Turtles All The Way Down. The Third Installment Of An Exploration Of Permaculture Economics.
I’m on the home stretch of thinking out loud about time banking and folding the thoughts into a larger understanding of how we approach economics in Permaculture. At the end of this, I hope to have a clearer opinion of time banks myself and to have communicated to you deeper understanding of how this tool fits into our permaculture toolkit as designers. First, I want to tell a story and introduce an idea. They may not connect yet, hang in there. The final installment will bring it all together.
There I was, standing in my driveway, untangling my headphones before a run when I noticed a late model minivan speeding down the road. Just as the van reached my driveway, the window rolled down and out came flying a fast food bag filled with empty wrappers and red bull cans. As the minivan sped away, two things stood out. The driver’s bright colored Patagonia windbreaker and an "I Love Mountains" bumper sticker.
My area of the road collects a lot of trash. I think it’s due to the fact that 3.5 miles away is a convenient store and Tastee Freeze. It takes about five minutes to reach this point which is, by my best observational research, the perfect amount of time to inhale a chili dog and slam a red bull.
On the run following this event, I had many thoughts.
I thought about taking a picture of the van and posting it to social media. Participating in the current online call-out culture by metaphorically throwing the driver into the online public square for all to feast on her sins.
Next, I thought about one of my heroes, Edward Abbey, whose complicated brand of iconoclastic environmentalism included the occasional and purposeful chucking of an empty beer can out of the window.
Maybe our driver read Edward Abbey. Maybe that’s why she loves mountains.
The next thought that flashed through my head was a statistic I read the other day about Charlottesville, VA. (It must have been the Patagonia jacket that caused that association.)
Charlottesville is known in our region as a progressive enclave, lauded for their green living aesthetic. Indeed I have conversed with many an environmental champion from Charlottesville. However, the statistic that struck me as confusing and interesting was that the average household in Charlottesville, VA. produces a ton - that’s right - a ton more carbon emissions per household than the average in the United States. This thought did not help my mood.
Linked is a thoughtful piece on this
Just as my self-righteous fury was working itself into a frothy towering Gandalf-style shaming, I thought about all of the plastic I’ve used as an organic farmer.
Did I mention I’m an organic farmer (queue condescending west coast accent hippy voice.) When it comes to the “I’m greener than you” fronting on social media that takes place surely I've got that title on lock-down.
Nope. The amount of plastic I use is sickening. At one point last season, while investing in a new piece of land I had just opened up, I was spending upwards of a thousand dollars a week for a couple of weeks straight on plastic that would be tossed in just a few seasons.
And to think, y’all worry about straws.
Every time you bought my beautiful organic produce, you supported my plastic habit.
Setting limits is a good thing. But this is not a blog about that. Rather, these words are about perspective. Rather than invite you to judge anyone of the people and communities I have written about, I’d like to invite you to think about yourself. Now put a pin in that, while I introduce an idea. We will come back to that thought later.
In our Permaculture courses, we teach the 8 forms of capital. It’s a brilliant conceptual framework for thinking about economics. For an introductory understanding of this concept check out Ethan Rowland's original article at the following link. Dude is a crystal clear thinker and this concept has contributed in a big way to the conversation about economics in Permaculture.
In thinking about economics he expanded the understanding of capital beyond finance into other realms. His 8 forms are as follows.
It never fails. Whenever we teach this, folks always feel drawn towards value judgments about which form of capital is superior to the other. Often financial capital gets put at the bottom and social capital gets placed at the top of the pile. This, I believe, misses the point.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Social capital is the feel good one and some permaculture practitioners in all of our upper-middle-class wisdom like to demonize and discount the importance of financial capital. In Rowland's conceptual framework he does a nice job of exploring how each form of capital has the potential for deficits and credit and that this creates opportunities. The brilliance of the 8 forms of capital is that it is a tool for analysis and for design. Much like the way we use the scale of permanence, we now have a tool to analyze our economic landscape and create informed decision trees for how to intervene.
Decisions have consequences.
With the run over, I climbed out of my head and found myself standing in the driveway again. There was a fast food bag still littering my space. I walked over and picked up the lady’s shit. I wasn’t angry. I was happy to do it. Serene almost. Somebody somewhere is cleaning up my shit. We’re all cleaning up Charlottesville’s shit.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
It’s turtles all the way down.