What is Permaculture? An Historic Response
When introducing myself, I inevitably mention permaculture. I then conduct a careful scan of my conversation partner, looking for signs of recognition or bafflement. Very often, this situation is followed by the question ‘Permaculture? What is that?’ and more often than not I find myself answering historically.
Permaculture is about design. However, permaculture is a design system with a particular historical analysis. This analysis involves three very broad swathes of history centred on the current period of high energy — pre-industrial, industrial and a hoped-for future time characterised by design.
Pre-industrial life, excepting some energy excess of imperial powers, is largely characterised by a low-energy, labour intensive life and limited exploitation of natural resources.
Industrial life is characterised by a high energy, low labour and resource intensive life.
Permaculture envisions the possibility of and looks forward to a life which is characterised by relatively less labour and dramatically lower resource use than industrial life — a knowledge-intensive or design-intensive life.
This design-intensive future is made possible by the purview afforded by the present energy peak. The degree to which we can come to know about other people and places in time and space is an unprecedented product of the high energy age. Permaculture seeks to use a knowledge low energy systems of the past and present to design low-energy systems for the present and future which possess the advantages of both the pre-industrial and industrial periods of the past without destroying the ecological foundations of human society.
The reason I have come to use this explanation most often is because of how exciting and expansive this vision is. It encompasses all the strategies of low energy life from holistic management to bio-intensive gardens; eco-building to fab-labs; cooperatives and communities to creative commons and free culture. Permaculture is a meta-framework and foundation for the development of a satisfying life exploitative of neither person nor place — a life within ecological limits.