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Seriously macro scale permaculture

 
Ben Stallings
Posts: 151
Location: Emporia, KS
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I'm curious, has anyone -- just as an exercise and a thought experiment -- ever tackled a permaculture design on the scale of an entire continent? For example, if your plot of land were all of North America, the cities would be zone 0, and the designated wilderness areas of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. would be zone 5. Clearly you'd want to get more food production into zones 1 and 2, but beyond that...

You'd have some extremely dry and extremely wet areas. Where would you put the swales, and how big would they have to be to recharge the aquifers, etc.? Or would you pull a sepp holzer and turn the entire Missouri river into a big lake?

What other crazy decisions would there be to make if we considered a whole continent as a single project?
 
Bill McGee
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Location: Southeastern Connecticut, USA
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Two ideas I picked up from this site...with prevailing winds/rain coming from the west to east planting trees on the westward side of the desert should lead to the most efficient water collection and greening of the desert in North America.

Also the reintroduction of beavers can change and prevent river flooding.

Not sure if these are macro ideas, but maybe a start.

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I would start by looking at patterns. Why is it that some areas are wet and others dry and some just right? This would bring me to an understanding of how both geography patterns and people patterns have shaped the topography. I would need to know the current and historical (100-200 yrs ago) climate of various areas - the historical part because a lot of our land looks nothing like it used to thanks to human interaction. I would look at patterns of mountains, winds, watersheds, specific ecosystems, analyze the movements of elements such as herd animals across space, look for edge opportunities to enhance...

In areas that are too wet, I would look at mitigating flooding by seeing what we've done to rivers - perhaps damming or straightening rivers has denuded the banks of marshes and bogs which are needed to control flooding. In the arid SW, I would look at slowing and sinking water first, planting hardy native legumes that could build soil and provide condensation to further trap moisture in this area of super high evaporation. In fact we need to tree up a LOT of north America - this will help repair the hydrological cycle in both dry and wet areas and everywhere in between.

I'd look at reestablishing animal patterns on the great grasslands (holistic range management). I'd look at all our "access" elements (highways, rivers, flight patterns) and see if they were in the right place or not.

OK...those are my initial thoughts....will have to think about this more. Intriguing.
 
Matt Smaus
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Location: Minneapolis, MN
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It's a fun idea! I think the answer is surprisingly simple: leave it wild.

A wild landscape is the most biologically efficient landscape there is. Nature ultimately does a better job of filling every niche and balancing the entire affair than a permaculturist can, while ensuring maximum resilience. Nature creates the greatest diversity and the greatest complexity, and selects for the best in every category in every place. Getting creative, humans can eat most of it.

Farming is a way to make a particular plot of land produce enough for the people that work it. In other words, it depends on boundaries, and ownership. A roaming herd of elk doesn't guarantee you any food, because your neighbor downriver may harvest more than his share, so to get a dependable food supply, we fence off a piece of land, keep the elk off, produce our own animals that don't go anywhere, and make laws so if anybody else takes it, they're in trouble. In other words, we compromise EFFICIENCY for DEPENDABILITY.

If you're talking about a permaculture project at the continental scale, you are talking, implicitly, about shared ownership, because that's the only way such a thing would ever come about. And if that's the case, we could go back to hunting and gathering, and let nature sow the seeds and feed the animals. It would be the Garden of Eden again. Permaculture aspires to recapture some of the biological efficiency of a wild system, but it cannot and will never match it, though it's probably the best we have.
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Matt Smaus wrote:
If you're talking about a permaculture project at the continental scale, you are talking, implicitly, about shared ownership, because that's the only way such a thing would ever come about.


Not necessarily - projects on large scales are often undertaken by collectives that represent the needs and wants of their constituents. That is pretty much what government exists to do (not getting drawn into the issues surrounding governments here!).

In terms of permaculture you could comparatively easily introduce incentives to landowners to alter the practices on their own land that, over the agregate of a whole nation, can affect watersheds, forestation etc...

Government incentives here in the UK have led to deforestation of upland areas and subsequent flooding in lowland areas. Removing funding for highland tree clearing and introducing incentives to plant tree belts on hillsides could have an impact on a national scale.

Is it permaculture? Perhaps not, but when you are designing on such a huge canvas then you need to paint with very broad strokes.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I'd say that ecosystem restoration is a blood cousin to permaculture in this regard.

I think part of the permaculture model, is that any 'scaling up' requires a radical increase in the number of designers simultaneously working from shared values to systematically alter and recovery the living functions of the surface of the earth. So scaling up requires reformation of information flows and economic incentives that drive ecosystem degradation. I think the best opportunities for this work is at the scale of communities, with those communities interacting to redevelop and reclaim local authority, by aggressively interacting with state and federal authorities, in the case of the USA.

All my work has suggested that this is true... don't wait for the Army Corps of Engineers to solve this one.
 
Levente Andras
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Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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Ben Stallings wrote:I'm curious, has anyone -- just as an exercise and a thought experiment -- ever tackled a permaculture design on the scale of an entire continent? For example, if your plot of land were all of North America, the cities would be zone 0, and the designated wilderness areas of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. would be zone 5. Clearly you'd want to get more food production into zones 1 and 2, but beyond that...

You'd have some extremely dry and extremely wet areas. Where would you put the swales, and how big would they have to be to recharge the aquifers, etc.? Or would you pull a Sepp Holzer and turn the entire Missouri river into a big lake?

What other crazy decisions would there be to make if we considered a whole continent as a single project?


I live in Europe so I can only generalise without specific references to the American situation:

I wonder if design at the scale of an entire region or country (let alone at the scale of an entire continent) can still be called permaculture design. I suspect it would require enormous central planning and harmonising of local interests & needs.

Central planning is not unfeasible, and we have examples of planning of this scale in some parts of the world, like in China, where canals or - more recently - mega dams were built, or forests planted, to alter the ecology of large tracts of land, for good or for bad. The problem with this type of macro planning is that it is often FORCED to disregard the interests of small communities which are then negatively affected. E.g., whole villages have to be moved when the mega-dam is built, crop fields and gardens are submerged, etc. etc.

If you think in terms of permaculture "zoning", then on a large scale, you will unavoidably end up with a myriad of zones 0/1 (farms, homesteads, villages, towns, cities). Any permaculture design will need to take into account this multitude of human settlements and their needs. So there isn't a single zone 0/1. As a result, the settlements and local communities - rather than the "country" or the "continent" - are / should be the basic unit of permaculture design. So then where do you start if you need to "design the whole country / continent?

Having said that, there are certain "crazy decisions" that could be made at a national level:

- pass laws that make the following things illegal: front lawns and golf courses; development of flood plains of rivers and streams; ploughing fields and leaving them without vegetation cover during winter; etc. etc etc.
- start a nationwide programme for reforestation of slopes, watersheds, and areas threatened by desertification,
- pass laws that make it compulsory to have a built-in rainwater collection system for any man-made impervious surfaces such as parking lots, tarmac roads, and roofs
- etc etc etc - the list could go on and on


 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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