Sunday, May 16, 2010

Preparing for the Storm

The necessities which enable human life will be in ever shorter supply while human population increases and planetary resources decline. What should humanity do? The moral and existential aspects - particularly if most of the global population simply goes on with business as usual as long as possible - may be riveting, but for the moment we'll focus on the practical. Perhaps instead of 'should' the question might be rephrased: What can humanity do? What can we do for our fellow human beings who are already being severely affected by resource declines and all the masses who will follow them down that path? Politically (and physically) it may prove impossible to offer aid. But we can take general approaches that will reduce the intensity and scope of suffering.
  • Reduce population
  • Reduce consumption
  • Increase sustainable production from renewable systems

In many cultures the notion of forced birth control is anathema. These people may be more willing to accept a voluntary approach... which can realistically only be a success if the media helps convince people to have fewer children. A movement with the goal of making it socially unacceptable to have more than one healthy child would help if enough dedicated people got on board... This will not solve our overshoot problems, but it can soften the blow to some extent, down the road a piece... since it takes a full average human lifetime for changes in birth rates to have a significant impact on the overall number of humans alive on Earth. If the human species can survive through the period of an average human lifetime, the efforts we make now will be purposeful. We can also expect increasing death rates from increasing resource scarcities.

Consumption and Production

Consumption and production are two sides of the same coin. We need high quality products which last. We need tools and appliances which are manufactured, maintained and repaired locally. We need clothing that doesn't wear out quickly for the hard manual field work we'll be doing to grow food.

Consumers can alter the marketplace. We the consumers need another mass movement - with the goal of convincing we the consumers to refuse to buy junk. A Reject the Junk movement.

The Junk includes the whole array of toxic substances: pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers, various industrial processes and their byproducts...

We need to turn to local and regional organically based life support systems and reduce long distance trading. Straw bale, rammed earth, thatch. We need architecture that keeps people comfortable without non-renewable energy inputs through the intelligent use of sunshine, thermal mass and insulation. Local -at least regional- fabrics and fibers. Local shoes. Local art and entertainment. Local organic food. Local water systems that operate on local power, such as a wooden bucket and hand crank. By collecting rain water in a cistern, energy inputs -the work required to get the water to point of use- can be drastically reduced, instead of getting it up from a 600 foot deep well with an electric pump powered by a coal mine.

We need organic mulches to reduce the volume of water required to grow food -- and to feed and rebuild soil. We need composting toilets and/or anaerobic digestion to recycle phosphorus and other nutrients back to the soil... instead of flushing them into the oceans beyond our grasp. We should simply eliminate sewers, aka: 'waste water' systems. Even small scale anaerobic digesters can produce useful quantities of methane for cooking and illumination. Solar hot water, local electrical generation... and reduced use. Electric bicycles can help us through the transition... hopefully future generations will have stronger legs, if they find it impossible to make electric bicycles or any bicycles at all... well, maybe they'll be able to... walk.

Assuming we manage to avoid causing our own extinction.

We might as well try.

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