Examples of the Relevance of Principles
Renewable Energy Sources
A good example of likely greater relevance of environmental principles when compared with specific strategies and technologies can be seen in relation to future energy sources. In fossil fuelled global industrial systems, energy supply has been generally concentrated in a few big powerful sources. A common principle in sustainability thinking is that a greater diversity of smaller and more distributed power sources will replace current fossil fuel, large hydro and nuclear sources.
The current roll out of wind power and to a lesser extent solar electric are technologies that illustrate this general principle and are widely recognised as central to the Techno Stability future. But energy descent may see growth in these particular energy sources slow or fail while older distributed sources such as wood and small scale hydro could grow rapidly. In a rapidly changing world appropriate design principles provide more guidance than specific strategies and technologies.
Biodiversity in Natural Resource Management
In the field of natural resource management the general principle of valuing biodiversity is likely to persist to some degree, at least in the Green Tech world, but the examples of vegetation management exclusively focused on local indigenous species, which are common today, will seem very dated as reflecting a world of rising wealth and constant climate.65Rising energy costs will see less resources available for conservation projects that are not also productive of food, fodder and/or fuel. Changing climate will involve migration of plant and animal species on a scale that will overwhelm efforts to maintain and reinstate locally indigenous ecologies.
Arguably, the principle of valuing biodiversity may even grow in strength as the current economic drivers favouring monoculture in agriculture and forestry weaken and are overtaken by viral forms of polyculture better able to use soil and water resources without inputs, and better able to serve mixed local markets. This process will allow the principle of valuing biodiversity to spread from the relative “cultural ghetto” of conservation management in affluent countries, to a more powerful expression of the permaculture version of the principle “Use and Value Diversity”. This very change may be experienced by those wedded to the current dominant views within the field of Conservation Biology as heresy to be resisted.
Energy descent demands that we consider more radical approaches to achieving environmental and social objectives.
This is just one example of how energy descent scenarios will challenge some cherished beliefs within the environmental movement, while making others natural and obvious. Energy descent demands that we consider more radical approaches to achieving environmental and social objectives.
Permaculture Design Principles
Permaculture as an environmental design concept with a long and evolving lineage of action around the world provides one such framework for developing new and reinforcing existing strategies that should be adaptive in energy descent scenarios.
In Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, I explain the importance of design principles as the basis for generating new strategies and techniques in a world of change and uncertainty. The following table shows how permaculture, especially when it is understood through its design principles more so than currently applied strategies, has a closer fit with energy descent scenarios than many other sustainability concepts that have achieved more mainstream acceptance in affluent counties. While the numerical scores compared with those for “Mainstream Sustainability” can be taken with a grain of salt, the broad thrust is clear.
This table may reflect a claim of permaculture’s central relevance to energy descent, but it also suggests an equal challenge to permaculture educators, activists and designers to more effectively use design principles to identify strategies, techniques and working models that are tuned to emerging rather than past conditions.
The next page helps permaculturists and other social activists consider their roles in the various energy descent scenarios.