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Transition or Trauma? Carolyn Baker Reviews Future Scenarios

Permaculture co-originator David Holmgren maps out four possible futures in a world of declining resources and increasing climate change in his new book, Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change.

In this article from Speaking Truth to Power, Carolyn Baker takes a look at Holmgren’s predictions—from the relatively benign “Green Tech” scenario to the sobering “lifeboat” scenario—and takes away some lessons humanity would do well to learn.

Taken together with the words of NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen, who tells us that “the onset of severe impacts from climate change is now inevitable, even if there is a huge worldwide effort at mitigation”, David Holmgren’s words above cause me to pause and on some level stand in awe of the current global economic meltdown. I notice, first of all, that climate change now probably has a life of its own and has permanently escaped the influence of the human species. I also notice that economic collapse, while having unfolded rapidly within the past two years, has not done so in a falling-off-the-cliff scenario and may be slowing down the collapse of the ecosystem.

In Future Scenarios, (Chelsea Green, 2009) David Holmgren, the author of Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability offers four possible sketches of transition from industrial civilization to a post-petroleum world. The characteristics and likely outcomes of them compel us to view them more closely.

Physically, this paperback book is quite reader-friendly, embellished with colorful illustrations and beautiful photos and fits snugly into pocket or purse for effortless transport.

The first scenario Holmgren names the Brown Tech, Top-Down Construction in which energy descent is slow, and climate change is fast. Brown Tech is essentially the corporatist system that has dominated the United States for the past sixty years, reaching its zenith during the George W. Bush administration. It is “top-down” in the sense that “national power constricts consumption and focuses resources to maintain the nation-state in the face of deteriorating climate and reduced energy and food supply.” (68) Brown Tech is characterized by centralized systems, high-density systems, national banks and currencies, a nationalist/fascist bias, male domination, and culturally speaking, a super-rationalist/fundamentalist dichotomy.

Conversely, the Green-Tech scenario is characterized by slow energy-decline rates and mild climate change symptoms. The sense of chaos and crisis “is more muted without major economic collapse or conflict.” (68) This scenario is the one embraced by those well-meaning progressives who may believe that we have enough time for strategically transitioning to a post-petroleum, downscaled world. In Green Tech there is good conservation, a great deal of renewable energy use, compact towns and small cities, regional currencies, the gender status is balanced and blended, and the philosophical orientation is essentially humanist and eco-rationalist. What makes Green Tech unrealistic and somewhat utopian, in my opinion, is the speed with which climate change is actually occurring. For Green Tech to be fully implemented, climate change must be slow. “The relatively benign climate allows a resurgence of rural and regional economies on the back of sustained and growing prices for all natural commodities including feedstock for biofuels.” (69)

Read the whole review here.


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