5 reasons permaculture has become a global movement
I felt a sense of grief, after the passing of a man I’ve never met. Also an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the abundance he has left us with. Bill Mollison, the father of the permaculture movement, truly was, as the Permaculture Research Institute writes, a “massive tree in the forest of humanity”.
I was up early, getting things ready for the second day of our Tread Well on Earth Introduction to Permaculture course, when I heard the news. I stopped for a moment, and another moment… then I started reading interviews with the overwhelming sense of wanting to connect more with the person… the person behind the concept that I am teaching. How humbling is this man’s work, his vision for a healthier planet? And how incredible his reach?
Not only did Bill pioneer and co-develop the insightful and extremely useful concept of permaculture, he also turned it into a movement by teaching it to communities around the world.
Today, there are hundred thousands of permaculture design certificate holders, multiple disciplines and fields of work that have been inspired by its tools and principles and thousands of teachers in every corner of the world. The impact of the permaculture design model has been so far-reaching, it’s hard to even get started.
As part of the movement and being a permaculture teacher myself, I recognise that this is the end of an era. Bill has created many doors that many of us have entered to again create more pathways. The event of Bill’s passing makes me, and probably many of us permaculturists, reflect on what the movement has been able to accomplish and where we stand as designers.
Here are, in honour of Bill Mollison, 5 points I believe have helped permaculture spread around the world, and I am sure there are many more:
1. Permaculture responds to a need of the time
Bill knew the potential of what he and David Holmgren articulated and he knew that it was exactly what the world needed at the time, and still does today.
It was in 1972, that the Club of Rome published the Limits to Growth report that predicted the collapse of the industrial growth society with catastrophic environmental consequences. With that, the idea of ‘sustainable development’ hit the political agenda and the mainstream.
Even before that came the rise of the counterculture movement of the hippies, rejecting what they called the “establishment” and affecting the life of millions around the world. More and more people were yearning to get away from a troubled, socially unjust and environmentally destructive society.
People were looking for new ways of living; and some peace.
Bill earned international recognition by receiving the Right Livelihood Award (often called the Alternative Nobel Prize) in 1981, and for many, permaculture seemed to offer the way forward and a promising alternative.
2. Permaculture was made openly accessible
Mollison used to work in academia. He was teaching at the University of Tasmania, Australia, where he developed a unit called Environmental Psychology and independently studied the history and genealogies of the descendants of the Tasmanian Aborigines.
However, Bill liked to challenge the status quo and he did definitely not see his future or the future of permaculture in academia. After he wrote Permaculture One together with his student David Holmgren in 1978, he left university at the age of 50, to teach permaculture as an open curriculum to thousands of students around the world.
And he wanted these students to go on and teach permaculture in their communities. As Looby writes in her tribute, ”One of the amazing gifts that Bill and David gave the world with permaculture was making it open source well before open source was even a term. Permaculture has shifted the paradigm of just one leader to –there are many leaders.”
Permaculture embraces diversity, it builds on cooperation and participation, whereby it gains strength and reach.
3. Permaculture is highly practical
Permaculture is hands-on. It is about understanding the natural world through observation and interaction. It brings direct tangible benefits to the people who apply permaculture principles and to their land.
Anyone who nowadays embarks on the rewarding journey of undertaking a diploma in applied permaculture design is not asked to sit an exam or write a dissertation, but rather to put together a portfolio of 10 designs of which most should be implemented. Permaculture projects are popping up everywhere like mushrooms on forest floor.
Permaculture is not only practical to the farmer and the gardener though; it actually is to anyone who makes sense of it and applies the principles to their personal situation – whether at work, in the family or personal life.
4. Permaculture applies appropriate technology and common sense
While permaculture is highly practical, it is not a simple subscription of a number of techniques. Instead it adapts to whatever local conditions, knowledge and needs are present in the place it is applied.
The techniques applied are often not new to people, they are just assembled in a different way. And if they are new, they are still mostly small scale, simple and accessible – often common sense.
Permaculture creates diversity not necessarily by adding more elements to a system, but by multiplying the beneficial relationships between the elements to decrease energy use and labour intensity and build in efficiency through design.
When Bill travelled the world to teach permaculture, he also did to learn from people he’d meet and understand what is needed in different areas of the planet. All of this is adding to the abundance and wealth of wisdom found in permaculture today.
5. Permaculture embraces change and new ideas
Permaculture will constantly reinvent itself to keep on responding to the most pressing needs of our time.
When permaculture found its ways into urban settlements, the need for social design innovations and healthy communication and group dynamics became more and more obvious.
Many teachers started including social tools such a Nonviolent Communication and Open Space Technology, just to name a couple, into their courses. What most of these tools have in common with permaculture is that they value cooperation over competition and focus on solutions rather than problems.
In this way permaculture grows stronger over time and through change; It gives rise to new movements: the initial transition town concept emerged out of a permaculture course, many ecovillages use permaculture design as their foundation and formed a global movement of their own.
In recent years we've been hosting a Permaculture for Transition workshop run by Rob Bedlow and Samantha Woods at Treadwell. This course has the aim of bringing permaculture principles to people involved in transition initiatives and inform them about the roots of transition towns.
Permaculture will evolve and transform as time passes, as teachers pass and other ones join the movement…
It will transform, change and adapt to the larger ecosystem as long as there is an ecological niche, a place for it to exist.
And I believe it is safe to say that there will be a niche for permaculture until our human culture supports us to flourish within the ecosystems of the planet. There is a place for permaculture until we live in a society that embraces life and common sense to welcome a good place for all, human and non human.