a link – first of many? And an update

Interest.co.nz bravely took this piece, which I hope is the first of many.


It generated a lot of comment traffic, think I’ll drop one in about fortnightly, will link to it here (if I can scrounge Jennie’s t-stick, my land-line is now so slow that it won’t do wordpress).

The other moves – pushing the media and asking the hard questions of some folk who don’t want to articulate the answers – proceeds slowly. Have to be careful; these are big boys, with a lot to lose. More soon.

Otherwise, Zeb and I are being sustainable, and it’s hard work. Goats out, 3 lots of chickens now, glasshouses to water and pick from, produce to collect, store, systems to keep going, friends to nurture. Went to a Climate Change lecture/q&a recently, first time I’ve heard EROEI mentioned – hat-tip to Janet Stephenson – so maybe we’re getting there, I sense a groundswell of folk who ‘know’ too.

Interesting times!


a grand day out – well, in…..

We had a Sustainable Energy gathering this afternoon. Folk who have been part of Sustainable Living groups, and we had to stop the applications at 25 (house size being the factor!). If there is anything better than talking about what you’re enthusiastic about, to folk eager to listen, I don’t know of it. The last folk left at dusk, and I suspect we’ll see many – most – of them again.

Interestingly, there were fewer folk wanting to look up at the pelton wheel (from underneath) than from other visits. Equally interestingly, the questions were as thoughtful as I’ve ever heard. First time build-energy vs running energy vs demolition energy has been discussed like that.

So – we’re mellow. Good to see the young folk too – thinking before they build. The weather came right (the core temp had been low after a week of shyte) and the house did it’s stuff – passive solar at it’s best. I’d do that every day of the week, if I could. The baking wasn’t half bad, either……   Thank you to everyone who came – we enjoyed it!

this is one of the best yet – Associate Prof George Mobus

Alias ‘Question Everything’


and a little excerpt:

Globalization, in effect the attempt to find low energy demand populations to do the labor, was a response to lowering NEE

It’s long, and needs thinking all the way. But worth it. It puts clearly what I mostly wing with conceptual grasp and instinct.

well that didn’t happen – but I bin think’n.

Global life expectation wasn’t discussed on the Panel, but it made me think on it. The effects of resource quality/quantity availability, impacting an increased population, will come on incrementally and will feature a delay component.

Folk like me – well fed and reasonably fit, can reasonably expect to coast further into old age than a child either currently undernourished, or one currently over fast-fooded/under exercised. Which is the majority, currently. Put the squeeze on, and the undernourished ranks increase – exponentially.

At the same time, the over-nourished are going to suffer income reductions. Maybe some will slide into good food (home-grown vegies for instance) while some will just chace the cheapest calories – the lowest grade fat, in other words. That will be a social strata-ing, and probably predictable by suburb, but I digress from the main thought.

Put the screws on to global food, via global energy, and the poor/disenfranchised drop out of the bidding. They won’t live as long. Some ex-affluent will live longer, some from the sheeple end of our society, may get worse. I noticed this recently in Tonga.

As related to Peak Oil (peak quality energy, more realistically) and more relevantly, peak quality energy per head – the ability to maintain good quality life – a chemical thing – will decay on average. That has to be over a long time, starting around now – I’d accept 2007, it’s as good as any guess.

The ‘expectation’, though, can be projected into the stratosphere, based on the past – absolutely the same as projecting economic growth ad infinitum. The actual will be different, the proving will take decades. For actual global longevity to turn as early as 2007, would be a surprise. For the projected global longevity expectation to turn at 2007, makes entire sense.

So we’re back to the ‘glass half-full’ debate – whether the curve goes vertical forever, or whether it’s a gaussian.

No system in nature goes vertical.

At which point it’s not worth thinking much more.

Teaching and demonstrating low-tech low-energy food production, with an eye on nutrient quality, is probably the best pro-active way. Safeguarding water supply (and ownership!) and energy sources ditto, would not go amiss either.


2010 – are we ahead?

On the basis of where we could have been, no.

But it could have been worse.

Here at home, we are more comfortable, less vulnerable, more sustainable, cashed-up. We can’t help being collectively indebted, of course, via Government and local authority madness, but that’s just the cost of being part of a society in denial.

The pelton-wheel – delivering more power than we can use, 24/7, even in summer, is a wee wonder. Both gardens just continue to get bigger, get better, and deliver more. We go days without going near a shop. The chicken count is now: Bantam broody-mums 3, old battery-hens 1, year-old Brown Shavers 5, rooster 1, yet-to-be determinet progeny 10.

Plans are for a glass-house using second-hand coolstore panel as the down-sun wall, and recycled windows as the rest. And maybe a second one. We’ll grow more fruit and nut trees from seedlings, and keep pushing the orchard area. The old steel water-tank will get plumbed up, as summer back-up (not needed this year)(so far). The old petrol saw-bench will get a fence and a tilt, and I’ll run the macro (dry-stacked 15 years!) into skirting-boards, architraves etc, and finish off the house. Jen wants a pizza oven, I want a plunge-pool, and there are a couple of sheds planned down by the big garden. Plus dreams of a pedal-prop set-up for the little trimaran, a recumbent trike, and………… we won’t be bored…

The boys seem happy with their lives – Ish on the superyacht, back in the water in March and away in April, looking fit, happy, confident.  Jaryd comfortable in his job, in demand rescue-boating, nice girl, it’s all good. Jen backing off to half-time is great too;  often my enjoyment of the freedom here has been tempered by the fact that she’s away at work. Not so now – it’s even, almost!, and we’ll have 4 days a week together.

My effort may be into a book this year – I’ve come to the conclusion that NGO participation won’t change the world in time, given that it hasn’t so far. Better put your energies into something less life-consuming. I seem to be one of the few hassling the media (on peak oil, growth and natural capital depletion) and I’ll probably step up the ante a bit there (being confident, thick-skinned, somewhat comfortable with the subject after all these years – I’ve been studying it longer than some scribes have been alive……) . We may end up with some kind of a show-down there, unfortunately. My target is not to belittle or attack, but these folk so persist in continuing the deception, and so refuse to examine what I suggest (with the partial exception on the Otago Daily Times) they react by instead attacking the messenger. One assumes they know not what they do, still, it’s not acceptable, at this point.

You have to balance life, though. The Paper Tiger is my first fun, and is due a couple of new rudder-blades, and a new sail. We’ll do some more biking, with our longer time off together, but we’ve enough bikes for that, a recumbent, MTB’s each, my triathlon bike, our restored Claude Butler tandem, and a couple of identical folding 20-inch toys. I suspect we might gravitate to the Oamaru scene a bit, bike-wise. A challenge of partial retirement may be staying in touch, keeping fresh. I suspect we”ll be OK, Jen with her work (Enviroschools) me with the writing, but we’ll make sure not to stagnate.

One of the things to be ready with, is a blueprint for those who don’t know what is coming, and who are going to need answers. It’s easy to be doom-predicty – there was a 100% chance that humanity would run into resource depletion, and a 100% certainty that energy would be the key – but harder indeed to come up with a blueprint to address it.

One of the commentators on Interest.co.nz pointed out, rightly, that it is easy to be self-sufficient on 60 acres, suggesting I was being false pushing limits at everyone else. Interestingly, this was a no-limits-to-growth man (you wonder why he is envious, according to him, land is not in short supply) but you immediately realise that he is running scared. These folk are clinging to a belief, a creed, and it’s now outdated. As Lloyd Geering pointed out, beautifully (see previous post). They will need nurtured, these folk. The ‘lefties’ will get it first, the givers in society, out with the soup-kitchens. The right will do it hard – no support community there – all dog-eat-dog, and no relevant experience. The fiscal world, of course, has to morph – within 5 years at the outside, but probably within 1 – and I doubt they’ll get there. I suspect an attempt to park (ignore) debt, and kick-start. That – by the time they evaluate the kick-start – will be the end, too late and chaos-time. Or war.

We can’t do anything about the war possibility, either as individuals or as Kiwis, but that’s the only thing we can’t address. Everything else is to do with being sufficient (self, and more for others) and sustainable. To do with properly accounting natural capital (which includes climate change, pollution, depletion, extinction, and obligations to the future) which may be a revelation for some….

All you can do, is keep you head, keep informed, debate from the high ground, keep an eye on the big picture, and live fully as you do so. Piece of cake. Home-made, of course.

Here goes 2011 – the longer you extend across the top of the gaussian, the sharper the decline on the right-hand side. Will this be the year that the penny drops that the penny has to drop? I’d put money on it…….not!   Pay down debt, learn to grow food, aim for energy-resiliency, keep healthy………. sooner rather than later, it’s gotta happen.


todays read – from The Energy Bulletin


An excerpt:

In forecasting the timing, therefore, the operative question is, How likely is it that the economy will stay healthy? And the answer is, Not very. This is because fuel prices and the economy have become deeply interdependent. Just as a bad economy causes fuel prices to fall (as we saw in 2008), so high fuel prices cause the economy to fall. An often cited threshold is $85 per barrel, above which the price of fuel has a damaging effect on the economy. Our current economic downturn was about bad credit and a real estate bubble, but some analysts suspect that the first card to be pulled out of the house of cards was the spike in oil prices that briefly drove crude to $145 a barrel.

Instead of the steady decline shown in the EIA graph, we may see a period of boom-and-bust cycles where a rising economy causes a rise in fuel prices followed by an economic downturn and falling fuel prices. If this happens, the point at which global demand permanently exceeds global supply may, contrary to all the estimates quoted above, be pushed clear into the next decade. But this does not affect the basic finding that, as a society, we will soon use much less liquid fuel, for several reasons.

It’s worth taking the time. An intelligent appraisal.

David Holmgren – via The Energy Bulletin

This is a ‘good fellow’. We need a few of them. It is lifted off ‘The Energy Bulletin’, and we need a few of them too. The reason for lifting this one, is that it articulates what I’ve been saying for a while – but much more eloquently. The full article is at his site.
Published Jun 21 2010 by Holmgren Design Services, Archived Aug 28 2010

Money vs fossil energy: the battle for control of the world

by David Holmgren
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This essay provides a framework for understanding the ideological roots of the current global crisis that I believe is more useful than the now tired Left Right political spectrum. I use this framework to provide a commentary on current political machinations around Climate Change and Peak Oil. Building from the same energetic literacy that informs Permaculture and Future Scenarios, it challenges much of the strategic logic behind current mainstream climate change activism. Like the Future Scenarios work, this essay is intended to help environmental and social activists better avoid the obstacles to effective action in a chaotic age.

David Holmgren is best known as the co-originator of the permaculture concept. He lives with his partner Su Dennett at Melliodora, a permaculture demonstration site in Hepburn, Central Victoria.

[This posting at EB consists of selections from the original essay. The PDF of the complete essay can be downloaded from David Holmgren’s website in the “Writings” section.]

The unfolding climate/energy/economic crisis is heating up a very old rift in global industrial politics. This rift derives from two core beliefs on what constitutes the source of wealth. Does wealth come from human creativity and innovation or is it found in the natural world? Is human capacity the source or a by-product of real power?

I believe two alternative (and mostly complementary) paradigms that are implied by these questions, have shaped the history of the modern world perhaps more so than the Left-Right political ideologies. I characterise these increasingly conflicted paradigms by the following shorthand: faith in wealth and power from “human brilliance” (meaning “faith in human brilliance to overcome physical limitations.”) verses faith that wealth and power emerge from control of “holes in the ground”, ie. physical resources.1

In a world of energy descent and climate change, both these beliefs are failing and increasingly we see the believers of both paradigms at war in a futile battle for control of the world. and

Understanding the nature of this ideological battle is as critical for environmental and social activists as is the understanding of the science behind Climate Change and Peak Oil. Because this ideological divide and battle has been little recognised by historians and social commentators, it is easy to come to the conclusion that one of these paradigms is benign while the other is lethal, without really understanding the nature and implications of these respective ideologies.

Climate activists in particular tend to focus on the fossil energy industries as the “enemies” (both for generating greenhouse gases and funding climate change denial), but naturally see any parties accepting the new climate change agenda as allies. I believe that many of the global players promoting the climate agenda are as dangerous as those denying that agenda. How can this be so?

Ecological perspectives on human brilliance

I should first acknowledge my perspective in this rift. I believe that the current peak in global oil production represents an effective (net) energy peak for humanity and that we are entering an era of ongoing and effectively permanent “energy descent.” The scale of this change is without precedent in human history. A transition to a world of less energy requires widespread “energetic literacy” so that we can learn how to work with less and avoid some costly mistakes when we can least afford them. The era of extraordinary energy growth and abundance has left the populace and the politicians of the industrial world without an intuitive understanding of energy, since, by its very excess we have not needed to appreciate its nuances.

… Consequently this essay more strongly critiques the unrestrained faith in human creativity and innovation to overcome physical limitations, than the equally doomed faith in digging wealth out of the earth, since the latter, if becoming outdated, at least acknowledges the significance of energy resources.

Faith in Human Brilliance

Faith in human brilliance to overcome physical limitations is widespread and pervasive in society.

Since the European Enlightenment, the marvel of increasing cultural and technological complexity has created a cultural hubris about human achievements that has displaced the humility of older spiritual traditions about the power and mystery of nature.

For example many social justice and environmental advocates, as well as bureaucrats and diplomats believe the construction of regulations and rules based on negotiation and compromise are the fundamental keys to collective wealth and its wise control. Technologists, educators, and journalists also tend towards the belief that thinking, discussion and debate are the way to solve problems. Economists and business entrepreneurs tend to share this faith in human brilliance and have been much more powerful participants in focusing the tools of science to create real wealth though production and market transactions. While there is obvious merit and some truth in these perspectives, they are incomplete insofar as they ignore the energy base which makes these perspectives possible.

… Our money and markets are the most complex products of this deeply ingrained faith in human brilliance. And just as their foundational beliefs are incomplete, so is their expression extremely dangerous. …

Wealth from Nature

While faith in human brilliance might be to the dominant paridigm, a significant and number of influential people in modern society hold the opposite belief: that wealth comes from nature (in which I include the belief that wealth comes from “holes in the ground”). Because so few people in modern urbanised societies have intimate experience of the ways in which we depend on renewable and non-renewable natural resources, the intuitive basis for these beliefs has been in decline for hundreds of years.

Farmers, forest workers and fishermen along with more self-reliant rural dwellers are natural adherents to this view of the world. Miners and engineers dependent on and responsible for the exploitation of nature’s non-renewable wealth also tend to hold this view for fairly obvious reasons. The military services are another sector of society where this world view remains common. Those who recognise this potent power from nature often conclude that the power of the gun is ultimately what guarantees control, especially of the “holes in the ground” that yield the fantastically concentrated non-renewable energy and resources. Unlike capitalists and socialists, many of those with faith in power from the ground, are less concerned whether the total system is growing, stagnant or declining, but more focused on how to remain on the top of the heap, whatever its size.

… As I have pointed out, faith in human brilliance can focus on individual and entrepreneurial capacity (Right) or alternatively, collective and co-operative capacity (Left). Similarly faith in power from nature can lead to the conclusion about “survival of the fittest” (Right) or co-operative sharing of limited resources (Left). …

History of beliefs in energy and money

To understand how conflict between money and energy in modern society is shaping the climate/energy/economic crisis, we need to explore its historical origins. I believe this exploration using the lens of ecology is part of a larger process by which we begin to tell a new story of human transformation relevant to the energy descent future after fossil fuels.

The ancestry of the first force – the belief that wealth comes from “holes in the ground”, i.e. physical resources we mine from the earth – can be seen in the feudal lords who presided over tracts of fertile farmland and productive forests that were the primary sources of material wealth before fossil fuels. These feudal elites had an intimate knowledge of the estates that were the source of their wealth and power and so maintained a sort of “energetic literacy” even if they regarded the productivity of the land as primarily a gift from god. The successes of European medieval societies based on the limited but renewable resources of the land eventually came up against ecological limits that were expressed through loss of forests, wars between sovereign nations, and disease (the Black Death). …

Wealth from Human Ingenuity

The ancestry of the second force, the belief that “human brilliance” is the source of wealth, can be traced back to the urban intellectuals and merchants of the European Enlightenment who believed that human ingenuity and organisation were the critical forces in wealth creation and control. While wealth from colonised lands provided the material wealth for European expansion, cultural factors associated with religion (the Protestant reformation) and capitalism (sovereign corporations and modern banking) were critical in facilitating the process. Central to this thesis were the ideas of Adam Smith and others who eulogised the “invisible hand” of the market and castigated the medieval guild economies that Smith saw as impeding progress. The guilds regulated their respective trades or professions to maintain traditions and high standards of craft while controlling competition and discouraging radical innovation. The fact that the guild economies were adapted to the steady-state economy of the middle ages has escaped the notice of most of the academic cheerleaders for market-based economies of continuous growth.

Marx is of course the great ideological counterpoint to Smith’s adoration of the role of capital in creating wealth. Marx saw that human labour and cooperative capacity were the undervalued sources of wealth that capitalists exploited to convert natural resources to real wealth. I see Marxism and societies designed on Marxist principles – both mild and radical variants – as simply different expressions of this same tendency to believe that human labour, creativity and organization are the sources of wealth.

This faith in “human brilliance” in both its capitalist and socialist forms must be acknowledged as drivers of the growth in European economic power and organisational complexity that overpowered the older land-based feudal power.

…The IT revolution was the key factor in the final push towards a full spectrum globalised economy dominated by corporations, but it was the ballooning virtual economies of finance and investment services that benefited most from the IT revolution. While much was made of the individual and social network empowerment potential that eventually emerged after the turn of the millennium, vastly more IT capacity is taken up by porn than is used by wikipedia, and the breakdown of communities of place and isolation of individuals most likely exceeds the gains from the extraordinary but fragile network communities made possible by the internet. All of these processes expanded the power of money at the expense of awareness of the role of energy in feeding the machine of economic growth.

… It is clear enough that the dominance of the West over OPEC, Russia and the Central Asian republics reinforced the faith in the power of markets over crude resources from holes in the ground. In the 1990s analysis suggesting resource rich countries were more likely to have dysfunctional economies, corrupt governments and conflict than resource poor countries, was perversely interpreted as showing how marginal these resources were to the human progress. The alternative explanation, that this pattern reflected the hegemonic control of an oppressive geopolitical order by the resource consuming countries, was less widely acknowledged. Both interpretations reinforced faith in the power of human creativity and money over resource wealth.

This is part of a collective mythology of modernism, that wit and cunning (of the city trader) always outsmarts honest hard work (of the farmer).

Peak Oil and Resource Nationalism

The turn of the millennium saw new factors at work. Rising oil prices, increased gas production and dependence of European countries on Russian gas has provided a strong base for resurgent Russian economic and political power. Under Putin plundering of Russian resources by the oligarchs to feed the West was replaced by a resurgent Russian nationalism that shocked western corporations and media.

In the US, the Bush administration, controlled by oil men and military strategists, sidelined the diplomats and the bankers that held sway during the Clinton years with a renewed focus on control of the oil resources of the Middle East and the gas resources of Central Asia.

9/11 provided the green light to shock western democracies from their slothful assumption about resource security through total war. Judging by their actions, and various statements, it seems likely that many key advisors and actors in the Bush administration were better informed about the parlous prospects for global oil and gas production in the coming decades than the most gloomy and best informed of Peak Oil researchers and communicators to whom I was paying attention in the late 1990’s.

But to portray the Bush administration as just representing the forces of energetic realism would be false, because domestically, the “Mandarins” of Treasury and the Federal Reserve were freed to blow the most spectacular bubble economy in history. These masters of money created castles in the air of unprecedented proportions based on real estate speculation and consumption debt. The partial collapse of this bubble economy can be seen as the most important factor in the demise of Bush administration, rather than the loss of civil rights, or abuse of international law in pursuit of its fantastic “war on terror”. The timing of the collapse of the bubble economy acted to distract the media and the public from the likely concurrent peak of global oil production, and the contribution of oil (and other resource) price spikes to the global recession. …

Permaculture: harmonising energetic realism & design creativity

While my analysis of the more basic forces at work behind the current political machinations may be interesting, my purpose is not simply armchair analysis. The love of money and greed for energy are both monstrous cancers of our culture. We need to better understand both so we can predict their moves, and plan our own actions for resilient transition into a new culture not beholden to fossil energy or money. The idea that we have to choose between allying ourselves with either of the dangerous wounded monsters is a false choice.

My aim is to empower environmental activists, social entrepreneurs and humble householders to be most effective in three simultaneous domains of action.

  1. Help their families survive and thrive through turbulent times
  2. Contribute to a better society than would otherwise have been the case
  3. Contribute to the preservation and development of skills that will be useful to future generations grappling with the realities of energy descent.

The idea that we have to choose between allying ourselves with either of the dangerous wounded monsters in their life and death struggle for control of the declining era of fossil fuelled industrial culture, is a false choice. We should heighten our awareness of the nature of both of these monstrous cancers of our culture, so we can better predict their moves, and plan our own actions for resilient transition into a new culture not beholden to oil or money.

I see permaculture, especially when it is understood through its ethics and design principles, as providing a framework for creating that culture, based on the regenerated cycles of nature. Anyone who is familiar with permaculture ethics, design principles and strategies will understand that my equal rejection of the respective power from fossil energyoil and money does not indicate that I see no useful core of truth in these primal tendencies driving our waning global industrial culture.

In using the term “energetic realism” to describe one of these forces, I am acknowledging see the living and non-living elements of Gaia as the foundation for any human wealth. Through my teaching of permaculture, I have always emphasised that fossil fuels are not bad, but a gift from nature, that we have wasted. Permaculture earthworks designs make use of the raw power of fossil fuelled machines to shape the land in ways that allow us , and future generation,to enhance the biological productivity of landscapes. We have the unique opportunity to use that fossil fuel to create those structures that future generations will be able to maintain (by hand if necessary).

In using the term “human brilliance” to describe the creativity that includes concepts as complex as money, I recognise acknowledge human creativity and flexibility to adapt to changing circumstance is the best asset we have. While we do not have the power to rewrite the laws of thermodynamics that limit and shape human realities, we do have a remarkable capacity to reshape our individual and collective conception of reality in ways that facilitate rather than hinder cultural evolution.from first principles to reflect energetic realities and ethical valuescan be redesigned money that While we do not have the power to rewrite the laws of thermodynamics that limit and shape human realities, we do have a remarkable capacity to reshape our individual and collective conception of reality in ways that facilitate rather than hinder cultural evolution. Money is simply a collective mental construct that we can redesign from first principles to reflect energetic realities and ethical valuesand change.
The old saying that it is the love of money rather than money itself which is the source of evil in the world is worth repeating. that ye ou[You lost me here, ]This saying can be further interpreted to mean money that is arbitrarily created, without being tied to real wealth from nature, and that every day earns interest, that must be repaid by growth in our extraction of real wealth from nature, has embedded the love of money as central to our culture.
Permaculture strategies for creating household and community economies using gift, barter and simple non-interest bearing local currencies, are examples of how we can design new forms of money to allow appropriate exchange of goods and services in resilient and relocalised economies that will grow at the margins abandoned by the dinosaurs of the declining global industrial culture.

Let’s not waste our effort or emotions on hoping that either of the dinosaurs will save us; rather, let us get on with our tasks while we keep an eagle eye open for any threats from both fossil energyoil and money.

About David Holmgren
david02.jpg Holmgren co-wrote the first permaculture text Permaculture One in 1976 with Bill Mollison (published in 1978). With his 2002 book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability David re-emerged from the relative shadows as the leading intellectual force of the permaculture movement. Rob Hopkins, founder of the popular Transition Towns initiatives in the UK, described Principles and Pathways as “the most important book of the last 15 years.” Holmgren’s most recent book is Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change