Comprehension

 

We want to design places where people feel comfortable and have free and open choices of activity and association. Therefore, attention to human needs and the ability of people to comprehend the world around them is important to design. Comprehension starts with considerations of scale and complexity of elements, technology and organizations. People relate comfortably to "human scale" items and organizations where they have a sense of understanding and can exert control over their lives and decisions. As size and complexity increase, people may become less able to comprehend their personal relationship to things and events.


In Introduction to Permaculture, Mollison and Slay call for use of small scale intensive systems. "Small-scale, intensive systems mean that


1.much of the land can be used efficiently and thoroughly, and

2.the site is under control." (pg. 19)

It is important not to try to spread out too quickly and achieve too much. It is better to start at the doorstep and work out from there. The focus of permaculture is on designing to the best advantage of scale using a mixture of human labor, a gradual establishment of perennial plants, mulching for soil moisture and weed control, use of biological resources, alternative technologies for energy and a moderate use of machinery. Plant stacking, taking advantage of plant species that grow at varying heights above the ground, and time stacking, the overlapping and mixing of crops and animals by seasons and years to get continuous production, are two ways of gaining more intensive use of land at the small scale.


John Lyle, in
Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development, discusses some of the problems of matching technology to need (pg. 40-41).

"The economics of industrial technology, involving low-cost fuels and assumptions of unlimited material supplies and unlimited waste sinks, allowed overdesign of support systems, often to an absurd degree."

Water saving irrigation techniques, for example, "are often not used because they are relatively expensive and the price of water is kept low by heavy subsidies by the federal government." Other examples related to use of nuclear power, mechanical systems in buildings, and automobile vs. mass transportation can be given.

Appropriate technology to meet needs may not necessarily be the most advanced. Some guidelines for selection of appropriate technology include:

•Use the best, lowest level, technology to meet the need. This will help avoid using technology for technology's sake.

•Use the best, non-polluting technology to meet the need. This will help maintain the quality of the environment by providing a choice among near-equal technologies.

•Use higher levels of technology for tasks that are dangerous or overly stressful to the human system, keeping in mind that the technology itself may be dangerous, wasteful of energy or polluting.

•Use technology that minimizes human energy expenditure while maximizing the creative and rewarding nature of personal work. It is not intended that machines replace people but that they create an atmosphere for personal challenge and growth by reducing dangerous and ill-rewarding tasks.

•Use technology that can be built and repaired locally. This is the bottom line on 'appropriate' and many of us would be in trouble (or have our lives simplified) if we had to fully apply it.


The issue of comprehensible social organization is addressed by Gene Marshall's
Empowering Independent Regions (Permaculture Activist #33, pg. 8-12). His model views society as being composed of economic, political and cultural processes and suggests that these components can be brought under control through local empowerment by such actions as:

•defining the "local neighborhood, community, and region in relationship to... biome, continent, and planet,"

•creating "a local empowerment vanguard" in the region,

•creating "a research and training cooperative" in the region,

•claiming "culture-building power as a vanguard group and as neighborhoods and communities,"

•recognizing and supporting "local, sustainable businesses,"

•creating "worker-owned-and-operated cooperatives of sustainable quality,"

•creating "local buying cooperatives and trading associations,"

•creating "regional fiscal institutions that support sustainable, local economic empowerment,"

•claiming "empowerment for county governments,"

•creating "a county governments' association" in a region,

•beginning "steps toward full democracy: neighborhood assemblies, community councils, and regional councils," and

•creating a "regional constitution" and demanding "appropriate recognition by the wider social arenas." The result of such actions would be to return understanding and control of human affairs to those most affected by decisions and lessen the power held by multinational corporations, state and national governments.

 
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