PDC week 1: Permaculture Ethics and History

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It’s sometimes a bit hard to explain to people just what a Permaculture Design Course entails – the scope is both broad and intricate – but in it’s essence it’s ecological systems theory, applied to an everyday context.

Over this winter Nick is heading a PDC in Sydney, in a one day per week format. After each week, the students get emailed a summary of last week’s class.  In case you’d like to peek inside all this stuff, I thought I’d post some snippets of these weekly notes here, for viewing by whoever is interested, starting with Week 1: Permaculture ethics and history:

Sydney Winter PDC: Week 1 – a brief overview:

Most simply stated, permaculture is a “design system” or “design science.” Permaculture is a termed coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, in the late 1970s. Permaculture is a concept that evades any single definition, it is a way of looking at the world and finding solution for uncertain futures and a sustainable way forward.

The word Permaculture is owned as a common copyright by all Permaculture Design Certificate graduates worldwide. Derived from ‘Permanent’ and ‘Culture’, as follows:

Permanent: From the Latin permanens, to remain to the end, to persist throughout (per = through, manere = to continue)

Culture: From the Latin cultura – cultivation of land, or the intellect. Now generalized to mean all those habits, beliefs, or activities than sustain human societies.

Thus, Permaculture is the study of the design of those sustainable or enduring systems that support human society, both agricultural & intellectual, traditional & scientific, architectural, financial & legal. It is the study of integrated systems, for the purpose of better design & application of such systems – Bill Mollison, co-originator of the Permaculture concept.

Permaculture ethics:

  • Care of earth
  • Care of people
  • Fair Share (distribute surplus, take responsibility for consumption, set limits to growth)

The Rules of the Game

There is a great variety of natural laws and principles and, as designers, we use these as active tools, literally directives to act, whereas those who discovered them did so as a result of a passive process of observation. The greatest difficulty we have as designers is in the intelligent local application of natural principles.

All designers should be aware of the fundamental laws that govern every natural system.

The overriding law is that the total energy of the universe is constant and the total entropy is constantly increasing.

Entropy is bound energy; it becomes unavailable for work, or not useful to the system. It is the waters of a mountain forest that has reached the sea, the heat, noise and exhaust smoke that an automobile emits while traveling, and the energy of food used to keep an animal warm, alive and mobile. In a sense, it is also disordered or opposing energy of contesting forces.

All energy entering an organism, population or ecosystem can be accounted for as energy which is stored or leaves. Energy can be transferred from one form to another, but it cannot disappear or be destroyed or created.

This is a restatement of the First Law of Thermodynamics.

Caloric book-keeping, energy budgets or energy audits are what measure the efficiency of a designed system. In today’s society, gardens and farms, much energy is degraded to waste.

No energy conversion is ever completely efficient.

This is the second Law of Thermodynamics.

No matter how good a design is, and how complex the net we set up to catch energies before they are bound, or to slow the increase in entropy, when it comes to the universal equation, we must lose. The only question really is “how much need we lose of incoming or released energy?” and how much can we usefully store?

Six Laws of Natural Systems

  • Nothing in nature grows forever.
  • Continuation of life depends on the maintenance of the global bio-geochemical cycles of essential elements, in particular, C, O, N, S and P.
  • The probability of extinction of populations of a species is greatest when the density is very high or very low.
  • The chance that a species has to survive and reproduce is dependent primarily upon one or two key factors in the complex web of relationships of the organism to its environment.
  • Our ability to change the face of the earth increases at a faster rate than our ability to foresee the consequence of such change.
  • Living organisms are not means but ends. In addition to their instrumental value to humans and other living organisms, they have an intrinsic worth

Core links from Week 1:

Bill Mollison’s homepage (co-originator of Permaculture)
David Holmgren’s homepage (co-originator of Permaculture)
Permaculture Principles – Holmgren’s principles
A range of definitions of permaculture at Permaculture.net
Charles Birch – of the six laws quotes above

Other interesting links:

Paul Ehrlich – American biologist and Bing Professor of Population Studies in the department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University, Author of The Population Bomb (1968)

I’m a climate scientist – Hungry Beast’s reply to climate change skeptics

The Limits to Growth (1972) – Influential report by commissioned by the Club of Rome, a global think tank on political issues. The report modeled the consequences of a rapidly growing world population and finite resource supplies.

Bill Mollison PDC transcript (1981) – plus a bunch of interview links, etc.

Farmers of Forty Centuries – Or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan (1911) American agronomist F.H. King wrote this book after touring China, Korea and Japan. He observed and documented traditional fertilization, tillage and general farming practices in these countries. The whole book is available online via the link above.

The Clock of the long now – Also called the 10,000-year clock is a proposed mechanical clock designed to keep time for 10,000 years. The project is part of an effort by the Long Now Foundation to promote long-term thinking.

Antoine Béchamp & Claude Bernard – The oft mentioned by Joel Salatin contemporaries of Louis Pasteur. The resilient core of the argument, that disease is more the result of the terrain (environment) than a particular contagion is gaining acceptance.

Giant Honey Mushroom Fungus – Probably the largest living organism on earth exists in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. It is estimated to cover 2,200 acres and is at least 2,400 years old.

John Seymour – One of the key proponents of modern self-sufficiency

Milkwood permaculture resources:

Incensed? Hooked? Maybe just curious? Have a look at our permaculture courses and get in on the knowledge.

Many thanks to London Permaculture for the images.

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