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Permaculture Ethics — Share Surplus.

The third part of the ethics of Permaculture is most simply stated as share surplus. Originally this concept was described as reduction of consumption, limits to population and dispersal of surplus. Though somewhat contentious in these terms, it is a very important ethic to adopt into each of our lives.

Presently the world's population is consuming the Earth's resources at an unprecedented rate. So much so that many species have become extinct and our finite fossil energy reserves may also be exhausted within our life times. Not only do we consume resources at an unsustainable rate we are creating waste with the surplus, commonly known as pollution.

If you want to gauge your own consumption of Earth's resources check out this nifty quiz to evaluate how many planets would be needed if we all lived like you: your environmental footprint.

Yet there is enough of everything if we implement this ethic in our lives. Population limits and reducing consumption go hand in hand. It is valuable to observe that in nature population is limited by the resources available to it. Ever watched one of those wild life documentaries showing the huge swell of animal populations to an area after rains. When the area was dry, for example the savanah grasslands of Africa, it sustains a minimal population of only the hardiest adapted creatures. Then the rains come. The grass grows. With the greater abundance of food available enormous flocks of birds, huge herds of grazing animals and the predators which feed upon them all come into the area. There is a surge in the populations for a short period of time but as the resources dwindle the large populations either move into another area which will support it or die off. In Australia many native animals only breed in years when there is a plentiful supply of food thus a population balance is maintained. This observation is true of plants also.

The industrial revolution and increased technological advances has made it possible for humans to multiply rapidly and to populate all areas of the Earth because of the increased ability to create food in marginal environments. However this is only possible with a larger total energy input than total energy yield.

Energy is the measure for all things as all matter is energy. For this reason it is the cost of energy which is the most important thing to account for. Now I'm not just talking about obvious forms of energy; things we percieve of as energy like fuel & electricity. I'm talking about things we don't usually consider as energy like food, water, movement; all material things as ALL MATTER IS ENERGY. So when we consider the real cost of growing food in places it would not naturally grow or in ways it would not naturally grow, we must account for all the energy used to do it. This may include piping water over distances, transport, machinery & the fuels used in it to plant, harvest, refine & distribute the crop, man power, fertiliser and/or herbicides/pesticides used to grow the crop etc. When you really start thinking about the REAL cost of growing food on a large scale in order to maintain the human population it starts to make sense to limit population and reduce consumption.

In practise this doesn't have to be difficult to do. Each of us can make a difference by 'thinking globally and acting locally'. Simple actions like turning off the light or TV when it's not being used will start to minimise our use of electricity. Eat unrefined foods; it will be better for your health as well as consuming less overall energy. Need to replace your hot water service? Why not go solar. Grow some of your own food. Even on a small balcony you can grow a surprising amount of food in pots. What about planting edible species as street trees and in parks and public areas. With food being grown outside your back door & in our communities it will reduce our dependence on transport for one of our most basic needs. Grow organically as it uses less energy, particularly of a non-renewable nature. Use organic products whenever possible to support the growers and manufacturers who's products are caring for Earth and the health of people in many different ways. Use your computer for communication and information sharing & storage. Less paper being used means more trees which are vast energy reserves that have a multitude of other uses as a living element besides the many products made from it. Share your surplus. Your time, effort (energy), knowledge is a valuable resource of which you may have plenty of surplus.

What is surplus?

Surplus is the bit more that you have than you need. An example is; if you are growing tomatoes and end up having way more than you can reasonably use before it would go rotten, there's surplus. Give away that bit you won't get around to using. It doesn't matter to whom you give it; a friend, neighbour, charity group. Just give it to someone who will use it rather than have it go to waste. Or swap it with someone for some of their surplus. Or feed it to animals. It's all reducing consumption & pollution in the long run because less energy is used in this sort of distribution.

It's a good idea to plan for surplus. Put in extra plants so you have that bit extra to trade with or to feed to your animals or to preserve and have in storage as preparation for disaster.

I was interested in what an expert guest on 'Oprah' had to say recently in regards to preparing for a pandemic.(Sorry, I don't recall his name). They were talking about the potential of what may happen should the 'bird flu' become a pandemic and how to prepare for it. He suggested each of us should have a 5-6 week supply of essential foods and medicine (eg. insulan for diabetics etc) stored because one of the first things to fail will be the transport system. This was evident when dealing with disaster relief after hurricane Katrina struck in the United States.

Our society has become very reliant on transport as we have centralised into cities. Food is grown away from the population centres. Some essential ingredients for some medicines are grown in a completely different country to where it is made so if the transport systems fail shortages will be very quick to follow. With shortages chaos is close on the heels also as people fight for control of what is in demand.

Sharing surplus is a way for there to be enough of everything without having waste. It is supportive of the first two parts of the ethics of Permacuture: care of Earth and care of people.

Your actions count. It will have an influence on every other aspect of Life. You will act according to how you think & what you believe. These ethics of Permaculture are the foundation of thoughtful action which will have a beneficial effect on all Life.

Next issue I'll start going through the design principles of Permaculture which will give you some practical tools for designing your own sustainable systems.


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