Human minds, like no other earthen species we know, move backwards and forwards in time.
That may be too bold a statement. We have to admit we do not really know how other species think, and a little humility is probably in order. There may be lifeforms we share this planet with that are, by human standards, clairvoyant. Our world is a quantum entanglement of life that constantly co-evolves its relationships with companion lifeforms on an otherwise lifeless rock hurling through cold space.
As we try to imagine how we can possibly scale climate-reversing, ecoforestry-based economic paradigm shifts quickly enough to matter, we return to our oft-repeated premise: the problem is more social than technological.
We don’t need to discover anything to do this. We know how to do integrated agroforestry that more than pays for the effort after re-establishment; indeed, it provides hefty return ratios of food, fiber, water and social resilience in volatile times. This is a ten-thousand year-old technology. Despite unprecedented climate, energy, political and financial shocks, we know how to draw carbon down from the greenhouse blanket. We know how to make cool labs that offer myriad rewarding microenterprise opportunities from cascades of beneficial products and services that, when all is done, leave beneficial biochar deposits in soils for millennia.
We know how to cascade ecovillage designs into eco-districts, eco-regions, and eco-nations — all sequestering more carbon than they emit and transforming human civilization from a destructive, consumerist, extractive meme to probiotic, symbiotic, circular human ecosystem that heals the damage we have caused since first disturbing the earth with fire, irrigation and the plow — guns, germs and steel.
What we lack are the experienced guides to show us the way. Many of those we could have had fell as victims to genocide centuries ago.
When we were at the International Permaculture Conference in London in 2015, we urged those we met to raise a Permaculture Army. We were not in jest.
In 2015, we met with the multigenerational peoples of a remote valley in the Dominican Republic that, with the entrance of a new road and a bridge across a seasonally impassable river, had been slated for unrestrained tourism sprawl. We took the time to listen to their dreams.
Because of quick action by a far-sighted alternative development partnership to coalesce government and landowners and thwart the cultural invasion (at least for the moment), that valley has been rescued from the fate of so many scenic places overrun by hotels, resorts, restaurants and spas in search of the quick buck.
So, what do those people dream? Given the choice between the tourist trade and their heirloom paradise that traces their own and the plants’ and animals’ genetic lines back to the time before Columbus, they naturally chose… neither.
In formal design charrettes and informal gatherings, they made it clear they had no wish to perpetuate their current situation. They lacked basic health care. The ocean fish stocks they depended upon to feed and provide for their families were disappearing. No-one wanted to buy their coconuts. Their children left for school in distant cities, lost their valley ways and as soon as they were old enough, moved away to find low paying jobs in order to acquire motorbikes and iPhones. What the elders asked for were local health clinics, local markets for coconut and fish, and a school that would teach skills most useful to improve their lives, like regenerative agriculture and sustainable fishing.
Providing the health clinic is not difficult. We quickly found local markets for coconut and fish. Examples of schools that meet the specifications of the village are also not hard to find. One of the best is John and Cynthia Hardy’s Green School, opened in September 2008 with 90 students and a tailor-made campus that emerged from the jungle and rice fields of Bali. It has since grown to approximately 400 students.
The Bali campus is designed around the principles of an organic permaculture system, and the students cultivate an organic garden as part of their learning activities.
Buildings are constructed primarily from renewable resources including bamboo, local grass and traditional mud walls. The campus has been reported as an example of the large-scale building potential of bamboo architecture, especially “The Heart of the School” — a 60-meter long, stilt-structure constructed with 2500 bamboo poles.
In January 2015, the Green School high school students launched the Bio Bus, a student-led social enterprise to provide sustainable transport services to Green School students, teachers and community. This initiative looked at solving the transportation system to the rural setting of Green School, which mainly consisted of private cars, carpooling and motorbikes. The Bio Bus now has three 18-seater buses that run purely on biodiesel (B100) made from used cooking oil.
The school consists of four learning neighborhoods — Early Years, Primary School, Middle School & High School. Special programs include Green Studies, environmental science, entrepreneurial learning, and the creative arts. The structure is the Three Frame Day which includes the Integral Frame, the Instructional Frame, and the Experiential Frame.
The school “prepares students to be stewards of the environment, teaching them to be critical and creative thinkers, who champion the sustainability of the world and the environment.”
Now imagine a Green School like that going into that valley in the Dominican Republic. One can be in every ecovillage. They, or something very similar, already operate in many of them. We have such a school at The Farm .
If solutions to climate change are to be found, they will come from those with the most to lose.
Prof. Guy McPherson, by way of explaining why he left the conventional state-run university where he was a tenured professor, said recently:
I was using classroom anarchism as my approach. Anarchism means taking responsibility for yourself, and for your neighbors; learning from each other. In my classrooms I would just show up with a list of questions and then, Socrates like, I would just throw questions at them.
I gave them all the notes I would be using to teach on the first day of class. So they had everything I had. They could just read ahead 20 minutes before the class started and they knew everything I knew, except what I had in my head. So we just had a conversation.
I was pointing out that there is another way to live. There is another way to learn. There is another way to teach, beyond what almost everybody is exposed to.
This is how we will train our change agents. We will build ecodistricts like in the Dominican Republic and we put Green Schools there. They needn’t be just the Green School for children. They can offer vocational retraining and enrichment courses for adults. In these places we can also build Cool Labs, as microenterprise incubators, and as part of the lifelong learning immersion pedagogy. The labs can also offer business opportunities for graduates.
Last year while we were at the COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakech we had the opportunity to travel 15 miles out of town to the edge of the Agafay Desert with ecosystem regeneration visionary and filmmaker John D. Liu. There we visited the glampsite of Terre des Etoiles and worked alongside Hopi Rainkeepers building stone check dams in desert wadis. Behind the check dams, where the Hopi knew the soil would accrete when it rained, we planted tree saplings that Terre des Etoiles founders knew from their studies would withstand the harsh conditions and eventually reestablish a Mediterranean forest, holding carbon and pushing back the desert.
Styled like a Bedouin oasis, Terre des Etoiles offers adventure visitors a night in the desert. It has a kitchen garden and organic farm with horses, camels, goats, rabbits and hens, Berber-rugged bivouac of ten tents, with showers done in traditional Moroccan tadelakt (lime plaster), traditional food and a scenic bar with local beers, honey wine and shisha pipes. After dark a jaw-dropping expanse of stars fades in over the snow capped peaks of the Atlas mountains.
John Liu was there because, like ourselves, he was interested in how humans can learn to live on this world without destroying it. After documenting China’s progress of restoring the native ecology of the Loess Plateau, he came to the conclusion that ecosystem regeneration is our only possible future. Solving the climate dilemma is not about flying halfway around the world to attend a conference, listening to presentations, drawing up mind maps on a white board, photographing that and writing a report. It is about growing biomass, building soil, and restoring healthy, healing ecosystems.
More importantly, Liu grasped the potential of youth as the principal agents of the great change that has to happen. After all, those born before 1980 lucked out. They’ll be dead of natural causes, if nothing else, before the real climate catastrophe takes hold (if we are lucky). Anyone younger than that is going to get a stern taste of the Anthropocene to come. And those kids are already starting to realize they have the most to lose.
Once they fully appreciate the direction we’re headed, why would someone who will most likely live long enough to suffer the second half of the 21st Century not be motivated to change their future?
Research into the teenage brain has exponentially exploded over the past decade, from 2,734 citations in 2003 to 5,885 citations in 2013 to a cumulative 118,909 citations in print as of last week.
We now know that overall brain size plateaus around age five, followed by significant and rapid reorganization beginning around age eight and lasting into the early twenties. If bigger brains were smarter brains, then African elephants and some whales would be 50 to 75 percent smarter than humans. Smart comes not with size, but with separating wheat from chaff. Our brains are still organizing that part and we age into our 20’s.
The most notable rewiring during teen years occurs in the frontal lobe, which is responsible for organization, planning, decision-making, working memory, and impulse control, among other executive functions. Teens and 20’ers are risk takers, which is why since the dawn of history they have been thrown into uniform, given a weapon, and sent into combat. Youth, with unpruned neurotransmitters performing at lightning speeds, overcome obstacles and learn faster than adults.
Liu has devised a new means to harness the energy of youth to transform their future, and just maybe save their lives. With support from Regeneration International, the Permaculture Research Institute, the World Permaculture Association, Global Ecovillage Network, the Club of Rome and the Commonland Foundation, he has selected severely degraded locations to set up Ecosystem Restoration Camps. A grassroots movement to back his ideas has been growing since July 2016. The first camp is on the ground now in the Altaplano region of Spain.
With over a 1000 pledged members coming together, in 2017 Liu’s objective is to finance and manage the first Ecosystem Restoration Camp and from there to help set up more camps worldwide. Already a broad community of researchers, landscape designers, farmers, gardeners, engineers and many other professionals are converging on Spain.
Re-enfranchised youth from over 75 countries are working shoulder to shoulder, just like our small group that left the COP22 conference and went to join the Hopi Rainkeepers last year, moving rocks and planting trees. This first camp, and the camps that will follow, will restore the surrounding landscape and restore ecosystem functions. They will cascade environmental, social and economic value.
These are the Cool Schools of the future, or SCOOLs. There are opportunities for everyone to help but it is mainly the youth of the world who will make this happen. And at night, around the campfire, they will sing, dance, and look up at the stars and say, “this is what it is to be human.”
This post is part of an ongoing serial we’re calling The Power Zone Manifesto. It is a series of building blocks that describe our existential climate dilemma and the only possible way to escape it. We post to The Great Change and Medium on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. We offer ecovillage apprenticeships, including Cool Lab trainings, this year at The Farm in Tennessee April through July and will be teaching a full permaculture course in Ireland in August. We will be on speaking tours in Brazil, Germany, India and China in late 2017.