Permaculture is guided by three main ethics and a dozen principles.
I have described the ethics in my own words, but please visit the Permaculture Principles webpage for additional information, and a full rundown on the 12 principles.
Decisions made for appropriate ‘permaculture technology’ must preserve the Earth’s ecosystems and resources. It’s a functioning biosphere, healthy soils, forests, living oceans and clean fresh water that is the bedrock of our civilization, so it would make sense to look after it.
Permaculture is not environmentalism. It’s about looking after people (taking into account the other two principles). Obtaining a yield for human benefit is one of the most important practical considerations of any design. Who doesn’t want a huge crop of pumpkins that was grown for just a few dollars? What’s better than putting in 100 hours work into a project which gains a net benefit for the community, family or friends?
The permaculture ‘Fair Share’ ethic, suggests that once our immediate needs are met, we should share the surplus with others in the community. It’s not about charity, or just about giving things away – it’s more a position about not hoarding resources & wealth, and setting limits on our own consumption.
The Global Footprint people have worked out (roughly) that if all the productive land on the planet was distributed equally among it’s population, each persons ‘fair share’ would be 1.8 hectares. The average Australian’s footprint is 6.7 hectares pp, which means that if everyone in the world consumed like the average Australian, then we would need 3.7 planets to sustain us (Source).
For what it’s worth, our own footprint (roughly calculated) comes out at less than half the Australian average, and we have a car, tv, gas cooking, heating and just about all the other ‘luxuries’ one takes for granted these days. Clearly there’s room for improvement.
The starting point for most of us is a pretty unsustainable lifestyle, so permaculture design needs to happen over time, and each time we design or tweak a system, we aim to adhere to the ethics of permaculture, while improving yield and resilience.
So I think you can’t beat yourself up about everything you do unless you can truly go ‘back to the land’. For example, we drive a car sometimes… The supermarket just a few hundred metres down the road has some pretty awesome muesli at amazing low prices… Is the decision to buy it destroying the planet? Probably, in some small way – but my own personal ‘caveat’ to these ethics is that it is the overall combination of ones lifestyle choices that is important. Call me a hypocrite.