Permaculture – beginning a discussion

Among other things, part of my job involves reviewing educational materials for use in WSU’s Extension programs related to urban horticulture.  One of the books is “Gaia’s Garden: a guide to home-scale permaculture” (T. Hemenway).  It occurred to me that my review might also be of interest to our GP readers.

I’ve created a fairly extensive review and I will break it into separate posts over the next few weeks.  So let’s start the discussion off with a topic we already know is inflammatory:  invasive species.  To be clear, we are not talking about the many introduced species, plants and animals alike, who appear to be well-behaved in our country.  Here’s my take on “The Natives versus Exotics Debate” (pp. 12-17):

The author, with no formal training in biology past his bachelor’s degree, states that “calling a species ‘invasive’ is not good science.”  This will come as news to researchers in the field of invasion biology.  He blithely disregards the real environmental and economic damage caused by invasive species and erroneously believes that invasive species selectively appear only as a result of human-caused environmental disturbance.  Apparently natural disturbances (from fire, volcanic eruption, flooding, etc.) don’t open themselves up for invasion (again, a notion that is incorrect and refuted by a number of obvious examples, such as the 1988 zebra mussel invasion of Lake St. Clair and the subsequent colonization of many freshwater habitats).   The author seems not to understand that there may be unfilled niches in certain ecosystems that can be exploited by invasives, endangering native species whose niches may overlap; there are obvious lessons from Hawaii, Australia, and other parts of the world.  In any case, the author’s naive tolerance of invasive species is a poor example to follow and certainly not based on current, mainstream science.

So, fans of permaculture, what do you think?  If permaculture is a legitimate science-based practice, how do we reconcile the very real issue of invasive species?  If you disagree with me, keep in mind one of the hallmarks of pseudoscience: attacking the motives or character of anyone who questions the claims. The arguments should contain content, not insults.

42 thoughts on “Permaculture – beginning a discussion”

  1. Might it be that the author is only focusing on the small scale (since the book is about home-based permaculture) and not the landscape on a whole? He may not even consider the possibility of a natural disturbance event on the small scale of a home garden. Managing invasives on a small scale is much easier than at the landscape level anyhow. Either way, his view of what defines an invasive is flawed from the start. Admittedly I have little knowledge of the author or of permaculture as a science (other than my inclination to live with livestock in my yard).

  2. I don’t think so, John. Though his book is geared towards home gardens, the entire permaculture philosophy is included and it’s large scale. Moreover, he doesn’t advocate managing invasives, but welcomes them. He calls bamboo “the queen of useful plants” and advocates its use in rural “outside the fence” areas. DId you know that “bamboo can be thwarted by simply not watering outside the desired growth area?” So I guess what I am supposed to do to get rid of the neighbor’s bamboo that persistently come up in our relatively stable landscape is kill off our plants by not watering anything. This praise for an acknowledged
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    invasive strikes me as an incredibly selfish approach to gardening – either you agree with them or to hell with you and your garden.

  3. I’m not very familiar with Permaculture, but I did enjoy Lee Reich, PhD’s recent guest blog post at the Garden Rant. This part:

    “Permaculture originated and thrives in the dry climates of Australia and our Southwest. Over much of the country, and especially here in the Northeast, rainfall coaxes very exuberant growth from crop plants and weeds alike.”

    may be pertinent to this discussion.

  4. Darn, I missed that post – I was doing the seminar thing that week and not paying much attention to the web. Oddly, the author of the book in question lives in Oregon, so he must also experience the rainfall issues Lee mentions…

  5. An unaddressed issue here is the excessive use of the invasive label. Some folks use “invasive” to describe anything that spreads remotely aggressively (including plants native to the region that self-sow). Other folks use the term “invasive” to describe any plant NOT native to the region. Both groups misusing the term right and left and calling every pla
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    nt invasive makes it virtually impossible for there to be an educated discourse on the subject. Who can I trust to give me genuine information on invasives (which I think should be restricted to something that would be irresponsible to grow in a garden on account of environmental havoc that could be wreaked if it escaped into the wild–something that obviously can’t apply to regional natives or to non-natives that have co-existed peacefully with my environment for a couple of centuries without causing any problems). Unless the term “invasive” is successfully defined in a meaningful way, there is going to be invasiveness-denial. I happen to think that permaculture can be done properly, and that it is irresponsible to include invasive species in permaculture design. How does this pan out? My state unfortunately doesn’t maintain any list of invasive plants, but I live on the border of two states who maintain good databases of plants that will threaten our local environment. Before I bring in any plant, I look it up on their invasive list. The fact that some advocates of permaculture no longer believe in invasive plants because the label invasive has been applied with extreme overexuberance doesn’t mean the practice of permaculture in general is irresponsible.

  6. @ nobody (and you are anything but a nobody!), you can get some good information on invasiveness through the USDA’s PLANTS database. Their website is http://plants.usda.gov/. If you use it, let me know what you think. I’ve found it extremely useful for analyzing potential invasiveness, though our state Department of Ag. does a nice job as well (http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/) on local problems.

  7. In my area, this booklet “Plant Invaders of the Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas”, by the National Park Service of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, is my go-to source.

  8. I couldn’t agree more with By Nobody about the overuse of the word “invasive”. A word with such inflamtory power should be used thoughtfully. I’m going to start calling it the “i bomb”.

    On a TOTALLY different note, I can’t say “nobody” without thinking of David Lee Roth’s Just a Gigolo song. It’s now stuck in my head, so I thought it only fair to get it stuck in yours as well. Sad and lonely, sad and lonely…

    Linda, this is just the sort of discussion I adore about this blog. Well – your discussion, not mine. But you know what I mean.

    Cheers.

  9. Deirdre, I’m not sure there’s a set definition for sustainable gardening like there is for permaculture. Gardening should be a practical application of soil and plant sciences; sustainability has to do with long-term functionality. For me, and probably the other GPs, this means gardening practices are guided by relevant and current science. Permaculture is guided by ethics.

  10. Paul and @ nobody, I agree that the “i bomb” gets dropped way too often. In the book we just published last year, we are careful to define invasive, introduced, and nonnative species. The moniker “invasive” is reserved for only those introduced species that have escaped cultivation and become pests in natural areas.

  11. Sorry if this sounds banal but isn’t “sustainable gardening” guided by ethics as well? The way I see it the very principles of sustainability have strong ethical dimensions (wellbeing, responsible use of natural resources, …). Gardening practices guided by relevant and current science and ethics go well together in my opinion.

  12. Hannes, of course! I should have phrased it that sustainable gardening is guided by both. Thanks for pointing out my lapse.

  13. Debbie, this book states that permaculture “uses a set of principles and practices to design sustainable human settlements.” There is no solid definition of it, and in fact the book says it’s “tricky to explain” and that it’s “a linking science.” To me, it really seems more of a philosophy than a science.

  14. Linda, thanks for the reply. As I stated I am not familiar with the book, but was searching for any possible reason why me may describe invasives the way he does. After reading your quotes from him-I have no reasonable explanation for his misguided views of invasive species. I work with Emerald Ash Borer for a living, so I have a deep respect for the i-bomb (I love that by the way). Overuse of the term can turn it into the “clearcutting” of old. Either term is applicable in certain situations, but gets used too often by those without knowledge of the science behind either.

  15. I actually heard, in 1980 during his first mainland USA lecture tour, Bill Molllison, the head guru of Permaculture, say “everything is going to be everywhere, so why not speed it up” A hint of the misguided current “thoughts” of “permies”.

  16. Hemmenway’s book was what got me started on gardening some years back though it’s been years since I read it. But since then I’ve taken the 2-week certification course, built several practice gardens, and tried to incorporate permacultural principles into my work (green building HVAC design). So I can’t claim to speak for the author, but perhaps I’m qualified to explain permaculture.

    First, to your question, is permaculture science? It is not. It is grounded in observation and motivated by outcomes. But it is not rigorous, nor falsifiable. There are many principles and techniques, but no laws. It is generally much more interested in results
    that in theory. Though it is grounded in philosophical principles, it’s really a _design_ philosophy — part engineering, part art — about how to build environments that allow humans (and thus, perforce, other creatures) to live in abundance without poisoning themselves, their children, or their life support system. It is both a body of techniques, and a lens through which one can see the world and make design decisions. Permaculture is one approach to sustainable agriculture, but its more comprehensive in scope than most others I have encountered.

    To the issue of invasives: The position you are reacting to arises from the confluence of several ideas:
    – not all non-natives are noxious invasives
    – to the extent that “invasive” = “weed”, we are culturally obsessed with controlling our environment to fit our image of what it should be. This is both ecologically destructive and ultimately self defeating, and we need to just get over it.
    – except in the context of intentionally-preserved historical ecosystems, native plant purism really isn’t useful or appropriate
    – (related to previous) while conservation/restoration/preservation to some historical state has it’s place, ecosystem health does NOT require a return to what was, nor is that the appropriate goal in most places and times
    – the invasion of ecosystems by non-natives is not unnatural, or a problem in itself. Even a very destabilizing invasion (if it’s just one) will eventually find a new equilibrium
    – the reason that invasives are a problem is that the incursions happen constantly, usually as a result of human activity, so the frequency and intensity of invasions threaten to destabilize and/or radically simplify many ecosystems
    – eradication as a _primary_ response to invasives is ultimately doomed to failure because you’re trying to move a torrent with a teaspoon; first you have to control the impact of human activity, particularly land disturbance. Otherwise your actions are self defeating.

    Permaculture is usually lumped in with other earth-centric, green, hippie-dippy gaia-worshiping movements and philosophies. This is an error. The purpose of permaculture is to build environments that are healthy and secure _for_people. It’s a very anthro-centric approach, a fact which many of its adherents often to appreciate.

    But it is also green, primarily because it embraces humility. We often do not understand the consequences of our actions, so it favors thoughtful and protracted observation and contemplation, followed by minimal effort, rather than our culture’s predominant mode of minimal observation and contemplation followed by thoughtless and protracted effort. (In this respect, it meets the definition of engineering as the art of applied laziness.) Even more critically, it accepts that for all our power and prowess, human health is still utterly dependent upon the health of our environment and we cannot achieve the former without cultivating the latter.

    (Reposting with the HTML “break” tag so it’s not all one long paragraph. Please delete the previous copy.)

  17. One more thing that I meant to say above: My goal here was to try to briefly summarize what permaculture is and is not, and to illustrate the ideas that underlie (my version of) permaculture’s position on invasives in particular.

    You may disagree with the positions and ideas which I ascribe to permaculture. If so, hopefully the list at least makes it easier to identify the point of disagreement. If not, then I hope that that this will provide a context in which Hemmenway’s expressed positions about invasives will make sense.

  18. GreenEngineer, thank you for your thoughtful and collegial post. I can respect permaculture as you describe it, but Hemenway’s book goes beyond the art/engineering/philosophy amalgam. It dismisses a legitimate scientific field(invasion biology) as not being “good science.”
    As to your points above, let me respond briefly to each: “not all non-natives are noxious invasives”: no scientist claims that they are. In fact, I give a definition of invasive species earlier in this comments section.
    “to the extent that “invasive” = “weed”, we are culturally obsessed with controlling our environment to fit our image of what it should be. This is both ecologically destructive and ultimately self defeating, and we need to just get over it.” All organisms attempt to control their environments; that’s survival. Humans have been managing plants for millenia, including removing those plants they don’t want (weeds). It’s not a new phenomenon. The logarithmic increase in invasive species is more ecologically destructive than managing them; even if an invasive species eventually becomes established, the rate of invasion needs to decrease to give systems time to adapt. (You can see a parallel to carbon dioxide levels and climate change here.) To blithely state that “everything’s going to be here eventually, so let’s speed up the process” (from an earlier comment) shows an alarming ignorance of science.
    “Except in the context of intentionally-preserved historical ecosystems, native plant purism really isn’t useful or appropriate”: if you’ve read this blog, you’ll see we are anything but “native plant purists.” We all appreciate well-behaved introduced species, and our gardens and landscapes are enriched by them. Many introduced species can fill niches left by local extirpations, providing habitat for various animals. The book I just published last December (Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens) has an entire chapter discussing the pros and cons of native and introduced plants, as well as one on invasive ornamentals.
    “(Related to previous) while conservation/restoration/preservation to some historical state has it’s place, ecosystem health does NOT require a return to what was, nor is that the appropriate goal in most places and times”: I don’t think any scientist assumes we can go back to the way something was, nor does ecological restoration seek to do this. What we try to do is eliminate monocultural landscapes that have been colonized by aggressive nonnative species – and I think everyone would agree that polycultural systems are more ecologically stable than monocultures.
    “The invasion of ecosystems by non-natives is not unnatural, or a problem in itself. Even a very destabilizing invasion (if it’s just one) will eventually find a new equilibrium”: As I mentioned, it’s the rate of change, not the change itself, that is the problem. With our ability to bring in new species at an unnaturally high rate due to air travel, we are causing ecological changes much faster than many systems can adapt to.
    “The reason that invasives are a problem is that the incursions happen constantly, usually as a result of human activity, so the frequency and intensity of invasions threaten to destabilize and/or radically simplify many ecosystems”: I agree. And simple ecosystems are often less stable, and aesthetically less pleasing, than more complex ones. I, for one, would like to help conserve native species rather than consign them to extinction.
    “Eradication as a _primary_ response to invasives is ultimately doomed to failure because you’re trying to move a torrent with a teaspoon; first you have to control the impact of human activity, particularly land disturbance. Otherwise your actions are self defeating”: As any proponent of IPM will tell you, eradication of an established weed (or any unwanted species) is not achievable; the endpoint is reducing the population to a managable (acceptable) level. However, if pioneering populations can be identified and eradicated, we can at least stem the tide. This has worked to keep zebra mussels out of the western part of the US (so far as we know), populations of kudzu out of Oregon, and undoubtedly many others.

  19. This is a less biological science-based response and more psychology-based, but still an important recognition, I think, of part of what I think Linda is getting at, which is a valid criticism of some permaculture ideass. Though I’m not by any stretch a permie, I tend to intellectually side with GreenEngingeer’s take on what permaculture is, and want to add a word: relationship. Rather than ecosystems being solely “things that humans study”, separate from the human mind, they become something that humans also have a relationship to. That’s a different way of understanding things – one that uses science as a critically, fundamentally important tool to build the house, but doesn’t make science the palace itself. Permaculture leaves room for other factors taking a place at the table in the decision-making process other than “The data say X so the answer must be Y”. I think asking whether permaculture is science-based misses a little of the point of permaculture.

    But quite often, it’s not how I experience permaculture being put into action. In the permaculture tribe members that I’ve observed, which are limited, what’s unreasonable is that permaculture (nebulouly defined as it is) becomes The Way, The Truth and the Light. Once you step over that line into permaculture being a belief rather than a set of philosophical principles to guide investigation, you’re lurking in culty territory, where evidence isn’t always welcome. Last year I read about a lot of permies bragging that their tomatoes hadn’t gotten late b
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    light that plagued the northeast, all citing their healthy ways….until two weeks later everyone had their tails between their legs as their tomatoes all went down just like everyone else’s.

    Poison ivy is considered an invasive where I am, it’s on the state list. I would be interested to hear what permaculturists think about poison ivy’s role in the landscape. Shameless obliteration is my answer.

  20. In my introduction to “Sustainable Gardening for Florida,” I attempted to define sustainable gardening/landscaping in several ways. For instance, when I compared it to organic gardening, I used an example of an organic farm raising rice in the desert–it can be perfectly organic, but it’s certainly not sustainable because of the scarcity of water. I also compared it to permaculture, but I completely ignored their views on invasives, because it seemed too controversial and complex for my simple comparison. Here’s my take: “The practice of permaculture extends beyond gardening and agriculture to more politicized arenas, such as urban planning, sociology, ethics, and reducing people’s reliance upon those industrial systems that adversely impact ecosystems and neighborhoods. Permaculture design begins with a set of ethics: first, ‘care for the Earth’; second, ‘care for the people’; and third, ‘set limits to population and consumption.’ This may be an admirable but often controversial formula to push people to exchange wasteful ways for more sustainable lifestyle choices. Sustainable landscape management can be defined as one part of the permaculture movement.”

  21. I unfortunately don’t have time right now to respond to Linda’s post fully, but I wanted to say a couple of things.

    First of all, try to take Mollison with a grain of salt. He may have “invented” permaculture, but he’s unfortunately a lousy spokesman for it. (His writing is painful also — he needs a very firm editor.) He is, by all accounts, a curmudgeon. I can totally see him making asnine statements like that, just to shock people.

    Leaving aside the rhetoric of various authors, I think the way a good permie would address any given invasive situation is to ask what, if anything, the invasive may be providing in terms of habitat, soil conditioning, and other ecosystem services. If it is neither useful to the humans nor to the ecosystem, and it’s in the way, then take it out if you can. Blackberry and arundo are both invasive, but they are very different from a permie’s point of view — blackberry provides many ecosystem services, while arundo is basically useless (as well as aggressive) in our biome.

    I also wanted to thank magicbean for bringing up the issue or relationships. He/she is absolutely right. Relationships or connections are central to permaculture. A basic design exercise is to consider all of the elements of a design in terms of their inputs, outputs, and required conditions. The best design will link outputs to inputs in small local loops — waste becomes food. The healthiest and most stable ecosystem will not necessarily be the one with the greatest biodiversity (i.e. diversity of elements) but with the greatest diversity of connections — maximizing the number of different pathways by which things consume resources and our consumed in turn.

    And, yes, you’re quite right in terms of people’s tendency to get religious about permaculture — as they do about so many things. It’s quite silly, but it’s quite common, alas. As is so often the case in progressive circles, our “allies” are often as big a problem as those who oppose or dismiss us.

  22. Thanks GreenEngineer.

    I am not sure if this discussion is going anywhere that Linda finds helpful or interestng, I know I’m straying from the specific topic of invasives and permaculture a bit. Since I haven’t read Hemenway at all I am not qualified to respond to direct critiques of his work, but I can talk about other interpretations of permaculture…

    “All organisms attempt to control their environments; that’s survival.”

    It’s a minor rhetorical point, but “control” is different from “manage” is different from “have a relationship with”. (substitute the word “spouse” or “child” for “environment” and I think the distinction is clear). And permaculture distinctly prefers the latter two to the first one, likely because of what permaculturists interpret (rightly or wrongly) as problems caused by human efforts to control an environment rather than be a respectful part of it.

  23. GreenEngineer, while I appreciate that Mollison may just be making silly comments, people listen to him and other leaders in the permaculture movement. I have nothing against the philosophy espoused in permaculture and in fact am sympathetic to much of it. The problem lies with the movement’s leaders who make uninformed comments about science. Those who listen to these comments will take them at face value. And you know what they say…with great power comes great responsibility. If you read my original post and subsequent comments, I think you’ll see these uninformed comments are at the crux of my unhappiness with permaculture proponents.

  24. Linda — I agree with your critique of Hemenway’s views on invasives, but I don’t think that this is grounds for calling permaculture as a whole into question. First of all, it is not a view that is held by all (or even most, to my knowledge) permaculture proponents. Second, even if it were, it would only call that particular aspect of permaculture into question, rather than the entire theory.

    As far as agriculture, permaculture is a set of techniques that seeks to use ecological science to engineer systems that are more stable and long lasting than the traditional annual disrupt/fertilize/plant/weed/harvest/repeat methods that most farmers use today. There is both theoretical and empirical evidence that this is possible, more sustainable, and less resource/labor intensive than industrial agriculture.

    Another thing that pseudo-scientists do is make br
    oad, sweeping claims based on very limited evidence. Be careful not to do this by claiming that it is possible to discredit the myriad techniques and theories that make up “permaculture” by simply discrediting the views of a single author on a single subject.

  25. Jesse, as you’ll see in later postings on this topic, this book (and the few others I’ve seen on permaculture) are not based on ecological science – which I agree should be part of the underpinnings of permaculture if it wishes to become a legitimate science. The other part is the horticultural science. Not all agriculture is “traditional” or “industrial,” as the fields of urban horticulture and arboriculture clearly demonstrate. These fields also need to become part of permaculture, because they are based on organismal science.
    Basing permaculture solely on ecology is incomplete: ecology studies systems, and that doesn’t give you an understanding of how organisms work (the study of physiology). This is why early efforts in restoration ecology were marked by high levels of mortality. Once restoration ecologists began to incorporate information from applied plant physiology (that’s where urban horticulture and arboriculture come in), their efforts became more successful.
    I’m waiting for the day I can find a permaculture book whose bibliography includes current, relevant, and appropriate information drawn from agricultural and ecological sciences. Otherwise, I can’t take it seriously.

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  27. Dismissing a book as informative as Gaia’s Garden based on some silly statements is just as dangerous as believing every single thing in it. In Bill’s OFFICIAL design course, he talks about NASA detonating a nuclear bomb on the moon and causing a wobble, as well as removing one of the Van Allen Belts from the earth. Yet, we don’t immediately dismiss the course, we just politely roll our eyes and continue extracting the knowledge we need. I prefer to use the conspiracist’s own weapon of “Question Everything” against them, and don’t take anything Bill or Toby says as gospel. 90% of what the permaculture leaders say is true, and people should be smart enough to see the other 10% for what it is. Because that 90% is too important to dismiss.

  28. I just learned about Gaia’s Garden, when I blundered into a friend’s Face Book thread quoting Hemenway on invasives and disrupted areas. My post about how it makes me sad to see oriental bittersweet pulling down the trees along I-90 in Massachusetts was met with stern admonitions to “believe in nature doing its work” and that “Nature adapts.” I went back and read chapter 1 of Gaia’s Garden (particularly “Beyond — Way Beyond — Natural Gardening” and “Natives vs Exotics”) and I found it kind of disturbing. In some ways it was useful to read something written from a new viewpoint — I think I had been getting a little fixated on native plants, and it is of course important to say that you are never going to create a useful nature preserve in your backyard. You would be better off growing things you will use (like food, herbs and flowers) and not contributing further to the exploitation of undeveloped areas for the production of these items instead of using your yard to create a fake nature preserve. It is also probably true that some people are using native plants in unsustainable ways (that require herbicides, fertilizers, tons of water and huge amounts of work). But the part I found disturbing was his assertion that we should not worry about invasives like oriental bittersweet because within 10 or 100 years bittersweet will be incorporated into a functioning ecosystem, and that the constant efforts to eradicate it lead to more disruption and more opportunities for invasives. Later in the book, he also lists bittersweet as a good plant to support bird populations (eek!). I think bittersweet is a hard problem (how do you define the frontier of a bird-distributed plant?) but I do not believe that the “fast-healing thickets” it forms are a good thing or that it will be a nondistructive part of the northeast ecosystems any time soon.

  29. I agree with Unforlorn here. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    I find myself as sort of a bridge figure with respect to the invasives vs. natives question here. Yes, Hemenway says some silly and idealized things about invasives. However, as a number of people have mentioned here already, “invasive” and “exotic” have a tendency to be bandied about in a rather hysterical way. Gary Paul Nabhan has discussed the global history of, for example, food plants in a way that strikes me as exemplary; exotics get introduced in all sorts of ways–accidentally and on purpose, naturally and through artifice–and life goes on. This does not mean that I condemn efforts to keep zebra mussels out of waterways or to get (gosh darn it) spotted knapweed out of my meadow, but there is perhaps an analogy to be made here with the war on drugs. Addiction and its sequelae are notably bad for society, but so is a war, and we have apparently committed ourselves to a war of diminishing returns (overcrowded prisons on the one hand and escalating chemical warfare on the other). Surely there are other ways of addressing the problems.

  30. “All organisms attempt to control their environments; that’s survival.”

    An old discussion, but I must agree with some posts above to say that this statement is complete bollocks. All organisms interact with their environment. Control is an intention. Does the author seriously claim that she has access to scientific data indicating that all species attempt to control? To make such a claim without that data is just a ridiculous assumption based in anthro- and ethnocentric psychological projection — putting intentions in the (often-nonexistent) mouths!

    Should I dismiss the author in entirety because she makes one baseless statement? Or should I claim that she has an “alarming ignorance of science,” as she has to others in similar contexts who disagree with the philosophical underpinnings of her arguments?

    How defensive do you have to be about your field of work as a scientist to lambast and dismiss a layperson’s homescale gardening book based on a series of philosophical disagreements?

  31. I also disagree with your claim that “attacking the motives or character of anyone who questions the claims” is a “hallmark of pseudoscience.”

    This is an illogical statement. Attacks on motives or character are simply logical fallacies. There are plenty of amazing and wonderful scientists (such as yourself) who resort to logical fallacies in the course of discuss. People lose their temper. They
    get defensive. Sometimes they just don’t have a good grasp of logic. Such as when someone claims that a person disagreeing with them in a logically fallacious manner somehow validates the substance of their original claim.

    That does not sound like a situation where we can reject the null hypothesis!

    But the question is irrelevant anyway: Permaculture isn’t a science, and I’ve never known or heard of anyone (except — in all seriousness — an apparently-embattled group of invasion biologists) claiming that it is.

    The invasives debate is lively within the field of permaculture. It doesn’t seem very rigorous to me to judge an entire field based on an encounter with one public by one author.

  32. The author, with no formal training in biology past his bachelor’s degree,

    ad hominem attack and rather snooty too … pity that natural science has so readily dumped the self taught naturalists while geology, archeology and astronomy still embrace their “amateur” counterparts whom may in fact be more learned than a post-doctoral educator in the field

    states that “calling a species ‘invasive’ is not good science.” This will come as news to researchers in the field of invasion biology. He blithely disregards the real environmental and economic damage caused by invasive species and erroneously believes that invasive species selectively appear only as a result of human-caused environmental disturbance. Apparently natural disturbances (from fire, volcanic eruption, flooding, etc.) don’t open themselves up for invasion (again, a notion that is incorrect and refuted by a number of obvious examples, such as the 1988 zebra mussel invasion of Lake St. Clair and the subsequent colonization of many freshwater habitats).

    I am on your side in this. But I hardly see that it attacks any central thesis of permaculture. And if it is in response to what PC founder Bill Mollison said as quoted by a commenter in this thread that with human’s modern travel species are going to get rather homologous anyway so why bother—Mollison is likely correct. Attempting to put the genie back in the bottle doesn’t work very well. If an newly introduced species can exploit the resources of a niche without predation or being bullied out it will displace any other life dependent upon that resource within the niche.

    The author seems not to understand that there may be unfilled niches in certain ecosystems that can be exploited by invasives,

    I seriously doubt after 4 billion years that there is ANY unfilled niches on this planet except one’s that do not support life (which I suppose makes them something other than a niche by definition). Invasives must compete for resources, avoid predation and push the competition to extinction or some point of uneasy equilibrium.

    endangering native species whose niches may overlap; there are obvious lessons from Hawaii, Australia, and other parts of the world. In any case, the author’s naive tolerance of invasive species is a poor example to follow and certainly not based on current, mainstream science.

    If this is all you have it is hardly a critique of PC or frankly of Hemenway’s book since I don’t even remember a discussion of the subject probably because it bores me and seems more likely to be of great interest to you. So I have to wonder with the aspersion on his education background, the fairly large scale attack on PC over a fairly minor point of Hemenway’s book and the focus of your argument on invasive species if this isn’t more about you than it is about PC and its scientific nature.

    Now we go onto this loaded paragraph:
    If permaculture is a legitimate science-based practice, how do we reconcile the very real issue of invasive species? If you disagree with me, keep in mind one of the hallmarks of pseudoscience: attacking the motives or character of anyone who questions the claims.

    Whereby an attack on the author (ignoring the first sentence of the opening salvo by the very author lol) negates any validity of any subsequent argument and constitutes non-substantive discourse. Convenient. Also I find it interesting the PC is viewed as pseudoscience (for which a great case can be made that of course it is) while not realizing here very dear to her heart ecology, environmentalism and even horticulture is also pseudoscience MOST of the time. Results are from very small data sets. They are not experimentally reproducible in the lab. They are based upon observation and classification but not reproducible experimentation that eliminated a testable hypothesis. That is the very nature of pseudoscience. Not that I can offer any better methods. Experimenting with large parts of the environment (that often take years to produce results and on a rather large scale) without being able to control the variables makes it impossible to conduct reproducible experiments. While I applaud Dr. Chalker-Scott’s attempt to bring scientific results and principles into areas rife with unsupported claims, I cannot let go that her very results are truly often unsupported as well.

  33. @Powell – Good to see you out and about. Haven’t spoken to you since I stopped posting at the VPA. My thoughts mirror a lot of what you said. Mostly the part about it being such a tiny portion of what the book is about.

  34. Hi. Here are some links about what Permaculture is. It is difficult to succinctly define but here are a few tries (including one from Toby Hemenway):

    http://permacultureprinciples.com/

    http://vergepermaculture.ca/about-verge/what-is-permaculture/

    http://www.patternliteracy.com/668-what-permaculture-isnt-and-is

    And, here are two more recent articles written by Toby, elaborating and expanding upon the debate surrounding natives vs. non-natives, from his perspective. Note that he points out that Permaculture aims to stay out of wild and undisturbed spaces:

    http://www.patternliteracy.com/644-saving-native-wildlife-with-invasive-plants

    http://www.patternliteracy.com/116-native-plants-restoring-to-an-idea

    This is not a simple issue, but my comment would be that it’s important to consider context and recognize that what is right for any particular system will depend on many factors. From a science perspective, the ability to infer anything from your data depends on the quality, and quantity, and scope of the data you collect and the answer (especially when attempting to make inferences about a different system from the one in which the data were collected) is usually that, “it depends”.

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