What would a revolutionary permaculture movement look like? As food shortages begin to sweep the world, the prospect of a Deep Green Resistance—a movement combining relocalization with organized political resistance—grows ever more relevant.

Can Permaculture Become a Revolutionary Force?

By Max Wilbert

As coronavirus unravels global supply chains, wildfires cool in Australia, Arctic ice continues to decline, and 2019 goes down as the 2nd hottest year on record, we all know how bad things are.

Unless there is fundamental change to the socio-economic fabric of global societies, the future is bleak.

Here in the United States, both major political parties are completely insane. Even the most progressive Democratic politicians are only proposing what amount to relatively minor reforms to the economic systems we live under.

Policy proposals like The Green New Deal in the U.S. and plans like the Energiewende in Germany aim to maintain a modern, high-energy consumption lifestyle while only changing the sources of energy we use. Much more is needed.

As we accelerate further into global crisis, we are seeing increased instability around the world. Refugees are on the march, food instability is rising, extreme weather events are becoming commonplace, and as a result authoritarianism is on the rise. Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, and Erdogan reflect the hopes of a fearful population looking for a strong patriarch figure to lead them to safety.

But there is no safety to be had behind walls and armies, not when the world is burning.

Industrial Civilization is Fragile

A founding principle of Deep Green Resistance is the understanding that modern industrial civilization is fragile. While globalized supply chains enable the system to easily recover from regional shocks, industrial capitalism is highly vulnerable to global disruptions, as CoViD-19 has shown.

More of these shocks are coming, as industrial civilization undermines the ecological foundations of life. Soil depletion and desertification, aquifer depletion and fresh water pollution, deforestation, ocean acidification, the rise of dead zones, and overfishing are just a few of the trends.

We are seeing cracks in the industrial food system, which is leading people to question modernity. This questioning is a good thing. It’s essential that we begin a wholesale shift away from high-energy, consumeristic lifestyles and towards local, small-scale, low-energy ways of life. We need to abandon industrial capitalism before it destroys all life on the planet.

Various movements such as Transition Towns and permaculture have been saying this for a long time. Their message is essential, but in my opinion incomplete. The dominant culture has always destroyed and exploited low-energy, small scale, sustainable human communities.

That’s what colonization is. And it’s still going on today. A failure to grapple with the racist violence necessary to maintain and expand modern civilization is one reason why permaculture movements have remained mostly white and middle-class (capitalism, and poor people’s resulting lack of access to land and free time, are another critical factor in this).

Building a Revolutionary Permaculture Movement

Therefore, not only do we need to relocalize, we also need community defense and resistance movements dedicated to pro-actively dismantling industrial civilization in solidarity with colonized peoples and indigenous communities. We can’t just walk away. We have to fight like hell and bring a revolutionary edge to all of our organizing. We have to combine building the new with burning the old. The faster the system comes to a halt, the more life will remain. And there is no time to waste. This is probably the only way to save the planet and guarantee a livable future.

The failure of mainstream political parties of technological solutions are becoming increasingly clear to average people. They are looking for solutions. Popular movements are becoming increasingly confrontational. But still, it is very rare that anyone is able to articulate a feasible alternative to the dominant culture, the techno-industrial economic system.

A politicized permaculture movement has this alternative. A political permaculture movement, allied with resistance movements and working to rapidly re-localize and de-industrialize human populations could provide a feasible alternative to partisan gridlock while demonstrating a tangible real-world alternative. This movement needs to begin at the local and regional levels, seizing power in schools, county offices, water and soil boards, and building our own power structures through localized food networks, housing, labor, and political organizing.

I have heard it said that permaculture is a revolution disguised as gardening. Perhaps it is time to drop the disguise.

Our Pilot Project

In Oregon, Deep Green Resistance is engaged in a community mutual aid project in collaboration with local indigenous organizers and other allies. We are distributing to the community free of charge:

  • Food
  • Seeds and gardening supplies
  • Plant starts
  • Gardening pamphlets and guides
  • Freshly-hatched ducklings and information as to their care
  • Seedlings of native oak trees

native black oak seedling

We have chosen to distribute native oak seedlings because native oak savanna is the most endangered habitat in the country. More than 95% of it has been destroyed since colonization. Second, because acorns can be a valuable staple food. Third, because planting native oak trees (and assisting in the northward migration of valuable non-native food trees) can help begin the transition to perennial food systems while both mitigating and preparing for global warming and biodiversity collapses (oaks are prized by wildlife and oak savanna is an extremely biodiverse habitat).

At the same time, we are also distributing political literature and engaging in (socially-distanced) conversations with our community members about these issues. Our goal is to strengthen and build local food systems, and also resistance networks  with radical analysis of the political situation.

Oregon is perhaps ahead of the curve. It’s a mostly rural state with a relatively small population. It has long been a hub for local food production, permaculture, and relocalization. These projects will be harder to implement in urban communities, and poverty compounds all the challenges. However, the skills to live  sustainably already exist. The barriers are time, funding, political education, and most importantly the will of the people. As the famous saying goes, only ourselves can free our minds. Free your mind and begin to build this new revolutionary transformation.

We hope to see this project replicated around the world. We take inspiration from the many people already engaged in this sort of work, especially those who combine ecological awareness, practical relocalization, and revolutionary resistance. Contact us for more information, to get involved, or to have a conversation about implementing similar projects in your community.

Max Wilbert is a third-generation political dissident, writer, and wilderness guide. He has been involved in grassroots organizing for nearly 20 years. His essays have been published in Earth Island Journal, Counterpunch, DGR News Service, and elsewhere, and have been translated into Spanish, Italian, German, and French. His second book, Bright Green Lies, is scheduled for release in 2021.