Peoplecare Skills

Looby Macnamara
Monday, 6th February 2012

We are good at Earth Care - or at least we know what we ought to do - but people? Much more difficult! Looby explains how the three permaculture ethics work together and why people care skills can only enhance our ability to design better Earth Care systems

My journey with permaculture started with a design course in Brighton in 1999. The creative way it was taught immediately demonstrated to me that permaculture had more to offer than just an interesting way of gardening. As well as the permaculture ethic of Earthcare, the ethics of Peoplecare and Fairshares were implicit in how it was run – with inclusivity, participation and the sharing of time, skills and ideas.

Over the next few years I started to wonder why we aren't all doing it if permaculture is such common sense. It became obvious that while there are the skills and resources out there for widespread planet care and repair there are other stumbling blocks. This was epitomised with a story from a friend who had a tree in a pot for three years waiting for the community to agree where to plant it. Some of the limits I observed were, on a personal level, lack of confidence and motivation; within groups, commun-ication can make or break a project; and on a wider scale we have cultural patterns that can prevent us making sustainable choices.

Whenever I visit a permaculture garden and see the beauty, complexity, productivity, abundance, growth, health and vibrancy, I think 'this is what I would like in my life.' From studying permaculture I realised that the garden didn't just happen into existence, it was created using principles and design. So I started to imagine how I could create these qualities in myself, my home, work and community.

These two aspects – the realisation that people's habits restrict our opportunity for sustainability and my enthusiasm to use permaculture beyond the garden – has led me to specialise in Peoplecare. I have therefore spent time researching and developing ways of using the principles to design people systems for my forthcoming book, People & Permaculture.

Initially, I translated the principles across to teaching. For example, where can we create beneficial connections between participants, and instead of 'everything gardens' – 'everyone teaches'. I now see the principles in action throughout my life. They come up in conversation so often in our house that our eldest daughter, Shanti, quips back with 'methinks you doth proverb too much'.

Relationship Between the Ethics

The current problems faced by the planet and people can be viewed as stemming from actions that have not been in line with one or more ethic. The three ethics can be drawn as overlapping circles without distinct edges as they interrelate and influence each other. Social and global problems could be viewed from the other two ethics. We can delve deeper into each problem by looking at the causes, consequences and solutions contained within the other ethics. Climate change, for example is a problem for both people and the planet. Climate change has many consequences for people including fear and uncertainty about the future, displacement of people and disruption of traditional farming practices...

A primary environmental solution to climate change is reforestation.

When we look for solutions within the Peoplecare ethic we see that changing individual and collective patterns can contribute, which starts with education and motivation.

When we use the Fairshares ethic as our lens to look at climate change, we discover that generally the poor and marginalised will feel the effects most, and traditional farmers who have built up their knowledge of the seasons for generations will feel the changes sooner. The causes of climate change link with consumption habits, and generally the wealthier consume more energy and material goods and have higher carbon emissions. Solutions that could arise from the Fairshares ethic may include taxes for individuals, businesses and countries for their carbon emissions. By asking people to pay for their contribution to the problem, a feedback mechanism would be put in place and people would start to reduce their emissions.

Last year's riots in Britain, with the immense waste and damage have consequences for all of the ethics. They revealed fragility in our current systems and demonstrate the urgency to attend to Peoplecare. As peak oil and climate change progress and have bigger impacts on our lives there will be other manifestations of these challenges if people's needs are not met. Permaculture has a lot to offer for encouraging different ways of thinking as much as for finding practical solutions to meeting basic needs of food, shelter and water.

Opportunities for Peoplecare

By increasing our Peoplecare skills, both with how we take care of ourselves and how we care for others, we are able to address energy leaks and give more attention to Earthcare.

Peoplecare skills invite us to change our patterns of thinking that can then lead us to more sustain-able solutions. For example, in order to feel it is worthwhile to grow our own food we need to break away from the 'it's cheaper to buy it in the supermarket' attitude.

With the threats and realities of cuts to the funding and resources for healthcare and education systems, Peoplecare on a bigger scale is compromised. I believe permaculture can offer intelligent design solutions to these systems as much as to any farm or garden. We can find methods to get more outputs for less inputs, effective means to use our resources in multiple ways and reduce waste. Through permaculture we can consciously build resilience. We can design ways in which schools can build the experiential, cultural, social and living capitals that Ethan Roland spoke of in his article, 'Eight Forms of Capital', in PM68. Permaculture enables us to think more broadly about yields, whether they are from the garden, classroom or workplace.

For me, bringing design into our people systems is the missing piece of the jigsaw. We can design on every scale from our own health and personal efficiency, to how we restore peace in our families and the dynamics we want in our groups. It can extend into our schools, governance and international development programmes. I foresee that when we start to actively do this we will see an exponential increase in our influence and effectiveness as permaculturists; personally, in our communities and globally. We can start to actually design the Great Turning*.  

Right now there are many opportunities for livelihoods as a designer, and this demand will only grow. One of the areas I am putting energy into at the moment is the permaculture diploma to increase the number of experienced designers.

If we can get Peoplecare flowing smoothly, then Earthcare will follow suit. Peoplecare is our biggest challenge and hence also our biggest opportunity for growth and changing our world.

*The Great Turning is Joanna Macy's term for the shift away from the current trajectory of the Industrial Growth Culture to a Life Sustaining Culture. 

Looby Macnamara is a partner of Designed Visions, a permaculture education and design consultancy. She will be leading a unique full design course focused on the application of permaculture to people based designs, including ourselves. She is available for workshops and talks relating to her new book, People & Permaculture. Please contact Looby at [email protected]

Looby’s new book, People & Permaculture – Caring & Designing For Ourselves, Each Other & The Planet, is to be published shortly by Permanent Publications, price £19.95. Place your pre-publication order before 31st March and receive a signed copy p&p free for just £14.95, as soon as it becomes available.