Resilience and Sefl Reliance

Susan Krumdieck's picture

17 May 2015 00:07

Susan's Manifesto on Resilience, Self-sufficiency and Local Solutions

Here is the conclusion first:  The only thing that works for sure is to stop doing what doesn't work.
(You can quote me on that)

Here is the reasoning in advance: Self-sufficiency is much less resilient than inter-dependency, but sufficiency is much more resilient than dependency.

The fundamental essence and strength of humanity is the ability and the desire to learn. The first phase of life is taken up with learning first of language, but then every aspect of the culture, knowledge, technology, manufacturing, skills, values .... of our people. The next stage of life is taken up with experimentation, questioning, pushing boundaries, and taking risks. If something is not right, it is people in this stage that are the catalyst and the energy to change it. The next stage is getting stuck in to being the people, maintaining and carrying on what our people do and build, making more people, and teaching them, taking care of each other... and the final stage of life is trying to pass on the wisdom and values and culture to the first stage.

This lifecycle has high degrees of inter-dependency, specialization, hierarchy, trade, services... in every manifestation of "our people" that I have ever learned about. It is this interdependency that makes the system work, gives it quality, and the capacity to create art and culture and music and to share benefits. The lifecycle reinforces continuity and maintains itself. As far as we know - the basic lifecycle of human civilization is capable of sustainability when the system "works" and the culture, learning, regulations... reinforce the permanence of that system. Sufficiency is the key parameter you could use to describe long-running systems. If people have enough, and their culture reinforces the idea that they have enough, then they work toward the permanence of the system through the culture, education, rituals, regulations. Individuals always work toward success, but success has to mean more than just utility (economics term for always wanting more). Self-sufficiency is not a factor in any previous sustainable period of a civilization as far as I can see. In fact, means for trading and sharing between people at many levels are key to sustainability because weather and crops and animals are always variable, and that variability is local. If you rely only on your own production or on your local community then you are actually doomed except in a few places where ALL nutrients and minerals and materials are available in the locality, and there is such a diversity of foods that the inevitable crop failures and pests occur only in one part of the food system (like the Kogi). So - people specialize and they trade and they pool their resources to support national-scale schools and expertise, infrastructure and laws...

But - the anthropogenic system dynamics are also prone to boom and bust cycles - periods of in-balance then correction. One of the dynamics in the system is fast adoption of beneficial innovations. If something useful is "invented" and developed, people can adopt it very quickly. The boom and bust is usually characterized by a run up of resource use, and a change in the culture which dedicates large amounts of labor and resources to non-productive activities - monuments, palaces, burial pyramids... for a few elites. Our people usually call these boom and bust cycles "high civilizations". True, but temporary.  We talk about the "rise and collapse" of a civilization, but we need to recognise that the underlying culture and productive base usually doesn't undergo the same collapse as the high civilization. The Greek people didn't disappear. They did stop building big monuments. The Anasazi did not disappear, they moved and stopped building great kivas.
The boom part is characterized by the elites becoming dependent on the fuel for the growth in wealth - whether it is plunder (as in the Roman era), or mining or land clearance. Every boom and bust cycle gets nasty.

Collapse is a necessary outcome of unsustainable systems.

The fossil fuel era is a massive boom and bust - on an unprecedented scale. And the risks that all of the "advances" of the oil age pose to all future generations is unprecedented. Firstly, we have to recognise that we are the elites in this high culture of the fossil fuel era. Funny that our monuments were not to Zeus or Chac or a God-King. Our monuments are to our own progress and convenience - millions of miles of it, and hundreds of floors and huge piles. The things that have been done in my lifetime that risk the viability of all people and other species has been done by my people - in particular engineers. We can point to the bankers and politicians and corporations with our accusing finger - but a total collapse of a corrupt or dysfunctional government or corporation or bank does not endanger 50% of the world's species! Engineered systems are doing that, and they are doing it on a global scale. The global scale of the problems - oil, gas and coal production, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastic production... nullifies local solutions.

People who understand that we are starting down the bust side respond to that knowledge in different ways.

- Going off-grid (usually with solar panels - the product of the highest level science, mining, technology and manufacturing of the oil era) and striving to "return" to self-sufficiency for their immediate family is one response. But - that takes one of the people who actually understand the problems out of the solution set. If one mobilized person drops out and sets up their own farm and gets PV panels and learns to bottle apples... does that increase the chances of changing the engineered systems to wind down fossil fuel production, wind back chemical production, curtail new mines and deforestation? 

- Warn other people: share facebook links, go to meetings, write letters to politicians, make videos, sign petitions, take pictures.  That is fine, but what do you want people to do once they are warned? Are you mobilizing to stop coal mining or to increase production of electric cars? Are you willing to ask people in the elite world to give up conveniences and consumerism?

- Study the problems some more: Read blogs and books and watch doccos. Find out more, and as you find out more and become more reinforced in your convictions... you feel better that you are right, but what are you doing about it?

- Do 10 things: use cloth shopping bags, buy high efficiency light bulbs, buy organic produce... There, you are a green consumer and you feel better, you are doing all you can. But - have you really increased the chances of winding down the oil age fast enough?

- Focus on the engineering professions. Universities who teach engineers, professional organizations, companies where they work. Ask them what they are going to do and keep asking till they start figuring it out. If your actions cause engineers to start looking at engineering the sunset of the oil age, limiting growth, banning members from designing equipment that destroys habitats, kills bees... then that could increase the chances of reducing carbon emissions.

OK - I've done all of the above - and focusing my efforts on the last option now. The Wise Response would be to make the case to IPENZ members that they need to have a hard look at whatever they are expert in and develop a project plan to take to management about how they want to change something. This is the kind of local solution that changes the odds. I have reasoned that the most effective way to change engineering is in the way it was changed before, by emergence of a cross-disciplinary imperative to "prevent what is preventable" as in Safety Engineering.

I'm trying to get the idea of Transition Engineering to germinate.  Want to help?

Susan Krumdieck's picture

What if you were elected Mayor?

Susan’s Mayoral Address:

The only thing that is certain about the future is that it will evolve in response to radically different drivers than our collective experiences of the past 70 years. The future will not be like the past, even if we expect it to be. The main trend that we will deal with is the downward trend in fossil fuel extraction and consumption.

The only previous times that oil supply and consumption took downward trends, it didn’t go well. Our past experiences do not give us much hope that we will handle this situation gracefully or that our economy will flourish. The only hope we have is that - this time - we will have planned for the adaptations and changes.

The only thing we know at this time is that we have to assess how dependent our city is on oil, globalized supply chains, economics that exploiting the substandard living of others, unsustainable resource use. Today we start by quantitatively and rationally analysing how and exactly where we are exposed to risks from these unsustainabilities. We also need to understand where and how we have systems that will need to change because of climate disruptions.

I do not know the answers at this time

As Mayor I can tell you that the radical move I propose is to actually take the leadership head out of the sand and look at the real issues. Where there are problems and things that will force us to change, then we will work on designing the adaptations to our infrastructure and economy in a way that has new kinds of benefits and that has enhanced resilience. Where there are not problems or exposure to risks, we will not spend money or time on expensive green solutions!

The only way we can successfully navigate a secure, safe and prosperous route through the changing circumstances of the next few decades is to use absolutely factual science, absolutely honest engineering, absolutely un-jaded ingenuity, and absolutely pragmatic investment strategies.

As my first act, I am setting up a task force to do a fossil energy audit of our council services and our economy. We will then call in experts who can help us work together to plan how we will change the most vulnerable and essential infrastructure and services to be able to function with radically less oil. We will also work with our local businesses, industries, schools and households to develop transition and adaptation plans. We anticipate that this work will generate substantial entrepreneurial enterprises to deliver the adaptation solutions that both reduce risk and enhance opportunity.

To this end, I will authorize $400,000 for refurbishment of the currently vacant ABC building to be used as a research hub, design studio, stakeholder workshop meeting space, and local business incubator with low overhead costs. The refurbishment will be the first transition project for the city, as the building will undergo a passive renaissance and be able to operate for business on less than 15% of the current average office space fossil energy consumption. I am told that the transition refurbishment won’t be fancy and it won’t be pricey, but it will be astounding.

As the second act, I will establish the City Transition Office. I will authorize the community development section of the council to begin to work with the university, our major consulting firms and the local businesses and chamber of commerce on the city transition plan. We must understand how adaptable our city as a whole is, and what needs to be invested and divested in order to transition smoothly to the post-oil economy. As long as our economic base is held hostage to the volatility and uncertainty of reliance on one source of energy, we put our economy, our well-being and our future at the mercy of people with too much power and who do not care about much beyond holding that power. The Transition Office will provide a working framework for people with diverse expertise and experience to produce investible transition action plans. It may be that investing in renewable energy will be one of those actions. However, I think there is a much greater renewable resource that we have not yet begun to exploit and which must be developed to address every one of the oil economy risks we face.

That resource is RESOURCEFULNESS.