Changing worldviews

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Revision as of 16:53, 17 September 2017 by Tom Henfrey (talk | contribs) (Added references)

Climate change is, as much as anything else, a conceptual challenge. As a 'wicked problem', it is not amenable to simple cause-and-effect analysis or resolution of that type that underlies conventional policy measures.[1] It is better viewed not as a problem in itself, but a persistent condition that sets the context in which all other problems must now be addressed.[2] Understanding this is not straightforward to minds socialised in Euro-American cultures. For them, climate change is easy to understand in the abstract, but almost impossible to internalise and link to the realities of personal, public and political life in ways that lead to meaningful action.[3]

Many experienced permaculture practitioners consider themselves to experience the world in ways radically different from the cartesian model.[4] A holistic, integrated view, permaculture emphasises patterns and processes, relationships and interconnectedness rather than things and discrete events. Many of the principles attributed to founder Bill Mollison come across like Zen koans, designed to disrupt established patterns of thinking: “Everything Gardens” or “The Problem is the Solution”. The twelve design principles described by co-founder David Holmgren[5] superficially appear less abstract, and can easily be described and learnt in an hour or so, but reveal their full depth only through years or even decades of sustained application.

In practice, this manifests in various ways. Where permaculture works in connection with indigenous knowledge, it often incorporates elements of traditional belief. At Chikukwa in Zimbabwe, adoption of permaculture as a land management and livelihood diversification strategy has helped revitalise traditional beliefs around care for the land, with village leaders keen to emphasise the ritual aspects of this.[6] The Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute in Guatemala teaches and applies permaculture within a framework based on Maya cosmology.[7] The Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka finds a productive synergy between permaculture ethics and Buddhist commitments to caring for nature. Kibbutz Lotan in Israel employs tikkun olam, a Hebrew term for the healing of the world, within an eco-socialist interpretation based on teachings about the environment in the Torah and other Jewish texts.[8] Russian permaculture, ecovillage and back-to-the-land movements are heavily inspired by the Ringing Cedars series of books by Vladimir Megré and their main character Anastasia, a young woman who dwells deep in the forest in harmony with nature and expouses a radical philosophy of personal growth through nature connection.[9]

Many prominent permaculturists, including Australian permaculture teachers Rosemary Morrow and Robin Clayfield, see their work as closely related to Earth-based personal spiritualities.[10] North American writer and environmental activist Starhawk explicitly links permaculture and nature mysticism in a spiritual programme to support personal action on climate change and other environmental issues.[11] This has much in common with Inner Transition, the tools for supporting personal resilience in the face of climate change developed within the Transition Movement.

Starhawk has raised the provocative – and entirely reasonable – question of what shape global climate change adaptation and mitigation measures would take if the three permaculture ethics (in her words, Care for the Earth, Care for People, Care for the Future) were the basis of policy and law.[12] In her view this would imply legal, policy and fiscal measures to support regenerative enterprise; legal measures to prevent environmental and social damage by profit-seeking corporations; basing business accounting on contributions to energy descent rather than fiscal returns; enterprises rooted in place and hence supporting bioregionalism and economic localisation; incentivising careers and livelihoods that enhance environmental and social care; and massive programmes of popular education to support all of these transitions. These structural measures would in turn support practical outcomes similar to those reported in these sections, but on a far deeper and wider scale. Many such visions are possible; what this one shows is that effective practical action and the policy measures necessary to achieve this depend on worldviews very different from those on which present global political and economic systems are based.


  1. Prins, G. & S. Rayner, 2007. The wrong trousers: radically rethinking climate policy. Oxford: James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization.
  2. Hulme, M., 2009. Why we disagree about climate change: understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Norgaard, K. M., 2011. Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life. London: MIT Press.
  4. Dawborn, K., 2011. The New Frontier: Embracing the Inner Landscape. Pp. 2-15 in K. Dawborn & C. Smith (eds.) Permaculture Pioneers. Hepburn: Melliodora Publishing.
  5. Holmgren, D., 2002. Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability. Hepburn: Holmgren Design Services.
  6. Leahy, T., 2013. The Chikukwa Project. Pp. 15-16 in pdf version.
  7. Birnbaum, J. & L. Fox, 2014. Sustainable Revolution. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. Pp. 136-7.
  8. Mehrel, L.T., 2006. Green Shalom: the new Kibbutz movement. Dartmouth Green Magazine.
  9. Birnbaum, J. & L. Fox, 2014. Sustainable Revolution. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. Pp. 306, 312-3.
  10. K. Dawborn & C. Smith (eds.) Permaculture Pioneers. Hepburn: Melliodora Publishing.
  11. Simos, M., 2004. The Earth Path: grounding your spirit in the rhythms of nature. New York: HarperCollins.