An Introduction To Permaculture: It is time to change

If you are interested in permaculture, you are probably well aware of the problems we face as a global society. As we race past peak oil and, well… peak everything, there is a growing understanding that we are running out of time and that we need to quickly change what we are doing. Governments have clearly shown that they cannot be counted on to lead the charge, and so it is going to be up to us as individuals and community groups to just get on with doing what needs to be done.

Permaculture focuses on solutions that go far beyond basic sustainability. You will learn to become the healing element in the landscape by creating positive cycles that mimic nature. Permaculture encourages you to reconsider the basics; to recycle, to consume less and to be more thoughtful. It also delves into complex design through patterning based on an understanding of nature. Permaculture encourages you to apply appropriate technology to a design to help minimize inputs and maximize outputs, creating truly abundant systems that benefit individuals, families, communities, and the environment. Permaculture is not a regression back to simpler times, it is a graceful descent forward from peak insanity to a lifestyle and a society that is in sync with the natural world that we are very much a part of.

Which path will you take?

In our lifetime, we will all individually face a decision that will shape the future of life on Earth.

Will you allow our world to continue along its current destructive path?

Are you going to work a meaningless job for decades to come, scratching out a socially acceptable existence, while the tipping point for environmental destruction quietly slips us by?

Furthermore, will we continue to feast on a morally bankrupt celebrity culture that distracts us from the environmental catastrophe that is playing out on our watch?

Or are you prepared to take personal responsibility for what comes next and do something about it?

Permaculture is a movement that has the answers. As Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture said: “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

Many scientists now believe that humans are the only element left on Earth that can save humanity from our own destruction because ecosystems will collapse if we step back and let our damaging actions run their course.

For all the talk and debate around global warming, we also have a number of other immediate and potentially devastating problems to deal with. We are also the primary cause for the 6th mass extinction event, with the WWF (2014) estimating that the Earth has lost 50% of its animals in the last 40 years, primarily due to exploitation and habitat destruction.

Ironically, this doom and gloom is empowering, because we are now forced to be the healing element in the landscape, and permaculture is stepping up to the challenge. Through permaculture design and our subsequent action, we can reverse the damage that society has caused in a matter of years, mimicking nature to speed up natural regenerative cycles.

Facing Reality

I grew up being told that we live in a time of constant change – that the only constant is change. But this simply isn’t true in nature and it’s one of the key lessons I’ve learned having spent years applying my love and knowledge of permaculture.

Certain things are rock solid, they will never change no matter how hard we try to ignore them. Soil fertility drops overtime if you run a plow through it every year. Exposed soil will wash away in heavy rain. Tomato seedlings will die if exposed to early spring winds. We’ve become so incredibly removed from the realities of nature that many of us think we can bend the rules.

I clearly remember sitting in Economics 101 at Macquarie University when we were introduced to the principle of externalities; a cost that affects an outside party who did not choose to incur the cost. For all the intelligence we have as individuals, how did we end up with an economic system that doesn’t price-in the value of ecosystems, or our own wellbeing for that matter? What’s worse, we have an economic system that relies on constant growth in a world that is finite.

It was in 1972 that The Limits to Growth was published by the Club of Rome. It’s a book that Bill Mollison referred to back in the early days of the permaculture movement. Fast forward 40 years and Ugo Bardi published an update, stating that,

“The warnings that we received in 1972 … are becoming increasingly more worrisome as reality seems to be following closely the curves that the scenario had generated (Bardi 2011).”

It reminds me a bit of a frog in boiling water, even though this saying turns out to be complete rubbish; a frog actually jumps out before it boils. Nonetheless, we seem incapable of recognizing and acting on risks that are not immediate, both as individuals and as a society.

There are a number of examples in history of societies collapsing due to environmental damage, including the Maya, the Anasazi and on Easter Island. It’s easy to shake our heads at the insanity of chopping down the last tree on Easter Island, and yet here we are doing the same thing again. Collapse, by Jared Diamond is a great book for more clear examples of what we may be facing soon.

We all like the idea of being green, but the reality is most of us simply aren’t prepared to make the changes in lifestyle necessary to live a life that is truly sustainable.

We seem unwilling or unable to change because of our addiction to the good life, perhaps in part by the social credit we get from moral posturing online, such as by signing a petition or sharing a Facebook post. If only our social status translated into something tangible in the natural world.

Furthermore, we buy cheap and poorly made gadgets at the expense of being a responsible consumer. Many people spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the latest smartphone, a laptop, a new car that connects to the new phone, and then they complain that they don’t have enough money to buy organic veggies at the local farmer’s market or eggs from pasture-raised chickens.

The problem with our current paradigm is that we can look like caring and responsible citizens on social media, but in nature 2 plus 2 will always equal 4, and no matter how hard we try to ignore this or apply creative accounting, Mother Nature will not change for us. She is patient, brutally honest and her corrective actions will be ‘painful for the economy’.

The Post Truth Era?

Recently, I’ve noticed a new catchphrase emerge: ‘we are now in a post-truth world’. Just like the nonsense about constant change, it’s a total cop-out. We don’t live in a post-truth world at all. There are many truths in this world, irrespective of how often the government or media lies to us, and to deny this is to reject the strength we all have as individuals to live a life based on morality, and to stand up and hold our politicians, big business, and the mainstream narrative accountable. In a post-truth world, governments and big business can get away with large-scale environmental damage, fraud, and war, all the while protected by a media that sensors by omission, that twists the truth, and that lies outright.

A pitchfork has two different uses, one is destructive, one is productive. The choice is ours.

But don’t be influenced by the passivity of others concerning the problems we face, and don’t let the politics and denial of these troubling environmental issues be your excuse to ‘get on with life’. As individuals, we must decide to face reality and to accept responsibility for our actions by living a life based on the ethics of permaculture, even more so if the people around you are caught up in the rat race and don’t have the time to think about their actions. Doing nothing is a choice. It may be the path of least resistance but it is still a choice, and in this case, possibly with dire consequences… surely it is now only a matter of time before our destructive actions come home to roost.

Lead by Example

It is critical to understand how we must become the change we want to see in the world. We must begin by addressing the ugly bloke in the mirror (at least in my case), then we must get to work inspiring those around us by leading the way with our actions, not our words.

It’s becoming clear that few people will listen when we complain on social media, but just watch the people around you when you lead by example, it’s like moths to a flame. As Geoff Lawton has said many times, he has always had too many inquiries to handle and he has never had to knock on doors. People are desperate for answers and this is exactly what Permaculture offers.

Our Purchasing Power

I paid my way through university by working in a bottle shop, and aside from learning life’s important lessons such as showing up to work on time and working hard, the most valuable lesson I learned was completely unexpected.

There was this guy who would come in twice a week without fail on a Tuesday and Thursday evening at around 9 pm. He was always in his football gear, sweaty, smelly, and evidently ready for a beer. Without fail, he would buy the same 6 pack of beer from a local microbrewery. He had good taste.

Then one day, he stopped coming in. Within two weeks of him not buying his favorite beer, the product was marked down by 40% with an orange ‘reduced to clear’ label. Within a month, we sold out of the last case of this locally made beer and within a minute the shelf space was filled with one of the main brands; a bland, watered down and mass produced bottle of beer that every Australian not only recognizes but probably considers a part of their identity (it wasn’t that long ago that rum was our official currency after all).

You really do have that much purchasing power. One bloke, none the wiser, was single-handedly keeping fridge space for his favorite beer in one of the busiest bottle shops in Sydney. Imagine if his whole football team did that each week. Imagine if you and your family all started buying pasture-raised BBQ chickens at your local co-op instead of buying wretched souls from a factory farm because they are $2 cheaper. Or even better, keep some chickens in the backyard and give away a dozen eggs to your neighbors each week to help build a sense of community. You may be surprised at how powerful and appreciated small acts of kindness can be. You have the power to completely change the outlook of the people around you and indeed the world by embracing the ethics of Permaculture and then applying them to your own life.

The answers are staring us in the face and they are embarrassingly simple. We must re-learn the wisdom and knowledge of our forefathers and combine it with the best technology we have available.

I am thrilled you have discovered Permaculture, and I hope that by delving into everything permaculture has to offer you will not only change your own life but also the lives of those around you, and in turn your community.