Increasing the potency of biological fields

Permaculture suggests that reliance on cheap oil has shifted our systems’ capacity for resilience and self-reliance. We need to reclaim and implement our capacity to harness, store and circulate energy, and use it with a much higher degree of efficiency than we have accepted so far, under the illusion that it would be harmless, cheap and last forever.


Sources of energy in the biological fields include:

  1. Sun, wind and runoff water flows
  2. Wasted resources from agricultural, industrial and commercial activities


Different ways can be used to store that energy:

  1. Fertile soil with high humus content
  2. Perennial vegetation systems, especially trees, yield food and other useful resources
  3. Seeds
  4. Water bodies and tanks
  5. Passive solar buildings


Potency in social fields

Of course one key source of energy in human systems is money; just like a human body needs oxygen to function, but doesn’t exist in order to breathe, a social body generally needs money (or a similar resource exchange system) in order to function properly. I will not get into this much deeper, as I am neither an economist nor an expert in alternative currency systems, but I think it is important to log in the fact that financial resource management needs to be dealt with adequately, if the system is to survive and thrive. I think we can also add that in terms of Permaculture, money needs to be grounded in reality if systems are to be resilient and perennial, and that highly complex financial systems, where money is generated through speculation, bets on future value, derivatives, etc. , cannot be considered viable in the long term, at least as human systems. Indeed, it would be like eating a crop that has not yet been grown, or watering our fields with the rain we know will fall in the autumn…


What other sources of energy then fuel human systems? Well, I guess we can imagine at least 4 types of energy that circulate in human systems:

  1. Psychological energy: such as ideas, knowledge, know-how, job experience, etc.
  2. Emotional energy: passion, enthusiasm, joy, but also anger and rage, huge sources of energy that can be productive when adequately contained…
  3. Action-based energy: skills, problem-solving drive,
  4. Spiritual energy: meaning, purpose, sense of connecting to something larger than oneself…


Capturing and storing energy, in that context, will be about managing a dynamic equilibrium so as to navigate between energy depletion (leading to exhaustion and death) and energy overload (leading to toxicity); it will be about ensuring that we sense where the energy is, and how it is circulating, along the four types described above, so that we can better harness and distribute it.


Capturing and storing energy in social fields: analogies with the biological world


Sun: primary source of energy in ecosystems, this could be about people’s passion, their enthusiasm, their internal drive, which could also be channelled anger. It seems to me that the equivalent of the sun in human systems is primarily emotional. The sun is only around half of the day, and sets at night; too much sun can burn plants, in particular those who prefer shade. So whilst I am making an argument to access the emotional parts of the human resources that we are, I think we need also to think about containment, and ensure that we don’t fall into overly emotional human fields.


Water: I imagine this to be something that flows in and between people, that connects them in some way. So I think water could be about common purpose; an ownership of that purpose, rather than attachment to a role or a position. As water needs to be captured and stored so that it can later irrigate the land in case of draught, purpose will also need to be ‘captured and stored’, i.e. through material or immaterial things that we can refer to and reconnect to when meaning feels depleted.


Seeds: how about considering job / project opportunities as seeds? After all, they are something through which people, teams, and ‘production’ will grow. As seeds, job and project opportunities will first need plenty of water and good soil to germinate, as well as warmth from the sun… In terms of energy storage, seeds are in fact the fruit, the result of the growth of a plant. The Permaculture manager must therefore ensure that plants (see below) produce seeds, and that these are collected for future use.


Perennials: we are talking here about recurrent activities that yield ‘food’ (i.e. return on investment, whether financial or not), fix ‘nitrogen’ (i.e. transform gaseous fertiliser into one that the plant can use: turning ideas, perspectives, innovative thinking into the core business production process) and/or bring structure to the soil (structure the activities, bring some degree of predictability, expresses consistency in the values of the institution…). In each of these three activities, energy is captured, stored, and redistributed according to need. But perennials bring another level of energy efficiency: most of the energy they require from us is at the beginning, in the planting phase; after that, they take care of themselves and tend to self-regulate in the ecosystemic web of energy flows.


Fast-growing wood (fixes excess CO2 and can be burnt to release energy) or food plants (can be eaten to give the farmer energy!): I am thinking here of quick and fast yielding commercial projects; those with fairly low production-to-shelf time.


Slow-growing wood or food plants: perhaps here we could include medium to long-term R&D projects, prototyping of innovation, niche products that don’t make up a critical part of the activity and revenue generation, but create new and interesting ways for the system to connect with its environment, and for the system to also channel its members passion, enthusiasm and creative capacities. The energy captured and stored during the ‘growing’ process gets released at maturation, when the ‘wood’ or the ‘food plants’ can finally be used, i.e. integrated into the core activity processes to fuel and nourish them.


Manure: this is usually ‘imported’ energy: brought in actively by the gardener, or passively by ensuring the system is open to visiting animals (birds, rabbits…). So I think we can put into that category external ideas, inputs, or even consultancy. As a resilient system will need to be self-sufficient in producing or capturing that type of energy, emphasis must be placed on enabling the system (i.e. individuals and teams) to develop its own fertility through sensing energising data from its environment. Short, time-limited import of manure (consultancy) can help, but the system mustn’t become dependent on it.


Fast-growing plants for compost: one of many great ways of fixing energy in your garden is to grow plants specifically for composting. You can plan them in places where nutrients may otherwise run off (i.e. comfrey near compost or manure piles), or on vacant land (nettles, “green” fertilisers, etc.), or in reed beds. They fix both sun and soil energy at the same time, and grow back after several cutting back, and add richness to compost. So in that area of human/social fields, I am thinking that we could include things like self-assigned projects, free time for creative thinking and testing prototypes, and other types of detoxifying activities. Dan Pink, an expert on the science of motivation, tells examples of companies that allow their staff to use 20% of their paid time to work on exactly what they want, providing it has some links with the business. Many successful Google products for example were thought up and designed in that “free” time. You could imagine giving free time to read a book, go to a movie or an exhibition, massage or meditation sessions, etc.


Composting materials: I would argue that many ills and crises in our social fields happen because we don’t “compost” our individual and collective actions, interactions and creations. As a result, they linger on and become toxic, rather than transformed into matter and energy for future experience. This goes for processing failures, disappointments, clashes, but also successes and deep meaningful encounters: in the living world, everything stays in motion and is constantly (re)cycled. So in this section I would include debrief & learning sessions as a way of capturing and storing energy; lively knowledge management systems; action-learning evaluation processes, and any other type of meaning-making reviewing activities that can access psychological, emotional, action-based and spiritual energies.