The Ethics of Permaculture

perm ethics

Whichever book you read or course you go on all permaculture is based on these 3 ethics – that we should care for the earth, the people on the earth and share its resources fairly.




Because Permaculture originated as a system for designing gardens, farms and the land around communities, a lot of attention has been paid to caring for the earth (in Welsh y tir) beneath our feet and enabling it to grow more and better crops in a natural way rather than with chemical inputs. But it also means the Earth, (Y Ddear) our home planet. After millenia of rubbing along together happily, taking only what we needed we have been trashing it for decades. The result has been climate change, coral reef bleaching, plastic in the oceans, traffic pollution…. Permaculture encourages us to think about our choices and their impact on the world. Whilst plastic is not a bad substance per se the use of it to make vast quantities of disposable coffee cups might not be the best idea. Living where I do being without a car (or cheating and getting stuff delivered in some-one else’s vehicle) would be almost impossible but combining journeys saves me money and the climate from yet more pollution.

Why do we worry about the state and fate of the planet? It is a self-regulating system. If we cause damage it can and will change and adapt, as it always has done, and go on spinning in space. The problem is that those changes and adaptations may mean that is no longer habitable for humans and we will go extinct or, if sci-fi is to be believed, take to spaceships and decamp to another, less hospitable planet somewhere out there. We care about the planet because we care about ourselves and other people; the future well-being of each of us and of our children, grand-children, great-grandchildren…



Each of us belongs to a family and / or a local community which functions within a wider society , which is part of nation state. Do you remember as a child writing your address as ‘Susan Jones, 5 Freshfield Avenue, Prestwich, Manchester, England, UK, Europe, The World, The Universe’? Permaculture design invites us to think of the impact of our choices on each of those ‘Russian Dolls’ including how I care for myself (us caring types being very good at looking after everyone else at the expense of our own well-being!).



There is plenty of evidence that for each of those ‘dolls’ too much inequality is a bad thing. As it grows the ‘have nots’ will eventually rebel and either cause political and social instability or become economic migrants, or both. Permaculture asks me to think about the fairness of my use of the world’s resources and to take only my fair share. This is not easy. Partly because it is not straightforward to calculate how much I am using and what a fair share would be. I have, voluntarily and just for interest, started using the calculator provided as part of the ‘One Planet Development’ planning system. It requires me to keep detailed records of my consumption, mainly measuring it by how much I spend and on what. However it cannot distinguish between vegetables grown organically on a market garden and sold direct to me and those imported from the other side of the world and bought from the shop in the same village.


So far any Green thinking, left wing, liberal, Western European would agree wholeheartedly. What, for me, makes Permaculture useful is that it encourages me not only to envisage a time when I care for the earth – the bit I live on and the Earth as a whole, and the people who share it with me – those I know, those I relate to and all the rest – and try to live within my rightful share of its resources but also to plan a journey from the life I live now, whatever that is, to that place. Then to make that journey, stopping from time to time to review my progress. As with any journey there may be changes of plan, detours, ‘going back to go forward’, pauses to rest and re-create, as life happens and circumstances change. But it will be a journey to a goal rather than an aimless, well meaning wander and I will be less likely to get caught up in the latest ’cause celebre’ or fashionable angst. And to help me it gives me that set of principles which should help me to construct a map and plot a route. That is where the next post in this series will take us.


One thought on “The Ethics of Permaculture

  1. The Snail of Happiness January 18, 2018 / 11:18 am

    Nicely put – I certainly do a lot more research and thinking about my choices since I discovered permaculture.


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