Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Super-Size Me!

In 1933, the economies of the world were in a shambles. Many factors are believed to be involved, but the cause is not what this post is about. Nor is it about the cause of the current depression that is still dragging on today. It's partly about what the US did to try and stem the tide back then but mostly, it's about what options we now have to take those lessons and go much further.

In a nutshell, US President Roosevelt managed to create a federal agency called the Public Works Administration (PWA) in his first term in 1935 whose mandate was to set up large scale public works through private contractors to employ scores of people and put them to work building infrastructure throughout the entire country. Hospitals, schools, hydro-electric dams, highways, railways etc. etc., nearly 8 million people were employed from 1933 to 1943 (wiki links here and here). Yes, the administration could have been done better and yes, I do agree that certain projects should have changed location (e.g. Mount Rushmore, I'm sure that certain First Nations peoples would much rather not have four American presidents in their sacred mountain), but you cannot argue with the math.

Between 1935 and 1943, nearly 8 million people were employed by the PWA. It is estimated that for every person employed in the PWA, almost 2 were employed indirectly. That means the total number of people actually supported by these projects was closer to 16 million. That is a hell of an investment into the security of a population. And that's just the paycheques.

The projects undertaken by the PWA were such that they brought the greatest benefit to the larger populous and not just the families on the payroll. The electrification of rural America, 70% of the schools built at the time and every town got a park because of these projects. The hospitals, the highways, the massive earthworks that were set up all across the southern states to protect the remaining soil from further wind erosion. How many lives did the public works make better? How many were saved?  
We are at a point now where that kind of stimulus is desperately needed. For more reasons than they were necessary in 1935. For this time, food production is much higher on the priority list. The "Green Revolution" eradicated independent, local food networks in many places around the world, i.e., in the 30's they mostly grew food, now we mostly don't.  Luckily enough, applying Permaculture Principles to the issue makes all of the problems fall into place as solutions. I'll take you through it.
The problems facing, well, the whole world actually can be boiled down to:

I don't think I need to bore you by continuing for very long on this one. It's a fact that the food production system pushed by the Western Powers and the IMF is broken. Did you ever see the tension go on a driveshaft while being operated? That kind of broken, where flailing, solid metal bars smash into everything around it, filling the air with shrapnel and screams.   
It doesn't have to be that way. It really doesn't. Incorporating food production into projects that are going to happen anyway is not hard. Moving tons of earth into soil retention mounds like the WPA did in the 30's? Then treat them like swales and plant food forests in the troughs. Trees and plants will move in there anyway so why not choose the kinds you want for maximum benefit? If done thoughtfully and with a view to gaining the absolute maximum yield for your investment, you can create food production sites, wildlife habitats, water harvesting/cleansing systems, a solid base for local economy, significant and highly relevant up-skilling of the local community and workforce AND the original purpose of soil retention mounds and paycheques. And all of the added extras come by making the natural processes work for you. It's really not difficult once you start looking.

The necessity to use natural processes in our favour is clearer nowhere else like it is for the water cycle. The alternative is inoperable, even today we are failing at making a human system do as good a job as the natural systems.
The water cycle is largely based on there being trees in an area. Water evaporates from the leaves of trees and forms clouds far easier than it does from the surface of large water bodies, and of course this fact is very handy for areas that don't have large water bodies nearby. This also means, no trees = no rain, a phenomenon that is already measurable in many parts of the world.
Luckily enough, the above point about using massive swales to plant food forests will incorporate trees to a large degree. So really, you are not just growing food, you're growing rain too. Rain that will fall on nearby places and re-invigorate fields, rivers and lakes. So again, by considering the overall system, additional benefits can be achieved with very little extra effort and the investment returns keep growing.

Living Conditions
I'll put this bluntly: If you asked them, the majority of people who are living in cities today would leave for the country if they had the real viable chance of being able to make a decent life for themselves. Cities are swelling because less and less people can make a living on the soil. It is not a choice if your alternative is starvation.
However, designing projects that will serve to return the land to abundance through water catchment, soil remediation and intensive reforestation will not only give people the opportunity to work in the initial stages. Once the projects are completed, the land would still require a certain level of care from trained inhabitants. So really, these projects could easily be designed to not only address the short-term needs of kick-starting local and national economies, but to also be the foundation for much longer term solutions to the problems facing all of us.

Health of Population
With unhealthy food and crowded living conditions, its no wonder that the rates of chronic diseases has climbed even while the rate of acute disease has fallen. These chronic diseases can be largely attributed to two factors; diet and stress.
The diet, already dealt with above. Permaculture + public works = abundance of healthy food produced at local levels.
Stress, well what are people stressed about? Food and shelter are the main ones right? It's often completely out of someones control whether they can or can't survive into next month because they don't control their paycheques or food source or where they live. You can't possibly stay healthy in those circumstances, the stress will kill you in the end.

Giving people back a sense of security through giving them control over their food supply, giving them the opportunity to be in control of their income, or making solid, affordable homes available through programmes promoting food production, entrepreneurship and off-grid, natural building all based on Permaculture principles can give people that chance to feel secure in their lives. Erasing insecurity and giving people a chance to breath causes stress levels to drop significantly.
Good food + good homes + minimised stress = a far healthier and robust population. And THAT means decreasing the burden on public and private healthcare systems by reducing the incidences of preventable, chronic, diseases. Which reduces the burden on the taxpayer and on government resources. Everybody wins!
As far as I can see it, Permaculture does not make empty boasts when it states that the problems of the world are solvable when looked at properly. A lot of time, money and human effort has been spent trying to treat the symptoms of our false economy instead of taking a long, clear look at what's causing the symptoms. Would you hand a drowning man a towel or haul him bodily out of the water?
Why are we treating our world any different?

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