In order to thrive on one planet, we need to transition toward solutions (to serious problems) that address all of the Big 10 categories below in an integrated way. Industrial solutions are best for simple (e.g., baking a pie) or complicated (e.g., building a rocket, monocrop agriculture) processes, but for complex systems (e.g., relationships or ecosystem interactions), we need to think in a more integrated way and apply more integrated solutions. There are a few folks trying to do just that, including Willie Smits in Borneo and Tamera in Portugal (see this post for more Life Designers). See this excellent video by Geoff Lawton, a permaculture expert and teacher. Permaculture is an ethical design science that focuses on the integration of these solutions.
(1) Shelter/Homes: The Art of Shelter
- Small is beautiful
- We spend 1/3 of our lives in bed. Mattress options? Consider straw.
- Open Building Institute
“The forest is a giant managed lake of actively recycled water folding over the landscape with infiltration maximized.” – Geoff Lawton, PDC 2.0, 6.11 – How a Tree Interacts with Rain
- Store water high in the landscape, use berms and swales to hydrate the land and feed highly productive perennial food forest systems, prevent erosion and evaporation. Keyline Design.
- Water from sinks, baths, and showers are called grey water. We can use it.
- Ram pumps: Water runs down hill X vertical feet and this passively pumps the water up against gravity 7X higher. See this video by Ben Falk.
- Aquifers are drying up. Desertification is occurring. Soil and trees are critical for reversing these trends. See Allan Savory TED talk, for example.
- Chinampa Agricultural systems, an aquaculture system consisting of floating plant islands. “The most productive ecosystem humanity has ever put together,” – Geoff Lawton (source at 58-58:30)
- Passively oxygenate water using ancient flowform technology patterned after natural systems (e.g., flowform.org)
- Forest (and community) Regeneration (Willie Smits). 80% of precipitation can occur as condensation, chiefly water collecting on trees (Geoff Lawton: Permaculture Voices 1 Keynote)
- Bunds (aka, earth smiles) soak water into the desert and regenerate Africa.
(3) Soil, Foundation of Food (food is central for civilization)
- Life on earth depends on soil. There are 60 years left of farmable soil remaining if status quo practices continue (source at 1:30). Role of soil health in sequestering greenhouse gasses (video). Biochar technology.
- Life on earth depends on soil that has aerobic bacteria, fungi, protazoa, and other micro-organisms to make nutrients available to plants. Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web is central to this. Importance of microbial activity for organic matter (New Hampshire study).
- The Green Power House in Montana, created by Michael Smith, is a closed-loop (!) system that uses landfill-destined wood waste to produce biochar and a revolutionary algae-based fertilizer that can restore 400 years of naturally-produced soil in about 4-5 months (see the documentary, The Need To Grow). Inputs are biomass, sunlight, and carbon dioxide. Outputs include electricity for 100 homes and dozens of green houses (as a by-product), biofuel, food, and heat. The heat and CO2 is used to grow algae which then produces methane that helps power the system.
- Food production should change from mono-culture industrial agricultural systems that produce nutrient-impoverished foods that require huge chemical and fuel inputs while destroying soil to permaculture food forest systems with keyline design that can produce more food and more nutrient-dense food per acre while regenerating and building soil, sequestering atmospheric carbon, preventing erosion, and reversing desertification. Research shows that using these techniques, we can produce the same amount of nutrition on 4-6% of the land area used by industrial agriculture (Geoff Lawton, Q&A: Scientific Research & Permaculture, source).
- Seeds. Diversity is key. Monsanto-style patents and mono-seed futures are good for a few short-term profits (like many monopolies) but the opposite of what we need.
- Holistic Management (Allan Savory’s 2013 TED Talk & companion book): mob grazing animals to reverse and prevent desertification
- Joel Salatin style animal management at Polyface Farm (see his books)
- The importance of fencing: sustainable and inexpensive options include collecting that old brush and forming it into a fence (see this post at permies.com)
- Mushrooms (anything by Paul Stamets at Fungi Perfecti)
- Hunting, Fishing, Tracking, Trapping, Foraging (Wild Edibles)
- Permaculture you-pick orchard by Stefan Sobkowiak (see his great DVD for a packaged system that can be used as a model, a recipe, or an inspiration)
- Compost toilets turn us from net exporters of nutrients off the land to net importers.
- For the health of your body and the planet, mostly plant-based diets are key, a fact emphasized by a 27-year global study on diet published in 2019 (CNN article).
- Food Preservation & Storage
- Weather stations for your land
(4) Fuel: Heat, Cooking, Cooling, & Energy/Power
- Are there good technological solutions that will aid in reducing climate change or its negative effects? Various geo-engineering ideas are being considered but with concerns about unintended consequences with interventions in complex systems. See this Scientific American article or this Pew Center on Global Climate Change publication.
- Nuclear fusion could theoretically supply unlimited low-carbon energy (see, for example this BBC article, 2/2022).
- Rocket Stoves & Rocket Mass Heaters (70-90% less wood than wood stoves). Wood vs. Natural Gas vs. Rocket Stoves
- Solar: Solar Village at Tamera for sterling engines for water pumping and electricity production and new greenhouse technologies. Paper-thin, printable solar panels ($40 per watt in 1977 to $0.74 per watt in 2013) are now being manufactured.
- Biogas is like natural gas but is generated by using kitchen scraps. Here is a backyard unit that comes with a stove for about $500 total (another example). Here’s an open source version with video instructions for construction. Biogas can be used for cooking in a modified camp stove or gas stove (primary modification is to allow burner to work with low pressure gas rather than high pressure gas) or for generating electricity using a trifuel generator (good source for videos on biogas; Solar Cities open source organization). The bacteria that make the digester work need temperatures of at least 20 C/68 F. So, colder climates need: the unit located in a ventilated green house, addition of a submersible 500 W water heater, add one tablet of probiotics everyday, & feed less (personal communication from HomeBioGas). See this post for more details, including information about someone successfully generating biogas in Finland. For a wealth of information on biogas, go here.
- Alcohol: A renewable fuel that sequesters carbon. Can it power our lives?
- Trompe. Compressed air can be generated for free through use of a trompe (Mollison’s explanation; Geoff Lawton animation) and can be used to power a variety of tools, including cars selling for $10,000 due for production in the U.S. in 2019 (video from CNN; See this article for pros and cons, one of which is that you can only achieve speeds of 35 mph). Compressed air can create cold as well.
- See Ram Pumps (under “water” section above)
- Refrigerator. Retrofit your existing refrigerator to take advantage of cold outside air in cold climates (example).
- Vegetable Oil
- Wood gasification. Use wood to produce gas that can heat your home, power a generator, and more. Instructions on building your own are available as an ebook here for $40. A set of instructions that includes the book, a video, and parts list can be found here.
- Turn your plastic waste into diesel fuel (4.5 gallons/month for a typical household’s worth of plastic ) using this off the shelf machine.
- Marshall Medoff has made a potentially significant breakthrough (60 minutes episode from 1/6/19) in the ability to break down cellulose into green fuel and other products that could meet 30% of our fuel needs with 70% less impact on climate change. Also, see the Green Power House above under Soil. However, as of 8/2022, the status of his company, Xyleco, is uncertain.
(5) Social Technologies: One Solution. Two Changes.
“No-one would deny that people are the most difficult factor in any design or assembly. It is not that people lack the will to cooperate; it is more often that they have not adapted those sensible legal and administrative, or social mechanisms which allow them to cooperate.” p. 532, Permaculture Designer’s Manual, Bill Mollison
The only solution needed for one planet thriving is to deal with reality early, often, and skillfully. If we do this, we humans can evolve from being the most destructive force on the planet to the most restorative. We have all the physical technology (e.g., swales, flow forms) we need to do this.
The hard part? The social technologies necessary to cooperate, communicate with, and organize people to implement and maintain known solutions. In short, to deal with reality early, often, and skillfully, we need only two changes, both related to social technology.
First, we need to learn how to use all the data that tells us about reality, especially when those data are associated with unpleasant emotion. Currently, we mostly try to avoid unpleasant emotion internally and in relationships with others. Thus, to the extent reality is unpleasant, this avoidance skews our view of reality. This article discusses this.
Second, we need to use our ability to deal with unpleasant reality while we equalize power of all kinds at all levels of our culture. Due to power asymmetries developed through unfortunate current and historical feedback loops, we ignore important aspects of reality because we listen to the lucky and largely ignore the unlucky. Therefore, our view of reality is skewed, resulting in physical and social ways of life that are unsustainable and destructive.
This article contains an overview of social technologies related to both the first and second change.
- See Ben Falk’s book for hand tools and more (including a bike)
- See Open Source Ecology for their Global Village Construction Set which includes plans to design and build 50 important machines needed for civilization
- Packboard, Dick Proenneke style (instructions for making your own; article on backpacks)
(7) Medicine (see Ben Falk’s book)
(8) Fiber (see this dialog on permies.com)
(9) Fun & A Little Luxury
- Jean Pain hot tub video from Ben Falk, all while making great soil
(10) Resilience & Security
“I believe that only group or community (bioregional) survival is meaningful and possible; individual survival is meaningless, as is survival in fortresses.” (p. 557, Permaculture Designer’s Manual, Bill Mollison)
- Short-term Resilience: Disaster Preparedness
- Food storage
- Water filtering, purification, & storage (making your own Berkey filter); Harvesting rain water.
- Financial Resilience
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