[permaculture] What happened to the third ethic?

Chelsea Sherbut csherbut at gmail.com
Tue Jul 14 18:44:57 EDT 2009

Scott Pittman put the "third ethic" as (not an exact quote) "Return of
surplus to the care of earth and care of people", which seems succinct
enough to me.  I hope I'm not misquoting him or misinterpreting him :)

I think that defining "surplus" and "excess" are difficult and
important discussions.  There is something in many (most? all?) of us
that causes us to always feel that we do not have enough.  People who
have grown up with poverty are especially trained this way, even if
they somehow manage to escape destitution at some point.  Perhaps it
is not a universal definition, and perhaps we ought not to apply our
own definitions self-righteously to others.  I think it is fair to say
that we are almost never doing "enough" to compensate for others who
do nothing.  Life is short - we do what we can, then we die.

Moreover, "limiting" anything (including population) doesn't involve
ceasing and desisting altogether.  It involves balance.  As a species
we are not nearly as prolific as many other species who do not use
reason and logic to maintain their equilibrium - outside forces
(predators, scarce resources) do it for them.  We do not criticize
fish or spiders for selfishly creating so many offspring without
considering the impact on the ecosystem, and we are (most of us)
scarcely better at resisting our own biology and instincts despite our
"advanced" brains and "superior" reasoning capacity.


On 7/14/09, Rain Tenaqiya <raincascadia at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Although Bill Mollison wasn't a perfect example of someone that adhered to the third permaculture ethic, his wording in the Designer's Manual is:
>  "Setting limits to population and consumption: by governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles."
>  Somehow this has been turned into a simple directive to "share the surplus," at least in the US.  What happened?  Without limiting consumption and reproduction, there will be no surplus to share.  A sustainable lifestyle requires radical restraint relative to mainstream habits in the US.  Anyone who thinks they can fly around the planet on vacations (or even permaculture courses) or produce their own biological children is not practicing permaculture, as far as I'm concerned.  This is just more crappy mainstream environmentalism that assumes we can keep living outrageously selfish lifestyles as long as we change a few lighbulbs and drive a Prius.
>  I advocate a third ethic which combines the following:
>  1. limit population and consumption
>  2. create a surplus
>  3. share (redistribute) the surplus
>  Can anyone think of a succinct way to say this?
>  Rain
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