Thoughts on permaculture

For new readers who may not be aware, 8 years ago I did a permaculture design course (known in the trade as a PDC). It wasn’t the 2-week intensive course that is usually given; in my case it was spread out over 13 weeks—one full day per week.

I wrote a weekly series of posts about my experiences—for those interested, the first one is here and the rest follow on.

Standing and holding the hose while watering recently, I gave some thought to the future value of permaculture.

Anyone who is paying attention and does a bit of reading knows we face huge problems in the coming decades. There are those who think human extinction will be the end result; others are more optimistic—those doing permaculture seem to fall into this group.

Permaculture takes a certain way of thinking—a certain mindset—and while there are an increasing number of people putting in food gardens, using less energy and creating less waste, I suspect that most don’t have this mindset.

Bill Mollison, the co-originator of permaculture, had it of course; he wouldn’t have thought of permaculture if he hadn’t. You only have to read some of Bill’s more famous and well-known quotes to see it.

All of the people on my PDC had it; that was evident from the round-the-lunchtable conversation each week. In a sense, permaculture is made for people with this mindset—it is there waiting for those who are looking for positive solutions to the problems we face. That is evident in the comments you see from people after they’ve completed a PDC. My own comment was, “it just blew me away”. I’ve seen similar comments over and over again. I went home from each PDC class with a head brimming with new ideas and couldn’t wait to get started on implementing them.

Can permaculture save us and the rest of the living world we depend on?

I think is has a good chance of helping those who practise it to come through the short-term problems we face. Here I’m thinking about the end of the oil age and the collapse of industrial agriculture. Long-term problems I’m not so sure of. That will depend on the changing climate and how many people survive the inevitable dieoff to be able to carry on the species.

I can’t explain exactly what I mean by ‘mindset’ in this post. It is a way of looking at the world which is fundamentally different to the mainstream. Sadly, most thinking is mainstream—it is how our current culture teaches us to think. It’s what I call the ‘growth-is-good’, ‘world-belongs-to-Man’, mindset. There are other damaging messages our culture teaches, but these are probably two of the worst.

One of the major problems I see is that permaculture is still agriculture—still a way of providing more food than the environment would do naturally. It isn’t hunter-gathering, which is, and was, the only sustainable way for humans and all species, to live. All species except humans, live this way, because the system evolved for, and with, species living this way. It cannot survive if one species takes more than its fair share and by doing this, ultimately collapses the system. Permaculturalists have to be careful not to fall into the trap that the original adopters of agriculture set for all of their descendants—that of growing more food, which supports more people, which means more food has to be grown to feed the excess, which means unsustainable population growth and eventual overshoot, collapse and dieoff. That is where we are now. It has taken 10,000 years to get here, but it was inevitable that eventually we would.

This problem is covered by one of the 12 permaculture principles—#4—”Apply self-regulation and accept feedback”. Amongst other things, this implies keeping the population in balance with the resources available and limiting births to balance the death rate. Populations must not be allowed to grow beyond what the environment will sustainably support and human settlements must not be allowed to grow to the point where they compromise the health and function of the entire system. Can we do this?

It needs a new mindset—a new way of thinking about the role of humans in the system of life on this planet.

With that mindset, ‘permies’ might just do it.

5 Responses to “Thoughts on permaculture”

  1. narf7 Says:

    Excellent post Bev. I haven’t ever seen your PCD posts so I am off to have a good read over the next few days 🙂


  2. Chris Says:

    Hi foodnstuff,

    Very thoughtful, and I too wonder about this stuff. I spotted the other day that the Crimson Rosella’s have learned a new trick: They knock unripe apples from the tree. The unripe apples then begin to ferment on the ground and then the Rosella’s get stuck into them. There are still plenty of apples on the trees and so I don’t begrudge the wildlife their share. Well, unless they take all of it, like the strawberries! How do you go with strawberries?



    • foodnstuff Says:

      Hi Chris, the rosellas here just pick at the fruit on the trees; they don’t even wait for it to ripen. Even the quinces. I can’t imagine the attraction of an unripe quince!

      Luckily I don’t have a lot of trouble with strawberries….they’re in pots on the deck and the birds don’t come near the house much. At the first sign of trouble, the nets will be out though.


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