Social Permaculture | Beyond the glorious revolution

In 2018 we ran our first social permaculture training, exploring permaculture as a tool for designing communities and organisations. In December this year the team will return, this time to the Ulex project. Alfred Decker, one of the facilitators of the training talks about his journey to permaculture through social activism, and his ongoing inspiration to build sustainable alternatives within the shell of an already collapsing system.

Throughout the 1990’s I participated in the eco-activist and anti-globalisation movement in North America. We did everything we could think of within a non-violent context to stop the destruction of the incredible natural landscapes around us: sitting in trees, hanging banners off of buildings and bridges, blockading highways, locking ourselves to all manner of objects, and so on. 

Photo: Seattle Police Department shoots pepper spray at George P. Hickey during an ongoing WTO protest in Seattle during 1999. Credit:

It was a time of conflict…conflict between “Us and Them”, as well as conflict among “Us”…it seemed like every group was suffering from and often fracturing because of internal fighting. 

I read a book called “Creating A Life Together” which extensively studied intentional communities in the U.S. and Canada. It concluded that 90% of the intentional communities that had formed since the 1970s had failed mostly because of internal conflicts. 

There came a point when I realised that if even the people most involved in trying to create a better world together can’t live or work together very well, then there isn’t much hope for creating the necessary changes in society to deal with the worsening ecological and social crises. 

At another point, I was sitting on a platform high up in a massive old-growth western red cedar tree on the West Coast of Canada. The action was to stop the logging of these lush temperate rainforests that were being clearcut in order to produce pulp and paper products such as toilet paper. I had hours to sit and think and observe the primordial forest – at least, on the side that had not yet been clearcut – while down below a crowd of tree-defenders, loggers, and police were all yelling at each other. I had an epiphanal moment: even though I was defending wild nature and felt totally righteous in doing so, because I didn’t know really anything about the functions and ecology of that forest, I was still a human apart from nature instead of part of it. I had learned the Deep Ecology concept of “I am nature, defending myself,” but in that moment I really didn’t feel like that. 

Photo Credit: Ed Hill

Fortunately, after that epiphanal moment, I discovered permaculture. A poster on the wall of a café announced an upcoming Permaculture Design Course which would train people in how to observe and interact with nature, and there was a contact phone number and mailing address (yes, life really did exist before the internet, as hard to believe as it may be). I had the sense that permaculture was the piece of the puzzle that was missing, and it was. 

Permaculture is a holistic design system for creating sustainable and resilient communities and environments. It offers practical tools for creating productive and efficient landscapes as well as organisations and social structures. Permaculturalists place a high priority on developing resilience – the capacity to withstand shocks and disruptions –  on ecosystemic, community and personal levels.

Permaculture has three ethics: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share (of the planet’s resources; and not just between people, but between all life). Social permaculture is the People Care aspect of permaculture that all too often gets overlooked and neglected.  It asks how can we apply the permaculture principles to groups and social relationships?  Are their other principles specific to human relations that we can discover and apply to make our groups nurturing and flourishing places to be?

In December we will organise a second Social Permaculture course at Ulex, the sister centre of Ecodharma, that will explore permaculture as a tool for designing communities and organisations. We will strive to understand things in terms of connection – between people, economies, and governing structures – and how to create the conditions for humans to flourish on a societal level, as well as how to develop beneficial relationships with the ecosystems which sustain us.

One of the elements that inspires me so much about permaculture is the ability to start to live the way we want, in the here and now, without waiting for the glorious revolution that may or may not ever arrive. We can build social organisations that are efficient, based on cooperation instead of competition, and reflect the values of empowerment and solidarity. We can rework the economy so that it serves people and planet. And by working with nature instead of against it, we are creating a new world within the shell of the old one which is collapsing around us. This gives me hope.  

The Social Permaculture training runs from 7th – 14th Dec at the Ulex Project. For more info contact

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