Wednesday, April 19

creative descent

In a conversation last Saturday night, a friend talked about the concept of changing our lives in order to live within our means. Is it me, am I attracting people thinking this way, or is there a owowing awareness of these issues because they are becoming critical to our future well-being and even survival?

This is a concept that is relatively new and I am going to hand over to David Holmgren, co-founder of the Permaculture concepts, to speak to it more eloquently than I could...

While permaculture strategies mesh nicely with many of those directed towards this generally accepted desirable future, permaculture in fact defines a creative response to a fourth scenario that I call “Earth Stewardship” - a “creative descent” in which we progressively reduce our energy demands to return eventually to living within the natural energy and production budget of the land we occupy. Elements of all these scenarios can be found in the wide-ranging viewpoints and arguments of today’s “sustainability” debates.

In the Earth Stewardship “creative descent” scenario, which I consider to represent the only truly sustainable future, human society creatively descends the energy demand slope essentially as a ‘mirror image’ of the creative energy ascent that occurred between the onset of the industrial revolution and the present day. The actual sustainable plateau is a long way down from current energy demands, but also a long way ahead in time. If we begin our journey now, there is time to use our familiarity with continuous change and creative innovation to avoid bringing on “Atlantis”.

So, in an energy-descent future, what are the prospects close to home - here where we live in suburbia? Will it be the end of suburbia? What if we can no longer afford to commute to work by car? What if we are dependent on food and energy supplies that are transported long distances at increasing expense? What if the services and functionality of our communities decline further so that there is ever-diminishing support from local councils and police, for example?

There is a real and viable alternative to this seemingly alarming scenario - a retrofit of suburbia - a remodelling of local neighbourhoods and communities for the energy-descent future. The “refit manual” will bring together and integrate features such as:
  • Home-based work, telecommuting, and cottage industries serving a local clientele;
  • Extended families, lodgers and shared households;
  • Recycling of storm water, waste water, and human waste;
  • Soils of improved fertility, and the water supply and infrastructure for urban agriculture;
  • City farms, cooperative gardening, Farmers’ Markets, and Community Supported Agriculture schemes (CSAs)

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a scheme in which customers undertake to buy a regular box of in-season fruits, vegetables, eggs, etc. from one or more local producers, thus providing the latter with a secure income and the ability to diversify the types of produce they provide.

The bottom line here is that we do not need to wait for policies to change. We can choose today to do this - to create our own small neighbourhoods. ‘Suburban sprawl’ in fact give us an advantage. Detached houses are easy to retrofit, and the space around them allows for solar access and space for food production. A water supply is already in place, our pampered, unproductive ornamental gardens have fertile soils and ready access to nutrients, and we live in ideal areas with mild climates, access to the sea, the city and inland country.

So what do we have to do to make it work? Basically, the answer is “Just do it!” Use whatever space is available and get producing.

Involve the kids - and their friends. Make contact with neighbours and start to barter. Review your material needs and reduce consumption. Share your home - by bringing a family member back or taking in a lodger, for example. Creatively and positively work around regulatory impediments, aiming to help change them in the longer term. Pay off your debts. Work from home. And above all, retrofit your home for your own sustainable future, not for speculative monetary gain.

In an energy-descent world, self-reliance represents real opportunities for early adopters of a permaculture life style:
  • Rises in oil prices will flow through to all natural products (food, timber, etc);
  • Higher commodity prices will be a stimulus for self-reliance and organic farming;
  • Local products will be more competitive than imports;
  • Repair, retrofitting, and recycling will all be more competitive than new replacement;
  • There will be rising demand for permaculture as life-skills eduction; and
  • There will be a resurgence of community life, ethics and values.

There are, however, some real hazards for the greater community in the energy-descent scenario. For example, perverse subsidies and “head-in-the-sand” policies could distort necessary market adjustments (e.g., the end of fuel tax combined with production subsidies to agribusiness). There is a real danger that fascist-style politics could see minorities and those providing for themselves as being to blame for declining social conditions.

Sudden economic and environmental shocks could conceivably lead to social collapse, removing even the security necessary for local food production. We need to understand the energy-descent pathway ahead, act to ensure our own longer-term resource security, and keep ourselves informed about the viewpoints and approaches of the greater national and global communities around us.


A huge resource with downloadable audio
THE END OF SUBURBIA: Or the Beginning of Widespread Permaculture?
Energy Bulletin - link to full article this is excerpted from
Energy Bulletin - An easily negotiated and thorough site

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Kim and I hosted an event at the local cinema last night to speak about our trip to Zimbabwe, and to share in an experiential way, the dialogue process of Calling the Circle. Judging by people's expression in the circle, and the gratitude expressed at the end of the night, it was well received. It seems that people are hungry
be heard, and to be in a safe place where those things that are most important, relevant and urgent in their thoughts and feelings, can be expressed.

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