Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual



Section 1.1 –

Permaculture Design Philosophy

Although this course is about design, it is also about values and ethics, and above all about a sense of personal responsibility for earth care.

Bill has written at times in the first person, to indicate that he is not a detached, impersonal, or even unbiased.

Every course has an author, and what that author chooses to write about is subjective, for that person alone determines the subject, content, and the values expressed or omitted.

Bill is not detached from, but have been passionately involved with this earth, and so herein he gives a brief vision of what he thinks can be achieved by anyone.

The sad reality is that we are in danger of perishing from our own stupidity and lack of personal responsibility to life.

If we become extinct because of factors beyond our control, then we can at least die with pride in ourselves, but to create a mess in which we perish by our own inaction makes nonsense of our claims to consciousness and morality.

There is too much contemporary evidence of ecological disaster which appalls, and it should frighten you, too.

Our consumptive lifestyle has led us to the very brink of annihilation.

We have expanded our right to live on the earth to an entitlement to conquer the earth, yet “conquerors” of nature always lose.

To accumulate wealth, power, or land beyond one’s needs in a limited world is to be truly immoral, be it as an Individual, an institution, or a nation-state. What we have done, we can undo.

There is no longer time to waste nor any need to accumulate more evidence of disasters; the time for action  Is here. I deeply believe that people are the only critical resource needed by people.

We ourselves, if we organize our talents, are sufficient to each other. What Is more, we will either survive together, or none of us will survive.

To fight between ourselves is as stupid and wasteful as it is to fight during times of natural disasters, when everyone’s cooperation is vital.

A person of courage today is a person of peace. The courage we need is to refuse authority and to accept only personally responsible decisions.

Like war, growth at any cost is an outmoded and discredited concept. It is our lives which are being laid to waste.

What is worse, it is our children’s world which is being destroyed. It is therefore our only possible decision to withhold all support for destructive systems, and to cease to invest our lives in our own annihilation.

The Prime Directive of Permaculture

The only ethical decision is to lake responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. Make it now.”

Most thinking people would agree that we have arrived at final and irrevocable decisions that will abolish or sustain life on this earth.

We can either ignore the madness of uncontrolled industrial growth and defense spending that is in small bites, or large catastrophes, eroding life forms every day, or take the path to life and survival.

Information and humanity, science and understanding, are in transition. Long ago, we began by wondering mainly about what is most distant; astronomy and astrology were our ancient pre­ occupations.

We progressed, millennia by millennia, to enumerating the wonders of earth. First, by naming things, then by categorizing them, and more recently by deciding how they function and what work they do within and without themselves.

This analysis has resulted in the development of different sciences, disciplines and technologies; a welter of names and the sundering of parts; a proliferation of specialists; and a consequent inability to foresee results or to design integrated systems.

The present great shift in emphasis is on how the parts interact, how they work together with each other, how dissonance or harmony in life systems or society is achieved. Life is cooperative rather than competitive, and life forms of very different qualities may interact beneficially with one another and with their physical environment.

Even “the bacteria… live by collaboration, accommodation, exchange, and barter” (Lewis Thomas, 1974).

Principle of Cooperation

      “Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of existing life systems and of future survival.”

There are many opportunities to create systems that work from the elements and technologies that exist.

Perhaps we should do nothing else for the next century but apply our knowledge. We already know how to build, maintain, and inhabit sustainable systems.

Every essential problem is solved, but in the everyday life of people this is hardly apparent. The wage-slave, peasant, landlord, and industrialist alike are deprived of the leisure and the life spirit that is possible in a cooperative society which applies its knowledge.

Both warders and prisoners are equally captive in the society in which we live.

If we question why we are here and what life is, then we lead ourselves into both science and mysticism which are coming closer together as science itself approaches its conceptual limits.

As for life, it is the most open of open systems, able to take from the energy resources in time and to re-express itself not only as a lifetime but as a descent and an evolution.

Lovelock (1979) has perhaps best expressed a philosophy, or insight, which links science and tribal beliefs: he sees the earth and the universe, as a thought  process, or as a self-regulating, sell-constructed and reactive system, creating and preserving the conditions that make life possible, and actively adjusting to regulate disturbances.

Humanity however, in its present mindlessness, may be the one disturbance that the earth cannot tolerate.

The Gala hypothesis is for those who like to walk or simply stand and stare. To wonder about the earth and the life it bears and to speculate about the consequences of our own presence here. It is an alternative to that pessimistic view which sees nature as a primitive force to be subdued and conquered. It is also an alternative to that equally depresssing picture or our planet as a demented spaceship, forever travelling, driverless and purposeless, around an Inner circle of the sun.

(J.E. Lovelock, 1979)

For every scientific statement articulated on energy, the Aboriginal tribe’s people of Australia have an equivalent statement on life. Life, they say, is a totality neither created nor destroyed.

It can be imagined as an egg from which all tribes (life forms) issue and to which all return .The ideal way in which to spend one’s time is in the perfection of the expression ol life, to lead the most evolved life  possible, and to assist in and celebrate the existence of life forms other than humans, for all come from the same egg.

The totality of this outlook leads to a meaningful daily existence, in which one sees each quantum of life eternally trying to perfect an expression towards a future, and possibly transcendental, perfection.

It is all the more horrific, therefore, that tribal peoples, whose aim was to develop a conceptual and spiritual existence, have encountered a crude scientific and material culture whose life aim is not only unstated, but which relies on pseudo-economic and techno­ logical systems for its existence.

The experience of the natural world and its laws has almost been abandoned for closed, artificial, and meaningless lives, perhaps best typified by the dreams of those who would live In space satellites and abandon a dying earth.

I believe that unless we adopt sophisticated aboriginal belief systems and learn respect for all life, then we lose our own, not only as lifetime but also as any future opportunity to evolve our potential.

Whether we continue, without an ethic or a philosophy, like abandoned and orphaned children, or whether we create opportunities to achieve maturity, balance, and harmony is the only real question that faces the present generation.

This is the debate that must never stop. A young woman once came to me after a lecture in which I wondered at the various concepts of afterlife; the plethora of “heavens” offered by various groups. Her view was, “This is heaven, right here. This is it. Give it all you’ve got.”

I couldn’t better that advice. The heaven, or hell, we live in is of our own making. An afterlife, if such exists, can be no different for each of us.