Archive | Ideas

A History from the Future

We are thrilled to be sharing with you an excerpt from David Holmgren’s A History from the Future – a prelude to his upcoming book RetroSuburbia.


A HISTORY FROM THE FUTURE: a prosperous way down

future-scenarios-logoLong time central Victorian resident and co-originator of the globally influential permaculture concept, David Holmgren draws on his Future Scenarios work to paint a picture of how simple household and community level strategies can build resilience to the hard emerging realities of economic contraction, peak oil and climate change.

Holmgren has spent decades modelling how low impact resilient ways of living and land use provide a happier and healthier alternative to dependent consumerism. In this story, based on an original presentation from the Local Lives Global Matters conference in Castlemaine 2015, he shows how these informed lifestyle choices and biological solutions become the basis for surfing the downslope of the emerging energy descent future.


A LOCAL STORY FROM 2086

Prelude: The World at Energy Peak 2000-2015

At the turn of the 21st century the evidence for energy descent driven by peak oil and climate change was already strong. The quasi religious belief in continuous economic growth had a strong hold on collective psychology in central Victoria as much as anywhere in the world. The global financial system began to unravel in 2008 at the same time that global production of conventional oil peaked. For a minority it was increasingly obvious that the policies put in place ensured that the collapse was even more severe when it did come. It was like the powers that be had pushed the accelerator hard to the floor in one of those supercharged sports cars of the time, to attempt to jump across the widening chasm that humanity was facing.

The collapse of global financial growth unfolded differently in different places but here the story had many upsides that were partly due to luck and partly a result of visionaries and innovators who helped create a better future. These are the bare bones of how we got from what a few people still consider was the golden age to what we call the Earth Steward culture.

Photo Erica Zabowski

Choose from a vast array of nothing, or perhaps a different path. Photo Erica Zabowski

First Energy Descent Crisis 2017-2026

In 2017 the Australian property bubble burst. For our communities, this marked the start of the First Energy Descent Crisis (of the 21st century). Ballarat Bank was the first financial institution to fail and a government forced take over by the Commonwealth Bank saw the Community Bank network hived off as local lending co-ops backed by local government hoping to restart economic activity in regional towns that were increasingly on their own as State and Federal governments focused on dealing with hardship and social unrest in the cities.

The crisis was world wide, so dramatically reduced global Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the peak of global oil (what they called Total Liquids at the time) the same year was very much in line with the 1972 Limits To Growth report default scenario showing industrial output peaking about that time. More recent studies suggest that net energy available to support humanity peaked closer to the turn of the millennium but it’s all a moot point because it seems that economic growth had been a net drain on human welfare for decades before that.

As capital investment in oil fell off a cliff, and production from existing fields declined at nearly 10% there was a second oil price shock, a US currency collapse and a short war between the USA and China in 2022. Australia got punished in the trade embargo imposed by China. The economic crisis in China had already caused nearly 100 million of the recently urbanised workers to return to the villages, and reimposition of a command economy to continue the shift to renewable energy and revitalise agriculture. Consequently China was able to cope without Australian coal and gas and there was so much scrap steel in the world that the iron ore exports had come to a standstill.

While oil and food remained costly (at least relative to falling wages) most manufactured goods were dirt-cheap. Solar panels from China (somehow getting around the trade embargo) accelerated the trend for retail customers going off grid which, combined with collapse of commercial demand for electricity, led to a “Death Spiral” in the power grid with rising prices and increasing blackouts (and surges due to excess wind and solar inputs).

A newly elected Federal Labor government renationalised the power grid, along with price controls, rationing an Australia ID card allowing rationed access to subsidised supermarkets that had been experiencing shortages of fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy.

In Victoria, a Liberal government implemented policies to encourage people to be more self-reliant. Permaculture education was adopted as a framework for integrating aspects of self-reliance including home food production, owner building, water harvesting and waste management.

Rationing of fuel led to hitch-hiking, ride sharing and in rural areas a rush to convert vehicles to wood gas. Bicycles became the default personal transport around town in Castlemanine but in Daylesford and Hepburn, electric bikes and vehicles powered by the Hepburn Wind charging stations installed for tourists before the property bubble burst maintained mobility for locals.

Kanagawa Chuo Kotsu Charcoal Bus

Charcoal powered public transport from Japan. Photo: ‘Lover of Romance’

Conversion of vehicles to wood gas by a range of bush mechanics and ex-hot rodders had mixed success. The market value of higher powered larger vehicles and trucks rose as a result of the first wave of conversions. The Castlemaine Obtainium Engineering Institute was established to test and improve local designs and prototypes. One of the motivations was a competitive spirit with the electric car networks centred in Daylesford and Ballarat.

Use of Bitcoin (a virtual currency), local currencies, precious metals and barter all increased to support exchange in the rapidly growing informal and grey economies. Bitcoin then failed in mysterious circumstances after being targeted for funding terrorism.

The Internet began functioning again after major breakdowns during the conflict between the US and China. But Facebook and Amazon were bankrupt, cyberspace was littered with defunct and unmaintained sites and Internet marketing was plagued by cyber crime and draconian government regulations. Local computer networks using wireless technology, as well as a revival of two-way radio, started building back to basics communication pathways.


A History from the Future eBookletTo read the full story, purchase the eBook here or get the download for FREE when you sign up to our mailing list for updates to David Holmgren’s upcoming book RetroSuburbia, due for release in March 2017.

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Samuel Alexander interviews David Holmgren

Get yourself comfortable and settle in for a thorough look at David Holmgren’s latest thinking on the prospects for our future. In this interview Samuel Alexander of the Simplicity Collective poses written questions which David addresses over an epic 90 minutes.

For the last few months (and before) David has been absorbed in writing a new book, so there may be hints of some of the book’s contents in the interview. David’s thinking is informed by his daily work in the garden, even while keeping the water up to the food production system, the complex ideas are forming, being reorganised and constantly critiqued. The book is about retrofitting society for a quite different world. It elaborates and extends David’s 2015 Aussie Street Presentation, and Retrofitting The Suburbs essay .

The Aussie St story that traces four adjacent suburban houses and their inhabitants from the “1950s Golden Age of Suburbia” to the “Second Great Depression of 2020” has been particularly powerful at engaging with Australians who live in or grew up in suburbia. The new book will build on this and take  a wider perspective.

David will be launching “RetroSuburbia; a downshifters guide to a resilient future” in the new year with a website to match Retrosuburbia.com so watch out for the website going live, a book launch close to you, and associated workshops all over Melbourne.

 

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the war on Monsanto

The seeds of life are not what they once were
Mother Nature and God don’t own them anymore

So belts out the veteran singer songwriter Neil Young with Promise of the Real on their title track from his latest album, The Monsanto years. What is the old protest rocker raging about? Monsanto and the war on weeds.

What are the weeds? According to the National Invasive Species Council of the USA weeds are “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” Spearheaded by good intentioned nativists, the war is declared all over the world, on weeds. But are we as qualified as mother nature or god to decide what plants should grow, while others are declared noxious and exterminated?

Assuming that we have a moral authority to pick and choose the arrangement of nature, can we the humans really ‘eradicate’ the invasive aliens? What with? Gallons of glyphosate? Is killing the plants with glyphosate more harmful than  any harm ‘weeds’ do to us? And who makes glyphosate? According to the article Andrew Cockburn wrote for Harper’s magazine, “last year, the federal government (of the US) spent more than $2 billion to fight the alien invasion, up to half of which was budgeted for glyphosate and other poisons.”

shop_beyond_the_war_800sIntriguing stuff. All these questions were recently discussed on Australia’s ABC radio’s Late Night Live program. Taking part in discussion was Andrew Cockburn and David Holmgren.

Environmentalists used to fight against chain saws, bulldozers and poisons. Now they’re fighting ‘invasive’ species of plants and animals – with the help of chain saws, bulldozers and poisons. Who benefits? Mainly the company that was once their sworn enemy – Monsanto.

You can hear the program on ABC‘s website. Cockburn’s poignant piece on Harper’s magazine.

Holmgren’s articles and other writings on weeds are found here, especially recommended for reading are foreword to Beyond the WAR on invasive species by Tao Orion and Weeds or wild nature.

Neil Young also has made a mini doco on the story of Michael White vs Monsanto, Seeding Fear.

 

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IPCUK opening addresses

David Holmgren and Jonathon Porritt addressed the opening session of the International Permaculture Conference [IPCUK] in London on Tues [8 September 2015].

The following notes were taken by Ian Lillington, who coincidentally worked under Porritt at Friends of the Earth in London in 1990.

Co-originator Holmgren talked about the ‘waves’ of permaculture’s growth – he reckons we are in the middle of the fourth wave; and former Friends of the Earth chief, Porritt, acknowledged that permaculture’s principles were an influence on both his thinking and his spirit, as he advocates for a mindset that is not dominated by greed and over-consumption.

Permaculturists from at least 78 nations were in the unique structure called ‘The Light’ in central London for two days, representing the 135+ countries globally where permaculture is happening.

David’s voice and ‘big-picture thinking’ is familiar to most of us, but it was news to hear Porritt focus on food security and setting limits to population [as well as consumption]. Porritt said that conventional statements about ‘doubling the food we produce by x’ makes no sense unless we address food waste. Around 30-45% of food at the farm does not turn up on the plate, and more is wasted once it is scraped off the plate uneaten. And also to address meat consumption – much demand for new agricultural land is geared to using the land as feed for meat production [eg soy in Latin America].

So, as with energy problems, the answer is to reduce the need for more, not to obsessively produce more.

There needs to be sensible conversation about soil, nutrients, water, etc as part of the debate about food security and also  waste and the meat obsession must not be ignored.

Porritt has been central to the Organic Food movement and has been part of GM debates. Looking back, he realizes that debate hardly touched on the relationship between humans and the earth – especially the reciprocities involved. In contrast, the heartland of p’c is different. It’s a set of design principles underpinnning the way humans produce our food.

P’c and the like allow us to be part of the intellectual and spiritual process that is going on – Porritt places a strong emphasis on the spiritual through which he has worked and learned to stop his deep apocalyptic fear, and come back to the story of hope.  It is not just doable, it is being done; now – and can and will be done more.

But future food will come with new challenges. We think all good food should come from a beautiful relationship between land and food, but to reduce pressure on limited land, without massive animal cruelty, we need to use science. There are exploding areas of work, eg – will there be artificial meat? Probably it will be a major part of protein intake of the future world.  And protein from algae – also big growth area, eg Brazil, GM modified algae to produce alternative to palm oil.

We will get new dilemmas coming at us all the time.

So, conferences like this are very important to make us dig deeper and draw on the wealth of resources that are available to us and connect to web-based stuff like www.foodtank.com – whose analysis of the world of permaculture reported more than a million people certified in p’c of some sort and 4,000 enduring p’c projects or centres in around 140m countries. Also recommended ‘Living with the Land ‘ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTv3M-gu05k

In summary, Porritt talks of travelling the world and advocating for sane sustainability. He has seen two types of excellence – 1 – he calls Enclaves – refuges – places where people withdrawal from the horror of the modern age. Sometimes we need to retreat to an enclave and p’c has played an important part in creating some of these. And 2 – Different but connected – Outposts – people on the front line – engaged in places of difficulty and danger – grappling with daily issues of food insecurity. Outposts are made of people joining with local communities and addressing social justice as well as food production.

Porritt says it’s an exciting world – he sees a scene of creative chaos – and we have a big role to play through the p’c movement.

In the mix of action and dreaming, there is a balance and the permaculture movement provides some of that opportunity to find the right place to be to act for a better world.

 

 

 

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Beyond the WAR on invasive species

5976Beyond the WAR on invasive species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration is a new book by Tao Orion published by Chelsea Green.

Beyond the WAR on Invasive Species offers a much-needed alternative perspective on invasive species and the best practices for their management based on a holistic, permaculture-inspired framework. Utilizing the latest research and thinking on the changing nature of ecological systems, Beyond the WAR on Invasive Species closely examines the factors that are largely missing from the common conceptions of invasive species, including how the colliding effects of climate change, habitat destruction, and changes in land use and management contribute to their proliferation.

The choices we make on a daily basis—the ways we procure food, shelter, water, medicine, and transportation—are the major drivers of contemporary changes in ecosystem structure and function; therefore, deep and long-lasting ecological restoration outcomes will come not just from eliminating invasive species, but through conscientious redesign of these production systems.

 

Here’s what David Holmgren reckons how this war began and now entrenches us, deep in the environmental conscience.

This new science of “Invasion ecology” informed the education of a cadre of natural resource management professionals, supported by taxpayer funds. These resources mobilised armies of volunteers in aʻwar on weedsʼ. But labour and even machine intensive methods of weed control were soon sidelined in favour of herbicides that environmentalists and ecologists accepted as a necessary evil in the vain hope of winning the war against an endless array of newly naturalizing species.
For the chemical corporations this new and rapidly expanding market began to rival the use of herbicides by farmers, with almost unlimited growth potential, so long as the taxpayer remained convinced that the war on weeds constituted looking after the environment. In Australia the visionary grassroots Landcare movement, started by farmers in the early 1980s, was reduced to being the vehicle for implementing this war on weeds.

Read in full, David Holmgren’s foreword to the book, here(PDF).

 

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Bushfire resilient landscapes

This is a video record of  David Holmgren presentation on bushfire resilient landscapes buildings homes and communities in a forum held in April 2015 in Hewett. The forum was initiated by Transition Gawler (TG) to support and educate residents on fire prevention and mitigation through a new set of design principles.

Time: 7pm Friday 24 April 2015
Place: Hewett Community Centre, 24 Kingfisher Dv, Hewett (near Gawler)

The other three parts of the forum are available below.
Part 1 – Introduction to Forum/Transition Gawler
vimeo.com/esmedia/fire1

Part 2 – Helen Hennessy – CFS – overview of Sampson Flat Fire
vimeo.com/esmedia/fire2

Part 3 – Tony Fox – Natural Resources AMLR Gawler Office – Sampson Flat Fire Recovery
vimeo.com/esmedia/fire3

 

—–<<further info>>—

On the subject, you may be interested in the following case studies David Holmgren has done.

The flywire house: a case study in design against bushfire

Melliodora: a case study in cool climate permaculture

or come and see for yourself an example of bushfire resilient landscape by taking part in the whole day tour at Melliodora.

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Global Chorus

Global Chorus is an interesting hybrid of book and daily reader, on the environmental theme. The book contains the responses from 365 eminent concerned people across the globe to this question:

Do you think that humanity can find a way past the current global environmental and social crises? Will we be able to create the conditions necessary for our own survival as well as that of other species on the planet? What would these conditions look like? In summary, then, and in the plainest of terms, do we have hope, and can we do it?

global-chorus-coverThe contributors come from all walks of life, not just the usual suspects; environmental, religious, social, political, business leaders and activists, professors and researchers, but also farmers, chefs, carpenters, factory workers, architects, artists, athletes, and musicians.

Among some of the more widely-known choir members are Gary Snyder, Rob Hopkins, David Suzuki, Satish Kumar, Paul Hawken, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, Edward O. Wilson,  Helena Noberg-Hodge, Jamie Oliver, Maya Angelou, Les Stroud, Bruce Cockburn, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev, Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May, Temple Grandin, Farley Mowat, John Ralston Saul, and the Dalai Lama.

As a Canadian publication, to raise funds for The Jane Goodall Institute, The David Suzuki Foundation and The Canadian Red Cross, perhaps, it seems people from Australia or NZ are under represented, with the noticable exception of the pair who conceived permaculture some four decades earlier, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison.

It is set out as a daily reader, filled with words of wisdom and food for daily thought. We have no idea though how the specific date is assigned to the contributor, Rob Hopkins (Feb 13) and Mollison (Feb 17), though David Holmgren (Sept 23) likes to note at the equinox how people all around the world are joined by the experience of equal daylight and night.

Compiled for your reading as a set of 365 pieces, Global Chorus presents to you a different person’s point of view for each day of your year.

More about Global Chorus.

Here is Holmgren’s contribution (Sep 23).

Organised international responses (between nation states) to the current global environmental and social crises are unlikely to be effective or in time, and are more likely to worsen the crises because they will all be designed to maintain growth of the corporation dominated global economy and protect the power of nation states.

Despite the pain and suffering from the ongoing, and likely permanent, contraction of many economies, the explosion of informal household and community economies have the potential to ameliorate the worst impacts of the crises by rebuilding lost local resilience.

I believe the diversity of integrated design strategies and techniques associated with concepts such as permaculture will be most effective at building household and community economies as the global economy unravels. The diversity of these strategies and techniques promises that at least some will provide pathways for longer term survival of humanity while the adverse impacts of some strategies will tend to be more local and limited allowing natural systems (especially at the global scale) to stabilise.

Because the future will be more local than global, the critical path is the ongoing development and refinement of effective local designs, while the internet and other aspects of the failing global systems still have huge potential to allow the viral spread of the most effective and widely applicable designs.

Systems ecology and indigenous wisdom both suggest that in a world of limited resources, the ethics of “care of the earth”, “care of people” and “fair share” will prove more advantageous to local survival than those based on greed and fear, that have been so powerful during a century of unprecedented abundance. To put it crudely, hungry dogs hunt cooperatively and share the results, but given an abundance of food, they fight each other for the spoils.

I have great hope that the diverse local cultures that emerge from the ruins of industrial modernity will be based on these ethics and informed by design principles found in nature. The uncertainty is how much more pain and despoiling are yet to unfold before fear and greed prove maladapted to a world of limits.

 

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Permaction in the brown tech future (video)

Earlier this year, permaculture activists from Australia and New Zealand converged to a tiny town in Tasmania for the 12th get together. There, as one of the key note speakers, and a co-founder of the concept nearly four decades ago in Tasmania, David Holmgren delivered this speech. We posted the text of the speech earlier and now you can watch him on the video (thanks to Adam Hogg for creating and Eric Smith for posting it).

Permaculture activism in the brown tech future (presented at Penguin, March 2015)

There are other videos from the APC12 on the official website including Stuart Hill (emeritus professor and foundation chair of Social Ecology at University of Western Sydney) discussing permaculture’s achievements and challenges.

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One of the best permaculture docos

The explosion of docos about sustainability in recent years includes a fair number that focus on permaculture and I have been interviewed in quite a few. The request to preview Inhabit and offer comment was just one of my “responsibilities” as co-originator of the permaculture concept. In the end I got to view Inhabit with 200 other permaculture activists at the 12th Australasian permaculture convergence in Penguin, Tasmania in March 2015. There was a standing ovation after the viewing.

INHABIT - Collage

I was impressed by the articulate explanations of permaculture by a few people I knew, many I had never met and some I had never heard of. The scope and balance of the examples chosen to illustrate the diversity of permaculture is excellent. The film gives me a great sense of the evolution of permaculture in the USA over recent decades.

Of course the art and beauty of this film will make it attractive to audiences used to polished media productions, but it is the substance underlying the beauty and passion that attracts me. The film can’t convey enough about the ideas and projects presented, for me to personally endorse every element in it as representing the best of permaculture, but I can endorse Inhabit as one of the best permaculture docos of the last thirty years.

Here’s the official blurb for the film.

Humanity is more than ever threatened by its own actions; we hear a lot about the need to minimize footprints and to reduce our impact. But what if our footprints were beneficial? What if we could meet human needs while increasing the health and well-being of our planet? This is the premise behind permaculture: a design process based on the replication of patterns found in nature. Inhabit explores the many environmental issues facing us today and examines solutions that are being applied using the ecological design lens of permaculture. Focused mostly on the Northeastern and Midwestern regions of the United States, Inhabit provides an intimate look at permaculture peoples and practices ranging from rural, suburban, and urban landscapes.

INHABIT: A Permaculture Perspective made by Costa Boutsikaris and Emmett Brenna is now available.

INHABIT Banner Thin

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Principles & Pathways reviewed and updated for eBook

An extract of David Holmgren’s prologue from the newly released eBook edition of Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability


The world has changed radically since Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (PP&PBS) was first published in 2002. By many environmental, economic and social measures, local communities and global systems are now in crisis and even collapse. The premise of the book was that the ‘energy descent’ future would inevitably require new ways of thinking to replace the failing principles that guided industrialisation, modernity and globalisation.

PPPBS-eBook-Banner

In reflecting on the book, I remain happy with the eclectic mix of abstract theory, grounded examples and personal anecdotes that riled academic and editorial sensibilities. While some ideas and points remain speculative, many others have since become clearer through the course of a growing body of practice and more than a decade of turbulent world history that we have lived through. For example, for the well-informed, Peak Oil has moved from speculative concept to historical reality that underpins the explosive growth in renewable energy, economic contraction and geopolitical realignment. Similarly, the environmentally heretical positive view of species naturalisation that I articulated in the book, is now supported by a rapidly growing body of peer reviewed science within the new field of study of ‘novel ecosystems’.

The delay in producing an eBook version of the text (not having a publisher driven by financial logic) has been fortuitous because it has allowed a comprehensive review of the text to improve grammar, use of terms, and an update and the addition of references. Most importantly the capacities of a digital edition enabled live links to updated web addresses and direct cross referencing to precise points in the text rather than general chapter references. This allows the reader, including those who have read the printed book, to explore in more depth the non-linear nature of systems thinking that accounts for at least some of the difficulty of this work. The fully searchable text allows the reader to easily find a point that this labyrinthian character tends to hide.

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Readers of existing translations can be assured that the changes made are of a minor in nature compared to the great difficulty in translation generally and especially for this work. We trust that the painstaking translation work, by those with an understanding of and commitment to the concepts, has captured the text for the better but we hope the text of this digital edition will make any future translations a little easier.

As ever I remain one of permaculture’s strongest internal critics in insisting that for permaculture concepts and teaching to remain relevant, it must be grounded in practical action that regenerates nature and improves the lives of ordinary and especially impoverished people. In addition, it must remain open to influence from parallel and complementary concepts, movements and ideas that are contributing to a gentler and more benign energy descent future in which nature’s wealth is regenerated and humanity finds its place in that natural order.

David Holmgren
Melliodora  April 2015


shop_PPPBS-eBook_800sPermaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability eBook is now available from our shop as an ePub for AUD$20.

The ePub file download can be opened and read on most modern smart phones, tablets and desktop computers using appropriate software, like iBooks for Apple users.

489 pages in standard display size on an iPad2

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