Radio Ecoshock: Crash on Demand with David Holmgren and Nicole Foss

February 11, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Do we need to break the system to save the climate? Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren says "yes", in rare radio interview. Then Nicole Foss replies. Plus Alex’s climate music.

Last week on Radio Ecoshock we looked at a growing group of activists, authors and scientists who say only a serious economic crash could save us from climate doom. Now we’ll talk with the man who started this flurry, the co-founder of the permaculture movement, Australian David Holmgren.

I’ll follow that up with reaction from Canadian finance and alternatives expert Nicole Foss. If you care about the future, this is radio you won’t want to miss.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (54 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


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Despite the hopes and warnings of the last generation, humanity is heading for the darker path of more fossil fuel development. Today’s politicians are all about new pipelines, fracking, tankers, super coal mines and super coal ports, and of course endless oil.

It didn’t have to be that way. We had other choices, but now the co-founder of the Permaculture movement says "Welcome to the Brown Tech Future". That train to climate disaster must be derailed for us to survive, he says, in a provocative essay called "Crash on Demand".

When it comes to David Holmgren you’ve either heard of him in an almost reverent way, or you haven’t a clue. Along with Bill Mollison, David started the permaculture movement back in the 1970’s. He’s experimented with it ever since, from ecovillages and food forests to retrofitting suburbia. David is not a huge self-promoter. Outside of Australia, he’s known mainly by people seeking alternatives to the system of endless growth, and pitiless pillage of the land. Find his web site here.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with David Holmgren (25 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

So what are we talking about? The co-founder of Permaculture is saying we can’t prevent a horrible collapse of the climate unless the current industrial-economic engine crashes. The only previous example of massive greenhouse gas reductions was when the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990’s. That’s what it takes, Homlgren says.

This essay is part of a longer train of writings by Holmgren. He began with the book "Permaculture One" published in 1978, when David was 23, at the College of Advanced Education in Hobart, Tasmania. After experimenting with permaculture, from his own consulting firm, Holmgren updated the vision with the 2002 book "Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability". That’s still the best book on the subject, and fundamental to the permaculture movement world-wide.

In 2007, David published a long essay, which became a book, "Future Scenarios". Based mainly on the expectation of peak oil, that work has the four descent senariois: Brown Tech, Green Tech, Earth Steward, and Lifeboats.

Future Scenarios, combining Peak Oil and Climate Change, was developed into a web site which fully explains his views. It’s a good place for anyone to start. Future Scenarios is also available as a book from Chelsea Green.

You can buy the book "Future Scenarios" here. Or read it free online at this web site.

The next link in Holmgren’s deep work came in 2009, with an analysis of the fatal marriage of the financial system to the fossil fuel energy industry.

Download David’s 2009 essay, which is part of this train of thought, and this Radio Ecoshock interview, "Money vs Fossil Energy: The battle for control of the world" from this web page.

Now we have "Crash on Demand, Welcome to the Brown Tech Future".

Find "Crash on Demand" at this web site, or download it as a .pdf here.

In our interview, David says he suggested the four scenarios as short-term futures, possibly covering decades. Now he finds humanity has chosen one of the paths, the most deadly for the climate and ourselves, the "Brown Tech Future". In it we find desperate measures like the Tar Sands, Oil Shale, and fracking.

Meanwhile, Holmgren explains these four scenarios can exist at the same time, nestled within one another. For example, while the Brown Tech future dominates the world financial system, more and more people are opting out either as Earth Stewards, or building personal and local "lifeboat" economies (like permaculture).

The founder of Transition Towns, Rob Hopkins, is critical of this new Holmgren stance. Rob thinks we can work through the existing system. For example, he wants to make sure local governments continue, so we have the organization needed to change in stages.


But is Holmgren really calling on us to actively cause a crash of the world financial system? He says the great weakness of the world economy is it is built on faith – our belief it is real and keeps on going. If enough of the world’s billion-or-so Middle Class stop believing, and remove their money and their working lives from the system, it will crash. It wouldn’t take much of a trigger to destabilize such a fragile system. Perhaps if just 5 percent of people opted out, it may go down, Holmgren postulates.

People close to David say he is not really calling for us to destabilize the current economy, other than to change away from it – toward the things he has been advocating for decades: form local economies, and change to "permaculture" – a permanent culture. It’s hard to nail David down on what he really means. I’m told he will be publishing a boil-down and clarification on his site in the next week or two. Look for that.

Meanwhile, in our radio interview, David points out he is far from alone in saying the system will crash, or need to do so. I’ve interviewed climate scientists, like Professor Tim Garrett from the University of Utah, who also calculate only a financial collapse could save us from unstoppable climate change. We talked about others in last week’s interview with Albert Bates. But there are also a huge number of bloggers and financial experts who say a severe correction is coming.

Here is just one example, from a thousand, of a middle class person who wants to help the system down, without any mention of climate change or peak oil.

If you want to know more, here is a You tube video series with David Holmgren.

Also, find another recent (Feb. 2014) interview with David on the show "21st Centruy Permaculture" on Shoreditch Community Radio (serving East London).

Read a response to David’s Crash on Demand article by Dmitri Orlov, author of "Five States of Collapse". If we want to avoid "the climate cooker" as he calls it, David Holmgren says citizens can help tip the financial system over, by withdrawing money and investments, while living outside the consumer economy. Orlov does the math, and says there aren’t enough activist citizens to make any difference.

Part of the tumultuous reaction can be found in this article by KMO, host of the C-Realm Podcast (and check out the comments below the article)


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Can we save ourselves from the worst of climate change by helping an unstable economic system to collapse? That’s the idea put forward by permaculture founder David Holmgren in his paper "Crash on Demand".

Our next guest wrote a deep and provacative article about Holmgren, climate change, and a crash. She travels the world, from New Zealand to Europe, giving lectures – which are now available as a 4-hour DVD set.

Nicole has been a specialist in nuclear safety in the UK, and editor of the Peak Oil journal "The Oil Drum Canada". Now she is co-editor at one of the Net’s more popular financial blogs,, where she writes as "Stoneleigh".

From her homestead in Ontario, Canada – we welcome Nicole Foss back to Radio Ecoshock.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Nicole Foss in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Read this essential essay about David Holmgren’s "Crash on Demand" by Nicole Foss.

Nicole knows David Holmgren well. Later this year, in July, she will tour Australia with him, in a series of lectures. In our interview she explains very well the "Crash on Demand" paper and the four scenarios.

Foss raises a two-fold objection to David’s idea of "Crash on Demand". First, she says the system is so corrupt and unbalanced it will fall over by itself; and second, when it does, some people will blame the permaculture movement, for wrecking the system.

In her essay, and our interview, Nicole points us to a European expert on systems analysis and large-scale economics. That’s David Korowicz.

He’s written a paper titled "Trade-Off, Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse." How does Korowicz fit into our future? I hope to talk with him soon.

Essentially, Korowicz explains how a relatively simple trigger, whether it’s a deadly virus hitting Asian factories, or a combination of extreme weather events, could bring down everything we take for granted, much faster than anyone thinks. It could cascade into a major economic slow-down in a matter of weeks.


In her response to Holmgren, and almost as an aside, Nicole Foss suggests maybe we should stop talking about climate change:

"The economic contraction that is coming is very likely to have a far more substantial impact on emissions than any deliberate policy or collective action. The combination of this contraction and constructive collective action could be very powerful indeed, but achieving the latter action is not best done on the grounds of climate change. The same actions that would best address climate change in the aggregate are also the prescription for dealing with financial crisis and peak oil – hold no debt, consume less, relocalize, increase community self-sufficiency, reduce dependency on centralized life-support systems.

The difference is that both financial crisis and peak oil are far more personal and immediate than climate change, and so are far bigger motivators of behavioural change. For this reason, addressing arguments in these terms is far more likely to be effective. In other words, the best way to address climate change is not to talk about it."

At first that seems outrageous. But you must read the full essay, and listen to this interview.

Essentially, Nicole worries that fear of climate change, once realized by the public, could drive us towards even worse outcomes. For example, we may demand immediate action to save us from the (drought, heat wave, floods, fires) – leading to geoengineering pollution that hides emissions and makes everything worse. Or we may demand/allow a new type of eco-fascism – command and control state regulating every part of our lives (perhaps combined with the new spy state). And, as now, we can count on a gang of billionaires to cook up schemes that don’t work but enrich themselves.

Why risk all that, Foss argues, when people can move toward a more sustainable lifestyle driven simply by concerns about a collapsing economy and peak energy? I disagree of course, and will continue to communicate about climate change in the Radio Ecoshock show.

Humanity is up against a novel and horrific set of problems, (energy, economy, overpopulation, nuclear disaster,climate change). We need a wide range of proposals and thought before we find any way out. That means tolerance and respect among ourselves, for a diversity of speakers and opinions. People who are so sure they are right, and everyone who disagrees is wrong, to the point of calling others "traitors", "idiots" and the like – are just weakening the whole discussion, and our possibilities. It’s sad to see intellectual tyrants ranting at low levels, but I suppose the stress of our unwinding makes this inevitable from some people.

Crashing waves teaser image via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.

Alex Smith

Host of syndicated weekly Radio Ecoshock Show - the cutting edge with top scientists, authors and activists. Eighth year on the air as of 2014. Previously a researcher for global environment group, print journalist, homesteader, world-traveler, and private investigator.

Tags: Crash on Demand, economic collapse, relocalization