mfioretti: resilience*

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  1. There has been a lot of debate about the real benefits of local production, especially that last-mile delivery is more harmful to the environment than the benefits it brings. In your experience, what is the ecological footprint of a product that has been globally designed and locally manufactured?

    Any production that is not hyperlocal ie. from materials sourced within a very short supply chain, has to find its way to the consumer somehow. With respect to environmental concern, the ‘last mile’ is a question of the existing production paradigm finding the most efficient and low carbon way to achieve its objective. I’m not sure that the last mile debate concerning the most carbon-efficient delivery by a globalised supply system can be compared to local production. Local production will have ‘last miles’ (and more energy used in transportation, depending on where the materials were sourced for the production), but in general, I’d be less worried about lots of last miles from local production, than many more tens of thousands of miles of transportation required with ‘remote’ production.

    It’s also worth noting that shipping is responsible for 17% of global emissions, but neither shipping and aviation are accounted for in international climate change negotiations due to the difficulty in allocating emissions ie. do they belong to the producing or consuming country? In general, local has many benefits, but it’s simplistic to assume local always equals ‘good’. It depends on so many things, for example, is the activity occurring in a water-scarce environment? How intensive is the production? Is the power source for the products generated from renewable energy?

    Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is one way of assessing the ecological cost-benefit of different methods of production, but it can get quite complicated. Descriptions can offer a sense of the impacts, however, measuring these and making the trade-offs is less clear and requires not only a lot of data but a lot of consideration and interpretation.

    Before even considering ecological footprints of production, one of the first things cities could do is look into ‘boomerang trade’ – the new economics foundation produced a report on this activity in the UK, where similar goods are being traded and transported across continents, or across the globe. There are also ridiculous examples, such as what I have dubbed ‘frequent flyer prawns’ – shrimp being flown to Thailand from Scotland, and then back because the labour needed to shell them is cheaper in Thailand.

    Trade used to be about genuine comparative advantage. If economics is supposed to be about the efficient allocation of resources, and this is what our systems of economics are incentivising, then we need new economics.

    Cosmo localism, or ‘design global, manufacture local’, certainly has some overlap with ‘glocalisation’, or the adaptation of globally marketed products to local culture, in that a shared global design can be replicated (or adapted then produced) locally. But by whom, and how?

    Glocalisation is about the top-down marketing of consumer products designed remotely, in a centralised way and then tweaked for local culture. Cosmolocalism, or Design Global Manufacture Local (DG-ML) is based on a different production logic, as explained by Jose Ramos and Chris Giotitsas in ‘A New Model of Production for a New Economy’:

    Traditionally corporate enterprises have solely owned the intellectual property (IP) they employ in the production of goods. They source the materials for the goods through national or global supply chains. They manufacture those goods using economies of scale in a set number of manufacturing centres, whereupon those finished goods are delivered nationally or globally.

    DG-ML is an inversion of this production logic. First of all, the IP is open, whether open source or creative commons or copy fair, so it can be used by anyone. Secondly, manufacturing and production can be done independently of the IP, by any community or enterprise around the world that wants to.
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  2. The business model is unusually communal. The field is “open” in the sense that he sells his produce to 320 people in the immediate neighborhood, who each pay between €220 and €320 per year, depending on their income, for the right to come and harvest food on his land.

    “The important thing is that everyone can join and the strongest can bear the heaviest weight,” Troonbeeckx said, recounting that part of the motivation behind his socially supportive model came from seeing his mother left far worse off after his parents divorced.

    “Since I’m not into international markets or the multinational economic system, I can create my own economy,” he said, looking out over a field of pumpkins and winter salad leaves.

    Troonbeeckx’s farm, though nowhere near as big, follows a similar ethic.

    He employs complex rotational methods that allow his cows to eat the grass, fertilize the soil and then change location to a new pasture so that vegetables can be planted using his newly-enriched soil. But getting such projects off the ground is much harder than it looks — in his first years of farming, he had to work in a restaurant just to makes ends meet.

    “Only people who have dreamt of being a farmer since a child should do it. It’s something that burns deep insides,” Troonbeeckx said. “If that fire does not burn then do not do it.”
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-04)
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  3. This report examines using human waste as feedstock in a small-scale bioreactor to produce methane gas for cooking and heating. While the use of biogas produced from livestock manure is commonplace, I am interested in the feasibility of building a household reactor that instead utilizes human waste as its primary input.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-11-20)
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  4. Biogas from human waste, safely obtained under controlled circumstances using innovative technologies, is a potential fuel source great enough in theory to generate electricity for up to 138 million households – the number of households in Indonesia, Brazil, and Ethiopia combined.

    A report today from UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health estimates that biogas potentially available from human waste worldwide would have a value of up to US$ 9.5 billion in natural gas equivalent.

    And the residue, dried and charred, could produce 2 million tonnes of charcoal-equivalent fuel, curbing the destruction of trees.

    Finally, experts say, the large energy value would prove small relative to that of the global health and environmental benefits that would accrue from the proper universal treatment of human waste.

    “Rather than treating our waste as a major liability, with proper controls in place we can use it in several circumstances to build innovative and sustained financing for development while protecting health and improving our environment in the process,” according to the report, “Valuing Human Waste as an Energy Resource.”

    The report uses average waste volume statistics, high and low assumptions for the percentage of concentrated combustable solids contained (25 – 45%), its conversion into biogas and charcoal-like fuel and their thermal equivalents (natural gas and charcoal), to calculate the potential energy value of human waste.

    Biogas, approximately 60% methane by volume, is generated through the bacterial breakdown of faecal matter, and any other organic matter, in an oxygen free (anaerobic) system.

    Dried and charred faecal sludge, meanwhile, has energy content similar to coal and charcoal.

    UN figures show that 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities and almost 1 billion people (about 60% of them in India) don’t use toilets at all, defecating instead in the open.

    If the waste of only those practicing open defecation was targeted, the financial value of biogas potentially generated exceeds US$ 200 million per year and could reach as high as $376 million. The energy value would equal that of the fuel needed to generate electricity for 10 million to 18 million local households. Processing the residual faecal sludge, meanwhile, would yield the equivalent of 4.8 million to 8.5 million tonnes of charcoal to help power industrial furnaces, for example.
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  5. How far do you have to go to get water? If you simply have to walk into the bathroom or kitchen, you’re one of the luckiest people in the world. In developing countries, getting water involves walking an average of three miles round trip, carrying a jug weighing about 40 pounds on the way back. In areas suffering from drought, the walk can be 15 miles or more. That’s hard to imagine, but for people living in these regions, there’s no other way. The job of collecting water often falls to women and children, taking up large portions of their time and keeping them away from other pursuits, like education.
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  6. Although the analysis above has much room for refinement and development in context and household specific ways, it has been demonstrated that what we have called low-tech options have the potential to significantly reduce the energy intensity (and water intensity) of our ways of living. Our personal experience practising all of these low-tech options at times, many of them often, and some of them always, also gives us confidence that the results above are broadly correct. Indeed, when low-tech ‘demand side’ strategies are applied in conjunction with hi-tech ‘supply side’ strategies (e.g. solar PV), our personal experience confirms that people can be net-producers of renewable electricity, provided ordinary consumption of electricity is significantly reduced. Moreover, we know that this can be done without diminishing quality of life, although low-tech practices do often demand a greater time investment than their conventional alternatives, which can call for broader lifestyle changes to accommodate this increased time commitment.
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  7. The opportunity here is to accelerate learning among growers groups whose expertise and resources, when pooled, can deliver a lot of the value currently added by today’s cost-adding layers of intermediaries. Of particular importance are alternative trade networks and the Community Agroecology Network.
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  8. 10,000 years ago, a hunter-gatherer needed about 5,000 kcal per day to get by. A New Yorker today, once all the systems, networks and gadgets of modern life are factored in, needs about 300,000 kilocalories a day That’s a difference in energy needed for survival, between simple and complex lives, of 60 times – and rising. Does that sound like a resilient trend?

    The world is not in danger of running completely out of oil. A lot of oil and gas remain in the ground and under the sea. But those reserves cannot drive growth with the same gusto as before. Today’s thermo-industrial economy grew using oil that, if it did not literally gush out of the ground, was easily extracted using oil-powered machines. In 1930, for the investment of one barrel of oil in extraction efforts, 100 barrels of surplus or net energy were obtained for economic use. Since then, that happy ratio has declined ten-fold or more.

    The calamitous decline in net energy is one reason renewables are not the solution. Green energy strategies suffer from an existential flaw: They take ‘global energy needs’ as a given, calculate the quantity of renewable energy sources needed to meet them – and then ignore the fact that it takes energy to obtain energy. In Spain, for example, the Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROI) of their huge solar photovoltaic intallations is a very low 2.45 despite that country’s ideal sunny climate.

    Our capacity to think clearly about energy is further handicapped by driving blind. In most economic activities, the energy that you can measure – such as the electricity used by buildings, or in an industrial process – is only one part of the picture. A new technique called Systems Energy Assessment (SEA) estimates the many energy uses, that businesses rely on, that are hidden. Phil Henshaw, who developed SEA, describes as “dark energy” the four fifths of actual energy useage that conventional metrics fail to count.

    Eighty percent at five percent

    When pressed, technical experts I have spoken to tell me that for our world to be ‘sustainable’ it needs to endure a ‘factor 20 reduction’ in its energy and resource metabolism – to five percent of present levels. At first I believed, doomily, that Factor 20 was beyond reach. Then, by looking outside the industrial world’s tent, I realised that for eighty per cent of the world’s population, five per cent energy is their lived reality today – and it does not always correspond to a worse life.

    Take as an example, healthcare. In Cuba, where food, petrol and oil have been scarce for of 50 years as a consequence of economic blockades, its citizens achieve the same level of health for only five per cent of the health care expenditure of Americans. In Cuba’s five percent system, health and wellbeing are the properties of social ecosystems in which relationships between people in a real-world local context are mutually supportive. Advanced medical treatments are beyond most people’s reach – but they do not suffer worse health outcomes.

    Another example of five per cent systems that sustain life is food. In the industrial world, the ratio of energy inputs to the food system, relative to calories ingested, is 12:1. In cities, up to 40 percent of their ecological impact can be attributed to their food and water systems – the transportation, packaging, storage, preparation and disposal of the things we eat and drink .

    In poor communities, where food is grown and eaten on the spot, the ratio is closer to 1:1.

    My favourite five percent example – a recent one – concerns urban freight. In modern cities, enormous amounts of energy are wasted shipping objects from place to place. An example from The Netherlands: Of the 1,900 vans and trucks that enter the city of Breda (pop: 320,000) each day, less than ten percent of the cargo being delivered really needs to be delivered in a van or truck; 40 percent of van-based deliveries involve just one package. An EU-funded project called CycleLogistics calculates that 50 percent of all parcels delivered in EU cities could be delivered by cargo bike.

    According to ExtraEnergy’s tests over several years, an average pedelec uses an average of 1kWh per 100km in electricity. Once all system costs are included, a cargo cycle can be up to 98 percent cheaper per km than four-wheeled, motorised alternatives. Some e-bikers reckon that electric bikes can have a smaller environmental footprint even than pedal-only bicycles when the energy costs of the food needed to power the rider are added.
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  9. How Relocalising Production With Not-For-Profit Business Models Helps Build Resilient and Prosperous Societies

    This Commons Transition Special Report was written by Sharon Ede, a sustainability ideas transmitter, writer and activist working in Adelaide, Australia. Ede is also a co-founder of the Post-Growth Institute, one of Commons Transition’s most esteemed Partner Projects. We feel that the Post-Growth Institute’s work, specially their exploration of not-for profit business models, aligns with our own work on Open Cooperativism. These projects forge resilient livelihood strategies for commoners, a trend which is explored in this report. Going beyond issues of labor organisation, “The Real Circular Economy” also explores how and why we produce, paying special attention to prosperity, societal resilience, and the possibilities offered by relocalized production and desktop/benchtop manufacturing. This parallels the P2P Foundation and P2P Lab’s work on “Building the Open Source Circular Economy”, where we research and build upon global, open-access design repositories working in conjunction with on-demand, locally grounded and community-oriented micro-factories. This approach, known as “Design Global, Manufacture Local” is also explored in this report, making it one of the most complete, accessible overviews of P2P and Post-Growth economics.

    As always, we’ve indexed the report. You can read it sequentially or jump to any of the sections below. You can also read the original in PDF format or consult the different sections and comment on the document in the Commons Transition Wiki.

    Table of Contents
    Ecological Footprint and Overshoot
    Ecological Cities and Ecological Deficits
    Fab Cities, Relocalisation of Production and The Future of Work
    Post Growth, Circular Business Models and Not-For-Profit Business
    The Real Circular Economy
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  10. Summary: This project will involve a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of “designed global, manufactured local” (DGML) products from an ecological economics perspective. We will conduct a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of 2-3 DGML technological solutions (e.g. a house, an open source 3D printer, a wireless data transmission, field sensor node). LCA will include an assessment of the energy and material uses of the product from cradle to grave, including during its use and operation. This will be compared against the life-cycle of a conventional technology. Different states will be distinguished, such as extraction of materials, production, transport, disposal of equipment, and the environmental impacts of each assessed. For the assessment, the CML 2 baseline 2000 will be used. Qualitative assessment will be based on observations of the application of the technology, interviews and focus groups such as farmers or makers. Technologies will be compared according to three key criteria for sustainability: (a) “autonomy”; (b) “resilience”; (c) “ecological adaptability”. The end result will be an actual comparison of the environmental and social costs and benefits of the applied technologies, as well as the development of a prototype approach for an ecological-economic evaluation of any DGML solution. Last but not least, this task will provide research and policy proposals in relation to the environmental performance of DGML products, and their implications in terms of resource and energy use, as well as their sustainability in a possible future of resource scarcity and altered environmental conditions.
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