Permaculture . . . Design Philosophy and Practice for a People-Planet-Caring Civilization
People-and-Planet Degrading Civilization
“Intensive farming practices in the Great Plains of America over the last 100 years has reduced top soil depth by up to 90% in many places. We are not farming the soil, we are mining it.” ~Albert Bates, The Farm community, Tennessee
“The New Scientist recently reported alarming research results from a study of the long term effects of the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ in South Asia. New plant varieties fed with high levels of artificial fertiliser have dramatically increased food production, to no-one’s surprise. But it now becomes clear that those intensively grown crops are nutritionally deficient. They lack vital trace elements and minerals, particularly iron and zinc. This deficiency has been passed on through the food to such an extent that an IQ loss of 10 points has been observed in a whole generation of children who have a diet based largely on crops grown in this way.” ~Prince Charles, organic farmer
“The average American’s involvement with their automobile is an astonishing 1600 hours a year. Working in order to buy it, actually driving it, getting it repaired and so on. This means that when all car mileage in a given year is divided by the time spent supporting the car, the average car owner is travelling at an average speed of 5 miles per hour. To attain the speed of a bicycle we are devastating our cities, air, lungs and lives.” ~Ivan Illich, social commentator
“Like a cancer, capitalism consumes its host and is never satisfied . The capital pool must always grow, more and more, forever, until the host dies or capitalism is replaced . . . . The institutions of economy systematically co-opt the life energies of the individual to the collective purpose of replicating money . . . . the interests of capitalism always come down to economic growth; investors must reap more than they sow or the whole system comes to a grinding halt . . . . Corporate globalization is supported by the cultural fiction that to create money is to create wealth, thus legitimating the depletion of the living capital of nature and society through economic growth to make money . . . . Capitalism is basically the belief that those who have the most spare money — the most capital — should decide how our societies develop . . . . Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”
“We can measure a population’s ability to sustain itself by the rate at which it depletes the resources on which it depends. On current evidence modern human civilisation is heading for a major collapse.” ~Steve Jones, permaculture designer
“Unless we accept there is a problem, we will never see the need for a solution.” ~Graham Bell, permaculture author and teacher
“Permaculture simply asks people to put as much into life as they demand from it. Is this too much to ask to save the world? Use its principles in your everyday life. Teach your children, lobby your governments – local, national and international – with the wisdom it contains.” ~Dr David Bellamy, botanist
“How can we possibly expect to survive if we don’t design what we’re doing to be bearable?” ~Bill Mollison, conceptor of permaculture
Food . . . the Battlefront of Agriculture vs. Permaculture
“The important thing is not to do any agriculture whatsoever, and particularly to make the modern agricultural sciences a forbidden area – they’re worse than witchcraft, really. The agriculture taught at colleges between 1930 and 1980 has caused more damage on the face of the Earth than any other factor. “Should we tamper with nature?” is no longer a question – we’ve tampered with nature on the whole face of the Earth.”
There is an old saying: ‘Civilised man has marched across the face of the earth and left a desert in his footprints.’ Today, worldwide, on land once rich with natural vegetation, we see deserts denuded of their topsoil, deserts of salt-encrusted soil from years of irrigation, deserts due to widespread deforestation having altered the regional climate. This was a result of a rapidly growing use of destructive industrial-agricultural methods. These methods were poisoning the land and water, reducing biodiversity, and removing billions of tons of soil from previously fertile landscapes
The problem from a permaculture perspective has been a lack of design.
Agriculture, from its invention and reinvention from some 10,000 years ago onwards, has generally involved a crude process of clearing the wilderness and establishing a cycle of digging or ploughing, then seeding with a few useful species, primarily grasses,then harvesting the crop to feed humans and livestock – and the cycle begins again year on year until the land is exhausted – after which a new area of wilderness is cleared. Perhaps humans devised this system after surviving for a million years or so by hunting and gathering, and learning that regular firing of the undergrowth encouraged fresh sprouting pioneer species which were more nutritious for people and the grazing herds we hunted than did the stable, mature forest.
The solution from a permaculture perspective is to introduce design into agriculture in order to create permanent high-yielding agricultural ecosystems, so that humans can thrive on as little land as possible, thus leaving as much land as possible as wilderness, if necessary helping the wilderness re-establish itself. This visionary global mission is encapsulated in the word ‘permaculture’, a shortened form of ‘permanent agriculture’.
“We have to rethink how we’re going to live on this earth – stop talking about the fact that we’ve got to have agriculture, we’ve got to have exports, because all that is the death of us. Permaculture challenges what we’re doing and thinking – and to that extent it’s sedition.”
Everyone needs to eat and drink, and it is the issue of food production where permaculture had its origins. It started with the belief that for people to feed themselves sustainably they need to move away from reliance on industrialized agriculture. Where industrial farms use fossil fuel (gasoline, diesel, natural gas..) driven technology specialising in each farm producing high yields of a single crop, permaculture stresses the value of low-inputs into the land and diversity in terms of what is grown. For example permaculture focuses on maximizing the use of trees (agroforestry) and perennial food crops because they make a more efficient and long term use of energy than traditional seasonal crops. A farmer does not have to exert energy every year replanting them, and this frees up that energy to be used somewhere else.
Traditional pre-industrial agriculture was labor intensive, industrial agriculture is fossil fuel intensive and permaculture is design and information intensive and petrofree. Partially, permaculture is an attempt to work smarter, not harder; and when possible the energy used should come from renewable sources such as wind power, passive solar designs or biofuels. Permaculture promotes organic agriculture which does not use pesticides to pollute the environment.
A good example of this kind of efficient design is the chicken greenhouse. By attaching the chicken coop to a greenhouse you can reduce the need to heat the greenhouse by fossil fuels, as the chicken’s bodies heat the area. The chickens scratching and pecking can be put to good use to clear new land for crops. Their manure can be used to fertilise the soil. Feathers could be used in compost or as a mulch. In a conventional factory situation all these chicken outputs are seen as a waste problem. So in factories cooled by huge air conditioners, the chicken waste is extracted. All the energy is focused on egg production. Thus it is a further principle of permaculture that “pollution is energy in the wrong place”.
Permaculture . . . Design Philosophy for a People-Planet Caring Civilization
The term permaculture initially meant “permanent agriculture” but this was quickly expanded to also stand for “permanent culture” as it was seen that social aspects were an integral part of a truly sustainable system . . . Permaculture is both a philosophy or lifestyle ethic as well as a design system which utilizes a systems thinking approach to supply a design toolkit in creating sustainable human habitats by analyzing and duplicating nature’s patterns (ecology). This toolkit helps the designer to model a final design based on an observation of how ecosystems themselves interact. One of the innovations of permaculture design was to appreciate the efficiency and productivity of natural ecosystems and seek to apply this the way human needs for food and shelter are met.
The ethical basis of permaculture are :
Earth-care. Recognising that the Earth is the source of all life (and is possibly itself a living entity)–includes all living and non-living things.plants, animals, land, water and air–and that we recognise and respect that the Earth is our valuable home and we are a part of the Earth, not apart from it. And thus, ensure the provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.
People-care. Supporting and helping each other to change to ways of living that are not harming ourselves or the planet, and to develop healthy societies. Promotes self-reliance and community responsibility. Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence, but not for the accumulation of wealth, power, or land beyond their needs.
Fair-share (or placing limits on consumption and population). Ensuring that the Earth’s limited resources are utilized in ways that are equitable and wise. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles. Gives away surplus contribution of surplus time, labor, money, information, and energy to achieve the aims of earth and people care.
Permaculture also acknowledges a basic life ethic, which recognizes the intrinsic worth of every living thing. A tree has value in itself, even if it presents no commercial value to humans. That the tree is alive and functioning is worthwhile. It is doing its part in nature: recycling litter, producing oxygen, sequestering carbon dioxide, sheltering animals, building soils, and so on.
Furthermore, permaculture can be described as a “moral and ethical design system applicable to food production (plants, animals) and land use,” as well as community design [planning, and development]. It seeks the creation of productive and sustainable ways of living by integrating ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture, agroforestry, green or ecological economics, appropriate technologies, indigenous wisdom, people-planet-caring philosophies and social systems. The focus is not on these elements themselves, but rather on the relationships created among them by the way they are placed together; the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts. Permaculture is also about careful and contemplative observation of nature and natural systems, and of recognizing universal patterns and principles, then learning to apply these “ecological truisms” to one’s own circumstances in all realms of human activity.
Permaculture can be applied to create productive ecosystems from the human-use standpoint or to help degraded ecosystems and landscapes to recover health and wildness. Permaculture can be applied in any ecosystem, no matter how degraded, e.g. the sick landscapes of human agricultural and city systems.
Permaculture is a practical concept which can be applied in the city, on the farm, and in the wilderness. It is urban planning as well as rural land design. Its principles empower people to establish highly productive environments providing for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs, including economic. Permaculture design is site specific, client specific, and culture specific. Every place and community requires its own particular design. Carefully observing natural patterns characteristic of a particular site, the permaculture designer gradually discerns optimal methods for integrating water catchment, human shelter, and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennial plants, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture.
It seeks to address problems that include the economic question of how to either make money from growing crops or exchange crops for labour such as in the LETS (Local Exchange and Trade System) scheme (e.g. in the form of local currency and time banks). Each final design therefore should include economic considerations as well as give equal weight to maintaining ecological balance, making sure that the needs of people working on the project are met and that no one is exploited.
Community economics require a balance between the three aspects that comprise a community, justice, environment and economics aka the triple bottom line. This approach is also referred to as the Triple E (EEE)which stands for ecological-economics-ethics. A cooperative farmer’s market could be an example of this structure. The farmers are the workers and owners.
Anarchy would suggest you’re not cooperating. Permaculture is urging complete cooperation between each other and every other thing, animate and inanimate. You can’t cooperate by knocking something about or bossing it or forcing it to do things. You won’t get cooperation out of a hierarchical system. You get enforced directions from the top, and nothing I know of can run like that. I think the world would function extremely well with millions of little cooperative groups, all in relation to each other.
Permaculture . . . Design Practice for a People-Planet Caring Civilization
Modern Permaculture is a system design tool. It is a way of
looking at a whole system or problem
seeing connections between key elements (parts)
observing how the parts relate,
planning to mend sick systems by applying ideas learnt from long-term sustainable working systems.
Commonly, “Initiatives that are taken tend to evolve from strategies that focus on efficiency (for example, more accurate and controlled uses of inputs and minimisation of waste) to substitution (for example, from more to less disruptive interventions, such as from biocides to more specific biological controls and other more benign alternatives) to redesign — fundamental changes in the design and management of the operation.”
“Permaculture is about helping people make redesign choices: setting new goals and a shift in thinking that effects not only their home but their actions in the workplace, borrowings and investments. Examples include the design and employment of complex transport solutions, optimum use of natural resources such as sun light, “radical design of information-rich, multi-storey polyculture systems”
“This progression generally involves a shift in the nature of one’s dependence — from relying primarily on universal, purchased, imported, technology-based interventions to more specific locally available knowledge and skill-based ones. This usually eventually also involves fundamental shifts in world-views, senses of meaning, and associated lifestyles. My experience is that although efficiency and substitution initiatives can make significant contributions to sustainability over the short term, much greater longer-term improvements can only be achieved by redesign strategies; and, furthermore, that Steps need to be taken at the outset to ensure that efficiency and substitution strategies can serve as stepping stones and not barriers to redesign . . .”
O’BREDIM design methodology offers a guidance in practical system design. O’BREDIM stands for Observation, Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation and Maintenance.
Observation allows you to first see how the site functions within itself, to gain an understanding of its initial relationships. Some people recommend a year long observation of a site before anything is planted. During this period all factors, such as lay of the land, natural flora, can be brought into the design. A year allows the site to be observed through all seasons . . . Use all of your senses. Record observations systematically. Try to observe land over the four seasons and in different weather, especially extremes – frost, heavy rain, very warm, etc. Where does the snow clear first? Where does frost collect? Where does it stay wet or boggy longest? What is the wind like in the winter, and in the summer? Where do cats like to sit (the warmest spots!)What wildlife is there? What is the soil like and does it vary over the site? etc….
Boundaries refer to physical ones as well as to those your neighbours might place on you, for example . . . What are the boundaries of the site? Walk them and see what you find. What is over the fence, how will this affect you? What are the boundaries of the project – its ‘scope’.
Resources would include the people involved, funding, as well as what you can grow or produce in the future . . . What resources exist? Financial resources – what money is available to invest in the project? Is it available in a lump sum or small amounts over many months? What skills are there? What plants, structures or other resources are available? Is funding available from outside bodies?
Evaluation of the first three will then allow you to prepare for the next three. This is a careful phase of taking stock of what you have at hand to work with. Analysis of what you have got – how do elements interact? Evaluate your resources, will they make a big project possible, or do you need to design a long programme of small changes?
Design is always a creative and intensive process, and you must stretch your ability to see possible future synergetic relationships. This is where you can play with all your colouring pencils! A base map of what exists can be overlayed with tracing paper and you can start to look at how different aspects of the design might look. Many design techniques exist and most are relatively easy to use.
Implementation is literally the ground-breaking part of the process when you carefully dig and shape the site. Consider how your plans can be made real, consider the timing/phasing of the project. Create a plan of action and ensure that everyone knows what the plan is. (Best to involve them right from the start, if it doesn’t reflect what they want to happen, it won’t!)
Maintenance is then required to keep your site at a healthy optimum, making minor adjustments as necessary. Good design will preclude the need for any major adjustments. Make sure that you consider what maintenance is involved when you are designing. There is no point creating a system that needs 3 days a week to maintain, if there are only 2 days available.
David Holmgren has developed 12 design principles for permaculture:
Observe and interact. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Catch and store energy. “Make hay while the sun shines.”
Obtain a yield. “You can’t work on an empty stomach.”
Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
Use and value renewable resources and services. “Let nature take its course.”
Produce no waste. “Waste not, want not. A stitch in time saves nine.”
Design from patterns to details. “Can’t see the wood for the trees.”
Integrate rather than segregate. “Many hands make light work.”
Use small and slow solutions. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
Use and value diversity. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Use edges and value the marginal. “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path.”
Creatively use and respond to change. “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.”
Permaculture zones classify three-dimensional areas according to the amount of human attention needed to maintain the sustainable function of each zone (This zoning system is an example of designing a community living arrangement based on permaculture’s design principles, I believe more for a village than for a city. In the city, maybe for replacing the homogenous housing complex we have.)
Zone 0 . Centre of activities – the house, or home centre. Here permaculture principles would be applied in terms of aiming to reduce energy and water needs, harnessing natural resources such as sunlight, and generally creating a harmonious sustainable environment in which to live, work and relax. This is high maintenance, high use and requires considerable investment of time and energy.
Zone 1 . Is the zone nearest to the house, the location for those elements in the system that require frequent attention, or that need to be visited often. Annual plants, herbs, compost, bike store and other high use activities.
Zone 2 . The vegetable garden, larger scale compost bins and maybe beehives. Chickens, other animals, orchard, greenhouse.
Zone 3 . Is the area where crops are grown, both for domestic and trading purposes. Would include orchards. After establishment, care and maintenance requirements are fairly minimal providing mulches, etc. are used. Watering or weed control is once a week or so. Water storage, main crops, field shelters.
Zone 4 . Is semi-wild. Forestry, pasture, dams, forage. Used for timber production from coppice managed woodland and the placement of aquaculture ponds.
Zone 5 . The wilderness. Where nature is in charge and where we go to learn and harvest only that which is abundant. There is no human intervention here apart from the observation of natural eco-systems and cycles. Here is where we learn the most important lessons of the first permaculture principle of working with nature, not against. (The zones do not have to be these things exactly).
Thus, things in Zone 1 will need to be visited more often than those in Zone 3, so Zone 1 will be closer to the home, continuing out to wilderness which should need minimal attention.
Bill Mollison, the Conceptor of Permaculture on Civilization’s Survival
I think it’s pointless asking questions like “Will humanity survive?” . . . It’s purely up to people – if they want to, they can, if they don’t want to, they won’t . . . It’s us chickens that are doing it. There’s no need for anyone else – we are sufficient to do everything possible to heal this Earth. We don’t have to suppose we need oil, or governments, or anything. We can do it.
Keywords : agriculture, human habitat, village, city, civilization, earth, earth-based, people-centered, complex systems, complexity theory, design, cradle-to-cradle, zero waste, closed-loop systems, nutrient cycle, democracy, community, community entrepreneurship, institutional diversity, policentricity, participatory democracy, economics, capitalism, money, industrialism, consumerism, waste, pollution, ecosocial crisis, permaculture, sustainability, resilience, diversity, unity in diversity
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This article is a summary of the following articles :
- Wikipedia entry on permaculture at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture
- “Permaculture explained” at http://www.permaculture.org.uk/mm.asp?mmfile=whatispermaculture
- ” Introduction to Permaculture: Concepts and Resources” by Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) at http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/perma.html
- “Permaculture: Design For Living” an Interview with Bill Mollison, by Alan AtKisson from “In Context – a Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture” at http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC28/Mollison.htm
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