The Resilience Hub and Midcoast Permaculture Design graduated its 20th cohort this summer from the internationally recognized Permaculture Design Course. Participants met five times over four months at the MOFGA fairgrounds in Unity. In that time we visited multiple permaculture sites, and learned hands-on techniques like plant propagation, sheet mulching, scything, and water-harvesting earthworks. We did a deep dive into the permaculture design process, which culminated in a three-day, start-to-finish, small-group design of our sample client’s 5-acre site in Morrill. It was an exciting weekend, stressful at times, but each group finished the project with multiple beautiful hand-drawn maps and a written report. Congratulations to the 2019 Unity PDC grads!
The Resilience Hub is one of six organizations chosen from over 110 nominees to win the 2019 Source Sustainability Award from the Portland Press Herald. We sent out a call for nominations and you all responded. We are so honored and grateful to have the support of YOU, our wonderful community!
The Resilience Hub is profiled in the Sunday April 21 edition of the Press Herald. A formal awards ceremony will be held on May 1 at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester from 5:30-7:30. Please join us to celebrate our accomplishments of the past 14 years!
By Malene Welch, Resilience Hub PDC Grad
When I received an email announcing a Permaculture Design Course, I first put it aside. The email was from a PDC participant who had recently completed the course and with whom I was in a gardening class. I was fascinated by his breadth of knowledge and as I had been coming across the term ‘permaculture’ more and more, I was very curious. I found both the definition of permaculture and the description of the design course intriguing so I returned to the email and signed up for the course.
What I could not have known then was that a neither a written definition nor a description could have prepared me for the life-changing experience the PDC would provide. What I thought would be an immersive gardening course was so much more than I could have ever imagined. Throughout the course I found myself surrounded by a diverse group of people connected by a shared desire to learn and guided by some of the most dedicated and experienced instructors that I have ever encountered. The format of the course allowed us to get to know each other through sharing our histories, our various levels of expertise, and even our food! I always looked forward to the delicious dishes that showed up at every class.
I originally took the course to improve my gardening skills and the following season my garden was abundant due to concepts I implemented from the PDC. While I learned a great deal about design principles, what affected me most deeply was how my eyes were opened to the world around me. I continue to use the principles of permaculture in my everyday life from how I physically move to how I communicate with others. The concept of ‘social permaculture’ now informs the way I navigate in life.
I will be forever grateful that I chose to take the Permaculture Design Course because of the knowledge that I gained, the personal connections that I made, and the change to my outlook on life.
By Peter Bourgelais (aka #Pete)
This is a critique of Jesse Watson’s article “Embracing the 4 Ethics of Permaculture”, which was published in our most recent newsletter. To read it, click here: http://midcoastpermaculture.com/4-ethics-of-permaculture/
In writing this blog post, the author feels a little like a high school English teacher asking to see a student after class who needs to make numerous changes to their term paper. I know from one or two such experiences on the students’ end how awkward this can be, but there is some seriously questionable reasoning in Jesse Watson’s “Embracing the 4 Ethics of Permaculture” that needs to be addressed. This post will argue that the concept of limits to consumption and growth is implied in the first two ethics, that Bill Mollison simplified the third ethic for a more general audience in Introduction to Permaculture, and that the third ethic can be easily described in one sentence to a general American audience without splitting it into two ethical principles. This post will speak to the additional material in Watson’s post, and it will claim that his discussion therein rests on a philosophical tradition that is incompatible with permaculture principles.
Watson begins by observing that, while the first two permaculture ethics of Earth Care and People Care can be easily explained to an American audience in an elevator pitch scenario, the third ethic of Fair Share, “set limits to consumption and redistribute surplus”, can take longer to explain. Watson spends the next several paragraphs separating the two concepts into their own ethical principles. As claimed above, the necessity of limits to consumption naturally follows from any proper understanding of Earth Care and People Care. Bill Mollison seems to have understood this in his own writing. The definition of Fair Share that Watson quotes above is very close to that on page 2 of Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, published in 1988: “SETTING LIMITS TO POPULATION AND CONSUMPTION: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles”. The much shorter Introduction to Permaculture, published in 1991, defines the third ethic as “the contribution of surplus time, money, and energy to achieve the aims of earth and people care” (p. 3). There is no language related to growth and consumption limits in this definition because the only real way to follow these ethics is to set those limits. The modern global economy passes very real limits of consumption and production every day, and does so by not practicing the three permaculture ethics. Amazon doesn’t practice people care when its workers have to give up bathroom breaks (1) to meet productivity targets and are forced to urinate in bottles, it doesn’t practice Earth Care when it uses fossil fuels to ship packages, and it doesn’t practice Fair Share because its sole purpose is to maximize profit for shareholders. This violation of limits is a symptom, not a cause, of deviation from the permaculture ethics. When limits to production and consumption are understood to be a natural consequence of the three ethics, the third ethic can be explained in one sentence: “Use the surpluses—of food, water, money, animal manure, etc.–for Earth Care and People Care”. This obviates the need for a fourth ethic while addressing the problem Watson set out to solve.
The English word essay derives from the same word as the French verb essayer, to try. This has been pointed out by countless English teachers as part of a broader point that an essay should introduce a problem, attempt to resolve it in the main body of the work, and conclude by summarizing the reasoning that the author has laid out. While Watson’s blog post makes sense to conclude after describing the (unnecessary) fourth ethic, it continues on for another 1,800 words beginning with the section “The role of catalytic change in the PDC” with no clear transition to the next stage of the post. There may be such a transition several paragraphs in with the sentence “An explicit and central awareness of limits can be a helpful antidote to this religion of progress”. This “religion of progress” seems to refer to “The myth of progress with its faith in Star Trek fantasies and a technology-based Rapture where we metamorphosize (or is it metastasize?) and expand across the solar system”. This myth expresses itself in American permaculture circles with statements like “A future of less energy could be better than the one we have now”. Watson talks about this myth of progress after defining religion as the “narrative, metaphor and myth we generate as a result of inferring patterns out of the chaos of sensory stimuli from the universe”. In describing the various dimensions of religion under this definition, he includes not only persons and works that the average reader would associate with religion (e.g. Jesus and the Bible), but political and economic theories such as Marxism and scientific concepts such as “atoms, gravity, electrical forces and spirals of DNA”, adding that for most people, “meaning and purpose comes not from rational or logical thought or understanding of the universe”, but from these and other wellsprings of meaning. In order to understand why this line of reasoning conflicts with the theoretical underpinnings of permaculture, we have to look at the recent history of Western philosophy, where permaculture fits in said history, and the inevitable contradictions created by lumping in the scientific method, which is embedded in the permaculture design principles, with any religious text.
In a different context, Youtuber and trans woman Natalie “ContraPoints” Wynn created this concise summary of the past 300 years of Western philosophy. Brackets and emphasis are mine, and parentheses are to denote references to authors shown in the video:
“Early modernism is the philosophy developed by a bunch of boring, 18 th century queens [sic] (Voltaire and Rousseau) which says that we can form universal theories about the world through observation and reasoning, aka the scientific method [aka the permaculture design principles “Observe and Interact”, “Apply self-regulation and accept feedback”, and “Design from patterns to details”]. Now that turns out to work pretty well for whatever questions you have about plants and crystals and how to medically configure human genitals, but it has some limits, which was pointed out by David Hume…Hume argued that, from a strictly empirical perspective, you can’t really know much about important things like morality, causation, and the self [Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share], because those aren’t the kinds of things you can observe. Then the late modernists came along and they said ‘F*** Hume! We’re gonna do science about those things anyway!’. So the late modernists were a bunch of boring, 19th century neckbeards (Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, Marx and Engels) who, one way or another, tried to discover universal scientific truths about humans. So for example you have psychoanalysis, which said human nature can be understood in terms of unconscious drives…and you got Marxism with its analysis of bourgeoisie [the 1%] and proletariat [the 99%], you got early sociology and anthropology, which started out with racist social evolutionism (Herbert Spencer and Auguste Comte), and progressed to a kind of ‘we’re all the same universalism’ (Margaret Mead and Claude Levi-Strauss)…Postmodernism is skepticism about modernism, so whereas modernists try to create eternal and universal theories about reality, history, and humanity, postmodernists say ‘Actually, no, that’s not possible’. For example, the French postmodernist Michel Foucault wrote intellectual histories of subjects like psychiatry, medicine, and criminal justice in which he argues that we should not understand these histories as straightforward progressions toward liberty and scientific truth, but rather as mere shifts in the way that power orders our institutions and populations.”
Wynn goes on to describe how late modernist conventional feminists, who argue for concreteconcepts of gender to organize around for women’s rights, are regularly in conflict with postmodern feminists, who are interested in deconstructing the very idea of gender. Likewise, and with the above context, permaculture is clearly a late modernist school of design thought. How can one make designs for specific parts of the earth and particular humans without first basing them in universal principles about the natural world and human nature derived through observation and reasoning? Lumping the permaculture ethics together with a wide variety of ideologies and labeling it as just another possible shift in how people can order their institutions undermines the very design principles on which permaculture is based. Postmodern permaculture is a contradiction in terms.
In conclusion, while Watson is to be credited for writing about the permaculture ethics, this post is offered in the spirit of “only a true friend will point out that you have toilet paper hanging off the side of your shoe”. The need for a fourth ethic of awareness of limits is obviated by any careful reading of two of the foundational texts of permaculture, and an argument for a postmodern permaculture ethics (which the latter 2/3rds of this post appears to be) has several fundamental flaws given the inherently late modernist structure of the permaculture ethics and design principles.
Peter Bourgelais is a 2016 Resilience Hub PDC graduate who builds earthworks and medicinal polycultures on a 3.5 acre permaculture property in Phillips and maybe thinks too much about the permaculture ethics. Please don’t ask him to fix your computer.
by Lisa DePiano
When teaching permaculture I often start out by doing a giant problems mind map. I ask students to brainstorm all of the major “problems” they see in the world to reflect on what brought them to study permaculture. Nine times out of ten the idea of overpopulation as a root “problem” in the world comes up.
Overpopulation describes a situation where there are too many people for the amount of resources available. It puts the blame of the environmental crisis on the sheer number of people on the planet.
Natural scientist and former senior manager of the BBC David Attenborough sums up this sentiment when he said, “We are a plague on the Earth. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us[.]”
This cultural narrative, that human beings are the root cause of the environmental crisis is everywhere, especially among environmentalists. We also see this belief within permaculture design. The third ethic of permaculture reads:
Setting limits to population and consumption: By governing our own needs we can set resources aside to the above principles.
Not only is the idea of overpopulation as the cause of the environmental crisis oversimplified and inaccurate, it upholds a de-generative paradigm of scarcity, fear and competition that goes against the core teachings of permaculture. It also perpetuates problematic thinking that leads to ineffective and unjust public policies and global solutions. As permaculturalists, it is important that we contradict this notion that simply more people on the planet equals less resources and more pollution. We need to engage in dialog around the true roots of environmental, social and economic degradation. In this way, we can begin to shift mental models and design more effective and just solutions that take into account the real root causes of degradation and injustice.
In his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren reframed the third ethic as “fair share” or “redistribute the surplus.” He points out the paradox of permaculture’s core belief of abundance and this ethic. He states that, “Except in extreme famine and other natural disasters, scarcity is a culturally mediated reality; it is largely created by industrial economics and power, rather than actual physical limits to growth.”
Although the third ethic has been reframed, there has been little discussion about this shift in the permaculture community or literature on how to address and refute the myth of overpopulation in the first place. I created the following talking points that we can use when having discussions around overpopulation.
6 TALKING POINTS FOR PERMACULTURALISTS TO DEBUNK THE MYTH OF OVERPOPULATION:
• Overpopulation is defined by numbers of people, not their behaviors: Industrialized countries, who make up only 20% of the worlds population, are responsible for 80% of the carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere. The United States is the worst offender with 20 tons of carbon emission per person. Therefore it is not just the amount of people that leads to degradation but what they are doing. Permaculture design illustrates how humans can be a keystone species and have a positive impact on the health of our ecosystems, bringing greater health and equity. We can depave the way for industrial retrofits and regenerative development.
• Overpopulation justifies the scapegoating and human rights violations of poor people, women, people of color and immigrant communities: Often times the subtext of “too many people” translates to too many poor people, people of color and immigrants. In the 1970’s Puerto Rico, under the control of and with funding from the US government , forced the sterilization of 35% of women of child bearing age . This is a human and reproductive rights violation. It also prevents us from dealing with the real social, political and economic origins of our ecological problems and places the blame on communities with less institutional power. This perpetuates a fear mindset, keeps people divided and blaming each other rather than being able to come together to organize for true self determination and security.
• Overpopulation points the finger at individuals not systems: This lets the real culprits off the hook. When we look at the true causes of environmental destruction and poverty it is often social, political and economic systems, not individuals. We see militaries and the toxic legacy of war, corrupt governments, and a capitalist economic system that puts profit over people and the environment. The founder of Social Ecology, Murray Bookchin said, “If we live in a grow or die capitalistic society in which accumulation is literally the law of economic survival and competition is the motor of progress, anything we have to say about population being the cause of ecological crisis is meaningless.
• Supports a degenerative mental model of scarcity: Much of this ideology was created by Thomas Robert Malthus, an 19th century english scholar, whose work influenced the fields of political economy and demography. Malthus gave us the idea that the reason there is famine is because there are too many mouths to feed. In his 1798 essay, An essay on the principle of Population, he goes on to say that it was human population that causes food prices to rise and therefore is the root cause of famine. Malthus was extremely influential to Charles Darwin in his thinking around “Survival of the Fittest.” His work was also used as the philosophical bedrock to justify many human rights violations such as the eugenics movement, forced sterilization, and even the Holocaust.
• Focusing on overpopulation prevents us from creating effective solutions and building movements for collective self determination: We know from the permaculture design process how we define a problem determines how we design solutions. How does viewing overpopulation as a root problem impact the way we think of and design solutions? What would solutions look like if we viewed people, all people, as an asset? The myth of overpopulation has lead to solutions of population control and fertility treatments, rather than overall health care and women’s rights. . The more we blame humans, think we are bad and evil, the harder it is to believe in ourselves, count on each other, and build a collective movement for jus-tice and self determination. Scholar, scientist and activist, Vandana Shiva said, “Hunger and malnutrition are man-made. They are hardwired in the design of the industrial, chemical model of agriculture. But just as hunger is created by design, healthy and nutritious food for all can also be designed, through food democracy.”
Together we can dispel the notion that overpopulation is a root cause of environmental degradation and deepen the discussion about the switch of the third ethic from setting limits to growth and population to fair share/redistribute the surplus. We can form new mental models that can lead to widespread, lasting social change and more effective and just solutions for collective health and abundance.
Thomas, Trevor, “The Myth of Overpopulation”, American Thinker, February 10, 2013
Mollison, Bill, Permaculture A practical Guide for a Sustainable Future (Covelo: Island Press, 1990).
Holmgren, David, Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability (Hepburn: Holmgren De-sign Services, 2002).
“WORLD POPULATION TO 2300.” The Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (2004): https://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf
Hartman, Betsy. “10 Reasons Why Population Control is Not the Solution to Global Warming,” https://popdev.hampshire.edu/sites/default/files/uploads/u4763/DT%2057%20-%20Hartmann.pdf
The Chicago Womens Liberation Union. https://www.uic.edu/orgs/cwluherstory/CWLUArchive/puertorico.html
10 Reasons to Rethink Overpopulation. https://popdev.hampshire.edu/projects/dt/40
Lisa DePiano is a certified permaculture designer, teacher and practitioner with over 15 years of experience. She is a lecturer in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts and a research fellow at the MIT media lab. She runs the Mobile Design Labwhich specializes in participatory permaculture design and education and is author of Permaculture FEAST principles flash cards.