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The Forum > Article Comments > Permaculture: a new dominant narrative? > Comments

Permaculture: a new dominant narrative? : Comments

By Cameron Leckie, published 4/4/2012

Ultimately, reality will always trump a fantasy based dominant narrative.

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Discussions on Peak Oil (yes, I had a look at Matt Mushalik's critique) usually fail to mention the microeconomics of energy. The fact is that there is a supply curve and there is a demand curve. On the supply side, there are many alternative sources of hydrocarbons capable of supplying oil for many decades yet - if the price is right.

References to Peak Oil generally only consider the sweet easily won crudes that have formed the bulk of supply. These crudes might represent only 30% of the oil contained in a reservoir. Some of the balance can be recovered using more expensive secondary and tertiary recovery techniques.

There are ample hydrocarbon resources available as tar sands, oil shales, shale gas, and coal, all of which can be converted to petroleum. In each case the technology is complex, and the plants are capital intensive. Given too that there are often environmental concerns, the real issue becomes financing.

These projects generally require access to debt. However, to access debt, the projects need to demonstrate the capacity to service debt. The big problem has been the volatility of the oil price. For example, in the late 90s, when projects such as these were developed, the oil price dropped to as low as US$10 per bbl which decimated the financials.

These projects need a contracted price of, say, US$100 per bbl for, say, a 20 year financing life. If such contracts were available for suitably credentially projects, I am sure that you would be amazed at the supply that would emerge. In fact, one outcome would be oversupply, which would push oil prices down.

The other aspect seldom discussed is the demand curve. Any traveller to Europe knows that the response there to high petrol prices has been to develop cars (and lorries) that are far more fuel efficient than the cars used, for example, in the US.

I think you can relax about Peak Oil. If current prices can be locked in to financing contracts for new projects for 20 years, I think that you will find ample supply emerging.
Posted by Herbert Stencil, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 10:49:58 AM
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Cameron a very thoughtful article.

I completed a Permaculture Design Course in 2008, a wonderful and enlightening process.

My current 13 acres of old farm land is being transformed into a food forest and those surrounding me are all working toward similar ends.

'They' will continue to 'Business as Usual' mantra until the end, working to be the last man (or in this case government/nation) standing, but for what benefit or gain, a very sad saga to watch unfold.

Permaculture is a different way at looking at life, the environment and those (including plants and animals) that we share it with on a finite planet coughing through the early stages of industrial collapse.
Posted by Geoff of Perth, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 10:56:56 AM
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Permaculture in terms of it being a way to produce food, is indeed
a great system. I think it should be promoted in the third world.

However its highly labour intensive and so its not going to produce
food to feed the masses which live in the cities, in the first world.
They want their food cheap.

Given that around the world, the masses are still flocking to the
cities and that we're increasing population by a quarter of a million
a day, eventually its highly likely that the wheels will for
off the cart, but so be it. People need pain to learn.
Posted by Yabby, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 12:15:23 PM
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The notion that humankind is moving down an ever-better road has once again been overthrown in the 21st century. No honest person could look around at the current chaos and corruption on Earth and still argue that humanity continues to travel down the road of perpetual improvement. The tradition I am talking about began in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and has its roots in the Enlightenment. Whether they know it or not, nearly everybody excluding some "reactionary" elements of our society, is firmly ensconced within the Progress myth. It's just like the air you breathe.

People today believe in the magical ability of free markets, democratic governments and technology to make our lives better, to achieve the greatest prosperity and comfort for the greatest number.

Except for a few atavistic throwbacks and Luddites, everybody is a Keynesian now. Or an Austrian, or a Libertarian, or whatever. These distinctions make little difference. All these people are "liberals" in the grandest, philosophical sense of this hallowed tradition. Without exception, these groups believe in continual "improvement" of the human condition, whether they emphasise markets over government or vice versa. Again, such distinctions make little difference, for everybody is swimming in the same water. Technology is universally hailed as humankind's continuing and ultimate saviour. Gross Domestic Product is a precise measurement of our progress. If GDP goes up, everyone rejoices. If it goes down, we vow to try harder. No one questions these assumptions, despite ultimately trivial political differences about how to grow GDP.

Progress is illusory, and all we've achieved could be lost in a heartbeat if things go badly in the future, which they almost certainly will.
Posted by Geoff of Perth, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 12:20:10 PM
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The author has at least one thing right. Cultures do have dominant narratives - understandings of how things are and how they should be, that strongly influence behaviour and belief for good or ill.

For a dominant narrative to survive, it has to work. That means it has to fit the evidence and experience of its culture. And the dominant narrative this article tries to attack, does work. The evidence that economic growth can be sustained is there in the experience of industrialised countries in the past 200-300 years and our everyday observation. So is the evidence that markets adjust to scarcity and price signals (how many of us nowadays light our homes with whale oil?).

For every dominant narrative, there are 1,001 contrarian narratives that proclaim prophetic insights that the deluded and self-interested dominant narrative lacks. These share common patterns - self-importance, exceptionalism (only a selective group appreciates the truth), selective evidence making, and fanaticism. Fascism, maxism, and the more extreme versions of environmentalism share these characteristics. Almost all of these turn out to be wrong, and my guess is the narrative that peak oil spells the end of growth and prosperity is wrong too.
Posted by Rhian, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 3:59:30 PM
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A very worthwhile, interesting and valuable article - well done.

My principal concern is lest the environment be destroyed beyond repair or recovery if the dominant narrative does not soon recognise the reality of the inevitable downward spiral of unbridled consumerism, so that, in grasping for the last figments of a failing system, the human mass falls upon the few remaining wild resources for one last fix before having to embrace sustainable change. How will people really feel and react to the visage of the Canadian tar sands exploitation becoming the universal spectre? Heaven (or sanity) forbid, for, in such a scenario, what would indeed be the purpose of living? For, God would then be dead (or at least extremely depressed), and Man's folly complete.

Herbert Stencil,

There may well be exploitable alternatives to fore-stay peak oil, but is a return to sustainability, to a semblance of the Garden of Eden, such an horrendous prospect as to warrant the risks and inevitable degradation involved in pursuit of those alternatives? Is the current Western way of life so entrancing and so rewarding (for the masses) as to warrant such a pursuit at all costs? It would appear that Man's unbridled ego is the key motivator for such reckless endeavours, and it is this which ultimately threatens to bring humankind to its knees. Shall the meek eventually inherit the Earth? And, shall it then be worth inheriting?

It is surely time the West looked beyond the square and had due regard for the welfare and interests of all the inhabitants of this blue globe, human and non-human alike - for all that makes life worth living is now in the balance.
Posted by Saltpetre, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 5:27:19 PM
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