Expert Interview: Matthew Adkins

Name: Matthew Adkins

Role: Small farmer, researcher, and filmmaker

Involvement in climate change resilience: Using film to discuss, document, and share ideas about permaculture and sustainability


What sparked your desire to be involved in this work? 

In high school, I read a lot of books about environmentalism and sustainability, and was really impressed by the wastefulness of modern human culture and industries, and their negative impact on the natural systems that we depend on in order to live and flourish. Since then, while studying environmental science, I’ve learned more about problems like climate change, pollution, and the misuse of natural resources. I took a class about permaculture and was really inspired by the possibilities that permaculture design principles offer for addressing some of these problems. I wanted to explore those ideas and share what I learned with other people.


Why is climate change important to you?

By throwing natural processes and cycles off-balance, climate change poses a number of threats to me and everyone else on the planet, but especially the most poor and vulnerable communities. These threats include extreme weather (storms, flooding, heat waves, and drought), depleted soils, crop losses, shortages of fresh water and food, decreased air quality, and diseases that can spread further and faster. At some point, energy and resource consumption will begin to decrease, either by choice or by necessity, and I think that our current communities lack the resilience to enable them to continue to function in the face of these external environmental and economic shocks.


How have you seen climate change impact your specific region?

We’ve already seen the impact that severe weather can have on North Carolinians, especially catastrophic flooding from hurricanes, which has devastated communities in the eastern part of the state (especially poor communities, often communities of color, who are less protected, lack access to resources, and may not be able to go anywhere else) as well as rural communities whose economies depend on agriculture. Of course, even without climate change, there would still be hurricanes. But climate change has resulted and will continue to result in more extreme storms and greater destruction and loss.


What do you think university students should be doing now?

Be creative in identifying aspects of an industry or community that are inefficient, wasteful, or harmful, and figure out how you can develop and apply your specific set of skills, talents and interests toward implementing changes and improvements to that industry or community. Develop leadership and teamwork skills so that you can take advantage of opportunities to exert a positive influence.


What do you think the general population should be doing now? 
I think we need to experience a shift in our cultural values, away from conquest, control, and consumerism, and toward freedom, equity, sharing, and community. We need to reduce our consumption and prioritize reusing, repairing, repurposing and redistributing goods before recycling them or discarding them. Instead of just fixating on all the “bad” things that we should avoid doing, I think it would be healthier to view things in terms of opportunities that we have yet to fully appreciate. For example, you should be composting, not because “sending food scraps to the landfill is bad and you should feel bad,” but because all of those food scraps are an amazing resource that you could be taking advantage of by enriching your soil, instead of missing out by throwing it “away.”


Sustainable “lifestyle” practices and personal habits (like not eating meat) are important and beneficial, but they are not enough. We need to reexamine our current systems of production and distribution, and rethink how we use and manage land, water, and other natural resources. We should be taking a whole-systems approach to designing environmentally and socially sustainable systems (food systems, transportation systems, etc) and more resilient infrastructure. Leaders in various industries should be identifying the role that their industries play in the overconsumption and waste of resources, and strive toward more closed systems that use energy and materials more efficiently.


Communities, organizations, and companies should investigate how permaculture design concepts may be useful in building the skills and systems needed in order to shift from consumption and dependence toward responsible production and independence, thus becoming more self-reliant and resilient. We need to be creative and innovative in adapting existing systems to make them more appropriate for a future in which we will need to use less energy and fewer resources.