A Couple of Rough Types: Talking to Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton


  1. Thanks for that, Frank. It’s a very engaging piece of work. I felt like I was sitting just across the table from them (behind your lens), laughing at their jokes, and enjoying the company of good mates.

  2. If anyone makes the mistake of trusting Bill’s autobiography, they will find that he was born on 4th of May (he does tell a story there ending with the words “and my birthday is further ruined” that gives a date). But I don’t actually think Bill would appreciate such a “Person Cult” idea of turning this into a holiday.

    Personally, if I were to make a suggestion for a worthwile date for celebration, it would be a prominent day in which a large nation made a major step towards self reliance. There are a number of candidates. How about March 12, for example?

  3. Students, take good note when Geoff says:

    “I was actually a little bit skeptical at the initial stage…
    I wasn’t sure about – I thought it was quite radical and I questioned that Bill could actually have that much information to share. I was proven wrong. (…) And I don’t like feeling guilty about having the wrong sorts of thoughts about people. (…)
    And I checked the facts and figures and I was proven wrong EVERY time, and I thought ‘I better listen really carefully to what this guy is saying’.”

    Some years ago, when I first heard about Permaculture, I’ve had pretty much the same experience. Now, there are a few minor errata in what Bill says (he consistently keeps on giving wrong leaf surface areas of trees, say) and writes (there is an embarassing number typo in the Aquaculture chapter in the PDM, say), but apart from that, Geoff is right. I’ve had many “No Way That Could be True!” moments myself – and when I checked things, I found that, actually, Bill’s story was mostly correct (apart maybe from very minor details).

    But the point to remember is: Bill is no wizard when it comes to coming up with solutions – he just happens to know a good strategy for doing some effective research on what sorts of approaches people came up with to deal with very specific problems. With a bit of training, pretty much everyone can build a useful library of solution-oriented material. And I think that’s one of the really important resources to have at hand.

  4. Hi, I was at the pdc in Turkey, which ended this last Saturday.

    In the past years I’ve been to several pdc’s, but after this one a lot of things
    just clicked and I went: Aaaah, now I see!

    All I can say is that both Geoff and Bill are full magic, amazingly inspiring,
    and it was a true gift to have them come to Turkey.

    Whenever Bill’s birthday might be, I’d say happy birthday Bill, many happy healthy years to come, and your spirit will always live on in the people, the bees, the flowers, and the trees:)


  5. Nice video! I hope I get to talk to Geoff during the Hong Kong PDC this month.

    I’m about halfway through the PDC on DVD set (didn’t realize I’d be able to take a PDC course so soon), and while each disc is really mind-blowing, I did find some things that Bill said that didn’t seem to be true. Does anyone know, for instance, if the US really nuked the moon back in the 60s? I couldn’t find anything about that other than the US perhaps thought about doing it. Also, Bill claims that the US destroyed the Van Allen belts which shielded us from space debris and radiation- I couldn’t find anything about that being true, either. I know there were a few other things too…

    The way Bill talked about the trompe, it seems absolutely insane that we aren’t utilizing this powerful and totally sustainable technology, including for powering cars. The suspicion that the oil industry has repressed this technology makes sense- apparently there were already compressed air cars making use of this technology. And what happened to the TaTa compressed air car? This is one subject that I can’t believe we don’t hear more about, if what Bill says about the trompe is accurate… But then again, so much of the “common sense” of Permaculture has yet to be applied by large numbers of people.

    The DVD set is highly recommended, by the way. It feels like it’s never going to end (kinda like the PDM), and yet there’s so much golden info in it…

  6. I don’t (yet) know what’s on the DVDs, but I can comment on a few of the other issues.

    Concerning the Van Allen belt, there indeed have been experiments involving high altitude nukes that were all about messing with the Van Allen belts, but not so much about destroying them than about creating an extra one. This was “Operation Starfish Prime” (you might want to do some research on that).

    I am not aware of any experiment that involved a nuclear device going off on the moon. The Russians had such an idea once, and I assume so did the U.S., but as far as I am aware, it never happened.

    Trompes are interesting in the sense that they are a pre-oil technology which never received the degree of engineering design optimization attention it should, for we only had advanced computational methods after we had too cheap fuel to make them appear worthwile. But don’t take Bill’s engineering related efficiency claims too serious. That’s something on which he does not have the experience of a professional engineer. (But neither do many a professional engineer, sadly.)

  7. Thanks for that info, Thomas. I googled Operation Starfish prime, maybe that’s what Bill was talking about, though I didn’t see any mention of the Van Allen Belt.

    RE Trompes- are you saying that perhaps they are efficient enough to power everything, but we don’t know enough about them at this point?

    I wish they would post that part of the DVD. If even half of it is true, it’s something we really need to look at more.

  8. Maybe I should say a word about the physics of the Van Allen belt(s).

    How do electrically charged particles move in Earth’s magnetic field? Basically, the force on a moving charged particle in a magnetic field is proportional to the velocity and the magnetic field, and perpendicular to both (and its charge): F = q v x B.

    So, if we give a particle moving along a magnetic field line in a homogeneous field a small kick in a random direction, it will start to circle the field line and move along a helix: the kick gives it a small velocity that’s not parallel to the magnetic field, and moving in that direction causes a magnetic force that’s both perpendicular to that velocity as well as the field. So, relative to an un-charged particle travelling along the field line with the same velocity, we are moving on a circle (force and hence acceleration is perpendicular to the relative velocity).

    Now, if a charged particle travelling like that enters a region where the magnetic field lines converge – in earth’s magnetic field, this means: when it comes close to the pole – it will receive an extra force while travelling on the circle that is taking it away from the region of high field strength.

    Explicitly, suppose a proton is traveling mostly in +z direction, with a small velocity component v_x from going round on a circle: v = (v_x 0 v_z) with v_x much smaller than v_z, and the magnetic field is (B_x B_y B_z) with B_x, B_y much smaller than B_z. If magnetic field strength B_z increases along he z-axis, then due to dB_z / dz + dB_x/dx +dB_y/dy = 0, the magnetic field – averaged over the circle – has to tilt in-wards. If the center of the circle around which the particle is travelling is at (0 0 0) and the particle at that moment is at coordinates (0 y 0), y being small and positive so the centripetal force v x B points inwards, the negative B_y component at (0 y 0) which makes the magnetic field tilt inwards gives a force contribution F_z = v_x B_y which also is negative, i.e. the particle gets repelled from the region of strong magnetic fields.

    This means that a non-homogeneous magnetic field can act as a “magnetic bottle” for charged particles in which they spiral around the field lines, but get repelled whenever they come close to the poles.

    The “Van Allen belt(s)” just consist of charged particles trapped like that in Earth’s magnetic field. Exploding a nuclear weapon outside the atmosphere will create many more such particles which then will join those in the Van Allen belt(s) – that gives us an artificial extension of the belt, and that is what Starfish Prime did.

    On Trompes – well, you certainly won’t get more power out of them than what the water that goes in can deliver, right? If you wanted compressed air, this may be more efficient than the longer water power to electricity to air compression conversion path, plus: you can do it without any moving mechanical parts. But you still won’t get more power from it than what’s in the total flow of falling water at the given head that you have. And you won’t run industrial civilization at its present level of wasteful energy use on water power. But still – we stopped seriously looking into trompe design before we had the means to throw modern computational fluid dynamics methods at it. So, there may be potential for improving their performance through more research.

  9. “Rampancy and plant control systems” !!!???

    Another massive great-idea/concept bomb drop by Geoff that I must know more about!

    Does anybody know what he means by rampancy control systems? All I can think of is “goats” :)

  10. Hi Greg
    “Rampancy and plant control systems” is the use of beneficial user friendly rampant annual and perennial plants and trees to occupy all the space normally taken up by weeds while a system is encouraged to rapidly advanced through its pioneer stage leading to climax. These “Rampancy and plant control systems” are sacrificial and can be chopped and dropped as mulch as the desired system moves through to establishment.

  11. I just watched one of Bills videos about trompes. He has made it too hard! You only need one pipe going down, and for small scale, you only need to go a meter or 2 deep. You can generate and use low pressure air from this low pressure trompe for lots of things. I use a low pressure pneumatic grid with less than 2 psi air to aerate fishtanks, and pump water for hydroponic and soil gardens. My soil gardens are closed loop “pallet gardens” and they seem to be working really well. Brian

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