Permaculture ethics offers hope for post-oil era

Steveedit-257x300by Trudy Thomas

How would you feel if someone told you you’ve been living in a bubble your whole life, that the global financial system was balanced atop an oil derrick geyser and the derrick was running dry?

That’s what I thought.

But “Permaculture Through the Seasons” instructor Steve Saint told a class of more than two dozen design certification students that that’s exactly what’s been happening and the bubble is about to burst.

The beginning of the end came with what’s called peak oil, when global petroleum production reached a maximum and began to fall. In the United States, oil production peaked in the early 1970s. Experts, including Permaculture Co-Founder David Holmgren, believe that conventional global petroleum production has peaked as well and is now being artificially propped up by unconventional methods like hydraulic fracturing, tar sands and deep sea drilling. All three are expensive and accident prone.

Related: Check out our Facebook photo gallery of the class building a lasagna garden a Rick’s Garden Center

That precarious bubble also fuels the expansion and contraction of global financial markets. The more petroleum produced the more robust global markets become and visa versa. In fact, Saint went so far as to say that he believed that President George W. Bush’s bank bailout was not so much about the banks themselves, but was needed to protect financing for the oil industry. The bottom line is that when oil reserves are gone we’ll need to find another engine for the global economy.

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Bryan Christie Design

Okay, so why not let the oil disappear and replace it with wind, solar and other renewable energy sources? Because, Saint said, it isn’t that simple. According SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) it would require building 32,850 1.65 megawatt wind turbines with 70-100 meter blade span for the next 50 years to replace the power of 1 cubic mile of oil, the annual global consumption of petroleum. The institute published similar mindboggling data regarding solar, nuclear, hydro and coal.

Saint said that not only have we been hooked on energy consumption over the past 60 years, we’ve grown a hefty dependence on corporations. In the 1950s there used to be 300 farms within the Colorado Springs city limits. Today only one remains.Corporations dominate local economies that used to take care of themselves.

“Now we depend on big ag, big government, big pharma and big finance,” said Saint. “Everything is moving toward a monetized market system run by centralized globalized corporate systems.”

So, what do we do?

We must think differently. We must live a simpler, ethically-based lifestyle. In Permaculture this is summarized with the phrase, “people care, earth care, fair share.”

We care for the earth because we realize everything is connected. We care for each other because we understand that to survive and thrive in a post-oil world we need each other. We consciously share our surplus because we strive to understand our true needs and share what we don’t.

“If we can’t change, if we can’t say I am my brother’s keeper, we are not going to be sustainable,” said Saint. “We need to know how to think, to look at the problems and `use ethics principles to solve these problems.”

With the demise of oil and, eventually, our corporate-dominated economic system, is this the end of the world as we know it? Probably, and for the record, I feel fine.

Follow ” Permaculture Through the Seasons” for more information on the course.

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