The Ethical Principles of Permaculture
Any philosophy has its own set of principles or ethics whether they are written or not. Permaculture is no different. When Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed the formal ideas of Permaculture, they also developed three guiding ethical principles.
1. Earth Care
2. People Care
3. Fair Share
Now first, let me point out that these principles are all EQUAL in value; one is not more important than the other. There are consequences to generally treating the Earth as more important than Humans, and there are consequences to generally treating Humans as more important than the Earth. There are many ways to interpret these ethical principles, and this is my attempt, my version, my interpretation. I do not hold these as scripture, because Permaculture is not my religion. But it is a marvelous tool.
The Garden of Eden, Jan the Elder Brueghel - 1612
I think there are a lot of people who have forgotten one of mankind's first duties. Take care of the Earth. Understand that our life is sustained by what we have on this planet. Air, water, soil, and all forms of life are interconnected. Whether you call it the Butterfly Effect or Chaos Theory, a person's actions will have a consequence or domino effect on every other part of the whole system... the Earth. I don't mean this in a spiritual way. I mean it as scientific fact. If we cut down the rainforest, we lose species of plant and animal for ever. Was there a new cure for cancer in one of those plants we just lost? Did we just destroy yet another one of God's amazing species in our mismanagement of the forest?
A parasite is a creature that slowly sucks up all the resources from its host while giving nothing in return. When people treat the Earth with no regard for the future, then we are no better than planetary parasites. I am truly not an eco-fanatic, but I am an ecologist (defined: a biologist who studies the relationship between an organism and its environment). I have a biology and medical degree, and I have a keen interest in the relationship between our environment our health. I have seen that when people care for the environment, they are caring for themselves.
Which leads me to the next ethical principle...
Do Unto Others, Norman Rockwell - 1961
When we put our focus on caring for ourself so that we can care for others (as opposed to caring for ourself as the final goal), our whole attitude shifts. We start to think more about our family. We also begin to think about the children in our life and their children's children. We think more about the actions we are taking today that may effect them and their future. This ties into how we use our land, the chemicals we choose not to use, the trees we plant that will live for hundreds of years after we are gone... ultimately then this ties right back to the first principle: Earth Care.
Finally, our mind starts to focus on neighbors and community and ways we can help to build it. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:12: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. We start to reach out and help others that are less fortunate or who are lacking the information that we have. We begin to teach others to take care of themselves. When we give a man a fish, we feel good about ourselves for doing something nice, but this is an example of caring for ourselves as the final goal, not others. When we teach a man to fish, we are now truly helping him. If we teach him how to raise fish and then he sells them, we are now helping the whole community.
And this leads me to the third ethical principle...
The Four Elements - Earth, Joachim Beuckelaer - 1569
Here is another trap of human nature: preventing others from caring for themselves and their families and communities so that you can accumulate beyond your ability to use. And this also is wrong.
What this principle is talking about in my opinion (and according to Bill Mollison) is about setting limits to your consumption. If you produce excess, then store it away for yourself or your children to use later, or sell it or trade it to those that want it so you can have other things that you need or desire. But do not limit the ability of another person to do the same. And do not take too much from the Earth that it has to recover and cannot provide for your children and their children.
The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.
- Bill Mollison
And that is it. Earth Care. People Care. Fair Share.
It is that simple. When we are managing our land in a way that is sustainable (Earth Care) and producing for our family and community (People Care) in a way that allows and encourages others to do the same (Fair Share), then we are practicing Permaculture.