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Date Posted: 27/01/2014
Blog Heading: Permaculture research and radical emission reduction

Finding a way to live sustainably on a planet with nine billion people on it by 2050.

Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University sets out clearly the enormous challenge to the developed world of responding to the threat of climate change, given the reality that developing countries such as China and India will continue their path out of poverty.  The Radical Emission Reduction conference was a chance to explore the nature of the challenge (in human terms) and some of the strategies and solutions for tackling uncontrolled modification of the atmosphere and the resulting changes in the climate.  Naomi Klein provided the keynote speach, via videolink from Toronto, highlighting the links between global trade and the climate.

The ticking clock, elephant in the room and irreversible tipping point is the fate of the Arctic sea ice.  If it continues to lose extent and volume, so we see an ice-free summer Arctic in a decade or two, then humanity will unquestionably be entering a new planetary era, spurred by the burning of fossil fuels and cutting down of forests for agriculture.

The activities of the Permaculture Association and  many others to nurture and develop research into permaculture are a recognition that permaculture and the group tradition of experimentation and exchange of ideas that it fosters, are an essential contribution to a global endeavour: to develop ways to grow food and generate clean energy while protecting the environmental fabric that sustains us.

A social learning organisation evolves a research capability in order to study itself

E. Sears1,2,3, C. Warburton-Brown2, T. Remiarz2, R. S. Ferguson4 (2013)
1 University of Exeter, 2 Permaculture Association, 3 Plants For A Future, 4 University of Illinois
Corresponding email: e.sears@exeter.ac.uk

This A1 poster and accompanying handout were our contribution to the debate at the Radical Emission Reduction conference, which by chance co-incided with the International Permaculture Conference in Cuba.  Cuba is one of the only examples of a society decarbonising most of its essential operations over a short timescale (1-3 years) after the halt of oil imports following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Permaculture design contributed to their strategy of setting up urban organic agriculture, and the whole process is a case study in how a society can rapidly reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, while sustaining the population.

From another political angle, Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance describes the scale of investment to date in renewable energy (over $1 trillion in four years 2010-2013), and the need to double and then double again that investment rate to move the energy system decisively onto a low-carbon trajectory by the middle of the century.

In another recent visit to London, I was fortunate to meet up with Stefan Geyer, host of the 21st Century Permaculture show on Shoreditch Radio, who interviewed me about permaculture research and the people who inspired me along the way.  He even includes some funky tunes ....

This interview sets out the context for my own developing ideas about researching permaculture and the need to develop a published evidence base by looking at the thinkers and explorers who inspired me (Ken Fern here at Plants For A Future, Bill Mollison and permaculture, James Lovelock who originated Gaia theory or Earth system science, Phil Jones at the Climatic Research Unit at UEA, one of the leading authors in climate science, and Tim Lenton, investigator of tipping points and planetary transitions.  We also discuss renewable energy and especially the almost limitless potential of cheap photovoltaic panels to be deployed around the world.

The poster presented in this blog is a brief snapshot of ongoing activities and the intention is to follow it up with a full paper, published in a decent scientific journal, where we can include far more detail on activities that are still underway as I write.


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