[permaculture] Permaculture is not anthropocentric

Rain Tenaqiya raincascadia at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 19 17:49:20 EDT 2009

When I first starting studying permaculture in 1992, I was wary of the possible tendency to see the whole world as an anthropogenic garden, a garden put here for us (as in the Bible), repeating a kind of New Age "spaceship Earth" megalomania.  However, in all the main permaculture texts that I've seen, there has always been a respect for the value of other species and for wilderness which is left largely free to evolve on its own.  Bill Mollison lays it out very clearly in the Designer's Manual that we are not to infringe on the last remaining wild areas on the planet and that the second ethic of Care for the Earth includes caring for the right of other species to continue to exist.  (I am aware of all the problems inherent in the idea of wilderness, and I am not talking about a black and white reality with clear lines separating the wild from the domesticated, but rather of degrees of humun influence [as in the Zones] and of intent.)
In the debate on how much emphasis to place on limiting humun reproduction, there has been no mention of the need to limit our numbers so that other species can continue to live on this planet with us.  Many of the estimates of the carrying capacity of people on Earth would result in the extinction of most of the world's megafauna.  Obviously, if all we want to end up with is a bunch of grass with cows grazing, maybe we could maintain the current population, as long as we cut back our consumption.  But if we want to give all of our other animal (and plant) siblings a future, then we need to cut our numbers back severely to something between half a billion to a billion, as best as I can tell.
As I and others have stated recently, acknowledging limits is the basis for any ecological ethic.  This is one of the main points that we need to drive home (and I was very disappointed that Toby, champion of questioning assumptions and stirring things up, would opt to eliminate the mentioning of limiting population in the third ethic), and the use of restraint is one of the key features of any permaculture design.  The "non-negotiable" way of life in the US (according to Cheney) started with the use of slaves (with a similar defense of the institution when it was being questioned) and has been able to continue through the use of cheap fossil fuels and labor.  Denying oneself the benefits of this exploitative culture and economy can be very difficult, hence the need for clear ethics and peer pressure/support.
We need to limit humun population not just for our own survival, but for the survival of all species.  If we are to establish a scientifically-based number for the future humun population, then we need to be clear about how much space to leave for other species.  This is a long-term plan that will take hundreds of years to implement.  From what I can tell, many of our megafauna cousins will only survive the current crises through captive breeding programs and highly artificial conditions until they can be released back into the wild.  This will require a religious commitment and huge institutional support, something that will only be possible with a strong and clear ethical basis.  Refusing to talk about the truth because it is unpopular is not the way to create the kinds of changes that need to be made given the mess that we have created.


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