[permaculture] What happened to the third ethic?

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Wed Jul 15 14:40:04 EDT 2009

Some of the confusion here comes from Mollison himself, or maybe his 
ex-wife, Rene Slay. In the Designer's Manual, ethic #3 is as Rain 
describes it, setting limits. But in the Intro to Pc book, Bill and Rene 
write of "a threefold ethic: care of the earth, care of people, and 
dispersal of surplus time, money, and materials toward these ends." 
There is no mention of setting limits in the Intro's section on ethics. 
And in Bill's courses and videos that I've seen, he mentions sharing the 
surplus as an ethic. The ethics and, even more so, the principles, have 
often been set out in ways that are confusing, logically and 
grammatically inconsistent (some are injunctions, some are 
observations), and category-error laden. It would be nice if someone 
skilled in philosophy and logic would organize them into a more rational 

I'd love it if there were no point in permaculture teachers flying 
around the planet, and I hope we're not far from the day when each 
bioregion has its own local teachers (I'm pretty over the glamor of 
teaching non-local PDCs). But until then, I think the resulting 
reduction in consumption and increase in carbon sequestering done by 
20-40 PDC students and the people they then effect probably outweighs 
the impact of 1/150th of a jet flight made in getting a teacher to a 
site. And it's better than 30 students all flying to reach the teacher. 
I like Larry Santoyo's phrase: it's not your footprint so much as it is 
your handprint that's important.


Rain Tenaqiya 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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