What Is Permaculture?

I thought it would be useful, as an organisation which has permaculture at its core, to give a basic definition of permaculture. However, I was stopped short, while there are some great definitions of permaculture out there already, one thing that runs as a theme is that there isn’t really one, singular definition of ‘permaculture’.

At conception, permaculture was a contraction of ‘permanent agriculture’ referring to a sustainable system of crop growth taking into account inter-related internal and external factors for combined tree crop growth. But since then, permaculture has taken on a broader meaning; as a philosophy which can be applied in all situations – the idea is of considering wider inter-related factors with a focus on sustainability. This, very broad, philosophy can be interpreted and applied in many ways; the Permaculture association says:

“Permaculture combines three key aspects:

1. An ethical framework

2. Understandings of how nature works

3. A design approach”

And Permaculture Magazine describes permaculture as:

“1. Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living.

2.It is a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere.”

To bring this to TreeThinker’s application of permaculture and to put it succinctly, it is possible to define permaculture as the implementation of agricultural techniques and design processes which work with nature to be sustainable, not only in terms of local food growth but also in terms of the wider ecosystem.

The Climate Change Debate Is Over

Some people still talk about the ‘climate change debate’ despite the evidence showing that humans are causing global warming, some people say they don’t ‘believe’ in climate change but belief no longer comes into it.
Human caused climate change has been proven beyond reasonable doubt
Just like weather changes with seasons, climate undergoes periodic changes; in the last 650,000 years, there have been 7 cycles in global temperature. We know this because temperature affects rock formation in a similar way to how it affects tree growth, and just like you can see variations in the seasons over time by looking at a cross section, you can see the growth rate of rocks over a much longer time frame.
The cycle, called the milankovitch cycle, has been consistent for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the last 1300 years the cycle has been broken (1).
Satelite technology has enabled us to see the full picture when it comes to climate at the affects are continuing.
How do we know that it’s caused by humans?
We’ve known about the greenhouse effect since the 1800s – greenhouse gases (mainly water vapour and carbon dioxide) act as a kind of heat shield, keeping warmed air in around the earth and stopping it escaping into space. We also know that human activity causes carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere (2), especially activities which involve the burning of fossil fuels for power which takes carbon out of the ground and allows it to reach the atmosphere. This can be seen really clearly in the ‘Keeling curve’ a chart showing the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels taken from a fixed point, and how they’ve changed over time:
You can see they have increased dramatically since the 60s. To put that into context, the following shows how that fits into the bigger picture. The data from before recording began has been found by analysing ice which freezes the atmosphere at the time of freezing in with the water.
Climate graph.jpeg
Source: NASA
What about the opposing arguments? Don’t we have to give them a voice?
By giving the other side equal attention it suggests the view may be equally weighted, by using very little or often poor evidence to compare to the strong evidence showing climate change, it suggests that both are equal (or near to it) but they are decidedly not.
97% of climate research agrees that humans are causing global warming (3). Of the 3% remaining there is no consensus between them and suggested causes of global warming include aliens on more than one occasion. Does that seem strange? It may be helpful to know that in October 2015 a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that scientists that had taken corporate funding from the likes of Exxon and the Kochs were more likely to produce material designed to polarise the climate change issue – make of that what you will.


Quick fire round

A lot of people who dispute climate change will give clumsy, unsupported arguments and claim that it’s just as reasonable as points from the other side, since those don’t have evidence either – in reality the evidence proving climate change is well established, here are my top three incidences of this:

“The climate is always changing, it has nothing to do with us”
Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing – READ MORE.

“But Hey, it’s getting warmer, tat can’t be a bad thing’
Negative impacts of global warming on agriculture, health & environment far outweigh any positives – READ MORE.

“It will be ok, life adapts”
Global warming will cause mass extinctions of species that cannot adapt on short time scales READ MORE.


The evidence is clear, man made climate change is not a matter of opinion, it’s one of fact. Even calling it the ‘climate change debate’ implies it isn’t a known entity, when in reality, we might as well have a ”Gravity debate’ or a ‘The moon is made of cheese debate” (incidentally there is a fun example of this here – which, I think, reads a lot like the “climate change debate”).



(1) IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers, p. 5

B.D. Santer, “A search for human influences on the thermal structure of the atmosphere,” Nature vol 382, 4 July 1996, 39-46

Gabriele C. Hegerl, “Detecting Greenhouse-Gas-Induced Climate Change with an Optimal Fingerprint Method,” Journal of Climate, v. 9, October 1996, 2281-2306

V. Ramaswamy, “Anthropogenic and Natural Influences in the Evolution of Lower Stratospheric Cooling,” Science 311 (24 February 2006), 1138-1141

B.D. Santer, “Contributions of Anthropogenic and Natural Forcing to Recent Tropopause Height Changes,” Science vol. 301 (25 July 2003), 479-483.


“Enhanced Greenhouse Effect”. Retrieved 2010-10-15.

(3) J. Cook, et al, “Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming,” Environmental Research Letters Vol. 11 No. 4, (13 April 2016); DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002

Quotation from page 6: “The number of papers rejecting AGW [Anthropogenic, or human-caused, Global Warming] is a miniscule proportion of the published research, with the percentage slightly decreasing over time. Among papers expressing a position on AGW, an overwhelming percentage (97.2% based on self-ratings, 97.1% based on abstract ratings) endorses the scientific consensus on AGW.”

Why haven’t we solved the climate change problem?

We’ve known about climate change for decades and some great minds have worked on tackling the problem, cumulatively a lot of hard work has been done, so why are we still facing the same problem?

Grint (2008), suggests that we have been looking at the problem in the wrong way, by trying to solve it like a puzzle with a single-line solution. But since climate change is a much more complex problem, traditional linear problem-solving techniques are inadequate.

To have any chance of success, we must take into account a wealth of variables including socioeconomic factors and complicated chemistry, but due to the hugeness of the problem, any solution can have impacts in unexpected ways.

Levin et al. (2012) described climate change as a ‘super wicked problem’, categorised as having the following ‘wicked problem’ characteristics:

  1. No unique “correct” view of the problem;
  2. Different views of the problem and contradictory solutions;
  3. Most problems are connected to other problems;
  4. Data are often uncertain or missing;
  5. Multiple value conflicts;
  6. ideological and cultural constraints;
  7. Political constraints;
  8. Economic constraints;
  9. Often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking;
  10. Numerous possible intervention points;
  11. Consequences difficult to imagine;
  12. Considerable uncertainty, ambiguity;
  13. Great resistance to change; and,
  14. Problem solver(s) out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.

(as described by Horn (2007))

Along with the following additional characteristics:

  1. Time is running out.
  2. No central authority.
  3. Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.
  4. Policies discount the future irrationally.

It is a problem faced by everyone as individuals and as groups (such as businesses and governments and we are really only beginning the journey of tackling it. However, time is far from plentiful and the effects have already been devastating.





Grint (2008): Grint, K. Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions: the Role of Leadership. In: Clinical Leader, Volume I Number II, 2008

Levin (2009): Levin, K.; Cashore, B.; Bernstein, S.; Auld, G. “Playing it forward: Path dependency, progressive incrementalism, and the “Super Wicked” problem of global climate change”, 2009

Horn (2007): Horn, Robert E., and Robert P. Weber; “New Tools For Resolving Wicked Problems: Mess Mapping and Resolution Mapping Processes”, Strategy Kinetics L.L.C., 2007

The Role Of Observation In Permaculture

TreeThinkerObserveThe first of the twelve design principles of permaculture is: Design & Interact – emphasising the importance of taking the time to understand the situation in which we are designing.

Design can take many forms, big or small; whether it is deciding where to hang a picture at home or designing a building to hang it in, some common features exist between all forms of designing and, at the same time, some systems exist which can improve our chances of success. You will have used many of these systems before, permaculture helps us to develop a framework to help design go well.

Observation skills were once a vital survival skill for our ancestors; people relied on understanding what was safe to eat, when it would grow and where and where danger might lie. By observing our natural surrounding we are able to understand them and use them to our advantage.

In designing a permaculture growing space, some things to consider are:

  • Soil (Type, pH, depth)
  • Wind
  • Temperature: Over the year
  • Sunlight: shade
  • Microclimate
  • Moisture
  • Vegetation
  • Animals
  • Local resources

Once we have developed an understanding of a growing space, it is possible to ensure that we are planting things that grow well in that environment, rather than try to change the environment to suit what are we growing – which is more resource and labour intensive.