I’ve been thinking a lot about the viability of Permaculture as an alternative to the consumerist mode of existence recently.
Permaculture is the practice of working with nature to design efficient, productive ecosystems, incorporating the principles of sustainability and fare-shares. The Permaculture Association (The Permaculture Association n.d.) suggests that there are three main aspects to Permaculture – Firstly there is an ethical framework, secondly the principle of understanding nature, and finally a design approach to working with nature.
As always a few examples are the best way of illustrating what Permaculture actually is…
Firstly I recommend checking out the case of Lammas. Based in Pembrokeshire, on about 75 acres of land, this is one of the few fully legitimate (in planning terms) eco-projects in the U.K. It combines the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology and Permaculture. The ecovillage was granted planning permission in 2009 by the Welsh Government and is currently part-way through the construction phase. The current residents aim to bring in £100K per year from the land, up from £2500 from the previous tenant farmer’s sheep farming.
Tinkers Bubble is another famous (in eco-circles) example of 9 adults living on 28 acres of land living in self-built low impact dwellings. Very similar to the above, but just on a smaller scale.
A more individualistic example, and an absolute classic in eco-circles, is Tony Wrench’s Low impact roundhouse – built over a decade ago in Pembrokeshire National Park and (after a huge struggle) granted retrospective planning permission. This example proves what you can do with £3000, if you happen to have an appetite for a ruck with the planners.
For further inspiration, the Permaculture Network provides plenty of links to some pretty inspiring examples of Permaculture Projects which range from your squatting type examples such as Yorkley Farm in the Forest of Dean to basically people’s back gardens. (37)
Finally, I highly recommend Permaculture Magazine (with an international circulation of over 100K) which has the acolade of being my favourite all-time bath time reading material.
To what extent is Permaculture a viable solution to Consumerist Culture….?
In short, I’d argue that Permaculture is one of lynch pins of an alternative culture which is not based around consumption, but rather ‘co-production’ with nature. This diverse movement is full of innovators who focus on producing their own food, energy and to an extent goods using sustainable and creative techniques adapted to local environments, so rather than consumption being focused on, this seems to be about going back to production, and the way things are produced (sustainable) as a unifying principle.
Given the DIY nature of the Permaculture movement it is possible to spend the rest of your natural life learning (both intellectually and practically) about aspects of living sustainably – If you ever managed to get your head around everything to do with planting a food-forest, then you can move onto aquaculture systems, low-impact building or small-scale off grid energy systems – If you get the bug there is easily a lifetime’s worth of exploration, non of which is based around consumption.
(It may not be your thing of course, but personally I find all of this fascinating.)
Obviously there are limitations to what Permaculture can do – It can easily be criticised for being retreatist in the light of global problems such as militarism, the refugee crisis and the ethical challenges of multiculturalism; and possibly a bigger problem is just how middle class the movement is – besides efforts to big up ‘Urban’ Permaculture and reports of Permaculture in the developing world in the UK at least your only option to really do full on Permcaulture is to either risk your capital in a collective venture such as Lamas or find approx. £30-40K yourself, buy some land and prepare yourself for an almighty ruck with local Nimbys, not to mention the anachronistic weight of the UK planning system.