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A New Year’s Thought

This article was provoked by a kind request from the lovely Delvin Solkinson. To be found here: and elsewhere….

2020 implies perfect vision (you’ll be sick to death of hearing that soon). Something we are sorely in need of – but of the future, not in hindsight (when it is too late anyway).

The article is just a few questions and the answers I gave. Hope you find this useful.

How can permaculture help to create the world that you would like to see?

Permaculture is a framework for designing how we can live intelligently on planet earth respecting all of creation.  By thinking better we can act (or choose not to act) in ways which provide all our human needs, but take less work than ‘conventional’ methods.  Actually this word ‘conventional’ (as for example in ‘conventional farming’) is utterly misleading.  Many of our more destructive behaviours are comparatively recent innovations (last couple of hundred years) in stark contrast to the long term history of humanity. 

What modern technology and scientific understanding offer us is an enlightened way to lift the world’s population out of hunger and poverty, ensuring clean water and air for all.  This is not going to happen overnight.  It requires the spread of the understanding (which we choose to call Permaculture)  to the majority of the earth’s citizens.  And Permaculture is, at the end of the day, not the answer.  No it offers no answers at all.  What it offers is the right questions to ask which will lead us – you, your family and friends, your community to truly sustainable futures.  Because workable solutions differ according to time and place, local geology and soils, the availability of water, the skills and resources of the people and the natural world around them, climate and micro-climate, and the point from which we are starting.  Permaculture is not a destination it is a direction.  We cannot make the leap into true sustainability at one fell swoop.  It is an incremental process of taking responsibility for our own needs and then working out in concentric circles to the layers of community around us.  Permaculture can best help us if we apply the principles to

·         Land management (including massive global reforestation)

·         How we produce our food

·         How we manage water

·         How we use energy, including minimising the need to use it

·         How we make this a joyous sharing experience uplifting people’s souls

·         Letting as much of nature as possible have its own way

·         Helping each other achieve these goals practically and with knowledge and other resources

What is the role of creativity in permaculture?

I once wrote ‘Permaculture is the Art of the Possible’.  That is the essence of creativity.  As a discipline it invites us to be wildly creative.  By building what are much closer to hunter gatherer systems than modern agriculture.  By accepting that Yield is Unlimited.  The arts (which is what people often think of when you mention creativity) have always been crucial in changing how people think.  It is this aspect which is central to Permaculture’s potential to be creative. 

Tony Buzan (British psychologist, visionary and leader who invented MindMaps) talks about ten kinds of intelligence (admitting there are undoubtedly more).  This idea arose amongst psychologists in the 1990’s.  It challenges the way our school and university educational systems work, as they mostly depend on only three: literacy, numeracy and social awareness. 

What about people who are great at caring, cooking, cleaning, or the mechanical skills of fixing things?  So part of the challenge to letting the wonderfully creative aspects of Permaculture into your life is to unlearn the old restrictive attitudes that govern most of our educational systems.  And allow yourself t be wildly creative. 

It won’t all work, but using continuous feedback loops we can adjust our design visions over time until they do.  I worry about people who don’t make mistakes – they are not trying to do anything new.  The secret is a) not to keep making the same mistakes and b) don’t make terminal mistakes.

How has permaculture creatively inspired your life?

It does so every day.  The understanding that we spend far too much time being human doings and not enough bas human beings.  Once you ‘get’ Permaculture it becomes who you are, an unconscious blend in your life of trying to find means to work less and waste less, to share knowledge, understanding, produce with others.

To make better buildings.  To harvest the energy we use as much as possible.  If all else fails I go in the garden.  Permaculture (we decided in about 1990) is ‘Revolution disguised as organic gardening.’  Whilst I resisted the emphasis on gardening for many years, it is a magnificent gateway into understanding how the principles of Permaculture work in a manageable, achievable, and rewarding way.  To paraphrase William Congreve ‘Gardening hath charms to soothe a savage breast’.

  I suppose ultimately I don’t see my life’s work and leisure as distinguished.  Everything I do has a purpose.  It should also bring pleasure to me and others.  To me all living things are people.  Kindness sits at the heart of the human future.

What is the source of your passion for permaculture?

The living earth.  My family and friends.  Present and past. The need to build a better, peaceful and productive world.

What is the future of permaculture?

There is only one.  Either human beings survive or they don’t.  If they survive Permaculture will be the future (whatever you call it and however they do it.)  If we don’t survive the earth will carry on regardless.

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