Through the years it took to become a physician, I heard the maxim, “First, do no harm” repeated so often that it almost became a mantra in my head as I walked along the hospital halls at night. This phrase is so integrated into our medical education that it is impossible not to practice medicine through the lens of this ethic. In fact, it is so atypical for a physician to disregard this underlying principle. So much so, that when a physician intentionally inflicts harm, it becomes headline news. I am going to set aside the arguments that “modern” medicine inflicts harm through its goal of destroying disease instead of facilitating health… that is a deep discussion and not one for this site at this time. Regardless of your opinions on modern medicine, the hearts of most physicians, and mine without a doubt, is to do no harm. To be honest, there have been many nights I have been unable to sleep due to worry I may have been unable to prevent harm. I cannot fathom how I would handle being the one responsible for truly causing harm. It is a tough road at times, but well worth it in so many aspects. I pity the physicians who have become too jaded or cynical with humanity or the “system” with which we have to work. They have lost sight of the privilege and honor we have to serve as physicians.

It is with this same mindset that I approach Permaculture. We have sick lands and diseased waters. We have been given the privilege and honor to bring our environment back to health. And, as with medicine, we have an ethos to guide us… the three Ethics of Permaculture. I have stated in the past that Permaculture is a design science, but what truly sets it in a very limited class is that it is an ethical science. I believe medicine alone is the only other field of study that puts an ethical framework in place before one starts their education and training.

There are many techniques and skills one can be taught to function as a physician, but without the guiding ethic of, “First, do no harm”, that person is a very significant risk to others as well as themselves. The same follows with Permaculture. There are many amazing techniques and skills one may implement onto a landscape or into a community, but without the guiding ethics of “Earth Care”, “People Care”, and “Return of Surplus”, that person is dangerous to the Earth, to other people, and to themselves.

It is vital for us to understand the importance of what we are doing when we are practicing Permaculture. We are practicing medicine on the Earth and on our communities. We may be Primary Care Permaculturists, and at times we may be Earth Surgeons, but we are trying to heal the land and our culture, and it is indeed a privilege and honor to participate… and it must start with ethics.

To read more about the Ethics of Permaculture, read these articles:


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