Hi, this is Geoff,

First, many thanks to all of you for your well-wishings, prayers, and kind words regarding the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie. Compared to some other parts of the country, what we went through was minor. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones.

Second, I noted this in the last Friday Five, but upon additional reflection, thought it merited additional emphasis: What we learned from Bill — in terms of permaculture thinking, frameworks, and practical design — it actually works. I know it may sound obvious or even odd to say that, but when you actually witness, first-hand, permaculture-designed systems hold up successfully under not just difficult but extreme weather and environmental conditions, it really is something extraordinary to behold.

My hope is that all of us, as brothers and sisters around the world, can learn from both what works and what doesn’t work, in order to help us better prepare for the challenges that await us in the future.  

With no further ado, this week’s Friday Five…

Solutions, Not Problems: One of the hallmarks of permaculture is its focus on solutions. Bill was almost maniacal about this – solution, solution, solution. Yes, problems exist, but to make a lasting and real difference, we should spend only enough time to fully understand the problem, then move rapidly to its solution. In other words, just enough time to understand deeply and intuitively, not forever dwell on the negatives. The difference between the two is not trivial, but could make all the difference between good health and the lack thereof, as has been described here. And if you want to take it to the next level, check out Will Bowen’s 21-day Complaint-Free Challenge here. And a hilarious example of someone actually trying to do the 21-day challenge here.

Coal AND Solar? How’s this for a headline: “In a Twist, Kentucky’s Coal Museum Will Now Be Powered By Solar.” Wow, that certainly is a twist (!) Moreover, according to estimates, making this switch will actually save the museum almost $10,000 in energy costs annually. Maybe opposites can get along after all…

Footprints: How heavy is your footprint? The Global Footprint Network has put together a rich set of data and resources, everything from ecological footprint, biocapacity, carbon footprint, relative consumption, ecological deficits and reserve, and biocapacity per person / per capita, among others. Check it all out here. An incredible contribution to helping us better understand sustainability.

100% Renewable Energy? Two pieces this week by Vox’s David Roberts addresses the question: Is 100% renewable energy realistic? The first is what Roberts calls, “A Beginner’s Guide,” and the second, written a few days later, is Roberts’ own take on the question. I’m not going to weigh in on this just yet; I’d rather here your thoughts in the comments section below. And based on the discussion there, I may jump in 🙂

In case you missed it: A few interesting pieces this week from our sister site, the non-profit Permaculture Research Institute:

If you enjoy these posts, be sure to bookmark the site as several new articles go up weekly, or check out thousands of other past articles, here.  

That’s it for the Friday Five.

Share your comments and thoughts on the blog-version of this Friday Five (and all past + future Friday Fives), below.

Cheers, and have a great weekend

Your friend,


2017-04-21T16:56:59+00:00 Blog|24 Comments
  • marysaunders

    I find it interesting that there is not a discussion of possible changes for large users of energy, such as the military and agriculture, and possible changes that might come in those areas. I also find it interesting that work on using surplus, such as David Blume’s work on alcohol as fuel, are also left out. Also, the work of the Rocky Mountain Institute was not mentioned. The RMI points out that conservation is happening at a faster rate than conventional analysts appear to be noticing.

    The sources for the modeling seem very conventional and probably sourced with what the medical industry now wants to call “competing interests” rather than “conflicts of interest.” From my point of view, this is why conventional analysts get blind-sided and dig in defensively in the comments sections on sites such as Renewable Energy World.

    • Rob Mercereau

      I totally agree. There is much missing from the analysis. The data set is weak.

  • Sheri Steffes Menelli

    Hi Geoff and Nadia, I thought you might find this 90 min seminar interesting if you are looking for material for your upcoming Friday Five newsletter – http://reinvent.net/events/event/the-worlds-first-sustainable-plan-to-reverse-global-warming/ It is by Paul Hawken. He and dozens of several dozen PhDs spent years crunching data to find out for sure where the biggest opportunities were to reduce carbon. It really inspired me. I wrote them but have not heard back. I told them that I’m not sure what is in the book but as a homeowner what I’d most like to see is a list of the 100 best things that I can do to help. For example, replace my refrigerator is probably number 1. Is number 2 to get solar? To sheet mulch? To grow food in my back yard? To compost waste? I’m actually not sure as an individual about how I fit into the list. I hope that is either in the book or a follow up article/email.

    • Bill Crandall-TA

      Interesting. I will pass it along.

  • P-O Gustafsson

    The only possible solution is a drastic reduction on energy use. Our present energy consumption depends to 80% on fossil fuels. There is no way we can convert that energy use to renewable sources. This means a totally different way of life, turning away from our political/economic system that is built on unlimited growth. The real problem is political, the needed change away from consumerism to a sustainable living where we focus on relations between people instead of ever more gadgets. But to change to a steady state economy is hardly possible without a economic crasch.

    • Rob Mercereau

      I agree that reducing energy use is the greatest key that is not mentioned in this article. I think that, like Mark Denekamp says above, that we can’t wait for the politicians to respond to the real facts. The solutions, as you allude to, are turning away from centralized power politically and economically; focusing on local renewable solutions. But I disagree the the problem is political. We give them power. The problem is us. We need to make these changes, we need to take the power back and create change. You are very right, in my way of thinking, that the change needs to happen in our focus to our personal relationships between people.

    • Bill Crandall-TA

      I suspect that we can be sure that any solution will not be altogether apolitical, given all the political aspects of the problems.

      At the same time, I suspect that we have a far better chance of convincing sufficient numbers of people and sufficiently highly placed people that we should reduce energy use, as we must, if it can be solidly demonstrated that reduced use need not be tragic.

      To speak in a rough way, that’s permaculture. Getting into the details involves qualifications and so forth, but these do not make the point less convincing.

      It is possible that an enormous crash is inevitable. But if so, that is because human folly and ignorance are such large factors.

      • Rob Mercereau

        Indeed, Bill; not only do such reductions not lead to tragedy, if people realized how much of their own hard earned money they waste just trying to live an unrealistic and unnecessary standard of living, they’d realize how much of the many things that they actually value that they could afford to incorporate in their lives. To top it off the best things in life are free. Love, friendship, connection to nature…

        …at any rate, your last statement is sadly all too true, and perhaps… sadly we will all go down in a catastrophic mess as a result of such mad scientist tricksterisms as a nuclear showdown… but hopefully not. I have strong hopes that the people of this world will unite to break the bonds of power that hold us in such a failing and flailing system. Permaculture is certainly one of the many keys to unlock this mystery. I’m glad that you are on board this train.

  • I was looking for a footprint calculator already several times and with all the calculators I found I always achieved very different results. I this on is reliable in its calculations, I live a life of 1,5 to 1,9 earths. I have to downsize! How? Via permaculture. Using this calculator again in two years will definitely change the outcome! Actually they have to add m³ of soil creation done by you ;)) That would change the outcome again…

  • Big Problems need Little Solutions http://paulglover.org/0304.html

  • Genie Gabriel

    Not participating in the discussion, but extending a big thank you for the links to positive and thought-provoking articles and sites. I pass many of these on with credit to this blog. Again, thank you!

  • Hi Geoff,

    To my mind the solution for energy is exactly the same as for permaculture food production. There is plenty of energy about each one of us available on a daily basis. It just needs a change to see this and harvest it locally. Large distributed systems suffer from the same problems as large distributed (industrial) food systems. Until we switch from this we will all still suffer from the same problems that afflict industrial food – cost, delivery and powers that control such systems. Instead we should recognise what is freely available to us, find best ways to utilise it and get going. Local solutions will produce world-wide change over time sooner and better than waiting for governments to respond.

    • Rob Mercereau

      I definitely agree.

  • Rob Mercereau

    The articles by David Roberts seem to be trying to give the impression of a balanced argument but they both miss the mark, by not addressing any of the deeper issues. For instance, there is a strong focus on ‘Natural’ gas. While the gas does exist in Nature, the process of extraction, called hydraulic fracturing (or Fracking) , destroys the layers of shale with high pressure chemicalized water deep underground, polluting the aquifers and water tables, while causing instability in foundational geologies resulting in Earthquakes. Another key problem I see with his ideas are they are all based on expanding the electrical grid and joining it all up in some mega grid. Hello? Did we not learn anything from the epic blackouts that happen when we centralize power and the smallest thing goes wrong? Decentralization is what we need, tied into massive lifestyle changes (Permaculture anyone?) by the cultural drivers (North America, Europe, and Wealthy Asian and globalized cities) and a rapid about face from the media which has been perpetuating the myth of endless growth and a culture of convenience.

    So much of these articles is geared toward the idea that we need to commit to sustaining Nuclear and Natural Gas if we want to shut down the coal. So nuclear might be able to be built much safer so that it greatly minimizes the risk of a melt down… who cares? Where do we put the waste? Until there is a safe way to neutralize the waste, , then it should be shut down too, and what if that minimal chance of a meltdown happens anyway? Human error combined with reliance on extreme power sources, means that a meltdown is inevitable.

    Now to be a lot more positive 🙂 He sort of skims over and past the CCS power plants, without coming back to them or giving any real reference. Probably, I’m thinking, this is because they are talking about sequestering carbon from coal fired plants, instead of from bio-syn-gas plants generating electricity from easy to grow renewable annual biomass, like hemp. He does mentioning sequestering carbon deep underground (like in abandoned mine shafts), which, although sequestering carbon is a waste of energy in the process. We would be much better off sequestering annual renewable biomass (which has already sequestered soil carbon in it’s roots-and the micro rhizome associates-while growing) back into the growing soils as biochar and putting the exhausted CO2 into greenhouses where the food plants would convert it to long chain carbon molecules, which would, in my way of thinking create a geometric rise in soil carbon renewal. Phew.

    As Mark Denekamp wrote a few hours ago below, decentralization of power (on all levels) is a must if we are going to move forward toward sustainability, and beyond. While I understand the sentiments of P-O Gustafson below, and agree fully that reduction in use is the primary key factor, I don’t believe the problem is political. While politics is a major problem, the ultimate problem and the solution is social. P.O. touches on this, but that is not political, it is community activism; but perhaps that is what P.O. meant. We, as citizens, need to step up and make the changes on a local level. We can’t wait for the conservative elite to pay attention to the truth or to act; there is too much dirty money lobbying for the attention of these bureaucrats. I agree entirely with the sentiments of Mary Saunders.

    All in all the articles are not that well written (extremely repetitive and long winded) and also skewed. The ‘facts’ are based on a demonstrably incomplete data set, which does not take into account long term effects of the existing power grid super structure, while not even touching on many of the alternatives. Convincing if you aren’t well read on the subject, perhaps, but I found too much of these two articles are reiterating conservative assumptions as if they will somehow magically become facts so that the rest of it makes sense.

    • Bill Crandall-TA

      Along with the possibilities of nuclear catastrophe, nuclear plants:
      they leak, and leak worse with time. For various reasons, water that
      cools the core must cycle through metal pipes. These rust.

      • Rob Mercereau

        Definitely, Bill. Serious nastiness. I really can’t be convinced otherwise by any pro-nuclear pundit. Many other problems with them including health hazards to workers… but there is also the use by the military of spent uranium (the corporate military complex’s waste disposal system) supposedly because it’s heavy and thus allows for armor piercing, but it is clearly used to spread uranium radiation all over a civilian population’s habitat, and thus extend the casualties into the future in the form of leukemia and other cancers, causing a massive financial and emotional burden on the local health system.

    • P-O Gustafsson

      Yes Rob, I mean politics are also on a local level. All the way down to the guy who decides what sewage system you are allowed to have on your house. And politics start (should start) from the ground and send message up to the top political class that no more has much connection to reality. I would regard community activism as local politics.

      We need to contract the economy to be in line with existing resources. We are now expanding debt to pay for our way of life, and debt is a loan from future generations that they are supposed to pay back. As the resources get ever more hard/expensive to extract the possibility of payback decreases.

      The capitalistic system is based on growth, it doesn’t work in a steady or contracting economy. This is the big problem that lacks any solution. That is why I say we have to crash economically before we see any real change.

      We need to build local resilient communities that are as little dependant on large infrastructure as possible. We have to form tight groups of people that are dependent on each other and prepared to help each other out in all situations. Relations between people, work together they way it was done before the industrial revolution when free fossil energy changed everything.

      To get some perspective, we have increased human population on Earth 10 times in ~200 years. This was possible with fossil fuel, 1 litre of petrol has energy content equivalent to several hundred man hours work. The number of new oil/gas fields found are decreasing annually. So are the mineral content in the mines, we are picking the easiest fruits first and it’s getting harder/more expensive to extract what we need to continue this wasteful way of life.

      Sorry about being so negative, but we need to understand the facts to be able to make the best decisions for the future. Permaculture way of life is a solution that will go a long way if we can spread the word.

      • Rob Mercereau

        Definitely totally agree. Thanks for clarifying. I enjoy your thorough response.

  • Dan Gulko

    Technocrats and their fantasies are just as big a problem as the greedy corporations. They want it all, and for free. But all these solar panels and wind turbines have costs in the form of strip mines and fossil fuel dependant transport systems etc. And the articles are only referring to westerners who fear changing their lifestyle, but also are feeling guilty for polluting the world. But for this resource rich population the idea of totally renewable energy is still a far off fantasy let alone including the majority of earth dwellers who are basically without now. The real discussion should be about radical lifestyle change to reduce electricity need to twenty percent or less of current levels. Electricity causes more disconnect from nature and more societal depression. More work hours, loss of star filled skies, loss of healthy food preservation techniques, increased toxic exposure and environmental degradation seem to be about all electricity has done for us. Technocrats are part of the problem

  • marysaunders

    Islandable microgrids is a concept from Amory Lovins. I like this a lot. It helps one to picture what we need. His idea includes that once you have a microgrid that provides for itself, it may become, as it refines what it does, net-plus. His own house in Colorado is reputedly net-plus. When net-plus happens, then the microgrid is prepared to trade off its surplus, a very permie outcome.

    This is similar to David Blume’s system, described in his entertaining style, in his book, Alcohol Can Be a Gas. Once a homestead has provided for its own needs, it may be ready to sell surplus. His notion in the book was everybody could tinker and produce food and alcohol for fuel. He subsequently realized too many of us are not handy.

    Now, he is building the distilling equipment so that it can be dropped anywhere, say, in a jungle where the people need to get to yield quickly to prevent destruction of their ecosystems to mine the trees. Frequently, medicines are found in forests and can be preserved in alcohol to be exported for the resources. To save the trees requires resources for the tree-savers.

    All of this reminds me of the sermon one gets on an airplane. If you are a parent or caregiver, when the oxygen drops down, put it on your own face first, so you will have enough air to wrestle it on to a dependent person.

    • Bill Crandall-TA

      These are valuable ideas.

      It seems to me that that small unit that becomes independent need not always be a homestead or household, though–that it might instead be an individual or organization or community, and that the independence might perhaps be more or less relative.

      So I might be more or less taken care of and able to offer help, and yet I might also need help at some time.

  • Barbara Powell

    Would love to read everything put on Friday at 5, particularly liked the positive none complaining article. Will try and build on that and then may be able to get into the more advanced problems of carbon footprint and renewable energy. Thanks Geoff for keeping all channels open and encouraging us to be involved!

  • Hi Geoff – love your blog and may be too late with this reply on 100% renewables but here goes anyway. Yes, I’m not too optimistic about things but I know that unexpected twists and turns happen and your blog is so important for the good news stories.

    But I really believe we have to get the less popular points into the mainstream too. For instance, energy bills! We can’t go on promising to reduce energy, or food, prices. We have to change how we cost things, how markets work, tackle inequality. And that will come from local communities finding their own solutions.

    Meanwhile, I feel that the following areas are missing from the debate over 100% renewable energy:

    1. No oil means no petrochemical industry
    Fossil fuels, especially oil, are raw materials as well as stores of energy. Petrochemicals include fertilises, pesticides, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Organic food production should be seen as the future, not a quaint green thing, or a middle class hipster fad!

    2. It’s all about scale
    I believe a 100% renewable world is possible. Indeed it’s how we lived up until about 250 years ago, and how we will most likely be living 100 years into the future. It’s how we live that has to change and that’s the problem. Too many people believe that industrial global capitalism is the only way for the world to work. How we live today has come about because of cheap energy from fossil fuels. So what are the options when we don’t have that?

    3. Inconvenience
    Variability can be addressed by changing behaviour. We have to educate people about where energy comes from and why the system is changing to one of less convenience. Never a vote winner though – we’ll raise your bills and everything will be more hassle!

    4. Inputs
    It takes fossil fuels, and other natural resources including water, to produce renewable devices. In a 100% renewable future, what fires the smelters or the massive trucks mining ores?

    The same goes for nuclear power – it requires fossil fuels, and other natural resources including water. Furthermore, there’s nuclear waste. If CCS can’t pass any reasonable cost-benefit analysis, how does nuclear? And if free energy is just around the corner, what’s the next limiting factor. There has to be more serious mainstream discussion on changing how we live.

    I totally believe that another world is possible. The question is do we choose that future or does nature impose it on us. We are part of nature and remembering that is key to what we do next.

    • Hi @mandymeikle:disqus, We have to aim way beyond organic, because without good eco systemic design it can be just as consumptive and damaging. We do have to be aiming for the majority if not all our resources to be coming from living resources, then we will have to continuously honouring and extending living resources and this we can do. We all have to understand that we can supply just about all our basic needs with urban agriculture, perimeter urban agriculture and rangeland and forestry outside of this, using only 4 to 6% of the equivalent land area presently used by the incredibly inefficient industrial agriculture system. Nutrition will be much higher, food will be much fresher and our local products will link us back to our local landscape identity. We can easily achieve full meaningful employment while cutting the working hours by more than half, because of the supply line efficiency and the lack of transport required. Alcohol fuels and biogas are easily produce and small local mines can supply base resources in many locations. With this type of design realised many of our presently over consumed finite Resourses can be extended almost indefinitely : )