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Resilience and Sefl Reliance
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?