Tag Archives | Books

Book Review: How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times

When I was sent a review copy of this book in February 2020, I was very busy with our residential Permaculture Design Course (which includes subjects aligned with the broad subject matter of this book). At the same time, we were making plans, just in case the new epidemic in China did prove to be the big one (a severe global pandemic that ecologists and epidemiologists had been predicting for decades). As our preparations to restructure our business to operate during the pandemic (without government support) and consolidate our three semi-autonomous households at Melliodora, lots of stuff fell by the wayside, including reading this book. I did pass it to Brenna Quinlan, our resident permaculture illustrator and educator, but she thought it sounded too depressing a read for current conditions.

After the French edition became a bestseller back in 2015, I heard about it in the context of accelerating interest in permaculture in France. Its translation into English early this year was a sign of its importance. Nevertheless, the title bugged me, not because of the gloomy connotation but because of my trouble with the word ‘collapse’. More than 20 years ago, I specifically chose to avoid collapse as the default term for discussing futures for humanity involving less energy and material wealth. In choosing the word ‘descent’ as equally honest but less catastrophic, I knew I was swimming against the tide of both serious historical research and populist perspectives of the future.

Most discussion of the future tends to divide between naïve techno-utopianism on the one hand and apocalyptic millennialism on the other. 

In How Everything Can Collapse, Servigne and Stevens strongly articulate the inevitability of some type of near-term collapse of what they call thermo-industrial civilization, while avoiding the hazards of apocalyptic millennialism. The balance between conveying critically important information and sunny exploration of the universal human instincts, behaviours and beliefs is one of the strengths and joys of this book.

In Part 1, the authors use vehicular analogies to brilliantly summarise the diverse range and depth of evidence from many fields. Being more familiar than most with much of that evidence (which has been accumulating over the last half century), I think their necessarily brief summary of some of the highlights is sufficient but not excessive for the average reader. Explanation of EROI (energy return on investment), their distinction between hard ‘limits’ (to growth) and crossable (eco)system ‘boundaries’, and their explorations of positive feedback, complexity and lock in are important in providing the reader with a systemic overview rather than a disconnected series of facts and indicators. 

In Part 2, the authors address the inevitable questions about when and how collapse will happen. They explore the paradox of how understanding collapse acts as a hedge against collapse or at least its worst forms, systemic characteristics that lead to more severe collapse vs slower descent pathways, and the role of mathematical models in understanding collapse including the most famous ‘World3’ model behind the seminal The Limits To Growth report (1972).

In Part 3, the authors explore the diversity of scenarios, perspectives and responses. C S Holling’s four phase model of ecological change, Dmitry Orlov’s ‘Five Stages of Collapse’, David Korowicz’s linear decline, oscillating decline and systemic collapse variants, or John Michael Greer’s catabolic collapse might all sound like dry theory, but Servigne and Stevens explain the relevance of these and other concepts for those grappling with the ethical, strategic and practical issues for humanity as a whole, for the individual and at every level in between. Most importantly, they identify the strong evidence for, and importance of, mutual aid in time of crisis and postulate how this could be a saving grace for humanity in more global and irreversible challenges and changes. 

Perhaps the most endearing aspect of this exploration is the authors’ overview of the spectrum of psychological and practical responses they observed in people who have understood, and in some way, come to terms with collapse. 

While permaculture is only mentioned in passing, along with other hedges and adaptive responses to collapse, I found the review of the role and impact of the Transition and Degrowth movements insightful, especially for English readers wanting a somewhat more internationalist perspective.

I was surprised and pleased to see discussion of the implications of my essay ‘Crash On Demand: welcome to the Brown Tech future\ (2013), even if their reading of the essay bypassed the main point which was not about our agency in stopping descent/collapse but instead to better understand the ways in which my ‘Brown Tech’ scenario was emerging nearly a decade after its outline (along with three other descent/collapse scenarios in Future Scenarios, published online in 2007). 

I continue to believe that the form of global collapse is likely to be a stepwise energy descent pathway: initially limited in depth and scope, leading to restructure and stabilisation before new crises, leading to further limited collapse. That pattern could continue for centuries into the future. However with each passing year, the failure of the accelerating crises to prevent the bounce back in growth of energy and resource extraction, increases the likelihood of deeper systemic collapse. The evidence for my claim in ‘Crash On Demand’, that current events showed the characteristics of my Brown Tech scenario, have grown stronger in the years since. In any case, my own focus remains fixed on the adaptive responses that permaculture thinking and action provide.

Reading this book did more than just mollify my adverse reaction to whether the term ‘collapse’ might be the best word to encompass the diversity of likely future scenarios. It generated a personal acceptance that I am, along a diversity of thinkers and writers acknowledged in this extensively referenced work, a collapsologist. In articulating collapsology as perhaps the most important emerging field of intellectual endeavour, and their somewhat light-hearted admission of personal obsession with the subject, Servigne and Stevens have provided a great introduction to a field of study that cannot be investigated without that investigation dispelling the illusion of separation of subject and observer. 

However, in such an important book, the lack of an index is disappointing for those committed to paper rather than digital formats. (Even the apparently disconnected subject of publishing media formats is of course a subject on which collapsologists have thought and written.) 

In the 1980s Mollison used to start two-week residential Permaculture Design Courses with a day focused on what he called ‘Evidence’. While many permaculture teachers feel that session is no longer necessary, more nuanced ways of understanding the future remain critical to effective permaculture teaching, design and action. In the 1990s as I began to grapple with these issues, I often got the response, ‘Oh you mean Mad Max’. The idea of an implausible 1970s road movie being an intellectual reference point for considering futures of less rather than more, highlighted for me the mental wasteland around the subject of the future. Nevertheless as the authors point out, films, stories and other art forms are great ways to stimulate our thinking about future scenarios. My own explorations in storytelling (Aussie St) and our more recent publication of Linda Woodrow’s 470 reflect our belief that imagination is a key to both grappling with the challenges and creating adaptive, graceful and empowering responses.

But to put all stories about the future in context, a system thinking overview is really useful. Whether you are just grappling with the need to think about the future for yourself and your family or are personally obsessed by dark scenarios for humanity and the earth, I highly recommend How Everything Can Collapse, even if the title (in English at least) might deter those who continue to relax in the soothing water of techno-optimism. 

As the favourite aphorism of collapsology goes, ‘Collapse now and avoid the rush.’


David Holmgren
Co-originator of permaculture
Summer, Hepburn, 2021


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 holmgen.com.au). 

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>>


Introducing 470

Science fiction influenced my thinking as a youth, especially stories that featured ecological limits (eg Dune and The Dispossessed). In the early 1970s, the modelling of the Club of Rome “Limits to Growth” report provided a context for the conception of permaculture – an ecological, creative and humane response to the Limits to Growth facing the whole of humanity.

In turn, permaculture and “back-to-the-land” self-reliant simplicity of those years inspired new generations of writers including Jackie French in Australia and Starhawk in the USA to write stories about futures of ecological consequence. More recently, a proliferation of books focused on climate change has created a new genre “Cli-Fi” that use climate science as context for stories about the future.

Linda Woodrow’s 470 is certainly Cli-Fi: great storytelling in the context of the near-term consequences of climate change driven natural disasters. But it is much more. Beyond the meticulous background research that all good writers of fiction do to make their stories real, Linda Woodrow also draws on decades of living close to the land where her story is set. That life applying and writing about permaculture has provided a broad and deep reservoir of experience to draw on in crafting this gripping story of persistence, empowerment and joy in the face of fear, loss and despair.

From the portrayal of geography transformed by natural forces to heroic and dogged persistence of volunteer natural disaster workers, the drama of personal relationships, fleeting and long enduring, and the details of providing the essentials of food, shelter and health care constrained by non-negotiable realities, Woodrow both entertains and informs the reader. Far from didactic, let alone judgemental, the portrayal of characters connected by blood and circumstance in 470 is sensitive to human frailties, contradictions and vulnerabilities. She gives hope that adversity can nurture profound and enduring personal growth and the slow emergence of self-governing communities at the household, neighbourhood and bioregional scale. While permaculture is barely mentioned in the book, its influence is everywhere in the story from homestead-scale organic food production, to ecological building, appropriate technology, botanical medicine, tree crops for a changing climate, design against natural disaster and intentional community decision making.

Beyond these recognisable permaculture related themes, 470 provides a glimpse of how environmental and countercultural thinking over the last 50 years has found expression, suppression, migration and re-emergence in Australian society by showing the flowering of those influences over three generations of a family lineage.

These were reasons enough for me, and our team at Melliodora Publishing, to jump at the opportunity to publish 470 as contributing to our mission to publish books “that fill a gap in the permaculture-related literature and support individuals in their personal permaculture journey”.

My own dabbling in fiction began more than a decade ago with my “Aussie Street” presentations portraying the transformation of suburbia from the “Golden Age of Growth” to retrosuburbia in the Second Great Depression of the 2020s. This became written word for the first time as a chapter in our bestselling RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future, and the basis for our next publication, Our Street, a picture book by Beck Lowe and permaculture illustrator Brenna Quinlan.

Consequently, this jump into publishing a novel is more evolutionary than revolutionary but also involves new challenges in the very competitive market for fiction. The work by Richard Telford in conceiving and Maria Penna in crafting a beautiful and striking cover true to the author’s work is an important contribution to gaining wider attention in the crowded bookshelves, whether in store or online. We trust our regular readers from permaculture and kindred networks will grasp opportunities to gift and promote 470 to their families, friends and workmates as a way to start empowering discussions, instead of having ineffective and debilitating arguments about the minutiae of climate science or the motivations behind its detractors. While it is clearly too late to avoid “dangerous climate change” by progressive policies, it’s never too late for all of us to retrofit our behaviour to be more resilient in the face of the coming changes, and begin to build new household and community economies in the shadow of the old one that is doomed no matter how much money governments print.

For teenagers and young adults searching for meaningful and brave action in the face of societal dysfunction, 470 provides a broad pallet of possibilities. For families raising young children, 470 shows how raising the next generation requires us to be bold and brave in finding a pathway through the vortex of change we face. For older people with resources to reorganise for the non-negotiable changes of aging, 470 shows it is possible to do so in ways that help the next generations to face the future.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has shown everyone that our affluent technological society can be brought to a standstill by forces of nature so small they hardly qualify as living, while the bushfire summer showed us that despite our technology, humanity remains at the mercy of the weather that Mother Nature delivers each day and each season.

Imagination is essential to avoiding existential threats and creating the best of possible worlds. Linda Woodrow’s deep well of imagination helps us in this essential task.


David Holmgren, Melliodora Publishing
Hepburn, Victoria


Watch the launch now!


Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary

Samuel Alexander, from the Simplicity Collective has just published a new book, Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary, co-authored with Professor Brendan Gleeson, with a foreword by David Holmgren.

The book addresses a central dilemma of the urban age: how do we make suburban landscapes sustainable in the face of planetary ecological crises? The authors argue that degrowth, a planned contraction of overgrown economies, is the most coherent paradigm for suburban renewal. They depart from the anti-suburban sentiment of much environmentalism to show that existing suburbia can be the centre-ground of transition to a new social dispensation based on the principle of enlightened material and energy restraint.

David’s foreword to the book begins thus:

Historians charting the trajectory of industrial civilisation will note the remarkable disconnect between the status accorded to “evidence based decision making” in our culture and the relentless pursuit of perpetual growth on a finite planet. While the contradiction has always been clear to the simplest of folks, the publication of the Limits to Growth report nearly half a century ago gave us the means to better understand the complex system dynamics that would characterise humanity’s overshoot of global limits.

Because these understandings coincided with the oil crises and resultant recessions, in affluent western countries there was some public discourse, and even early action, to consider the possibility of futures other than ones of continuous growth. On the fringes of society a flourishing counterculture gave birth to lifestyles and concepts (including permaculture) that have been the source of a continuous lineage of creative change. Some of these fringe ideas – such as the internet – have contributed to powerful creative action that has transformed society, whilst others – such as renewable energy and regenerative agriculture – provide pathways promising to manifest transformation now.

You can read the rest of the foreword here.

You can read a review of the book on Make Wealth History.

You can purchase the book here.

As a companion film, here is the latest offering from the talented folk at Happen Films:


Transforming the Suburbs

Please join us for this exciting forum, Transforming the Suburbs, in which the panel speakers will explore the transformative role of Australian suburbs to activate the behavioural change, cooperative-based action and practical solutions required for rapid transition to a carbon-positive low energy future.

The speakers are:
David Holmgren – Permaculture co-originator
Costa Georgiadis – Gardening Australia, ABC TV
Dominique Hes – Melbourne University
Michael Ableman – Sole Food Street Farms, Canada
Kat Lavers – Permaculture practitioner

The event will be MC’d by Nick Ritar from Milkwood Permaculture.

This expert panel will creatively explore sustainable actions, key strategies and resilience-based concepts for future suburban responses to localised and global ecological challenges. The audience will be provided expert analysis and thought-provoking ideas on how suburbia will be a vital place to survive and thrive in challenging futures. Discussion will actively engage and inform event participants about multi-faceted transitional change ideas that positively contribute toward low-energy and carbon positive sustainable home and community living.

For anyone interested in permaculture, or a shift towards creatively adapting to a more sustainable way of living, this free event is not to be missed.

Cost: Free


RetroSuburbia Book Launch

We can’t wait!! Please join us for this momentous event. RetroSuburbia – four years in the making, is to be launched at the National Sustainable Living Festival in February 2018.

Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis will launch the book and will also be in-conversation with David and facilitate a Q&A from the audience.

We are hugely lucky that Formidable Vegetable Sound System will be playing tunes on the day.

Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Find out more here: The National Sustainable Living Festival.


Out to lunch


Apologies if our phones and emails go unanswered. Apologies if we miss appointments, lunch dates and birthday parties. We are too busy reading the latest addition to the Melliodora Publishing family:

The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A guide to spending less while enjoying everything more

By Annie Raser-Rowland with Adam Grubb, authors of the hugely popular Weed Forager’s Handbook

The Art of Frugal Hedonism

About the book

A lot of stuff we spend money on actually makes life less enjoyable in the long run. And a lot of cheap and free stuff is very enjoyable indeed. So why choose the stuff that requires us to work all the time and get stressed about bank balances? The stuff that leads to looking in the mirror and seeing your dear face grown all puffy from too many pad Thai takeaways eaten mid-commute, because finding the energy to cook at the end of the day often feels impossible. To gazing at your house full of random possessions that seemed wonderful when you bought them but now seem to demand more care, organising, and storage space than you have the capacity for. To finding yourself at the gym, or maybe on the therapist’s couch, suspecting that you wouldn’t need to be there if you just had the time to sleep in more, or to go out dancing, like you’d love to.

“This is not a good scene!” declares the Frugal Hedonist, and opts for ditching some pricier habits and lifestyle expectations in favour of less stress. They focus their spending where it provides maximum bang per buck, and become connoisseurs of free pleasures. Then they kick back and reap the rewards.

What the heck are we talking about already? Let’s get example-y.

A Frugal Hedonist might often catch up with friends by taking a long walk together and raving about the week’s thoughts, rather than by buying drinks at a bar. They’ve noticed that the passing scenery adds just as much to the conversation as assessing the merits of the latest craft beer. They probably also go to bars now and again, but the simple act of frequently choosing the walk, means that over time layers of saved money and improved butt-tone add up to make the Frugal Hedonist enjoy other aspects of life more. Like being able to afford an extra week of unpaid holiday time over the summer, or wearing tight pants. And their friends associate them as much with the sound of birdsong or having seen a cloud in the shape of a gorilla doing push-ups, as with waking up with a blurry head and an empty wallet.

We could go on. But there’s a book that does that. It’s called… The Art of Frugal Hedonism.

“The freest and most contented people pretty much follow the advice in The Art of Frugal Hedonism.” ~ Clive Hamilton, author of Growth Fetish and co-author of Affluenza.

The Art of Frugal Hedonism is an absolute joy. It is good-natured not pious, humane not self-righteous and a guide to ethical living that makes the impossible possible. I am happy to make this my bible.” ~ Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap

“An invaluable harvest of tips oozing with hedonistic wit and wonder. Packed with ideas about why and how we are to live with less to ensure we have a hell of a lot more.” ~ Meg Ulman, co-author of The Art of Free Travel

“In an age that is obsessed with consumer trinkets and oblivious to waste, the philosophy of frugal hedonism provides a welcome and necessary antidote. The simplicity of this message is profound. Be frugal and be free.” ~ Samuel Alexander, co-director of the Simplicity Institute

Who is it for?

  • For people who want to reshape their spending for maximum pleasure and minimum pain.
  • For people who are already challenging cultural consumption assumptions, but would love a little backup now and again.
  • For anyone who gets a kick out of reading humorous writing (laced with a lot of nifty science) that inspires thoughts about the braver and better things in life.

You can read sample chapters and buy your copy here.


Permaculture Activism and the Future

I was recently asked by “permaculture actionary” Delvin Solkinson to provide some words for a newsletter promoting the next Rainbow Serpent Festival at which I’ll be speaking (several times). Very normal that a previous participant at one of our Advanced Permaculture Principles Courses should be asking me for a piece for an event he has the job to promote. Except for the fact that Delvin is based in the rainforests of British Columbia, Canada and the event is Rainbow Serpent Festival, that is held each dry dusty January  in our bioregional backyard.elvishBYdesign

My reply was

“Delvin, You ask difficult questions. Attached are a few words for your “Trans Pacific Partnership” project producing a local festival mag from the west coast of Canada.”

Inevitably I said too much for Delvin to use in full, but he thought it should be available somewhere, so here it is.



What are the roots or foundations of Permaculture?
Permaculture emerged from the fusion and ferment of environmental thinking of the 1970’s. It can be thought of as applied systems ecology with a strong debt to the work of Howard Odum. In another sense it was a branch of the tree of organic agriculture, with roots in many industrialised countries, in the early 20th century informed by pioneering work on sustainable agriculture by F.H. King who wrote Farmers of  Forty Centuries; Permanent Agriculture in China, Japan and Korea.   The emphasis on perennial plants, especially trees, was strongly informed by Russell Smiths Tree Crops; A Permanent Agriculture and the resurgence in interest in Economic Botany (useful plants), and indigenous use of plants and land management.  As a social movement permaculture originated in the Counterculture  applying an activist strategy to create the world we wanted rather than fighting to stop the world we didn’t want.  Early “back to the land” self sufficiency efforts outside the mainstream economy provided a context for early application of permaculture concepts. Although not overtly political, permaculture was  influenced by  both Anarchist and Libertarian philosophies.

What is the best way to become a permaculture actionary or ‘get on the ground’ ?
There are many different entry points to becoming a “permaculture actionary”. For some it starts with books, for others it is social and practical immersion without over intellectualizing, for many it is a Permaculture Design Course. Whatever the starting point, it should become clear that the most important application of permaculture ethics and principles is to the self, through a process of self audit of our needs, wants, dependencies, creative and productive outputs and byproducts of our very existence. Getting grounded in this way is the start of a personal retro-fit or redesign process which does not require that we wait until we own land or are with the right crowd. We can be our own guinea pigs in creating a better world. It is not necessary to tell the whole world first up but it certainly helps to connect with like-minded people for ideas and inspiration in building skills and capacities to help ourselves and others adapt to a rapidly changing world.

What is the future of permaculture that you would most like to see?
My hopes for permaculture range from the most general to the most specific. As a concept I hope it continues to be informed and infused with creative thinking and activism that arises from outside its own self-referenced world . In this way it will avoid stagnation in thinking and action and continue to exhibit hybrid vigour that can respond to a rapidly changing world. This inclusive mentality that acknowledges like minded concepts and networks reduces the problems of “turf warfare” between pioneering concepts that colonise the psycho social margins of mainstream society.

This holistic “jack of all trades” scope of permaculture needs to be balanced by a “mastery of one”. For each of us the calling and contribution to a better world will be many and varied. My hope is that enough permaculture practitioners dedicate their lives to making the founding permaculture vision of truly productive bioregional tree crop agricultures a reality able to survive the rigours of climate change and energy descent. Can we do the hard yards such that reality can match the rhetoric?

These ideas are further explored in

About Permaculture

Reverence for the Bunya Bunya

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

Future Scenarios

Collected Writings

Essence of Permaculture

Or take part and learn in the Permaculture Design Certificate course.



Pip number 2

shop_pip2_800s1-400x400Australia has a Permaculture periodical called PIP Magazine. The second edition of this new magazine on permaculture and sustainable living is now available here. It includes informative feature articles on various aspects of permaculture as well as profiles on people, projects, gardens, farms, houses and businesses. It is full of practical ideas, recipes, reviews, a directory containing permaculture related businesses, courses and people and a classifieds section. Gorgeously designed and printed in colour on 100% recycled paper, this magazine brings to life the incredible diversity of Australian permaculture and displays cutting edge activity of the moment from all over the country.