David Holmgren “Permaculture”

ISBN 0 646 41844 0. “Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability” was written by David Holmgren and published by Holmgren Design Services in 2002 (this the 2006 reprint). In the 1970’s David and Bill Mollison introduced the term “Permaculture” to the world from their work in Tasmania. They Co-Authored “Permaculture One” in 1978 which quickly became THE Book on the topic. With such a great pioneer at the helm this book could normally be considered as the most authoritative work on the topic to date. However, the problem is obvious up-front – in the title. Anyone who publicises a book with the oxymoronic concept of “beyond sustainability” should hang their heads in shame. The operative word here is “principles”.

This is not a book full of much practical advice. Anyone unfamiliar with permaculture would find this hard work. This is not for the beginner. Indeed it is hard to know exactly who would find this book useful. It is obviously the work of a University Academic for other University Academics. If you happen to be fascinated by the flora and fauna of Australia (in particular – Trees) then there might be some meaning to this work for you. Otherwise I suggest the rest of humanity (the vast vast majority of us!) steer well clear of this book. It will put most readers off the idea because it makes a practical topic come over as utterly boring, dry, academic and dogmatic.

Through this book Holmgren sets out a number of key principles. There are no pictures and practically no diagrams. There are a few, somewhat nebulous, ‘diagrams’ that would (at least for those of us who read “Dilbert” Cartoons) make you roll your eyes to heaven. Talk about style over content. I have only ever seen similar gibberish printed on freebie-mouse-mats given away by Management Consulting firms. This is all about ‘ideas’ detached from day-to-day reality.

I recommend that, if you really MUST read this book then skip the first ten pages. Try and read up to page 200 and then skim through the last 70-odd pages. Of the bits you read you may only find about 10% is remotely interesting or relevant. Holmgren thinks his principles are so generally applicable that he applies them to all forms of Social, Government, Corporate and human structure. This really stretches credibility. It is very self-indulgent.

To give you an idea here is a quote lifted at random from page 265:

“I suggest that ways of thinking built into very young minds through TV and other media technology are perhaps the greatest impediment to pattern understanding involving the temporal dimension.”

Well, that says it all. If you thought this was a Gardening book think again. This quote is typical. We cannot recommend this book. There is very little in here besides a few anecdotes. It doesn’t travel well beyond its antipodean roots.

On the positive side, although David never mentions “Peak Oil” he does make often reference to what he calls the “Energy Descent” and the end of “fossil fuel Capitalism”. This guys know what is about to happen to us and he wants to change the way we think about the world in order for us to survive. A nice thought, but, as he admits, our current behavioural patterns started some 6000 years ago with the foundation of the first cities.

A book like this changes nothing and comes over as navel-gazing management-speak. Only recommended for those of you into hard-core philosophy. Otherwise this is just too personal to make any kind of a good read. For fans of Holmgren only.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.


David Holmgren “Permaculture” — 1 Comment

  1. Wow! That’s a pretty strong response.
    I’ve talked to people who found the book inaccessible but never heard a response like this.

    I am a fan of Holmgren, though mostly because of this book – not from prior experience.

    I do come at it from a very different angle. I’m not a gardener. I don’t have room, physical stability or much interest in anything but superficial agriculture. And yes, I’m Australian too.
    But I am interested in understanding how to work with ecological systems (environmental and human alike).

    I disagree heartily that Holmgren stretches credibility by applying his thinking to non-gardening contexts. His contributions can be quite abstract, and yes all abstractions are necessarily untrue, but they’re amazingly insightful alternative perspectives next to the predominant ways of understanding many of these systems.