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.

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