[permaculture] Thoughts on permaculture standards, Mollison & Holmgren.

Michael Pilarski friendsofthetrees at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 17 17:53:40 EST 2009

Thoughts on permaculture standards, Mollison & Holmgren.

All this talk of curriculum, standards and certification.  The conversation does have its value. 

On the one hand, we all know that each site is unique, each client is unique , each permaculturre project is unique, each permaculture teacher is unique and each permaculture design course is unique.  So anyone who is thinking standardization is going against the natural flow. 

On the other hand, it is valuable for people to discuss standards of knowledge and conduct for teaching permaculture and the relative values of different courses, teachers and projects.  It is not reality to see everything with rosy-colored glasses. There are permaculture con artists out there and would-be permaculture dictators and well-meaning "teachers" who deliver mediocre or poor courses. Thankfully they are a small minority. 

We do not have any legal framework to deal with circumstances of poor standards, but we do have social networks. We compare notes. Permaculture is a woven net of individual friendships. Friends talk and if one has a bad experience with another person they are apt to warn their friends.  People earn their reputations to a large extent. 

If there are people teaching permaculture in my neighborhood who I think are doing a bad job or are ripping people off, that is a cause of concern for me.  They are downgrading the name of permaculture. This is a (relatively) free country and they can do what they want. But I can still talk to my friends. 

This is not to say I condone idle gossiping, speculation and quick conclusions.  My personal ethos is to assume that all permaculture people are doing a good job , unless I experience otherwise or hear something from a trusted friend. 

I would consider it a last resort to question/censure any person's name or organization in print. It doesn’t happen very often.

We need to have a certain level of self-critical thinking, both as individuals and as the permaculture movement.  To limit ourselves to only saying nice things and never critical comments, means people aren’t going to learn as fast - nor is the movement.  There is no unified mindset in the permaculture movement (the three permaculture ethics are the closest we are likely to get).  There are a wide variety of opinions on a wide variety of subjects such as certification. By talking among the movement (via internet, in person or at face-to-face gatherings) we find where the edges of the belief system are and where the middle is. We together create a psychic field of consciousness, the overall permaculture mind, as it were.  Continually evolving, shifting and growing.  We all tap into it at some level.  We all contribute to this general field. No one person is the master-mind behind it all, even though Bill Mollison and David Holmgren got the ball

I honor both Mollison and Holmgren for their brilliant initial work and their continuing contributions. Both are personal friends of mine. Since Mollison is so often discussed in this permaculture forum I would like to add my personal viewpoint.

Bill Mollison is a brilliant inter-disciplinary thinker. He has an open-hearted, charismatic personality that enabled him to almost single-handedly jump-start permaculture movements in countries around the world.  Bill has a strong personality that doesn’t suit everybody.  He has pissed a lot of people off over the years, as well as endeared himself to many. As a result he has a mixed reputation which wasn’t helped by his recent attempts to establish some control over permaculture.  

I am amazed at the amount of book-bashing there has been regarding “Permaculture: A Designers Manual”. Yes there are mistakes in it, and they should be duly noted. But name any other cross-disciplinary, leading-edge book about sustainably living on the planet in every climate zones that doesn’t have mistakes.  The vast majority of the information is valid.  I have read and re-read the book many times and still refer to it whenever teaching a design course.  Yes, it would be good to replace it with a wiki type evolving body of knowledge that would supercede it.  But I don’t think it will happen any time soon and so the book is still indispensable reading for any permaculturist at this time.  It is not like a bible in that it is the only book you need, but it is one of the best practical handbooks we have at this time.  It is valuable “in addition to” the other 100+ books out there on permaculture today.  You don’t need to read books
 to understand and practice permaculture, but it sure helps. 

Bill Mollison is certainly not perfect, but it pains me to see people in the US vilify him and seem to wish to cast him out of the permaculture movement.  I (we) owe a lot to Bill and even if I don’t agree with all of his policies, I am still sending him my love.

David Holmgren, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body.  I have never met anyone who did not like and admire David. David is deep thinking, tactful, considerate and also a brilliant thinker.  He was not the charismatic leader like Mollison was at the beginning of the movement, but instead focused on hands-on work and local organizing. In the recent decades he has done more teaching and movement building as well as his writings have been more widely published.  His book “Permaculture: Principles and Practices Beyond Sustainability” is one of the permaculture must-reads. And everyone online should check out his new website http://www.futurescenarios.org/

Enough for today. This is a lot to wade through, but it appears the permaculture movement is going through some sort of self-reflection prior to another evolutionary leap. My recent posts are contributions to this process. 

Michael Pilarski
Friends of the Trees Society

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