Sunday, December 16, 2007

Permaculture & Peak Oil Part II

Permaculture – a stroll through Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability

David Holmgren’s text really interests me and it’s been a major catalyst in my life.

An innocent email to my permaculture teacher a year or so ago about my desire to do a course based on his text that looked at its application to peak oil catapulted me on a journey I certainly didn’t see coming.

I’m now immersed in teaching others about it, running free community information centres, meeting with politicians, as well as many totally new things like – how do you write an energy descent action plan? how do you engage the community? how do you get the peak oil message onto the agendas of regional decision makers…

But what a wonderful and fantastic journey it’s been.

I set up this blog to allow more, shall I say, ‘ramblings’ on my behalf – but isn’t that what blogs are for?

This allows me to expand and discuss ideas – perhaps just with myself, but that’s okay. But I really feel the need to get this out and as a writer by trade, this seems the ideal way to go.

So, now we’ll begin a stroll through Holmgren’s seminal work; Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Could be the start of an online reading group and that course I always dreamed of (but never got to be a student in because I was teaching it and knew what was coming up next)…

We’ll start at the very beginning… a very good place to start.

Permaculture – perhaps Australia’s greatest invention– is as much an academic theory as it is a garden design system.

A ‘philosophy’ some may go so far as to say. A way of life – I know some people are frightened because it has the word ‘cult’ in it – woooo!

Get over it, it’s just a bloody good idea, but one you can ponder, think about and discuss in depth to your heart’s content.

You have a choice, you learn the practical side and apply it to your advantage and ergo enjoy abundant food, fresh water, a comfortable home and you probably don’t have to do too much paid employment to live well.

Or you can theorise, discuss, debate and expand the idea to become a sociological solution in our modern (but rapidly failing) times.

An ideas to think about from the preface of the book…

Third Wave Environmentalism

Here Holmgren identifies three definite stages of global response to environmental crises. Firstly we’re off to the 70’s – ah, what a decade… bad clothes, bad music, bad hair… but the stirrings of ‘the first great wave of modern environmental awareness’ – around the time of the Club of Rome report in 1972 and the oil shocks (there’s that peak oil again) of 1973 and 75. The scene is set for the birth of permaculture in Tasmania.

[It’s interesting to note that Al Gore credits the images of the Earth taken from the Apollo 8 mission in 1968 as the start of the modern environmental movement – but back to Holmgren.]

Public awareness of greenhouse gas emissions in the late 1980’s triggered the second phase of environmentalism. This is a time permaculture started gaining a lot of attention.

Thirdly, Holmgren suggests that by 1999 things were in place for the third wave – a movement that would ‘lead to the mainstreaming of many of the innovations of the second wave.’

Welcome to the Third Wave people!

It’s here and it’s us!

The fundamentals of permaculture

Permaculture comprises a set of ethics and principles. Ethics set the boundaries and foundations, the principles guide us within those structures. It’s quite easy really.

I immediately saw how these ethics and principles could be applied to every aspect of my life – from relationships to employment, the whole package, how I run my house, how I spend my money, how I make my money, how I live my life.

The ethics are; care of earth, care of people, set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus, and we’ll look at each in detail.

Care of earth

This isn’t some hippy notion… not that there’s anything wrong with that. This is practical and basic. Starting with the soil – a fundamental application of care of earth. If we abuse the soil, we are abusing our food and water supply and ultimately ourselves and our children. And haven’t we been doing a great job of just that! Fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides have all taken the place of soil care. By the way, all these chemical additives that end up in our diet (yummy!) are all made from petroleum and gas products – two words – peak oil. The costs of all these ‘farming’ additives will only be going one way – and that’s up and guess who will wear that price increase – the consumer.

I won’t even touch on had extremely bad management of our water supply has compounded a dire situation into a national disaster. Again well done, just as long as we’re right mate, don’t worry about the future.

Living, breathing, water holding soil is a real salvation – if you’ve ever made compost, turned ‘waste’ into hummus – you know it’s something truly magical. You can actually turn prunings, vegetable peelings, egg shells, manure into soil. Instead composting has been almost demonised. People won’t do because it smells (no it doesn’t), it attracts vermin (no it doesn’t), it doesn’t work (yes it does!).

Real people need real food and real food needs real soil. We will only ever be as healthy as the soil our food comes from. You are what you eat and who wants to be greasy, fast and easy?

Don’t choose cheap, chemically filled food over clean locally grown organic food. The stuff in most supermarkets is heavily subsidised by government funding for fuel and farming. You’re not seeing the true cost of what it really takes to grow food. We are now, thanks to climate change, seeing the real cost of farming for the masses in this ‘modern’ way.

It’s your call. Cheap food today, insufferable climate for your grandchildren. Quality food reflecting the true price of what it takes to grow food (or grow your own) and you may just save future generations from a very crappy life.

Obviously care of earth extends beyond the control we have over the way we treat the soil within the boundaries of our land.

Care of earth reflects that we are all part of the same systems. What climate change has done – all our individual actions have accumulated to change the global weather system. We are all responsible.

I think it is also important to remember that all species are part of caring for the earth – people are separated from the earth in permaculture ethics – perhaps it needs to just be ‘care of earth’ to remind us that we are just a species – one that’s overrun the place and done irreversible damage and made a complete mess of the place, but we are still just one species and the planet will survive just fine without us.

Soil, water, air, plants, animals, insects, microbes, birds, oceans, rocks, trees, people - all ‘of earth’ don’t kid yourself that you’re anything more than compost in the end.


Holmgren, D 2002. Permaculture; Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.
Gore, A 2006. An Inconvenient Truth

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Permaculture and Peak Oil Part 1

How can permaculture helps us prepare for peak oil?

Permaculture originated in the 1970’s in Tasmania Australia. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren had a brief but intense working relationship, and both were driven by the environmental crises facing society at the time.

David Holmgren quotes the oil shocks of 1973 and 1975 in the US as one of the catalysts for the creation of permaculture, which at its essence is the bringing together of many practical indigenous and ancient ideas.

So permaculture began in part in response to the early stirrings of peak oil, three decades ago.

[If you are interested in finding out more about the history of permaculture I suggest reading David Holmgren’s text Permaculture; Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability which Holmgren describes as his contribution to the third wave of environmentalism.]

In permaculture we have a blue print for what we could and perhaps should be doing to prepare that was very kindly developed 30 years ago.

Over those past three decades permaculture has carved a credible and international name out for itself as a food production system. A side effect of this success is that now some think that’s all it’s about or that it’s for some strange reason that permaculture is companion planting (something I hear often for some strange reason), which is a shame because permaculture is so much more.

Permaculture has proven it can create food production systems in the harshest of climates. Watch Geoff Lawton’s Greening the Desert to see how it’s being done around the world.

We are in crisis here in Australia with farming land increasingly being abandoned due to desertification – why isn’t permaculture being used to regenerate that land and to then be the basis for the establishment of more sustainable farming practices?

I think it’s strange that permaculture is being embraced around the world but not so much here – perhaps it’s because the countries that are using it successfully NEED it to work, whereas here were pretty affluent, things appear to be abundant, so the desperate NEED isn’t there.

Many people (how many I wonder?) have completed the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) – the standard for recognised permaculture education. The course you need to do to use the word 'permaculture'.

Many more have completed informal introductory and one day courses, and many, many more have read the books and are doing their own thing without ever attending a course.

The PDC is based on Bill Mollison’s text Permaculture A Designer’s Manual and it shows us how to harvest from the natural resources of rain, sun and air. How to build production systems around humans that sustain them, and while doing so, how to work toward enhancing the natural systems, rather than depleting from them. It’s about those essentials of water, food, shelter, warmth, and how these can be integrated systems. It’s also about independence – getting away from the mega-systems of supply, taking responsibility for what we use and consume.

As an aside there is a quote I read in Starhawk's The Earth Path about our understanding of where we fit in the whole scheme of things; it goes something like this...

'The first step is when we start working 'with' nature, the next step is to recognise that we are working 'within' nature and the third and final stage is when we understand and accept 'we are nature' at work.'

All in all a PDC is an excellent start to preparing for peak oil. It’s about small simple solutions, using less, and understanding ‘energy’ in a new way – all great lessons for a post carbon future.

But it’s still about the individual taking action (and yes, I know many a successful eco-village is based on permaculture demonstrating it’s ‘community’ approach), but essentially most permaculturists are working primarily on their own lifeboat building (a term used by Richard Heinberg to explain setting yourself up for peak oil) in their own backyards.

In upcoming blogs I’ll explore how we can all take this knowledge, collective experience and lessons learnt in our own backyards plus more on David Holmgren's text and apply it all to big picture social changes necessary to truly prepare for peak oil.


Holmgren, D 2002. Permaculture; Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A community working bee

Kids being pushed around in wheelbarrows, trying to stop the dogs running across the pond lining, piles of raw materials transformed into raised vegie beds ready for planting, and a new pond planted out with lomandras and vetiver grass just waiting for a good downpour to fill it up... so was our very first community working bee.

One of the outcomes from our relocalisation group the first working bee day was a resounding success.

The group decided to focus on food supply and helping those members out who don't have their own food garden was top of the list.

Everyone had a ball and the shared meal was delicious - as shared meals so often are!

The place was transformed, and in a good way, by the time we left at the end of a tiring day.

It's all part of local solutions to global problems. Community action - practical, positive, co-operative, sharing of skills and knowledge.

When the pinch of peak oil really starts to hit - and it is starting already with food prices and fuel on the rise - we need to band together and get systems in place in our own local areas to support ourselves and our neighbours. The sooner we get these skills and networks in place the easier it will be.

Waiting until the crisis hits is not the time to decide what your plan of action is. That's one thing I learnt after 15 years in crisis management.

Permaculture gives us such a great plan for how to do build networks and get things started. And over the next few posts I'll look at each principle and how that applies directly to peak oil solutions.

I urge you to start your own action group and see how it goes - let it flow and become what it needs to become, avoid nay-sayers and if people just want to turn it into a whinge about council or government, gently point out to them that your all about positive solutions - finding a way forward rather than trying to fix what's already there.


Friday, October 26, 2007

10 reasons to live more sustainably

1. you'll feel better and be healthier (outdoors more often, walking more, smiling more, worrying about money less)

2. you'll eat better - nothing, I repeat NOTHING you buy in a shop will beat the taste or quality of organically grown food straight from your garden

3. you'll have more time to enjoy the small things (remember how you keep promising yourself you'll stop and smell the roses? - well you'll have time now)

4. you'll spend more time with your family - finding interesting ways to spend time with each other and not just automatically jumping in the car and driving to the local shopping centre for entertainment

5. you won't have to work as much - living sustainably means stepping off that horror merry go round that is consumerism and materialism

6. you'll feel more content and happy inside

7. you'll lose weight

8. you're relationships will improve (because you will be in a better mood)

9. less stress, you don't need to keep up with the Jones' anymore and you're teaching your kids valuable skills

10. A typical lazy Sunday... breakfast is fresh organic eggs, home grown tomatoes, home grown coffee (you're own blend - ours is 'Raintreeforest blend'), home made bread sitting on the deck looking over your beautiful abundant garden that's full of birds, flowers and food... a freshly picked huge salad for lunch with more shades of green than you can possibly imagine topped with colourful edible flowers and dinner is a delicious pumpkin curry made with your own pumpkin, tumeric, chillies, limes, and curry leaves shared with friends and finishing up with a glass or two of organic local wine in front of your beautiful slow combustion/stove/cooktop/water heater... beat that!

Being sustainable is not about sitting in the dark, freezing and being hungry - we just didn't want everyone to know how good it really is.


Communities around the world are uniting and working on solutions to peak oil and thereby by default almost climate change. The Sunshine Coast is one of those communities - all thanks to the www.

International solutions - already happening in Kinsale Ireland and the UK through the Transition Towns Network (of which the Sunshine Coast is a proud member).

In the US & Canada
Post Carbon Institute
Global Public Media
Relocalisation Network
Post Carbon Cities
Community Solutions

Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia solutions
Australia’s first energy descent action planning course which resulted in….
Australia’s first energy descent action plan
World’s first climate change & peak oil community education centre
Australia’s first Transition Town

Sunshine Coast action
Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre SEAC
Courses – Time for an Oil Change, upcoming weekend intensives, re-skilling
Relocalisation networks
Presentations & workshops
Film screenings
Community meetings and workshops
Local action groups
Energy Descent Action Plan
Community projects
Expos, events

What you can do
Prepare your home & family for energy descent
Support an Oil Depletion Protocol
Write to politicians
Join or start your own relocalisation group
Join or start a local action group
Join with other like minded people in your community
Join or start your own sustainability group
Get together with people in your street
Organise a film screening and or workshop
Attend events
Support others
Get involved
Become informed
Have your say
Demand action from decision-makers
Be part of the solution
Act now

Long time no blog

Gee, this blogging thing is harder than I expected - such committment. Been off line with family things etc...
Anyhoo, I'm back for another posting.

The whole juggernaut that is peak oil/climate change/drought/overpopulation/peak food/food miles/food prices/fuel prices... just keeps gaining momentum and media coverage. Talk today by the Treasurer of an economic tsunami too.

When will people start to really stand up and demand action and just as importantly take action?

There are some promising signs. The GetUp! group are gaining in popularity and doing a darn good job of connecting the community with politics.

I'm also heartened when I receive an email or talk to a former student and find they have had an 'aha' moment and are making some serious changes in their lives. Just one person really can make a difference - and speaking of just one person...

I picked up the latest UK Permaculture Magazine recently - well latest for Australia, but an edition or two behind the UK - and found another great article by Rob Hopkins on Peak Oil and Transition Towns - really inspiring stuff and I'd urge you if you're in Australia to keep an eye out for it or ask for it at your local newsagent.

There is such a lot we can all do - I hope people start to feel empowered and go looking for solutions.

Tomorrow morning I'm running a free composting/worm farming workshop at the local community gardens - with a big emphasis on peak oil, oil in food, food miles, methane, landfill etc etc and on Sunday morning we have our bi-monthly Relocalisation Group meeting.

It's only been going a few months and already we have a fresh food share/sell/exchange thing going, a bulk food buying ordering system, next on the agenda is a seed saving course and following that a seed saving network across the region and lastly, we're having our first home food production working bee in early November at one of the group member's houses.

All that from just putting a home made flyer up at the local shops and asking people to meet in a park at a certain date and time.

Wednesday night I'm at the local permaculture group meeting talking about peak oil and climate change solutions and what people can do.

It's a lot for me to take on, plus run my own 2.25 acres, plus work part-time (unfortunately this kind of stuff doesn't pay), plus study part-time, plus try to have a bit of a life - but now it's started and I see such enthusiasm in the community for just this type of action, I don't think I could walk away now anyway.

Always lovely to read your kind comments...


Sunday, October 7, 2007

People are asking - what can I do?

The Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre (SEAC) has been lucky enough to receive some attention in the local media lately. We jumped on the bandwagon of a front page story in our state newspaper about peak oil and sent out a media release about what we are doing and the action planning already happening here.

Thankfully the journalist who was assigned our story had a good understanding of peak oil and the environment and we received some great coverage.

A cheesy photo didn’t hurt either - for any of you who saw it! [It was Janet and I in the garden at the Blue House with a basket full of eggs urging people “not to put all their eggs in one basket” when it comes to peak oil!]

The Sunshine Coast Environment Council, our local environmental organisation, also expressed an interest in what we were doing a couple of months ago and they gave us good coverage in their popular free newspaper Eco News, which happened to hit the streets in the same week.

I’ve since received a few calls and emails, some local, some from interstate, generated by the stories and I’m trying to really observe and listen to what people are saying and asking for.

I try to do the same thing at the Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre every Saturday morning when we are open to the public and also in the Time for an Oil Change course.

What is it that people want to know right now about these issues?

We (those of us creating groups, networks, educating and communicating on these topics) will only succeed if we are meeting the needs of the community – and that requires good listening skills and some empathy and understanding of people. Otherwise we are only there for our own needs and that will no doubt lead to failure.

I’m trying to piece together bits of the public mood to get a picture of what’s happening.

Here what I think seems to be happening…

People want leadership – at all levels, they want someone to lead the way, someone they trust, someone who has already taken a few steps in the right direction (either tentatively or confidently). Someone who makes sense and offers them something tangible and practical, yet significant enough to move beyond the ‘change the lightbulb and I’ve done my bit’, the ‘I’ve got energy efficient appliances in my kitchen, so I have enough money to travel to Europe every year’ or the ‘someone else will do something about it’ mentality that I’m concerned is starting to set in.

Climate change & peak oil are issues of great magnitude and we must face the fact that life is going to change – a lot. We will experience a ‘death’ of our current lives and all the emotions that process entails.

To move toward the future, to be inspired and to truly grasp the great opportunities on offer, we must firstly let go of our ‘old’ lives.

Al Gore talks about moving from fear directly to despair and not choosing the action and empowerment path.

I’ve just sat through What The Bleep Do We Know? again, it’s such an inspiring film. It’s about quantum physics and it’s presented in such an engaging and interesting way, it leaves you pondering the meaning of life, but will a tiny taste of what might be possible.

What are the infinite possibilities of our minds and of our actions?

We create our reality and our thoughts, our actions all have consequences in creating that reality.

We are creating the future right now. Our choices either move us forward (hence the term ‘quantum leap’ perhaps?) or they keep us on the same old treadmill of repeating past mistakes (‘business as usual’ thoughts).

We can choose to be distracted by television, fear, sport, war, addictions, shopping, materialism, or the economy.

Or we can strip all that away and choose to take that quantum leap.

It’s not that hard.

So… what have I found out?

People are looking for a map, a guide, a pathway forward. Aside from permaculture we don’t have a lot and that requires making the leap of taking permaculture beyond food production.

Richard Heinberg offers solutions forward, and these parallel and complement permaculture thinking.

But, some people just don’t like the term ‘permaculture’. It brings to mind images of messy, weed infested gardens, ‘dirty hippies’, environmental disasters… Unfortunately, few people take the time to truly understand the nature of permaculture and to learn that it’s what you make it – you want a tidy, neat permaculture garden – then create one! It’s about observing and understanding systems, systems thinking and bio-mimicry design not weeds and being lazy.

Perhaps one of the answers to these problems of action (or inaction) is that…

…there is no map, no path for what you want to do. They are resources, ideas, support, networks and other ways people have done their thing, such as the relocalisation networks, but nothing that will tell you what you need to do; only you and your family, your community, your workplace and your society can work that out. No maps, no guidebook. Just start. Take the first step, but make it quick, we’re rapidly running out of time.

To move beyond the fear, paralysis and feelings of being overwhelmed that you may be feeling, you can choose to act.

It doesn’t matter what that action is – you will be guided by your time, financial and personal commitments and your skills, experience and expertise.

But there will be something you can do. Just do it quickly, as we are running out of time.

Try visualising what you would like your home, community, your street, your job, your life to look like in the post carbon future.

Keep it within a framework of sound ethics, morals and principles (permaculture has some nice ideas in this area) and you’re well on your way.

Understand that not everyone will be as passionate about, or understand what it is you’re doing. But I bet other people out there will grab hold of it and add their energy to it. Plus, you’ll learn a lot about community facilitation and governance along the way – guaranteed!

Build it and they will come. Lead and others will follow. Re-educate yourself. Don’t say ‘I will’, say ‘I am’ – bring the action into the present and make it happen.

It will take your time, your energy, your commitment and perhaps some of your money – there will be times when things go well and times when things go really well!

Start doing what needs to be done today – there is no time like the present (unless of course you discover those parallel quantum universes and can tap into them!)

Be Bold, Be Unique, Break the Mold. Start carving your path through climate change & peak oil to a better future – I bet people will be right behind you before you know it.

Local successful business owner Bob Cameron has created Australia’s first commercial sustainable building. It collects all its own energy and water. No water leaves the property, instead it is treated, reclaimed and then grows organic food for the staff. It’s become a tourist attraction with people flocking from around the world to see this amazing example of business success that is truly green.

Bob says; “People say there is a water and energy crisis… there isn’t. All we’ve got is a crisis of logic.”

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bringing together ideas from around the world

I don’t know about you, but I’m really concerned about climate change and peak oil. I mean really concerned - lay awake at night concerned.

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who is, but it doesn’t take long on the laptop to find plenty of other people who feel the same way.

I find inspiration browsing through my favourites and seeing all the other individuals and groups who are trying their hardest to do something and to make changes despite, at times, immense opposition and apathy.

These sites have become places of inspiration and kinship for me even when I don’t know the people involved. When I feel like giving up, a quick connection to the 'www' and there they all are – busy networking, educating, offering their skills and time and most importantly of all inspiring others all hours of the day and night, every day of the year.

It’s heartening to know that around the globe people are joining together and starting to generate positive action focussed on local, practical solutions.

Like me, people are being buoyed along by texts such as Powerdown and the Oil Depletion Protocol by Richard Heinberg, groups such as the Post Carbon Institute and Community Solutions, site like this one and, particularly for me personally, the work of people like David Holmgren in Australia and Rob Hopkins in the UK.

Now some communities and councils are starting to plan, prepare and make changes for a positive post carbon future thanks to the words and actions of these leaders. More and more groups are coming online all the time and there would be a whole lot more who are online, but are still working very hard in their own communities to get action moving forward.

Where I live in Queensland Australia, things seem fine and dandy, we worship the sun and surf, we celebrate our coastal lifestyle - the envy of many who make this their holiday destination year after year.

We enjoy good rainfall at our place despite the rest of the country being in a severe drought. Our rainwater tanks are full, our soil here on our little farm is excellent and full of organic matter, plants grow overnight in our subtropical climate, our chooks enjoy a diet better than most humans thanks to our excess. We have plenty of fresh organic food to eat, clean water to drink, and the air is clean and clear.

Which makes it so much harder to convince people this is under threat and is going to change unless we do something NOW.

We are vulnerable, our food supply is fragile, water is wasted in irresponsible and immoral ways, solutions from government are ludicrous at best, downright dangerous at worst.

Not being one to sit around and complain – well, not much and not without coming up with some sort of solution eventually – a couple of us, both with permaculture backgrounds, got together to try to come up with a solution.

But what could I offer. My background is in corporate communications, strategic planning and crisis management within government agencies and universities, I left full-time work last year to put my time and energy into permaculture. Rather than ignoring my ‘past life’ skills, I’ve decided to embrace them and use them to communicate as best I can about these critical issues.

After years as a ‘book permaculturist’, that is reading all I could about the concept, I finally completed my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) last year a with local Sunshine Coast permaculture educator who is now my mentor.

The PDC uses Bill Mollison’s text: Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual, as its basis and applies permaculture principles to the landscape to create sustainable human settlements – needs such as food, water, shelter and energy are all addressed in a way that not only complements but also aims to improve the land.

Just prior to my PDC I attended a presentation by David Holmgren, co-originator of permaculture, at the local uni. He spoke about ‘regional sustainability in an energy descent future’ and mentioned the Kinsale model of action planning - he inspired me to ‘do something’.

Also, a student in my PDC group spoke about the relocalisation network and I started a group in my local area.

Dots were starting to join up for me. Solutions were on the horizon. There was light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train!

Reading Holmgren’s book, I found his seven domains of action compelling. It addresses everything we need to fix. the built environment, tools and technology, culture and education, health and spiritual wellbeing, finances and economics, land tenure and community governance and land and nature stewardship.

Here was the basis of the practical framework we needed for social reorganisation to prepare for energy descent. Excellent, the blueprint was there, all we had to do was put it into action.

With the support and guidance of my mentor and with her expertise in curriculum development, we began working together, fleshing out a course that would apply Holmgren’s principles to regional energy descent preparedness.

I discovered Rob Hopkin’s Skilling Up for Powerdown course on the internet and we used that as a model for a course focusing on climate change and peak oil. We were on our way…

The course
So, the course began to really take shape. The trial 10-week course started in July this year.

Each week we examine an area of our society that will be affected by energy descent. Each issue is discussed as to how it applies to our region specifically and how we can use permaculture to not only survive, but thrive. Permaculture principles are applied each week to determine the feasibility of solutions. We will look at – what is the current situation, what is the ideal situation and how do we get there?

We look at society in general, and how permaculture, climate change and peak oil all fit together. We then explore the relocalisation of; our food supply, waste, water energy, infrastructure, built environment, health, education, communication systems, economy, financies, community governance, land stewardship, emergency preparedness, and finally personal and community attitudes.

Energy Descent Action Plan
Throughout the course, students work on developing individual and group projects as installments of the first Regional Energy Descent Action Plan, and we have the support of our local council for this plan.

While developing the course it soon became apparent that we needed ongoing support for students to continue to progress the EDAP after the 10-week course. I didn’t like the idea of getting people all fired up and then not giving them an avenue to use that energy and to try out their ideas.

Also, I volunteer every Saturday morning at our local community gardens and I found visitors there were starting to link home food production with energy and water issues (we are currently on water restrictions with Australia in the midst of an extended period of drought). Offering the community the chance to learn more about energy and water issues from a permaculture perspective was appealing and the idea for the Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre was born.

A community education centre is born
The Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre (SEAC) operates out of an old Queenslander (a timber house built off the ground, common here in Queensland). The house is at our one and only community garden here on the Sunshine Coast.

SEAC is open every Saturday morning and our aim is to raise awareness in the community about peak oil, energy descent and the positive and practical solutions on offer.

With my background in communications and community education I’m following the path of; awareness – information – education – action – and hoping it makes a difference.

We run free weekly events including; dvd screenings, we have presentations by guest speakers from sustainable businesses, the local university sustainability section, and from within the permaculture network We offer free workshops (composting, worm farming) and free consultations. The course runs straight after the SEAC information sessions.

My hopes for the Centre is that it becomes a one stop shop of information about action groups and activities on the Sunshine Coast, somewhere people can be inspired and find some respite from the mainstream material world and some hope for the future.

We provide resources and information so visitors can join an existing local group (such as climate change action or a relocalisation group), or – with support and guidance from SEAC – start their own group. Information about permaculture, re-skilling and related courses across the Coast is also available.

We plan to gradually retrofit the old house to demonstrate how that can be done while maintaining a high standard of living within a home. Being sustainable doesn’t mean sitting in the dark, in the cold and being hungry!

We offer the community a range of resources; books, dvds, web addresses, courses (from free community courses right through to university level), networking and social events will be organised with the aim of raising community awareness, informing, educating and empowering and hopefully inspiring the community into action. I hope one day, SEAC will emulate the Solar Living Institute in the US.

Richard Heinberg’s texts; Powerdown and the Oil Depletion Protocol also feature highly at SEAC and I am currently working on developing a way to enable individuals, businesses, organisations, communities, and councils to sign up to the protocol in our region.

This all fits with my own personal aims too and a new direction in my life I didn’t expect to be taking. I am doing my Master of Communications, with the support of a great supervisor, and I plan to base my thesis on these projects; how we can best communicate the urgent need for action in the community, while at the same time empowering them into positive solutions rather than alienating them.

I hope to produce a document that is useful and user-friendly to others and can be shared around the place. A document that helps crack that forcefield of apathy in the community and finds ways to make people see the need for urgent and complete action.

Bringing all these ideas from around the world is made possible with time, energy and the internet! By applying permaculture principles to my time and energy - this was the best way for to obtain maximum yield.

I see a future when, as more and more people come ‘on-line’ looking for solutions they will be able to access websites with models of different action approaches from different bio-regions from around the world. A real virtual community of information sharing, support and extraordinary resources.

Being able to pick and choose the most appropriate scenario for their situation and add their own take on what works for them – we will be able to build a useful resource of information while networking and supporting each other as we develop these ideas and work together finding inspiration and information to bring the world into a successful energy descent region by region.

Despite being very concerned, I’m just as hopeful that we as a species can get ourselves out of this mess we’ve created and that we do have a very real chance at making a much better world for generations to come.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What is Peak Oil - first draft

What is peak oil?

Well, I find defining peak oil a little difficult for a few reasons.

Firstly I’m not a scientist, so I have to rely on what the scientific experts are saying. But I do understand that if something takes millions of years to form deep within the Earth, as oil does, and if use it faster than the Earth is making it, it will run out.

That’s what non-renewables are. They don’t renew – well not in our lifetime. Renewables on the other hand such as solar and wind give us energy, but do not deplete the original source (eg the sun doesn’t become depleted if we have solar hot water system on our roof).

This I can understand, it makes sense to me.

Peak oil is the plateau at the top of the curved bell shape diagram that’s becoming increasingly associated with the problem.

Now what exactly that plateau or peak shows needs further defining.

To convert crude oil, straight out of the ground into what we pump into our petrol tanks at the servo takes time, decades in fact.

There is discovery, exploration, drilling, extraction, processing, refining, and perhaps even more steps in the whole oil process. Currently we use 4 barrels of oil for everyone we find.

But let’s go back a step and clearly state that this is GLOBAL PEAK OIL. Some country’s oil peaked decades ago, some are still abundant. But if you put all the oil reserves together, we’ve peaked. Unfortunately those countries with oil are also incredibly politically unstable.

Okay, back to finding out what the top of the bell is really telling us.

I’ll defer this to the people at the Post Carbon Institute. The Post Carbon Institute was started by Richard Heinberg as a way to start action on peak oil preparation. Out of the PCI we now have the relocalisation network (about 170 groups around the world all linked up), Global Public Media (public broadcaster focussing on peak oil news and interviews), the Oil Depletion Protocol website and the list goes on…

Suffice to say, the Post Carbon Institute understand peak oil.

They tell us that peak oil means…

This is GLOBAL PEAK OIL EXTRACTION we are facing.

Global Peak Oil Discovery occurred in 1964.

[And in case you’re wondering Peak Gas is expected to hit in 2020 so don’t even think gas is the solution.]

But it doesn’t mean we are going to run out of oil overnight.

Global peak oil extraction – this is our peak oil – it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Our future will be two very serious things converging;

1) a decline in the cheap energy we have become so reliant on (oil accounts for 95% of global energy used for transportation and we have built our societies and our economy on the stuff) and
2) an increase in demand (with huge populations of people including; China and India coming into their industrialised eras as ours declines)

Chevron, the parent company of Exxon and Texco said in its Will you Join Us? campaign.
"It took us 125 years to use the first trillion barrels of oil
It will take us 30 years to use the next trillion

Footnote; no other energy source will meet the same levels of abundance, demand and cheapness as we have enjoyed with oil over the past 150 years.

The only solution we have is to reduce consumption and relocalise our societies to build resilience and strength to take the hits coming our way – of food, materials, plastics, products, building materials, furniture, clothing, shoes, in fact anything and everything made from oil – which includes our very food supply – if we are survive peak oil.

I support the call for the equivalent of a war-like response to peak oil from our leaders (that is in terms of the amount of resources and finances currently being spent on defence)– nothing less.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Community mood

Found another book yesterday. By social researcher Hugh Mackay called Advance Australia... Where? addressing why a lot of Australians are feeling powerless and isolated and yearning for a more meaningful life. Only just started reading it, but this topic really interests me.

Why are people so (apparently) apathetic toward the environment, climate change and peak oil?

Why aren't people preparing and making significant changes to their lives?

Why isn't the destruction of our home (Earth) important to people?

Do people honestly think

a) someone is going to save us
b) Government will stop it
c) it's just a big hoax
d) there isn't anything we can do anyway...
e) the mortgage and new tv are much more important than the next generation's lives
f) I'd be considered a freak if I do anything about it or be ridiculed
g) let the next generation sort it out
h) all of the above
i) none of the above

We know what an increase of only a few degrees will do to the planet, that it will cause widespread devastation and loss of a significant amount of species.

Our lives perhaps, but definately our children's and grandchildren's lives will be markedly different from ours. Yet there isn't protesting in the streets, school children aren't rioting demanding we do something about the mess they will inherit.

On the local news last night there was a very cute story about a local 4-year-old girl who has started a campaign in her kindy wanting to save the whales. Great, good on her, but if climate change is increasing the acidity and temperature of the oceans, threatening the very food supply the baleen whales need to survive, what's the point of stopping a few hunters when we are all contributing to killing the whales even if we're not chomping into a whale burger with the lot or launching the harpoon ourselves.

What would motivate people to act?

How can people become aware, educated, and empowered to do something.

Interesting times we are all living in...


Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The local paper is interested in what we are doing to prepare for peak oil, so I was interviewed and photographed... hopefully will reach some people who are interested in doing something about peak oil.

Also planned out the next session for the peak oil course I'm running.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Currently reading

High & Dry by Guy Pearse - former Liberal insider exposing Howard's failure in the whole climate change area

The Upside of Down - Thomas Homer-Dixon (keep calling him Thomas Homer-Simpson for some reason) - how we can make good out of the mess we've created with climate change and peak oil

The Secret River - Kate Grenville - trying to keep up with fiction, but falling very behind with my first Tuesday Book Club list.

Bliss by Peter Carey - very behind with this one, been on the bedside table for quite a while.

Uni texts - journalism stuff

TV guides - looking, no hoping, for something good to appear

Anxiously anticipating - Peak Everything by Richard Heinberg due out very, very soon...

Pesky blog...

won't let me put 'not specified' as an occupation, so I've decided on 'education' - but that may change periodically.

What is peak oil?

Those of us who live in Queensland may have noticed the front page of the Courier Mail last Saturday (September 15). The headline "Crude Shock" may have captured a few people's attention. New Minister for Sustainability Andrew McNamara had called for a report into peak oil and the impact it will have on Queensland in particular. The report was then leaked to the media and hit the Courier Mail on Saturday morning.

Nice to see peak oil making the mainstream media.

If you're interested in finding out more about peak oil visit here

Over the next few posts I'll try to explain peak oil and permaculture. How the two fit together and how one provides solutions to the other (that is permaculture provides solutions to peak oil - just to get that clear).

And we're off and blogging...

Okay, I've gone out on a limb here.

Let's see how we go linking the problem of global peak oil to the solution of permaculture.

I hope this blog proves to be useful and maybe, just maybe, someone out there might make a change or two in their lives.