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Lesson 01 – Introduction to Permaculture

Regenerative Design Will Save The World


As the world’s problems are growing ever more complicated, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple

 Bill Mollison, founder of Permaculture


Many people are looking to Nature for the answers to the problems mankind has engendered in our tenure on this planet. The result and heart of this movement is known as Permaculture – a Sustainable Design Science, rooted in Nature.

We will discuss the guiding principles and ethos of Permaculture in more detail later in this course. For now, let it suffice to say that Permaculture lays out the basic tenets of Sustainable Living in harmony with one’s environment.

Sustainable Living simply means utilizing and mimicking naturally occurring systems, methods, and materials to foster an environmentally friendly, eco-conscious mode of living in which we not only halt the damage we as a species have wrought on our world, but actively work to undo it.

More importantly, Sustainable Living is about creating truly independent relationships with our surroundings – a truly Regenerative Presence of human beings.

Many might read the above statement and assume that sustainable living requires the wholesale abandonment of our current way of life. This is not the case. Flushing our entire culture and the technology we’ve developed down the proverbial drain is not a solution to the world’s ills.

The key to resolving this disparity between our way of life and Nature is to begin looking to Nature to guide us, and to develop technologies that mimic (and collaborate with) Nature.

We need to develop efficient technologies that permit us to retain our standard of living in an environmentally harmonious, responsible manner while eliminating pollution and food supply contamination.

Sustainable Design means designing all of our technology, from cars to houses, to the power we use on a daily basis, so that what we utilize creates a net benefit for our environment. This means designing buildings that clean the water and cars that actively clean the air while we drive; power supplies that do not rely upon precious and irreplaceable fossil fuels; and creating technologies that are inherently regenerative and healing to our environment. Most of the solutions we are seeking, Nature has already evolved many centuries ago, while we haven’t been paying attention.

It is critical to understand that sustainable solutions are ultimately unsustainable unless they are inherently regenerative. Not only have we caused tremendous damage to the basic life support systems of our planet, but there is a large question at play of going from simply surviving, a state commonly confused with real sustainability, to thriving, a state where all human beings are able to reach their fullest potential and the planet thrives with us.

Ultimately the question isn’t growth or no growth, but rather what do we want to grow, because growth is an absolutely essential component of life itself.

When we talk about regenerative sustainability, we talk about a radical shift in our thinking that produces a dramatically higher standard of living for everyone while generating tremendous wealth.

Consider the inevitable possibility that our laws will one day require not only that every new building makes a net positive impact on the environment, by filtering groundwater, cleaning the air, and generating far more electricity than is used by its inhabitants, but also that the designers of that building are required to actually maximize that net positive impact.

This future is absolutely inevitable and will be rapidly achieved through financial incentives. By the way, Capitalism got us into the current mess, and capitalism is the only thing powerful enough to get us out (Permaculture principle: the problem is the solution).

Do consider for a moment what our world will look like when these kinds of basic design specifications become the required footprint for every new residential and commercial development.

In other words, we’re talking about creating a fundamentally regenerative human presence on this planet. Regenerative design is not about race, gender, creed, religion, or any other human difference.

Creating an environment that will help to eliminate the dangers of modern living, while maximizing all its benefits, is the all-important first step in realizing the dream of a world where we can retain the conveniences we’ve become so reliant on, without sacrificing the health of our world. Sustainable Design has nothing to do with one’s affiliations or ancestry, and everything to do with embracing a nature-inspired design that works to the benefit of everyone and everything on Earth.

Sustainable Living is not so much about striking a balance, but about giving back to our world while simultaneously maximizing our quality of life. It is humanity in harmony with Nature, achieved through the often breathtakingly simple means Nature utilizes.

Taking our cues from nature to solve the problems plaguing mankind at the moment is known as biomimicry, which we’ll discuss further later in this course.

Scientists are looking at spider webs, with their incredibly high tensile strength, to create everything from body armor for soldiers to adaptation and incorporation into building materials.

This is an example of biomimicry, and it is one of the linchpins of Sustainable Design.

You’ve also probably heard people talking about reducing their “carbon footprint.” While this is not a wholly undesirable outcome, the focus on the carbon footprint is really a way of avoiding the key issue.

What is really needed is not a reduction in the carbon footprint, but to adapt our footprints so they are truly sustainable by being inherently regenerative. If what you put into the environment on a positive level exceeds what you take out, you have created a regenerative footprint.

The question to be asked is not how to have the least negative impact, but how to transform our current mode of living into a net positive for our world. This is the premise behind regenerative sustainability.

Many people don’t view Nature as particularly sexy, but the fact is Nature has already had, and solved, a large number of the problems we in our ignorance have created. After four and a half billion years, Nature knows a thing or two about adaptation and taking care of Itself.

On that kind of timescale, we, as a species, are so newly-born that we have yet to even open our eyes. Nature viewed as a whole entity has shaped Itself to the benefit of everything, solving problems with ruthless efficiency.

The first question people concerned with Sustainable Design inevitably ask is, “How does Nature do this?

If we can duplicate the processes Nature uses to create dwellings, power, and food, we’ll be taking the first strides toward a truly Sustainable Culture.


Death is not usually a desirable outcome and, in our newborn ignorance, we as a species are in real danger of crawling right over a cliff.

The survival and continued thriving of our species as a whole, however, is very sexy indeed!

Is It Simply A Nature Deficit Disorder?

“The longest road you will ever have to walk is the sacred journey from your head to your heart.”

Phil Lane, Jr.

How many times as a kid did you hear this: “Go outside and play!” As an adult, how many times have you said it to your own children? Odds are, not as much as you had it said to you!

Study after study shows that children don’t get outside nearly as much as they used to. With the Internet, sophisticated video games that far eclipse anything we had, and a mind-boggling array of TV programs and movies available at the touch of button, the great indoors has much more allure than it did when we were coming up.

Add to this the constant need for caution, especially as parents, because we’re told every day about the dangers that await our children if they’re not kept under constant supervision. As a result, we as a society have become paranoid and fearful.

We’ve sealed ourselves away in our so-called bastions of civilization, huddled in unthinkable numbers to maintain an illusion of safety, all the while becoming more and more isolated from each other and our world.

As our psychological umbilical cord to nature has become knotted, tangled, and frayed, there has been a sharp upswing in the number and severity of recognized mental disorders, and new ones seem to be cropping up daily. Children are more rambunctious and less easily managed, and psychologists and psychiatrists prescribe medications as if they were dispensing candy rather than mind-altering substances. But the real disorder is not the natural playfulness and curiosity of children.

The trouble is that we’ve made our habitat both sanctuary and prison for our children and ourselves. Without the ability to explore and discover the wider world around us, we deprive ourselves of essentials we need to survive, such as vitamin D.

The body synthesizes this vitamin naturally with the aid of sunlight. When we sit in a house, then a car, then a cubicle, and go back the other way all day, every day, we don’t get the sunlight we require to flourish.

Science has demonstrated that regular exposure to sunlight not only makes us feel better, but can actually alleviate illness.

As a society and an “advanced” species, we are very sick. At least in this regard, the psychologists are correct. But the cure is not found in a pill bottle, a hypodermic syringe, or a counseling session, and certainly not on their own. The underlying cause of these problems needs to be addressed, and that’s the alienation from nature that living in modern environments, inundated with fearful stories of “what’s out there” creates.

Sustainable living is not as much about using sustainable products and growing one’s own food as it is about regaining that prime val connection with our world, while simultaneously maximizing the benefits of modern technology.

Everything in nature is specifically adapted to its environment, and human beings at the most basic instinctual level require that feeling of interconnectedness to maintain their balance. By utilizing the tenets of Permaculture and making a conscious effort to learn more about our world and what it has to offer us, our species is curable.

Mankind is capable of technological marvels. We’ve been proving it since before the pyramids. However, for us to survive, let alone flourish, we need to direct our energy and attention to the places it will do the most good for us and the world around us.

Having advanced technology doesn’t mean much if we’re killing the planet and ourselves in the service of it.

The theories and practices are already in place and have been reliably shown to be effective. The impetus now becomes efficiency. By developing effective technologies that are environmentally positive and regenerative, we can correct the alarming trajectory of the tangent our species has spun off on.

We’re more than capable of doing the mental heavy lifting involved, but the real question is creating technology that helps undo the harm we’ve done and continue to do to our world while still maintaining our standards of living and civilization.


If Design Is The First Signal Of Human Intention, What Are The Design Goals?

Nature is the ultimate architect. Nature does not permit a vacuum or wasted space, and is frighteningly efficient when it comes to balancing form and function. Even the most diehard arachnophobe will, when pressed, acknowledge that the arachnid form is one of the most practical and well-designed survival arrangements on the planet.

On the other end of the spectrum is the amazing architecture of a nautilus snail’s shell, which affords the nautilus both protection and shelter. Mankind has turned our eyes to nature for millennia to determine the best courses of action for nursing human civilization.

Many cultures designed their  home ground and villages in spiral arrangements to more effectively irrigate crops, for protection, and to symbolize the patterns they saw all around them in the natural world. In this way, they honored the Earth and nature, understanding in a way we are regrettably divorced from in our modern world that we are all an intrinsic part of nature.

The overarching goal of permaculture is to reunite mankind with the world and in doing so heal our planet by creating a world where there is sufficient food, water, and shelter for all. Anything worth doing requires hard work and discipline, but if we as a species can manage that, there is a very real potential for an absolutely incredible, thriving, abundant world to emerge. It’simportant to note here that abundance is most certainly the natural state of our world in balance.

The core ethic of Permaculture is, as so many things are, laughably simple and yet thought-provoking!