What is Permaculture? The Foundation: Ethics

“Design is the first signal of human intention.” – William McDonough

Permaculture is about design – from ecological landscapes to everyday tools and objects, and even to social and organizational structures. You can do anything in permaculture, so long as it builds on a foundation of ethics and core design principles. It works somewhat like a pyramid. The foundation of ethics and design principles give way to design methodologies, strategies, and ultimately, to new technologies.

The overarching goal of Permaculture is to align our highest vision for our lives with that of our home planet. Permaculture seeks to live in harmony with nature, and to provide sufficient food, water, shelter, and creative community for all.

Like a tree growing tall into the sky, with roots penetrating deep into the earth, Permaculture pursues a high, ideal vision, and it also seeks to be deeply grounded in its core ethics and principles. Being grounded in ethics helps to ensure that the technologies we create from this ideal vision are supported by a strong foundation.

Permaculture ethics are incredibly simple yet effective, allowing for diverse and creative collaboration. They are Care for People, Care for the Earth, and Sharing the Abundance:

Care for People
People have been living on Earth for several millennia now. As our population has grown, so too has our destructive capacity. It’s clear that we are now at a crossroads, a turning point brimming with opportunity for planetary healing. Beyond ecological design, permaculture also embraces a whole-systems life philosophy. It recognizes the critical role that all people have to play in making this vision of global ecological health and sustainability come true.

Care for the Earth
Without a healthy planet, people have nowhere to live. We adapted to the biogeographical climate here through millions of years of evolution, and it is unlikely for us to colonize another planet anytime soon. If we want to keep living here, learning, growing, and playing, we have no choice to but to care for the earth and make sure it’s in the best shape possible.

Sharing the AbundanceGlobe
This idea seems radical, and often people will compare it to communism or socialism. But in truth, it has nothing to do with communism or socialism. Acknowledging that we must care for both people and planet, it follows quite naturally that we must share the fruits of our labor in order to ensure the health and well-being of all living things. Our current global consumption pattern is incredibly out of balance – wealthy nations consume the resources of several planets, leaving other nations impoverished. Permaculture rejects this imbalance in favor of equal care for all living things.

These ethics are generally abstract, but they are important in setting a philosophical foundation. Beyond ethics, a set of guiding principles is necessary to inform practical applications in many areas. Stay tuned for the next three parts, as we go over the 12 Permaculture Principles.