Author Archive | MegU

Happy World Localisation Day!

To celebrate World Localisation Day 2021, Local Futures has gathered an impressive line-up of thoughtsmiths from across the globe to help raise awareness about the urgent need to shift direction – away from dependence on global monopolies towards decentralised, regional economies.

This year’s leading voices include David Holmgren, Russell Brand, Charles Eisenstein, Dr. Gabor Maté, Naomi Klein, Vandana Shiva, Satish Kumar and many more. The week-long program is being offered entirely for free or on a ‘pay what you can’ basis.



When David was in Mullumbimby last month he recorded an in-depth conversation with localisation activist, Helena Norberg-Hodge, which features as part of the program. David and Helena share a deep ecological sensitivity, as well as a big-picture view of the environmental movement, coming from many decades of experience. In the comfort of Helena’s home, the two discuss the cross-pollination between permaculture and other localisation initiatives, the future of energy and social and economic organisation, and much more.

You can watch their interview here.

And you can access the rest of the incredible program here:



David and Su on The Eco Show premiere

Channel 31, Victoria’s non-profit, open-access community television station, has just launched their first episode of The Eco Show, which features interviews with David Holmgren and Su Dennett at their home, Melliodora, in Central Victoria. It’s well worth a watch!


The 2021 Venie Holmgren Environmental Poetry Prize

In partnership with Rabbit: a journal for nonfiction poetry, we are thrilled to announce the launch of the 2021 Venie Holmgren Environmental Poetry Prize.

Major prize: AUD$1000

All entries must be received by 11.59 pm EST, Monday July 26 2021. The winner will be announced at the Words in Winter festival in Daylesford on Sunday August 22 2021. The judges for the 2021 competition are Carissa Lee and John Charles Ryan.

Entry terms and conditions

1. Entrants must be citizens of Australia or have permanent resident status in Australia.
2. Poems must be unpublished (including online) and not under consideration by other publishers.
3. Poems that have won or are under consideration in other competitions are not eligible.
4. Poems must have an environmental theme.
5. All poems must be written in English. No images, videos or audio files.
6. The winning poems will be published on and in Rabbit.
7. An entry fee of $10 will be charged and is payable via bank transfer, credit card, cash or cheque. An email will be sent as confirmation once the money has been received.
8. The name of the poet must not appear on the manuscript (including the header, footer or file name) since all poems will be considered anonymously.
9. Poems must be no more than 80 lines of text.
10. Multiple entries are permitted, though a $10 fee applies to each poem.
11. Please ensure you are satisfied with your poem before submitting. Poems that are resubmitted will incur a second fee.
12. The competition closes 11.59 pm EST, Monday July 26, 2021.
13. Selection will be made by the judges. The judges’ decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into.

About the judges

Carissa Lee is a Noongar woman born on Wemba-Wemba country. She works as an actor and writer based in Melbourne. Carissa is currently undertaking her PhD in Indigenous theatre through the University of Melbourne. She has just begun her new role as Indigenous and Public Policy Commissioning Editor for The Conversation. Carissa’s writing has featured in The Guardian, IndigenousX, Book Riot, Melbourne Writers Festival, Witness Performance, Junkee, and Red Room Poetry.  

John Charles Ryan is an environmental writer and plant enthusiast. His interests include poetry, conservation and the environmental humanities. He recently edited an issue of the online journal Plumwood Mountain on plant poetics, co-authored the book Introduction to the Environmental Humanities with Routledge, and co-edited the anthology The Mind of Plants with Synergetic Press. His collaborative botanical poetry collection Seeing Trees: A Poetic Arboretum was released in 2020. He is affiliated with Southern Cross University as Adjunct Associate Professor and Nulungu Research Institute, Notre Dame University, Australia as Adjunct Senior Research Fellow.    

About Venie

In her late 50’s Venie Holmgren began to write poetry and her first published anthology, The Sun Collection for the Planet in 1989, became a poetry ‘best seller’. At the same time, she applied her environmental activist skills and commitment to the campaign to save native forests near her home on the far south coast of NSW, where she was arrested twice for obstructing log trucks. After 16 years of solo self-reliant living she moved to the local town of Pambula where she penned her travel memoir, several more books of poetry and travelled widely as a performance poet. In 2010 Venie moved to Hepburn where she wrote her last poetry collection, The Tea-house Poems. In January 2016, Venie ‘caught the bus’ at the age of 93 .

You can read more of Venie’s life here:


For the Wild podcast


At the end of 2020, David recorded this interview with Ayana, which has just gone live.

As so-called powerful “industrial civilizations” continue to decline into dysfunction, unable to care for the vast majority, the call to localize, reinvest in household economies, and strengthen our capacity for self-reliance is becoming emphatic. Amongst failing institutions and the remnants of exploitative wealth, this week’s guest, David Holmgren, encourages us to lean into crisis as a temporary portal that allows us to focus on the potential of all that lies around us. In conversation David explores creative reuse, salvage economies, ethical relationships, permaculture, and the intricacies of mass movements that are trying to override a system that is deeply committed to a machination of consumerism and debt.

Lauded as one of the co-originators of permaculture, we begin our conversation looking at how permaculture differentiates itself from organic gardening and agroforestry, while discussing the more salient critiques of permaculture in terms of appropriation, class, and privilege. David offers honest reflections on the origins of permaculture and its accessibility, while also defining the importance of a quiet boycott and how class privilege factors into our efforts to reduce degrees of dependency.

You can listen to the podcast in its entirety here:


When does a book become news?

When does a book become news?

When it becomes a bestseller? 

When its author is famous or influential?

When it develops a cult following of readers? 

When it addresses the circumstances of a large segment of the population? 

When social media algorithms reinforce awareness of the book?

When it addresses critical issues to the future of society and nature, be that through fiction or nonfiction?

So why would a book that meets all of these criteria fail to be news?

What makes a book newsworthy is still largely determined by the intellectual gatekeepers of serious journalism, based on numbers of reviews in mainstream print and broadcast media. But for books to be reviewed, they almost always need to come from established publishers  – the most important gatekeepers in determining what gets published. 

This is largely determined by financially rational formulae developed by the publishing industry predicting likely numbers of bestsellers, break-evens and lemons. Beyond these ruthless metrics, a significant number of books are published because mostly smaller publishers decide the book is important, and they chose to take the financial risk, or even loss, to see it published.

The power of established publishers to be the gatekeepers has of course been declining for decades. First in the 1980s, when the almost occult art of typesetting was replaced by software, then in the 1990s when the rise of the internet stimulated network communities of authors and readers, through to today’s digital publishing, social media and crowdfunding that allow a multiplicity of voices to be “published” in different ways. While these changes have levelled the playing field for writers and other creators, allowing a greater diversity of voices, it has led to what some may see as a “Balkanisation” of our cultural commons or even a “Tower of Babel” when different subcultures do not understand, let alone value, anything from outside their own tightly reinforcing sources of information and influence. This could be a contribution to, or perhaps just a symptom of, the decline in globalised industrial civilisation, or at least the western world dominated version that is fracturing under the weight of its internal contradictions. 

In times of crises such as this, established elites have historically tried to maintain their power by more rigid, even fundamentalist, application of norms. Swirling chaotic social diversity threatens to engulf the ivory towers of not only academia and science, but the sacred heart of politics and its religious ideology of economics guided by the priests of finance. Open enquiry, which is part of the proud heritage of the enlightenment, is increasingly closed to ideas, art and the chaotic diversity that finds expression in the virtual market place, the street and, especially, at the interface between society and nature in the rural hinterlands. New networked and increasingly virtual communities form around their own self-reinforcing versions of reality, reinforced by algorithms that feed off confirmation biases.

Competing groups of elites battle each other for control of the algorithms to tame these expressions of wild creativity, resistance and downright dysfunction for their own Machiavellian ends. Ironically, professional journalism has itself become similarly dependent on its own self-reinforcing versions of reality about what is important and even what constitutes news. In many cases, all journalists do is recycle the same angles on the same stories, while different angles, let alone different stories, increasingly do not compute for those without the protection once offered to serious journalism by the broadsheet newspapers and public broadcasters. This is compounded by the shrinking attention span of audiences and the 24/7 news cycle. 

Meanwhile the most potent new actors using the power of the internet to speak truth to power find themselves increasingly under threat, with the greatest of them all, Julian Assange, being destroyed by a combination of character assassination, psychological torture and the most spectacular corruption of legal process (which makes authoritarian regimes elsewhere in the world scorn the hypocrisy of so-called western democracies). 

These and other forces are increasingly leading to journalism and media failing to fulfil one of its functions: providing early warnings to society at large, or even to the elites of forces from the periphery that represent new creative opportunities or existential threats.

This myopic focus in all matters on the centre rather than the periphery is a failure to understand or apply the permaculture design principle “Use edges and value the marginal”.

What is permaculture? A fashionable form of gardening or self-sufficient living? So what has that got to do with such weighty issues, or this rave about book publishing?

Maybe a little history is in order, especially for Australian journalists still caught in the cultural cringe that everything of importance, especially to the future of civilisation, must come from the centres of empire in the northern and western hemispheres.

Over time, historians may come to recognise Tasmania as the crucible of the global environment movement. This outpost of Anglo-American culture represents the interface between nature and civilisation. More than a decade before the sustainability discourse of the 1980s, it gave birth to both the first green political party in the world, and a world-changing movement for the redesign of humanity’s relationship to nature. 

In 1977, 15 mainstream publishers approached a cantankerous senior tutor (of psychology) and a graduate (of environmental design) wanting to publish their manuscript about “permaculture”, a term the authors had coined to describe their vision for redesigning agriculture, and culture, from first (ecological) principles. Permaculture One, published in 1978 by Corgi in Australia, was perfectly timed to catch the first great wave of modern environmentalism. The genius, charismatic personality, and tireless efforts of the older co-author Bill Mollison, especially through residential Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs) held around the world, seeded permaculture as a world-wide agent of positive influence in environmental thinking. Some regard this as Australia’s greatest intellectual export.

Despite the success of Permaculture One, that early experience with the publishing industry led both co-authors to separately pursue more DIY approaches to publishing. Bill Mollison took back the rights to Permaculture One from Corgi for later print runs under his Tagari Publishing imprint as well as translations in six languages, as well as his Permaculture Two in 1979, and his opus Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual in 1988. That 600-page book of unruly ideas, plus brilliant drawings by colleague Andrew Jeeves, was created on a Mac Classic (with a 9” screen) in the northern NSW hinterland. As with Permaculture One, The Designers’ Manual, was perfectly timed for the second wave of modern environmentalism from ‘87 to ‘92 and has sold thousands of copies around the world.

After the experience of being a successful author at the age of 23, the other co-originator of permaculture applied another permaculture design principle, “Use Small and Slow Solutions”, to his journey in book publishing. A series of case studies of his design and implementation work that no publisher would have considered (had they been asked), more than covered costs with no funding from benefactors. These helped influence many within permaculture networks who were hungry for documentation of the application of permaculture design (see Permaculture in the Bush, 1992; The Flywire House, 1993; Trees on the Treeless Plains, 1994; Melliodora, 1996). 

Regarded as a quiet practitioner within the movement, David Holmgren surprised many with Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, a deep conceptual dive into the ethical and design foundations of the concept, self-published through Holmgren Design Services in 2002. Despite its abstract, and at times difficult, text, this was the first publication for which the author actively sought mainstream media reviews. Even with launches by well-known Melbourne comedian and environmental activist Rod Quantock, charismatic leader of The Greens in federal parliament, Bob Brown, and the ABC’s Robin Williams, an East coast book launch tour, and selling out of the first print run of 5000 in less than two years, there were no book reviews in any mainstream Australian newspaper or broadcast.

The author’s impression that the power of the internet had broken that of the gatekeepers in mainstream media was wrong, with reviewers automatically discarding any self-published book.

Another thing “wrong” with the book was its combination of abstract and difficult to grasp ecological systems theory, social comment, down to earth examples and personal anecdotes that no professional editor or publisher would typically accept within the same book.

After selling 10,000 copies, Holmgren Design unsuccessfully pitched a story to the producers of “Books and Writing” on ABC Radio National, about this self-published book of complex ideas selling that many copies here and overseas, with translations pending and no mainstream media reviews. The success of permaculture in the popular imagination as a cool form of organic gardening or self-reliant rural living acted as an inhibitor to it being considered as contributing to the sustainability debate, let alone other serious issues affecting society. 

For those involved in the already diverse international permaculture movement, the framework of design principles in Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability clarified the universal application of permaculture ethics and design principles beyond the garden and the farm, and spread awareness of the concepts outside of what some criticised as the “cult” confines of permaculture. Despite its abstraction, carefully crafted icons, a website devoted to the ethics and principles of permaculture, a teaching kit, incredibly popular electro-swing music and myriad other expressions of this work have seen these powerful thinking tools used by practitioners, teachers and activists in active positive responses to the environmental crisis, from cities to remote hinterlands of the richest and poorest countries.

Successive waves of growth in the interest in, and influence of, permaculture have increased the profile of permaculture’s younger co-originator, especially after Bill Mollison’s death in 2016. Publishing (under the imprint Melliodora Publishing) now includes other permaculture authors, editors and illustrators, and distribution by Permaculture Principles bypasses the online distribution monopolies to provide fair return to creators and publishers.

Image from here

So when Holmgren’s decades-long research, teaching and writing about the capacity to retrofit the built, biological and behavioural fields of suburbia culminated in a 600-page, full colour, richly illustrated, printed in Australia book, RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future (2018), one might assume that what is left of the mainstream media might take note. Despite the book and the marketing strategy being unashamedly targeted to the SE Australian market where the majority of Australians live, with events supported by local government drawing crowds from 30 to 300, a foreword by Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis, a website of case studies and supporting information, a growing Facebook community page, an article in the New York Times (amongst other global interest) and the first print run of 5000 selling out in 8 months, there were no reviews of RetroSuburbia in Australian capital city newspapers or broadcast media (other than an interview by Jon Faine on ABC Melbourne radio). 

Unlike the dense heavy text of Principles and Pathways, the language of RetroSuburbia is accessible and engaging. A book weighing 1.8kg, retailing at $85, and without mainstream distribution selling out that quickly must represent some sort of publishing record in Australia. Far from being a one-day wonder, the second print run sold out with the rush of interest as the pandemic storm clouds gathered. An online edition of the whole book on a “Pay What You Feel” basis has so far reached over 6500 readers while sales of the physical book increased. Interest in home-based living has exploded during the pandemic and there are lots of signs that some of these changes are a wake-up call for many (for more on Holmgren’s thoughts on this, see “RetroSuburbia roadmap”, “The problem is the solution” and other 2020 posts on 

Like the realisation that commuting to work is an unnecessary waste of time for a lot of people, destroying the amenity of cities while accelerating climate chaos, reviving the household non-monetary economy through growing food, fixing stuff, educating kids and caring for elders makes more sense. And it may become a necessity if vast swathes of the non-essential economy, from air travel to cappuccinos, fail to recover. 

The RetroSuburbia Community Facebook page jumped from 5000 to over 10,000 in a month as interest in household-based self-reliance exploded across our residential heartlands and hinterlands. 

“Aussie St”, a permaculture soap opera of empowering transformation in the Second Great Depression of the 2020s, Holmgren’s much-loved presentation and a fictional chapter in RetroSuburbia, is an ideal hook for the media to use to begin discussions around “the D word”. But with the Reserve Bank and Government desperate to prevent the deflation of the Australian property bubble, “Aussie St” and the wider retrosuburban strategy would be regarded as economic treason. Whether by Machiavellian self-censorship, just dumb ignorance about the diverse threats to business as usual, or the widespread belief in the left-leaning environmental mainstream that household level change has minimal impact on “the system”, the mainstream media continues to treat permaculture as a form of eco-fashion. The inherently anarchic nature of permaculture activism, the lack of a strong national voice on major policy debates, and the huge class and political diversity of those practicing permaculture have inhibited it being a force in Australian society commensurate with its persistent but subtle influence over more than four decades. This under-the-radar influence in Australia has many of its advocates smile at being ignored, with the definition often given on PDCs of permaculture being “revolution disguised as gardening”. 

If there was ever a time for the mainstream media in Australia to wake up to the power of permaculture influencing the lives of hundreds of thousands here, and millions around the world, and its central relevance to the big issues of our time, this is it. Whether it is the necessary transition to a renewable energy base, resilience to climate chaos, relocalising our economies and revitalising our household and community non-monetary economies, the shape of our cities, the inevitable contraction of our globalised, corporate-dominated economies or, of course, the redesign of agriculture and all other forms of land use from the backyard to the bioregion, there is a permaculture perspective that could be explored. 

RetroSuburbia provides the perfect way for mainstream journalists to connect with ordinary people facing today’s challenges, while simultaneously highlighting new perspectives on the big issues facing our nation and the wider world.

When they get the picture, we will hopefully get serious debate of permaculture responses to the challenges of we face, individually and collectively. Once these ideas are on the radar of established interests, we will no doubt also see attempts to denigrate and ridicule rather than debate. In the current climate of hysteria dividing people around identity politics, Holmgren expects a fair dose of fire as an older white male who has lived a fortunate life, presuming to tell us how to live. But as they say, any publicity is good publicity.

Holmgren is happy to engage in serious debates and to shine the spotlight on how permaculture thinking gives us the power to change how we experience the challenges we all face. For the tens of thousands of Australians who have done a PDC, and the perhaps hundreds of thousands who have been influenced by the ideas, permaculture is definitely out of the closet and spreading across the suburbs, whether the mainstream media notices or not. 

The Melliodora Publishing team, December 2020


Our Street Launch

Calling all kids and adults!

Melliodora Publishing and Grow Do It Permaculture invite you to attend the online launch of Our Street and Permaculture Action Cards.

Our Street (based on the Aussie Street story from RetroSuburbia) is a fully illustrated storybook for upper primary school-age children. It explores how suburban life changes between the 1950s and 2020s, and provides a positive vision of the future. It is a useful tool for parents and educators to help inspire children with positive solutions for sustainable and resilient living, whilst reflecting on Australian history. Written by David Holmgren + Beck Lowe and illustrated by Brenna Quinlan.

The Permaculture Action Cards are made up of 65 full-colour cards. The deck features the 3 permaculture ethics, 12 principles and 50 Brenna Quinlan illustrated action cards depicting colourful characters putting them into practice in the garden, community and beyond as well as relevant lyrics & rhymes from Formidable Vegetable on the back of each card. Also included is a booklet with games and explanations of the principles as well as an A3 colour poster that can be used as a teaching aid.

The launch will feature David Holmgren, Su Dennett, Beck Lowe, Brenna Quinlan, Charlie Mgee and special musical guests Formidable Vegetable. What a line-up!

The event will be a free livestream. Register here for your free tickets and we’ll email you the viewing links on the day.

The first 100 books purchased at the launch will be signed by David, Beck and Brenna. In the meantime you can purchase the book from here and the cards from here.

NOTE: The event will be live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube. These links will be emailed to you closer to the date.

Woo hoo! We can’t wait! See you then.

Get your tickets>>


Facing Fire

This coming Sunday November 22 at 9am (AEDT) , David Holmgren is giving a presentation followed by a Q & A on ‘Fire Resilient Design and Land and Climate Care’.

Here is the Zoom link to attend.

Please join 5 minutes early to ensure it starts on time.

Please RSVP by 5pm Saturday 21 November.

For further reading, here is David’s recent paper: Bushfire Resilient Land and Climate care.

EDIT: Here is David’s presentation from the day.

Facing Fire connects fire-ecology regions in the USA and Australia, across the Pacific, and around the world.

In 2019 David was interviewed for the 21 minute film Facing Fire, which you can watch in its entirety here:

For further research/preparation, you might be interested in Joan Webster OAM’s bestselling book, Essential Bushfire Safety Tips – 3rd Edition


Just enough: Let’s never stop thinking about the future

Let’s never stop thinking about the future: The connections between permaculture, Japanese design and homesteading in a frugal future.

The world has changed immeasurably over the last thirty years, with ‘more, bigger, better’ being the common mantra. But in the midst of this constantly evolving world, there is a growing community of people who are looking at our history, searching for answers to issues that are faced everywhere, such as energy, water, materials, food and population crisis.

In “Just Enough, ” author Azby Brown turned to the history of Japan, where he finds several lessons on living in a sustainable society that translate beyond place and time. This book presents a compelling argument around how to forge a society that is conservation-minded, waste-free, well-housed, well-fed and economically robust, including what Edo Period life has to offer us in the global battle to reverse environmental degradation.

In contrast, RetroSuburbia, by David Holmgren shows how the Australian suburbs can be transformed to become productive and resilience in an energy descent future. It focuses on what can be done by an individual at the household level with examples from ‘Aussie Street’ story and real life case studies to support and enhance the main content.

Su Dennett and Virginia Solomon have been living and promoting a sustainable households at their respective Melliodora and Eco resilience households and wider community activities including the Hepburn Relocalisation NetworkPermaculture Australia, Holmgren Design & permaculture education to name a few. Virginia has also travelled multiple times to Japan, including meeting Azby and connecting all of the interview members here today on behalf of Permaculture Australia.

Without further ado, here is the interview:

You can read more here.

A huge thank you to Permaculture Australia for enabling this rich conversation to happen.

If you’re interested in more crossovers between Japanese culture and permaculture, you might be interested to read David’s journal from 2004, when he and Su spent 4 weeks travelling around Japan:

Permaculture in Japan: foreign idea or indigenous design.


Stephen emails David: a collaboration

What follows is an email conversation between David Holmgren and Stephen, a reader and practitioner of RetroSuburbia.

Stephen 10/10/20:

Dear David,

Due to your experience in both considering possible future scenarios and devising frameworks to adapt to them, I would like to ask you a few questions if you have the time to answer them.

To provide some background, I feel as if I am in a similar position today to where you were at the beginning of the rise of Neoliberalism in the late 1970s where leaders around the world decided to press the accelerator in response to the growing awareness of ecological limits.


Thank you for your thoughtful and important questioning about the retrosuburbia strategy in an increasingly uncertain future. I trust that in replying at some length to your questions, you will be happy for us to repost these in some form online.


Today, it is clear that the federal and state governments in Australia are pressing forward with major gas and coal developments despite a general awareness that we are fast moving towards dangerous climate change (and other ecological limits) and a lesser awareness that we may not even have an adequate supply of energy in the future to deal with these crises.


I agree that the more interventionist (Keynesian) economic responses to restart the national and global economy mostly seem extremely dysfunctional in the face of such pervasive evidence of ecological limits. As the stark contrast between the issues and the action become clearer to more people, this tends to drive some people to radical political action, others to adaptive behaviour (including retrosuburbia) and still more to depression or denial. I have always been sceptical about whether some combination of these is likely to change the course of history. However in my essay Crash on Demand: Welcome to the Brown Tech Future (2013), I postulated that radical self-reliance associated with retrosuburbia by some significant minority of the population could trigger changes more effectively than mobilising mass movements demanding structural change. 

As always, I remain circumspect and sceptical, rather than certain, in considering how much agency we have to avoid more severe economic and social chaos in response the multiple Limits-to-Growth factors. Because I have had to live with these evolving, but more or less consistent, understandings most of my adult life, I don’t get so caught up in the sense of emergency that characterises both radical political reaction and survivalist responses. While I respect those using the Climate Emergency framing to galvanise action with the implied hope of avoiding catastrophe, it bad for health and not really possible to maintain emergency level alertness and action for a lifetime. All crises become normal as they extend over time, something that is no longer necessary to point out to people in Melbourne enduring the longest continuous Covid lockdown.

The limits of any rapid renewable tech rollout to both avert dangerous climate change and maintain some more efficient version of globalised consumer capitalism for the masses of currently rich countries, let alone the rest of the world, is one of the messages that gets lost amongst most people desperately hoping for “the right” policies. Carbon Civilisation and the Energy Descent Future by Samuel Alexander and Joshua Floyd is my current recommended quick read for those still needing to decide whether to maintain faith in the various versions of ‘Green New Deals’ discussed in the media and promoted in Australia by The Greens (but not yet by either of the major parties even though the case for Australia succeeding with some version of this big renewable tech future is stronger than almost any other country).


It seems even more clear on a scientific level that the effects of climate change could make human survival unlikely. The language that scientists are using is becoming more alarming and I am becoming more convinced that we may not avert this catastrophe due to the absolute recklessness of our political leaders.

Based on your research, is this an alarmist position to take or are we headed into such severe territory?


I incorporated the risks of both unstoppable climate tipping points and near-term collapse in oil production in my 2009 Future Scenarios work, leading to the more severe Earth Steward and Lifeboat scenarios. But in my ‘Crash on Demand’ essay I “called it” that we were heading into the Brown Tech near-term scenario, which could unfold over the next few decades. I see more and more evidence that the subtle complexities I gather under the term “Brown Tech” are our present and near future (next few decades). I still assume that any deep transformation of the Earth leading to human extinction would take centuries, independent of whether it could be averted by human action or not.

There is nothing wrong be being alarmist when the stakes are so high and the uncertainties about the dynamics of climate change so complex, let alone the other intersecting Limits-to-Growth factors.


Would the RetroSuburbia framework still be a mitigation strategy in the face of this continued fossil fuel development or is it a serious adaptive strategy even in the most severe scenario that we could be facing? Or is it a way to buy time before the seemingly inevitable takes place that scientists are now warning us about?


The pandemic has highlighted how much of the economy is unnecessary or extravagant ways to meet the psychosocial needs of the population, and these needs could easily be met without the need to commute and consume. I believe there is still a fair chance that the pandemic will be the trigger for the global economy contracting enough to reduces GHG emissions faster than any likely combination of climate policies worldwide. The most likely way for this to happen is that the unprecedented creation of money by central banks will fail to convince the global connected networks of market traders and investors (probably less than 0.1% of the global population) that the values being created in the stock, real estate and financial markets are worth enough to avoid a rush for the exits that more money creation fails to stop. 

However, I thought the scale of money creation following the GFC would have been enough to do the job. Instead of crashing the system, it led to the greatest transfer of wealth in history (possibly being eclipsed by the latest larger round of money creation) and triggered the right populist politics most dramatically associated with Trump in the USA. Amongst other impacts, it managed to further accelerate dysfunctional growth in energy and resource consumption and consequently in GHG emissions. So, as with hopes around the peaking of conventional oil around the same time, hoping for a crash to save us may be as naive as hoping for Elon Musk to do so. So much for my attempts to predict the future – even if I am a little chuffed at my timing of 2020 for “The Second Great Depression” in my ‘Aussie St’ story. 

To address the core of your question, I think widespread ad-hoc adoption of RetroSuburbia across the low-density residential landscapes of Australia and other similar countries could be a significant contribution to a “convergence and contraction” strategy, where affluent countries radically reduce their consumption and resulting GHG emissions and so provide leadership and modelling for change in more problematic higher-density residential habitats in both rich and poor countries. 

I doubt whether the direct mitigation effect would be as great as what countries like Australia could do through a diversity of regenerative agriculture and forestry systems to sequester carbon (or the less proven, but great prospects for Marine Permaculture to do the same in the coastal, if not oceanic, domains). The problem is that so few Australians have the connections, skills or access to land to participate in these processes, other than indirectly as the consumers of the products of land- and sea-based regenerative systems. Short of some sort of harsh return to the countryside, most people are going to contribute and adapt to future scenarios in our current residential habitats. 

I see retrosuburbia as an integrated mitigation/adaptive strategy that is accessible and realistic for viral adoption and adaption by the majority. It will help in other indirect ways through:

  • undermining the financial and other drivers of GDP growth, thus it could extend the growth-contracting effects of the pandemic, while generating social and biophysical assets for cushioning the later stages of energy descent.
  • acting as a benign nursery in which to raise the next generation with the skills to face harsher realities, which may require greater degrees of urban to rural migration to manage the land for collective sustenance and essential ecological services. 

As an example of the sorts of actions we will need to take to defend and strengthen retrosuburbia, my ‘Bushfire Resilient Land and Climate Care’ essay outlined how the community-based management of forests fringing our residential landscapes could be an emblematic and practical way to address the divide in our communities about the causes of the bushfire crisis and what can be done, which satisfies truths on both side of the divide.

In my ‘History from the Future’ story (2016) I attempted to show how the positives of the retrosuburbia strategy might play out in our central Victoria bioregion over more than half a century into the future. As you may note from the story (which is a hybrid of my Green and Brown Tech scenarios), the conditions in Melbourne are more dire. Presumably efforts at retrosuburbia have partially failed to avoid the adverse impacts of social and economic breakdown, until the success of retrosuburbia and other solutions in regional and rural Victoria lead to restorative action in Melbourne. While the world avoids the worst climate scenarios in this story, the relocalisation of the economy to reduce both the advantages and adverse impacts of globalised forces only really takes place as a result of the second crisis of 2060s. It is interesting to note that the short war between the USA and China in 2022, contributing to the dire economic conditions in Australia, looks more plausible than when I wrote the story. One of the aims of this story is to show that while climate change and resource depletion might be the primary drivers of future scenarios, their expression is likely to be through economic, ideological, political and military outcomes while environmental factors are likely to remain in the background.

While we are talking fiction as a way to understand emerging futures, 470 is a great read with a very realistic near term climate change future. It is interesting that in both my short story and Linda Woodrow’s novel, the places with more resilience tend to be rural and small town rather than large cities. I think that while retrosuburbia in some form is the best option for many people making personal and collective plans for the future, I think smaller towns provide more of a sweet point for implementation of those strategies than our largest cities, even if the dynamic of the Brown Tech scenario suggests government and other services could contract from rural and even regional centres, to maintain those in the city.


I wanted to ask you specifically because I like your analytical style of thinking and how it transcends multiple disciplines. Plus I can clearly see that you have given this a lot of thought in the RetroSuburbia book (bought one two years ago, a fantastic book, well done).


I think the pandemic has highlighted for many people the paucity of their household situation, especially for those living alone in apartments without connection to nature, partners or kin. The household consolidation strategy that we highlighted in RetroSuburbia as the most likely way in which ordinary folk would adapt to harder times, has been unfolding in the US for decades, but anecdotal evidence here suggests an enormous acceleration due to the pandemic. For my initial reflections on the relevance of the retrosuburbia strategy in the context of the pandemic see The Class Divide in a Time of Pandemic; a permaculture perspective. For a rare foray into highlighting sensible policy responses to the Limits-to-Growth crisis see RetroSuburbia, Energy Descent, Degrowth and TEQs and my more recent rabble-rousing RetroSuburbia Roadmap.


Thanks for your time and if you get the chance to answer, I would be really interested in what you think about this.


Hopefully these thoughts and linked writings will help with your own plans to grasp the opportunities of rapid changing context, contribute to minimising the damage in the local and wider world, and find the wisdom to recognise what we cannot change and deal with the resulting grief.


David Holmgren

On 15
th Oct 2020 at 3:09pm Stephen replied with the following points and further references 

In response to David’s comment on the framing of climate change as an emergency Stephen replied: 

It’s a very useful way to think of the Climate Emergency framing; a way to galvanise action but not a state of mind that can be maintained over the long term. Having read Kris De Decker’s article on what a 100% renewable Europe or US region would look like, it looks very clear that infrastructure would need to be oversized to overcome the intermittency of renewables which would greatly increase the cost and possibly negate the environmental benefits (as compared to fossil fuel energy systems) of renewable energy. 

Ironically, Australia is actually one of the few countries that could pull this off given our low population density, wealth and high amount of wind and sun energy available though I completely agree that demand reduction should be the first priority; once demand is really reduced, more benign and localised energy sources become far easier to implement. Also enjoyed the Crash On Demand essay, given that the financial system is heading that way anyway, it’s an idea that could allow us to choose the timing of what is an inevitable financial collapse to shift onto a better path, especially if community and household infrastructure can be developed to cushion the landing or so to speak.

In response to David’s comment about “alarmism” Stephen replied:

I had a read of the Future Scenarios website, very interesting especially that the Brown Tech scenario is unfolding. I particularly liked the explanation of nesting which is a useful way to look at why responses across different power hierarchies have ranged from Lifeboat to Brown Tech where even the same political parties in Australia have somewhat been different or where different political parties have had the same response (e.g: Green Tech response in South Australia, Brown Tech response federally or that Northern Territory and Queensland state Labor governments have adopted Brown Tech policies in line with the Brown Tech policies of their opposition party at a federal level).


In response to David’s “prediction” of the Second Great Depression in the 2020s Stephen replied:

When the pandemic and consequent lockdowns hit Australia, I had to remember the mention of a 2020s “Second Great Depression” in the RetroSuburbia book (first read it in 2018). Was a little amazed at the coincidence of timing with your predictions. As for other future predictions, I am understanding that it is very hard to make predictions when there is a dynamic interplay between the financial sector, energy use and extraction and what is happening to the greater biosphere. 

I never thought that governments and investors would be foolish enough to chase lower grades of fossil fuel energy on credit nor to throw billions of dollars at the real estate market to keep pushing land values out of reach for first time buyers but the last two decades have left me with the feeling that anything can happen if the wealthiest people want to try and keep this system going. Whilst I still know the possibility in my bones that this can’t keep up, I have conceded that this may continue on for longer than I thought would be possible and have adjusted household planning to reflect this reality. 

In response to David’s comments about bridging the ideological divides in our communities Stephen replied:

Thanks for the clarification. It is imperative to keep skills alive and ready to be upscaled when it becomes absolutely clear to the majority that these skills are vital. I think this is a really big strength of the RetroSuburbia vision. Through my personal experience, I have also found that many of the elements of RetroSuburbia are appealing regardless of a person’s political leanings. As an example, installing rainwater tanks, wicking beds and solar panels are something that I have found to be popular amongst people across the political divide. 

In response to David’s comments about ecological and energetic drivers of future scenarios not be recognised Stephen replied:

Absolutely. It is sometimes hard to imagine what climate change and resource depletion will actually look like, the likely scenario being as you described an economic, political and military expression. This is eerily reminiscent of what has happened in Syria where climate change induced drought led to civil unrest which was fuelled by geopolitics. 

In response to David’s recent writings about the pandemic Stephen replied:

To build on the move from the household to the community (and even beyond) in terms of a better future, there are two things that I think may help to bridge the gap between the household and governmental level. Adam Brock’s book, Change Here Now is permaculture inspired and seems to look at pattern-based solutions for community transformation. I am also interested to see what happens with the 2020 Glasgow agreement (not to be confused with the UN climate talks) which can be found at It is a coming together of 55 environmental organisations that are drafting an agreement to take action on the climate situation in the full knowledge that governments, the UN and big business can no longer be relied upon to deal with this crisis. 

Although, this focuses on climate change rather than the other crises that we are facing, it could be a very interesting dynamic in your future scenarios if the realisation hits home for activist organisations that asking governments and big business to change is no longer a viable strategy and that a new strategy is required.

Finally in response to David’s comments about personal plans and grief about the world Stephen replied:

Thanks again for your really thoughtful response and having read all of the linked writings, it has definitely provided some clarity around what to do next (at a personal and community level) and to have the wisdom to practice grief for the things that we have lost and are unlikely to recover. It has been very enlightening to converse over such big picture issues and the RetroSuburbian vision.

Yours Sincerely,



PermaQueer TEDx Countdown event

David Holmgren is proud to be speaking at PermaQueer’s 3-day online event this Thursday 15th October at 11am as part of global TedX Countdown. He’ll be speaking about the role of permaculture in designing a sustainable future, alongside many other great speakers such as Morag Gamble, Brenna Quinlan, Charlie Mgee, Rosemary Morrow, Artist as Family and many more.

Get your free or donation based tickets here: