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


This is a combination of a fish tank/pond and a garden. The tank water is circulated through the garden, which fertilizes the garden, and cleans the water for collection and pumping back to the fish. (See reports from the "New Alchemy Institute" from back in the 1970's.)

Growing tilapia in a tank of about 640 cubic feet (4166 gallon), which weighs around 33.332 pounds (don't put it on the roof with a LOT of reinforcement) should be capable of providing a protein aspect for a homestead of 10 people. (See further details in the neighborhood chapter, and the MESS appendix.)


With ideal growing conditions, the mass of live algae in a tank can double every 24 hours. I’ve read accounts of spirulina or tredici being grown in clear tubes, with relatively fast flowing water, alternating in sun exposure and a cooling bath. (Yes, I've found I can grow spirulina in the alkaline water I get by flushing "fresh" water thru our local sand... It is supposedly healthy, but I've yet to acquire the taste...) That said, the rapid growth of algae provides the opportunity for production of animal feed/supplement or "biological waste" for composting to enrich the soil.


NASA funded research (i.e. aeroponics roots suspended in a mist of nutrients), has implications of feeding a person from 22.5 sq. Meters (about 16' on a side or 256 ft. sq.) Their research though has focused on special crops tailored for a narrow range of closely controlled living conditions.

Their high-tech approach makes reliance in a crisis situation questionable, but provides insight into what is possible. If adapted to readily repairable & reproducible appropriate technology and used with hardier crops it would be a very valuable art. (Consider if you replaced the roof area of a "typical" home with such a garden, which could feed a family of four living below.)


The commercial product "Earthbox" (registered tradename) claims significant improvement over random soil or mere containers, perhaps offering production between biointensive, and the NASA approach.

Their patented container appears to be nearly identical to non circulating methods shown in various technical and non-technical hydroponics and aeroponics books, which is to provide the plant roots with unlimited access to water, nutrients, and air, without drowning or suffocating them.

The earlier textbooks show 1" to 3" of soil held on a grid, over a 1/2" to 3" air space, over water maintained in steady depth of 1" to 3".

The water depth must be carefully maintained. While plant roots CAN grow into water, if left exposed to the air, these roots not only dry out, but in 1 to 3 days, change, irreversibly, from water absorbing to air breathing roots. After the change, if re submerged, the root drowns, and kills the plant.

There are various approaches which appear to offer benefits similar to still water hydroponics on a larger scale. Consider a waterproof layer, covered with a wicking material, then 3" to 6" of compost (not soil, for lighter weight, and better nutrition). A method such as an upside down jar of water is used to keep the wick wet. These beds could be put on a flat roof, or layer of concrete.


If you don’t (yet) have a garden, perhaps you are tempted to go grazing. Be certain of what you're doing, as a small bite of certain plants is enough to kill an adult. Also though, consider this as potential protection for your food crop. If it doesn't look like a garden, and doesn't look like normal vegetables, perhaps anyone encountering it, will leave it alone. Hunter/forager societies are estimated to have required a square mile to support each individual.


There is a safer way of grazing, with many edible leaves, (grasses, vines, bushes, and trees) and more that can be used to produce an edible product when the excess fiber is removed. You can even use dried leaves, making this a valuable survival art.

Dried Leaves. When leaves are brittle, remove coarse stems and grind to a fine powder. Dried leaves can be easily ground in a variety of ways. Make sure leaves are very dry or they will clog the grinders. About 20% of the flour in most recipes can be replaced with leaf powder.

Experiments with how much leaf powder you can add to recipes without an unacceptable effect on flavor or texture. About one tablespoon or more of leaf powder can be taken directly daily. Keep the leaf powder in a well sealed container, away from light and in a cool place.

Fresh Grass / Leaves. Making Leaf Concentrate at Home . Wash and cut leaves into pieces 2 - 3" long, use only fresh green leaves known to be edible, such as alfalfa, Swiss chard, lambsquarters, blackeye peas, wheat, mustard, kale, or collards. Grind the leaves to a pulp to rupture the cell walls of the leaves liberating protein and other nutrients.

Press as much juice as possible from the pulped leaves, and pour the pulped leaves into a sheer nylon or polyester cloth of the type used for curtains. Squeeze out as much juice as possible. You should not be able to squeeze any juice out of a handful of this pulp when you are done.

Heat the juice rapidly to the boiling point, stir very gently to prevent burning and remove from heat as soon as the leaf juice boils. A green curd should float to the top. Separate the curd that forms in the heated juice in a closely woven cloth. When this wet curd has cooled, squeeze the "whey" out of the curd. It should be dry enough to crumble.

You may want to make a press to apply more pressure than you can with just your hands. This can be used for pressing the juice from the pulped leaves as well.

What remains in the cloth is leaf concentrate. 10 lbs. of leaves should give you roughly 1/2 lb. leaf concentrate; 4 1/2 lbs. of fiber for mulch, compost, rabbit or goat feed; and 5 lbs. of "whey" for watering plants. If not used right away, leaf concentrate can be dried at about 120 F, ground to a fine powder, and stored for later use in airtight plastic bags away from any light.


The present, relative abundance of food, and secure supplies, is a hollow shell, which will collapse when oil ceases to support it. When you are once again dependent on your own garden, or local farms, crop failure can literally mean starvation if you can not daily pick the 2,000 calories needed.

A example from the web of a homegrown food storage to provide around 730,000 calories per person is:

325 lb. Grain (i.e. whole wheat, pasta, oats, rice, barley, several years) 80 lb. Legumes (various beans, peas, lentils, seeds, etc., 5 to 10 years) 50 lb. Milk/dairy/eggs (dried, 5 years) 20 lb. Meats (dried, 18 months) 10 to 30 lb. Fruit/vegetables (dried, 2 to 3 years) 60 lb. Sweeteners (sugar, honey, syrups, etc., indefinite) 40 lb. Fats/oils (butter, nut butters, natural cooking oils, etc. Note: Hydrogenated processed oils are Not nutritive, 2 to 3 years) 20 lb. Sprout seeds (alfalfa, all whole grains, beans, lentils, cabbage, radish, broccoli, etc., 2 to 3 years) 1 lb. Leavenings (yeast, culture samples can be kept reproducing indefinitely) 5 lb. Salt (despite its OVERUSE in present society, it becomes critical in the absence of processed foods, indefinite)

Residents of "First World" nations have become accustomed to minimal physical work, and high calorie intake. While both of these are ending, it may not necessarily be all bad-news. Studies have shown that low calorie diets, IF the food is otherwise high in vitamin/nutrient content, can result in a longer and healthier lifespan.

If you have the money, high tech (high cost) freeze dried foods are available, with shelf lives of 20 years or so. Good backup for a crash induced emergency, and there are distinct short term advantages for concealment by avoiding the need to garden, but when they are gone, they are gone.If you are considering the MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) option, they come in boxes of 12 meals, (H,W,D) 9 1/4" x 11 x 16 1/2. For a year for each person you're looking at 92 boxes, a stack 16" deep, 5 foot high, 16 foot wide. If you put your stack against an outer wall, it will provide additional insulation, which, if you will permit an opinion from someone who has eaten MRE's, (and not cared for them) insulation may be their best use. To store enough for a multi generation family home, you need a room 14' x 16'.

If you prefer working up a food storage program around food your family normally eats, look up in nutrition (diet) guides the calories per pound, and volume per pound for your selected food items, and run you own calculations on how much you need to store. Some examples of calories of "common" food items are in the "FACTOID" appendix.

Most foods can be safely and adequately stored using sun powered drying. If you have air tight containers (even clay) an additional layer of protection is afforded by vacuum packaging.

"Old time" food storage was in root cellars, or covered pits, in which food remained fresh for months, if not years. When without all else, dig a hole, line it with dry grass, twigs, leaves, etc., and stack you food inside such that air can circulate around it. Then seal the top.

When your power fails, you may have in the form of your old fridge or freezer a pre-made container to bury, cover with insulation material, and instant "root cellar".

If you are doing fermentation, such as for alcohol, consider bubbling the CO2 into the food storage container. LOW TECHNOLOGY EVAPORATIVE REFRIGERATION

Set up a large container, such as a clay pot, or other porous material, with a small water tight container inside, and the space between filled with sand or perlite, kept moist. The evaporative cooling keeps the inner container well below the ambient temperature.


I include this under "food storage" because I consider it just as temporary and unsustainable of a measure as storing from the abundance of chemically grown food.

Readily available and cheap (at the moment) are the typical plastic "kitchen" garbage bags, I think they're something like 14 gallon bags. I suggest 2,000 bags and enough fertilizer for 2,000 plants for one season. "Miracle Grow" (tradename) and other chemical fertilizers are also cheap for the moment.

Put bluntly, dig a hole, line it with the trash bag, backfill with local soil, bio waste, etc., and fertilize per instructions on the container. You're NOT creating a sustainable food bed, but you will grow an emergency crop. (Add your daily humanure if you're inclined and have determined the safety.)


This natural process decreases the carbohydrate content, and greatly increases the vitamin and protein content, as well as increasing the volume and mass of many food seed, i.e. the bag of dried beans in your storage program. (Tomato or potato sprouts are poisonous, as all seeds treated with fungicides, etc.)


The human diet needs 53 to 58 grams of protein per day (.47 gram per kilogram, or .213 gram per lb., of body weight) consisting of 22 essential amino acids. 8 of these cannot be manufactured by the human body, and must be present in the right proportions.

A diet incomplete in protein leads to various physical infirmities (think of the photos of third world children, skin and bone, but with gas bloated abdomens). Regardless of a surplus of any given amino, the ability of the body to utilize the proteins is limited by the absence of any of the 8 that is not present in sufficient quantity. The excess are utilized by the body as mere carbohydrates.

Eggs are essentially complete. Most meats are complete, and animals such as chickens, cows, goats, etc. can feed on forage, turning unused/compost material into essential protein. (Ruminants, such as cows, don't need the protein and grains in their diets that they are fed in feedlots. They do however need nitrogen materials, which they convert to protein.)

PROTEIN COMPLEMENTATION Appropriate combinations of plant materials can result in a meal that has a complete protein matrix.

Product Serving Protein Calorie Carbohydrates Mung 1 cup dry 49 gram 718 130 Soybean 1 cup dry 68 gram 774 56 Peanut raw 1 cup dry 38 gram 828 24 Sunflower 1 cup dry 33 gram 821 27

Soybean and Mung, and some peanuts approximate meat in completeness. (Please note the other nutritional factors for these)

Sunflower seeds contain greater growth promotion nutrition than does meat.

Rice is missing Isoleucine & Lysine, but if served in combination with cheese, or most beans, becomes a complete protein.


Earth sheltering provides a more stable climate for human habitation and for your garden. You may even go as far as an underground greenhouse, which provides you greatly enhanced ability to control the growing conditions.

Relatively recent developments in natural lighting provide an opportunity to bring natural light into spaces not practical before. Examine "Solartubes" (mentioned later also), which can route sunlight thru a relatively small opening. Some versions have flexible tubing for the light, lending it to bends / curves for routing thru even thick shielding materials. It should be possible, for example, to route the tubes from the roof of a single story home, down to the basement.

Short of a high-tech greenhouse buried in the basement, a simple pit, covered with an appropriate clear or translucent material, can serve to provide area for growing food well into freezing weather.


The Forestiere Underground Gardens in north Fresno, CA is a complex of underground rooms and garden courts that was the home of Baldasare Forestiere. The sections are inter connected by underground passageways and promenades. These passageways contain planters and a wide variety of plants.

Working alone he carved out columns, arches and domes from the local hardpan sedimentary stone. Some ceilings have skylights, normally open but easily covered with glass.

He had a wide variety of trees, some growing as deep as 22 feet below ground level. There is a fish pond in the garden court off the kitchen and bedrooms.

His work of nearly forty years, without blueprints or plans, stands as a monument to what one determined person can achieve.


The Zhaoxian bridge in China spans a 115 foot arch over a river. This bridge is built of formed and interlinked stone and has been standing and in essentially constant use since the year 610.

21,000 BC - boomerang use case painting in Poland 18,000 BC - flint arrowheads, Spain 15,000 BC - drawing of bridled horse

 8,000 BC - domesticated peas/lentils
 7,000 BC - domesticated sheep/goats
 4,000 BC - irrigation canals, S. Russia
 2,500 BC - 300' wide x 37' high dam
 2,000 BC - glass
     700 BC - banking with mortgages
     600 BC - silver plated copper coin
    100 AD - hand powered double acting fire pump


The Dervaes family has, instead of waiting for politicians, or big-business to present a solution, have made the decision, and put forth the effort to make their urban home in Pasadena, California a micro homestead. (Who says you have to head for the hills). They present their story as the “Path to Freedom”, with ongoing updates at their website .


Glass, plastic, mirrors, etc. can be selective surfaces, passing only the frequency and intensity of light needed for optimum growth. There are some indications that small cells of "dead air", even without an air tight membrane, can serve as a greenhouse to increase temperatures for plant growth. Think of shiny shade cloth.


Perennial crops offer no-till (do you like digging?) growth of food. Do your research now as to "native" or other crops appropriate for your climate for edible landscaping, and for your garden, containers, greenhouse, or more, depending on your resources.

Despite farming's focus on a limited number of crops, there are thousands of edible plants. See as a good resource for plant listings. See also The Land Institute,, which is doing significant work on perennial food crops, eliminating tilling.


A naked exposed human is a physically ill-equipped animal. We need the technological achievements our minds have provided.


Your personal portable shelter from the environment. Forget fashion, which is an affectation of the consumer economy.

What raw material is readily available in your area, or can you readily grow?

What is the most durable material available (that you're willing to use)? I keep reading that hemp makes the most durable cloth available, but I have no experience with it. The hemp products I've seen in stores did not appear to have any special properties, and new hemp hats were coming apart on the shelves.

What is practical and effective for your local climate?

What can be made and maintained with appropriate technology?


The temperature of the earth at a depth of approximately 20 feet is essentially stable at the annual average surface temperature. A home at that depth would probably not need any mechanical HVAC, as it only needs to remove the body heat of the human occupants and that generated by the activities, but it would not have much of a view. It can though be well lighted.

The technical aspects of correct earth sheltering are explained well by John Hait in his book "Passive Annual Heat Storage". The techniques will improve the feel of even a traditional home, but works best in homes specifically built to take maximum advantage of the buffering.

The greatest source of energy on earth is the sun, which appears to travel a fixed pattern in the sky that is readily estimated. To maximize the benefits of shade, or of solar collection, the suns pattern of movement must be taken into account.

If your roof is exposed, consider from R 70 to R 100 in your ceiling.

To artificially "lower" your home, insulate the ground for 20 feet out around your home with three layers, separated by heavy plastic sheets for waterproofing, of "Dow Blue Styrofoam", white styrofoam board, or other appropriate insulation, then carefully cover the insulation with dirt, sand, gravel, etc to protect it from weathering.

Low tech/natural insulation layers, such as grass, leaves, etc., with some waterproofing means or even layered with a high clay soil will help, but eventually need to be replaced. Berming earth up the sides of the home provides additional protection from the large temperature changes of open air. Even the roof can if you chose have a layer of earth on top of the insulation. The soil need only be thick enough for the plants grown there.

An obvious heat storage medium is water, which pound for pound will hold more than dirt or concrete. Jars, tanks, in or above ground pools, etc. Whether you simply carry the jars in/out each day/night, or have moveable covers on your pool, or a pipe and pump system, it's just a matter of setting up a means where the water is heated by the sun, or exposed to the night sky for cooling by radiation.


A low energy method (after they are buried) to tap the stable ground temperature for a surface home are buried pipes. The typical approach is horizontal trenching, with pipes of a size to allow reasonable air flow.

Consider though a pipe leading straight down into the ground (as in a shallow, perhaps driven well) 20 to 30 feet. This avoids the need to disturb large surface areas, and the dig & backfill of horizontal trenches. Any appropriate method of routing water down and back up in a sealed system (i.e. a small pipe inside a larger pipe) can allow a transfer of temperature to/from the depth.

Each pipe can be expected to heat/cool the ground in a 3 to 4 foot diameter circle, therefore space the "wells" 3 feet apart. When the surface is significantly cooler than the bottom, a natural thermosyphon should occur. With appropriate manifolds and valves, warmed or chilled water can be pumped from/to collectors/radiators or circulated in a hydronic system of pipe embedded in a concrete floor/wall.


Equator-facing windows, vertical or angled to be 90 degrees to the noon sun in the winter, or skylights can provide significant passive solar heating in the winter while minimizing glass exposed to summer sun. (In the summer, the sun rises and sets NORTH of the East/West glass alignment, and the glass can be shaded on the outside.) Summer solar gain can further be avoided by almost any approach that provides a well-ventilated shade area about a foot from the main structure.


Conventional skylights admit too much heat in the summer, and require a large opening in the structure of your home, that siphons your winter heat. More diffused and useful light is admitted, with less heat, by "lighttubes", essentially mirrored pipe with a lens cover on each end. Venting can be separately done with insulated pipe with removable caps.

The combined opening in the structure is much smaller, the risk of weather damage is less, and maintenance is less. A firm in Europe is producing panels to channel light in via fiber optic cables, allowing greatly enhanced flexibility in placement of the "collector" and the inside light emitter. Solar tubes, fiber optics, etc. also offer a means for nighttime interior lighting of separate/private rooms by one central light source.

The are other options which have potential for development not only as lighting, but heating, cooling, and power, and crops in a controlled environment. An appropriately designed light scoop, facing the equator, should admit light in the winter, yet block the summer heat.


An interior fireplace must have an external air source. Since the fireplace is probably only used when it is cool outside, arrange the air source such that it draws from the pantry, which would then be vented to the outside, cooling the pantry. Consider a fireplace in a "sunken" family room. Water filled pipes around the fireplace, and in the higher floor of the rest of the house could provide auxiliary heat by thermosyphon.

Note, a fireplace assumes you've got a sustainable source of something to burn. How large of a forest do you own? Is a fireplace sustainably practical? Wood has on an average around 5,000 BTU per pound.

Note, every square yard perpendicular to the sun receives every hour 3,412 BTU. Therefore one pound of wood equates to a pane of glass 44 inches on a side exposed to the sun for one hour. Assume an average wood with a specific density of .5, or a weight of about 32 pounds per cubic foot.

A cord of wood is 128 cubic feet (4' x 4' x 8'). The above averages therefore puts the weight of a cord at around 4,096 pounds, containing 20,480,000 BTU.

A cord of wood is potentially a sustainable harvest from 1/2 to 1 acre, grown over a period of a year.

At the best yield of 2 cord per acre per year, it's 40,960,000 BTU per acre per year.

If we assume an average of 6 hours per day, 360 days per year, the BTU stored by the best cord wood yield from an acre of trees represents the daily sunlight heat potential of around 5 1/2 square yards, or a square area of glass just over 7 foot on a side.

Assume use of flat panel collectors to raise water temperature from 70 degrees F to 100 degrees F. Each BTU represents a one degree temperature increase in one pound (1 pint) of water. The above collection area receives 112,596 BTU during the day, and would need an insulated tank of at least 470 gallons. This is a volume of say 060 cubic feet - Think of a cube 4 foot on a side. Direct solar collection, if you have a system to use and store it, is arguably over 800 times as "efficient" a method of collecting and storing solar heat as growing firewood.

Grow wood for building material. Grow wood as a fuel to use in creating a long-term useful item, such as glass. If essential, grow wood as an emergency fuel, but PLEASE, don't plan on wood heat as your primary home heat source.


Along a similar line of thought to putting the fireplace in a pit, consider wells or pits facing the south winter sun. Glass covered, reflector lined, essentially Winston cones. At the bottom, a solar collector, a coil of pipe, or a large tank. We now have, during the day, on the bottom, an intensely hot tank of water. Pipes run "up" to the floor of the house, in a thermo siphon, capable of keeping the floor warm, without a powered pump. A simple valve would be the only required moving mechanical part, to shut the system down when desired.


Roof / external mounted tube collectors, flat or with reflector concentrators, can heat water during the day, or cool water during the night. Cooling can be enhanced by misting or water evaporation. Used for cooling, the circulating water might "thermo siphon". The same principle that helps make the elsewhere mentioned atmospheric condensers work, cooling by sky radiation, also provides a means of cooling a large mass, to store “coolness” for warm weather daytime use.

Even during the day, when the sky is clear, the right combination of shading from direct sun, insulation from side heat sources, and in particular orientation of the radiator to the “coolest” area of the sky, can lower temperatures of such radiator to below the ambient air temperature. Experiments report the ability to radiate 100 to 200 BTU per hour per square foot. The radiation frequency is 8 to 13 um, so you're looking for a glazing material transparent in that range. (Try polyethylene)

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

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