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Holmgren’s ‘Crash on Demand’: Be Careful What You Wish For

Originally published on TransitionNetwork.org

It is a rare occurence that I disagree with David Holmgren. One of my heroes, and the co-founder of permaculture, I generally find his intellect formidable, his insights on permaculture revelatory, and his take on the wider patterns and scenarios unfolding around us to be deeply insightful. But while there is much insight in his most recent paper, Crash on Demand, it also raises many questions and issues that I’d like to explore here. I am troubled by his conclusions, and although I understand the logic behind them, I fear that they could prove a dangerous route to go down if left unchallenged.

‘Crash on Demand’ in a nutshell

So what are the paper’s core arguments? It picks up from his ‘Future Scenarios’ work a few years on, reassessing their relevance in a rapidly changing world (you can read Jason Heppenstall’s summary of the new paper here). In essence, he has shifted to thinking that a gradual energy descent isn’t going to happen. Rather than his Green Tech Future scenario which sees a concerted government response (similar to what we’re seeing in Germany) or the Earth Stewardship scenario, an intentional powering down, he argues that in reality we are moving deeper and deeper into what he calls ‘Brown Tech’.

Brown Tech has emerged because "sustained high energy prices have allowed private and national energy corporations to put in place many new fossil and renewable energy projects that are moderating the impact of the decline in production from ageing ‘super giant’ fields". Most of these new fossil fuel projects, he argues, "generate far more greenhouse gases than the conventional sources they have replaced".


David Holmgren

The pace of the unfolding of climate change has outpaced expectations, and the world, if it continues to pursue Business as Usual, is still on course for a 6 degree rise in temperature, which would be catastrophic. He states that we have left it too late for a planned and intentional ‘Green Tech’ future, and the structural vulnerabilities of the economy mean that the currently emergent ‘Brown Tech’ future will be short-lived.

He suggests that in this context, "severe global economic and societal collapse would switch off greenhouse gas emissions enough to begin reversing climate change", and that we should deliberately seek to make this happen. That troubles me. I have two key objections to the paper which I’ll set out below.

One: A Post-Growth Economy = Economic Crash? Really?

The first place the paper comes unstuck for me is in his overarching conclusion, namely that a post growth, climate-responsible world is inevitably a crashed economy. Holmgren writes:

If we accept a global financial crash could make it very difficult, if not impossible, to restart the global economy with anything other than drastically reduced emissions, then an argument can be mounted for putting effort into precipitating that crash, the crash of the financial system.

He argues that "a radical change in the behaviour of a relatively small proportion of the global middle class could precipitate such a crash". He goes on:

I believe that actively building parallel and largely non-monetary household and local community economies with as little as 10% of the population has the potential to function as a deep systematic boycott of the centralised systems as a whole, that could lead to more than 5% contraction in the centralised economies.

That feels like a huge claim. No research is used to back it up. It’s also a huge leap to state that a post growth economy is unavoidably a crashed economy, as well as being a very Western-centric proposition. Talking to people from China and India recently, it is clear that the kind of ‘post-materialists’ who in Western economies might pioneer this "crash on demand" hardly exist there, and those are the economies where emissions are actually growing.

Also, on what research is this idea that boycotting the economy would bring it to its knees, and that that would be a good thing to do, actually based? The main reference to this thinking is given when Holmgren states:

By 2008, the work of both systems analyst Nicole Foss and economist Steve Keen had convinced me that deflationary economics would be (and already are) the most powerful factors shaping our immediate future.

Now I’m no economist. The subject, once it starts getting even vaguely complicated, leaves me rather puzzled. But I do know that there are views other than Foss and Keen, and many of them don’t share their analysis (as an aside, I’m still scratching my head about Foss’ statement, in her response to this Holmgren piece, that "the best way to address climate change is not to talk about it”). There is a wide range of views on what happens when an economy stops growing beyond those of Foss and Keen. Here are just a few. Robert Solow, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics has said:

There is no reason at all why capitalism could not survive without slow or even no growth. I think it’s perfectly possible that economic growth cannot go on at its current rate forever.

When I talked to Peter Victor in 2012, author of Managing Without Growth (subtitled ‘Slower by design, not disaster’), I asked him "so the end of economic growth doesn’t necessarily mean an economic collapse?" He told me:

It could mean that, if you have an economic system that relies on growth. That’s the dilemma we’ve got now. It seems to be that unless the economy is growing it flirts with collapse or it does collapse. The challenge to us is to try to configure an economy that doesn’t grow and doesn’t collapse.

Tim Jackson, in Prosperity Without Growth, writes:

The risk of humanitarian collapse is enough to place something of a question mark over the possibility that we can simply halt economic growth. If halting growth leads to economic and social collapse, then times look hard indeed. If it can be achieved without collapse, prospects for maintaining prosperity are considerably better.

Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill’s book Enough is Enough, which explores the possibilities of a post-growth, steady-state economy, don’t even mention the word ‘collapse’ in the book. Kevin Anderson, one of few climate scientists explicitly stating that staying below 2 degrees excludes economic growth as a possibility, told me when I interviewed him in 2012:

Of course our view is that to deliver on 2°C, we should plan the economic contraction. It need not necessarily have the devastating impact that it very clearly had, and very inequitable impact, in Russia in particular.

I have never heard him use the word collapse in relation to his proposals. When I attended the DeGrowth conference in Venice last year, I don’t remember any presentations among that whole 4 day programme of talks and presentations anyone talking about collapse. So I, for one, do not accept this notion that stopping growth, even if attainable, means inevitable collapse, and that striving to cause a collapse is a highly dangerous and irresponsible approach.

In the environmental movement in general, and in Transition in particular, there has long been a tension between "brightsiding" (always focusing on the potential upsides of climate change) and dashing straight to the idea of collapse. As John Michael Greer put it in a 2007 piece called ‘Immanentizing the Eschaton‘:

It’s one thing to try to sense the shape of the future in advance, and to make constructive changes in your life to prepare for its rougher possibilities; it’s quite another to become convinced that history is headed where you want it to go; and when the course you’ve marked out for it simply projects the trajectory of a too-familiar myth onto the inkblot patterns of the future, immanentizing the Eschaton can become a recipe for self-induced disaster.

But it’s not only one or the other, it’s a spectrum. It’s not clear to me why Holmgren dashes straight to collapse. He argues that in his opinion, regardless of what we do, there is a 50% chance of a crash anyway, as an inevitable outcome of the fragility of our economic system. But no evidence is provided for this.

As a recent paper by the Simplicity Institute (who also published Crash on Demand), entitled The Deep Green Alternative, highlights, between industrial growth and collapse lie a broad spectrum of approaches, all of which explore different routes to “a radically alternative way of living on the Earth – something ‘wholly other’ to the ways of industrialisation, consumerism, and limitless growth”. To simplify this discussion down to such an either/or really does nobody any favours.

All of this leads on to my second point, that of how Holmgren communicates his proposal.

Two: the concept of ‘Skilful Means’

There is a concept from Buddhism called "skilful means" which offers some very useful insights as to what lies at the root of my disagreement with the paper. Skilful means (or upaya in Sanskrit) is sometimes also translated as tactfulness or ingenuity, and refers to the observation that different people have different capacities, different ways of taking in information. If you want to share an insight with a diversity of people, given sufficient insight and wisdom, with some you might sit and explain it, for another you might tell them a story, and another, you might just make a particular comment at a particular time that triggers a train of thought that leads to the same conclusion.

For me, skilful means is what this paper lacks. Personally, I find Holmgren’s analysis, namely that we seem to be moving towards a Brown Tech scenario, that climate change is accelerating, that no leadership looks likely from most government, to be compelling. It is a useful analysis, a useful revision of Future Scenarios. It may be that some people involved in localisation and resilience work choose to see what they are doing in the context of a deliberate attempt to crash the system. But is it in any way skilful to publicly reframe that as the driver for Transition, or permaculture for that matter? That is where I part company with Holmgren.

That’s not to say I don’t understand why he would think it. Climate scientist Kevin Anderson recently stated "Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony”. He argues that economic growth is no longer compatible with staying below 2 degrees. This entirely justified sense of urgency leads some to take an approach to climate change that resonates closely with the famous words of Mario Savio in 1964:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

But to imagine that a popular movement could be built around deliberately crashing the global economy feels to me naive in the extreme. It would certainly prove virtually impossible to muster any kind of mainstream political support for it. While a number of MPs I have spoken to are happy to state off-the-record that they have doubts that growth is the best way forward, none of them would say so on the record.

My question is, if Holmgren is right to suggest that we deliberately seek to make economic collapse happen (which I personally think is a naive and irresponsible proposal), then how best to communicate that? What is the audience for this paper? Is it written in such a way as to appeal to a broad range of readers? No. It is written for "PLU"s (People Like Us). It isn’t written for potential allies in local government, trades unions, for the potential broad coalitions of local organisations that Transition groups try to build, for the diversity of political viewpoints that are found in most communities.

It is written for the very small sector of people who read this kind of thing. Yet the very issues we need to be creating responses to are felt across society and need responses from across society. It is precisely my frustration with permaculture’s seeming contentment at residing in a niche of its own making that prompted me to start thinking about the need for Transition in the first place.

This paper offers something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: if we present the alternatives to collapse in such a way that they engage and appeal to nobody, then the opportunity to avert it (assuming its inevitability) becomes even less likely. It’s the antithesis of skilful means.

It seems to me that what we need to be doing, and what permaculture, Transition, and many other movements around the world are trying to do is to build resilience, model a post growth economy, from the ground up at community level, the "actively parallel economy" Holmgren describes.

For example, in Totnes, we produced a Local Economic Blueprint. It set out the case, built on extensive research, for 10% shift towards a local economy. Part of its power was the coalition of local stakeholders who co-published it, Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, Development Trust and so on. But did it present itself as a plan to deliberately crash the global economy in order to save the biosphere? If we had done, almost certainly we’d have been the only group involved in it. Instead it found a wording that everyone was happy with:

We agreed the overall goal of this system would be to maximise the wellbeing of our entire community, and to do this in a way that uses and distributes resources fairly while respecting natural limits. Economic growth is welcome, certainly within the sectors identified within this project, but not at any cost.

Enabling the kind of shift of financial capital from fossil fuels to investment in local resilient economies that I set out in last week’s post will be key to enabling this transition. As will building vibrant coalitions of local organisations around the benefits of doing it.

Holmgren argues, in his ‘Nested Scenarios’ graph (below), that what we are seeing is different scenarios unfolding at different scales. "To some extent", he writes, "all scenarios are emerging simultaneously and may persist to some degree into the future, one nested within another".

For me, rather than trying to use the local community and household scales to try and deliberately crash the economy, they both have a huge potential, as yet barely scratched, to inspire and model a new economy. One that is low carbon, resilient and which builds social justice. Yet that can only happen with the very broad support, buy-in and engagement that an explicit goal of "crash on demand" and the kind of language and approach embodied in this paper would render impossible.

I may be naive, but I still think it is possible to mobilise that in a way that, as the Bristol Pound illustrates, gets the support and buy-in of the ‘City/State’ level, and begins to really put pressure and influence on ‘National’ thinking. I may be naive, but it’s preferable to economic collapse in my book, and I think we can still do it.

Also, if Holmgren is going to explicitly call for an orchestrated attempt to trigger an economic collapse, this paper should surely contain more about what that might look like? What does collapse mean for someone living in an inner city food desert, whose benefits are being capped, reduced, or taken away altogether, with no access to land for growing food, with no skills, and little interest in acquiring any? How does he intend to "sell" this message to them, to make this seem like an inviting proposition? Given that one of permaculture’s three core underpinnings is "PeopleCare", this paper is surprisingly lacking in such considerations.

Or is he heading towards a position of assuming that the dangers of climate change are so overarching that the nightmare collapse would lead to in such communities is just what needs to happen, a "can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs"-type approach. Can it really be right that “a relatively small proportion of the global middle class” should be able to deliberately plunge those beneath them on the social ladder into such chaos without a clear strategy as to how such large-scale suffering might be mitigated? If so, this placing to one side of issues of social justice is alarming. As Yotam Marom wrote recently:

We have to re-learn the climate crisis as one that ties our struggles together and opens up potential for the world we’re already busy fighting for.

Last thoughts

There is a progression of thinking in this paper, and a point at which I part company with Holmgren. Economic growth and the current financial system means we are on course for a 6 degree rise in global temperatures. Yes, I get that. Current approaches aren’t working. Yes, fine. We need, with great urgency, to move beyond the growth paradigm to a different approach built on local economies and so on. Yes, I’m with you. And as Naomi Klein sets out in her recent New Statesman article, there are grounds for building a popular movement around that. But then to state that we need to deliberately, and explicitly, crash the global economy feels to me naive and dangerous, especially as nothing in between growth and collapse is explored at all.

It seems to me that if there is one sure and certain way of ensuring that we won’t scale up all the great work already being done around the world to build community and local economic resilience, it will be by framing it as being about deliberately bringing around an economic crash. It would set us back years.

Holmgren argues that:

… bringing these issues out into the open might inspire desperate climate and political activists to put their substantial energy into permaculture, Transition Towns, voluntary frugality, and other aspects of positive environmentalism.

That’s as may be, but if we are to make anything happen, we need to also bring the wider community and other organisations on board. We have to speak beyond the People Like Us. Unless we’re able to do that, a rallying flag of Crash on Demand will be entirely self-defeating. ‘Crash on Demand’ is a case of, as they say, being careful what you wish for.

35 Comments

  1. So, have you had a conversation with David, Rob? I think you need to slow down. Crash on Demand is most likely not going to happen but I feel it is good for David to get this message out there about how dangerous the situation has become. We don’t need arguments we need to kick start people into thinking and I reckon David, is just going harder than he normally would at getting that thinking process happening and you never know what may happen.

  2. I find this whole concept very upsetting… it’s seems that David Holmgren is, in effect, labelling the environmentally concious proportion of the population as potential terrorists and actually encouraging this environmentally responsible behaviour as terrorist activity?! Those of us who are making small changes in our lives (such as implementing permaculture processes, raising chickens, aquaculture, community gardens or suburban farms and co-ops etc) are doing so for many different personal and emotional reasons – either because we feel it is a more healthy food source with less impact on the environment and less carbon emissions, because we want to have an emotional attachment and acceptance of responsibility for our actions, to meet new friends and become a more envolved member of our immediate or larger societies, or even because it simply provides a cheaper alternative to buying the unhealthy and expensive chemical filled food options provided in our local stores. To suggest that these practices have the potential to damage society, and to suggest that they could be, or should be, instigated en-mass as an act of concious sabotage is a completely immoral, if not criminal, suggestion! To imply anything of the kind not only devalues the good which can be achieved by the environmentally friendly practices in themselves, but devalues the people who are making a concious choice to implement these changes in their lives. It is tantamount to terrorism to even suggest such a thing!

    1. “… labelling the environmentally conscious proportion of the population as potential terrorists and actually encouraging this environmentally responsible behaviour as terrorist activity?”

      I think this is spinning the word “terrorist” to suit a predisposition.

      “To suggest that these practices have the potential to damage society, and to suggest that they could be, or should be, instigated en-mass as an act of conscious sabotage is a completely immoral, if not criminal, suggestion!”

      We could look at those that who rose in the civil rights movement or during the emancipation of women from this perspective too.

  3. Permaculture has been working away, where ever it can get a roothold, a bit like the mammals working away in the shadows of the Dinosaurs. Today’s corporate and government dinosaurs are on track to bring about their own ending unless they show more intelligence and start following more permaculture principles. The challenge for permaculture is to reinvent itself in ways that make it more irresistible. Permaculture could claim the high scientific, economic and ethical ground pretty easily and bring together many supporters. Whether permaculture can be made so appealing that it removes support for the conventional economy or what ever other desperate economies appear to try and take its place is difficult to predict. History is full of change and tipping points. Permaculture has only just started evolving and all within a human lifetime. Building permaculture into technology, future communities and businesses is going to really change things fast in positive and really competitive ways as the shortfalls of conventional models become glaringly more silly and unreliable. It is good to start having a think and debate about these issues – no matter where you stand because there is nowhere to run….and it could present permaculture and humanity in general with its greatest challenge. There is too much talk about negative tipping points and not enough focus on some positive upward tipping points such as can be found in permaculture.

    1. @Lumbuck Thornton so you are basically saying that government is the chief road block impeding permaculture right now.

      I think in Permaculture right now we have two primary camps but both whether they express it as bluntly as I did above really do believe the same thing. Government is the problem, government is the obstruction. Solve the money problem and the first thing you run into is regulations that claim to protect the environment by damaging the environment.

      The difference in the two camps is one feels as follows…

      1. Government is the problem and it would all be okay if government simply go on board with permaculture and forced permaculture onto society whether society wants it or not.

      2. The other camp feels Permaculture is awesome and government is the problem and instead of forcing its adoption all they need to do is get the heck out of the way and let us in your words “make it irresistible”?

      The problem is many in camp 1 seem to want to make it irresistible to government, well it ain’t going to happen. Government isn’t in the way of Permaculture because they are afraid it won’t work, they are in the way of Permaculture because they are afraid it will work! Permaculture is the ultimate buster of all monopolies, monetary, governmental and otherwise.

      A decentralized system of self sufficient living, with rapid technological advancement via excited innovative people willing to both test what will work and share their results freely with others.

      Those of you that think government can fix the mess they made should consider the following. Asking them (to whit I included mega corporations and government as one it he same) is like asking an arsonist to put our forest fires, having them say they need gasoline and matches to get it done and then being foolish enough to give them the matches and gasoline and expect things to be different this time around.

      1. Modern Survivor, Behind government and corporations are bands of voters and consumers – some of whom think independently but many of whom just follow and fall for spin. Many people just don’t know any different or have trouble grasping alternatives.

        Most people think there are only two parties to choose from at elections. Voting green is increasing but it still has a long way to go because many voters can still not imagine in their own minds what is on offer.

        It is just a matter of time before the conventional parties become so awful that voting green is going to become obvious but will this happen quickly enough? If cities suddenly fall out of favour then the occupants could have a terrible impact on themselves and the wider environments without a lot of training and support. The transition back to hunter gatherers is what most would appear to fall for because they don’t understand enough about permaculture systems.

        There are still lots of permaculture that needs mapping out and exploring more carefully for it to become broadly accepted. If done right, it may well be possible for cities to be retrofitted to in effect stay right where they are and make enormous permaculture progress. We are all currently dependant on cities for health, education, practical parts of government and until permaculture can deliver viable alternatives to these or we can get them to adopt permaculture principles then backlashes might occur and permaculture will have lost an opportunity to head off a problem.

        The current danger is that the instability of the big non-permaculture systems as they stand could force them on permaculture communities anyway and could we accept them and train them quickly enough anyway?

        I think it is going to take a good film to really reset the minds of people and wake them up to what permaculture might offer in the future.

        Both sides will call each other “terrorists” when in fact with a bit of creative story telling about reality it might possible to “all live happily ever after!” It is the artificial blocks that really annoy me but they should clear soon.

        1. The only way to “vote green” is to be green by your actions. Governments can not impose green behavior any better than they can stop the use of drugs. They can oppress, kill, imprison, tax, steal and harm in the name of such but they can’t do it.

          Anyone trusting government at this point should spend about a year studying real historical facts.

          We are moving to a world were decentralization and local control and voluntary association are the natural evolution of man kind. No one in Washington DC should tell a man in Texas how to live much less one in Austin tell man how to live in Dallas, just as no one in Sydney should tell a man in Perth how to live.

          Permaculture isn’t meant to be imposed, it is meant to be demonstrated. Again voting for any thing and expecting government of any sort at a national level to fix something is like giving an arsonist gasoline and matches and asking him to be your fire chief.

          1. I really like that way of looking at it. Given how much waste there is when governments try to implement “green” schemes (and how often the end result is the complete opposite), I think this approach is much better.

  4. David and I disagree on the threat of AGW, yet I find myself more in agreement with his anarchist principles (whether he understands that’s what they are or not) as they continue to evolve. The more people that opt out of centralized systems of all types, education, government, corporate, etc. the better.

  5. Thanks for the article, Rob.

    I am collaborating with a Transition Town group here in urban Argentina (the San Vicente neighborhood of Córdoba city), and I share your passion and perhaps, as you say, naivety about the possibly of linking permacultural design thinking into urban-community-bioregion-level economic processes.

    It also seems to me that the importance of the urban frontier (the idea of ‘huge toxic cities’) is something to which the australian founding fathers of Permaculture have given lip-service (i.e Bill Mollison’s Global Gardener series where he did an episode on examples of Urban Permaculture, plus his various book chapters on Urban strategies), but is something which still evokes paranoia and images of a catastrophic collapse for many active permaculture designers and educators.

    I would say that there is in effect an anti-urban bias among many prominent permacultural activists. (Whether or not this is the case with David Holmgren I can’t say for sure. He lives in a mostly rural setting as far as I am aware.) Right now the best-known Permaculture teachers which I have met in Argentina seem to be teaching the worldview that we need to learn how to build our outpost utopias away from the mess of the cities, to be in nature, because the system is going to unravel, etc… This is fine up to a certain point. I like these kinds of places, and I like being in the woods, down by the river, etc… But if the cities really do collapse in a quick and messy fashion, the violence, lawlessness, looting and destruction will quickly spill out in search of ‘low hanging fruit’, among which are your sundry outpost communities with conveniently stocked vegetable gardens, farmyards, toolsheds, solar technology, unprotected people, etc… In such a scenario Permaculturists would need to include armed security, or militia details as requirements of their community design (it’s the outbreak Holmgren’s “Lifeboats” or Mad Max scenario, right?). Permaculturalists in the traditional, “rural outpost” setting aren’t ready for violent conflict and defense-of-land scenarios, and any crash on demand would make them easy picking for the ravaging zombie types. For these reasons, and more positive ones as well (I love living in cities for example), I think it’s worthwhile, necessary, glamorous, exciting and rewarding to look at the cities as ground-zero for a new generation of permacultural development. For me, the cities are perhaps the ripest places for developing new permacultural strategies and adaptations of the design principals. Considering that cities are the motor/controls of massive economic trends, plus the mega-diversity of socio-economic niches that are only found cities, this is where you could expect to have organic influence via many access points on those trends. You would do this by using, in Holmgren’s terminology: 1. Top-Down Thinking (visualizing and articulating the goal of a non-growth-oriented, post peak-oil global economy which avoids the worst violence of a collapse scenario) and, 2. Bottom-Up Action (local initiatives which incentivize everyday people to participate in ecologically-sound and socially just local economies). As for the probability of this happening? If we don’t do anything the probability of any kind of smooth transition is zero.

    Well, that’s my two cents of naivety for the day.

    Saludos, and keep up the good work, Rob.

  6. Angela Merckle is a Green prime minister and yet she is no ecologist nor even remotely socialist. Ask any non-german EU citizen and they’ll tell you she has managed to do what Hitler failed to do and now owns Europe by holding sovereign debt and controlling rates of inflation, etc. While it is true that Germany is achieving their renewable energy targets, they have made other countries sell off their infrastructure to private investors, like Portugal, who have had to sell a large part of EDP (electricidade de portugal) to a chinese corporation to pay off the ever increasing interest on the unpayable loans that keep the country afloat, barely. Greece is well on the way to becoming a failed state inside the Union after a financial collapse. Maybe this argument is a moot point. According to Dmitri Orlov’s Five Stages of Collapse, the situation is inevitable, is unfolding rapidly and while everyone knows that life in a collapsed state is insecure, the security of the present state is illusionary and the price we pay for this fairy tale is our freedom. Having lived in Angola (in case you don’t know, it is a collapsed, ex-socialist African country, ravaged by colonial and then civil war for 40 years, and now a rampant capitalist oil dictatureship) leads me to agree with him that it is possible to live a good life in that kind of situation. Yes there is some violence and there is poverty (in my opinion derived from the ever growing oil exports causing the already devastated country to suffer from entrenched Dutch Disease) but people don’t go on rampages like one might see on a zombie movie. Most people get on with their lives, more guardedly, in the daytime and in groups, the shops might empty out, but streets fill up with vendors and small business people. Traffic signs don’t get replaced, but city drivers can remember which roads are one way only. If and when the shit hits the fan, it may be chaotic, but is NOT the end of the world. Do I want to live in a failed state again? Not really. Do I have a choice in the matter? Not really. So well…

    1. @Suzana exactly. People point to Germany all the time and say it proves a nation can be green and can have a “strong social safety net” and still have “one of the best economies in the world”. The truth is as you say, the economy is F’d long term as it is dependent on the other EU states Germany has about sucked dry now and the cost in freedom and the abuse of liberty is extreme.

      The answer isn’t and never was in government it is in individuals and communities.

  7. So I think the question is….. When states fail are they doomed to keep on failing or does permaculture cut in like it did when cuba started running short of food?

    In physics and engineering, “Permeation” is the penetration of a permeate (such as a liquid, gas, or vapor) through a solid.

    Maybe now we could also use it to describe how permaculture is gradually entering the thick heads of decision makers and the those who vote for or buy from the decision makers of the world when they realise it is their best choice long term and it is a fact of life like gravity !

    There are some anti-permaculturalists in government and corporations but they are starting to feel the heat…

    Lets keep getting on with setting the right examples.

    1. Well given Cuba simply did what amounts to organic gardening and farming and really didn’t have any real permaculture going on I think we are in good shape on the “ability” side of the coin. Far better off than a tiny island nation.

      On the other side one thing Cuba really had was a culture that cooperated with each other. That may have been more how they made it than what they grew or how they grew it. In the developed world we have a lot of spoiled people that will be very angry, very dangerous and not really be looking for a solution, they will want someone to blame.

      So if you are really concerned about this type of collapse, practice my brand of permaculture. A trowel in one hand, a laser level in the other and a AR15 on your back.

      I actually see far more a slow wind down a event horizon if you will. Like a black hole that slowly rips things apart. In fact I think we crossed it long ago. People don’t know that the collapse is in progress.

      Financially alone what we are doing is beyond stupid and we will deal with that before any real environmental issues or lack of fuel forces us to. It is a slow motion collapse a total erosion of the middle class. Either we beat them to the end game or we don’t. If we don’t look for all hell to break loose. Look for people to act as it it happened over night.

      People will blame the _____ party. The _____ class. and The ______s. Those in power will use this blame to try to retain control and watch blood flow in the streets. This is what history has shown.

      For the first time in history though people really see it coming, I consider permaculture the first time a society started to rebuild before the collapse. It gives me some hope.

      This is why I think we should shelve politics, shelve who should be taxed for what, forget about “fighting carbon emissions” and just get our asses to work. Install systems, develop solutions for food, housing, economies, business.

      The whole damn economic reality will blow up long before Al Gore’s fears will ever happen even if he and his followers are right. The end of the current paradigm won’t be peak oil, global warming or some other thing most in permaculture fear. It will be the day reality collides with the current economic fantasy we call an economy.

      1. Wow, part of me really says right on to almost all of your summation. Disengaging and re-engaging feels like walking blindfolded down the freeway. At 66 years of age I see it, do I have guts to do something? We’ll see. Not many of my close ones are paying much attention.

        1. Com’on Annie, we can all do this together. I’m 66 and my friends aren’t digging swales either, but we experienced the best this country had in the 60’s. Remember? These young’ins are going to need our help after the crash. We have something to share with them that they don’t even know ever existed. They’re gonna need us as much as we are gonna need them. Stay with it. This is gonna be a blast! Woohooooo!

  8. “But then to state that we need to deliberately, and explicitly, crash the global economy feels to me naive and dangerous, especially as nothing in between growth and collapse is explored at all.” ~ Rob Hopkins

    What about Transition Towns?

    Three questions here are;
    – How fast is Transition Towns?
    – How much time have we got? and
    – Can whatever we do play out in time to halt catastrophic climate and/or ecological change?

    From where I sit, Transition Ottawa and Transition Halifax, respectively, seem barely alive. In Ottawa, a city of roughly a million, there are about 700 registered Transition members last I looked, which seems laughable… So what’s everyone else doing?

    Sometimes it can be appropriate to cut through the crap, call it what it is, and throw down the gauntlet, such as when time may be of the essence and some people are just jerking around.
    In any case, I am hoping that, after all is said and done, heels are dragged, and long-winded, bling-worded, blow-hard blogs and books are written, any fundamental decisions don’t boil down to a choice between, say, collapse of the uneconomy or collapse of the planet. I am also hoping that we are not at that point, say, without realizing it, steeped, as we often appear, in our own complexities and diminishing returns.

  9. Rob may end up being right, but I believe his chances of being right are less than everyone else’s that has thrown in their bit. I appreciate the effort that Rob has put in as well as David’s, but there is not much apart from Rob’s opinion in this content. Quoting a nobel prize winning economist doesn’t help (makes Rob sound naïve), the economics scene is a monoculture of sycophants that subscribe to the theory of the day, and look where that has got us (hey guys, ever heard of the second law of thermodynamics??). They close the gates to other economists who come from a different school of thought (classical, Austrian, physicists etc.) and then give each other prizes.
    So Rob, keep up your good work, you are as right as anyone else at the moment, you agree and disagree with different things. But on saying that, I believe you are more of an activist than a researcher, so your opinion weighs less, but your strength is in what you can get done – let’s hope it works mate.
    As far as my point of view goes, I agree wholly with Dmitry Orlov (He’s right even now), John Micheal Greer, William Catton, Joseph Tainter et al. I haven’t heard Rob speak much about diminishing returns on utility and such.
    I admire what David has come out and done, and I don’t think that we’ll get it together for Rob’s hoped for outcome (never mind physical limits). So what if you don’t agree with him, he is as right and wrong as you or me right now, people can’t go calling him wrong, because he’s not any more wrong than anyone else. I would suggest going David’s way, purely for ethical reasons, because as long as we continue being plugged in to the global economy, we indirectly wreak terrible violence upon ‘developing countries’ (those with stuff) by using the US dollar as a medium of exchange and putting countries into debt and impoverishment. We should remember that we live this way at the expense of others and the status quo have a vested interest in not going Rob’s way (read confessions of an economic hitman by John Perkins).
    Inflation? Deflation? Biflation! – it’s happening now folks, that’s why all those economists and such are so confused…. Ah the law of unintended consequence (will have the last say).

  10. The earth is not dieing, it is being murdered. It needs to be stopped, there is no permaculture on a dead planet. I think it is relieving to hear such a respected permaculturist speaking in terms of speeding up the decline of this industrial economy, the machine that is eating the planet.

  11. Intentional or not, it is happening anyway. I have been guilty of underestimating the people in the cities. However, I work at the help desk of a prominent Austin,Texas garden center. Every day, I work with brand new gardeners…….ORGANIC GARDENERS. In fact, this well established garden center has had a challenge serving the increasing proportion of food growing customers for the past 6 years! These fine people are the seed bed of Permaculture. Our whole planet is waking up, but it is going fast now, compared to when I got my certificate in 2004. Also, it is only about 10% of the population that will go negative in a breakdown of local government. According to Stewart Rhodes of Oath Keepers, these individuals are put down by the decent people rather quickly, as Suzana pointed out. It is a challenge being a pioneer, but a group of world banking whistle blowers has shown through the use of a super computer program, that people are in such an amazing growth pattern, that nothing will stop them. I have some tiny papaya seedlings in my greenhouse. By the end of the growing season they will need to be taken down with a chainsaw. Humanity is rising up. I have chosen to help them and trust them. Bumps in the road will not stop us. Together we can do this thing. Thank you for all of your great comments.

  12. @Leslie, you said,

    ” Also, it is only about 10% of the population that will go negative in a breakdown of local government. According to Stewart Rhodes of Oath Keepers, these individuals are put down by the decent people rather quickly, as Suzana pointed out.”

    You say that with way too much confidence! By the way I am a founding member of Oathkeepers and Stewart is a personal friend. Right now there are not near enough Oathkeepers to balance the equation. Also 10% of 300 million in the US is 30 million, that is a lot of people. DO NOT rely on others to protect you!

  13. When “10% of the population goes negative” implies that 90% will be on your side. Reality is that you will have trouble finding anyone with time to help you fight off the “negative” ones. The local police will skip work to defend their own families. The military will be well fed with lots of killing machinery, but will quit the minute their food runs out. Are you ready to share your permaculture crops with trained killers? If I were in your shoes, I’d hope for a quick crash. I’d hope the troops are too far away to have fuel to get their equipment back to the States. I don’t think a quick crash is the way it will come down, so I’ve moved out of the US, permanently. You’ve been warned! Voting for your favorite political team, red, white or green, is only playing their game. Good luck.

  14. If a severe economic event happens, you need to think about who you align with. The Oath Keepers and Jack Spirko’s Company are pro-military with power over strategies. I would guess they are all ex-military who got out and grew up, but still retained the brainwashing from their military experience. Now, they think by retaining the pro-Constitution stance and talk of defending the Nation, they are making it right for the damage they did in the military. The ex-military who proudly wear it on their hats haven’t healed, yet. It’s still an important part of their lives. If you want that kind of security, you’ll need more ammo. If you think permaculture is about healing the planet, you’ll need to wear a straw hat and collect more seeds.

    1. Everything you said just proved you have no idea who I am, what I stand for, what work I do and am currently doing, etc. Frankly if the type of event occurs discussed here, it is people like you me you want most around you.

      Oathkeepers is made up of mostly prior service military. The biggest thing we agree on about the constitution though is that military force should never be used against the American people and that the American military should be used for defense of nation ONLY. Oathkeepers doesn’t exist to protect the “nation”, it exists to protect the American people from its own government, should that day ever occur. Most of us pray to our God of choice that such a day never occurs.

      None of us are happy with what is currently done with the military. I guess you call me militant because if people tried to do harm to my family or my community with force I would defend the same with my life if necessary. That I also have thought about it in advance, that I know my neighbors and the same neighbors who I helped put in a garden have my back as I have theirs? That the other night when a break in happened in our street there were 5 armed PRIVATE CITIZENS in communication with each other, dogs barking and the intruder ran and peace and safety were restored in about 1 minute flat? If that makes me “militant” in your view I suggest perhaps you spend some time with a dictionary.

      Oathkeepers by the way isn’t me, I am just a member, my community is so much broader that the depth of your ignorance just displayed above is mind numbing. I have done more to spread the message of Permaculture specifically beyond the hippy world than likely anyone else out there. Those who preach to the choir feel good, those that preach to the heathens do good.

      Am I proud of my service? Well since I spend most of it in 3rd world nations building roads and schools along side members of the Peace Corps, yes, quite proud. Now go back to putting people down who constantly bust their butts to defend others and who work hard to spread the message of permaculture, personally I have work to do.

      1. Yes, I agree with the final words in your rant: “… I personally have work to do.”
        In your podcasts, you often glorify your military experience, you remind your audience every podcast that your company gives one discount “to military and ex-military,” that we need to suck up to military types so that they are on our side when the SHTF, that the military is bad but the individual soldiers doing the destruction around the world are good people just following orders, your vague implication that you were in Special Forces and that your military experience was very good for you, but it probably would be bad for others, because you are always an exception to the rules. My similar symptoms were rooted in my military experience starting with boot camp brainwashing.
        Two weeks ago, in your “Cuba” reply above, you proudly said, “So if you are really concerned about this type of collapse, practice my brand of permaculture. A trowel in one hand, a laser level in the other and a AR15 on your back.” Why say “an AR15”? Notice, you didn’t write,”a pistol in your pocket.” You listed an obvious military assault weapon. I think you have military in the brain and you don’t realize it.
        In your third paragraph above, you said I called you a “militant.” I never did that! I have never used that word about you, but why do you think of yourself like that? Remember, it is the US Government that has listed Veterans as potential “militants,” not me. And I’d guess that every Oath Keeper is on the government’s list of potential “militants.” Don’t you agree?
        I would agree with you that you have “spread the message of Permaculture specifically beyond the hippy world than likely anyone else out there,” as you wrote above. And I appreciate that you “ … preach to the heathens’” as you also wrote. And thank you for being “quite proud” of twisting wrenches on the diesel truck motors where others were “… building roads and schools” in “3rd world nations” “along side members of the [US] Peace Corps.”
        But, please excuse me for saying that I know you better than you may accept. My formative years were in the 60’s, my Veterans experience was during the Vietnam War in 3rd world Thailand, I have 40 plus years preaching to the heathen, my first aquaponic experiment was in 1964, I began promoting solar and other alternative technologies by 1981 and the time has run out for mis-steps.
        My suggestions are to drop the military power over thinking. Stick with permaculture, community, decentralization, alt currencies, anarchy and your wonderful podcasts. And, please don’t retain personal power in your PermaEthos community model.

  15. Just wanted to mention Mike Maloney’s video series for people wanting to understand why a lack of economic growth leads to economic collapse under the control of this monetary system. Download a bitcoin wallet at blockchain dot info.

    1. @PabloKoh, good point. Many in Permaculture have an acute understanding of the environmental risks of modern agriculture and desertification of our ecosystems, cutting of forests, etc.

      Yet most have no idea how monetary creation works, how fractional reserve works and why a growth rate of even a positive 1/2% will quickly lead to a a total economic collapse of modern economic systems. This isn’t theory by the way, it is simple mathematics! It is a system that requires by its nature perpetual growth. Our economic system has about as much a chance of surviving without growth as fruit trees do without pollinators, just to make it crystal clear.

      Perhaps if those in Permaculture that currently think government is the solution in anyway were to take even one day to study just monetary creation and how it interacts with the global and national economies and how fractional reserve increases both the velocity and growth of money, they would stop doing so?

      Think of it this way, in Permaculture we try to slow and stop entropy. In our modern economic system, financial entropy drives monetary expansion and creation. Our system used debt to create money, it is not backed by anything except an IOU, it isn’t even “fiat” as bad as that would be, what we have is worse.

      “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” ~ Henry Ford

  16. The over all feel I get after rereading Rob Hopkins’ words is his belief that if we could just convince the government to support permaculture, we could turn this environmental disaster around and live in a green friendly world, happy-ever-after. We tree-hugging environmentalists went for that spew in the 70’s which the Democratic Party promptly co-opted and has used to get votes until this day. The Green Party was formed to take over government and force its solutions on others, for their own good, but could never get the votes away from the Dems, in our two party system. Now, through permaculture, the Rob types of the environmental/social change world see another way to get the government to force their agenda on others to “save the world” from the greedy, uneducated, blah, blah, blah people destroying it. Please, Rob, take off your white hat, put your government petition down, put your silk covered fist back in your pocket and get therapy for your desire to use force on others. You and your pro-government types built the sick government we are fighting back now. More government is not the answer. Force is never a lasting solution to a social problem.
    You can’t see it? Reread the paragraph after the “Nested Scenarios” picture. Rob suggested using “the local community and household scales to … inspire and model a new economy. One that is low carbon, resilient and which builds social justice.” Sure, “low carbon and resilient” are what permaculture is somewhat about, but why did he slide in “Social Justice”? Social justice is about forcefully taking from one group and giving it to another group AND his do-gooders getting to decide who to take from and who to give the spoils to. I suggest that the Rob types want to keep government, but take control of that government to do all the good things they want done and not the things that government is doing with the spoils now. Rob’s fear of a forced crash is that his precious governmental powers will crash and then he can not force people to his superior ideas. No thank you, Rob!
    I have no further desire to read Rob’s words, but I’d guess he has latched onto the permaculture movement for his own wish to use the movement to take over the use of force to bring his band of “Social Justice” to the world and he is little motivated by a desire for free people to create their own lifestyles via permaculture.

    Rob’s fear of David Holgrem’s discussion point of a “forced crash” is more about loosing the power of the fist of government, that he wishes to hold, than it is about the freedom the permaculture solution brings to a person and the world. Please don’t fall for Rob’s power grab off the permaculture movement!

        1. @Mykl, I have not militarized anything. I have not suggested that PDCs begin teaching tactical hugul design or anything like that. You are simply behaving like a typical spoiled elitist anarchist that says that anyone that isn’t in full agreement with your version of a stateless society isn’t just wrong but of lesser value than yourself.

          People like you are what repelled me from anarchism for so very long, an absolute view with no PATH to where we should be vs. where we are.

          I own guns, I like guns, I also own shovels, I also own chickens, I own a house and a car. I don’t drag my politics into permaculture, I ask others to follow that example.

          The point here wasn’t that permaculture such be militant, far from it. It is that permaculture is a design science, likely the best in the world. Yet a “collapse” means a shit to of people that will do you and your family harm, if you are concerned then know the hell how to defend yourself or die. That is a flat reality.

          You live in a fantasy world! I live in the real world of here and now. Now I would very much like to live in the world you see, I see it too, in humanities future. So I will keep my guns, I will train to defend my family and my community and if necessary I will use said training for the same. I will advise others to do the same. If you choose to great, if you choose not to, well that is your problem if you ever end up on the wrong end of things. Hopefully there will be someone like me around to stand up on your behalf if that happens.

          You make stupid claims like I want people to suck up to the military. You just don’t get it I want LEOs and Military listening to TSP every day if possible. The ones that do and then still want to financially support what we do, man I really want those guys to listen.

          I hope the day never comes, but it may, the day our own government decides to do away with the last intrinsic human rights we still have recognized. If that day comes it will be military, police and first responders used to enforce the will of those in power. Should that day come we need as many as we can find in those ranks to step across the line, bring some of their fellow members along with them and stand with the people vs. against them.

          Now again go back to your belief that you can just chant, contemplate your naval and bring us into an era of a stateless society. If you ever pull it off, I will thank you profusely for it.

          I am working for that same goal by the way. I do this by living my life, my way and not apologizing for one second of it. I build ecosystems, I build abundance and I build businesses. Those are not claims they are verifiable facts. I harm no one, I solve my problems with others and avoid using the state to do so. I require in all contracts that all parties agree to the same via no binding arbitration.

          In every way possible I live as though there were no state. I also accept that it exists and must comply with certain aspects of modern society like taxes and regulations and fiduciary responsibilities to my businesses.

          I know the journey I am on, I know I will be long dead before it is ever completed if it ever even comes to be. All I can do is pave the way.

          Those in power use death, destruction and murder to control the population. Period! One doesn’t put flowers in guns when standing against such things, you put bullets in them and stand on the breach end. You then put it away and use it only if necessary to defend your life of the life of another, but you don’t let the tyrants forget that it exists.

          1. Jack, You are confusing your military experience with people owning guns to protect themselves. You have military-itus. (military-on-the-brain)
            I think we’d agree that the author of this article would not be able to see that he is really an authoritarian thug wannabe dressed in permaculture over-alls. Right? Well, when people are talking about defense, you flip into “AR15s,” assault team tactics, “defend the 2nd,” NATO ammo, befriend the Praetorian Guards and guard geese. (Oops, strike that last one.) That’s military-itus. And, you’ve stated many times that the US will gradually ratchet down economically, NOT have a SHTF scenario that requires AR15 assault teams. Right?
            If you think it is wise to go nose-to-nose with the world’s mightiest killing machine, go ahead, but I think YOU are living in fantasyland.
            Why do you think you are the exception to the rule that all Vets were brainwashed at a vulnerable age into power over military thinking, but you have taken that great military experience into your real life and are using it to do good? Is “real life” different than military experiences?
            So, why do you continue to slide this military jargon BS into your podcasts? Is it: Veteran elitism? Stockholm Syndrome? What?
            You wrote, “Hopefully there will be someone like me around to stand up on your behalf if that happens.” Get off you’re white horse, Pal, you’re in a fantasyland, not me. No soldier and no policeman is going to come to my rescue. If the SHTF, they’re going to be busy saving their own butts and the butts of “their loved ones.” They’ll be a part of the 10% we need to defend ourselves from. They will be thugs in costumes, same as when they all were in the military. You want to win them over, find them before they get into boot camp or wait until they heal from their military TRAINING. Don’t bring them into my community, unhealed.
            Finally, I’ve taken the liberty to edit your last paragraph: “Those in power use [THE MILITARY AND THE POLICE FORCES] for death, destruction and murder to control the population. Period! One doesn’t put flowers in guns when standing against such things [one uses bigger power over thuggery learned in the military], you put bullets in them and stand on the breach end. [Machismo!] You then put it away and use it only if necessary to defend your life of the life of another, but [with their permission for your 2nd Amendment Rights] you don’t let the tyrants forget that it exists. [Don’t forget to register your guns]
            Military thinking is part of the problem, not . . .

  17. What we need to consider is that Holmgren’s call for hastening collapse will look like a minor event. The election of increasingly extreme leaders, the rise of dictatorial regimes and eroding of civil liberties. Australia and Canada shining examples of systems failing while the populace sleeps.
    We are fast loosing the capacity to be able to make any change, the resources-money equilibrium is being blown apart in many places, as governments go broke and have to show their hand.
    From the context of where Hopkins is coming from, he still has resilience and buffers in place, that is an absolute luxury, for now.

  18. I have an idea!
    What if we tested this “Crash On Demand” idea? How about having our own Annaul Earth Hour? But, instead of pathetically turning out the lights for one hour each year, we could do something earth shaking. I don’t know what, yet. How about removing our checking account balance, in ones, until the banks run out of ones? Or, a bicycle swarm around our capitol building for 24 hours, with a shovel in our bike rack? Or, the FED building? Help me out here. Does David Holngren have an idea? ” I’ve had enough and I’m not going to take it any longer!” Bring on the crash, I’m ready to start playing our own game, not theirs. Any ideas?

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