Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent

Integral Leadership ReviewIntegral Leadership Review (ILR) has published the paper I presented to the recent Integral Theory Conference 2015, “Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent” in their August-November 2015 issue.

Also in this issue is Tim Winton’s reflections on the conference that is worth reading: “A Note on the Field: Thoughts on Integral Leadership Post ITC 2015.”

Jeremy Johnson also did a great job as the official conference blogger. Some of you might be able to identify me in the first photo on this page (Jeremy and Tim were two of my five suite-mates, which also included Chris Dierkes, Gaby McDonald, and Trevor Malkinson).

 

ILR headingILR Patterns for Navigating Intro

Abstract

This paper considers current concerns about resource depletion (“energy descent”) and the unsustainability of current economic structures, which may indicate we are entering a new era signaled by the end of growth. Using the systems thinking tool of PatternDynamics™, developed by Tim Winton, this paper seeks to integrate multiple natural patterns in order to effectively impact these pressing challenges. Some of the Patterns considered include Energy, Transformity, Power, Pulse, Growth, and the polarities of Expansion/Contraction and Order/Chaos.

We tend to have horrible visions associated with downturns and “collapse.” Can we even entertain the possibility that we might be entering a period of decline in energy and standard of living?  Can we re-examine our assumptions about “growth” and “development”? Jean Gebser’s emphasis that every mutation of structure is preceded by a crisis is considered and Howard T. Odum’s ideas about energy as the basis of man and nature informs the discussion. Edgar Morin’s dialogic Method of active inquiry in regards to the interplay of polarities assists in our understanding and response to the complex challenges we face.

Read the paper here.

About ILR, from their website:

Integral Leadership Review – the world’s premier publication of integrated approaches to leading and leadership.

Integral Leadership Review is a bridging publication that links authors and readers across cultures around the world. It serves leaders, professionals and academics engaged in the practice, development and theory of leadership. It bridges multiple perspectives by drawing on integral, transdisciplinary, complexity and developmental frameworks. These bridges are intended to assist all who read the Integral Leadership Review to develop and implement comprehensive shifts in strategies by providing lessons from experience, insights, and tools all can use in addressing the challenges facing the world.

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Tim Winton on the Foundations of PatternDynamics

This is a reblog of a post I did a year ago.  It features an audio recorded in 2006 of Tim Winton answering a question about grounding mind in body. He touches on Permaculture, Integral theory, PatternDynamics, and  –  the importance of building a capacity to understand dynamics in integrated whole systems and the capacity to develop awareness.

Click to listen to audio file:  Foundations of PatternDynamics

Tim posted on his blog, “This talk was recorded as part of the Certificate 4 and Diploma programs in Accredited Permaculture Training I taught at Permaforest Trust. This was recorded at the beginning of the second semester in 2006, probably in late July or August. It is interesting to go back and listen to how I was thinking about PD at the time now that it has developed into something more tangible 6 years later.”

As I was listening, I decided I wanted to transcribe a short section.  That short section got longer and longer.  Someday I’ll probably transcribe the whole thing and post it again. I hope you find this as interesting as I do.

“…I am wholly uninterested now, after having witnessed lots of failures, in ‘sustainability’; because there was no attempt at working with self or culture. It was just a focus on nature – those failed. I don’t really have an interest in perpetuating that failure. I will not introduce you to that failure.

I would like to integrate acting on nature through Permaculture and other practices with acting in culture – that’s about storytelling, it’s about framing worldviews, it’s about collective understanding – that’s story and myth. And also introducing practices on self – that’s about developing awareness. Opening up this space where everything you thought was not you becomes you. The only way to do that is to sit in awareness and witness all this stuff. Then, all of a sudden, the boundary fades. That’s human development.

Integrating all those things is a very cool thing to do, and is very powerful. I think that’s what we can offer, and in developing PatternDynamics as a discipline or a modality, what I’m hoping to do is to give you a tool to develop your own integral capacity for sustainability. If you can understand the dynamics in integrated whole systems, you can understand where to intervene to create health where it will have the most effect – how to relieve disease, how to open up the flow. There’s no rational way to understand it- it’s too complex. You can’t understand this by learning ‘A’, learning ‘B’, learning ‘C’, learning ‘D’ and then coming out the other end. You don’t just have A,B,C, and D, you have the whole alphabet, and they’re all swirling around in this great interconnected dynamic play. There’s no way to comprehend that holistic dynamic one bit at a time. You have to develop the capacity to understand the dynamics.

The only way to do that is to stand back in awareness and see the patterns. Patterns are the only way to really understand fluid dynamic integral wholes. And that’s what the universe is, and that’s what we have to get a grasp on.

Both David Holmgren and Bill Mollison [co-founders of Permaculture] have keyed in on this. They know that patterns are how you understand wholes. Ken Wilber also keyed in on this. He calls Integral “The pattern that connects” [a phrase borrowed from Gregory Bateson – another pioneer of pattern literacy]. He’s just taken that natural step beyond ‘if everything’s connected,’ that means my awareness is connected to the awareness of the universe. There’s not such a separation between my experience and the experience full stop – you know, ‘out there’. It’s a natural extension.

So we’ve got a natural resonance between Integral and Permaculture through their understanding that patterns are important to understand integrated wholes.

…PatternDynamics is a base pattern set for understanding – it’s a tool, it’s not reality, it’s just a tool. It’s an educational discipline to help you gain an integral capacity for understanding integral dynamic systems.”

 

Tim Winton just finished a PatternDynamics™ One Day Workshop in Oakland on Jan. 18th.  There will be another One Day Workshop in Bellingham, WA on Sunday, Jan. 26th.

The video below is a 23 minute intro to PatternDynamics.

Embodying the Patterns of PatternDynamics

In my previous PatternDynamics post (Following the Way Nature Organizes Itself to Deal with Complexity), I focused mostly on giving a fairly brief explanation of the underlying theory. In this post I’d like to share a little bit about the embodied experience of some of the Patterns that occurs during the PatternDynamics One Day Workshop (coming up Jan. 18th in Oakland, CA, and Jan. 26th in Bellingham, WA).  Rather than being simply a linear, left brain information gathering day, we are invited to be active participants in an experience-based learning organization.

Note: I will be leading a short 40 minute session on Jan. 18th in Bellingham where we will get a taste of  this easy group breath and movement practice. More details here.

Participants are asked to stand in circles around the 7 first-order Pattern diagrams that are  laid out on the floor (Rhythm, Polarity, Structure, Exchange, Creativity, Dynamics, and Source). Tim Winton then teaches these seven Patterns through simple breath and movement patterns alternating with brief definitions, compelling examples, and group discussion.

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As it goes along, it starts to become clear that each movement is not separate and distinct from the others, but instead each one builds on the one that came before. This serves as a powerful example of how integrated the patterns really are, and that they are all there all the time. What changes is what we focus on, and what perspectives we bring to bear.

Tim Winton:

That’s where we really bring living-systems consciousness into organizations, because living systems … have a really amazing capacity to adapt and change, and keep themselves thriving in a range of circumstances. If we can bring that capacity into our organizations, then our organizations can in turn steward those environments better.

Near the beginning of the workshop it is explained that “Source” represents the fundamental pattern of organization at the heart of all systems, and that the Source of any organization is its identity and purpose. “If the identity and purpose is strong, there’s a strong sense of self-organization.”

Workshop participants are asked to take part in an experiment, “to create a really strong and intentional identity and purpose for our work today. Our identity and purpose is to form a temporary learning organization – a model system with our bodies, our minds, and our awareness.” Consensus is reached on a  “Source Commitment” statement that identifies the identity and purpose of the temporary learning organization that is being created.

It is fascinating to experience how embodying the patterns physically and in a group setting serves the learning process. What is really memorable is the sense of being part of a living organism, consciously experiencing our roles as both “part” and “whole,” as well as the process of signaling and responding as parts and wholes. At the conclusion of the first go-around on the ‘Dynamics’ pattern during last year’s Bellingham workshop, there was spontaneous laughter and applause. One participant commented, “That was delicious! Mmm… I could just eat that up!”

I think this is the best advertisement for the workshop – so I created a very short YouTube video teaser with slides and audio; the music at the end is the Monkey Puzzle Orchestra, featuring me on muted cornet (the cd is now available – I’m on tracks 2, 5, and 7).

Another woman’s comment: “I feel very charged, and alive. It feels like the whole field is charged, not just me.”

Tim Winton:

I think living systems have this kind of awareness [that we had a taste of tonight;] there’s a very, very refined capacity to sense the signaling between the parts to coordinate into some kind of dynamic system. Having a language for how that happens, and being able to share this language, will help coordinate the source of our own organizations, which then are the foundation for supporting the environment and the planet.

If you’re interested in learning more…

Register for the Bellingham workshop at Eventbrite: Click Here.

Download the One Day Workshop work book here.

Visit www.patterndynamics.net

PatternDynamics: Following The Way Nature Organizes Itself to Deal with Complexity

The natural world is staggeringly complex, and yet amazingly elegant in how it manages the multitude of interconnected parts into organized, unified wholes that thrive.  What is the secret for harnessing this elegance for use in human systems? Tim Winton found that observation of the most common patterns found in the natural world led to the development of high level principles which can then be used to address the most complex challenges that human systems face.

After learning some of the common patterns found in all natural systems, we can then begin to recognize these patterns in human systems , and learn how to balance the ones that are skewed, and to integrate in the ones might add a greater level of enduring health. We can “make a deeper difference by changing the system!”

change the system

PatternDynamics is a systems thinking tool for creating systems level change that Winton has been developing over 20 years as he’s worked in diverse fields, including: environmental services contractor, organic farmer, sustainability educator, designer, project manager, consultant, executive leadership, and corporate governance.

What is unique about PatternDynamics is that it combines the patterns of nature with the power of language, to produce a sustainability pattern language.

In a recent paper by Barrett Brown, referring to a study he had done in 2012 of top performing organizational leaders, he observed that these top leaders “use three powerful thinking tools to design their initiatives and guide execution. They are (a) Integral theory, (b) Complexity theory, and (c) Systems theory. These models help them to step back from the project, get up on to the balcony, and take a broad view of the whole situation. They use these tools to make sense of complex, rapidly changing situations and navigate through them securely.”

And famed Permaculture teacher Toby Hemenway (author of Gaia’s Garden) recently posted on his blog the following recommendation:  “To enrich our ability to use recipes and put them into context, without engaging in a full-blown design analysis from scratch, we can use pattern languages. The term was coined by architect Christopher Alexander to mean a structured grammar of good design examples and practices in a given field—architecture, software design, urban planning, and so forth— that allow people with only modest training to solve complex problems in design. … Like recipes, pattern languages are plug-and-play rather than original designs, but they allow plenty of improvisation and flexibility in implementation, and can result in rich, detailed solutions that fit. A handbook of pattern languages for the basic human needs and societal functions, structured along permaculture principles, would be a worthy project for a generation of designers.”[my emphasis]

PatternDynamics is firmly rooted in Integral theory, Complexity theory, and Systems theory, and as well contains Permaculture’s emphasis on patterns and principles (PatternDynamics was developed during Tim’s time as Director of the Permaforest Trust, a 170 acre Permaculture education center in New South Wales, Australia). In addition a fifth strong influence was Alexander’s ideas on pattern languaging. These five robust theories and practical application tools provide a very firm foundation that will continue to support PatternDynamics long into the future as it continues to evolve. It is probably not the recipe book that Hemenway envisions, rather the patterns are more like a set of key ingredients from which we are invited to collaborate to c0-create the needed recipes for a given context.  The goal is to facilitate collective intelligence.

Tim Winton“The key to complexity is systems thinking, and the key to systems thinking is patterns. The key to patterns is using them as a language – an idea I borrowed from architect and mathematician Christopher Alexander’s book ‘Notes on the Synthesis of Form’.”
– Tim Winton

Systems thinking itself is complex and difficult to learn, which is why the series of Patterns in PatternDynamics can be so helpful in simplifying that complexity – “If we don’t have a symbol for something, it does not become enacted in our reality” Winton says.

order_chart

Secondly, as these Patterns become part of a shared language, this gives us the ability to collaborate with others –hence the facilitation of collective intelligence.  Noting the increased complexity in our human systems, Winton states that “No longer is any one person brilliant enough to solve the complex problems we face; we really have to use our collective intelligence.”  This innovative method of facilitating collective intelligence is proposed as an essential 21st century skill.

Speaking for myself, after completing the Level II training in PatternDynamics, I notice that I am starting to see “wholes” much more often, in extremely diverse systems.  Everything from systems at work in my own body, to systems in organizations I’m involved with, to the systemic problems facing our world, and all the way up to long term processes going on in our universe.  Being able to see these wholes then helps the next step – ideas are flowing more easily on how to balance and integrate to improve the health of the systems I am involved with.

Therefore, it is with some excitement that I am preparing to host a One Day PatternDynamics Workshop on January 26, 2014 here in Bellingham, Washington.  Click Here for more information about this event. A workshop is also being held in Oakland, CA on January18th – more info here.

Related:

To read a longer article I co-wrote about an introductory workshop I attended last year, go here: Integral Leadership Review

And here is a 23 minute introductory slide show with audio by Tim Winton:


Much more info can be found at the PatternDynamics website here:

http://www.patterndynamics.com.au/

Foundations of PatternDynamics – Tim Winton

Tim Winton recently posted an audio recording on his thepatternguy blog.

Click to listen to audio file:  Foundations of PatternDynamics

He writes, “This talk was recorded as part of the Certificate 4 and Diploma programs in Accredited Permaculture Training I taught at Permaforest Trust. This was recorded at the beginning of the second semester in 2006, probably in late July or August. It is interesting to go back and listen to how I was thinking about PD at the time now that it has developed into something more tangible 6 years later.”

As I was listening, I decided I wanted to transcribe a short section.  That short section got longer and longer.  I hope you find this as interesting as I do.

“…I am wholly uninterested now, after having witnessed lots of failures, in ‘sustainability’; because there was no attempt at working with self or culture. It was just a focus on nature – those failed. I don’t really have an interest in perpetuating that failure. I will not introduce you to that failure.

I would like to integrate acting on nature through Permaculture and other practices with acting in culture – that’s about storytelling, it’s about framing worldviews, it’s about collective understanding – that’s story and myth. And also introducing practices on self – that’s about developing awareness. Opening up this space where everything you thought was not you becomes you. The only way to do that is to sit in awareness and witness all this stuff. Then, all of a sudden, the boundary fades. That’s human development.

Integrating all those things is a very cool thing to do, and is very powerful. I think that’s what we can offer, and in developing PatternDynamics as a discipline or a modality, what I’m hoping to do is to give you a tool to develop your own integral capacity for sustainability. If you can understand the dynamics in integrated whole systems, you can understand where to intervene to create health where it will have the most effect – how to relieve disease, how to open up the flow. There’s no rational way to understand it- it’s too complex. You can’t understand this by learning ‘A’, learning ‘B’, learning ‘C’, learning ‘D’ and then coming out the other end. You don’t just have A,B,C, and D, you have the whole alphabet, and they’re all swirling around in this great interconnected dynamic play. There’s no way to comprehend that holistic dynamic one bit at a time. You have to develop the capacity to understand the dynamics.

The only way to do that is to stand back in awareness and see the patterns. Patterns are the only way to really understand fluid dynamic integral wholes. And that’s what the universe is, and that’s what we have to get a grasp on.

Both David Holmgren and Bill Mollison [co-founders of Permaculture] have keyed in on this. They know that patterns are how you understand wholes. Ken Wilber also keyed in on this. He calls Integral “The pattern that connects” [a phrase borrowed from Gregory Bateson – another pioneer of pattern literacy]. He’s just taken that natural step beyond ‘if everything’s connected,’ that means my awareness is connected to the awareness of the universe. There’s not such a separation between my experience and the experience full stop – you know, ‘out there’. It’s a natural extension.

So we’ve got a natural resonance between Integral and Permaculture through their understanding that patterns are important to understand integrated wholes.

…PatternDynamics is a base pattern set for understanding – it’s a tool, it’s not reality, it’s just a tool. It’s an educational discipline to help you gain an integral capacity for understanding integral dynamic systems.”

 

Tim Winton just finished a PatternDynamics™ One Day Workshop in San Francisco earlier today.  He’ll give an evening workshop in Bellingham, WA on Tuesday Jan. 29th, and another One Day Workshop in Vancouver, B.C. on Saturday, Feb. 2nd.

The Wave/Pulse of Human History

What I am aiming to explore in this post is the pattern of the pulse – a pattern that seems to occur in all natural systems. I want to look at how it has flowed through human history in the form of energy production and consumption, and how it relates to a number of my interests.

What I want to do is to look at how different forms of available energy have been used in different periods of human history, how they relate to the structure of those periods, and how they can be seen as pulses or waves.  I also want to share a favorite chart from a favorite systems thinker, Howard T. Odum, and how I think this chart can represent an integration of a number of my different interests in different ways, but all in this context of wave/pulses of energy through human history.

But first, let’s back up a bit. I thought it might be helpful to tell the story of how and why I became interested in the Pattern of the Pulse.

Draw a line five miles long to represent the millions of years during which solar energy has been captured and laid down in the earth’s crust in the form of coal, gas and oil. Then put a blip in it. That blip represents the time we have taken to extract and use this embodied energy.  We are halfway through that blip.

– James Bruges (The Little Earth Book, 2004)

Back in late 2004, I saw a movie called The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream. It was a wake up call to the idea that we are about halfway through that blip of oil, and that the first half we used was the cheap, easy, high quality oil, and that the second half would be increasingly difficult to extract, expensive, and of lower quality.  I came to understand that timing wise, the important point wasn’t when we “run out,” but when we reach the peak – the all time high of production.  The peak is the important thing, because our whole society is built around the idea of continual growth. Continual growth is dependent upon reasonably cheap energy resources, and we tend to just take for granted that they’ll always be there, and growth (with a few inconvenient ups and downs here and there) will always continue.  After all, it’s all we’ve known…that is, until we get a bigger perspective than just the industrial/informational ages of the past 200 years.

Which brings us to this principle:

The principle of peaks: the enduring health of any system depends on the appropriate balance and integration of the rate of increase in resource flows and exchanges pre-peak and the rate of decline in those flows and exchanges after the peak, for a given context.

– Tim Winton, Pattern Dynamics

The above is an important principle, because I gradually became more and more aware that there is actually a lot more that is peaking than just oil supplies. I found out that some believed seafood may have peaked in 1994. In 2007 I wrote an article titled “Peak Everything“:  “I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories as well about the dramatic decline of bees, and the slower but long term decline of many birds. Washington state alone has at least 39 endangered plant and animal species. …It becomes a bit overwhelming to think about and comprehend all of these problems at once and together, but it is quite important to do so. As long as we keep thinking about the problems we’re seeing with the world’s “resources” as isolated problems to be dealt with individually, the more likely we are to turn to technological band-aid solutions.”  When I googled the phrase “Peak Everything,” I found that Richard Heinberg was working on a book with that exact title: Peak Everything: Waking Up To a Century of Declines. Another way to say it is that we are now in ecological overshoot and have reached the limits to growth.

As part of my own preparations for making a transition to this century of declines, I enrolled in a Permaculture Design Course in 2009.  One of our instructors, David Zhang, led a session on common patterns observed in nature. One of these was the Pattern of the Pulse.  Pulse, he said, is a pattern observed in time. It is a burst of stored up energy. Some examples include salmon runs, seasonal floods, the heartbeat, monsoons, lightning, forest fires, earthquakes, volcanic activity, and even plagues.  When he started showing graphics and pictures of some of these pulses, suddenly I made the connection in my mind – peak oil is a pulse! Of course, this seemed so obvious in retrospect, but at the time when I made the connection, it seemed to clarify so many things, put so many things in perspective, and help me to realize this is a very natural process.

We tend to think of our human systems as being some how outside of nature and its processes, but when we realize that we are nature, then that kind of implies that our systems are in a very real sense natural as well.  Where we really get in trouble is when we don’t acknowledge this and let our hubris gain the upper hand.  When we think that things like the 2nd law of thermodynamics don’t necessarily apply to us, and that infinite economic growth is a real possibility. As one of Nixon’s advisers once said so succinctly, “things that can’t go on forever, don’t.”

Things that can’t go on forever, don’t

– Herb Stein, adviser to President Richard M. Nixon

All of this brings us up to the present interest in the pattern of the pulse, and how it has flowed through human history in the form of energy production and consumption, and how it relates to a number of my interests.

Tim Winton has spent a lot of time developing a new integral sustainability pattern language he calls PatternDynamics™, which will come up again later in this piece as one of my interests. Hundreds of patterns have been observed in nature, and it’s probably not a good idea to look at any one of them in total isolation, so let’s take a quick look at several patterns that Winton has identified that are relevant to this post.

We’ve already mentioned our main theme, the pattern of the pulse, which “signifies  the repeated rhythmic surges of activity related to resource flows and exchanges.” Systems ecologist Howard Odum was of the opinion that all systems on all scales pulse.  Storages gradually accumulate, consumers consume and develop, and eventually decline, and then dispersing materials that will be used in the next pulse.  Winton wisely comments, “The capacity to maximize the rate of growth of flow exchanges needs to be balanced with minimizing the adaption required after the peak when decline sets in. The role of Pulse is to maximize exchange flows sustainably.”  The pattern of the pulse demonstrates the principle of peaks, which is where the quote from Winton nearer to the top of this article comes in.

Other patterns that are important to our discussion are patterns of Energy (provides the ability to do work in dynamic change and transformation processes), Cycle (“rhythmic, repeated sequence of actions”), Flows/Stores (energy resources can be stored for future use, or they flow out in dynamic exchange processes), and Transformity (“the process whereby matter/energy resources are transformed through systemic processes into lesser amounts of matter/energy but higher qualitative complexity within the system”).

With all of that as background, we are almost ready to look at one of my favorite graphs.  If you’re anything like me, you might not usually get very excited by graphs.  And I don’t want to over sell this – it’s not that I find the graph exciting, I just think it’s very interesting, and encapsulates a lot of ideas. I’ll begin explaining in a minute why I find this particular graph so interesting, but first a word about the creator of the graph.

I came to Howard T. Odum by way of Rob Hopkins, by way of David Holmgren.  Because I was active in community organizing around preparedness for energy depletion, I had been following the work of Rob Hopkins and the Transition Culture he was writing about.  I found out he was a permaculture teacher and was heavily influenced by David Holmgren (read Hopkins’ review of Holmgren’s book here).  So I began studying the work of David Holmgren, which I found to be utterly compelling – some of the best ideas about sustainability I’d seen anywhere.  And I found out Holmgren was heavily influenced by Howard T. Odum, who had pioneered the field of systems ecology (Excellent short summaries of Odum’s work can be found here and here). So from there, I began looking at his more accessible books,  Energy Basis for Man and Nature, and A Prosperous Way Down.

We should now be ready to look at one of my favorite graphs from Howard and Elizabeth Odum’s 2001 book, A Prosperous Way Down.  I can see in this image elements of a number of my interests.  Energy Descent, Permaculture, Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics, Gebser’s “Ever Present Origin,” Pattern Dynamics, and  the Transition Towns movement.

H.T. Odum’s Zonal Empower chart of the history of human development

The Odums write, “The development in the last two centuries has been a wave of ascendancy moving up the energy hierarchy. We can represent the wave by showing the relative empower in each stage. First there was a predominance of agrarian agriculture, then use of fuels and minerals for the industrial revolution, next a population explosion, then a concentration of emergy [embedded energy] in the cities, and finally  highest emergy in the worldwide sharing of information. The wave may be expected to generate more population and information than it can support. As the emergy flows of the fuels and their matching resources falter, we expect the climax to turn down, either crashing or descending prosperously depending on how well the world shares common purpose. How do we go from the pattern in graph (f) to a new kind of future consistent with the limitations of graph (c)?”

How all of this relates to my above list:

1) Energy Descent: The chart shows inputs of 2 energy sources – “Local Energy Sources,”which are the renewable energies available and then, beginning in the era of Industry, the additional “Fuels and Minerals” (Fossil Fuels and the additional minerals we’ve been able to extract due to fossil fuels).  Progress has not resulted simply as the result of human ingenuity. The waves of development are made possible by increasing availability and use of energy. Fossil fuel energy is finite in terms of the scale we are concerned with, and at some point soon we can expect the wave to climax and then descend, likely back to the agrarian level (c).

2) Permaculture: David Holmgren, co-initiator of Permaculture has closely followed H.T. Odum’s work throughout his career; hence Holmgren’s Permaculture is built on the foundation laid by Odum, especially in regards to Energy Descent and the Pulsing paradigm.  Holmgren, writing about the large scale pulse of fossil fuels:

The rebuilding of social and cultural capital must occur within a context of declining net energy availability… While global capitalism has been like a fire converting green forests to ashes, it has likewise released potential and information from the constraints of cultural norms and institutions that were hopelessly inappropriate for dealing with a world of declining energy. The ashes of the consumed forest provide opportunities for the seeds of pioneering species to reform the forest in a way that better reflects large-scale realities, such as fertility or climate change. Similarly, globalisation provides the opportunities for social seeding to create new bioregional cultures adapted to energetic realities…

Thus the permaculture aphorism ‘the problem is the solution’ is not some naive optimism in the face of terrible prospects, or the delusion of those with all the opportunities, but a simple idea with powerful relevance to our time. If we view global capitalism as releasing the earth’s accumulation of renewable and non-renewable resources according to Holling’s Four-Phase Cycle, then permaculture is the new potential of the Reorganisation phase.

3.  Integral Theory: First, the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber’s AQAL model, of which one important part is the Quadrants. The Lower Right Quadrant is where we see the Exterior of the Collective, which includes the Techno-Economic base of civilization as it developed from foraging to horticulture to agrarian to industrial to informational – matching Odum’s chart.

The important thing to note here is that when we keep in mind that the Techno-Economic base is fully dependent upon the Ecological/Energetic base – again, that available energy determines what is possible – that provides a solid foundation for the Integral framework.  Without this acknowledgement, we can get lost in a world of technological fantasy and ideas about infinite growth.  If we root ourselves in  what the ecological base can support in the LR quadrant, we will rest on a realistic foundation.

4. Spiral Dynamics: Spiral Dynamics was first formulated by Clare Graves, and later refined and popularized by Don Beck and Dave Cowan, and has also been incorporated into Wilber’s Integral Theory.  SDi (Spiral Dynamics integral) sees the stages of social development corresponding with levels of cultural development.  Some within the integral movement question “whether notions like development and in particular progress make sense when applied to culture.”

5. Jean Gebser’s Ever Present Origin:   I’m new to Gebser’s thinking, but if I understand correctly, he looked at human history in terms of Epochs with wave like movements, very much like Odum’s model.  In mythic, oceanic reasoning, there was always a return, never a progression.  More like cycles and less like development.  Gebser saw Epochs developing through four stages from Defficient to Latent to Efficient back to Defficient.  Perhaps there are parallels to Holling’s Four Phase Model of Ecosystems, from Pioneer to Conservation to Collapse/Release to Reorganization.  Odum, following Holling,  spoke of Four Stages of the Growth Cycle: 1) Growth; 2) Climax and Transition; 3) Descent; and 4) Low Energy Restoration.

Pulses of ecological systems

Howard Odum, in A Prosperous Way Down:

What is appropriate during one stage may be poor policy in another stage,” he wrote. “For example, for a system in a stage of descent, it will not be good policy to foster growth that is no longer possible.

…Although history and ecosystems give us clues, we really don’t know what the policies should be for the period of turndown from our complex, intensive, locally affluent, urban civilization…

In some systems, the mature stage is abruptly terminated by catastrophic removal due to pulses on a larger scale…In some other ecosytems such as a temperate forest approaching a winter season, decline is more orderly…

After repeated cycles of growth and decline, ecosystems develop means for carrying forward information, in seeds, eggs, and spores, for the next growth cycle. Something similar is needed in downsizing of civilization.

Jeremy Johnson wrote a Beams and Struts post on The Integral Philosopher – Jean Gebser and Time, and shared the following insight:

Gebser foresaw a Western crisis that we’re experiencing now (and probably more so in the coming years). Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, he was deeply optimistic about what could emerge from humanity. He foreshadowed the ecological-oriented worldview, as well as the complexity sciences of the 70’s. Although such ideas are now over 40 years old, they aren’t yet actualized. The world is still rushing forward in technological and industrial growth—a growth that’s not going to be sustainable forever. In some sense, we are captured by our own ironic limitation of progress–unable to switch gears until the train is at the edge of the cliff. Gebser’s book studies past civilizations and their worldviews, noting how each particular “structure” of consciousness (he called them “mutations”) both helped and eventually limited a human society. Only through transforming our relationship to reality (time and space, inner and outer, etc) do we have a chance to rise above our own limitations. With all this in mind, it’s a wonder why Gebser’s work is not spoken about more today. In an age where human civilization seems to be bursting at the seams, Gebser’s work is ever-more relevant.

6. PatternDynamics: Tim Winton, steeped in both Permaculture and Integral Theory, has deveolped a new Integral Sustainability Pattern Language to communicate principles of sustainability.

According to Winton,

PatternDynamics™ is a simple tool that can be learned by anyone to overcome the challenges posed by complex systems–at any scale. Here’s how it works:

  • The key to complexity is systems thinking;
  • The key to systems thinking is Patterns; and,
  • The key to using Patterns is to form them into a language.

Winton’s language of visual patterns to teach systems thinking is similar to Odum’s realization that he needed a way to get people to see the big picture (he called it the Macroscope) of how energy flows in systems.  Odum developed his own pattern language he called an energy circuit language.

Similar to my thinking that an Integral Permaculture will be rooted first in Ecological/Energy understanding, Winton’s Pattern Dynamics is rooted in the enduring patterns found in nature, but with the idea of effectively making these ideas meaningful to culture.  Rather than pushing ‘the arrow of progress,’ Winton argues for “a shift to a more second person orientation, to build meaning, values and the culture that support effective embodiment and application.”

So, we’re back to a similar train of thought that we observed when discussing Gebser. As Chris Dierkes relates, “the conscious choice to incorporate these patterns, leading to a fully integrated sphere of mind (noosphere) and sphere of life (biosphere). That, to me, would be a more developed culture but that had developed by going deeper (not higher).”

More specifically, Pulse is one of the 56 common patterns that Winton has identified.

The Pulse Pattern signifies  the repeated rhythmic surges of activity related to resource flows and exchanges. Pulse is one aspect of the more foundational First Order Pattern, Rhythm. Pulse demonstrates the increase, peak and decline in the rate of resource recovery and exchanges within systems. The capacity to maximize the rate of growth of flow exchanges needs to be balanced with minimizing the adaption required after the peak when decline sets in. The role of Pulse is to maximize exchange flows sustainably.

7. Transition Culture: The Transition Initiative movement is a worldwide grassroots effort to rebuild community resilience in response to concerns about energy depletion, climate change, and economic instability. Rob Hopkins writes in the Transition Handbook:

The amount of energy needed to maintain the average US citizen is the equivalent of 50 people on bicycles pedalling furiously in our back gardens day and night. We have become dependent on these pedallers – what some people refer to as ‘energy slaves’. But we are, it should also be acknowledged, extremely fortunate to live at a time in history with access to amounts of energy and a range of materials, products and possibilities that our ancestors couldn’t even have imagined…

Oil has allowed us to create extraordinary technologies, cultures and discoveries, to set foot on the Moon and to perfect the Pop Tart. But can it go on forever? Of course not. Like any finite material, the faster we consume it, the faster it will be gone. We are like Asterix and Obelix realising, with a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, that the cauldron of potion they have in front of them is the last one. We can see the possibility of life without potion looming before us.

The key point is that it is not the point when we use the last drop that matters. The moment that really matters is the peak, the moment when you realise that from that point onward there will always be less magic potion year-on-year, and that because of its increasing scarcity, it will become an increasingly expensive commodity.

What the Transtion movement acknowledges is that we have come to a point where we need to begin making other arrangements; as Odum asked,  How do we begin the transition away from the high energy arrangements of our industrial/information society and toward levels of energy use that are sustainable on the back end of the energy pulse?

Transition connects the dots between fossil fuel energy use and it’s affect on the climate, as well as it’s relationship to a ‘peak economy’, ‘peak debt’ and the over-arching conclusion that we may have reached The End of Growth.  Hopkins wrote about the relationship to the economy in 2009:

Chris Martenson again put it well in the Crash Course: “Our economy must grow to support a money system that requires growth, but is challenged by an energy system that can’t grow, and both of these are linked to a natural world that is rapidly being depleted.”

The Transition model assumes a re-localisation of life and work due to the end of cheap fuels for food production, transport and energy generation, but today almost everyone is part of a globalised economic system highly dependent on imports. Politicians and business leaders have recently distanced themselves from the worst extremes of the weakly regulated financial activities, but whether it’s credit crunch, energy crunch or climate crunch the biggest employment crisis ever seen is already unfolding across international boundaries.

As I write this post, Rob Hopkins has just published another well argued piece on the validity of engaging the transition (by whatever name):

The important question for me is where are we now? Where do we go from here? The idea that our only option if we want to avoid a rapid collapse is an orgy of extracting unconventional oils by any means necessary is a logical idea when viewed from the perspective of the industrial growth system. This is the same myopic mania that has redefined sustainable development as ‘sustainable growth’ and is hell-bent on a return to growth at all costs. It is rather like an abusive husband who cannot see any option for his partner other than himself, while psychologically denying to himself the damage he’s doing.

…Embracing the hydrocarbons that will define the second half of the oil age will, as Monbiot puts it, “fry us all”. Climate change is hardly the only impact though. …one consequence of our moving into the “second half” of the age of fossil fuel extraction is that, in our desperation, we create even more difficult challenges for us and for our descendants.

…Transition has stated from the outset, “if we wait for governments it will be too late”. I believe more than ever that the drive for change will need to come from communities, from citizens, from ordinary people coming together and getting on with it. I am thinking about calling the next book I do “The Thrill of Just Doing Stuff” because I think that is ultimately what it’s about.

Fracking, shale oils, heavy oils, are the path to a world where power, resources and control continue to be taken out of the hands of ordinary people and into the hands of those that would ruin the world.  Transition offers a different story, one that is about living more within our means, connecting to place, returning power to people and communities, building resilience at the local level.

Hopkins' Transition Culture logoAn aspect of the Transition movement that circles back to point number 5 above on Jean Gebser’s worldview, is the idea that descent needn’t be a bad thing.  Vanessa Fischer in a comment at Beams and Struts:

I love Gebser because his notion of the Integral “stage” is not a linear development. He actually never used the word evolution because he thought it was too bound into rational thinking and linear views of time and progress. Gebser argued that time radically changed at the integral level, and past and present all became transparent and available in the now.

This is why the constant emphasis on transcendence and needing to push people to integral never really resonated with me. Energetically, I feel much more of a falling quality~ falling into transparency and beauty with all that is and being able to access multiple-streams of intelligence and knowing all at once.

Chuckanut Transition’s “Energy Descent” logo

Transition found it’s initial inspiration in Permaculture, and David Holmgren’s book, where Holmgren writes:

“Having been on the mountain so long, we can barely remember the home in a far-off valley that we fled as it was PROGRESSIVELY destroyed by forces we did not understand. But we know that each step brings us closer to a sheltered valley where we can make a new home.”
– David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

And now back to Rob Hopkins, closing this post with last thoughts from the Transition Handbook:

Central to this book is the proposition that the future with less oil could be preferable to the present, if we are able to engage with enough imagination and creativity sufficiently in advance of the peak…Emerging at the other end, we will not be the same as we were; we will have become more humble, more connected to the natural world, fitter, leaner, more skilled and, ultimately, wiser.

We will emerge blinking into a new way of living, yet it will feel more comfortable and familiar than what we left behind. If we are to trade mobility, growth and affluence for something else, we need to be able to articulate something preferable and more nourishing to put in its place.

And more recently from Richard Heinberg:

Is economic growth ending? Yes. Is it the end of the world? No. It’s just the beginning of the end for a utopian project that started as the dream of miners, manufacturers, bankers, advertisers, salesmen, investors, and inventors, and that has turned to a nightmare for just about everyone else. Trends reach their culmination and wane, and new trends arise. Nature adapts, sometimes with slow and incremental change, sometimes in fury and destruction, and life goes on.