Their Brains Were Small and They Died

Remember geological ages? Maybe you have enjoyed interesting dioramas of life in the different ages at a museum. Scientists have differentiated many of them, but let’s start just eight back – with the Triassic – an age of dinosaurs and the very first mammals. Then came:

  • Jurassic: dinosaurs were IT and the earth was covered with giant ferns and other enormous plants, and atmospheric carbon dioxide was 1200 – 1500ppmv
  • Cretaceous: last of the dinosaurs, first of the flowering plants, and recognizable birds
  • Paleogene: a tropical age, but gradually cooling to an ice age, grasses, the first large mammals, and the highest concentration of CO2 ever 3800ppmv, falling to 650ppmv
  • Miocene: Ice ages, first modern mammals and birds, first apes, and carbon dioxide down to about 100ppmv
  • Pliocene: still Ice Age, appearance of Homo habilis
  • Pleistocene: Ice ages, stone age humans, CO2 at 100 to 300ppmv
  • Holocene: (the last 10,000 years) the ice recedes, human prehistory and history, carbon dioxide up to 385ppmv

Now obviously these ages shade from one to the next and there are no sharp dividing lines between them. But in general, what distinguishes one from the next is a particular climate, home to a particular set of plants and animals – plants and animals that do not thrive (or perhaps even survive) in different ages.

A natural ecology is too complex for us to understand, or even map completely. But it is perfectly clear that the climate, plants and animals interact in innumerable ways to produce a particular ecology. Make too many changes, and the whole system will shift to a new environment (geological age) which will be home to different life forms.

So what does it take to produce a new geological age? “According to members of the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London:

  • Change the atmosphere’s composition, thus modifying plants
  • Change the distribution and diversity of species, thereby changing the future fossil record, and
  • Acidify the oceans, which will modify mineral deposits on the ocean floor.

Sound familiar?”

Yes, we seem to be bent on bringing about changes that will lead to a new geological age. Will we be able to thrive in it, or even survive?

Nobody knows.

As folk singer Faith Petric says, it may well be said of us as it was of the dinosaurs, “their brains were small, and they died”.

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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.