BiodiversityConsumerismDeforestationDesertificationGeneralGlobal DimmingWhy Permaculture?


I have often found myself wincing as I hear people talking about saving the planet. It’s felt wrong!  I can hear the voices of condemnation screaming at me now … ‘What a horrible person you are not to agree with saving the planet.’… but let me explain.

I’m the same age as Geoff Lawton!  Though I think he’s doing better than me!

I was brought up in the 50s/60s. I had two dads, my biological one and my step dad. My father was a left wing, ‘why is the government giving money to the farmers just because they have a drought’ type of person. He was always railing against the government because it didn’t look after the poor people. He was also the one who would order me out of the room so he could spray DDT in the living room to kill the flies. We left when I was 10.

My step dad was right wing. He didn’t believe the government should be giving out free money to people. He believed in self responsibility. What can you do to get yourself out of the situation?  He was also a firm believer in organic farming, no poisons, and natural health solutions. (Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive, but you’d be amazed how many right wing people believe in self responsibly and growing their own food!)

My teen years saw my parents growing all our produce organically and sharing produce with friends who also grew organically.

In Grade 10, a science teacher gave us a scenario. He explained that all energy can be quantified as BTUs, from the physical energy you put into something, to the energy it takes to make a product. He gave us an example…

Most farmers in China are subsistence farmers. They have about two acres to feed their family and to make enough to sell to pay taxes and buy extras. On the farm are fruits, vegetables, ducks and maybe a goat etc.  Question. For every BTU of energy the Chinese family puts into the farm,how many BTUs do they get out?  We thought 10-20?  No, 2.5!  Wow, that’s so small!

What about Western farmers?  How much energy do we get for every BTU we put in?  We guessed at least 20-50!  No, he said, for every 1 BTU of energy out, we put in 19 BTUs!  We were stunned into silence. I asked the question ‘ How?’ He said what do farmers use? Fertiliser? Where did that come from?  How did it get there? How many people had to be involved in its production? Same for seeds, transport, machinery, selling… I said, ‘But if it takes more energy to produce than the energy you get, wouldn’t you go broke?’ He smiled and said ‘Exactly!’

I married young and we had idealistic dreams of communal living. It was the mid 70s and we would get a magazine called Mother Earth News. There was a contributor in the late 70s called Bill Mollison. He had some strange and interesting ideas like growing kangaroos for food because they were already adapted to the environment (eww!) and putting chickens under mulberry trees so they can harvest the dropped fruit (makes sense)!

Then life caught up and I became a natural health practitioner and mother and all those Permaculture concept went out the door along with expensive organic food.

But the logic of that Grade 10 lesson has stayed with me all these years.

Back to our original topic. People today keep talking about saving the planet. Let’s get real here!  The planet will be here LONG after we puny humans have killed ourselves off!  The planet doesn’t need to be saved. If we’re honest what we really want, and need, is to save ourselves!  If we continue to use high energy embodied food and resources, we are on the path to self destruction. If we continue with high consumerism, we are willingly signing our own death warrant.

The answer is to be responsible for yourself. Don’t expect the government or others to look after your needs. Look after them for yourself. Start growing your own food, whether it’s in a backyard, a farm or a balcony. When you buy, buy local. Go to farmers markets. Invest your money in local people making your clothes and have less, or make them yourself. And when you shop, don’t buy out of season produce! It comes from the other side of the earth!  Clothing made locally, helps your community, even if it’s more expensive.

We can actually have a good lifestyle this way. But we won’t have as much ‘stuff’. We might, however, have more peace of mind because we are looking after our own needs. We are also looking after each other on a more personal level. After all, that is the way we lived successfully for generations.

No one can save the planet, but we can all have a go at saving ourselves.

Photo by Christian Nielsen on Unsplash


  1. That sound “somewhat” counterintuitive. Don’t worry about the planet (if you are not planing to drop a nuclear bomb). There is growing your own food and growing your own food, one that leaves it toxic, kills the living organisms, destroys the soil and another that does not. You are saving the planet, by not damaging it. Did you miss something when you were listening to Lawton and reading MEN? I’m saving nature and the living organisms. That to me is saving the planet, because without them all you leave is around thing floating in space.

  2. You hit the nail squarely on the head. I am the same age as you and we always grew our own food and believed in self-sufficiency, having grown up on a farm. Good article, thanks.

  3. Great article! I keep thinking that if everyone protesting that the government not doing enough about climate change would just plant a couple of trees, they would “be the solution”. If we took individual responsibility for the situation in our buying/consuming decisions, we could effect the needed changes without any protesting or and little or no government action.

  4. I completely agree.. this planet has sustained life for millions of years and will continue for millions more, after we are long gone. That’s not an excuse to be desructive.
    If we truly love nature and the Earth, we will honor them by preserving them in any way we can. But you speak the truth.. the ‘Save the Earth ‘ craze is really about Save the Humans.. it is pretentious to believe one species could destroy all life on the planet. Thanks for bringing awareness to this.

  5. Well said. It is so important to realize, who we are trying to safe. It’s us not the planet. This gives a completely different meaning to it and may convince people to start doing something…..

  6. Thanks all.
    Kim Hayes, the Chinese put one BTU of energy in to get 2.5 BTUs out. Latest I’ve heard is that Permaculture techniques can get 6-10 BTUs out for every 1 BTU in. Good stuff!


  7. I’m going to save the planet because if I don’t we are going to destroy the planet, if any one want’s to help contact me, first we prepare our selves to change our consciousness, list the problems facing humanity, provide the solutions. At the same time we unite the planet by starting a web site in each country they allow there states they there regions they there communities, so easy, every one understands

  8. Good stuff. I notice how so many people who want to save the planet are focused on getting others to make the sacrifices, Big companies, governments etc. Yet they are still voting for all the non sustainable practices with their own lifestyle and consumerism. e.g. If you eat more than minimal meat, you are voting for all the deforestation occurring on the planet. Most large scale deforestation is to run meat animals or grow crops to feed meat animals (in Australia as well). Deforesting the Amazon has made Brazil the largest meat exporter on the planet. Even deforestation to produce palm oil is not as bad as made out, as palm oil trees produce ten times as much oil per acre than any other crop. So much less land is required to supply vegetable oil. I used to boycot palm oil until I discovered this when I visited a palm oil plantation.

  9. Hi Rosalyn, thanks for the article. I have been wondering for quite a while as to how much energy return (or loss) I would be getting from the food I am growing.
    Would it be possible to get more clarification on the assessment? I dont like to quote random figures and so “correct data” would be very appreciated.
    With thanks
    Tom Kendall

  10. I get discouraged with the bugs eating my kale, the leaves off my lime trees, etc. ;however, I am really disgusted how easy it is for people to get on the dole, the disability pension, etc. and have no responsibilies and feed off others. Who in society can teach this responsibility?

  11. Spurious argument this thread. ‘Save the Planet’ has been the rather derogatory political catch-line that makes people aware that something needs taking note of, for the last 50 years. That has finally been heard with the publishing of IPCC sr15 report; the WWF Biodiversity report, and the programs about plastics in the oceans and food waste. We adopt appropriate behaviour now the need to is the norm. If you were doing it before, keep doing it and maybe better. We don’t need the political/moral stance of saving anything anymore. Just learn new skills for the new paradigm that has evolved in our lifetimes. I grew up in the 50s and 60s too. We can be proud we have been part of the development of the new paradigm and teach folks the skills we already have.

  12. I like your comment on conservatives, I am a die hard conservative, I grow my own beef, mushrooms, honey, and dabble with hydroponics in my greenhouse, and have two hundred acres of pine trees. I have taught more than 100 people on how to keep bees and/or grow mushrooms. People scream from their limousines and private jets about using other peoples money to save the planet, when they are the epitome of waste. I will get off of my soap box, love this web site. I just received Bill Mollison’s handbook on permaculture for Christmas, cannot put it down.

  13. Sorry, I’m not sure how BTUs are calculated or how the input/output figures are arrived at, but I’m guessing someone at the Permaculture group would have access to that info.

  14. Yes, the planet will still be here for a long time, but now, every moment we, as members of the web of life here on the planet Earth, are undergoing enormous loss of our family of fellow beings. A recent United Nations FAO estimate is that 135 species are lost every day, and 50,000 annually. The catch-phrase “Save the Planet” is one linguistic reference to the concern regarding massive ecosystem imbalance. It does not necessarily imply concern only about “us humans” , but is a simple way to refer to the multiplex of global scale crisis’.

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