Eric Hunting in the Open Manufacturing discussion list:
“Permaculture is a valuable and practical technology whose inspiration probably has its roots (pun intended…) in Taoist gardening and cultures like that of the Chagga tribes of the south-eastern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro where, until recent times, the purposeful concerted co- cultivation of nearly a thousand plant species was employed to create one of the most remarkable agrarian cultures ever seen. Communities that look like natural jungle but host 100,000 people in comfort. Permaculture is, essentially, the _engineering_ of artificial ecosystems for the purpose of maximizing productivity for a diversity of food crops. It’s one of those brilliant ‘lazy like an engineer’ concepts where one is trying to create a self-perpetuating system for one’s own benefit that you need put the least amount of human effort into maintaining. It has its counterpart in polyspecies mariculture which is, again, an attempt to cultivate a self-perpetuating ecosystem that maximizes the production of a number of marine crops starting with algea at the bottom of the food chain -in this way eliminating the economic overhead of feedstocks. It’s particularly important to maximizing the economic and carbon replacement potential of the use of OTEC power, exploiting the nutrient-rich upwelling discharge from these systems as the base feedstock. And it’s efficient. Polyspecies mariculture can potentially yield about 5 times the protein per hectare of any conventional form of land farming.
The thing with Mollison and other later members of the permaculture movement is that they came out of the 1970s era split in the original environmentalism movement between EcoTech and Soft Tech that resulted from the emergence of an environmental fundamentalism with its origins in 18th century Romanticism and with much influence from neopaganism. Part of this has been the drafting of an arbitrary distinction between ‘technology’ and other kinds of artifice in the manner of the distinction between the secular and the religious, the former being characterized as profane, the latter virtuous. This relates to the Romanticists rejection of the rationalism of the Enlightenment in favor of the spiritual, emotional, and presumably more ‘human’ and ‘natural’. And so it becomes ‘blasphemous’ to consider permaculture or other forms of Soft Tech (a term environmentalists won’t even use anymore) a technology with both constructive and destructive potential like any other technology because if its non-electric/electronic, non- mechanical, primitive-seeming, and involves getting your hands dirty and being in intimate contact with trees and plants then it somehow means its more in-tune with the Gaian Logos.
There’s no reason to this. There’s no reason why biophysics should somehow be more virtuous than any other aspect of physics. But this isn’t about reason. It’s religion. Progress in permaculture has generally been slowed by this. To be effective at permaculture means to be a scientist and engineer with a deep comprehension of biology and the ecological relationships between organisms. But this cultural rejection of science and ‘naughty technology’ among so many of the proponents of permaculture -this nonsense that it represents a moral rather than practical alternative to agriculture- results in it not getting the benefit of serious scientific research and thus never being refined as a technique to be broadly implemented. This may be changing with the emergence of the new Bright Green movement -a resurgence of the EcoTech side of environmentalism coming in reaction to the increasing plain deterioration of environmental fundamentalism into a Malthusianist doomsday cult.”