Permaculture needs rigorous academic research. Most permaculture practitioners or “permies” are endlessly enthusiastic about how permaculture can save the world, provide food security, improve human health, create communities, and restore the environment. I have a lot of hope that permaculture can do all of those things. As person with background in environmental sciences and a passion for ecology, permaculture makes sense for me. But that same background in sciences makes me aware of a huge deficit in controlled academic research supporting permaculture. There are many practitioners who test specific permaculture strategies on their own lands, like food forest garden designs and chicken compost tractors, but there is no formal research about the big picture questions like “Can permaculture compete with conventional agriculture?” and “How much greenhouse gas emissions are permaculture projects around the world really offsetting?”
Other people see this deficit as well, and use it as an excuse to write off permaculture. Take for instance this article. It is highly critical of the permaculture movement for being too idealistic, not practicing what it preaches (based one example of a poorly executed site), and not being backed up by science. While there are many things I disagree with in the article (see my comments at the bottom), it is a reasonable critique of the movement. We don’t have enough research behind us and it hurts our credibility.
The reality is that if permaculture can in fact save the world, it doesn’t matter unless it is accepted my mainstream society and the majority of the world is practicing permaculture. To be accepted we need credible proof from mainstream institutions that permaculture works better than other alternatives. Some permies turn away from mainstream society to live out their dreams off the grid. I respect and feel that pull, but if we really want to practice People Care, we need to go through the institutions that be to improve our methodologies and share our knowledge with the world.
This is why I am in Canada. My personal goal is to start filling that hole of academic knowledge pertaining to permaculture. I won’t be able to answer the question “Can permaculture save the planet?” but I hope I can start asking the questions and inspire some people to join me in trying to find the answers.