I came away from the National Climate Change Stakeholders Dialogue, held in preparation for the Santiago Climate Change Conference with the following questions:

How many Green Economies are there?

What is the relationship between the Green Economies and the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

What role can Permaculture play in a just transition from a carbon dependent to a carbon neutral future?


How many Green Economies are there?

I think there are a few, some brewing quietly in the background. The one most aired is the economy linked to carbon. This was the one focused on at the National Climate Change Stakeholders Dialogue held on the 4th October, for it has a direct impact on South Africa’s coal industry. This in turn feeds the coal driven energy sector, Eskom in particular. How do single product dependency towns transition to earth and people sustainable livelihoods?

The Minister of the Department of Environment, Forestries and Fisheries (DEFF), Barbra Creecy, made it clear that what she wants is a “just transition” from coal to alternative forms of energy without loss of jobs. This is progress, for it suggests that a shift has happened within government that acknowledges that there is a relationship between a sustainable earth and future prosperity. Until now the impression I had was that the ANC led government was for jobs, jobs, jobs, regardless of the impact on people and on the environment. Jobs for the sake of jobs that was part of appeasement management and no-care attitudes rather than commitment to creating sustainable futures.

I too am for a just transition which I envision as a radical shift in approach to economics and politics, one that is cognizant of subsidiarity as an organizing principle and of permaculture as an inclusive ethos with clearly articulated principles to support sustainable economies.

My interest in the carbon economy is in carbon sequestration, specifically through the planting of forests. When I first researched this, I hit a wall. I wanted to register a carbon bank in South Africa that would empower rural communities. To this end I attempted to persuade the then Department of Environmental Affairs to assist me. They weren’t interested for the idea was relatively new and they had other priorities…

About eight years later the market has shifted so much that my original concept has been turned on its head. Many massive tree planting projects have mushroomed all over the planet. The largest and most resourced projects benefit the industrial vultures who seek to continue their toxic emissions in exchange for planting trees! To add to these woes, these tree plantings are mostly in the form of monocultures. Hectares of pine or other industry useful trees that can be farmed provide some benefits, yet the long-term negative consequences exceed the positives.

Every form of monoculture, be it planting just one type of tree or vegetable, is environmentally unfriendly. These degrade soils, destroy natural habitats and diminish resistance to diseases. Yet monocultures are favoured by large agri-businesses which operate more like factories than farms – they are easier to manage from the perspective of global supply and demand.

Unfortunately, if one is wed to doing things to scale, it is impossible to see any other possibility. It is also impossible to change the carbon footprint trajectory.  Nature operates not like a machine but more like a highly sensitive responsive organism. It has no idea what the carbon economy is, nor what the carbon crisis is. It is aware of balance and imbalance between all the elements; to isolate one element and design economies around this is simply a delaying tactic that fails in the long-term objective of sustaining the earth for future generations. A systems approach would be more useful. A systems approach applying permaculture design principles to finding solutions would be even better

From my perspective, applying the principle of subsidiarity as well as those of permaculture is probably the best way to prevent large-scale economies, driven by trans-nationals, continuing to erode sovereign states while feeding off them. Simply put, states are being squeezed, “while nonstate business and financial players “have become central actors in the construction and management of an elaborate and increasingly intermeshed system of climate governance.”” (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1068/a42196)

To transition justly requires that we strengthen the state and hold businesses accountable to the people through strong civil society organisations. Efforts that champion the rights of the poorest in our communities to access environmental protection and services are a priority. This in itself has the potential to create ‘green’ jobs. (When it comes to accessing international funding, creating green jobs would be what I would focus on, supported by sound education in sustainability ethics and experiential training in design principles. These have the potential to build resilience in people and communities for they are transferable across all sectors of all economies.)


What is the relationship between the Green Economies and the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

In addition to the carbon economy, there is the nitrogen economy, the water economy, the Mars economy… all of them “green economies” waiting in the background to capture all natural resources for the benefit of the elites – an economy that aims to employ a projected 5% of the world’s population.

Driving this capture of nature is the “the fourth industrial revolution”… which prioritises machines over people. It is simply the fourth phase of the industrial revolution that started the fallout between humanity and nature. Outside of an ethics that values the future of the planet, it is a death trap.Yet these are very pessimistic views that I have had to re-examine more closely for I ‘trade’ in hope not despair. (When I first heard fourth industrial revolution, I saw a robotic, dead planet with people and animals gasping for air…)

Nonetheless, I have been encouraged to see what advanced communication technologies have to offer that is potentially empowering. The techno-madness is easily converted into support systems that can serve permaculture economies as well.


What role can Permaculture play in a just transition from a carbon dependent to a carbon neutral future?

At present I can only see this shift by way of parallel economies, or economies within economies. That my own inclination leans towards the natural, the small and the local, with an emphasis on the integrity of each individual’s right to choose the sector they wish to work in does not diminish the role that responsible use of technology can play in the move towards greater sustainability. Indeed, the National Climate Change Stakeholders Dialogue bore testament to this, for the slides used made me aware of just how useful it is to have information mapped in increasingly complex and sophisticated ways.

Making room for parallel economies, or disruptive economies, as it was phrased at the feedback report by Dr Vuyo Mahlati, from The Presidential Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture, (held on the 3rd October 2019) to emergent women farmers, has the potential to create a space for just transitions, not only from earth rape but from patriarchy as well…Yet if funded by local patriarchal elites, even if black, would disruptive economies be truly empowering of women? Or are we just being used?

I am already part of the green economies, yet I approach these from the perspective of Permaculture Ethics: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. This was what I wanted to ensure I contributed to both events; I am grateful that I was able to sow this seed.

I am grateful that I was introduced to Permaculture before I started to plant. It made me aware that planting trees is not good enough. It is forests that we need- biodiverse man-made forests and food forests or farms in urban spaces that mitigate against the destruction of the natural forests. I sense that Permaculture Based Solutions are a corrective to the mega-projects that are making people redundant while continuing to drive the majority of the earth’s populations to desperation and natural habitats and eco-systems to the brink of decimation.

Signs of hope

JUFA (Johannesburg Urban Forest Alliance) is a small yet promising civil society initiative with the potential to showcase how converting PSHB infested wood into biochar can serve the carbon economy by providing transferable Permaculture and skills training with self-employment, ‘employment guilds’ or skilled potential employees for both the state and private sectors.

Perhaps creating a parallel economy for women in the nutritious food security sector may also be worth exploring. Here too Permaculture Education and Training would add value to the visions that women farmers, including micro urban farmers, have for themselves and their communities. Because permaculture is a set of principles, these can strengthen earth-sustainable indigenous knowledge systems as well.

Yet regardless of politics and economics, the best thing individuals can do is grow their soil, with and without external support! Healthy soil is the basis of the carbon, the nitrogen and the water economies.  And the air. And the food. And life on earth…

The oceans are something else. I have no idea if or how permaculture can be applied there as well. Except perhaps as a systems thinking process.


Sources and Resources








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