Our Ethics

Bill Mollison (Permaculture, A Designers' Manual, 1988) writes:

Several of us in earlier times (coming of age in the 1960's) researched community ethics, as adopted by older religious and cooperative groups, seeking for universal principals to guide our own actions. Although many of these guidelines contained as many as 18 principles, most of these can be included in the three below (and even the second and the third arise from the first):

The Ethical Basis of Permaculture

1. Care of the Earth
2. Care of People
3. Setting Limits to Population and Consumption (aka Fair Share)

At Gaia University, itself a permaculture design, we have adopted these ethics as our own. Please read the commentary below for more explication.

1. Care of the Earth – Provision For All Life Systems to Continue and Multiply

tree plantersThis ethic gives rise to observations and actions in the fields below:

The first field has to do with the practical (and political) issues concerning the regeneration of global ecological systems and the sustenance of human life in a context where large scale, constructive action by governments is unlikely.

The second field has to do with psychosocial issues concerning the transition of our ways of thinking from the now inadequate, arrogant and simplistic ways we have developed. For those of us with power and privilege, our lives have been separated from the experience of directly interfacing with nature in order to provision our lifestyles.

The third field has to do with the broad-scale healing of certain moral and spiritual aspects of human beings that seems to occur easier when a person is in contact with nature; the more intact the better.

That we (most of us) humans have well exceeded sustainable and intelligent levels of consumption is turning out to be a hard perspective to communicate, possibly due to the potential for such a perspective to engender fear, arrogance or hopelessness. Ecosocial actionists (like us) are frequently warned not to attempt to convince people of the need for change by having them 'face the facts', and thus turn them off, but instead to develop clever marketing strategies that emphasize the positive effects of adopting low footprint lifestyles.

At Gaia University many of us are experimenting with a more direct and robust approach in which we actively heal our wounds of the powerlessness endemic in our cultures and incrementally grow our empowerment so we may cheerfully face the unvarnished challenges by initiating projects for ecosocial regeneration. An ever-increasing capacity for a calm yet realistic appraisal of the current situation before taking significant constructive action is what we aim for.

circle of hands2. Care of People – Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence

Land access and modest working capital are key resource elements here. Families and communities with land, gardening and food storage skills, plus adequate supplies of cash to buy in essential seed supplies, tools and equipment, can go a long way towards providing a resilient basis for housing themselves and sustaining life. Freedom to pursue an independent, poly-income lifestyle within a broad ecosocial consensus is possible when land and working capital are equitably distributed.

However, access to these fundamental resources has been and continues to be consistently eroded by historical processes including land theft on a grand scale and the imposition of rent laws combined with interest-bearing money systems.

Our colleagues at The Earth Rights Institute have prepared a thought-provoking and informative online course on this topic here.

There is a strong focus in Gaia University on eliminating the distresses humans beings accumulate that lead to oppressive behavior such as land grabbing and the compulsion to concentrate wealth.

3. Setting of Limits to Population and Consumption – By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles

permaculture designThis ethic draws attention to a difficult and controversial topic: how to balance human (and all species) population and consumption with the carrying capacity of the planet. We are well overshot as these days we consume at rates 3 to 5 times the renewable capacity of the planet each year, and so we are drawing down heavily on ecological capital. The Ecological Footprint Team announced that we reached Earth Overshoot Day on August 21st, 2010 – we are now consuming from already dwindling reserves of the earth's natural capital.

The data concerning the overall picture is clear. The controversy arises when dominant cultures propose that population constraint is the primary issue and it is essentially an issue for others. At Gaia University we understand that consumption is by far the most important factor in the footprint equations and reconfiguring wealthy societies for frugal (yet joyful) living is the primary issue.

For Gaia University purposes, we make a couple of boundary additions to the three spheres.

  1. "Organizing to these ends" causes us to think about how to connect, create and assemble a dynamic and coherent ecology of individual and institutional capacities in order to act constructively and purposefully towards the goals contained in our ethics.
  2. "Direct all surpluses to these ends" proposes that systems should be designed to generate surpluses and, that these in turn are to be used as fold-back working capital and goodwill to support the development of projects.

These ethics are simple yet profound proposals of guidance and serve well to illuminate everyday endeavors.