Revisiting permaculture ethics

Permaculture ethics, that’s easy right? Earth-care, People-care Fair share.. everyone knows the mantra, but do we remember what these things actually mean when we recite them parrot fashion?

Recently I have seen on-line chat suggested they should be updated, improved if you will, the suggestion is that of Future-care being floated as an alternative to the Fair-share – which was always a bit lacking and the least understood of the three. But no Future-care really doesn’t do it for me and its inclusion would greatly impoverish the ethics model.

Let us re-trace our footsteps a bit here and roll things back the 1992 and the Rio Earth summit when the ‘S’ word entered the lexicon in a much bigger way than it had ever been used before. Sustainability, they told us is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Ok so far so good, then Toby Hemenway in his lecture, ‘How permaculture can save the world but not civilisation’ pointed out that the definition is lacking in that it fails to define what a need actually is and come to that, why are we putting meeting the needs of the present before that of the future? What is a need? Do you really need that cappuccino or another pair of shoes, when it comes to it, who gets to define what a need is? One man’s need is another man’s indulgence.

If we are not careful we are back in the finger wagging judgemental territory most criticised of environmentalists who seem to want to tell everyone else what to do whilst at the same time alienating the vast majority of the population. Telling people they can’t have the stuff they feel they need or deserve or holding one’s own virtuous lifestyle up as some master template has yet to win over the masses.

The ‘S’ word is fraught with difficulty and within a few short years of Rio we have governmental ministers talking about ‘sustainable growth the car industry’ or ‘sustainable economic growth’ or various other oxymoron’s, the word rapidly lost its meaning being hi-jacked left, right and centre to represent a vast swathe of viewpoints.

Back to the drawing board then. Actually before we ditch the ‘S’ word entirely it has something of immense value to offer us and this emerged in the mid 90’s with the idea of the triple bottom line in business. This was environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability. Sustainability is a three-legged stool is the metaphor and it needs all three to stand up. Yes to environment and society but what if we can’t afford it? How can we pursue goals that fail to endure economically? Somewhere in this lies the key to understanding the permaculture ethics especially the much maligned third ethic of fair-Shares.

Full disclosure, I studied economics, not in its pure theory but within the context of sustainable development (yes that tricky ‘S’ word again) I studied economics and ecology at the same time and I have always understood that permaculture lies at the intersection of these two disciplines. Economics is about how we meet needs from available resources, ecology is about who we access those resources within an understanding of the mechanism of the living biosphere of which we are all a part. So balancing the needs of people and those of the planet; the earth and people care prospectively is the origin of the first two ethics. I think everyone gets that, some go further and say screw people, the planet comes first but that is a hard sell in today’s consumer paradise, I think most people are with us on the People and Planet aspiration but the key question as ever is how do we achieve this finely balanced mix.

This is where the third ethic comes in to play and I strongly believe it is the key one.. you can take the first two ethics as read.. I really want to drill down into what this tricky third one is all about.

Yes it is about economics, it is about choices, it is about priorities and the ‘Fair-share’ epithet doesn’t do it for me. It is a handy menomic for sure but it fails to convey meaning and sounds dangerously like a naïve socialist doctrine, leaving us once again with the challenge of who gets to decide what is fair exactly?

Bil Mollison never explained it that way anyway, fair-share was a late arrival, an upstart if you will, one that could have come from a branding agency. The real meat on this bone is about setting limits to consumption, yes my friends at the heart of permaculture is the most radical idea of all, that there is such a thing as enough. In a world where consumerism is touted as an end in itself and conspicuous consumption is worn on the sleeve one might be forgiven for forgetting the setting limits to consumption bit, I guess this equates to fair-shares but still it goes so much deeper.

David Holmgren can help us here, I refer you to principles three and four of his set of twelve. Principle four being about setting limits and three is about meeting needs, obtain a yield, ‘You can’t work on an empty stomach’. It is not in any way selfish to meet ones own needs, in fact it is essential, without breakfast you are no good to anyone, and can’t do a full day’s work. Anyone who has been on an airplane knows that in the safety demo they always tell you.. ’in the unlikely event of the cabin de-pressurizing an oxygen mask will descend, take care to put yours on first before assisting others’. There you have it, you might be a great altruist with only your fellow passengers’ concerns at heart, but at the moment you go blue in the face and pass out you are no good to anyone, in fact you are now a burden to those around you. Meeting one’s own needs first is the first rule of survival for all. It is not selfish it is self empowering.

So with these ethics I would also argue we actually put them the wrong way round, from a permaculture perspective the process of empowerment and enabling positive change begins with meetings one’s own needs, whilst ensuring there is still a surplus for investment. This reinvestment of surplus turns out to be the key, the thing and most likely to be overlooked. The reinvestment of surplus is the how, it is the mechanism that empowers us to achieve the people and planet aspiration.

The rule is you meet your own needs, settling limits and realising there is such a thing as a enough.. only you know what is enough for yourself and this should and can be constantly re-evaluated. Where we set the line for cappuccinos or shoes is a personal choice and no one should be telling us as individuals what to do. However we need to know that if we go into deficit meeting our supposed needs we will never have the faintest chance of being sustainable or doing permaculture effectively.

Sustainability is the meeting of core needs whilst retaining a surplus for reinvestment back in the system. What we do with surplus is what defines us. I argue in my public speaking and teaching that what you choose to do with that bit left over after survival is the key decision each and everyone of us makes. Reinvestment of surplus in social and ecological ends guarantees a world of constant improvement, an expansion of possibilities, sticking it away in the Cayman Islands for some possible rainy day is the thing that drains the life blood of any system and constantly impoverishes it.

We were chatting about this on Facebook recently and someone asked what if there is no surplus? Then of course the preconditions for sustainability in this case are not being met and changes have to be made, this rule holds true for all. If there is no surplus then changes must be made and a redesigning is in order.

I am an enthusiastic advocate of co-operatives, they are vastly superior to a PLC and I will tell you why. PLC’s are owned by shareholders who appoint directors to maximise the return on investment. Profits are siphoned out of the company to channel towards personal ends, tax havens and consumerist endeavours. Co-operatives exist to benefit their customers, users and  members and any surplus is used to reward loyalty and is reinvested in the co-operative so that it can continue to benefit its stakeholders. Co-ops reinvest surplus, PLCs extract it and put it elsewhere.

This is the key difference and this is why to my mind Bill Mollison is absolutely right to state the ethics are.. set limits to consumption and reinvest surplus, for the enablement and betterment of other people, society and planet ie.  people care and the environment.

Put simply as an example I live in a housing cooperative, we set our rent at a level that covers our bills and responsibilities and returns a small surplus we can spend on improving the environmental performance of our home, insulation, heating etc. and allowing us to choose socially responsible alternatives for our food, services etc. So I am sorry if it does not scan as well, or make a great t-shirt but these are and will forever be the permaculture ethics.. saying future-care.. as I have seen proposed tells us nothing, it is already covered by the first two anyway.

The third ethic gives us the mechanism by which to achieve our ambitions of not just sustainability but regeneration and genuinely sustainable growth; one that builds soil, stores water and nutrients and protects and enhances biodiversity, the very tools we need to sustain our own needs.

 

Sector39 celebration

Its about time for some good news

Sector39 is growing; as well our standard courses we have launched a series projects as well. Inquiries are also arriving from an ever broader spectrum of  sources as ever more people wake up to the potentials of permaculture

We are holding a celebration in Llanrhaeadr Village hall 24th March.
There will be food, music and of course excellent company for an evening of talking dancing and celebrating! Its also my 55th birthday.  Please join the celebration!

Steve Jones, S39 Director

It has to be a good thing that permaculture has never been more in demand and Sector39 is finding opportunities in all sort of new areas.

  • Chester Cathedral and the Anglican church
  • One School One Planet, schools and permaculture project
  • Permaculture Uganda and East Africa
  • Refugee work with Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Consultancies on housing co-operative formation

The big idea we have been working on for a few years now is that of a Permaculture Academy. On going teacher training and project facilitator development..  really its a mentoring process to develop new permaculture informed initiatives where we can.

  • May this year we are running a PDC for 60 participants within an established school and permaculture site in Uganda, followed by a 2 day permaculture convergence.
  • The intention is to launch the Academy and show case the best permaculture can offer to  an invited audience and opinion former’s and budget heads, school heads and trustees.
  • We are fundraising for student bursary fund, applications will be competitively assessed for the number of places available via successful fundraising. Your contributions really will change lives!

Please do support our fundraiser event, tickets are available from:

If you cant make the event please consider supporting our

A Call to Action, #permaculture #africa

permaculture africa
Promoting Permaculture and Organic soil health in East Africa

Around the world people are facing up to the huge set of challenges of tackling climate change by addressing its many causes.

  • Creating a sustainable food supply by transforming agriculture into a force for environmental restoration is at the heart of the response.
  • Africa is ready for permaculture as it brings together environmental restoration, food security and local economy.

Permaculture resonates perfectly with traditional knowledge and practices, permaculture is the African way.  Eston Mgala, Malawi

Here in Wales are working closely with East African partners too significantly raise the profile of permaculture across the region.  Partners from Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are working with us to create first East Africa Convergence, following on from a 60 place PDC  at Sabina school and orphanage in Central Uganda next May.

We are linking pioneering education with food security, education, public health and government outreach. We are working with a key regional school as well as the ministry for education to create a learning hub for permaculture in Central Africa.

We are open for donations, sponsorship, contributions in any form to help us make the event a huge success.

Final Document, please share

PDCUG18-final document

PDCUG18
Permaculture East Africa Document PDF download

World on fire – time to send the fire brigade

96534508_fire
Is it Portugal, Spain, California? Right now it feels that the parts of the World not under water are on fire.

How many super-storms does it take before we notice something deeply terrifying is happening?

There is a shit storm of consequences coming our way and precious little we can do about it sat home on the sofa. We have 30 years of change before us and the sooner we start the better. I think a great many people are now feeling an increasing sense of alarm as the symptoms of the climate crisis present themselves with increasing regularity.

This is what J H Kunstler calls a clusterfuck.

  • Un-seasonal weather, cycles of deluge and drought stress the forests and create conditions where whole landscapes become vulnerable to outside forces.
  • Austerity strapped authorities cut back on essential maintenance and services, staff and resources are trimmed from budgets.
  • Hurricane and gales of a ferocity never seen before sweep in, turbo-charged by the extra warm oceans, reaching areas never before exposed to such forces.
  • Be it  the firestorm that just engulfed central Portugal or the deluge that drowned Houston or the ferocious winds that destroyed whole island nations such as Puerto Rico the scene is set for catastrophe.

We have to learn to think and plan differently.

We will need to realise that authorities and services will not be there if they are not invested in and trained for new challenges. Time and time again we see essential services breaking down or overloaded when these events happen, consequently the first thing we need to prepare our selves for is partial or temporary systems collapse.

The key word is RESILIENCE, community resilience is our first line of defense to help us overcome whatever catastrophes might be waiting for us.

Tesco’s distribution center might get carpet bombed by the Taliban, three feet of snow may cover the nation for a month or maybe a freeze so hard every pipe bursts – we don’t know where the next challenge might come from. In a world where we are not much more than three meals away from social breakdown, the just in time delivery model of the highly specialized modern world does not stand up well to external shocks.

How do you create clean drinking water or cook from basics? How long can we live without power or internet? Could we manage for long without proper sanitation? How long would it take us to re-create a more local food economy? Addressing these and a great many more issues through, training, skills sharing and innovation is becoming an imperative.

Puerto Ricans are being told it might be a year before normal service is resumed, what if another super-storm happens along in the mean time?

The world is not having a run of bad luck, it has entered a new reality; a climate changed reality where extreme weather events not only become more common but they join together to create monster catastrophes that we might struggle to ever fully recover from.

bubkminsterfuller

What comes next? Ecological development

Yes we have to organise to build resilience from the ground up but we also need to pursue a new long-term strategy. Lets call it ecological development for now. China have already embraced this model; recognising that development has to compliment and enhance the living world not just be slightly less damaging than before. This really is new thinking for a government and they are dead serious about it as well.

forest city
Cities that can capture CO2 and clean the air, whilst providing water filtration and wildlife habitat, food and waste processing.

We call that Permaculture design

Shiny new green cities aside, as sexy as they are may not be the full solution. Most of our cities are already built, sub-urbs too and the greater challenge is to redesign and re-purpose the resources we already have invested in.

There isn’t a simple solution but we need to find a consensus of what is happening to us and use that to formulate a bigger plan. Here at Sector39 we are looking for the teachers, leaders, innovators and change makers who can help create new options and build that consensus.

We have been teaching and demonstrating permaculture in many ways since 1990’s and much of that experience has been channeled into our ground breaking courses.

Our PDC is ground breaking and life changing, bringing together teachers and practitioners, projects and enterprises. We keep our charges as low as possible and offer a life changing experience that for many is the start of a new direction in their own lives.

PDCLYM17-web

We would love to hear from you if you are interested in being part of this course. Together we can build a new reality and create new possibilities.

Chester dues

Permaculture at the Cathedral. Fascinating evening in Chester last night and hopefully laying the ground for our next permaculture design course with our partners at the Cathedral.

Surely the church could be leading the way in the fight against the on going impacts of climate change with its ability to mobilise a great many people and resources. I for one would welcome the sight of key institutions moving in the direction of promoting climate change mitigation and adaption  as a strategic priority. We are unprepared for the many changes climate change adaption will bring as well as the economic shocks that will accompany it. Can the church find itself a key role at the heart of re-energized and resilient climate ready community?

At the same time the Cathedral is hosting a major art exhibition including works by Damien Hirst, resulting in a striking visual impact. (pics by Lachlan Mckenzie). To my eyes the golden calf, the focus of false adulation in Old Testament times powerfully represents the false gods of consumerism and distraction we now worship so readily!

chesterPDC_800w

Bold and ambitious education project seeks £35k investment

We are calling it the Permaculture Academy, it is a peer-to-peer learning programme that sets its sights on tackling climate change, vastly increasing social and economic resilience and directly helping refugees from Southern Sudan, DRC and elsewhere in Uganda and Kenya.

Sector39 is a small organization based in Wales that has until now has survived through trading, running courses on permaculture design and developing community focused food growing projects  and housing co-operatives.

Almost no one invests in local subsistence farming in Africa, yet those vulnerable farmers could be the key to climate resilience and carbon sequestration. We have learned how to directly benefit those people, through permaculture education.

In the last 2 years, in partnership with a local Welsh charity we began running our courses in Uganda, wanting to support sustainable farming initiatives in the Eastern Region there. The work had really taken off, exceeding our wildest expectations and we are left wondering how to build on this momentumpermaculture-is-7

  • Step one:We are planning a larger courses in May 2018 with Ugandan partners that will also kick-start a teacher training programme for East African permaculture teachers.
  • Step two: We are following our May 2018 course with a permaculture conference drawing in political and regional supporters, focusing on links with Schools
  • Step three: We hope to launch our Permaculture Academy initiative in  2018 and it is for this we are seeking, funding, investment or donations. The need is to put together a local team of permaculture professionals who can support this work and to cover the core project costs over the coming three-year period.

We are looking at AID agencies and other funders but we are ready to begin the work now and have built an amazing network to help us deliver this. abraham If you can help us achieve this the n please get in touch, we can supply much more information about the outcomes and beneficiaries of this work but will spare the details here.

We find ourselves in a fantastic position to be able to facilitate long-term benefits through education and have an established network of partners and practitioners to enable to do this.. all we need is the investment o get u on our way.

It feels like a shot in the dark, asking in this fashion and we will pursue existing avenues for funding.. but as the saying goes, if you don’t ask you don’t get.. and those with money to invest often have more than they need, so here goes, please consider helping us if you are able!

Contact Sector39 please

guild-garden-prince-sebe-me

This is a climate emergency and it requires a response from everyone

There is nothing to say really, the images say it all. USA’s 4th largest city drowned by 4 feet of rainfall. India and Bangladesh are also experiencing catastrophic flooding. Millions of people’s homes and livelihoods are at stake and this is just the beginning.

Once in a 1000 years weather events are now happening regularly, crisis is the new normal. This is no joke and it is not an overstatement to call it an emergency, or as JH Kunstler calls it The Long Emergency because we are going to be facing these challenges long into the future.

These super storms are pushed into overdrive by the warmer sea waters.  Warmer seas = more energetic storms. This is climate change and there is much more like this and more to look forward to, this problem is not going to go away until we have applied a great deal of effort over a great deal of time.

paris climate targetsWe really must act and to be able to act effectively, we are going to need a really good plan.

The Paris Accord gives us the targets we have to aim for but gives us no idea of how we are going to get there.

The best responses to face such future uncertainty are not immediately apparent and also what ever we come up with we are also going to have to be able to afford. Climate change adaption and mitigation have to become central to our thinking in all that we do. It will take long term planning and  a clear strategy to enable communities to co-ordinate their efforts effectively.

I am convinced the permaculture design is the framework we can work around to achieve these aims and we here in Mid Wales we are planning to work across our community produce a realistic vision for 2050 and how we might get there.

The Paris Accord

The targets the nations of the world signed up to kick off in 2020, meaning the race to implement our plan begins in earnest, whilst we must prioritize building the tools and training the people to implement it.

One School One Planet  are proposing a community wide permaculture plan that allows us to build a vision for 2050.

2050 because that is the Paris Accord target date to be carbon neutral and on our way to a carbon negative economy. Doing this by 2050, we are reminded still only gives us a 66% chance of avoid climate breakdown and catastrophe, we have to do a lot better really.

Competition

We announced our design competition last week and here is my attempt to come up with something.. let me know what you think.. Or much better still send me your ideas.  We want to find the best ideas out there to help communicate this vital message

one school one planet idea
One school one planet logo idea

 

climate action
Enter the competition here

Defining permaculture

permaculture principles
Ethics and principles of permaculture

Permaculture can be hard to pin down in a tight definition.. although its meaning is quite precise. Hard to pin down perhaps because it is a process not a thing..

“permaculture is a regenerative design science”

Nature, on which permaculture models as a design strategy is complex and dynamic, hence the slippery nature of it’s definition. My preferred encapsulation is this below image, first presented to me by Chris Dixon, a permaculture pioneer and designer from North Wales. This pattern shows the relationship between permaculture’s guiding ethics and the principles and design tools that  enable strategy and action.

permaculture definition by Chris Dixon
Permaculture is founded on principles observed from nature and guided by a set of ethics

As part of our One School One Planet project we are working to bring permaculture design principles into the core curriculum. This challenges us to come up with some concise definitions that can be understood and worked on by students of all ages and abilities.

I have come up with a series of memes that might help and I am keen to try them out to see how people react, if at all.

Permaculture teacher Graham Wood posted this on his Linked In profile recently,this is about the best longer definition I have seen.

Originally Permaculture began in Australia during the 1970s as an idea put forward by Bill Mollison, and it has since gone on to inspire millions around the world.

Bill Mollison (who died in 2016 aged 88) originally viewed permaculture as an agricultural system that works with, rather than against, nature, on the basis that the natural world holds the key to stable and productive systems. So the term was first coined from his “permanent agriculture”, but it has evolved over the years to encompass a much wider range of environmental concerns and human cultural issues so is now most commonly defined as “permanent culture”.

Permaculture is now seen as part of a global solution: a system or way of thinking that enables us, as human beings, to live in a way that can allow us, other species and our planet to not just survive, but thrive. The Permaculture movement and design thinking is now a part of the global activity, that is slowly being implemented at a local level around the world, to help us transition into a sustainable future ethically and with intelligence.

Permaculture is a philosophy and a design process, but more than that, it is also a practical guide for life. It helps us to design intelligent systems which meet human needs whilst enhancing biodiversity, reducing our impact on the planet, and creating a fairer world for us all. People across the globe are transforming their communities with permaculture. It has given us a range of design principles by which we can arrange our lives.

Bill Mollison developed the permaculture concept with three key ethics:

  1. Care of our planet
  2. Care of humankind
  3. Return of surplus into the system.

These central ethics have then been further distilled into twelve principles of design, outlined by David Holmgren.

The principles are:

  1.    Observe and interact
  2.    Catch and store energy
  3.    Obtain a yield
  4.    Apply self-regulation and feedback
  5.    Use and value renewable resources and services
  6.    Produce no waste
  7.    Design from patterns to details
  8.    Integrate rather than segregate
  9.    Use small and slow solutions
  10.    Use and value diversity
  11.    Use edges and value the marginal
  12.    Creatively use and respond to change

These twelve principles can be applied to a wide range of aspects in our modern lives, from our homes and gardens,working lives, commercial businesses, even to politics and social-activism. Today in thousands of projects these simple principles are being designed in and applied giving a range of practical solutions for individuals and communities who wish to live in a sustainable way.

Mollison and Holmgren wanted to spread these ideas and methods, so decided to set-up and teach a series of informal two-week course in permaculture. They went on to devised a full curriculum for a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and shared it with their PDC students who grew in confidence as they taught similar 72-hour courses, and after just 10 years of touring and teaching with the help of the network of affiliated teachers – they had spread the permaculture ideas across five continents.

Although his original principles remain in place, the PDC courses have evolved to expand beyond agriculture and into areas such as design, engineering, sustainable energy, systems thinking, construction, architecture, and social resilience all based on a sound ecological approach.

Graham Wood.

Permaculture memes

natures-way2.jpg
permaculture-is.jpg

Permaculture Academy, investing in resilience

We are a coalition of 3 enterprises, developing permaculture ducation through a Wales/ Uganda/ Kenya mutual support link.

  • Sector39
    Permaculture design and education Wales
  • BEU permaculture
    Broadfield Enterprises Uganda – facilitation & training
  • PRI-UG
    Permaculture Research Opportunity of Uganda.

We need your input, involvement and help. Together we are forming a Permaculture Academy and planning for an East Africa PDC and Convergence in May 2018.

We recognize the amazing value and potential for permaculture education in East Africa and need your help to realize it!!

Sabina_PDC_advert
PDCUG18 will be at Sabina school, celebrating 10 years of permaculture with East Africa’s first permaculture convergence