Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Eneregy Descent

The Energy Descent

by Holger Hieronimi , originally published by Tierramor.org

Here we publish the transcript of an interview with Holger, conducted by Alejandro Bravo in November 2012 during the Vision Council "The Call of the Stars" in Chalmita, State of Mexico.

From this interview, an article published in autumn 2013 in Mali Magazine http://malilarevista.com/ ) # 3 Malinalco, Mexico. The agenda was wide and varied, starting with my own biography, our family project, through the "big issues" like climate change, ecological crisis, peak oil, energy descent, its impact on economy and society, reaching topics as permaculture, transition, and the importance of personal responsibility and action.

Here you can download the complete journal where the article appears (from page 18)

Mali Magazine: Holger, why do not you start by telling us who you are and where you live and then we talks about energy descent?

Holger: I am Holger, born in 1968, I grew up in a rural village in south-western Germany. In 1990 I went to live in an ecovillage in northern Spain, where I first heard about a design concept of ecological systems called permaculture. Since then, I have trained in various aspects of this integrative discipline, through courses, mentoring, volunteering projects, and putting into practice in places where I live touched me. I arrived in Mexico in 1993. I was amazed by the diversity of climates, landscapes, ecosystems, cultures. I saw that I had a lot to learn here, I made many friends, I met my life partner Marina. Since I live and work in Mexico.

In 2002 we started to develop a small organic farm located in a village on Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan. We live in a house made of local and renewable materials. Adobe, earth, straw, sand, stone, wood, clay tiles. We capture rainwater for storage in tanks, transformed into resources what some call "waste". Such as organic waste and gray and black water. We maintain a diverse system with vegetables, fruit trees, herbs, chickens and ducks, and lots more. For 6 years, we collaborate with a local peasant family in the organic production of corn, beans, squash.

We spend part of our time to keep the family farm system, producing fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, medicinal aromatic plants and their products. Another part of our energy is directed to research and deepen our knowledge and skills you relate to what we call "Holistic Living". We share what we have learned along the way of transition through conferences, workshops, courses, seminars or consultations, consulting and design services ecological systems.

MLR: What gave rise to the family project you have in Patzcuaro?

Holger: There were wanting to put into practice what we had researched and learned over the years, studying integrative disciplines such as permaculture, organic agriculture, ecological restoration, facilitation of group processes, holistic health, and related matters. For many years I had spent establishing ecological systems in houses rented, or projects that other people and groups had managed. I designed home gardens, harvesting systems, storage and treatment of water, I worked in school vegetable ecovillages in building green homes, in sustainable development projects in rural communities in Mexico.

At birth our smallest child in 2001, my partner and I felt it was time to "hechar roots", and this coincided with the possibility of us guards a small land offered conditions to establish there a mini-farm familiar. In this project, we give life to the ethics and principles of permaculture design.

I am convinced that it is possible to live a full life, consuming a small fraction of the resources and energy, compared to what many people actually need to live what is considered a "dignified life". At the same time, we can regenerate healthy, diverse and productive ecosystems, leaving the land in better condition than when we found it, rather than continue destroying our natural capital as with the usual way of doing things. It is a matter of design, and the principles that apply, this implies a new way of doing things.

I've noticed on more than fifteen years since I started giving courses in permaculture and eco-design, which most impresses is not words but by example. But to pretend to be a model, we see the process of "Farm Tierramor" as one of many individuals, families and communities are currently developing, to transform from passive consumers to active citizens and dependents, in dependent, creative and productive, rebuilding soils and regenerating ecosystems, creating natural capital for future generations. We can be the change we wish to see in the world.

MLR: Holger, many people have no clear concept of energy descent, the decline in oil production. Tell us about it.

Holger: Like most people, at first I did not understand the oil issue as so important, I felt distant from the subject. Many activists around gardening, consider the oil as "bad" and "dirty" because climate change and cause all kinds of pollution. While all this is true, we often forget that we belong to the system is absolutely dependent on fossil fuels.

Five or six years ago, I began to understand the energy component in the expression of natural and human systems, studying a discipline called systems ecology. The term "energy descent" was coined by the American ecologist Howard T. Odum, and describes a phase behavior of all ecosystems.

They pass on their evolutionary path through different phases of development: In a phase called "growth" is a so-called "climax and transition", followed by the phase of "energy descent" and after a period of "restoration with little energy" then eventually start another growth cycle. All systems go all the time for these stages of development, although its size, scope and duration varies widely depending on the energy that feeds them.

The pattern is reflected, for example, the behavior of microbes in compost, or a wine yeast or bread dough. We can also observe in the course of a day - dawn, noon, afternoon, evening; in the four seasons in the life of a human being or any living thing, and also in the development of civilizations .

From the beginning of the industrial revolution, about 300 years ago, human societies entered a period of amazing growth, relying on three fossil fuels: First coal, then oil and gas. These fuels are very powerful, they represent the solar energy stored for millions of years through photosynthesis, concentrated by complex geological processes. For example, a gallon of gasoline energy equivalent to six weeks of work a person. If you do not believe, try to push your car because the distance traveled on a gallon of gasoline, which can buy now for 40 or 50 pesos at any gas station; With this investment, you can buy the energy equivalent of six work weeks a person who works from dawn to dusk. These are the "energy slaves" that support our way of life.

Currently, the world needs more than 70 million barrels of oil each day to work as well or badly it is doing now. Fossil fuels are the "magic potion" that made industrial growth society possible. Allowed a dramatic increase in size, complexity and sophistication of societies, but they are after all a nonrenewable resource on a human scale.

In the fifties, petroleum geologists discovered that the oil fields and exploitation follow a pattern: At the beginning of the operation, the oil flows slowly, in small amounts, then begins to increase extraction up to a peak, more On the production goes into decline, as shown in curve Gauss.

This concept can be applied to a single oil field, an oil-producing nation and the world. Mexico, for example, experienced record high in oil extraction *called "peak oil"* between 2003 and 2005, since its production is declining. And the whole world reached peak in oil extraction, sometime between 2005 and 2010, and production began to go into decline, which now seek compensation for the exploitation of the deep layers of oil in the seas , and many other ventures technological complexity - including large corporate investments in "renewable" energy sources such as solar, wind and "biofuels".

Many people place their hope in these developments. However, extracting oil 5,000 feet below sea level is technologically very complex, a huge amount of energy is needed to exploit these deposits and obviously this is going to undermine what we call the net energy efficiency, energy gain, after accounting for the energy needed to extract, produce and transport. When undermine energy gain, it will make itself felt in the real economy, because every time there is less energy available to do other things, and spend more energy to get energy. There is a direct relationship between economic growth and increased resource extraction and energy of the earth: the predominant economic system called capitalism evolved with industrial growth. It depends on a growing number of resources and energy to work.

MLR: How long do you think oil is left?

Holger: There will still be oil, probably for a long time. The peak usually occurs when it has consumed about half of a resource. The cheap and abundant oil is running out. The cost to extract oil from the earth increases. This is a major challenge for the economic system, which depends on cheap and abundant energy and increasing energy flows. An example of this relationship we saw in 2008, when the financial crisis began. Few people remember that, a few weeks before, the oil price had reached nearly $ 150 a barrel because of the imminent peak in world production.

Many people are convinced that that was what sparked after all the bursting of the speculative bubble. Then there was a recession and lowered energy demand, so the price of oil fell. We are seeing a lot of price fluctuations, it is possible to climb up to another until there is another economic collapse and the price falls again.

Money is not a good measure for assessing the energy base that is currently holding us. Not just for political and financial, but also for ordinary people, money is the "energy" more important today. But money is an abstraction and that must be considered in the current context until we will stay without oil. But I assure you, once you spend a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil, production is stopped and the resource will stay there forever.

MLR: What causes us problems everything that revolves around oil, because what I see is that the extraction of oil generated many problems that we had no idea. Tell us about what can happen with these problems when it no longer so dependent on that resource.

Holger: The challenges for established systems, have become less rather than more energy, are enormous. But there are opportunities hidden behind what we usually see as "problems."

The effects of energy descent, are already seeing in the economic field. The neoliberal capitalist system, is based on debt, the debt is tied to interest and depends on economic growth so they can pay the interest and debts we made in the past. In an energy descent scenario, there will be growth in the real economy, which will make feasible the globalized capitalist system. This does not have a "reverse" needs to grow by its own logic, or collapses.

This is the first area where the energy descent is currently expressing, which for some obviously holds good news: The capitalist system will sooner or later end, which represents an opportunity for those who are looking to establish alternatives to current economic system.

There are other important issues such as our food production system, which is highly dependent on oil concern. Energetically speaking, industrial agriculture based on the schema of the so-called "green revolution", spends 7 to 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food. We have a huge energy deficit in our food production, because in its current form, agriculture is a net consumer of energy.

Chemical fertilizers are obtained with natural gas through the Haber-Bosch process for synthesizing nitrogen from the air into a powder or liquid. The same applies to the production of pesticides and herbicides needed to till the fields, planting, fertilizing, harvesting, storage, processing and transportation of goods and supplies machinery. Neither transgenic system could work under these conditions, it is equally dependent transport, machinery and supplies. We have a problem with food production, which also holds great opportunity for those who are looking to establish local production systems based on organic agriculture and permaculture principles. These forms of production will have a competitive advantage over industrial farming systems because they are more efficient in energy level.

Cities face a very complex design problems. Megacities such as Mexico City, with 20 million inhabitants or more, can only be given to access to cheap and abundant energy. The need to bring water from far away, usually egg cartons electricity produced with coal-fired ore. Cities depend on mass transit systems of people and goods, food and electricity, now almost entirely imported from the field and distant lands. Any city is three days of a famine, because if for some reason can not get the trucks to supply the markets with perishable food in three days the city will run out of food stores. But there are also many opportunities: For example, in Mexico City, we can observe a growing urban agriculture movement strong family scale, producing fruit and vegetables on rooftops, backyards and vacant lots. This is also expressed in district-wide projects or delegation, as "Ecobarrios" or "Green Roofs".

You named some challenges, but there is one more fundamental: Our system of beliefs about how the world works, our assumptions about what lies ahead. We have difficulty in considering the energy descent as a possible future scenario for mankind. We all grew up in a world where energy flows, and hence the complexity of our technology systems and life support, increased year after year, and this has been so for generations. We are immersed in a cultural narrative that speaks of growth without-end as something good, natural, inevitable, and can not perceive that things can go the other direction.

Many people hoped that new technologies, such as solar and wind power can solve the energy problem. While important to cushion the effects of the downturn and support the transition, they have the same energy as the net yield petroleum. There are a lot of denial around the issue. Now there are stories about the "free energy." On the internet, you can find videos and full pages that claim that there is a conspiracy of oil companies and the global elite who hide us innovative technologies "Free Energy".

MLR: What solutions can give, as families, small families, or individuals, not as country, energy descent, or what solutions you give yourself?

Holger: Perhaps the first step is to accept the energy descent as a possible future scenario. "70% of the change is mental." We have to replace a cultural narrative that speaks of growth and "progress" worm, which integrates a decrease in complexity and sophistication to human systems as a possible scenario, necessary, perhaps inevitable. A new story that talks about humility, moderation, and regeneration of our life support systems such as soils, water, forests, biodiversity. No, there are "natural" to a problem such as the decline of a non-renewable resource essential solutions, the first step is to set aside the denial, realize that we do have a big challenge ahead, which most likely is not resolved government, institutions or other bodies "superior". I do not think we can expect much support from these "big" systems.

In that sense, the question is on track: What can we do as families and communities; Because, at this scale, enormous possibilities for each of us open?. Actually, once I accepted this, there is much to do to act creatively to this "Big Change".

Many come to depend on large systems that do not control: macro-economic stability, employment, supermarkets, access to food, energy, electricity and services. For example: To get water in the city of Mexico, we rely on a huge infrastructure, which in turn depends on electricity and complex technology, and stable weather patterns, which have not guaranteed in the future.

Once we understand these dependencies, we realize that we can not influence much on this scale, but we can influence the redesign of our home and, for example, capture and store rainwater in our house. For this, we have to wait until things get tough. Already, this can bring us a profit, and in turn makes us more resilient to future challenges.

Resilience is the ability of a system to absorb shocks and disturbances of a system of order, higher level, maintaining its integrity and basic functions. This is the central question: What can we do to make our systems more resilient progressively vital support in the face of global challenges.

The old environmentalist slogan "Think globally, act locally" is important here. The most immediate and possible is to rethink our lives and re-design gradually the way we work, we eat, we move, we produce, we consume, we organize and relate.

The small-scale food production in the place where we live is something you can start from now and it would remove a burden to our large-scale production. Another key area is the rebuilding of our communities, to empower ourselves in these times of great uncertainty.

As individuals, families and communities, we must find ways to gradually get out of the money-based economy: I recommend getting rid of debt, bank loans and credit cards, install, and or support systems of alternative and informal economy, such as barter, coins local and other systems that are not dependent on national currencies and macroeconomic stability. It is always good to learn practical skills of all types - agriculture, mechanics, carpentry, iron; and, training in disciplines such as Permaculture, green design, eco-techniques management, organic farming, community processes, conflict resolution, natural health, name only a few.

MLR: Tell us about the concept of permaculture, what does it mean?

Holger: Permaculture means different things to people. I summarize four definitions for me are important:

First - it is a design system that seeks to act creatively and productively with nature and develop a regenerative culture.

Second - based on ethical principles and ecological which are universal, but depending on the place and the cultural and climatic context, in many different forms to manifest.

Third - permaculture is also a movement and an international network of practitioners, designers and organizations in more than 120 countries, without much support from governments, institutions or corporations.

Activism comes down, people were attracted to this concept, took courses and started practicing, even there are many people in the world who does not call it permaculture or even know the word.

Finally, Permaculture is a creative response to environmental and social crisis we are viviendo.Es a proposal instead of the protest, we deal more on creating the world we want, rather than oppose the world do not want.

MLR: Finally, have you heard the concept of society in transition, and if you've heard, tell us something about where we are in that regard.

Holger: The concept of Transition is a social application of permaculture. It originated in England and Ireland. From the year 2005, the idea has inspired hundreds of initiatives, in England, the USA, Japan, Australia, Brazil, India, New Zealand. Also, here in Mexico's Transition initiatives in cities such as Queretaro and Ensenada. It is re-designing and reorganizing our communities through positive actions to build resilience, responsiveness; address systemic challenges such as climate change and energy descent. The initiatives are expressed in many different areas.

Usually begin with informational or educational events, such as film-discussion meetings soon seeks to create visible results, such as the planting of orchards, fruit, edible forest trees in parks, vacant lots and rooftops, build water catchment systems, establish alternative economic systems and local currencies to encourage local production and fair trade, organic agriculture projects and small-scale.

It seems that the idea really touches a nerve, a concern of many people who feel disenfranchised by the great political and financial systems. It offers an opportunity for people to participate directly in something positive for their community.

The meeting takes place here now, the Vision Council, in turn can also be seen as an event to support the transition: A temporary ecovillage where we seek to give life to these new concepts, ideas and proposals that are circulating. First, for a week serves to give us an idea of how you can run a society of low power consumption, a regenerative society. And, moreoverm it also serves to summon people around Mexico, and other countries in America and Europe . So networks are woven. Very interesting interconnections between different people generate, in turn, provide for everyone to take home a healthy dose of inspiration, something much needed in these times.

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