Permaculture Principles - Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback

in Abundance Tribe9 months ago (edited)

In this, and the subsequent posts I would like to revisit and complete the discussion of the Permaculture principles I started three years ago.

How Much is Too Much?

I hope it is self evident that in the case of most things there is a desirable amount. We like our music audible, but not so loud that it shatters our eardrums. Tacos should be spicy, but not so much that it kills all the taste. Our homes should be clean, but not sterile like an operating room. In the same way, the conditions in nature also require a Goldie Locks region: not too hot and not too cold, not too wet and not too dry, plenty of insects but not clouds of them, etc. It's all about maintaining a delicate balance.


image source

In dynamic systems, such as life, nothing is static as everything is in constant flux, moving in one direction or another. So in order to maintain a certain balance in nature, there are various mechanisms in place, which rely on feedback.

Consider our body temperature: Our bodies have evolved to be between 36.5 – 37.5 °C (97.7 – 99.5 °F). Our actual temperature, however, may go up or down depending on conditions. If we exercise, or even just sit around in the Summer heat, our temperature goes up, quite naturally. So our body breaks out in sweat, drenching us in water, which cools us down. Similarly, if we happen to be waiting around in the cold of the Winter, our muscles start shivering, generating a bit of heat. With this type of self regulation our bodies maintain a healthy temperature, where we feel most comfortable.

Positive and Negative Feedback

Nature's mechanism to maintain homeostasis can be seen in two ways: Positive feedback, which encourages a certain behavior or tendency, and negative feedback, discouraging or outright stopping a certain development. Take herbivores for example, who by foraging for food also take the seeds with them, spreading them wherever they go, and thus providing more food for future generations. On the other hand, if the same herbivore happens to be too successful at avoiding predators, their numbers increase to a level that their food resources can't possibly maintain. This population will likely be decimated by food shortage, if not by disease, another mechanism of negative feedback put in place by nature.

Depending on the situation, a feedback can be small or large scale. While the small scale mechanism may just nudge the species in the right direction (No luck fishing in that river, so let me try in the other one where my friends had a good catch.) a large scale feedback may be perceived as disastrous (famine, pestilence, natural disasters, wars for resources, etc).

Accepting Feedback in Practice

Once again, this principle of Permaculture takes us back to the basics: observation and interaction. Being aware of the processes around us, we should learn how to read the signs and take the small hints from nature. If not, she will kick us in the right direction, which we may not enjoy so much.

Looking at our global, industrial culture, it should become apparent that it has mastered the art of ignoring all the signs. Instead of focusing on building soil fertility, we are counteracting the depletion of nutrients with chemical fertilizer, which only exacerbates the problem. Instead of creating bird habitats to respond the perceived increase of pests, we douse our crops with insecticides, harming our bird population in the process. Even on the social level, instead of fostering self reliant communities, the usual reaction to unemployment, poverty, and crime is more police, and prisons. It almost seems like we are nurturing the problems instead of the solutions.

The take-home message here is self-regulation. If we notice certain tendencies it may be wise to follow the signs instead of trying to outsmart them. Building a wall in the sea around Venice may seem like a solution (for now), though what it may lead to is the sudden destruction of the city, should that wall not be enough one day.

Establishing Self Regulating Systems

Self regulation, however, should not only be taken on the personal level. Sure, limiting our consumption, eating locally, avoiding air travel, and deciding against procreation all make a difference. However, I think it's much more important to be proactive in creating self regulating systems, in our gardens as well as in our neighborhoods.

According to David Holmgren, this is The Holy Grail of Permaculture: setting up systems with mechanisms put in place that maintain themselves within a range of factors. As the phrase suggests, this is something that can be so complex that we may only strive for but not actually achieve.

The good news is, however, that we are working with nature, which in and of itself is a self-maintaining system, ever dynamic with plenty of opportunity for growth in any direction, but ultimately with many mechanisms that won't let things get out of control. And so it certainly is feasible to create a well planned food producing ecosystem, which may have to be maintained for the first couple of years, but eventually can be left alone to thrive and increase its natural productivity.

Sources: 1, 2, Pic: 1

To see my discussions of other Permaculture Principles, take a look at these posts:

Permaculture: A Starting Point

David Holmgren

  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

Bill Mollison

  1. Work with nature, not against it
  2. The problem is the solution
  3. Maximum effect for minimum effort
  4. The yield of the system is theoretically unlimited
  5. Everything gardens

Scott Pittman

  1. Cooperation instead of competition
  2. Every function is served by multiple elements
  3. Every element serves multiple functions
  4. Make the most out of energy
  5. Use the edge effect
  6. Everything is connected
  7. The problem is the solution