Why Permaculture Alone is Not the Answer



Going into our lecture on Thursday, the only thing I knew about permaculture was a general definition gleaned from a glance at a Wikipedia webpage. Essentially, permaculture is applied sustainability. This sounded great in theory, but I wasn’t convinced; I wanted to hear the details from someone who had actually done it. And I think part of me doubted that sustainable agriculture was really practical. After all, if someone had already figured out how to sustainably grow food, shouldn’t world hunger be a non-issue by now? 


Enter Joe, a real live example of agriculture done right. Here is a man who actually seems to be practicing what he preaches (unlike myself who regularly eats non-organically grown apples shipped from Chile). Joe presented permaculture’s basic ideologies and applications, but still, I wasn’t entirely ready to hop on the permaculture bandwagon. In particular, Joe mentioned that if we were to feed the world’s population using only permaculture, we would have to reduce our numbers from 7 billion to just 4 billion people. A reduction of that magnitude would surely create its own series of problems. So where and when do we draw the line? Do we make the switch over to permaculture and risk the economic problems inherent to negative population growth? Or do we stand by our current system and pillage the environment until there is nothing left to pillage, or technology advances and saves us all? I am reminded of Malthus’s paper: our food supply can only grow arithmetically. Even with huge advances in technology, our advances in population will be larger. If we continue on our current path of resource abuse, we will eventually extract all that we can from the earth, potentially resulting in a mass starvation. In order to avoid this fate, we have to choose between reducing our population, changing our extraction methods, or more likely, a combination of the two. If we can successfully reduce our population size, then permaculture could provide a sustainable alternative to current agricultural methods.










3 responses »

  1. I agree with your insights about your doubts on permaculture. However I think that it’s perfectly possible that with advances of technology there will be progress in policy! Well, I hope. Yes, our technology may include medical discoveries, increased longevity, but so will our modeling technology that will allow us to better understand and realize the unsavory state of our expanding population. Although it’s known that worldviews affect attitudes more than education, I think that there’s a chance that we won’t have to resort to mass starvation and that population can be voluntarily controlled. The only example of this I can think of is China’s one policy rule which isn’t voluntary (you get a heavy fine) and has a myriad of really horrific unintended consequences (see: infanticide, gender-selective abortions). So I understand your skepticism. But if more values embodied in permaculture are emphasized I think it would not only help the environment but help shape our relationship with the world and hopefully our attitudes about anthropogenic impacts like population growth.

  2. You’re right that permaculture is not a perfect solution to our current situation, but it’s better than nothing. If someone has the time and money to use permaculture then they should definitely do it. It’s helpful since farmers who grow in bulk and seasonally could possibly grow one less crop or send that crop somewhere else. Permaculture can also bring about environmental awareness. If someone doesn’t even care about the environment but practices permaculture they can still contribute to the environmental movement.
    As for reducing our population, there are very many reasons it is unlikely to ever happen. Christians don’t believe in birth control. Rape is prominent in developing countries. The decline would be slow since we can’t kill anyone already living. Men are unwilling to take birth control or get vasectomies. Some people don’t believe our population is a problem.
    It has been said in class before that there is enough food in the world right now to feed the whole population. The problem is that a lot of it is being thrown away. There is an unequal distribution of food and humans on the Earth.

  3. I agree with your post in a way that I believe that cutting down our current population of 7 billion down to 4 billion would be nearly impossible. If every country has a governmental policy of family planning and limited family size to one child per family just like China starting now, we would be lucky to cut back our population by about 1 million. Humans will always have the need for food and sex so asking for a 3 billion cut is a tall order and it is asking too much for our current generation. In order to curb population growth, it needs to be a gradual process-a process that incorporates both permaculture and sustainable technology. This gradual process needs to start now in our current generation if we hope to see any progress in decreasing population levels in the future. I don’t agree with leftuntaken’s comment that “Christians don’t believe in birth control,” I know many Christians that take birth control and even if a religion doesn’t allow birth control, as in the birth control pills, there are other sources of family planning to rely on to limit the population such as abstinence and surgery. Overall, I don’t think the switch to permaculture should be abrupt because then yes, it would risk the economic problems inherent to negative population growth. Permaculture transition needs to work smoothly with the needs of consumers and our economy in order to be effective in promoting a more sustainable lifestyle.

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