Permaculture Ethic 3: Fair Share

What is Permaculture? An Apprentice’s View

Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share rhymes and so is easier to remember, although Permaculture Ethics are sometimes said in other ways.  Ethic 3 can be seen in various forms & combinations such as:

  • Fair share
  • Sharing of Surplus
  • Setting limits to consumption
  • Setting limits to reproduction
  • Redistributing surplus
Permaculture Ethics

A fairly lively debate can be found on permies.com about the 3rd Ethic from all the way back in 2010/2011 or so, with some interesting views, well articulated, on ethics, principles, rules, the differences between these, and the many ways in which these can be corrupted!

I’m sure I’ll really over-complicate the 3rd Ethic at some point, probably after having been around permaculture for decades.  But, for now, it seems fairly (Ha!) simply. Try not to take and use too much, try not to have 50 kids, and share spare stuff with others instead of hoarding it or throwing it away.

I’m sure that, as pointed out on the forum post mentioned above, that anything can be corrupted.  That isn’t to say that the Ethics are not useful, especially when used in the context of ‘permaculture’ – that is to say ‘permanent agriculture’ or ‘permanent culture’ – when one or all the Ethics are kept in mind when designing, and when considering the Principles, then I think we’re on fairly solid ground.

If you have 50 eggs, and you know you’ll only eat 10 this week, and can’t store them before they go off, then of course it makes sense to share that surplus with neighbours, friends, family.  Unless sharing them involves driving solo 50 miles in an SUV to do so….but there are reasons that could make sense also, in certain situations.

Setting limits to reproduction is perhaps a topic which might ignite some more fierce debate.  Yet, we know that we are using the only resources we have (we’re still not an interplanetary civilization at the time of writing, although Elon Musk is doing his best to gtfo, bless him) at rates that require more than one Earth to supply them.  It’s the biggest example of ‘unsustainable’ ever. Ever.

So, setting limits to reproduction is controversial.  For many it still carries echoes of Nazi sterilization and all sorts of unpleasant human behaviour.  Perhaps the Chinese made a decent try at setting limits to population, but I’m sure there are plenty of tragic stories there too.

Still, we might not have to do anything at all, except encourage higher education in more countries, help to decrease infant mortality, and a few other things.  Childbirth rates just drop automatically as countries become more ‘developed’. There is a very interesting Ted Talks by Hans Rosling discussing Peak Population that is absolutely relevant to this variation, or part of, Ethic 3.

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