The Permaculture Podcast

    Episode 1528: The Commons with David Bollier

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    My guest for this episode is David Bollier, author of numerous books about the commons. This is a topic that initially was a little hard for me to wrap my head around, so rather than try to define it here, I’ll let David’s description a few minutes into the conversation do this subject proper justice.

    In addition to defining what the commons are we also discuss property and property rights, the role we have in managing shared resources both finite and renewable, and how permaculture practitioners can work to create mainstream change through grassroots efforts and alliances.

    One thing I bring up during the interview is The Tragedy of The Commons, an article written by Garrett Hardin in the 1960s, which was my first named introduction to this idea of commons, what they are, how they can be damaged, and what we can do to protect them. I recommend reading that article because of the impact it has had on several generations of conservationists, land managers, environmentalists, and ultimately permaculture practitioners. When you do read it don’t hold on to what is written in that piece too tightly, however, as things change pretty quickly in this conversation with David.

    As we get started if you enjoy this podcast become a listener-member on Patreon. Your support is vital to the continuation of this program.

    You will find more about David’s work and a series of articles at his website, While you are there you can also see his of books on The Commons and pick some up to expand your understanding of all the resources we share together and should manage in community with one another.

    Before heading to my thoughts and other announcements, a reminder that Dave Jacke is teaching a 9 day intensive course on Forest Garden Design from October 2 – 11, 2015 at Feathered Pipe Ranch, near Helena Montana. This is the first time in three years that this course has been offered in the United States. This all inclusive class allows students to learn how to mimic forest ecosystems that include a number of valuable characteristics including stability and resilience. As with the recent interviews with Dave this have expressed, you can also expect this course to explore the human side of design including the social and economic elements. Participants will also have the opportunity to design multiple forest garden, including one for the course site as well as for the 6th Ward Forest Garden Park to be installed in Helena.

    During the last several weeks I’ve been combing through my library and getting back into reading some of the books I consider classics in preparation for working my way through some new to me material on permaculture, the environment, and education. It is in that last place that I was brought back to David Orr’s writing in Earth in Mind, a collection of essays that focus, “On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect.”

    If you’ve never read it, though it’s been over 20 years since the first edition, I recommend getting a copy. Mr. Orr looks at a variety of issues using education as the common language, similar to permaculture using the landscape, but what really frames the various pieces are the environment and communities, that human element.

    At one point David Orr looks at how, just as David Bollier points out, the industrial revolution changed our interactions with the environment, one another, and the connections that we share by being in community. Though we’ve always used resources as a species the last several hundred years have changed the scope and scale of our ability to extract materials from the environment and in turn to change the world around us. What once took generations can now be accomplished in less than a human lifetime. Where before we had to rely on one another, the culture we live in now allows us to disconnect as much as we can afford to do so. We don’t have to build long-term relationships with Earth or the people near us, we can take from some far off place or hire the service and skills of anyone willing to do the work and feel insulated, and isolated, in our personal castle, whatever the form it takes. With that many of us also have the social and economic mobility to pick up and go somewhere else if the place we currently inhabit doesn’t suit us any longer.

    But based on this conversation with David Bollier, and re-reading David Orr, I’m reminded that there are no externalities, as much as that phrase may get used to label pollution and other unaccounted for costs of industrial production, and it is our disconnection from place and each other that allows for so much environmental and ecological devastation. Society and culture move forward at a scale that still sees the world as infinite and allows ongoing extraction of resources and economic subjugation of others, so that the resources we care about go unmanaged for the rest of us and the dirty work of developed society can be cast off to those less fortunate by virtue of forces they have no control over simply by being born in a different situation. There is a systemic roadblock that leads to mountain tops being removed to extract coal, giant strip mines being sunk into the land creating scars on the landscape, water being polluted or sequestered for hydraulic fracturing, and waste being dumped in foreign lands or indigenous cultures being forced to change by economic forces. All in the name of market forces and capitalism, which creates a narrative hegemony as the story we are told and accept is the only way, yet feel very deeply that something isn’t right.

    We as permaculture practitioners have a way to show the world what can be done to make a world where all can live and thrive, abundantly and more locally. We know the land and the landscape. That’s a part of the initial attraction for many to permaculture. That’s great. Let’s keep that up for those of you who are good at getting your hands into the earth and producing food. But there are so many other places for us to plug-in. The community organizers can go and begin forging alliances with our neighboring and related movements. Pull in the transition towners, the slow foodies, the slow money investors. The engineers and architects can design systems that have life cycles that make . Doctors and nurses, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, how can caring for our health be made more accessible, and use less non-renewable resources. I ask because a recent new reports on local talk radio addressed how many plastics and disposables are used in healthcare. What about sterilizing and recycling after use? Lawyers, how can we create laws and systems that allow permaculture to be practiced more readily and to make the things we want to do legal? Where are the leverage points where we can work outside the system without risking everything we have? For those who work in service sectors, from food to entertainment, how can the work you do be made to fall more in line with the ethics of this system of design?

    As a community of practitioners we are not alone in our practices and have a wide variety of talents, skills, backgrounds, and experiences to pull from, but we cannot do this as individuals. Together, however, we have the ability to elevate this work into a broader grassroots movement that can change the world for the betterment of all life and Earth.

    Join me. Let’s do this. Get in touch. Call: 717-827-6266. Email:

    As I prepare to end this episode, a few announcements. First, I’m moving the regular release day for the show to Thursdays rather than Wednesdays, with “Best Of,” permabytes, and other supplementary material appearing on Mondays.

    Second, I am heading to Baltimore on July 11 to record an interview with Victoria of Charm City Farms to discuss the work she and her partner are doing to bring Permaculture to Baltimore. July 13 I sit down with Adam Brock as a follow up to the recent interview with John Wages about Permaculture Design Magazine and to talk about Adam’s role as a guest editor. July 29th, Toby Hemenway and I are scheduled to talk about his latest book, The Permaculture City. If you have any questions for these upcoming guests let me know by the usual ways.

    Finally, August 20 – 23 I’ll be at Radicle Gathering in Bowling Green, Kentucky, running a Permaculture question and answer session on Friday afternoon, a community vision workshop on Saturday morning, and delivering the Saturday night keynote address. Eric Puro of ThePOOSH will also be there as the Friday night Keynote speaker. If you are in the area come out and join in the fun of workshops, live music, and a whole bunch of people coming together to explore how to build resilient communities.

    Up next week in a two-person interview are Dr. David Blumenkrantz with Jen Mendez of PermieKids to discuss Rites of Passage and Initiatory Experiences in community development and education.

    Until then, take care of Earth, your self, and each other.

    1 Comment

    1. MaiaMaia
      July 13, 2015    

      Right on. It is hard sometimes to think of alternatives away from capitalism and ‘monetizing’ solutions!

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