Climate Matters: Permaculture a design for the way forward

Potential to be life-changing: Jane Pickard writes about the common sense approach behind permaculture.

Potential to be life-changing: Jane Pickard writes about the common sense approach behind permaculture.

The word “permaculture” was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Tasmania in the early 1970s.

In their book, Permaculture One, they defined it as “an integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man” or a PERmanent agriCULTURE. 

Their core idea was to look closely at natural ecosystems (e.g. undisturbed native forests) and to design food-producing systems using the principles they observed.

Permaculture was enthusiastically received and a set of permaculture ethics and principles emerged.

It soon became clear that these could be applied to many other areas, such as house design, city planning, working with people and even planning one’s personal life goals and so is now considered to be a way of designing a PERMAnent human CULTURE.

Mollison and Holmgren were concerned that the reliance of modern agriculture on fossil fuels was not sustainable.

As the perils of climate change became obvious, these two issues were the motivation for permaculture teacher, Rob Hopkins, to start the Transition Towns movement in the United Kingdom, which inspired the formation of Sustainable Living Armidale.

The permaculture ethics are: Earthcare, People Care and Fair Share. Earthcare recognises that we are part of and totally reliant on the earth and its ecosystems. People Care recognises that without care and thought for how we deal with all other people, we can achieve little.

the ethic Fair Share reminds us that there are many people less fortunate than ourselves and we should therefore “share” whatever we can, whether excess food we have grown or offering our skills for free where we can.

Permaculture is often misunderstood, either to be simply “organic gardening” or to be the use of specific techniques, such as herb spirals or tyre ponds.

This is not so! It is the application of permaculture ethics and principles in a design process that makes something permaculture.

Many other people have developed similar ideas elsewhere: Japanese Masanobu Fukuoka, who wrote The One-Straw Revolution; Austrian Sepp Holzer’s High Altitude Permaculture; and South African Allan Savory’s Holistic Management.

Permaculture does not claim to be unique or entirely original.

However, many people the world over have found completing their permaculture design certificate course to be a life-changing experience that has provided them with a coherent approach, a set of tools and confidence to move forward with their goals.