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Holmgren’s ‘Crash on Demand’: be careful what you wish for

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".

Nested scenarios 

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, 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.

This month on the Transition Network website we are exploring the theme of "scaling up".  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 (last week's piece about Transition Laguna Beach showed a brilliant example of such skilful means in practice), 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.  

Comments

Walter's picture

On the Wrong Track - Again!

The problem with Rob Hopkins' article about "Crash On Demand" is that it starts from a faulty premise. I read David Holmgren's "Future Scenarios" when it first came out and it was entirely too simplistic. Hopkins critique gives "Crash on Demand" credibility it does not deserve. The best way to address Holmgren's article is benign neglect.

Similarly, I have read a lot of scenarios that are equally simplistic. Two examples (there are many more) are Orlov's "Five Stages of Collapse" and Greer's idea of "cycles of history." They too suffer from simplistic logic and faulty assumptions. The same can be said of permaculture in general. This idea that you can pick out ALL the ins and outs of future problems/conflicts and DESIGN a solution is not only simplistic and anti-evolutionary; it is arrogant and dangerous. In my experience (over 45 years in various capacities) you have to work step-by-step to solve problems as they come up. Trying to design an all-encompassing solution makes you miss many opportunities. This has been my criticism of permaculture all along and unfortunately, this faulty assumption of DESIGN has been incorporated into the Transition Movement. Thus it gets a fail too. I am no longer a participant in my local Transition group.

If you think you are the equivalent of Simon Laplace's daemon and can look into the future and design a new society, you are an arrogant dreamer. Look at the reality on the ground. The likely tipping point is not peak oil or even when the tight oil industry runs out of capital. The over extended banks will likely cause a financial downturn first, but then there are the climate wars in Africa, which have already started. We have climate problems right now in mid-America which impact food supply, so we can look at those three variables and their combinations and see 6 components to a tipping point. (banks, climate wars, climate yield reductions + the combinations). Even this analysis can be regarded as simplistic. We just don't know. So what do we do? My contribution is feeding people. Your contribution could be something else. The important thing is to not waste your time on simplistic articles that are on the wrong track - again.

In summary, Holmgren's "Future Scenarios" is a fail. Therefore, his new article "Crash On Demand" is also a fail. Likewise, Rob Hopkins' criticism. There are more important things to do than read this stuff.

Jan Steinman's picture

I'm with Holmgren

I think you read too much into David's paper, Rob.

He seems to me to be saying that if we all choose "right path," the economy will collapse. Which is cause, and which is effect?

It seem disingenuous of you to criticise Holmgren's assertion, when if 10% of people adopted the Transition Town model, the economy would also necessarily crash.

Truth is, the economy is going to crash no matter what we do, because the economy is based on infinite growth on a finite planet. So what the heck is wrong with urging us to quickly take action that will end this irrational paradigm as quickly as possible?

It all seems to be held together with duct tape and baling twine at the moment. Massive government "quantitative easing" is necessary to provide the infinite appetite for finance required to prop up the unconventional petroleum market. There's a reason the "majors" have retreated from tight oil! Even a minor recession will drop oil below the price needed for these "wildcat drillers" in order to make their interest payments. Then tight oil will be through. Collapse of the financial markets is the only thing that will keep that carbon in the ground.

So like it or not, your actions -- as well as the actions of anyone who vows to use fewer resources -- are hastening collapse. The only thing staving off collapse is the infinitely growing demand for more, more, more!

I am proud that I am hastening economic collapse by reducing my income over the past 20 years by a factor of 98%. Others are doing similar things voluntarily, and are thus contributing to economic collapse. The rest will all be forced to do so at some point -- might as well start early, and avoid the rush!

David MacLeod's picture

I'm with Steinman

I was going to say what Jan said above - I think Rob is reading too much into Holmgren's paper, as does Jason Heppenstal in the article summary Rob references ("Stabbing the Beast").  My take is posted at Integral Permaculture and Resilience.org - http://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/crash-on-demand-dav... .

Notice carefully Holmgren's language: "an argument can be mounted for putting effort into precipitating that crash."  An argument can be mounted.  I take this as a rhetorical thought experiment, perhaps an idea we should consider, but not necessarily a full on endorsement of the idea.

He's saying that the economy is so fragile right now (it may collapse very soon regardless), that a small change of behavior by a small percentage of the population might put it over the edge. 

All he's really suggesting is that people consider adopting the lifestyle he's been advocating since the publication of Permaculture One in 1978. As the introduction to the essay on Holmgren's website states: 

"David’s argument is essentially that radical, but achievable, behaviour change from dependent consumers to responsible self-reliant producers (by some relatively small minority of the global middle class) has a chance of stopping the juggernaut of consumer capitalism from driving the world over the climate change cliff.  It maybe a slim chance, but a better bet than current herculean efforts to get the elites to pull the right policy levers; whether by sweet promises of green tech profits or alternatively threats from mass movements shouting for less consumption."

I share the concern Rob has about efforts to intentionally crash the economy. I also didn't agree with Naomi Klein's recent call for a revolt (http://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/you-say-you-want-a-...). But Holmgren isn't calling for that kind of revolt. I would have suggested some editing changes regarding the crash comments, but in the end he's simply asking us to move away from a consumer lifestyle, away from behaviors that further destabilize the climate and toward being more productive and responsible.

Nicole Foss's picture

An alternate view

Unfortunately, naiveté as to the functioning of the financial system is rife in the environmental movement. An understanding of that subsystem of reality - our human operating system - is at least as important as an understanding of energy and environmental issues, and also far more immediate in terms of impact. I very much appreciate Rob's efforts in forming the transition movement, and also Holmgren's work on permculture. Holmgren comes much closer to grasping the full implications of limits to growth IMO. There is plenty of well established information to draw on as to the inevitability of a financial crash. To pretend that we can design and implement a steady state economy is foolish. History is a series of swings of positive feedback. (In addition, Rob quotes one line of my own response to Holmgren - on climate - with none of the carefully argued reasoning for my position, which is very likely to leave people misinterpreting, and probably dismissing, my views. This has happened before, in relation to my talk at the transition towns conference in 2010 and it is unhelpful.) Here is my response to David Holmgren: http://www.theautomaticearth.com/crash-demand-response-david-holmgren-3/

James Young's picture

Foss's response

For my two cents, I would recommend reading Nicole Foss's excellent response to Holmgren's article. Although it is quite long, it's insightful, comprehensive, and worth the time spent.

Here's a quote from Foss that is in-line with what Rob is saying about not adopting a "destroy the system" type mantra which would be entirely counterproductive for Transition [Bracketed comments mine]:

"Permaculture [to which I'll add Transition] has a very positive image as a solution to the need for perpetual growth, and this might be put at risk if it became associated with any deliberate attempt to cause system failure... such explicitly stated goals become the focus, regardless of the least-worst-option rationale .... [Permaculture/Transition] could find itself demonized and its practices uncomprehendingly banned, which would be simply tragic... [brings to mind the post about Rob's dream of Transitioners being perceived as thieves and looters] While almost any form of advance preparation for a major crisis of civilization would have the side-effect of weakening an existing system that increasingly requires total buy-in, there is a difference between side-effect and stated goal."

As far as the comment "the best way to address climate change is not to talk about it.", I believe she is saying that talking about climate change is alienating and counterproductive while talking financial crisis and resource depletion is much more visceral and motivating to the average person. This is important to remember when scaling up. Also, brings to mind the post about 'How to talk to Conservatives/Republicans".

She further states that, luckily, the solutions for the coming financial crisis and resource depletion greatly coincide with the solutions for climate change. Therefore, de-emphasizing talk of climate change and focusing on the financial crisis and resource depletion could possibly further Transition's goals better than only talking of a warming planet and collapsing ecologies which, tragically, does not resonate with a lot of people.

Lou's picture

All approaches are needed

If you agree with David come and join us at

http://deepgreenresistanceuk.wordpress.com/

Deep Green Resistance (DGR) is a strategy to save the planet, based on an analysis of civilization that sees it as inherently destructive.

 

 

David MacLeod's picture

Join Us

Hi Lou,

I think Holgrem's essay was actually not intended to draw Permaculture/Transitioners to groups like Deep Green Resistance, but rather to draw folks in those circles into the Permaculture/Transition approach. 

In concluding his essay, he writes:

"Discussing such possibilities may be counterproductive and may brand us as crazy people, a doomsday cult or even terrorists. Maybe it is better to keep focusing on the positive aspects of these bottom up changes that are acceptable to the average citizen, better physical and mental health, more fun and empowered children who can survive and thrive in a world of dramatic transformation, while minimizing our contribution to harm to nature and others.

On the other hand, bringing these issues out in 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. It just might stop the monster of global growth after all other options have been exhausted. Rather than spurning financial system terrorists, we would welcome the impacted and vulnerable to the growing ranks of terra-ists with their hands in the soil."

 

kervennic's picture

kervennic

I am very interested in Holmgren move. Too bad reading long test on a computer makes my head inflate like a pumpkin....

He finally sides with more radical people that have been telling for ages that only a collapse of what we call civilisation can have an effect, and that it will eventually occur. Civilisation and its new avatar which is industry is just a colonial approach of nature that can only lead to a brutal and disastrous end. Civilisation all perish.That will be the fair revenge of all the people that have been slaughtered on the way or turned into slave, to give rise to thi great mess.

The only reasonnable way is to take the end result as a fact and adapt to live without all the commodities that industrial life provide. This is tough but stimulating.

The naive thinking that pervades all these transition is that social life is a matter of will. In a populated, dependent globalised earth, will is nothing. People know that there children are fucked up on the long term, but they know that if they do not work hard for a company, they will lose their house on the short term.

The social competitive pressure is stronger than the global interest, and become even stronge as the ratio land to people decreases. That i why short term interest always prevail. This is why viking chief were still competing to build big houses while trees were disapearing in greenland. They had no real choice.

It is not a few transition people that will change that, since in a capitalist world, profit dictates property and if you loose your land to an enterpreneur (via decreasing income and higher taxation) you become a slave of those you fight.

In the end the only "possibility" is to get rid of this social pressure through a social collapse. I am not sure that a bunch of westerner that desert and fight this society will make a great difference, but China is not so stable and thinking about ways to resist the industrial interests is a minimum. Besides there are still plenty of zones not well controlled by our civilization (obviously in Africa, some in Colombia etc).

I am personnaly convinced, that with the present population, resources we could all live a pleasant rural life. We have all the technique we need for that (craft). The problem is that we are not in charge and that when we will be, resources will be spoiled and only a huge amount of violence will solve the issue. And the destruction is going really fast, as well as the potential number of victims.

Michael Dunwell's picture

Holmgrens scenarios

I know, I know, I've felt like this a hundred times; it really does look badly lost.  But I'm not blown away by the economic fantasising that's going on here.  Economics is not just about impersonal mechanical processes; its about decisions made  by people in a moral context too.

I was supposed to have read PPE at Oxford sixty years ago and I'm glad now that I couldn't work out what I was supposed to do, because I might have ended up like a modern economist, talking as if nothing we think or do can alter the machinations of financiers or the rigours of the market.  The fact is that we don't have a clue as to what will happen about too little food and  energy, too many people, dodgy medicine which cannot control a bacterial  and viral world, climate change, religious extremes and absolute incapacity to devise ecological systems that will endure.

I recognise Rob's instinct as a social being to represent a constructive response to a grievously dangerous situation. It may not work, but its got hope.

 

Kim Hill's picture

I don't understand why anyone

I don't understand why anyone (well anyone other than sociopathic corporate CEOs) would want the global economy to exist at all. Isn't that what transition aims to move away from? Wouldn't an economic collapse be an effective driver of this change?

I agree that a few people choosing to boycott would make no difference, when they majority, suffering the effects of globalised neoliberal economics, aim to improve their conditions economically. For every person who abandons the economy, there are hundreds waiting to join.

As many others have said, collapse is inevitable, and efforts to prevent or delay it will only make it worse when it does happen.

And for every minute the economy continues to exist, more land is cleared, more rivers become lifeless, more species become extinct, more people become sick. No-one's ideals about economics or transition are worth more than life itself.

The idea of collapse, or even transition, will never be popular with the majority (the majority of rich westerners that is, the majority of living beings who are having their homes and lives destroyed are surely cheering it on). Attempting to build a mass movement seems unlikely to be effective, at least until after the collapse.

So in my view, the best thing we can do is to bring on collapse as soon as possible, with the electrical grid as an obvious place to start.

norris's picture

Demand Crash!

I agree, Kim.  It makes no sense to hope for the continuation of the global system, if one already sees the value in transitioning away from it, and understands that every day it continues, material conditions for material surival worsen.  (For humans and for non humans.)

 

I agree with Holmgren's goal of pushing the economy into collapse sooner rather than later, though I think his idea of accelerating collapse via a global economic boycott is unrealistic.  Your point about starting with the electrical grid is spot-on.  I wrote a response that explores this further: "Demand Crash!"

John Macdonald's picture

So you want to prop up the fiat bubble?

I am also not an economist but some facts are plain..

national currencies are symbols of debt. Money (ignore TT paper or bitcoin for it is a tiny blip in the picture of global money) but money = debt

so in a world of 'no growth' there is not an expanding money supply to service the interest on all of these principles...

so the banks continue to Hoover up real stuff in exchange for their fiat tokens... 

This is hardly something to campaign for.

is a crash not preferable to a continuation of this status quo? 

Would you rather continue in a world unimaginably owned by such a small number of international banking families? 

Trish Knox's picture

Transition Labyrinth

This article is a journey into left brain logic with dips, rises, turns, twists and leaps. It is a Labyrinth of "skilful means" for my dominantly right brain. What I take away from the impressing maze is this:  Holmgren is in the old paradigm of "us vs. them" which is not allowing room for the "creative genius" of community. Ego always separates into "me vs you" and "us vs them." Nothing wrong with ego but we are more than this aspect of self. We are beings of heart and spirit and it's here that we see holistically and move forward attracting others in community. Certainly, not everyone will join the labyrinth march of skilfull means. This is secondary to taking personal action for what I sense at my gut; for speaking my Truth; for taking a stand.  Rob did just that.

James Martin 1's picture

Versions of "collapse"

My comment has two parts. The first part is directed to Rob Hopkins. The second part is for everyone.

Mr. Hopkins,

Your article makes reference to a now obsolete maximum "safe" global warming target of 2° C, which, together with the now obsolete IPCC "carbon budget," contributes to a false sense of the time frame (and  urgency) which humanity has to radically alter course. Dr. James Hansen, along with other top climate scientists, say the target should be 1° C, a temperature which is already unavoidable due to current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses. Our "carbon budget" has already been exceeded and now the best we can do is -- maybe -- avert the absolute worst case scenario of mass biospheric extinction.

 

Everyone:

We should invest a little thought and discussion concerning what is meant by financial-monetary "collapse". There are a number of possible interpretations of that term, with wildly differing scenarios of harm at stake. In the worst sort of collapse, basic life-support fails to function. E.g., Food doesn't arrive in the stores -- and stores are still necessary for folks to eat. Another version of such "collapse" results not in mass social chaos and famine but steeply reduces the level of luxuries in our lives --  even re-defining what is meant by "luxury". The former scenario we should endavor to avert while also averting catastrophic climate disaster, if that remains possible. The latter is just not quite so bad.

A discussion of this sort might help us steer the best course available to us.

 

Lewis Cleverdon's picture

On the Demerits of Passivism

Its a pleasure to be in firm agreement with Rob for once.

While he covers several key weaknesses of the Crash on Demand proposal. some warrant futher thought. For instance, the unsupported assertion that 10% of the population boycotting the growth economy would crash it - is aiming for 32m Americans, 6m Brits, 9m Germans, 25m Russians, 130m Chinese, and so on. Given that even in the USA where doomerism is rife its likely that fewer than 32,000 are already living the boycott, it seems that Holmgren is seeking more than a 1,000-fold growth of supporters for his unresearched recipe to supposedly take effect . . . .

Then there's the timing factor - if the unsupported assertion of a 10% boycott's effect were correct, and 32m Americans proceeded to crash the US economy, that has serious effects worldwide, but other nations are not prevented from striving both to bolster their growth and to achieve global economic dominance, at the USA's expense. The fossil hydrocarbons available in the seabed methyl hydrates are more than ample to maintain Brown Growth through this century.

Then there's the time factor. How many decades of accelerating climate destabilization and rising GHG outputs would have been allowed to occur by campaigners ignoring government policies in favour of building their part of the global boycott ? Holmgren shows a basic ignorance of the climate predicament in thinking that even one decade of inaction is acceptable. Moreover, he is simply wrong in assuming that a crash of the global economy would be of any help in resolving the predicament.

In the absence of commensurate mitigation [ITAOCM] with CO2 having a 100yr residence in the atmosphere and the oceans' thermal inertia timelagging GHGs' warming effect by 30 to 40yrs, we'd face intensifying climate destabilization until about 2050 from our rising pollution from the late 1970s to 2014. Under an economic crash with devil-take-the-hindermost geopolitics, and with climate campaigners now busy gardening, the lack of a climate treaty would mean substantial GHG outputs continued past 2050, which would mean timelagged intensifying warming and climate destabilization continued past the 2080s.

And that would provide over 70 years of intensifying warming to drive the eight major interactive feedbacks now accelerating into a terminal self-propagating output. Thus Holmgren's central premis is wrong - crashing the global economy does not improve our mitigation of the climate predicament. Quite the reverse - it wantonly neglects our remaining chance for mitigation.

In short, we cannot do without commensurate mitigation. Fortunately the idea that "govts-are-useless" is merely a Republican-Corporatist propaganda that is being sold to both doomers and some of the depressed wholesale. Govts are as useful as we make them. I suggest that a mere 1% of population, that is, 3.5m Americans, 0.6m Brits, 0.9m Germans, etc, willing to do whatever it takes to end the US Brinkmanship of Inaction on climate with China, would be ample to achieve the goal of a commensurate treaty. And that is just 1/10th of Holmgren's recruitment target. It is also entirely in keeping with Rob's observation that our message must be widely acceptable across society if we're to finally start to influence the course of events.

However, anyone studying the dates laid out above will note that a best case of emissions control, say near-zero GHG outputs by 2050, does very little better than no treaty - particularly given the end of our fossil sulphate outputs ending the cooling 'Fossil Sulpjate Parasol' and thus unveiling additional warming. As has been remarked before, in addition to Emissions Control we also need a global Carbon Recovery program to lower and advance advance the date of peak CO2ppm, before gradually cleansing the atmosphere. However, due to the afforestation's lead-time and to the oceans' thermal inertia timelag, that wouldn't provide significant cooling or climate stabilization before 2080, so the necessary afforestation for carbon feedstock would be unlikely to survive the rising climate impacts.

This is one reason for the stringently supervised research of a benign means of Albedo Restoration by which to cool the planet while ending GHG outputs and cleansing the atmosphere. A second reason is rather more pressing timewise. See: Oct 2012 “Food Security: Near future projections of the impact of drought in Asia” is posted at http://www.lowcarbonfutures.or...

Quote:
Dr Lawrence Jackson, a co-author of the report,
said: "Our work surprised us when we saw that the threat to food security
was so imminent; the increased risk of severe droughts is only 10 years away
for China and India. These are the world’s largest populations and food
producers; and, as such, this poses a real threat to food security."

Given that similar studies are emerging for various other regions, and that no studies show that Asia will be harder hit than elsewhere, it seems likely that regional crop failures co-inciding in the 2020s would form the onset of intensifying serial global crop failures. And the geopolitical consequences of that would be ruinous for the co-operation underpinning the climate treaty's operation. Researching a benign means of offsetting the warming our past pollution causes is thus an essential component of a commensurate mitigation strategy.

I should like to hear from more people who recognize that Solidarity is the basic building block of a fairer more sustainable society, and who see the critical need of Resilience in campaigning in the political sphere for a just and constitutional resolution of our predicament. From this perspective it looks as if a successful Transition = staunch Solidarity + robust Resilience. I guess that many will know, if they ask their conscience, that what Holmgren is proposing as actually just a cloak of respectability over the urge to build bolt-holes, with a paper-thin veneer of self-delusion that this isolationist goal "is the best thing for the planet". Maybe he should ask the people of Somalia, or Haiti, just what happens to the planet's ecology when a society's economy collapses ?

Regards,

Lewis Cleverdon

kervennic's picture

Our western society has

Our western society has isolated people for decades. May be you benefited from the affluent society. Many of us did not, we are too young. We get  the pollution, the poverty, the social isolation, the constant need to beg for job or money, the bad food that makes us fat and sick.

We know we are not going to live as long as the previous generation, by far, and that estimated longevity is a bad joke, that even physicians criticize, given the high rate of diabetes. Let's forget the soaring price of energy that starts to turn poor houses into friges, without the natural possibility to work outside to keep one s body warm.

For some of us, anumber coming close to ten percent, our life looks so dark, especially in europe, that it is more of a nightmare than of a life. Without alcool, hash, the huge consumption of anxiolithics, many people would rather choose a quick end (or resort to violence). For the moment only one person out of 5000 commit suicide succesfully in Europe. But i get  the number that one succesfull sucide corresoond to 30 attempts and probably any more that would not care anyway. That gives an idea. And that is the beginning.

Off course we eat enough calories on a daily base, but we have 9 square meter to move freely (a room), usually can talk freely to one or two persons (for some zero). The only nature left,for the pennyless, to our eyes is googlempas.

At one point, there is a tipping point.

 

Some people start to disobey because that gives more sense to their life. And if as much as one percent start to disobey radically, western society cannot function.A comple society becomes easily chaotic.

I think this is part of evolution, something rooted in our gene. When we feel that the conditions are really bad to reproduce, and see we have actually no chance, then we do not care about our own survival but more about dying in a meaningful way for our species, to preserve living conditions for the future.

So i do not think that is reasonable to expect that people continue to behave "reasonably" in such an unreasonnable society. This is why collapse is in the air. This is how Re-evolution occurs.

 

David MacLeod's picture

What is David Holmgren Really Telling Us?

My latest post...
There's a lot being written about "Crash On Demand." Most of which seem to me to be missing the nuance of David Holmgren’s thinking.  These deficient interpretations are then stretched and amplified as they bounce off one another in the blogosphere.  No one seems to be noticing that the actual actions Holmgren recommends haven’t changed much since he wrote Permaculture One in 1978.

Holmgren's the same “terra-ist” he’s been all along. He’s not inviting us to take to the streets, but rather to put our “hands in the soil.”http://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/what-is-david-holmgren-really-telling-us/

stefan geyer's picture

David Holmgren responds on the radio

Here’s David Holmgren talking about his essay on the ’21st Century Permaculture’ radio show http://www.mixcloud.com/21stCenturyPermaculture/2nd-feb-2014/

Lou's picture

Is transition a threat to the

Is transition a threat to the economy?

The Transition movement is trying to convince governments etc that TT is harmless. Could that be a reason why Rob came out quite negative in the reponse to Davids paper? Because people consuming less = bad news for corporates and the exisiting economy. And TT is trying its upmost to prtend that TT will not have any significant effect on te status quo? Just a thought.