Let’s start with a riddle.
What has taken upto 300 million years to form, has been reduced by half in approximately 125 years, is consumed at a rate of 150,000 litres per second, and the need for it is increasing exponentially? What is used in toothpaste, curtains, dresses, antifreeze, enamel, anaesthetics, dentures, shaving cream, aspirin, stockings, antiseptics, fertilisers, insecticides, performs, soap, footballs, dice, detergents, tents, cameras, paints, wheels, roofing, water pipes, toilet seats……?
It’s not so much that we’re going to run out of the stuff, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult, and by default, expensive to extract. We are, of course, talking about oil. And usable oil is now past its peak.
There are those who would argue that oil has not yet reached its peak, and it is just a ruse by oil companies to raise their prices. Others would admit oil has peaked, but there’s no need to worry as technological advancement will yield a suitable alternative. However, technological development is reliant on the use of oil.
Of specific concern is the increasing dependency upon oil for food production. The use of oil is essential to modern agricultural practices. It is use to pump water for irrigation, fuel machinery, transportation and for fertilisers. Fertilisers are needed due to soil degradation from mismanaging the very substance necessary for plant growth.
Whilst sustainability has been very much part of scientific, cultural and political discourse, the rate of population rise, oil consumption, soil and land degradation has taken us to a point where even sustainable solutions are going to be meaningless. It is time for discourse about ‘regeneration’ rather than ‘sustainability’.
Within our regenerative and permacultural system, the issue of energy is of as much importance as it is to modern agricultural practice. Which leads us to the next principle of permaculture:
Catch and Store Energy
Plant growth relies on energy.
Regeneration will necessitate the rebuilding of this important process. The design of a system requires arranging the landscape in such away that it captures and stores this energy. This can include creating biomass areas (creation of living spaces which generate organic waste), utilising biothermal energy (heat generated from composting material), managing woodland, making use of heat stored in rocks, managing wind, and even the sun’s reflection on water are means for reducing fossil fuel dependency.