Sustainable Civilization

From the Grass Roots Up

Introduction - 2 - 3

I. Your Homestead And Essential Life Support - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

II. Physical Sustainability Factors and Limitations - 2

III. Neighborhoods and the Web of Life - 2

IV. Sustainability Principles or Guidelines - 2

V. Ecovillage, Sustainable Civilization Minimum planning for continued organized society.

VI. Sustainability Programs, Politics, and Technology - 2 - 3

VII. The City As Ecology - 2

VIII. Sustainability Laws.

IX. Global Civilization.

X. Future.


A. Appropriate Technology - 2 - 3

B. Mess Micro Environment Subsistence System

C. Factoids - 2

D. Medicine Bag - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

E. Estate Planning - Providing for Future Generations - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8

F. Bibliography

G. Biography

H. Sustainable Tucson - Tucson, Arizona Ecocity analysis

I. South Tucson – Ecovillage analysis

J. Oak Flower – Neighborhood analysis

K. Our Family Urban Homestead Plan

L. Our Plant Selections

Sustainable Civilization: From the Grass Roots Up

Chapter I - Your Homestead And Essential Life Support - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

What are the minimums you need to have a secure means to put water in your glass, food on your table, and shelter for your family which are not dependent on having someone else provide it for you?

Most of what is found in a modern home, and the way we live, developed in an era of cheap abundant energy and what seemed to be unlimited resources. All of this is ending.


It is often indicated that many families live "paycheck to paycheck", meaning any financial disruption could spell disaster.

"They say that every society is only three meals away from revolution. Deprive a culture of food for three meals, and you'll have an anarchy."

- Rimmer, Red Dwarf

While a quote from a British science fiction - comedy is hardly a definitive argument, if you think about it, it does ring true. After only one full day of missed meals, most people are quite different than if safe and well-fed.

For your household, does a loss of income mean foregone luxuries, or does it mean you don't eat?

Can you obtain from your home, or within waling distance the essential "Life Support" for you and your family? For how long, a day? A week? A month? A year? How dependent are you on what may quickly become a failing infrastructure?

If you must obtain essential life support from non-owned resources, how do you plan to compensate those you barter with? Are those outside sources realistically large enough to provide the same level of subsistence to everyone else who is within walking distance?


On realization of the scope of our overextended situation, often-repeated early reactions are to stock up and hide, or run to the wilderness and live off the land until things return to normal.

There are many sources for emergency preparedness planning, lists for “bug out” bag contents, etc. readily available. While these have application, such short-term planning is not the concept of this treatise. In emergency planning the general is assume the worst will happen and figure out what you’re going to do and what you need to do it. The emergency preparedness focus is preparation for dealing with a situation that presents a relatively brief interruption in the overall normal paradigm.

The “emergency” you must plan for though is making it thru the transition to a different paradigm . In investments, consider if you will, would you sleep better at night being IN a falling marketplace, and wishing you were out, or OUT of a rising market and wishing you were in? Think in terms of the infrastructure of civilization collapsing. Do you sleep better knowing you and your family can continue on, even if the infrastructure fails, or if you establish a safe self-reliant home, would you fear you have missed some of the party?

Stupid decisions by those in government can destroy ANY investment or “benefit” you may have that is denominated in currency or dependent on the continued functioning of the current economy. Absent some physical government thief though, you energy independent home, water collection, garden, etc. kept “below the radar” avoid the need tor earn and spend for such basic life support. If you cannot breathe, get a sip of fresh water, or eat, what does an investment portfolio matter?

Civilization such as we perceive as normal cannot continue. If you run for the hills, intending to be a hunter/gatherer, you will need a greater area than if you have a home garden providing your needs, and you will probably only have such possessions as you can carry.

You must not only be able to survive the crash, but continue afterward. The future needs capable, educated, experienced people who survive the crash healthy, well nourished, with resources intact. Starving people do not build, or rework infrastructure and civilization. Starving people are not in a position to show others a better way.

Absent the energy and infrastructure which has allowed large scale movement (numbers and distance), we can expect families to once again remain in the same area, probably multi generations living on the same homestead. Depending on ages, moving to a different location on marriage, childbearing age, etc. a stable multi-generation family homestead may be expected to house about 8 or 10 residents.

The purpose this “homestead" discussion is at the level of the individual/family to examine what is needed for basic life support needs without the necessity to constantly receive input from what may be a civilization in chaos. Whether you head for the hills, or remain in town, you “life support” needs are essentially the same.

For now there is much that can be done at relatively low cost to not only prepare for an economic crash, but to leapfrog past it to a post oil paradigm. Once a crisis begins, it may be too late.

That said, there is also the warning about what you own, or intend to buy or install: Can you repair or replace it on your own? I offer myself as an example, although this book is written on a computer, if the computer malfunctions, I must seek qualified assistance, because I admit I do not understand the electronics or the programming.

There is a scientific minimum for the growing area for your food, depending on your climate and crops. An earth-sheltered home (thermal battery/mass heat storage & moderation of temperature extremes) can protect your family from the extremes of climate without external utility connections. A "green roof" avoids “wasting” the sunlight over your living space.

Add water collection / storage / recycling, a bio intensive garden, and appropriate technology, and you've set up an appropriate micro-environment, which should be able to continue indefinitely with modest maintenance, allowing investment of future effort to go toward improvements.

Whether you intend to head for the hills, or re-engineer a home in the city, what do you need to consider in your planning?


Living away from likely sources or flows of contamination would seem to be the simplest option. In reality you CANNOT live away from the pollution.

"We're all breathing each other's air," says Daniel J. Jacob, a Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry and one of the chief researchers in a recent multinational study of transcontinental air pollution. He traced a plume of dirty air from Asia to a point over New England, where samples revealed that chemicals in it had come from China.

If you want to take steps to eliminate the pollution from China, then stop buying products from there... if you can.

Rationally an essential step is that YOU and your neighbors not pollute. In air pollution there are of course multiple factors, such as substance, volume, and quantity. To elaborate, envision the Los Angeles valley on a clear calm Saturday afternoon. If one family decides to have a backyard charcoal cookout the neighborhood gets some smoke, but the effect on the city is insignificant. If every family does a cookout at the same time the air could quickly become foul.

It matters greatly what polluting substance is being released, how much each source is releasing, and how many sources there are. In general, the greater the standing population, the worse you can expect any pollution problem.

There's not much you as an individual can do about “open-air” contamination, other than NOT produce it yourself. (Remember that “outside” is a relative term; the Earth itself is for all practical purposes a CLOSED container.) You need to be in a sealed container...suit, home, building, etc., with an appropriate combination of air volume, renewal (O2 / CO2), and purification capabilities.

Indoor air quality in a relatively well sealed home can however be affected significantly, by relatively simple actions.

First and foremost, avoid contamination in the first place. Many of the adhesives and artificial materials used in present contractor construction of homes outgas dangerous substances, often continuously, and especially when they burn.

In that items such as particle board, plywood, many household chemicals, etc. release hazardous gases, avoid these inside your home.

Radon seepage from the ground may be a significant indoor threat readily abated during construction by proper sealing and venting.


Appropriate selection of indoor plants can significantly improve air quality. (See Dr. Bill Wolverton's "How to Grow Fresh Air") Examples include Boston Fern, Janet Craig (fern), Rhododendron, as well as Dracaena marginata, English Ivy, Warneckel, Peace lily, Chrysanthemum, Gerber daisy, dwarf date palm, bamboo palm, Warneckel, areca palm, Chrysalidocarpus, Lutescens, and Phoenix roebelenii.

Short of specific plant selection, the microbes in soil perform a great deal of the "work" transforming waste materials into productive life. The Biosphere II project used a “soil reactor” to clean the inside air, as does the author of the book "Soliva". The basic concept is simply forcing air to the interior thru several feet of healthy soil.

With sufficient plants growing in a closed greenhouse, a breathable interior atmosphere can be maintained with essentially no active air exchange with the outside. Note, if the plants are only producing oxygen during photosynthesis, there must be a large enough volume of air and plants for 24+ hours of clean air to be produced during the shortest available sunlight period, and some allowance for overcast days.


Ultraviolet light readily penetrates air, and even clouds. It, and ozone (ionized oxygen) are part of God's open-air germ control system. There may be lenses and surfaces which allow just ultraviolet light to be concentrated, and used for specific sterilization purposes. (TO BE DEVELOPED) If you have technology and power, readily available are u/v systems for desktop, portable, or installation in building vent systems, to keep levels of microorganisms down.


We as a living animal inhale, use some of the oxygen from air, and exhale increased CO2 levels. Starting from less than 1% in "fresh" air, the upper "safe" CO2 level is around 3%. When the concentration exceeds 3%, even though there is still oxygen in the air, humans are adversely affected. An average person produces around .67 cubic ft. (5 gallon volume) per hour of CO2. Burning of course produces MUCH MORE CO2.

In a sealed container, starting with good outside air, a person can survive for about an hour for every 22.5 cubic feet of air (about 1 cubic yard, around 168 gallon). A 1200 sq.ft home, with 7 foot ceilings, should hold about 8400 cubic feet of air, or enough for a family of four for 3+ days.

Any steadily growing plant absorbs CO2. NASA experiments show that around one cubic meter of wheat, growing constantly under artificial light, can balance the CO2 for a single person. Other experiments show that approximately 8 gallons of well aerated algae does the same job.

Some plants such as cacti, aloe vera, etc. produce oxygen in the dark, vs the light. Note though, regardless of the oxygen generating plant, once parts of the plant starts to die, you MUST eliminate the dead portions from your sealed area, otherwise the decay organisms consuming the dead plant matter will re-release the CO2.


An airtight home must have a flexible lung (see Biosphere II) to allow internal and external air pressure to remain equal, without actual exchange of air. It can be as simple as a large trash bag on one end of a pipe that penetrates a wall. Typical atmospheric pressure changes do to weather may amount to 2% to 5% of the volume of the sealed container. If you have a 1200 ft. sq. home (above), the "lung" should be between 168 and 420 cubic feet. (Don't panic, that's only a box 8 foot on each side max) The device must account not only for the pressure changes due to weather, but from heating and cooling of the air inside the sealed area.

Unless you are absolutely certain of the sealing of your structure, you'll want a means of maintaining a slightly higher pressure in the home than outside. You can consider a small fan, or even an aquarium pump, to force some small flow of air thru a filter. Consider two closed containers of water connected by a hose, where water running from the higher to lower container causes suction on a hose leading out of the top of the top container, to the filter.

If your area is subject to continued air quality problems, you may want a larger area then mere living space, such as including your shop, and greenhouse area.


In some areas water is simply not a concern. Where it is, your home should contain a cistern capable of holding at a minimum the survival (drinking, cooking, and minimal cleaning) water for your family for a year. Using the low typical rainfall for your area, calculate the collection area needed to fill your cistern from rainfall. All rainwater not directly collected for controlled storage should be routed to a collection area for recharging the aquifer. If paving for walkways, patio's, etc. is not intended to be used to route rainwater for collection, where practical the surfaces should be porous to allow the water to soak into the ground.

Rain (in many places) may be the safest "natural" water available, and the least subject to human interference. (Flowing water, wells, pipelines, etc., are all of course subject to "blockages", or contamination, somewhere "upstream".) Even if living in a relatively isolated area, all of the water sources could be contaminated. In the case for example of groundwater, it may be decades after a "spill", that took place quite in the distance, before the effluent starts to contaminate the water.

Similarly, for upstream surface flowing water, abandoned sites may start to leak in the future.

Access to water, in many places, will be a significant restriction as to how many people can sustainably occupy a given area. Estimating 7 gallons per cubic foot, every inch of rainfall on a square foot is about 1/2 gallon that could be collected.

The percent of any given rainfall that actually reaches your cistern will vary depending on conditions present. A light sprinkle might soak into a built up tar roof, tile, etc. Even a metal roof will have some water adhere to it. If your roof is hot, you will lose water to evaporation. For ballpark loss estimates, use 5% for metal, 10% for built up tar, and 20% for gravel roof surfaces.

Assuming annual rainfall of 12 inches, and assuming personal direct one-time thru water use of around 20 gallons per day, a collection area of about 1042 sq. ft. (say a square 33 ft. per side) could provide for one person. Add in one-time thru water use in a biointensive yet open-air garden, and you need to plan on a collection area of around 6500 sq.ft. (an area 80 ft. on a side) to provide around 45,000 gallons per year, which should meet the needs of an individual with comparably liberal water use. While collectors can be artificial surfaces, they can also be part of the landscape (i.e. rock hillsides). A family of four would need a collection area 160 ft. on a side. A multigeneration homestead of 8 to 10 people would need a collection area of 52,000 to 65,000 sq.ft, or an area from 228 to 254 feet on a side.

I use the term "one-time thru" to prompt thinking of multiple / reuse of water. Consider for an "extreme" example the Biosphere II facility, where the same water has essentially been in enclosed re-use for several years. The Earth is, after all, just a big yet closed system.

See the Appropriate Technology Appendix for expanded discussion on obtaining and managing water, including atmospheric condensers, and application of other simple concepts useful to sustain a higher standard of living in the absence of our present high energy globally connected infrastructure.


20 gallon/day human cooking/consumption, bathing (5 min low flow shower) (x365= 7300) +105 gallon/day garden (adjusted for cleaning/bathing graywater use) 125 x365 45,625 Average annual water per person Basis of personal 20 gallon water estimate. Five minute low flow shower (2.5 gpm=12.5 gallon), up to several gallons per day drinking/cooking, and several gallons in misc. washing.

Basis of garden water estimate. Every linear foot of "soaker hose" waters plants in the two square feet along its sides.

To water a 1,000 ft. sq. area of crops requires 500 linear feet of soaker hose. Soaker hose releases water at 1 gallon/minute/100 foot. 500 foot of soaker hose would release 5 gallons per minute.

The area shown above had been cement-hard compacted desert soil when we arrived. With appropriate mulching, even in the hot summers of Yuma, Arizona, (plants exposed to direct sunlight) our garden survived with two 12 minute soaks per day. A subsistence garden should get by with 120 gallons per day (15 or so of which could be washing "gray water").

More precise watering (drip irrigation) of individual plants, or a buried reservoir with an airspace between the water and the soil above (semi hydroponic - see the "Earthbox", or controlled microenvironments) may lead to further reductions in crop water use.


Most plants can only make use of 1/4 to 1/2 of the "candlepower" that impacts their leaves in the summer, much above this level actually slows growth and results in heat, which the plant must shed by evaporating "extra" water. In one test pad, where plants were put under 60% shade cloth near the end of the summer, THOSE plants suddenly grew much larger than plants in direct sun. This might lead to a lowered estimate of the water consumption, or greater production. (see Israeli experiments as touched on in the MESS appendix)


Plan on the need to clean your water supply.

Probably the oldest water treatment method is filtering through 3 to 5 feet of sand, which will remove many microorganisms, most debris, and most radioactive fallout. (Consider what nature does in the soil, as water seeps downward toward your well.) As this filter ages, a gelatinous layer forms near the top. While this contains numerous good bacteria, the top of your filter needs to be cleaned off and replaced regularly.

Using standard plumbing parts, glass, etc., it should be possible to assemble a solar still that would provide pure, distilled water.

As touched on above in air sterilization, ultraviolet can be used to kill microorganisms in water.


Ancient wisdom, supported by microbiological studies, is that silver ions kill microorganisms. Simply storing silver in water helps. Running a small DC current (i.e. from a cheap solar battery charger) through two silver electrodes submerged in the water distributes the ions and is said to make the water a disinfectant.


The size of the cistern you should have is dependent on the patterns of your water use, and rainfall collection. Too small, and your tank will overflow during a "good" rainfall. Too big, and you've wasted space and money. For example, if you rainfall and water needs are essentially the same month to moth, the largest tank you probably need is enough to hold 1/12 of the annual rainfall. If your rain all comes in one monsoon month, you need to be able to store the entire years supply.

If you cannot obtain or construct a true watertight tank, note that sand will store water about 50% of its bulk. In sand, it is possible to store water without it evaporating. You can for example dig a hole, line it with plastic, and fill it up with sand. The water in between the sand grains is is less likely to evaporate than in an open air pond.


(Creating and collecting "dew") Have you ever taken a predawn walk thru a grassy field, and gotten your feet soaked, even though it did not rain during the night? The grass radiates heat to a clear sky, cooling, while still surrounded by moisture, or with moisture containing air blowing over it, which condenses on the cooler grass.

There are what appear to be the remains of large ancient condensers, such as a pile of rocks, on insulation, with catch basins and pipes leading out at the base. (See Appropriate Technology appendix.) Even the cooling system referred to as "earth tubes" contemplates moisture removed from the cooled air.


If the grocery store shelves are empty, you can’t get there, or you can’t afford to make a purchase, what’s in your garden? Do you think that you can afford NOT to have one?

Industrial farming, overgrazing, etc. has stripped the soil of many essential nutrients and killed off the soil life which in “healthy” soil perform a great deal of the "work" transforming waste materials, and even inert rock dust, into a form which can be used by your crops.

Live as though there is no tomorrow, but farm as though you will live forever.

North African Bedouin proverb

The obvious goal in gardening is to create the ideal condition for each plant, of light, heat, moisture, air (roots and leaves), and nutrients. That which is taken from the soil , must be returned. Can we undo our damage, yet "tilt" micro ecosystems toward producing crops that meet our needs? (Not necessarily our WANTS.)

A detailed discussion of optimal growing conditions and crop planning is in the appendix "Micro Environment Sustainability System" (MESS).


One of the most valuable projects you might undertake could be collection and preservation of seeds. Hybrid crops will not do well without the chemical fertilizers and pesticide protection, and they generally WILL NOT breed true, that is you cannot keep seeds from your hybrid crops and expect the plants next season to be the same. (I read it takes six generations of back breeding for a new trait to stabilize.

Find the sources for open pollinated crops that fit your needs, and get the seeds now. If you're not growing now (why not) rotate your storage seeds. Keep the seeds dry, cool, and of course secure from pests.


The "success" in sustainable farming reported for semitropical Cuba is about 1/4 to 1/3 of an acre per person. My personal experience is that "traditional" backyard gardening would take the same, around 10,000 sq.ft. (1/4 acre) per person. China sustains what we in the U. S. would consider a starvation level diet on .2 acre (about 8,700 ft. sq.). Most of the world does not have even this area of productive cropland. You need to do better.


An excellent intensive gardening resource is John Jeavons, and Ecology Action. Their presentation of the "biointensive" bed system projecting feeding a person out of 1,000 sq.ft., is among the best commercially available. (The Biosphere II project officially had about 1300 ft.sq. of garden per each of the 8 scientists, but they also had the entire 3+ acre dome.)

For the full benefit, the entire Ecology Action "system" must be used. While the biointensive beds create among the most efficient natural growth mediums, the necessary time (years for the miniature ecology to mature) and energy investment (i.e. for the double digging) means you should initiate work on this valuable long-term asset immediately.

Note, in a 2002 personal discussion with a member of Running on Empty (, Mr. Jeavons commented that a larger area may be needed, perhaps up to 4,000 sq.ft. if conditions are not carefully monitored and controlled. (See MESS appendix)

You need to investigate crops that are appropriate for your specific area, needs, and tastes, with a general goal is to grow the largest amount of calories and nutrition in the smallest area / smallest use of resources.

Chapter I - Your Homestead And Essential Life Support - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

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