In the wake of the recent UN Climate Summit, there can be little point in playing down the destructive impact humanity is having on the planet. “Climate extremes are the new normal”, was among the key messages, and unless we take action today, the outlook is very bleak. The window for change is narrowing, and the waters are quite literally rising.
The problem facing us is vast. So vast in fact that it’s difficult to know where to start. The usual villains are often, rightly, in the headlines; fossil fuels, deforestation, manufacturing and agriculture, but in truth, a wholesale re-evaluation of the way we live will be required if we want to make a positive impact.
Re-Evaluating How We See the World Through Permaculture
For those that don’t know, the permaculture system as we know it today has been around since the 60s, and it has been continuously refined since that time. The core tenets are as follows:
- Care for the earth — Ensuring natural resources are respected and biodiversity can flourish
- Care for people — Ensuring humans can access those resources and flourish
- Fair share — Governing our own needs to ensure the first two principles can flourish
To date, the permaculture movement has remained very much on the peripheries—with many believing the principles to be agricultural in nature and incompatible with modern urban life. However, today, certain principles are slowly being accepted into the mainstream, and there are increasing calls for better systems to deal with everything from our food production to our waste management. Here, we look at some of the defining permaculture principles as detailed in David Holgren’s Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability and how they are informing the mainstream.
Produce No Waste
Waste management is a huge issue across the globe, and one that doesn’t seem to have any easy answer. Year on year we are producing more waste, and while the recycling industry has been given a boost over the past decade, most of it still ends up in landfill. Rather than attempt to deal with waste after it is created, we need to address the source of the waste and our consumption habits.
Single-use plastics have been identified as particularly damaging to the environment, a perfect storm of non-biodegradable materials and unsustainable consumerism. Manufacturers are scrambling to find alternative materials that are kinder to the environment, but increasingly, we should be aiming to produce no waste rather than deal with the problem after the fact.
Circular economies are being touted as the answer, a system that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible. For example, under a circular system, single-use plastics would be exchanged for plastics or glass that can be returned and reused, reducing the burden on both landfill sites and recycling plants while minimizing the environmental costs of manufacture. Commercial composting might be considered another circular solution, taking food waste and other organics—such as garden waste—and returning it to the ground.
Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Part of the reason why renewable energy sources haven’t been harnessed more effectively in the past, is the prohibitive costs associated with them. However, as costs are being driven down, the adoption of solar and wind power is growing. Renewable resources are a key component of the permaculture movement, and nowhere is this more important than the ways in which we generate our energy.
Spain has recently announced its plans to switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2050—an ambitious but ultimately achievable aim. However, by looking into our individual energy consumption and becoming less reliant on massive power stations, we can take this concept one step further. It is thought that solar panels installed on all US roofs would generate around 40% of the nation’s energy needs. Subsequently, expensive power stations could be slimmed down to reduce costs and their environmental impact.
Use Small and Slow Solutions
You’ve heard the mantra “think globally, buy locally”? Well, small and slow solutions aim to reduce our impact on the planet by cutting back on things such as imported foods and dismantling the counter-intuitive systems that deliver them to our plates. The farm-to-table movement is one such mainstream example of this, providing locally produced food to consumers. Food that is acquired directly from farms also reduces the amount of lost produce when shipping over long distances.
Additionally, the organic food movement is also playing its part. Organic food grows more slowly but much more sustainably than food that uses chemicals. Regardless of the supposed health benefits, organic farmers help to maintain ecosystems and ensure that the land is not stripped of its fertility.
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