculture teacher in Britain did a turn – amazing – run by Angus Soutar (thanks Angus!) and Russel Withers from New Zealand.

So my early experience of permaculture was about the networks of people in it. Back then permaculture was like a secret society. Hardly anyone knew about it and if you were lucky you might find a leaflet at the Centre for Alternative Technology. The internet as we know it now didn't exist... it was all hand printed leaflets and morse code...

Permaculture has completely transformed since then: grown hugely in numbers, in experience and in some places, in public profile too. And that is because of the dedication and commitment of the early pioneers – some still living and some sadly missed. I think we should honour and appreciate all the efforts of the elders and pioneers of this movement or network or community – or whatever you like to call this fine collection of world changers....

Thanks to their persevering when everyone said they were crazy. Thanks for teaching all those courses for love, because it certainly wasn't for the money. Thanks for volunteering your time and building organisations and networks that made it easier for others to get involved. Thanks for organising convergences and bringing people together. Thanks for all your practical projects and places to visit. Thanks for nurturing the next generation of practitioners and teachers. It was through their efforts that we were able to get to this point.


So here we are, 2015. Permaculture is nearly 40 years old, its happening in at least 135 countries, our list of strategic organisations has about 250 names on it. The statistics suggest that permaculture networks and organisations are growing at an exponential rate. We have experience of applying our ethical and ecological design thinking at personal, household, neighbourhood, settlement, agricultural, commercial, educational, national, and watershed scales in 5 continents. We've got a diversifying education system, and trained people within local and national governments, universities, businesses and NGOs across the world. And we also find ourselves in a world in crisis, a world that needs the solutions we have been developing for the last 40 years.

If a permaculture design makes best use of available resources, how do we make best use of all of these incredible resources? What's our design for the next phase? Because I think we are reaching a new stage - a step change - a phase shift. I think we need to set the intentions for our next phase carefully, and co-design our networks accordingly. Design might not even be the right phrase – perhaps steer or facilitate is better - or maybe its about enabling the network to demonstrate its own evolution, by increasing it's own self-awareness...

How we do this is what the Next Big Step project is all about, and its for us, not me to decide that. However, if my fairy godmother turned up this evening, and said “Andy, I'm going to grant you three wishes, come on, what are they?”, well this is what I'd say to her. It's not a total plan – that's a much longer talk – but something that will hopefully encourage debate

My first wish

I'd want us to become the best economists. I'm sure that everyone here knows permaculture is all about ecological design – and of course it is - well I think we need to be promoting and developing the economic side of our work too. Ecology and Economy share the same root – oikos – from the Greek for household, house, family. The -ology as in ecology – is the study of the relationships of the household. The -nomos as in economics – is the stewardship of the household. The -ology is the thinking, the -nomos is the doing.

Our ethics are about care – care of the earth – our biggest home – and care is an active word – its about doing. Economy isn't just about money, there are different levels of economy, and different forms of capital, and we can and should have long discussions about all that, but basically, we need to get the economic side of our work working as well as the ecological side.

A billion young people are going to need a job in the next 10 years, what are they going to do? What is our design response to that. Businesses, industrial agriculture being one of the most important, are inflicting huge damage to the environment, and need re-designing. We have a huge need to tackle these issues, and to do this, we need to become the best economists. We need to show that we can create businesses, enterprises, and livelihoods that care for the earth, care for people, and generate the surpluses that mean we can earn a decent and dignified living too, and invest in more earth care ad people care. One of our principles is 'obtain a yield', it isn't 'work yourself into the ground'...

Of course we don't have to do this all on our own – there are lots of amazing networks and movements doing this too – like Transition's Re-conomy project, and the cooperative movement that engages almost a billion people - but our design contribution is an important one for the ecological transformation of business, and we need to make it.

It's also the way we can ensure that huge numbers of people can get involved in permaculture – because they will be able to feed their family and pay their bills by doing it. We need examples and templates – patterns and designs - to help engage millions of people in truly productive permaculture work. There are examples already – some incredible farms and smallholdings, hotels, consultancies, and companies like Lush who are greening their supply chain, and so many more. The more we can develop viable permaculture enterprises, the more we will be able to engage more people doing more permaculture, and in turn the more we will be able to fund and accelerate our own network development.


My second wish would be for us to work together to create a global permaculture commons

A permaculture commonwealth – or as Gerrard Winstanley put it almost 400 years ago, a “common treasury for all”.

All the elements we need to share key resources between practitioners at very low cost now exist. I think this would primarily be an educational resource, based on sound evidence. If we take ideas like 'commons based peer production' – the process that created wikipedia and open source software for example – and applied it to permaculture, using the 8 principles of commons identified by Elinor Ostrom, we can create a series of resources that would mean that any practitioner anywhere could have access to world class information and materials. And we could continue to improve and develop them, so that they were based on the latest insight, research and practice. I don't think this should be freely available to just anyone. The first rule of a successful commons is a clear boundary.

For anyone that isn't sure what a commons is, let me explain a little more. Let's take as an example a Kenyan lake, there are fishermen that fish the lake, they live on the lake's shore. The common resource is the lake, and the fish that live within its silky waters. The commoners are the fisherman. There is a clear boundary – defining who is in the system, and what the system is – in this case it is defined by living on the shore of the lake and being part of the fishing community, and by the lake itself.

The people in the fishing community are able to fish the lake using certain rules. If you are not a member of the fishing community, you can not fish the lake. Everyone in the community can monitor other members, and if there are any disagreements, they have access to clear mechanisms to resolve or ideally avoid conflicts. If anyone in the community does break the rules, they can be sanctioned in varying degrees. Everyone in the community can help make the rules of how the the commons work. There is a clear advantage to play by the rules, because that way the commons is preserved and everyone can be a successful fisherman.

Some of these commons mechanisms were thought about when the permaculture network was in its early stages – only people that had done a PDC could call themselves permaculture designers – but some of the key elements were not included, and we did not have the advantage of an incredibly powerful global organising tool – the internet – to 'store our common resources.

I think if we could design and create a series of permaculture commons with clear rules, we can accelerate our development substanially. One set of commons might be around business templates and patterns. Another might be about local organising. Another might be about children's education. Another might be for Diploma level educational resources. We can reduce duplication and increase the impact of our work, know what gaps there are, and fill them more easily. If we get good at this, every node of the system would be as well resourced as every other, at least in some ways.


My final wish would be for us to evolve the convergence phenomenon into a multi-scaled form of participatory democracy – online and in person.

A place for sharing, learning, engaging, relationship building, planning, deciding priorities, making commitments. A place to review our commons agreements and decide next priorities. They would be local, bio-regional, national, groups of countries, continental, global. All connected by an online platform in which proposals and projects could be born, gain momentum and backing, happen, report back and celebrate their achievements. Hundreds happening every year, in every continent. Most decisions made locally and bio-regionaly.

It would be like the upper cortex of an emergent global permaculture organisational ecosystem functioning to benefit life in all its forms... Models for the online bit already exist – like the 'liquid feedback' system of the European Pirate Parties. It would be chaordic – that wonderful blend of chaos and order that I first understood after Robyn Frances had explained it at the European Permaculture Convergence in Germany. The online platform and the convergences would be the order bit – reliable frameworks that give a structure and predictability to the work, and the chaos would be provided by us – our passions, opportunities, and imaginative engagement – the unpredictable and beautiful energy that we bring to the structure.

OK, so by now you might be thinking I'm either mad or dangerous, but in essence, I think we need to be able to operate locally and globally, with a common resource base, and take over the economy of the planet.


Making it happen?

A relatively small number of people can set up the enabling frameworks that can support this – an international  research network and knowledge base, web based mapping of who is doing what where – pc global plus others with their own regional / continental flavours – sharing info at the back end.

We need cartographers and curators, moderators, web designers, and organisers. The exponential growth of permaculture organisations needs to be encouraged and supported – one in every country, one in every bioregion, one in every settlement perhaps... Its all hands on deck. The world is on fire.

In fact the world at the moment is crazier than any science fiction novel ever written. The beautiful thing for me is that each one of us gets to help write the script, so we might as well be imaginative, and dream about what we really want.

2084, a green healthy planet. Nuclear power stations decommissioned  - tick! Environment repaired, climate stabilised - tick! People working together in common cause - tick!, a culture of peace - tick!

Why not? Why should we be aiming for anything less? Permaculture plus all those other amazing networks, well organised, can make it happen. Let's do it!