Sector analysis: identifying risks and designing solutions

disasterriskreduction, permaculture, sector analysis

I love so many aspects of permaculture: the delicious food produced by permaculture gardeners, the sense of global and local community it fosters, the sustainable changes it has supported me to make in my life and the beauty in the nature it helps me see. At a more pragmatic level I also know that permaculture gives individuals, households and communities the tools, attitudes and skills we need to design abundant, inclusive and resilient futures.

This mix of sustainability and resilience is one of the delightfully simple, yet complex aspects of permaculture. A well-designed and managed permaculture system will be resource efficient, productive and may well sequester greenhouse gases, but it will also be a resilient system better able to deal with the inevitable effects of climate change such as natural disasters like floods or wildfire.

The potential for disasters happen when systems can not handle extremes or cumulative stress. One week of limited spending may be a challenge, but a medical bill on top of long-term debt and structural poverty may force a family into homelessness. Water is essential for life, but the extremes of either drought or flood-causing torrential rain can cause havoc in both natural and human systems.

Designing land, the built environment, lifestyles, livelihoods and organisations to deal with extremes as well as everyday conditions is essential for resilience. Resilience is the ability of a system to handle change. There are many ways in which permaculture design and practice supports resilience. In order for designers to design for resilience, they first need to understand what extremes are most likely to have an impact on a site. This is why careful observation and sector analysis is so important for a successful project.

In this video from the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course I get really excited about sector analysis and visualised data like wind roses. Then again, I am really excited about permaculture and regenerative design in general.

Sector analysis is a critical tool for visually representing observations about identifying how a site may be affected by the “sectors” or the external forces and elements that move through or otherwise influence a project. The sectors recorded can be related to effects on the site caused by climate, ecology, geology, topography and society. For example sun paths, wind and rain patterns, invasive plants, wildlife, pollution, neighbours, areas of high fire threat, views and noise could all be recorded on a sector analysis map.

Sectors are often represented as labelled wedges, arcs or arrows representing the origin and direction of the element. However, rocky areas, contaminated soil, boggy land, or areas of flood risk are better represented as location specific patches over a base map. Some uncontrollable issues such as geological instability or limiting factors such as legal restrictions are harder to represent visually and are best recorded in writing.

Sector analysis maps are visual representations of the external factors that can influence a site being designed with permaculture. Sectors such as summer and winter sun, wildlife and prevailing winds are often illustrated as arcs or arrows representing where they come from.

In the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course (PWGPDC) my colleague Jennifer English Morgan introduced the idea of Designer’s Mind. One aspect of developing Designer’s Mind is about making observations free of bias. The forces recorded on a sector analysis are neutral and can be both beneficial or harmful. For example knowing that dry summer winds come from the east of a site helps identify the best place to locate a laundry line or to hang produce for drying. At the same time that drying wind will quickly evaporate water from soil as well as dams or ponds. This information guides the placement of windbreak plantings or hedges on the eastern side to moderate the impact of the wind and reduce evaporation.

Used together with permaculture design tools such as zone analysis, sector analysis helps guide the placement of components so that they make best use of, or mitigate the risks of that sector. Sector analysis influences which zones are placed where, but at the same time, zones influence the strategies used to respond to external forces. In outer zones such as 3 or 4, lower cost, less energy demanding solutions such as windbreak plantings are used to slow the wind. Closer to the home more intensive solutions such as walls or use of gray water might be used to protect water-demanding plants, animals and people from a drying wind.

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A drying wind may put your garden at extra risk during low rainfall months, but it can also be used as a resource and allow for the optimum placement of laundry lines.

Permaculture designers make a sector analysis for every design project whether it is a farm, balcony garden or community project. Within larger designs, major subsystems such as high intensity vegetable beds may also benefit from their own sector analysis that includes smaller scale micro-climate influences like the impact of trees casting shade.

Working on sector analysis is a great way to review and incorporate the ideas from Permaculture Design Course modules on climate, ecology, water, earthworks, soil and passive solar building design. Knowing how and why to make a sector analysis is a first step in designing mitigation approaches for the major extremes whether they be fire, flood, drought or legal challenges.

You can learn more about sector analysis and other aspects of permaculture design and practice in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course (PWGPDC). Along with my colleagues we’ve put together an online learning experience which includes advanced modules on social and emotional permaculture as well as core land-based permaculture content.

In the PWGPDC I present an in-depth module on Designing for Resilience: Chaos and Catastrophe. I consider the social and structural conditions that make people more vulnerable to disaster as well as the design approaches we can use to make our sites safer. My final Masters project explored how natural hazards are dealt with by permaculture designers and teachers and my results showed that “designing for catastrophe” is currently focused on the physical aspects of disasters rather than the people care aspects that increase coping capacity.

What is freely given and what is stolen

disasterriskreduction, diy, permaculture, permaculture principles, research, Uncategorized
Lichen.jpg

The Maths Captain and I finally put our electric motor to the test and took The Runcible Spoon, our long-refashioned sailboat over three hours and 12 kilometres up the Danube to Ottensheim for Ottensheimer Cremeschnitte (not just any Konditorei cream slice, but one with a special dash of redcurrant jelly). E-motoring back down to Linz with the current took just an hour and ten minutes but even so, such a journey is a little tedious when you’re not sailing but especially when you discover the cooking gas is empty and you can’t cook an adventurous cup of tea in the tiny sailboat “galley” on the floorboards. (Boat tea is the best-tasting tea ever).

The journey back was made far a little more exciting as I had collected fallen twigs covered with lichen at the mouth of the Rodl river where we anchored. On the return journey I used The Maths Captain’s knife to scrape off the lichen into a little beeswax cloth, ready to dry and process as a dye for wool. A lovely acquaintance of mine who teaches nature connection cautions her students to only gather and forage what nature is giving freely. Normally, I’d leave lichen on trees and rocks as that is where it is doing lichen services like photosynthesising, rock decomposition, soil formation and looking lovely as well as being a bio-indicator, but a recent storm had shaken these dead twigs and small branches off to the banks of the Danube and Rodl and were about to be washed away into a very big and commercial river. A gift indeed.
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Even though I somehow knew that lichen could be used as a plant dye, I didn’t exactly know how the colour should be extracted and it turns out that C+ lichens (I made a test with bleach)  can produce a pink-violet colour when fermented over months with ammonia, or historically, stale urine.

So, I’m drinking a tea and considering collecting my urine in a pickle jar, and letting it stand in a warm place in order to ferment a tiny batch of lichen dyes with.  I’ve done a wee bit of research (hah!) about the many pre-industrial chemistry uses of urine and how stale human and animal urine (ammonia) were commodified and used to process leather, whiten and soften laundry, whiten teeth and make Saltpeter for gunpowder. Here in Linz I live near Lederergasse and Ludlgasse (Leather and Piss Streets) and frequent Gerberei, a lovely cafe named after the tanning industry that existed in this corner by the Schlachthof (slaughterhouse / abbatoir). Nowadays, a couple of kilometres away is the Chemiepark where Borealis uses huge amounts of natural gas and electrical energy in the Haber-Bosch process to extract ammonia and amongst other uses, produce nitrogen rich agro-chemicals.
 

So here we are in the modern world where urine, a freely surrendered resource, along with commercial fertiliser runoff ends up polluting waterways as ammonia naturally forms. Permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison describes a pollutant as any output of a system not being used productively  by other parts of the system. Permaculturists and other organic gardeners are onto this and often use fresh, diluted urine as a natural way to add nitrogen to the soil, combined with carbon rich matter in compost heaps.  Of course, if using a composting toilet makes sense, a urine diverting toilet seat makes it even easier to gather the flow of urine’s nutrients.
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Thinking about processing my 20g of dried lichen with my own, stale urine, and wondering what pink or violet accent colour I can incorporate into a knitting project is obviously just a starting point for a number of distractions including other natural dyestuffs (indigo! black beans! avocado pits!), the ethics of foraging and wild food and colourstuffs and whether I should ferment the carrots sitting in the fridge.  Often though, these distractions contribute to a line of thinking about how dependent our lives are on globalised, late-stage capitalism and fossil-fuel dependent industry

Even when we claim to be self-reliant, back to nature or simplifying our purchasing patterns by say, dying and making our own clothes, cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, minimising packaging, or “frugally” cleaning the oven with just ammonia rather than an over-priced commercial oven cleaning product we remain entangled.  We still need to get those basic ingredients from somewhere, even if they come in bulk or are traded in a non-monetary economy – they are still dependent on the industrialised system. What on earth will we do if this brittle system breaks?  It’s enough to make me hoard baking soda and consider cleaning the oven with stale piss – though of course, in that potential scenario there would be no electrical grid to supply my apartment kitchen with power, so I wouldn’t be able to use the oven, clean or dirty.  I think I would happily keep my standards low – the oven hasn’t been properly cleaned since I started my Masters degree and will probably stay that way for a few months more.

Even with gas canisters stockpiled, my little gas camping stove would of course eventually fail both for boat-board cups of tea and to cook in an emergency, power rationed scenario. Mindful of redundancy I am waiting for a Kelly Kettle to be delivered, ready to optimise summertime boating adventures, brew freshly gathered wild herb teas, grill a cheeky sausage and take advantage of the pinecones that were also shaken down in last week’s early “summer” storms. There is a fine line between doing things for general self-reliance and “deep prepping” and that is probably when you stop doing it for fun and satisfaction and are motivated by fear alone.
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The box of pinecones I have gathered for the storm kettle is nothing in the big scheme of energy vulnerability and possible futures both good and bad.   It is one thing to make a pot of herbal tea or have an off-grid home, but how would roads be repaired, materials for infrastructure quarried and foundations for bridges dug in a low-energy future?  And I think here not only of a low-energy future in the framing of peak-oil, but also in terms of low-energy when energy distribution fails, demand becomes too high or the global financial system reveals its inherent fragility.

I can use pinecones to heat my tea, but even electrically powered digging machinery requires vast forms of electricity from a stable system. Without energy to power industrial tools, we go back to manual, human labour, without a functioning economic system that exchanges value for labour, our societies could easily return to a large-scale slavery model.  It is tempting to think that forced labour hasn’t existed since the abolition of slavery and serfdom. However, slavery and indentured labour is still present in the modern world and touches us indirectly through the goods we buy and services we make use of.

This Twitter-story by on racism, incarceration and labor exploitation in Louisiana, USA reminded me of the yet another way that slavery is present in modern life, though one that is far more mandated by the state than drug and food growing, the sex-industry or shellfish-production.  William Gibson is reputed to have said that the “future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed” and with that in mind I began to chase down leads on the potential return to slavery in a peak-oil, low energy world, including a call to move away from “energy slavery” to participatory democracy and appropriate technology from Ivan Illich.

I think that where my thoughts have been going with this is that 20g of lichen, my own urine and pinecones could all be considered as “gifted” resources along with the gifted labour of friends have helped us to restore the boat, whereas exploitative use of nature and humans can only be thought of as extraction and theft. But at what point does foraging of nature’s gifts or cooperative and volunteered labour practices step into misuse?

I am reminded of the permaculture ethics and how directly they relate to Principle 5 to Use and Value Renewable Products and Services of co-founder David Holmgren’s interpretation of permaculture principles. In  Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability Holmgren discusses valuing ecosystem services, wild products, water and working animals but doesn’t directly include valuing the labour of human inputs into a system.  The People Care ethic and _efficient_ design is inherent to permacultural practice, so maybe “avoiding the need for exploitative labour practices and slavery” doesn’t need to be said or considered in the immediate systems such as homesteads we have the opportunity to design, we should be careful though. Like so many things though this reminds me of why we need ethics-based approaches like permaculture at a higher and more widespread model so that we design societal culture futures to avoid widespread slavery too.

On Hot Topics

disasterriskreduction, permaculture
I have to say I am feeling both excited and overwhelmed at the thought of holding my first heatwave planning workshop_this_ weekend. One motivation for my Masters research has been driven by concern that my hometown Adelaide would be in heatwave conditions and have rolling or catastrophic power shortages at the same time.  And bang on time – a heatwave blasts the country and power starts getting “managed” across Adelaide.
heatmap

Welcome to hell on Earth in Australia – Higgins Storm Chasing

Inevitably this leads to criticisms of sustainable power generation – but very rarely is the heatwave and power conversation broadened to consider the nuances of demand – our own, justifiable air conditioner use, compounded by the multiple televisions, appliances, extra fridges for beer that we take for granted. We blame power generation for not keeping up with demand and are concerned that life support systems, basic infrastructure and traffic lights fail to run, but we don’t engage with our own complicity in peak _demand_.
We feel we have the right to keep the power on, but what about our responsibilities ensuring everyone else’s comfort and safety?
My gut feeling is that the general population is not yet engaging with heatwaves as emergency situations that affect _everyone_ and which, opinion again, should trigger a heightened awareness  of responsibility and corresponding actions.
Heatwaves and their increasing threat, demand for electrical power from air conditioning and other services, sustainable power generation and climate change mitigation. It is all a wee bit complicated and interconnected and not something that is going to be _fixed_ in my MSc workshop. But – I am going to host a conversation and work out ways to stay as cool as possible when the power goes out and the thermometer is high.
If you are interested in being part of this discussion and are based near Adelaide or in Sydney, there will be two further workshop events as part of my research project.
Adelaide Heatwave Planning Workshop #2
The Joinery, 111 Franklin St, Adelaide, SA 5000
Saturday, February 25
10am – 2pm
Sydney Heatwave Planning Workshop
Frontyard, 228 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, NSW 2204
Saturday, March 4
10am – 2pm