[permaculture] Permaculture Critique of Natural Edge Project

holmgren at netconnect.com.au holmgren at netconnect.com.au
Tue Jul 22 23:10:30 EDT 2003

The Natural Edge Project is a major Australian sustainability 
research and publishing project strongly influenced by Amory Lovins 
and the Natural Capitalism concepts/book and related work. This was 
sent to me by David Masden-Ballard a Canberra based permaculture 
teacher and activist from way back. Below is my reply. I've included 
the long list of people on the feedback request to indicate the range 
of  sustainability thinkers and activists involved and to query what 
other cross overs with permaculture networks there might be. While my 
critique may reassure PC activists that we really hold the 
Sustainability torch, the action out there is very diverse, energetic 
and influential even if you don't see much of it by reading and 
listening to the mainstream media. The fact that this work doesn't 
dominate mainstream media, reinforces some of the comments Russ 
Grayson and others have  made at various times  about how far down 
the food chain of influence permaculture really is.

On the other hand, I keep meeting people who are heavily involved in 
various aspects of the Sustainability agenda who claim  permaculture 
as being a primary influence in their career and current work and who 
attempt to organise their personal lives around the minimal 
ecological footprint and voluntary simplicity ideas.

I see the great challenge for PC activists is to engage with these 
people to learn what they have discovered in their path and rekindle 
their radicalism. Its a fine balance between engagement and 
alienation especially when part of the permaculture message might be 
that some of this great work may be not so useful or even 

David Holmgren

>  Dear David Masden-Ballard
>I am not so familiar with this project. I have read Natural 
>Capitalism and in PP&PBS I position myself partly in relation to 
>what I call Green Tech optimism.   I've browsed some of the 
>background documents and looked at ACF's  Blueprint project. Looks 
>like lots of great and useful work but I think the paradigm shift is 
>not deep enough to deal with the challenges of the next 30 years.
>I'm not really in a position to give detailed comment but suggest 
>that a careful and thorough reading of my book might be the basis of 
>someone else making a really useful critique of this project.  So my 
>main agenda is getting my book more widely read and discussed  in 
>the sustainability field .
>In summary I would make the following points about the  conceptual 
>foundations of the Natural Edge Project.
>These concepts skirt the issue of the essential nature of 
>capitalism.  The legal fiction at the core of our society that 
>property (ie a corporation ) is a person has provided a legal basis 
>for modern industrial capitalism and our affluence, but is now one 
>of the key drivers accelerating humanity toward the ecological 
>limits precipice.  Does Natural Capitalism simply create the problem 
>in a new form? Permaculture is based on the philosophical and 
>energetic view that capitalism's time is coming to an end rather 
>than on the verge of a golden age.  As the industrial redesign 
>guru's would say "don't invest resources in patching up flawed 
>structures, instead redesign from first principles"  Ironically 
>permaculture, as explained in my book,  has a program for using 
>fossil fuel wealth to rebuild natural capital in forms useful to 
>people in a low energy future (ie soil and forests). Those espousing 
>Natural Capitalism seem to have only the vaguest notion that wealth 
>from the Green tech revolution will be put into protecting nature 
>(perhaps more for its own sake than out of need)  Therefore it is 
>possible to argue that Permaculture is serious "natural capitalism"
>I don't think the energetic and conceptual foundations for the 
>factor 4-10 revolution are generally understood by those involved in 
>creating.  Consequently the ways in which global energy peak will 
>change the nature of this revolution are little debated. The lack of 
>understanding of Howard Odum's   Emergy concepts among the 
>luminaries of sustainability is indicative of the problem. 
>Permaculture is based on Odum's conceptual work over the last 30 
>The fundamental issue of predicting net energy futures ie 
>acceleration, stabilization or descent are not generally addressed 
>with the assumption that the descent  senario only indicates human 
>system failure and cannot be discussed as a solution.  I view it as 
>most likely and our adaption to it would illustrate our humanity and 
>higher human evolution (as indicated by almost all spiritual and 
>philosophical traditions). Permaculture  uses the same  creative 
>design energy which characterises this green tech solutions, in a 
>context of positive acceptance of energy descent as the most likely 
>future reality.
>The concept of progressive dematerialisation of economic activity, 
>without addressing the underlying psycho-social drivers behind 
>consumerism and affluence is a weakness. The problems requiring 
>fundamental redesign solutions are at the personal and household 
>level as much, or more, than the industry and government level. 
>Permaculture uses ecological design principles to address this end 
>of the spectrum.
>This project seems to be light on in the natural resource 
>management/agriculture/food production part of Sustainainability. 
>Nature provides the design rules for this revolution, but in the 
>universities and research institutes involved in natural resource 
>management, there is a conceptual confusion as to what represents a 
>problem or a solution.  Out in the forest and on the farm,  real 
>solutions  are generally more modest and slower than some  of the 
>industrial examples.  The idea that we will grow more cotton in 
>Australia, with less damage to the environment and less use of 
>energy fertiliser, pesticides and water and do it cheaper than the 
>50 cents a cotton farmer gets out of a $20 tee shirt is clutching at 
>straws.  Both the conceptual confusion and limited success on the 
>farm, reinforces the view that the real action is in the 
>technosphere.  Permaculture's focus on  working with nature to 
>provide our needs, is complementary to the primarily technology 
>focus of this project,  but it is also an implied critique of the 
>complacency about nature as our source of food  and other 
>fundamental needs.  Although I know some of this project's 
>contributors have been influenced by permaculture  I see no 
>prominent permaculture designers or teachers included.
>While the economic botany side of permaculture might suggest dryland 
>hemp as part of the solution to the cotton problem, it is hard to 
>avoid the conclusion that people will have to pay more for tee 
>shirts to cover the real cost of water, fuel, fertiliser and soil 
>improvement rather than degradation.  The personal change side of 
>permaculture suggests that dumping fashion driven consumption can 
>instantly generate factor 10 improvements in resource efficiency in 
>clothing people, without wasting millions of dollars in  new eco 
>industries which will recycle our old tee shirts into new fashion 
>items.  But that's no good because it attacks the sacred cow of 
>economic growth.
>Is this project big and strong enough to include alternative 
>strategies, devil advocates and other voices which share some of the 
>same ideals but involve a more fundamental application of ecological 
>design principles starting at the bottom rather than the top of 
>human systems?  Probably not, given its advanced stage but I would 
>hope that many of the creative innovators and networkers within the 
>field  can encompass the challenges posed by Permaculture in further 
>evolution of sustainbility projects and so prove the title of my 
>book wrong.
>David Holmgren

>If you get a chance please send me any comments on the draft of the 
>book, so that I can incorporate them in my response to Charlie,
>the team below, is a bit of a Who's who of Sustainability
>>X-From_: secretariat at naturaledgeproject.net  Mon Jul 21 03:26:21 2003
>>Date: Sun, 20 Jul 2003 19:21:18 +0930
>>From: "Karlson 'Charlie' Hargroves" <secretariat at naturaledgeproject.net>
>>Subject: The Natural Edge Project - Update 6
>>To: Wayne Smith <w.smith at acfonline.org.au>,
>>    Valerie Brown <valeriebrown at ozemail.com.au>,
>>    "Turner, Hayley" <Hayley.Turner at sawater.com.au>,
>>    Tricia Caswell <tricia.caswell at rmit.edu.au>,
>>    Trevor Daniell <Trevor.Daniell at adelaide.edu.au>,
>>    Tony Ridley <t.ridley at imperial.ac.uk>, Tom Ohl <cp192 at yahoo.com>,
>>    Tom Connor <Tom.Connor at Halliburton.com>, Tim Smith <jsmithth at eisa.net.au>,
>>    THOMAS Evan <ETHOMAS at goldcoast.qld.gov.au>,
>>    Thiele Andrew <thiele.andrew at saugov.sa.gov.au>,
>>    Terence JEYARETNAM <terence.jeyaretnam at siris.com.au>,
>>    Suzie Brown <suzie.brown at envict.org.au>,
>>    Suzanne Shoemark <Suzanne.Shoemark at nre.vic.gov.au>,
>>    Suzanne H Benn <Suzanne.Benn at uts.edu.au>,
>>    Sue Lennox <slennox at ozgreen.org.au>,
>>    Steve Williamson <swilliamson at ieaust.org.au>,
>>    Steve Ray <steve.ray at environs.org.au>, Stephen Gale <SGale at hatch.com.au>,
>>    Stella Whittaker <swhittaker at iprimus.com.au>,
>>    Stefan Kaufman <stefan.kaufman at anu.edu.au>, Stacey <stacey at hargroves.net>,
>>    Sonya Duus <sonya.duus at anu.edu.au>, smogs at ccsa.asn.au,
>>    Simon Nash <snash at treasury.gov.au>,
>>    Sasha Courville <sasha.courville at anu.edu.au>,
>>    Sandy Pitcher <sandy.pitcher at virgin.net>,
>>    "Sanders, Margaret - WMP" <MSanders at McDonough.com>,
>>    Ruth Car <ruth.carr at orac.net.au>, Rupert Posner <rupert at bcse.org.au>,
>>    Rowena McLean <Rowena.McLean at marion.sa.gov.au>,
>>    "Rowberry, Greg (DEH)" <Rowberry.Greg at saugov.sa.gov.au>,
>>    Rory Eames <rory.eames at anu.edu.au>, Ronnie Harding 
>><r.harding at unsw.edu.au>,
>>    Ron Clarke <ron.clarke at cepatrust.com>,
>>    Roger Venables <roger at crane-environmental.co.uk>,
>>    Robyn Williams <williams.robyn.science at abc.net.au>,
>>    Robert B Cameron <BCameron at rockcote.com.au>,
>>    Rob West <Rwest at Earthscan.co.uk>, Rick Belt <rick.belt at industry.gov.au>,
>>    Rhonda Galbally <rhondag at ourcommunity.com.au>,
>>    Raphael Germinder Interface <Raphael.Geminder at visy.com.au>,
>>    "Prof. Peter  Newman" <newman at central.murdoch.edu.au>,
>>    Phillip Toyne <phillip.toyne at ecofutures.com>,
>>    Philip Sutton <Philip.Sutton at green-innovations.asn.au>,
>>    Peter Ottesen <Peter.Ottesen at act.gov.au>,
>>    Peter Newman <pnewman at dpc.wa.gov.au>, Peter Greenwood <peterg at tpg.com.au>,
>>    Peter Cullen <Peter_Cullen at enterprise.canberra.edu.au>,
>>    Peter Brain <pjb at nieir.com.au>, Peta Lindsay <plindsay at ieaust.org.au>,
>>    "Paul Woolnough (EA)" <pwoolnough at engaust.com.au>,
>>    Paul Weaver <pweaver at noos.fr>, Paul Hawken <hawken at well.com>,
>>    Odd-Even Bustnes <oebustnes at rmi.org>,
>>    Nikki Smith <deliriousblue at hotmail.com>,
>>    Nick Palousis <socrates6 at bigpond.com>,
>>    "Nathan Mesner (Student News)" <nmenser at engaust.com.au>,
>>    Nathan Malin <nmalin at walga.asn.au>, Nathan Fabian <nathanfabian at iypf.org>,
>>    N Alexander <Nick.Alexander at csiro.au>, Mum <jame0131 at flinders.edu.au>,
>>    Moss Cass <mcass at vicnet.net.au>,
>>    "Molly Olsen (EcoFutures)" <molly at ecofutures.com>,
>>    Mishael J <mishael at netspeed.com.au>,
>>    MIke Mouritz <MMouritz at wollongong.nsw.gov.au>,
>>    Mike Krockenberger <m.krockenberger at acfonline.org.au>,
>>    Mike Berwick <douglas at dsc.qld.gov.au>, Mick Kerr 
>><m.kerr at acfonline.org.au>,
>>    Michael Smith <msmith at rsc.anu.edu.au>, Michael Rowe <mrowe at dpc.wa.gov.au>,
>>    Michael Mobbs <michael at sustainablehouse.com.au>,
>>    Mia Kelly <mia_mmk at hotmail.com>, Mei Ng <meing at foe.org.hk>,
>>    Mayumi Morita <Mayumi.Morita at unep.or.jp>, Max Ogden 
>><mogden at unimelb.edu.au>,
>>    Matthew Hunter <MHunter at pb.com.au>,
>>    Masayoshi TAKAHASHI <mtt08058 at ir.ritsumei.ac.jp>,
>>    Marty Pickett <mpickett at rmi.org>,
>>    Martine Griffiths <mgriffiths at ieaust.org.au>,
>>    Martin Dywer <mdwyer at ieaust.org.au>, mark.t at tvspartnership.com.au,
>>    Mark Diesendorf <mark at sustainabilitycentre.com.au>,
>>    Mark Davies <mdavies at izilla.com.au>, Mark Dale <Mark.Dale at alga.asn.au>,
>>    Mark Coffey <coffeyshop at ozemail.com.au>,
>>    Marie Nordmarc <mnemonic_marie at hotmail.com>,
>>    Marie Daws <ried79 at yahoo.com.au>,
>>    Maggie Hine <Hine.Maggie at saugov.sa.gov.au>,
>>    "Longley, Jim" <jim.longley at cba.com.au>,
>>    L Hunter Lovins <hlovins at theglobalacademy.org>,
>>    King Swee <ks_yeo at hotmail.com>,
>>    Kerry Casey <kcasey_justtravel at atlasmail.com>,
>>    Keith Daniel <keithd at bigpond.net.au>, Keith Baker <Keith.Baker at ea.gov.au>,
>>    Keenan David <davidkeenan at ballarat.vic.gov.au>,
>>    Kathy Preece <kathy.preece at nre.vic.gov.au>,
>>    Kathryn Rachel Smith <u3239338 at anu.edu.au>,
>>    Kate West <kate.west at arup.com.au>,
>>    Kate MacMaster <k.macMaster at acfonline.org.au>,
>>    "Karlson 'Charlie' Hargroves" <khargrov at bigpond.net.au>,
>>    Karen Alexander <karen at snowgumpress.com.au>,
>>    Julie Johnson <JJohnson at copyright.com.au>,
>>    Judy Sheargold <jsheargold at ieaust.org.au>,
>>    Josie Dahdah <juejue9 at hotmail.com>,
>>    Jonathan Sinclair-Wilson <jsw at Earthscan.co.uk>,
>>    Jonathan Creek <jonathanmcreek at hotmail.com>,
>>    John Williams <john.williams at csiro.au>, John White 
>><john.white at grl.com.au>,
>>    "John O'Connor" <john.oconnor at newcastle.edu.au>,
>>    John Hewson <john.hewson at au.abnamro.com>,
>>    John Boshier <chief at ieaust.org.au>, John Andrews 
>><andrews.john at rmit.edu.au>,
>>    Joe Herbertson <jherbert at mail.newcastle.edu.au>,
>>    Jodie Bricout <jodie.bricout at arup.com.au>,
>>    Jo Lang <josephine.lang at rmit.edu.au>, Jimmy <james_is2 at yahoo.com>,
>>    Jim McKnoulty <jimm at pmm.com.au>, Jill Grant <jill.grant at bigpond.com>,
>>    Jenny Goldie <natdir at population.org.au>, Jenny Brown 
>><JBrown at ieaust.org.au>,
>>    Jenny Boshier <Jenny.Boshier at ea.gov.au>, Jen Seal <jenseal at rmi.org>,
>>    Jaya Pillai <jaya.pillai at anu.edu.au>,
>>    Janis Birkeland <Janis.Birkeland at canberra.edu.au>,
>>    James Newman <jnewman at mail.fairfax.com.au>,
>>    IYPFChiefExec <IYPFChiefExec at yahoogroups.com>, IYPFBoard at yahoogroups.com,
>>    ISOS Conference <office at australia21.org.au>,
>>    Ian Lowe <i.lowe at sct.gu.edu.au>,
>>    Ian Harrison <ian.harrison at sabv2010.com.au>,
>>    "Hunter, Matthew" <MHunter at ppk.com.au>,
>>    Hugh Middlemis <hugh.middlemis at aquaterra.com.au>,
>>    Hugh Forde <hugh.forde at sabv2010.com.au>,
>>    Hilary Winchester <hilary.winchester at flinders.edu.au>,
>>    Heather Tallent <HTallent at hsus.org>,
>>    Heather Lloyd <heatherlloyd at aus-gdf.org>,
>>    Greg Walters <GWalters at skm.com.au>,
>>    Greg Lavery <Greg.Lavery at originenergy.com.au>,
>>    Greg Bourne <bourneg at az1.bp.com>, Gerry Te Kapa Coates <gerry at isp.co.nz>,
>>    Gerry Gillespie <gerry.gillespie at resource.nsw.gov.au>,
>>    Geoff McAlpine <Geoff.McAlpine at csiro.au>,
>>    Geoff Garrett <Geoff.Garrett at csiro.au>,
>>    Geoff Clarke <Geoff.Clarke at csiro.au>,
>>    Gary Codner <Gary.Codner at eng.monash.edu.au>,
>>    Gael Tilbrook <gtilbrook at ieaust.org.au>,
>>    Frank Fenner <frank.fenner at anu.edu.au>,
>>    Fiona Wain <eba at environmentbusiness.com.au>,
>>    "Environs Scott McKenzie (E-mail)" <scott.mckenzie at environs.org.au>,
>>    Engineers Australia <broff at engaust.com.au>,
>>    Emer Diviney <emer.diviney at rmit.edu.au>, Elois Yaxley <elois at vkool.com>,
>>    Elizabeth Heij <Elizabeth.Heij at csiro.au>, dubach at wbcsd.org,
>>    Donna Stephenson <donna.stephenson at rmit.edu.au>,
>>    Don Henry ACF <d.henry at acfonline.org.au>,
>>    Dietrich Georg <dgeorg at engaust.com.au>,
>>    Dexter Dunphy <dexter.dunphy at uts.edu.au>,
>>    "Dennis O'Neill" <ceo at auscid.org.au>,
>>    David Yencken <dyencken at ozemail.com.au>,
>>    David Thom IPENZ <dthom at ihug.co.nz>,
>>    David Singleton ARUP <david.singleton at arup.com.au>,
>>    David Radcliffe <DRadcliffe at thiess.com.au>,
>>    David Marsden Ballard <david.mb at tpg.com.au>,
>>    David Hobbs <David.Hobbs at cca.org.au>,
>>    David Dumaresq <David.Dumaresq at anu.edu.au>,
>>    Daniella Tilbury <dtilbury at gse.mq.edu.au>, Dan MacKinlay 
>><dan at octapod.org>,
>>    Dale Levy RMI <dalelevy at rmi.org>,
>>    "Cruickshanks-boyd, David" <DCruickshanks at pb.com.au>,
>>    Courtney Krause <courtney at webone.com.au>,
>>    Colin Butler <csbutler at iprimus.com.au>,
>>    Christine Loh <cloh at civic-exchange.org>, Christina Page <cpage at rmi.org>,
>>    Chris Ryan <chris.j.ryan at rmit.edu.au>,
>>    Chris Johnson <cjohnson at izilla.com.au>,
>>    Cheryl Desha <cheryl.desha at arup.com.au>,
>>    Charlie Hargroves <chargroves at ieaust.org.au>,
>>    Cathy Zoi <zoic at epa.nsw.gov.au>, Catherine McMahon 
>><cmcmahon at merlin.net.au>,
>>    Catherine Greener <cgreener at rmi.org>, Cameron Tonkinwise 
>><cctw at edf.edu.au>,
>>    Cameron Neil <cameronneil at iypf.org>, Cameron Hoffmann 
>><cameronh at pmm.com.au>,
>>    Cameron Burns <cameron at rmi.org>, Brian Walker <Brian.Walker at csiro.au>,
>>    Brian Furness <bfurnass at netspeed.com.au>,
>>    Brendan Smyth <Brendan.Smyth at act.gov.au>,
>>    Brendan Mackey <Brendan.Mackey at anu.edu.au>,
>>    Bren Witherspoon <greenhood at netspeed.com.au>,
>>    Bremley Lyngdoh <bremley at youthlink.org>,
>>    Bolle Borkowsky <bolle.a.borkowsky at mainroads.qld.gov.au>,
>>    Bob Douglas <bobdouglas at netspeed.com.au>, Bill Rourke 
>><brourke at pcug.org.au>,
>>    Bill Leane <William.Leane at actewagl.com.au>,
>>    Ben Dodwell <ben.dodwell at lendlease.com.au>,
>>    "Barry J. Grear" <bjgrear at netadvantage.com.au>,
>>    Barbara Rix <Barbara.Rix at unisa.edu.au>, Anna McKenzie <amac at a1.com.au>,
>>    Andrew Kean <akean at rmi.org>, Andrew Higham <ahigham at dpc.wa.gov.au>,
>>    Andrew Donovan <ad at andrewdonovan.com.au>,
>>    "Amory B. Lovins" <ablovins at rmi.org>, Amber Kerr <akerr at rmi.org>,
>>    "Alspach, Jane" <jalspach at asce.org>, Alexis Karolides <alexis at rmi.org>,
>>    Alexandra de Blas <earthbeat at your.abc.net.au>,
>>    Alex Fearnside <Alex.Fearnside at ea.gov.au>,
>>    Alex Boston <xboston at davidsuzuki.org>, ACP <admin at professions.com.au>,
>>    greenleap at yahoogroups.com
>>Reply-to: "Karlson 'Charlie' Hargroves" <secretariat at naturaledgeproject.net>
>>X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2720.3000
>>Full report downloadable from
>>Greetings to the supporters and teams of The Natural Edge Project.
>>The opportunity to bring together such volumes of amazing material in the
>>development of the publication has been both overwhelming and exhilarating.
>>Attempting to develop this first edition of Natural Advantage of Nations is
>>a major undertaking made possible only by the ongoing support from partners
>>and the amazing contributions from our co-authors, partners, editorial team,
>>working group and supporters.
>>We have the pleasure in announcing that the final structure for the
>>publication has been drafted and we hereby invite your comments and
>>feedback. We are particularly interested in how your work can be
>>incorporated into the overall model to strengthen it and provide the breadth
>>of knowledge needed to undertake such a task. Comments will be received in
>>an ongoing way however the earlier the response the more likely it will be
>>incorporated into the material.
>>The next phase will be the release of the 50% First Draft which will
>>effectively be a precis of the full publication in approx. 150 pages,
>>summarising the argument and illustrating it with our best thoughts on case
>>studies and material. This document is currently being prepared and we
>>anticipate release by the end of July.
>>We appreciate the patience and ongoing support you have all given our team
>>and we have been very focused on producing a document that reflects this
>>support and the contributions made in a strong framework that can be the
>>basis of a nation achieving natural competitive advantage.
>>Highlights of this period have been the opportunity to focus our attention
>>on the bring together of the various materials and contributions into the
>>first draft of the publication. Further to this we have gained the support a
>>number of new partners to the project. The Institution of Engineers
>>Australia, through the Environment College and the Environmental Engineering
>>Society has been accepted as a Principal Partner further strengthening the
>>strong support given to the project from the Institution.
>>The Board of Triple Bottom Line Australia has formally endorsed the
>>project and we are looking forward to working with them to ensure the
>>accounting sections of the publication are up to date and presenting the
>>strongest case.
>>Kind Regards
>>Karlson ‘Charlie’ Hargroves
>>Project Coordinator
>>All the latest information regarding the project can be found in the
>>Store at http://www.naturaledgeproject.net/Documents/
>>Summary of Update 6:
>>·  Content Update
>>·  TNEP Partner Profiles;
>>    a) Principal Partner - Environmental Engineering Society and Environment
>>        College of the Institution of Engineers Australia,
>>    b) Project Partner - Sustainable Industries Division, Queensland
>>        Environmental Protection Agency
>>·  Formal endorsement from Triple Bottom Line Australia for TNEP
>>·  TNEP Working Group Member Profile - Rob Murray-Leach
>>Karlson 'Charlie' Hargroves
>>Project Coordinator
>>The Natural Edge Project
>>C/- Engineers Australia
>>11 Bagot Street
>>North Adelaide SA 5006
>>T: +61 (0) 8 8361 6929
>>M: +61 (0) 412 427 543
>David Marsden-Ballard
>Green Corps Team Leader
>Greening Australia ACT & SE NSW
>Office:     02  6253 3053
>Mobile:   0427 270 324
>Environmental Educator and Permaculture Designer
>B.App.Sc.(Social Ecology) Hons., Grad.Dip.Env.Ed., Dip.Perm.Des., MEIA. J.P.

David Holmgren & Su Dennett
Holmgren Design Services
Ph   + 61 3 53483636
Email     info at holmgren.com.au
Website  http://www.holmgren.com.au

Melliodora (Hepburn Permaculture Gardens)
16 Fourteenth St,
Australia. 3461.
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