I remember when I first heard about permaculture. Flicking through a London counterculture zine at the age of 14, I came across a short article describing a vision for nature-inspired, self-sustaining living landscapes that met human needs without exploiting the earth's resources.
I was hooked.
So I was sad to hear from Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture Magazine, about the passing this weekend of Bill Mollison—the man credited, along with David Holmgren, with developing the discipline of permaculture. His broad career appears to have spanned everything from baker to shark fisherman to forest worker, eventually seeing him enter academia to study bio-geography and environmental psychology before leaving again to focus on developing the concept of permaculture, teaching courses and authoring books on sustainable landscape design.
Now, I've visited enough permaculture sites in my time to fully acknowledge that it's no silver bullet solution to the problems we face. For every remarkable chicken tractor or awesome allotment, there's a raised bed in a commune somewhere full of unpicked comfrey and waaaaay too much mint.
But I suspect the bigger lesson from Mollison's work is not the specific techniques espoused by permaculturists, but rather inspiring and encouraging people to reengage with the natural world and to develop solutions and systems that work with, not against, the world in which they exist.
In a joint press release from Permaculture Magazine and the Permaculture Association, leading figures from within the movement attempted to define Mollison's legacy:
"Bill’s legacy is that hundreds of thousands of past students have created a worldwide network to take his concept forwards. In a world in which we are acutely aware of our environment, its capacity and limitations, permaculture design offers a systemic approach to meeting human needs which respect those limitations and provide strategies to actively repair ecosystems. The effect of Bill’s legacy will only grow as the world recognises the urgent need to work together on environmental solutions."
Rest in Perennials Bill. You'll be missed.