Permaculture is a termed coined in the early 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren of Australia. They were working out a theory that man-made designs could become as sustainable, resilient, and productive as natural ecosystems – if we would learn more about natural systems and try to emulate them – including their complexity. Holmgren was a student at a globally-prestigious landscape design school; Mollison would spend the next decades learning from and teaching students on four continents.
Bill Mollison wrote: “Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resiliance of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.”
Toby Hemenway wrote in Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Ed: “Ecological gardens meld the best features of wildlife gardens, edible landscapes, and conventional flower and vegetable gardens, but they go beyond…. An ecological garden feels like a living being, with a character and essence unique to each. These gardens are grounded in relatively new concepts such as permaculture and ecological design, but they use time-tested techniques honed to perfection by indigenous people, restoration ecologists, organic farmers, and cutting-edge landscape designers. They combine low environmental impact, low maintenance (once established), and high yields with elegant aesthetics.”
I like to describe it this way: “Permaculture is a philosophy, a practice, and an on-going conversation across cultures, bridging indigenous and modern people, sharing techniques and ideas for living sustainably on Earth. It can be applied to small gardens (even patios), neighborhoods, large landscapes needing restoration, communities, and even towns and cities needing restoration.”
My recent teacher, Scott Pittman said in my second design course in June 2013 (and I paraphrase): “Permaculture applies ancient wisdom and natural models to the modern world. It is holistic and seeks sustainability.”
(I welcome readers to offer their favorite definitions of and quotations about permaculture.)
More on Bill Mollison is here, including his Wikipedia entry and various videos.
The following diagram and picture depict a single example of our energy- and resource-intensive global industrial mindset which has created such serious global problems – and the simple, elegant, local, inexpensive, very doable Permaculture response/solution (possible for individual people with no activism, bureaucratic change, or organizational structures required). The approach can be applied to many if not all of our current global problems!
Look at The Industrial Way of Producing an egg versus the Permaculture way:
And the Permaculture Way: