Message in a Bottle: Permaculture & Disruptive Innovation

Christopher & Sheila Cooke & Ludwig Appeltans
Friday, 30th December 2016

At this critical time in human civilisation, what are the next steps for permaculture? How can it become widely recognised as a vital tool for regenerative agriculture? Here are five ideas to help us explore this questions.

In 1974, two pioneers, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, gave birth to permaculture during the heyday of industrial agriculture. Permaculture has been quietly developing at its own pace ever since, like a message in a bottle. It is time for humanity to read this message: permaculture can feed our hungry planet in a way that does not poison the land and water, reduce biodiversity or remove topsoil. If this is true, why has it taken so long for permaculture to become widely practiced?

The answer to this question can be found in the patterns of human evolution. By understanding how consciousness evolves, we can trace the development of permaculture and even predict what will come next as we endeavour to design a viable nutritional ecosystem that is beneficial for all life.

Permaculture was born out of crisis in Australia in the 1970s. Environmental degradation had reached crisis levels in Tasmania in the 1950s, and had stopped Mollison dead in his tracks:

It wasn’t until the 1950s that I noticed that large parts of the system were disappearing. First fish stocks became extinct. Then the seaweed around the shorelines went. Large patches of forest began to die.
I hadn’t realised until those things had gone that I’d become very fond of them; that I was in love with my country.

Bill Mollison1

Equally, Mollison was influenced by his upbringing in Tasmania, his wide range of jobs as seaman, forester, mill worker, trapper, tractor-driver, naturalist, biologist, and professor in the late 1960s at the University of Tasmania where he developed the department of Environmental Psychology. He studied extensively the worldview of the Tasmanian Aborigines, and became a strong advocate of ecologically sustainable urban clusters.

Mollison’s external and internal life conditions conspired to challenge a re-examination of his life, and stimulated the idea of permaculture:

It was like a shift in my brain, and suddenly I couldn’t write it down fast enough. I felt like there was a roll of carpet tied up with string at my feet. Once I had cut the string, it just unrolled to the horizon and I could see forever, and nothing that has happened since has ever surprised me.

Bill Mollison2

Mollison described permaculture as being about design, values and ethics, and above all, about taking full responsibility for earth care. This way of looking at the world superseded the predominant worldview of scientific materialism that governs mainstream agriculture to this day. With the vision ‘to empower the powerless’ and create ‘a million villages’ to replace nation-states as the only safe way to preserve the biosphere, Mollison firmly placed himself as a ‘seed mind’ in the leading wave of human evolution known as Integral Consciousness. 

What will it take for permaculture to be widely adopted?

It takes time for a disruptive innovation such as permaculture to impact an established and successful civilisation. An irrational inertia kicks in to maintain things the way things were. This irrational inertia stems from clinging to worldviews that come from simpler times. Research in psychology commenced in the 1950s by Dr. Clare W. Graves revealed the existence of different patterns or worldviews of human consciousness that evolved in response to changing inner and outer life conditions over the last 120,000 years.


Caption: A map of human development known today as Spiral Dynamics Integral provides an optimistic view of human evolution over the past 120,000 years.

Each pattern in thinking has resulted in general shifts of civilizational styles, ranging from survival clans (Beige), to ethnic tribes (Purple), to feudal empires (Red), to nation states (Blue), to corporate states (Orange), to value communities (Green) and beyond. It is the Blue-Orange worldview that created and sustains chemical-based industrial agriculture. 

The research clearly highlights that over the last 100 years, for many individuals, there are signs of a major leap towards new awareness that is aligned with the way all life works. As life conditions on the planet become more complex, we will see more people evolve into Integral Consciousness (from Yellow to Turquoise and beyond); where all decisions are based upon the magnificence of existence; where an all-life embracing beneficial abundance becomes a distinct probability; and there is an innate capacity to adapt to and stabilize our planet’s ecosystems for the long run of time.

When we look at how the future will unfold as Integral Consciousness assumes a grand scale, we will see people reassessing what’s important. We can anticipate a shift from physical accumulation to intellectual, emotional, relational and spiritual exploration. We will see the pursuit of wellbeing where less is more, through elegant simplicity. Anticipate the accelerated release of technology beneficial to all life, focused on the provision of basic needs such as water, food, energy, community, information and mobility.

These are the life conditions that will allow the message in the bottle about permaculture to be fully utilised. Integral awareness itself will create a surge in demand for permaculture and all it offers. 

What comes next naturally for permaculture?

Is permaculture ready for what is coming next naturally for humanity? Our assertion is that it is about 80% ready. What is missing? Basically, this: the profound connection between soil, the microbiome, nutrition and human evolution.

Continued stressful life conditions, such as a thirty-year drought, have influenced other seed minds in Australia to continue to innovate in the arena of food production. In particular, the quality of soil, and the deep science of the microbiome are the subjects of ongoing inquiry. 

Soil has been demonized and considered a peasant activity. The reality is unless our food is actually from rich, alive, minerally-enhanced, nutrient-dense origin, and we are in a situation where the production of that food is creating extra soil and enhancing the quality of soil, then we cannot call ourselves civilised, advanced, or intelligent; and we are actually operating under an illusion of academia, because our base resource is depleting; and we don’t yet even understand it.

Geoff Lawton3


Five ideas

We offer five ideas about what comes next naturally, in our evolution as a species, to explore and develop together.

1. A new generation of easily accessible measurement instruments are required to assess the vitality of soil, plants, animals and humans.

2. We need to incorporate an understanding of the subtle yet vast dynamics of the microbiome in the way we grow and eat food. This is an emergent deep science that examines the complex eco-intelligences and subtle information exchanges that are at play in soil for growing food, and in the gut for digesting food. 

3. Nutritional and habitat requirements vary with each stage of human development. Reframing garden and home design as being about human evolution allows us to dramatically rethink every basic assumption.

4. Human evolution is inevitable and can be eased and accelerated through governance, design and innovation that are beneficial for all life.

5. A living organism of trusted and respected global wisdom, gained through collaboration with other growers on the same pathway is needed to overcome our irrational inertia to change.

Permaculture has an essential role to play in the conscious redesign of our nutritional ecosystem. Dr. Graves provides us with maps for navigating human consciousness. We advocate that permaculturists become familiar with these maps of consciousness in order to develop permaculture to support the evolution of humanity with beneficially abundant food and habitat.

Further Information

Christopher and Sheila Cooke, with Ludwig Appeltans are collaborating in the development of new awareness around permaculture to bring enhanced assurance, legitimacy and scale-ability to its adoption as a new paradigm technology. Ludwig, like Bill Mollison, built a hut in the wilderness, planted a garden, was disgusted with the stupidity of humanity and then had a Eureka moment: either we’re all going to perish together or we’ll build a permaculture future. He chose the latter.

To learn more about human evolution, read the book, Spiral Dynamics, by Dr. Don Beck and Chris Cowan; or visit this website:

More about Ludwig Appeltans' work can be found at



3 Quote from the DVD, Regeneration – An Earth Saving Evolution (Permaculture Research Institute, Australia 2009).