If our current lifestyle truly is unsustainable – and there are many voices clamouring that this is so – what are we to do about it?
Is turning off a few appliances, having one less holiday abroad a year, sorting all our rubbish into four different bins and buying fair-trade fashion enough to turn the tide? Or do we need to make more radical changes to what we decide to value in life?
One rapidly growing worldwide movement claims not to know all the answers, but to be asking the right questions. Permaculture is about empowering people to come up with solutions themselves.
Originally a shortening of the term “permanent agriculture”, permaculture now more readily means “permanent culture”. It’s a collection of tools, methods, systems, philosophies, experiences and ethics which are used to create a harmonious, non-damaging lifestyle.
The three tenets upon which permaculture stands are difficult to argue with: ‘caring for people’, ‘caring for Earth’, and ‘fair shares for all’. You may notice that ‘profit’ is conspicuously absent from the equation.
Permaculture is about taking back responsibility for ensuring that our heart-based values are put before purely monetary considerations. Money maybe a tool. It is never a driver.
Care for people will cover things like ensuring that the food we eat is healthy, that it’s produced without exploitation, that the vulnerable and helpless are cared for in community. That our children are given real life-skills, like how to live happy, fulfilled lives and how to relate well to each other, rather than how to be worker/consumers.
Care for Earth means working with nature, not against it. Instead of stripping the land and pouring on chemicals, in permaculture we allow and encourage a healthy mix of plants and animals to grow together. Just like they would in the wild, but selected to give us maximum benefit. We also ensure that a proportion of the land is left totally wild and protected, to preserve biodiversity.
Fair shares for all is kind of self-explanatory, but it extends further than the immediate community. We’re realising that when we buy cheap clothes we’re directly responsible for poor wages where they’re made. We are not separate from the process. So we take responsibility for all our actions. We don’t turn a blind eye.
The permaculturalists I’ve met are enthusiastic, endlessly inventive, beautifully creative, practical, warm and nurturing people. I reckon they’ve found a truly fulfilling way to live.
One of my favourite permaculture principles is to aim always for maximum yield from minimum effort. You combine things in the most beneficial ways. If you can get the trees to grow great fruit because you have animals roaming beneath – fertilising the ground and keeping competing weeds down – and you grow plants nearby that encourage beneficial insects that reduce pests, and you’ve selected a variety that thrives in the conditions on your plot … well, you can sling your hammock and learn to play the guitar while
In nature, organisms live as crowded together as the climate allows. Abundance, when it comes in a healthy mixture, is the natural order – until we come along, strip the land and force one thing only to grow there. Permaculture works with this natural order to bring abundance back to our doorsteps.
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