Tags: collapse* + resilience*

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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. While hobbyists, inventors and innovators alike have been experimenting and producing a variety of do-it-yourself projects, their world is expected to undergo a hard shift as DIY moves to the next level.

    3D printing is the cornerstone of the coming shift, and its effect on our daily lives will be multiplied by several converging forces: the collaborative economy, the jobless economy and the age of personalization.

    As these three very different economic forces bear down on DIYers and their tools -- especially 3D printing and related tools -- the market will shudder hard and eventually reboot. Here's how that will work.
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  7. The year 2016 may be the warning sign of more to come. It is the higher likelihood combined with the uncertainty and the interconnected nature of global risks that calls for a "resilience imperative" through collaboration among governments, businesses and civil society. Resilience to global risks is not a luxury and needs to be part of any business or national development strategy. No one is safe. No opportunity should be lost.
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  8. Despite the potential of our land, Greece now imports the majority of its food and on average we are the second most obese people in the EU. These abnormalities are largely attributable to the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy, which has supported the growth and development of a very narrow range of large-scale monocultures, almost entirely for export purposes. The failures of the CAP have had a profound effect not only on our food culture and agricultural skills, but also on the landscape of the country. In just three decades, Greece has lost most of its local agricultural varieties and almost all of its dry land, low-input agriculture was pushed out of the market. In Crete, a large number of two-thousand-year-old olive trees were turned into firewood, within a very short period of time.
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  9. This kind of unsustainable situation has in fact already arrived, if Gail's view is correct. In this comment on her blog she sums up exactly what she thinks will happen:

    It depends on how quickly the failure of banks brings the whole system down. I think the most likely scenario is that the next big crash is the last one. We had a big crash in 2008, and were temporarily saved from it. The next one seems likely to be much bigger, and thus to be much harder to avoid the consequences of.

    My expectation is that oil prices will go lower than they are now, and that debt defaults will start hitting the system. Some of these defaults will relate to derivative bets gone wrong. This will start hitting in the next few months. We should be feeling the effects by late in 2015 or early 2016. Oil production will start going down in 2015, and we won’t be able to get it back up again.

    I don’t see prices bouncing back up again much, expect perhaps briefly in the next few months (and probably to less than $100 barrel), as people speculate that our problems are temporary. I don’t think shale drillers will be able to qualify for more debt, and this will prevent production from increasing again. There will be similar problems with new oil sands investment.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2015-05-16)
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  10. My goal with this short post is just to introduce the possibility of using the panarchy model to learn something about where we are and what may come in the near future.

    The starting point is to understand that social and ecological systems tend to move through four recurring phases: growth and conservation (resources committed, stable, slow change, predictable), release and reorganization (resources freed up, chaos, fast change, opportunity). At the recent Viennese Talks on Resilience & Networks, the assumption was that the world system is in a late K, meaning approaching the end of the conservation phase and the beginning of the release phase.

    Here I share characteristics of the conservation phase with some corresponding real-world signals:

    -Increased rigidity: The long series of failed WTO talks. The inability of leading governments to respond appropriately to climate change.

    -Increased specialization: this is the age of the long tail and 1,000 true fans. Specialization is escalating in the Internet age.

    -Bound up capital accumulation: Only recently, US and Germany’s budgets are 100% committed to existing programs and debt servicing. No money is available for new programs.

    -Increased efficiency: The rapid increase in computing power described by Moore’s Law. The Toyota Prius is an cultural icon symbolizing efficiency.

    -Slowing growth:


    I share the perspective that we’re in late K because we see unprecedented vulnerability in the global economy and environment that is resulting in dramatic episodes of disruption, and with increasing frequency. It appears that we are pushing against thresholds on many fronts, thresholds that once crossed result in swift, dramatic, and sometimes irreversible change. Release may be near.

    As to timing, the transition from conservation to release can be sudden. There is no way to predict exactly when the transition will start. I suspect that at the society scale, the timing of transition is influenced by human lifespans. Generational theory has much to about the relationship between cycles and generations. It suggests to me that it’s no accident that we are experiencing late K crises as baby boomers begin to retire.

    Resilience thinking teaches us that change at large geographic scales is slow while there is more flexibility at lower scales. This dynamic argues for concentrating on bottom up strategies for change while staying engaged with higher scales albeit with more patience. This perspective also explains why cities have outstripped nations and international bodies in responding to crises such as climate change.
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