Earth Care (Permaculture Ethics)
Earth Care is one of the foundational ethics of permaculture. It was first referred to as Care of the Earth in Permaculture: A Designers Manual by Bill Mollison. Since then it has formed the basis of permaculture ethics along with People Care and Fair Share.
Together, they form a huge part of figuring out what permaculture is.
However, even by itself Earth Care is extremely important in understanding permaculture philosophy.
It’s the first listed ethic of permaculture. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren write how both People Care and Fair Share derive from Earth Care. Therefore, it’s clear just how important the concept of Earth Care is.
With this in mind, this blog post will take a deep dive into Earth Care. It will address the importance of Earth Care and will look at what it entails. Intertwined with this will be information on the state of the Earth today and tips on how to start practicing Earth Care today.
We hope you enjoy learning about Earth Care and if you do please give this post a share to your favourite social media site!
Without further ado, let’s learn about Earth Care.
The Importance of the Earth
Before we begin discussing Earth Care it’s important to discuss the elephant in the room. The Earth.
We all know just how important the Earth is. But in the age of the climate crisis it’s worth reiterating.
The Earth provides everything needed for all life to thrive. Water, air, shelter and food exist on this pale blue dot that we call Earth.
Scientists are yet to find life anywhere else despite the high probability that it exists somewhere in the vast universe. This is known as the Fermi paradox (Brian Cox simplifies this in Human Universe). It tells us a lot.
First and foremost, it highlights just how unique the Earth is. How lucky we are to experience nature. The seasons. The weather. All the different animals. Life.
Without the Earth, none of this exists.
Unfortunately, as a global society we’ve disregarded the planet and the beauty it provides. Knowingly and unknowingly, we’ve exploited the land, animals and each other. We’ve polluted, harmed and destroyed. We’ve lost touch with nature. Together, we’ve lost touch with the Earth.
Even when we may not have known it, the Earth was important. It still is.
It’s why we must care for it.
Care of the Earth
Caring for the Earth is nothing new. It’s something Indigenous cultures have done for thousands of years. However, it’s introduction to permaculture by Bill Mollison has been revolutionary.
Mollison first described care of the Earth as the “Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply”.
In An Introduction to Permaculture Mollison explains further that Care of the Earth means to look after all living and non-living things including all species, soils, forests, habitats, waters and animals.
Why are each of these important?
Because, as Angelo Eliades of Deep Green Permaculture expertly explains, “all living and non-living systems are interconnected and interdependent“.
If one is harmed, destroyed or negatively impacted it impacts the others. The system becomes out of balance. Ultimately, this is what’s happening in the ongoing climate crisis and is what we need to correct.
To Mollison, Care of the Earth was even more than this though. It also included:
- Harmless and rehabilitative activities
- Active conservation
- Ethical and minimal use of resources
- Working for beneficial and useful systems
Each aspect is important and needed to ensure Earth’s and nature’s survival.
Holmgren goes into further detail about aspects of the concept of caring for the Earth which we now look at in turn.
Caring for Living Soils
According to Holmgren, Caring for the Earth begins with the soil. It’s the source of a lot of life. Therefore, it makes sense that for life to thrive soil needs to be healthy.
However, our soils are far from healthy. Our soils continue to suffer from:
- Mass agricultural farming methods
- Chemical fertilisers
The issue of soil health is still somewhat kept under the radar. Especially when compared to other issues.
A recent Netflix documentary called Kiss the Ground has helped raise it’s profile but much more needs doing.
Scientists are making excellent steps in understanding soil including mapping the role of soil microbes.
But there is also a lot we can do as gardeners and permaculturists when it comes to caring for living soils.
Basic tips includes:
- Practicing no dig/no till gardening
- Adding organic matter to the soil
- Using mulches
- Use cover crops
- Grow nutrient fixing plants
The following guides are extremely useful when it comes to improving and caring for the soil:
Earth stewardship recognises that we have an individual and collective responsibility in relation to natural resources that we have some understanding of.
This can include but is not limited to forests, bodies of water (oceans, rivers etc.) and even the air around us.
Earth stewardship doesn’t come from a position of power. It doesn’t mean we impose on nature. Instead, we work with nature. We do what we can to upkeep, maintain, repair and reconstruct the planet’s ecosystems.
The question Holmgren uses when discussing earth stewardship is one that has always stuck with me because it helps bring permaculture to all areas of life.
He reminds us to ask: “Will the resource be in better shape after my stewardship?”.
Whatever you are responsible for. A plant or a seed. A balcony. A small or large garden. Farmland. A food forest. Public land. Private land. A homestead or a forest. A pond, stretch of water or a lake. An ocean. It doesn’t matter.
Just ask yourself this question – “Will the resource be in better shape after my stewardship?”.
Ask it regularly. Daily if you need to. Doing so will help you become aware of your ongoing stewardship role.
Your role is not to dominate nature or the natural world. It’s to observe it. To follow it. Your role is to preserve it. To work with it. To ensure it’s there tomorrow in a better way than it was yesterday.
Being a good earth steward is no easy task. However, you can take steps to ensure you are doing your best. For example:
- Educate yourself on whatever you are responsible for.
- Observe how nature works by itself.
- Work with nature and never against it.
- Commit to leaving your responsibilities better off than when you found them.
Earth Care includes caring for all the different biodiversity that exists. Not that we know all that exists.
Biodiversity is incredibly hard to quantify. It can also be measured in many different ways.
Holmgren is careful to warn about our limitations in this regard.
For example, assuming responsibility for all species is unrealistic. It goes beyond our capabilities.
Instead, Holmgren argues we should recognise our limits and use this as the basis for all that we do.
We should recognise that all species have value. Regardless of their use to humans.
Currently, biodiversity is in mass decline. The Living Planet Report 2020 tells us that:
- In North America over 3 billion birds have been lost and over 30% of it’s plant-pollination network has disappeared.
- In Europe and Central Asia only 23% of species are in good health and 1677 species are threatened with extinction.
- Latin America and the Caribbean have lost over 90 amphibians to extinction and deforestation rates are at all time highs.
- In Africa the eastern lowland gorilla population has dropped by 87% and over three-quarters of endemic freshwater species in Lake Victoria are facing extinction.
- In Asia Pacific 3 billion animals were killed or displaced due to Australia’s wildfires and 80% of East and Southeast Asia’s wetlands are under threat.
Biodiversity decline has many causes. For example, land and sea use change, pollution, species overexploitation, climate change, invasive species and disease all cause declines in biodiversity.
What can we do?
As Holmgren says: to “live and let live” is a good starting point. Avoid causing harm to any species. Embrace the permaculture principles to provide our needs without negatively encroaching on the needs of other species.
Living Things on Earth
Death is inevitable. It is part of nature. It’s part of the natural life cycle. However, the killing of life, of species, also cannot be avoided if we are to survive ourselves.
Holmgren notes that even a vegan diet kills plant species.
Where does this leave us as we look to care for the earth and the inhabitants and species that live here?
Well this is where we again have to look to nature. We need to respect it and work with it.
Indigenous cultures have lived with nature for thousands of years. The killing of any type of species is done in a respectable way. The intrinsic value of all species is recognised. Things are only killed, used and consumed if it’s necessary. It’s also done in a specific way.
Furthermore, anything that is killed or used is not wasted.
In today’s world of overconsumption and accumulation waste is prevalent.
Food waste accounts for 6% of all global carbon emissions. When these foods include the killing or use of animals or plants it shows a disrespect to other species.
Therefore, Holmgren advocates that the care of all living things on Earth includes:
- Accepting that all species have intrinsic value.
- Reduces our overall environmental impact
- If we kill or harm other species it’s done in an conscious and respectable manner.
- Not to waste the use of anything obtained from previously killed or harmed species.
Earth Care Today
Over the years, Care of the Earth has become known more simply as Earth Care. As the principle ethic of permaculture it now encompasses all areas of permaculture.
It includes everything. Animals, plants, air, water, forests, whole ecosystems, each other. Everything.
Everything needs to be cared for.
It all needs to be respected for the intrinsic value it has. Even it it is of no use to humans, it will have use to other species.
Life on earth is an interconnected web. Each species lost, each habitat destroyed, each ecosystem polluted impacts the whole.
Today we stand at a cross roads. The issues faced when Mollison introduced the concept of Earth Care are worse. The climate crisis is here. The Holocene extinction event is here.
Today, Earth Care is not just about protecting and respecting all on earth. I fear that won’t be enough now.
As Aranya says in Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide care of the earth is to rebuild it.
Where we can we need to rebuild soils, forests, the air and water. We need to help species diversity recover. This can be done without opposing nature. It can be done without assuming power or control over nature. It can be done with nature. To help nature.
Therefore, its imperative we do what we can. Earth Care is important. It’s needed. That’s why it is central to permaculture ethics.
Earth Care, the Permaculture Ethics and Life
Earth Care forms part of the permaculture ethics. It is the principle ethic. Therefore it is closely related to both People Care and Fair Share.
Together these ethics help guide permaculturists and permaculture design. However, they also help guide life generally.
While I’m sure I’d love everyone to be a follower of permaculture this is simply a pipe dream. However, increasing those who follow permaculture ethics is certainly more attenable.
Earth Care is a simple ethic that can be adopted into everyday life. You don’t have to be a permaculturist. Similarly, you don’t even have to be a gardener or like gardening.
All you have to do is to:
- Keep learning about how to best care for the earth.
- Share your knowledge with others.
- Respect the earth including all species and non-living aspects (air, water etc.).
- Recognise the intrinsic value of everything.
- Think about the decisions you make and how they can affect the earth.
- Leave areas of responsibility in a better way than you found them.
Final Thoughts on Earth Care
Earth Care is simply the act of caring for all things on Earth.
It advocates we do this in a way that recognises the position we come from. Therefore, we don’t do more than we have knowledge about. Similarly, we accept the limitations we have.
Ultimately, it looks to work with nature to protect nature.
Earth Care is central to permaculture. However, it is also important to all aspects of life.
Earth Care is needed today – perhaps more so than ever before because of the current state of the natural world.
Therefore, we hope this post has been helpful in providing further detail about Earth Care and it’s importance.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on Earth Care and how you practice it in your permaculture design and life in general.
Leave a comment below and don’t forget to share this on your social media channels!