Bill Mollison, Permaculturist: 1928-2016   2 comments

bill-mollison

It’s the fate of too many worthy people to receive attention at their deaths that would have served everyone better had it flourished while they were still alive. Fortunately, this needn’t be the case with Bill Mollison, father of the permaculture movement, simply because his ideas most definitely live on after his passing.

I’ll confess upfront: I know only a little about Mollison and permaculture. So let’s allow him to speak for himself, as he amply can. You can read a transcript here of a 2005 interview with Mollison that appeared in Green Living magazine. There Scott London, the interviewer, summarizes Mollison’s achievement quite succinctly in a short introduction:

Permaculture — from permanent and agriculture — is an integrated design philosophy that encompasses gardening, architecture, horticulture, ecology, even money management and community design. The basic approach is to create sustainable systems that provide for their own needs and recycle their waste.

Mollison developed permaculture after spending decades in the rainforests and deserts of Australia studying ecosystems. He observed that plants naturally group themselves in mutually beneficial communities. He used this idea to develop a different approach to agriculture and community design, one that seeks to place the right elements together so they sustain and support each other.

Mollison’s sensibilities and actions have won him many fans among Druid-y types. (For a splendid Druid blog and blogger walking the talk, which you might enjoy if you don’t already know of it and her, visit The Druid’s Garden.)

Still largely unknown outside of his native Australia, Mollison’s ideas have impacted agricultural practices. As London notes:

Scott London: A reviewer once described your teachings as “seditious.”

Bill Mollison: Yes, it was very perceptive. I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.

So many bellwethers, prophets, forerunners we’ve ignored to our cost. For as Mollison notes in the course of the interview,

In the early 1970s, it dawned on me that no one had ever applied design to agriculture. When I realized it, the hairs went up on the back of my neck. It was so strange. We’d had agriculture for 7,000 years, and we’d been losing for 7,000 years — everything was turning into desert. So I wondered, can we build systems that obey ecological principles? We know what they are, we just never apply them. Ecologists never apply good ecology to their gardens. Architects never understand the transmission of heat in buildings. And physicists live in houses with demented energy systems. It’s curious that we never apply what we know to how we actually live.

Applying what we know to how we live: if we seek a clear life goal, a sane and humane practice, and a justification and outline for a spiritual path, that’s an excellent place to start.

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[Updated 7 Oct 2016]

Images: Bill Mollison.

For an instructive contrast (to say no more right now), consider the words of Adam Smith (1723-1790), which might well have appeared just yesterday, unchanged, in the Times or Guardian or Wall Street Journal:

adam-smith

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2 responses to “Bill Mollison, Permaculturist: 1928-2016

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  1. yesterday I drove between two “druid-y” sites – an artesian well park and a nature sanctuary – in central and southern Indiana. In order to get to each of them, I had to pass through crazy busy amounts of overdevelopment and highway/commercial infrastructure development. I wondered at how, even 6 years into a downturn, nothing has stopped with the latter, and the two sites are barely holding on. Sad perspective on things …

  2. Cindy, glad you have those sites within driving distance. We’re hastening the arrival of the day when we’ll be compelled to “apply what we know to how we actually live” because there won’t be any other options available — we’ll have spend, mined, burnt, “developed” and exploited everything else. It’s sad, true, but it also reassures me that a re-balancing will happen. We just won’t like it much as it plays out in increasingly severe terms over the next several centuries.

    At this point, even the Native American “long view” — considering the consequences of an action for the next seven generations — doesn’t seem excessive at all. But we can nevertheless begin where we are today. In fact, that’s the only thing we CAN do that will matter and make a difference.

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