Permaculture is a word that was originally coined in the mid seventies by two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, to describe the design system pioneered as a response to what they, and many others globally, saw as serious challenges to the survival of all of us. Originally derived from the words ‘PERMAnent agriCULTURE’, permaculture has gone beyond its roots in looking at strategies to create sustainable food growing methods to become a worldwide movement encompassing all aspects of how we as human beings can live harmoniously in relation to our Earth and its finite resources – A PERMAnent CULTURE.
Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution. It integrates ecology, landscape design, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living. It uses appropriate technology giving high yields for low energy inputs, achieving a resource of great diversity and stability. The design principles are equally applicable to urban and rural dwellers.
From: Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
Permaculture uses a set of principles derived from the intimate observation of natural systems. These are an inspirational aspect of permaculture –a means of connecting each of us more deeply to nature’s patterns and wisdom – and of applying that understanding in our daily lives. They can be easily learnt by anyone.
Besides the principle, the bedrock in permaculture is its three guiding ethics. They are not exclusive to permaculture and were derived by looking at the commonalities of many worldviews and beliefs. They are therefore shared ethics, indeed shared by most of the world but it is their combined presence in a design that has a radical capacity for ecological and social transformation.
There can be no elites here – no plutocracies or oligarchies – all members of the community must be taken into account.
The original idea of permaculture was to design Permanent Agricultures that care for all living and non living things. This has grown to embrace a deep and comprehensive understanding of Earth Care that involves our many decisions, from the clothes we wear and the goods we buy to the materials we use for DIY projects. Though we can’t all build our own house or grow all of our own food, we can make choices about how we act and what we consume and conserve.
Embedded in permaculture is also the concept of Permanent Culture. How can we develop a permaculture if our people are expendable, uncared for, excluded? There can be no elites here – no plutocracies or oligarchies – all members of the community must be taken into account. People Care asks that our basic needs for food, shelter, education, employment and healthy social relationships are met. Nor can genuine People Care be exclusive in a tribal sense. This is a global ethic of fair trade and intelligent support amongst all people both at home and abroad.
Permaculture rejects the industrial growth model of the global North and aspires to design fairer more equitable systems that take into account the limits of the planet’s resources and the needs of all living beings.
The last ethic synthesises the first two ethics. It acknowledges that we only have one earth and share it with all living things and future generations. There is no point in designing a sustainable family unit, community or nation whilst others languish without clean water, clean air, food, shelter, meaningful employment, and social contact. Since the industrialised North uses the resources of at least three earths and much of the global South languishes in poverty, Fair Shares is an acknowledgement of that terrible imbalance and a call to limit consumption, especially of natural resources, in the North. Permaculture rejects the industrial growth model of the global North and aspires to design fairer more equitable systems that take into account the limits of the planet’s resources and the needs of all living beings.
Permaculture is primarily a thinking tool for designing low carbon, highly productive systems. It is becoming increasingly important and adopted as our planet heats and our finite natural resources dwindle. The permaculture design process is based on observing what makes natural ecosystems endure, establishing their defining principles and using them to mirror nature in whatever we chose to design. This can be gardens, farms, buildings, woodlands, communities, businesses – even towns or countries.
My partner, Tim Harland, and I have used the ethics and principles of permaculture to design an ecologically renovated house and garden, with all the elements you would expect: solar thermal panels, rainwater harvesting, passive solar design, an edible landscape of fruit and nut trees, a raised bed vegetable garden, wildflower meadows, a ‘fedge’ (fruiting hedgerow)… and so on.
In our locality, Tim and I have been involved in ‘recycling’ an old military base into the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire, which is an educational centre for children and adults for all things green. It also plays a key role in engaging the local community and providing a haven for many excellent projects such as a mental health outreach group and a drug rehabilitation programme. We have also used permaculture principles to design a publishing company, Permanent Publications, in terms of the materials we publish, marketing strategies and the nuts and bolts of running as green an office as humanly possible. Profit has never been our primary motive. What we are passionate about is providing practical, tested solutions for people and planet.
Human beings can either be the destroyers or the self-elected stewards of our planet. We have the capacity to put our ethics into action, literally to ‘walk our talk’. We can become stewards for our world whilst still maintaining an openness and humility to accept nature as perhaps our most powerful and wisest of teachers. What a culture we could build if these two perspectives were the bedrock of our civilisation!