Permaculture is guided by a simple set of ethics which not only apply to your garden, allotment or farm but to all aspects of your life. If we just pause for thought when we make decisions and think “Are my actions going to violate any of the three ethics” the world would be a better place
The Prime Directive.
“The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.” Bill Mollison.
I think this is self explanatory. Too many people believe it is their right to pass responsibility onto others but really you are responsible for your life and how you live it. When you take responsibility for you actions it can be very empowering.
1: Earth Care
I don’t want to get all Hippy or anything but at some point we are all going to have to realise that we only have one planet available to us at present and a lot of the damage that we do in a few days or years can take thousands of years to repair. We need to start thinking about our actions and how they affect the earth. It is easy to get bogged down in the global picture and believe that there is nothing you can do to help so the answer is to concentrate on your immediate vicinity and work outwards.
Start by buying less stuff or repairing the stuff you have. Buy second hand, give your junk to someone who can use it, borrow stuff instead of buying stuff. Borrowing stuff gets you in contact with other people and helps build community, join streetbank and freecycle. Buy what you need locally. GROW YOUR OWN FOOD
On a micro food production level like in a garden or an allotment this ethic also reminds us that it is more important to feed the earth (soil) than to feed the plants. Look after your soil and you will have a successful garden. So in a nutshell the first ethic reminds us to think about what we are doing and is it going to benefit the earth or harm the earth.
2: People Care
I think we can all agree that we should try not to harm other people with out actions but this ethic goes beyond that. People Care means involving others, looking out for others and sharing knowledge and resources so we can all benefit. Get to know the people around you, don’t be afraid to ask for help, offer advice, have a laugh. These days it is all to easy to get caught up in our daily struggles and exclude those around us but nine times out of ten the people around us can hold the key to our success. The more people you help the more people you will know who can help you. You will establish a mutual support network that will build resiliency into neighbourhood. An excellent way to show support for the people around you is to spend your money with local businesses instead of national chains. People moan because the high street is dying and all the useful little shops are disappearing but this can only happen because no one is using those shops any more. They cannot stay open as museum pieces for you to browse around on a Saturday between shopping at Tesco and having a coffee at Starbucks. Shopping locally not only helps those small businesses but helps the whole local economy and community. Gladly, there does seem to be a move back towards local suppliers and I would love to see supermarkets die out in my lifetime.
3: Setting limits to population and consumption.
This was the first version of the third ethics as written by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren way back in 1978 in their book Permaculture one. The third ethic has changed over the years to ‘Return of surplus’ and now ‘Fair shares’ but I think the original is more powerful as long as you don’t get too caught up in the politics of it all.
Politics tends to be a top down system and Permaculture is a bottom up system. When we talk about limits to population in Permaculture we are not talking about enforced birth control. We are talking about looking at your surroundings, evaluating the natural resources that are available to you and making a decision based on your findings. If you have a acre of land and you decide you want chickens you have to decide how many the land can support. That is an important concept in Permaculture. If a factory farm was looking at that acre of land they would probably be thinking about tens or even hundreds of thousands of birds a year on that acre of land. They would have to bring in massive amounts of feed from beyond the acre, they would have to get rid of a mountain of chicken shit, they would have to pipe in water from off site etc etc. We could do that as well but would it sit right with the first two ethics of earth care and people (animal) care? In permaculture we would have to think about how we grow the food for the hens, supply fresh water from the site, utilise the poo and maybe even the CO2 produced. We would also have to think about how many hens we can physically look after and where we could sell the eggs and maybe meat. So we could keep 1000s of hens on a acre but would it be ethical? We do also think about ‘Return of surplus’ and this can include any waste we may produce. Not thinking about waste as a problem and more of a resource means we can consume less. Before we bring anything onto the land we must first see if it can be obtained from within the system itself.