Introduction to Permaculture as an Ethical Design Science

I figured the best way to ingrain myself with permaculture is to blog about it, and express in my own words what it means to me. Through ‘teaching’ it, I come to better understand it myself.

Lets look at David Holmgren’s principles and ethics of permaculture (

What is Permaculture? It’s an ethical design science, its ethics stemming from the principles:

1. Care of the people
2. Care of the planet
3. Returning a surplus or ‘Fair Share’ as defined by Holmgren.

Care of the people comes first because there otherwise wouldn’t be any humans, and humans are both the problem and the solution. The word ‘Permaculture’ comes from the words ‘Permanent Agriculture’ and was coined by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison as founders of the movement in Australia. It has come to be closer to mean ‘Permanent Culture’ as the movement seeks to establish a way to sustainably and permanently live on our planet.

Perhaps in a tech fantasy dream we’ll come to colonize other planets, but there probably isn’t a safer harbor than Earth to ensure the survival of our species. So we should take care of the lifeboat that we’re all in.

Care of the planet means that we take care to extend natural systems, and that our waste streams are as much recycled and captured by our own space. The planet is the mother that feeds us and we are the children dependent on her gifts. We should treat her with that kind of respect.

Return of Surplus or ‘Fair Share’

David Holmgren notes Fair Share as the last component. This means taking not more than you need, and redistributing the surplus to the community. The Return of Surplus principle I mention flows along the same lines, but focuses more on the ‘gain’ aspect inherent in cultivating land, and relates to generating real profit based on proper energy accounting, making sure that inputs do not exceed outputs.

The ethics are a great place to start as it gives the point at which our energy flows from, and what we intend to do. It is the seed of our action.

Permaculture is furthermore a ‘Design Science’. It includes elements of design with scientifically sound principles. By utilizing biomimicry, we use ideas found in nature to enhance systems based on human needs. There are a number of great permaculture design examples, some of my favorite include swales, ponds and dams, food forests, Chinampas, 3 sister gardens, cell grazing, compost toilets, chicken tractors and multi-functional greenhouses.

It is a very open school of thought, and constantly evolving as well. Permaculture acts as the umbrella in which other methods fit in like Biodynamic farming and Seedsaving, two other aspects I’m also exploring. I see the latter subjects as ways of application in a well designed permaculture system.

Because it is a science, its also open to experimentation and trial-and-error. This is especially useful because of the diverse climates we live in. What may work well in one climate may not work well in another which is why we have to adapt to the demands of our environment.

With the idea in mind of permaculture as an ethical design science, we can see its application in many ways, giving us a hollistic view of the elements within a natural system that supports human species. Next week I’ll hope to start with the principles of permaculture and give an overview of those using examples I’ve encountered.

Lets see how far I can take this 😉

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3 Responses to Introduction to Permaculture as an Ethical Design Science

  1. Jami says:

    Looking forward to seeing where you go with your permaculture journey! I would love to hear more examples of ethics within a permaculture mindset. 🙂

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