Changing mindsets – report from International Permaculture Conference, London, Sep 8th

Hello again T,

I see the Latin is flowing! Good on you, as my new Australian friends would say. It is very true that we are so dependent on that 6 inch layer of soil and rain, and I wonder if we are living in a world which has been cultivating (excuse the pun) a mindset where that fact has been forgotten.

Continuing the account of my permaculture whirlwinds, I thought I’d tell you about the International Permaculture Conference that took place in London on September 8th and 9th. I arrived in standard Megabus-style, overcrowded and understimulated, to London late on the Monday evening. Not knowing anyone else in the city, I made my way to the Air BnB apartment John, my permaculture design course (PDC) teacher, was staying in together with some friends. John wasn’t in when I arrived, but I was welcomed in by another kind-hearted Australian named Ed, who trusted my story and promptly started to quiz me about my recent PDC with John. The course, which I still haven’t managed to quite digest, was a life-changing event in many ways, where we drilled deep into personal questions of what we are doing on this earth and how we want to live. It created an extremely open, non-judgemental, and 11952023_10153220737293720_8155171386229712806_ncaring environment, where people could honestly meet themselves – something that apparently often happens during John’s courses. I put it down to his unwavering hat. Here’s a photo of him teaching by the way – maybe that it explains it better.

Anyway, as the London apartment wasn’t the most spacious, I ended up sleeping on the floor under the kitchen table, but the place was warm and the carpet soft, so I couldn’t complain. Apart from John, Ed, and me, a couple of Australian women stayed there too, one of which, Robyn, is the editor of Pip – the Australian permaculture magazine. I accordingly found myself adopted by the Australian delegation at the IPC, and had many good conversations and insights as a result.

The conference was one of those slightly odd events where you try to take something that is essentially very practical and have lots of theoretical talks about it. I had similar experiences at the Sail Training International conferences I used to go to. Most of the time it works out really well, but then you also get the odd occasion where you feel like a bit of an idiot sitting in a room talking about things that are best communicated through actually doing them. Still, it is a great opportunity to get people together from different places of the world and paths of life, and get them sharing and talking, and there are sometimes also tangible outcomes. Something that might interest you was the launch of PIRN, the Permaculture International Research Network, which has plans on launching an academic Permaculture journal – perhaps something to aspire to with your research project next year!

David Holmgren was skyped in from his home in Australia to give a 10 minute summary of his view on permaculture today. He had some interesting ideas on how the development of and interest in permaculture always has been stimulated by crises or challenges in the world around us, such as the oil crises, stock market crashes, the global financial crisis etc. You can see his talk here – jump to 1:15:50. In a way I guess he was saying that problems are necessary to stimulate change, and that the most important task for us is to see the potential and opportunity in whatever circumstances the future holds.

Jonathon Porritt also expressed some interesting ideas relating to what he called the “great acceleration” that has been created by and has characterised human existence on earth since the end of WWII, mostly in regards to our use of fossil fuels. Our problem, he claims, is that we now live in a world where the mindsets of many politicians, media commentators, academics, and other influential individuals, as well as many of us, have been shaped by this period of great acceleration. This makes the process of redesigning our systems so much harder. Permaculture can be a way of thinking outside the box, beyond the assumptions and habits that have come with this very brief period of history.

The rest of the day consisted of workshops. I heard about an initiative called Rights of Nature Europe, working to include nature as a subject of the law, which means it would hold its own inalienable rights that would be enforceable in court. There wasn’t enough discussion of the difficulties inherent in who gets to define those rights for me to be completely convinced, but you can see more here.

I went to another talk on the interactions between permaculture projects and the international development and aid industry in Timor Leste. They have some fascinating projects there, and most importantly, they are always defined and carried out by local organisations and service providers, and all knowledge is available to everyone. They have even just launched a permaculture guidebook, communicating mostly in pictures, making it more accessible.

The evening was spent at an urban food garden with music from the Formidable Vegetable Soundsystem – one of the best outcomes of a PDC I’ve ever come across.

My conclusion from the first day of the conference? The crammed programme, the diversity of talks, the impressive expertise present in all kinds of obscure areas, served to show that there are a gazillion practical solutions out there. But as both David Holmgren and Jonathon Porritt were alluding to, amongst others, it is mindsets that we need to change, patterns of thinking, habits, and assumptions. It’s difficult – just this morning I was reading an article from the Guardian about how they are moving into phase 2 of their “Keep it in the Ground”-campaign, with a focus on solutions. And what are they emphasising? Technological innovation. It’s obviously an important part, but to me it feels like that might be starting at the wrong end of change.

Changing mindsets – maybe it just starts with a song.

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