In this episode of Sense-Making in a Changing World, I am so delighted to be exploring how permaculture and the financial system intertwine – and not just through numbers – with Della Duncan.
As a renegade economist and permaculture educator, she believes that the new economy we want to see is one that we should be exploring and putting into practice – so we can learn how to shift how we use money in a way that benefits the planet.
Together, Della and I explore the economic dimensions of permaculture.
Like me, Della has also spent a lot of time at Schumacher College (she completed her MA in Economics for Transition) and she works closely with Fritjof Capra and his course, the Systems View of Life. Della also runs a podcast – the Upstream Podcast!
She teaches financial permaculture on several Permaculture Design Courses throughout the Bay Area of California, and is also part of the Work that Reconnects, following Joana Macy’s work.
Della is also:
- a Senior Fellow of Social and Economic Equity at London School of Economics
- a Gross National Happiness Master Trainer
- a founding member of the Doughnut Economics California Coalition (DECC)
- a Senior Lecturer at the California Institute of Integral Studies and Gaia Education.
Read more – her article in Kosmos Journal: Cultivating Right Livelihood.
Read the full transcript:
Welcome to the show, Della. It’s an absolute delight to have you here with me to talk about permaculture from an economic perspective, a financial perspective. One of the things that you describe yourself, as in the many things that you work on, is you describe yourself as a Renegade Economist. So welcome to the show and please, can you describe what a Renegade Economist is?
Yes, so the inspiration of calling myself a Renegade Economist came from Kate Raworth, who is the founder of Doughnut Economics, which is a new goal for our economic system where instead of focusing on growth, we meet human needs within consideration of the needs of the planet and our ecosystems. So somebody called her a Renegade Economist and I heard that and I just loved that. I delighted in the ways that she challenges mainstream economic thinking and invites us to rethink economics and I aspire to be a Renegade Economist just like Kate Raworth.
I was also inspired by that and I wondered how we could incorporate that sense of renegade permaculturist concept to the work that we do. I think it already is somewhat of a renegade movement and maybe just living into that a little bit would be a thing to do. But I wanted to begin this conversation, I think you are an economist or you have economic training, is this right? You studied the transition economy at Schumacher College and you have a deep interest in the economic system and you’re exploring it from a deeply ecological perspective. I wonder whether you could just share a little bit about what you see is wrong with the current economic system? What are the things that are in front of us that we really need to be focusing on to understand in order to start to either unravel that or create an alternative system? What are the things that you see that just simply need to be understood about the economic system?
So a few come to mind, one is that economics has wanted to become as rigorous or as scientific as mathematics or physics and this is not to say that math and physics is not beautiful and art filled and even philosophical, but as economics is wanting to become increasingly mathematizable, it’s had to adopt certain assumptions around our relationship with the more than human world and our relationship with ourselves and who we are as human beings. So one aspect of being a Renegade Economist is making visible those assumptions and rethinking them or questioning them. So for example, there’s an idea in mainstream economic thinking that we are humble economics, rational, self interested beings, who simply want to maximize our own self interest and also see work as the disutility, we want to work as little as possible. So that’s an assumption about who we are as humans and it helps with the mathematizability of economics. And that, I would say, is one root cause of a lot of the challenges that we see. It leads to scarcity, thinking competition, survival of the fittest activity, when we as humans also can be kind, compassionate, and altruistic beings. So it really leaves out that part of who we can be as humans.
Another is our assumption around nature, this idea that nature can be commodified, that it’s an object that we can price nature, that we can find a price of nature and say exchange it for like, we can put a price on carbon or on an ecosystem or on water. Another view would be perhaps in alignment with more indigenous wisdom traditions, where actually nature is our relatives or nature has inherent or intrinsic value beyond its usefulness to humans. So again, those are just two examples, but there’s these assumptions underlying mainstream economic thinking that I think are leading to the ecological, political, social and economic challenges that we face today and to be a Renegade Economist is to reveal them and to bring in a participatory group collective conversation around them and to rethink them so that we can move towards economic systems that are more regenerative, just, and sustainable.
I was listening to one of your conversations on your podcast app stream and I was listening to you in conversation with Jason Hickel and I think something also that he really talks about that brings it home too is I think we have in our minds that there is a deep connection between democracy and capitalism. That if you’re a part of a democratic society, you have a capitalist system. I wonder whether you could just talk a little bit about what is wrong with the capitalist system? And what are the key features of that underpinning, our thinking that’s causing the demise of nature and of humanity?
One way to rethink this element is Richard Wolf, an economist, he once told me, “How can we say we live in democracy when we walk into a workplace or a capitalist, top down, hierarchical workplaces? We leave democracy at the door. Because our workplaces are inherently non-democratic. They’re inherently top down.” So the capitalist business structure is one way that we can see democracy is not equal to capitalism. In fact, it’s a dictatorship. The bosses or the shareholders really, truly, make the decisions and have the power. So that’s one way to do it. Another way is to look systemically at capitalism. So when we look at capitalism and how we have these capitalists and then the workers, we see that when we look historically there were certain legacies that led to this supremacy of capitalists in our current system. Karl Marx called this primitive accumulation and some people say it’s accumulation via dispossession is in that it continues on to this day. But basically, those who own capital, they own the means of production, have gotten that power and that privilege to own the capital through legacies of colonialism, of slavery, of land theft, of genocide, and also exploitation of nature. So that’s another way those things are also inherently non-democratic. So there is a deep power imbalance inherent in capitalism. Capitalism is the supremacy of a certain group over others and that is completely antithetical, not equal to have a democracy. So yeah, I definitely am of the opinion that we cannot have democracy and capitalism, the two cannot exist.
What about growth, our obsession in Western societies, in particular with the growth model? Can you just unpack that a bit, this idea that growth is actually the goal. You’ve done a lot of work in terms of looking at gross national happiness and alternative indicators of how things are going. So maybe if we could just start with what’s wrong with the growth model and what are some alternatives that we could be looking towards in a way that would be in enhancing nature, enhancing humanity, enhancing all life on the planet?
First, I just want to appreciate that you and I are in a community of systems thinkers. We’re in a community with Fritjof Capra and the Capra Course and Systems View of Life community and I feel like bringing in the words of Donella Meadows here and speaking about looking at the goal of our systems as one of the highest leverage points. So it’s a beautiful question that you ask, what is the goal? Whether it’s, again, unspoken or visible. So the goal, typically, in mainstream economics for an individual is wealth accumulation. We see this if somebody says, “Oh, I took a pay cut” or, “I have a job that makes less money” It’s seen as going down or backwards or a lateral move if they just make the same amount of money but a similar job or a different job.
What if the job gives them so many better things in their life? Like more time with their children, or more opportunity to practice permaculture, or more passion, more purpose, those metrics are included. Then for the business level, the goal is seen as profit maximization. The growth of profit. And it’s not just that you make the profit, it’s that that profit grows. So there’s just this ever accumulating and ever growing hunger for profit growing for businesses. So that’s for the business realm. And then for our economic systems, the goal is GDP growth. So GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the total exchange of goods and services. That number is seen as the sign of health or progress or the development of a country and GDP is such a reductionist view, because it doesn’t take into account any other things that might be important to us. So fortunately, there are so many movements, and theories, and practices, and communities that are prototyping and exploring alternative goals at all three of these levels. So in the role of the individual, asking folks what’s really important to you. For example, I’m a Right Livelihood coach. So centering, passion, and purpose, and our service to the world, or our contribution to the world as being that which we aligned with our work path. So then in our businesses, there’s a whole realm of not for profit slash hybrid businesses where profit is redirected to social and environmental good. So that’s another beautiful model, but the whole nonprofit space in general, I would say is mission driven in itself, benefiting social and environmental good.
Then on the systemic level, whether it’s the economy of a city or a state or a country or globally, there’s a large, beautiful movement of people saying, “What is really important to us? What ought to be the true goal?” And so we do have in Bhutan, the inspiring story of gross national happiness, where the King of Bhutan told a reporter that GDP is actually not what’s important to us, what’s important to us is gross national happiness and it’s a way of viewing happiness not in a pleasure seeking hedonistic way. The former Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Thinley, once said, “True abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer and comes only from living in harmony with nature, serving others, and realizing the true and brilliant nature of our own lines.” That is the goal of their economy. And so they have a whole holistic way that they measure that, which includes ecological diversity and resilience, our time use, our health and well being, community vitality, and cultural diversity and resilience, as well as others. So that’s how they measure the success, or the wealth, or the progress, or the development of their country. But then there’s also the blend of your movement out of Latin and South America, there’s the economy for the common good movement out of Austria, then we have in New Zealand, in Wales, and Scotland at the national level, thinking about well being and centering wellbeing as the goal of economies and then we also have the Doughnut Economics model, which I touched on briefly. But again, that’s the meeting of human needs while staying within the needs of the planetary ecosystem.
So all of these, we could say, are in the realm of post growth. Because what they do is they say, “Growth is no longer an end goal in itself, it’s not something that we’re seeking, we’re not just seeking endless growth. Because as we know endless growth is not possible on a finite planet and in fact it’s causing so much ecological and social harm, and so instead growth can be a means to an end, but not an end in itself.” So this is the post growth model and Kate Raworth would call this being Growth Agnostic. Just to add to that, because we do acknowledge that some countries are way beyond their ecological footprint, their one planet living, so to speak. This is where the work of Jason Hickel comes in, that in the Global North we really ought to be looking at degrowth. Because if we accept human and planetary wellbeing are flourishing as the new goal of the economy. We would recognize in many places in the Global North that we’ll actually need to degrow. And so there’s a whole degrowth movement and that is a really exciting and beautiful space, because they can have a win, win, win, for all and can include things like grey water projects, living with less energy, share shops, collective or community activities, just like permaculture. So that’s the whole perspective on a post-growth and degrowth world for the Global North.
Thank you for articulating all that so beautifully and to bring us to this point here with degrowth and in all those scales that you talked about. I see how degrowth can be really embraced by the permaculture community or other communities. How is it, in your mind, that you see these new frames able to myceliate further and faster at the kind of scale that the world needs these ideas to be rippling out right now?
I’m asking this question, because often you hear the conversation saying that that’s all well and good. But in order to keep progress going, we need to continue this. What are the kinds of arguments or ways of sharing this that we can take it from being something that smaller communities are doing in places to take it out into the broader conversation? Or, in fact, is it because there are people everywhere doing this degrowth work that the change will happen? It’s a scale question, I think, and a pace question because of my sense of urgency as well as the need for change to be happening. How is degrowth being embraced in the system’s change model as opposed to just being in the smaller community groups that are embracing that as a way forward?
Yeah, absolutely. We need to think systemically at a global scale right now. It is beautiful for folks to embrace degrowth and one planet living in their personal lives is beautiful for communities to gather together and to make them more ecological and just inequitable, that’s very beautiful. And we need to be doing work at the global scale. So the ways that I’m doing that and the ways that I invite folks listening to do that, first, there’s kind of five invitations here. One is to lead movements. So pick a strategy or a tool that would be supportive right now in the regenerative economics or financial permaculture space and take a lead. So some include embracing Doughnut Economics, the public banking movement, complementary currencies, and another would be a debt jubilee for the Global South, another would be a global minimum wage, another is reparations for the Global South; these are just some ideas. So first invitation, take a leadership in it. So for me, I’m taking the lead in Doughnut Economics. I’m part of the California Doughnut Economics Coalition. So that’s one place where I’m taking the lead. I’ve also taken the lead in the public banking movement.
So the second is following a movement. So participating and following, we’re asked to show up either in a protest, or a march, or an event, or a conference, even if it’s online, or to show up financially, to donate, to support, or to show up for petitions, and all of that type of work, to follow and to take leadership of others and offer where our support is most helpful. The third way is to uplift messages. So for example, us having this conversation, perhaps there’s someone who had never heard of a public bank who might just go and look into it, or Doughnut Economics and might pick up Doughnut Economics bouquet rewards. So simply speaking more about these topics and ideas, uplifting them, spreading them, sharing them, discussing them, making sense of them. That’s another way to keep this move going forward. Another is to join a movement. So join a movement of folks that are doing this work so the degrowth movement, the post Growth Movement, the new economy movement, the next economy movement, Buddhist economics, feminist economics, Marxist economics, ecosocialist economics, Via Campesina is another great organization, join the permaculture movement. So join a movement of people so that as a movement you can embrace and forward these different ideas.
And then the last way is to embody the idea or the practice where you can for example, me moving money from an extractive bank to a credit union, me traveling to Bristol and using the Bristol Pound instead of a pound, so a local complementary currency, staying at a cooperative, or a local and independent bed and breakfast instead of an Airbnb. So embodying and practicing going to a cooperative grocery store where you can. So that’s where we embody. So I think it’s at all these levels and to know that you are a part of the movement. You don’t have to be the lead of all the things, but where can you contribute to the things that you care about at all these different levels and see also holistically how we are part of a larger movement. Because we are and that’s what’s exciting.
That’s fantastic. Thank you. Because I think that’s often the challenge that people find is feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of when you throw in addressing the economic system and how enormous it feels to most people. Realizing that all of those things that you just said are ways to act and make a difference and it’s that collective action and awareness and understanding. So I wanted to bring us back into that kind of permaculture thread that you just tossed in there beautifully. What is the way that you see permaculture being able to show up more in this space? And what are the ways that you would like to inform the permaculture movement more with this understanding? Because I know that you focus on financial permaculture, what does that mean to you and how can permaculture really embrace this even more and amplify its ability to sort of step up and speak up in this space?
Just to say, I am not inventing this. I’m coming from a lineage of folks exploring financial permaculture and social permaculture as well. So I’m sharing from a long lineage of people who are practicing and teaching who I’ve also learned from. One of the ways to bring this what we’re talking about into the permaculture space is to return to the three principles of permaculture: Earth care, People care, Fair Share. Often in people’s experience, that fair share part is not as elevated as the earth care and the people care. So what would it look like for us to really dedicate some time as to what does fair share mean at the systemic level, not just like a seed bank or a seed swapping or a shearing activity, which are beautiful, but when we look systemically, how can we ask ourselves about income inequality, wealth inequality, land back movements repatriation of land for indigenous folks and also the reparations movement that I shared. So how can we kind of scale our conversations and our actions around fair share in permaculture spaces. So that’s one. Secondly, I know folks are already doing this, but I love thinking about financial permaculture or social permaculture, this space as the zone 0.0, meaning the zone in our head. So I really am talking about beliefs and paradigms and worldviews and values. So in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig says, “If we take down a factory but we don’t destroy the quality of thinking that created it, a new one will simply pop up in its place. If we take down a dictatorship and we don’t destroy the quality of thinking that created it, a new one will simply pop up in its place.” So it’s this idea that no matter how beautiful our permaculture spaces are, the more that we can interrogate and investigate our own worldviews and our own paradigms, a lot of which are shaped by mainstream economics, then we can radiate out in our widening zones. To have even more Earth care people care and fair share. So investigating our paradigms and worldviews and values in permaculture courses and connecting them with economic systems, that’s another piece that feels important.
And the third way that I like to think about this is that you have your zone 0.0 that I mentioned, then we have the zones of our Permaculture Design site and then I like to think of financial permaculture as the radiating circles of zones beyond the site and considering those as well. So one beautiful invitation that I’ve received and also practice in permaculture courses, is walking around the site and seeing systemically. So picking up a shovel and saying, “Where’s this shovel from? What are the qualities and conditions that made it? Was it made ethically and sustainably? What’s the material that it was made out of?” We can do that with anything on our health. So looking at the ownership of the structures on the land, the financing, and the investment of how our decisions were made. But also, what circles is that design site a part of and how can we have more participatory democracy, or a thriving local community, or better relations with the indigenous groups, maybe a land tax we pay the rent activity. So it’s that kind of widening spheres of zones that we also consider and a story with this, I got to interview Sarah Corbett, who’s a Craftivist in the UK, and she did this lovely thing where she did something called shop dropping and she would go to extractive and exploitative stores where it was like sweatshop labor and made with unethical materials and she would drop little scrolls into the clothing and then when people would try on the clothes, they would unravel them, and it would say, “If clothes could talk, what stories might they tell? Stories of exploitation and harm or care and well being?” So it was just like a light invitation for us to think systemically. So again, inviting that into all of our permaculture projects.
And then also, what are the regenerative economic models that you can weave into your design site? So is there a tool shed, or a tool library, or a bike shop, or a share shop where people can have a library of things, a community fridge for food that would have been gone to food waste that can help with food deserts, even a little free library, also going from ownership to stewardship and bracing a land trust. What’s the decision making model? Is that a cooperative or collective or is it top down? Is it for profit or nonprofit? Is there a profit generating activity that feeds in and fun submission driven work? So all of this, I think you can ask. So again, Earth care, People care, Fair Share thinking about zone 0.0 and then thinking about the zones beyond your design site. So zones 6789 to infinity, even the planetary system, how is that a part of your design project? So that’s how I would answer financial permaculture in the lens of a permaculture course.
Great. Thank you for sharing that. The whole way therefore the permaculture can show up because of that ethical framework, because of the fact that it’s coming from this ecological paradigm, because you’re entering into every single interaction through that questioning lens, it does give the opportunity for us to radically shift what is going on. I wonder what the tools are? You mentioned just about 100 different tools just then as you were explaining, I wonder whether there’s some tools that you have in order to bring people together? So what are the social permaculture tools that you’ve found that have been useful to help amplify the financial permaculture side of things? Maybe something like citizen assemblies or how to take out to that next level? What are some ideas or strategies that you’ve experienced that you found to be really helpful in this?
Let me offer two. One of them is economics can often feel quite heady, quite theoretical, some people even think it’s boring, or what does it have to do with them. So I love to bring people into the economy to talk about their lived experience within it, to really feel that we actually cocreate the economy and so we can cocreate a more regenerative, unjust economy and so actually bring embodiment practices into my facilitation, like we act out the economy, we play different roles physically, we do kind of constellation work in that regard. But I also do kind of physical reaction activities to certain parts of the economy and also our lived experience in it. So that’s one piece, bringing our bodies and ourselves, making economics, not something outside of us, not something far away that only economists can have a say over, but something that we are a part of co-creating all the time. So that’s one thing.
But the second thing is, and this is really, I have to say largely because of the people who invited me to teach on their permaculture design courses. I usually lead half a day on financial permaculture and then the second half the day I leave the work that reconnects and the work that reconnects if folks are unfamiliar, Joanna Macy is the root teacher of The Work That Reconnects. An EcoJustice, Buddhist philosopher and activist in Berkeley, California in her 90s, and The Work That Reconnects really allows us to go into our grief and anger and hopelessness and fear of what’s happening in the world, both ecologically and socially but also personally. To honor that pain, to see it together, and then to practice seeing it with new and ancient eyes. So practicing systems thinking that we’ve talked about, practicing eco-spiritual traditions offerings from that realm, exploring our view of time, looking at Seventh Generation thinking from indigenous wisdom traditions, for example. So practice seeing with new and ancient eyes, also practicing in a sense of an ecological self. Looking at, what is the self and what is the more helpful way? What if we were an ecological self, part of a web of life?
And then going forth, so going to a practice of now, “What can I commit to? What can I take with me?” So this isn’t just a lovely day, but hopefully it’s a lovely day, but that they’re then going forth with some commitments and actions, also accountability buddies, and they’re part of a community of practice, of learning, and of contributing to what Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning, which is another frame for this time that we’re in. So I would say those are two tools or practices and then for one permaculture group in Santa Cruz actually lead regular work that reconnects courses. So it complements the other work too. So I would say those are two that I bring in to deepen the work of the financial permaculture to make it more a lived and embodied experience and to encourage and support people in going forth to take steps in their life to become more a part of the movement.
Yeah, fantastic. I love the idea too in having communities of practice that it’s not just they’re exploring it and then it ends, it’s this constant opportunity to keep connecting, and keep having conversations and as you go out and then it sort of settles more that you can come back and circle around and be part of this ongoing learning. I think that makes a whole lot of sense. It’s something that I really work hard at trying to create within the permaculture communities and we have both within the youth movements, but also in those people who are looking to become permaculture educators. We have a lot of threads of connection too with refugee communities and I wonder if we could just talk a little bit about reconnecting the Global South and the Global North and what are some of the ways that you’ve been exploring to not just focus on what we’re doing in the Global North, but ways that start to address the inequalities and the economic downfall that has come through in so many different countries? And how do we conceptualize that? And how do we start to repair that? Where do we begin?
A lot of the work that I do at the moment is simply bringing everyone together in the conversation and finding ways to support different projects. But I wonder whether there’s something different that I could be focusing on? It’s quite a personal question, really. I’m wondering if the area in which I’m working, putting the effort to the best effect? Or is there some more systematic way that I could be approaching this work? And within the permaculture movement, how can we be addressing the inequalities far more?
It’s a really beautiful question. Some ways that I explore it, because I, too, am simply exploring and asking these questions, I am no expert in this realm. But one of the things that I do or I tried to do is really try to decolonize my mind but also the work that I do. So I’m so heartened by the decolonization movement all around the globe who are really looking at what the streets are named after, what are the monuments like our buildings, and are interrogating, questioning, learning the history of it and in some cases, taking them down and changing them. That’s really heartening, that’s one area that is also doing this deep healing work. So undoing white supremacy, looking at white privilege, and there’s so many study groups and books right now, for folks who are both white, but also settler colonialism backgrounds. That’s really heartening there. And then, I think the main thing is this thinking systemically to really presence, include uplift, and even center the global south in our work. So for the podcast, one of the things that we get to do is working on documentaries and so we always try to include voices from the Global South, whatever the topic is. Actually, we’re currently working on a piece. I was really shocked in a meeting once where somebody said, “A green New Deal in the Global North means an open casket for the Global South.” This is where the impulse for this documentary that we’re working on came from and what they meant was that if we don’t address growth, like you were talking, and we simply our growth addicted and we just tried to change our energy systems and our economies to green that’s going to require so many so much extractivism and over the places that are not only most harmed from the ecological devastation of climate change or in the Global South, but the extraction and extractivism is in the Global South. For example, the lithium triangle in Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. So that led me to learn more about this and to share perspective, and voices, and stories from the global south. We interviewed one person who’s a youth climate activist in Argentina and was like, “Hey, what’s happening to us in our world?” So again, it’s that uplifting considering reaching out to the folks and voices from the global south. So that is one piece and embracing and learning about decolonization and undoing white supremacy, so that’s one element.
Another element that I’m interested in is reconnecting with our Neo-pagan ancestral traditions if we are of European descent. Because the Christianization of the world has happened everywhere, and unfortunately has come with colonization and with capitalism, and so instead of culturally appropriating indigenous wisdom traditions or other eco-spiritual traditions of a global South, How can we heal and repair our own Neo-pagan, earth based, or sacred traditions in European ancestry? So that’s one other thing that personally I’m exploring. But then thinking systemically, like these bigger policy proposals, which again, people can lead, follow, join the movement, participate in, or uplift, some of them include in a really – I’m totally drawing from Jason Hickel’s work here. So please, if you want to know more, look into his amazing books, Less is More and The Divide. But one of them really is advocating for a debt jubilee. – So many countries in the Global South are still indebted and have largely paid off the principal and they’re just simply paying off the interest and so Jason Hickel says, “Actually, the global south is developing the global north and financing their wealth.” So a debt jubilee for the global south and supporting leadership and movements that advocate for debt restructuring and debt jubilees in the Global South, that’s one. Supporting indigenous sovereignty. We know that indigenous communities are excellent caretakers of the natural world, so supporting and being allies and advocates for movements, for indigenous sovereignty, and indigenous rights movements all over the world and the global South, particularly. Then a global minimum income or a global minimum wage. Again, this is Jason nickel, but a really interesting one, what if everyone’s hour was equal and what if there wasn’t a race to the bottom. Where global south countries have to compete and continue to lower labor standards and environmental standards to draw in what’s necessary and then, of course, reparations, or climate debt repayments, all of that. So again, this returns to this birth question where if we embrace a doughnut or wellbeing economics, there may be places and there may be areas that do need growth in terms of infrastructure or basic needs being met. It’s just what are their metrics? And how could that be financed? So that’s why this wealth transfer or reparations and debt jubilee would be things that I think would be absolutely helpful for that movement.
Thank you. I wonder what metaphors we need to be using to start to bring forward this new story in a way that people connect with. It’s like you were saying before that, that the economic system sometimes feels a bit out there. In order to really be able to share this new story, for us to communicate in a way that then someone else can take it up and it gets moved along. It’s a shame that this kind of the growth metaphor has so many other connotations. I wonder what other kinds of ways of languaging and talking about this will land me to myceliate this new story?
I have several that come to mind. Well, one of them you just wrote. You just said myceliate, I’m thinking about a fungi economics. What if we modelled our monetary systems on mycorrhizal fungi. The redistribution of wealth beneath our feet, the Wood Wide Web. That’s one thing I love thinking about is what happens when a tree dies, how information and wealth is redistributed. So that’s one inspiration, one metaphor, fungi economics. Another nature inspired metaphor would be returning money, currency to current, current water. So thinking about how we want water to flow and we don’t want water to siphon off, be diverted from the main river, and go into stagnant pools of wealth hoarding which are tax havens and tax evasion, right? We want it to keep flowing to where it’s needed. So what if currency acted like currents? So that’s another metaphor that I like to think about.
And then you mentioned growth and the problem with growth because we do have this like, I want to keep growing and keep developing, I don’t want to stagnate, right? And I hear that. And one alternative way to think about this, Rob Hopkins, who’s one of the cofounders of the Transition Town movement coming out of Totnes, England, where they have and they are trying to spread a whole movement of towns – transitioning from fossil fuels and transitioning and many other ways as well. Rob Hopkins once told me, he said, “Okay, so I have a son and I do want my son to grow to a certain height, and then I want him to stop growing. (laughs) And actually, at that point, I want him to grow in other ways. Like his interest, and his quality of character, and his personality.” So, again, what are your metrics? What are your indicators of success?
A mentor of mine, Dr. Ha Vinh Tho, the former Program Director of the Gross National Happiness Center, says, “We are attentive to what we measure.” So instead of seeing in our minds, this line going up and up and up this exponential growth curve, so to speak, what if we saw a circle? What if we saw a doughnut? The doughnut is a metaphor. But what if we saw a circle of our needs? And then the planetary boundaries, and the goal was this holistic meeting of human needs collectively, while staying within the planetary boundaries? So that’s an alternative metaphor, and goal, and image that we can hold.
Then another one, just because I have to name a permaculture principle, since I’m talking to you, is the principle of waste equals food. So circular economics is another beautiful field of focusing, what if it was Cradle to Cradle? And we had circular economics.
So just imagine folks listening, if you bought something from IKEA, maybe like a table and used it until you were done. Maybe you don’t like it anymore, or maybe it breaks. What if you returned it to IKEA and they had to repurpose it and bring it back? I see where I am, there’s so much waste that is actually Ikea furniture. So how beautiful would that be? And actually, to tell you the truth, there are people working on this in IKEA, like they’re actually working on this. And there’s many other beautiful examples of circular economics as well. But just to bring in a permaculture principle to this metaphor, conversation.
And then the last one, one of my favourites. This is the metaphor from two feminist economists, Gibson-Graham, they write under the pen name Gibson-Graham together, and they’ve written about how we have a global sea of capitalism and many islands of alternatives. Those islands can be like the sharing economy, the gift economy, the Buddhist economy, the next economy, the new economy, the cooperative economy, the Solidarity Economy, the cooperative economy. And what if our goal was to raise these islands out of the sea and connect them and make them more inclusive? Why I love this model is that it tells us that there are times when we participate in capitalism. If I go into Whole Foods owned by Amazon, I am participating in capitalism. But when I give a ride to my neighbour, or when I go to a seed bank, or when I go to a library, or a share shop, or use a complementary currency, or a credit union, or a nonprofit, that’s not capitalism. Those are all alternative economic systems. So actually, I’m performing and participating in alternative economies all the time and it’s not just enough for me to participate in them and live in my own island, my own bubble, but to expand them, to grow them, to connect them, so that it’s a wider movement and to make them more accessible to all. Not everyone can shop at the local independent, cooperative, regenerative, organic grocery store, how could we make it so? What do we need to do to make it so that everyone can live in the new economy or the next economy and participate in it? So those are some metaphors that come to mind. But I love your question.
You know, as we were talking about the islands I was thinking about how often I explain it in a way of thinking about this mycelial network and that all those things, instead of being islands in the way I describe it, they’re like the mushrooms popping up. And when you sort of add extra compost to those, then they mature and then they spore, and then you get billions of spores landing as long as we can sort of create those fertile environments for those to land and to continue.I really liked the island one, too, I think that’s great. And I think there’s this languaging of the kinds of changes that we’d like to see that needs to be seen in the world. I think it’s important and really to bring our economics concepts of the new economy into something that is not this sort of dry economic out there kind of conversation that’s only for the so called experts, but something that brings back home, back into ourselves, back into our community, back into our culture, and back into place. I think really focusing on that languaging is important and it also shifts where the power lies. I also think it shifts where the leadership lies. Because I was going to ask you about where do you see the leadership in these movements being, but I don’t know whether that’s a very effective question because it’s kind of everywhere is what you’re saying, is that right? Or do you see the certain threads that are really pushing the boundaries? Like, where are the spaces that are really inspiring you right now that are kind of pushing past what we feel okay with at the moment and opening new doors in our mindscapes for this?
So I will get to that. I was just wondering, do a lot of people know about the work that reconnects? Like is that something you’d be laboured on your podcast?
I would love for you to articulate.
So what comes to mind when you ask that is the work that reconnects theory of change model, because I think it’s a good addition here to think about how change happens and where this, like you said leadership lies. So in the work that reconnects again, Joanna Macy, the root teacher, there’s something called the Three Dimensions of the Great Turning and we can see these as the three areas that our work can fall within or can be a part of. So she has holding actions, it’s one of the areas of the great turning, which are people and actions that are saying no to something. So they’re holding back further harm and suffering from happening, and alleviating or healing, harm and suffering from happening. So who would be leading that space? Activists, right? I’m thinking about those at Standing Rock, for example, or Julia Butterfly Hill and a tree. It’s also our whistleblowers. So folks who are drawing attention to harm or exploitation that has happened. It’s also journalists who are covering, or writing stories, or revealing harm and sufferings that have happened like the lithium triangle and what’s happening over there in terms of lithium mining. But it’s also the healers, anyone who’s doing healing acupuncture work, therapeutic work, somatic work, social workers. So it’s all those people who are healing, harm and suffering that has happened. So that’s one area. Saying no to further harm and suffering from happening and healing harm and suffering that has happened.
The second area is, I think a little bit more of where you were talking about, this area of designing systems, or thinking and new systems, creating systems, systems designers. I would say it’s not like there’s one or two particular people I would say are leading this, I would say pick an area of life and there’s some beautiful, innovative, exciting, and innovative ideas in them. So in education, which is not my field, but we have like the free school movement, the unschool movement, the wild school movement, – probably messing that name up – homeschooling, but also Waldorf Steiner, there’s all sorts of beautiful innovations there. Then in the agriculture space, of course, permaculture and biodynamic, regenerative organic, No-Till, there’s some beautiful regenerative agriculture, regenerative forestry. All of that world and those folks are leading the systems designing new and also drawing from ancient wisdom, ways of living in harmony with nature, then we have products, goods and services, biomimicry, or ecodesign folks, we have it in our businesses, the benefit corporation, the worker, self directed nonprofit, the worker cooperative, we have it in finance. The carbon coin or seeds, cryptocurrency or complementary currencies, public banking, credit unions, the list is expansive there. Then in government. We have participatory democracy, participatory governance, citizens assemblies that you mentioned. So there’s a whole bunch of people doing work there and we could go on, whatever your field is, there’s got to be some people who are saying how do we move this to being more just regenerative and equitable?
And then the third area is the area of the shift in consciousness. So this is changing the paradigm, that 0.0 that I was talking about. So these are our artists, our poets, our musicians, our muralists. But there also are spiritual teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh who passed away recently. These are our writers, George Monbiot, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Tyson Yunkaporta. So these are the people who are expanding, or changing or are rethinking, looking at the ways we live in the world and challenging, and changing, our paradigms and worldviews and our values. I would also say parents, parents are in that realm too. Raising the next generations, and I probably missed so many people.
Just to say, you asked me what’s exciting. I would say in which area and like in which area of the great turning and also in which area of life and when you think of it like this, you’re like, “Wow, there’s so much going on and it’s so exciting.” And again, you don’t have to do all of it. You just tap into where you are feeling called and I think this is important. I love this idea of we are called to the place where the world’s deepest hunger meets our deepest gladness by Frederick Buechner. So it’s this idea that like, what is it that breaks your heart? if you’re feeling overwhelmed by our conversation right now and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh. There’s so much that needs to happen and there’s so much to learn. It’s like, well, what do you care about? What breaks your heart? Where’s the world’s deepest hunger showing up for you? And where does that connect with your deepest gladness, what makes you come alive, where you thrive, where you step into flow, put those together, that’s where we need you. That’s where you go and start there. And again, either lead, follow, participate, join a movement, or uplift. They’re all welcome and they’re all appreciated right now.
Thank you, Della. I think that, in a way, it’s just a beautiful place to wrap up this conversation because it’s a calling, that’s the call to action right there what you just said and where it is that it deeply touches and you feel connected to this, because it’s global, it’s everything, it’s everywhere. And we can’t do everything, but we can definitely show up with all of our wholeness, where we feel that deep sense of deep connection, deep heartfelt connection, and where it is that when we start to act in that way and interact, it feels some kind of flame, it brings us alive, we feel more alive when we are interconnecting in that way. For me, personally, that’s just been my life. I don’t know how to operate in any other way, except to show up in that way. And I know that when I start to feel like a little bit dying inside and constrained or this sort of constriction that’s going on, that I need to really pay attention to those things again and to refocus and to and to reconnect more deeply. It feels to me like that suggestion, that offering, that invitation that you just brought into the conversation, that is probably one of the most profound things that we could be hearing from this conversation and to really reach out into that and connect with others through that process, too.
Thank you, Della. It’s such an all-encompassing whirlwind of exploration of what economics means in a full and whole sense and to see where permaculture can weave into this and inform this and that all of these other different things can be the door which opens you into this world. You may come in from all different angles. Permaculture is not just simply a thing of the thing. It’s a doorway, to enter into this worldview, into this potentiality of connecting and acting for one planet way of life. And that feels like it connects with what you’ve just said. So thank you so very much.
Thank you. May I close with one story? First, I’m just thinking of permaculture really can be seen through the lens of all three of these. It’s what we want to say no to and the holding actions in the ways that we do ecosystem restoration work, and healing of our soil, and also our pollinators, and also the greywater systems, and fire remediation, all of that world. It’s our new systems designs, and then it’s our shift in consciousness, like you’re saying these new paradigms and worldviews, but I also just want to close with this idea that the founder of Schumacher College, he once went to the London School of Economics and he said, “How can you call yourself a school of economics without a Department of Ecology?” And he was referring to the root, the etymology of economics. Oikos Nomos comes from Greek, that’s the root of economics and it means management of our home. Which of course, we have to know that right now it’s the management of our planetary home and also who’s responsible for managing our planetary home? Is it not all of us in our own unique way, contributing to the flourishing and to the thriving and the management of our planetary home? But secondly, the ecology or ecos logos, that is knowing our home, so we need to deeply know our home in order to be able to manage it. So he was saying how can you call yourself a school of economics without a Department of Ecology. So I just want to, again, uplift permaculture is a beautiful way or many beautiful invitations for us to deeply get to know our home, the seasons, the gifts of our home, you know having a sit spot, or working with plants, and noticing the health of our soils, of our waters, of our trees, of our plants, of our animals. This is all deeply important to economics. So just again, making that connection there, and uplifting the importance of this conversation. Thank you so much Morag.
Thank you Della.