If you are as interested as I am, in planning for our global future, I suggest you pay a visit to permaculture guru, David Holmgren‘s new website. Future Scenarios is impressive by the depth of its thinking regarding the long term implications of peak oil and climate change. Most importantly, “Scenario planning allows us to use stories about the future as a reference point for imagining how particular strategies and structures might thrive, fail or be transformed.” – David Holmgren
David Holmgren anticipates four possible energy scenarios:
Techno-explosion depends on new, large and concentrated energy sources that will allow the continual growth in material wealth and human power over environmental constraints as well as population growth generally associated with space travel to colonise other planets.
Techno-stability depends on a seamless conversion from material growth based on depleting energy to a steady state in consumption of resources and population (if not economic activity) all based on novel use of renewable energies and technologies that can maintain if not improve the quality of services available from current systems. While this clearly involves massive change in almost all aspects of society, the implication is that once sustainable systems are set in place, a steady state sustainable society with much less change will prevail. Photovoltaic technology directly capturing solar energy is a suitable icon or symbol of this scenario.
Energy descent involves a reduction of economic activity and complexity and population in some way as fossil fuels are depleted. The increasing reliance on renewable resources of lower energy density will, over time, change the structure of society to reflect many of the basic design rules if not details of preindustrial societies. This suggests a ruralisation of settlement and economy with slower and less turnover of energy and resources and a progressive decline in human populations. Biological resources and their sustainable management will become progressively more important as fossil fuels of technological power declines. In many regions, forests will regain their traditional status as symbols of wealth. Thus the tree is a suitable icon of this scenario. Energy Descent, (like Techno Explosion) it a scenario dominated by change but that change might not be continuous or gradual. Instead it could be characterised by a series of steady states punctuated by crises (or mini collapses) that destroy some aspects of Industrial culture.
Collapse suggests a failure of the whole range of interlocked systems that maintain and support industrial society as high quality fossil fuels are depleted and/or climate change radically damages the ecological support systems. This collapse would be fast and more or less continuous without the restabilisations possible in Energy Descent. It would inevitably involve a major “die-off” of human population and a loss of the knowledge and infrastructure necessary for industrial civilization if not more severe scenarios including human extinction along with much of the planet’s biodiversity.
I wonder about the timeframe used. Most recent climate studies I have read seem to indicate an even closer tipping point, when we and our children will start to be seriously affected. Thinking in great-grandchildren terms may be overly optimistic.
David Holmgren is betting on the Energy Descent scenario. How about you?
Thanks to Gary Peters for leading me to the Energy Bulletin article that introduced me to Future Scenarios.