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IPCUK 2015 Conference: Designing the world we want  RSS feed

Lorenzo Costa
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Location: Italy, Siena, Gaiole in Chianti zone 9
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IPCUK 2015 Conference: Designing the world we want

We are one, we are one, we are one

The International Permaculture Conference took place in London on the 8th and 9th September 2015, connected to the larger event, the Convergence, that will be held from the 10th to the 16th at Gilwell park.

The IPCUK is about to start

Tim Lenton, one of the keynote speakers of the first day, led us through a journey of Earth’s evolution. He likened Earth’s history to a hundred year human lifetime and told us that we have been here for only a very short period. What we have done in the past 70 years is only a week of Earth’s life. Where does permaculture stand in this history?
I could try and answer this question, but the real thing is this parallel, Tim proposed. It made me think of the way I arrived at this International conference. I walked through the halls, and rooms of The Light, The Friends House, a Quakers centre, where it was held, like a young, very young boy, just approaching the permaculture world.

This is what I saw, this what I felt. I just hope I’ll be able to transfer my feelings into words.

The theme of the conference was: designing the world we want.

David Holmgren warmed up our emotions via skype, setting our goal to focusing on what we have to do, how this global movement has to shift. Our knowledge is immense, but time is short.

David Holmgren via skype the hall is in complete silence

The world I want in many ways is around me, or is connected to me in the worldwide community that led me to London -, an online permaculture community led by a man that has a vision of what world he wants: Big Paul, as geoff lawton calls him (by the way Paul, he says hi to you! ), aka Paul Wheaton. I really have to thank the staff, my sister Cassie Langstraat and our Mother Tree, Burra Maluca, for having said without doubt: "You go to London!"

But the idea of designing the world we want, introduced to us by Andy Goldring, was asking more. We were asked to cross our boundaries, and look at the world Tim Lenton had so well described, with the larger perspective that a permaculture designer has. It was immediately clear it was not only about wanting something, but the necessity, the responsibility we have as permaculture designers. We’re running out of time.

The path I followed opened up in front of me, as well as all the other 650 and more participants from 70 countries. We walked together for two days. Happily, many continue this journey together in the Convergence.

I crossed my boundaries and started thinking of the world we want, with others, in the sessions, workshops or the breaks in the courtyard (one thing has to be said when you take a break with 650 people it’s something more than a simple coffee break - it’s an agora, the ancient greek public place, where people build relations, design communities. I love breaks). The other hot spot for defining the world we want was the room where the partners and sponsors of the conference shared their goals, in that space the temporary library setup by the staff of Permanent Publications drew many to discuss the latest publications and exchange ideas, in some cases even directly with the authors, Ben Law, Howard Johns and Mark Boyle.

The courtyard of the Friends House, what I call the agora, the connections and relations were built here

The Permanent Publications temporary bookstore, and the partners and sponsors room

Jonathan Porritt immediately opened our eyes with a simple concept: permaculture has organized itself between enclaves and outposts. So simple but so complex. Are the two in opposition? Are they alternatives of one another? No, Mark Boyle, the author of the book Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, helped me out with this. If we organize in enclaves or outposts, if our action as permaculture practitioners explicates itself in those two ways, it derives from our personal choices, our needs, our character. Mark knows how to get to the bottom of our inner-self, our wild side.
Enclaves and outposts are two ways of creating communities based on permaculture design. I’d say the enclaves are examples of the communities we build, outposts are actions we take in existing communities we live in, and that we try to redesign. The world we want starts from observing the world we live in, the interaction starts from our personal needs.

Dave Boehnlhein helped me grasp a concept that was in my mind at this point in the first day (he doesn’t know what he did, but I thank him). Recalling the story of how the Bullock brothers farm was set up, he spoke a lot about habitat building for beneficial wildlife. So this is what I came up with: we, as permaculture designers, have to build the habitat for our species, and that habitat has to make us beneficial, so that it can fit in the Earth’s habitat, nature, the habitats of all living species together, with which we have to tune in. Only if we accept that we can act as beneficial wildlife on this planet will we be capable of designing the world we want. Designing communities, enclaves, or redesigning existing communities, outposts, are the response to our need to act, take responsibility. They both complete each other. According to Tim Lenton's hundred year scale, we as a species have done most of the damage to this planet in a week. The solution is not to withdraw and leave nature to run its course but to change our way of being. We would otherwise just keep on replicating our misbehavior on less land and nothing would change, it would worsen.

Aranya talked of permaculture as a science that shares a sense of purpose. The strength of this image is in me, like all those that follow a PDC. My teacher Geoff Lawton, shared his sense of purpose and handed it to his students, like all teachers. Now it’s up to us to continue this transmission.

Geoff Lawton with one of his students, me, I couldn't miss the oportunity

Pandora Thomas of the Black permaculture network and Pathways to Resilience, just two of her outstanding projects, shared that sense of purpose with us. The necessity to design patterns of re-entry in communities after incarceration clarified to me what an outpost looks like in the real world. The example was clear. The emotion in the hall was sensed. One can’t stay unconcerned listening to the tension in the words of Pandora.

John Nzira from Zimbabwe shared the design of a network between communities that grows from one to two, from nodes to hubs and incubators, names for different levels of interaction between communities, that reassess the right to design their life. What we are starting to envision is a paradigm shift.

We went in depth with the presentations in the sessions, all starting from different views but which all led in a clear direction - we need research. I managed to follow only some of the presentations, as there were so many running simultaneously. The two days were filled with presentations. We have to collect data, share it, take the practice of permaculture to the next level. But to achieve the paradigm shift, we have to connect all the research.

This is what we got at the conference: research was there in front of us, shared, explained, breathed.

Flowing through the work of Richard Perkins at Ridgedale Permaculture in Sweden; or that of Rafter Sass Ferguson who is filling the gap between the results permaculture is achieving and the scholars and scientists; or the results Jerome Osentowski with his thirty year experience has achieved taking forest gardens into greenhouses; or even more the work done in Timor Leste or in India. The results of what permaculture design can achieve were tangible. Everyone felt the honor and responsibility of being part of this world.

The speakers shared an inspiring quantity of knowledge and we had a chance to see what had to be of all this.

The uploading of information was so incredible that we happily saw the launch of the Permaculture International Research Network, PIRN. Chris Warburton Brown introduced Cat Richards, who explained to us all what PIRN has to become: the network will help us connect researchers, projects and practitioners together. It’s up to us now to fill this online platform as a tool for designing the world we want. Cat is a passionate researcher who knows we can’t act alone, we have to walk the path together.

We are one, we are one, we are one

Moments from the sessions and workshops

The first day finished with a concert of the Formidable Vegetable Sound System, and other Hip Hop groups, dinner and drinks, and the agora was once again there to be filled with communities. I had the great opportunity to speak once again with different brothers and sisters. Felipe Molina from Birmingham is one example of community building that struck me. He just started listing the projects he was involved in, with great simplicity as if it were normal, three, four projects, that all are based on redesigning local communities of his city. Food forest Brum, a project that plans to create edible landscapes in local communities, Kushinga Community Garden, connecting migrant and refugee communities with local communities to grow food, just to recall two. His story made me feel like the kid I am, I just want to set up a farm! I find the community involvement exceptional. One has to create an edible perennial landscape, but what we actually do is create a habitat for our species that has to be perennial. That is the challenge.

The concert and bonfire at Alara Gardens

Geoff Lawton recalled a scientific fact. It is agreed that when our species started to use symbols to express itself our brain underwent a change, becoming larger. Permaculture, with its mind-reshaping energy, is taking us to a new level of evolution. Our neural cortex, our synapses infected by ethical design are taking us to a new level of evolution, based on the consciousness of the patterns we can create. Why not agree that our brain is growing again? There is no limit to what we can achieve with permaculture design. Geoff shared the fact that he has seen designs so incredible, throughout his experience as a teacher, that he could have not even imagined. The limits we decide to set are the limits we have. They are not boundaries, they are lines we have to jump.

Cathy Debenham shared her experience on creating an online community on renewables, YouGen, and she stressed the importance of including people, connecting their lives and needs. I saw what we are doing with in her story. The importance of creating a network, the path we followed was growing.

Rob Hopkins with great simplicity reminded us of what it means to make people feel part of something. You don’t necessarily hand down a project or an idea. People unleash their creativity and a collective mind tunes in. So much has been achieved around the world by the Transition Network, that I can only say this project is the proof that with the right set of tools, designing ethically, achieves the objective to see mind fertility grow. The neural cortex example Geoff recalled is this: fertility that is infectious, intangible in its growth, real in its effect.

Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir, with her outstanding life experience that took her to embrace different branches of research, reminded us that we have a good capability to envision the world we want, but we don’t have time. We have to act now. Vala reminded us all of Hildur Jackson of the Gaia Trust, who left us only a few days before the conference where she would have wanted to be for sure

Rosemary Morrow reminded us that we have a responsibility for all those that did not come to London. Forty years have seen PDC’s taught to hundreds of thousands of students. Was it all done with certified teachers? No, it was done starting from the necessity to act, to apply what permaculture, as an ethical design science, had set forward. Luckily, many didn’t go to teaching but instead to practicing, applying and doing research, from the smallest to the largest achievement. Without those pioneers, teaching would have meant nothing. I recognize a pattern here, one that resembles the double spiral of the DNA - we can’t stand alone. Together, united, we can design this world, because the only way to stop the craziness that keeps on being replicated in always a more virulent form is to use the concept of positive infection. Or even better, the image paul stamets used at Permaculture Voices this year, "Speaking in this hall I have inoculated you all with my spores." Rowe recalled many examples of what permaculture has generated. The strength of five students in Kabul, whom she taught a PDC via skype during the bombing of the city, two sacrificed their lives wanting to live until their last day as people that had taken in their hands the responsibility to change this world. Five students who thought they could bring peace to the world. Or the stubbornness and energy of Tina, one of her students that translated an entire set of notes in to Greek, in just a few weeks, to let the students in the PDC thoroughly understand what was being discussed.

Rowe, with great simplicity, reminded us you can’t grow a plant without soil. And in the same way we can’t grow without the right habitat, we cannot grow and thrive without working together with a clear set of goals. We need to accelerate the succession of the next waves of pioneers, to use media to reach more and more people, to stay open, accepting positive changes and to adapt, to establish the quality of permaculture trainees and to train more trainees. We don’t have time, and the only way to gain it is by becoming more and more.

Last general session Andy Goldring hands over to India the organization of the IPC 2017

Andy Goldring handed the next organization of the international permaculture conference and convergence to India. In 2017 we will be in Hyderabad!

What more can I share, if not the sense of purpose that all of us have taken back home, our first responsibility now is to share the strength of what we lived in London, with one goal in mind: the next time we have to be more. We have to build beneficial communities, share our knowledge, and become more and more.

The closing moments of the conference were struck by the energy of the conference poem made by all those that participated to its writing, together with Siobhan MacMahon. The poem was read out loud and its closing lines were recited in ten different languages. The tension was released by the last line:

We are one, we are one, we are one

The conference poem with Siobhan MacMahon and the group of sisters and bothers that translated it in ten languages
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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Location: Portugal
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I'm so glad you were able to go, Lorenzo.

And thankyou so much for sharing your experiences.
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