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Book Review: David Holmgren’s ‘RetroSuburbia’

Written By: - Date published: 6:05 am, July 22nd, 2022 - 93 comments
Categories: climate change, sustainability - Tags: , , , ,

Published in 2018, Retrosuburbia is a manual for sustainable and resilient suburban living, particularly suited to Australia and New Zealand. Written by permaculture co-originator David Holmgren, it follows a decade of his work on retrofitting the suburbs in the face of climate change and related crises.

This review from 2018 by Rob Hopkins, writer, environmentalist, and co-founder of the Transition Towns network, is reposted from here with permission.

Retrosuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future.  Meliodora Publishing 2018.  Available here (UK) or here (elsewhere). 

[online version available by “pay what you feel“. Also available in New Zealand libraries]

I am increasingly fascinated by two words I think are vital to our future, but which I see declining in the world around us, “what if?” Navigating a way to a safe, nurturing and liveable future requires our coming together to create What If spaces, places and events where we can come together with others to ask those questions. The Transition movement, for me, has always been one of those spaces, the invitation for people to join up with others to look at their place through what if lenses.

David Holmgren’s new book is a fascinating, and intoxicating blast of ‘what if?’ which ought to be put through every suburban letterbox in the world, although given its size I have doubts that it would fit. I am a huge Holmgren fan. ‘Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability’ changed my life. The ‘what if?’ at the heart of RetroSuburbia is “what if our suburbs were reimagined and repurposed to be sustainable, productive and vibrant?” Good question.

It takes his ‘permaculture flower’ at its basis, as the lens through which it looks at the possibilities of how the suburbs could be if catalysed with imagination and possibility. Although written very much for the Australian context, there is much in its almost 600 pages to inspire suburban permaculturists anywhere.

There’s a treasury of Holmgren insight on topics from retrofitting your house, harvesting water and storing food, to setting up a food garden, managing with less than perfect urban soils, working with animals in the suburbs and maximising diversity. You’ll find guidance on different models of living together, making decisions, creating a livelihood, reimagining your family finances, planning for disasters, ‘rearing self-reliant and resilient children’ and so much more.

While ‘Permaculture’ was a book that had so many brilliant ideas it struggled sometimes to imagine that you might need some time and space, or some nice photos even, to be able to digest them, ‘Retrosuburbia’ is a different beast. Presented in full colour it is rich with photos, case studies from his own life and the lives of people he knows, every page drips with ideas, experience and advice with dirt beneath its nails.

A couple of years ago, David and I debated publicly his ‘Crash on Demand’ paper, where he declared that “an argument can be mounted for putting effort into precipitating that crash, the crash of the financial system”. I disagreed, arguing that we needed to be very careful what we wish for. What I love about ‘Retrosuburbia’ is that the concerns that underpinned that paper are still present here, but beautifully couched in an utterly practical, utterly convincing vision for the suburbs.

It is the perfect riposte to anyone who says “permaculturists/Transitioners/greenies just want to take us back”. Although that’s always a lazy and rather pointless accusation, this book shows a way forward in which human culture, in all its aspects, can flourish. This is my vision for the future. It’s beautiful, it’s delicious, and it’s entirely possible.

You want ‘Take Back Control’? In these pages, you got it. This book will become the banner, the standard, around which people everywhere reimagine their future and then make it happen. And written on that banner? Two words. “What if”.

93 comments on “Book Review: David Holmgren’s ‘RetroSuburbia’ ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    "It is the perfect riposte to anyone who says “permaculturists/Transitioners/greenies just want to take us back”."

    Hope RedLogix has time to comment today 🙂

    • RedLogix 1.1

      I bought a copy of this book about 18 months ago. A bit of a curates egg tbh.

      The short answer to your question is that while it packages up a vivid and creative re-imagining of suburbia, it has little to nothing useful to say about the industrial world that ultimately sustains it.

      You want vaccines, N95 masks, the internet, modern dentists, effective contraception – and so on – it’s not in this book.

      • Robert Guyton 1.1.1

        Having those things without crashing the entire system is the challenge!

        Personally, I think our focus needs to be on cauterising our pathologies, internal and external (greed, neoliberalism etc.) rather than picking off manifestations (such as wide-screen tvs).

        • RedLogix

          You might enjoy this:

          Small floating houses made out of cardboard might not be everyone's cup of tea, but they are being considered as a housing solution in the Netherlands' unused harbours.

          Humans are endlessly creative and adaptable.

          • Robert Guyton

            Thanks. I do like that. Do you know about chinampas? They're a way/the way forward! 🙂

            • RedLogix

              I have a lot of time for these methods. Some of them are quite ancient the chinampas you mention. They do vary a lot according to geography and climate; for instance the Vietnamese have done low-tech variations on aquaculture for many hundreds of years – but the Australians updated it with modern materials and tech to make it even more productive.

              In the automation game one of our target growth sectors is agriculture. We are seeing a strong trend away from vast swathes of cropping land toward more intensive, tech-oriented and highly automated methods.

              Another example we have development customers working on autonomous vision controlled machines that can scan a plant, decide whether it is a weed or not, and what state of health it is in – and then either apply a tiny squirt of herbicide, pesticide, or the correct nutrient. This highly targeted approach might massively reduce chemical and labour inputs, while lifting productivity even further.

              I understand this highly tech approach might not be quite your cup of tea – but over time I would argue there is a lot of potential for the highly observational methods of permaculture and traditional tech you are comfortable with, to be updated with better science and technology. The potential outcomes are probably well beyond my meagre imagination.

              • Robert Guyton

                Very good, RedLogix.

                Permit me, if I may, to quote you, with a minor tweak, to illustrate a possible down-side to your preferred line of travel 🙂

                "Another example we have development customers working on autonomous vision controlled machines that can scan a person, decide whether it is a threat or not, and what state of health it is in – and then either apply a tiny squirt of mammalicide, or the correct nutrient."

            • Molly

              There's a good segment at the beginning of this episode of Monty Don's Around the World in 80 Gardens on the floating gardens of Mexico, for those who haven't seen them.

              Also, a good follow up to Cuba.


              • Robert Guyton

                The Southland Plains were once largely wetland. There are moves afoot to return as much of that "water feature" as possible, for the sake of water quality and mahi nga kai. It's not Mexico down here, but there's potential for floating gardens, for sure!

                • Molly

                  The fact that they are still being used so productively is incredibly encouraging for those looking to replicate.

                • DB Brown

                  It's been decades now and I have not needed to clean my aquaponic fish tank (home aquarium). I gave up testing after five years. Rock solid pH, 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, 0 nitrate…

                  I got a bunch of early tomatoes out of it last year, grown all manner of food in it. It's mostly ferns now (less faffing about) and run a tomato out of it in spring (and poke the vine out the window to get full sun).

                  Anyway, what I'm saying is, some of this tech has serious potential. I've had a bunch of systems, each surprising in what it could do. One of them bred banded kokopu in captivity for the first time. The more natural an environment, the less work and guesswork an operator has to do to get a result.

                  In Tokyo they're now looking at aquaponic techniques with stacked arrays of plants. I did that twenty years ago, but at the time it seemed a big white elephant for NZ… Was fun building it (16 m2 greenhouse with layered aquaponic beds, some continuous flow, some nft, some ebb and flow… (p.s. continuous flow yields the most).

                  There were issues with excess heat in summer, and I didn't want to be running devices to try cool a home system, so I broke it down after a couple of years. But it could produce well enough. The watercress was the BEST.

                  I had dodgy soil, leading me to aquaponics and other ventures. But eventually I turned to healing soils, hippie ways, and a turn round the grounds of university.

                  A food forest is much easier for me, watch trees grow, harvest them, eat. But for production systems, aquaponics is better than hydro, just needs some expertise applied for market consistency.

                  • RedLogix

                    It's been decades now and I have not needed to clean my aquaponic fish tank (home aquarium). I gave up testing after five years. Rock solid pH, 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, 0 nitrate…

                    Interesting you should get such stable results from what sounds like a small system. I would guess you are running it well within it's capacity.

                    From what I have read however, the larger the volume of water in the system the easier it is to keep stable when running closer to capacity.

                    • DB Brown

                      Water volume (having more) modulates swings in temperature and pH. It also provides more O2 overall when demand is high. Low 02 as temps jump is a major fish killer.

                      A good biofilter is the real key to the resilience of these systems, much the same as it is with soils the unseen biology are the unsung heroes. A good biofilter also reduces pathogens in each pass of the water and so introduced parasite issues with fish simply resolved themselves.

                      When you want to stock high and produce well temp control is a must, and that can be very expensive without good design. So can the drugs. A good biofilter, and good design… Number one – having fish suited to the climate.

                      Also, these are vegetable growing systems with bonus fish, not fish growing systems with bonus veg.

                      Ideally you'd put a large garden outfit uphill of a medium aquaponic outfit… both part of one system. Then engineer it well so gravity and the sun do most of the systems work for you.

                    • RedLogix

                      Read that with interest thank you. I would definitely tend toward the vege with bonus fish end of town.

                      With that in mind, what species of fish would you suggest for a climate like Coromandel?

                    • Robert Guyton

                      " the unseen biology are the unsung heroes. "

                      This is the bit that's being missed, especially regarding carbon capture.

                    • DB Brown

                      "With that in mind, what species of fish would you suggest for a climate like Coromandel?"

                      Therein lies the rub. Most 'suitable fish' for NZ are simply not allowed here, or are very prohibitive to work with.

                      Ideally you'd want an omnivore. I've raised out eel and kokopu up here but it wasn't as warm as it has been recently. I also bred insects to try keep their feed bill reasonable, and they were all rather spoilt with worms, crickets etc I found while gardening.

                      The problem with aquaculture is the fish food. Despite using by-products of other industries in reality it's ten parts ocean fish to make one part terrestrial. Not sustainable, was never even close.

                      Back when I was keeping up much research was going into alternate protein sources for fish feed, including lupin. i have no idea how far they've come. We've advanced in pea-proteins for humans…

                      Anyways, sorry to not answer properly, it's a complicated and prohibitive mess trying to make sensible aquaponics in NZ.

                    • RedLogix

                      Aha – I suspected as much. I had looked about a while back and not found anything useful, and your answer confirms why.


                    • DB Brown

                      So, the real issue with farming fish in any manner is food for feeding the fish. No matter where we stand on the issue of using ocean fish to feed farmed fish, the public hate it and the resultant bad PR has turned many customers away from farmed fish.

                      Solution? Hermetia illucens aka Black Soldier Fly (BSF).

                      I read a (failed) doctorate application about twenty years back. Some ahead of his time kid with a 180 page proposal to take the wastes of Sao Paulo and turn them into fish and poultry feed. It was an amazing document.

                      He was largely ignored as a nutter. Today he'd be called a genius.

                      BSF have many desirable features. Like the fact they can crawl up slopes steeper than all other larvae, so competition simply can't get out of their (well designed) colonies. Or maybe the way they shed their skin and disinfect themselves as they SELF HARVEST… or how they generate heat to survive temperatures outside of a typical range (stopping production, but not crashing the colony).

                      So you get a waste stream – biomass e.g. food waste and faeces – > Soldier Flies – > Fish – > Liquid nutrient and compost – > plants – plant waste and faeces for – > soldier flies…

                      The system is now starting to mimic nature, where one organisms trash is the next organism’s treasure. Efficiencies. And excess to get fat off, captured via sunlight.

                      Turn shit into high value products.

                      The water savings of aquaponics is also remarkable. Hence the big buy-in from Australians.

      • weka 1.1.2

        This rather misses the point. Retrofitting the suburbs increases our chances of retaining the best of industrial tech while transitioning it to something sustainable. eg retrofitting glass conservatories to the front of houses to increase passive heating and enable food growing relies on glass making, and industrial technology. No-one in permaculture or transition town circles is saying we shouldn't use that tech nor try and preserve it (the rewilders probably are).

        Binary framing of powerdown vs industrial tech decreases our chances.

        The situation is incredibly serious, so we are left with few options. Powering down a la Retrosuburbia/Transition Towns/Regenag etc while adapting civ is one easy and very effective option available right now, the only thing stopping that is political and social inertia (and lack of awareness/imagination), there are no gnarly technical problems involved.

        Or we wait for some hail mary pass from high tech that may never happen. Even if it does happen we still have to make it sustainable and resilient, and we still have all the other problems that power down attempts to solve (ecology, food growing, housing, jobs etc).

        Again, the point is both/and. We can power down and if the high tech arrives, we can then make sure it is sustainable and integrate it. If it doesn't arrive, we've still got something solid and resilient to work with.

        • Molly

          For these types of approaches, one of the major impediments is local government by-laws and district plans.

          Local projects can thrive when they have the support of councils, but many similar projects struggle when support is not there, or council actively works against.

          A combination of low-tech and high-tech is likely to be part of our solution.

          • weka

            yep. Local body elections coming up soon 😉 This is one very easy way to make a difference collectively.

  2. roy cartland 2

    Does 'take us back' mean 'take us backwards or 'take us over'?

    • weka 2.1

      I read it as backwards. It's a common trope from people who see industrialisation as our only option.

      • roy cartland 2.1.1

        I used to get that a lot as well, "ThE gReeNies WiLl tAkE uS baCk tO the hORse aNd CaRt!!". When actually, the outdated way is actually the current way; the 'green' way (now the only option) is fully focused on the newest tech as well:

        https://www.solein.com/ – mircobiotic protein

        https://www.mycoworks.com/ mushroom leather


  3. Rosemary McDonald 3

    Speaking about Control…Victorian permaculturists Patrick and Meg (https://artistasfamily.is/) have put out a new video highlighting what they describe as the 'enclosure' by government, councils and corporations.

    "Living outside the industrial grid, this safety net, and the control that that safety net demands of us…and trying to prevent us from being fully human…"

    Well worth 11 minutes to get the entire story.


    And with governments and councils and corporations having enjoyed a high level of reach (some of us would say overreach) for the past few years, with little if any benefit to we the people, more and more of us will withdraw and draw on the resilience we have been encouraged/forced to foster.

    • Rosemary McDonald 3.1

      Oh, and Patrick has a nice long chat with his mate David here…


    • Robert Guyton 3.2

      "we the people"?

    • weka 3.3

      Artists as Family are political and philosophical anarchists (so is Holmgren). The road side stall rules are such bullshit, I agree a lot with what they are saying in terms of self and community resilience.

      Where I disagree is that this is a problem inherently of 'government'. I see it as a consequence of neoliberalism, which is about political and corporate power. Councils don't make decisions like this because they're part of a movement to take over and control everything. They act out of their world view, and I'm guessing in this case it's something like wanting to prevent being charged if someone dies from eating roadside preserves. Probably also a revenue generating scheme that the accountancy team came up with, again neoliberalism, councils are businesses and having a system of fees and inspections brings higher safety and an income, win/win!

      Stupid as given the state of the world, cost of living, etc. But the reason I outline this is because the anarchist and libertarians need to work with the socialist liberals (and vice versa, both have challenges here) if we are to create the kind of community resiliency that AAF are talking about.

      This is important in the NZ context too. I have a foot in both worlds, so I am less afraid of the powerdown than many because I am used to being around people who know how to be resilient outside of the mainstream. But I also know that those people aren't particularly well organised in terms of making community work, in part because they're libertarians with a high focus on the individual.

      I do see potential though. And AAF have done some awesome work on resiliency tech.

      • weka 3.3.1

        oh, and where they talk about living outside of the safety net… have they said how to look after disabled people? Are they doing this already? That will be the test imo.

        • Rosemary McDonald

          ….how to look after disabled people? We know a bit about this. Living with a significant disability outside of the legislation- protected ACC is much, much more bearable if one has ZERO (that is a very intentional big fat zero btw) expectation of any supports from government that might meet your needs.

          And yes. Peter and I are almost entirely independent of the MOH for funded supports now. (Inferior provision for ostomy and consumables …and of course the edict that the fucking- filth unPfizered do not deserve funded advanced personal cares, or to be paid for providing advanced personal cares).

          We've been here many times….resilience is what we do…is who we are. We lived in a 7metre Bus for 5 years because MOH:DSS were/are arseholes…with bach and some land, a few chooks, a few sheeps, lots of vege growing areas and some infant fruit trees…we're well on our way to being ok.

          (Admittedly the wheels might metaphorically fall off if I am incapacitated …but then I guess that's here our 'community' comes in.)

          • weka

            I'm completely dependent upon the government to pay rent, buy food, clothing, medicine and so on. And I'm on my own. My disability is quite different from Peter's, but the ability to be self sufficient in the way you are is beyond me.

            In a way you kind of affirmed my point. All of us should be supported already by the community. I can't see that improving as things get worse unless the resiliency movements act on it. Put their money where their beliefs are.

            • Rosemary McDonald

              Yes. Being dependent on government largesse makes one's existence extremely precarious, and I sympathize and empathize with your situation. Makes the necessity for anonymity when commenting understandable.

              Peter and I are very aware that many non ACC disabled people are too scared to speak out against MOH:DSS or WINZ for fear they will lose what meagre supports they have. They would sidle up to us as we held our 'Protests of Two' (against deaths in MOH:DSS funded care, disparities between MOH and ACC etc ) and apologise for not standing alongside. Some had already lost supports for speaking out. Even back then Peter had a fraction of fuck all in the way of funded care, and only got funding for a decent wheelchair because the local firm doing the assessments and applications made a concerted effort to get the funding over the line. Until that no longer worked. Anyway…for a while we were in a position to travel cheaply and front up to either protest or support various court actions. We literally had nothing to lose. Eyes would roll over on the Crown Law/ MOH table as we again took our place down the back of the courts. Result.

              But it was when we were ourselves part of a legal action taken by the OHRP against the MOH that we got up close and personal with the same people…and found them almost feral in their attitude towards us. We were significantly impaired disabled people and the unpaid family carers they were dependent on because (in many cases) MOH:DSS refused to fund the level of care these people needed. It mattered not that three previous cases had found in favour of those in our situation and that further cases had called into question the 2013 response to those previous cases. It mattered not that the MOH:DSS had been roundly chastised by Judges for failing to address this issue despite rulings having been made against them. It mattered not that Crown Law had been publicly chastised by an Appeal Court judge for failing to clarify the grounds for their appeal.

              They treated us like shit. And that was the Crown lawyers. We were used to this from various MOH:DSS bureaucrats…but from lawyers?

              And nothing has changed. Peter got his 'welcome to the new Ministry for Disabled' letter a couple of weeks ago, and he promptly screwed it up and biffed it. Rubbish. He broke his neck 52 years ago and reckons he has never felt so insecure with regards to support from the state as he has in the last 40 odd years. When ACC came in things for non ACC seemed to get worse. (the deserving disabled/eugenicist thing I suspect)

              Nothing will ever improve for non- ACC disabled in New Zealand until they have the same and equal right to funded supports afforded to ACC clients, and a state income that allows them to live with dignity.

              And it must be a RIGHT. Not and 'eligibility'. A fucking hard -core, written -into- the- constitution fully funded right.

              • RedLogix

                I read that with some very mixed feelings Rosemary. Admiration for your courage and head shaking sadness at the familiarity of it all. As I have mentioned a couple of times my younger brother has a lifetime disability that few would wish for and if it were not for his good fortune in having a family able and willing to support him – his life would have been a great deal less happy. But even this experience pales compared to your story.

                As for the MSD they are a pack of bastards who regard themselves as above the law. We had an encounter with them a few years back regarding the care of my father, and again unless I had been earning good money in Australia and had the excellent luck in stumbling upon a highly competent lawyer – we would have been screwed. (It still cost us well over $250k, and I was able to avoid by a matter of weeks plunging into a terminal debt spiral – but that is a success in this context.)

                Our lawyer explained in some detail to us how the High Court had already made two rulings against the MSD in regards to this situation – but had been simply ignored or obfuscated with no consequences from the Minister. There is a serious Constitutional problem here in that when the Courts rule against the Govt – there seems to be no effective mechanism beyond political accountability to enforce them. (Someone correct me here if I am wrong.)

                And it must be a RIGHT. Not and 'eligibility'. A fucking hard -core, written -into- the- constitution fully funded right.


                It is why I have long favoured a UBI as part of the solution. I accept it isn't a right as such, but once embedded as a core feature of the tax system it would be about as close as you get to one in this country.

              • weka

                I'm on SLP and it's one of the most stable aspects of my life. Can't see it changing unless we have a major GFC or a big swing to the right. I'm lucky, there are people in broadly the same situation who are on JS, and that's fucked up.

                MoH is a mystery. There are obviously good people working there, but also obviously those that are making extraordinarily bad decisions against disabled people. Weird mix. When people start in on about disbanding WINZ I wonder what they will make of MoH when they learn the reality. Lefties arguing for a UBI via IRD and disability can go to MoH need to sit down and read the many stories you have written.

                The stuff about statutory entitlement is central. I don't think many people realise that a benefit is an entitlement but health care isn't, nor is disability support.

                Completely agree about the need for disabled people to have the same rights as ACC funded people. I'm not holding my breath about the new Disability Ministry. Just fucking relieved it's not Sepuloni in charge.

                • RedLogix

                  Lefties arguing for a UBI via IRD and disability can go to MoH need to sit down and read the many stories you have written.

                  It was a suggestion I made years back. But seeing as how you raise it again I still see no particular reason why you think MSD or WINZ to be fundamentally better than MoH. Both have lots of stories people can tell about them, both can fuck people over just fine thanks.

                  What I see you is blocking any constructive discussion on a UBI because you prefer the devil you know than even explore alternative structures that might work better. Also the UBI was never just about disability – it was always part of a much larger tax reform – but you would never guess that from your position on it.

                  The relevance here is that having seen Melliodora in action, it is clear that whatever version of it that a household (or community) adopts, it needs extra labour to operate. And in this respect a UBI would be one simple method of ensuring the person doing that otherwise unpaid work, got to have some guaranteed income.

                  Effectively a UBI would greatly diminish the risk to people transitioning to this kind of lifestyle.

                  • weka

                    I've been arguing for a UBI with welfare bolted on. Many on the left are arguing for a UBI without welfare. This will impoverish many disabled people.

                    The reasons for not trusting the MoH are in the conversation already:

                    1. there are no entitlements to health care, there are to benefits
                    2. MoH has a particular culture all of its own that harms disabled people. WINZ is an easier fix, or can simply be replaced.
                    • weka

                      here's the stepping stone that doesn't throw disabled people under the bus. Almost like I wrote a post on opening the door to a well designed UBI.

                      Green Party rocks their new Guaranteed Minimum Income policy

                    • RedLogix
                      1. there are no entitlements to health care, there are to benefits

                      If that is the root cause of the problem, then perhaps fixing that would be the best place to start.

                      As I understand it the original designers of ACC wanted to include disability and sickness, but were only able to get an accident scheme over the line at the time. In other words we got stuck halfway – maybe now we should get the job completed.

                    • weka

                      yes. This is precisely why I've written about the problems with the main UBI models. There are a range of things to resolve and we should be talking about all of them alongside any discussion of a UBI rather than leaving them until later.

                      The Greens proposed bring all disabled/unwell people under a reformed ACC,

                      • Reform ACC into an Agency for Comprehensive Care covering all health-related income support within a single system with guaranteed payments of at least 80% of the fulltime minimum wage.


                      ACC have a problematic history and culture. I don't know if it's better to sort that out or just create a new agency from scratch.

      • roy cartland 3.3.2


        The governments are supposed to be us. If we elect crappy ones, they'll sell us out. If we don't bother the corps will try to take over.

        If we involve ourselves properly and fully, we can force them and corps to do as we've instructed.

        • weka

          are supposed to be us, but many seem happy to hand over that agency. This is what I admire about Holmgren and AAF. But they don't have a plan for people who can't do that, so 🤷‍♀️

          And even if government disappeared, we'd still have to govern ourselves and I'm not sure we'd do that much better.

      • Rosemary McDonald 3.3.3

        ….the anarchist and libertarians need to work with the socialist liberals ….

        Like "Left", "Right" and "Centre"…I don't think these labels mean what they used to mean anymore.

        ….particularly well organised… Are you referring to the political and philosophical anarchists here..?cheeky

        • weka

          lol, yes. AAF and Holmgren are extremely well organised people.

          ….the anarchist and libertarians need to work with the socialist liberals ….

          Like "Left", "Right" and "Centre"…I don't think these labels mean what they used to mean anymore.

          Sure, but they're still useful words if we use them with knowledge of how things are changing. One change is that US influenced libertarian concepts have more prominence than before. In NZ we see a strong rising culture of anti-government but largely without the kind of political anarchist grounding and analysis that Holmgren or AAF have.

          • Rosemary McDonald

            US influenced libertarian concepts

            I'm not sure that the US Libertarians are having that much of an influence with those of us that have been rejected by government so have reached the place where we are rejecting in response.

            Any similarity is mostly coincidental. We're not going to listen to a US Libertarian podcast or whatever unless we an already relate to what they're saying.

            Governments worldwide are losing some 'the people'.

    • weka 3.4

      a lot of what they're saying about insurance applies to people who keep paying. There are less guarantees going forward that insurance companies will pay out or cope with demand. Their points about thinking through scenarios beyond fear are very good.

  4. Ad 4

    We've had this kind of thing on offer for 20 years now. It's impact is marginal at best.

    In the current economy it's a matter of hang on and stop your family sliding backwards, getting infected, dying.

    I'd like not to be skeptical but I've been through enough of these types of movements.

    Good luck to all who give it a go.

    • Rosemary McDonald 4.1

      It's impact is marginal at best.

      Not to those living it day by day. It is an actual way of life. Not for all, or even most, but very valid and sustainable.

      And I'm not sure if those living like this expect to have much of an impact outside of their family or immediate circles. Happy to inform, educate and share knowledge and skills…but expecting to have an "impact"?

      • RedLogix 4.1.1

        At the risk of being irrelevant or off topic – I agree totally. For the individual it can make sense. But you remain embedded in a larger economic system that you are still dependent on.

        But just one small for instance – you have a nice spot of land suburban or rural even. You get it all organised and running nice – lots of organic kale. Then a flood comes along and takes out a critical bridge or pipe, or some infrastructure you depend on.

        The core materials in all infrastructure are steel, concrete, copper and aluminium. Without an industrial system that processes these materials cheaply and at massive scale – your infrastructure will not get fixed. And this story will be repeated slowly and surely over and over until power down becomes power off.

        • Rosemary McDonald

          Then a flood comes along and takes out a critical bridge or pipe, or some infrastructure you depend on.

          Very good point. My answer to that would be that I pay my rates/taxes (as Meg speaks about in the video I posted) so the council/government can provide and maintain this infrastructure. I don't pay my rates/taxes for the council to impose onerous rules and regulations that serve no one. Other than some power crazed bureaucrat.

          Its a small step from tolerating and even supporting (through rate paying) the local council (or central government) and almost rejecting the same. A rule that inhibits very small scale enterprise (such as a stall at the gate) can be seen as tptb attempting to stifle self sustainability. Limit our ability to support ourselves. The dependent are so much easier to control.

          Industry and tech are important…look what we're doing right now…but they an be done much, much better.

          Organic kale…any kale…yuk.

          • RedLogix

            My answer to that would be that I pay my rates/taxes (as Meg speaks about in the video I posted) so the council/government can provide and maintain this infrastructure.

            Yes. But what happens when your local council or govt cannot obtain the resources to maintain this infrastructure – at any price?

        • weka
          1. people with Retrosuburbia communities and neighbourhoods will be better off when the bridge goes out because they can supply many of the basics of human life until things get fixed. Unlike people with only electric heating and no power. Or dependent on the supermarket 3x a week for food and now the supply lines are broken.

          2. Retrosuburbia doesn't say get rid of all industrial tech.

          3. if we don't power down and make society sustainable, there will come a time when we will lose the ability to do even basic industrial tech like steel making or power generation (see point 5). Powerdown doesn't mean getting rid of all industrial tech.

          4. in a world of moderate climate change (that we are already locked into) we can expect many more challenges to important infrastructure like bridges. How many times can the bridge be repaired? Where do the materials come from? How many of the materials are not renewable? How many of the hands on people are off sick with covid or flu? Global shortages of steel? Or food? GCF?

          These are predictable emergencies. NZ will at some point deal with climate events and a big quake. We might get lucky and not have any of the others happening at the same time. There are communities on the West Coast preparing for months of disconnection after the Big One. Because they understand very well the practicalities of managing in such situations. Tech goes a long way, but it's not invincible. Resilient design, by definition, means we create multiple ways of fulfilling basic human needs and we don't rely so heavily on the ones that cause catastrophe if/when they fail.

          5. in a world of runaway climate change industrial tech will simply not keep up, and many people, things and ecologies will be destroyed. This is what the powerdown is trying to prevent.

          • RedLogix

            people with Retrosuburbia communities and neighbourhoods will be better off when the bridge goes out because they can supply many of the basics of human life until things get fixed.

            How long do you think you can hold out – when the council says the price of fixing this is beyond this years budget? Or the materials are not available? Or the contractors machinery need parts we can no longer get? Or the engineers left town for someplace else where they could make a living? And so on.

            This is what happens when you kick the guts out of the highly productive industrial system everything depends on. You imagine that we can pick and choose which parts of it we get to keep and which we can let go as excessive or damaging – well it just doesn't work that way. Every part serves a purpose.

            Again – the core problem is not industrialisation. It is that we have gotten stuck on powering with fossil fuels for about five decades too long.

            • weka

              again, no-one is saying abandon industrial tech. No-one is kicking industrial systems in the guts. Climate change will though. And ecological collapse. A big enough quake. GFC. etc. It's precisely these things that powerdown, transition towns, permaculture etc are addressing.

              The idea you are arguing against is self sufficiency and that isn't what PD is. PD is community resiliency and sustainability in the context of the wider world. It's you that still thinks this somehow means people trying to go it alone.

              The TINA argument doesn't hold. I know a lot of people that grow most of their own food. In a hard crash NZ would be one of the better places in the world to transition fast to local food growing. Yes, yes, I understand the systems involved very well, including transport and distribution. I'm pointing out that this idea that we cannot change fundamentals in the whole system is wrong. And, again, climate, ecology etc are going to force our hand anyway. The choice we have is adapt now or collapse later.

              Again – the core problem is not industrialisation. It is that we have gotten stuck on powering with fossil fuels for about five decades too long.

              This however doesn't address all the problems: plastic pollution, top soil loss, rainforest clearing, wild fires, over grazing, nitrate pollution and so on. It's not industrialisation, it's the paradigm that cannot see what sustainability is.

              • RedLogix

                again, no-one is saying abandon industrial tech.

                Sorry you can say that all you like, but it is like saying 'I didn't think taping a plastic bag over their head would kill them'. Ignorance of the consequences of messing with a system you do not properly understand is not an excuse.

                It's not industrialisation, it's the paradigm that cannot see what sustainability is.

                Yet oddly enough ESG is the single most important topic we find ourselves engaging with at a senior level these days. In Australia alone there is a commitment to over $8 trillion dollars of expenditure in this space in the next decade.

                • weka

                  What is it about ‘runaway climate change will destroy civilisation’ that you don’t understand?

                  • arkie

                    Apropos of nothing:

                    The oil and gas industry has delivered $2.8bn (£2.3bn) a day in pure profit for the last 50 years, a new analysis has revealed.

                    The vast total captured by petrostates and fossil fuel companies since 1970 is $52tn, providing the power to “buy every politician, every system” and delay action on the climate crisis, says Prof Aviel Verbruggen, the author of the analysis. The huge profits were inflated by cartels of countries artificially restricting supply.


                  • RedLogix

                    I understand perfectly well. I was writing here about climate change before you even arrived on this site. I have never said – don't do TT, or renag, or whatever you think will help. I have been careful not to say that SWB is not useful in the correct geography and climate.

                    I am simply saying that in themselves they are not sufficient. You underestimate the task by a substantial margin – net zero is not enough, we have to go carbon negative for at least a century.

                    The only energy source that can allow us to sustain projected populations at anything close to a civilised level and provide the energy to massively pull that much carbon out of the atmosphere is nuclear energy in one form or another. And I don't care how much it costs.

                    Yet this is the one thing the Greens insist on blocking.

                    • weka

                      You underestimate the task by a substantial margin – net zero is not enough, we have to go carbon negative for at least a century.

                      Maybe you should stop being patronising and actually talk to me. I know net zero is not enough. Why don't you know that I know this? Because you're not listening.

                      The only energy source that can allow us to sustain projected populations at anything close to a civilised level and provide the energy to massively pull that much carbon out of the atmosphere is nuclear energy in one form or another. And I don't care how much it costs.

                      Sure, and zero about sustainability and resiliency. Holmgren has a whole model about this. You sit somewhere between Techno Stability and Techno Explosion. Both are betting everything on technology that doesn't exist yet.

                      I already pointed out that a FF tech replacement doesn't solve the problems caused by the paradigm that got us here and that you are still using.

                    • RedLogix

                      I already pointed out that a FF tech replacement doesn't solve the problems caused by the paradigm that got us here and that you are still using.

                      You may have missed the numerous comments I have been making for a while now on population decline and the implications this for our economic systems.

                      In crude terms we have tried over the past four centuries of industrialisation, liberal capitalism, socialism and fascism in a context when everything was growing. But as we enter a novel era of stable and declining populations, and constrained resources – I would suggest we have no idea what the optimal political economy might look like.

                      Both are betting everything on technology that doesn't exist yet.

                      Well it has been around since at least the 1950's so I am surprised you haven't noticed that either.

                      But otherwise yes I am closest to a Techno Stable.

      • weka 4.1.2

        And I'm not sure if those living like this expect to have much of an impact outside of their family or immediate circles. Happy to inform, educate and share knowledge and skills…but expecting to have an "impact"?

        I totally expect it to have an impact. There was a big upswing in interest in gardening when we had the first lockdown. Lots of people want this stuff but don't know how to do it. Or they get caught up in daily life and only look to it when things start to fail or get scary.

        When the shtf, retrosuburbia will be in hot demand. Trick is to get systems set up ahead of time.

      • Ad 4.1.3

        If Holmgren's life is your life, good for you.

        It's not for most and nor will it ever be.

        • weka

          Mine is nowhere close. Mine is the life you are describing, hanging on is most of what I am doing now. The difference is I know it can be different and I'm pointing to how. Not just for me. I see resilience building all around me and I'm grateful for that. Would be way better if more people did it.

        • RedLogix

          My partner and I did a weekend seminar with Holmgren in Dalesford – it's 30 min inland from Ballarat. Their life is not all that weird and is actually quite accessible if there is one adult in the household who can work it.

          A good intro to what it is like here.

          I agree not everyone can or even should copy and paste every detail of their lives – but he does have a lot of interesting things to teach.

          • weka

            It's the antithesis of cut and paste. Permaculture is a design process where every design arises out of the conditions of the situation/place/people.

  5. pat 6

    Expecting a majority movement shouting for less has no (repeat no) possibility of success….and the statement for your personal attention…build your own self reliance in your own self interest , and THEN others may replicate.

    If you want people to turn their lives upside down(and everything they have believed) then you must demonstrate that the alternative is not only possible but beneficial.

    • pat 6.1

      I will also note something that Holmgren didnt (in that debate)…if you gain traction and look like succeeding you will be fought to the death.

    • weka 6.2

      Expecting a majority movement shouting for less has no (repeat no) possibility of success….

      This whole thing he is talking about is very good. It's at odds with traditional left politics, but it is the thing we must grapple with. My own position is that we need both. The shouty ones put a brake on the worst excesses of neoliberalism, and this makes it more possible for the positive pathways to be worked on.

      and the statement for your personal attention…build your own self reliance in your own self interest , and THEN others may replicate.

      If you want people to turn their lives upside down(and everything they have believed) then you must demonstrate that the alternative is not only possible but beneficial.

      of course. Why do you think I write so many post about people and systems that show how it is being done?

      • pat 6.2.1

        Writing posts on political blogs read by political tragics demonstrates nothing….Im (and I suspect Holmgren) meansing real world demonstration…its as I noted a few days ago. the transition movement in NZ has very little to show for years of work…where is the transition community living a good life in a sustainable manner(without relying on the foissil economy)?…it dosnt exist.

        • weka

          The posts I put up regularly show real life examples. Maybe you're just not reading them. I don't know, but you can't have it both ways. If you want examples there are plenty out there. More than there ever has been.

          Transition Towns in NZ didn't survive in the form of TT. For a range of reasons, not least is that many overseas models aren't such a good fit here. Same with XR. But that doesn't mean people aren't still doing all that mahi. Every rohe in NZ has people doing this work. If Holmgren is right, those are the people that will save the day.

          without relying on the foissil economy

          this argument is like the right wingers who have a go at the Green Party because the MPs still fly on planes sometimes. It demonstrates a profound lack of understanding on their part of the problem we face (the complex nature of the fossil fuel dependent systems), and what the solutions are (system change, use the system while we transition). You're not dim, and you have a grasp of the issues, so I'm at a loss why you would chose such a block to put in the way.

        • pat

          I place no block…I pose the question…like Holmgren, Im a realist
          Consider…we have a cost of living and housing crisis in NZ…and have had (for many) for years…why is there no pooling of resources and sweat equity to develop a few hundred acres and a couple of hundred people living 'the good life'?…surely there has never been a greater incentive?

          • Francesca

            I see exactly that happening in my home town .Born out of necessity rather than ideology

            Housing initiatives, including shared food producing gardens and communal spaces ,co operative food producing projects on shared land , transport sharing through local social media pages.

            All kinds of formalised and informal solutions under the radar.

            As more and more people are locked out of home ownership, more are recruited to the home grown solutions

            • Robert Guyton

              It's a decentralised movement, without a nominated leader but with exemplars at all levels.

            • pat

              That is good (or perhaps not), but note a key phrase….."Born out of necessity rather than ideology"….it is not a choice.

              As has been noted many times we will be forced to adapt even if we dont wish to…..that dosnt solve the fundamental problem nor does it provide the opportunity to prepare/test while capacity exists.

              It remains a subset within an unsustainable system

              • weka

                Necessity is the mother of invention, can't see why it would be a negative in this case. People choosing to share land now aren't being forced to by climate change. That will happen if the financial system collapses and we get mass migration here, or we lose a shit load of housing in a big quake. We're not there yet, and the whole point is that we can choose now, not wait until we have not choice.

                Covid, cost of living, rising fuel costs, these are all pressures and they're all opportunities. The missing bit is state and mainstream support via R and D, funding, advisors and so on. But as I linked below the banks are starting to come around, things are changing.

          • weka

            why is there no pooling of resources and sweat equity to develop a few hundred acres and a couple of hundred people living 'the good life'?…surely there has never been a greater incentive?

            As Francesca points out people are in fact doing many things.

            The main reason it's not being done more is because of the structural blocks:

            • hard to get a bank loan for shared land
            • council regs often limit how many people can live on a block of land, or how many dwellings there can be
            • rural land is phenomenally expensive, even for people with a house half paid off, getting onto rural land is another step up.
            • sharing land where one puts in large amounts of money up front poses problems around how to get the money out if one needs to. There are a few models for resolving this, but not a lot and again societal structures make this harder.

            The good news is that banks are now starting to look at lending to people buying together. Afaik this is relatively new (I only realised it was happening this year).


            • pat

              You are demonstrating why it cant be done, not how it can be done.

              • weka

                I'm responding to the question you asked,

                why is there no pooling of resources and sweat equity to develop a few hundred acres and a couple of hundred people living 'the good life'?

                The reasons I gave are substantial, material, and can be changed without too much trouble once people are on board.

                If you want examples of how it can be done, we can have that conversation, but honestly I'm not sure how much more time I want to put into it given you seem intent on holding on to your view that it can't be done.

                Franscesca's comment demonstrates that the ordinary people you think won't do it are in fact doing it, and that this has spread beyond the people who do it from ideology or passion. This is exactly what needs to happen, but up thread you are still naysaying.

            • Francesca

              Exactly Weka

              I think I mentioned a lot of what is actually happening is under the radar.Generally our local body turns a blind eye until someone makes a complaint.This very rarely happens

              Having said that , there are 3 different affordable housing projects on the go that have council support.Two of them have alternative approaches to land ownership.One of them is underpinned by long term lease, or simply land donation to a housing trust. There has been no shortage of landowners willing to do this., in recognition that for the area to survive , we need a broad demographic.

              Remember the notion of peak oil?Which didn't quite eventuate.A response to that was a survey on local food growing capacity.As result , shared food growing projects are still happily in existence.

              This is rural, urban solutions will be different

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