[permaculture] permaculture - Biofuel Illusion

Ben Martin Horst ben.martinhorst at gmail.com
Sun Jul 9 18:07:05 EDT 2006

Scott Pittman wrote:
> Why is it that no one wants to talk about moving to a more simple life 
> style?  People had it pretty good in the 18th and 19th century without 
> all the petroleum, the problem then, as now, was political ineptitude 
> and greed leading to nationalistic war over territory and natural 
> resources.  
Amen. However, I think it's important that we not over-idealize the 
immediate pre-petroleum period. Many of the problems we currently face 
existed then as well, simply minus the petroleum. For instance, whereas 
today we use electricity to light our homes, in the 19th century much of 
Europe used whale oil, leading to a predictable and disastrous 
population crash among whales from which no cetacean species has fully 
recovered. And instead of using gasoline and diesel to power 
transportation and industry, the 19th century world used coal. We'd 
still be facing global warming crises even if nobody had started pumping 
petroleum. And, as you allude to, colonial wars of the period led to 
people having it "pretty good" only in the colonizing nations. 18th and 
19th century agrarian and industrial societies were destroying the world 
every bit as much as modern ones are, though not at quite the same pace.

If we're going to idealize a historical subsistence pattern, than let it 
be that of all the hunter-gather and horticultural groups that comprised 
the totality of humanity until roughly 10,000 years ago, and continue to 
exist in a few places at present. Their effects on overall biomass and 
biodiversity were/are almost always nil to positive; their people 
consistently happier than any other type of society, and with the 
possible exception of modern industrial society, always healthier than 
any other; their lives ones of more leisure than any agricultural or 
industrial society.

Our challenge as permaculturists is to translate the tactics and 
strategies of such venerable peoples into ones useful in the modern 
context. A world of a few hundred thousand people is a very different 
place from a world of several billions.


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