Steve Cran: Permaculture or Armageddon


Steve Cran is the guy you want to have around after an earthquake or volcanic eruption. Born and bred in northern Queensland, Steve is a teacher, social activist and climate change resilience specialist. With a 28-year career in permaculture, he has developed effective, sustainable, recovery solutions for communities affected by war, long-term poverty or natural disasters. Currently, Steve is building a network of permaculture field schools in the Philippines and Malaysia to train hands-on field specialists, effective trainers who can guide concerned groups that wish to do something tangible to mitigate the effects of looming climate change.


What are the most dramatic environmental changes that you’ve witnessed since your first visit to Bali?

I first visited in 2002 on a break from doing aid work in East Timor. Back then tourism was running at a sustainable level and the island’s economy seemed an ideal mix between tourism, agriculture and Balinese culture. Now the tourist population has exploded and land that once grew rice and coconuts now grows villas like mushrooms. Both the level of tourism and consumption has risen well above a sustainable level. Traffic has come to a standstill in congested villages and local people are enslaved into some aspect of the tourism industry at the expense of their cultural ways. An insane amount of rubbish and waste is generated from too many people jammed into one small island. Health is already decaying in some areas from too much air pollution. Waterways and catchment areas are also contaminated from pollution and chemical runoff from unsustainable agricultural practices. Long-term residents will be paying the price with their health shortly.


In what unexpected ways has climate change already affected Bali?

The latest science shows that our planet is growing in size. Climate change is bringing a growth spurt to not only Earth but also all the planets in our solar system. As our Earth expands, the volcanic action increases and new land is formed from the lava and materials that spew out of active volcanos. Mt Agung is now active again and this will surely affect Bali.


Is Bali’s population vulnerable to the effects of climate change?

With volcanic action comes increased earthquakes in frequency and size. All the countries around the Ring of Fire are experiencing earthquakes and volcanic activity at present. Bali must prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Tourism is only a recent phenomenon in the scale of things. People will come to Bali if they feel it is a safe paradise. Of course if they fear being caught in a volcano disaster, the tourists will dry up instantly. We saw this when the first Bali bomb went off , stalling tourism for a couple of years. Bali would be wise to have a fallback plan when tourists no longer come due to climate change fear.


Is the island’s food security also threatened?

Bali’s food supply and its very existence are threatened by ongoing events in our world right now. This will get worse before it gets better. Farmers should build greenhouses to produce part of their crops in safety despite what the weather does. Some agriculture will have to be done indoors as a response to climate change events. There’s also no question that the island’s water supply is under ever increasing pressure to support an unsustainable level of urban population.


Do the provincial and national governments have the political will to adopt the necessary measures to combat climate change?

Governments are reactive, not proactive. People have little confidence in the governments of most countries these days. We have “fake news” and soon the term “fake government” will be used to describe our so-called leaders. I doubt the government here will do much to change the current situation. It’s always too little too late. To combat the changes in climate, the government needs to create a workforce to construct disaster mitigation projects across the island. This could be a Youth Corps or some kind of conscription plan to mobilize a legion of people to build the buffer systems needed for Bali to survive what’s coming. Replanting forests and restoring natural systems should take priority over tourism developments today, not tomorrow. Perhaps Bali could develop eco-restoration tourism as a solution.


Is permaculture a way to save Bali?

Permaculture is a great toolbox for a population so everyone at all levels of society can participate in the restoration of the ecosystems that will be the buffer for climate change events. Everyone must take responsibility and action. Food security could be guaranteed with clever design. Together a population can make a big difference if they can only see what’s happening.


What simple measures can residents take to help Bali make the transition to sustainability?

The best thing Balinese can do is meet at a community level and build resilience into the neighborhoods. People have more power when they work together to ensure local food security. One low cost measure is to create “All Weather Gardens” (AWG) in neighborhoods by erecting a greenhouse roof or poly-carb roof over gardens to make the garden resilient to heavy rains and other events that can smash the plants.


How serious is the scarcity of clean drinking water?

Bali’s supply of clean water will be under threat in the foreseeable future. Water quality is dropping as agricultural chemicals and pollution contaminate the once pristine fresh water supplies of the island. Would any of us drink from the water in the Subak? Look at the quality of the seawater off the beaches of Bali. A switch to organic farming would be a good start.


If nothing is going to be done, what calamities will Bali face?

If nothing is done on a large scale to mitigate erratic weather, droughts, sea-level-rises, higher temperatures, floods and landslides coming at Bali right now, then we will see massive population shifts as people in cities and towns flee disaster en masse. Where will they flee to? Blind Freddy can see that extreme measures are called for to create resilience in the face of the changes coming upon us. Governments move too slowly, so people must take action. The combined energy of humans with a single purpose can be an awesome positive force!


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