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The Permaculture Piece

Posted by on September 30, 2011

It has been a few years since Bonnie Hutchinson introduced the Permaculture principles to me. We had hired Bonnie to paint a vision for the four acres at TS Designs. When we started construction on our building 22 years ago, we had to fight very hard to protect the one pin oak tree that was on our property. Today, we have hundreds of trees combined with a native landscape of apple trees, blueberrry bushes, vegetable gardens, bees and even chickens that work with Mother Nature and our business. I like to define Permaculture as a system that works with man and nature. We are a part of that system, and we need to stop trying to be the manager of the system.

About three years ago, I was introduced to Will Hooker who heads up the Permaculture program at North Carolina State University.  Will is now a very close friend, mentor, and my go to Permaculture person.  Over the last few years, many of Will’s classes have visited TS Designs, and I have had the honor to be a guest lecturer in his class.

Will at TS Designs in 2010

Many ideas from the students in Will’s classes have been adopted into an updated Permaculture plan for TS Designs.  I like to describe our path as trying to be a more sustainable company as a journey, and our Permaculture path is a journey too.  Mistakes are made, like the Bradford Pear trees we planted at TS Designs, but mistakes can be countered as we learned last year the benefits of having chickens in our garden.

I have come to realize that there is a gap between the renewable energy folks and the Permaculture folks, kind a of like the gap you find between eastern and western medicine.  We want to close the gap on our Snow Camp farm, and I believe by closing the gap, we will reach our goal of a zero energy home quicker by making our house more of a home.

Will brought in a couple of past students to tackle the farm project, and I have attached the first draft of their plan.   Our initial goals will focus on establishing better shade around the house, planting more fruit trees, and start breaking the property from the busy Bass Mountain Road.  The journey will start this fall.

Preliminary plan by Will, Laura and Meriwether

One Response to The Permaculture Piece

  1. Will Hooker

    Eric, your comment about your not seeing the connection between alternative energy and permaculture didn’t ring true to me when you first mentioned it. But as you stated yesterday, your comment was more about the alternative energy folks not buying into permaculture than the other way around. There are five physical systems that I believe are tantamount to good permaculture practives; they are Food, Shelter, Water, Material Management (known erroneously as ‘waste’), and Energy.

    I must share this:

    “The Third Industrial Revolution”

    On Tuesday morning, Sept. 27th, while I was driving to work, I was listening to Diane Reems on NPR as I usually do. She had an economist on, Jeremy Rifkin, and he was talking about his new book, “The Third Industrial Revolution.” The ideas that he presented have me more excited than any idea I’ve heard of in the past 25 years, believing now that we can actually achieve living sustainably as a species on this planet. He talks in his book about net-zero sustainability, your goal with your home, Eric.

    He pointed out that we’ve experience an industrial revolution each time a new form of energy comes along in concert with a new form of communication. The first IR was when the power from coal was combined with the relatively recent advent of the printing press. More people could learn about how to produce and use the massive amounts of energy made possible through the steam engine. The second IR occurred during the last century when oil combined with the telephone and TV. Automobiles and air travel took over and the world shrunk in size relative to global interactions. This peaked at around 1980. The 3rd IR, according to Rifkin, will combine sustainably generated power with the organizational and informational power of the internet, or a smart grid. We’ve already seen what the power of the Internet can do in what has become known as the ‘Arab Spring.’

    Rifkin argues that with the oil economy, we’ll continue to experience recessions and regrowth cycles because when folks are buying and using more oil, with the declining oil resources the price spikes, often to the point that people can’t afford to travel, to buy as many products, etc.; with the resulting lack of travel and buying of goods, the price of oil again plummets. Folks then get excited and start using and buying, and the oil prices spike again, triggering yet another recession. Further, Rifkin points out that the peak oil per capita, not just peak oil, occurred in 1979. And even by oil industry estimates, if we were to ‘drill, baby, drill’ every available reservoir world wide, we would only add 10% to existing available oil. The oil IR, as Rifkin says, is ‘sun setting.’

    Nuclear is also not the answer, and not just because of its deadly pollution. Rifkin claims that the cooling towers in nuclear reactors now account for 40% of our water use (I don’t know where he got this figure but will do some research). We are already concerned about how we’re going to have enough water to serve the continually expanding population, and then to think that by building large numbers of reactors with their massive water needs to replace the energy of oil would just not make any sense.

    His 3rd IR is based on five pillars that he’s indentified. (1) Shifting to renewable energy; (2) transforming the buildings on every continent into micro-power plants to collect renewable energy on site; (3) deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building to store the intermittent energy (I don’t understand the hydrogen technology, but when I look at the books that Rifkin has written, he has one on the hydrogen technology; I’ll look into it); (4) (this is the big one for me) using the Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing intergrid; (5) transitioning the transport fleets into electric, plug-in vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, interactive, power grid. (This last one was coming anyway as evidenced by the Volt and other electric cars, but as one of my students said in his introduction to his first permaculture assignment, the use of electric cars now just transfers the pollution from coming out of the tailpipes of our cars to coming out of the smoke stacks of electrical generating plants).

    Rifkin claims that by setting up this new way of creating and sharing power, we’ll transform our society into one that functions on a lateral, democratic basis rather than a hierarchical, top-down basis.

    I feel compelled to share this idea with you because I truly believe that we’re on the cusp of a shift in the paradigm of how we live. The production and use of energy will be the really big card that gets played in the next 50 years, certainly, but likely will also be a huge contributor to how our business, economy, and day-to-day lives run even in the next ten years. I would love to see my city come to grips with what we’ll be doing in terms of our energy. This is not to say that we are not doing good things already, with the photovoltaic’s, bio-diesel vehicles, etc. Rifkin was asked by Diane Reems why he didn’t think the Obama administration was going about their energy policy in the correct fashion, and his response was that they were doing good things, but only in a piece-meal fashion – without an overall vision. The really important piece in what Rifkin is proposing is that there is an overall vision of where we are heading. The ‘big one’ is about the ‘story.’ By getting everyone on board to hear and understand this vision, we can begin to plan to set up the infrastructure to use the internet to distribute and share the energy. To do so, this will not only generate thousands of new companies, but will also create millions of new. The example in his book on this last fact is that with the wind energy being produced in this country, amounting to less that 1 ½% of the total energy, we already have more that 188,000 jobs, which is greater than the total engaged in the coal industry, which accounts for almost 45% of our current energy production.

    The exciting thing is that when we enact this vision (notice I didn’t say ‘if’ – we don’t have a choice; oil is going, natural gas is going, nuclear won’t work, so we’ll have to do something), we can not only continue with our life styles, which I didn’t previously believe was possible in a declining energy paradigm, but also in the process halt global warming. As I said, this is the most exciting vision I’ve heard in 25 years, and one that truly has me hopeful about the future of the human species being able to live sustainably on this planet into the indefinite future.

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