Posted by steve on January 3, 2011
This blog presents my work envisioning sustainable living arrangements for cities and rural areas. I also work with alternative monetary systems that support sustainable development.
As we are reaching the end of the industrial age, I believe we need to envision a sustainable way forward. Creating a positive vision of the future will help us through the coming challenges. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by steve on May 19, 2013
I spent a pleasant afternoon in the Swedish Town of Uppsala with the Upplandsbygd regional development organization and people involved in the Transition Towns movement from Sweden (Uppsala) and Scotland( the town of Fores) in a workshop that looked towards both regions’ development up to 2020.
The workshop was organized as part of a cooperation to, among other things, help improve the results of local efforts towards Transition and local food. (Transition Towns is a local action movement aiming to create communities that are resilient to challenges coming from the expected shortfalls in fossil fuel provision as well as disruptions like drastic economic downturn.)
After a few exercises to get to know each other a bit better, we turned to telling each other stories of what has worked for us, and what has moved us.
The Fores community garden brought people together
Mending and making things together has given the community a lot more back than just things
One person found out about Peak oil from one of the original Innovators, Colin Campbell and went ahead to start a Transition Group locally
We then heard from one of the cooperating partners, the Institute of Swedish Safety and Security. Chairman Philip Wyer presented the Safety and Security Industry view of developments and their relation to local and regional development. We will publish an account of this presentation shortly. (See more information at the end of this article)
We then went on to think about the society we would like to see in 2020, looking at food, housing, energy and transport, and culture.
You can see the results below.
The dream is creating housing for all, energy efficient and adapted to climate and landscape.
Developing a culture of inclusion, healthy and healing
Locally -grown food, and a fair wage to farmers.
Politics that reflect protection of the environment. Sustainable production should be economically viable.
More electric transport and reduction of transport demand by, e.g. local food production.
Following on from that we looked at how the societal change might come about, using Alan AtKissons model of the Amoeba. It feels like a relevant model for Transition, and has been tried by a few groups earlier.
Basically, the model says that social change is like an amoeba. To move (change) the amoeba puts out a small “foot” and then the rest of the amoeba follows after. The model says that there are different types of people who are important to change, and we looked at some of the major categories:
• Innovators, at the edge, coming with the new insights
• Change agents, first into the “foot”, able to convey the message of the innovators in an understandable and compelling way
• Transformers, showing leadership of groups, able to mobilize their energy
• Mainstreamers, the ordinary person who will come along when everyone else seems to be
• Reactionaries, who are invested in NOT changing
• Laggards who will resist until the last minute, but do not want to be left behind.
In a form of constellation exercise we talked out way through some of the roles. In Transitioning away from the fossil fuel dependent society, Peak Oil experts, Local Economic development innovators, Climate experts, as well as visionaries like the Occupy movement and especially the people working with alternatives to economic growth are all innovating on this edge.
Interestingly, Uppsala is the home of the Uppsala University department where Swedish Peak oil expert professor Kjell Aleklett works. Despite his academic standing he has largely been ignored in his own country, like many other innovators.
We saw how Transition founder Rob Hopkins, has acted in many ways as a change agent. His folksy popular way of talking about Transition has brought the idea down further to the ordinary person. Rob has been able to put the narrative together of both climate change, peak oil, and the “planet care, people care, fair share” ideal of Permaculture in a way that appeals to many.
However, Transformers are needed too. In Scotland and in Sweden, several individuals have started local Transition Initiatives together, forming core groups to bring in others to support further development.
Our conversation turned to thinking about how to get more mainstreamers on board. Transition in Fores had just got a community center, and were arranging informal meetings and I believe a party was planned. We realized that mainstreamers go to things when their friends go, so this maybe gives us a clue, that if there is a good energy around gatherings, people will go with their friends. Having something to show increase attractive as does anything around food. (If you offer free food, Swedes will come, someone said.) The subtlety of being appealing to the masses was very interesting to explore. Good energy and respect were like magnets, but low energy and stress held people away.
No deep revelations here, but it was an interesting exercise, I suspect the insights will continue to work in the back of my mind. A big thanks to all the Transitioners who joined in and the arrangers, RUCOP and ISSS.
The Transition Movement
The AtKisson Amoeba model
Posted by steve on May 18, 2013
Posted by steve on May 12, 2013
Someone has to say it: digitalising your life might not be all good.
Anyone who has checked their I-Phone whilst on the toilet will probably have an inkling that something is not going right.
The fundamental problem is that everyone working in the IT industry wants to sell more IT. And those outside would like to get in, happily by working away at an app for free in the hope that they can sell it and make big bucks.
I wouldn’t mind if more IT meant more free time, less hungry people; but it doesn’t, not the way the basic program we call “business as usual” is configured. An unhappy mistake, putting IT together with industrial capitalism. We need to find a way out of this, and quick.
Read more in this debate article
Posted by steve on April 26, 2013
In a recent article in grist.org, journalist David Roberts explains that
None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use
Citing a recent report [PDF] by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program, David Roberts explains
The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs ….. if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.
What is the actual tab that is being picked up by us? Trucost estimates that greenhouse gas emissions account38% of the use of natural capital. The effect on food security?
The British met office estimates (see their web page here) that some regions could benefit from climate change, while in others it may offset gains in food security from economic and social development. However, in the overall analysis some projections suggest that 100-200 million additional people could be at risk of hunger due to climate change by 2050.
So the costs of emitting green house gasses alone are negatively affecting the lives of millions. They are clearly picking up the tab, but not sharing in the profits.
Posted by steve on April 18, 2013
Combining the full circle of biological, technical and financial products we can create the sustainable society
This diagram comes from the Swedish Sustainable Economy Foundation http://tssef.se.
WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by steve on April 13, 2013
The community finance canvas consists of a set of community building blocks, each with a set of questions. The purpose of the canvas is to help you design your sustainable community and get to a stage where you can start to produce a financial plan. The canvas can be printed out or copied onto large paper and hung on the wall or spread out over a large table. When going through the canvas we let our imaginations produce a picture of how the community could be when it is fully developed.
To view the full canvas download it here.
Posted by steve on April 6, 2013
We visited IPEMA – Institute of Permaculture and Eco-village of the Atlantic Rainforest. The center is an example of the growing energy and insight that is manifesting itself as practical projects and organisations working towards sustainability in Brazil. Combining permaculture and eco-village thinking, the center has made huge headway in creating housing of 100% natural materials powered by renewable energy, and at the same time inspired hundreds of course participants.
We were guided around by Marcelo, who started 12 years ago after visiting the permaculture institute in Australia. He bought this parcel of land with about half a dozen friends and started building and teaching permaculture on the site. The land is 50 hectares, but lies within the state park. Regulations require they can only use 10 hectares of the 50 to build on and cultivate.
The site houses both the offices and teaching rooms of the Institute and the residential village.
One of the houses in progress, Marcelo left
A lot of the buildings are works in progress, improved each time a natural building course is held on the property. The main activities are courses in natural building and permaculture. They have about 30 participants at any one time and run one or two courses a month.
The extreme climate (100% humidity and more rain than the Amazon) explains much of the design and construction of the buildings. Most of the houses have steep roofs to handle the rainfall.
A sheet of the material made from recycled toothpaste tubes
Roofs are covered in corrugated sheeting made from recycled toothpaste tubes, a material which is used quite extensively as sheets in in other parts of the buildings.
Says Marecello “We always get the roof up first. Then we can build out of the rain”
“We don’t use adobe as the climate, extremely humid as it is, means it just crumbles.”
This machine presses rammed earth bricks into shape. These bricks are easy to build with and withstand the humid climate better than Adobe.
Bricks from rammed earth.
A lot of food is available just by picking what is growing naturally: bananas, pineapple, cacao, jucara, and several types of nuts. Just now the food production has not been fully developed. They are trying two approaches, one of composting and creating food beds, the other is food forestry.
The food forest area close to the communal meeting room has been going several years. The trees provide shade that prevents the grass from growing (which otherwise in this country smothers everything). They have been cutting the forest back frequently because of the speed of growth. This area is amazingly productive: masses of sunshine, heat and water create the ideal growing conditions, explaining some of the appeal of the Atlantic Rainforest area as a place to establish an eco-village. (The sub-tropical Atlantic rainforest is not to be confused with the tropical rainforest of the Amazon).
Rain water is led from the gutter to a nearby cistern.
The main source of water is the two rivers above the property, but they are avid collectors of rainwater, after running off the gutter the water passes a simple net filter and goes into the holding cistern. The river water is purified in a simple filter before drinking.
This pit receives the grey waste water from the communal kitchen
The main source of waste water is from the communal kitchen. The grey water is led over a bed of stones that acts as a biological filter. From there, the water goes into a small pond before being led from the property back into the river.
Water from the stream above the settlement is led in pipes to this simple turbine.
A pipe runs from a waterfall above the property in 3cm pipes down to a generator housed in a plastic drum. The generator is connected to several batteries via a converter. The batteries supply 12 volt dc to the property.
Says Marcello ”people wanted us to bring mains electricity to the site and I resisted, even being called extremist at one point.”
But Marcello points out that people are happy with the arrangement and the whole system works well, they have more electricity than they need.
Energy for cooking
The communal kitchen is well-equipped with running water, a rational wood-fired stove and a gas stove.
The site is served by simple dry toilets, which collect the waste in buckets and the buckets are emptied at regular intervals.
“We don’t use urine separation as in this climate the urine collecting basin starts to smell badly after only a short time,” says Marcello.
I loved the creativity of the buildings, the natural feel of the rounded cob walls and the effects of putting glass bottles in the walls.
Wonderful patterns in the cob walls made by inserting bottles
Having a totally productive site has its drawbacks of course, trees grow so fast the village is easily encroached by the forest which can feel overpowering. And then there are the snakes…
But generally you have to admire Marcelo, who has two small children living on the site, in pressing on with developing the village and centre and inspiring many others with courses and by just getting on with it.
Visit the website at http://ipea.com.br
Posted by steve on April 4, 2013
This white paper discusses the challenge of replacing fossil-fueled supply chains with less energy-intense renewable solutions whilst rapidly reducing the carbon in the atmosphere. It suggests that a complimentary currency, backed by carbon fees and pledges from landowners to sequester carbon using soil and biochar, could be the answer.
Read the paper here. A complementary currency R4
Posted by steve on March 19, 2013
Tradentes’ well-preserved colonial buildings and streets
They started to interact with the local community to design and manufacture decorative artworks almost entirely from recyclable materials such as used wood, wood reclaimed from old houses, cans, paper, etc. Toti trained a group of craftsmen, getting them to produce pieces of art according to his designs as they learned each technique. No design was exact; each craftsman gave to the pieces a little of their own identity. Locals who only had agriculture and cattle breeding as a living saw their lives change through art.
Then they started a program to teach youngsters arts and craftsmanship to ensure new craftsmen come in to revitalize their production. The whole area is bubbling over with arts and crafts as people learn from and inspire each other, try new things and develop new techniques. And the tourist trade they attract from the Sao Paolo area means they can make a living at it. Today, some 150 craftsmen work directly or indirectly in this project attracting thousands of tourists to the town and its surrounding villages each year.
Just one of the many shops along the way
All along the road you meet shop after shop selling their own variants of the local handiwork, and throughout the area, hotels, shops and boarding houses as well as private houses are adorned with this local, colourful art.
These carvings greeted me in my room at the B&B
Toti is a visionary but not without a sense of humour and play. Throughout the prolific production you see a love of life and nature, a reverence for living things, a ”don’t take yourself too seriously” playfulness and flourishes of colour.
And he is a visionary in the sustainability sense too. Oficina de Agosto won the prize Prêmio Planeta Casa 2004, the award from Editora Abril and Casa Claudia for the companies that best promote the conservation of nature and sustainable development.
Just visiting the area, the first temptation is to buy a lot of artworks for your wall at home, and the second temptation is to get going to create some for yourself. The whole area exudes contagious creativity and entrepreneurship. But it goes deeper. My visit to the area got me reflecting on eco-village communities and communities in general. Involving the community in producing art to adorn the homes of inhabitants and tourists is not just an economic exercise. It has a deeper, cultural meaning. Vibrant, ingenious, playful, insightful art is a cultural expression. It states “here in this place we have time to appreciate life, our situation allows us time to create beauty. There is no lack of the basics here”.
The art, in reflecting what is appreciated and enjoyed even acts to express aspiration. It says “we aspire to happiness, to abundance, to happy, dancing, harmonious people”.
In fact, Toti has given us a clue to how we can be part of creating a healthy, healing culture: to set up workshops and involve the community in producing art. Invite people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn handicraft techniques and to try their creativity.
The objects and themes you choose can reflect your community’s appreciation of what you have, and your aspiration to what you see would be healthy and healing.
Toti gives us another clue to developing a sustainable, resilient culture: once you start producing things by hand, be it crafts or houses, people learn from each other, and the young people learn too. Just as the techniques of arts and crafts spread to a whole region, so too could the techniques of natural building and organic food production spread.
Start saving materials, gather your tools and go get some paint and visit Totis website to get into a playful, creative mood. The transition to a creative, sustainable and resilient world awaits you.