Ethical Compass, or the Rules of the Game

Permaculture: applied ecology. A set of design principles that direct your decisions and actions toward producing a more permanent (sustainable) culture.

When I come across a new subject one of the first questions I ask myself is: “Is this something I can get behind?”

In other words, will spending time and energy on it repay me with interesting and useful information, and will it line up with my values? You too?

With permaculture this question is easy to answer because permaculture plainly states its set of ethics and a (slightly longer) set of design principles. So in quite a short time we can make a clear decision whether to get into it more deeply.

First, the ethics.

These are in no way exclusive. Co-creator Bill Mollison deliberately looked for the broadest and most inclusive set of ethics possible. So permaculture shares these ethics with many other belief systems, worldviews, and even religions. They function like a compass, guiding us in our journey toward right livelihood.

The underlying basic principle of permaculture acknowledges the intrinsic worth of everything from volcanoes to clams to dirt, even if it presents no commercial value to humans. Each thing is doing its own part in nature. The three ethical principles are:

  • Care of the Earth: — which includes all things, from stones to seawater to air
  • Care of People: — which includes promoting means for both self-reliance and community responsibility
  • Setting Limits to Population and Consumption: — which includes giving away our surplus, whether time, labor, stuff, money, or information

Now these aren’t some heavy set of “thou shalt not’s”. Angus Souter suggests we think of permaculture ethics as the ‘ground rules’ or the ‘rules of the game’. You may choose not to ‘play the game’ with us, but if you do want to join in, these ethics help make clear what the game is, and how we play it.

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