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Re: Permaculture in a Burr Oak Nutshell
Thank you for the feedback; I was hoping for comments.
I think the question you raise about centrally managed
resources as being more efficient and thus less energy
consumptive is quite valid.
For example, what is more energy efficient, to pipe electricity
to homes through centralized lines or to prop photovoltaic panels
on every roof and shed in the neighborhood? The total
energy equation should include cost of manufacturing, materials,
and transportation of all the pv-panels. Of course, these
would have to be contrasted against the cost and energy
consumption of building a huge coal-fired electrical generating
facility, high voltage lines, etc.
Amory Lovins at The Rocky Mtn. Institute has been a
proponent of the soft energy path for decades. RMI's
publications are outstanding for their technical authority
and analysis. Thus, I would start there to arive at a
reasonable answer. See RMI's web site at www.rmi.org,
which contains many links to related energy sites including the
National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), Sandia Laboratories,
as well as appropriate technology sties.
How does decentralized infrastructure lead to adoption of
appropriate technology, energy conservation, and constructed
The premise here is that under a decentralized scenario,
individual human structures (homes, schools, and businesses)
would produce energy on site (appropriate technology and
energy conservation), produce food on site (organic gardening
et al), and handle waste water and sewage on site (constructed
wetlands, greywater systems, humanure compost). These on-site
tasks follow the Principles of Permaculture, which are based
on ecological principles themselves.
To be more specific and realistic, however, individual
human structures would attempt to accomplish these tasks as
much as possible, while perhaps coming up 30%-50% short in some
categories. Thus, in reality communites will be a mixture of
both centralized as well as decentralized systems.
The main point from "permaculture in a (burr oak) nutshell"
is this: to quickly understand permaculture, visualize
integrated food production systems combined with ecologically
designed built structures.
The implication of on-site or decentralized infrastructure is
that appropriate technology is the natural result, and A.T. is
known to be closely associated with renewable energy and energy
conservation which are non-polluting technologies.
Unlike sustainable agriculture which puts focus on the
farmer, the beauty of permaculture is that it takes into account
everybody on the planet no matter where they live. In fact,
the greatest benefit of permaculture will be felt in the cities.
Unless changes are made in urban settings, sustainable agriculture
will have little impact on a global basis because the cities are
black holes for resource consumption and workhorse generators of
> While I respect and admire what I understand to be the philosophical basis
> of 'permaculture', I find your conclusions regarding the implications of
> 'decentralized infrastructure' to lack logical rigor. I do not see how
> creating and functionally duplicating these services on a 'neighborhood'
> level results in 'adoption of appropriate technologies', 'energy
> conservation', 'constructed wetlands'.
> Regarding the 'generation of pollution', to me this seems constant for the
> same number of people supported and does not depend upon centrally managed
> resources vs locally managed resources. I could imagine, in fact, that
> centrally managed resources are more efficiently distributed, thus
> consuming less energy.
> > The implications of a decentralized infrastructure includes:
> > - widescale adoption of appropriate technologies;
> > - homes and neighborhoods designed for energy conservation
> > and solar-orientation; landscapes for shade and cooling;
> > - on-site energy production with solar, wind, water,
> > geothermal heat pumps;
> > - home gardens, kitchen gardens, community gardening,
> > urban agriculture, wayside gardening, solar greenhouses,
> > market gardens, foodwebs and foodsheds, and adoption of
> > biological farming, organic farming and gardening,
> > edible landscapes, agroforestry, and polycultures;
> > - composting toilets, urine collection and re-use as
> > fertilizer, greywater, constructed wetlands, Living
> > Machines (aquatic solar ponds);
> > - worm composting of food scraps and cellulose (junk
> > mail, food wrappers, cereal boxes, newspaper); and
> > integration of poultry to shred and mix manure with
> > cellulose trash used as bedding
> > Centralization of infrastructure is energy intensive and inherently
> > prone to generation of pollution. Secondly, decentralization lends
> > itself to cottage industries, jobs, and distribution of
> > wealth.