Sep 132021
 September 13, 2021  Posted by at 12:30 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  21 Responses »

Thomas Cole The Course of Empire – The Arcadian or Pastoral State 1834



This essay is from longtime and very dear friend David Holmgren, guru/founder/apostle of permaculture, who says:

“Your constant work has help kept me informed through the roller coaster.




David Holmgren:

As the pandemic rolled into its second year, I became concerned that the psychosocial fallout of the pandemic, and especially the response at the global and local levels, could represent an existential threat to permaculture and kindred movements. At one level, this threat is the same as that to families, workplaces, networks and organisations more generally, where a sense of urgency to implement the official response, especially lockdowns and mass vaccination, is producing a huge gulf between an ever more certain majority and a smaller minority questioning or challenging the official response.

My aim in this essay is to focus on the critical importance of using all our physical, emotional and intellectual resources towards maintaining connections across what could be a widening gulf of frustration and distrust within our movement, reflecting society at large. I want to explore how permaculture ethics and design principles can help us empathetically bridge that gulf without needing to censor our truth or simply avoid the issues.

While the pandemic and the responses to it will pass in time, I believe the future will be characterised by similar issues that test our ability to tolerate uncertainty and diversity and to thus exercise solidarity within kin, collegiate and network communities of practise.

International Permaculture Day May 2013 Daylesford Community Garden

Future Scenarios and the Brown Tech future

The positive grounded thinking that characterises permaculture has always been informed by a dark view of the state of the world and long-term emerging threats. Future Scenarios is my 2008 exploration of four near-future ‘energy descent’ scenarios driven by the variable rates of oil and resource depletion on the one hand and rate of onset of serious climate change on the other. Six years later, I wrote the essay ‘Crash on Demand: Welcome to the Brown Tech Future’ where I ‘called’ Brown Tech as being the already emergent scenario.

In the longer version of this ‘Pandemic brooding’ essay, I review and reinterpret this work in light of the pandemic and responses to it.

Permaculture pluralism

Anyone involved in permaculture knows that permies can come to quite different conclusions about what is the most ethical and practical solution to the same problem. For example faced with marauding wildlife, some will go to considerable expense (and resource consumption) building elaborate fences, anti-aviaries and other deterrents to separate wildlife from food. Others will treat the wildlife as another abundance of the system to be harvested. Various permaculture principles, as well as the fundamental ethic of Care of Earth, might be invoked to support both approaches.

Likewise, many permies believe taxation is essential to redistribute resources from places of abundance to those of scarcity and as an expression of solidarity essential to any functioning, let alone ethical, society. Others see almost all the expenditure by governments of tax revenues as representing rape of Mother Earth’s abundance and theft from Indigenous peoples, and further as either downright evil or at best a bandaid covering festering wounds. An ethical response is to minimise taxpaying (by reducing income and consumption). Again, design principles and ethics can be invoked to support either position.

From my perspective, grappling with the ethical and systemic issue is more important than the notion that there might be a correct answer, and therefore a wrong answer, to the challenge. In the past, there have been heated debates, and agreements to disagree, but rarely would participants in permaculture design courses, convergences or networks see the answers of others as reasons to reject permaculture. Many celebrate personal actions as small-scale experiments with their good, bad and interesting outcomes informing other experiments, especially the next generation’s, as we muddle through energy descent to hopefully more benign, or at least less-bad, futures.

Pandemic flavoured Brown Tech

I believe the pandemic and the responses to it represent a major turning point in crystalising the Brown Tech future. It ticks so many boxes:

  • a nature-driven crisis which has been long predicted, and to some extent, planned for
  • rolling uncertainty that progressively breaks down past expectations
  • a crisis which, like a war, requires the suspension of normal economic activity, personal rights and governance processes
  • a demand for strong action by government for the common good informed by science
  • a revival of Keynesian policies including a massive increase in government debt
  • an enemy (the virus) that can be easily demonised without there being too many defenders to ignore or silence
  • strong censorship of broadcast media and novel efforts to censor social media to sideline debate that could undermine the rapidly emergent and evolving program.

If the crisis is not solved, then demonisation progressively shifts to those resisting the plan.

This situation is creating the fork in the road where some permies will find themselves (perhaps surprisingly) following the program, while others will have become certain that they will at least quietly resist complying to some degree or other, right up to a radicalised public resistance, whether that be through resigning from work, street protest or satirical art.

We can learn and gain, individually and collectively, from these increasingly divergent paths – but the learnings could be painful. Let’s consider the benefits that might have led permies down one or another path, perhaps unwittingly, to increasingly polarised positions.

The mainstream plan

Although there are differences of emphasis and policies around the government responses to the pandemic, these debates are around the margins, even if they are at times heated. Most fundamentally, the mainstream plan, informed by the scientific and medical establishment, takes the following as self-evident:

  • The virus is an existential threat to society that must be contained and disarmed if not eliminated before an establishment of some hoped-for, tolerable new normal.
  • Social distancing, disinfectant cleaning, testing, contract tracing, masks and various levels of quarantine, border controls and lockdowns are the only mechanisms available to prevent collapse of the health system and deaths escalating to horrific levels in the short term.
  • Novel vaccine technology is the only real hope for a tolerable new normal.
  • To achieve effective herd immunity and minimise death, some great majority of the adult population and probably children need to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
  • The adverse effects of these provisionally approved vaccines are minor and/or rare and much less than the risk of the disease.
  • Preventative and early treatments are at best of marginal value, or more likely based on false hope and fraud.
  • The suspension of normal civil liberties is a necessary, albeit temporary, measure to achieve the plan in a timely fashion and reduce the suffering both from the virus and the plan itself.
  • People who actively resist the plan need stronger social, economic and, where necessary, legal sanctions to ensure their actions don’t prevent the plan from working for the common good.
  • Apart from debate around the margins about how best to respond to these givens, debate and questioning at the level of science, logistics, economics, law, politics, media and social media is not just unnecessary, but an existential threat to the plan and society at large, so must be prevented by unprecedented means.
  • It is the responsibility of every citizen to play a part in the plan, be bold in convincing those who are hesitant, and challenging those not following the plan, especially those actively resisting it.

Permies following the plan are likely to see themselves as being part of a society-wide collective effort to minimise pain and suffering in the aged, the disadvantaged and those in poor health; a choice in favour of collective and longer-term gain at the cost of individual and short-term sacrifice. For many of us, this is a perfect metaphor for what is needed to address the climate emergency. By accepting what appears to be a broad consensus of global, national and local medical and scientific experts, we avoid the protracted debate and lack of a technical consensus that has stymied governments in initiating strong action to address the climate emergency.

For permies in despair about the waste and dysfunction of the consumer economy, the closure, albeit temporary, of many discretionary services and businesses is a taste for how we might need to decide what is important; maximum consumer choice for the affluent versus the provision of basic needs for all. The personal sacrifice and adaptation to difficulties, including stay-at-home lockdown, have been opportunities to focus more on the important things in life and get a taste of what social solidarity feels like.

Reports of contrarian views seem to mostly come from sources contaminated by association with climate denial and other views we categorically reject. The resisters’ outrage looks to many like just more selfish, science denying and ignorant right-wing rednecks, trying to prevent collective wisdom and social solidarity from working. Familiar powerful bad players in global corporations or nation states have been replaced by much more immediate angry undesirables, who without much power or vision, could wreck the hard work of the collective to create a workable new normal.

The dissident view

It is more difficult to generalise about those who question or reject the program. A great diversity of views, explanations, feelings and actions flourish in an environment of unprecedented censorship. While there is great sensitivity about the term ‘censorship’, let alone ‘propaganda’ by those supporting the plan, for those on the other side, it is astonishing how rapidly the axe has fallen on enquiry, and debate, in the mainstream media, social media, workplaces and families, let alone in defence of what – until very recently – most of us took as our inalienable rights.

For many permies, the pandemic seems another example of hyped threat like the ‘war on weeds’, ‘war on drugs’, ‘war on terror’ used to manipulate the population to comply with some version of disaster capitalist1Disaster capitalism feeds off natural (climate change) and other disasters to provide recovery and reconstruction services funded by the public that typically benefit the corporate providers and contribute to ongoing dependencies. The term was used by Naomi Klein to describe the evolution of late stage capitalism over recent decades. solutions. Most sceptics acknowledge the virus as real, but not as dangerous as the cure in lockdowns and other draconian measures. The ‘war on the virus’ seems just as futile or misguided as all the other wars on nature, substances and concepts. So much for trying to have nuanced discussions about viruses as an essential and largely symbiotic mechanism for the exchange of genetic material and mediation of evolution!

While the closure and loss of cafés, gyms and hairdressers might not be a great loss, except to those directly affected, many of us have noticed that the official response to the pandemic tends to follow a pattern of support and strengthening of dominant corporations while leading to the weakening and likely collapse of small business and community self-organised activities.

During the first lockdown, ‘stay at home in your household’ was celebrated as a great plus for people getting the RetroSuburbia message. More recently, the messaging about the problem of shared and multi-generation households being suspect has been building, especially in the working-class western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne where many of essential and less well paid workers live. We have shifted from a joke about ‘which permie created the pandemic?’ to a gritted teeth recognition that the response to the pandemic is working to vacuum people into another level of dependence on techno-industrial systems.

Many permies have taken advantage of the shift online to network more effectively around the country and the world, but we are deeply troubled by our increasing dependence on mediated experiences and what seems like draconian regulation of informal engagement with people and nature. The concerns for what this is doing to children are far more serious than the loss of the regulated version of social interaction that children get at school.

For many of us, it is completely natural to be sceptical about one big fast answer provided by the giants of the pharma industry, while they have been granted legal immunity for the consequences of their novel products.. Many have made the rational assessment that the very low risks of the virus (for most of us at least) seem better than the unknown of a novel technology approved and pushed on a frustrated and frightened population in record time. Some in this camp were sceptical about vaccines in general but most have been influenced by the largely censored views from some leading global experts, that these vaccines are in a totally different risk category to all previous vaccines.

While waiting and seeing what happens next may look selfish to the majority, the difficulty in getting access to data and unbiased interpretation drives many to rely on their gut feelings. One or more examples of spin and manipulation of data by officials, and especially the media, leads to a general collapse in trust about any, and even all, aspects of the official story. For instance:

  • Many of us have seen evidence that existing low cost and low risk treatments are available and used effectively in some countries resisting the ‘no available treatment’ orthodoxy.
  • Most understand that while the vaccines seemed to give some protection from more severe effects at least in the early stages, they do not appear to stop transmission, at least of the latest variant.
  • Many wonder why the build-up of natural immunity from prior exposure to the virus is not considered as part of the solution that should at least be discussed before vaccine passports are implemented.

Concerns about more serious adverse effects of the vaccines, as predicted by some experts, have developed into alarm, anger and resistance as both the evidence increases and efforts at cover up and spin become worse. Extreme consequences that many of us dismissed early on as highly unlikely are now showing up in hard-to-read scientific papers, clinical reports and official records and databases.

A similar process has happened with the official responses. For example vaccine passports are now widely discussed and debated as part of the attempt to get as many people vaccinated as possible, as the efficacy of vaccines falls and concerns about adverse effects lock in resistance by a minority. At the start of the pandemic this possibility was decried as paranoid conspiracy theory.

France has been leading the charge to impose vaccine passports for many public and work spaces including hospitals. It’s hard to assess how large the resistance will be in different countries and circumstances but there are already signs that whole industries will lose a significant part of their workforce as some substantial minority of the population withdraw their work, consumption and investment in the system rather than getting the vaccine. Whether by design, policy stupidity or the unexplained viral power of censored scientists and vaccine doubters to overcome the largest public health education/public relations/propaganda effort in history, it is conceivable that the result could be economic contraction on a much larger scale than has occurred as a result of lockdowns so far.2 I can’t help but see what is unfolding as a bizarre version of my ‘Crash on Demand’ scenario

Economic contraction could mostly be in the discretionary economy, but how would the health system cope with a loss of staff, especially if some combination of ineffective vaccines against new strains and antibody-enhanced disease lead to medically informed people losing faith before the general public? Part of the solution might be doctors and nurses from overseas,3In the week since I wrote this sentence, doctors from overseas are now part of the plan for Australia or the adoption of treatment options for Covid currently being used with success in countries like Mexico and India.

Australia and New Zealand seem to be something of a test bed for the most authoritarian regulations in an attempt to keep Covid as close to zero as possible (and failing). Large numbers of people in other countries see us as a police state and wonder why there hasn’t been more resistance Down Under.

Some of us have noted plans promoted by the World Economic Forum for a Global Reset that will require a command economy to respond to the climate emergency, and that the pandemic is an opportunity to implement some of the structures and processes needed to create what some fear is a global new world order.

For many people, the trajectory from trust to mistrust often leads to either deep depression or an energised anger, mostly focused on the authorities but often expressed to friends and family at great cost to all concerned.

Although I have some of those thoughts and feelings, I mostly feel a great tension between a deep and somewhat detached fascination with the big picture and the sense of urgency I habitually feel in spring to get fully cranking with the seasonal garden and generally keeping our home at Melliodora shipshape. I feel like I finally have a box seat to watch the train of techno-industrial civilization hitting the Limits to Growth stone wall and breaking apart, all in slow motion.

The rapidly evolving situation and all its psychological, sociological and economic dimensions suggest an expanding field of possibilities. These could include:

  • a cyber pandemic that crashes the global financial system,
  • a short war between China and the USA4Part of my ‘A History from the Future’ story happening in 2022
  • rapid reduction in consumption of oil and other critical resources and consequently greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the virus,
  • plus of course accelerating climate disasters.

In different scenarios, concern about the virus and the ability to implement the plan could become ever more intense, or alternatively, be shunted offstage or metasatised into dealing with the next crisis. Consequently, the details of what worked, what didn’t, who takes the credit and who gets the blame, would probably all be lost in the swirling muddy waters of compounding crises.

A personal view of the pandemic

Up until this point, I have not indicated my personal interpretation of either the virus or the response because I wanted to focus on the bigger systemic drivers without getting muddied in the good/bad, right/wrong, us/them polarities. However we all have to face what life throws in our path with whatever internal and collective resources we have at hand. As is my lifelong habit, I have done my own ‘due diligence’ to understand and guide my personal decisions. In the past I have always been open about my conclusions and decisions, whether around the campfire or on the most public of forums. I have often joked about the comfort I feel in being a dissident about most things including being beaten up at primary school in the early days of the Vietnam war for being a ‘commie traitor’ to being ostracised in the 1990s for opposing the ‘war on weeds’ orthodoxy of the environmental mainstream. But today being a dissident is no joking matter. Unfortunately the psychosocial environment has now become so toxic that the pressures to self-censor have become much more complex and powerful. Much more is at stake than personal emotions, ego, reputation or opportunities and penalties.

Following my instinct for transparency, I will state my position, which has been evolving since I first started to consider whether the novel virus in Wuhan might lead to a repeat of the 1919 flu pandemic or even something on the scale of the Black Death. I can summarise my current position and beliefs as follows:

  • The virus is real, novel and kills mostly aged, ill and obese people with symptoms both similar to and different from related corona viruses.
  • It most likely is a result of ‘Gain of Function’ research at Wuhan Institute of Virology in China supported by funding from the US government.
  • Escape rather than release was the more likely start of the pandemic.
  • Vaccines in use in western world countries are based on novel technology developed over many years, but without resulting in effective or safe vaccines previously.
  • The fear about the virus generated by the official response and media propaganda is out of proportion to the impact of the disease.
  • Effective treatment protocols for Covid-19 exist and if those are implemented early in the disease, then hospitalisation and deaths can be greatly reduced, as achieved in some countries that faced severe impacts (especially Mexico and India).
  • The socioeconomic and psychosocial impacts of the response will cause more deaths than the virus has so far, especially in poor countries.
  • The efficacy of vaccines is falling while reported adverse effects are now much greater proportionally than for previous vaccines.
  • The under-reporting of adverse events is also much higher than for previous vaccines, although this is still an open question.
  • The possibility of antibody dependent enhancement (ADE) leading to higher morbidity and death in the future is a serious concern and could be unfolding already in countries such as Israel where early and high rates of vaccination have occurred.

Given the toxic nature of views already expressed about (and by) people I know and respect, I am not going to engage in an extensive collating of evidence, referencing who I think are reliable experts and intermediaries who can interpret the virus, the vaccine or any of the related parts of the puzzle. Outsourcing personal responsibility for due diligence to authorities is a risky strategy at the best of times; in times of challenge and rapid change the risks escalate. I do not want to convince anyone to not have the vaccine, but I do want to provide solidarity with those struggling (often alone and isolated) to find answers, so the following are two starting points that I think could be helpful:

As a healthy 66-year-old I am not personally afraid of the virus, but if greater virulence and death rate do emerge with new variants, I might consider the preventative regimen recommended by the FLCCA doctors. There is no way I will be getting any of the current vaccines in the foreseeable future, no matter what the sanctions and demonisation of my position on this matter.

At this point there may be readers who decide to ignore anything and everything I have written as obviously deluded. These are the costs of transparency.

Valuing the Marginal

Tolerance, let alone celebration of diversity, is not the easy permaculture principle many of us assume. Valuing the marginal can be even harder, especially if we study the darker periods of human history.

Over most of history, minority ethnicities and subcultures lived in ambiguous complementarity with dominant majorities. For hundreds, if not a thousand, years my Jewish ancestors made valuable contributions to European culture while managing to maintain their own culture to an extraordinary extent. They lived in ghettos not just for protection from the eruptions of intolerance in the dominant Christian communities but to ensure their language and culture wasn’t swamped by that of the majority. While the Jews carried the elitist belief that they were God’s Chosen People, they didn’t attempt to gain converts and were naturally respectful to the majority Christians. They survived through all but the worst of antisemitic pogroms by not antagonising the majority, largely accepting the restrictions placed on them by society. What else could they do?

Similar dynamics could emerge from the virus and the vaccine, where a subculture of home birth, home education, home food production and alternative health brings together people of previously diverse subcultures, including permies, who are excluded from society. That exclusion will seem self-inflicted to the majority, but for those excluded it will feel critical to both survival and identity.

Is it sensible to plead for tolerance in line with sensitivities to the rights of other minorities? Or is that just an invitation to be stoned to death, if not literally then virtually, on social media?

Unfortunately one of the weaknesses of western culture, which shows up in both Christian and Muslim traditions, is the idea that if a particular path is the correct one, then everyone should follow it. From the perspective of east Asian philosophy and many Indigenous traditions, harmonious balance is more important than the right way. The yin yang symbol showing each polarity containing the seed of its opposite encapsulates this critically important antidote to the recurring western theme about the triumph of good over evil. In The Patterning Instinct Jeremy Lent explores how these different world views have shaped history and that any emergent ecological world view will foreground the importance of harmonious balance.

The wisdom of the collective

I want to lead by example in trying to understand and articulate why it is good that the majority of the population appears to be strongly behind the official plan and that maybe it is even good that a majority of my permaculture colleagues might be lining up to get vaccinated, when I have no intention of doing so.

Firstly, I acknowledge the obvious reason that if the official story is right, the majority getting vaccinated will combine with naturally acquired immunity and control the worst effects of the virus without the need to get every last dissenter vaccinated.

Secondly, given the pressure to push the vaccination rate in every way possible, encouraging some extra hesitators to resist will only increase the pressure and possibly lead to harsher sanctions as well as more broken family relationships, reputations, pain and suffering, which could be worse than potential adverse effects of the virus, or the vaccine, on those people.

Thirdly, because so many people I respect as intelligent and ethical are following the plan, I won’t fall into the trap of losing respect for who they are, what they have done and what else they might do in the future. And if it turns out this is the start of a more permanent hard fascist command state, then we need people of good values on the inside to keep open whatever channels of communication remain possible.

As systems unravel, the stories that make sense of the world also fall apart and in the desperate search for mental lifeboats, different stories come to the fore. The mainstream story around the pandemic is one such mental lifeboat that allows people to maintain faith and function. Without the renewed source of faith and order from rational science guiding technological wizardry, the psychosocial shock from a pandemic could be enough to create social, economic and political chaos on a historically unprecedented scale, at least in long-affluent countries like Australia.

Whatever the nature of the next crisis, I think it will require citizens to by and large accept that the behaviours, rights and freedoms we took for granted are artifacts of a vanishing world. Further, it will provide a harsh reality check on how dependent most of us are on systems we have no control over, so most will find they have little choice but to accept the new state of affairs.

While I might resent what I see as unnecessary sanctions on those resisting, I accept than in the early stage of Brown Tech energy descent, harsh and by some perspectives, arbitrary, controls on behaviour will be part of our reality and are arguably necessary to maintain some sort of social order (even if short-sighted or not sustainable in the long run). My aim is to focus on how we ameliorate the adverse effects of a predicament that humanity cannot escape.

More philosophically, the virus and the response to it could be seen as a meditation practise showing us how no one is an island separated from the whole of life. To break down the toxic notion that we are free agents to do as we choose without consideration of consequences, especially for future generations and the wider community of life, is something permaculture teaching has tried to bring to daily life. How we do this in meaningful ways is a constant challenge.

Sympathy for the devil

Having at least had a go at seeing the good in the mainstream plan, I now want to articulate quite passionately why the majority should at least tolerate and not seek to further punish the minority for their resistance. To advocate for this within the permaculture movement, I appeal to our pluralism in celebrating the diversity of action. This is especially where permies take the risk of being the unvaccinated guinea pigs, who can at least be a control group in this grand experiment on the human family. Beyond that, I hope our colleagues inside the tent will see the need to express solidarity with our right to chart our own course and not feel they have to be silent for fear of being cast out of the tent.

While I respect the younger permaculture folk following the plan for the common good, I still believe the most creative deep adaptations to the Brown Tech world will be crafted at the geographic and conceptual fringes by younger risk takers coming together in new communities of hope. While the paths to the armoured centre and the feral fringes both have their risks, those on the inside, especially older people, should accept that the young risk takers on the fringes might create pathways though the evolutionary bottleneck of energy descent more effectively than the best resourced and rationally devised plans from within the system of thinking that has created the civilisation crises.

Whether or not the pandemic will lead to the flowering of creative light-footed models for adaptation, the larger energy descent crisis for which permaculture was originally designed (that most permies recognise as the ‘Climate Emergency’) needs these responses at the margins. If the permaculture movement cannot digest this basic truth and at least defend the right of people to craft their own pathways in response to collapse of all certainties, then our movement will have failed the first great test of its relevance in a world of energy descent.

Some permie dissidents will double down in their focus on preparation to survive and thrive in spite of the sanctions, while others will be energised by non-violent direct action to resist what they see as draconian and counterproductive collective punishment. In doing so they may draw on past experience, or inspiration, from the frontlines of anti-war, environmental defence and free communication resistance.

In the past, more apolitical permies trying to introduce permaculture to socially conservative punters could still acknowledge, at least privately, the element of truth in the quip ‘permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening’. In today’s climate, can permies inside the tent accept and appreciate their colleagues on the frontlines of a new resistance movement that might moderate the extremes of how society navigates the larger climate emergency? Or will they flip and decide permaculture was, after all, mostly hippy nonsense now further contaminated with toxic right wing conspiracy madness, so must be dumped as unfit for purpose in our new world?

In saying this, I’m not suggesting we should all follow suit, let alone belittle or demonise those who don’t take the walk on the wild side. That would also be a contradiction of permaculture ethics and design principles. As we have always taught, ethics and design principles are universal but rarely lead to clear and conclusive solutions. Strategies and techniques vary with the context; wonderful elegant design solutions for one context can be hopeless white elephants, or worse, in another. Context is everything and as colleague Dan Palmer has so effectively applied in his Living Design Process, the people context is as complex, subtle and diverse as that of the land and nature.

The sovereignty of persons to choose freely how they grapple with the tension between autonomy and the needs of the commonwealth is not just an ideal from western Enlightenment civilisation working out how to apply the gift of fossil fuel wealth. It is a fundamental expression of how the ecology of context is constantly shifting, and that all systems simultaneously express life through bottom-up autonomy of action and top-down guidance of collective wisdom.

In times of great stability, the distilled wisdom of the collective, embodied in institutions, carries human culture for the long run. Sometimes the sanctions on the individuals who rejected the rules of the collective were harsh and, according to modern thinking, arbitrary but over long periods of relative stability, those rules kept society working. In times of challenge and change it is, ironically, dissidents at the fringes who salvage and conserve some of the truths of the dying culture into the unknown future to craft new patterns of recombinant culture.

What we call ‘science’ had its origins in what Pythagoras salvaged, almost single handedly, from the decadent and corrupt theocracies of ancient Egypt of which he was an initiate, before he walked away from the centre to the margins of civilisation. Major failures in the application of so-called trusted science have been a feature of our lived experience. Tragically, science could be one of the casualties as humanity passes through the cultural evolution bottleneck of climate chaos and energy descent. Permaculture was one attempt to craft a holistic applied design science grounded in observation and interaction, taking personal responsibility and accepting (negative) feedback, designing from patterns to details, and creatively using and responding to change. I still believe that salvaged and retrofitted versions of practical science crafted at the margins will serve humanity better than rigid faith in the priests of arcane specialised knowledge maintained by an empire of extraction and exploitation. Can we be sure what the father of science and mathematics would do in this time of turmoil?

Whatever the historical significance of these times, maintaining connections across differences of understanding and action within permaculture and kindred networks will strengthen us all in dealing with the unfolding challenges and opportunities of the energy descent future.

David Holmgren
September 2021




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Mar 152019

Raphael The miraculous draught of fishes 1515



There are days, though all too scarce, when very nice surprises come my way. Case in point: yesterday I received a mail from David Holmgren after a long period of radio silence. Australia’s David is one of the fathers of permaculture, along with Bill Mollison, for those few who don’t know him. They first started writing about the concept in the 1970s and never stopped.

Dave calls himself “permaculture co-originator” these days. Hmm. Someone says: “one of the pioneers of modern ecological thinking”. That’s better. No doubt there. These guys taught many many thousands of people how to be self-sufficient. Permaculture is a simple but intricate approach to making sure that the life in your garden or backyard, and thereby your own life, moves towards balance.

My face to face history with David is limited, we spent some time together on two occasions only, I think, in 2012 a day at his home (farm) in Australia and in 2015 -a week- in Penguin, Tasmania at a permaculture conference where the Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss was one of the key speakers along with Dave. Still, despite the limited time together I see him as a good and dear friend, simply because he’s such a kind and gracious and wise man.

In his mail, David asked if I would publish this article, which he originally posted on his own site just yesterday under the name “The Apology: From Baby Boomers To The Handicapped Generations”. I went for a shorter title (it’s just our format), but of course I will.

Dave has been an avid reader of the Automatic Earth for the past 11 years, we sort of keep his feet on the ground when they’re not planted and soaking in that same ground: “Reading TAE has helped me keep up to date..”

In light of the children’s climate protests today, which I have yet to voice my qualms about (and I have a few), it only makes sense to put into words a baby boomer’s apology. To have that phrased by someone with the intellect and integrity of David should have everyone sit up and pay attention, if you ask me. And perhaps it would be good if more people would try and do the same: apologize to those kids.

Here’s my formidable friend David Holmgren:



David Holmgren: It is time for us baby boomers to honestly acknowledge what we did and didn’t do with the gifts given to us by our forebears and be clear about our legacy with which we have saddled the next and succeeding generations.

By ‘baby boomers’ I mean those of us born in the affluent nations of the western world between 1945 and 1965. In these countries, the majority of the population became middle class beneficiaries of mass affluence. I think of the high birth rate of those times as a product of collective optimism about the future, and the abundant and cheap resources to support growing families.

By many measures, the benefits of global industrial civilisation peaked in our youth, but for most middle class baby boomers of the affluent countries, the continuing experience of those benefits has tended to blind us to the constriction of opportunities faced by the next generations: unaffordable housing and land access, ecological overshoot and climate chaos amongst a host of other challenges.

I am a white middle class man born in 1955 in Australia, one of the richest nations of the ‘western world’ in the middle of the baby boom, so I consider myself well placed to articulate an apology on behalf of my generation.

In the life of a baby boomer born in 1950 and dying in 2025 (a premature death according to the expectations of our generation), the best half the world’s endowment of oil – the potent resource that made industrial civilisation possible – will have been burnt. This is tens of millions of years of stored sunlight from a special geological epoch of extraordinary biological productivity. Beyond our basic needs, we have been the recipients of manufactured wants and desires. To varying degrees, we have also suffered the innumerable downsides, addictions and alienations that have come with fossil-fuelled consumer capitalism.

It is also true that our generation has used the genie of fossil fuels to create wonders of technology, organisation and art, and a diversity of lifestyles and ideas. Some of the unintended consequences of our way of life, ranging from antibiotic resistance to bubble economics, should have been obvious, while others, such as the depression epidemic in rich countries, were harder to foresee. Our travel around the world has broadened our minds, but global tourism has contaminated the amazing diversity of nature and traditional cultures at an accelerating pace. We have the excuse that innovations always have pluses and minuses, but it seems we have got a larger share of the pluses and handballed more of the minuses to the world’s poorest countries and to our children and grandchildren.

We were the first generation to have the clear scientific evidence that emergent global civilisation was on an unsustainable path that would precipitate an unravelling of both nature and society through the 21st century. Although climate chaos was a less obvious outcome than the no-brainer of resource depletion, international recognition of the reality of climate change came way back in 1988, just as we were beginning to get our hands on the levers of power, and we have presided over decades of policies that have accelerated the problem.

Over the years since, the adverse outcomes have shifted from distant risks to lived realities. These impact hardest on the most vulnerable peoples of the world who have yet to taste the benefits of the carbon bonanza that has driven the accelerating climate catastrophe. For the failure to share those benefits globally and curb our own consumption we must be truly sorry.


David Holmgren


In the 1960s and 70s, during our coming of age, a significant proportion of us were critical of what was being passed down to us by our parent’s generation who were also the beneficiaries of the western world system, which some of us baby boomers recognised as a global empire. But our grandparents and parents had been shaped by the rigours and grief of the first global depression of the 1890s, the First World War, The Great Depression of the 1930s and, of course, the Second World War. Aside from those who served in Vietnam, we have cruised through life avoiding the worst threats of nuclear annihilation and economic depression, even as people in other countries suffered the consequences of superpower proxy wars, coups, and economic and environmental catastrophes.

While some of us were burnt by personal and global events, we have mostly led a charmed existence and had the privilege to question our upbringing and culture. We were the first generation in history to experience an extended adolescence of experimentation and privilege with little concern or responsibility for our future, our kin or our country.

Most baby boomers were raised in families where commuting was the norm for our fathers but a home-based lifestyle was still a role model we got from our mothers. In our enthusiasm for women to have equal access to productive work in the monetary economy, few of us noticed that without work to keep the household economy humming we lost much of our household autonomy to market forces. By our daily commutes, mostly alone in our cars, we entrenched this massively wasteful and destructive action as normal and inevitable.

As we came into our power in middle age, the new technology of the internet, workshop tool miniaturisation and other innovations provided more options to participate in the monetary economy without the need to commute, but our generation continued with this insane collective addiction. In Australia, we faithfully followed the American model of not investing in public transport, which moderated the adverse impacts of commuting in European and other countries not so structurally addicted to road transport. By failing to build decent public transport and the opportunities for home-based work, and wasting wealth in a frenzy of freeway building that has choked our cities, our generation has consumed our grandchildren’s inheritance of high quality transport fuels and accelerated the onset of climate chaos. For this we are truly sorry.

In pioneering the double income family, some of us set the pattern for the next generation’s habit of outsourcing the care of children at a young age, making commuting five days a week an early childhood experience. This has left the next generation unable to imagine a life that doesn’t involve leaving home each day.

These patterns are part of a larger crisis created by the double income, debt-laden households with close to 100% dependence on the monetary economy. Without robust and productive household economies, our children and grandchildren’s generations will become the victims of savage disruptions and downturns in the monetary economy. For failing to maintain and strengthen the threads of self-provision, frugality and self-reliance most of us inherited from our parents, we should be truly sorry.


Some of us felt in our hearts that we needed to create a different and better world. Some of us saw the writing on the walls of the world calling for global justice. Some of us read the evidence (mostly clearly in the 1972 Limits To Growth) that attempting to run continuous material growth on finite planet would end in more than tears.

Some of us even rejected the legacy of previous generations of radicals’ direct action against the problems of the world, and instead decided we would boldly create the world we wanted by living it each day. In doing so, we experienced hard-won lessons and even created some hopeful models for succeeding generations to improve on in more difficult conditions. That our efforts at novel solutions often created more sound than substance, or that we flitted from one issue to another rather than doing the hard yards necessary to pass on truly robust design solutions for a world of less, leaves some of us with regrets for which we might also feel the need to apologise.

These experiences are shared to some degree by a minority in all generations but there is significant evidence that the 1960s and 70s was a time when awareness of the need for change was stronger. Unfortunately, a sequence of titanic geopolitical struggles that few of us understand even today, a debt-fuelled version of consumer capitalism, and propaganda against both the Limits to Growth and the values of the counterculture, saw most of us following the neoliberal agenda like sheep into the 1980s and beyond.



After having played with the privilege of free tertiary education, most of us fell for the propaganda and sent our children off to accumulate debts and doubtful benefits in the corporatised businesses that universities became. We convinced our children they needed more specialised knowledge poured down their throats rather than using their best years to build the skills and resilience for the challenges our generation was bequeathing to them. For this we must be truly sorry.

Many of us have been the beneficiaries of buying real estate before the credit-fuelled final stages of casino capitalism made that option a recipe for debt slavery for our children. Without understanding its mechanics we have contributed to – and fuelled with our faith – a bubble economy on a vast scale that can only end in pain and suffering for the majority. While some of us are members of the bank of Mum and Dad, when the property bubble bursts we could find ourselves following the bank chiefs apologising for the debt burden we encouraged our children to take on. Some of us will also have to apologise for losing the family home when we went guarantor on their mortgages. For not heeding the warnings we got with the GFC, we will be truly sorry.

Some of us have used our windfall wealth from real estate and the stock market to do good works, including creating small models of more creative and lower footprint futures that have inspired the minority of the next generations who can also see the writing on the wall. But most of us used our houses as ATMs for new forms of consumption that were unimaginable to our parents, from holidays around the world to endless renovations and a constant flow of updated digital gadgets and virtual diversions. For this frivolous squandering of our windfall wealth we must be truly sorry.


While our parents’ generation experienced the risks of youth through adversity and war we used our privilege to tackle challenges of our own choosing. Although some of us had to struggle to free ourselves from the cloying cocoon of middle class upbringing, we were the generation that flew like the birds and hitchhiked around the country and the world. How strange that on becoming parents (many of us in middle age) we believed the propaganda that the world was too dangerous for our children to do the same around the local neighbourhood. Instead we coddled them, got into the chauffeuring business, and in doing so encouraged their disconnection from both nature and community. As we see our grandchildren’s generation raised in a way that makes them an even more handicapped generation, we must be truly sorry for the path we took and the dis-ease we created.

After so many of us experimented with mind-expanding plants and chemicals, some of us were taken down in chemical addictions, but it was dysfunctional and corrupt legal prohibitions more than the substances themselves that were to blame for the worst of the damage. So how strange that when in middle age we got our hands on the levers of power, most of our generation decided to continue to support the madness of prohibition. For this we must be truly sorry: to have seen the light but then continued to inflict this burden on our children and grandchildren. For having acquiesced in the global ‘war on drugs’ that spread pain and suffering to some of the poorest peoples of the world we should be ashamed.

When the ‘war on drugs’ (a war against substances!) became the model for the ‘war on terror’ (war against a concept!) some of us reawakened the anti-war activism of the Vietnam years but in the end we mostly acquiesced to an agenda of trashing international law, regime change, shock and awe, chaos, and the death of millions; all justified by the 9/11 demolition fireworks that killed a small fraction of the number of citizens that die each year as a result of our ongoing addiction to personal motorised mobility.

While the shadow cast by climate change darkens our grandchilden’s future, the shadow of potential nuclear winter that hung over our childhood as not gone away. Many of us were at the forefront of the international movement to rid the world of nuclear weapons and thought the collapse of the Soviet Union had saved us from that threat. Coming into our power after the end of the cold war, our greatest crime on this geopolitical front has perhaps been the tacit support of our generation for first, the economic rape of Russia in the 1990s, and then its progressive encirclement by the relentless expansion of NATO. In Australia we have meekly added our resources and youth to more or less endless wars in the Middle East and central Asia justified by the fake ‘war on terror’. For this weakness as accessories to global crimes wasting wealth and lives to consolidate the western powers’ control of the first truly global empire, we should hang our collective heads in shame.

While some of our generation’s intellectuals continued to critique the ‘war on terror’ as fake, the vast majority of the public intellectuals of our generation, including those on the left, have supported the rapid rise of Cold War 2.0 to contain Russia, China and any other country that doesn’t accept what we now call ‘the rules based international order’ (code for ‘our empire’). This is truly astonishing when looked at in the context of our lived history. Let us hope that sanity can prevail as our empire fades and future generations don’t brand us as the most insane, war-mongering generation of all time. For our complicity in this grand failure of resistance we should be truly sorry.


click to order David’s latest


On another equally titanic front, the mistake of giving legal personhood to corporations was not one that our generation made. However most of us have contributed our work, consumption and capital to assist these self-organising, profit-maximising, cost-minimising machines of capitalism morphing into emergent new life forms that threaten to consume both nature and humanity in an algorithmic drive for growth. At a time of our seniority and numbers, we failed to use the Global Financial Crisis as an opportunity to bring these emergent monsters to heel. Do our children have the capacity to tame the monsters that we nurtured from fragile infants to commanding masters?

And if they do find the will to withdraw their work, consumption and capital enough to contain the corporations, will the economy that currently provides for both needs and wants unravel completely? This is a burden so great most of us continue to believe we have no responsibility or agency in such a dark reality. We trust that history will not place the burden of responsibility on our generation alone. But for our part in this failure of agency over human affairs we apologise. Further, we should accept with grace the consequences for our own wellbeing.

Most of us feel impotent when thinking of these failures to control the excesses of our era, but on a more modest scale we have mindlessly participated in taking the goods and passing on the debt to future generations. No more so than in our habitual acceptance of antibiotics from doctors to fix the most mundane of illnesses. For our parents’ generation, antibiotics represented the peak of medical science’s ability to control what killed so many of their parents and earlier generations.

For us, they became routine tools to keep us on the job and our children not missing precious days at school. Through this banal practice we have unwittingly conspired with our doctors to rapidly breed resistance to the most effective and low-cost antibiotics. We took for granted that future generations would always be able to work out ways to keep ahead of diseases with an endless string of new antibiotics. For having squandered this gift we are truly sorry.


Further, despite the fact that some of us have became vegetarian or even vegan, our generation’s demand for cheap chicken and bacon has driven the industrial dosing of animals with antibiotics on a scale that has accelerated the development of antibiotic resistance far faster than would have been the case from us dosing ourselves and our children. For supporting this and other such obscene systems of animal husbandry we apologise to our grandchildren and succeeding generations and hope that somehow an accommodation between humanity, animals and microbes is still possible.

We experienced and benefited from the emergent culture of rights and recognition for women, minorities and the people of varied abilities, and many of us who fought to extend and deepen those rights have pride in what we did. However some of us are beginning to fear that in doing so we contributed to creating new demands, disabilities, and fractious subcultures of fear and angst unimagined in previous generations. While we might not be in the driving seat of identity politics and culture wars, we raised our children to demand their rights in a world that is unravelling due to its multiple contradictions.

In this emerging context, strident demands for rights are likely to be a waste of valuable energy that younger people might better focus on becoming useful to themselves and others. For overemphasising the demand for rights and underplaying the need for responsible self- and collective-reliance, perhaps we should also be sorry.

And is this escalating demand for rights by younger people itself connected, even peripherally, to the increasing callous disregard for the rights of others? Especially in the case of refugees, this careless disregard has allowed political elites to use tough treatment of the less fortunate to distract from the gradual loss of shared privilege that once characterised the ‘lucky country’. To the shame of those in power over the last two decades (mostly baby boomers) those policies are now being adopted on a larger scale in Europe and the US.



In our lifetimes religious faith has declined. For many of our generation, this change represents a measure of humanity’s progress from a benighted past to a promising future. But the collective belief in science and evidence-based decision making has now become a new faith, “Scientism”, which seeks to drive out all other ways of thinking and being from the public space. At the same time, religious fundamentalism is now resurgent. Is this too something that our generation unleashed by preaching tolerance while enforcing an ideology we didn’t even recognise as such?

A significant sign of the good intentions of our generation has been our recognition that the ancient war against nature, which has plagued human life since the beginnings of agriculture, and indeed civilisation, must end. One powerful expression of our efforts has been the valuing of the biodiversity of life, especially local indigenous biodiversity. In the ‘New Europes’ of North America and the Antipodes, seeking to save indigenous biodiversity has grown into an institutionalised form of atonement for the sins of the forefathers.

While this seems like one of our achievements, even this we have bastardised with a new war against naturalised biodiversity. Perhaps the worst aspect of this renewed war against novel ecologies is that we have accepted the helping hand of Monsanto in using Roundup as the main weapon in our urban and rural habitats. The mounting evidence that Roundup may be worse than DDT will be part of our legacy. While history may excuse our parent’s generation for naïve optimism in relation to DDT, our generation’s version of the war on nature will not save us from harsh judgement. For this we should be truly sorry.

Of course any public apology in this country invites comparisons to the apology by governments to the stolen generation of Australian indigenous peoples for the wrongs of the past. This unfinished sorry business is beyond the scope of this apology, but it is an opportunity to reflect critically on our common self-perception of supporting indigenous peoples’ rights in contrast to the normalised racism of previous generations.


Our generation’s invitation to, and enabling of, Australians of indigenous descent to more fully participate in mainstream Australian society may have been a necessary step towards reconciliation; or could it have been a poison chalice drawing them even deeper into the dysfunctions of industrial modernity that I have already outlined. We can only hope that people with such a history of resilience and understanding in the face dispossession will take these additional burdens in their stride.

In any case, this apology is not one that comes from a position of invulnerable privilege, giving succour to those who are no threat to that privilege. For many baby boomers, now caring for parents and dealing with their deaths, we are more inwardly focused. For some of us, especially those estranged from parents, through this both painful and tender processes we are finally growing up. But a comic tragedy could play out in our declining years if a combination of novel disabilities, the culture of rights and amplified fears lead to our children and grandchildren’s generations mostly experiencing harder times as far worse than they might really be, and deciding we are the cause of their troubles.

We baby boomers will increasingly find that in our growing dependence on young people we will be subject to their perspectives, whims and prejudices. Hopefully we can take what we are given on the chin and along with our children and our grandchildren’s generations we can all grow up and work together to face the future with whatever capacities we have.

We might hope this apology is itself a wake-up call to the younger generations that are still mostly sleepwalking into the oncoming maelstroms. In raising the alarm we might hope our humble apology will galvanise the potential in young people who are grasping the nettle of opportunities to turn problems into solutions.

We hope that this apology might lead to understanding rather than resentment of our frailty in the face of the self-organising forces of powerful change that have driven the climaxing of global industrial civilisation. Finally, the task ahead for our generation is to learn how to downsize and disown before we prepare to die, with grace, at a time of our choosing, and in a way that inspires and frees the next generations to chart a prosperous way down.



Jun 062016

Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander Image from ‘A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity’ 2016

On July 27 2015, I posted a 2-hour interview with Nicole Foss that was recorded when we were in Melbourne in April that year. The interview -though not the full two hours of course- was always meant to be part of a documentary by our friends Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander. The documentary is now out.

Below, you can find the trailer, the full documentary, as well as a re-run of the full interview with Nicole. I haven’t had time to watch the documentary, just got the mail from Sam, but I will later today. No doubt, it’ll be worth your while and mine. I remember complimenting them on the sound- and picture quality of the interview last year. Plus, get the likes of our dear friend Dave Holmgren together with Nicole and Ted Trainer, amongst others, and you can’t very well go wrong, can you?

(NOTE: Saw some rushes, and it may contain a tad much hippieness and/or reality-TV semblance for some)

The trailer:

With the text published with it:

The overlapping economic, environmental, and cultural crises of our times can seem overwhelming, can seem like challenges so great and urgent that they have no solutions. But rather than sticking our heads in the sand or falling into despair, we should respond with defiant positivity and try to turn the crises we face into opportunities for civilisational renewal.

During the year of 2015 a small community formed on an emerging ecovillage in Gippsland, Australia, and challenged themselves to explore a radically ‘simpler way’ of life based on material sufficiency, frugality, permaculture, alternative technology and local economy. This documentary by Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander tells the story of this community’s living experiment, in the hope of sparking a broader conversation about the challenges and opportunities of living in an age of limits.

The documentary also presents new and exclusive interviews with leading activists and educators in the world’s most promising social movements, including David Holmgren (permaculture), Helena Norberg-Hodge (localisation), Ted Trainer (the simpler way), Nicole Foss (energy and finance), Bill Metcalf (intentional communities) and Graham Turner (limits to growth).

The full documentary:

Then the text I included back then:

The fimmakers about their project:

The purpose of the documentary is to unflinchingly describe the overlapping crises of industrial civilisation and explain why a ‘simpler way’ of life, based on material sufficiency not limitless growth, signifies the only coherent response to those crises. The dominant mode of development today seeks to universalise high-consumption consumer lifestyles, but this is environmentally catastrophic and it has produced perverse inequalities of wealth. Even the privileged few who have attained material affluence rarely find it satisfying or fulfilling, because consumerism just leaves people feeling empty and alone. Consequently, our forthcoming documentary seeks to show why genuine progress today means rejecting consumerism, transcending growth economics, and building new forms of life based on permaculture, simple living, renewable energy, and localised economies.

But what does that mean? And how should we go about building a new world? Mainstream environmentalism calls on us to take shorter showers, recycle, buy ‘green’ products, and turn the lights off when we leave the room, but these measures are grossly inadequate. We need more fundamental change – personally, culturally, and structurally. Most of all, we need to reimagine the good life beyond consumer culture and begin building a world that supports a simpler way of life. This does not mean hardship or deprivation. It means focusing on what is sufficient to live well. The premise of our documentary is that a simple life can be a good life.

One of the main concerns driving this documentary, and the Wurruk’an project more generally, is the uncomfortable realisation that even the world’s most successful ecovillages have ecological footprints that are too high to be universalised. In other words, even after many decades of the modern environmental movement, we still don’t have many or any examples of what a flourishing ‘one planet’ existence might look. This is highly problematic because if people do not have some understanding of what sustainability requires of us or what it might look like, it will be hard to mobilise individuals and communities to build such a world. A Simpler Way represents an attempt to envision and demonstrate what ‘one planet’ living might look like and provoke a broader social conversation about the radical implications of living in an age of limits.

We hope that this documentary will challenge and inspire people to explore a simpler way of life and to begin building sufficiency-based economies that thrive within planetary limits. If you feel this is a worthwhile film for social change, please support our project by donating here [link coming soon] and sharing the link with your networks.

And finally, the Nicole interview I posted last year, of which significant parts are in the documentary.

Jun 142014
 June 14, 2014  Posted by at 3:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  1 Response »

DPC Whirlpool Rapids (Grand Trunk Railway) Bridge, Niagara Falls, NY 1899

The Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss will be doing a speaking, teaching and workshop tour of Australia with Oz native permaculture co-guru David Holmgren, from June 29 to July 19. You can see the agenda in this post, as well as in the left side bar of The Automatic Earth, where it will be updated as more details become available. There is of course no need to mention that if you’re around any of the places they visit, or even if you’re not, this is definitely an opportunity you do not want to miss. I’ll be lazy for only this once and leave you with Dave’s own blurb for the tour.

Nicole Foss and David Holmgren Speaking Tour: Strategies for a Changing Economy – Survive and Thrive

We are approaching many limits to growth over the next several decades, and are consequently facing many challenges in our immediate future. Finance, energy, environment, resources and climate will all impact on the single-minded, one-dimensional trajectory human society has been on in our era of growth imperative. Our current path is unsustainable. It cannot and will not continue, so we must adapt our societies in order to build a new future.

The first challenges are being presented by the ongoing global financial crisis, which is far closer to its beginning than it end, and by the geopolitics of energy. Events in Europe, particularly in Cyprus, Detroit and latterly the Ukraine, represent a major wake up call that financial crisis is about to resume in earnest and that energy issues are moving towards criticality in many places. We must anticipate and navigate a period of rapid economic contraction and increasing risk of resource conflict, punctuated by the emergence of geopolitical wildcards.

Building resilience in an era of limits to growth

Nicole Foss will explore the links between the converging pressures facing us — economic contraction, peak energy and geopolitical stress. She will outline the implications for our everyday lives and share practical solutions she has observed from around the world.

Permaculture surfing the property bubble collapse

Drawing from 30 years of permaculture teaching, designing and demonstrating rural and urban agriculture food production systems for sustainable living, Transition activism and by personal example, David Holmgren will outline practical strategies to help households and communities survive, thrive and contribute to a better world.

Permaculture co-founder and the author of Future Scenarios, David Holmgren toured the country with Richard Heinberg in 2006 informing the public of the threats of imminent peak oil and the permaculture responses. Eight years on, more people have installed insulation and solar, started growing food, raising chooks, and buying from local producers.

Eight years on, the peak of conventional oil is already in the rear view mirror and the first stage of the second Great Depression is pulling apart economies and nations around the world. The mining boom has allowed Australia to dodge the worst, but the signs are not good. Government plans for austerity highlight the need for households and communities to increase their self reliance.

David’s updated presentation uses permaculture design principles to interpret the signs and show how getting out of debt, downsizing and rebooting our dormant household and community non-monetary economies are the best hedges that ordinary citizens can make. The idea that these household and community economies could achieve unprecedented growth rates if the monetary economy takes a serious dive is a good news story you won’t hear from mainstream media.

The shift of metaphor from ‘retrofitting’ to ‘surfing’ suggests a stronger role for positive risk taking behaviour change without the need for expensive changes to the built environment; that few will be able to afford. Returning to Aussie St, David shows how the permaculture makeover and behaviour change is progressing through the second Great Depression. Aussie St is not only surviving but thriving through the “dumpers” that property bubble collapse, climate chaos and geopolitical energy shocks have unleashed on the lucky country. It’s an endearing, amusing and gutsy story of hope for in-situ adaptation by the majority of Australians living in our towns and suburbs.

On this tour Holmgren is joined by Nicole Foss, leading system analyst, who explains how the deflationary dynamics that always follow finance and property bubbles, will rapidly impact individuals, families and communities, while the longer acting forces of Peak Oil and Climate Change will determine and limit the nature of any economic recovery. Nicole will paint a comprehensive picture of where we stand today globally, how our human operating system functions, how and why it is acutely vulnerable, and what we must do about the predicament in which we find ourselves.

The focus will be financial, social, and geopolitical, reflecting the priority of impacts likely to be felt in the relatively short term. The critical factors for change will be highlighted, with an outline of the possibilities that exist within the scope of the emerging reality. We must plan to restructure our societies from the bottom up, so that both the transition period and our eventual recovery from the coming upheaval can rest on a solid foundation. That foundation requires the resurgence of resilient communities and the development of true human capacity.

Her succinct and riveting presentation sets the scene for the positive permaculture strategies. More than just an affirmation of what many are already doing, Foss’s systemic perspective is a wake up call for those concerned about environmental and social issues to understand how their own exposure to financial collapse will determine whether they can shape a better future for themselves, their children and their communities.

The two will inform Australians how it’s possible, although not inevitable, to weather the coming storms with grace, rebuild community solidarity and provide a bulwark against the worst expressions of fear, blame and zenophobia that naturally arise in times of hardship. Most importantly, it will highlight how a small but significant minority following a path of enlightened self interest, and informed by permaculture design principles, may have a more powerful and positive influence than mass movements demanding their rights from weak and ineffective governments.

Humanity stands on the edge of a precipice, and where we go from here is in our own hands. There is both considerable danger, and the opportunity to address what is arguably the most challenging situation in human history constructively.

Survive and Thrive, with Nicole Foss and David Holmgren

(For up to date info, please see the Event page on our webiste.)


Nicole Foss, also known as ‘Stoneleigh’, is a Canadian sustainability, energy, and finance expert. She is best known for her works at her website, The Automatic Earth. Nicole was editor of the Oil Drum Canada website where she wrote on the connections between energy and finance. On this tour she will further explore the links between the converging pressures facing us (peak oil, financial crisis, climate change), the implications for our everyday lives, and solutions. She is a permaculture teacher as well.

David Holmgren is best known as the co-founder of permaculture, possibly the most successful export of ideas from Australia. As a permaculture author, his 2002 book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability is considered to be the benchmark literature when discussing sustainability. His books and essays have sparked many discussions amongst people seeking solutions for peak energy and climate change. David will focus on solutions, updating and extending his "retrofitting the suburbs" theme. He will also discuss the important role of the "informal economy", the household and local economy, which do not show up in official GDP calculations.