Reimagining a Better Future

Maddy Harland
Wednesday, 9th December 2020

2020 has been a difficult year, but here at Permaculture Magazine, we've found some of the positives, including communities building resilience in food, relationships and resources.

COVID-19 has been an extraordinary experience, an event so incredibly difficult and at the same time surreal, in that it has forced everyone to consider what life is about.

My local village filled with families from nearby towns, unable to work or go to school, going for walks in our local woodland and surrounding countryside. Villagers who had never grown vegetables turned some of their gardens over to runner beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and courgettes. An online seed and plant swapping group was set up as seeds were in short supply. Villagers looked out for each other on a neighbourhood news and watch group; with the recycling centre closed, members started giving away all sorts of things surplus to requirement: DIY materials, bikes and children’s games were particularly popular. A COVID care group started, offering lifts to appointments and shopping services to the elderly and vulnerable. Neighbours had time to talk and I watched the glue of community begin to bond friendships. Amongst the daily TV reports of deaths, infection rates and bankruptcies, these aspects of the crisis were positive.

Work continued unabated at PM. Like many, we switched our emphasis to 100% online, published new books and eBooks, hunkered down to working remotely with online meetings, gave webinars, and made YouTubes. In our spare time we focussed on our families, personal health and wellbeing, growing food, building stuff in the garden out of upcycled materials, beekeeping, baking, fermenting … and taught ourselves new skills. As long as we stayed well, it was not the worst of times. Living in privileged circumstances with a garden and near to open spaces, we knew we were incredibly lucky compared to families trapped for months on end in high-rise buildings with young children. We also felt for the plight of many nations without proper health care, work or social security.

COVID made us even more aware of our privilege. It frankly stuck in our guts to clap the NHS along with the Prime Minister on Thursday nights, knowing that so many of those NHS workers are people of colour or Europeans, now celebrated, but previously persecuted by political decisions like Windrush or the flagrantly antiimmigrant Vote Leave campaign. It felt like we are a nation of puppets on a string, dancing to the conveniently changing tunes of our Masters.

Then, as thousands were gasping for breath under masks, one man gasped his last under the boot of a policeman and the hideous face of systemic racism became world news at last. We were forced to examine centuries of European exploitation and abuse in the name of ‘progress’ and economic development, and face the awful reality of colonisation and institutional racism embedded in our cultures. (Have you ever asked yourself why Germany does not have statues of Nazis? Solidarity to those who tear down the statues that commemorate inequity and oppression.) How can we claim ‘All Lives Matter’ when it ignores the centuries of oppression and systemic racism? It is a straw dog that obscures the importance of Black Lives Matter.

All the while, I was dreaming of this magazine. What messages should it carry? I didn’t want to explore a ‘new normal’ or ‘building back better’. Who wants a version of the world we live in when we are already at 1.1ºC warming? The melting of the Arctic ice sheets and Alpine glaciers, the third incidence of bleaching of coral reefs in five years, the slowing down of the Gulf Stream, all indicate tipping points to a 1-3ºC warming. There have only been two times in the last 100 million years that we have seen a spike in temperature like this, one of them was when the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago. Human activity is causing temperature rises beyond the envelope of natural variability that the biosphere is built to support.

And the metaphor of building back better conjures up for me the mixing together of materials from an Old World that are better left in the ground. I wanted to question everything.

So I started to weave together threads of possibility. I asked Rob Hopkins to tell us about his work with many people, reimagining the future. What can we do to get there? I wanted to imagine those new gardeners growing more than courgettes and tomatoes but also tree kale and other perennials in flowering polycultures, discovering the magical reciprocity of plants.

I wanted to examine the money system and take the ‘red pill’ that questions our assumptions about debt and deficit assumptions that trap us in an economic system that, by its design, will not sustain any of us. Nor did I want to ignore the possibility of a causal relationship between Corona and the Climate Emergency.

I wanted to begin a conversation about decolonising permaculture by publishing ‘Seeing Wetiko’. For those of us who are white, from the moment we are born, through our selective education and beyond, embedded deep in our unconsciousness, is a sense of the entitlement that drives industrial growth culture, whether we are aware of it or not. It is time to seek out the antidotes and try to free ourselves from this mind virus. We can start by fully acknowledging and honouring the legacy of Indigenous people that have so informed our permaculture worldviews and practices.

Of course, PM wouldn’t be the same without its positivism – the attitudinal principle of the ‘problem being the solution’ – helping us to consciously transform our futures. There is much sunshine in these pages and we celebrate the wonderful work of many people: the seed savers, forest gardeners, tree planters, the wisdom keepers, and those that work tirelessly for the benefit of others. The practice of gratitude sustains us.