Anderson is editor of Energy
Bulletin, 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 Alto,
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" (2).
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 underlying zones.
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 sites.
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.
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
as zones can be used to minimize distances traveled on a farm,
so they can be used to reduce distances traveled in a metropolitan
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 short
* Zone 4: Driving distance.
* Zone 5: Reachable only by plane or other long-distance transport.
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 (5) .
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 radius.
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 experience.
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 vindicated (6).
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
* Get involved with groups close to home.
* Adapt tastes to what is available, not what the media advertise.
* 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 example).
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
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 of ownership:
* 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 500,
* 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 your life?
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
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, or collectors."
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 area.
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 movement (8).
*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 build on.
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 opportunities.
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 (http://energybulletin.net).
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.
* Mollison, Bill. Permaculture: A Designers' Manual. 1998.
* Morrow, Rosemary. Earth User's Guide to Permaculture. 1993.
* 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.
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 ( http:/www.thetyee.ca/
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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