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Principles and Pathways, Class #2: Rob Hopkins, and Transition

This post is primarily for the folks taking my WFS class on Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, but everyone is welcome to follow along at home. Notes for Class #1 are here.

In Class #2, we will cover the following material:

1) Discussion around topics of class #1: the Five Axioms of Sustainability and Introduction to Permaculture powerpoint, and the Holmgren video on "Do  We Need Principles?"

2) We'll view David Holmgren giving an overview of the first six of his 12 Permaculture Principles.

3) Consideration of the Transition movement as social Permaculture


Readings for Class #2, First Priority

1) The Essence of Permaculture, pages 9-15 (Principles 1-6)

(Download pdf from here:, or direct link to the pdf file:

2) Resilience and Reciprocity by David Holmgren (handout)

3) Business, Resilience & Transition  by Rob Hopkins (handout)

4)The Transition Handbook, chapter 10: The Transition Concept (especially the section on "philosophical underpinnings")


Other optional Readings if you have more time:

5) Powerdown & Permaculture at the Cusp of Transition by Rob Hopkins

6) See below.



Below is a repost of a Blog I wrote April 19, 2009, about the Permaculture philosophy that underlays the Transition movement.

Interview with Rob Hopkins at

As Lester Brown recently noted on this site, the coming decline of oil will be ‘a seismic economic event’. So what do we do when we learn that the ’black gold’ will soon start running out? Do we grab a gun and head for the hills, or do we redouble our efforts to build strong, resilient communities and economies that are not dependent on fossil fuels? Rob Hopkins is at the forefront of the latter approach. Originally a permaculture teacher, Rob began tackling peak oil by coordinating an energy descent action plan with his students for Kinsale, the town in Ireland where he was living and teaching. The resulting document received a huge amount of interest from around the world (and can be downloaded as a PDF here), and has since given rise to the Transition Towns movement – a rapidly spreading, community-lead approach to peak oil planning, which is currently being implemented at a village, town and even city level. Rob also writes a popular and solutions-based peak oil blog called Transition Culture. In this interview, Rob tells Treehugger what inspired him to tackle peak oil, why the survivalist approach holds no interest for him, and how permaculture has influenced the Transition Towns concept. He also explains why he doesn’t believe in a technological solution to the coming crisis, and he gives his thoughts on how everyone can help prepare for the challenges ahead.

Treehugger: The Kinsale Energy Decent Action Plan appears to be a first of its kind, namely an inclusive, community focussed approach to getting off oil. What inspired you to initiate the process, and how have you adapted it to help other communities through the Transition Towns concept?

Rob Hopkins: The process was inspired by the initial sense of panic and shock after first finding out about peak oil! I was teaching at the college in Kinsale and we found out about peak oil via. the DVD "The End of Suburbia" and a talk by Colin Campbell, and it being a permaculture course the thrust of our reaction was "right, what shall we do?" We looked around and were amazed to find that no-one anywhere had really been thinking about it much. A lot of the inspiration came from Richard Heinberg's 'Powerdown' book and from David Holmgren's "Permaculture - principles and pathways beyond sustainability", the first books to really start exploring what life beyond the peak might look like, rather than most books on peak oil which just focus on the top of the bell curve and whether it would be a bumpy plateau or a gentle decline, which always struck me as not really being especially important
...the power of the (EDAP) model is that it creates a vision of the future with less oil as being preferable place to the present, and then sets out a timetabled path for getting there. Its simple really....

TH: You are originally a permaculture teacher. How has permaculture influenced the Transition Towns approach?

RH: I taught permaculture for 10 years, and it is very much the discipline that Transition Towns emerges from. I guess that when I found out about peak oil, and read David Holmgren's book, it struck me that given the urgency of peak oil and the enormity of the challenge it presents, permaculture really needs to up its game enormously. Holmgren argues that permaculture is the design science for a post-peak society. I feel that we have to really become much, much more effective, and do that very, very quickly. Transition Towns is, in effect, attempting town-scale permaculture. It is my attempt at lifting permaculture principles onto a whole other level of effectiveness and relevance. We try and integrate permaculture principles into the whole process, and they certainly underpin the work that I do. I recommend Holmgren's book to anyone who is interested in all this.

Our future will be more local, will use less energy, and will have much more appreciation of what energy does for us, but within that statement are the seeds of a far more satisfying, abundant and sociable future.

Early Blog post by Rob Hopkins: Why 'Transition Culture'?

...What fascinates me, and what I plan to explore in this website, is the emerging culture that underpins this work. We are communities, a society, a world in transition, and to do that we need a culture of transition, but also the tools for manifesting it. The term ‘transition culture’ originated with Louise Rooney who formulated the term ‘Transition Design’ to best describe the work she and Catherine Dunne have undertaken in trying to drive the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan forward (above picture show, left to right, Louise Rooney, Catherine Dunne and myself). I love the term, and see the work I am doing as looking into a slightly different aspect of transitions, that of how one really roots it in a culture and creates a ‘culture of transition’. So, credit where credit’s due, collectively we see our various works as moving beyond ‘environmental’, ’sustainable’, ‘eco’ this or that. This is about transition to where we want to get to, how do we do it and what might it look like.

My background is in the teaching of permaculture for many years, giving people the tools to create more sustainable ways of living in their own gardens and families. Since I found out about peak oil, I have become fascinated by how we apply these principles to whole towns, whole settlements, and in particular, to how we design this transition in such a way that people will embrace it as a common journey, as a collective adventure, as something positive. So much peak oil and other environmental literature is doom-laden and information heavy, and most peoples’ reaction is to switch off. How can we design descent pathways which make people feel alive, positive and included in this process of societal transformation?

My own thoughts led me to develop an approach I call ‘Energy Descent Action Planning (EDAP)’, which works with a community to vision how they see their town 20 years in the future, in a positive way, and then backcast from then to now. It was developed in Kinsale, and continues to grow in other, safe, hands. I am now looking at the wider question of how the EDAP process can evolve and be refined, as well as drawing on the experience of other communities doing similar things. It is work I feel to be of the utmost importance. That is what I am exploring in my work, and it is that which I will strive to share with you on ****

Rob Hopkins Blog Entry: David Holmgren on Permaculture, Business, Resilience and Transition
For those in the business world, this is very worthwhile reading:

Rob Hopkins' Review of Holmgren's "Permaculture: Principles& Pathways Beyond Sustainability"

At the end of his principle ‘Use Small and Slow Solutions’, David Holmgren writes “when an adolescent sense of immortality and values of speed, novelty and endless growth define a whole civilisation, I think we are close to its demise and the birth of a new cultural paradigm. Watch it slowly unfold."

This book is the clearest elucidation of what this new paradigm might look like since his permaculture co-originator Bill Mollison’s seminal ‘Permaculture, a Designers Manual’ was published in 1988. It is no exaggeration to call this the most important book published in the last 15 years..

...It does have its limitations. It is not a good book for a beginner, nor is it a practical manual like, say, ‘The Designers Manual’. It is not really the book to leave lying around for the relative who keeps asking you what permaculture is. Holmgren’s style is quite academic, and the book has little in the way of visual stimulation, there are no pictures apart from a few diagrams. The cover is also not particularly arresting as far as covers go. However, the strength of what this book is more than makes up for what it isn’t. Reading the book is like eating a rich (organic) chocolate cake, you need to take it in small slices, and go off and lie down for a while to digest it. If you had too much of it in one go you would probably feel a bit dizzy and have to lie down anyway, you have to pace yourself. There is so much in it that I expect to have to read it a few times more to really get to grips with some of the concepts he puts forward.

I mentioned at the start of this review that I consider this to be the most important book published since ‘A Designers Manual’. This is not said lightly, and I suppose I should justify that. Permaculture is often seen as being an offshoot of organics, a branch of sustainability, whereas here Holmgren is saying that permaculture encompasses all the elements of sustainability, and also goes beyond that, and not only offers a model for us permaculturists, but offers a way ahead for the whole sustainability movement. What he is setting out here isn’t just a few cosy ideas for those of us who already think permaculture is a good idea, it is the clearest template yet laid out of how the sustainability movement as a whole needs to think.

If you are looking for a guide on designing herb spirals or how to make a mulch garden, this is not the book for you. If you want a clear, deep and passionate guide to how we, as a race, might adapt to the rapidly approaching reality of energy descent in such a way that we not only survive but thrive, you must read this. “Watch it unfold" – indeed.

TV program visit's Rob Hopkins' Permaculture course in 2005:

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