It’s difficult to put your finger on permaculture. It’s more than a way of gardening, but it’s not a formal science. It’s more than an attitude, but it’s not quite a religion. In its purer forms, it is too radical for most people, but it is having an influence on our culture, and it could become more prominent if things really start to fall apart.
Permaculture author Peter Bane was in Erin last week promoting the core strategies of this “way of thinking” to a receptive audience of about 50 at All Saints Church. The meeting was hosted by Transition Erin, which is part of a movement that sprang from the ideals of permaculture.
Bane is the author of The Permaculture Handbook and publisher of Permaculture Activist journal. Farmer Val Steinmann introduced him as a North American leader in the field, helping make permaculture a global movement, taking it “from the fringes, to the mainstream of church basements”.
Bane calls permaculture “a design system rooted in ecological science”, focused on care of the earth, care of people and fair distribution of surplus. This is linked to awareness of limits within nature, and the need to limit population and consumption.
“It’s a way of thinking about problems and turning them into solutions holistically – we can do it in our lives, we can do it in our businesses, we can do it in our communities,” he said.
“Permaculture is fundamentally about economic democracy, about recreating resources at the local level so that everyone has enough. The problem with our economy is that is continues to concentrate wealth in a few hands. There are more than a billion people on this planet who are hungry every single day.
“In the process of building the industrial economy over the last 200 years, we have destroyed large parts of the earth. We have to recreate the wealth that our ancestors inherited and used up to bring us to where we are today.”
The idealism of the movement can be seen in goals such full employment, with full enjoyment of worthwhile work.
“If we were all doing more of what we really liked and loved to do, those would be those jobs that need doing. Planting trees, cultivating gardens, taking care of people, building community among wonderful people like this,” he said.
“The answers are in our front and back yards, in our neighbourhoods. By turning our attention to building soil at home, growing food, processing and trading it locally, we can build the local economy, rebuild our health and restore the basis for economic democracy by creating real resilience. Food sovereignty means political sovereignty.”
The message also has that familiar apocalyptic tone. The ravages of climate change, energy shortages, overpopulation and depleted soils will destroy the wasteful economy that we know, and if we survive, we will all have to manage with less of everything. Bane says the problems are too entrenched to be solved by governments, and that it will take grassroots movements to make progress.
“Now, we’re living in the time of the whirlwind – all these things are squeezing us into smaller and smaller space,” he said. “What we’re about is redesigning human culture. It’s a complete cultural transformation we’re after. Everyone is going to go through a traumatic and amazing cultural upheaval over the next two decades. We’d better be prepared, because it’s coming at us, like it or not.”
In practical terms at home, permaculture means taking control and looking for opportunities to conserve water and energy, recycle waste of every sort, grow food or buy from local producers and let nature do more work for us. Within the economy, it means shifting from oil to wind, solar and biomass energy and producing much of what we need locally.
The ideas are already well known, but we have not been forced to really take them seriously. When the crunch comes, the permaculture folks want to be ready to throw humanity a lifeline.