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Permacutlrue Design Course by Bill Mollinson

Permacutlrue Design Course by Bill Mollinson

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Published by: Friends of Delaware Audubon Society on Aug 14, 2010
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Chapter 1
Transcript of aPermaculture DesignCourse by B. Mollison(1.0-4)
First Introduction
(Thomas Fischbacher)t.fischbacher@soton.ac.uk
The presumably most fundamental issue underlying the present convergingfinancial, climate, food, energy, and environmental crises is that most of us onlyhave a very dim perception of what it actually would mean to “live sustainably”if one were for once to take that notion seriously. Quite a number of people seemto have this vague idea that the destruction of our natural resources is kind of inevitable as the alternative would invariably involve “going back to the stoneage”.Related to this problem is a very widespread misconception in our societyconcerning the notions of “ethics” and “ecology”. Almost all people in oursociety perceive these as what one may call “must-not-do” disciplines: they arewidely thought to exclusively deliver prohibitions. Many a book on ecology hasbeen written whose introduction starts out mentioning “The Limits to Growth”.Likewise (and somewhat bizarrely) there are ethical banks who seem to thinkthey could make a point towards prospective customers concerning their ethicalstandards by measuring it in terms of the amount of profits missed due toadherence to ethical principles.But is this all appropriate? Should there not be another side to both ethicsand ecology, one that does not demand abstaining from certain behaviour, butmandates certain types of action? How does “the active side” of ecology looklike? Simply stated, there only can be one answer: Stabilization and improve-ment of our natural resources, especially where they were degraded through1
previous human interference. In other words:
. Is it possible to dothis in such a way that at the same time, we can meet all the essential needs of the human population? While this question is most central to the very existenceof mankind, and the need for an answer more urgent than ever, man has not yetmanaged to finally solve this puzzle. Nevertheless, as Nobel Laureate Dario Fowould say, “Great People are born out of necessity”: the problems in particularof the last few decades are of a very special and rather novel kind. Therefore,one should not be overly surprised to see that some people took them as a strongincentive to investigate this question much deeper and find ways to do betterthan we did so far.One should, however, be aware that here, we are not dealing with an issueof the “someone else will find some solution – just leave that to the well-paidexpertstype. Fundamentally, one idiot can create more devastation than allprofessors in the world can repair. That is the tragedy of human existence. So,getting out of the mess we got ourselves into will certainly need our combinedeffort. And quite heroic effort indeed. In the end, it will be up to
to getyour garden going and up to
to get mine going.Bill Mollison, who received the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the“Alternative Nobel Prize”) for his “Permaculture” concept in 1981, managed todemonstrate quite dramatically what can be achieved by working with naturerather than trying to impose our will on it by force and gave many coursesin which he taught his integrated framework. In these days, there are Perma-culture associations in many countries that offer standardized “PermacultureDesign Courses” based on Bill’s lectures, and, in particular, the material inthe Permaculture Designer’s Manual. This set of lectures is a typographicallymore friendly re-edited variant (extended with many additional comments) of a freely available (in PDF form, at [URL]
) transcript of one of the originalPermaculture Design Courses given by Bill Mollison back in 1981.This material is interesting for many different reasons. For one, it is a freeresource which gives quite a detailed idea what Permaculture is about. Likewise,it should serve to give a good idea of what Permaculture actually is not about!While Permaculture to a large extent is a clever amalgamation of rather soundsimple physical, engineering, and ecological principles, it certainly is not somemystic esoteric occult Hippie New-Age woo woo hanky panky. True, Permacul-ture is attractive to many different groups of people, which may in particularinclude Hippies, Pagans and Druids, but just as well Biologists, Physicists,Hackers, and ordinary people. Furthermore, the main reference text on Perma-culture, Bill Mollison’s “Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual” unfortunately isa bit cryptic in some places, and these lecture notes frequently provide a differ-ent and much more colloquial re-phrasing of some important concepts, whichcan help a lot to comprehend what some technique is supposed to do and how itworks. Still, for a more detailed and more well-structured discussion, one is verystrongly advised to consult the “Permaculture Designer’s Manual”. Quite a fairbit of the content we find in this course transcript, and to much lesser degree inthe Designer’s Manual, is easily misinterpreted. For example, Bill occasionallysays “10” when a physicist would rather say “about an order of magnitude”.(Actually, this holds true for quite many works on resource management, in-cluding as well the Bible, for instance.)
http://www.bettertimesinfo.org/pdc all.pdf
3As with every involved subject, it usually pays to read through the intro-ductory texts multiple times, as one inevitably will extract more informationfrom it already having a rough map of the subject in mind. Dr. Thomas Fis-chbacher, who decided to embark on this transcription project, turning the oldPDF lecture notes into more useful HTML form, learned a lot over time bylinking different texts and sources. As all this background information is notavailable to the newcomer, he added a number of footnotes and comments tomost of these chapters (more to follow) with the intention to build bridges intothis subject in order to (hopefully) make it more accessible to people who sofar never gave issues such as food production much thought. Unfortunately,there are a number of points where Bill can be rather misleading, especially if taken literally and unquestioned. While there is a lot of sense in much what BillMollison has to say, should you find that he just cannot be right in some issue,this presumably is a matter of missing context. In many situations, it shouldbe pretty evident, however, when he is joking, for example.The first version of these pamphlets was numbered 1.0-1; later modificationswhich will add further footnotes and explanations will have version numbers1.0-2, -3, etc. The major version number will only change should Bill Mollisonhimself start to make changes to the content. Later versions with additionalinformation will (might) follow. Thomas Fischbacher would like to personallyadd that from his perspective the most important bit that is explained in afar better way in the Permaculture Designer’s Manual than in these pamphletsis the bit on the energy flows in natural systems and how to creatively put alarge number of productive uses between source and sink. In his eyes, thatissue alone definitely is reason enough to get the Designer’s Manual. (Also,one thing that seems to be completely missing in the published permacultureliterature is the issue of self-organizing criticality in structure formation andan appropriate discussion of natural hierarchies and the extra energy expensesrequired to impose artificial hierarchies. [Note to self: by now have written upsomething about that issue, but in German only, and it makes the point in away presumably only accessible to theoretical physicists...])Even if only a small part of what Bill Mollison has to teach us were right(T.F. is personally convinced he presumably is more right on a lot more thingsthan pretty much anyone else) – these texts at the very least should be highlyuseful to overcome many of the mental blockades our culture is facing at present.Studying historic reports of resource scarceness, these blockades often have beenamong the most important impediments. For example, there is one report froman obstetrician who worked on the island of Jersey during the Nazi occupationwhich includes such bizarre situations as a hospital running out of soap, untilhe himself eventually started making some – which actually would not at allhave been that difficult straightaway!However, as important as it is to make these approaches widely known whichpresumably are far closer to the right way to do things than anything we de-veloped over the last two centuries, two things should be remembered: the firstis that this is not a dogmatic approach. It certainly would be wrong tryingto cast the underlying principles in stone, just as much as it would contradictGandhi’s principles to turn them into a formal catechism-type belief system. Inparticular, it is well possible that there is a number of things in here that willnot work as expected, and it may often be trickier than first suspected to getthings right (even though it is possible and should be done). Secondly, as the

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