Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What is Permaculture?

Some highlights from “Permaculture: the design arm of a paradigm shift” by Toby Hemenway.  Read the full article here.  

Much of the difficulty and confusion around permaculture stems from its protean nature: It can be many things to many people. It’s been called a philosophy, a movement, a design approach, a set of techniques, a practice, a worldview, a land use ethic, a science, a pseudoscience, and even a religion.

I’m finding that the most fruitful way for me to think about permaculture is that it is the design arm of a paradigm shift. To be more specific, it’s the design approach for achieving the goals of the sustainability movement. And I mean sustainability in the largest sense, not just environmental sustainability but social and ethical as well.

Permaculture is what we use to put into action our growing understanding that humans must fit into the web-work of the rest of life or we’ll make this planet uninhabitable for us and for countless other species. It gives us tools for social justice and for working together.

Permaculture is a part—and an essential part—of those larger sciences, philosophies, and social movements, but it’s not the whole story. It doesn’t encompass them, it derives from them. And, most importantly, permaculture gives us the tools we need to bring this new understanding of whole systems into the world in physical form and action. Once we have learned to think this new way, permaculture tells us what to do to make it real.

Permaculture, then, is a systematized program for enacting the worldview of the social justice and sustainability movements and for bringing the wisdom of indigenous knowledge into contemporary life. It is whole-systems thinking in action. It’s what we need to do to be living in alignment with the new paradigm, so nicely phrased by Rafter Sass Ferguson, of meeting human needs while retaining and enhancing ecosystem health.

Knowing that permaculture is embedded in a larger movement toward sustainability and in a whole-systems paradigm also constrains us from doing stupid things with it. We won’t use permaculture to try to sustain the unsustainable. Putting a green roof on a pesticide factory can’t be permaculture design. Reducing waste or energy use at a toxics manufacturer isn’t a viable design project because we know that we must take all the system yields into account. A planet-killing process can’t be reformed; it must be eliminated at a higher design level.

What function does permaculture perform in the world? And I would answer that it gives us concrete methods to bring our new understanding of whole systems into reality so that we can live regeneratively. It is the set of tools that the social justice and sustainability movements can use to plan and manifest their vision of a better world. Permaculture is the design arm of the paradigm shift.

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