Tag Archives | Energy

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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Think long and hard

David HolmgrenInterview with Dario Ruggiero on the Long Term Economy website.

“We are going to see a serious challenge in the near future: the enormous amount of net energy that was available in the past (thanks to high quality fossil fuels), will no longer be available in the future. How to face this challenge? The key answer is not just the reduction in fossil fuels, but the reduction in the energy use at large as renewable energies cannot provide the net energy necessary for current systems.”

The full interview is available from the website both in audio and in text.

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Why I haven’t been flying (much)

David Holmgren is not showing his flying skill, only reading the  landscape (at the 2013 Food Forest PDC)

David Holmgren is not showing his flying skill, only reading the landscape (at the 2013 Food Forest PDC)

Over three decades I have received many requests to travel across Australia and across the world to speak at a conference,  teach a course or participate in some worthy event related to permaculture. My reluctance to travel long distances for short stays has meant I have had to turned down many of these invitations. In more recent years the reactions of invitees has moved from incredulity to understanding, and even admiration, as a small but growing list of public figures  are choosing not to travel by air to highlight the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Continue Reading →

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Strategies for transition

GroAction Interview with Luke Miller Callahan in 2011

How do we move away from a fossil-fuel based society? In this interview, David Holmgren discusses the strategies for transition. For all you suburbia nay-sayers out there, this discussion will be especially interesting to you.

See also an excellent post by David MacLeod on Integral Permaculture.

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Moving away from a fossil-fuel based society

The upcoming transition away from a fossil-fuel based society: David Holmgren talks strategy

Luke Miller Callahan, from the GroAction Network, interviewed David Holmgren in November 2011 and asked him “How do we move away from a fossil-fuel based society?” Luke says “For all you suburbia nay-sayers out there, this discussion will be especially interesting to you.”

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Using principles to surf the energy descent future

Aphorisms for Permaculture activists, APC10

In the final plenary of APC10, David Holmgren drew on lessons from over three decades of permaculture thinking and activism to distill pointers for using ethics and design principles to surf the energy descent future (without being dumped by king waves). An upbeat presentation that enscapsulated how the next generation of permaculture activists can confidently and creatively face the cascading crises that are unfolding all around the world. PDFs of the presentation and text are downloadable below.

Download presentation PDF (8.35 MB)

Download text PDF (82 KB)


Permaculture Ethics & Design Principles DVD

Permaculture Ethics & Design Principles DVD

In this presentation, David Holmgren explains permaculture ethics and design principles as thinking tools for creatively responding to the energy descent future on a limited planet.

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Money vs Fossil Energy: The battle for control of the world

“This essay provides a framework for understanding the ideological roots of the current global crisis that I believe is more useful than the now tired Left Right political spectrum. I use this framework to provide a commentary on current political machinations around Climate Change and Peak Oil. Building form the same energetic literacy that informs Permaculture and Future Scenarios, it challenges much of the strategic logic behind current mainstream climate change activism. Like the Future Scenarios work, this essay is intended to help environmental and social activists better avoid the obstacles to effective action in a chaotic age.” – David Holmgren

Download English PDF (360 KB)

A Spanish translation by Holger Hieronimi of Tierramor.
Dinero contra energía fósil: La batalla por el control del mundo

Also in Italian, translated by Antonio Gallo.
Soldi contro Energia Fossile: la battaglia per il controllo del mondo


Future Scenarios: How communities can adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change
Also available:

Future Scenarios: How communities can adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change – the book

In it David outlines four scenarios that bring to life the likely cultural, political, agricultural, and economic implications of peak oil and climate change, and the generations-long era of “energy descent” that faces us.

See also Crash on Demand, the 2013 update.

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Permaculture: Solutions for the energy descent future

A keynote address by David Holmgren to the Urban Sustainable Living Expo Warrnambool Victoia 4th June 2006. This replaces an earlier presentation “Global Energy Peak Threat Or Opportunity” to launch the 8th Australian Permaculture Convergence Melbourne April 2005.

Explains peak oil and permaculture strategies for the energy descent future. An empowering and inclusive understanding of permaculture as a multi-faceted design response to energy crisis.

Presentation (6.7MB PDF without audio).

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