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...how sustainable are the Amish? And how far can we stretch the Amish starting point into a modernly equipped community without losing sustainability? I've always wondered about this...

I can't find a post from DeAnander on this - but she has been philosophising that the only possible way to get traction to a trend of sustainable community building was a combination of introducing self-sustainability coupled to hipness factors, glossed over with I-pod-like smart and sexy coolness. And I agree with that. Even for the communities you suggest, the hippy stigma is a bit hard to shake off and is decidedly uncool amongst Cosmopolitan et al readers.

Public figures can only go so far, I fear. It won't work as long as Neil Young drives around in a SUV - even when it is 100% on ethanol and does not directly contribute to CO2 emission. We hit the intensity vs emission problem again one way or the other. Then again, prince Charles was doing something interesting in his principality, though - perhaps you've heard about this?

by Nomad on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 12:24:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Amish are not a starting point because they don't have the technological capacity we have, which is what would make it possible to reduce energy consumption without substantial reductions of quality of life.

It matters not only what the level of income is, but how you got there.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 12:35:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...what would you consider a good starting point, and what reduction of quality of life would be acceptable? I'm asking as the technological capacity of today is part of that finite consumption model set to be changed. Where to draw the line? I would want to start from scratch using a sustainable community and then build in the elements available without losing the boundary conditions. (The difference between backward and forward modelling, perhaps.)

I'm leaning towards the idea that the "house of the future" needs to be blended with practical (and slick) conservation techniques. If we can get a tv-screen in every room of our house but for the energy of a standard flatscreen television of today would that be workable? How about televisions painted on the walls?

by Nomad on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 01:02:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is only one starting point available: where we are now.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 01:06:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's only half the question answered, and the second part is the more important.
by Nomad on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 03:53:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, but you have to know where you start from.

Now you need to know where we need to get to: what are the constraints? I guess that zero net greenhouse emissions would be nice and there are other resource constraints.

Now, why are you assuming that we have to reduce our standard of living?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 03:58:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But I knitted onwards from Migeru's reply in which the "substantial reduction in quality of life" was broached. Perhaps we don't have to reduce our standarad of living - but if it becomes a constraint, then you may want to consider whether there should be a limit to it. So. In model speak: Take a quality of life reduction of zero, and see whether that's at all feasible to get us to sustainable. (But what's the "quality of life" benchmark?)

I don't think this can ever be put into a model anyhow, but it's nice to wonder...

by Nomad on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 06:09:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is also the issue of the abysmal lifetime of consumer electronics. In particular computers, where you have to get a new one every couple of years to stay current with the latest, more resource heavy applications. Moving to a sustainable economy would presumably also mean directing development toward longer lifetime products to reduce raw material and energy required for production. How much energy is currently used for the production, moving around of, and disposal of "stuff", and how much could we reduce our energy consumption here without much reduction in "standard of living" simply by having product with longer lifetime?
Not a popular idea since it would cause the selling of less stuff and less economic activity which would not be good for GDP growth...

I frequently dream of a stagnation in standard PC computing power and longer lifetimes. I think it do wonders for software development, where programmers would again have to think a bit about clever resource use and not simply produce the maximally bloated versions that can run thanks to increase in power but have seemingly no more useable features than past, slimmer versions.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 01:23:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why do you need the latest, resource-heavy applications?

Linux with X will still run acceptably on a 486 if you can get your hands on one, and unless you're doing number-crunching you do not need anything faster than that.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 05:21:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I require Civ IV cyber stalinism to maintain my quality of life. ;)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 05:44:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Try freeCiv.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 08:53:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, for example the government could have a series of incentives to build or retrofit houses to have much less energy use. There was a solar power credit in the US for a number of years, but the technology wasn't developed enough at the time for the program to do much.

There could be efforts to have local wind generators for small communities, rather than only focusing on wind farms. (I don't consider personal windmills practical in most cases.) Communities were happy enough to erect mobile phone towers all over the landscape even when opposed by people who disliked the aesthetic impact, so when there is a will there is a way.

Car pooling could be encouraged via meaningful subsidies. For example a person could get a multi-seat van (say 7-9 passengers) for little or no money and then act as a small scale quasi-public commuting service.

On the demand side certain behaviors could be discouraged. For example the bottled water fad is totally senseless. This should be stopped. Aside from those who want water as an individual drink in preference to some carbonated alternative there is no reason for people with municipal water systems to be buying water for the home. Actually the entire soft drink industry is a bad idea. People survived on plain water from a tap for a long time before Coca Cola. How about encouraging this with a program to install public water fountains?

I've always envisioned a commuter vehicle smaller than the Smart Car that would be driven to the local rail station and then onto a special flatbed car. One would  stay in one's vehicle while the train went into the downtown and then drive off to go the last mile.

Bringing back pushcart vendors (except this time with trucks) that drive into an exurban neighborhood several times a week with perishables like milk, butter, eggs and bread would cut down on trips to the supermarket.    The same could be done for vegetables. The popularity of farmer's markets shows that there is a demand.

The cost of disposal of recyclable items should be built into the original price. This might be refunded when the item is brought in for recycling or just used to finance the operation. I know that the EU is working on some ideas in this direction, but mostly for electronics and autos.

Packaging could be redesigned. Only one chain in the US (Costco) doesn't provide shopping bags for groceries. People can bring their own or use the empty boxes that the store received merchandise in.

Much packaging is meant for shelf appeal and gets discarded immediately upon opening the item. Why not one display item and then the take home copies are in a simpler package like a plastic or paper bag (or nothing in the case of things which are already packaged like toothpaste).

If we held a contest to come up with ideas like these I'm sure we would get many suggestions. People know what makes sense they just haven't been asked for their input.  

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 01:38:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...are sensible suggestions and I agree that there are countless many more. A short reply to some of them:

  • Car pooling: For the Netherlands, having one of the most densely mobile populations in the world, numerous initiatives were launched and they all failed. People simply adhered to their own individual car. I'm not saying that car-pooling is a flawed concept, but that push-pull factors need to be really good. And a higher gas price might not cut it - the Dutch gas is one of the highest (if not the highest) taxed.

  • I'm undecided about personal wind generators; I'm still supportive of the idea. It makes sense to create some scale enlargement to some extent - anything to create a certain Energy Aawareness that what comes out of the socket is part your own responsibility and investment.

I'm afraid, though, that many of your suggestions (packaging, the bottled water industry) are dependent on the whims of government and regulation. And that seems a long, long process...

BTW, if you have some links on the EU scheme for recycling, I'd welcome that. It sounds intersting.

by Nomad on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 05:53:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a thought.  I am, if nothing else, a carpooling expert having carpooled for 30 years from the Washington suburbs to 4 different areas in and around Washington, and could probably count on two hands the number of times I had to drive my car alone.
It can work, just needs the right combination of incentives and resources applied.

Ride sharing (aka sluging), an off-shoot of carpooling, is also a great way to commute and it was invented spontaneously and largely maintained by commuters even though occasionally opposed by local governments until they realized the benefits.  Thousands of Northern Virginia residents currently share rides with complete strangers to and from work every day.

Ironically, this marvelous method of commuting may now be threatened by Virginia's decision to turn  high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV), formerly restricted to carpools and buses, into toll lanes where anyone can drive their single passenger car by paying a toll. Needless to say, the non-hov lanes are hopelessly clogged with single passenger vehicles already.

 

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 11:06:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What about a new kind of public transport, a kind of blend of taxi and mini-bus? The idea is that customers would call (or register via internet) their intended trip with all details, such as number of passengers and time interval. A central dispatcher center would route its mini-busses to pick up the passengers and bring them to their destinations. The routining problem is logically difficult, of course... but now might be precisely the right time to try out this idea. Thanks to mobile telephones and the internet, customers can communicate their trip requests most conveniently and in sufficient detail. Routing problems of similiar kind were encountered with the recent development of the same cellphone technology, and with postal currier services (privatised rather recently in EU).

Gosh, I have a real buisiness plan. You start in a city (like Paris) with offering transfer services to various middle-sized companies: you would bring their employees from home to work and back, you would bring their clients around, and you would serve them in buisiness trip across the city. That might be an attractive service: the client companies would need less cars to buy and maintain; worry less about gasoline prices; and, in our age of squeezing more efficientcy from workers for (frequently) less pay, they could offer their employees "raise" in the form of a convenient transportation. Effectively, overal transportation costs will be cut by you by moving many client travellers at the same time, and at optimized routes. Hence, there will be plenty room for adjusting service price and your profits.

The second stage would be to offer transfer services to  middle class individuals and their families: they would have a fast and convenient means to travel around the city, for their kids as well (to school and back, etc). The bottom line is to target people and families actually using cars (because the public transport is depictable for them, say), but which would be glad to avoid frequent driving in traffic jams, parking problems and excessive petrol costs.

At these two stages, a basic space-time frame of most frequent routes will be established for you, and you could allow full force of occasional travelers to join. Travelling in your minibus would be a quite cousy experience, with few irritating stops and companion changes. The travel-to-work routine might be made pretty enjoyable: paseengers could watch a flat TV screen behind you back; a wireless internet connection might be available. For the buisiness types which need to call or negotiate while travelling, a comfortable "first-class" half-cabin might be established, etc.

This might be a good way to grow an economically vibrant buisiness of "half-public" transportation. (Hey, can partnerships be made here?!) The service might be very valuable for public good as well: Since the initial target groups are car-using companies and individuals, the service would effectively reduce car traffic in the city, with positive consequences regarding traffic jams and pollution. This means that local politicians should be interested to support you.

by das monde on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 03:15:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've always envisioned a commuter vehicle smaller than the Smart Car that would be driven to the local rail station and then onto a special flatbed car. One would  stay in one's vehicle while the train went into the downtown and then drive off to go the last mile.

Yeah, it's called a bicycle. Or, for those unwilling or unable to pedal, a moped/scooter.

As for "the last mile", it's a 15 minute walk so why not walk it? And if we're talking about the last 5 miles, buses should be fine. After all, we're assuming people are commuting by rail into a high-density urban area.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 04:08:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would want to start from scratch

Huh?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 05:18:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...this is going just too hypothetical... I was thinking of the Apollo 13 movie - have you seen it? There is a scene where the NASA engineers need to pull an electronical trick without crossing a certain volts (or watts?) threshold. I was just moulding a similar thought experiment.

This is what I wonder: if you take away all of the advantages of the fossil fuel society since the Industrial Revolution - you end up in a world that would probably resemble the Amish communities quite well. I believe that the Amish are practically self-sustainable - I still have not confirmed whether they truly are, but let's assume just that.

So. Boundary Condition:
1) Self-sustainable

Parameters:

  1. Ecological Foot Print of X
  2. Carbon emissions of Y
  3. Others

You take that as your basic structure, then add chunks of our modern society into the Amish "model" and track at what point self-sustainable turns into unsustainable. It's merely a thought experiment of finding the breaking point of sustainable communities.

By taking the modern world as starting point at the premise of being unsustainable, you'll have to take stuff away to get to your sustainable society - eg, you model backward. I would like to know what stuff of the modern world can be slotted into a working sustainable model - modelling forward. That's "working from scratch".

I just realise that the phrases forward and backward modelling may be just typical earth scientist expressions... I've never seen it in other literature. Anyone here to contradict me?

by Nomad on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 06:34:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is what I wonder: if you take away all of the advantages of the fossil fuel society since the Industrial Revolution - you end up in a world that would probably resemble the Amish communities quite well. I believe that the Amish are practically self-sustainable - I still have not confirmed whether they truly are, but let's assume just that.

...

By taking the modern world as starting point at the premise of being unsustainable, you'll have to take stuff away to get to your sustainable society - eg, you model backward. I would like to know what stuff of the modern world can be slotted into a working sustainable model - modelling forward. That's "working from scratch".

Except that the "modern world" has a knowledge base and a technological infrastructure which allows you to do things that would be impossible from the Amish starting point. But I get your point: assume you start from just an undeveloped plot of land [but in contact with the modern knowledge and technological base] and see where you can get.

I just found this:

The Japanese experience of complete self-reliance in the Edo period demonstrated the sustainability of more than 0.3 hectares per capita given for agriculture, even though the country was not very rich. With less than 0.1 hectare per capita it would be very difficult to maintain even the minimal nutrition level. Note that the world average has decreased from 0.25 hectares per capita in the 1950s to 0.15 hectares per capita in the 1990s, which may be critical for a sustainable level in the future.
Does that mean that you can get away with 1/3 of a hectare per person? I seemed to remember something like 2.5ha were necessary to sustain one person. The world's population density is indeed equivalent to 2.3ha per person. The EU's population density corresponds to .87ha per person (wiki).

Anyway, Barbara and I have this concept we call ETopia, which is basically the 150 most active ETers and their immediate families on enough land to support everyone. If you have 500 hectares of land, €5M of capital and 150 ETers of human capital, can you build a sustainable community for 600 people somewhere in Europe?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 07:33:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That idea has legs. It's the first time I see the concept here; have you or Barbara written about this before?  

Except that the "modern world" has a knowledge base and a technological infrastructure which allows you to do things that would be impossible from the Amish starting point.

Well, otherwise it wouldn't be possible to "upgrade" an Amish community! I agree that the technological infrastructure is something off a cheat; it would need rethinking. (How do the Amish get their asphalt anyway?)

by Nomad on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 04:31:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, we've been hashing the idea around and thinking about writing a diary about it.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 04:35:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps you could reach for a solution for the agonising inferior kiwi problem too?
by Nomad on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 04:43:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the most productive [yield per hectare] sustainable technique for growing crops, and how tasty are they?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 04:48:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Growing in New Zealand?
by Nomad on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 05:26:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have a narrow definition of "crops".

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 05:40:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Only for kiwis.
by Nomad on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 06:47:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One also has to think of economies of scale, or rather of limitations imposed by small scales. There are technologies that simply cannot be deployed by a community below a certain size.

My point is that the technological infrastructure is not a cheat, it's precisely what allows you more control of the way to get there from here, and it may be what makes it possible to begin with.

I mean, suppose the Amish wanted to build a wind turbine. Are the turbine blades going to be made or wood, or wrought by an ironmonger? Where do you get advanced materials from?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 04:45:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On available infrastructure - it's the one I was going to blithely ignore to avoid instant headaches, but you've me cornered now. Like your turbine question, the same is applicable for plugging in televisions, radios, washing machines, etc - you'll need materials, facilities, transport. It relentlessly enlarges the perspective - perhaps to the point it's actually realistic to integrate the community within an equally sustainable society. But that's too much for my bookkeeping skills...

Therefore I thought to simplify: I'd start by ignoring all of the above, and just begin with everything that's presently available. From iron wind turbines, to chemical toilets, just assume you've a giant stockpile of everything at hand, Community SimCity 2000 with unlimited funds. Then, move on to the larger perspective and see how sustainable the community can actually stay.

On scale: Also very valid, and in connection to the above point. Adapted to a simplified community, lifting on the technological advantages of the modern world, I'd use scale for at what point modern techniques can be adopted for a community. Say, greenhouse techniques, or housing. At what point could your community cook on poop? 500 people? 1500?

Anyone interested in programming SimCommunities 2000?

by Nomad on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 05:24:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At what point could your community cook on poop? 500 people? 1500?

According to professor Nomad of the Netherlands, never

There, the waste material is brought to normal air pressures and a yeasting reaction starts - producing methane and CO2 which can be used to produce electricity. The first estimates predict that about 10 percent of the houses (so 3 out of a total of 32) can be sufficiently powered this way.
So 50 people can cook out of the poop of 500?

Or are you wondering how large a community has to be before it can build the infrastructure necessary for 10% of its energy to come from poop?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 11:03:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes to your question - What's the minimum limit of people in a community to get a 10% return? If we take the Sneek example, some 32 families (100-120 people?) now forms the lower limit.

But also: Is there a point (scale) that the return gets larger than 10 percent? If we have 500 people, do we get a larger return, say 15%, or will it always be 10%? I've learned in Sweden that a follow-up for some 500 houses in Sneek with the same sewage system is practically go, so we might actually get an answer on that question - in a few years.

by Nomad on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 12:21:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no practical competences whatsoever. What would you want me for in your ETopia?

Stuck on a pole as a target for pagan non-ceremonies?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 06:12:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could be the mayor.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 06:17:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If instead of 600 people and on 6 Km^2 I give you the whole of France, are you of any use?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 06:19:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe you could come up with some complicated mechanism for financing it?
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 06:19:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And how many practical competences do you think I have?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 08:52:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Nomad on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 12:26:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Come now. Your job is: produce kiwis so good you forget all about NZ kiwifruit. And ETopia eats wonderful kiwis all winter.

Signed: Kolkhoz Manager.

(Well, kibbutz? Kommune?)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 12:33:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Amish communities vary in their use of technology.  Example: all shun electricity in their homes some allow it in work areas.  My Amish neighbors, in Iowa, all used the same petro-chemical inputs, had the same corn (zea mays) and soybean (soyabean) duo-crop rotation, and sold their produce through the same grain elevators as my non-Amish neighbors.

Their personal life style is more sustainable in that they  don't have telephone or electricity run into their homes and tend to raise much of their own food. (Believe it or not, most farmers in the US buy their groceries from the grocery store.)


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 12:13:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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