The one thing permaculture lacks is an easy elevator pitch. Describing it in 15 seconds without sounding a like a tree-hugger is challenging, but it’s possible. In short, some people say it’s a “conscious design science”. That’s a start. It includes the words “design” and “science” which provides it with some creditability, but it’s still a little vague.
For now, I’d probably explain permaculture as the design of communities so that they can live healthy lifestyles, using a fairshare of resources while restoring and improving the surrounding natural resources. That’s my first stab at explaining it. I’m trying to incorporate the three basic ethics that are discussed in permaculture: 1) Care for the planet 2) Care for people and 3) Fairshare.
(source: Permaculture Ireland & N.Ireland)
Many of the ideas in permaculture remind me of my work at BioRegional, an environmental organisation based in London. BioRegional was founded on the principle of bioregionalism, which is about communities being designed around the natural boundaries that exist in the landscape (a bioregion) rather than the arbitrary political lines we often find drawn on maps. BioRegional developed a framework called One Planet Living, which consists of 10 principles underpinned by ecological footprinting science, which provides the strong call for action. Ecological footprinting looks at the balance between the planet’s natural capital and our consumption of this capital – it’s one of many verifications that confirm a desperate need for change in our societies, both in design and lifestyles.
The One Planet Living principles are: Zero Carbon, Zero Waste, Sustainable Transport, Local and Sustainable Materials, Sustainable Food, Sustainable Water, Natural Habitats and Wildlife, Culture and Heritage, Equity and Local Economy, Health and Happiness.
In the morning we took time to consider some reasons and evidence for action. It’s not healthy to put all your energy into searching for evidence. Climate change, soil erosion and deforestation are happening to a huge extent and even if you don’t recognise this, it still makes sense to try and live with consideration of our ecological footprints and future generations.
Permaculture was borne out of the common themes and practices that enabled certain societies to successfully sustain themselves and their surrounding environments for thousands of years. These case studies demonstrate methods of how we can design out pollution, avoid deforestation and soil loss – three problems that threaten our survival as a species. Lose the soil, and you grow anything to eat; deforest the land, and you lose your water; pollute, and you harm both animals and yourself. All three neatly interact and permaculture helps us consider ways to prevent them happening.
Permaculture Teacher, Warren Brush
Permaculture can be as simple or complex as you like. In the morning, our teacher Warren Brush took us through some concepts and themes in design. He’s a brilliant facilitator, full of stories that illustrate each concept and idea. There are roughly 12 principles in permaculture:
1) Observe and interact 2) Catch and store energy 3) Obtain a yield 4) Apply self regulation and account feedback 5) Use and value renewable resources 6) Produce no waste 7) Design from patterns to details 8) Integrate rather than separate 9) Use small and slow solutions 10) Use and value diversity 11) Use edges and value the marginal 12) Creatively use and respond to change.
On their own, these principles don’t hold obvious meaning, but with examples their significance and implementation becomes more obvious. In the afternoon, we looked at some case studies of societies that demonstrated innovative methods of meeting their needs, based on their local environment. This included the Ahana people of Hawaii, the Cork-Pork-Chesnut-System in Portugal and the Swiden System (“Slash & Burn).