Sunday, 29 December 2013


According to the Redefining Progress eco-footprint calculator test I did on 29th December 2013, if everyone on the planet lived my lifestyle, we would need 1.46 Earths. That's at least .46 Earths too much for a fair share.

It seems that I currently have a global footprint of 22.89 gha (global hectares). Unfortunately I do not have base line data for what my footprint was before the influence of permaculture on my life, but the breakdown by consumption category below indicates that in every category my impact is below the UK average. The average UK ecofootprint is 48.19 gha, requiring 3.07 Earths for everyone on the planet to lead the same lifestyle - it would be easy to feel good about how much lower than this I am, but no matter how good I felt about it, I'd still be using at least .46 Earths too much for a fair share.

The chart below indicates how my footprint is spread across different biomes.

My impact was rated worse by the WWF Environmental Footprint calculator, which suggested that if everyone on the planet lived my lifestyle, we would need 1.85 Earths. That's at least .85 Earths too much for a fair share. Their calculator also gives a lower UK average (3 Earths) further decreasing the difference between by impact and the national average.

The footprint calculator offered by Best Foot Forward asks far fewer questions that the Redefining progress of WWF ones, so is presumably less sophisticated. It offers me a worse result than either, suggesting that for the global population to live my lifestyle 1.9 planets would be required:

It features this odd dial which you can turn to indicate a % improvement in the 'efficiency of the economy'. I left it at zero, if you spin it up to an 80% efficiency gain, we'd still need 1.1 planets for everyone to live my lifestyle - at least .1 planets too many for a fair share. I suppose this indicates that efficiency gains are valuable, but do not preclude behaviour change.

This calculator appears quite problematic to me, it proclaims itself as going farther than a carbon calculator - but it's quiet blunt in its analysis. What does it mean by 'efficiency of economy'? The asterisked note informs us that it means 'the efficiency of delivering goods, services, infrastructure, health and education' - I'm not sure how much personal efficacy we can have in this area and I'm still left asking what does it mean by efficiency? Energy efficiency  would seem the most obvious choice (how much energy used for a unit of output), but economists tend instead to mean Labour efficiency when they talk about the 'efficiency of economy' (how many workers employed for a unit of output). As we are considering biocapacity in global hectares then land efficiency would seem to be the appropriate measure (how much land necessary to produce a unit of output). As the strategies for improving efficiency in energy, labour and land use will tend to be different and to an extent exclusive - the improvement dial appears worthless to me.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Energy Use - Home

According to John-Michael Greer the maxim of his 'old Master Conserver classes was "weatherize before you solarize,"'. He extends the principle to note that unless you take steps to use heat effectively, if you try to get your heat needs met from renewable sources, you’re basically wasting your time.'

In the video interview (below) I talk about some of the the things we do reduce our energy usage, this interview was recorded for the Twig project in Southend.

Travel (for pleasure)

Camp for Climate Action - Heathrow August 2007
Like many people I love travelling for pleasure.   I am aware however of the environmental impact of travel, especially over long distances.I love aeroplane travel, in my life I have been fortunate enough to visit North America on three occasions, to see Japan and to take holidays in many European countries. I love the magical thrill of soaring into the sky, the incredible vantage point on the Earth an aeroplane window provides and the wonder of stepping out into a foreign climate mere hours from one's departure, the marvel of having the entire world available for exploration.

In the mid-2000s however I realised that aeroplane travel as it exists today is unsustainable and cannot continue. According to the Environmental Transport Association a return trip by plane from London to New York produces about 1.2 tonnes of CO2 - roughly equivalent to the total emissions allowable if we are to stay within a fair share of the world's total safe emissions. If I genuinely wanted to demonstrate earthcare, I needed to recognize these limits and take responsibility for my own actions. I could no longer justify flying.

My first temptation to renege on my convictions came in 2005 when after a relationship failed, friends of mine invited me to holiday with them in Barcelona. I failed to resist, I let myself down and I flew. The decision haunted me though, and on the flight home I made a concious effort to stay present with the experience - enjoying all its nuances as I made a deepened my conviction to not fly again.

Since then I have faced more temptations to fly again, from the casual appeal of a quick trip to the heat of the Mediterranean, to offers of a free holiday in the USA and a work trip to Mumbai and the chance to visit India, a country that has long appealed to me. I have resisted them all but at the same time I have been determined to find other ways of meeting my yearnings to travel and, treating the problem as the solution, investigating other ways of travelling.

In December 2009 Claire and I travelled to Copenhagen to protest at the COP via train and ferry.

In October 2010 we went to Jordan by train, ferry, bus, taxi and boat.

In 2013 and 2014 we holidayed in France, travelling there and back by train.

Permaculture Association Trusteeship

I was elected as a Trustee of the Permaculture Association at the 2013 AGM held on November 9th in Leeds.

This was the statement I supplied in support of my candidacy:

In 2004 I was on the dole and reading books when I first encountered the peak oil concept. I thought it must be wrong, so I looked for evidence to disprove it, failed and the bottom fell out of my world.
Searching for a positive way forward that wasn’t in denial I discovered permaculture and it’s been a big part of my life since.

During the week I work at the British Film Institute, other times I’m a published author, an independent scholar, a Diploma student, a permaculture teacher and more.
I’ve done a lot of education and got a bunch of certificates to prove it. I’m passionate about permaculture. I see it as a critical discipline in addressing mounting global crises, designing solutions and building a better world.

The Association has a vital role in sharing and disseminating the knowledge and practice of permaculture in the UK. I want to help that happen.

As a Trustee I’d like to help the Association increase its reach and leverage communications to extend its impact.

I would like to contribute my research expertise, teaching experience and ability to generate and critically review ideas to assist the board in facilitating the Association’s aims.

I have attended part of two Trustee meetings prior to my election. My first meeting as a Trustee will be the BoT (Board of Trustees) meeting to be held in London on January 25th/26th, which I'll report back on here.

I see being a representative of the Permaculture Association membership as an important part of my role as a Trustee. I am keen to hear any thoughts about the Association's work, and I hope that by doing so I might increase the routes by which members can communicate their interests and concerns to the Association. Trustees can increase the edge of an organisation allowing more contact with the membership than the staff alone can provide.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Crash on Demand

My attention has just been drawn to David Holmgren's new essay Crash on Demand. This slide from the article has some relevance to the scalability issue. Many permaculture designs are at the household scale, many others are at the local community scale and it seems fairly clear to me how many designs would be scalable from the first to the second.

If I understand Holmgren correctly, he sees the local community level being the highest level that can effectively be influenced by bottom-up action in the near to medium term:

The nested future scenarios concept highlights the importance of household and local community strategies whether or not larger scale systems collapse. Those (permaculture) strategies are effective at the local and household scale, while the ones promoted to us by the upper levels of power (e.g. upgrading the light bulb) are weak and tend to undermine our resilience and autonomy (e.g. centralised disaster management systems). This understanding can save us spending too much emotional energy focused on which scenario will win out in the end.

This is not a rejection of the idea of systems change at higher levels however but an identification of where the permaculture intervention point actually is most effective:

I believe that actively building parallel and largely non-monetary household and local community economies with as little as 10% of the population has the potential to function as a deep systematic boycott of the centralised systems as a whole, that could lead to more than 5% contraction in the centralised economies. Whether this became the straw that broke the back of the global financial system or a tipping point, on one could ever say, even after the event.

The driving argument of Holmgren's article is that by concentrating our energies on the household and local community levels and withdrawing from the global financial system, we might leverage global change. Systemic change effected by strategic withdrawal.  No pussyfooting however, this is a radical withdrawal from financial instruments that  the western middle class is well-adjusted to - mortgages, pensions, investments - as well as the conspicuous consumerism that is rife and almost define modern life.

This global change is also predicated on facilitating a global economic crash to save us from the worst climate calamities. Economics as a subset of ecology, planet before profit, international Terraism.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Permaculture Garden[ing] Suburbs

Heathrow Garden Suburb
The Thames Estuary Research and Development Company (TESTRAD) is one of the standard bearers for a new 'London' airport  in the Thames estuary (1). Part of their recent sell for the estuary airport is to highlight some positive outcomes for the Heathrow site after air traffic moves to their London Britannia Airport, or as the Evening Standard put it 'Vision of a new London borough on site of abandoned Heathrow is revealed'. The article is accompanied by the graphic shown above which revisions Heathrow as a new garden suburb for west London.

Of course the whole basis for building new runways/airports at Heathrow or elsewhere is completely flawed. We cannot afford the carbon emissions of the aeroplane technology we have, and future pressures on liquid fuel availability are likely to turn air travel back to a luxury for the super rich within a human lifetime.So the question is not how do we expand UK airport capacity but how do we plan for their obsolescence.

Transition Heathrow
UK population growth may push towards the development of new garden cities, but  how about some Permaculture Garden[ing] Suburbs in existing cities? Ditch the Estuary Airport predicate of the TESTRAD story and revision it as a post heavier-than-air travel Grow Heathrow. Maintain the airport rail links and stick in a spur to the Grand Union Canal and the Thames dock at Brentford along the route of the A4 for a post-carbon transportation hub.
Brentford Dock at the height of associated rail connections.
 The decline in fossil fuels may not be the end of air transportation for either people or goods, but it may look very different in future. Dirigible lighter-than-air craft do not depend on runways to take-off and land, increasing the options when considering arrivals and departure points. Limits on helium availability but necessitate the use of hydrogen which some people will find uncomfortable, but they probably drive around in cars at high speed amongst loads of other cars travelling at high speed while they all carry a tanks containing gallons of petrol!

The Aeroscraft rigid airship

1) This is not the Boris Johnson approved Isle of Grain Thames Hub airport plan but a distinct vision for a a six-runway hub in the outer Thames estuary.

Stages of Innovation

This graphic on the new economics foundation website caught my eye with its use of the Fibonacci spiral. My interest was further piqued by the text which seemed to refer to both a design process and whole systems intervention.

I imagined that the associated article would suggest some distribution of time and/or energy between design stages based on a Fibonacci sequence, but it doesn't refer to the graphic in the text or mention Fibonacci at all. A second look at the image reveals that what appears to be a distribution of stages between Fibonacci sized blocks moving from Prompts (5) [the factor initiating a desire for change] to Proposals (8) [Concept Design/Wild Design?], breaks down at the next block (13) which includes two stages: Prototypes and Sustaining [Maintenance/Tweaking] as does the final (21).

The stages in that final block are perhaps the most fertile as they offer another path for design which I have not seen presented in many permaculture designs. Rather than just looping back to refine and adjust a design to better meet the original needs, or cycling back around in a way that critically engages with those 'needs' and how they have been expressed (single & double loop learning). The fifth stage here Scaling encourages us to also build on our successes and thus increase our circle of influence, with the ambition that by doing so we might effect a sixth stage Systemic Change.
Not that the path actually tends towards such a direct route. As Jo Casebourne mentions in her article beneath the graphic "stages are not always sequential, feedback loops exist between stages and stages can also be thought of as overlapping spaces".

There's some rich stuff in this worthy of further thought and investigation - but what I find immediately useful to take away is 1) to build into my design thinking the question of scalability (how would this work differently at different scales) and 2) to think about how both my designs and my learning process contribute towards a collective metadesign of systemic change, how and where might they find places to positively intervene in systems I feel need to change - leverage as en extra yield?

"How do we change the structure of systems to produce more of what we want and less of that which is undesirable?"
 Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Permaculture Garden[ing] Cities

At the recent Permaculture Diploma Gathering I facilitated a workshop on a proposed Permaculture entry to the Wolfson Prize Garden City competition (referred to earlier here). This emerged from existing discussion on the same subject on a dedicated Facebook group. A summary of the ideas arising from the workshop appears below.

A range of opinions were expressed in the workshop, but the general consensus tended towards the following ideas:

  •  In order to move forward a ‘benign dictator’ was necessary, someone who could collate other efforts and draw on experts. Catch and store energy.
  • Any submission, while multi-authored, should be ‘owned’ by the Permaculture Association as completion entrant.
  • Work on the project should happen on one place – at the moment work was spread across FB, Wiki, Google docs etc this is confusing and creates more work – Integrate rather than segregate. Efficient energy planning.
  • Creating and submitting an entry to the competition must (and would) have benefits beyond the chance to win a prize. Obtain a yield. Each element performs many functions. The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited.
  • Any entry should be ‘open source’, a creative commons, we should encourage other to steal our work – free as in speech and free as in beer (libre & gratis). Fair Share. Redistribute the Surplus. Reinvest the Surplus.
  • We also noted that as a public statement of permaculture it must be good. Work where it counts.
  • Questions of whether a good submission was achievable were raised. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.
  • With a competition submission date of March 3rd 2014, we must aim to have a complete first draft by February 3rd to finesse before submission.
I drew up some spider diagrams about the competitions 3 criteria, to highlight some of the required work:

1.    Vision
2.    Economic Viability (and thus governance)
3.    Popularity


Economic Viability

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Action Learning Tutorial

I find that when I'm thinking about the Diploma it can all get a bit tangled up in my head. One of the yields of having an 'Action Learning Tutorial' is getting one's disorganised thoughts presented back to you in a form that seems to make more sense.

At the 2013 National Diploma Gathering, I had a chance to sit down with my Diploma Tutor Graham Burnett and another apprentice Ben Lambert and have a tutorial. We used the classic '4 questions' model. Here's Graham's write up:

James Taylor Permaculture Diploma Support Tutorial 29/11/2013
Held at Castleton, Derbyshire at National Diploma Gathering (with Ben Lambert)
What is going well with my Permaculture Diploma journey?
• Plenty of designs
• I feel I have a good understanding of of what I am doing and what is expected of me
• Feel good to be supported by Graham again after a long hiatus
• Feel excited about the diploma
What are my barriers to accrediting at this time?
• Prioritising which designs to include as the 10 required for the portfolio
• Barriers around how to write these up
• Overcommitment – taking on too much?
• Started in 2006 – why rush now? What are my 'rewards' for procrastinating? 
Goals re Diploma Accreditation
• This time next year? Sooner? Maybe June 2013? Stack into PDC? Perhaps too ambitious?
Next Steps
• Portfolio assessment Feb 15 2014 most likely at James' place (TBC)
• Designs to be sent to Graham by Jan 7th 2014
Other points
• “I need a 'taskmaster' to set me clear goals and dates”
• Discussed 'informal' relationship with Graham - 'boundaries' between 'work' and 'friendship' modes recognising and acknowledging these.
• Overview of design portfolio and activity
• Questions re. Which 'system' James is registered with, logistics of payment
• Agreed previous tutorial with Graham to be considered 'informal' as was for benefit of both parties
to come up to speed with the new system
So I've got a set of actions to follow up on:
  • Choose which 10 of my designs to accredit with
  • Pick an accreditation date
  • Confirm location for portfolio assessment
  • Get 5 designs written up for Jan 7th 2014
  •  Confirm with PA office which system I'm registered on/where I'm at with payments

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Action Learning Pathway Redux

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? Asked Alice.
That depends a good deal on where you want to get to, said the Cat. I don't 
much care, said Alice. Then it doesn't matter which way you go, said the Cat.
                                                                                                                  Lewis Carroll (1)

An 'Action Learning Pathway' (ALP) or 'Diploma Learning Pathway' (DLP) is a commonly suggested first design for apprentices on the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. It's a pattern design for the entire Diploma, which will be filled in with detail by the Diploma's conclusion by (at least) another 9 designs, an account of technical training and more.

Back when I first registered for the Diploma in late 2006, an ALP was just a suggested design - now, while it is not an essential portfolio design, most portfolios contain one and it's highly recommended to have one. For apprentices that are very land focused in their designing, it provides an opportunity to apply permaculture design skills and methods to an 'invisible structure' - one's own learning. It also centralises and promotes the fact that the Diploma process is one of action learning - acting and reflecting on one's actions in order to influence and enhance future actions - learning by doing.

At the start of the Diploma journey it can provide a structuring element in the field of possibility, identifying a destination and a proposed route. The route may of course, in fact will, change as the journey progresses - but having a route map provides the confidence to begin and an initial action from which to learn. It reflects something of the maxim President Dwight D. Eisenhower learnt in the Army 'Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.'(2).

When I signed up for the Diploma I didn't take the suggestion to design my learning pathway, I took the minimum two year term to complete as an invitation to take as long as I liked, I wasn't in a hurry. At the time, my objective in signing up for the Diploma if I could be said to have one at all, was simply to stay engaged with permaculture. But I found myself staying engaged with permaculture anyway, supporting courses put on by Naturewise, participating in monthly London meet-ups, volunteering at Plot 21 and the Naturewise Forest Garden. All of these could have been consciously part of a pathway, but they weren't consciously designed into my life.

So my Diploma lacked some purpose and a clear destination, like Alice I didn't seem to care much where I was going - so perhaps as the Cheshire Cat suggests, it didn't matter much what route I took. Only, it's difficult to be completely convinced of that when the minimum two years has expanded to spill over into eight... I have engaged in much permaculture related activity, attended many courses in related skills, applied permaculture design thinking, implemented permaculture designs and more - but I think I can attribute at least partial causation for my lethargy in completing the Diploma to that initial (and ongoing) avoidance of setting clear goals and route planning.

I have scratchy and half-formed ALP notes from over the years, which are partial materials for an ALP design, but where an ALP design could most effectively help me now is in designing a route for my final Diploma stretch from Here to Accreditation, so that would be the most best place to make my next steps.

1) Carrol, Lewis Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
2) From a speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in Washington, D.C. (November 14, 1957) ; in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957, National Archives and Records Service, Government Printing Office, p. 818