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Category            Permaculture Principles

“Let nature take its course”


Mister Thompson calls the waiter, orders steak and baked potato
Then he leaves the bone and gristle and he never eats the skins;
The busboy comes and takes it, with a cough contaminates it
And puts it in a can with coffee grinds and sardine tins;
The truck comes by on Friday and carts it all away; And a thousand trucks just like it are converging on the Bay, oh,

Garbage (garbage, garbage, garbage) Garbage!
We’re filling up the sea with garbage (garbage. . .)
What will we do when there’s no place left
To put all the garbage? (garbage. . .)

Mr. Thompson starts his Cadillac and winds it down the freeway track
Leaving friends and neighbors in a hydro-carbon haze;
He’s joined by lots of smaller cars all sending gases to the stars.
There they form a seething cloud that hangs for thirty days.
And the sun licks down into it with an ultraviolet tongue.
Till it turns to smog and settles down and ends up in our lungs, oh,

Garbage (garbage. . .) Garbage!
We’re filling up the sky with garbage (garbage. . .)
What will we do
When there’s nothing left to breathe but garbage (garbage. . .)

Getting home and taking off his shoes he settles down with the evening news,
While the kids do homework with the TV in one ear
While Superman for the thousandth time sells talking dolls and conquers crime
Dutifully they  learn the date of birth of Paul Revere.
In the paper there’s a piece about the mayor’s middle name,
And he gets it done in time to watch the all-star bingo game, oh,

Garbage (garbage. . .)
We’re filling up our minds with garbage
Garbage (garbage. . .)
What will we do when there’s nothing left to read
And there’s nothing left to need
And there’s nothing left to watch
And there’s nothing left to touch
And there’s nothing left to walk upon
And there’s nothing left to talk upon
Nothing left to see
And there’s nothing left to be but
Garbage (garbage. . .)

In Mister Thompson’s factory, they’re making plastic Christmas trees
Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand
The plastic’s mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration
That’s been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land.
And if you question anything, they say, “Why, don’t you see?
It’s absolutely needed for the economy,” oh,

Oh, Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
There stocks and their bonds — all garbage!
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
What will they do when their system goes to smash
There’s no value to their cash
There’s no money to be made
But there’s a world to be repaid
Their kids will read in history books
About financiers and other crooks
And feudalism, and slavery
And nukes and all their knavery
To history’s dustbin they’re consigned
Along with many other kinds of garbage.
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!

Words and Music by Bill Steele; 4th verse by Pete Seeger and Mike Agranoff (1977)
(c) William Steele. Copyright assigned 1992 to the Rainbow Collection, Ltd.


Perhaps you have not heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch trapped in the North Pacific Gyre—this is the over 2 Million square mile vortex of waste plastic particles floating just under the surface of the water—this is an area of 75% of the Continental U.S.  There have been a number of well-publicized efforts to call attention to this floating island of debris, including sailing ventures aboard flotsam, such as JUNK Raft, not to mention the Earthships which have been built from the wastestream.

“Plastic is Forever” was the subject of Robyn Francis’ talk at IPCC11 in Cuba.

If there is only one takeaway that the student of permaculture should take from the study of natural systems it is this one:  no sustainable system will persist where the waste product exceeds the (re)usable yield.  More simply put:  “Don’t sh*t where you eat.”  Our throwaway society has come to the breaking point, because:

There Is No ‘Away’.

If there is one, single, most pervasive example of insanity on this planet, it is this simple fact—we know that we create more garbage than the planet is capable of remediating, and yet we just keep on making more.  Plastic does not break down.  Period.  Don’t buy stuff made with it or stored in it.  This is a consumer driven economy—your dollar and how you spend it is how you vote, so each and every time you buy a 2 liter bottle of soda or a case of individual water bottles you tell the manufacturer to make more.  Perhaps you think that if you recycle your behavior is redeemed, but don’t fool yourself—the problem is far too great for the 15% of us who do recycle properly.  “Overall, U.S. post-consumer plastic waste for 2008 was estimated at 33.6 million tons; 2.2 million tons (6.5%) were recycled and 2.6 million tons (7.7%) were burned for energy; 28.9 million tons, or 85.5%, were discarded in landfills.  We cannot continue, as responsible people, to silently witness our planet choke on polymer—it is not enough to do to right thing, we must also convince others before it is too late.

“The American way of life is not sustainable. It doesn’t acknowledge that there is a world beyond America. ” 
― Arundhati Roy


To this situation, I like to apply a simple principle of my own, which I call “Good, Better, Best” –sort of a PC (that’s PermaCulture, btw, not ‘politically correct’) ‘rule of thumb’.  It goes like this:

  • Water--You know there are sustainability issues with your local aquifer (as in Florida, where the contingency plan is that salt water will infiltrate within the next 5-10 years), so, you:
    • GOOD:  adopt some form a graywater system, whether it be as simple as using a bucket in your shower for use in flushing the toilet or watering plants, or more complex, such as the sump-pump assisted system I have.  You absolutely DO NOT water the lawn, or any other non-edible landscaping.
    • BETTER:  All of the above, with the addition of rainbarrels and/or other water catchment for use in the garden.
    • BEST:  Installed a full-scale ‘off-grid’ rain catchment system, including a composting toilet, so that you could exist entirely free of the local municipal system, whether or not you have formally dis-connected.
  • Energy—You recognize that not only is your local power company non-environmentally-friendly, but you’d also like to save a little money, so, you:
    • GOOD:  Use you’re A/C and heat only when absolutely necessary—perhaps when temperatures are under 65 degrees or over 85 degrees for 24 hours or more.  You employ non-HVAC passive solar methods of cooling and heating (insulation, windows, windbreaks, shade trees, fireplace, etc.).
    • BETTER:  You have installed some form of solar panel augmentation to your home energy system, and/or lighting, such as LED or skylights (in addition to the above).  You use a solar or some other alternative-powered efficient water heater.
    • BEST:  Fully off-grid, passive solar designed home, or one which has enough solar panels to sell power back to local utilities.
  • Earth—You realize that food independence is the only way to truly maintain a quality nutritional diet for you and you family, so, you:
    • GOOD:  Buy the majority of your food from a local fruit stand, much of which is supplied by local growers.  You have a small garden plot which you supplement with, or some fruit trees, perhaps.
    • BETTER:  You belong to a local food co-op, where the food is sourced from no more than 100 miles away.  You pick up your weekly share by bicycle or on foot.
    • BEST:  All of your food comes from onsite or a local farm no more than 50 miles away.  You pick it up by walking, biking, or bending over.

Getting the idea?  Not everyone has the time or resources to go for the “BEST” option—we all do what we can, the best that we can—the point is to do sOMething, and DO IT NOW.  Begin with yourself and your home, your lifestyle, your choices—once you feel that all of these are within the ‘Good, Better, Best” scale, move on to Make Friends and Influence Others.  Because, it’s really best to walk the walk, before asking others to join you, now, isn’t it?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao-tzuThe Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

Read the Series:

Introduction:  ”Unplugging”

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Loretta Buckner and WeGrowFromHere.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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