Friday, April 23, 2010

Social Innovations

Frustration and despair can soon shift towards resilience, renewal, and regeneration. When the ground beneath the feet becomes loose, the human capacity to furrow anew comes into play. What is being proposed within this framework of a ‘new civil order’ is that as people are forced to learn new skills, people will take more and more responsibility for themselves. This will manifest also in revitalized concerns for one’s family, friends, and community. A shift of dependency is likely to occur that will take back power that many people had previously given away into external socio-political institutions (and commercial dependencies), and use this to empower themselves. People’s relationship with technology is also likely to undergo a re-evaluation. Instead of being wholly dependent upon complex, unknowable technologies, people will learn to re-design tools to aid and empower them rather than pacify. The view taken in this book is that future years will not see the coming of a super-technological singularity (as envisioned by Ray Kurzweil ), but a re-configuring of our technologies. By this it is meant that instead of technology working beyond us and out of our reach, it will be working for us, and sometimes in more simplified forms. One of the immediate concerns will be energy requirements. Given that a true free-energy revolution is still an uncertainty, alternative energy will need to be harnessed from solar, wind, water, and other natural sources. The corporate red-herring of agro-fuels (mass-produced ‘bio’-fuels) is likely to be rejected by local communities who are seeking to shift to low-carbon alternatives using ‘real’ biofuels. True biofuels are produced from waste such as biogas from manure or landfill or waste vegetable oil. Their development, however, is so far limited. This situation is likely to change once necessity becomes a key factor. Already some local communities are developing their own low-key diesel manufacturing through re-cycling waste vegetable oil. These DIY projects can be developed further by well-organised communities using agricultural processes.

There are a range of oilseed crops, such as sunflower, rape seeds, soy, palm and jatropha, which can be converted into biodiesel used on its own or blended with conventional diesel. A range of cellulosic materials, such as various waste products from crops (including grasses, trees and wood) can be broken down with enzymes and turned into bio-ethanol. Bio-ethanol can also be produced from a number of crops including sugarcane, sugar beet, barley, corn/maize, grain, and cotton. Using cellulosic biomass to produce ethanol would lessen the strain placed upon standard agricultural land needed for growing crops. Butanol is currently a potential second-generation bio-fuel produced by fermentation from a range of organic material, such as molasses left behind by sugar production or whey from cheese production. Butanol has several advantages over ethanol in terms of higher energy output and being easily blended with diesel. In the future we may see regional areas, and localized communities, adopting a bottom-up biofuels market that would serve to create energy-sufficient lifestyles. This can be achieved not only through a supply of recyclable waste but also through citizen-managed low-scale farming. Genuine biofuel schemes could be located within sustainable programs based within active communities and separate from corporate top-down energy suppliers. This would involve a move from mass production to distributed and localised schemes which would aid many communities. It is foreseeable that these, and more, energy innovations will begin to manifest through grass-roots pioneering and newly emerging citizen information networks. The corporate control and monopoly upon such natural resources, and primary human needs, will be rejected for local empowerment projects. Part of the civil revolution will occur when people, desperate in terms of supplying basic needs, will be forced to create these supplies for themselves. Then there will be no going back; no return to former dependencies.

Projects and schemes already underway around the world include gardening workshops for growing-your-own. Information made available for ‘self-farmers’ will encourage food production to be once again a prime aspect of family and civic life. There is currently a growth in the number of urban gardens and communal composting. Neighbourhoods are sourcing water supplies and introducing local permaculture schemes. Social networks are already established that seek to bring home-gardeners together to share tips, advice, and friendship. One such social network - Freedom Gardens – describes itself as ‘a food security movement person to person…A modern gardening era/movement for the 21st century resulting in efforts to become free of foreign oil, corporate controls, contamination and food miles while creating a sustainable future by promoting local food production’. Inspired innovators are currently developing new sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture that push towards forming a ‘post-industrial food system’ that is less resource intensive and more locally-based and managed. An array of such start-ups include BrightFarm Systems,SPIN-Farming, Virtually Green, Aquacopia, and NewSeed Advisors. Similarly, new networks are emerging of investors, donors, entrepreneurs, farmers, and activists who are committed to building local food systems and local economies.

In a similar manner the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) elders suggest a re-vitalizing of sustainable, locally-orientated cultures; they suggest the creation of 'liberation technologies'. By this they mean technologies that can be created and used by people in a specific locality to enhance self-sufficiency and respect for the natural world. Wind turbines, solar power, biomass plants, and organic agriculture are all examples of liberation technologies. Likewise, Dhyani, who puts forth Cherokee teachings, states that
This age ending has been a time when people have gathered information about building and about inventions to make life better. Now it's time for people to recognize that the inventions are a creation of mind, to put aside such inventions as cause harm, and to bring forth and further develop those activities that benefit all beings and the future generations.

Alternative technologies are arising that seek to bypass traditional dependencies as the civil movement grows in power and determination. There are now markets for rocket stoves, vegetable oil generators, solar fridges, cheap wind generators, and reusable water bottles used as solar lamps. Innovations are also turning shipping containers into virtually cost-free homes. Social information networks are advising people on how to make their own soap, toothpaste, clothes, and much more. Instead of re-cycling there is now a movement towards pre-cycling; that is, training people on how to exist not only on what they have but to transform their conception of necessity so that non-primary needs are taken out of the equation. Individuals and communities are learning how to live more on less. Part of this re-education is a perceptual paradigm (a ‘new mind for a new world’). For many of us, if we don’t choose to think and behave differently in the upcoming years, then we may be forced into change – and perhaps brutally.


Peter G Kinnon said...

The use of the word "Singularity" is certainly inappropriate to describe the phase transition which, within decades, render our species redundant.

That does not equate to extinction, however, as, if we get things right, and adjust to this new situation a remarkably good lifestyle could well become available to us.

The emergence of a new and predominant life life form from the Internet, a conjectured until recently dismissed by most IT gurus has, in fact, a quite compelling evidential basis drawn from chemistry and biology rather than directly from computer science.

The inevitable self-assembly of this entity (the process of which is already observable), and how to deal with it, is the main subject of my recent book "Unusual Perspectives", the latest edition of which is available in electronic format for free download from the eponymous website.

Anonymous said...

thank for share, it is very important . ̄︿ ̄