Anderson is editor of Resilience,
a clearinghouse for information about peak oil and sustainability.
Energy Bulletin serves up more than 35,000 pageviews/day
on weekdays and has several thousand articles in its archives.
Bart is a retired technical writer from Hewlett Packard.
Previously he was a reporter, editor and high school teacher.
He has a master's degree in communication from Stanford
University. His interests include permaculture, agriculture
and the cultural aspects of peak oil. He lives in Palo
permaculture was developed in the early 1970s, it emphasized
agriculture ("permanent agriculture") and the
design of homesteads and small farms.
years later, conditions have changed. The most urgent
environmental issues are what permaculturist Tim Winton
calls the "hydrocarbon twins": global warming
and the end of cheap energy (Peak Oil) (1) . Since both
conditions are caused by fossil fuels, the pressing problem
is how to minimize their use. Re-examining transportation
is key, since that sector is the biggest consumer of petroleum.
According to the New York Times, the transportation sector
"represents two-thirds of all oil demand in the United
States and is solely accountable for the growth of the
nation's oil thirst over the last three decades"
second emerging issue is the destruction of local communities
and their replacement by a globalized commercial culture.
Local communities are critical buffers against rising
energy prices, economic dislocation and dysfunctional
national governments. Their absence puts us at risk.
solutions are often so big and general that we feel helpless.
What can one person do about the Kyoto protocol? Large
economic interests dominate the US government, so that
the recently passed Energy Bill consists largely of handouts
to the fossil fuel industries (3) . To this impasse, permaculture
brings a unique emphasis on what can be done by individuals
and small groups, fostering a sense of empowerment.
article describes how a classic permaculture technique
-- zone and sector analysis -- can be adapted to deal
with current problems.
and sector planning is a design tool for analyzing the
site of a homestead or small farm. It suggests locations
for activities so they can be performed efficiently and
sustainably. The technique is regularly covered in permaculture
texts and Permaculture Design Courses (4) .
are usually pictured as six concentric circles, ranging
from Zone 0 (home) to Zone 5 (unmanaged land). Structures,
plantings and activities are located so that those frequently
visited are nearer home and those seldom visited are farther
away. For example, intensive gardening is set in Zone
1, orchards in Zone 2 and crop farming in Zone 3.
Mollison has an interesting explanation for zones. In
his Permaculture Design Manual, he notes that zones are
a way to manage "energies available on site: people,
machines, wastes, and fuels of the family or society."
Later, as we extend the definition of zones, we'll draw
upon Mollison's understanding of energy as the principle
zones are for on-site energies, sectors are a way to look
at natural or wild energies that flow across the land.
Such energies include sun, wind and wildfires. These energies
come from outside the site and pass through it. Sectors
can be pictured as wedges in the concentric zones, though
their real configurations will be different on different
powerful as zone and sector analysis is, I found it awkward
for planning our life on the San Francisco Peninsula.
This is no surprise, since the technique was originally
developed for a different purpose -- planning homesteads
in rural areas. The homesteads depicted as examples of
zones and sectors would cost $1 to $5 million in our area.
Our activities are not agricultural; even small-scale
gardening is a challenge in the city.
yet there are billions of us city-dwellers in the world.
Any tool that enables us to live more ecologically sane
lives would make a big difference.
first step in adapting zones for a wider audience is to
expand the notion of the site. The usual image of a permaculture
site is that of private property owned by an individual,
family or small group attempting some degree of self-sufficiency.
The reality for most people is very different. The city-dweller
ranges over a much larger landscape, exerting energy and
obtaining resources from properties owned by different
entities. An individual may work on property owned by
a corporation, buy vegetables from a farmers market (local
owners) and hike in publicly owned parks.
as zones can be used to minimize distances traveled on
a farm, so they can be used to reduce distances traveled
in a metropolitan area.
of defining zones by distance, let's define them in terms
of energy expended. (Remember the connection that Mollison
drew between zones and energy.) Since the key variable
in fuel usage is the type of transportation, we could
define the zones as:
* Zone 0: Home.
* Zone 1: Walking distance ("pedosphere").
* Zone 2: Bicycling distance ("cyclosphere").
* Zone 3: Reachable by public transportation or by a
* Zone 4: Driving distance.
* Zone 5: Reachable only by plane or other long-distance
1 shows the zones with their new urban definitions.
Figure 1. Zones based on fossil-fuel
the zones in this way emphasizes the fact that motorized
transport burns fossil fuels and generates greenhouse
gases. Zones 0 to 2 (home, walking and cycling) are environmentally
benign; Zone 6 (air travel) is an environmental no-no
Tool for Awareness
apply the zones to your daily life, make a zone map. Begin
by marking the locations of your activities on a local
map. Sites would include the workplace, stores, library,
parks, family, friends -- wherever one visits. Frequency
of visits can be indicated with different colored pens.
outline the different zones on the map. They won't be
the idealized concentric circles of Figure 1, but will
be of irregular shapes, determined by the particulars
of your situation. Walking and cycling may be bounded
by barriers such as freeways. The zone reachable by mass
transit will follow the service corridors.
with any model, modify the categories for your own case.
Maybe you don't bicycle or there's no public transit.
Or perhaps your definition of cycling distance is a 20-mile
you've gone through this exercise, you can transfer the
information to the simplified diagram of concentric circles.
A simplified model can make it easier to see patterns.
do you see? The diagram shows how you're allocating your
energy -- your time and the fossil fuels you use. The
map is a tool for awareness, so don't be judgmental or
in a rush to make changes.
the years I've put myself on an energy diet by changing
jobs and dropping commitments that required long distance
travel. The result is shown in Figure 2; it's not perfect
but it's much better than it was five years ago.
One person's zones and sectors
Figure 2. One person's zones and sectors.
with dieting, I've found that the most lasting changes
happen slowly as one gradually modifies one's lifestyle.
Draconian resolutions to cut out all car travel don't
work -- it's like the starve-and-binge routine that dieters
does it help that American cities and suburbs are designed
for cars, not people. Many stores and essential services
can only be reached by car. Perhaps as gas becomes more
expensive, people will turn away from cars and the vision
of cities on a human-scale will come to pass; the prophecies
of Richard Register and James Howard Kunstler will be
the meantime, there is much that individuals can do in
their own lives. The big win would be to move to a community
that IS designed for pedestrians and cyclists. There are
often easy changes one can make, like skipping vacation
trips which are long, expensive and stressful.
Go Local, Go Deep
traditional zones Bill Mollison said, "The golden
rule is to develop the nearest area first," and the
same applies here. Make full use of what is in front of
you, what is local and available:
* Get involved with groups close to home.
* Adapt tastes to what is available, not what the media
* Do chores via the phone, Internet or postal system.
* Explore the local ecosystems and natural history.
* Try making what you need at home (food or music for
found that as I became involved in local activities, my
schedule rapidly filled up. I no longer had the urge to
travel. I didn't have the time!
deserve a note of their own. With their unsurpassed efficiency,
bicycles will have an important role to play in a low-energy
future (7). To make full use of the possibilities, get
hold of the bicycle maps prepared by cities, cycling clubs
or map companies. Find routes on which you feel safe and
comfortable and learn the basics of safe bicycling. For
example, wear bright cycling jackets and carry lights
and flashers for riding at night.
zones for an urban setting is easy, but what about sectors?
What variable in the city corresponds to the natural energies
of sun, wind and water?
underlying idea behind sectors is that they map energies
from outside. They suggest ways to adapt to those energies,
such as planting trees as windbreaks.
is a corresponding set of influences in a metropolitan
area -- something that comes from outside and determines
how you use resources. It's not a physical or biological
force, but a socio-economic one: the ownership of property.
the most basic level, there is the dichotomy between our
property and the property of others. But as we consider
actual cases, we see that our relationships to property
are much more complex. For example, we often make use
of property owned by family members or by the community
as a whole. In fact, seven sectors can be defined by type
* Personal - the nuclear family or household unit - ownership
* Family and friends - informal but strong relationships.
* Associations - clubs, churches, volunteer groups, etc.
* Community - city, county, state, federal.
* Local businesses - local retailers, professionals, farmers
and crafts people.
* Mega-corporations - conglomerates, chains, the Fortune
* Undefined - some resources and lands have no clear ownership,
such as underpasses, vacant lots, abandoned houses, rights-of-way,
we overlay the new concept of sectors onto the zones,
we get the diagram in Figure 3.
Zones and Sectors
Figure 3. Zones and Sectors.
the new model, you can continue the mapping exercise from
before. Transfer the information from the zone map into
the appropriate zone and sector, and you'll see where
you're spending your life energy. Are you devoting yourself
to alien far-away institutions? Is this how you want spend
you want to make changes, the same guidelines hold true
as for reducing fuel use: a gradual and non-judgmental
approach works best. You're fighting the mainstream culture,
so patience is required.
Deflectors and Collectors
intriguing set of possibilities is suggested by Bill Mollison's
remarks on natural energies: "Some factors we may
invite in to our homes... Some we may exclude... Energies
from outside can be thought of as so many arrows winging
their way towards the home, carrying both destructive
and beneficial energies; we need to erect shields, deflectors,
other words, we need to think deeply about the different
sectors. It's simplistic to label one sector good and
another bad. The task is to understand the nature of the
sectors and to develop complex relationships with them.
There's enough material here for years of thought and
discussion. As a start, let me offer these stray thoughts:
*The mega-corporations are the most problematic sector
in the modern world. As the dominant form of ownership,
they control the resources that flow in and out of an
is the banner cry of Peak Oil activists such as the Post
Carbon Institute. They argue that in a low-energy future,
shipped goods will become prohibitively expensive as transportation
costs increase. If there is widespread employment or an
undependable national government, it is better to rely
on local institutions. This argument for local production
is echoed by local food enthusiasts and the food security
*The "undefined" sector is large in Third World
countries, where title to property may be difficult to
obtain. People build homes, businesses and gardens without
clear land ownership, and consequently live in a state
of insecurity, never knowing if the result of all their
work will be taken away. Community gardens often exist
in a similar state, with developers hungry for land to
in the Blanks
can use zones and sectors to expand your awareness of
resources available in your area. Draw a zone-and-sector
diagram, then fill in as many of the blanks as you can
with real or possible resources. Figure 4 shows one example.
Figure 4. Getting Ideas from Zones and Sectors
exercise demonstrates that there are many other ways to
meet needs besides personal ownership. For example, in
our area you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars
to buy a home with a yard in which to garden. Or you could
get a plot at a community garden. Another possibility
is gardening in the yard of someone who wants a garden
but can't do it herself. Shops and churches offer other
in a Low-Energy Future
I write, the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the supply
of oil and natural gas are yet to be determined. Oil is
topping $70 a barrel. No one can predict when we will
enter the period of "sustainability with teeth,"
as Richard Heinberg puts it, but it may be soon (9) .
that period comes, permaculture will be in demand as never
before. Not only will the traditional permaculture toolset
be needed, but also creative adaptations of it.
to Rick Valley and my PDC group in Lost Valley, Oregon,
for their suggestions and support during a presentation
of an early version of this model in 2003.
Anderson has been a reporter, high school teacher and
technical writer. He now gardens and writes on sustainability
and energy issues. He is co-editor of Energy Bulletin
to a friendPrint
1 - "Preparing for Peak Oil in the Northern Rivers"
talk by founder of The Permaforest Trust, Tim Winton,
on Thursday the 19th of May 2005 at the Byron Bay Community
Centre. [Australia]. Audio and slides (PDF) are downloadable.
2 - Mouwad, Jad and Wald, Matthew L. "The Oil Uproar
That Isn't." New York Times. July 12, 2005.
3 - Energy Bulletin website: US Energy & Roads Bills
Headlines - 12 August, 2005
4 - Zones and sector analysis is covered in:
* Holmgren, David. Permaculture: Principles & Pathways
Beyond Sustainability. 2002. p.138-9.
* Mollison, Bill and Slay, Reny Mia. Introduction to
Permaculture. 1991. p.9-14.
* Mollison, Bill. Permaculture: A Designers' Manual.
* Morrow, Rosemary. Earth User's Guide to Permaculture.
* Quinney, John. "Designing Sustainable Small Farms."
Mother Earth News. Issue 88 (July/August 1984). * Whitefield,
Patrick. The Earth Care Manual. 2004. p.27-8.
5 - Asthana, Anushka and McKie, Robin. "Rising number
of greens ditch cheap air travel." The Observer.
May 1, 2005. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1474219,00.html
6 - Sites and articles on New Urbanism and car-free cities:
* Richard Register. "Green Cities and the End of
the Age of Oil." Common Ground. June 2005. http://www.commongroundmag.com/2005/cg3206/greencities3206.html.
Also at http://energybulletin.net/8248.html
* Register, Richard. Ecocity Builders website. http://www.ecocitybuilders.org/index.html
* Kunstler, James Howard. Website. http://www.kunstler.com/
7 - Illich. Ivan. Energy and Equity. 1973. See especially
the chapter on "Degrees of Self-Powered Mobility."
Available online at: http://www.cogsci.ed.ac.uk/~ira/illich/texts/energy_and_equity/
Note 8 - Some recent articles on local food:
* Smith, Alisa and MacKinnon, J.B. "Living on the
Hundred-Mile Diet," (ongoing series). The Tyee
The first three articles are compiled at http://energybulletin.net/8138.html.
* Dundas, Zach. "Attack of the $3 Tomato."
Willamette Week Online. August 17, 2005.
9 - Heinberg, Richard. "Peak Oil: Sustainability
with Teeth." Speech at the 2004 Peak Oil Conference
sponsored by Community Solutions. Transcript at: http://energybulletin.net/3204.html
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