The concept of Planetary Garden (1) is the result of a look at the planet in a light that includes both ecological awareness and gardening. If the expression ‘Planetary Garden’ appears to some people to be an oxymoron or a provocation, it is in fact based on the meaning of the word ‘garden’ (2) –an enclosure–raised to the scale of the Earth. Three elements justify the use of the word ‘garden’ applied to the planet:
– the boundaries of the biosphere (the enclosure), comparable to the boundaries of the garden,
– the almost total takeover of the planet, comparable to the cultivated space of the garden, by human beings,
– and lastly, a finite ecology, a disturbing discovery through which it appears that water, C02 and other components exist in finite quantities that cannot be extended. If life invents and changes shapes over time, it does so from the same data that have an indefinite number of combinations. The water that falls from the sky has been digested and evacuated an incalculable number of times by an incalculable number of animals; it has been evaporated by an incalculable number of leaves subjected to sunshine.
The conquering societies of the planet perceive that finiteness with scepticism and pretend to ignore it. They continue to perpetuate the exploitation of the ‘garden’ as if it were inexhaustible and could be extended at will. Since the second half of the 20th century they have come up against political ecology, which they have constantly attempted to classify as a dream of no importance or a dangerous brand of fanaticism. They still envisage the future with a blind faith in an increasingly high-performance technology with the idea of an even greater mastery of nature.
However, the broadening of knowledge linked to the functioning of the ‘Planetary Garden’ ends up proving right those who, since 1960 in France, have been trying to commit human society to an economical and frugal (3) lifestyle, picking the fruit from the tree without destroying it. The confusion that reigns in France and in the whole world, confronting the advocates of a management that is friendly towards the Earth and those who want to exploit it to the point of exhaustion, comes from the fact that high-performance capitalism spreads the word that it will save humanity by guaranteeing comfort, shelter and food. That crucial phase that was so destructive of the development of our societies, known under the deceitful name of ‘The Glorious Thirty’, reassures humanity in the idea of an absolute mastery of the environment under human influence. It seems that the successive ministers of the Ecology have only been remembered for perpetuating the outdated idea of an old Cartesian project –subjecting nature– even though, since the end of the last century, everything has brought out the weakness and pretension of such hegemony.
Even before the global crisis exploded in 2008, the powerful of the world –the lobbies, the bankers–, having a presentiment of the danger that might be posed by a different vision of the economy from theirs, laid the foundations of ‘green business’ by introducing a right to pollute after Kyoto. The merger of the deposit banks and the finance banks (in France around 1985) involved civil society, quite unaware of the dark mechanisms of finance, in all the dealings aimed at making money any way, any time and anywhere. And whatever the human and environmental consequences. ‘Green business’ shares thus swelled the volume of ordinary ones, in no way to place themselves at the service of ecology and humanity, but to make money at the service of a poker-playing elite.
‘Green business’ appears to be a violent reaction to a predictable change in the economy, itself the fruit of an acknowledgement of the Planetary Garden and more particularly of an awareness that other things were also ‘finite’. It replaced all environmental policies, took the name of sustainable development –in France it fed the Environment Round Table– and opposed, without saying so but with extreme violence, everything that might look like reducing growth.
Incapable of envisaging any economic dynamic other than frenzied consumption, the system in force demands more and more consumers and more and more consumer products per consumer. That rule, which also exhausts resources and damages the environment and hence conditions of life on the planet, dispenses with any political project, any ethics and any humanism.
The recent crisis has replaced the need for a real political project, a new way of thinking about lifestyles, a new economy, at the heart of any discussion.
Simultaneously and silently this new way of thinking about ways of life, this new economy, hence this new politics, already exists in the guise of micro-societies in direct touch with the land and local social realities. It has not waited for the crisis to act. A growing number of associations, cooperatives and action collectives are developing on the ‘planetary territory’ under the aegis of the official institutions. This population on the fringe is inventing the life conditions of the future. The best known economic-ecological model –the AMAP (4)– guarantees local production and distribution according to methods that are both biological (production) and ecological (distribution). By doing that it short-circuits the network of big production and big distribution while authorising a local development that stabilises the populations which the economic models of capitalism would have delocalised and then reduced to slavery. Certain societies, certain towns, certain districts have borrowed this new model and prepared suitable tools such as local (called complementary) (5) currencies, micro credit banks funding medium sized or modest development projects –thus opposing exodus and unemployment–, barter platforms and so on.
Despite the virulence of the ultraliberal system, its speculative fever and unshakable faith in a deregulated market economy, we can observe a real shift of interest which, according to Veblen’s references (6), corresponds to the ordinary model of desire aimed at pointing the economy in such or such a direction. And so instead of desiring a 4×4 or a flat screen, an increasing part of the population will be desiring healthy food, the quality of silence or a diversified cultural programme.
In this ‘shift’ mechanism two views of the world, two economies, two ways of life are opposed. One for which everything functions from consumption (economy of expenditure), the other for which everything functions from retention (economy of frugality). Here yield and profitability are opposed. Whoever produces a lot has to spend a lot; his margin will be weak, whereas whoever produces little will incur few expenses, and his margin will often be high. In the case of the produce of biological agriculture, the margins are very reasonable for the producers, who therefore suffer little from the crisis. Moreover, the products that come from these practices shelter consumers –but also earth, air and water– from a poisoning that is becoming increasingly threatening for the planet.
The planetary garden is not a chance metaphor. There are many similarities between gardening and running society (politics). There would be many lessons to be drawn from the garden –the most literal in its operation but also the most respectful of life (the most biological)– that can be applied to human societies. One of those lessons concerns diversity. In the absence of diversity space becomes monoculture. By monoculture we mean:
– single product cultivated, but also
– single way of thinking.
Cultural levelling as standardisation of products for consumption and therefore of landscapes comes from the widespread application of a single economic model and the absolute need to make that model perform in order to make it ‘last’. With that, diversity sinks on the fringes of the territory, forgotten or destroyed.
Insects and plants regarded as gardening auxiliaries live on the edge of the garden, in the hedges, in the wasteland, on all abandoned ground. Such is the space of the Third Landscape, a reservoir of diversity, sheltering species that do not find a place anywhere else.
Whatever the economic model chosen for development, the garden (hence the gardener) must have that reservoir of species of primary utility without which his action is completely taken up by costly and polluting services. Bees and their role in the economic and ecological functioning of the ‘Planetary Garden’ clearly illustrate the role of the gardening auxiliaries. They, we must specify, act in our favour free of charge. To ignore their existence and their responsibility in the Man/Nature ecosystem is to enter into an unsustainable expense with no guarantee of the least success.
In its management style, the ‘Garden in Movement’ integrates the need to preserve diversity, whatever its nature. One of the important investigations into this way of gardening consists of understanding the mechanisms that unite the beings that live there –animals/plants– to draw a lesson that will lead to an exchange between the gardener and his environment. How ‘to do the most possible with and the least possible against’ nature.
Symbiotic man is the one who manages to strike a balance of life on the planet without altering the biological motor that allows ‘life’ to appear in the most inventive and diversified guises. He is thus the one who can give back to the environment the energy he takes from it without having damaged that energy along the way. Integral recycling of the consumer products necessary for the life of the human mammal looks in this case like an indispensable economic model for the maintenance of the means of life, and so of species in general, and the human race in particular. The tree, consuming the atmospheric carbon it returns to the sun through the fall of the leaves, is a simple and perfectly regulated example of recycling without loss of quality. In the advancing economic and social set-up we can see the guiding principles of the dominant policies where the free market lays down its law collapsing. We must undoubtedly wait for the end of a struggle for power between China and the USA (or two other giants destined to confront one another on the competitive markets) and a balance of wealth or poverty –which comes to the same thing– so that that lethal mechanism, blind to the constraining realities of the ecology, disappears for ever. But without waiting for that event, suffering societies are implanting all over the planet, in an atomised form like a milky way, the scattered beginnings of a new governance. We must no longer listen to the official managers of our jostled world but to the sprits engaged in experiments on the ground, offering here or there viable alternatives to failing governances.
In many towns and parts of the countryside we can see that those happy alternatives are taking the shape of simple gardens (7).
(1) Thomas et le voyageur. Esquisse du Jardin Planétaire.- Albin Michel, Paris, 1996. – Exposition Jardin Planétaire, La Villette, 1999/2000, Paris.
(2) From the German ‘Garten’ (enclosure), a place for the reception and protection of the plants and animals that are indispensable to human life.
(3) Frugal (from the Latin ‘frux’, harvest, and ‘fructus’, fruit): who lives on the fruits of the earth.
(4) AMAP: Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne.
(5) Complementary currencies. See Bernard Liaeter, Monnaies régionales, Charles Léopold Meyer, Paris, 2008.
(6) The Veblen model in ‘Comment les riches détruisent la planète’, by Hervé Kempf, Seuil, Paris, 2007.
(7) According to Pierre Rahbi, founder of agroecology in France, to start a kitchen garden today is a subversive project of the greatest importance.