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.