We can downsize, recycle and homestead all we want but consumption, population growth and environmental loss will continue. The efforts of activists, NGOs and well meaning leaders are not reversing human impact. So what is the answer?
How do you save the world?
What do we mean by, “Save the world”?
In this case I am referring to preserving our fellow retaliations, other species and eventually reversing the trend to regain their lost homes.
Homo sapiens have lived in harmony with other species for hundreds of thousands of years. Yet civilization makes human habitation destructive. Civilization has organized humanity to wipe out most species in almost a blink of an eye. That is the real problem we are facing. Our culture needs to think and feel beyond itself.
We seem to care only about what we depend on. An important difference between indigenous and civilized society is where they deriving a living from: the wild vs. domestication. Livelihood includes everything, food, shelter, clothing, transportation and trade. We have to make the majority of our living from the wild or we will not protect it, we will continue to destroy what’s left.
You can be as green as you want and do all the activism you can but it will just buy the wild a little more time. The only societies that have ever survived long-term have tended the wild and never replaced or consumed her. Think long deep and hard about it. If you don’t get this, it’s pointless.
There is a real difference between just appreciating something vs. dedicating your whole life to protecting and nurturing it. The life force that sustains you drives your spirituality. Before civilization, many indigenous peoples shared the same spirituality called animism. Animism has no text. Animism honors the fire of life in the meadow. When you die, you pass your fire on to the next.
A substantial portion of our language needs to be eliminated and new words for subtly of nature need to be added. Much vocabulary in all modern languages perpetuates civilization. Acts and words such as farm, mine, log, extract, resource, consume, garbage, money, finance, wage, debt, job, slaver, politician, election, law, police, war, military, god should never be spoken or performed.
I am referring to a community or tribal commons, not a homestead, not private property. No family is an island. An area large enough to sustain a community or tribe of up to 100–150 people has to be carved out and protected for perpetuity. Start out small and add on to it as time goes by. Think of it as a modern reservation meets wilderness preserve held in trust. The most inspiring restoration effort to date has been by Kris and Doug Tompkins conserving over 24 million acres of land in Patagonia.
Don’t inhabit a prestine wild place, find degraded land and restore it. Ironically, the best thing to do besides take the fences down and remove the roads may be to do nothing. It will take generations in human time scale for nature to begin the succession to heal the land. She will go from an old field, to a shrubland, to a shrub-woodland, to a woodland, to a climax ecosystem. With permaculture we will plant now what we want to mature in the food fores in the future. Select as many natives as possible, they will adapt and self perpetuate best.
Native species may have to be re-introduced. If a forest, remove the non-native species and replant native trees and understory. If a prairie, restored with perennials, forbs such as Maximilian sunflower or Cutleaf coneflower. Wildlife corridors linked, beavers and wolves restored, dams removed. Stand back and let nature heal herself from the soil, to ground cover, to shrubs, to understory to canopy.
Then defend her with your life and she will sustain your’s and your children’s forever with thickets of berries, fields of camas bulbs, groves of nut trees and streams of salmon.
How do we make all of this happen?
Native Americans made a living tending the wild. Hunter gather is a myth. Native American’s had grown a garden of eden from sea to shining sea. They selectively planted, encouraged, relocated to reduced burdens, followed the seasons and only sustainably harvested for 10,000 years. It took Europeans 400 years to wrestle this garden away from its creators.
Wildcrafting presumes that you derive most of your livelihood from the wild. You harvest in a sustainable manner and maintain a low human population which enables permanent habitation of your area. This also presumes harvesting diversely throughout the seasons.
You can’t farm, you have to wildcraft. If you farm, you replace a natural ecosystem with a farm field. Farming is not protecting nature, it is destroying her. They key is wildcrafting, only then will you defend nature in her intact wild state.
The stick frame energy guzzling house is out and the cob cottage or long house with a rocket man heater that can be built mortgage free and just heated with kindling is in. Summer home can be light, airier and pleasant — Winter home cozy and healthy.
Your modern home can take 70 plus percent of your money and working hours to pay for, heat and maintain. You walk away from it with little in this market or nothing if you are renting.
The brilliance of the cob cottage or tipi is that everyone can afford one and they are absolute egalitarian, everyone is equal.
Don’t build a town or village. The key is living with low impact. The camp is the best metaphor. Dwellings must be able to easily come from and return to nature. Share everything you can from food preparation, work space, to sanitation. Everything must be reused or composted. This is not modernity in the woods. If there are modern buildings, consider removing them, they just cost you more to maintain and on your property taxes.
But no one wants to do any of this because they are addicted to the comforts of modern life or bound to it because they have no horticultural, natural building or wildcrafting skills or like minded friends. Nor have access to resources and land because of private prioperty and wage slavery.
A tribal business is the interface between your community and the outside world. It generates money to acquire the commons and more. Every long-term community is based around a business whether a hot springs, education, seeds, or midwifery. There is work for everyone, everyone’s contribution is important, everyone fits in.
Marija Gimbutas’s book “The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe” shows old Europe with a goddess culture and no war. Native American tribes knew no real war until they were attacked by and pushed up against each other by expanding Europeans. War is waged by those at the top for gain and fought by those at the bottom. The waste of almost half of the U.S. federal budget on a standing military is proof that civilization is maintained by force. Typical county criminal justice spending usually rivals health and human services.
Why depending on Nature is the only answer?
Preserves the wild
As long as one does not depend on an intact ecosystem for one’s livelihood, we will never really protect the wild. Civilization is based on replacing intact ecosystems with domesticated monocultures. “One defends what one depends on.”
Ethics arise from the needs to sustain a livelihood. Abrahamic religion ethics arise from a need to preserve civilization’s dominion over nature and hierarchy.
By definition, the wild is not domesticated.
Keeps civilization out
Living from the wild by default precludes civilization and its destructive affects.
The landscape you were born into is not the way earth really looks. Almost all people live their entire lives not knowing what the planet they live on is supposed to look like!
The best example I can give is to spend a day in the old growth redwoods. When you leave you realize for a moment that what you see outside is very different. The trees, if there are any, are much younger and are different species. The native ground cover and understory is gone. As you begin to drive along the coast you realize that the entire forest is missing and has been replaced by housing and lily fields. Except for a few large stumps, everything that used to live there is gone.
Nature naturally limits family size by forcing you live within your renewable resource limits.
Minimizes economic burden
Shifting to mortgage free dwellings and shared services and reduce overall cost of living by 50 to 70 percent. That free funds up to acquire more land or increase self-actualization time. Importantly it enables a much lower energy economy reliant on less capital, resource extraction and domestication. Modern homes subdivisions and cities require too many resources to aquire, heat and maintain.
If 10 families sold their homes or stopped paying rent, together they could buy a large track of land. Do the math.
Improves physical and mental health
Getting outdoors, exercise and eating healthy organic food is the fountain of youth.
Creates new languages
If you are in tune with nature and leave behind wage slavery you speak a different language. Dominion and consumption words leave your vocabulary and Nature’s words enter your senses and consciousness.
Everything else has been tried for 10,000 years and has failed. Ever since the first tribe invaded another to obtain more cows long ago people have been resisting civilization. Civilization would always prevail over tribal peoples because they had more food from domestication which meant more people and resources.
All elements are essential. One has to live in nature, obtain their livelihood from it and also interface with civilization to retain their commons. We have to talk differently to live differently. Needs for survival drive ethics. Nonviolence is essential to prevent being infected by the war meme.
We all can’t go native overnight but this essay is a treasure map. If you read this and my book “Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution“, you have the map in your hand.
There is no other way to save the world. We must derive our livelihood from the intact wild, everything else will flow from there. We can do this, let’s get started!
Watch, “An Invitation to Wilderness: Thriving 23 year old Permaculture Food Forest” for more inspiration. Just add community to the Robert and Robyn Guyton’s food forest and you will really have something. They have restored degrated property wonderfully!
Photo: Indian woman picking huckleberries in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. U.S. Forest Service photo #281588. Gerald W. Williams Collection. Wikimedia.
❦Chuck Burr is author of Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution. Revised Fourth Edition. 10th Anniversary.