Catchment Wealth

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= nature's method of wealth accumulation and energy storage [1]


David Bollier on Josine Blais concept of 'catchment':

"Blais' essay is too rich to summarize here, but I do want to share some of her more provocative insights. One is the idea that nature's alternative to capital is “Catchment.” The idea of catchment is not a very familiar concept to most people. But, as Blais explains, catchment is “nature's method of wealth accumulation and energy storage.” She continues:

Where capital is centralized accumulation that resists redistribution, catchment is a system for accumulating a critical mass of a needed resource, like water or soil minerals, in order to trigger self-organizing system, i.e., life forms, that then spread over the landscape. Some natural examples of catchment include the sun, plant carbohydrates, bodies of water, geothemral energy, and plate tectonics.

How does catchment work? Since the “driving force behind all natural systems” is energy, catchment focuses on ways to capture naturally occurring flows of energy in such a way as to maximize the yield over time and space. As we know, entropy is the natural tendency to disorder, but it is balanced by an opposing tendency toward self-organization – or what we call life. This kind of self-organization happens “whenever energy flows are sufficient to generate storages.”

Catchment works because a positive feedback loops is created for energy, even in improbably small or forbidding places. No wonder life forms are ubiquitous on the planet! “Unlike capital, whose increase is measured only in financial terms,” writes Blais, “catchment wealth is measured in terms of real wealth. It replaces short-term, centralizA catchment area in the desert.ed profit with 'long-term asset building for the benefit of future generations'."

The relevance of catchments to permaculture is obvious: in each the goal is to build self-reinforcing natural synergies among plants in a particular ecosystem. Thus, a "plant guild" of corns, squashes or pumpkins, and beans builds a small, synergistic system: "The beans feed the corn with much needed nitrogen, the corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, and the squash with its lush, prickled foliage acts as a national mulch and pest inhibitor.... Each member of the guild both gives and takes something from the community, and in the end the soil itself is nourished rather than depleted, as it is in single-yield, industrial monoculture."

Catchment is a powerful concept in imagining hardy, productive alternatives to the wasteful, centralized, capital-based food system. “Building local stores of wealth that are distributed across the landscape and locked in ecosystems [makes it] hard to steal without mobilization of armies against the local community,” Blais writes.

The localism of permaculture has huge operational advantages, too. Small groups and communities can identify negative feedback more quickly and respond appropriately – something that large market-based systems whose primary interest is return on investment cannot do." (


Essay: The Shared Patterns of Indigenous Culture, Permaculture and Digital Commons