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David Holmgren: permaculture and energy descent

This past weekend David Holmgren, co-originator of the concept of permaculture, spoke at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Botanical Gardens as part of a four month lecture tour in the US. David's partner, Su Dennett was also present. The lecture was particularly well attended with center managers finding it necessary to add a video feed to the adjacent gardens so that the overbooked facility could accommodate all attendees.

David's talk focused on understanding how the decline in availability of inexpensive fossil fuels will impact society, and then segued into permaculture's positive potentiality in the impending Energy Descent world.

The entire lecture was engaging and informative; but there are a few key statements that seem especially suited for this forum. The following is a short summary of those statements. Any errors in interpretation are my own.

-Upon visiting Boston and viewing its tightly woven web of large buildings, new construction projects, bridges, streets and other infrastructure, David was struck by the thought, "In an energy descent society, how will we maintain these massive structures, built while energy was cheap?"

-"Permaculture is a design framework, not a production system." David stated that chief among the goals of permaculture was to create an environment of human stewardship over the Earth and to build fertility in the soil and cultivate biodiversity for future generations.

-David projects that the practice and application of permaculture concepts will continue to grow, at some point exponentially, but will be known by many other names, all working toward similar goals. He stated that he believed food growing and self reliance were politically powerful, and that in places like Croatia, food gardening is still in practice and considered a normal part of life.

-He discussed that in an Energy Descent society as the price of oil escalates and availability declines, the cost of metals, timbers and food rises. This scenario positions an understanding of permaculture practices as necessary, and the coinciding skill set as desirable for coping and surviving in the new context of mankind's need for increased self sufficiency.

-A comment regarding Invasion Biology as a pseudoscience prompted a sidebar about our relationship with pioneer plants, including invasive exotics such as kudzu. There appears to be quite a division on this topic with native plant proponents defining pioneer exotics as only pests, and others viewing the plants as a temporary solution being used by nature to heal scarred landscapes until man has the opportunity to reclaim them for more appropriate use. The Appalachian Mountains were cited as an example for consideration. "What would the logging-scarred faces of those slopes look like without kudzu?" "What other plant would have been able to step in so rapidly to replace some of the carbon dioxide removal and soil protection ability lost with the felling of huge tracts of forest?" An interesting topic to say the least.

-Melliodora (The Hepburn Permaculture Gardens) is David and Su's home property and is cited as one of the best permaculture demonstration sites in Australia. An excellent book, Melliodora: Ten Years of Sustainable Living, and the new eBook update, Melliodora 1985 to 2005, provide the complete design and story. The eBook was created by their son, Oliver, and is a wonderful opportunity to preview the book. Both the pictures and accompanying descriptions are fantastic. Here is a link if you are interested in taking a look.

David and Su were available for follow up discussion and questions at the reception following the lecture. They are an inspiring couple with great humility. Conversation with them was much in demand. Those of you interested in hearing a lecture for yourself can check the schedule at his web site. I would see it again in a minute. .

There were several interesting referrals to further reading and information throughout the lecture. A list follows:


The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies by Richard Heinberg
The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain & Other Temperate Climates by Patrick Whitefield.

Permaculture Sites-
The Food Forest ( )
Earthsong Econeighborhood ( )
Krameterhof Austria ( )
Fryers Forest Ecovillage ( )

Editorial Notes: Lavonne's report first appeared on a permaculture mailing list and is re-posted here with permission. David Holmgren is currently touring the US, giving classes and talks. There's a list of his appearances and events on Holmgren's website. In Northern California, the Permaculture Institute is holding a four-day class with Holmgren. -BA

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