Why permaculture is the heart of a sustainable humanity

4 years ago

Permaculture principles are based on earth care, people care and fair share. The principles provide a map for navigating a journey towards sustainability.

Observe and interact

Observe your landscape, such as the energy from the wind, the angle of the sun through the seasons, rainfall, the lay of the land, and do site assessments. As you become familiar with the landscape, interact with it – shape it, and make changes for a system with better flow and connection.

The way we interact with our environment today is largely dependent on fossil fuels. Permaculture design implements systems for energy descent (reducing our dependence on fossil fuels) due to peak oil and climate breakdown.

Catch and store energy

Our energy ratio went from 1:1.25 pre-industrial to 1:100 industrial – we’ve been living in a time with energy to burn. And burn we have. Our systems, so heavily reliant on fossil fuels, are wasteful. To transition to a more sustainable society we need to capture and store energy from the sun, wind and rain.

We need to recycle waste as part of the product lifecycle. Key to this is capturing rainwater with tanks, creating passive solar buildings, recycling waste in the form of black and grey water as well as from food.

Obtain a yield

In order to harvest a yield for the benefit of people and the planet, we need to think systemically. Similarly, to obtain a yield we need to reinforce positive feedback loops for long term sustainable systems.

In industrial economies, obtaining a yield has resulted in destructive practices that have decimated natural environments. Such systems require increased energy inputs year-on-year in order to maximize profit. Whereas permaculture implements changes that have a positive social, environmental and economic impact.

Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

Permaculture systems are self-regulating, meaning they cut down on negative feedback loops while reinforcing positive ones. The system will therefore reduce corrective measures for errors over time by designing with nature in mind. The more we align with nature, the less corrective measures we need to implement.

Self-regulating systems rely on balancing integration and diversity. For example, too much diversity, and we have chaos and confusion. However, too much integration, and we end up with flatland or dogma.

Use and value renewable resources and services

Although we may use some non-renewable resources to set up sustainable systems, they must use renewable resources over the long term. For example, we can use pigs or goats to prepare the ground for planting instead of using energy-intensive rotary machinery. In a permaculture system, the value of resources should be dual function.

Trying to exert 100% control over nature through the extraction of finite resources is expensive and destructive to the environment. Permaculture applies the use of renewable resources to restore ecological balance between nature and humans.

Produce no waste

A good ambassador for this principle is the earthworm; it consumes waste in the form of leaves or vegetables and converts it into humus – vital organic matter for healthy soil.

Industrial systems have huge energy inputs with waste that ends up in landfills, adding to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. A pollutant does not add to the sustainability of a system.

Design from patterns to details

Much the same way a spider creates its web, this principle involves sector and site planning that is crucial to any permaculture system. One of the initial ideas for this principle came from food forests. A food forest is an interconnected web of life forms – each one supporting the whole.

Within the zonal analysis of permaculture design, there’s often a focal point from which stem other patterns. Using a farmhouse to store renewable energy is a way to capture and redirect the flow into a veggie garden. The principle of ‘patterns to details’ focuses on whole-systems design for big-picture planning and development.

Integrate rather than segregate

The industrial model focuses on reductionist thinking, isolating components for analysis. Due to its biased nature, however, this materialistic model has become destructive. By integrating the useful components of a system for a relational perspective, we can create systems that are more responsive to environmental and social feedback loops.

Use small and slow solutions

Industrial systems extract and waste. Permaculture systems return to the human as a yardstick for small-scale energy production and long-lasting solutions to meeting needs. Simple examples of this principle in action could be growing our own food, fixing broken appliances, making our own clothes, recycling, home schooling or looking after our health by eating organic food and taking regular exercise.

Instead of focusing on a quick fix (as is the case with industrial narratives in medicine, food, and entertainment), permaculture relies on slow and steady solutions for long-lasting impacts on human and environmental wellbeing.

Use and value diversity

Both form and function integrate the useful components of diversity.

Monoculture systems don’t value diversity as a means of production. Instead, corporations clear land of biodiversity, planting palm trees for palm oil, for example. The focus is on short-term profit while the process becomes increasingly one-dimensional to serve this end. We must integrate diversity into systems as a means of increasing fertility, production and health.

Use edges and value the marginal

Edges define nature – forest/river, river/field, ocean/beach, and mountain/valley. How best we utilize these edges forms a significant part of permaculture. In the soil, we have many different layers such as humus, topsoil, subsoil, weathered rock and bedrock. Between these layers are edges, which add to the totality, adaptability and workings of a system. The edges of a system often are the most diverse and fertile.

A monoculture system quickly loses site of the workings of the edges, while permaculture sees the edges as a valuable yardstick in creating solutions that adapt to change.

Creatively use and respond to change

Permaculture is about aligning natural and social systems for long-term sustainable outcomes. This depends on the flexibility of a system.

Our ability to be flexible and adapt to change requires an open, expansive mindset. We must transcend fear and open ourselves to new ways of evolving to create sustainable systems.

If we can take on new perspectives, integrate what works, become resilient and adaptable to change, we can create far-reaching solutions to some of our most pressing global concerns.

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