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First, regardless of our addiction to metals, it seems clear we are kidding
ourselves if we presume that industrial-scale metal use (as embodied in a tin
can or a flashlight) cannot be sustainable. So from the permaculture long
view, we need to be looking to phasing out metal use to at least the
non-industrial level. It would seem that we will have enough metal hanging
around to support the village blacksmith (so Fukuoka-type gardeners can have
their sickles) for the forseeable future.
Criteria for the phase-down might include the following.
1) Thorough use of existing metal objects.
a. Wear them out to the point where they are useless. (But still
maintaining restrained use.)
b. Salvage interchangable parts.
2) Recycle every bit of metal. While the concept of embeded energy,
particularly in aluminum, is important, if we recycle every bit we do not
have to remember which metal has most embeded energy.
3) Select metals for use based on their total cost, which includes
a Embedded energy, including industrial infrastructure required.
b. Pollution costs in production of metals.
c. Other environmental costs, e.g., flooding of vast areas of
rainforest in the Amazon basin to generate hydropower for aluminum
d. Human costs of metals and metalic products, including
exploitative labor, selective exposure of some populations to resulting
exposure, etc. For example, in the Philippines, Minimata disease is
associated with release of mercury used in gold processing in the hills near
These criteria apply, moreover, to any fabricated object. For
example, the embedded and maintenance energy for nuclear power plants may
exceed the power generated. This is certainly true of ethanol produced from
sugar cane as has been done in Brazil. There seems to be a real terror among
photophotovaic fanatics about trying to get some sort of embedded energy vs.
energy produced analysis for pv (including requisite industrial
infrastructure). I suspect it will turn out to be unfavorable.
In short, as permaculturists we need to apply sustainability criteria
to everything we do. Because, as permaculturists, we design transitions,
what Bill calls staging, between where we are and where we want to go, we may
not hold ourselves to purity. We hold this discussion using our computers,
after all, which would not work very well minus their metal or high
technology support. Purity is a construct without a referent--there ain't no
such thing. This is no excuse for slacking off, but it does suggest whipping
ourselves or one another for failure to be completely sustainable. I have a
friend in Tennessee who has installed PV as his total electric system, but
fires up a gasoline generator to pop some corn (maize) daily. One can
ridicule the inconsistency, but there is a serious effort in the direction of
sustainability. Most of us are so far from that effort that we have no
business criticizing someone who has got to the very minimum he can do
without at this stage in life. On the other hand, I have a friend in
Paraguay who will not get a truck or car because they are so awful
environmentally. However he is willing to buy a tractor. The problem is
that he cannot market anything effectively from his farm because he can't
bring anything to market. He has to take whatever someone with a truck will
give him, and of course it requires as much energy and pollution to drive to
his farm and back as it does to do it the other way. He has the intent but
not the staging.
I'm going to bow out of this discussion at this point, I think, though there
is one area where I will comment if it does come up. My purpose in
participation is to stress that we each have to look at where we are in the
scheme of things and what steps we can take to move toward sustainability.
Coming up with criteria for other individuals is, in my view, arrogant and a
way to divert responsibility from onself. I certainly cannot fault the
unimployed sugar cane field worker who cuts the last remaining rainforest on
his island to feed his children. He has to make charcoal or watch his
children die of starvation. Yet his actions will complete the destruction of
the habitat he and his children require.
There is a reason why permaculture includes a big section on economics. We
know how to bring people back into a mutually nurturing relationship with the
environment. This is not hard -- except for human social and economic
structures it could happen with surprisingly little difficulty and with much
easier lives for most people in the long run. But the economics system, the
economics of scarcity, gets in the way. So we have to get into alternate ways
for people to get that rice and greens to keep those children alive. That
iis fully one third of the economic problem. Another third is land-tenure
patterns on the landscape. They are usually irrational and people cling to
the with militan fervor. Often, they are so irrational as to stall any
attempt at permaculture. (You would flood all of Pedro's finca to water the
fincas down grade and you can't get any party whatsoever to agree on a new
land distribution pattern, even though the result will be an order of
magnitude greater production for everyone.) The final third is, of course,
the industrial, multinational cash economy. In my view, and I have no need
to debate this with people who disagree, the rational approach is to deal
with the person-to-person exchange system first and land tenure problem when
we can (but never as outsiders). These measures by themselves can
destabilize the multinational economy , and, if our staging is right, and we
have got people locally self-reliante, the awful death and destruction that
will accompany the collapse of the giant economy will be mitigated among many
more of the innocent than otherwise.
Let us not kid ourselves into thinking that we can just ignore the industrial
infrastructure and consider the issue of metals without considering the
broader context. The permaculture way is to regard everything in terms of
context and we all subscribe to permaculture or we wouldn't be on this
mailing listl. So we need strategies to undermine industrial society and
strengthen commmunity self-reliance. We need such models that really work,
staging that progresses, within this context of apparent dominance of the
transnational clique. It is fine if our individual strategies differ. We
have no way to know until it is immaterial who is right, or indeed if we may
need several allied strategies to make progress, rather than a so-called
"masterplan." In the greenhouse, I control whitefly mainly with Encarsia
formosa. However I also have help from lady beetles and lacewing larvae.
One strategy enough isn't enough for stability in my control effort.
Enough. I've got mulch to apply, trees to plant, and so I'm disconnecting
from this high technology and getting on with it.
For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since
1982), Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and annual correspondence
courses via email. Copyright, 1998, Dan & Cynthia Hemenway, P.O. Box 52,
Sparr FL 32192 USA Internships. YankeePerm@aol.com
We don't have time to rush.
A list by topic of all Yankee Permaculture titles may be found at
Elfin Permaculture programs are listed at the Eastern Permaculture Teachers
assn home page: http://home.ptd.net/~artrod/epta/eptahmp.html
PS Michael Crofoot and I are interested in leading some Y2K preparedness
workshops this year. We can also accept a limited amount of consulting jobs.
Contact me off this mailing list about this, please, at email@example.com
or firstname.lastname@example.org We are also curious if people want to subscribe to
online workshops on this topic for a tuition fee.