The Second Permaculture Ethic

The second permaculture ethic – Care for People – is often neglected among permaculturists, especially when it comes to caring for the physical health of people.  Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition might be one of the only examples of books that attempt to tackle the ethic, perhaps except for the chapter on health in the Post Carbon Reader.  The primary focus of most permaculturists when it comes to the ethic is on the psychosocial aspects of People Care, as in the more recent People and Permaculture by Looby Macnamara.  While there are definitely exceptions, as a whole we do a terrible job at taking care of our own health, even though it is really a pre-requisite for the Earth Care that we all are so passionate about.  Not only are sick humans limited in the amount and kinds of permaculture projects they can contribute to, but they often become less resilient as they become dependent on allopathic treatments (e.g., pharmaceuticals) for conditions that have progressed to the point that they will no longer respond to naturopathic treatments.  In other words, there aren’t too many sick or dead people doing permaculture.

By way of illustration, I am always amazed at how many permaculturists smoke cigarettes, for a number of reasons.  Aside from supporting massive corporations whose sole purpose is selling a product that violates all three of the permaculture ethics (which some admittedly skirt to some degree by rolling their own), it is still one of the most damaging things one can do to one’s health and the health of our communities.  Tobacco use is directly linked with many of the most common (and most of the time largely preventable) chronic diseases of our civilization: cardiovascular disease (e.g., high blood pressure and heart attacks), cerebrovascular disease (e.g., stroke), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (e.g., emphysema and chronic bronchitis), peripheral vascular disease, and cancers of the lung, oral cavity, larynx, esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, and cervix (Rigotti, 2007).  The reduction in accumulated toxins we achieve by eating all of the local, organic, permaculturally grown produce, cage-free eggs, and free-range meat we can eat will never even come close to balancing out the adverse health effects of smoking.  And that’s just the beginning of the litany of the short-sighted, irresponsible behaviors we engage in that may eventually compromise our ability to sustain the much-needed permaculture revolution.

In looking at how best to address health from a permaculture perspective, it would seem that, at the very least, preventing the “diseases of civilization” might be a good start.  On a search of the most common chronic diseases in the US, the same conditions appear over and over, regardless of the source (Note the striking resemblance of the list to that of health conditions linked with tobacco use).

  • Hypertension
  • Heart Disease
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Kidney Disease

In July of 2012 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report  noting the trend that, not only are more people being diagnosed with these conditions, but the incidence of individuals being diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions is increasing as well.  The number of permaculturists may be dramatically increasing, but we are collectively doing nothing to reverse this trend; in fact, anecdotally speaking, it is quite possible that we are contributing to it, and thereby becoming just another one of the “consumers” that humans in Western civilization have become known as.

The fact is, most of these conditions are largely preventable, and, in many cases, even reversible.  A study published in January 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individuals with type 2 diabetes who participated in a program of intensive lifestyle modification achieved remission back to prediabetes levels, and even to euglycemia (normal blood glucose levels).  Although lifestyle modifications are the first steps in the evidence-based treatment algorithms for several of these chronic health conditions, and are commonly viewed as essential strategies for preventing these diseases, the evidence to suggest that the conditions could potentially be reversed with lifestyle interventions alone is relatively new in the medical community.  Studies like these suggest that the high-tech allopathic biomedical approach to human health, while useful and necessary in some cases, may not be the best approach when it comes to addressing the diseases of civilization.  Pharmaceutical companies may not be too excited about journal results devoid of the potential for new patents and profits, but these results are extremely exciting to anyone concerned about the second permaculture ethic and those interested in empowering permaculturists to take control of their health so that they may restore and sustain the health of the Earth.


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