Common sense from the Designer’s Manual

One of the reasons I find permaculture design so appealing is that it is chock a block full of common sense, especially in comparison to the prevailing way of doing things in the developed world. In Permaculture: A designer’s manual by Bill Mollison there is page after page of practical, common sense wisdom and know how to regenerate, restore, retrofit, and in new design situations to get it right the first time through analysis, protracted observation, and knowing how Mother Nature does things. This is in stark contrast to how our nation’s food, fuel, fiber, and fodder needs are met now. We are grossly misusing the resources available to us and it behooves us all to change that pattern right now.

Mollison classifies resources the following way: 1)those that increase with appropriate use, 2)those unaffected by use, 3)resources that disappear if unused, 4) those depleted by over use, and worst of all 5)those that pollute or destroy other resources if used. Seen in this way, it would make the most sense to maximize the use of the first three while curtailing the use of number four and forever banning those that pollute or destroy other resources.  Yet, every time I turn on the computer I see myriad examples of rampant over use along with the insane use of techniques or chemicals that destroy that which is necessary for life to continue. How, or perhaps more importantly why is this happening? Perhaps people are completely in the dark about these things or simply just accepting them as “normal”.  To me destroying that which is life giving is far from normal.

For the uninitiated, a few examples of resource types numbered 4 and 5 above may prove useful. Global fisheries are an example of a resource that is depleted by over use. In the U2 song “Beautiful Day” Bono sings about how he “sees the tuna fleets clearing the sea out”. Sadly this is happening all over the world as enormous ships drop mind bogglingly huge nets into the water and literally remove entire populations of tuna without regard to the sustainability or ethics of such a practice. The by-catch (those aquatic species that get caught up in the nets despite being unwanted) alone is tragic to say nothing of the absurdity of wiping out an important species of fish simply for short term economic gain. Proponents of trawling probably feel that this technique is efficient yet this is false economy in every sense. It is only efficient at removing vast numbers of fish. In every other way it is a net loss due to species depletion, diesel fuel consumption, ecosystem disruption, and the inevitable collapse of an entire industry due to ignorance or perhaps hubris. Tuna is just one of many species of fish that are over fished as well. Cod, halibut, and Atlantic salmon are also on that list.

Soil is another resource that is being abused and over-used by modern farming methods. Top soil is where most of the nutrients required for growing plants, including our food, are found yet we lose it at an alarming rate due to plowing, leaving it bare to blow away in the wind or to wash away in the rain. Common sense would dictate that our agricultural practices not only preserve this precious resource but also build it up as well. There are myriad ways to do this from keeping soil covered at all times, no-till farming, keyline plowing, polycutures and soil building techniques like composting “wastes” and returning them to the soil and planting more trees.

Resources in category five, those that pollute or destroy, are unfortunately all too common. Evidence of them can be seen in any grocery store or hardware store. They are also in evidence where ever there is an extractive industry present ( mining, timber, oil and gas etc).  Examples of this type of resource are GMO crops and the chemicals used in growing them.  These crops pollute AND destroy because growing them  is often accompanied by a technique called ‘drenching’, which means just what it sounds like, the “crop” (which you are unwittingly eating) is literally drenched with RoundUp to kill the unwanted parts of the plant prior to harvest. Where does all that RoundUp end up? It goes into the aforementioned soil and ultimately into the water table. German researchers found RoundUp in city dwellers urine in one study about the effects of its use in agriculture. People never before on a farm still had RoundUp in their pee. RoundUp has been linked to a host of human health issues yet it can be purchased by anyone almost anywhere.  The GMO crops also pollute by cross pollination of non-GMO crops thereby destroying seed stocks and sometimes livelihoods as is the case when GMOs contaminate organic farmer’s crops.

People NEED water. Our bodies are about 70 percent water and water is required for cellular growth and regeneration. Get dehydrated enough and you will die. This is fairly common knowledge and yet around the world water supplies are being polluted or destroyed for short term economic gain in the form of fracking, dumping toxic chemicals or sewage into rivers, streams, and the oceans. These practices are not only absurd in the extreme they are downright criminal. Politicians and the CEOs of oil companies know that dumping fracking chemicals into the water is destructive yet they ignore this for money. Numerous films and youtube videos show the effects of fracking–people are lighting their tap water on fire, having livestock die, and industrial accidents are inadequately cleaned up. Despite this politicians like Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett not only roam free but continue to rubber stamp more polluting activities.  No one can drink money. No one can eat money. No one can survive without adequate clean water and food. So why on Earth is this being allowed?

It is time we as a people say enough is enough. This is not hippy-dippy nonsense, this is COMMON SENSE. If using a chemical endangers that which is required for life then it must needs be immediately banned. Additionally, if it can proven that they were knowingly used despite their inherent danger, then those responsible like Tom Corbett should be brought to justice.

Permaculture design gives people a range of ways to survive and thrive when skillfully applied. It goes beyond simply growing food, it takes into account all that is required for life including shelter, fiber, fuel, meaningful work, social interaction, and ecological restoration. Making permaculture (or other regenerative ecologically based systems of design) public policy would be a huge step in the right direction for humanity to take. Let’s do it.

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