Permaculture and Sustainability By Graham Bell

Have you ever read the Kama Sutra?  I have and I recommend it.  It is not as most people think a sex manual.  It is a guide to right livelihood (‘Dharma’).  Much as Shakespeare’s seven ages of man:


All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.

At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

 Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like a snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.

Then, a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth.

And then, the justice,

In fair round belly, with a good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws, and modern instances,

And so he plays his part.

The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound.

Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

As You Like it- Jacques Act 11 Scene VII

In the Kama Sutra (attributed to Vatsyayana) it suggests we start as children, have a period of learning as adolescents, then get married and embrace the pleasures of life (‘Kama’), after this we become successful in business (‘Artha’) and finally we renounce all to become spiritual beings (‘Moksha’ – liberation, the release from the cycle of death and rebirth).


This actually follows the virtuous life of the Buddha quite closely where it is suggested abstinence follows fully enjoying life’s pleasures.


Well OK so what has this to do with sustainable living? And what is permaculture? And why does it matter? Sustainable living is only valid from a human perspective if it’s about people.  And permaculture is a design system – for people.  Of course those of us who believe in right livelihood also want to care for the environment and leave the natural world at least as healthy as we found it.


But if we don’t get the people stuff right we are wasting our time.  There’s no threat to planet earth.  Planet earth is very safe.  The risk is that the damage we are doing to the eco-system will harm our chances of survival.


Gaia Theory (James Lovelock) suggests the planet earth is a living organism with the same kind of self-healing properties that all living organisms exhibit. So what do human beings need?  How can they supply it?  More intelligently than we have been doing of late? The point about the Shakespeare and Kama Sutra stuff is that we need different things at different times in our lives.


We also need different things in different latitudes, and different cultures are at different stages of development or (dys) functionality.  But our basic needs are common to us all.  We need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink cook and wash in, adequate food and shelter, companionship, freedom from harm, stimulation and a sense of purpose.


It’s a very useful exercise to get any group of people to list the needs of a baby and then the needs of an adult and ask: ‘What are the differences?’  I suggest very little. The majority of our deep needs are shared from the moment we leave the womb till we shuffle off the mortal coil.


And yet we spend huge amounts of energy, work grief and many other negatives trying to achieve things which are not in our basic needs.  In the process we are causing vast amounts of damage to each other- environmentally, socially and otherwise.  And in the process doing irreparable harm to the living world with which we have been blessed. I would suggest the lessons of Shakespeare and the Kama Sutra are massively relevant today.


We need to learn, be able to enjoy life, be creative and give back, and then let go and pass on what we have learned.  And leave the earth better than we found it. What permaculture offers is a structured framework for how we can do just that.  By consciously planning our resource management.  By reducing the amount of work we do and the amount of pollution we create by the careful placement and management of the things we need to live in our sojourn here on the planet earth.


Permaculture is not a destination – it’s a direction. A daily agreement to reduce our consumption as much as we can and to supply as much of our own needs as we can and to help others do the same. And everything we need to achieve these goals is in the natural world around us.


Our starting point has to be careful observation.  How does nature tackle this challenge?  What can we learn from how other species adapt and provide?  What does the sea do?  How do water cycles function?  What can we learn from forests?  How does living soil work and how can we help it do that work for itself?  Abandoning the idea that we control nature and embracing the way in which it controls us is the starting point.


Managing energy flows so they create yield that is greater than the effort of managing them. Learning to harvest energy and abandon the idea that we can ever create it is axiomatic to this more intelligent paradigm.



Permaculture attracts a network of people who are gradually building this understanding (and flawless ourselves we are not).  But, boy, we couldn’t be worse than the banking community could we?  The point is, the new tomorrow is being created now, and if you are part of it, it will happen a lot sooner than if you are not.


Self-determination, co-operative economy, people based respect for all life on earth and a willingness to manage things better are the starting point. There is a growing body of wisdom and skills in which the primacy of vocational ability over academic brilliance will soon be proved reversing the false hierarchy of our present educational system.


The new educational paradigm is all about enabling others to find their own empowerment. Less work, more play.  Self-renewing systems of abundance created and cared for by people who understand and share their surplus with others.


Vibrant soils, clean water and air.  Enough for all.  A fair sharing of the earth’s resources.  Practical realities to enable the idealistic vision to become reality.  Kindness for each other, the earth and all life.  I’ve believed it all my life but it has taken most of my life to understand how it is possible.


Will you join in and assist?