What is permaculture?

What is permaculture?

Permaculture can be described as humans dance with nature where nature takes the lead. The word comes from ‘permanent agriculture’ and was later broadened to include ‘permanent culture’ – it is about living lightly on the planet and making sure that we can sustain human activities for many generations to come, in harmony with nature.

This combines three key aspects:

1. an ethical framework

2. understandings of how nature works, and

3. a design approach.

Permaculture diagram

Permaculture diagram

This unique combination can be applied to anything from a market garden design to a large farm or even a building. Its purpose is to support the creation of sustainable, agriculturally productive, non-polluting and healthy settlements and systems. In many places this means adapting our existing settlements; in other cases it can mean starting from scratch. Both offer interesting challenges and opportunities but some may look at permaculture and ask ‘have we not been doing this already for thousands of years?’

The history of permaculture

Given the mirror-like relationship between indigenous peoples and the natural world, it would appear so. We can see permaculture principles at play when we observe the innovative ways the Amazonians have created top soils despite the rapid ruin of rainforests or, the Aboriginal’s use of control burning techniques to germinate seeds and shape the landscape.

Amazonian top-soil

Amazonian top-soil [via purefixion.com]

However, in many ways permaculture has become a more essential practice after the intensification of agriculture post-World War Two and the ways it has allowed the world’s population to grow in excess of its natural capacity and resulted in a dangerous consumption of fossil fuels. Since then, permaculture has become an international movement; hundreds of specifically designed permaculture sites have been developed and it was endorsed by the White House in 2012.

How can it help you?

Permaculture is there to address our needs without producing a huge carbon footprint, mimicking the natural laws of nature and catching energy in multiple ways before it is dissipated. It can also be a way of observing the relationships between plants, which has in the past led us to further understanding how companion crops and undersowing in your garden can produce maximum yield, minimal waste. For example, the ‘three sisters’ are a good crop companion to try at home; a pea plant, squash and maize plant all work well to support each other as the maize offers the pea support to climb up, the pea fixes nitrogen in the soil for the maize and when the maize dies and decomposes it feeds the undersown squash.

'Three sisters' crop companions

‘Three sisters’ crop companions

Humans need to learn to live more reciprocally and reverse the alienation that mechanisation and industrial society has brought. Permaculture is a reaction to this alienation: a choice to restore and maintain the balance which keeps so many natural systems in delicate relatedness. A true working natural system produces no waste; everything gets broken down and used again. Why should it be any different in human settlements? The excess use of both fertilisers and pesticides in large scale farms has killed much of the microbial soil life and it also has a direct relationship with the existence of cancer in humans.

What can you do?

1- Think about where your food comes from. You can convert lawns to grow your own food, especially vegetables. Alternatively, you can try to source as much of your food from local and organic sources, or find out about local veg-box schemes.

2- Conduct a simple home energy audit. Permaculture is not just for the green-fingered among us; it can simply mean reducing waste energy and water use and instead harnessing natural resources. This isn’t as stressful as it sounds! It’s as simple as turning off lights when they aren’t needed, keeping the thermostat at a lower temperature and putting on a sweater, or choosing not to use machines like dishwashers or tumble dryers when air drying could be just as effective.

3- Watch A Farm for the Future to find out how else you can help. It’s an interesting documentary that looks at the problems with large-scale farming practices and addresses how permaculture can offer a real solution.

Permanence is not about everything staying the same. It’s about stability, about deepening soils and cleaner water, thriving communities in self-reliant regions, biodiverse agriculture and social justice, peace and abundance for all.

4-Free online permaculture course by Regenerative Leadership Institute –  72+hour course lectures free (mostly videos) at http://www.permaculturedesigntraining.com.

This post was written by Jennifer Condell who is the newest member of the Healthy Planet team and has studied Permaculture / Practical Sustainability in West Cork Ireland. http://www.kinsalefurthered.ie/courses/fetac-level-5/permaculture-2/

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What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? by Tony Juniper – Review

What Has Nature Ever Done For Us’ by Tony Juniper – a leading environmental campaigner and sustainability advisor – is a remarkable book which highlights the true value of the natural world, and the true economic cost of human ignorance in modern day development. 

What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? by Tony Juniper (2012)

What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? by Tony Juniper (2012)

After getting thoroughly engorged into the first few chapters, I was fortunate enough to attend a book club hosted by Friends of the Earth with my manager Dawn Newton, where we had the opportunity to meet Tony Juniper himself (and get my book signed – eeeek!) and learn first-hand about his motivations for writing ‘What Has Nature Ever Done For Us’. He passionately spoke how science is basically communicated to the general public in Swahili, with poor communication methods effectively building great walls and further separating environmentalists, and everyone else.

Juniper’s key aim therefore was to communicate the science to all audiences, which he fulfilled by explaining the complexity and interdependency of nature in a story-like fashion. He produced an engaging and highly readable account of how we as a population are literally liquidating the capital of the Earth.

Tony Juniper - Executive Director

Image provided by Friends of the Earth

To introduce the complex web of interactions and relationships occurring within the Earth’s system, the prologue tells the story of Biosphere 2, the first man-made version of the biosphere which incorporated a variety of the world’s ecosystems in individual biomes. This introduction outlines how a group of eight people embarked on a 2 year experiment in a microcosm of the Earth’s closed systems and the trials, tribulations and complexities they faced.

Juniper then continues to address the importance of the different components of the Earth’s system and their vital interactions. He explains to the reader the full importance of nature’s processes; constantly moving from a cold statistic to a vivid anecdote about the economic failures we have already faced as a consequence of our need to fund our exploding population and consumption habits.

A favourite example of mine concerned the Indian vultures – a scavenger which typically doesn’t pluck at the heart strings of conservationists – who suffered a population decline of 40 million birds following the introduction of a painkiller into cattle, the carcasses of which were a key source of food for the vultures. The original aim was to increase the farmer’s revenue by increasing the productivity of the cattle; however the painkiller proved poisonous to the vultures instigating a population crash and left mountains scattered with ‘putrefying fly-ridden corpses’. The consequence was more wild dogs, more dog bites, and a rabies epidemic which cost the Indian economy $30 billion.

Indian Vulture

Junipers key message is that we must put a price on nature if we are to ensure the long term preservation of our natural assets, and in turn maintain the long-term benefits the natural world provides. Nature’s services are not free and are not limitless. To capitalize on this goal we need to move away from our ‘green economy’ dominated by engineers and politicians, and move to a ‘bio economy’ where like during the construction of Biosphere 2, ecologists, climatologists, engineers, politicians, and businesses all work together to maximise our understanding and achieve our common goal.

Overall this book has provided the opportunity for readers from all walks of life to understand the difficulties faced by the natural world and our interwoven fate.

If you aren’t eager enough to buy the book already here are links to other reviews from the Guardian, by Designs On Earth, and by Friends of the Earth! 

And if your still not convinced visit Tony Juniper’s website…

Finally if any of you are interested in attending future Friends of the Earth book clubs visit their webpage with video of Tony (which also has the link to buy the book) contact: foebookclub@foe.co.uk

tumblr_m04d7lhXKL1qc6j5yo1_500Want to do something to help?

Healthy Planet’s Conservation Community allows you to directly impact the difficulties faced by the natural world. It is a fun and engaging way for anyone, anywhere to support real conservation projects that are helping make a healthier planet.

Visit the community and get on the map. www.conservationcommunity.org

Blog post written by Rhiannon Downer: Marketing & Communications intern at Healthy Planet

World Environment Day 5 June 2012

5 June is World Environment Day, an annual global event organised by the United Nations Environment Programme to celebrate positive environmental action.

The World Environment Day celebrations began in 1972 and have grown to be one of the United Nations main ways of creating awareness of environmental issues and encouraging political action, while making everyone realise that they can make a difference too.

This year the World Environment Day celebrations focus on creating a more green economy. A green economy is one that helps economic growth and employment while minimalizing the effect this has on the environment.

To coincide with World Environment Day the United Nations Environment Programme has published The Green Economy Report, which says there is strong evidence to suggest that moving to a green economy has sound economic reasoning.

The report argues that current development methods are unsustainable, not only environmentally, but also from economic, employment and social perspective, whereas a greener economy offering more sustainable enterprises is capable of creating tens of millions of green jobs.

To find out more about visit the United Nations Environment Programmes website.

What the Frack?

Lord Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency last night said that the controversial method of extracting shale gas should be given the go ahead.

Fracking, or the hydraulic fracturing of shale rock has generated notoriety for its environmental impact; as it is believed to cause earthquakes and pollute ground water. The process involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into a shale bed at high pressure to release the natural gas contained in the rock.

Even though fracking has already been banned in some countries Lord Smith believes with careful regulation it could be part of the solution for creating cheaper energy in the UK, although he added development was still needed in carbon capture technology for shale gas to become a truly viable option.

Anti fracking campaigners think Lord Smith is ignoring the facts and that his endorsement will dangerously lead to wide spread use of this questionable process of energy production in the UK.

Lord Smith made his comments on shale gas in a broad speech on the green economy at the Royal Society of Arts, where he also highlighted the need to fast-track carbon neutral technologies, adding that the UK could lead the way in wave and tidal technology.

Cuts in solar panel subsidies embarrass government at last week’s Clean Energy Ministerial.

The Prime Minister David Cameron last week hosted the Clean Energy Ministerial amidst accusations of hypocrisy by environmental campaigners and the solar panel industry. This is because the conference, which promotes the development of renewable energy, came just weeks after the government cut the subsidy for solar power.

What No 10 had hoped would be a conference that presented the UK as a global leader in green energy was instead an embarrassment for the government; as it came to light that the cut has created a 90% drop in the demand for solar panels. Campaigners fear this will kill of the sector, with 5,000 jobs predicted to be lost as a consequence.

The reason for the sharp drop in demand is that the cut is to the tariff homeowners receive for feeding their solar panels excess energy into the national grid. By halving the amount received per unit of electricity supplied the government have effectively doubled the time it will take for the solar panels to become an economically viable alternative.

While all sides agree that subsidies had to be reduced, as the costs of solar panels continue to drop, the argument was about the speed and scale of the cut, with a 50% reduction in the subsidy viewed as going too far and too fast. The government however has defended the measure saying that the scheme they inherited had become too expensive and that it was energy consumers who would have ultimately suffered.

The chief executive of the Solar Trade Association Paul Barwell said “We’ve seen drops in installation with every policy adjustment, but we expect this one will take a bit more time to pick up.”

“Many householders are aware that government has slashed subsidies, the challenge for us is to make householders aware that’s partly because industry has slashed costs, and partly because solar is so popular. There is no doubt that financially solar remains a great prospect for UK homeowners so there is no good reason why the UK market should stagnate.”