The permaculture chapter: principle 4 – apply regulation and accept feedback

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

  1. Apply regulation and accept feedback

The Permaculture Association begins its explanation of this principle as follows:

This principle deals with the self-regulatory aspects of permaculture that limit or discourage inappropriate actions and behaviours. An obvious example of this is that permaculture has a set of ethics that aim to regulate how permaculture designers and practitioners behave, in particular that we accept limits to our consumption so that we do not take more than the earth is able to provide.

This explanation draws attention to regulation as a phenomenon in permaculture quite opposite to the environmentally disastrous addiction to ‘endless growth’ and the inevitable consequence of endless waste characteristic of ACID. Endless growth and endless waste in a finite system are clearly and unambiguously ‘inappropriate’, a word that appeared in the opening quote to this sub-section. Growth and waste would therefore have to be regulated – Mollison (1988: 7) aptly uses the phrase “govern[ing] our greed”. Growth would have to become something less abstract than indices like GDP that increase when natural entities like forests are cut down for various reasons linked to consumerism, and possibly more literal in its focus, i.e. the growth of forests, the growth of food gardens, the growth of the fresh water supply. In a system that applies regulation, these natural resources would certainly be used by human beings, but in a manner where regulation of the use of resources is applied. In Chapter 5, Eisenstein offered a glimpse of a ‘sacred’ economic model that did indeed rely heavily on regulation; to repeat some information about a commons-backed currency from that sub-section, information pertaining directly to regulated activity:

Once we have decided how much of each commons should be made available for use, we can issue money ‘backed’ by it. For example, we might decide that the atmosphere can sustain total sulfur dioxide emissions of two million tons a year. We can then use the emissions rights as a currency backing. The same goes for the rest of the commons. The result would be a long list comprising all the elements of the commons we agree to use for economic purposes.

Aspects of the researcher’s application of permaculture principles have already been glimpsed in the discussion of principles one to three, and more can be understood about principle four by considering these elements of applying regulation in his life: water is used in the system, but only in a manner whereby none ever leaves the system (indeed, there is no sewer connection); electricity can be used, but only for minimal lighting and for powering certain electrical items deemed by the context to be essential (lights, laptop computer, certain tools); showers can be taken, but they must be as quick as possible and as infrequent as viably possible; use of the gas cooking ring is acceptable, but only when the solar cooking and rocket-stove options are not viable.

To understand what is meant by feedback, one can consider Mollison’s (1988: 32) use of a bicycle-riding analogy: he says that “stability in ecosystems or gardens is not the stability of a concrete pylon; it is the process of constant feedback and response that characterises such endeavours as riding a bike”. It would be impossible to ride a bicycle without receiving constant feedback on the process, for example, slowing down by using the brakes when the bike is going too fast downhill – here the increasing speed is feedback that triggers the pulling of the brakes. So too would it be impossible to interact in a natural system in a sustainable manner without paying careful attention to the feedback that the system constantly provides, and using the feedback as a trigger to make small changes to the system – more on the process of making changes to the system in discussion of principle 9, namely, ‘use small and slow solutions’.

Examples of system feedback are: gardens staying moister for longer with the application of mulch; certain types of mulch being blown out of place by a strong wind and damaging seedlings; trees that do well initially in a certain location but then take a drastic turn towards deterioration; placing a plant next to a different plant and seeing it do well, or not so well; placing a plant in the shade or sun and seeing it do well, or not so well; building a structure in a certain way using a certain material and having constantly to do maintenance repairs on the structure; bringing people into the homestead area and getting similar themes (good or bad) raised by the different people; experiencing the heat of the summer and its impact on personal energy levels; adding urine to (or urinating directly onto!) the roots of different trees and noticing an increase in growth rate (an indication that a tree is a heavy nitrogen feeder) or a deterioration of the tree’s growth. In each of these examples, an action has a consequence – the consequence is the feedback, presuming that the person acting ‘listens to’ the feedback and understands the cause/effect relationship, making adjustments where necessary.

Looking back to the ‘Orphic offerings’ in Chapter 5 (in addition to what has already been attributed to Eisenstein above), phenomena encountered there relevant to the principle of applying regulation and accepting feedback is, firstly, that of the ‘unnamed movement’ traced by Hawken in Blessed Unrest. Hawken described the movement as one “working towards ecological sustainability and social justice” (2007: 2) and can be said to participate in a process of keeping Promethean action ‘in check’, i.e. regulating it. It would have to do this partly by ‘feeding back’ information that it has gathered to people in general, to the offending organisations and corporations, to political entities, etc. Indeed, the organisations, groups of people, and individuals who constitute the unnamed movement are largely committed to regulating action that causes social and ecological injustice, accepting feedback from nature and society and the economy, and feeding this information into the broader socio-political and economic system. Next, the Occupy Movement participated in much the same kind of process, except that its focus was initially explicitly economic, but certainly ecological and social concerns fell under its remit. Finally, the Zeitgeist Movement too aims for a “system of direct resource management and scientific application in the pursuit of a post-scarcity or abundance economy to meet the needs of the human species, while securing the integrity of the habitat” (TZM Defined, pg. 178) – this has clear connotations of regulation and indeed resonates with the aims of permaculture as so far described and analysed in this chapter. This resonance, as well as the place of feedback in TZM, becomes very clear in the following quote from TZM Defined, pg. 260: “Connected to the design process, literally built into the… ‘Optimize Design Efficiency’ function, is dynamic feedback from an Earth-wide accounting system that gives data about all relevant resources that pertain to all productions.”

Leave a Reply