Permaculture beyond ecological design - can it also be used to create more harmonious, low carbon societies?

Maddy Harland
Monday, 1st October 2012

Maddy Harland explains that permaculture design principles can be applied on many scales – from upcycling materials, building DIY solar dryers to designing whole farm systems and cleaning up water courses – enabling us to restore ecosystems, heal social divides and create more harmonious, low carbon societies.

2012 is turning out to be a memorable year. This summer the jet stream moved again. It usually passes to the west of Britain and Ireland but it has switched direction and is now lying nearer the English Channel, as it did in 2007-9. This means France and Britain are far wetter than usual. In Britain we ended last winter with a drought and entered the summer with floods. In the USA, extremely dry conditions and erratic winds caused wildfires in Wyoming with 400 foot walls of flame 'never seen before'. There were also wildfires in Colorado, a heatwave across the eastern seaboard, and the 'super derecho' across the Midwest – a powerful freak wind storm. Cautiously scientists are linking some of these extreme weather incidents to human-induced climate change. Yet others, like Michael F. Wehner, staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, tell us, "By 2100, today's most extreme weather events will seem relatively normal."1

With that in mind, you could be forgiven for feeling pretty blue after Rio+20's lack of tangible agreement on reducing atmospheric CO2 levels, or even curbing them, with only a toothless statement about 'sustainable growth' on offer. I did. So what can people who are worried about the well-being of future generations do?

At PM, we think there are both micro and macro solutions. We do not regard permaculture as eco-DIY or self-help, although that aspect can be part of the picture. We see permaculture as a design system that can be applied on many scales. In Permaculture issue 73 alone, we meet permaculture designers working on farm designs in different climates; permaculturists in London building garden sheds out of waste wood; we experiment with preserving food without electricity – the world beyond the fridge – in our DIY solar food dryer; we explore an emerging discipline of biological design using permaculture principles to treat waste and clean up polluted waterways; we also discover experiments in Fukuoka-style biointensive horticulture; we travel to South America to taste Incan crops that can be grown in other temperate climates; we learn how to plant small wildflower patches to help support urban bee populations; and we also enhance personal communication skills as well as learn about site surveying.

You may think the content of this magazine is an eclectic mix. It is, but there is an underlying rationale. What holds all these subjects together is leading edge thinking and applied design to create low carbon systems which are not just sustainable, but preferably regenerative.

We can apply permaculture ethics and principles on any scale, anywhere: from gardens to farms, sewage treatment systems to entire waterways and indeed watersheds. We can even use them to design effective groups and communities. Some people describe permaculture as an ecological design system. Others see it working beyond that, the ethics underpinning a philosophy to live by.

We think how you apply permaculture in your life is your business. And let's be clear, permaculture is not the Holy Grail. There are many strategies, tools and techniques to redesign the way in which we live on this planet. For us, permaculture is an important tool that helps us think holistically to see and integrate the wider picture. Beyond the words, what matters most is that people continue to experiment, test, refine and put into practise positive solutions that enable us to restore ecosystems, heal social divides and create more harmonious, low carbon societies. We want to inspire and engage people in this process.

We think it is imperative that we build a global movement able to overcome its differences and work out effective processes that force serious attention on climate change and the consequences of ecosystem destruction. We need to stop disembowelling each other about which pathway is best. We need to start thinking strategically, work together with synthesis and cooperate respectfully as one movement, whilst objectively scrutinising our work. We are at an agonis-ing point in human evolution. Yet despite the pain, we have to keep working on whatever scale our lives allow. Collectively, small actions affect big changes, just as the 'big' work of pioneers leads the way for others, so let's celebrate them both.

Permaculture issue 73 contains articles describing DIY small scale designs and ideas to applying design to entire watercourses and farms. Please download an electronic copy of issue 73 or subscribe to four issues for as little as £13.95.

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