An Introduction to Permaculture in Nebraska Pt 4. (as published in Nebraskans for Peace)

The new world presented to us after the election is in dire need of a permaculture salvation. Permaculture was enjoying some well-deserved momentum under the global leadership of President Obama. As a grassroots movement addressing all of the cultural habits that exacerbate climate change, permaculture is more important now than ever before. The late founder of permaculture Bill Mollison described his brand new movement as “Earth Repair.” Science is teaching us about our glaciers and ice shelves nearing imminent collapse, and it is science through a cultural philosophy of permaculture that teaches us how to heal our soils, clean our waters, filter our dirty air and feed our grandchildren.

The Paris Climate talks attended by a U.S. president for the first time gave the whole world a glimmer of hope. For those who are up-to-speed on the latest climate change news, Obama’s participation in climate talks could not have come at a more important time. Climate scientists have been raising the alarm for decades, but a climate change discussion without the U.S., China and major corporations at the table is a fruitless endeavor. With a new conservative U.S. government imminent, we (the planet) need to find more creative ways that garner popular support for planet repair.

This is why Permaculture becomes the only way humanity can move forward towards something that resembles dignified civilization. I am exclusive in this claim because there is no other philosophical or cultural endeavor in the world that repairs our damaged ecosystems while feeding us. While cultures still exist that tread a light human footprint, they are not numerous and they are not always guided by earth repair objectives. Modern, technologically-advanced societies are demonstrating smaller footprints over time. However, “Jevon’s paradox” suggests that advancements of efficiency actually contribute to increased consumption of a region’s resources (the better gas mileage you get with an energy- efficient vehicle, the more miles you drive), which is limited only by population carrying capacity due to drought.

The world uses the 18th century notion of capitalism to quantify the value of land, labor and capital. Notice that our natural environment is considered ‘capital.’ In Permaculture, respecting Mother Earth is ethic number one. Humanity’s ability to live depends on a healthy biome. Imagine if we gave back to our natural environment at the same rate we take from our natural environment. I am not talking about saving dolphins caught in fishing nets or planting one tree in a manicured lawn. Imagine if we built soil as a culture; soft, nutritious, humus for all of life to benefit from. This amazing, locally grown soil would remove all of the reasons to need unsustainable foreign resources. Our love of soil would bloom into a love of land. Consequently, our connection with the land could be restored again through stewardship of the commons. Just like we have lost connection with food, we have lost our connection to the land. It is the land after all, that provides our food.

Hoping for this cultural transformation towards soil exultation is a moot point if we do not have stable climates from which to grow food reliably.

Cultures in the past were so intrinsically connected with the cycles of the earth that population control mechanisms were practiced to ensure the survival of the group. The compassion imbued in Western culture believes all life is sacred and there are more than enough resources to feed all of us. Prior to the industrial revolution, all land masses around the world had a population carrying capacity. The carrying capacity was determined by what nature could provide. Once humankind found stored energy in our Earth’s mantle (fossil fuels of coal, oil and gas), we did not need earth’s living veneer of soil as much. Now, our food systems resemble a creature of technology and mechanization. Life and our living ecosystems are what allows us to be here. Once we are completely surrounded by concrete, glass and steel environments, we lose our ability to feel connected. It is an unfortunate scenario. In humanity’s assent toward enlightenment and leisure, we have eliminated almost all of the other Earth passengers with whom we shared the earth. This arrogance of dominion over the Earth has created monocultures, eliminated biodiversity, changed the climate and left us with few options but to blame each other.  

As a 21st century objective, Permaculture is trying to change our tendency toward dominion over the earth to something that resembles stewardship. Most people think that Permaculture is only innovative food production. But as you can see, Permaculture is attempting to change the innate biological instinct within humans to consume everything we stand on. It is an umbrella philosophy that allows us to step back from our destructive tendencies and see all resources and living beings that exist as paints on a palette for our ‘Bob Ross’ art demonstration. Just like a painter creating a ‘happy tree’ environment, a Permaculture designer uses the palette of living and nonliving ‘paints’ to create a system that works for all living beings. This system can resemble any analogy you prefer; a painting, a fine-tuned watch or even life itself.

A desert climate is not the best environment for humanity; nor is the arctic. Humans inhabit these places because we have used our ingenuity to overcome scarcity. People who live in these fringe environments will be the first to tell you that the climate is changing. Scarcity is hitting a whole new level in environments dependent on stable seasonal cycles. The picture of a skinny polar bear is symbolic of climate change. The picture of a starving African is a symbol of humanity’s failure in an era of gluttonous overabundance. The picture of any animal struggling to survive is a symbol of human arrogance. Mass animal die-offs accompany our seasons now as animals are missing their food source by a week. The Anthropocene Era (named after us) is causing our own demise. Permaculture is the only method of earth regeneration in all of modern science. And we need to embrace it now—in our own communities—while there’s still time.