Thursday, 11 December 2014

Permaculture Ethics

If we do not feel grateful for what we have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” ~Unknown

Today I want to write about the ethics of permaculture, but first I should probably define "permaculture". People express the definition of permaculture in different words, and for the best explanation of permaculture you could check out David Holmgren's  website.  David Holmgren and Bill Mollison were the originators of permaculture.

Estuaries provide irreplaceable ecosystem services.
I think of permaculture as a design system for abundant living. Permaculture, when well executed, is about making homes and communities more productive and resilient, whilst having a positive effect on the environment. 

The three ethics which permaculture design rests upon are:
Care of the earth
Care of people, and;
Fair share

Nothing very earth-shattering in those ethics. They are the sort of ethics that my teachers in primary school tried to instil into their students.  They are the ethics that are discussed in many churches in many countries. They are the ethics countless parents try to teach their children.

To me these three ethics seem intrinsic to the thinking and feeling of most people I know. I guess it is just in the consistent expression of these ethics many of us appear to fall short.  Not through lack of desire, but perhaps through lack of knowledge, and no doubt lack of time as "the world is too much with us late and soon".  Also perhaps, because as far as we can tell, everyone else is just passing their days "getting and spending".  So if we don't, we will miss out, or be left behind…

Here are some of my thoughts and examples of what the three ethics are and how they can be expressed.

Care for the Earth

I think earth care in the most basic sense is referring to the health of natural systems, including soil health. The best indicator of soil health is the amount of life existing in the soil.  I work on improving my soil by adding compost to the soil, and by working to keep the ground covered by plants or mulch.  I am able to observe the diversity of organisms existing in my soil in the areas where I have been composting and mulching. Though I am yet to learn to identify these organisms other than worms.

All life forms are valuable and are to be respected for the functions they perform and the systems they maintain. Reducing the amount of material I waste is a way of
As nurseries of the sea our estuaries are vital  nesting
and feeding places for thousands of species of birds
animals and fish.
acknowledging and honouring other life forms. One way I do this is by feeding our kitchen scraps to our neighbours chickens and feeding our leftovers (that don’t contain onions), to our dog. Other ways I could use our kitchen scraps could be to keep a worm farm and feed the scraps to the worms, or add scraps to our compost.

Making good choices about what I consume and what I conserve is another way I care for the earth. One example of how I do this is by making some (and hopefully more over time) of my food from scratch; for example baking biscuits and making soups rather than buying them. Another method I use is that of planning the menu for the week by first looking at what I have in the fridge and freezer. Then I build that weeks’ menu around what I already have, shopping for the needed items only, which saves a lot of impulse buying and waste.

Care for People

As I cannot give what I don’t have, “care for people” has to start from within by caring for myself. Exploring the topic of self-care is another reason for keeping this blog.

It takes a village to raise a child is an old proverb. It also takes a village, or collective of people to create the conditions in which humans and the earth can thrive. Combined wisdom and knowledge are needed, as no one person or family can provide for themselves all the ingredients of a thriving lifestyle.  A permablitz is a good example of people coming together to help one another, share skills, build community and have fun. The Transition Towns movement is another example of people working together to meet their own needs, the needs of the group, and the needs of the community.

Housing is a basic human need, and many people today are in housing stress. Habitat for Humanity helps low income families own their own home via interest free home loans. The family puts in 500 hours of sweat equity in building their home. I think Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful example of a community of people coming together to actively care for others.

Fair Share

We have only one earth with finite resources. These resources need to be shared with all living things on the planet, and
Estuaries and adjacent land, are often the centre of coastal communities
as places where people live, swim, fish and sail.
future generations to come. One of the benefits of me exercising restraint and not buying later model cars, mobile phones, etc., is that I am leaving resources for someone else to use, now or in the future.

Fair share also includes the notion of gainful and meaningful employment . Donnie Maclurcan is the co-founder of the Post Growth Institute. He has done much work to promote the not for profit sector as the way to go in a post growth world. He explains how not for profit does not mean no profit but that the profit is returned to the business. The profits then can be invested back for social or organisational benefit rather than going to shareholders or overpaid CEO's. 

Shareware is an early example of fair share. A more recent example is that of Open SourceEcology. Their vision is to weave together open source permacultural and “do it yourself” technological advances, such as 3D printing to provide basic human needs and right livelihood. Their goal is to create an open technological platform that allows the easy fabrication of essential equipment such as tractors. Their equipment is being tested on Factor E farm.

So, what do the three ethics of permaculture mean to you? How do you express them in your life? How would you like to express them more fully? 


  1. Permaculture just makes so much sense, doesn't it? So sad to see about Bill Mollison's death recently, but he has left the most amazing legacy.

    1. He has left an amazing legacy Jayne.