to make 8-page A5 leaflet
Energy Descent Action
- taken with thanks from Adam in Australia, "Eat
An Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) is a local plan for
dealing with Peak Oil. It goes well beyond issues of energy
supply, to look at across-the-board creative adaptations in
the realms of health, education, economy and much more. An
EDAP is a way to think ahead, to plan in an integrated, multidisciplinary
way, to provide direction to local government, decision makers,
groups and individuals with an interest in making the place
they live into a vibrant and viable community in a post-carbon
This document is a primer on EDAPs, designed to help spur
on the process of creating them. Since the concept of an EDAP
is inspired by looming Peak Oil, as well as the permaculture
design system, and the inevitability of economic relocalisation
— I've also included a brief introduction to these three
topics. This is followed by information on Kinsale, the small
Irish town where the first EDAP was written, an inspiring
plan which has now been taken on board as official policy
by the town council.
Context for the EDAP:
Oil has fuelled much of the massive population growth and
the extraordinary achievements of the last 150 years. It is
the single largest energy source of the world economy, the
lifeblood of industrial society. But according to a growing
number of experts, within the next handful of years the world
will reach the ultimate peak in global oil production. After
this point, production will begin its slow but terminal decline.
'Peak Oil', as this event has become widely known, represents
an historical turning point, from an era of growth, to an
era of contraction. Peak gas won't be far behind.
The most widely respected Peak Oil models are being developed
by Colin Campbell and the Association for the Study of Peak
Oil and Gas (ASPO). They predict a peak of all oil and gas
liquids around 2010. This 'early peak' projection has been
supported by other researchers. Most analysts who have carefully
studied the problem agree that Peak Oil cannot be solved with
'supply side' solutions. Alternative energy sources simply
can't fill all of the gap that oil and gas will leave behind,
at least not without decades of investment. Massive social
changes look like a given. We have to learn to make do with
With less available fossil fuel, we'll be forced to begin
moving back towards living within the annual energy budget
provided by the Sun. While renewables may help, ultimately
this means discovering lifestyles less based around consumerism,
and better integrated with natural processes and cycles. Given
that the health of the planet is in a far worse state than
when humankind embarked on the fossil fuel adventure, this
is indeed a challenging prospect. For more background on Peak
Oil check out here.
Internalising the implications of all this can take a fair
bit of reflection — and can sometimes result in a sense
However, a small but growing number of people are
using Peak Oil as an opportunity to address broader social
and ecological issues. Their best ideas are inspiring, creative
and attractive visions of revitalised local economies, visions
grounded by a connection to place and the people in it. Something
sets these ideas apart from many earlier approaches to sustainability
— it's knowing that we now have little time left, it's
a palpable desperation to be realistic and viable, to involve
everyone in the community, to capture the imagination, and
Peak oil and permaculture
The phrase 'energy descent' was first used by Australian
permaculture co-orginator David Holmgren. He wrote in 2003
that “I use the term ‘descent’ as the least
loaded word that honestly conveys the inevitable, radical
reduction of material consumption and/or human numbers that
will characterise the declining decades and centuries of fossil
fuel abundance and availability.” Okay, you say, but
permaculture — that's just a system of organic gardening,
right? In a short answer: no, well not really.
Permaculture is a "design system for sustainable human
habitats that supply human needs in an environmentally enhancing
way". Permaculture is all about functional design —
ways to maximise productivity and abundance, while minimising
effort, by working with nature, rather than against it. Permaculture
can be applied to everything from settlement design, large
scale farming, factory design, business practices, kitchen
layout, housing, pretty much anything really. Permaculture
designs are inspired by natural systems, and built on ethical
principles — two things which actually contribute to
While in affluent countries permaculture is often practised
because of environmental concerns, or as a mere hobby, it
has been stress tested in difficult conditions all around
the globe, where people's lives depend on successful use of
scant resources. This includes in Cuba, when the country suffered
a severe energy famine after the 1989 collapse of the Soviet
Union. The collapse more than halved Cuba's oil imports virtually
overnight. The documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba
Survived Peak Oil, explains how permaculturists were amongst
those who helped transform Cuba through this difficult period
into a functional, low energy society, where infant mortality
and average lifespans are now as good as in the USA.
In a 2004 interview David explained the relationship between
permaculture and Peak Oil:
"In a world of decreasing energy, permaculture
provides, I believe, the best available framework for redesigning
the whole way we think, the way we act, and the way we design
new strategies. It doesn't mean to say that everyone's going
to have a chook tractor, a vegetable garden or some other
permaculture technique. But the thinking behind permaculture
is really based on this idea of reduced energy availability,
and how you work with that in a creative way. That requires
a complete overturning of a lot of our inherited culture".
Famed environmentalist David Suzuki has said "What
permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that
any group is doing on the planet."
Relocalised economies aren't an option - they are an invevitability.
Oil currently supplies 95% of the world's transport energy,
and all the alternatives proposed have severe limitations.
Biodiesel competes with crops for food, hydrogen depends on
other primary energy sources, and so on. Global trade will
diminish and we will be left to rely on local resources and
skills. If we resist the transition, considering it a depressing
step backwards, the process will be ugly and painful. Fueled
by anger and confusion, we may look for someone or something
to blame. A positive vision can go a long way to making the
transition enjoyable and dignified. Many public interest groups
are already pushing for relocalisation because of the many
benefits it offers, with or without resource constraints.The
benefits of relocalisation are as multifaceted as the problems
presented by resource depletion and ecological crises:
* Healthier food
* More active lifestyles
* Greater self-reliance
* A sense of connection to place and products
* The re-emergence of local identity
* An emphasis on quality over quantity
* A means of overcoming addictive behaviours such as over-consumption
* A meaningful common goal and sense of purpose.
Imagine the feeling when that first tomato ripens in Summer.
Imagine the pride you feel about the shed you and your friends
built from mud and straw — to your eyes, it looks more
stunning than any prefab. Imagine the excitement of using
your ingenuity to solve real problems: surveying the tools
and resources available and mobilising them to repair, refurbish,
rearrange and invent. Imagine being able to go to bed —
perhaps for the first time in our lives — with the sense
of a job well done, knowing our livelihoods did not come at
the expense of distant workers, polluted ecosystems, or our
own children's future.
We need to be urgently investing what remains of our cheap
energy into long term infrastructure for an energy descent
culture. So we need as much support as possible from policy
When faced with Peak Oil, many people from vastly different
backgrounds and political persuasions come to similar conclusions
— that a 'technofix' is both unlikely and undesirable
— that radical societal changes will have to take place,
of which relocalisation is central. For example, see this
recent quote from energy investment banker Matthew Simmons,
former energy advisor to George Bush:
"So we really have to adopt a big conservation
plan: liberating people to work wherever they want to, and
when they want to, and pay by productivity, could be one of
the really great sort of social revolution things that we
do in the next 5 years and basically eliminate all the people
in places like California and Texas, for instance, who are
spending upwards of 4 hours a day crawling to work in traffic
and crawling home so they're mad when they get to work, and
they're mad when they get home, and they were mad when oil
was free. Eliminating our kind of compulsive obsession with
having exotic food from all around the world in our supermarkets
every place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year
- it's too energy intensive. Growing stuff at home and canning
it. And what we really need to do is ultimately reverse this
concept of globalization and go back to actually living in
what are euphemistically called villages close to where we
work, which can be downtown, but it's just not 3 hours commute."
You can also hear veteran conservative US Congressman Roscoe
Bartlett explain the importance of humus (the organic part
of topsoil), to the US congress in a speech about Peak Oil.
When an issue relating to the global energy supply has everyone
from permaculturists to republican politicians talking about
the same type of solutions, we know that something is going
on. Given both the tangible fear of Peak Oil, as well as the
potentially non-partisan nature of solutions, there seems
to be some emerging opportunities for otherwise 'unrealistic'
or 'idealistic' approaches to be both heard and rapidly deployed.
Enter the EDAP
One of the most useful visioning and
policy guiding tools we have available to capture and
direct these positive potentials may be the local Energy
Descent Action Plan. Essentially an EDAP is a local
plan for dealing with the period leading up to and following
Peak Oil. It is not a plan for how to live in a sustainable
world. It is a plan for the transitional period of decreasing
energy — how to get to that sustainable world.
The first EDAP was written in 2005 by permaculture students
at a further education college in the small Irish town
The document broke down the issues which
arose locally from peak oil into sections, such as health,
education, transport, housing, youth and community,
food and energy. Each chapter presented an attractive
vision of the town in relation to that issue, followed
by a timeline of steps on how the town might get there.
The plan 'Kinsale 2021: An Energy Descent
Action Plan' is available for download at www.FuellingTheFuture.org.
It includes ideas like turning the town supermarket
carpark into an eco-centre, new ecologically sensitive
housing development legislation, permaculture studies
as part of school curriculum, community gardens, a youth
council, a community currency and trading network, and
As testimony to the way the plan, while visionary, retains
a feeling of practicality, late last year the Kinsale town
council officially adopted the plan. Of course visioning and
planning is just the begining, but it's useful to reflect
on how the authors of the Kinsale plan developed it and won
Kinsale: So how did they do it?
You can read about it in Rob Hopkins' 'Lesson from Kinsale'
posts on his "Transition Culture" blog website.
Rob's a great writer, so I highly recommend these:
One - Avoiding "Them and Us"
"...It is very easy to fall into blaming others
for not doing anything, but often when we take the time to
sit and listen to others, we find they share many of the same
concerns but lack the skills, time, resources or motivation
to do anything. To alientate people through criticism is ultimately
self defeating. Beginning this process elsewhere, this always
strikes me as one of the most important principles, creating
a process which is inclusive.
The more I have been involved in things like this and
have met people working in positions of authority, be they
planners, engineers, councillors and even politicians, I have
seen ordinary people, often with families, just as bewildered
by turns of events and which way to go as everybody else.
For us to scream “why aren’t they doing anything”
does nothing to help, very often they have as little clue
as to what to do as the rest of us. For me, coming from an
activist background, this has been a very important lesson
to learn (clearly it is not always the case, sometimes people
are deliberately obstructive for whatever reason, but in most
cases it is). Most of the actual techniques for avoiding sinking
into ‘them and us’ comes from from the next principle
“creating a sense that Something is Happening”..."
Two - Creating a sense that Something is Happening
[Go and visit this page. Webmistress at GWT thinks this sense
that "Something is Happening" grows simply by staying
in touch with your highest Visions and Aspirations, doing
what you passionately care about, asking what makes your heart
sing, tuning into God, the Great Spirit of the Universe, like
Peter and Eileen Caddy did around a tiny, almost derelict
fishing village called Findhorn.]
Three - Creating a Vision of an Abundant Future
"...One of essential things in developing community
strategies to peak oil is that of facilitating the community
to create a vision of how the future could be. We move from
working with peak oil, which is about probabilities (how probable
is it that it will be horrendous, how probable is peak in
2007 and so on…) to possibilities. The shift is subtle
but illuminating. Through the Open Space event we ran in Kinsale,
we gave the community (well those who came at least) permission
to dream. It was very powerful to see it happening, people
going home excited about how the future could be, and feeling
they had met some kindred souls with whom they could do it.
Asking people to visualise a future with one quarter
of the fossil fuels available is asking a great deal of them.
Especially in Ireland, where the Famine still looms over modern
history, and is only 7 generations ago..."
Four - Designing in Flexibility
"I once did a course with Australian permaculture
teacher Dave Clark, who talked about his experiences working
doing permaculture in refugee camps in Macedonia. You can
read more about his work here,
and especially here.
He was dealing with large numbers of people moving to places
with no infrastructure, all of which had to be created. He
did amazing work, building strawbale buildings, food gardens,
putting in miles of swales and hundreds of thousands of trees.
One thing he said really stayed with me. He spoke of having
to work with professional engineers who would design something
such as a drainage system, which Dave could see wouldn’t
work, but which, because the person was a ‘professional’
could not be questioned. He saw much money wasted through
this unchallengable ‘rule’ that the professional
is always right. He talked about how in his work he always
worked from the premise that he was wrong. This designed into
the process the openness to reassessing at any stage."
Five - What Could Have Been Done Better...
Also check out this
article by Rob Hopkins:
"...On Saturday February 12th 2005 we held an event
in Kinsale called “Kinsale in 2021 - Towards a Prosperous,
Sustainable Future Together”, which took place at Kinsale
Town Hall. The event was presented as a ‘community think-tank’
in order to hear the community’s ideas about how energy
descent would affect the community and what might be done
about it. Before the event we sent personal invitations to
the people in Kinsale that we had identified as being the
movers and shakers in the town... We also left the event open
to the public and put posters up around the town. From the
60 people invited, about 35 turned up on the day. The event
itself was opened by the Mayor of Kinsale, Mr Charles Henderson,
who spoke of the importance of energy as an issue and how
it affects all aspects of our lives and our economy. This
was followed by a screening of ‘The End of Suburbia’.
After the film, Thomas Riedmuller, who teaches Community
Leadership at Kinsale FEC, introduced the concept of Open
Space Technology as a tool for facilitating such events. Open
Space is based on the idea that the most productive discussion
and idea sharing at any event happens during the tea breaks.
Open Space is, in essence, a long tea break, where groups
are formed to discuss certain issues, and everyone is free
to move between discussion groups, based on the four principles
of Open Space: whoever comes are the right
people, whatever happens is the only thing
that could have, whenever it starts is the
right time, and when it’s over it’s over.
Those assembled took to the Open Space model with great enthusiasm,
and it was extremely productive. People were invited to identify
the specific problems and issues that the film raised for
them. These were then recorded on large sheets of paper and
pinned up on the wall. These were then collated into subject
areas, and each of these became the basis for a discussion
group. The groups covered the following subjects, Food, Rebuilding
Communities, Youth Group/Education, Business & Technology,
Tourism and renewable energy..."
Breaking down the process
If we were to embark on a similar process, here are some
steps which might be involved.
1) Community education, consultation and networking
To write an effective plan and to bring the community on board
we would need to embark on a dual education and consultation
process. This might involve film screenings, or presentations
on Peak Oil in the local context, followed by facilitated
sessions of feedback and ideas. Groups to approach might include
various ethnic and religious groups through neighborhood houses
and churches, industry groups such as health professionals,
food workers, community workers, teachers, police, etc, and
any other interest groups we can think of, including of course,
council. It should also include public events. This represents
a large effort.
But what an amazing process - by the end we could be the
most connected group in the region, with a remarkable sense
of the character of the local communities, and probably a
lot of new friends from each! We'll need their support, energy
and ideas to make it really happen.
Food mapping, researching wind flows, solar radiation, incomes,
local skills, current energy mix and vulnerability, existing
groups and their potential to aid organisation etc. etc. We
need to audit the region as best we can, to figure out what
skills and resources and opportunities are available and what
are lacking. This step could happen simultaneously with step
1 and inform the consultation and education process. Creating
a better sense of posibilities means inspiring as many projects
as early as possible. So hopefully this is a dynamic process!
3) Community projects and having fun
Building on the ground projects, community exposure and trust.
Finding fun ways of building skills and investing in the future.
Like the permablitz concept, community gardens, community
skills education, and where ever your interest or opportunities
may lie. We should tie in with existing efforts and networks,
and get inspired to start new ones. The EDAP might seem to
be just a piece of paper, a plan. But the process of creating
it must also a process for tying our efforts together, working
on some publicly appreciated projects, testing our own abilities,
and learning first hand what is possible. These are the practical
projects which get people interested and inspired. They make
this awkward acronym begin to filled with meaning. For the
plan to have support there must be the base in reality and
community support these projects lead to.
4) Producing the plan
Creating a visionary but grounded document condensing all
the best of the feedback and our own, no doubt brilliant,
ideas. Editing it into a cohesive whole.
5) Gaining council support
By this stage we should be unstoppable and any council which
resists would be foolish indeed! But a strategic approach
to gaining support would be well advised. In addition to Catherine
Dunne's reflections on Kinsale mentioned above, check out
the many reflections on a successful attempt in San Francisco
to get the city to recognise and support mitigation efforts
about peak oil at Global Public Media, and David Room's (also
US focussed) practical guide, How to Pass a Peak Oil Resolution.
Council support and advice will be necessary throughout the
process, and council should have a sense of joint ownership
over the project.
An essential factor in whether or not we can have a relatively
successful preparation and adaptation to Peak Oil, will be
whether or not the community has a sense of excitement and
agency in the process. How do we facilitate this exactly?
Awards and prizes, continuing consultations, newsletters,
inter-community activities such as permaculture backyard blitzes
… really, I don't know, but a lot of potential for creativity.
The plan really doesn't have to be followed step-by-step,
its value is showing us that a prosperous post-peak community
is possible. But it will be a reference point, and stimulous
to a great many outcomes.
Structures, partners and funding?
How could such a project be organised and funded? Questions
I'm not particularly good at answering! I imagine that a fairly
close knit crew of 3-4 people with complimentary skills and
styles and a good working relationship would be a good number
to handle central organisational and editorial tasks. But
the project would need to involve a great deal many more people
than that at various levels, with similarly small crews formed
for the purpose - or partner organisations - handling the
various sections of the plan. Small goals must be set along
the way. Plus we may need people acting as facilitators, researchers,
translators, fundraisers and in other roles. Does a project
like this need to be associated with an incorporated body?
Can it work under the auspices of another incorporated group?
What partner organisations can take on responsibilities? Eg.
renewable energy and conservation organisations, sustainable
transport advocates, green urban planners and architects,
etc. It would help if whoever is approached has or gains a
solid foundation in the problem of Peak Oil, and a can take
an holistic approach to design. An understanding of permaculture
design principles or natural ability to think in similar ways
would be a plus. Writers of the plan do not need to be relevant
professionals, indeed an amateur's fresh eyes and ideas may
turn out to be a plus.
Many questions to answer!
But also an inexorable drive onward… onward…
to suburban glory.
Thanks for making it this far. I hope that these ideas excite