[Permaculture] "Forward" and "Back"/ Discussing Solutions

Scott Pittman pci at permaculture-inst.org
Thu Jul 1 11:43:53 EDT 1999

Erik Storm wrote (snip)
>I think this gets at what John was saying (correct me if I'm wrong!).
>There need to be ethical guidelines to help guide a society's actions.
>Without them many seemingly harmless technologies or activities can become
>meaningless or even harmful.  I always had some trouble with the idea of
>using large machinery to get a Permaculture system up and going quickly
>with the rational that over the lifetime of the system it would be worth
>it.  I see such a system starting out with an "environmental mortgage" to
>pay off before the real benefits can be counted.  It seems to have the same
>problems and root causes as the house mortgage and credit card overuse.  Or
>another example I heard last night, "There might be 5000 square foot
>environmentally friendly homes, but not 5000 square foot socially
>responsible homes."  These kinds of "mistakes" come from shallow thinking.
>We need to learn to be more deeply consistent and consistently deep.

Just as sometimes allopathic radical surgery is more effective to save the
patient than say herbal medicine, the same is true with big equipment.
There are huge areas in the world that swaling for water harvesting would
revegetate and begin the restoration of vegetation and therefore the rain
cycle.  If we were to use humans and shovels this would never happen.  With
a bull dozer or road grader one can swale millions of acres with
insignificant environmental cost when compared to the annual degradation
that happens through natural cycles.  There are many alternatives like
taking the military manpower around the world, give them shovels and put
them to work building swales rather than killing each other, but while we
wait for this to happen another desert is created and millions of people are
starved and dislocated.  In this case to me the only "ethical" choice is to
use the technology at hand to create the greater good.  If we continue to
ethically "strain at a gnat" to reach decisions of critical importance to
the survival of our ecosystems then we can feel very pure as more of the
Earth is laid waste by inaction.
>In our society we have become afraid of ethics because of fundamentalists'
>abuse of them.  But this is an overreaction.  We _need_ ethics to make
>sense of what we do.  We don't have to agree on a lot of details, but as a
>society, we do have to agree (or at least keep an open debate going) on
>some basic ideas.  Without some form of guidelines, a society will drift in
>the direction of the most powerful, which in our society that means
>wealthy.  I was glad to see that Bill Mollison included ethics in
>Permaculture, but I do not see them consistently applied or even considered.

Bill didn't only "include" ethics but used them as the foundation of the
design system called permaculture.  I don't know what is meant by
"consistently applied, or even considered."  Certainly every graduate of a
permaculture certification course hears about ethics ad nauseam if they are
being taught from the curriculum developed by Bill.  There may be some
inconsistency depending on ones understanding of earth processes but for the
most part the inconsistencies are a product of ignorence not intention.

The three permacuture ethics - 1. Care of the Earth, 2. Care of all people
(or species), and 3. A return of all excess to the benefit of 1. and 2. -
sounds simple until one realizes that in order to follow those ethics one
has to have a profound understanding of biological, geological, and social
processes.  One has to remain contantly vigilant and a bit paranoid about
every new product and process introduced by the multinationals.  Who would
have thought that all of the chlorine based chemicals introduced in the
environment is responsible for loss of male fertility and deformation of
aquatic wildlife - we've been drinking it for years! So no matter how hard
we try to educated ourselves to maintain our ethical standards somethings
slip through and it is only later that we find out that we haven't taken
"Care of the Earth" as well as we once thought.  

The bottom line for me is intention - If we mean well and do our best to
follow our ethical beliefs that is better than most of the masses of
mankind, particularly those who only practice their ethics on Sunday morning.

Scott Pittman

Permaculture Institute, USA
PO Box 3702, Pojoaque, NM 87501  US
phone 505.455.0270

Ingenio Patet Campus

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