The holidays are over, it’s the beginning of a new year, and I think it’s a great time to start a new series on my blog. Over the next few weeks, I’ll cover some basics of permaculture. Today we’ll start with the three Permaculture Ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair share.
I want to present the Ethics in a way you haven’t already seen before. So rather than putting out just another rehash of the three Permaculture Ethics, I thought I’d discuss them in terms of everyday life.
Next month, we’ll dive into the Permaculture Principles in everyday life. And if you want a solid overview of permaculture and how it applies to our modern life, check out my post, What Everyone Ought to Know About Permaculture.
What Are the Permaculture Ethics?
First, a quick overview of the three Permaculture Ethics, just in case you haven’t learned them yet or want a refresher.
As you know, ethics are moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or activity. So, it makes sense that Permaculture Ethics are the moral principles that govern behaviors and activities within permaculture endeavors.
The three Permaculture Ethics are:
- Earth Care (rebuild nature’s capital)
- People Care (care of self, family, and community)
- Fair Share (redistribute surplus & limit consumption)
Earth Care means to care for the earth, restore depleted and polluted lands and waterways, and rebuild nature’s capital. In permaculture, the goal isn’t only to create sustainable systems but to create systems that go beyond sustainability to heal and regenerate the land and waterways.
People Care means to care for ourselves, our families, and our communities. We want to flourish and we want our families, neighbors, communities, and people worldwide to flourish. It’s not about trampling down others to achieve success, but about supporting each other so that we can all thrive.
Fair Share means distributing the surplus to others and back to the earth. It also means limiting consumption and not hoarding resources. When all able bodies pitch in, and no one hoards resources, there will be enough to go around for everyone.
Why Are Permaculture Ethics Important?
I think most people agree that the first two Permaculture Ethics of Earth Care and People Care are important.
Fair Share is a little less obvious than the others and might be controversial for some. However, it’s arguably the most important of the three ethics because the third ethic is necessary for the other two to occur. Without fair access to resources, Earth Care and People Care are impossible.
At the same time, if we don’t take care of the earth, we can’t care for people or ensure Fair Share, either. And without adequate People Care, we won’t be well enough to properly care for the earth or others.
So all three Permaculture Ethics depend on the other two. Failure is imminent when a system is lacking in any one of them.
In Permaculture Design
Understanding that these three ethics are the core values behind permaculture is helpful in permaculture design. We want to make sure that less desirable values (for example, greed or vanity) don’t sneak in and change the course of a project, steering it in a direction that conflicts with our ethics. Doing periodic check-ins with the project, to ensure that it’s still operating in alignment with Permaculture Ethics, helps maintain the project’s integrity.
In Our Daily Actions and Decisions
The same goes for our everyday actions and decisions. Not every action we take or decision we make is part of a permaculture design. But we are the designers of our lives, and it is our responsibility to make decisions and take actions that align with our personal ethics.
To live a permaculture lifestyle, we will want to conduct our lives according to Permaculture Ethics. I see these ethics not as prescriptive, but as a tool to check in and assess our lifestyle to determine if it aligns with our values as much as possible.
It’s Not All or Nothing
We don’t live in a perfect world, so we can’t expect our actions to align perfectly with these ethical ideals. Many of the decisions we make are limited or partially determined for us based on our culture and the resources available to us.
What we can do is make the better decision and take the better action, even if none of the options available to us are ideal. These better decisions stacked on top of each other will lead to incremental change that, over time, will shape our cultural systems for the better.
When we know better, we do better. But also when we are supported better we do better. Sometimes knowing better isn’t enough. You can’t reasonably ask someone living in poverty to choose the most eco-friendly products when they can’t even pay rent and put food on the table. This is an extreme example, but the same idea applies to everyone to different degrees. We do the best we can with the knowledge we have and in the circumstances we are in.
I’m not here to judge others’ actions and decisions. That is for everyone to do for themselves.
Permaculture Ethics in Everyday Life
Now let’s look at the three permaculture ethics in everyday life. First I’ll take some examples of Earth Care.
Earth Care in everyday life seems fairly self-explanatory. For example, choosing eco-friendly cleaning products and practicing organic gardening. I’ll dive a little deeper into one area, and that is shopping.
The everyday decisions we make shopping can have a positive, neutral, or negative effect on Earth. Here are some suggestions to consider. You can use the following “Should I buy This Thing” flowchart before making a purchase.
“Should I Buy This Thing?” Flowchart
- Can I find it used?
- Can I borrow it?
- Can I make do with what I already have?
If the answer to all of these is “no,” and you need to purchase something new, consider these points:
- Choose quality products that will last and are less likely to end up in the landfill
- Consider the lifecycle and ecological footprint of the item before buying
- Consider the item’s packaging
- Consider how far the item has to travel to get to you
- Is there a more eco-friendly alternative that you can afford?
By referring to this flowchart before making a purchase you might discover that you don’t need to buy the item. This simple practice can, over time, reduce your impact on the earth by generating less waste and choosing products that have smaller ecological footprints.
First, a quick look at gardening, since gardening supports People Care in so many ways. Gardening provides healthy food for our bodies, but it also provides exercise, fresh air, and sunshine for the gardener. It improves mental health and can help us build relationships with our neighbors.
But let’s take a deeper look at People Care in terms of house cleaning. I’m sure the example I’m about to give doesn’t apply to everyone, but it probably applies to a lot of us.
Why do we clean in the first place? The obvious answer seems to be to care for the people living in our home.
But, sometimes I think we can fall into the mindset of cleaning for other people rather than ourselves. I think we have all experienced, or at least understand, the mad dash to clean before guests arrive. But when this happens, cleaning becomes more about upholding an image we want to project than about caring for the people living in (and visiting) our home.
Viewing house cleaning through the lens of People Care is a simple mindset shift that might help us live more authentically. Not that we shouldn’t clean for guests. Rather, I’m questioning the idea that guests deserve to visit a clean house more than we deserve to live in a clean house. And, is the reason for that mad dash our guest’s comfort or to make a good impression? Maybe some of both, if we’re being honest. Perhaps more focus on People Care in daily life would cause a cleaner, more comfortable home, more often.
I see two excellent examples of the Permaculture Ethic Fair Share in everyday life: household maintenance and gardening.
Fair share, in the realm of household maintenance, means dividing the work equitably. Not necessarily equally, but equitably, considering: ability, age (of children), and other responsibilities individuals have, such as wage-earning and caretaking.
When we all pitch in on household maintenance, it becomes manageable for all.
I love Fair Share applied to gardening. It means, in part, sharing the excess harvest. Perhaps trading garden harvests with neighbors, coworkers, or friends.
Fair Share doesn’t prevent making an income off of your harvest. The point of Fair Share is to not hoard excess (which results in waste) but to distribute excess to benefit others. This might mean selling produce or products you make from your harvests, such as dried herbs, jams, or even crafts. But it also might mean donating leftovers that don’t sell to a food pantry.
Fair share in the garden might also mean composting waste items, such as kitchen scraps or garden prunings, to be returned to the garden the following year, rather than sending those resources to the landfill.
The three Ethics of permaculture; Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share; provide a moral framework to assess our decisions and actions in everyday life. The idea isn’t to point fingers or climb on a moral high horse but to take an honest look at our daily choices and consider, with kindness and compassion, how we might change to better align our lifestyle with our values.
How do Permaculture Ethics show up in your life? I’d love to read your perspective in the comments.
P.S. If you want to learn more about permaculture on your own, there are a lot of outstanding books to read or browse. Here are a few Permaculture Books I recommend.