The fourth Permaculture principle, ‘apply self-regulation and accept feedback’ asks us to take responsibility for how our actions affect the world we live in. In our uncertain times, both sides of this principle require a fair amount of courage to implement.
The Earth is a self-regulating system where every element constantly adapts to changes in its environment. This goes for small things (plants will sense an attack of pests and change the balance of chemicals in their leaves to discourage them) as well as larger things (the planet is reacting to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by raising its overall temperature).
If we are to take our place as part of this self-regulating system, we need to be alive to the feedback the Earth gives us about our behaviour. This means we have to face up to what the planet is telling us, ever more loudly, about the way we are treating the world we live in. It means we have to take account of the mass extinction of species, the shocking amount of plastic in the oceans that is killing creatures and ends up in the fish we eat, and the unprecedented melting of the polar ice.
All these things are painful to witness. Even people who aren’t environmentalists, and would like to ignore the planet’s feedback, feel it every day. The bad quality of our air, the toxins in our food, the disappearance of our green and wild spaces, affects each and every one of us, even if we aren’t conscious of it. It can all feel overwhelming, but if we are to survive as a species, and if we value to lives of many other creatures on this planet, we need to find the courage to do so.
Because only if we are awake to the damage we are doing can we take responsibility and regulate our behaviour for the good of the whole system. The situation we find ourselves in can feel overwhelming, and we think that what we do as individuals can’t possibly make much difference. But the truth is that we are all part of the Earth’s self-regulating system. And our individual response to what is happening will make a difference.
If we take our place in the world as constituent parts and citizens of the Earth’s natural systems, we finally come home to our responsibility and our ability to respond appropriately. I can see two ways in which we can do this.
We can modify our everyday decisions in the direction of the three Permaculture Ethics. We can make decisions that ensure that the Earth and her people are taken care of, and that we don’t take more than we need. Each of us can think of ways to use less of the Earth’s resources. Speaking for myself, I can walk and cycle more, rather than using the car, making me healthier as well as the planet. I can reduce the amount of plastic that passes through my household.
On the other side, we can do more to help grow the life sustaining society of the future. We can find ways to strengthen our communities and grow the skills we need to work with Nature rather than against her. For me, that means learning about growing and foraging for my own food, and applying Permaculture design tools to my life so I can live with more ease.
Applying self-regulation means both to take less from the Earth and give more back. This is not an easy task, because we’re swimming against the strong tide of three centuries of industrial growth. It becomes easier if we do it in community with like-minded people.
That’s where my Druid community comes in. I know I can rely on them for encouragement, and often for non-judgemental advice. I’m also making more social links in my local community that will help me take less and give more.
And that is a third thing I need to do to make this Permaculture principle work for me: I need to realise that I am not alone. My actions have an effect on the living beings around me. And I am part of the human community that is a source of strength. Taking my place in that web of connections is a profound act of spiritual devotion for any Druid.