Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Prime Directive of Permaculture

"The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence
and that of our children."

--Bill Mollison

That's right, I think I've read, watched and listened to enough to fumble my way through what the foundations of permaculture (the prime directive, ethics and principles) mean to me. Don't blame the authorities for what follows :-)


Since the PD sits at the root of permaculture it only makes sense to me that we should view it (at first) at the highest level of abstraction possible:

  • - "our own existence" == all human beings alive today

  • - "our children" == our descendants and dependents
What is the one thing above all our descendants need from us? Apologies to Robert Heinlein, but "ancestors" doesn't cut it. They need a biosphere. And we are not on a road to leaving them one. Read the folks in the Resources page, and it is clear - our current global lifestyle is only sustainable with massive input of fossil fuel, and peak oil is coming - maybe in years, maybe in decades, but unlikely to be something usefully measured in centuries.

Ethical diversion: we in the first world have built our phenomenal standard of living on the back of taking from the planet long-term viability (and by exporting a lot of that abuse to the third world). So what do we tell the developing nations? No, you can't turbo-charge your economy and infrastructure at the price of the environment? We got ours, now screw you if you try to copy us? I'd prefer "learn-from-my-fail" - there are better ways, but their short-term costs may be higher. That is a hard pill for anyone to swallow, especially if they don't have a lot else to put in their mouths. Remind me later that I want to talk about using our current (limited) rich energy to build the mature tools we'll need in the epochs to come.

I also include dependents in the abstraction - maybe we'll build real AI or maybe not, but we've already created a lot of domesticated species that we need to take responsibility for. Maybe we should let the sterile GM seed strains from Monsanto die out, but we still owe a debt of care to our cats, dogs, chickens and cattle.


The PD works on the personal level, too, and in fact it is at the personal level that I see the most potential for change. Difficult circumstances, market priorities, corporate imperatives, political necessity - they mean that I can't personally change the world, and neither can you. But I can change myself. I can be responsible for my own lifestyle, my own land, my own carbon footprint, my own food sources, my own disaster-preparedness, my own sphere of influence.

So that's what the PD means to me - keep your eye on the big picture, while taking personal action. Change myself, be an example, and hope that the world follows along.

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