Permaculture – How To Create Sustainable Systems

From my post: I Discover Permaculture

David Bellamy 2005

David Bellamy, 2005, by Begaoz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons. php?curid=61342374

In 1972 British botanist and educator David Bellamy created an educational TV series “Bellamy on Botany” that I watched on Canadian public television when I lived in Michigan.

The point I remembered most about it was how Spain had been overgrazed, which eventually deprived it of tree cover and totally changed its climate and local ecosystems.

Bellamy was just using Spain as an example. This same thing has happened, and is happening, throughout the world. This is sometimes called “desertification.” Though it is more than unlikely that all deserts here on Earth were caused by overgrazing, when you let cattle or sheep graze through a forest, or burn down the forest (as has been done in Brazil) to create grazing land, then you have, at minimum, lost a forest with everything that goes with it.

Thus I became interested in attempts to reforest land of all types, and hoped I could some day try my hand at it.



Here in California, there has been a water supply problem for a long time.

In the north, damming of local rivers has provided the more regulated flow needed by modern agriculture, while southern California had to reach out of state many years ago to supply its water needs. All across the state, ground water is also used. Though there are many reasons that water supplies can vary from year to year, amount of precipitation is the most obvious. And in Sacramento in the summer, that can get very obvious, as it might not rain at all for several months. So every year there is a mini-drought during the summer, and in recent years there has been an overall drought of some magnitude. As a result, California residents are asked to conserve water, and have been whenever I have lived here. One way to do this is to plant a drought-resistant garden. We also had a water problem in Pullman, so I have been interested in how one goes about replacing an ordinary lawn with low-water plants. I have now had a chance to look into this more, and that led me to the subject of Permaculture.


Permaculture is a coined word invented by Bill Mollison, an Australian from Tasmania, who in his mid-life studied “bio-geography” at the University of Tasmania. He was nearly 40 and being a university student at about the same time I was being a high school student. The ecology movement was gaining steam at that time. Ecology had been an academic subject since the early 1900s, but turned into a political movement in the mid-1900s as it became more clear that some of our human enterprises were making very poor environmental decisions.

During the 1970s Mollison worked with a graduate student to develop an engineering approach to environmental design which involved water systems, agriculture, architecture and social development which they called “Permaculture.” Systems so designed were meant to be permanent; now known as sustainable. This goal was based (roughly) on the premise that if natural systems can survive for thousands of years, then human systems should be able to, too. He believed in taking his lessons from those natural systems and implementing them in his designs. He fostered a world-wide movement by offering a “Permaculture Design Course” which would result in someone certified to practice or teach Permaculture. By this time nearly half a million people have been so certified.

One such certificate holder is Geoff Lawton.

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton, by Bonnie Freibergs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Geoff is almost exactly my age. He’s a Brit who moved to Australia and took up Permaculture as his mode of life and his creed. Geoff has crafted many videos – many relatively short – often produced by quite excellent videographers, which communicate his knowledge and excitement regarding this subject.

Oddly, for one of his videos he visited Davis, not too far from Sacramento, where I am currently living, where a development (Village Homes) using Permaculture practices has existed for about 30 years (construction started in 1975). Though this is an upscale subdivision in a university town, the basic fact remains that it grows an incredible amount of food that is available to residents almost year-round, and is a very shady, livable space. Other neighborhoods or communities could follow the design practices used to create Village Homes. I am very interested in these practices because they are much more sustainable than conventional suburban design, and they create food and shade, as forests do.

Lawton has traveled all over the world teaching his Permaculture know-how and doing consulting work. He has worked in the Middle East and in India, two of the most ancient human areas on the globe, and both desperately in need of more sustainable practices. Unfortunately, current culture and big business agendas favor a restricted-access approach to this technology. Current culture does not expect life on earth to be permanent, and certain big businesses don’t plan for – or even particularly want – a sustainable Earth. Those groups seem to favor the “rape and pillage” approach to planetary life, and apparently are preparing – even as this is being written – to find some new planet to take advantage of once this one has been worn out.

Personally, I would very much prefer to leave behind at least a piece of ground – if not an entire planet – that keeps on giving long after I have left.