Each person, from the farmers to the founders of the movement, seemed to struggle with defining the term “permaculture.” I want to add in my own attempt. To me, the defining characteristics of permaculture are the integration of modern lifestyles, technologies, and structures with certain core philosophies: minimizing waste, maximizing efficiency, balance within the ecosystem, diversity, and overall a sense of harmony and symbiosis within the system. In a word, it’s synergy; it’s the blending of old with new and the reciprocal cycles of life, death, destruction, and creation anew. It means taking what we have now–small yards, depleted soil, miles upon miles of empty rooftops, runoff from streets, and a system that cannot endure forever–and infusing them with life and purpose and energy.
I’m torn between my belief that it takes widespread investment and effort to bring about change and my desire to make a significant impact. But lately, I’ve begun to realize that you can do both. One garden in someone’s backyard can feed a city block; a single rain garden can prevent gallons upon gallons of water from entering sewers and contaminating ecosystems; one roof can do both of these and more. I’m someone who is very grounded in reality, and I tend to be most impacted by documentaries and true stories; I found Before the Flood to be much more motivating than Pumzi. Similarly, I found Inhabit to be incredibly inspiring because it turned a seemingly impossible problem into something that can be approached one step at a time, person by person, through a philosophy and an approach that would be appealing even without an environmental crisis to consider. Instead of discouraging me, it gave me hope and a way to make a difference even if I am alone in my efforts.
Mostly, as I watched, I was overwhelmed by the green everywhere. It must be an evolutionary trait, to be so calm and content just at the sight of leaves, grass, trees, plants– green. Here, finally, is a vision of a way out of the hole humanity has dug for itself. The path runs through every discipline, from public policy to education to engineering to psychology to chemistry to philosophy to urban planning to agriculture to biology to architectural design, and yet it is simple enough that anyone with enough determination can walk along it. I want to live in a world dappled by trees overhead, with each footstep muffled by grass, and permaculture puts the power to work towards that directly into my inexperienced yet willing hands. Rather than focusing on the problems we face, we must begin to look forwards and look around us and see the good that is being done to do “more good” rather than just “less bad.” Ben Falk put it best: what if footprints were something you wanted to leave behind?