Permaculture is looking to nature as a guide for how we should be living our lives. Instead of fighting against nature with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, the permaculturalist seeks to work with nature to harness its endless creative energy. Similarly, many human systems have us working against each other, expending unnecessary energy by creating unnecessary work.
While people in the present culture tend to think of things in terms of self contained industries or departments, permaculture is about connecting systems together into even more complex and harmonious meta-systems. Why is this important?
We believe that permaculture is actually the solution to virtually all of the world's problems. We know that's a very bold statement, but permaculture provides a set of principles that can guide our actions for a better future without devolving into destructive dogmas that have tended to separate us in violent ways in the past.
But what is permaculture, specifically? Permaculture is three ethics and then a prime directive. We'll examine the prime directive next time. Permaculture's ethics's are straightforward and easy to understand. Let's go through them now.
1) Care for the Earth
We all live on a huge rock that is hurling through space. The earth is basically our one space ship and if the ship fails, we all die. We have no other place to go, at this point at least, and even if we did inhabit other planets, we would promptly destroy these other planets also if we mistreated them as well.
For every individual action or decision, permaculture asks us to think: "Is this good for the earth?" If adopted in a widespread manner, this thinking would start moving things in a positive direction immediately.
Caring for the earth as a priority would be a significant shift from simply asking "Is it profitable?" and "Is it legal?" We've already seen how the search for profit to the detriment of all else has left us with a lot of problems that need to be unwound. We're suggesting that permaculture is the most efficient way to do that.
2) Care for People
Is a specific action or decision caring for people or is it taking advantage of people? The way to the better future we all want is to have a world where we treat each other better. The way to make that happen is to accumulate many, many actions that value people as having intrinsic worth and dignity. Another way of thinking of it would be: are you treating people as an end in themselves or simply as a means to an end (i.e. a way to just get what you want)?
Of course, tons of jobs and decisions do not care for people right now. We have the chance to turn the tide in the direction of a caring future, one decision at a time and one action at a time.
3) Recirculation Instead of Extraction
The third ethic relates to surplus. In permaculture, surplus is re-invested back into the system rather than extracted. This applies to all kinds of output, including both profit and waste byproducts. In fact, in a true permaculture system, there are no waste streams because all waste outputs become inputs for other parts of the system. For example, animal poop might be used for fertilizer rather than thrown out. It really depends on the specific circumstances.
Speaking of which, "it depends" is a key phrase in permaculture. Permaculture encourages us to observe all the details of how each situation is unique in an of itself and to respond accordingly with a specifically tailored solution. That's why permaculturalists will typically not offer universal prescriptions for what should be done, because those universal prescriptions have in the past been the very thing that has caused the present environmental situation. The three principles of permaculture provide a guide for action at a value level without prescribing any specific action in any specific circumstance. This makes permaculture extremely flexible from situation to situation.
The third ethic is really about creating systems that recirculate various forms of energies rather than draining them from the system (as typified by, for example, strip mining for raw materials). To be clear, return of surplus is about redirecting waste outputs back into being useful inputs in a system. This ethic has occasionally been misunderstood to mean a form of socialism / economic redistribution, but hopefully you can see from our description here how such a view misses the mark and mistakenly focuses on money as different from all other input and output streams. Recirculating monetary surplus would involve investing back into the original system to make it even more robust and diverse than before.
From the Garden to All Areas of Life
Although permaculture is about learning from nature and is highly focused on nature, permaculture thinking actually applies to every aspect of life. Nature is providing a blueprint for what works in life if we are able to observe it clearly. Observing this blueprint has been called "reading the book of nature" by Sepp Holzer, a key figure in the permaculture movement who personally transformed an entire mountain in Austria into a Garden of Eden style paradise.
A common misconception is that permaculture is only about gardening or even ecology in general. Permaculture is actually a thinking style that involves connecting seemingly separate processes into a more harmonious whole. Permaculture is a blueprint for coordination rather than competition.
Aspire is actually a permaculture company and, as such, we seek cooperative, mutually beneficial arrangements with other people and groups rather than defaulting to a competitive mindset. We think we all want a better future and can coordinate / cooperate towards that end.
The Solution to Our Major Problems?
Why do we believe permaculture is the solution to virtually all of the world's problems? Well, it primarily relates to resource distribution. Extraction processes have resulted in the centralization of resources. That means for the average person to literally eat, they have to depend on someone else. This encourages the powerful to start, over time, abusing the less powerful in various, often subtle, ways. Stereotypes and social norms begin to form to explain and amplify the inequality over time. As the inequality increases, both sides increasingly view the other group as some sort of characature rather than a collection of human beings just like you and me. The resource disparities also encourage one group to attack another group to annex their resources. In addition, industrialized agricultural practices are degrading the soils each year, which further accentuates the resource scarcity dynamic.
We feel that virtually all acts of violence are, at their root, an attempt to annex resources, which is only necessary because of the resource inequality created by our current system. Then violence creates psychological scars that ripple effect into further violence later. But there is plenty of food and there are plenty of resources for everyone right now. The issue is the distribution of those resources and how we are relating to each other and to the earth, including all living beings in it. We can also increase the total amount of resources available by adopting regenerative food practices that increase the land's fertility each year.
What we like about permaculture is that it's 100% focused on positive solutions. Permaculture provides a way for each of us to learn to provide for ourselves with the healthiest possible foods, to build strong families / communities, and to help each other while healing the earth at the same time. It's the sort of future that we can all get behind because it provides for enough flexibility to allow for our differences and to actually see those differences as a value rather than a detriment.
We hope this has been a useful introduction into the concept of permaculture. If we can improve this article in any way, please let us know by filling out our contact form. If you'd like to get involved in our mission to spread permaculture world-wide please share this article via the link below and follow us on social at the bottom of this page. Thank you so much!
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