In the modern world, we face great challenges. The growth of our civilisation has brought us to the brink of ecological crisis, a social structure based on hierarchy and dependency brings increasing conflict and suffering every day, and we are seeing an escalation of a wide variety of health problems. How did we get here?
Before agriculture, humans were nomadic and had a relationship with nature in which they understood that the Earth sustained them. There was no “wild” \ “wilderness”. Nature was not something to be isolated from. It was their home, and they were a functional part of the ecosystem. At some point, over 10,000 years ago by some estimates, people discovered a new kind of relationship with nature.
Some archaeological monuments have been discovered which appear to predate agriculture, which suggests that perhaps people with shared cultural interests, such as spiritual beliefs and a desire to venerate deities, gathered in ever increasing number to attempt ever larger and more time-consuming construction projects. This may have been one of the catalysts for people to settle in one place for long periods of time, and to produce and store a surplus of food. Whatever the reason, cultivating grain in fields allowed them to do this.
With many people provided for who did not have to gather their own food, conditions were ideal for population growth, and the settled communities probably expanded rapidly. This new approach to living had many new and unique challenges as well. Who would control the distribution of the surplus grain? Who would prevent it from being stolen? Here we see the origin of hierarchical class separation. We see our disconnect from nature born in the need to defend the plantation from hungry animals. We also see the potential for famine to appear, as large numbers of settled people become dependent on few sources of food, which may suffer a bad season.
Many, many years later, this model has led us to our current predicament. Civilisation has been an amazing evolutionary journey, but it poses us serious challenges and an absolute need for a shift in trajectory. So what are the solutions?
“All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden.” -Geoff Lawton
Permaculture is a kind of ecological design, and an alternative to traditional agriculture. It has an ethical foundation, valuing care for the Earth and care for people equally. It recognises our fundamental dependence on the health of nature and aims to restores a symbiotic relationship with it. Most importantly, it works.
The core tenets of permaculture are “Care of the Earth”, “Care of the people”, and “Return of surplus” (using surplus produce and waste to maintain the health of the system, thus helping uphold the first two tenets). As well as being an ideology with which to approach nature, it offers tried and proven techniques, based on observation of natural systems, for things such as water conservation, synergistic plant groupings and natural self-balancing of pests. It aims always to maximise efficiency, minimise effort, and practically eliminate unused waste. A sustainable “food forest” can be grown virtually anywhere without the need for compromises such as pesticides and synthetic fertilisers and can be sustained without the need for importing seeds.
Permaculture goes beyond conservation of the environment. It is an approach to environmental transformation and restoration with which we can restore the natural resources we have been depleting. We can live in a way that is constructive, rather than destructive, for biodiversity, and even the atmosphere and climate. By moving towards smaller-scale and more localised food production, we can remove the need for environmentally and financially expensive transportation of goods, and the need for long-term storage and preservatives which degrade the quality of food. By becoming involved with sustaining our local environment, our communities are strengthened and empowered.
We don’t need to see a cataclysmic ‘destruction’ of civilisation for these principles to be enacted, either. Cities offer many presently ignored opportunities, such as high concentrations of nutrient-rich waste. We don’t need new technologies or scientific understanding to pull this off. Nature itself is the most advanced technology on the planet and is equipped to deal with these problems. There is now, with permaculture, renewed recognition and knowledge of how it can be applied.
Many people talk about a shift in consciousness which will transform human society and solve the problems of the modern world. Permaculture must be its first great manifestation. We have waited long enough for something to save us, be it new breakthroughs in science, a messiah or our politicians. The reality is, we are not powerless. There is something any one of us can do, even if on a small-scale, to connect with nature and move this timely revolution along. There is a wealth of information about permaculture online. Nature is, and has, everything we need. She’s been waiting for us to realise it, and to come home.
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