RetroSuburbia: The Downshifters Guide to a Resilient Future
by David Holmgren
With the global economic crash predicted to result from the COVID-19 lockdown, the publication of RetroSuburbia earlier this month is a happy coincidence.
This book is based on the premise that our current globalized economic system is inherently unstable. Although the exact mechanism that will topple global capitalism is impossible to predict, Holmgren believes it will most likely relate to one (our more) of the following three crisis points: 1) major resource depletion (oil, water, topsoil, phosphate, collapsed fishstocks, etc); 2) catastrophic climate change; or 3) the collapse of a massive real estate or share market bubble (as occurred in 2008).
Under any of these scenarios, the vast majority of us will experience a reduced standard of living. As jobs disappear and personal income declines, people will have no choice but to downsize their consumption levels. As it becomes harder and harder to rely on the capitalist system to meet basic needs (food, water, energy, Internet, postal service, health, security, etc), they will need to become more self-sufficient and rely more on family, friends, and neighbors. As they downsize their lifestyles, more extended families and even friends and neighbors will live together in the same households and produce most of their own food.
Holmgren predicts this catastrophic event may occur so suddenly that people will have no time to prepare. Securing a fertile rural homestead won’t be an option for most of us. For the most part, we will be stuck with the land and house we live in now.
In essence, RetroSuburbia is a manual we can use to “retrofit” the space we currently occupy to help us better cope with what he describes as “our energy descent future.”
Holmgren seems to have thought of everything, covering a range of topics, including how to assess a property for optimal food production, heating your home off-grid, water harvesting, gray water systems, recycling human waste, the mechanics of shared living, soil fertility and contamination, seed saving, sustainable transport, managing our own health and security, raising self-reliant resilient children, and conflict resolution.
Holmgren is the co-originator of permaculture* technology, in my view Australia’s most important export.
*Permaculture is a set of design principles centered on whole systems thinking, simulating, or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields including regenerative agriculture, rewilding, and community resilience