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Holding back the Doom with a big fat stick

April 5, 2013 | Permaculture, Permaculture Design | 36 comments | Author:


At Milkwood, we spend the majority of our time focusing on positivistic strategies for an uncertain future. This is mostly because the other way of looking at the future has a big flashing ‘here be dragons’ sign on it.

Like everyone else, we know what’s happening out there in the big wide world. We know that there’s many gigantic problems, that the climate is changing, and that our granchildren’s world will definitely not look like this one.

It’s scary stuff. And yes, it does sometimes keep me awake at night. But then it’s morning again. Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can

Part of our resolutely positive attitude has to do with our education enterprise, I suppose. We made a conscious decision with Milkwood to focus on empowering and encouraging people, not scaring them witless with scenarios of doom that they had to ‘survive’.

Mostly because we know that, while fear can be very motivating in the short term (and might be an effective marketing strategy), it is not a good place to be coming from when you’re trying to create long term resilience, or enduring community, or a strong state of mental health.

So we’ve always been very careful with how we’ve talked about and approached the great re-skilling. Because I would rather be motivated by goals of competence and health of my family and community. And we’d rather teach skills and design theory from that same place.

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

As I’ve noted after writing Survivalism is the new Black and Why I’m not down with the whole Zombie Apocalypse thing, there’s another reason for focusing on positivism. The alternative gets everyone very, very upset.

So while I know that positivism won’t (on its own) change the climate chaos, or shift our fossil fuel dependancies, it does do one very important thing:

Positivism allows us to get the hell on with doing what we can, instead of circling endlessly in a loop of statistics, critics, counter critics, debunkers and a general emotional quagmire.

And by positivism I don’t mean some happy clappy it’s all sunshine and daisies attitude.

I mean staring the dragons in the eye and acknowledging that they are there. Then rather than withering in fear, choosing to go plant seeds, teach courses, devise resources, make contraptions, have campfires, cook food, talk to people, get the **** off facebook, learn from each other, support awesome projects, and generally get the heck on with it.

Get the heck on with sharing knowledge and promoting an approach to living and the planet that will be useful no matter what the future holds.

If green-tech or an effective lowering of emissions saves the day, great. We will know how to grow, design and make things that we consider intrinsic to a healthy, grounded life, regardless.

If green tech or an ineffective lowering of emissions does not save the day… we will know how to grow, design and make things that fill bellies, keep families warm, make things work without relying on fossil fuels and can be used to create functional community.

Which is not to say that the findings in the recent Extreme Weather report by the Climate Commision are something to ignore or  take a ‘well at least MY family will be ok‘ attitude to… far from it.

I guess what I am getting that is that after you’ve read the above report, and absorbed all the dire awesomeness of David Holmgren’s excellent Future Scenarios website, and all the rest…

You’ll likely still wake up the next morning. If you sleep, that is.

At which point it will be time to make a pot of tea, and get ready to start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

Which might be to change government policy, cultivate community, fix pipes or birth babies with skill, elegance and grace. And then go home and grow something. And cook. And consider. And sleep. And rise again with the Sun.

“It is not the project but the living process that will be the measure of our actions.” – David Holmgren

>> More posts about Permaculture and future strategies

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  • laurabruno

    Reblogged this on Laura Bruno's Blog and commented:
    An excellent post from the Milkwood permaculture blog. I’ll repeat it once more, because it bears repeating:
    Start where you are.
    Use what you have.
    Do what you can.

    “Little by little, one travels far.” J.R.R. Tolkien

  • Three Cedars Irish Dexters

    Oh. My. God. I was clapping before I got halfway through!!! Preach It!!!

  • Kim Macdonald

    this is great clear stuff.

  • eremophila

    Reblogged this on Eremophila's Musings.

  • Matt Luthi

    Well written – thank you.
    I also like this post from Paul Chefurka that has a similar view on things:

  • mkgreenbean

    Well said.

  • Floyd

    Brilliant work K, couldnt agree more!

  • rabidlittlehippy

    It is so easy to let the fear win but I agree wholeheartedly. Better to do something, anything other than bog down in fear and achieve nothing. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

  • Pierre

    Thanks Kirsten, I needed a bit of sunshine today…

  • lisakamaralli

    Great post, positive and motivating. This attitude applies to much more then just climate change. Life and livingness as a whole.

  • Tracey

    My husband told me this morning that North Korea is threatening nuclear war on the USA. I had a little tantrum – it seems unfair that we’re working to hard on our little piece of green goodness and there are still people out there prepared to do THAT! Reading you post doesn’t stop that, but it reminds me that we’re not alone, we’re everywhere, and we’re all together in this.
    I’ve written it on the blackboard in my kitchen – start where you are; use what you have; do what you can. Thank you.

  • Bruce Miller

    Peace and Love to you! The future’s not ours to know. just live each day and consult Buddah’s wisdoms, “Too Attached”?

  • Mike Gaughan

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for writing this.

  • boo083

    Yay this is an awesome post!

  • marieandtheappletree

    Of course! Enact what you believe. If your focus is positive and hopeful only good things will flow. Hoarding seems pretty boring really. Keep up the good work Milkwood!

  • Michael

    beautifully said K, nice post.

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  • lookinbeyondthereal

    Reblogged this on lookinbeyondthereal and commented:
    Start Where you Are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

  • Marianne Green

    ” Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”
    A simple, wonderful mantra.
    And an excellent article. Thankyou

  • Nadja’s Garden

    Awesome. Elegant. So true.
    Thank you!

  • Pingback: Holding back the Doom with a big fat stick | fckinitalloff()

  • carolannperkins

    I so agree! fear only paralyzes and controls us, hope frees us to do what we can, whatever the climate does we will have to adjust and adapt, and make our own stewardship of the land we live on the best we know how!

  • Genevieve Hopkins

    Thanks Kirsten, great post. I was just starting to feel a little depressed (that little kernel of panic had started to stir again… I’m not doing enough, I haven’t learnt enough etc). This is just what I needed to regain perspective and know that I just need to do what I can, from where I am, with what I have. Much love to you all!

  • Tabitha

    Beautiful. Thank you. Just what I needed to hear today.

  • julie

    Thanks for the reminder :-)

  • Rebecca

    My husband always says “chop wood, carry water”.

  • Jiri

    Good one. The right kind of attitude I’d like to see more people share :)

  • italsista

    Thanks for this post it’s certainly how I feel about it all. Whether our lives plunge into turmoil or not, there will still be rebuilding to do. It’s far smarter to make ourselves and communities more resilient and independent, doomsday or not. Re-skilling, resilience, re discovering our roots, reconnecting with the natural world all have so many fundamental follow on benefits for our social and environmental wellbeing.

    Funnily enough, for a social observation purposes only (ok maybe there was a hint of entertainment value) – I recently downloaded a few episodes of the American TV show Doomsday Preppers. I am not shocked at the number of wack-job preppers – what kind of perplexed me at first was the similarities between off-the-grid permaculture types and so called “doomsday preppers.” They live in a parallel universe. Living in fear of everything from solar flares, government taker overs, massive disease outbreak, earthquakes, economic riots, the list goes on.

    The difference as I see it is – Doomsdayers prepare for disaster (usually the choose one specific event) and generally live in fear, Permaculturalists build for a resilient future based on respect and a deep understanding of human and earth care; we know where we’ve gone wrong thus far and how to fix it.

  • andrew hall

    Excellent article, we at Wildwood are following the same strategy. I think you will very much like this free pdf download which covers the same ground but in considerable detail (how and where to start changing the world).

  • Leslee Wooton

    Very well said.

  • latebloomershow

    Reblogged this on latebloomershow and commented:
    Milkwood Permaculture is my hands-down-in-the-dirt favorite blog. Not just because of the regularity of posts, gorgeous photos, enthusiastic writing, but because they are LIVING it. Way down under! “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

  • Pingback: To town, with a suitcase full of carrots… « Milkwood: permaculture farming and living()

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  • Veronique

    Thank you for your words… Here is a complementary article:
    She says: “The activist’s inner journey appears to me like a spiral, interconnecting four successive stages or movements that feed into each other. These four are:

    1 opening to gratitude,
    2 owning our pain for the world,
    3 seeing with new eyes,
    4 going forth.

    The sequence repeats itself, as the spiral circles round, but ever in new ways. The spiral is fractal in nature: it can characterize a lifetime or a project, and it can also happen in a day or several times a day. The spiral begins with gratitude, because that quiets the frantic mind and brings us back to source. It reconnects us with our empathy and personal power. It helps us to be more fully present to our world. Grounded presence provides the psychic space for acknowledging the pain we carry for our world.”

    • Kirsten

      Joanna Macy rocks the house! Love that lady. Valuable stuff.

  • Veronique

    the article continues with:
    “In owning this pain, and daring to experience it, we learn that our capacity to “suffer with” is the true meaning of compassion. We begin to know the immensity of our heart-mind, and how it helps us to move beyond fear. What had isolated us in private anguish now opens outward and delivers us into wider reaches of our world as lover, world as self.”

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