Global warming and climate change. Peak oil. Corporate dominance. Rising food prices. Exploding populations. Unsustainable economies. Environmental degradation. Water scarcities and droughts. Peak jobs. Fragile interdependence. Industrialized food production. And on and on and on.
I have been asking myself and anyone I can get my hands on, "How do we transition to a sustainable world without killing billions of people?"
I think I am close to having the beginnings of an answer. The ways and means are springing up. Using them properly and effectively will be political.
We need a sustainable supply of liquid fuel as well as a sustainable supply of electricity. We also need to use much less of both, especially liquid fuels. We need to produce more of everything locally, especially food and energy. We need to reduce corporate influence. We need to change the way we think.
Joule Unlimited promises to produce diesel and ethanol directly from sunlight and (extremely) surplus CO2 at $30 a barrel. Artificial leaves, algae, cellulosic biofuels and the like have promise but if JU can even half meet their expectations, then we're getting somewhere.
Joule produces clean, infrastructure-compatible fuels directly from sunlight and waste CO2 in a single-step, continuous process that requires no costly biomass intermediates, processing or dependency on precious natural resources.
We combine breakthroughs in genome engineering, bioprocessing and hardware engineering to form an integrated, commercial-ready solution with unprecedented scale and productivity rates.
Requiring only sunlight and waste CO2, this system can produce renewable diesel fuel in virtually unlimited quantities at costs as low as $30/barrel equivalent, overcoming the challenges of oil exploration and production.
A new engine promises to quadruple automobile efficiency and would probably do the same for anything that needed a generator. Imagine going from 15% to 60% utilization of the actual energy in a liquid fuel!
The engine is an extremely efficient and simple rotary design that wouldn’t directly power the wheels but charge the battery in a hybrid. In theory, it can harvest several times more energy from fuel than a conventional internal combustion gasoline engine.
New windmill designs can distribute power production at a low cost, including aesthetic considerations. New solar technologies do the same and/or are capable of running round the clock. Entirely new science in the field of solar power could yield even greater benefits.
The “Revolutionair” turbines will be “revolutionary” in that they are designed for domestic use by homeowners. That means that ordinary individuals can put them in their yards, gardens or on roofs to generate power for their households. The clear quadrangular 400W WT model has a power output of 400W and the helicoidal 1KW WT one will be able to generate 1 KW of power.
A dramatic and surprising magnetic effect of light discovered by University of Michigan researchers could lead to solar power without traditional semiconductor-based solar cells.
The burgeoning field of green roofs means that less power will be needed in cities year round, while possibly even improving the food supply as well as the local climate.
Here's a beautiful one on a government building in Greece, already reducing heating and air conditioning costs and bringing back butterflies while retaining rainwater and dissuading pigeons.
Speaking of the food supply and local environment, the story of the Polyface Farm as I first read it in the Omnivore's Dilemma was inspiring. Zero artificial fertilizers, minimal fossil fuel inputs and the land has entirely recovered from its degradation and is producing more and far, far better food than the most industrialized operation at the same or lower cost.
IN 1961, William and Lucille Salatin moved their young family to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, purchasing the most worn-out, eroded, abused farm in the area near Staunton. Using nature as a pattern, they and their children began the healing and innovation that now supports three generations.
Disregarding conventional wisdom, the Salatins planted trees, built huge compost piles, dug ponds, moved cows daily with portable electric fencing, and invented portable sheltering systems to produce all their animals on perennial prairie polycultures.
Ongoing work in Syria is coming up with the non-patented seeds that will (hopefully) see us through the coming turbulence.
IN THE MIDST OF a red, rocky stretch of land in the northeast of Syria, hundreds of rows of wheat brace themselves against a hot, dry wind. The plants are separated into small square plots by grassy pathways, ensuring no genetic material is transferred between sets.
At first glance, the dry, yellow crops look identical – they’re the only signs of life for kilometres around. But, in fact, they couldn’t be more different.
Some have grown tall and straight, while others are too wild and ‘hairy’. Some haven’t yet produced seeds, while others are ready to be harvested. Many couldn’t take the heat while a few thrived.
And these differences will determine what many populations will be eating in the next 10 to 20 years, and could decide how many people go hungry as Earth’s population grows.
One of the most inspiring things I've come across recently is the Open Source Ecology initiative. The SF fan in me got really excited when he heard about the plans for Civilization in a Box, Some Assembly Required. Watch this Ted Talk if its the only link in the diary you click on.
The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) is a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.
And finally, it may be too late to change our thinking but this guy has 4th graders solving the world's problems. Frankly, I'd like to play that game myself and would nominate one of the 4th graders for president.
The World Peace Game is a hands-on political simulation that gives players the opportunity to explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war. The goal of the game is to extricate each country from dangerous circumstances and achieve global prosperity with the least amount of military intervention. As “nation teams,” students will gain greater understanding of the critical impact of information and how it is used.
The Arab Spring has also got me thinking that perhaps real change is coming to the way people think. When protesters in Cairo were upset that some of them were breaking non-violence by throwing stones back at the regime's thugs it overturned so many stereotypes that it made me think that perhaps the bricks in the wall may be finally falling out.
In short, I believe that all these things emerging now is not a coincidence. The ways and means to transition to a better place are coming together and we will have at least one more chance. We're going to have to work like hell, though, and we're going to face a lot of opposition but it will no longer be true to say that we do not have the tools we need.