The permaculture chapter: principle 5 – use and value renewable resources and services

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. Use and value renewable resources and services

In contrast to the central position occupied by non-renewable energy (i.e. fossil fuels) in ACID (as seen in Chapter 2), renewable resources (and sustainable systems) are centralised in permaculture. However, fossil fuel does play an important transitionary role in permaculture in that it is used to establish sustainable systems. These points are evidenced in the following from the Permaculture Association[1]: “Permaculture design aims to make best use of renewable resources to create, manage and maintain high yielding systems, even if some non-renewable resources are needed to establish the system in the first place.” It is therefore perfectly acceptable for conventional power tools, or earth-moving or –digging machines (etc.), to be used in the setup of permaculture systems; (Mollison 1988:14) adds the following proviso, the first of three “practical design considerations”: “…providing that in their lifetime, [the systems] store or conserve more energy than we use to construct them or to maintain them”. The other two design considerations are:

  • The systems we construct should last as long as possible, and take least maintenance.

  • These systems, fuelled by the sun, should produce not only their own needs, but the needs of the people creating or controlling them. Thus, they are sustainable, as they sustain both themselves and those who construct them.

This imperative in permaculture to create sustainable systems that use renewable energy sources, and which “store or conserve more energy than we use to construct them or to maintain them”, stands in direct contrast to what can broadly be called the Promethean construction industry, which, as was seen and evidenced in Chapter 2, is responsible for “more than 40 per cent of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, both in developed and developing countries” (quoted from a UN source – see Chapter 2). As was seen in Chapter 2, the constant input of fossil fuels is required for the powering, maintenance, heating, cooling, etc. of Promethean buildings and systems, buildings and systems that almost exclusively are accompanied by the ‘flattening’ of surrounding natural areas with no creation thereafter of biodiverse natural systems. In permaculture, buildings are preferably made out of earthen and/or locally-sourced materials, with the aim being to power the buildings via solar, wind, and tidal energy, as pointed out by the Permaculture Association: “Wind, sun and waves are key renewable resources that can help us move towards sustainability”[2]. Beyond these obvious alternative energy sources, the Permaculture Association draws further attention to the role of forests in the context of renewable energy: “Recreating forests and soils are two of the most important tasks of the twenty first century”. The importance of both forests and soils has featured already in this study, but to elaborate briefly on it here attention can be drawn to the less obvious fact that forests and soils are renewable sources of energy – in natural conditions, woodlands constantly renew themselves with new trees, and soils with more soil; and biodiversity naturally increases alongside the increase of healthy forests and soils. Humans can design systems in which these natural processes are mimicked, which is exactly what permaculturalists do, i.e. design (and implement) such systems. Even more generally, without explicit focus on design and implementation of systems, permaculture focuses on sustainable use of renewable resources, again evident in this from the Permaculture Association (Ibid): “We need to understand the renewable resource we are using to ensure appropriate use, e.g. how many trees can we take from a woodland without damaging it? Harvesting of wild plants and animals can be part of the overall yield of a system” – trees from the woodland, wild plants and animals are all energy sources in this line of thinking, and if managed correctly they become renewable energy sources.

The author of this study, by way of having studied and practiced permaculture, will add that he does not yet use the characteristic sources of renewable energy such as solar and wind electricity systems because the current phase of his ‘permaculture journey’ is the transition period away from exclusive reliance on fossil fuels. As discussed in an earlier section of this chapter, almost all appliances and energy-heavy apparatus have been excluded from the current homestead, justifying the negligible amount of ‘on-grid’ electricity (sourced via a single extension cord) used to run two laptop computers, speakers for music from a laptop, several energy-sensitive lights, and two cell phones. Hot water, as already pointed out, is heated in a coil of black pipe on a sun-facing roof, and via rocket-stove fires fuelled by off-cut wood sourced locally from a saw mill. This rocket stove is also a major source of energy for cooking, as is a parabolic solar cooker, followed finally by a small gas ring cooker, used very sparingly. An orchard has been planted, gardens are continuously maintained, and soils are constantly ‘built’, all of these being less obvious examples of renewable systems.

At the time of writing this section, the researcher and his partner have acquired an acre of land on the outskirts of town. There will be no ‘on-grid’ electricity there, and a small solar electric system will be the only source of electricity. The initial aim is to plant a food forest containing numerous sources of fruit and vegetables, but also indigenous canopy trees – these trees will be coppiced gradually to provide wood for rocket stove fires. The ‘coil-of-pipe-on-the-roof’ hot water system, as well as the parabolic solar cooker, will continue to feature heavily in the system as renewable sources of energy. Finally, a simple gas ring cooker will act as a back-up cooking source.

The only explicit reference made to renewable energy sources in Chapter 5 appeared in the section about the Zeitgeist Movement. There it was seen that, simply, renewable energy sources would be used in a natural-law resource based economy (NLRBE), and that such energy sources would be implemented in different areas depending on the suitability of the different areas for a given energy source; i.e. there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to how renewable energy sources are implemented, but rather the overall NLRBE is designed (and here again there is strong resonance with permaculture’s focus on design) according to principles of sustainability that in turn are derived from Earth’s ‘carrying capacity’. A less explicit reference to the issue of renewable energy was made by Paul Hawken in the section about Blessed Unrest, a comment that speaks for itself: “[T]he way to change the world is to change one’s own practices, including one’s home, source of energy, method of agriculture, diet, transport patterns, and communities” (emphasis added). These observations from Hawken remind one that no single act can constitute a transition to a sustainable system with clear Orphic characteristics.


Accessed 11 February 2016

[2] accessed 31 March 2016

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