Thursday, 13 March 2008


I spent a very restless night, not because of the heat but because of some very small things that someone said yesterday that got me thinking. "Oh, no" I hear you sigh. "Oh, yes" is the answer. I promise I won't get all heavy about life, the universe and everything all the time, but you know I hate it hot and, although my house is lovely and cool, my brain is burning up as I look out from this computer to the chooks scratching around in the dry, lifeless dust and that sun beating down relentlessly, desiccating every living thing. It seems like the end of the world - maybe I have died and gone to hell. Do they have the internet in hell these days? Yes? But you can probably only connect to things that talk of disaster and doom and gloom.... This post is not about doom and gloom, it is about opportunity.

I have several threads I want to tie together and I hope I can do it well enough to keep it interesting; really it would take a whole chapter or even a whole book but I digress, again.

First, the local scenario, in brief. South Australia has developed three major sectors - mining, agriculture and manufacturing. Recently the manufacturing side of things has taken lots of falls, with China coming along as a cheaper place to make stuff. Mitsubishi, for instance, is closing its plant and leaving 2,000 people without a job. This is a lot for Adelaide, a city of 1 million.

When this was announced a few weeks ago , the radio was inundated with callers and one old lady had something really positive to say. She said she was glad they were leaving - we shouldn't be making more cars here. Then she went on to say how we could employ that facility and all those people almost overnight - use the factory to make public transport vehicles - buses, trams, trains etc. (Just as a side - we have the world's first solar-electric bus on our streets as a trial and lots of buses running on natural gas (not LPG) which is mined locally and mostly sold to China for a song!). We have all the machinery, the skilled people and the land. Then she said we should collect all the water off the rooves of this factory complex and all the water from the enormous concrete storage areas and carparks and use all this water in the factory. Cover the roof with solar panels and the plant becomes a world-leading, energy efficient manufacturer of world-leading, energy efficient public transport vehicles.

She very nearly brought me to tears. I felt she had saved us all, on many levels. If I had the chance I would vote for this lady, with a croaky old voice, to be Premier of our state instead of the dill we have!

The second thread is the work of David Holmgren - my hero. People often talk about who they would like to meet, if they could meet anyone (they usually say the name of a beautiful woman or movie star) and I say David Holmgren. They look puzzled - they don't remember seeing him on the screen. Well, he should be - he's not bad looking and very attractive to someone like me! But he is not a star of the celebrity world, he is a co-originator of the permaculture concept. He has some answers for how to get ourselves out of this god-awful mess, in an intelligent and practical way.

A year or so ago I read his book "Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability". It is an in-depth look at how we could proceed, written like a scientific paper and very thorough. He explains our situation like this (paraphrasing from what I read and re-read then)- We have spent tens of thousands of years climbing slowly up the long slopes of a mountain. Now we have reached the summit. The other side is a steep cliff straight down to the bottom. We cannot teeter on the precipice long, so, using what we have learned on the way up, we must find a safe place down the mountain a little to make a new camp.

The book outlines 12 permaculture principles and how they can be used to help us find this safe place down the mountain a little. There is so much to the book I cannot recount it all here but here are the principles - buy the book and read the content for yourself.

  1. Observe and interact - Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

  2. Catch and store energy - Make hay while the sun shines

  3. Obtain a yield - You can't work on an empty stomach

  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback - The sins of the fathers are visited on the children unto the seventh generation

  5. Use and value renewable resources and services - Let nature take its course

  6. Produce no waste - a stitch in time saves nine, waste not want not

  7. Design from patterns to detail - Can't see the wood for the trees

  8. Integrate rather than segregate - Many hands make light work

  9. Use small and slow solutions - The bigger they are the harder they fall, slow and steady wins the race

  10. Use and value diversity - Don't put all your eggs in one basket

  11. Use edges and value the marginal - Don't think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path

  12. Creatively use and respond to change - Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be

(A magnificent Adelaide Rosella parrot is just outside my open window nibbling at the ripening fruits of cotoneater horizontalis. The chooks love these little berries once they turn red but the parrots eat them just before they turn.There are enough for everybody.)

The third thread is what stopped me sleeping well - the misbelief that we have to continue on the way we are because of jobs. I do not believe for a second that consumers are out there buying stuff for the good of those people employed to make the stuff! And yet "what about the jobs?"is too often the excuse for not changing what choices people make. Here we can tie in the first and second threads as an excellent example - of transforming an energy-guzzling industry into a world-leading energy-efficient one and incorporating some of David Holmgren's principles. Number 12 - creatively use and respond to change, number 2 - catch and store energy, and so on and so on.

It is a fact now, no longer a belief, that we are on that precipice and I know from many long and difficult bush-walks and weeks of the challenges of cross-country skiing and camping out in the snow in blizzards, I sure want to find that safe place to make a new camp. Being on a summit is only fun in fine weather!

This is a very brief introduction to what I describe as 'thinking the future'. When we dream alone it is just a dream, when we dream with others it is the beginning of reality.


Brett said...

Amen to all you said/wrote Kate. You've grasped the very essence of what I think and try to put into practice one little piece and step at a time. You have the knack of being able to put your thoughts into a clear and meaningful message. Please keep it going so that I can learn more from you.

Kate said...

Thanks Brett. It means a lot to me when people leave a comment. It is great when someone understands what I am trying to say because these posts are short and its hard to be concise but meaningful.Any longer though and maybe no-one would bother reading it all.