Posted by: Mike Grenville | 11 April 2009

Review: ‘Future Scenarios’

Future Scenarios

‘Future Scenarios’ by David Holmgren
How communities can adapt to peak oil and climate change
The new book by the co-originator of the permaculture concept is a short and accessible introduction to the impact of a change to the way we consume energy will have on our society.

In this slim handbag sized volume, the co-founder of permaculture David Holmgren reviews the evidence about the future in four scenarios in the face of Climate Change and Peak Oil. The four scenarios of techno-explosion, techno-stability, energy descent and collapse are examined in an easily readable way that is intended to empower the reader to take adaptive and postive action.

With his thirty years of permaculture thinking behind him, he presents the case that if society can adopt energy descent, it is likely to give birth to a new culture, one more different from our current globalised culture was from the industrial culture before it.

Although the debate about what would happen after the exhaustion of fossil resources began quite early in their exploitation, Holmgren notes that this has remained mostly academic until now. Instead, from nuclear to solar, much of the twentieth century has persued the always just out of reach dream of access to ‘free’ energy. The whole idea of a transition to a lower energy future he says is such an anathema to the power elites of modern society that it is constantly misinterprted, ignored or derided.

While one could conclude that a society collapse scenario is inevitable, Holmgren warns against jumping to such a conclusion as this can lead to fatalistic acceptance. Without underplaying the possibility of fast and global collapse of complex society, he sees in the collapse of the Roman Empire a model of a more gradual and less complex decline process – in other words, an energy descent. According to Holmgren the energy descent scenario is in desperate need to be recast as a positive process that can free people from the strictures and dysfunctions of growth economics and consumer culture. He naturally sees Permaculture as being highly relevant in all of the examined scenarios.

In our attempts to imagine the implications of different future senarios as we respond to Climate Change and Peak Oil, ‘Future Scenarios’ by David Holmgren is a calm and considered evaluations of the options and is a vaulable and accessible read.

Website related to the book:

David’s website can be found at

UK Distributor – (in stock from Thursday 23 April 2009)

US Distributor



  1. […] the four scenarios described by David Holmgren in his book ‘Future Scenarios’: techno-explosion, techno-stability, energy descent and collapse, only energy descent offers a hope […]

  2. Before I saw your item on this book I had drafted a review, as discussed I enclose it below

    This book by one of the founders of the permaculture movement contains a useful summary of 4 likely future scenarios we face with peak oil and climate change and how they will affect our lives. One of the most striking things which dawns upon people as they learn about transition is that peak oil and climate train will have significant impact during their own lifetimes, but it can be hard to visualise how this might manifest itself in their communities. Most of us have considered how best we should prepare for such doubt to some extent from a selfish perspective.

    The scenarios considered are: continuing business as usual hoping that technology will ‘see us right’ (‘Brown Tech’), developing green technologies to conserve resource and reduce pollution, but aiming to
    continue our current energy intensive lifestyles (‘Green tech’), moving to a low energy localised economy aimed at preserving our ecosphere and resources with a more supportive and egalitarian society (‘Earth Stewardship’) and a breakdown of economic systems and society leading to a polarised world of war lords and societal breakdown – a bit like the film Mad Max but without Tina Turner (‘Lifeboats’).

    As with the transition concept, anyone learning for the first time about the clear evidence of the fragility of our current lifestyle could find this book distressing, but as with transition it offers a positive vision for the future. In a future of reduced energy, climate upheaval and political and societal turmoil it is not inevitable that we should descend into the dog-eat-dog survivalism so beloved by sci-fi writers.

    Besides producing advanced technologies, efficient business models and the arts, our society has developed extensive systems of cooperative government, democracies of every hue and detailed understandings of how to apply appropriate technology to support them. Whilst Holmgren sets out 4 basic scenarios he points out that they (or elements of them) would all coexist in different parts of our
    society and in societies around the world and includes reference to countries that have experience sharp energy descent such as N.Korea and Cuba. The changes envisaged within our lifetimes will challenge so many assumptions about our values, lifestyles and expectations – including those of the permaculturalists and ‘deep greens’, some of whom no doubt privately quite look forward to some of these scenarios.

    For anyone looking to find out what ‘comes after’ transition. or what transition is for, Future Scenarios is a very accessible and readable summary from an author who provided much of the inspiration behind the
    transition movement. The book is illustrated with a number of easy to understand diagrams and photographs which help the reader to visualise the scenarios described and includes chapters on the background to energy descent, description of the scenarios and how to interpret them.

    Future Scenarios.
    Price £9.95 Green Books, ISBN978-1-900322-50-8.
    Printed in UK on recycled paper and using vegetable based inks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: