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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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Vale Vries Gravestein

Vries Gravestein speaking in a panel discussion APC9 March 2008 Sydney (with Bill Mollison and John Archer)

Vries Gravestein speaking in a panel discussion APC9 March 2008 Sydney (with Bill Mollison and John Archer)

As I have been working alone in the garden over these last few days I have been thinking about Vries Gravestein as an elder of the Australian permaculture movement at the same time that the nation is reflecting on the passing of another big man, Gough Whitlam. While comparisons between the two might be trite, in my garden solitude the emotions about the passing of influential elders did blend.

Most of the permaculture practitioners, activists and teachers I met in the first decade of the permaculture movement were my own (baby boomer) peers with our shared experience of affluence and social stability (in the shadow of nuclear and environmental threats). Vries was one of the first who was from Bill Mollison’s generation raised in the deprivations of the Depression and WWII. Along with that valuable experience to inform and influence younger students, Vries’ solid background in agricultural education and organics maintained the agriculture side of permaculture that sometimes can get lost in the broad church of permaculture.

His passionate belief that permaculture could contribute to transformation of not only our human settlements but also Australia’s  dryland cropping and pastoral landscapes was evident in his vision and organisation of APC4 in Albury back in 1990.  One element in that vision was managing to get John Kerin, the then federal minister for agriculture in the Keating labour government, to open the event.

It was through co-teaching a PDC in the Bega Valley with Hugh Gravestein in 1991 that I started to get a sense of permaculture  becoming embedded in the life of Australian families rather than just the mad passion of cranky individualist ecological pioneers. One of the tragedies of recent decades is that the passion of parents can lead to wholesale rejection in the next generation. The Gravestein family shows how creating a sustainable culture is a multi-generation process.

Vries Gravestein speaking to a bioregional permaculture gathering Bega NSW August 2011

Vries Gravestein speaking to a bioregional permaculture gathering Bega NSW August 2011

Beyond the family I have met and worked with so many of Vries’ students, most notably John Champagne who has played such a critical role in embedding permaculture in this bio-regional community and in maintaining the bonds of the national permaculture family.

With the passing of elders we often find ourselves needing to, not only reflect but to record for posterity, something of their life and times. At this time, it is particularly gratifying for me  to be able to simply re-read Vries’s story as one of the many permaculture pioneers recorded by another of his students,  Dr Caroline Smith in Permaculture Pioneers; stories from the new frontier. I think I can represent the permaculture community in acknowledging Vries Gravestein’s enduring legacy through his many students who continue to develop and spread the permaculture message.

David Holmgren

Co-originator of the Permaculture concept

(This message was read out by John Champagne at the funeral of  Vries Gravestein held in Pambula NSW on October Friday 24th. Reproduced here with the permission.)

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Organic Gardener features Permaculture

DSC01095Holmgren Design here at Melliodora recently received the latest issue (Jan/Feb 2014) of ABC’s Organic Gardener magazine. As usual it has lots of interesting articles and columns including a piece by Peter Cundall’s on growing corn. Perhaps the highlight though is the issue’s feature,  “the power of permaculture”.

Simon Webster looks at the history and visions of the permaculture concept from its birth in Tasmania in 1970s to the future. As well as David Holmgren, Geoff Lawton and Penny Pyett are featured in the article. It’s a comprehensive read for everyone, especially for those interested in permaculture but too afraid to ask what it is. Accompanying pieces; one by Jacqueline Forster on Milkwood,  Nicola Chatham’s design example, and Justin Russell’s piece on chooks, makes this edition blooming marvelous indeed. Steve Payne and his editorial team have done a great job.

Make sure you have a look at the Jan/Feb 2014 Organic Gardener magazine (probably in your local library but definitely in the newsagent’s). Here’s a teaser for you, the first few paragraphs from Simon Webster’s piece , “Permaculture: the full package”.

When Bill Mollison, and environmental psychology lecturer, and David Homgren, a student of environmental design, started collaborating at the University of Tasmania in the early 1970s, they had very different ideas about what would become of their partnership.

Working amid a surge of interest in environmentalism, against a backdrop of energy crises and the publication of  ‘The Limits to Growth’ (a report by the Club of Rome think-tank, forecasting societal and economic collapse due to dwindling resources),  the mentor and student put their heads together to design a system for sustainable  agriculture.

The result was the book ‘Permaculture One: Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements’ (Transworld publishers, 1978), which laid out strategies for producing food in both small and large spaces, combining plants and animals in multi-faceted relationships to provide food for humans while at the same time helping the environment.

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Bill Gammage to talk in Daylesford

resized_9781742377483_224_297_FitSquareBill Gammage, the veteran historian and author of the ground breaking book, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, will give a talk at the Daylesford Town Hall on Friday Nov 29. Bill Gammage is adjunct professor in the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University.

In this multi-award winning book, Bill refutes the common notion that pre-1788 Aboriginal people had no system of land management, on the contrary he shows that the people who lived here then had developed, over many generations, a complex, elaborate system of management to ensure the survival of their culture.

He suggests that time spent maintaining the landscape was a cultural obligation of great import. There’s an exhibition of works by colonial artist Thomas Clark at the Hamilton Art Gallery, a room full of 1850-60’s views of the western district ……wide open spaces, clear of stumps. Clark and other artists of the day had no agenda to paint anything other than what they saw. Where are the trees, now so plentiful?

Gammage uses written accounts by explorers and historians, and early landscape views (sketches, paintings, etc) to explain how Aborigines created an ideal landscape for obtaining the variety of food items they needed in their diet, and kept the countryside clear of dense vegetation (and thus dangerous fires).

The indigenous Australians were more efficient than Europeans, Bill asserts, in getting food, shelter and other needs from the land, mostly by the use of fire and manipulation of the life-cycles of food plants.

Once the fire-based land management systems was removed with the arrival of Europeans, the continent became overgrown and thus more fire prone (made worse, as well, by the climate changing to a much drier one). With The Biggest Estate on Earth, Bill  has updated the history of Australia, and our way of seeing our land.  If his conclusions will be debated, they speak directly to contemporary concerns with land and land care. The central premise of The Biggest Estate on Earth is that before white settlement, the continent had been looked after by  mindful and meticulous caretakers.

The talk is organised by the Hepburn Relocalisation Network. Do not miss this rare opportunity.

Entry $10/$8 pre booked  $15/$12 at the door

More on our events page.

Here is Bill Gammage talking about the book.

Review on the Wheeler Centre website.

(The recording of his talk, introduced by HRN’s Su Dennett is available here.)

 

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Melliodora videocast: a Permaculture classic by J. Russell Smith

tumblr_lpxhdn3tkW1qee2jbIn its first instalment for the regular Permaculture Classics videocast series from Melliodora, David Holmgren talks about  J.Russell Smith’s Tree Crops: a permanent agriculture.

You may not have realised, but this 1929 classic book was a major influence on the development of the Permaculture concept in the 1970’s. It is a very hard to find a copy of this book, but  it is worth your effort. Or there are a number of websites from which you can download the entire book.


Brought to you from the MelliodoraHepburn ‘Tube channel.

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David on Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann

Recently David was interviewd by Scott Mann for the Permaculture Podcast. Scott covered some of the subjects David is rarely asked these days including, “how did David come up with Permaculture in the first place?” David also was asked to elaborate on his work over the years through each of three waves of environmentalism he identifies: the limits of resources in the 1970s, the limits of what we can put into the environment during the 1980s and 90s, and the convergence of these two ideas over the last decade or so.

You can listen to the podcast at David Holmgren on Permaculture: an interview on the Permaculture Podcast.

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The Reverse of Globalisation

In a recent interview with The Nation and On The Earth Productions, David traces the permaculture movement from its emergence following the 1972 publication of The Limits to Growth to now and underscoring the potential for us to adapt to an ‘energy descent future’.

View an abridged version of the interview here.

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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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Treehugger interview in Buenos Aires

Extracted from the original Treehugger interview by Paula Alvarado in Buenos Aires, October 2007.

“Many of the mainstream approaches to how we might make things more energetically efficient and ecologically friendly, although well intentioned, are a waste of time”, says David Holmgren. From a permaculture point of view, that is.

This is because this set of principles called permaculture have a more radical point of view to green. But don’t be scared just yet: we’re not asking that you leave all behind to live in an eco-village in the middle of the country.

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