In this interview, permaculture activist Bill Mollison discusses the key concepts of sustainability, species diversity, and ecosystem design that underlay a permaculture production system and their importance as an alternative to modern agriculture.

By Larry Hollar and Jeanne Malmgren
November/December 1980


Our recent interview with biointensive gardener John Jeavons— the California horticulturist who produces surprisingly high yields of vegetables on small parcels of land at his experimental mini-farm — outlined a frighteningly bleak future for agriculture and for food production in this country. Jeavons revealed, in that article, his belief that the earth is rapidly becoming a desert and losing its fragile layer of topsoil at an alarming rate … while product yields continue to fall despite the ever-increasing input of energy that agribusiness methods demand.

And although this critical problem now occupies researchers and ecologists all over the world, it seems — at least up to this point — that only a few people (Jeavons among them) have been able to present feasible solutions to our current self-destructive system of commercial agriculture. Therefore, everyone here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS was excited to learn about permaculture activist Dr. Bill Mollison. He’s an Australian environmental scientist who has coined the term “permaculture” to refer to his concept of a self-sustaining, consciously designed ecosystem. Mollison envisions regional systems containing integrated, self-perpetuating plant and animal species … assemblies that will literally operate themselves on the principles of stable diversity, energy efficiency, low maintenance, and high yield.

Unlike many other theorists and soothsayers, though, Mollison has an armory of facts and evidence to support his futuristic vision. In fact, the former university lecturer now lives in a metaindustrial village called Tagari — in the northwest corner of Tasmania — where he and his colleagues are busily setting up and demonstrating functional models of their ideas. Besides providing inspiration for the hundreds of permaculture associations that are springing up all over Australia, Tagari residents have also formed their own seed company and the Permaculture Institute … which is responsible for an international consultation service. The community is also training a team of designers, who are available — on a consulting and teaching basis — to individuals, public agencies, and disadvantaged groups. In short, Bill Mollison lives what he talks about … and perhaps that’s what makes the Australian’s arguments so convincing.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS had an opportunity to meet Bill Mollison recently, when he visited our western North Carolina neighborhood on one leg of his current world tour (which is being cosponsored by the International Tree Crops Institute, the Farallones Institute, the New Alchemy Institute, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the World Future Society). After the public lecture and workshop, MOTHER EARTH NEWS staffers Larry Hollar and Jeanne Malmgren spent several hours with the dynamic man, to delve more deeply into the philosophy and techniques of permaculture. The following transcript was edited from that encounter.

This article was originally published in December 1980 on Mother Earth News. Continue reading the rest of this interview at Mother Earth News →