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Climate Hustle

The Brave New World of Ecomodernism

Posted on 20 October 2015 by Guest Author

Josh Halpern blogs and tweets as Eli Rabett

Recently the Guardian has featured a back and forth about Ecomodernism. Ecomodernism holds that not only are humans driving the future of our world, but through technology can decouple our future from natural ecosystems. In this process the world would turn into urban enclaves surrounded by mechanically farmed agricultural lands and islands reserved for nature. It is a vision of naive young urban professionals. 

George Monbiot touched on some of the practical problems of Ecomodernism and this paper published a response from the proponents. In the words of Mark Lynas, one of the authors of their manifesto, the British launch of Ecomodernism turned into “a screw up of epic proportions” used by Owen Patterson to bash environmentalists of all stripes. To date, the discussion about Ecomodernism has been based on considerations of practicality, but there are hidden depths which lead me to oppose this program on all levels.

When I was a young, being civilized by my teachers, there were two dystopian models of instruction used to warn against the future: George Orwell’s 1984, and and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. 1984 is a dark vision of perpetual war and oppression with obvious roots in Stalinism and Nazi Germany, a war just fought and a cold war starting, both with the potential of destroying the world. Marxists, particularly Stalin and Mao discovered industrial marxism and their many attempts to control nature produced only disasters. Their heavy handed attempts to create technology produced contaminated industrial wastelands. 

Brave New World is an exercise in Paradise Engineering and the best illustration we have to the darker implications of the Ecomodernist Manifesto. Ecomodernism revives the faith in technology of the late 19th and early 20th century, an optimism that found expression in our growing ability to shape the world coupled with hubris and belief that nature has nothing necessary to offer us.

The Ecomodernist Manifesto sees progress as a decoupling humanity from nature using technology as in Huxley’s vision. While one can quibble for or against the specific technologies that the Ecomodernists favor, one should first seriously consider the implications for the organization of society which make the Brave New World a model for how an Ecomodernist society must be organized to function.

Ecomodernism postulates movement of population to large cities, industrialization of agriculture and the isolation of areas for nature. There is no room for enjoyment of hunting and fishing, botanizing and birdwatching. There is no understanding of the ecological services that nature offers us and without which we could not survive. No backyards to grill in and mow, but all must move into the megopolis. No place for wild pollinators. It is not that we do not know where that vision leads, and we even have examples today of nations that are essentially single cities such as Singapore moving in that direction.

Huxley’s brave new world was based on genetically engineered social classes with the Alphas at the top and the Deltas and Epsilons at the bottom collecting the garbage and providing other services. Today’s city states and those of the Ecomodernists require vast numbers of Deltas and Epsilons to support the Alphas. They are ancient Greek city states with a small number of citizens benefiting from the labor of a large number of contract workers many on temporary visas. If you are an alpha, it is a good deal, if not, maybe not so much.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 68:

  1. My "utopia" would be the opposite of ecomodernism. I believe that humanity should live in villages of 300-500 people spread out throughout the land with extensive wild natural areas.

    Each village in the United States would have 1,000 acres (4 square kilometers) which would be about a third of its land. This would come out to 2 acres per person.

    Food would be grown with permaculture food forests and some mechanized agriculture which is optimum for growing grains.

    The remaining land would have its ecology reconstructed to what it was before the Clovis overkill. North America used to have lions, mammoths, giant ground sloths, camels as well as bison. They can either be substituted with their modern equivalent or brought back through genetic engineering.

    Decentralized, human scale communities, with participatory democracies and surrounded by the ancient wilderness we once had.

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  2. Are you proposing massive depopulation of world? You might like to look at this table and see how feasible this is with current population. I guess everyone with very specialised skill-sets that depend on large population densities to make a living are now unskilled agricultural labour? No thanks.

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  3. See also:

    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2015-09-10/ecomodernism-a-response-to-my-critics

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  4. villabolo@1, given current estimates of total world arable land, there is currently 1.4 acres per capita of arable land.  That means the world's population would need to reduce by 30% to even begin to impliment your utopia.  Nor do I think it would be a utopia.  As scaddenp points out, a significant reserve of people not employed in agriculture is required to sustain arts, sciences and an industrial base.  Without those, your utopian community would quickly regress to a patchwork technology system (some high technology could be maintained locally) that was well below western 20th century standards.  The lack of medical facilities (again, population surplus to direct agricultural production) would be partly compensated for by the lack of trade and low population densities significantly reducing the spread of disease, but life would still be "nasty, brutish and short".

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  5. @#2 scaddenp:

    No, I was proposing it for the US which has a lower population density than the rest of the world.

    Also I'm not proposing it in one fell swoop but graduated throughout a 70+ year period where those who are experts in permaculture can teach those who are not. That time period could allow for 10,000 experts to teach 3 times their numbers within a 7 year period to learn basic permaculture techniques and become fully self-reliant. Once the food forests are yielding those persons could in turn teach 3 others and so forth.

    In the meantime conventional grain agriculture can be maintained by the professionals who are now doing it.

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  6. @#4 Tom Curtis

    The loose figures I cited are for the United States. I was envisioning permaculture which is not labor intensive and can, when the trees mature, be sustained with 1 hour worth of labor per person per day. We are already efficient with producing food with only a fraction of our population necessary and through permaculture we can still have the same efficiency with a substantial amount of time per capita necessary for the rest of our social infrastructure.

    Please realize that permaculture/food forests are very different than conventional agriculture.

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  7. And what about those whose skills are more like arts (musicians especially), brain surgery, programming, etc. A fab factory does not scale down to something a village of 500 can staff so presumably we are live without electronics. What does your health care look like?  Note also, that even in US, you have 1.6 acre/person if I have done the conversion from hectare to such an arcane unit correctly.

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  8. Scaddenp @7

    Society won't be limited to that one village but can be open ended with hundreds of thousands of people networking in the same way they do now.

    You can have entire factories and retail establishments run by individual villages whose workers live in that village.

    We currently have suburbs with people traveling to and fro. The same would apply to this type of civilization.

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  9. That sounds like high energy transport use and I just love commuting (not).  Compare that very high density cities, which can sustain good public transport because there are high densities, with land efficiently farmed or are you saying permaculture cannot scale? Good health care because you have very large no. of people within the golden hour, and thriving arts culture because artists can get together. Tough life being a violin teacher if you have less than 50,000 people within 15 minutes.

    Sorry, but your vision isnt for me.

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  10. scaddenp @#7

    Note also, that even in US, you have 1.6 acre/person if I have done the conversion from hectare to such an arcane unit correctly.

    I also have trouble converting metrics to American. I believe the figures would be ~6 acres per person excluding Alaska. I would only take 1/3 of that for residencies and businesses.

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  11. if you use the table in the reference above, you get 0.48hect/per person (actually 1.2 acre) including Alaska. 4x what we have in NZ. China is 0.06ha and Netherlands 0.02ha. Dont see this catching on. I think it is less sustainable than current system from its energy cost.

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  12. scaddenp @#9

    Yes, the population density puts it between suburban and rural densities. Commutes will be, if I did my math right, between 3 and 4 times as far. 

    However, bunching ourselves up, like sardines, until every mega apartment skyscraper has its own doctor and nurse and a violin teacher two buildings down doesn't sound like the good life to me.

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  13. scaddenp @11.

    The land I live in is not considered arable, yet I was able to grow a garden with no problem. There are also fruit trees growing from cracks in the sidewalk and backyards in my apartment complex. I think that the definition of arable pertains to land that can be farmed with mechanized agriculture.

    Don't underestimate permaculture.

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  14. "doesn't sound like the good life to me" well that is entirely a subjective judgement and fortunately you are probably able to live that way if you chose. Just dont confuse it with a sustainable, low-energy life style.

    I find the irony of lifestyle blocks where people feel very eco-friendly, raising their own food, generating their own electricity - and then using maybe 4x times a much energy as me because they then commute to work, school, activities, in their SUV (because, you know, they need one because they are "farmers"), whereas my city lifestyle puts most of that in walking/cycling distance. Many, if not most, lifestyle blocks are basically turning valuable arable land into over-sized accommodation and pet food. I have crunched some of the numbers deep within this analysis

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  15. scaddenp@14

    I find the irony of lifestyle blocks where people feel very eco-friendly, raising their own food, generating their own electricity - and then using maybe 4x times a much energy as me because they then commute to work, school, activities, in their SUV (because, you know, they need one because they are "farmers")...

    In my lifestyle you wouldn't need to drive 4 times as much for most jobs. First, many people won't even need a job if:

    All their food is growing within a minute’s walk of their front door.

    Their house is paid off and ready to be transferred free to their children and successive generations.

    Also, their village or adjacent villages could run a business cooperatively putting their jobs withing a few minutes walk of their residency.

    Then there are plugin hybrid vehicles including SUVs; hybrid buses running between villages; etc.

    PS: Have you heard of Arcosanti?

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  16. No, not heard of Arcosanti, but I still dont see how numbers stack.  Manufacturing (for finite systems), energy, health care, internet, entertainment, security forces, all requiring payment.

    And this is assuming that we want to exist as subsistance farmers - and your option is open only to tiny portion of world's people where there is enough land/per person. In my opinion, a sustainable option is one that has to work for everyone, not just those who accident of birth gives them geographical advantage.

    Now if you think you can subsist utterly independently (really and truly) and find others likewise interested, then go for it. As solution for worlds problems - nope, not without a massive downsize in population  and expectation. Me? I have no ambition to farming - I am from line a farmers that started with my father and ended with me - and have no wish for a life where I cannot use the talents I do possess.

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  17. Scaddenp @#16

    It would not be subsistent farming. I see that as a recurring theme in your responses. Permaculture is less labor intensive than subsistence farming. It is also more efficient and sustainable than mechanized agriculture and lacks the side effects of soil erosion, over fertilization, etc.

    Most of what you mentioned can be done by villages that specialize in whatever business endeavor you care to mention. Each village will have about 200 adults of working age. Four adjacent villages bordering each other will have about 800.

    That is enough to man light manufacturing industries, hospitals, theaters, etc. As for energy it would be solar, wind and natural gas as a backup. The internet, wifi can encompass village areas. Security would be a Swiss style army.

    Also, four adjacent villages could support a small school of about 250 students.

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  18. villabolo @17, permaculture is less labour intensive than subsistence farming, but is far more labour intensive than current commercial farming practises.  That means a population of permaculture farmers can support far fewer information and cultural specialists (like librarians, professors, artists) or indeed, industrial workers.  Granted the hours required per week in an established permaculture farm are sufficiently low that the permaculture farmers can if they desire be part time farmers and part time cottage industrialists (or researchers, or musicians, or what have you), but that doesn't solve the basic person hours equation, and only means the researchers, musicians etc in the society are less skilled at research, music etc.  That might work for music, where practising has its own joy.  It doesn't work for research.  Nor does it work for medicine, or for teaching, and so on.   The net effect, if your model were implemented world wide, would be an overall loss of technology and knowledge.  Health standards would also decline after an initial boost from the elimination of excessive consumption and lack of excercise.

    If, as is far more likely, it was not applied world wide, the nations that did not indulge in the experiment would soon find they had an overwhelming military advantage over those that did, and would take advantage of that fact to end the experiment in their favour.  Armed forces are, of course, another of those specialized roles that are refined in ability by the fact that other people grow the soldiers food (and make their guns, etc).

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  19. We also need to consider the connection between access to "nature" and mental health.  This page is one of many that concludes that access is vital to mental health  enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/nature-and-us/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing .  As far as I can tell this goes against the model of ecomodernism.

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  20. Illuminating that in the article itself and in the comments both here and in the Guardian, no one refers to Huxley's f'ollow up book Ape and Essence.  This is surprising as Ape and Essence is hardly arcane (h/t to  scaddenp).  Brave New World was written pre-WW2  and Ape and Essence post-WW2 and the effect of the war on Huxley is manifest in his contrasting views  of humanity in the two books.  The author of the piece compares Brave New World with 1984 which is really rather inapprpriate.  A better comparison might have been between 1984 and Ape and Essence to compare and contrat the significant effects of the war on both authors.

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  21. Re: current commercial farming practises,

     This includes the acklowledgment of Governments that small players cannot compete as they cannot deal with the losses that seem to be increasing- an insurance issue basically.

     ** The invisible hand has many aspects!!

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  22. villabolo

    Can you provide citations to support your claims of permaculture farms that require little work and provide infite food?  Why aren't people doing this now if it is so great?  Without citations it is just your pipe dream.

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  23. "Ecomodernism holds that not only are humans driving the future of our world, but through technology can decouple our future from natural ecosystems."  Anyone familiar with Science Fiction's need for World-building knows that its going to be a little difficult to develop bases on the Moon or Mars without such a decoupling.  This will clearly have consequences back on Spaceship Earth (imho mostly positive), but I'm not sure if we need to defend ourselves against it quite yet.  As regards any 'debate', I'm not sure if its helped by sentences like this one: "It is a vision of naive young urban professionals."

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  24. The bigger problem with 'ecomodernism', villabolo's plan, and indeed virtually all utopian visions... they always seem to ignore human nature.

    Could a society of rigidly concentrated/dispersed humans work? No... because it will never happen. The only way it could happen is if the humans stopped acting like humans.

    'Oh, you want me to leave my Wall Street accounting firm and go live in a small village in the middle of nowhere? Ok, bye!'

    Seriously... humans just don't work that way. Ecomodernism. Communism. Objectivism. Et cetera. They're all designs based on fictional vaguely human-like creatures. 'Communists' all share equally with each other. 'Objectivists' all give each other full profit for their own labor. Humans? Not so much.

    Come up with a system which humans could/would actually accept... then we can argue about whether the technology and economics actually work.

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  25. CBDunkerson's point about the commonly developed attitude of humans in socio-economic-political sysems is indeed the problem.

    But it is not 'a given' that greed and other self-interested pursuits that can be personally desired must be allowed to be gotten away with.

    "Freedom without Responsibility to participate in the development of a lasting better future for all of humanity" is what is pushed for by those who understand the competetive advanatge they can have through their willingness to behave less acceptably than others.

    Obvious options are:

    • All humans are raised in socio-economic-political environments where they learn to want to be responsible participants in the development of a lasting development of a better future for all of humanity, which means living as part of the robust diversity of life on this or any other amazing planet.
    • Diligent monitoring to identify people attempting to benefit by behaving in ways that are understood to not be part of a lasting better future for all of humanity and swift action to limit the 'success' of such people (keeping their less acceptable behaviour from becoming too popular or profitable to be easily curtailed). (Some may bristle at this point, but any business enterprise that genuinely wants to have a lasting future needs to do this with their employees to determine who to promote, and who to retrain).

    Both paths to humanity having a decent future are actually jointly required actions, and require continued efforts to improve the 'understanding of everything that is going on'. And any new learning about the unacceptability of already developed attitudes and activity would be swiftly acted on to curtail those things even if they have developed significant popularity or profitability among a portion of any generation of humanity.

    So the real challenge for humanity is undestanding the importance of overcoming the developed undeserved power of undeserving people so humanity can most swiftly achieve its fullest potential.

    People who care more about 'getting the best possible present for themselves' and are willing to do things that are contrary to the 'development of the gift of a lasting better future for all of humanity' will fight as viciously as they can get away with against the advancement of humanity. The number of people 'choosing' that attitude and actions needs to be reduced, and the ability of those who resist changing their minds to succeed in their uderstood to be unacceptable pursuits needs to be strictly limited contrary to cries that the potentially damaging Utopian ideal of "Individual Freedom" somehow defends unjust and irrational behaviour.

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  26. One thing nature has taught us, if we observe and listen, is that the dynamic stability of a climax forest is dependent on a highly adaptive and large variety of life organisms.  Monoculture agriculture is like a primitive eco system where growth of a few species is favored until the limits of that expansion choke that species which favors a different species in a succession community.  

    I am sympathetic with villabolo's vision.  I would not go on to say that all people should live in such villages.  However, I do believe that those that do can have a rich varied cultural experience.  Also, the spiritual connection by participating in nurturing life sustaining food can be a big improvement over what we have now.  

    However, the arguments that defend our current high carbon footprint way of supplying abundance is like the primitive ecosystem, works great until you meet the limits of expansion.  In our growth economy, that limit is the ability of release heat because of the accumulative concentration of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and deforestation.  The village model is a sweet spot of optimal partnership of community and nature.  However, there can be larger cities for some functions.  However, in my view there is no need for million + cities.  These metropolises are separated from natural services for maintaining stability.  They require continued input of non sustainable energy and pollution to maintain stability.  

    I am an amateur author.  I offer my fiction for free, www.2050story.wordpress.com is a short fiction that a 35 year old describes his recent past from his 2050 perspective. In it, he describes how a transformation occured.  It is not a utopian world.  However, it offers the hope that is will not be a dystopian world, also. This story does not ignore or wish away the huge dilemmas we face. However, it does imagine how our culture might come to an understanding that the current trends will result in disaster and find motivation to adjust what they believe they need to find a better world.   

    Eli 

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  27. The comments here are as interesting as the essay itself, if not more so. Considering the extent of the disagreements, I am amazed at how civil the comments are.

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  28. CBDunkerson @24:

    The bigger problem with 'ecomodernism', villabolo's plan, and indeed virtually all utopian visions... they always seem to ignore human nature.

    Human nature has evolved within small intimate groups. Yes, there are many who would want exposure to a greater variety of people but there is nothing in my communitarian vision that would prevent that.

    People would either travel 3 to 4 times as much to meet up with those with similar lifestyle or would create a village community of equal minded persons.

    Could a society of rigidly concentrated/dispersed humans work? No... because it will never happen. The only way it could happen is if the humans stopped acting like humans.

    That seems to be circular reasoning.

    'Oh, you want me to leave my Wall Street accounting firm and go live in a small village in the middle of nowhere? Ok, bye!'

    You can have a village of Wall Street Brokers each living in their McMansions. Think of their living in a gated community. Also, they would not be in the middle of “nowhere”. Villages made up of different cultures and affinities would encompass the whole region.

    Seriously... humans just don't work that way. Ecomodernism. Communism. Objectivism. Et cetera. They're all designs based on fictional vaguely human-like creatures. 'Communists' all share equally with each other. 'Objectivists' all give each other full profit for their own labor. Humans? Not so much.

    We’ve had decentralized societies before.

    Come up with a system which humans could/would actually accept... then we can argue about whether the technology and economics actually work.

    How do you know that many people would not accept such a society?

    One thing I should mention is that my society would be voluntary. You would still have cities but I believe that most people would choose to live in modern villages with more land than your average suburbanite.

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  29. villabolo @28, leaving aside issues of viability, if your idea for society is voluntary, does that extend to rural landholders.  That is, can current monoculture farmers (or their landlords) retain their land for that purpose rather than giving it over for permaculture villages if they desire?  If so, then my prediction is that permaculture villages will only ever become an oddity in an overall culture that develops along current lines.  If not, then you are only giving the urbanites the ability to volantarilly starve following the massive drop in surpluss food that will accompany the swithch to permaculture villages.

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  30. One Planet Only Forever @#25:

    Diligent monitoring to identify people attempting to benefit by behaving in ways that are understood to not be part of a lasting better future for all of humanity and swift action to limit the 'success' of such people (keeping their less acceptable behaviour from becoming too popular or profitable to be easily curtailed). (Some may bristle at this point, but any business enterprise that genuinely wants to have a lasting future needs to do this with their employees to determine who to promote, and who to retrain).

    Good point. For example, clinical psychopaths are considered to be 1-3% of the general population but are the cause of most grief in human society. They can be identified through brain scans that they cannot fake (It's a neurological problem with them).

    Filtering them out of corporate systems with those brain scans should be a condition of employment.

    Another way of preventing "perverse incentives" would be a syndicalistic economy where the employees own, operate and manage their own businesses. They're not likely to slash their own salaries to squeeze a few percent out of a company's costs in order to make stockbrokers and CEOs rich.

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  31. Tom Curtis @29,

    That is, can current monoculture farmers (or their landlords) retain their land for that purpose rather than giving it over for permaculture villages if they desire?

    Good point. One thing to keep in mind about my concept is that it will not be done in one drastic move but will have a transition period of 50-70 years.

    Agricultaral landlords will keep their own land but will not be able to pass it on to their heirs. Instead their heirs will have the right, as will everyone else, to free occupancy of the village of their choice if they so choose.

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  32. Villabolo - what I meant by subsistance farming, is farming which is sustaining the farmer and not much else. The methology is unimportant in this definition. Firstly, I would agree that real subsistance farming is low energy, low impact. Such farmers would have some of the lowest ecological footprints available - also "nasty, brutish and short".

    My point is that the moment you do something else as well, then the energy impacts from such low density cut in big time. A fab plant has work force of 1000-5000. No fab plant, then no electronics, internet etc.My local hospital serving 180,000 employs 3000+. It is not full service - we have to go larger one 5 hours away for specialized things like some oncology treatments, neurosurgery, specialized pediatic etc. The distances involved for serving such a facility in your system would be large. And so it goes on. Our little university is a community of 28,000 in itself. The cost of splitting this into tiny portions or travelling to it boggles the mind. I am not sure how your part time police force would work either.

    Like Michael Sweet, I struggled to find any reliable estimate for permaculture labour effectiveness. Since I have to support others who either too old or too young for gardening as well, even 1 hour/person is way more time than I want to spend. As with Michael, I suspect if it really was low, then commercial gardens would have adopted it. Instead organics of any kind are premium priced in my farmers market.

    2 of the ecologists here are into permaculture but only for their vege and fruit. Growing protein crops like grain or legumes is pretty challenging in our climate but they doubted very much you could do it for hour/person. They also queried time requirement for food preservation given that nothing much comes out of gardens in winter.

    I would also agree with ELIofVA that megacities need to be few and far between. 250,000 is biggest I would be happy in and 1-2M seems to provide most of what humanity could desire.

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  33. "Good point. For example, clinical psychopaths are considered to be 1-3% of the general population but are the cause of most grief in human society. They can be identified through brain scans that they cannot fake (It's a neurological problem with them)."

    This really is Brave new World. Can I have a reference for this please?

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  34. scaddenp @ 33,

    http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=207996

    These others are abstracts only:

    http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(96)00290-9/abstract

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811907011706

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] fixed links

  35. Thanks for those links. Fascinating and pretty scary. Suppose you have someone with the physical attributes but no record of criminal behaviour?

    If you are filtering identified people out of society effectively, then what does happen to them. This is like something straight out of Brave new world or A clockwork Orange.

    Actually, it is also off topic, so I had better shut up.

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  36. scaddenp @32

    Villabolo - what I meant by subsistance farming, is farming which is sustaining the farmer and not much else.

    Yes, I know. What I'm trying to explain, and I mentioned it before, is that permaculture, in the form of food forests, is very low maintenance when it matures (let's say 10 years) which can be maintained in a fraction of the time that other horticultural methods require. Once the trees are yielding you only have to go to them to collect the food, like a trip to the supermarket.

    Permaculture doesn't just reduce labor but energy input. You won't need an energy intensive method of transporting food through trailer trucks.

    Nor does it have to follow that all individuals have to tend to an individual garden. Those villages can have a collective permaculture orchard, 2 acres per person, which can feed everyone several times over with a relatively small labor force.

    Think of it as a self sustaining forest in your backyard where a substantial form of the biomass is edible as opposed to a regular forest.

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  37. scaddenp @32

    Growing protein crops like grain or legumes is pretty challenging in our climate but they doubted very much you could do it for hour/person.

    I agree. Grain growing would be done through conventional mechanized agriculture although maintaining the integrity of the soil - overfertilization, erosion - would be problems that have to be tackled.

    I don’t recall if I mentioned it but I believe that mechanized monoculture is the most efficient way of growing grain. However, less than 1% percent of the population (US) is needed to grow enough grain and that’s enough for an abundance.

    PS: Check out Arcosanti. It’s not quite the same as I’m proposing but you might find it interesting.

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  38. But it is still subsistance farming if you are only producing it for yourself. Ie not supporting non-farming specialists. Farming and transport of foods are only around 10% of per capita energy consumption in western world (see MacKay's "Sustainable energy without the hot air"). so concentrating on reducing energy costs there while increasing energy consumption for virtually every other activity is false economy.

    I also cannot find data to support your estimates of labour cost. Anything that looks like someone actually measured it is higher but cant find anything that separates organic farming from permaculture. Where did you derive the figure?

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  39. Scaddenp @32

    A fab plant has work force of 1000-5000. No fab plant, then no electronics, internet etc.My local hospital serving 180,000 employs 3000+. It is not full service - we have to go larger one 5 hours away for specialized things like some oncology treatments, neurosurgery, specialized pediatic etc. The distances involved for serving such a facility in your system would be large. And so it goes on. Our little university is a community of 28,000 in itself. The cost of splitting this into tiny portions or travelling to it boggles the mind. I am not sure how your part time police force would work either.

    Try to visualize each village as being four square kilometers (1,000 acres) and the area in which they’re located divided into a checkerboard grid like a chessboard (Only in flat terrain though).

    A village would have 300-500 residents out of which there would be about 200-350 working adults. Four adjacent villages would have enough for light industries. Sixteen adjacent villages would have somewhat over 5,000. That would be 5-10 miles maximum travel depending on the location of the business relative to the villages whose population they draw from.

    I forget the math but I once calculated that distances would be 4 times as much compared to suburban areas. Yes that’s a distance to travel but I believe that many would be glad to swap that compared to the life they live in now.

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  40. Villabolo,

    I notice that you have provided no references, not even popular press articles, in support of your wild claims of permaculture gardens providing food for people.  

    I currently have an 3/4 acre orchard in Florida that does not provide even a fraction of my food needs.  I used to have a much smaller garden in California that provided me with most of my vegetables but no meat or grains and few fruits. That garden took more than an hour a day to work. 

    I am a member of three garden clubs including the Rare Fruit Growers which is primarily an edible tree group.  I have never heard of anyone who has a permaculture garden like you describe.  We have never had a program describing such gardens.  You must provide links to support your wild claims.

    I do not think Vilabolo should be allowed to post again on this topic until he provides documentation on his wild permaculture claims.

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  41. I did check it out but it seems a very long way from what you are proposing. It is not a self-sufficient community for starters and has population of 5000 which significantly reduces some costs. The architectural value is scalable to very large population and it does focus on high-density as it should.

    If you take protein out of equation, then you are only talking vege gardening. The energy and money savings is much reduced and I guess I could believe 1h/p/d for that but still doubt food preservation time is factored in. Granted grain production in USA is more than enough for population and that a lot is wasted on animal feed, but a considerable amount is exported to places you cant grow it. Grim for them. If you take out land in grain production from the arable land equation, how much does that give per person?

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  42. "Yes that’s a distance to travel but I believe that many would be glad to swap that compared to the life they live in now."

    The problem we have is that indeed lots of people want to have high energy lifestyle because that is what you are describing. Up there with having an overseas holiday every year. The density is too low for cost-effective public transport. You have to fit in not one but a whole of lot services. Take a city of 100,000 and you might have schools/uni, hospital, court/police, and a collection of industries and services. All the things needed to service 100,000 people. Now you want to spread the actual people for those over a very big area - an area big enough for 100,000.

    We have energy costs running cars that are 3-4 times as much as costs of agriculture already. What would your scheme do to that? To me, this is a lifestyle choice not an ecological choice. If everyone chose this, it would be worse for planet (because of its energy cost) than current system.

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  43. scaddenp @35,

    Thanks for those links. Fascinating and pretty scary. Suppose you have someone with the physical attributes but no record of criminal behaviour?

    If you are filtering identified people out of society effectively, then what does happen to them. This is like something straight out of Brave new world or A clockworkOrange.

    Actually, it is also off topic, so I had better shut up.

    They would be filtered as managers from most businesses, no different than a drug screening. They would also receive life imprisonment for committing certain crimes such as embezzlement. In view of the economic meltdown we had a few years ago, which I believe to have been triggered by psychopaths gaming the system, I believe it should be a prerequisite for any corporation to screen them. Behavior modification just doesn’t help them.

    And yes, I would offer voluntary genetic screening for couples who are thinking of having children but want to make sure they don’t have the genes floating in their family tree that code for psychopathy.

    PS: Thank you for all the challenging questions. I’ve had to rethink some of my ideas.

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  44. And thank you for civil discussion. I dont want megacity living but I also dont have arcadian dreams of self-sufficient farming. In my opinion we have overshot the population limit -the reality is intensive agriculture and high living density for much of humanity. But also do believe we can make it work. I think my city could be pushed into 1/2 the area for which we live with reduced living areas but in return get short travel times, (especially to out of the city), good public transport, efficient provision of services and reduced waste of arable land. So maybe ecomodernism but i dont see it means decoupling from enjoying nature nor that farming is necessarily ecologically unsound.

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  45. Michael Sweet @40,

    You can find a primer at regenerativedesign.org

    and you can go here to get an idea of what Bill Mollison, one of permaculture's founder, has to say:

    www.unigaia-brasil.org/pdfs/principiosPC/1981-IntroductiontoPermaculture,PDC-BillMollison.pdf

    and

    archive.org/details/PermacultureADesignersManual_306

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed link - though a quick perusal finds no information on labour costs and certainly nothing with any rigour.

  46. Kia ora, scaddenp

    I had a look at your "analysis" — interesting.  Try the Google search "aircraft fuel ammonia" and let us know what you think.

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  47. Digby - that is actually the first I have heard about using ammonia as a rocket fuel - very interesting. Since you put "analysis" in quotes, I am guessing you have some criticism which I would be happy to hear. There has been a 2012 update and will do again if there significant issues. My contact details are in the document - such a discussion would be off-topic here.

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  48. Though it looks to me like ammonia is an "energy carrier". Conventional ammonia production comes from fossil fuels as feedstock- the hydrogen has to come from somewhere cheap.

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  49. Ammonia is an excellent transport mechanism for hydrogen - no carbon molecules involved. Energy mass density is about half that of hydrocarbons, in a range to be useful, and far more concentrated than metal hydride or cryogenic storage of hydrogen (not to mention avoiding the issues of maintaining cryogenic storage). It could be useful in road transport as well as some aviation applications for the energy density alone. 

    [ Side note - it was used with LOX as a rocket fuel on the X-15, selected for good Isp, handling safety, high energy density, a very high specific heat that made it an excellent coolant for the rocket engine, and the potential to provide relevant data on later H2/LOX engines. ]

    There's ongoing research in using ammonia to feed fuel cells directly, currently limited by ammonia poisoning of membranes and electrode longevity. Time will tell on that front, but given that electric cars are perhaps twice as efficient as internal combustion vehicles, you would need about equal fuel volume per distance traveled. 

    However, it's a transport mechanism, not a power source - you still need the energy to create the ammonia. 

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  50. Villabolo,

    Thank you for the references.  As the moderator points out, your references do not support your wild claims about permaculture.  I find nothing to suggest a single person can get a significant fraction of their food fron this method.   It is an interesting landscaping idea for those, like me, who like to spend a lot of time in their gardens already.  

    How much of your food do you get from this scheme?  What are the trees you grow and how much time per week do you tend them?  What is your fertilizer cost?

    When I moved to Florida 12 years ago I noticed many citrus trees in peoples backyards that were covered with fruit this time of year.  Most people did not bother to go into their backyards to pick the fruit, it was left to rot on the ground.  Those trees have been killed by a disease (citrus greening) and most people no longer have a fruit tree in their gardens.

    You will have to look a long time to find a more experienced gardener than me.  I have over 100 fruit trees in my yard.  I cultivate over an acre of land.  Your fantasy that "permaculture" with no work to harvest food from established trees will never happen.

    This discussion has reached its useful end.  I will not post again on your fantasies.

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