Sunday, June 18, 2006

Brian Goodwin on Peak Oil

I was doing some research on biological structuralism, and I came upon this interview with Brian Goodwin (a biologicla structuralist) on peak oil.

To what extent do solutions to the energy problem involve action in other, non energy, fields?

ithacaI would choose a couple of things. One is the whole issue of currencies and economics. We are in an economic system at the moment which is ingenious; it gives a lot of freedom to exchange of goods, services and so on, but underneath it is deadly. Deadly because it forces economic growth, and economic growth forces the destruction of Nature, and of us. We are on the way to becoming an endangered species if we go down that route. So we need to diversify.

One of the keys in natural phenomena is the diversity of different strategies used. We have adopted a single strategy for currency and economics and our economic system is based on and driven by that. We need to diversify our currencies. This is not something that has never been heard of before, it happens spontaneously all the time. In Argentina the economic system has collapsed, that is the conventional dollar-based system has collapsed, but they’ve put in place an alternative. They are trading and exchanging goods, and they are using their own local currencies. This is therefore a spontaneous thing to happen, it’s part of the process of localization, going local, developing appropriate local currencies, connected to useful resources, like energy, food, buildings and so on.

The other area is education. Education needs to be fundamentally transformed. I’ve been in Universities nearly all my life, and in my experience University education has now become pretty thoroughly irrelevant to the training that people need to receive in order to make the transition that we are going through. We need a new education. So what is the image of this new education process? I have jus been talking about local currencies, well education needs also to ‘go local’. Universities should serve their local communities and they should serve them with the ingenuity that comes out of this concentration of creative energy in Universities in terms of putting together new communities, developing new technologies, so that we develop what I like to think of now as something that Fritjof Capra has introduced into the dialogue here at Schumacher College, looking at the Renaissance, the period of Leonardo da Vinci, which had a workshop culture. A lot of people got their practical skills in workshops. I love this idea. If Universities and schools could become in some sense workshops, playshops, toyshops, whatever you want to call it, but where practical skills are developed for the whole person, and we don’t fragment the world of learning into specialized disciplines. We will still have specialized skills, because people will want to develop high quality abilities in different areas, but that’s up to the individual to choose, and that will give them the creativity to put things together in a new way. So those are the two things I would focus on, currency systems and the education process.

What are the problems and bottlenecks?

The economy is a major bottleneck. Without that changing I think we are going to have great difficulty going local. Another is the values that we have in society. Without a change in values, and what it is that people feels gives meaning to their lives, we are stuck in a way of life that’s a kind of, what you would call in behavioural studies, displacement activity. In other words, we get quantities of goods, of cars, of whatever it might be, in order to substitute for qualities and meaning. So there is a shift of values that needs to be achieved, and that is a kind of bottleneck, a conceptual bottleneck in the culture.

What are the skills we need to learn and the training & education we need to put in place to respond to peak oil?

At a risk of repeating myself, we need to have an education system that develops these practical skills. I can see all kinds of alternative technology systems emerging from this. We need to learn all these. We need to learn about permaculture, low maintenance, low energy, high productivity systems that are at the same time beautiful and natural. This doesn’t mean that we make a full switch to permaculture but that we diversify our agricultural systems. So in the first place, we go organic, but we also have a certain amount of farming, we use polytunnels and so on, but we intersperse that with permaculture systems, which are in come sense natural ecosystems but they are selected, to be high productivity.

We have a vision here at Schumacher: in 15 years I’d love to see Stone Pines growing here and producing pine nuts, so that this area of land now becomes beautiful, perhaps with an understory of herbs, so the whole thing is productive, low maintenance, and beautiful and it serves the college’s needs and the needs of the local community. We have the world expert in forest garden permaculture, Martin Crawford, here on the estate. So we use our land, resources and skills in a way that is appropriate to the new culture that is emerging.

Some online articles by Dr. Goodwin can be found here.

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