A Culture Dedicated to Life

Do we humans want to survive a long time on Earth (i.e. to live sustainably)? If the answer is yes, do we have the knowledge to be able to do it? What does sustainable life on Earth look like? What are its characteristics, its “rules of the game”?

There are examples to be seen. We find it “living in a dynamic equilibrium (or balance) where a diversity of plants and animals live cooperatively together in a particular climate,” for example tundra, taiga, desert, scrub forest (or chaparral), grasslands (or prairie), temperate deciduous forests, temperate or tropical rain forests, and coral reefs.

According to Janine Benyus in Biomimicry, species in a mature (or climax) ecosystem “live in elaborate synergy with the species around them and put their energy into optimizing their relationships. They:

  • Use waste as a resource
  • Diversify and cooperate to fully use the habitat
  • Gather and use energy efficiently
  • Optimize rather than maximize
  • Use materials sparingly
  • Don’t foul their own nests
  • Don’t draw down resources
  • Remain in balance with the bioshpere
  • Run on information
  • Shop locally”

These principles resonate with David Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles. (See earliest posts on the blog, or check them out at: http://www.holmgren.com.au/ or  http://www.permacultureprinciples.com/

Balance, diversity, sustainability, survival — what exactly do we mean? What must we do to create these conditions? And what would be the result?

I think William Koetke said it best in The Final Empire: “Creating a new Garden of Eden is our only hope. . . . We must create a positive, cooperative culture dedicated to life restoration and then accomplish that in perpetuity, or we as a species cannot be on Earth.”

Notice he said a culture, not a system of technologies (although technologies will be necessary, of course). Not only is it up to us, only we can do it — because a mature ecosystem is not run from above, but rather from “numerous, even redundant, messages coming from the grassroots, dispersed throughout the community structure and fed back through complex communications channels”. (Biomimicry)

So there it is: the great work of our times. Take up your own piece and carry it onward as you go. And remember to celebrate whenever you can.

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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.