The Foss and Holmgren Presentation

We went to the presentation by Nicole Foss and David Holmgren in Brisbane on Friday last week.

Very well attended, with a main lecture theatre pretty well packed – maybe 200 people.  There were eight people there from the Lockyer Valley whom I recognised and quite possibly more whom I didn’t recognise.  Pretty impressive, considering the massive disparity between the population of Brisbane and that of the Lockyer Valley.

Nicole Foss’s talk was absolutely riveting, starting with an overview of the history of money and the way that it has been expanded by the incorporation of debt/credit into the “money supply” and the risks that this poses.  She moved on to energy resource issues and linked this to the money supply (debt) through the cost of finding and producing the remaining “difficult” fossil energy sources, concluding that most of the hard to access fossil fuels will not be economic to produce.  The thread running through the presentation was the cyclical nature of the economy and the fact that massive levels of debt, coupled with the interconnectedness of the globalised economy and energy shortages/high energy prices, mean that sooner or later (and very likely sooner) there will be a depression cycle from which the global economy will not be able to recover.

Not all of it was as gloom-and-doomish as that may sound.  Foss gave examples of broad strategies for weathering the storm.

Of course this summary cannot possibly do justice to what was one of the most well delivered, highly informed, logical, well structured and thought provoking presentations that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.  We came away with a lot of food for thought, and a resolve to review our sustainability planning.

She set the scene perfectly for David Holmgren to step in and elaborate the ways in which permaculture can contribute to creating a way through the economic (and social) breakdown that is coming.

What he started with were a series of bland generalisations, some of which touched on areas Foss had already covered, though some of what he said seemed strangely at odds with what she had presented.

The major part of his presentation though was an attempt to breathe life into his Aussie Street  scenario.  For those who haven’t seen it, this is a series of morphing diagrams tracing the evolution of households on four house blocks in an Australian suburban street.  It is long, barely entertaining, and the ratio of stimulating ideas to slightly cute waffle is very low.  We first saw it about eight years ago, and neither of us could decide whether there was actually any new material in Friday’s presentation.  As an illustration of the application of permaculture principles to suburban planning and lifestyle it can only be described as weak.  As a follow-up to the opportunity that Nicole Foss had set up for someone to highlight the role that permaculture can play in dealing with the coming disastrous wind-down of the economy and associated resource issues, Holmgren’s presentation was a massive lost opportunity.

We kept thinking, there’s got to be more.  A friend of ours said later, “I just wanted to throw things at him to wake him up to what he needed to be saying”.

But if you can get to the the Melbourne presentation on July 15, don’t miss it.  This is a chance to hear Nicole Foss give a truly remarkable overview of where we are headed and why.  If you are thinking of going to the Hobart presentation (Holmgren without Foss) on July 19, my advice is don’t bother.

7 thoughts on “The Foss and Holmgren Presentation

  1. Pingback: Nicole Foss in Laidley, talking about threats and options | Sustainable @ Lockyer Valley

    • Strangely enough we are off to visit Tom and Zaia this morning. I’ll ask Tom for your phone number and will give you a call from there. We don’t often have cause to travel to the top end of the Sunshine Coast – three hours from here, given that we try to limit our car journeys to essential and to “multi-task” them.

  2. Nicole has to be a world class speaker. I’ve seen her twice now (which is why I gave this tour a miss to be honest) and thoroughly impressed me. David is a terrific writer…. but not so good at public speaking, never displaying any passion in my opinion. I had the honour of sharing a meal with him and Richard Heinberg years ago when they did a combined speaking tour, and he’s far more interesting face to face than on stage!

    I wouldn’t be surprised his talk was “at odds with what [Nicole] had presented”….. they don’t agree 100% on things!
    http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/crash-on-demand-a-response-to-david-holmgren/

    It’s disappointing he’s STILL showing that presentation…… you’d think he’d moved on since 2006 when I first saw it! But if you had never seen either of them before, I have no doubt it was worth the drive to Brisbane……

    • Thanks for the comment Dave. Yes, absolutely well worth the drive to Brisbane. And as for my critical comments, it wasn’t that David Holmgren’s comments were “at odds” with Foss’ points, it was that they were “strangely” at odds – sort of like he hadn’t quite understood what she was saying, or that he had a different view but didn’t realise he probably needed to explain why it was different. Sorry I can’t think back over this distance to present an example. He may be interesting in conversation, but I really struggle with his presentations and also his published writing. I think I’m becoming a “permaculture skeptic”, but when I ponder on why this is, I think a large part of it is that here in Australia the permaculture “gurus” who seem to get most of the air time and who most often come up in conversation (Lawton, Mollison, Holmgren – in order of frequency of encounter) are unconvincing if not flawed in their thinking. Lawton for his anti-science, lack of science, and the lack of credible demonstrable results behind many of his statements; Mollison for his pseudoscience and failure to move with the times (how can anyone seriously use his Manual with its pseudo- and often plain wrong – science as well as very dated sources -where he gives any – as the basis for teaching anything?); and Holmgren for what I find to be pretty impenetrable and mostly uninspired writing. But I keep trying with Holmgren, because I suspect that he has a lot of good stuff to communicate. I find this a real pity, because there is a lot of useful stuff in the body of permaculture, particularly if we take the principles as general guidelines for planning, problem identification and problem solving – and not just for producing food.

      • Actually, my name’s Mike….. not to worry!

        I’m puzzled by “the lack of credible demonstrable results behind many of [Lawton’s] statements”

        Have you not seen what he’s achieved in Jordan? And his farm is demonstrably impressive.

        My biggest concern with Lawton is his money hungry attitude. I guess someone has to pay for flights overseas, but I was blown away at how he not only has an average 50 interns at his place who pay maybe $1400 for a PDC but also work the place into shape!

        Sorry to hear you are a Permaculture skeptic…. it works for me!

      • Apologies Mike. I don’t know how the “Dave” got in there. Maybe trying to do too many things at once.

        No I haven’t seen Lawton’s achievements in Jordan. I’ve seen his own videos with his narration. Having worked in development aid for 20+ years and reviewed a lot of projects, I’m very very wary of self-assessment. I would be very interested to see independent reporting of some of the tens of consulting jobs he has done but which don’t get mentioned. I tried to use the internet track down details one in the southern US a while back, can’t remember why now, and I just couldn’t find any trace of it.

        As for his farm being “demonstrably impressive”, have you walked over it with a critical eye? I have.

        And the ten week working internships cost $7,700.

        Maybe you misunderstood my “permaculture skeptic” term? I’m skeptical of the more extreme or pseudo-scientific claims of effectiveness. I’m particularly skeptical of any statement that opens with “Geoff says …” or “Bill Mollision says …”. However I’ve done a permaculture PDC with Tom Kendall, and the vast majority of what Tom says, and what he does on his place, is impressive and effective. I’d take his advice on permaculture any day.

        I use permaculture approaches here when I can see a scientific basis for them, and if they aren’t effective I try to understand the science behind the failure. Overall, I’m trying to develop a science-based permaculture approach, which means that I have to get my head around a whole lot of new corners of science. It’s a slow process, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the only way that permaculture will be taken seriously and make a significant contribution to meeting human needs.

        It would be great to get together some time for a yarn. We seem to have a lot in common, as well as a few friends in common. And I’d love to see your place.

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