Permaculture Motoring

Don't blame the cars

resilience policy travel consumer Angus Soutar

Permaculture Motoring

Part 1 - Driven to distraction

Angus Soutar

If you don't have a car, then you may feel virtuous, eco-friendly and in tune with the ethic of permaculture. At the other extreme, to buy a brand-new car is to risk committing a grievous ecological crime, since it will cause pollution (yes, electric vehicles, too) and deprive future generations of precious resources. On a spiritual plane, buying a new car means identifying with the ultimate in consumer experience. On the political level, it may be taken as a vote of support to the world-government-industrial complex.

That said, to be without a car in modern-day Britain is debilitating for much of the population. Many of us rely on a vehicle for our work, for an active social life and for caring for family members. Many of us permaculture designers, especially those involved in landscape work and training, own motor vehicles.

My work would be much more difficult and more expensive if I was not running a vehicle. Even with the ever-increasing congestion on the roads, I can save hours on my journey times and devote those savings to both work and relaxation. Many of my colleagues take the same view. We need not feel guilt about using vehicles, for us it's about what vehicle we use and how we use it.

It's a good rule of thumb to look at all our "assets" (stuff of value) and ask "is this a generative asset or a destructive asset?". A generative asset helps us do good work - including planetary repair. A destructive one produces pollution and ill-health without any benefits to offset the harm caused. Like everything in permaculture, the decisions are not clear cut. There will be numerous trade-offs and we consider each situation on its own merits.

Part of any consideration is the state of modern society. Over my lifetime I have seen motor transport come to dominate and crowd out all other forms. We have now reached a state of affairs where families, and even whole societies, struggle to achieve anything without motor vehicles. Meanwhile, the external costs blight our environment and depress our health. And, as we move forward, there is no sign that the costs of vehicles and fuels will go down. Whichever way you look at it, the motoring we have at the moment is unsustainable. In my view it is also undesirable. Large numbers of people are spending considerable amounts of time sitting in their cars when they could be more productively engaged in family and community activities.

Our Lords and Masters (they of the world-government-industrial complex) are perhaps more aware of the looming problems than we are, future projections for the transport sector look bad. To meet the challenges ahead, the Authorities seem intent on adopting a command-and-control approach rather than involving people and small businesses in widespread innovation. Central control is never a good idea when dealing with problems at this level of complexity - for recent examples, study the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.

Voodoo and the Donut

As Dr Tim Morgan points out, our elites maintain the falsehood that The Economy is all about money. (In this delusion, money is limitless and can expand to fill bank accounts available). Whereas in permaculture we know well that the economy, and our society itself, is all about energy and the real things in the world. Money is only a claim on the future and our future will be determined by available energy, not by money. Further, as Dr Morgan says, our economy is now a dissipative landfill system whereby we are wasting massive amounts of energy and materials turning our world imto a gigantic rubbish dump. On this dump, if we are not careful, we will be left scavenging amongst the detritis of our current civilation.

Kate Raworth has made a useful contribution to economics with her idea of The Economy as a donut. We have to remedy environmental degradation, but this must not be at the expense of the "social foundation" (or "people care", as we say in permaculture). Zealotry in achieving environmental goals must not lead us into large-scale harm to people and communities. This is the dilemna enshrined in permaculture's ethical directives - the trade off between now and the future. We permaculture designers are dealing with this dynamic every single day.

Permaculture ethics demand that we must take "ordinary people" with us as we go forward into an uncertain future. Unfortunately, we exist in an economy where huge numbers of people rely on cars and delivery vans for their economic survival, never mind their "wellbeing". Environmental zealotry, on the other hand, dictates many will now have to be thrown under the bus (as long as the bus is powered by electricity).

Farm Vehicles

No through road?

Today, real leadership is suspiciously absent. A real leader at this stage would talk straight: the current state of affairs can't go on, infinate economic growth is physically impossible, the party is over, we need to clear up the mess and free ourselves from our dependencies. Instead, we have reached a frightening stage of enforced delusion where no politician is prepared to say anything at all to that effect.

Unfortunately, our governments have gone for a Soviet-style Maoist central-planning approach. First, to ensure "compliance" with their hare-brained schemes, they scare us with "Climate Change" so that the lumpenproletariat remain unaware of the true intentions behind the policies. Next, they set unachievable targets which they themselves don't know how to achieve yet. The resulting incoherence sets off an epidemic of confusion and mental illness in the population. Restriction upon restriction is brought in under cover of "tackling Climate Change". If we are lucky, we avoid social unrest.

The end point of all this is, of course, rationing, but brought in "through the back door". The Politburo will have still their chauffeur-driven Zil limousines (or the modern electric equivalent). The masses will be lucky if they have electric bikes.

It is an inconvenient truth that policies such as road-charging, tolls, ultra-low emission zones, 15 minute cities etc etc will dovetail nicely into the panopticon strategy of the Surveillance State. With all these "solutions" there is an absolute need to track and control every vehicle. Coveniently, this gives rise to massive infrastructure projects that boost GDP while continuing to effect planetary and societal degradation. They are driving us down the wrong road, a road that ends in a back alley with a brick wall ahead.

The stupidity of the political class is only rivalled by that of the "activists" of campaigns such as Just Stop Oil with its fatuous slogans and corporate-style branding. The NGO-industrial complex is a mirror image of government. Both NGO's and GO's exhibit a frightening display of economic and societal illiteracy, pursuing completely unrealistic aims with a disdain for the bulk of the general population whose lives become disrupted by their activities. Both sides have a cult-like faith in the use of technologies which have yet to be proven. They ignore the evidence that all technologies can work both ways (for good and for harm). If they have their way, we are all destined become like the little old lady who swallowed the fly?

Climate Change becomes the pretext for a totalitarian future where any questions are met with "it's for your own good". This is a depencency state where we are actively discouraged from attempting to solve our own problems. On the government side, we know that the ruling class has "got form" on this as anyone who has studied the patterns of the CoVid fiasco can work out for themselves.

Just stop cars?

2000 years ago, Roman citizens had a simple way of rooting out wrong-doing in their complex society. The question was simple: "Cui bno" - who benefits? Again, there is an interesting pattern in the "global" response to a recent string of "crisis", now dubbed a permacrisis. The observable characteristic of all recent policies is to protect corporate interests. In 2008, the banks were protected (they were "too big to fail") With CoVid in 2020, it was the CoViD grants that saved the landlords from ruin. Now, with Net Zero it is the motor manufacturers who are a major beneficiary. The last thing they want is to do is Just Stop Cars.

Just Stop Cars

All the policy proposals have the happy outcome of supporting business as usual for large corporations. The wealthier "laptop" classes get to hang on to their consumptive priviledges. Everyone else is scaled back. Meanwhile, hardworking productive people, who have limited opportunities to change, are penalised. The resulting destruction of small businesses (people's livelihoods), the massive wealth transfer from the less well-off to the seriously rich; it has all happened before. For those who want to look for them, there are many parallels with the downfall of the Roman Empire and other Empires throughout time.

The road ahead

This is the backdrop against which we find ourselves working. It is completely at odds with the permaculture approach. Permaculture design strategies are more about community innovation and personal self-discipline. Rather than render people powerless, we prefer to give them good information and let them work things out for themselves. Rather than punish people, we try to take them with us on a journey of exploration. We remain confident that, given the opportunity, most people will find their own creative ways to "live within our means".

As transport shifts from cheap convenience to debilitating cost, the drivers for change become stronger and the advantages of change become clearer. We embrace the ideas of reducing the use of harmful technologies and in the most likely scenario for the future we will :

  • have to travel less
  • move less stuff over shorter distances
  • accept that "progress" may come more slowly than currently expected
  • look more at the consequences of freedom to travel whenever or wherever we want
  • stop panicking about Climate Change and work towards a local, plant-and-animal based economy.

One way or another, the big shift will come about. It will be a shift to local production of stuff and an economy where people live near their work. It need not be a Bad Thing.

I shall explore this and outline my personal approach in Part 2.

Working vehicles
  " Let us start with an honest discussion about the environment, one that's aimed at securing and improving people's health and wellbeing, rather than the profits of large industrialists. Next, let us build a future based on helping each other, rather than just helping ourselves, for we are all bound up together in the bundle of life. Ordinary people have everything to gain from cooperation and nothing to gain from war. Finally, let us stop worshipping false idols. In the end, our happiness and our health can not be manufactured for us by large corporations."  
  Simon Milne  

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