For all the mysteries that seem to surround permaculture — Is it a type of organic gardening? Is it green living? Sustainable living? A design system? A way of life? — one thing for sure is that the crux of the practice is simple: ethics. Three, to be exact.
Truth be told, permaculture is, in some shape form, about all of the things listed above, but central to all of them is how that gardening, designing, and sustaining are approached. Indeed, with the right mindset, a striving that operates under the permaculture ethics, all things in life, from waste management to personal hygiene, can fall under the canopy of permaculture.
The permaculture ethics were developed out of extensive research on societies around the world, especially those which have survived long-term and harmoniously with their environments. They are as follows: earth care, people care, and fair share.
For permaculturalists, earth care goes far beyond the ideas of recycling and using energy-saving light bulbs, though those things wouldn’t necessarily be frowned upon. However, permaculture practitioners concern themselves in a much more direct, personal way, observing how efficiently the planet works and striving to fit into an appropriate niche with its cyclical systems.
This often means sacrificing the more consumptive habits of modern life and learning to live in a way that benefits the earth rather than solely takes from it. Doing so, of course, includes cleaning rivers, conserving forests and fostering animals, but it also involves minimizing our individual dependence upon environmentally destructive industries like concrete and petroleum.
A major part of this is producing our own food, small-scale, or at least using local, small-scale sources, which is why permaculture is often confused as a type of gardening. In fact, there are specific techniques of growing food that are actually soil builders, improving the condition of the land as crops grow rather than depleting into nutrient deficiency.
Equally important is taking care of people, ourselves and others. In fact, the whole idea of finding ways to better manage our interactions with nature is so that, hopefully, the world we keep us around a bit longer. In other words, all of this pollution we cause is threatening our existence on the planet more than the earth itself.
But, to the point, people care makes for both a better environment and a better human existence. This means first taking care of ourselves, our families and then our communities. When we can meet our own needs in responsible ways, using a minimal amount of resources and creating little waste, people, on the whole, can actually prosper. Working with others and our surroundings rather than constantly competing improves everyone’s life.
Within the garden/home/community design aspect of permaculture, this also plays a huge role. Designing gardens, houses, and even towns in effort to not just require less of earth’s resources while meeting our needs, but to help people expel less energy in day-to-day life.
Sakurai Midori / Wikimedia Commons
Applying to both the earth and its people is the “fair share” ethic, which asks that we recognized the value of the resources we consume, as well as share in the abundance that we produce. Focusing on our own productivity and sharing in the bounty that comes from it will ultimately bring about a more fruitful planet.
A common example for explaining this is someone who has a fruit tree. Often one tree can produce much more fruit than any one person will eat. So, first, efforts should be made to preserve for our own needs. Then, the harvest should be shared within the community. Recognizing our requirements and putting limits on what is enough, versus personal hoarding, is crucial.
This again applies to the how gardens operate — more like independent ecosystems — in permaculture designs. In independent ecosystems, each plant and animal fulfills necessary roles, and its survival both depends on those roles being fulfilled, as well as regulated. We must strive to find the right rates of consumption and sacrifice to keep ourselves, our neighbors and our neighborhoods thriving.
Without a doubt, accepting these ethics is a way of living, and one that makes the planet a better place. They simply are, and some of us feel they are the right steps to make for a secure future on the earth.