Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sustainability: A Permaculture approach to whole systems

Sustainable principles
are critical to the design of human environments that interconnect with nature. This includes the approach to studying the site and
implementing principles of environmental vectors in order to maintain the system's integrity. An early proponent of this kind of design analysis, Ian McHarg, lays out his methodology in Design With Nature.

An example of applying this analysis in our local Southern California foothills to arrive at a solution integrating permaculture is to use watersheds in their natural state, collect the
excess during rainy season and channel that into urban areas. These (exisitng) urban areas then need to reuse and recapture the water and return it to the aquifer below as a means of storage for urban use. This completes the cycle and replenishes the aquifers at the same time that urban systems are rebuilt and enhanced. In this way the built environment can be regenerated and replaced in a manner that actually reduces the human footprint, providing economic investment opportunities as well. This is known as the "soft path" infrastructure approach.
An issue that's been a local problem with aquifer recharge systems and grey water use has been LA's draconian regulatory framework about it in the early 1990's, covered here in the LA Times. With regulatory reform and intelligent development of these systems, plus urban bioswales that are installed by sustainable landscapers and non-profits, this region can rebuild its infrastructure to deal with a dry future. Orange County's integrated water and waste management strategies have paid off in this manner

We have to become part of the natural world again, in an intelligent way that lets us bring the human gift to the natural order, as stewardship. This approach is best implemented with a "triple bottom line" view of economic growth, as well as an understanding of the limitations of the natural resources and the implications for development sprawl.
From Lee Barnes (former editor of Katuah Journal and Permaculture Connections), Waynesville, North Carolina:

Permaculture (PERMAnent agriCULTURE or PERMAnent CULTURE) is a sustainable design system stressing the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants,
animals and the Earth. To paraphrase the founder of permaculture, designer Bill Mollison: Permaculture principles focus on thoughtful designs for small-scale intensive systems which are labor efficient and which use biological resources instead of fossil fuels. Designs stress ecological connections and closed energy and material loops. The core of permaculture is design and the working relationships and connections between all things. Each component in a system performs multiple functions, and each function is supported by many elements. Key to efficient design is observation and replication of natural ecosystems, where designers maximize diversity with polycultures, stress efficient energy planning for houses and settlement, using and accelerating natural plant succession, and increasing the highly productive "edge-zones" within the system.