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Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’

Richard Florida, professor of Business and Creativity at the University of Toronto, and the author of ‘Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life‘, was on NPR Talk of the Nation yesterday. Richard Florida had a lot to say about a wide range of fascinating topics. Most interesting to me were the results of his Gallup Survey on Place and Happiness.

What makes people happy?:

  • A job they love
  • Social connections and relationships
  • A good place to live 
Richard Florida added some observations:
  • Beyond a minimum threshold, income does not make a difference. 
  • People are suffering from fewer and fewer close social connections (with one the average)
  • Good places to live all share the following five factors: 1) safety and good schools, 2) economic and social opportunities, 3) good mayoral and business leadership, 4) good across the board for a variety of people, 5) physically good in term of aesthetics, pleasant to live in. 
What I find especially encouraging about this research, is that it supports visions for a more sustainable world as well. This includes the need for strengthened communities, and some ideas such as David Holmgren’s permaculture that could be adapted to living in the big cities. Note that accumulating more stuff, driving more, living in bigger houses, and more generally engaging in activities with a big footprint, are not part of this ‘make you happy’ list.
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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

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Last month I accompanied my friend Christian Forthomme, during one of his visioning seminars. Christian’s job is to help companies imagine their future and devise a plan to make their vision a reality. Makes sense. It is hard to move forward without having a clear picture of what to shoot for. As we struggle with finding solutions to the current climate crisis, we would do well to spend time visualizing what it is that we want. This is different than thinking about the problem and relying solely on our brain to come up with answers. 

What I am suggesting instead is to take some quiet time alone, and slowly let a picture emerge, of the kind of world we want for ourselves, and our children. I tried it, and I was surprised with how difficult it was. Here is what I saw:

A world with lots of bikes and walking routes, and buses and trains. Cars and trucks are all electric as in the Better Place Project. Gas stations are now serving as battery recharging centers. All the energy comes from renewable sources, cultivated in solar and wind farms throughout the land. In a way, I want to go back to life as it was on my grandparents’ farm. When time was slower, and we lived with the rhythm from the seasons. Food is all grown locally and organically. Cities and suburbs are experiencing an overall greening, with many people involved in urban farming, starting with children in schools. There are trees along all the streets and the freeways. People spend most of their time working from home or very close. They work shorter hours, and they use video conference technologies such as Cisco Telepresence. There is a bustling green economy, with green collar jobs replacing lots of the retail jobs. Malls are a vestige from the past. Instead of buying things, people are consuming experiences. The obesity rate has gone down, due to people walking and biking more, and eating less junk food. Fast food places are now serving organic nutritionally healthy Happy Meals. The water crisis has been averted thanks to new technologies and smart conservation policies. Businesses have turned into social centers that help connect people in developed countries with their counterparts in developing countries. Municipalities have a no waste system, where everything gets recycled or ends up in compost. The world feels happy and at peace. 

Now, your turn! What do you see? 

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Not as sexy as Cassandra‘s video, but just as, if not even more informative, is the new documentary; ‘Peak Oil – Sprawling From Grace; Driven To Madness‘. The trailer just came out:

According to EMotionPictures,

‘This feature length documentary explores the ravages of American suburban sprawl, what America has lost as a result, and the perils we face if we don’t change the way in which we build our cities. Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security by cheap energy that has allowed us to spread endlessly into our landscape. We are trapped behind the wheels of our automobiles. With the demand for oil outpacing the Earth’s ability to supply it, this suburban living arrangement will fail. America’s love affair with the automobile is unsustainable and, like Nero, we are fiddling away, confident that tomorrow will be as promising as today. The wake up call is coming.’

It seems as if everyone‘s got an opinion on how to handle the American suburban sprawl . . . What I think: we are not going to raze our suburbs, let’s get real. Instead, we have to live with what we have, adapt, conserve and retrofit, using a combination of new policies, new technologies, and new behaviors.

Now, what do YOU think?

 

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Yesterday, Kyle sent me this mail:

I was youtubing it, enjoying my new broadband, and came across this interview snip with David Holmgren, founder of the “permaculture” project:


He’s talking about the future of suburbia, and is rather more optimistic than that bigot Kunstler. What I got out of it was that he expresses very well something I think, that we can’t be too hopeful about grand top-down plans – though he’s afraid of them, I’m not, I just think they’re not likely to happen – and he thinks positive change will come about from necessity. He presents it all as an “organic” process – by which he means a smooth and natural one, though of course organic processes are not always very neat and pleasant…

If you’re waiting around for government to do something, then things look pretty dark. If you’re looking for ways in which people can do things for themselves, then things look a bit brighter. So this is “green psychology” in that it’s a way of looking at the world which keeps you hopeful and focused. I’ve just seen quite a bit of loss of hope and frustration in the blogosphere lately, and seen it in your posts, too.

Kyle is right, I have been feeling a bit down lately, and frustrated, regarding the apparent lack of action. Nothing depresses more than driving on the freeway at peak hours, and being a part of this seemingly endless flow of CO2 spewing machines. I want someone to step in, and say stop. My fantasy of a conductor is going nowhere however. Not even Obama comes close, when I listen to him speak and propose his timid plan for cooling the planet. Don’t get me wrong, I know the man has to think about politics, and getting elected, and pushing only as far as the crowd will allow.

While watching the David Holmgren‘s video, what struck me most was not so much what he had to say, as how he delivered his message. No rush, no fear, no need to control. Instead, calm assurance that events will lead us back to where we need to be again, and that individuals will naturally organize towards increased energy efficiency strategies. As somebody who is informed about the perils of climate change, I have found it hard to withstand the tension from not having an immediate, quick fix solution. David Holmgren is reminding us that the straight path may not be the way to go here.

I also connected with Homgren‘s emphasis on ‘retrofitting‘. Many proposed solutions to global warming, jump to the creation of new infrastructures, new cars, new cities, new houses, new gadgets. Our throwaway culture has found its way in the climate fight. Less sexy, but a lot more sustainable, is the notion of retrofitting existing environments to enable a carbon neutral lifestyle. Maybe now is the time to make ours the 4R’s:

‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Retrofit‘.

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