Sustainable Civilization: From the Grass Roots Up
KEEPING THE ECONOMY LOCAL
Support a local currency if you find a means to disconnect such from big picture inflationary trends.
Pre-crisis though, creating a local currency, and a web of business using such, is potentially going to be "frowned upon" by multiple levels of government who do not want their revenue streams interrupted.
My "Two Cents" is we need an atmosphere and local rules that encourages home enterprise. Existing zoning and/or business license/taxation requirements may pose sufficient barriers as to prevent some from implementing a "sideline" business that they might otherwise have an interest in operating. The very people who would benefit in the future from such hobby businesses waiting in the wings, will probably balk at changes today that would allow them to start to develop. But it must be done.
In a sustainable community, some business operations will be "short term", some ongoing. For example landscaping and building for rainwater harvesting is going to be for the most part a short term business. Although it takes skill initially to get collection in place, once someone sees what needs to be done, the work of the business is easily replicated, and if done well, remains functional for a long period of time without further intervention.
An obvious problem is going to be those with living arrangements that precludes any significant growing of food. They will have to purchase such from savings or earnings, steal it, or leave. Along with growing food goes safe recycling of the human effluents back to the growing medium. A great deal of food can be grown in compact areas if the growing medium is kept fertilized, and it receives the attention required. Intensive gardening requires indefinite attention, and a variety of knowledge, and appears to be a practical ongoing business with this specialist allowing others to pursue their specialty.
RETHINKING THE LOCAL BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT
How to improve the business environment for local enterprise, and make our communities more sustainable and self-sufficient? Tossed out for consideration:
Identify and plug the (economic) leaks. Identify products that could be produced locally, but are not currently. Identify skills that are present in the community and those that need to be developed to produce these goods. Establish a network to facilitate local business development. Create a local green business directory. Appeal to local loyalty to entice market share from non-indigenous enterprises. Improve the self-sufficiency of your community through economic development with special focus on food production and small scale water supply systems. Create an increased sense of community by working together to start and support local enterprises.
Establish a local currency to improve the use of capital, facilitate trade, and encourage doing business locally.
Publish a newsletter and website to promote your efforts, encourage participation, provide an objective source for local business news, and alert readers to issues not covered by the mainstream media services.
In a rapidly expanding economy, with what was seen as an unlimited source of energy and vastly enhanced growth of food, "charity" at the point of a government gun was not widely objected to. It became un-acceptable to question this wealth transfer (theft) and the destructive results.
This meddling to breed for the least capable is perhaps the program most dependent on an overproductive, expanding, resource wasting economy. Consider that when the (virtually) free energy subsidy of oil ends, and socio-economic activity relies on current energy flow, there will be greatly increased real prices (in terms of earnings per unit of labor). This greatly reduces the lifestyle of the working and makes every cent of earnings critical.
At the same time living expenses for the working rise, they will rise for the non-contributing. This means that as workers have rising concern about their jobs, and find their useful income dropping, the socialists will be demanding greater and greater percentages of workers income.
How much of this are you going to tolerate?
We must think and act more realistically than present immigration procedures. Immigration refers to arbitrary government regulated movement of individuals. There are those who advocate elimination of any limits on immigration. What if the government was taken out of the picture for setting rules, and deciding who can move where, and is instead limited to protection of individual rights?
If a community has realistically implemented sustainability concepts, it should be clear that an immigrant (adult or child) to a long-term sustainable community would cause a net increase in the relevant population unless they are a replacement for a native born resident.
NOTE: The assumption is that the community is already AT the maximum population that can be sustained on the available water, food, etc. If every other community is also at maximum population, or worse (as we have now) well beyond long term sustainable population, purchase of the needed extra resources is not a viable option. Given these (which I believe may be best-case) parameters, how do you address immigration?
Each multi-generation homestead if already at their safe population has internal incentive to restrict new births, as each new mouth takes a portion away from everyone already there.
Perhaps the immigrant could purchase the parenting right of an existing person, in effect for population purposes becoming their instant "child", subject to the limits of their "adoptive" family. Perhaps such an immigrant should not parent a child until they have been here for some time period, consider (15?) years.
LIMITS TO NON-RESIDENT ACCESS
Related to consideration of permanent immigration is the issue of those who have no permanent connection to the area lingering about. Do you want continued personal security? Do you want the ability to exclude unwanted intruders from your home and business? At what point do you want to cede control? You operate a restaurant, and someone parks their hot dog cart on the sidewalk outside? How about your neighborhood? Your schools?
Under current law you only have control authority within your privately owned property, you home, perhaps your neighborhood if it's not open to the general public (think a gated neighborhood, with privately maintained streets). Face it, people will move away from danger, and toward wherever they perceive as a "better place". If your home or neighborhood is, or appears to be better off then others, you become a likely target for thieves (with or without government credentials). Get involved in your community, in particular any aspect which involves the "law" and your private property rights, self-defense rights, etc. Current U.S. law allows for the most part non-residents to freely walk about public (government owned/controlled) sidewalks, streets, lots, etc. But we are contemplating extreme times. What if you don't want strangers hanging about in your neighborhood in the middle of the night? If your neighborhood sidewalks and streets were once again private property, with mere easements granted to other property owners, only residents would have the right to use such, and only for what the easement authorized. Authorities would then be called on to enforce trespass laws, or where the law allows private citizen detention for the trespass. What about taking your entire community (city) "private"? If your community remains viable, while others that have failed to prepare are in collapse, what is the legal basis for maintaining your resource to population balance? A new person, is a new person. Must you, will you, wait until you are overrun? How do you improve the quality of life for the residents already in the city while avoiding the growth that news of the good life would cause? Each family, neighborhood, village, and city should look after itself first. Personal then local welfare, working upward from the grass roots must take priority over daydreams about addressing the problems of those who take no steps to solve their problems themselves, or make them progressively worse. Water collection and food growing at the home level makes it clear what the life support limits are. I suggest it is similar with sidewalks, roads, and other currently considered "government" property. It needs to return to private ownership. Government is force. We need a paradigm of voluntary cooperation and partnerships to work together. This means though not only work such as building a new library, but also working together to establish and maintain limits. Public projects and programs paid by taxed theft or slavery discourages involvement by the victims of the theft, and by those who benefit by it thru no effort of their own. Consider a community with limited water. The city takes all the water, and gives it away. Demand would rise, supply, recycling and conservation development would fall, and the per person supply would diminish. In contrast if each homestead is free to use their own collected water, yet must pay the full costs for other water, efficiencies are encouraged, as are naturally imposed limits to new development and expansion. We are not likely to see, or desire, sustainability imposed from political authority. But we need to have governments stop rewarding actions contrary to sustainability. PLANNED FUNERALS
Deaths must essentially match births. There are those who are chronically depressed, and dream of suicide. Why do we stop them? Perhaps society should accept voluntary suicide, perhaps of adults over 30, or under 30 when diagnosed by (3?) physicians with a terminal and painful or debilitating condition.
UPPER COMMUNITY LIMIT
It appears in history that numbers approaching 1 million were the upper limit for cities. A city of a million, if part of a larger civilization may expect some significant percentage, say 80% of it's population to be permanent residents of extended families, giving us around 100,000 homesteads, with the other 20% considered transitory, coming to the city on less than a permanent basis for education, to learn or practice a trade or skill, etc.
A transitory population will have some needs that differ significantly from permanent residents. Some homesteads may absorb the temporary population, whether due to charity considerations, providing for a relative, or a paid border arrangement. If however the temporary residents are present for a purpose such as attending college, one might expect them to be concentrated near the purpose of their visit. Facilities such as college need to be within a regular daily commute for permanent residents, but also have appropriate temporary living quarters. (Note the need for expanded community production to be able to provide “life support” for the temporary residents.)
The limited resource and population base of small villages provides little reserve capabilities to cope with disasters. Even minor disturbances in water or food supplies, or a natural disaster damaging infrastructure, could be a death knell for the village without outside support.
The U.S. patent office estimates 1 patentable invention per year, per every 1,000 people in the population. But don't let statistics mislead you into believing an energetic isolated eco-village should expect 9 new ideas every year.
It takes creative people, educated and with extra time and resources for significant advances. It takes easy access to previous knowledge, tools, expert assistance, etc. An information and goods exchange among a network of eco-villages should be expected to yield far more new inventions each year than the same villages kept isolated. Communication and trade must be maintained, which in a low energy environment probably means being physically nearby.
Not every invention is in the best interest of civilization (think of a device that could destroy every living thing, so simple to make any kid could do it...) Even without posing a physical threat, inventions are not necessarily welcomed with open arms. There are always those who oppose anything new. With innovation the demand for a product or service may wane (buggies and horsewhips after the auto).
Not every site has the same resources. Not every group of people has the same capabilities or interests. Specialization nurtures expertise. Trade nurtures specialization. But it also nurtures the "theft" of inventions, reducing the reward for the inventors efforts.
We need an environment that nurtures positive creativity, avoiding careless waste of resources, contamination of the environment, and unacceptable risks. Thoughts?
Your first step, determine what product or service is being produced or provided in a manner contrary to your ecological belief system, and stop buying it. Convince your family and friends to stop buying it. Get them all to tell the provider why their business has been lost.
"The earth is finite. It cannot provide for continually growing numbers of people. It can't even provide for anywhere near the present population. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair. Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any effort to achieve a sustainable future"
World Scientists Warning to Humanity, the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Prices must reflect the ecological reality of the situation. As touched on earlier, fossil fuels have been replacing human labor at an arguable "exchange" rate of a gallon of fuel doing around 562 hours of human labor, which at the U.S. minimum wage each gallon is around $3,000 worth of human labor.
Oil has annually provided in recent years energy to power civilization that is roughly equal to the dedicated labor of more than 250 billion slaves. This is ending. It's not so much as what an eco-economy CAN be, as what it CANNOT be.
"In a sustainable society, durability and recycling will replace planned obsolescence as the economy's organizing principle, and virgin materials will not be seen as a primary source of material but as a supplement to the existing stock" - Lester Brown, Worldwatch Institute
When human numbers were small, and the earth covered with a dense, diverse ecology, a tree cut here, an animal or fish taken there, made little difference to the system as a whole. With our vast numbers now, and technology, we clear cut entire forests and eliminate entire species.
For all practical human purposes, we have done, and continue to do damage that may never be repaired. Limited population is an essential element. The very life processes of each person places that much of an additional demand on the counterbalancing ecology. Any projection of the future is at best, a guess, based on present information. But using present knowledge and technological capabilities, a sustainable, technological society can continue to exist, and develop.
Try looking at the world as a series of sealed bubbles. You are personally responsible for what you do, or allow, at home, your property, your town, country, the world. You can't pollute. In multigenerational family owned homesteads each generation has the incentive to continue to upgrade the homestead.
Air. We've got to stop pollution. Humans have burned fuels for energy for a long time, and we today burn at LOT. If we didn't derive the fuel by concentrating the energy component from the environment (carbon from biofuels, hydrogen from water, etc.) we shouldn't be putting it into the environment. (Biofuels and systems to split hydrogen from water will be major factors for portable power, unless of course Mr. Tesla's broadcast power proposals were accurate, and are implemented.)
In theory, if the community is growing its own food, it should be balancing the CO2 output of the residents, perhaps not exactly locally (due to open air and winds) but on the average. The best the community can do for other air pollutants is to avoid producing them, and refuse to deal with anyone who does.
Water. The Ogallala Aquifer WAS a huge store of "fossil water", under around 225,000 square miles in the Great Plains region (the U.S. "breadbasket"), which has long been a major source of water for agricultural, municipal, and industrial development. Use began at the turn of the century, and has now greatly surpassed the aquifer's rate of natural recharge. Some places overlying the aquifer have already exhausted their underground supply as a source of irrigation. Given high power pumps, it may only be decades before vast areas are pumped "dry". Given the loss of high power pumps, the irrigation will cease. Probably 1/3 of the U. S. cropland is irrigated in this unsustainable manner, and will then "disappear".
The Colorado River examples another source, while renewable, allocated beyond its natural flow. Often nothing reaches the ocean of what was once a river that could handle ocean going shipping. The next cycle of lessened rainfall in the catchment area will have serious repercussions for those dependent on this water for their life. Limited population is an essential element.
We do not have the technology to replace the quantities of "fossil water" that have been squandered. If "global warming" fears materialize, heat and reduced rainfall pose a deadly threat. Ocean water can be "de salted", but not in sufficient quantities to maintain the present population and the necessary crops, nor is enough energy likely to be available to transport the water to distant fields and population centers.
If the air is clean, then rainfall should be clean. We need to then avoid polluting it within the community, including "salts", concentration of which threatens crops, and soil life.
Food. Bio intensive, perhaps in concert with some aspects of the hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic systems. Most farmland is "mined out" of trace minerals, and does not produce appropriately healthy food, and absent chemical fertilizers, is incapable of producing a quantity of food anywhere near present production.
Cropland must have trace minerals restored, and be maintained in such a manner that these minerals are returned to the land and crops, including our bodies when we no longer need them. We can grow terrific crops, and properly nourish a few, or greater quantity of lesser quality crops and feed a greater quantity of less healthy people. What we have today is a version of the LATTER.
Industrialized food production, processing, long distance shipping, etc., obviously subjects this vital life support aspect to far greater "uncertainties" than does growing food locally.
It does not appear probable that long distance shipping of products, in particular overland on roads, or by air, is sustainable absent fossil fuels. While many of the components of high tech devices require such unique processes that they are not likely to be made "locally", in many locations, there is likewise no need for entire devices to be assembled, packaged, and shipped.
In example, the high tech manufacturing "essential" components of a computer are no where near the overall mass and volume of a complete computer. Frames, cases, connectors, etc. can be hand crafted locally for assembly.
Manufacturing. "Key" components of systems or devices.
Pedal power transport and devices (people today could use the exercise anyway) Wind driven devices, motion, moving matter, energy generation / storage Light rail (REALLY light, powered by P/V or small biofuel engines)
Energy generation / storage. Solar p/v, thermoelectric, thermo heat-engine, biomass production. Providing power not only for the community, but outlying customers.
Selective surfaces are materials that reflect, or absorb, given qualities of energy or matter. A diode only allows electricity to move in one direction. Certain membranes allow thru water, but exclude "contaminants", including dissolved salts.
High concentrations of u/v, an ionizing frequency of light, can provide significant "excitation" of water molecules such that the electricity needed to electrolyze water is BELOW that which can be generated when the hydrogen is again burned or used in a fuel cell. This is not an over unity device, since the extra energy is coming from sunlight. If the complete spectrum of light is used at the concentrations necessary the water heats too much, decreasing the electrolysis efficiency and making more complex containment necessary.
Assisted living homes in the pre crash economy often receive significant income for providing relatively low levels of service to residents. (Typically taxpayer subsidized) Post crash there will still be those who cannot personally provide the care that a fragile weak person requires.
Holistic medicine. Avoid injury and illness, vs complex and expensive corrective steps. Those taking personal risk based on their employment, should be insured by their employers for those risks. Those taking personal risk on their own behalf, should shoulder the bills for such risk. Like unto regular oil changes and other maintenance in a car prevents major repairs later, it is similar in many aspects for our bodies.
A campground may have post crash value as low-cost temporary lodging.
Gardening. For those who can't / won't grow their own food, skills in creating and maintaining an effective and low - maintenance garden could be a growing demand.
Recycling. There is no away to throw things to. Components and materials must be taken apart, sorted, stored, and made available again for new projects. If there is no garbage pick up, and no "city dump", would you pay to have things taken away? Would you run a business where you were paid to take "stuff" away, and paid again for the parts after you took them apart?
Sewage management. Forcing someone to manage your feces / urine would be slavery. If you realize you must recycle such to survive, but don't want to, and the city won't let you connect to the sewer, how much would you pay to not have to worry about it? (Ties to gardening)
An ecological economy is by its own terminology NOT based on a once-thru process of disposable goods. The fossil fueled industrial age COULD have given everyone high quality, high durability goods, and permanently lifted worldwide living standards. What we DID was produce at the lowest cost, lowest quality possible, a "disposable" product.
With current economic thinking, advertising, and business practices, an ecological economy appears at first to be an antithesis of a healthy economy. It does NOT seek change for the mere sake of change, deliberate repeat business by planned obsolescence, etc.
Nanotechnology promises a revolution in materials engineering, and product construction, provided we do not lose the underlying support community for such high-tech industry.
Quality. A thoughtfully designed and executed product can have lifetime appeal and usefulness, and be a cherished heirloom, passing from generation to generation. A quality item is less likely to be replaced merely because "new and different" is produced.
Durability. Don't you have that favorite shirt, pair of shoes, watch, etc., that you just love to wear? Do you wish they would last longer? Why don't they? Standardization of components. Imagine trying to play music if every record, tape, or CD required a special player. Along the lines of the shipping discussion above, standardized components and subcomponents, assembled to make various devices, yet designed to be re arranged at the consumer level, leads to enhanced recycling.
Recycling, of not just materials, but individual components and assemblies. Current electronic devices, while "neat", are in most cases not repairable, requiring the entire device to be discarded when there is a single component malfunction.
Food. Of the highest nutrition, in appropriate proportions. Grain, potatoes, rice, etc. continues to be presented, even by physicians, as the base of the food pyramid. These carbohydrate items are the most profitable for farmers, and for the food processing industry, as cheap carbohydrates are processed into "snack foods". Most of these contain little though beyond calories, and certainly do not qualify as a healthy diet.
Consider for a moment, have you ever heard the phrase "corn fed", or "grain fed" in reference to fattening up cattle, hogs, etc. for the slaughter?
As discussed earlier, much of the farmland in use today has been depleted of the micro nutrients we need. Yes, plants can still be forced to grow on the depleted soil, but the food cannot contain the nutrients we need. The growing medium must be fully restored, from "outside" sources if necessary, and the minerals eaten must be returned to the soil. Therefore recycling must include the valuable atoms which comprise our bodies, once we non longer rely on them.
No net loss.
Expanded copyright and patent protections. These protections encourage new ideas, discoveries and devices to be brought to the public, by ensuring that the proper credits and accolades, as well as the financial benefits of the creation accrue to the creator.
Short term patent protection, such as the 17 year United States patent, provide a relatively short period for benefits to accrue to the creator, then the invention becomes "public domain". In some instances, the inventor may not find the financial risk of research to be worth the potential gain of an invention. Compare this to copyright protection, where the song "Happy Birthday" still warrants royalties…
We've got lots of sunlight. But so far, getting from sunlight to energy types used in current commerce and technology is not efficient. Low energy input approaches are required. Some perspective. Say we're looking for a kilowatt of electricity. Compare use of a 10% efficient p/v panel, to the area required to grow food for one living horse. Or for producing 1 hp of power from an engine burning wood, or other biofuels?