PEACE in Action

Permaculture: A Regenerative Design for Community Resiliency

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Working for International Peace
Permaculture: A Regenerative Design for Community Resiliency

We are living in an era of global transformation. Our cosmology is changing as we come to realize that our survival is dependant on changing our relationship to creation, the natural world and the planet Earth. This transformation is transcending religion, culture, climate and consciousness. Many of us are waking up to realize we have to change the way we create our supply lines and develop the land. We are also awakening to the notion that we need to treat ourselves, each other and all of creation with respect and compassion.

The good news is that the solutions are here. We have, at our fingertips, the technology and knowhow to grow healthy food without chemicals, to design and build energy systems that are clean and renewable, build structures without toxins, and treat each other with respect and compassion. But why aren’t we? Why are we still feeling helpless towards issues such as species extinction, climate change, pollution, overpopulation, addiction, violence, racism, poverty and disconnection when the solutions in many cases are hidden in plain view? I think one answer is that most of us are not aware of what is available to us in the form of systemic solutions. The crux is… We have to change…

Many Hands Make Light Work
This isn’t about one person or a few people doing magnanimous tasks to transform society and culture. This is about millions upon millions of people doing ordinary things while making clear and educated decisions. It’s about humanity becoming literate about their home and their personal role in looking after it.  Permaculture is one way of translating that literacy into tangible results.

What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is a design science, rooted in the observation of natural systems. It aids us in designing human settlements that have the stability and resiliency of natural ecosystems. It is a non-dogmatic approach to whole systems thinking. Permaculture (Permanent Culture) integrates agriculture, built structures, energy systems, economy, land access and social justice. The thinking stems from the worldview that we are “apart of”, not “apart from” nature. Permaculture inserts humans back into the natural world rather than seeing the need to objectify nature, thus separating ourselves from “it.

Two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, conceived the Permaculture Design concept in 1978. Bill was a university professor and David was a young environmental design student. They asked the question: Why are agriculture, land use and ecology being taught in different departments? Why aren’t they part of the same program? Bill and David hashed out the principles of permaculture over many months after the university expressed very little interest in that question.

I chose the path of permaculture design because I see the brilliance of the curriculum to help us transform our worldview to start seeing the inter-connectivity between all of creation. How does the permaculture design education do this? Permaculture is based in principles that can be applied to any climate, culture, economy and class. It can be applied to urban or rural situations as well as dry lands, tropics and temperate zones. Many indigenous people are turning to permaculture to help them cope with diminishing land access and resources. Permaculture is an Earth-based design system that uses nature’s principles as guidelines to apply to human settlements.

A permaculture designer asks the question: “How does nature do it?” when probing into complex design issues.

Some practical examples of permaculture principles are:

How many functions can you achieve by every element you design into a system? For example you may plant a hedge for privacy on the boundary of your garden. Depending on the plant species you choose, that hedge could provide habitat for wildlife as well as food for people and domesticated animals. These plants could fix nitrogen in the soil; provide mulch, firewood, kindling, building materials, basketry materials etc.

If you decide to build a pond, that pond could function as a fire protection, irrigation, drinking water, aquaculture, recreation, beauty, water for wildlife and habitat for birds and frogs.

Another principle is honoring diversity. This can be diversity in your skill sets and livelihoods, cultural diversity, agricultural and biological diversity as well as diversity of points of view between people.

Yet another principle is how many elements can support a single function. To illustrate this principle I’ll tell a story. I was in Quebec during the ice storm in 1998 that hit the Montreal metropolitan area. About 1000 steel electrical pylons (said, in Quebec to be the most solid in the world) and 35,000 wooden utility poles were crushed and crumpled by the weight of the ice.  More than 4 million people were out of power for a week in the middle of winter where the average temperature was 10 degrees below zero. Having such an important function, energy for heating and cooking, be reliant upon one centralized and single-stranded energy system is a recipe for instability. The solution would be to have a variety of energy options with multiple grids.  Given the losses to structures, people and animals it would have been more cost effective in the long run to design for such a catastrophe. The potential for an ice storm is not unlikely in a climate like Quebec, Ontario and the Northeastern US. They may become more common given the growing extremes in climate conditions.

True Cost Pricing
If we looked at the real bottom line based on true cost pricing, did a thorough life cycle analysis, factoring in all the energy and impact that goes into a product or a system, (like the fossil fuels, waste, pollution stream, transport) sustainable practices would prove to be a lot more cost effective than our current unsustainable practices. The efficiency we are enjoying today is taking away from our future generations. We should be using the energy we have now to create resilient and stable holistically-designed human settlements to provide for our supply lines of food, building materials, medicine and energy. We all love our children and want to see them and their children and grandchildren thrive in a healthy world.

If the policy makers, decision makers, developers and citizens can learn to think holistically as they work to achieve what is on their respective agendas, we might have a chance to develop a truly resilient regenerative culture of kindness, support and respect toward all of creation. The solutions are available to us. To find out more, contact Regenerative Design Institute

Penny Livingston-Stark is internationally recognized as a prominent permaculture teacher, designer and speaker.  With her husband James she founded the Permaculture Institute of Northern California, which grew to become the Regenerative Design Institute.

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