This article looks into whether we need to create a bigger vision for sustainability. Is the current vision for sustainability big enough, is it sustainable?


The statement below is from David Holmgren’s book Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability. It caught my eye in the last 7 days and made me think about the vision or rather lack of a vision for what a sustainable future would look like.


So what I thought I would do is unpack the statement from David Holmgren to see what we can learn from it.

Beginning with the first sentence, I am really attracted to the idea of self-reliance and autonomy that play such a big part in permaculture. I think these are somewhat lacking within sustainability, which has a preference for system level changes. The problem with this is, is that it leads to a very low level of ownership of problems. The power of permaculture is that it teaches people to take ownership of problems and to take care of themselves and their community in a sustainable manner. Issues are only as macro as you make them out to be. We can all play a role in building a better world if we take steps to change the way we think, act and behave in society.

The second sentence is particularly interesting as it refers to three things of great importance. The first part is the reference to balance, this is key to permaculture and it is important to make sure that people understand that a balanced approach is what is called for to solve these problems. The second part is the notion human imperatives. There are some hardliners who denounce human activity as a plague on the planet. This is an interesting perspective but it is well wide of the mark. Both permaculture and sustainability need to position themselves front and centre as solutions for how we survive and thrive in the 21st century. The third part is the notion which is central to permaculture of a declining energy base. Before too long, the huge prize of oil and natural gas will have largely been squandered. Permaculture offers a range of solutions for what life after this is gone could look like.

The third sentence is interesting as it shows how permaculture offers a holistic set of solutions for the garden, the home and for people’s lifestyles. It is about creating a permanent and sustainable culture. Sustainability could learn a lot from this. But the really important part comes later in the sentence, which is about self-regulation and feedback. They are key elements in natural systems, they are critical to permaculture, but thus far I would not say these ideas are preeminent within sustainability. We must begin to learn from processes that work and build on from there.

I thought that the last sentence was particularly inspirational. I like the way that permaculture is positivistic and it encourages its followers to take action to build a better world. This is enormously empowering. I also particularly like the last part of the sentence which is about continuing to support life and humanity. We should never forget the importance of the work that goes on within permaculture and sustainability. This is necessary work and it is important work.

What you need to know

This article looked into whether we need to create a bigger vision for sustainability. We looked into a paragraph from a David Holmgren book about permaculture to see what we could learn.

I think what is clear, is that permaculture’s vison is more substantial than the vision offered by sustainability.

I think that more needs to be done to push responsibility for sustainability down to the level of the individual.

I also think there needs to be more of a focus within sustainability for changing the culture. This is a big task but is the only way to embed solutions.

To answer the title question, yes I believe we need a bigger vision for sustainability and I believe sustainability could learn a lot from permaculture.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you liked this format, comment at the bottom or you can also find me on social media.

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