Franz invited me to blog about my dissertation I wrote for achieving the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, Devon, UK, in 2008. The thesis can be downloaded at
Holistic Science network at ning.com
I have traditionally been a pessimist, and I was more or less just waiting for a catastrophe to happen since I was 17. Environmental destruction, greed, financial and social turmoil were too dooming to me.
It is only in the last years that I have been able to overcome this basic negative outlook. For this to happen, a whole chain of events, connections, readings, watchings, meetings and conversations have been instrumental. The thesis has been a sort of process for me to actually mature a more optimistic view to the future. Looking at the world with such eyes was new to me, so few issues I wrote about would have been very obvious to many. But it has been a very important process.
The thesis is written in two main parts. The first approaches sustainability from a macro-perspective, producing a bit of a big picture of a possible unfolding scenario. The main starting point is a world with less energy resources, but not a total collapse. Rather, bioregionalism allows the reconfiguration of human settlements around biological, geographical, etc. boundaries. Cities and rural areas create a symbiotic relationship, organic agriculture, permaculture, CSA etc. provide food while cities remain cultural, innovation and market centres.
The picture is enhanced through adopting much more small to mid scale oriented endeavours, leaning on to E.F. Schumacher's "Small is beautiful" thinking. But with open source, distributed and p2p production,
"making anything anywhere" fablab approaches and ICT this picture gets totally new connotations. High technology, progress are not excluded from such an appopriate technology in today's times. Collaboration and cooperation drives new forms of interaction and mutual support. Communities become owners of their resources and produce for local needs first, adopting new forms of organizations (e.g. Community Interest Companies in the UK).
Such communities would become resilient communities, especially if they are able to source locally much of their resources for energy and production. Modern lives however have very dependency on fossil oil products - not only for fuels, but also for materials. A future society without such advanced materials is currently difficult to conceive. But alternatives may be on the way: artificial materials can be synthesised from biomass.
The second part of the thesis tries to analyse the potential for biomass. It discusses food vs. feed vs. fuels vs. materials, and comes to the conclusion that we might get into resource conflicts, and that intelligent management and allocation of resources along local needs will drive decisions on what will be done, allowing a diversity of localised solutions. Discussing biofuels, I also conclude that the industrial agri-fuels (large scale) are detrimental and to be avoided, while small-scale subsistence type of biofuels, as used globally by a multitude of people, should be looked at with different eyes.
I believe there is ample space for future materials sourcing from biomass, be it from land plants, algaes or any organic residuals. However, this is not an area I am very familiar with, so it has been a challenge to write about it, being most of the information coming from biotech companies still just looking for more and more profit while applying genetic engineering in order to produce "superbugs" who can break down organic matter.
Although not finally discussed in the thesis, I'd say that mid-term mobility will have to shift away from burning any liquid fuels (while still maybe being employed for niche uses where available), including any biofuels, freeing those biological resources to harness the fabrics and materials (including hemp, flax, bacteria- or mushroom-grown fibers, etc.) we need for a future sustainable society.
In my view, this picture is very much in-line with the "global village" concept proposed on this social network. In fact, instead of chosing such a technical title for the theses ("Distributed Networked Biobased Economies"), I could have just called it "Global villages" :)
Finally, I'd like to end here by stating that a very important driver for such a sustainable society to come about will be the implementation of new forms of organisations, finance and currency. Chris Cook's "Limited Liability Partnership" for example are a way to organize the economy in true p2p, circumpassing the difficulties of today's access to investment capital. I am sure also in this area diversity will be key. Isnt't this a wonderful perspective?