‘If we want to create sustainability and a more fulfilling quality of life, the best way to do this is to understand the nature of the world and to live harmoniously and creatively with it—to understand that we are a part of the web of life, not separate from it.’
– Steve Charter, Working with Nature, 1999
Are you one of those people who believe the earth is in trouble? If you’ve asked yourself the question, ‘but what can I do about it?’ then permaculture might just be the inspiration you need.
Permaculture is a framework for looking at life – a holistic way of thinking that we can use to adapt our approach to the whole of life. Through the macro-lens of permaculture, our orientation becomes the conscious application of sane, ethical and environmentally sustainable solutions to the needs to all life. It all comes down to re-designing our relationship with the environment that supports us.
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 and widespread deforestation that have altered regional and continental climates. The single most powerful cause? Agriculture.
The practice of agriculture hasn’t deviated from it’s basic pattern of impact since it was invented some 10, 000 years ago. This pattern involves a single crude process that can be described in 4 steps:
- Clear-cutting wilderness
- Establishing a cycle of digging or plowing
- Seeding with a few useful species, primarily grasses or grains
- Harvesting the crop to feed humans and livestock
This cycle is repeated season after season, year after year until the land is depleted. After this, a new area of wilderness is cleared and the entire process is re-enacted.
The solution—from a permaculture perspective—is to introduce design. Design that creates permanent, high-yielding and balanced agricultural ecosystems, so that humans can thrive on as little land as possible, thus leaving as much land to remain as wilderness. This visionary, global mission is encapsulated in the word ‘permaculture,’ a shortened form of ‘permanent agriculture.’
The beauty of permaculture is it’s holistic scalability. Every place on earth is different in terms of climate, landforms, soil, bodies of water, and the unique combinations of species that thrive there. The needs, preferences and capabilities of local people vary as well. Thus every place and community requires its own particular design. So at the local level, you might hear people referring to permaculture as a macro-lens for re-designing human systems, thus combining the two words ‘permanent culture.’ So one could say that permaculture is a recipe for cultural transformation.
Let’s take a look at the three main ingredients of permaculture:
- Shared ethics of earth care, people care, and fair trade.
- Ecological principles derived from observation of natural systems so as to create sustainable human habitats that mirror nature’s patterns and minimize waste.
- Design tools and processes that allow an individual or group to assemble conceptual, material and strategic components into a ‘pattern’ (action plan) that can be implemented with and maintained with minimal resources and toil.
- Action! We move into action as design principles are applied to every kind of ecosystem imaginable—from deserts to rainforests and from tropical islands to mountains—workingwith nature’s intrinsic self-reliant design rather than against it. Thinking and looking at how these resources relate dynamically to each other within the system gives us a working basis for producing sustainable and effective designs.
Perhaps the most useful links we can create are involve co-creating permaculture designs with the mutual support of other people who share the same values and aims. At the time of this writing, one of the most challenging aspects of greening our lives is the feeling that we’re doing it on our own. This will change over time as our individual and collective consciousnesses expand to embrace whole system perspectives.
This article is the first of a series entitled Permaculture 101, by Catherine Walker, CPD. You are welcome to distribute and use any article in this series as long as the appropriate source acknowledgements are made. All rights reserved.