Permaculture: A Necessary Environmental Design

Permaculture is a lifestyle that encompasses ethics and design in order to mimic the relationships seen in nature. The goal is to view every environment as one part of the whole world. Rather than being consumers, the focus is on becoming “responsible producers” of biodiversity and returning any unused goods to the ground. Permaculture aims to build long-standing cultures that can sustain or be sustained for extended periods of time. This path focuses on food forest development with more permanent, perennial plant life. Permaculture, or Linking Science, offers plausible solutions for many environmental issues that exist today due to toxic human behavior.

The impact that humans and our food culture have had on the natural environment is disgraceful, and the harsh effects of intensive agriculture continue toxifying the environment. Many of our current environmental problems are the result of excessive herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. All are common approaches to address pest or chemical issues without conceptualizing the repercussions of these actions on our resources. Evan Bowness defines the problem in shocking detail: Soil erosion, ocean acidification, atmospheric pollution, bioaccumulation of toxic substances, declining sources of drinkable fresh water, deforestation, waste buildup, diminishing biodiversity, species extinction, peak oil, climate change, and valuable resource depletion all threaten the integrity of the vastly complex and fragile society/biosphere relationship.” As stewards of this planet, it is our responsibility to start looking at life in a more holistic manner and treating plants, ourselves, and the planet generally as part of a living ecosystem.

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Permaculture creates a circular, holistic ecosystem in which everything is created from the Earth in order to care for other life. Humans give back surplus items to the Earth to be reused as viable sources of energy for another life form, just as animals and plants would. When it comes to food production, permaculture aims to create bio-diverse food forests. The unsustainable monocultural systems that are commonly practiced throughout the world don’t offer such vast options as food forestry through proper permaculture techniques. As Ted Trainer points out, “One species, humans, is taking 40% of the biological productivity of the planet’s entire land area, mostly to provide well for only 1 billion people. If another 10 billion want to live as we in the rich countries do how much habitat will be left for the other possibly 30 million species? We cannot possibly expect to stop the extinction of species unless we drastically reverse this demand for biological resources and the consequent destruction of habitat.” Food forests alleviate the need for synthetic intervention so long as they are well structured. They also provide enough food for humans and animals to graze and collect surplus while using much less land. Substances that cannot biodegrade are never put into the soil or water which limits outgoing waste from communities.

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Permaculture has been gaining popularity and interest since it was first developed in 1978 by Australian Bill Mollison. It has since spread over the entire world, as farmers and families try to control their survival necessities and reduce the human footprint. There are many recognized permaculture schools, and courses are beginning to show up in colleges and online, sometimes for free. Most people in the permaculture field are well networked, as making connections is a necessary part of the practice. This circular process is necessary in all relationships of life, including everything from human relations to caring for animals to growing food and processing waste materials from humans, plants, and animals. The most developed network that currently exists for permaculture students and practitioners is called the Worldwide Permaculture Network. With this tool, people are able to add their projects to a global map with descriptions of their needs and desires. Thanks to the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, the networking power available surpasses many other movements that have similar goals of a greener planet. Perhaps it is because of the way permaculture is taught that the people involved know that “many hands make light work,” as John Heywood once said.

Humans have been struggling to coexist within the planet’s environmental systems for quite some time, but never before in history have we been in such a predicament. We can create a system that is interconnected and self reliant but this system, in order to gain full benefits, will not work in our current consumer society. As Trainer notes, “Permaculture can very easily be part of the problem. It is part of the problem if does not increase the realisation that affluent living standards and this economy are totally incompatible with sustainability and with global economic justice.” If we want a more sustainable world, we have to change by reducing consumption and increasing sustainable production. The planet cannot sustain life at the rate it is currently, and environmental problems will only get worse if we don’t take direct action. Permaculture offers an approach to sustainability that is hard to find, but it also requires determination beyond simply educating others.

The structure of our global food chain is appalling, and it is up to everyone who cares to make a statement about the kind of world we want. How we go about this is the determining factor in whether we can really create a better life for ourselves and the planet. It is saddening to think about the damage we have caused to this bountiful place we call Earth, but it doesn’t have to be this way. To prevail, we as consumers can take strong action, making statements about the world we want to support by simple restrictions. For example, where we spend our money makes a huge statement about what is important to us. How much interest we show toward something makes it either worthwhile or not, and this can drive up the monetary value of products. If we put our money where our heart is and our hands in the soil, we can create a more beautiful world with less corruption, poverty, and detrimental environmental impacts.