As the world struggles with coronavirus and what needs to change when we emerge from the crisis, permaculture has a lot to offer. We need new approaches that build local sustainability and resilience and take into full consideration new societal and economic models, as well as the climate and ecological crisis.

One of the challenges with permaculture is always around the definition. It combines an understanding of how nature works with a design approach to create an ethical framework that is used to build regenerative systems at all scales – from home and garden to community, farm and bioregions.

That’s a bit of a mouthful. As permaculture pioneer, Rosemary Morrow, said: “I find it very difficult, like everyone else, to define permaculture because it covers all of human living.”

Over the last few years, within a project called the 52 Climate Actions partnership, ten organisations, led by Britain’s Permaculture Association and including Edinburgh Napier University and University of Lisbon, have sought to come up with inspiring but straightforward actions to promote permaculture-based solutions to climate change – https://www.52climateactions.com/

Now, more than ever, these look relevant. The seeds were sown, explains Permaculture Association chief executive, Andy Goldring, after an International Permaculture Conference declaration following the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. Initial funding was gained, which included designing a website.

“There was growing awareness of climate change and we were aware that permaculture has all of these fantastic solutions and responses,” says Goldring. “The challenge was how to make them more accessible to a wider constituency.”

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The goal was to create a project that would:

  • help people understand their personal power in tackling climate change;
  • show people the best responses to climate change;
  • promote these solutions to a wide audience;
  • inspire people to action to help them reduce their carbon footprint, adapt to climate change, and embrace a low carbon culture;
  • be rooted in permaculture which, here, was defined as “a design system that aims to create sustainable human habitats by following nature’s patterns”.

It has been a collaborative approach, says Goldring. “Permaculture is this big global network which is delivering solutions, is fantastic for drawing case studies and is very responsive to new ideas.”

As the work progressed, so the audience widened. One resource that the team was able to draw on was Project Drawdown (https://www.drawdown.org/), which was founded in 2014 by environmentalist, Paul Hawken, “to measure and model the most substantive solutions to stop global warming, and to communicate those findings to the world”. Another was Ecolise, a European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability (https://www.ecolise.eu/).

The participants devised three categories of actions: those to reduce people’s carbon footprint (mitigation); those to help people cope with the effects of climate change (adaptation); and those that aim to change mindsets (thinking differently). The 52 actions are divided into 16 themes such as ‘Share’, ‘Travel’ and ‘Food’.

“We are very aware of our niche, we know that there is a lot of big systemic stuff that still needs to happen,” says Goldring. However, we have focused on the actions that are personal or community based. “When you feel overwhelmed, the best approach is to do something small, then take another step. Little actions lead to big actions, and through this action people can understand the big stuff and push for that too.”

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There is, of course, a lot of synergy between permaculture and the solutions needed to tackle the crises. The actions are based on the belief that climate change isn’t an isolated phenomenon, but a symptom of a broken relationship between humanity and nature – given the origins of Covid-19, that sentiment can certainly be applied here as well. Responding to it isn’t about revolutionary new technologies or maintaining our current lifestyles using less carbon. It is about redesigning our lives towards greater simplicity, stronger community, healthier lifestyles, more making and less buying.

The emphasis is going beyond sustainability (maintaining the status quo) to regeneration (making things better). As stated within the 52 Actions description: “We need to move away from endless economic growth, maximisation of profit and wasteful levels of material consumption and towards meeting the real needs of all people within planetary limits. We need an economy based on mutually beneficial relationships: between producers and consumers, within and among communities and people, and between the human and natural world.”

In terms of the next phase of work, for which funding is being sought, it includes increasing awareness of the toolset, says Goldring, and doing another phase of work on that toolset itself, bringing more detail into supporting the actions. And there is the intention to develop workshops and training, to enable and give confidence to individuals and communities that want to take steps. In an ideal world, he says, there would be a project manager to take forward this next phase.

Ultimately, he would also like to to create additional websites. The current one is focused on the “Global North”. Planned are 52 Climate Actions for the Global South, 52 Climate Actions for Children, and 52 Climate Actions for Businesses, but these too require funding.

Much has been achieved to date but there’s much more that could be done. Either way, the ethics and approaches of permaculture have a lot of relevance to today’s challenges; 52 Actions is seeking to take this message to a wider audience. To find out more, contribute and get involved, contact Andy Goldring via the Permaculture Association – https://permaculture.org.uk/