Crash on Demand? A Response to David Holmgren


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    Nicole Foss

    Dorothea Lange “Mr. Dougherty and kid. Warm Springs, Malheur County, Oregon” October 1939 David Holmgren, for whom I have the utmost respect, is best
    [See the full post at: Crash on Demand? A Response to David Holmgren]


    Now this is a very thought provoking article!
    Not so much on the speed at which transition takes place, but a bit of elucidation into forms things may take as they evolve.

    From the strain of the feeling of having to conform to ever more baffling complexity, to the natural relief of simplicity. And maybe slowing the passing of time just a tad, as bonus.

    Been working on creating a new reality in this crisis. Articles like this add insight.


    Hi Nicole

    One of my friends brought this subject up in conversation the other day. I suspect he had also read a David Holmgren article. My respose was along the same lines as yours. You can’t explicitly aim for, or even wish for an early collapse, it’s not the correct mindset. It would be much less adversarial to make the current growth paradigm obsolete by showing methods for sustainability are a better alternative in most situations for most people.
    For fractional reserve based economies to deliver necessary services to everyone, there needs to be sustained compound growth or the system fails. It’s mathematical. Unless you believe in decoupling energy from wealth, or in substituting other things for energy or major resources, then the resources and energy will run out soon after their use exceeds primary production by nature. The current systems only work in the growth phase. There’s really no argument for keeping them during contraction.

    If people are encouraged to think in systemic terms then they can’t be baffled by economists and politicians.



    Writings like this are why I have been reading S/I (Stoneleigh/Ilargi) since The Oil Drum. I don’t seem to have the mental horsepower to pull such a wide variety of “learnings” together so cohesively, but think I have enough to appreciate those who can…

    Living down here where we go “Deerhunting With Jesus” (RIP Mr. Bageant), the beneficiaries of the system are living in very close proximity to those at the bottom. My work allows me to interact with both sides at length, see into both worlds, as it were. From what I see/hear, the folks on the bottom are much more in “tune” with the prevailing winds than the folks on the top.

    In thinking about the previous thread of conversation, especially that “triggered” by Cory, I do like the way that S/I articulate their big picture, including surmises at steps and phases. I try to approach it like the scientific method: make a hypothesis and then look at the data. (It’s that “picking and choosing” of data that really gets tough). Reading the various news sources, watching for clues in the world around me (while monitoring my personal filter)… are they reinforcing the hypothesis? Contradicting? Making modification necessary? I have yet to find another hypothesis so clearly articulated, and still so solid five years on.

    Any other readers out there comparing “facts” to the hypothesis?

    I like James’ last line… “If people are encouraged to think in systemic terms, they can’t be baffled by [the bafflers].”


    Thank you Boilingfrog

    I am trying to tie up the facts with my hypotheses. It really isn’t easy to see what’s really happening. The world is a complex place and lots of organisations are at least selective about the data they publish.

    I wonder how the well-off in your area made their money. I expect that to make a large difference to how they think the system is faring. I saw a tv interview with a very rich local oil producer in Pennsylvania (I think) who attributed his success to “God’s will”. That seemed to show a lack of analysis.


    CJ in VT

    I’ve just barely started reading but I want to say YAY to an article on permaculture.

    CJ in VT

    “One can have green or tech, but ultimately not both.”

    This reminds me of Toby Hemenway’s video – How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but Not Civilization.

    Pretty sure he references some of Holmgren’s descent scenarios.

    Nicole Foss

    I linked Toby Hemenway’s lecture in the article 🙂

    CJ in VT

    Ah, sorry.
    Your articles are so in depth that it’s tough to wait to respond before posting.

    I did do a quick search for “Toby” just in case but the link was too subtle!

    Nicole Foss

    Here an article from today on geo-engineering. I share their concern.

    Plan to avert global warming by cooling planet artificially ‘could cause climate chaos’

    Nicole Foss

    The Toby Hemenway link is here, but I didn’t mention his name:

    “Permaculture, with its emphasis on soil regeneration, is the best possible way (click for video) to do this. If we are ever to approximate, at least temporarily, an Earth Steward scenario (in the distant future, once the dust has settled), this is the path we must take.”

    I have no problem at all with you drawing more attention to it. It’s a great lecture and deserves all the attention it can get.


    Decoupling of energy from wealth? How about the decoupling of Currency from wealth? That’s what has happened here. I posted the following earlier, but feel the need to post here as well.

    On the unknowns regarding quickening or slowing of economic activity, (not deflation) to relate to that factor in Ilargi’s article here,,,
    A big wild card in the basis for all the latest prognostications is, in the past, deflations took place because real money was involved. Money backed by something of value.

    This time around, the dollar is not money, but is the product and property of it’s handler, the government. Unlike real money, it can be revalued, devalued at whim. Impossible in past episodes, short of confiscating the very backer of it as in 1933.

    Since there is nothing to confiscate behind the Feds “Bitcurrency” there is nothing with which to price it other than the quantity at which it is being created, or the quantity that is being absorbed by Fed actions.

    Sure, some things might drop in price while the necessities might rise, but over all the result will be guided by the owner of the currency to fluctuate between Inflation and disinflation, not deflation.

    Deflation is the stuff of Honest Money, which has been driven out of circulation now by dishonest debt currency.

    In short, the Buck has the backing of the “Full Faith and CREDIT of the Federal Reserve,” and the Federal Reserve is backed by the “Full Faith and Credit” of the Pentagon.

    Used to be, the government had no money, it belonged to the people and was intrusted to the government to do their bidding. Now, the people have no money, it belongs to the government, and they “allow” us to use it.


    “Unlike real money, it can be revalued, devalued at whim.”

    And yet the tech stock and real estate bubbles popped and we saw deflation through 2008. Any theories on why that was ‘allowed’ to happen? Might it be that money (i.e., cash) isn’t the only financial asset, so what you assert doesn’t hold? I think your comment raises interesting questions, and that’s all I have about it are questions (other than to point to recent market history that doesn’t seem to fit what you describe).


    “Monetary Tectonics: 50 Slides Illustrate Tug of War Between Inflation and Deflation” – Mish posted this.

    Mish’s comment:

    “In general, hyperinflationists (as well as many self-proclaimed Austrians) ignored and continue to ignore credit, even though credit dwarfs money supply. Those screaming hyperinflation or strong inflation is at hand, missed the boat and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

    Another equity bubble bust is around the corner, and that bust will be anything but inflationary.”

    Authors’ 50 slides here:

    Mark Janes

    I read Holmgren’s essay a couple of weeks ago and found it inspiring. For the first time, I felt that an individual could make a difference through their personal behaviour change. The part about only needing 10% of middle class people to act was the killer statement for me.

    I wonder whether the concerns over the “inciter of doom” attracting blame are perhaps misplaced? All Holmgren is suggesting is that people proactively begin to live their lives differently, thus introducing the “new model” as per your Buckminster Fuller quote. The collapse of the old model will happily take care of itself. This was the paradigm-shift for me when I read the essay. Initially, when I saw he was suggesting that we proactively collapse the system, I almost gave up reading, assuming this would be another futile and unrealistic exploration of how some kind of “movement” might achieve this. But the prospect of me being part of a significant minority who could effect change through my own actions was much more compelling. I now feel like a “swing voter”!

    Our own personal attempts to power down ad re-localise are well under way, but we had been approaching them with more of a “self-preservation” mindset. Holmgren’s article has enabled us to address these actions with renewed vigour.

    Thanks for a good critical analysis of the essay, and for re-establishing it at “front of mind”.


    I believe it is possible that the US can be the last to suffer any of the worst of these bad outcomes or otherwise suffer them the least, and last. Which would serve to mitigate the problems for our elites and permit their retention of power.

    Even if America’s absolute condition is falling if it’s relative strength rises then time can be bought to maintain many elements of the status quo.

    I am just saying that such is possible.


    This might be obvious to many others, but I’m new to this thinking… I have really been spending a lot of time thinking about the whole idea of “economical” energy entering into a system at the bottom, and the amount of energy relative to the level of complexity that a system can support (lion-eating tuna fish, what an image!).

    I hear all these “ads” from the local university lauding their work in “nano-technology”, and “genomic medicine”. I was always suspicious, but this “energy” thinking kind of gives me some structure to apply.

    However, I’m hoping that someone can take a moment to give me some direction on why financialization of a society is one of the highest forms of complexity. I actually buy that idea on faith, but can’t seem to get from a-to-f… anyone?

    (If finance is a leading indicator, and also supplies the lifeblood of our systems, it would seem to be a brilliant thought to add fast/slow financial crack-up as a parameter).

    Thanks in advance.

    Nicole Foss

    All the talk of nano tech and genomic medicine is never going to amount to anything if we can’t sustain our current level of socioeconomic complexity. We simply won’t have the capacity to do any of these things. We typically have no idea the degree of our dependence on high energy profit ratio energy sources. We tend to think energy is energy wherever it comes from, but we don’t look at what energy or complex technology it took to get it, or to concentrate it enough to do useful work (in the case of renewables). All these manifestations of high tech are just an extension of the conventional fossil fuel era, and they will die with it. Then we’ll see how clever humans really are – when they have to solve problems without just being able to throw cheap energy at everything.

    Nicole Foss

    Financialization has led to the development of a whole virtual world, from which the real world hangs suspended. An intricate web of socioeconomic dependencies has been created, along with a hugely complex network of real things moving all over the world, and the information technology to mange it all. This is our operating system. When it crashes, so will our supply chains, and with those our access to goods and services. This is why we need to build local resilience as a huge priority, and at the same time get used to the idea that we won’t have a fraction of what we do now.

    Mark Janes

    I think we’ve always been pretty smart (although not always wise?). The question is, how much time and energy can we devote to developing our thoughts, beyond that needed to feed, warm and defend ourselves? Our ideas, and the technologies that have grown from them, really only started to take off once we exceeded a personal EROEI of 1.0 and found we had spare time on our hands. This led to surplus, and the ability for others to live off the surplus while devoting all their time to mastery of specialist skills and knowledge. Access to abundant energy has, of course, accelerated the process as you suggest.

    CJ in VT

    Anyone interested in Permaculture should check out the forum. They don’t like to get into politics or the “3rd ethic” but other topics relating to permaculture and homesteading are encouraged and the depth of info is deep.

    I even think it’s worthy of the MORE GOOD READS list.


    Two brief points:

    “Much better, in my opinion, to continue the good work with the declared, and entirely defensible, goals of building greater local resilience and security of supply while preserving and regenerating the natural world.”

    I could agree with this *if* we were anywhere close to actually achieving either of those goals. But in reality, every day that civilization continues its operations, it destroys more of our landbases leaving us less able to cope with survival after its collapse. In reality, civilization continues to destroy local resiliency and the natural world at a level orders of magnitude faster than we can possibly rebuild them. We won’t be able to offset the destruction without slowing or halting that destruction at the same time.

    My second point goes to the heart of the disagreement you have with those who advocate bringing the system down ASAP: you’re a liberal, believing that individual actions and decisions are the best or the only way to effect change. Radicals see the existing system as an organized enactment of force and violence. They believe that the only way to stop the ongoing destruction, to create breathing room for alternatives, and to have some hope of a livable planet at the end of this, is to meet that organized force with collective force of our own. The Deep Green Resistance “Liberal vs Radical” video series does an excellent job of explaining the contrasts between these frameworks.

    Nicole Foss

    Of course the existing system an “organized enactment of force and violence”, but it has already been given enough rope to hang itself and will do exactly that sooner rather than later. There is no need to push it over the edge when it stands teetering on the brink already. Better do prepare the ground for what comes next, so that it might be more successful once given the opportunity to flourish. If your efforts are directed at bringing down the existing system, they are not directed at building the next one. That is a missed opportunity.


    I’m sorry to say that I don’t have the means to attend the Permaculture design course in Belize. Maybe next year.

    I started working on my own permaculture project in Appalachian Ohio a couple of years ago. It is a slow process, since I haven’t given up my day job, yet, lol. Anyway, I’m terracing an east facing hillside with a modified hugelkulture design, with some of the backfill being composted horse manure. The manure is ‘free’, not counting the cost of hauling it.

    Another interesting feature is that my project, although high up on the ridge, is just enough below the summit to have a source of irrigation water that is entirely gravity fed.

    Nuclear power was only mentioned in passing in the article. At some point, all the existing nuke plants are going to have to be decommissioned. At present, the view appears to be that those that benefited from the electricity production should be the ones that pay for the decommissioning. Don’t you think that at some point, in a future, poorer world, the mentality will be that those that benefit from the alternative to wanton, naked abandonment (in other words, the entire world) should be the ones to pay for decommissioning?

    I could see a future world where 10% or more of the world’s GDP is going to nuclear clean up. Unfortunately, there would have to be fairly strong, central (world wide) govt. to oversee such a project.

    John Day

    I’m attending the permaculture design course in the back yard again tomorrow.
    “Farm Forth”, as my friend, Randy likes to say.
    Good work again, Nicole.


    I’m interested in building “a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” One that enables us to shed the “hustler” dominated paradigm that is so well described in one of Morris Berman’s books…

    Until the system recognizes “Permaculture” as a word, we probably don’t have to worry about a segment of the middle class bringing down the financial system…


    Integral R. said, “.Until the system recognizes “Permaculture” as a word, we probably don’t have to worry about a segment of the middle class bringing down the financial system…”

    I don’t follow you. Permaculture is eventually going to add billions, maybe even low single digit trillions (today’s dollars) to the planet’s GDP. So obviously, it will not ‘save’ a financial system with hundreds of trillions in debt and derivatives. However, it might cushion the force of the blow of the unwinding.

    One of the positive features of permaculture is that it makes land that is marginal with current farming methods into a sustainable, goods producing asset. So it supplements the non-financial section of the economy. All financial systems are based, ultimately, on this goods producing sector.


    I got to the climate change section and was nodding my head up to then. But Nicole’s assessment of climate change seemed very wrong to me. There was no denial, of course, but very much a playing down, reminding me a bit of Judith Curry’s contrarianism (<i>we don’t know enough to say anything for certain so any actions we take might be counter-productive</i>). Actually, we know quite a bit. The research last year was almost all bad (the situation is worse than we thought). The work of James Hansen, in particular, has shown that (based on semi-empirical evidence, not models, which he accepts have limited, but useful, value) climate sensitivity is at least 3C (others’ recent work suggests 3C should be the low end of estimates) and that 1C is likely the warmest we can go (though temporarily to 1.1C) to avoid dangerous climate change. We’re already at 0.85C-0.89C. It’s not to hard to paint a picture that we’re already in dangerous territory, so to suggest the effects of climate change are far off, as Nicole has, is just wrong.

    I would say that the ability of governments and national banks to paper over the cracks has taken most of us (in the reality camp) by surprise. We know a lot about climate change but we don’t know how long governments can pull the wool over our eyes and pretend that the economy is showing signs of recovery (after all, stock markets are booming – though I’m keeping my eyes open following recent declines – and government agencies produce estimates of current growth). I think Nicole is wrong to largely ignore climate change (just as Chris Martenson is) and a better consideration of possibilities there could alter her view of actions (“could”, not “will”).

    Personally, I now think environmental degradation, in general, and climate change, in particular, is very much the central predicament we need to focus on and has just as much chance of impinging on our societies abilities to function, just as much as financial matters, though the environment is far, far, more important to us all.

    Nicole Foss

    Tony, I stand by my position with regard to climate change. I prefer to focus on issues we can actually hope to do something about. As I wrote, the interventionist actions we are most likely to take with regard to climate change are likely to be counter productive. Economic depression, which is set to happen anyway no matter what we do, is far more likely to have a beneficial effect on climate than any conscious action we might take, although there is uncertainty in this respect also, given the contrasting timeframes for CO2 and global dimming. If collapse does help then it will do so without our active intervention. If it does not in fact help, then there is nothing we can do that will make any positive difference.

    There are many potentially catastrophic things we cannot change, such as the possibility that Yellowstone might erupt or the polarity of the earth’s magnetic field might change, but losing sleep over them is not going to help. It just disempowers us and makes us less inclined to change the things which are within our power. I see no point in focusing activist attention on such issues, although they are of intellectual interest as manifestations of complexity (always inherently interesting). I will not be changing my focus, as I feel it maximizes my potential to be effective. Plenty of people are addressing climate and ignoring more proximate issues, which to me feels like a large missed opportunity.

    Please realize that I am not discounting the importance of environmental issues at all. I come from an environmental science background myself. Of course we need to be concerned with soil fertility, toxins, GMOs, habitat loss, desertification etc etc. These are things we can, and should, be doing a great deal about. Things things we can do that could, in the aggregate, be beneficial for climate are all things we should be doing anyway for other reasons, and those other reasons are far more effective motivators of behavioural change.

    Nicole Foss

    By the way, this article has spawned some controversy, which I fully expected. One particularly personal attack came from Guy McPherson, who resorted to misquotes out of context followed by character assassination in place of intellectual debate. This was addressed by KMO of the C-Realm podcast:

    I find this kind of response highly distasteful, especially from someone who does not know me and is clearly unfamiliar with my work. I am thankful that the vast majority who hold contrasting views choose instead to discuss them in a civilized fashion.



    Thanks for answering. One aspect of this site is to do with personal responses to our predicament. If one doesn’t talk about climate change and other environmental issues, then the individual responses may not be right. I’m not just talking about having an effect on the march of climate change but on what each individual does to become as resilient as possible against the changes (economic and environmental) that are coming. As I’ve said, much is known about climate change, perhaps far more than your article might imply. If your readers don’t think they need to consider climate change then they might not be best prepared for what is coming.

    Insofar as how people’s responses may affect any of the issues that comprise our predicament, you’re right in that, individually, we can’t do anything about climate change but that applies to the economy also. Individually, we are powerless to impact the global, or even national, picture but it has to be better to know, and discuss, all the issues in order to come up with an individual response.

    Another reason for not keeping quiet on climate change is that, although you may be quite certain about the order in which the converging crises will affect individuals (although most of them already are), it’s impossible for you to actually know the order. So people need to talk about all of the issues and then decide their best course of action, with as complete a set of information as possible.

    Regarding global dimming, I’m not sure what your point was with that but research last year suggests that human caused aerosols may not have as big of an impact as previously thought (it was thought to roughly cancel out the non-CO2 greenhouse gases, currently). The impact may be about half. This would mean less of an acceleration in warming if coal burning stopped tomorrow.

    Of course, even though I agree that we can’t do anything about climate change (just as we can’t do anything about the debt situation, and so on), collectively, some scientists think it is possible. James Hansen, et al, published a paper last year outlining the dangers of doing nothing and the possibility of doing something. If he’s right, there may be benefits in getting a change of heart about taking action.

    We can complain about the financial situation and achieve nothing, just as we can complain about greenhouse gases and achieve nothing. We can, however, take these things into account in judging our own personal responses to the crises.

    BTW, I agree with you re- Guy McPherson. I have a lot of respect for what he’s done but he can really lay into people who don’t agree with him, unjustifiably. He doesn’t always do that but far too often in my opinion.


    I wrote a response of my own, that elaborates on my comment above in agreement with Holmgren’s goal of causing a crash sooner than later: “Demand Crash!”. (Though I don’t think his plan for accelerating collapse is very realistic.)

    The nice thing about everything being so screwed up is that there’s plenty of work for everyone to do, whether folks think it best to push the system down sooner to have more chance of a livable planet when it’s all over, or whether they prefer working on preparing their community (human and nonhuman) to rebound after the crash. Best wishes to everyone doing whatever their calling is, in response to this crazy system!


    Here’s a link to David’s reply on the ’21st Century Permaculture’ radio show


    Wow, I was just stepping back into TAE, after a time away, and thought I’d check on Nicole’s posts. Looks like this was her last post. Is she no longer contributing to TAE? My comment, here, is about 18 months after this post by Nicole.

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