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Reviews; ‘Future Scenarios’ by David Holmgren and ‘The Transition Timeline’ by Shaun Chamberlin

Future Scenarios: How communities can adapt to peak oil and climate change: Mapping the Cultural Implications of Peak Oil and Climate Change by David Holmgren (Green Books)

Paperback: 144 pages

ISBN-10: 1900322501

ISBN-13: 978-1900322508

The Transition Timeline by Shaun Chamberlin (Green Books)

Paperback: 192 pages

Language English

ISBN-10: 1900322560

ISBN-13: 978-1900322560

There’s a joke in permaculture circles that after developing the original concept during the 1970s, Bill Mollison spent the next couple of decades travelling around the globe evangelising whilst David Holmgren stayed at home to see if this stuff actually worked. And indeed whilst Bill played a vital role in inspiring, enthusing and promoting this world changing design system based on copying nature’s patterns, he also shared other characteristics typical of pioneer species. Many report an attitude that could be curmudgeonly and antagonistic to vegans and vegetarians amongst others, and a bit of a reputation for playing fast and loose with facts and figures if they didn’t quite fit the realities of some of permaculture’s wilder claims. Holmgren however is perhaps more analogous to a second stage successional species, emerging into the more recent landscape of permacultural writings with ‘Meliodora’, a 20 year case study of his own house and gardens, and ‘Permaculture; Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability’ a work that massively moved permacultural thinking forward about how we can not only survive but thrive in a low energy world.

His latest work explores in more depth how a number of future scenarios might unfold, based around permutations in the speed and severity of factors such as climate change and peak oil. The ‘Brown Tech’ or ‘top down constriction’ future is based around slow energy decline rates and rapid climate change, and is characterised by increasingly centralised and fascistic state and corporate control of resources. ‘Green Tech’ or ‘distributed powerdown’ assumes slow energy decline rates combined with mild climate change symptoms, and whilst still driven by ‘top down’ planning, is far more benign, allowing us time to develop a diverse and distributed mix of renewable energy sources of wind, biomass, solar, hydro, tidal, wave etc. The ‘Earth Steward’ or ‘bottom up rebuild’ (rapid energy decline rates, mild climate change symptoms) scenario differs from ‘Green Tech’ in that rebuilding and stabilisation of our social structures are no longer based on dreams of sustainability or restoring the old system. Instead people accept that each generation will have to face the challenges of further ongoing simplification and localisation of society as the fossil resource base continues to decline. ‘Lifeboats’ or ‘civilisation triage’ examines the basic survival strategies needed to cope with a total social and ecological collapse triggered by rapid energy decline rates combined with severe climate change.


Holmgren explores the implications of each scenario, concluding that the reality is to some degree likely to be a combination of each. He advocates the use of permaculture as part of a toolbox that can be used to mitigate against crisis whilst at the same time empowers positive change. The Cuban experience of adaptation to the US oil embargo is one prime example, another is the burgeoning Transition movement.

Rob Hopkins’ ‘Transition Handbook’ was basically a design manual for applying permaculture on a social scale by exploring the ways in which communities can effectively relocalise in terms of energy, food, housing, economics, education and governance in order to maximise self-reliance, sustainability and resilience in the face of ecological, energy or financial crisis. Shaun Chamberlin’s ‘Transition Timeline’ builds on this earlier work by looking at the latest thinking around peak oil, climate change and the way these interact, as well as examining current trends in areas such as agriculture, demographics, transport and healthcare and their possible implications. Chamberlin reconfigures Holmgren’s future scenarios to some degree, although broadly speaking his message is much the same; the sooner we start to consciously design for low carbon, low energy futures the greater the chance that we might just collectively pull through and create a fair and just world worth living in. He then describes how to facilitate a shared vision by creating a ‘future history’ timeline. This involves members of the community describing their own thoughts about what the world might look like in 2030, then ‘backcasting’ the steps that might be needed to get from here to there in order to create an ‘Energy Descent Action Plan’. Its a technique we’ve experimented with to a modest degree with Transition Westcliff, and although the results so far have been by no means exhaustive or inclusive of the wider community, we’ve thrown up some amazingly creative and positive ideas.

Transition argues the importance of the cultural ‘stories’ that we tell one another or choose to buy into. I’m sure we all recognise those that tend to dominate at the moment, the denial/’Crisis? What Crisis?’ narrative that claims that climate change is a myth and that ‘dirty’ oils such as those extracted from the tar sands will ensure ‘business as usual’, through to the apocalyptic ‘Mad Max’ scenarios of total social collapse and bitter tribal warfare over the last precious drops of petrol. Holmgren and Chamberlin give us both the context and the tools to create new stories, the ones about the generation who saw the problems, looked them square in the face, and responded with courage and adaptability to create positive change.

Graham Burnett www.spiralseed.co.uk

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One Response

  1. […] Comments October Newsletter … on Southend-on-Sea in Transi…Reviews; ‘Futu… on The Transition Handbook by Rob…Reviews; ‘Futu… on […]

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