David Holmgren. Who he?
David Holmgren (born 1955) is an ecologist, ecological design engineer and writer. He is perhaps most well known as co-originator of the permaculture concept with Bill Mollison. David Holmgren is a controversial figure. Through the spread of permaculture around the world, his environmental theory has exerted a global influence.
Well...hey, Bill Mollison? I saw some great videos with Bill wandering around Australia and New York. I'll link to them later. But first.
Below is a 25 minute video of an interview with David Holmgren, recorded by EON. If you're interested (I hope you are), I suggest scrolling down and watching it, then coming back (if you're interested) and reading my ramblings upon what has been said. If you haven't got video access, I hope I don't overly mangle the contents.
The interest, for me, of the interview is not the practical details of permaculture, which he doesn't really go into, and about which I recommend the Bill Mollison videos--and I suppose his book, though I haven't read it. Bascially: permaculture = letting nature take the strain mixed with systems analysis of the land equals maxium yield for minimum input.
But but but...what I find interesting about the video below is that it briefly (I don't think 25 minutes is a long time to have your attention held) lays out the underpinnings of "The Permaculture Philosophy". For it is a philosophy and it functions within a specific paradigm: The permanent decline of energy resources.
I re-viewed the video last night and wrote some brief notes, with timings, so that I--or anyone else--could find the relevant section quickly. What follows are my notes followed by my thoughts, for what they're worth, on what he (David Holmgren) has to say. The video is at the very bottom of the diary and I would really urge you all to watch it--only if you're interested in the subject, of course!--as I may have misquoted, mis-represented, or otherwise missed whatever was actually going on in the video, and arguing with my views or points won't be the same as arguing with the points and views as he expresses them in the video.
Wordy, oh lordie!
Right, earwig oh.
00:00 - 1:30 Talks about context of book, "Beyond sustainability"--idea of permanent decline in energy resources
The interview ties in with his new book. I don't know how new, it's not relevant here--I could look it up, but so could you and I'm onna roll and afearing ketchup. So...The key idea of permaculture is:
The idea of the permanent decline in energy resources.
1:30 - 2:30 History of growth of power, peak reached 1500, then came--coal
I may have misquoted with the "1500" figure, but his main point is that there is only so much human culture you can get for your energy. To get more of it you need more energy.
2:30 - 3:30 American society a result of the energy resource, culture a result of energy rather than human brilliance creating resources
Reminds me of the "You create your destiny/your destiny creates you" conversation. David is of the eastern persuasion.
3:30 - 4:30 Half the world's oil consumed in one generation--hard to grasp how great is this source of power
He talks about a person born in 1950 and dying in 2025 seeing humans use half the world's oil. The mind boggleth. His main point is that we are--our lifestyles are predicated on--an unprecedented glut of available energy.
4:30 - 5:30 the depression as a hiccup as the move was made from coal to oil, now there is no such new energy source
I don't know what to make of the idea of the depression as a hiccup in the move from coal to oil, but his point--hey, I'm writing what he said and what I wrote--is that we don't have "the next energy source" ready to roll....or do we?
5:30 - 7:00 Possible futures. Always possible that a new source of energy emerges, but unlikely. Dismisses nuclear. Science fiction expansion pushing back the environmental debt. depends on a massively increased energy base--thinks it is highly unlikely. If it happens, permaculture ends up in the dustbin of history
This is a key section, I think. He dismisses nuclear jusslidat...He sees something unrealistic about the science fiction dreams. But, he says, if they work out, then permaculture...nada...nothing. It has no role in an ever-richer energy future.
What I see is one of the fundamentals of the pro/anti nuclear debate--or describe it how you will. A key element in the idea of nuclear power is that it is good that society continues more or less as is. It is, I suggest, a conservative with a small c position, maybe reactionary, certainly not revolutionary as it doesn't seek new vistas, only alternative power for the status quo. So those who do well out of, or support, the status quo should really be pro-nuclear, or pro-some alternative "science fiction" method of maintaining energy supply at its current (anomolously) high level (by historical standards)... "Permaculture" is about transitioning out of the status quo, so it appeals, I suggest, to those who are less comfortable with --or suffering more from--how things are. Hence the arguments about "how things are", and hence maybe the anger sometimes from the nuclear side of things at the "bonnie prince feckless" approach of...."they"...who like green ideas but couldn't take the harsh realities...whatever they may be. Let's find out. Next!
7:30 - 9:30 "Green textability" renewable energies. Elements are appropriate, but he thinks it's likely we're facing a continuing reduction of energy to each succeeding generation. Only depressing if one accepts the growth culture. Not a natural position. Ancient greeks believed differently. Continuous material expansion--need to lose this, but we need to remember "continuous change". Each generation has to do "something else", the driving force: less and less energy each generation. The culture of change is adapted to that.
I'm not sure he actually says "green textability". Later he calls it "green tech". But now he proposes that the philosophy of the status quo (continuous growth in all directions, which is, after all, the status quo), is not a given of human aspiration or culture. The key point, though: each succeeding generation will have less energy available. It is the responsibility of each generation, therefore, to educate the next generation as to the best methods of living with less.
10:00 - 12:00 Change, older generations have seen even greater change (aeroplanes). "Permaculture is the full on creative designed response to the pathway of less energy". Instead of green tech being at the forefront, the more natural ways using a modest resource base has so many design implications--more involved in food production, moving around less, decentralisation. Permaculture models systems designed for decreasing energy availability.
Okay, he sums up. Change is inevitable. It ain't all bad. Our great granddads or our granddads or our dads saw more and more shocking and more total change, all things considered. But: change is coming and it is predicated on the pathway of less energy.
12:00 - 12:30 This new approach will match ever better with the arriving situations. Hard to promote ideas will become common sense.
He comes across as pragmatic. If we find another source of power, fine. But if, as he expects, we don't, then the new approach(es) will, inevitably come to the fore as they are adapatations to coming new realities.
12:30 - 13:00 "So you don't ascribe to the 'last man standing scenario"?
Doesn't he think Hobbes was right, or what?
13:00 - 17:30 We inherit "toxic thinking" from our past culture. Spending resources to gain resources works in an energy rich ecological system. Rising energy--it works. As energy resources recede, those who follow that model will go down faster. He hopes we're "informationally networked enough" that it'll be clear that they don't work. The idealistic, utopian, co-operative strategies are just effective survival strategies in a period of declining energy. We see this mirrored in nature. Ecosystems with limited energy demonstrate symbiotic and co-operative structures, and great diversity. Permaculture strategies rely on this ecological and systems thinking analysis. Patterns seen in nature and human history. The process may be rocky and dangerous for individuals, groups, nations, including catastrophes, but compared to the 20th Century, that was also not a happy period for many people on the planet--brought the greatest wars and exploitation, which is natural. When there's less to fight over, nature and people learn pretty quickly that it's not worth fighting. An example: natural disasters.
I've never seen this proposed before (oh, my ignorance showeth!): that where there are few resources, there is less violence. But what about starving people in Africa? Well, the thing is that they exist within a context of many resources but not for them--the resources are there but held back--ergo, there are many resources. But where there are few, he proposes that there is little violence, and mucho co-operation. It makes sense, I like it. Anyone disagree with this analysis?
17:30 - 21:00 Example of England during WWII. In nature, in ecosystems with limited energy, esp. limited fertility, the relationships become co-operative, there are not enough resources to be accumulated in a dominant species. The food chains aren't long. Now we have long chains in modern production. We'll deal with that in the future by cutting out the middle man, growing food ourselves. An example is "community supported agriculture". They are systems of enormous economic and resource efficiency. Amory Lovins, factor 4, factor 10 revolution in co-operation. Essential items.
I meant to read up on Amory Lovins, but I haven't. Here's a link.
Okay, on a quick read, he's into energy conservation.
21:00 - 24:00 Green industrial revolution is still actually dealing with making more efficient the production of things we don't really need. The real revolution in the future is "sustainable consumption", a lot of it is working out how we can live without bothering to consume these things at all. Analysis: what's a better way of doing this, then stepping back and saying, "Do we really need to do this at all?" Threatening to corporations and governments. A shrink in the formal economy doesn't mean human well-being automatically must collapse. "Love" rather than money as the regulator. Visible in countries which have already lived through a period economic decline. The picture isn't pretty, but the principles--everyone grows food in their gardens. But it's wrong to analyse these systems from above. Indonesia--the collapse, the people at the bottom ended up better off.
Well, that's more or less what he says.
24:00 - 25:30 Doesn't want to trivialise how radical these transitions are going to be, but focusing on the negative means people will bury their heads in the sand and ignore the problem. The problem is the solution. Weeds in our garden. How can we use them? The problem seen as an opportunity.
And so it endeth.
Right. What is the basic principle?
The permanent reduction of energy resources
Whether it is a good or bad thing is not the point at this point. It's rather, Is it true or not? Those who don't like the suggested future would do best to fight in any way possible, conservation, renewables, Jerome's list. Those who either like the idea of a different social structure along the permaculture lines, or else those who whether they like it or not agree that we are heading, generation after generation, towards societies of lower and lower energy consumption (due to lack of resources), might do well to ponder how they'd prefer to locate themsleves in such societies.
Or they--or you--might think, My God! Is rg still wittering on? Hasn't this diary finished yet?
Hey, here's the video:
(Hat tip to Transition Culture for pointing me to the video.)
And here's part 2 of "The Permaculture Concept". Watch Bill set up a balcony with plants!
You'll find the other parts here
And finally, I'm on holiday as of now, time off from the daily grind. For those who have to or want to work, enjoy! For those enjoying your time off, enjoy!
And remember: "Most cannibals only eat strangers."