Powerdown

Written By: - Date published: 12:31 pm, January 17th, 2017 - 114 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, peak oil, sustainability - Tags: , ,

Recently we had a conversation in Open Mike about the Powerdown. There seemed to be a bit of misunderstanding about what that is, so here is an introduction.

The Powerdown is a process where societies, in the face of climate change and resource depletion, choose to transition to a post-carbon world sustainably. Sustainably, because we cannot have perpetual growth in a physically finite world. Nor can we ecologically afford for the whole world to have Western middle class lifestyles, but instead we must live within the natural limits of the world in a way that allows that natural world to continually restore itself. Counting carbon and reducing it to zero is not enough.

The Powerdown is not based on high tech solutions (although we can continue to use various levels of tech as appropriate), because reliance on high tech as our major approach fails the resilience test and takes too many resources. Instead it looks at providing for human needs by using fewer resources and energy, and designing within whole systems frameworks in order to maintain the least disruption to human life while still giving us a chance at surviving. It isn’t a process where we all end up living in caves or reverting back to some imagined pre-industrial agrarian, nasty, brutish and short existence. Instead we take the best of our knowledge and design systems that enhance life rather than strip-mine it. In other words, we can powerdown and live good, meaningful lives. But yes, it means that we in the West will need to give some things up.

Journalist and educator Richard Heinberg wrote the book Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World in 2004,

Resource depletion and population pressures are about to catch up with us, and no one is prepared. The political elites, especially in the US, are incapable of dealing with the situation and have in mind a punishing game of “Last One Standing.”

He offers a different strategy that seeks to

  • reduce per-capita resource usage in wealthy countries
  • develop alternative energy sources
  • distribute resources more equitably
  • reduce the human population humanely but systematically over time.

While civil society organizations push for a mild version of this, the vast majority of the world’s people are in the dark, not understanding the challenges ahead, nor the options realistically available.

Powerdown speaks frankly to these dilemmas. Avoiding cynicism and despair, it begins with an overview of the likely impacts of oil and natural gas depletion and then outlines four options for industrial societies during the next decades.

Heinberg’s four options,

  • Last One Standing: the path of competition for remaining resources
  • Powerdown: the path of cooperation, conservation and sharing
  • Waiting for a Magic Elixir: wishful thinking, false hopes, and denial
  • Building Lifeboats: the path of community solidarity and preservation.

and then how three important groups within global society are likely to respond to these four options:

  • the power elites
  • the opposition to the elites (the antiwar and antiglobalization movements aka the “Other Superpower”)
  • and ordinary people.

Ten years ago, David Holmgren, co-founder of the sustainability design science Permaculture, also published a resource of Future Scenarios based on the confluence of Peak Oil and Climate Change. A lot has changed in that decade, including Holmgren’s updated perspective that Peak Oil would not arrive in time to prevent the worst of Climate Change. But his model of possible responses to the approaching crisis is still pertinent. He proposes four energy future scenarios:

 

Techno Explosion is Business As Usual, perpetual growth, with humans inventing/discovering new sources of energy and higher and higher tech. Eventually we would have to colonise other planets.

Techno Stability is the vision of renewable energy. It involves substantial change but if we build enough wind farms and solar panels we can maintain the standard of living we have now without too much disruption. Some ideas about steady state economies often sit here, the appeal being that we can change society but we don’t have to give things up.

Energy Descent is the downsizing of the economic activity, gradual reduction of population, and a transition to living within the natural limits of the world. It uses pre-industrial and modern sustainability design to meet human needs without destroying the world we are dependent upon.

Collapse is a fast, emergency transition off fossil fuels, brought about by runaway climate change and/or the disintegration of the global economy due to oil shortages.

Many people believe that the first two options are no longer possible. Techno Explosion is by definition destructive to the environment, hence the need to eventually move off planet, and we are fast approaching resource depletion, long before we are capable of space colonisation (assuming that that is even desirable). Techno Stability is what many mainstream green and sustainability thinkers want us to focus on. Peak oil theory suggests that this is no longer possible because of the relationship between declining cheap oil supplies, economics, EROEI, and time. If we had started the transition 40 years ago we might have had shot, now that’s behind us.

This isn’t to say that we can’t and aren’t transitioning many systems to renewables. We demonstrably are. But those systems are being transitioned using fossil fuel and I’ve yet to see a credible analysis that suggests we have the time and capacity to fully transition, let alone the political and social will. In theory we might, in practice we don’t.

Which leaves us with the Powderdown or Collapse. The concept of the Powerdown is challenging to many people, but it’s still preferable on almost every level to Collapse. Often the conversations about the Powerdown get stuck on either “we don’t like that idea” or, “it’s not possible”. The first premise is immaterial in the face of climate change, because it’s eventually going to happen whether we like it or not, but it’s helpful to envision societies that are sustainable and likeable. The second is at odds with the notion that humans are exceptionally creative. Time we started taking our situation seriously and applying that creativity to the crisis at hand. Let’s start by understanding what the Powerdown option is really about.

 

114 comments on “Powerdown”

  1. Gosman 1

    Good luck with pushing the concept of a powerdown to the electorate. Me thinks you will not be having much luck anytime soon.

    • aerobubble 1.1

      Probably. Even the Marshal plan for Europe had lauers of self serving interests. Its not so much the leaders, or the leadership, they will appear as required, its the self interest. English has many children, lots of grandkids no doubt, its an easy sell to. Key less so, being a neolib and all, has he taken up his Hawaiian bolthole yet? I mean ttpa fails, US drops out, Key resigns. In any other country would we be asking if he was a US patsy?

      Our closest ally is politically disfunctional, incapable of functioning as a capitalist economy by embracing solar and electric cars, aka Oz. Thats the biggest threat to Nz.
      We’re held back in introducing electric cars coz Oz is so ripe for such technology.

      Trump may shakeup their complacency. There is no tyranny of distance in a common climate.

    • weka 1.2

      You missed the point Gosman. It’s not about politicians pushing anything to the electorate (and that’s certainly not why I wrote the post). It’s about what we want to happen. I’ll take from your response though that you are happy with collapse.

      • Gosman 1.2.1

        No, I reject your doom laden scenario. I’m confident human society and innovation will find a way to muddle through. You’re just spouting another in a long list of ‘the end is nigh’ nonsense.

        • Robert Guyton 1.2.1.1

          “Muddle through”?
          Is that your aspiration? Muddle through?
          Sheesh!
          You Righties are so average in your expectations.
          I expect so much more!

          • weka 1.2.1.1.1

            I’m guessing somewhere between Techno-stability and Techno-explosion we have Gosman’s Techno-she’ll-be-right (Heinberg’s Waiting for a Magic Elixir: wishful thinking, false hopes, and denial)

        • weka 1.2.1.2

          That’s what I thought Gosman, don’t know why you didn’t just say that the first time.

        • Rae 1.2.1.3

          Muddle through? After what, Gosman? After we have wrecked the whole place completely, after we have bred ourselves to a point that all out war is inevitable as our usual way for a bit of a cull.
          Is it possible for right wingers to actually think this through sensibly, actually take the blinkers off long enough for a bit of glimpse into what the future holds, and maybe even throw off enough selfishness to want to do something for future generations, some of whom will be their own? I doubt it, they will prefer to keep their heads firmly in the sand, trying to accumulate as much as they can in the deluded belief that riches will somehow insulate them from the world around them.
          There are times I actually stray into feeling sorry for people with such views.

    • “Methinks”?
      Antique language, antique thinking.

    • Anno1701 1.4

      “Me thinks ‘

      forsooth !

  2. Carolyn_nth 2

    A lot of the moves to more sustainability seem to be easier or more do-able for people with reasonable incomes. eg solar panels, windmills, vege gardens, water run-offs into covered containers, etc.

    What are alternatives for urban renters? Not everyone can live on quarter acre sections.

    Community gardens, I know. But the members of the ones in my area meet on a day and time that I’m working.

    And composting? How to do it in an urban area without attracting rats?

    • weka 2.1

      Many people on all kinds of incomes are too time poor to do things like gardening too (it takes little income to garden but it does take time and a degree of physical ability). One of the best suggestions I’ve heard of for people with reasonable to high incomes is to pay someone else to grow food for them (either on their land or on land close by). This is cuts their ecological foot print hugely (due to the lowering of food miles), and creates some of the best resiliency (local food will survive agribusiness CC food shortages).

      For renters, I think permaculture has some good solutions for growing in small spaces (including vertical gardening) and for growing where one either cannot dig the ground or needs to be able to take their garden with them when they move (container gardening).

      Composting, do you have any land at all, or are you in an apartment?

      • Carolyn_nth 2.1.1

        I’m in an apartment. No land. I do have a small garden on my balcony in a container – grow some greens. I have a gnat problem at the moment.

        • Robert Guyton 2.1.1.1

          Don’t we all, Carolyn!
          If you believe…the clap your hands! No more gnats.

        • weka 2.1.1.2

          People do do worm farms in apartments. If it were me, I’d find some land locally, store the food scraps during the week in close buckets and feed the worms on the weekend.

          • Robert Guyton 2.1.1.2.1

            The answer to your problem is…Bokashi!

            • weka 2.1.1.2.1.1

              Can’t say I’m a fan of Bokashi, the whole buying in system although I can see it’s good for people that want that kind of system. Is anyone doing DIY inoculants?

              I was thinking for Carolyn, she could even empty into the local community gardens compost. Or have someone raising chooks or worms pick her buckets up (can’t remember if she has a car or not).

              • Our first spat! Wtf (what the Fukuoka!) – Bokashi is perfect for Carolyn’s situation !!!.
                Discuss 🙂

                • weka

                  KtK! (Kei te kata).

                  Could she do DIY Bokashi, no buying in?

                  • No. It’s pretty straight forward; you buy the product and it deals with your food waste. Good deal: no mess, no smell, no rats. The resulting “product” can goes into the soil (local comm-garden, window box) and boosts growth significantly. It’s a city thing! I’ve no reservations.

              • Anno1701

                “Is anyone doing DIY inoculants?”

                Trichoderma harzianum

                available from your local “hydroponic” shop

        • Anno1701 2.1.1.3

          ” I have a gnat problem at the moment.”

          neem coir sprinkled on top of your soil and watered in

    • aerobubble 2.2

      A war on CO2, means bamboo lawns.

    • Ovid 2.3

      If you’re in an urban area with a high walkscore, you’ve probably reduced your footprint quite a lot already. Perhaps think about your consumption behaviours – would secondhand items suffice? Do you shop with reusable bags? That sort of thing.

      • Carolyn_nth 2.3.1

        I do walk a bit. Also urban living means more options for mass transit.

        But I also think there needs to be community, and local and central government options – eg truly public transport at affordable prices.

        • Ovid 2.3.1.1

          Community is vital. Sharing resources is a big way of achieving energy descent. There’s no reason why, for example, public libraries couldn’t loan out tools in addition to everything else they offer.

          I’d love to see adult education classes restored too – I’d like a bit of training in DIY so I’m more ready to repair things or make things myself than ordering replacements.

          • weka 2.3.1.1.1

            Tool libraries, great idea.

            Imagine if we taught gardening in schools.

          • Carolyn_nth 2.3.1.1.2

            Interesting – I work in (council) libraries – need to be careful what I say in that regard, and issue a disclaimer on social media when I comment on them.

            I work at Auckland Libraries – the views expressed here are my own and not those of Auckland Council. [done}

    • Rats! They used to be our friends. Close your compost heaps. Rat’s are dismayed by closure; lids etc…

    • Again, Bokashi, Bokashi, Bokashi.
      That’s all.

    • Ric 2.6

      worm farm

  3. Ovid 3

    Transition towns is an application of similar thinking.

    NZ is fortunate that over 80% of our electricity comes from renewable sources. If we can boost that further (home solar installations are gaining ground – there’s an international glut of panels) and if our fleet of electric vehicles and hybrids continue to grow, we can meet the challenge of peak oil head on.

    • weka 3.1

      One of NZ’s big challenges is the footprint from our food miles (domestic as much as international). We’re not very good at eating locally.

      I’d feel more optimistic about electric vehicles if it was focussed on public transport and rail freight.

      • Constructed-from-Tiwai-Aluminium, aluminium, rolling stock, individually powered by electricity, moving produce from A to B: imagine it!

        • weka 3.1.1.1

          Steady state mate. How long does a train last?

          • Robert Guyton 3.1.1.1.1

            He aha?
            It’s better to power each unit, rather than powering the engine. In the South, we have ample electricity. A single engine pulling weight is far less efficient than individually-powered rolling stock. Plus, aluminium is very light and very available (tiwai).

            • weka 3.1.1.1.1.1

              Aluminium doesn’t grow in Tiwai 😉 But I take your point. I was suggesting that a train or whatever was built could be built to last a long time and by that stage the next generations will have solved the next set of problems, for which they are eminently more suited than us. But it won’t last forever, keeping our eye on the long game.

  4. Bill 4

    Two observations. One positive and one not so.

    Counting carbon and reducing it to zero is not enough.

    I think it is.

    Reducing carbon to zero in the timescale available naturally encompasses much of what is being touted as some kind of ‘extra’ consideration for a ‘powerdown’. Cutting energy consumption – an absolute necessity if we are to achieve zero carbon in time – entails cutting a whole plethora of consumption associated with or dependent upon energy use.

    In other words, there is no way to cut carbon without being mindful of how we use energy and what we use it for. So, no more “Kinder Surprises” (ie – wasteful energy use for the sake of producing trash). And no more energy being guzzled, courtesy of inbuilt obsolescence.

    We need to be making, building and producing stuff that lasts a proverbial lifetime instead of the profit yielding six months or two years life expectancy that fashion dictates. Christ! Phones are ‘old’ almost before they hit the shelves! Just a straight forward need to reduce carbon to zero dictates that must end…it has far too much carbon embedded (associated carbon emissions).

    The not so positive observation is that chart from 2004.

    If I’m reading the x axis correctly, Holmgren is suggesting time scales to act that are in line with the birth of my great grand children (assuming myself to be in the ‘baby boomer’ age range) and sees an energy descent occurring over whatever time it takes for old growth forests to become established (some few hundred years?) But see that incredibly steep line he has for ‘collapse’? Given the compressed x axis, of all the lines he maps, it’s that one that most definitely corresponds most closely to what we need to be actively doing with carbon emissions.

    • weka 4.1

      Plenty of baby-boomers already have great grandchildren, so I’d take that part of the axis as being close to now.

      Have a look at the techno-stability one. That’s the one that reduces carbon emissions quickly (over a couple of decades). But the Energy Descent line drops faster and sooner. Where it plateaus out isn’t zero carbon (that’s much further up the line). It’s the descent of all human resource use. That’s partly why I’m saying zero emissions isn’t enough.

      The other reason is that zero emissions for many people means electric cars. Which means that the interconnectedness of everything is missed, as is the need to actually powerdown as opposed to transition to renewables. I get what you are saying, but that’s not the way most people are thinking which is why we have Generation Zero etc.

      I’d also say that we need to shift from thinking reductively and start seeing the systems approach. This is what permaculture excels at. And it also doesn’t take the approach of cutting per se (although that is an intrinsic consequence), so much as finding a better way of designing for human needs that don’t require reliance on FF energy in the first place. It’s hard for people to see where we go if we’re being told it’s all about cutting back (hence the living in caves reaction). People need to see how it would work to still have a good life. Holmgren has been writing theory and demonstrating this for 4 decades.

      Zero carbon doesn’t solve Peak Soil, Peak Everything, deforestation, mass pollution etc. It might if you were in charge 😉 but focussing on the carbon as the central point obscures that it’s not Fossil Fuels that are the problems but how we manage our resources.

      btw Holmgren is arguing for downsizing the economy. If you want to understand his position in more recent years, he advocates for the middle classes to collapse the global economy intentionally. Crash on Demand is the 2014 update to Future Scenarios,

      https://holmgren.com.au/crash-demand/?v=3a1ed7090bfa

      • Bill 4.1.1

        I’ll put it another way. Assuming we get serious about energy related emissions, then in taking that step we will be twisting our own arms with regards other resource use.

        *All* resource (mis)use flows off the back of accessing energy, and if energy consumption is dropping (and it has to in any realistic 2 degrees scenario), then the consequence can’t be anything other than a concomitant reduction in our use of other resources.

        Granted, if we do the zero carbon thing and build up non-fossil energy grids/networks and what not over the next several decades, then resource depletion might become an issue – if we go back to approximating or trying to approximate our current aggregated global life style (consumption wise).

        On the other hand, if we don’t get serious on zero carbon from energy, then whatever potential peak resource you might care to mention will be among the least of our worries.

        There is a fish. And there are red herrings.

        • weka 4.1.1.1

          We are in agreement on the need for zero carbon. Let’s take that as a given.

          I’m saying zero carbon related to energy is a subset of the powerdown. So sure, we can focus on zero carbon without the other aspects and I think it’s a much harder sell for the reasons mentioned. I also know from my own experience and from studying permaculture design that it’s easier to design sustainable systems within a framework that both takes whole systems into account and seeks to create something not just remove something.

          To clarify, are you saying that if we solve the carbon issue we don’t have other resources depletion issues? We’re already at Peak Everything, it’s not a future scenario. This is the point of the powerdown. We are already in overshoot, not just from energy, but across many spheres. For instance, if we reduce NZ’s energy emissions to zero, but haven’t looked at population vs land base and food growing capacity, what then? I think it’s entirely possible for NZ to spend the next 20 years focussing on zero energy emissions and then ending up in the shit because we didn’t apply sustainability and resiliency design to food systems.

          We were misusing the world well before fossil fuels, it was just that we had a lot of leeway and it was happening over very long time scales. Fossil fuels was rocket fuel to our pre-existing propensity for overshoot. Overshoot doesn’t originate in excess energy use, it originates in how we think about and relate with the world. Which is why sustainability designers like Holmgren use that as the starting point for solutions.

          In other words, it *is possible to reduce energy and still have resource depletion issues. Famine is one obvious example. Population being the most obvious sticking point. We know from vast human experience that once you drop energy you have to limit population. Water is likely to be another one in many places. We can have carbon zero energy and still not have enough water for people.

          Not to mention the Last One Standing approach. If we focus on zero carbon without doing sustainability at the same time, there will be a big grab of resources as they dwindle. We’re already seeing that.

          • Bill 4.1.1.1.1

            I’ll leave it be. (and my replies are dropping in odd places)

            All I’m saying is that *all* you mention (sustainability) is an integral part of carbon reduction due to the relationship between energy, resource use and the 2 degree time scale. Zero carbon demands big picture thinking. And that, as an aside, is what I’d pick to explain why we’re doing nothing (reductionist thought habits).

            • weka 4.1.1.1.1.1

              Sorry, but I see a lot of discussion of carbon reduction that is not based in sustainability thinking. Maybe we have different meanings for that word. Yes, zero carbon does indeed demand big picture thinking but in and of itself it doesn’t require sustainability design. I get the connections you are making between energy, resource use, and the timescale, and I agree with much of that. I’m suggesting there is another thing in addition that is critical.

              I’d also add that you know how I go on about the ‘how’? Design sciences like permaculture apply that stuff as routine. It’s not primarily a theory of powerdown, as it is developing practice in doing it. Maybe that’s part of what is missing from the zero carbon focus.

              • Bill

                Never seen a feasible 2 degree scenario that doesn’t by necessity have sustainability deeply embedded in it. And it goes without saying that ‘new ways’ of doing things as we move through towards zero carbon (if we ever venture down that track) will be proposed, practiced and developed.

                Seen plenty of senseless talk around carbon reduction that I just tend to just dismiss these days. Maybe that’s the stuff you’re referring to when you mention discussion that doesn’t incorporate sustainability? I dunno.

                • weka

                  “Never seen a feasible 2 degree scenario that doesn’t by necessity have sustainability deeply embedded in it.”

                  Can you please link to couple?

                  • Bill

                    Go to any Anderson presentation or the papers done by himself and Bowes that underpin a number of his presentations. You’ll get a plethora of their stuff by going to almost any of the numerous posts I’ve done using their material.

                    • weka

                      The stuff I’ve seen from Anderson isn’t talking about sustainability design at all. Can you be more specific? I’m not really wanting to go on a fishing trip.

                    • Bill

                      This is going to be kinda long in a short space.

                      Today I have a computer and if it gives up the ghost, I’ll possibly just throw it away and buy a new one. I don’t know the carbon footprint of computer manufacturing, but will assume it’s substantial.

                      Any 2 degrees scenario that is feasible (in terms of physics) is looking at zero carbon from energy in a couple of decades from now.

                      So now it’s 2035 (allowing for some zero carbon electricity supply) and my computer gives up the ghost and we’re at zero carbon. I won’t be just throwing it away and buying another. Unless all of the processes that go into getting a computer on the shelves – the extraction and refining of raw materials, the various shipping and transportations ,the factories and buildings where assembly and design might take place – unless all of these things and a whole lot besides that I’m probably missing are undertaken with zero use of carbon emitting energy, then there will be no computer on any shelf.

                      And if there’s no computer on the shelf, then obviously, all of the materials that go into a computer are wherever they were in the first place – in the ground.

                      But we’re not just talking computers and other high end consumable goods (cars or whatever), we’re talking food (both its growing and distribution) and heating and building materials…it’s all going to have to be radically different in a zero carbon world…where it comes from, how it’s produced, what it comprises of.

                      So this isn’t really any different to anything in your post. All I’m arguing is that as a consequence of zero carbon, all the stuff in your post ‘comes to be’. If it doesn’t, we won’t have zero carbon, or we will have zero carbon, but bugger all else bar chaos due to collapse.

                      Just a simple logical step progression through what Anderson and some others lay out unveils the outlines of radical changes they call for. It cannot be anything different to the kinds of stuff that Heinberg and Holmgren sign-post – no-one is arguing against the general thrust of any of that.

                      Specifically back to Anderson and what he overtly states. He cannot see a way to zero carbon that doesn’t involve an ‘ordered’ crashing of the economy and radical systemic shifts. (Heinberg’s powerdown and Holmgren’s ‘energy descent’).

                      Sure, Anderson doesn’t attempt to spell out the detail. There is no need – the detail as well as the over-arching scenario is determined by the withdrawal of carbon emitting energy sources.

                      Conversely, much of what is in the post (eg – population and other resource use) could be prioritised and tackled (population really is a red herring in relation to 2 degrees) and it’s easy enough to envisage carbon emitting energy use being left too high for too long. And then everything that was built up developed gets slammed by events associated with an average surface temperature in excess of 2 degrees.

                      In essence, zero carbon is both necessary and sufficient, whereas much of Holgrem and Heinberg’s stuff is necessary, though not sufficient.

                    • weka

                      So that all makes sense, and I agree with the general take there. That’s a different thing than what I was saying though. I’m saying that focussing on zero carbon itself will not elicit sustainability. Sustainability isn’t something that occurs naturally as a consequence of low energy. I’ll try another analogy.

                      Approaching zero carbon, in a world where we’ve set zero carbon as the great goal instead of sustainability. Gas and coal are gone as heating sources. Hydroelectric and wind farm power is limited and increasingly being prioritised for supporting critical aspects that weren’t designed sustainably e.g. growing food is now happening in tunnel houses or using irrigation (because of extreme weather events) both of which need a lot of electricity. So what do people do to heat their houses? They cut down trees, and faster than we can grow them.

                      We reach zero carbon that decade and then society falls over because we can no longer grow food as we find that the water table has gone and tunnel houses are increasingly prone to problems with pests and fungal issues.

                      Taking us to zero carbon is an imperative, but it’s not sustainability design. In addition to that, we also need to create new systems. If we try for zero carbon using the systems we have now (esp our systems of thinking) then it’s likely we will just end up with another set of problems (still better for the planet of course). Sustainability design is an actual thing, and it creates different kinds of outcomes than say simply powering down energy supply.

                    • Bill

                      Why would tunnel houses or irrigation schemes be prioritised when they require large amounts of energy in a situation where it’s imperative that energy use is cut? (We simply can’t swap out current energy demand fast enough.)

                      Plan A – that envisages tunnel houses and irrigation schemes, or whatever else that guzzles energy, is not an option.

                      So Plan B…

                      Also, zero carbon means zero. So no trees or other bio-fuels. The need is to limit the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere in order that the carbon cycle slowly gets back to a state where it pulls more carbon out than is going in. The cycle is currently over-loaded and no matter how sustainably any bio-fuel source is managed, any burning of bio-fuel perpetuates that ‘over load’.

                      And yes, there’s an absolute need for a paradigm shift.

                      And if we commit to zero carbon in line with the 2 degree time scale we have, then that commitment will in and of itself, necessitate us dispensing with our current one – because what we have (how we think and the various systemic limitations we’ve placed around ourselves) does not and will not allow us to take the actions required to deliver success on 2 degrees.

                      In other words, being serious and realistic about a 2 degree target (ie – zero carbon from energy within a decade or so) will absolutely drive the adoption, or the unfolding, of a new paradigm/new paradigms.

                    • weka

                      Ok, I think I get what you are saying. Is it that if we adopted the plan, then that plan would inherently mean we wouldn’t do those things? I still don’t think that necessarily includes sustainably design, but my main response is that I just don’t think that that plan will be adopted because it requires either a kind of collective agreement on what is needed or totalitarian control, and I can’t see either of those happening until we are deep in the shit. The Powerdown isn’t dependent on that, although obviously it would be infinitely better if we did adopt that plan.

                      So short of that collective agreement or dictatorship happening now, the tunnel houses and irrigators will continue to be built for a while and over time the climate/weather pressures will increase so now it’s 2037 and we’re getting mass crop failures because of the systems we are using. At that point the farmers who’ve been doing regenag are obviously doing much better and the transition can start, but we’ve already lost that 20 years of growing food forests. If we start with sustainable design, then it will grow outwards.

                      Even if we did convert to the plan overnight, most of the mainstream doesn’t understand sustainable design and attempting zero carbon without that knowledge base, I’m not sure how that would even be possible. I’ll see if I can think of a way to explain this but at the moment all I can say is that taking something away doesn’t induce sustainable thinking. In fact, thinking about it, it’s because we don’t have sustainable thinking in the culture yet that so many people are resistant to change because they can’t see how zero carbon would work (hence the cave scenario).

                      Re the trees, I simply mean that when people get cold enough they will cut down the trees and burn them, and that’s not sustainable.

                      But Holmgren believes that firewood has a net negative carbon footprint (assuming we plant more trees than we burn, firewood forests sequester more carbon then is emitted from the wood being burned), and is a far better fuel source for heating than electricity (I think I linked to that recently if you want to see the rationales, it was in response to one of your posts where you said you would have to give up your woodburner).

                      This is the critical difference between our approaches I think. Sustainable design would choose a natural process that sits within normal carbon cycles over high tech solutions like wind farms (assuming they’re even possible in the Powerdown, bearing in mind the Powerdown isn’t just about carbon zero), because those processes bring multiple, compounding benefits, build resiliency and are themselves sustainable in the true sense of the word (the system they operate within restores the system itself in perpetuity). Windfarms just aren’t no matter how green we try to make them.

                    • Bill

                      So without a fundamental shift or change in how we approach our activities (cultural, economic etc) – ie, a paradigm shift, then you’re reckoning that only totalitarianism could ‘steer’ the necessary ~ 15% annual reductions in energy related carbon.

                      Okay. Let’s take that as read and further agree for the sake of argument it ain’t going to happen.

                      (I’m leaving out the stuff about trees as fuel because it’s convoluted and deserves a discrete exchange)

                      So, let’s assume that a growing number of farmers adopt regenerational agricultural practices in the absence of any fundamental shift in our basic psychological approach to the world.

                      And by 2035 ish, we have shot past 2 degrees, millions upon millions of people in equatorial and tropical regions are dead or on the move, and bar for those farmers who adopted regenag, (and who are probably only surviving as examples in more temperate regions) food production (besides whatever else) is falling over.

                      And there’s some sort of ‘mass awakening’, or at least a shift in food production techniques off the back of regenag techniques being seen to be more resilient/successful or whatever.

                      That’s all fine and good, except…we’re past 2 degrees, we haven’t yet cut CO2 emissions to anywhere near close to zero (meaning further temp increases are on the way) and the weather associated with that background signal of +2 is not going to be like anything we’ve experienced as a species and unlike anything most organisms currently evolved or adapted to (often geographically specific) holocene conditions have experienced.

                      And I’m not really seeing anything beyond that point besides many fucked shades of fucked.

                      I could have the perfect regenag system up and running and it works beautifully in this location and under this current climatic scenario. But then the deluges and/or the ‘never seen before’ winds and/or the unprecedented droughts…

                      Hell. The topography’s going to be changing (slips etc) and the bush (never mind whatever I’ve developed) is fairly likely to be (variously) dying due to drought or blown over by winds or washed away by slips…

                      Mind if I go back a bit?

                      You said “but at the moment all I can say is that taking something away doesn’t induce sustainable thinking.”

                      That’s true. But committing to a specific goal or target (a positive thing), isn’t about ‘taking something away’. And when or if we do that, we’ll be forced into considering the type of things we can do that would be in line with that target and the type of things that would work against that goal. We know (for instance) that to get to zero in time requires ~ 15% annual reductions in CO2 emissions from energy. And we can tell easily enough what activities or ideas would have a positive or negative impact on that.

                      Building energy intensive systems, whether for food or anything else, is on the “Things We Cannot Do” list. Developing low energy, and by default in light of energy requirements, sustainable systems for food and whatever else is about all that fits on the “Things We Can Do” list.

                      And if some people are engaged in low energy regenag, then under a “zero by” scenario, where that commitment has been made, and unlike the situation if that commitment hasn’t been made, the incentive for the general farming community to learn about, develop and/or adopt regenag approaches exists.

                      The alternative (to adopt a greyhound analogy) is to spring the trap doors after the wee fella has taken the hare home, the lights have been switched out and the bulldozers are moving in to start on that redevelopment project.

                      Reiterating. Powerdown is necessary, but powerdown isn’t sufficient.

                      edit – maybe we should shift stuff off to the bottom of the thread if we’re going to continue, aye?

            • Pat 4.1.1.1.1.2

              big picture thinking is right…..and to develop that thinking a destination is required….unfortunately I suspect the last one standing approach has already been chosen by some of our leaders, it is the only rational explanation for UK fracking for example.

          • Gosman 4.1.1.1.2

            Why do you think we are at peak everything? NZ has only got a little over 4.5 million people in a nation larger than the UK which has 65 million. I’m pretty sure we don’t have a shortage of land.

            • weka 4.1.1.1.2.1

              “I’m pretty sure we don’t have a shortage of land.”

              All food is currently grown using fossil fuels. If you don’t have fossil fuels you need to use the land differently. AFAIK no-one in NZ has done the audit on arable land and what population it would support if we were to grow our own food (as well as timber, wool etc).

  5. Siobhan 5

    “reduce the human population humanely but systematically over time”

    This seems to be seen as a Birth Control and Womens Rights issue.
    But it perhaps ignores the economic reality of poorer people. Children are seen as the only insurance against destitution in old age.
    To be honest even I, as a non home owner in a ‘middle class’ economy, have the thought floating around in my head that hopefully one of my children will be able to help house me in my dotage. I can see how that easily translates into wanting more children when you live in a brutal and impoverished economy.

    So, my thoughts are, to reduce birth rates the poorest populations need to be assured of an income and some sort of housing in retirement.

    This means increased Government expenditure. In turn, this means increased taxation.

    ….and there you go, back to the Elephant in each and every room, TAXATION OF MULTI NATIONALS, the end of loopholes, tax hideaways etc etc.

    • weka 5.1

      Good solution thinking there. Solving housing would certainly go a long way towards making it easier to solve the other problems in powering down.

      Holmgren did some work a decade ago on retrofitting the quarter acre suburbs. He started from the position of Australian and NZ suburbs built in the decades after the war were now dormitory suburbs. People slept in them but spent their days at work, and their evenings and weekends recreating somewhere else. Often you have a large house with just a couple in it. His idea was to take those suburbs and retrofit them so they were energy efficient, so the people could work from home, and so that more people could live on each section. In a block you might have half the houses growing food for the whole block, plus cottage industries (think modern ones), plus a trade or two etc. He did all that planning in the context of the powerdown, or if you like, reducing carbon emissions.

      The big stumbling block I see is we are used to having more space now, it will be hard to go back to sharing houses through multiple generations or with people we are not related to.

      One huge benefit of Holmgren’s plan is that the per person cost of housing drops considerable.

      • Siobhan 5.1.1

        The sharing issue is not so great now.
        For those of us with children under the age of 30 house sharing has become the norm. ‘The Kids’ can’t afford to leave, at least not for long. And for the renting parent it’s possibly the only way to afford the rent of a whole house, without reverting to ‘flatting’. Though even there, overseas atleast, shared housing in your adult life is becoming more of ‘a thing’.

        There are also more and more couples willing to make room for ‘the olds’ to help with child care, maintaining the house and what not. Once upon a time I would have been horrified at the thought, but now, it seems the only answer, and infact, a good thing for many., once the mindset is changed.

    • BM 5.2

      Can’t really have a UBI without population control.

    • Bill 5.3

      If the poorest people of this world are to have a half way decent life, then one of the inputs necessary will be energy. That’s why all Climate Accords that governments have signed up to mention equity.

      Swathes of the world need and deserve more energy in order that their populations can expect something substantially better than ‘scrabbling in the dirt’. Meaning that we have to take up the slack that produces in global terms of getting off of carbon.

      Meanwhile, population is not a factor in any 2 degrees scenario. Even China with its reasonably high economic growth cannot produce enough consumers to make an impact in the time available.

      And again. If we don’t do the 2 degrees (zero carbon) then total population (as opposed to the likelihood of huge migrating populations) simply won’t be a problem.

    • Sabine 5.4

      we need some sensible living arraingments.

      i think it is doubtful that we all can own/rent a three bedder plus double garage.

      What is down in Europe every now and then is to pare of old people lving on their own but in need of a bit of assistance with daily tasks such as shopping and carrying groceries, bring a crate of beer/lemonade up the staircase etc, with students who have some spare time but can’t afford market rent.
      This usually is an arraignment that works well for both sides.

      Then there is the “Rentner WG” which loosely translates into the “senior flatters”. Some groups form, buy a house, hire a in house concierge/nurse and essentially create and finance their own oldfolk house.

      I have no children and i guess i will later in my life hopefully find a decent young flat mate that is happy to live with us, do the groceries, mow the lawn and pay no rent in exchange.

      Once thing that must happen, urban and rural is how we ‘live’, and how much space we really need.

      • weka 5.4.1

        I like the senior flatters idea. I’ve only ever heard of 1 set of people consider that here in NZ. We need better ways of buying land together so it’s easy to do with people we aren’t married to.

        • Sabine 5.4.1.1

          ahhh, the Kiwi mindset of ‘must own it’.

          Nah, often the ‘Rentner WG” is rented. Granted, in Germany people live for several decades in rented properties.
          But i can see why that mindset of ‘must own it’ comes from.

          I am not married, my partner and I have a house that is in a trust. We are both beneficiaries. We can add beneficiaries if we wanted too.

          IF five people want to buy a property at equal parts, establish a trust, make it a non profit and essentially if one elderly person passes away a place for a new elderly person is opened.

          As for ‘inheritance’ the children can be ‘beneficiaries’ but without access to selling the house.

          sometimes we only do something to benefit us, and when we die that it is. I think above all we must come around to think in terms of our human ‘shelf life’.

          • weka 5.4.1.1.1

            “But i can see why that mindset of ‘must own it’ comes from.”

            It comes directly from having very poor protection for tenants.

            Trusts as you suggest aren’t that simple because we don’t have good social arrangements for owning (or renting) land together. Most stumble when they think about the commitment or what would happen if someone needs to leave. It’s actually quite different than a family or marriage situation.

            • Sabine 5.4.1.1.1.1

              i understand what you are saying, and i do understand where that mindset comes from – in my opinion nz does not have poor protection for tenants, NZ has a predatory housing market with only lip service pretending to be protection for tenants.

              but,
              look at it from the do-able side.
              the Rentner WG is not compromised of people that don’t know each other, they can be friends, business partners of even family members.
              they can organise it as Trust, on a 99 year lease etc etc.
              they can organise it as a co-operative where people can apply to be granted a spot once and elderly dies away that is wholly maintained by ‘subscriptions’ and such
              etc etc.

              one thing in that ‘powerdown’ scenario we need to look at is the fact that we – humans- are finitive. We will get old, we will get slow, blind, lame, incontinent and what not and at the end of our life we will die.

              Knowing that, we can together with families, friends and communities take elderly care back into our hands instead of deciding that having Nana go into ‘for profit’ elderly care is the best option. It is not and more often then not it is to costly for the individual and often the families. In a world were care for an eldery has to bring profit to share holders we can’t expect these businesses to behave in the interest of the elderly. It would go against the principle of the free market and growth and profit.

              So in all the scenarios discussed we need to look away from the burden of changing the system, i .e. walking instead of driving, growing food instead of buying it, looking after our own elders instead of paying someone else a misery to do so, but look at the benefits of change.
              By keeping our elders today – and us in the future – within the community we can as old people still provide services. Help with the small ones, the sharing of our knowledge, help in training young ones etc etc. And at the least we would alleviate loneliness and resulting depression among our elders.

              We often talk about how we need to bring the youth to go to vote and participate, but we also should talk about how we need to bring our old ones back into the community, lest they and their stories, their knowledge, their skills just disappear one night to be forever gone.

              • weka

                So in all the scenarios discussed we need to look away from the burden of changing the system, i .e. walking instead of driving, growing food instead of buying it, looking after our own elders instead of paying someone else a misery to do so, but look at the benefits of change.
                By keeping our elders today – and us in the future – within the community we can as old people still provide services. Help with the small ones, the sharing of our knowledge, help in training young ones etc etc. And at the least we would alleviate loneliness and resulting depression among our elders.

                I like this. In the circles I move in, eating local is totally seen as a benefit. That it also serves the world in terms of the powerdown is part of that, but primarily people do it because it makes them feel good. I think this is a crucial part of our activism, promoting things that work. Too often we are focussed on critiquing what doesn’t.

                Having said that 😉 I’ve been around many many people trying to own or rent land collectively for my whole adult life (let’s say 3 decades) and I know that while there are many ways to do that structurally and legally, it is still hard for most people to manage when it’s not close family or marriage (Pākehā at least, I think other ethnicities are better at this). The most successful ones I know of are people who buy land together and subdivide it and all live separately. There are some successful cohousing communities in NZ, and some successful intentional communities, but beyond that we’re still fairly clueless about how to do it socially. The biggest thing I see is Pākehā wanting to protect their assets (those that have any) and not knowing how to share fairly around that. There are also commitment issues (this is for younger people, but I bet this will happen with older people too).

                So, sure, we can talk about Trusts and such, but that’s not where the block is.

                Yes, I’m not suggesting that people who don’t know each other do this. I’m talking about people who do know each other. And I can totally see how people in Europe are better at this, I think it’s a very NZ thing tbh.

                I think that when constraints get tighter, people will be more willing to overcome those obstacles.

                • Sabine

                  we need to copy the Marae System in my books, the land belongs to the people, the people live on the land, the people get buried on the land.

                  Rinse repeat rinse repeat.

                  We need to talk about the benefits, not the effort. The effort will keep people away, the benefits however will/could get those exited that don’t want to end up alone, mistreaded, drugged to the hilt in a profit driven system that will keep them ‘alive’ cause profit.

                  • weka

                    Yep and yep.

                    I hope to be putting up more post on the powerdown etc, and would appreciate your comments then on looking at the benefits rather than the loss or effort. Thanks for highlighting this because it should change how I write too.

                • Molly

                  Cohousing, with it’s many forms and variations (including elderly communities) provides a framework for all the above.

                  Interestingly enough, with co-housing it is the more disparate and disconnected original groups that are operating at a more sustained level in later years.

                  Can’t find the article now, – may be in one of my books – but it seemed to do with the fact that many of the groups with close familial and friendly ties has more disillusionment and emotional reactions when the expected conflict and disagreements arose. Those who banded together to create a co-housing community without previous relationships or assumptive beliefs (ie. all were environmentally aware in the same way) took time to create founding documents, structures and systems that were aligned, and were able to deal better with conflict.

    • Rae 5.5

      You are absolutely right and this is the reason that a universal pension in old age is so important as part of the means of reducing birth rates.

  6. corokia 6

    There is so much “low hanging fruit” when considering ways to reduce energy/carbon/resource use, but it needs a change in mindset for the general population to take it on board. That will only happen when the media/advertising messages change.

    We could live comfortable lives using far fewer resources, but instead we ( the middle class) are being encouraged to buy disposable stuff, buy imported food, to fly away for short holidays, to support sports teams that fly hundreds of players and support staff all over the place every week, it seems so over the top.

    It’s promoted as “freedom”. Buy a Jeep, drive up riverbeds. Fly to Raratonga to escape the winter weather . Drive to the big box store and buy stuff at amazing prices. This is considered normal. Anyone telling the general population that they should cut back on such things comes across as a sack cloth and ashes greenie trying to spoil the party.

    Nothing will change until the mainstream advertising messages change. How can we help make that happen when the system is controlled by the 1%?

    • weka 6.1

      The people who work in the media are those people too.

      • Corokia 6.1.1

        Sorry weka, but I’m not sure what you mean?

        • weka 6.1.1.1

          I think what you say is true. I think it’s also true that the people in the MSM, journalists, editors, producers etc, are all people who are capable to the same processes as us here, and who will have concerns about their kids and grandkids. So in there there will be people really worried about CC and looking for solutions. Yes, looking at the 1% ownership issues needs to happen, but in a small place like NZ where any of us can tweet John Campbell or Mahingarangi Forbes, I think there are also other avenues for change.

          Focus on the people wanting to change, not the ones with a big investment in being able to consume (or ones like Gosman above). It’s the people who want to change and are looking for the way to do that that are our best hope. Some of those people will be journalists.

          • Corokia 6.1.1.1.1

            Yes, it helps to have journalists understand the approaching crisis, but journalists don’t control advertising. If the news reports talk about climate change but are then followed by ads for cheap flights and big box stores, then people are not going to change their behaviour.
            So somehow we need public information announcements (like anti drink driving ones) and to stop advertising CO2 intensive consumption. Sadly I don’t think that’s going to happen and we are heading for the crash scenario.

            • weka 6.1.1.1.1.1

              Public information announcements, great idea. I can’t see why the Ministry for the Environment couldn’t do those (left wing govt).

  7. Red Hand 7

    What will we need to give up to powerdown and live good and meaningful lives ?

    Emphasis on what will I need to reduce (rather than give up) is a more acceptable message to me personally and I suspect to other comfortable middle class people.

    1. Delay childbearing and have fewer kids, make abortion freely and easily available.
    2. Eat less, reduce dairy and avoid meat (spell out the cost savings and health benefits)
    3. Fewer cars per household (again the health benefits and social benefits of walking and good public transport)
    4. Living closer to workplaces while being fair to those workers who have less choice by appropriate town planning.
    5. Reduce the presence of advertising.
    6. Make overseas travel for holiday purposes alone more expensive.

    I realize these might be hard to sell. Personal experience has shown me that they are all doable without sacrificing a good standard of living (I have trained myself to shut out most advertisements and I would only travel overseas for education or employment).

    • Corokia 7.1

      As you say ” a hard sell”. How are things / messages sold to us? Advertising. Until that changes I don’t think most people will change their behavior.

    • weka 7.2

      I like this list Red Hand, and the point about reducing rather than giving up.

      I’d probably adjust the list slightly,

      1. Delay childbearing and have fewer kids, make abortion freely and easily available. – first figure out what population NZ can sustain geographically if it were to produce most of its own food sustainably. Then look at increasing our refugee quota, and consider climate refugees in the future. Then look at immigration vs increasing resident population. Big conversation all that, and I’d say make abortion and contraception fee and accessible.

      2. Eat less, reduce dairy and avoid meat (spell out the cost savings and health benefits) – eat local, eat sustainable, eat organic, then reduce dairy and meat. Promote local cuisine.

      3. Fewer cars per household (again the health benefits and social benefits of walking and good public transport). Yep.

      4. Living closer to workplaces while being fair to those workers who have less choice by appropriate town planning. – See my comment above about Holmgren’s retro-fitting the suburbs. I think we could see migration back to rural areas too if the benefits were obvious.

      5. Reduce the presence of advertising. – Not sure how that could be done in a democratic society tbh.

      6. Make overseas travel for holiday purposes alone more expensive.

      • Red Hand 7.2.1

        About point 5, I meant reducing ads by tighter regulations on where ads can be placed, ad-free media supported by donations and subscriptions, ad-blocking software and so on.

        Also reduce the presence ads have in our minds by deliberately reducing our exposure to them, ignoring them and being aware of an intention to influence our behavior, as defined by the Advertising Standards Authority

        http://www.asa.co.nz/2016/12/07/updated-definition-advertising-advertisement/

        I was surprised to see that the ASA is self regulating. That’s huge power to influence people’s thinking.

  8. Ovid 8

    In respect of population, this video is illuminating.

    • joe90 8.1

      200,000 years to hit 1 billion humans, 200 years to reach 7 billion….another 80 years to peak and plateau at 11 billion souls. It’s all a bit grim.

    • GregJ 8.2

      Thanks Ovid – most interesting.

      Et res non semper, spes mihi semper adest

    • adam 8.3

      I get sick of the over population arguments.

      You want to shrink populations, simple, have a world were women have equal rights. Not just token equal rights, but full rights to their own bodies and the development of society.

      So stop the population distraction, and work on civil rights.

      • Rae 8.3.1

        That is the only humane method of reducing population, the other is pretty grim, war. I think the two go hand in hand, to be frank. We have to address our overpopulation of the planet and I firmly believe that we will have massive conflict before we reach 11 billion as there is simply not enough resources for that many of us.
        Sadly, we have some incredible barriers to women’s rights in some societies, but that is no reason not to put effort into it.

  9. HDCAFriendlyTroll 9

    ” But yes, it means that we in the West will need to give some things up.”

    I hereby nominate that sentence as the understatement of the century.

    Anyway as oil for example becomes more scarce the price goes up. This in turn encourages new technologies which results in not only more efficient use but more exploration. Which results in more oil and so the cycle goes. It’s the way the world works.

    As for population control, yeah about that. You will find that countries that have high mortality rates have a lot kids per family, for obvious reasons. As the mortality rate drops the number of kids per family drops dramatically because there’s no longer any incentive to have a lot of kids. In fact having fewer kids becomes far more attractive as there’s less mouths to feed.

    • weka 9.1

      “I hereby nominate that sentence as the understatement of the century.”

      Well you know us Kiwis, never want to overstate things 🙂

      That population thing doesn’t really work in NZ, because while the rate of increase is dropping, we’re still not at a steady state. And we’re importing a lot of people.

  10. Henry Filth 10

    “But yes, it means that we in the West will need to give some things up.”

    Which makes it a major problem. We in The West have a political system which is currently based on the political establishment promising to give people things in exchange for power (votes).

    I rather think that “selling” the changes to this deeply-etched cultural pattern is likely to be more difficult than making the actual changes necessary for a transition to sustainability.

    A fascinating post nonetheless.

    • weka 10.1

      “I rather think that “selling” the changes to this deeply-etched cultural pattern is likely to be more difficult than making the actual changes necessary for a transition to sustainability.”

      That’s the one. But I also think it’s where our hope is too. We can look at other times we have changed and know it is possible. What I don’t think it is is coming up with a new system and imposing it on everyone (never going to work until we are in the first stages of collapse). I think it’s more about looking at where NZ already wants to change and is changing and working with heading that in the right direction. It’s my theory about Labour (support the changes they are doing), and I know there are a lot of people out there really concerned about climate change and not doing anything because they feel powerless. Learning how to feel empowered is a teachable skill.

    • Rae 10.2

      I think much of it is learning (or re-learning) that less is actually more, to stop and smell the roses, as it were.

  11. gsays 11

    Hey cheers weka for the conservation.

    Well done on the firm moderation, too.

    Fwiw for me the process is baby steps:
    Give up the tv, newspaper etc.
    Pass on the Facebook, twitter etc.
    Get involved in community and volunteer groups.

    I would echo the transition towns recomendment.

    Time banking schemes are great at building community, childcare is valued the same as mechanic for example.

  12. Liberal Realist 12

    Thanks for the great post Weka, ’tis appreciated.

    I largely agree with most of your sentiment – the thing that weighs most on my mind is how do we bring forth sustainable change in NZ? My foremost thought is that we ought to start with sustainability as mandatory part of state education from day dot. At the very least the next generation might have a shot at transitioning where we’ve failed.

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    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    3 weeks ago
  • Valedictory Speech
    Te papa pounamu Aotearoa NZ Karanga karanga karanga; Nga tupuna Haere haere haere; Te kahui ora te korowai o tenei whare; E tu e tu ... tutahi tonu Ki a koutou oku hoa mahi ki Te Kawanatanga; Noho mai noho ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Buck stops with Gerry Brownlee
    The fact that the State Services Commission has referred the CERA conflict of interest issue to the Serious Fraud Office is a positive move, but one that raises serious questions about the Government’s oversight of the rebuild, says Labour Canterbury ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Teachers deserve a democratic Education Council
    Teachers around New Zealand reeling from the news that their registration fees could more than double will be even angrier that the National Government has removed their ability to have any say about who sits on the Council that sets ...
    3 weeks ago