One of the aims of the Sustaining Time project is to provide materials that can open up discussions around the relationship between time and attempts to move towards more sustainable economic models. As part of this interviews were conducted with a range of people involved in thinking economies differently, including Katherine Gibson (Community Economies Collective), Anna Coote (nef), Sam Alexander (Simplicity Institute) and more. These will be published as part of the Temporal Belongings Interview series which looks at the realtionship between time and community from a number of different angles.
In the first of the series, I talk with Andy Goldring, CEO of the Permaculture Association about the relationship between permaculture, economies and time. He makes the case for why permaculture practitioners should move towards becoming economists. He also gives a inspiring account of how to work for the long term, developing more poetic ways of living, valuing play and why we need to take back the calendar.
London Permaculture (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Another organisation I’ve visited recently is Lammas, a planned low-impact eco-village in North Pembrokeshire. I attended the recent Low Impact Experience week run by Hoppi Wimbush and also interviewed some of the villagers and volunteers. There are lots of notes and interview transcripts to go through, but I wanted to share some initial observations about possible links between permaculture and developing a more critical relationship to time. As Chris Warburton-Brown from the Permaculture Association has pointed out, “unlike other finite resources that are in short supply in post-industrial society, most of us in the environmental movement have not yet formulated much response to the shortage of time we often experience”. So one of the questions we wanted to look at in this research project is, if permaculture is a design system for working with finite resources in a sustainable way, how might it help us with our widespread feelings of time pressure?
One really interesting issue that came up in conversations about time and permaculture while I was at Lammas related to the idea of zoning. In fact this issue arose as part of a discussion about how permaculture was more obviously about space than about time. That is, seeing permaculture as a way of designing space seemed most obvious and intuitive. Zoning, of course, provides a perfect example of this. This is the technique of locating plants, animals and other features based on how often you interact with them. So trees for coppicing would be planted further away than herbs which might be used daily in cooking. On the other hand, you could also argue that zoning is also a way of designing time. It minimises wasted time, for example, by ensuring that you don’t have to walk right to the back of your garden every time you want a sprig of mint. But more than that, zoning seems to involve judgements about which rhythms you need to be most aware of and which you can pay less attention to.
I couldn't help thinking it would be really interesting to explore how these kinds of decisions are made. What kinds of conflicts arise in the process? What happens when a rhythm or cycle that you thought you didn’t need to be so aware of (and so placed further away) actually starts becoming more important? Does explicitly considering the differing cycles involved in your work processes (e.g. once a day for compost or once a decade for coppicing) create a more sophisticated and multi-layered sense of time? How might this kind of decision making process be used in daily life to manage the differing rhythms of work, family, volunteering, friends, leisure etc? I think it’s really intriguing to try to think of clocks as devices for zoning time. That is, they bring some rhythms closer to our daily attention while backgrounding others (see my paper on this [PDF]. My favourite example of this is the way that a clock can generally tell me whether I’m late for the bus, but not whether we are too late to mitigate climate change. One might say that in this case the bus seems to be included in Zone 1 (nearest to 'the house'), while the climate is in Zone 5 (in the ‘wilderness’). This is of course a real problem, so how might we zone time differently if we paid closer attention to permaculture ethics and principles when we designed our clocks?
Forest Garden (Shikigami2011 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Another issue that we discussed was stacking, where a permaculture designer aims for multiple outputs from a single process or space. So rather than planting an area with only one crop, you layer it with useful ground-cover, shrubs and trees. Again, in a way this seems to be about a more complex approach to space, rather than industrial agriculture where one field = one crop. But might this also work as a method of more sustainable time management? I thought initially that this might mean trying to do multiple things at the same time, although this can often lead to the dreaded stress-inducing need to ‘multitask’. So perhaps it can be more about designing your work so that a single process provides multiple benefits at the same time? Here the more general aim of reducing the amount of labour required to grow food through attentive design (e.g. Fukuoka’s Do-Nothing Farming) is also important.
Finally, in the organisations I’ve visited so far, the issue of how to negotiate the way time, money and value have been inter-weaved within capitalist systems is coming up as a central issue (see this previous post). Many people are reducing the time they spent in waged jobs in order to use this ‘free’ time to develop businesses based on non-capitalist models. The impact of opportunity costs, particularly loss of monetary income, are weighed up against increased meaningfulness of their work and knowing that they are contributing to developing more sustainable ways of life. Those making these decisions still have to deal with the weight of others’ expectations and sometimes their own conflicting feelings about their choices. It seemed that the permaculture approach to accepting reductions in outputs from a single source in order to have a net increase in benefits might be an interesting way of thinking through this dilemma. For example rather than maximising wheat production over all else as we see in monoculture farming, a permaculture farm might produce smaller amounts so that other useful crops can be enjoyed as well. In the case of those moving away from maximising income, there seems to be an effort to move towards a more diversified understanding of value creation, where time might sometimes ‘produce’ money, but might also be used to grow free local food, to build community, to enhance one’s skills or just to enjoy life more. Thus reducing the production of one 'crop' in order to enjoy others more.
So these are just a few thoughts from the work so far. I’m sure some of them have already been explored in permaculture literatures and practises and so I'd be really grateful comments or recommendations.
Rush Hour by Tuan Minh Pham
Chris Warburton-Brown is the Research Coordinator at The Permaculture Association and in this post he explains why Permaculture UK got involved in the Sustaining Time project.
Wasting time, spending time, giving you my time, running out of time, investing time, in your own time... all of these common phrases suggest that we see time as a finite, own-able resource like any other. And it would be fair to say that most of us feel that resource is often in short supply in our lives as we try to reconcile the demands of work, family and leisure. But unlike other finite resources that are in short supply in post-industrial society, most of us in the environmental movement have not yet formulated much response to the shortage of time we often experience.
This is all the more strange when we realise that our relationship to time as a finite resource is intimately linked to our relationship to other finite resources; oil to fuel rapid transport, electricity to power labour saving (i.e. time saving) domestic devices, farmland or forest lost to build road, rail and airport infrastructure. The slow food movement has made these connections and recognised that locally grown and cooked food made using craftsmen skills outside of the industrial food and transport systems will be slow food. They have set an example for us to follow. All of us with an environmental perspective on the world should be thinking hard about our relationship to time and how we might apply the same principles of conservation, use reduction and alternative approaches that we have come to take for granted with other finite resources. I hope the Sustaining Time project will help us with that thought process.
Exploring the time of the new economics
If clock time helped build industrial capitalism & the idea of a speeded-up, networked time supports late capitalism, what kind of time would support alternative, sustainable economies?