I NODDED ALONG with everything in the holistic permaculture course until day four, when things went off the rails. My family and I were at a farm in Bolivia, volunteering and learning about land design, groundwater recharging, alternative energy technologies, and returning fertility to the earth. Day four’s topic was community-building, which sounded innocuous enough.
Our host and instructor was a man from New Zealand who has farmed two acres in a remote Bolivian valley for nearly a decade. He talked about the importance of local decision-making, how focusing on global problems over which we have little influence can leave us feeling disempowered. Human-induced climate change, he added, is another story the oligarchs at the top are telling to stoke our fears and get us to surrender our freedoms. That and the pandemic.
Our host’s views are extreme. But he is among a growing group of back-to-the-land conservatives who don’t fit my categories. He disbelieves mainstream climate science, yet he is installing solar ovens, composting toilets, and bioconstructed buildings on his property. He scoffs at “wokeism,” which he sees as another form of top-down control, yet he deeply respects the local Indigenous community and attends the Quechua-only neighborhood meetings with surrounding farmers.