Permaculture as palliative care

A monochrome sketch showing 2 figures in a boat, with a banner on the side reading We're all in the same boat Illustrator: Keegan Blazeyby Louise Denham

What are the parallels between how we treat an individual with a life-limiting illness, and how we treat a planet with a climate crisis?

This is the question that Graham Truscott posed during his workshop on Permaculture as palliative care at the National Permaculture Convergence 2019.

Graham has been exploring whether permaculture practices can be seen as a form of palliative care for a planet whose biosphere is in a state of life-threatening crisis.


Pain relief without dealing with the cause?

Palliative care is defined as an “approach to specialized medical and nursing care for people with life threatening illnesses,” which “focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain, physical stress, and mental stress... to improve quality of life for both the person and their family.'' Another definition describes it as, “relieving pain without dealing with the cause of the condition”.

From these definitions, Graham asks can we view permaculture as an effective way to restore our patient - the planet - back to health? Or is it a naïve attempt to relieve the symptoms, despite the inevitability of a terminal diagnosis?

Perhaps a key distinction between these two perspectives is hope. Something that we often define ourselves by - is the glass half full, or half empty for you? Do we have hope that the power of people will affect change, that nature is resilient and that we can overcome obstacles encountered along the way? Or are we hopeless, considering the hope of others to be an irrational optimism - a concept for which Graham borrows the term ‘hopium’.

From a hopeful perspective, permaculture tools can indeed be seen as a way to restore our planet’s health. For example, the principle to use edges and value the marginal highlights how it is often the groups at the edges of society who will make a difference and have the energy to affect change. The principle to creatively use and respond to change is without a doubt crucial in adapting to an increasingly unpredictable climate, and using small and slow solutions are an effective way to create impact on the ground. Additionally, the concept of spirals of erosion can help identify problems and navigate to points of intervention.

Applying the notion of ‘hopium’ however, conveys a less promising outlook, and would suggest that whilst these approaches may relieve the symptoms of a dying planet, they are inadequate to tackle the cause of all our patient’s ailments. It fails to address the increasing urgency with which they must be dealt.

Ultimately, regardless of one’s level of hope, permaculture practices can help. After all, isn’t it better that we practice the ethics of people care, earth care and fair shares even if our patient is unlikely to survive? Even if it is just to improve quality of Life in these challenging times? Whilst we may define ourselves by our level of hope, perhaps we can agree that practicing permaculture can help us care for this planet and its inhabitants - whether or not the diagnosis of our planet is terminal.


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