Elevate Difference

Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change

David Holmgren, one of the founders of the permaculture concept, turns his attention to forecasting the results of changes to energy and climate in Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change. The first half of the book provides an overview of the history of energy, energy futures, and the relationships between climate change and peak oil. It’s likely not surprising that this information is somewhat bleak. While nothing in these sections of the book was completely surprising to me, it was still somewhat bracing to have all of this information presented all at once in such a precise, matter-of-fact way. 

After providing historical context, Holmgren moves into the heart of the book: descent scenarios. Holmgren forecasts four scenarios based on different variables of climate change and energy decline (slow energy decline and severe climate change, slow energy decline and moderate climate change, etc.). The scenarios range from dystopian to moderately utopian. I have struggled a lot with my reactions to these scenarios. I cannot argue with the research behind Holmgren’s assertions and his presentation is thorough and clear, but I have a mental disconnect in that I don’t want to believe any of the negative ones. The scenarios that are the most cautiously utopian are comforting, but seem unrealistic (and still hugely life altering). 

To his credit, Holmgren is aware of the potential for this reaction. In the final section of the book—by far my favorite section—Holmgren notes, “I believe we can better shape our responses to each of the scenarios if as individuals and communities and nations we recognize the constraining forces that are beyond our control. We can then consider how basic human values and needs can be sustained without wasting resources on projects or objectives that may have little chance of altering the fundamental dynamics of our world.”

This sentiment is what I was hoping for when I started reading Future Scenarios. I had hoped that the book would provide suggestions for ways that communities could work together to adapt to the challenges that we are on the precipice of experiencing. The book mainly focuses, instead, on forecasts. While it is really only the aforementioned final section that delves into what I was hoping for, the book does provide valuable, if sometimes terrifying, information about the possible interactions and ramifications of climate change and peak oil.

Written by: Erin Schowalter, June 25th 2009