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Principle 3: OBTAIN A YIELD You can’t work on an empty stomach
The previous principle focused our attention on the need to use existing wealth to make long-term investments in natural capital. But there is no point in attempting to plant a forest for the grandchildren if we haven't got enough to eat today. This principle reminds us that we should design any system to provide for self-reliance at all levels (including ourselves), by using captured and stored energy effectively to maintain the system and capture more energy. More broadly, flexibility and creativity in finding new ways to obtain a yield will be critical in the transition from growth to descent. Without immediate and truly useful yields, whatever we design and develop will tend to wither while elements that do generate immediate yield will proliferate. Whether we attribute it to nature, market forces or human greed, systems that most effectively obtain a yield, and use it most effectively to meet the needs of survival, tend to prevail over alternatives.
A yield, profit, or income functions as a reward that encourages, maintains and/or replicates the system that generated the yield. In this way, successful systems spread. In systems language these rewards are called 'positive feedback loops' that amplify the original process or signal. If we are serious about sustainable design solutions, then we must be aiming for rewards that encourage success, growth and replication of those solutions. While this may be self-evident to farmers and businesspersons, there is a consistent cross-cultural pattern where rising affluence leads to dysfunction and cosmetic environments replacing functional and productive ones. The original permaculture vision promoted by Bill Mollison of urban landscapes full of food and other useful plants rather than useless ornamentals, provides an antidote to this dysfunctional aspect of our culture. Even in poorer countries, the unexamined aim of the majority of development projects is to enable people to escape the need to maintain functional and productive environments, by full participation in the monetary economy where 'Obtaining a Yield' becomes a narrow and destructive process dictated by the forces of the global economy. The nouveau riche model of success, in which the functional and practical are banished, needs to be replaced with honest acknowledgement of sources of affluence and real measures of success. Generations of wage and salary culture in more developed countries under both capitalist and socialist models have led to an extraordinary dislocation between productive activity and the sources of our sustenance. In assisting middle class urban Australian's facing the challenge of a more self-reliant rural lifestyle I have explained that it's like becoming a businessperson. One of the fortuitous spin-offs of the largely dysfunctional and cynical "Economic Rationalism" of recent decades has been a partial revival of awareness about the need for all systems to be designed to be productive in some way.
© 2004 David Holmgren