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Energy Descent
Action Plan

Energy Descent Action Plan Primer

An Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) is a local plan for dealing with Peak Oil. It goes well beyond issues of energy supply, to look at across-the-board creative adaptations in the realms of health, education, economy and much more. An EDAP is a way to think ahead, to plan in an integrated, multidisciplinary way, to provide direction to local government, decision makers, groups and individuals with an interest in making the place they live into a vibrant and viable community in a post-carbon era.

This document is a primer on EDAPs, designed to help spur on the process of creating them. Since the concept of an EDAP is inspired by looming Peak Oil, as well as the permaculture design system, and the inevitability of economic relocalisation, we've also included a brief introduction to these three topics.

Context for the EDAP: Peak Oil

Oil has fuelled much of the massive population growth and the extraordinary achievements of the last 150 years. It is the single largest energy source of the world economy, the lifeblood of industrial society. But according to a growing number of experts, within the next handful of years the world will reach the ultimate peak in global oil production. After this point, production will begin its slow but terminal decline. 'Peak Oil', as this event has become widely known, represents an historical turning point, from an era of growth, to an era of contraction. Peak gas won't be far behind.

The most widely respected Peak Oil models are being developed by Colin Campbell and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO). They predict a peak of all oil and gas liquids around 2010. This 'early peak' projection has been supported by other researchers. Alternative energy sources simply can't fill all of the gap that oil and gas will leave behind, at least not without decades of investment. Massive social changes look like a given. We have to learn to make do with less energy.

With less fuel, we'll be forced to begin moving back towards living within the annual energy budget provided by the Sun. While renewables may help, ultimately this means discovering lifestyles less based around consumerism, and better integrated with natural processes and cycles. Given that the health of the planet is in a far worse state than when humankind embarked on the fossil fuel adventure, this is indeed a challenging prospect.

However, a small but growing number of people are using Peak Oil as an opportunity to address broader social and ecological issues. Their best ideas are inspiring, creative and attractive visions of revitalised local economies, visions grounded by a connection to place and the people in it. Something sets these ideas apart from many earlier approaches to sustainability — it's knowing that we now have little time left, it's a palpable desperation to be realistic and viable, to involve everyone in the community, to capture the imagination, and to succeed.

Peak oil and permaculture

The phrase 'energy descent' was first used by Australian permaculture co-orginator David Holmgren. He wrote in 2003 that “I use the term ‘descent’ as the least loaded word that honestly conveys the inevitable, radical reduction of consumption and/or human numbers that will characterise the declining decades and centuries of fossil fuel abundance and availability.” Okay, you say, but permaculture — that's just a system of organic gardening, right? In a short answer: no, well not really.

Permaculture is a "design system for sustainable human habitats that supply human needs in an environmentally enhancing way". Permaculture is all about functional design — ways to maximise productivity and abundance, while minimising effort, by working with nature, rather than against it. Permaculture can be applied to everything from settlement design, large scale farming, factory design, business practices, kitchen layout, housing, pretty much anything really. Permaculture designs are inspired by natural systems, and built on ethical principles — two things which actually contribute to their effectiveness.

While in affluent countries permaculture is often practised because of environmental concerns, or as a mere hobby, it has been stress tested in difficult conditions all around the globe, where people's lives depend on successful use of scant resources. This includes in Cuba, when the country suffered a severe energy famine after the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union. The collapse more than halved Cuba's oil imports virtually overnight. The documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, explains how permaculturists were amongst those who helped transform Cuba through this difficult period into a functional, low energy society, where infant mortality and average lifespans are now as good as in the USA.

Why relocalisation?

Relocalised economies aren't an option - they are an invevitability. Oil currently supplies 95% of the world's transport energy, and all the alternatives proposed have severe limitations. Biodiesel competes with crops for food, hydrogen depends on other primary energy sources, and so on. Global trade will diminish and we will be left to rely on local resources and skills. If we resist the transition, considering it a depressing step backwards, the process will be ugly and painful. Fueled by anger and confusion, we may look for someone or something to blame. A positive vision can go a long way to making the transition enjoyable and dignified. Many public interest groups are already pushing for relocalisation because of the many benefits it offers, with or without resource constraints.The benefits of relocalisation are as multifaceted as the problems presented by resource depletion and ecological crises:

* Healthier food * More active lifestyles * Greater self-reliance * A sense of connection to place and products
* The re-emergence of local identity * An emphasis on quality over quantity * A means of overcoming addictive behaviours such as over-consumption * A meaningful common goal and sense of purpose.

Converging conclusions

We need to be urgently investing what remains of our cheap energy into long term infrastructure for an energy descent culture. So we need as much support as possible from policy makers. When faced with Peak Oil, many people from vastly different backgrounds and political persuasions come to similar conclusions — that a 'technofix' is both unlikely and undesirable — that radical societal changes will have to take place, of which relocalisation is central. For example,you can hear veteran conservative US Congressman Roscoe Bartlett explain the importance of humus (the organic part of topsoil), to the US congress in a speech about Peak Oil. When an issue relating to the global energy supply has everyone from permaculturists to republican politicians talking about the same type of solutions, we know that something is going on. Given both the tangible fear of Peak Oil, as well as the potentially non-partisan nature of solutions, there seems to be some emerging opportunities for otherwise 'unrealistic' or 'idealistic' approaches to be both heard and rapidly deployed.

Enter the EDAP

One of the most useful visioning and policy guiding tools we have available to capture and direct these positive potentials may be the local Energy Descent Action Plan. Essentially an EDAP is a local plan for dealing with the period leading up to and following Peak Oil. It is not a plan for how to live in a sustainable world. It is a plan for the transitional period of decreasing energy — how to get to that sustainable world. The first EDAP was written in 2005 by permaculture students at a further education college in the small Irish town of Kinsale.

The document broke down the issues which arose locally from peak oil into sections, such as health, education, transport, housing, youth and community, food and energy. Each chapter presented an attractive vision of the town in relation to that issue, followed by a timeline of steps on how the town might get there.

The plan 'Kinsale 2021: An Energy Descent Action Plan' is available for download at It includes ideas like turning the town supermarket carpark into an eco-centre, new ecologically sensitive housing development legislation, permaculture studies as part of school curriculum, community gardens, a youth council, a community currency and trading network, and lots more.

As testimony to the way the plan, while visionary, retains a feeling of practicality, late last year the Kinsale town council officially adopted the plan. Of course visioning and planning is just the begining, but it's useful to reflect on how the authors of the Kinsale plan developed it and won widespead support.

Breaking down the process

Community education, consultation and networking: To write an effective plan and to bring the community on board we would need to embark on a dual education and consultation process... But what an amazing process - by the end we could be the most connected group in the region, with a remarkable sense of the character of the local communities, and probably a lot of new friends from each! We'll need their support, energy and ideas to make it really happen.

Research: Food mapping, researching wind flows, solar radiation, incomes, local skills, current energy mix and vulnerability, existing groups and their potential to aid organisation etc. etc. We need to audit the region as best we can, to figure out what skills and resources and opportunities are available and what are lacking....

Lessons from Kinsale: Avoiding "Them and Us" * Creating a sense that Something is Happening * Creating a Vision of an Abundant Future * Designing in Flexibility * What Could Have Been Done Better...



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