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The Unplugged - A Speculative Fiction
Vinay Gupta, 20 Feb 06

A Video News Report from 2030.

Anchor: Touting their movement as a combination of the economic theories of Mahatma Gandhi and the political science of Buckminster Fuller the Unplugged have now reduced the GDP of the United States of America by 20% over their 15 year programme.

Opponents of the movement call Unplugging an unscientific and cult-like political movement, but proponents say that "Unplugging" was the best decision they ever made. Let's hear from Jack Huston, a former investment banker...

Cuts to video
[Screen opens to Jack Huston, a muscular early-40s New Yorker.]
Presenter: Jack, could you explain what Unplugging did for you?

Jack: Well, first we've got to cover briefly how Unplugging works. The core of the theory is that we can all live off the interest generated by our savings, or the profits from our investments, if we possess enough capital - and generations of Capitalists have dreamed of "getting off at the top" - making enough money to cash out of the workplace and live as they like for the rest of their lives.

Presenter: But what does that have to do with living in a housing pod in the middle of Oregon?

Jack: Well, it comes down to the nature of capital. Wealth stored as dollars was essentially a share in America's national economy - a credit note backed by the US Government. But Buckminster Fuller showed us that wealth-as-money was a specialized subset of Wealth - the ability to sustain life.

To "get off at the top" requires millions and millions of dollars of stored welath. Exactly how much depends on your lifestyle and rate of return, but it's a lot of money, and it's volatile depending on economic conditions. A crash can wipe out your capital base and leave you helpless, because all you had was shares in a machine.

So we Unpluggers found a new way to unplug: an independent life-support infrastructure and financial archtecture - a society within society - which allowed anybody who wanted to "buy out" to "buy out at the bottom" rather than "buying out at the top."

If you are willing to live as an Unplugger does, your cost to buy out is only around three months of wages for a factory worker, the price of a used car. You never need to "work" again, although there are plenty of life support activities to keep you busy, and a lot of basic research and science to do. Unplugging is not an off-the-shelf solution, it's a research career!

Presenter: So tell us about your house over here? It looks pretty weird!

Jack: Unpluggers don't have our own manufacturing facilities for these yet, so we shop them out to fabs in Turkey. The shell is aluminium and aerogel, 50% collector panels, 12 volt appliance wiring, super-insulated windows with liquid crystal shades for internal temperature control. Heat comes from either a wood stove or a peltier solid state heat pump running off ground heat, depending on how much power we need. Cooling, similarly. We cook in the solar oven on the side sometimes, but mainly on woodgas or in the microwave.

The houses - or "Pods" as you call them - have a reputation as being "one size fits all poorly" but, in fact we found that 90% of people got on very well with one of three basic designs. The economies of scale made mass manufacture of those models more cost effective but people still do custom work for about one unit in ten. We're working towards local fabs for a lot of this stuff now, but that's hard to organize without winding up with internal industries which run on grid power and commercial supply chains, both of which are no-nos for our way of life: you can't be an alternative if you still rely on the National Infrastructure for your metabolism. A one-time switching cost - the "Final Purchase" - is one thing, but we can't run our economy inside of the national economy! That would just be dishonest!

Presenter: Can you explain what this has to do with Fuller and Gandhi?

Jack: Gandhi's model of "self-sufficiency" is the goal: the freedom that comes from owning your own life support system outright is immense. It allows us to disconnect from the national economy as a way of solving the problems of our planet one human at a time. But Gandhi's goals don't scale past the lifestyle of a peasant farmer and many westerners view that way of life as unsustainable for them personally: I was not going to sell my New York condo and move to Oregon to live in a hut, you know?

Presenter: Ok.... with you so far.... what about Fuller?

Jack: Gandhi's Goals, Fuller's Methods, if you like.

Fuller's "do more with less" was a method we could use to attain self-sufficiency with a much lower capital cost than "buy out at the top." An integrated, whole-systems-thinking approach to a sustainable lifestyle - the houses, the gardening tools, the monitoring systems - all of that stuff was designed using inspiration from Fuller and later thinkers inspired by efficiency. The slack - the waste - in our old ways of life were consuming 90% of our productive labor to maintain.

A thousand dollar a month combined fuel bill is your life energy going down the drain because the place you live sucks your life way in waste heat, which is waste money, which is waste time. Your car, your house, the portion of your taxes which the Government spends on fuel, on electricity, on waste heat... all of the time you spent to earn that money is wasted to the degree those systems are inefficient systems, behind best practices!

Presenter: Wow! So tell us about the Humane Human Footprint.

Jack: The Human Footprint is simple: it's the share of the world's resources you can use without really harming anybody simply by existing. We call it the Human Footprint as opposed to the Inhuman Footprint. You take the sustainable harvest of the earth - the bounty we can consume without reducing next year's harvest or reducing the resilience of the earth in other ways - and your share of that is one Human Footprint. The earth's Wealth - its lifegiving power - is like a trust fund split between seven billion humans and a gazillion other living creatures. That which consumes more than its share is defrauding all the rest of their right to life. And this isn't religion, this is common sense: if there are winners and losers, we're in a race for survival. If there are only winners, we're all artists, scientists, lovers and scholars.

I know how I want to live.

Presenter: So how close to your Human Footprint are you, Jack?

Jack looks uncomfortable.

Presenter: I've heard five times over is a typical number for Unpluggers...

Jack: Well, it depends how you measure it but yes, about that. I have three children, so my family footrprint is about 11.2x HF but my personal footprint is about 7.3x. I'm working on it, though. It's hard to make the adjustment, and we only have a few tens of thousands of people at 1.0x or lower.

Presenter: So let's talk politics. Unplugging is also a political movement - you yourself are mayor of a township here, and your "town" is the local Unplugger population plus a few hold outs in ghost suburbs east of here. Why play at politics if all you wanted to do was drop off the Grid?

Jack: Because political assumptions wire everything. Building codes dictate how you can build, which dictates the size of your housing cost, which is the primary factor in your Unplug Cost. Our sanitary systems are greatly more effective than those of the Grid but, because we fertilize food with human waste after extracting what energy we can from it, some say our food isn't suitable for human consumption - even though, in fact, there is no scientific evidence what-so-ever of any disease organisms in the fertilizer stream. Just the idea of fertilizing using processed human waste freaks people out, even though it is how humans always lived. And this pattern repeats for water, our medical practices, all of it. You would think that preventative medicine was a crime!

Because we are different, the existing legal infrastructure works against us at every hand and turn. To create change, we have to play politics. But we are careful to simply use our small-but-growing clout to open doors for our chosen lifestyle, not to close doors on other people's choices. We aren't ecostalinists. Gandhi's approach: voluntary enlistement in the army of truth, if you want to think about it that way, has proven to be the only effective model of political change which is consistent with all of our shared values. We embrace some parts of Gandhi's model more than others - as with Bucky - but you can't argue with the historical success of his approach: India, South Africa, America, Poland, Mexico... the list goes on.

Presenter: Even my kids have an Obey Emperor Gandhi bumper sticker. What's that about?

Jack: It's an Unplugger joke. We call Gandhi "Emperor Gandhi" because in our way of looking at things, he was the political leader of India - a network of Kingdoms - and therefore technically he was an Emperor ([laughs]). In that role, he organized collective defense against the invasion of India by raising a volunteer army of people who bought nothing from the invading colonials, made salt, and got beaten while maintaining rigid discipline - just like an army. All they did not do was leave home or use violent methods to resist their invaders. The fact Gandhi himself didn't own much of anything and advised self-reliance as a keystone of freedom makes him the John Locke of our movement. But we don't take the Emperor Gandhi thing seriously, you know. It's just a bit of our cultural humor.

Presenter: The threat of "Mom, keep yelling at me and I'll get a job delivering chinese food and then Unplug when I've saved up!" has kept many a parent up at night...

Jack: Unplugging isn't really something you can sustain from youthful rebellion: kids who don't choose this way of life for themselves as adults are usually really poor Unpluggers - they don't take soil metrics seriously, they don't really understand the invest-in-your-lands model of labor, and so on. It's not really something for punks and anarchists, even though there is superficial appeal.

Presenter: There's a lot of science here!

Jack: Oh yes. We monitor everything we have proved pays, and more: soil bacteria genetics, nutrient levels in the soil, nematode populations, you name it. We have such excellent yields and pest control because we don't move around much - we get to know our land as scientists and artists and designers - we share knowledge and models. Of course, not everybody contributes equally to this knowledge base - I have a neighbour who is a molecular biology professor by (former-) trade and, well, I use his numbers a lot ([grins]). But we all do what we can, and the results are proof that our farming techniques - "high monitoring biointensive agriculture" or "Technical Permaculture" depending on where you live and which school you follow - our farming methods work, and will continue to work for at least a few hundred to a few tens of thousands of years. And that's enough for us: leave it to our children to figure out how to get their own lives to be even more integrated morally, ethically and socially.

Presenter: Some say that Unplugging is a cult because of your "Unplugger Morals" doctrines...

Jack: Acting as if the god in all life mattered is radical politics. But we have people from every faith and tradition living as Unpluggers, as well as those with no beliefs but a deep moral conviction that this is the right thing to do. But as with Satyagraha - Gandhi's social change approach - this takes everything you have and more and you can't do it without a solid internal framework, a deeply personal commitment to this as Right Action in a Buddhist sense, as Dharma from a Hindu perspective, as The Life Divine if you are a Christian. We have radical Benedictine monks - on the edge of getting booted out of the Catholic Church - who have updated the lifestyle passed down from Benedict himself to use Unplugger Farming and who became part of the Unplugger Community as a result. But we also have anarchosyndicalist atheists.

All it takes is a belief you can act on which helps you make personal changes for global reasons. And a political faith isn't ususally enough to do that, but it can be. Religion has proven over time that it can move people in ways that nothing else can, and Unplugging is the biggest change a society can make.

Living up to your values is hard. Faith helps some people do it, so we tend to see more of those kinds of people making the switch. It's just a selection bias.

Presenter: What do you mean "a change that society can make?"

Jack: Unpluggers now constitute 5% of the United States population. At first, we were the very ideologically motivated, and there was a lot of interface with older communitarian groups and prior generations who had attempted to make this transition. But as we became more defined, and our thinkers elucidated our case more clearly - as our farmer-scientists began to really get the yields predicted in theory, on a per-square-foot basis... it became clear that we were talking about a partial solution to the problems that have faced the human race from the beginning of time: how do I live myself, and how does my family live. And a society is just individuals and families, and sometimes families of families, all the way up to States and Governments and the International Agencies and so on. If you solve the problem for a single family, and it's something which can compete in the evolutionary marketplace of ideas, then eventually you can solve the entire problem.

You know why GDP has gone down 20% because of Unplugging? Unpluggers are entrapreneurs. We used to start businesses because we wanted to buy out at the top of the game, now we usually buy a fairly lavish Pod, and some really, really good quality land, unplug by 30, and some of us expect to spend the rest of our lives learning, teaching and exploring what it is to be alive. Farming five or six hours a day seems like a lot of work, but you do it with friends, and you're doing science and research some of the time, and you eat what you make. The basic activities of life are so much more satisfying that earn-and-spend-and-eat-carry-out when you actually respect them as basic human activities, as links we share with everything that is alive.

Presenter: Tell me about the Endowment.

Jack: The Endowment is how we help the poor to Unplug, and it is easily the most controversial part of our programme. We encourage the developing world to Unplug as the untimate form of Leapfrogging: skip hypercapitalism and anarcocapitalism and democratic socalism entirely and jump directly to Unplugging. Many Unpluggers take their excess capital, keep investing it in the system, and use the proceeds to fund private Unplugging programmes. Others simply took their capital and added it to funds managed by a Grameen-bank like institution called the Unplugging Bank which lends people money to unplug, and has them pay for their Pods by selling excess farm goods and teaching agriculture for us. The leverage of these approaches has yet to be verified but - judging by the political repression of Unpluggers in China and India and some parts of Africa - judging by that resistance, I think we are going to be successful.

As the Mahatma said: "First the ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Software used to be an industry, you know?

Presenter: Thank you, Jack, for telling us about your life.

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Comments

I like it!!


Posted by: Tony Fisk on 20 Feb 06

Funny about unpluggers. At first I thought you were talking about Sunriver, OR. Something like 4 golf courses and at least one airport. Aumish "Unpluggers" were forced to "replug." because of taxes. Many of the religious based "Pods" maintain thier teaching/ learning orders by producing simple, utilitarian products. Such products as fine beers, coffees, alcohol, herbs, furniture, and very importantly Super Organic Agriculture.

Just having young people try an "old fashioned" tomato vs a regular NKP will blow their minds. Old people who remember "Victory Gardens" will love the benefits of your Intensively grown produce and your contribution for making their lives better. A few tastes of a vine picked pea or tomato will help most arthritis sufferers forget for a MoMint.

In my opinion, If you are on the planet, you are in the grid.


Posted by: Michael Pfohman on 20 Feb 06

It is interesting to see the real ideas of Gandhi considered as a serious proposal for life on earth. He is so admired yet most of his ideas are derided because they are considered unrealistic. Bucky, on the other hand appears ready to be coopted by big industry as his ideas are being developped for such things as buckyballs.
How many of us yearn to "live free" to find a way off the grid, so we can survive on earth and do our own thing without having to pay for the inefficient and wasteful bureaucratic systems of our civilisation? Could we want anything more than the freedom to live life as we see fit, to put our own energy where we desire to put it? This unplugger idea is an interesting peek into a desirable future.


Posted by: k. Godfrey on 20 Feb 06

Wow. You wrote a science-fiction account of my life, except:

- It's really "re-plugging", because you can't "unplug" without finding something better to "plug in" to. Daniel Boone is a myth; so was Thoreau's "Walden" in most ways.

- My generation's version of your story was called "Ecotopia", by Ernest Callenbach.

- It actually involves a lot less theory and much more shit on your feet.

- We're all far more embedded in our current systems than we realize, and "unplugging" is a lot harder than in this fine parable.

But I really like it - thanks!


Posted by: David Foley on 20 Feb 06

Hmmm. Who is going to start hosting the design library? And who is going to curate it? Wiki or peer review? (I'm not sure I want to live in a Wiki-designed Pod, for example, or rely on Wiki-designed power and water systems.)

I've learned a lot about giving names to new ways of doing things in the last few years. This is why "intentional biology" is now called "synthetic biology". I'm not sure "unplugged" will fly.

Otherwise, excellent stuff.

Are Stewart Brand and Jay Baldwin reading this?


Posted by: Rob Carlson on 20 Feb 06

The combination of Gandhi and Fuller is extremely potent. I've been working through their concepts for over thirty years and still haven't gotten to the bottom of either by any measure.

As for unplugging, my solar bedroom is one example (video available at http://energyvision.blogspot.com as well as a piece on Fuller's A and B Quanta). I've also written about the concept of solar swadeshi at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2005/05/solar-swadeshi-hand-made-electricity.html


Posted by: gmoke on 20 Feb 06

I love the concept, but I found one major flaw...

The fictitious Jack briefly mentions that their "Pods" are manufactured in Turkey, then he goes on later to explain that it's "hard to organize without winding up with internal industries which run on grid power and commercial supply chains, both of which are no-nos for our way of life: you can't be an alternative if you still rely on the National Infrastructure for your metabolism." So instead of relying on the US government's infrastructure to mass produce Pods, Unpluggers would instead rely on Turkey's national infrastructure?

Doesn't seem very sustainable to me...

Unless this community could develop their own housing structures in a truly self-sustained manner, I doubt it would never be anything more than a small-scale movement embedded in a larger traditional infrastructure.

In any case, I love the inclusion of Ghandi's and Buck's ideas...


Posted by: Jesse on 21 Feb 06

Well, the suggestion was "final purchase" - that you buy one last set of gear from the national infrastructure - your Autonomous House (see the Wikipedia entry on that - it's great!) - and then exit the economy as much as you can.

Had I made this longer, I was going to riff on Permafacture - "Permanent Manufacture" - which is sustainable manufacturing from permacultured feedstocks. I haven't done very much work with the concept, but the general idea is that you could do things like run a glass smelting factory from a pile of old glass and a sustainably managed forest.


Posted by: Vinay on 21 Feb 06

Love the vision. With Vinay's permission, I re-posted the article at Energy Bulletin http://energybulletin.net/13054.html , and added some links at the end to similar visions, such as Ernest Callenbach's "Ecotopia" and the concept of ecovillages. -Bart


Posted by: Bart on 21 Feb 06

Sorry, the URL for the re-posting of the article on Energy Bulletin is http://energybulletin.net/13042.html . -Bart


Posted by: Bart on 21 Feb 06

I loved this article. The only thing I didn't love about it was that these communities don't exist. Though it may be impossible to put into practice with the existing infrastructure, it is not impossible to realize that how we live today is not the only way to live. From the beginning of the conquest of America, settlers have been unplugging to go live with local native tribes. This article simply points out this desire. Unfortunately it also points out the fact that those communities of healthy, independent groups are incredibly rare. I don't follow the noble savage viewpoint but I do wonder if it'd be more preferable to live in a community that regularly tortures and kills it's neighbors but always cares for it's own than to live in the US that regularly tortures and kills it's neighborss but only cares for those individuals that can make it in this system.
Unpluggers certainly still exist though they rarely have any kind of clan-like identification. If our species makes it through peak oil and global warming they will certainly be living in ways similarly found in this article.


Posted by: Scott on 21 Feb 06

Very inspiring, I see why balogblog linked it up with his, and the advice from Savinar to not read peak oil news more than once a week. It's too depressing.
Has anyone considered that the Amish and OOMennonites and even Hutterites have been living unplugged for many decades?


Posted by: Ian Graham on 21 Feb 06

Meanwhile elsewhere in speculative fiction:

The I-Ped

James Burke would love tracing out the connections between the I-Ped and everything from urban architecture to geopolitics and advances in Hibernetics. I, on the other hand, like to tell a more strait forward story of how the I-Ped is changing transportation infrastructure.
The I-Ped is, of course, at its core a very stylish human/electric powered wheel chair. The chair is a very light weight herman miller type chair, the three very stylish wheels are in a slingshot configuration with two smaller wheels in front and the large powered wheel in back. It has nano-structured battery about the size of loaf of bread that can power the I-Ped for about 5 kilometers on its own. The battery is recharged when you pedal and when you break. There is space and power for cell phones, I-Pods, Ear-Pods, laptops and other electronics. Because the I-Ped provides a comfortable and convenient way to sit and to move anywhere from a few inches to a few miles it has transformed the transportation sector. We would not have been able to made nearly as much progress on Gore's "War on Oil" if not for the I-Ped. A typical journey is now all electric. People go from their homes to the local transportation hub on an electric I-Ped. At the station, they pedal from a raised platform onto an electric powered bus or van and go to the transportation hub closest to the destination. (The buses and vans can be all electric because they exchange both batteries and passengers at the transportation hubs.) They then I-Pedal from the hub to where they are going. Because the I-Ped creates a sense of personal space for the entire journey many people's reluctance to use public transportation was greatly reduced. (Door to Door and never leave your chair.)


Posted by: jim moore on 21 Feb 06

This reminds me of the ideas explored in the Ursula le Guin book 'The Dispossesed'


Posted by: tom on 22 Feb 06

This entry is very inspiring and connected with me deeply. Scott makes a good point, in that the unpluggers would follow a long American (and more generally, Western) tradition. Hippies recently, Whitman's Walden Pond and Thomas More's Utopia further back.

For those of you interested in what's going on today and how humans are damaging the environment I recommend a blog called Sprol (http://www.sprol.com). Not mine, but written by a friend, and with accompanying resource collection at http://www.rawsugar.com/links/automatt.


Posted by: BillSaysThis on 22 Feb 06

As others have noted, there's echoes of Callenbach's Ecotopia. Like other utopian visions, Ecotopia (and Vinay's vignette above) make interesting reading, at least from a technical, cool ideas perspective.

I guess the thing that I find unappealing about unplugging strategies is that they seem to say: "Hey, world, in order to save you, I'm going to ignore you now. No trade, no exchange because that gets into industries and grids and such. Hey, we all get to live better, but we all have to be organic farmers now."

Well, that just sucks, to be a little blunt about it. What if I want to be something else? Conservation is a laudable goal but to me, unplugging is too high a cost for it.

And I think of myself as open minded on the topic. There's a bunch of people who flat out won't get it. Ever. So, what do you do about these people? In Ecotopia, they were held at bay with imaginary nuclear weapons. Yup, the Ecotopians engage in a long-term nuclear standoff with the land-rapers: cross this line and DC becomes a radioactive smoking hole. In Vinay's vision, we take a laissez faire approach--unplug or not, it's up to you. So what do we do about the Wal Marters gobbling up the world faster than unpluggers can conserve it? If unplugging is cool enough and we have enough time, then laissez faire might work, might follow Ghandi's steps and end in victory. Does anyone think we have enough time?

Okay, so if we don't have time and we don't want to be ecostalinists (love that, by the way) then we're basically saying: the world is hosed, but there's less blood on my hands because I reduced my contribution to the overall hoseup. The house burned down, but at least I was trying to be responsible...

So, cool story and short and sweet (Ecotopia was a little on the long side, as most utopian visions tend to be) but is it something you'd really want to see or just a wish you never expect to see fulfilled? If you want to see it, how do you make it happen? I'm asking the question seriously. I'm torn because on the one hand, I usually cheer for every incremental improvement (so I should like this, right?) but I'm left with the feeling that unplugging is a futile approach, especially if it does not catch on. My intellect is telling me it's futile but my heart says I'm being unfair to the idea.


Posted by: dgeorge on 22 Feb 06

Nice story! For more info about Bucky don't forget to check out bfi.org !!!


Posted by: Jochen on 22 Feb 06

Technophiles bother me, and Green Technophiles more than most. Quit waiting around for the great green future, and go outside. Build a hut from mud, and glaze it, and not only will you achieve incredible energy efficiency, you won't be relying on mass production and global transport. Aerogel and lcd windows... fuckin a. The technology exists now to unplug. It existed 200 years ago. It has always existed.

We do not need new products to get us off the track we are on, just the will to do so. Environmental consumerism is bullshit and a contradiction in terms.


Posted by: fuckit on 22 Feb 06

I like it.
It relates and articulates so much of how I self-identify, as of late. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a "Green Technophile". I suppose.

I can see how "environmental consumerism" can be interpreted as an oxymoron, but when a "need" is defined by many in a subjective way, as much as "need" is defined in objective ways; then at least a few "new products" are going to be needed.

And it's important to realize that a glazed hut _is_ technology!
To some it is new. That's why I think it's a good thing we humans are "reKnewable".
And, I like how it gives signs of hope that are resistant to a culture of futility, as is too often the norm these days.
Breathe and create. Only time will truly tell how things will turn out... but I really like how this begins to convey so much of where a lot of my hope for _we_ beings on Earth is grounded.

But I think that the focus on "monitoring" of this tale is to better engage the culture of an audience that are technophiles...
And to suggest to people in general that they use more objective/scientific means of living, as opposed to living willy-nilly via destructive and consumptive good-intentions. By what authority do you decide how to live? An objective or subjective view?

Despite that label, many so called green technophiles will actually "go outside" before they get their hands on any new fangled gizmos to hold-their-hand through the learning curve. Many will get hooked, even if their gizmo-lust goes unsatisfied.

It's richly interwoven context is subtly instructional / educational, too. As David Foley mentions:

One perception I think it might be presenting as something to begin to wrap one's brain around, is that "we're all far more embedded in our current systems than we might realize, and 'unplugging' is a lot harder than in this fine parable."

Of course, it is speculative, and I'm still not fully sure what I think of certain bits of it. Thanks to Vinay Gupta for mixing up these juicy bits to contemplate and digest.

It's definitely worth sharing, and discussing, and such... Like I said, time will tell.


... Just how many centuries have we been
waiting for someone else to make us free? ...
There's only now, do it right. ...
Artist (Band): Faithless, Album: No Roots, Lyrics: Mass Destruction
------------------------------------------


Posted by: christo-fueler on 22 Feb 06

There are thousands of settled technophiles out there in current ecotopia. They are called hippies.
Why dont you try talking to them. ?

Yes many communities and neighbours in our valley are bornagain consumers, still they are off the grid in some cases like ours defiantly for 25 years.

Why I ask has no one noticed the very simple mathematics of solar radiation? Our 0.9m para dish makes espresso coffee in 3 minutes .
My natgas cooker takes 5.
If the sun shines I use it... for very simple reasons. It works better.
One kilowatt/square metre.
30 megawatts per playing field.
About 0.7% of Solar radiation drives ALL other renewables..
More sunlight falls on the earth in 24 hours than all the energy in all the oil past and future..
why quibbl, that are also ecocide weapons???
Our 0.9 will vaporise steel... thats >1500 deg C.
We are on the cutting edge (der) of lightsmithing.

The 3m on the drawing board makes >2Kw electricity and 5 Kw for hot water via a linear alternator + free piston Stirling heat motor. The Stirling has been around since the 1880s, and at theoretical 56% efficiency is why NASA still uses them. Mouchot made ice and pumped water at 500 gals/hr in Paris in 1880.

Even homemade ones are 2 x photovoltaics efficiency. solar parabolics and stirlings give the best ERoEI. Hot rock storage in spacewool kilns filled with bluemetal and presto! batteries become redundant.
We have not been kept from these solutions by anything other than our greed and stupidity, and specially the relinquishing of our power outside our home and back paddock, coop farm.
Ghandhi is spot on. .... But the hippies were and still are right.
What we need it a massive wake up call.
A world wide ostrichbumkick.
And reeducation on solar.
Its coming: The Twin Sisters: Peakoil and climate change.
yay
the road to Olduvai...


Posted by: CCANgeoff on 22 Feb 06

Unpluggers already exist and they are not technophobes either. I'm sure this was posted before on this site but one of the leading communities for sheer innovation is called Gaviotas.

" Gaviotas is a village of about 200 people in Colombia, South America. For three decades, Gaviotans - peasants, scientists, artists, and former street kids - have struggled to build an oasis of imagination and sustainability in the remote, barren savannas of eastern Colombia, an area ravaged by political terror. They have planted millions of trees, thus regenerating an indigenous rainforest. They farm organically and use wind and solar power. Every family enjoys free housing, community meals, and schooling. There are no weapons, no police, no jail. There is no mayor."

http://www.friendsofgaviotas.org/about.htm


Posted by: Chris on 22 Feb 06

Hm.

So many useful ideas.

Firstly, I'm one of the few people on the "green" side of the fence to take "ecostalinism" seriously. You can find some of my (highly unpopular) writing about the success of One Child Family in China, for example.

Coercion is one way governments get people to obey laws. If "going green" is the law, eventually somebody is going to get shot for breaking an environmental law and refusing to stop. Happens all the time for drugs and so on: it is the inevitable nature of the State, which is the least despicable form of Mafia.

(At least most of the time!)

As for why go high tech? It's simple, really: people are addicted to the concept of progress. If you want a lot of westerers to change the way they live, it better have bells and whistles and be plenty forward looking. Strawbale does everything I'm suggesting aluminium and aerogel would do, more or less, and it might even be cheaper.

Similarly all the stuff about "monitoring soil bacterial" - well, yeah, you could do that - or you could just farm right and it all goes pretty well most of the time anyway.

In many ways, I see the "payload" of this article not as the technology, but as putting three things back on the table:

* capital and buy-out-of-the-system prices as a function of technology
* bucky and gandhi
* legislative frameworks which prevent change even on a personal level

Those are the points I really wanted to make.

I'm really please to see all this interest, and keep the discussion going. I have a feeling very interesting things may yet come of this thread!


Posted by: Vinay on 22 Feb 06

I think it's a little selfish. If you want to radically change the world, you have to work within the system. You can't just go starting a cult and saying you're next in line to Gandhi.

For some people to live off waste, there have to be other people out there creating the waste!


Posted by: Jessica N. on 23 Feb 06

selfish? within the system?
not necessarily...
as gandhi said "you must BE the change you wish to see in the world.."

if you enjoy your new lifestyle better than the old one, chances are that other people will too...

happy people are free advertising for their particular lifestyle...

the problem with most intentional communities is that they are organized around a righteous sense of eco-saintliness...the residents may be happy about their eco-footprint, but they have little else in common with the other members of their community...

what intentional communities need is CULTURE...they need vibrant music, performance, fashion, ritual, art, etc...
it's gotta be FUN to live on your commune...
otherwise it's much easier for the outsiders to stay at home and play Grand Theft Auto or watch Desperate Housewives...
but if you have a big party on your land, and invite the neighbors, and they realize what a liberating way of life you lead, they will be motivated to join...
rinse, repeat...
until you have a mass movement of unplugging...

but is the grid actually a problem in itself?
perhaps it is on the verge of a prigogenic leap to a new level of efficiency...
and we'll all be able to keep our iPods and our SUVs...
all the doom and gloom addicts (uh..i mean, peak oil evangelists) base their predictions on very limiting assumptions...
i persoally know a man who has developed spark plugs that can raise the fuel efficiency of an SUV from 15 to 75 mpg...
we're on the verge of having these in every car in the world...
what happens to your calculations then?
what if some new technology is discovered?
a new process for making biodiesel from specially-bred algae that feed on polluted farm runoff?

DREAM BIG PEOPLE! the future is bright! we are on the verge of singularity... with the dawn of the internet, we are emerging from the dark ages onto a new future of rapidly expanding intelligence...
all this doom and gloom fossil fuel stuff is short-sightedness in the guise of far-sightedness...


Posted by: benjah on 25 Feb 06



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