PRESERVING THE PAST TO SERVE THE FUTURE

Transition, Permaculture, and Slow Technology

Slow Tech referenced Preserving the Past to Serve the Future

A version of this article first appeared on the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) of Transition US, blog

Transition US has published Preserving the Past to Serve the Future http://www.transitionus.org/stories/preserving-past-serve-future-using-pre-fossil-fuel-technology-regional-waterways

OpEd News has published Preserving the Past to Serve the Future http://www.opednews.com/articles/Preserving-the-Past-to-Ser-by-Andrew-Willner-130731-538.html

Keene Transitions has re-published Preserving the Past to Serve the Future, http://keenetransition.wordpress.com/events-calendar/re-skilling-workshops/

The Permaculture Research Center has posted Preserving the Past to Serve the Future http://permaculturenews.org/2013/08/23/preserving-the-past-to-serve-the-future/

Resilience re-posted Preserving the Past to Serve the Future http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-08-27/preserving-the-past-to-serve-the-future-using-pre-fossil-fuel-technology-on-regional-waterways

oyster sloop2

 “Today, traditional knowledge is in danger and its disappearance would not only cause the loss of people’s capability to keep and pass on the artistic and natural heritage, but also of an extraordinary source of knowledge and cultural diversity from which the appropriate innovation solutions can be derived today and in the future.”

 Slow Money is a movement to organize investors and donors to steer new sources of capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and local food systems. The Slow Foodslow food movement aims to preserve cultural cuisine and in so doing to preserve the food plants and seeds, domestic animals and farming within an eco-region. It is also a social and political movement that resists the dehumanizing  effects  of fast food and corporate farming.  Slow Tech is about the re-invigoration of heirloom technologies and traditional skills needed to thrive in a carbon-constrained future.

Transition is the movement by which people are re-skilled in heirloom technologies.  Permaculture gave birth to the Transition movement and offers guidance on how to use those skills to design resilient lives.  Transition HandbookThe ethics; earth carepeople care, and fair share  form the foundation for Permaculture and are also found in most traditional societies.  Permaculture incorporates knowledge from cultures that have existed in  balance with their environment for much longer than our consumer centered fossil fueled society. We should not  ignore the positive accomplishments of modern times, but in the transition to a sustainable future, we need to consider values and concepts different from what has become the social norm.

Slow Technology:

C. Milton Dixon, interviewed in The (Chicago) Examiner, May 2011, said:

 “(high tech is) industrial technology and refers to things that are out of your control, as opposed to low technology, which is simple things done in a smart way. Low technology is using the intelligence of nature to accomplish tasks. High technology is buying an apple from the store; low technology is getting an apple from a tree you planted yourself. One of the big differences is in high technology you are disconnected from cause and effect relationships. So if you pollute through high technology, you may not feel the direct result. Low technology is connection because you are involved in the process and you are directly affected by the consequences.”

The idea of Slow Technology has its roots in the ideological movement called “appropriate technology,” a term coined by E.F. Schumacher in his book “Small is Beautiful,” first published in 1973.  Slow or appropriate technology centers on ideas of proper scale: technology should be “people-centered.”  “Slow technology as an ideology that extends smallisbeautifulandbordthoughtfulness about how devices shape our relationships to time, emotion and energy. Slow Technology is articulated in an article by two Swedish designers, Lars Hallnas and Johan Redstrom, who in 2001 described Slow Technology as “a design agenda for technology aimed at reflection and moments of mental rest rather than efficiency in performance.”

….. the central condition of empowering people to develop to the best of their abilities and to have freedom to succeed or fail based on their own efforts is critical.  The appropriate technology movement has at its philosophical heart the desire to capacitate people of all walks of life to create (1) Meaningful Employment, (2) Comprehension of Technology, (3) Self-Reliance, and (4) Reduced Environmental Impacts. 

Transition fosters and supports the revitalization of Slow Tech skills and Permaculture asks us to consider relearning the proficiency needed to reanimate wind mills, watermills, and sailing vessel while putting hand tools, levers, and blocks and tackle back into service.

Technology can be Slow in various ways: 

  • It takes time to learn how it works,
  • It takes time to understand why it works the way it works,
  • It takes time to apply it
  • It takes time to see what it is
  • and it takes time to find out the consequences of using it

woodworking toolsNo woodworker’s first project is a chair, a house, a mill, or a boat.  My first woodworking lesson was to take a rough piece of lumber, and using hand tools that (I sharpened) to shape it into a three dimensional absolutely square finished piece of wood.  It took me a full day and I used every tool on my bench.

Once my practice was established I developed a method that worked for me.  First I sat with a piece of tracing paper and did a rough sketch of the final product.  Then I drew it full scale in three views.  From that drawing I could determine what amount of wood was needed, where each joint would go, and how the pieces would transition from one toandy chair and table another to create an aesthetically pleasing whole.  Then the sawing, planing, joinery, shaping, and finishing would take place.  Each of those steps were learned by doing, learning from others, by using traditional references, and knowing that the dimensions and materials were appropriate for the final use.

I was lucky both to have mentors, and to have the time to hone my skills first as a student, then an apprentice, and then as a resident woodworker at Peters Valley Craft Center in New Jersey.  Peters Valley gave me the opportunity, and the time, to learn the business, practice my craft, and teach.  It also was a community of like-minded professional potters, weavers, metal workers, and woodworkers that supported one potter at peters valleyanother.  If we are to learn the skills necessary to survive and thrive in a post carbon world, more places like Peters Valley will be necessary, more experienced craft workers will have to open their shops to apprentices, and more people are going to have to be willing to take the time, resources, and effort to learn.

I left a “Deep Transition” course at Genesis Farm in New Jersey where we decided that one of the “take aways” was to look for streams in our home watersheds called “Mill Creek,” and streets in our towns called, “Mill Road.” In doing so we might find a mill converted to another use. I easily found at several Mill Creeks and one Saw Mill Creek in my watershed.

red mill clintonNear a farm where I work part of the week In Clinton, NJ one mill is an art center and the other is operating as an exhibit. In Thompson PA the old grain mill is operational but abandoned. Many mills are currently used as educational tools by historical societies or operated as restaurants and shops rather than for the purposes for which they were built.

Water mills are being built and rebuilt for grinding grain, pressing cider, as well as producing electricity for individually owned operations and nearby communities. Building, restoring, preserving, and actively using these technologies is key to preserving the past to serve the future. In order to support these efforts, Transition advocates must make alliances with historical societies who use these mills as educational tools but are not operating them for the purposes for which they were built; with restaurant owners and antique stores that are using the mills for a completely unrelated purposes; and to identify locations where mills can be built or rebuilt in order to re-skill the woodworkers, millwrights, and inform farmers about the advantages of water power for the future.

Commerce and water transport of farm and manufactured goods flourished for millennia before cheap fossil fuels became readily available.  Short Sea Shipping:  i.e. carrying freight that does not cross oceans,  is having a resurgence particularly in Europe as more people build and rebuild  ships for the transport of goods along coastal waters.  The inland waters of the mid-Atlantic is a region where sailing cargo vessels may well be competitive right now for certain cargoes.

Erik Andrus’ Vermont Sail Freight Project is the most viable such project in The Mid-Atlantic region. Thevermont sail freight vessel Ceres, built on a farm near Lake Champlain will carry Vermont farm goods to New York City and ports in between, and return to Burlington with fair trade goods, like cocoa beans that have been delivered by sailing vessel to Brooklyn from the Caribbean.

The Vermont Sail Freight Project is worthy of our support, but Transition advocates must encourage the owners of small sail freighters like the South Street Seaport’s Pioneer to put her back into that service for the part of the year she is not carrying passengers, and for other vessels like Clearwater to become pilots for the Slow Tech freight carriers of the future.

The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) of Transition US will support these efforts in the fall of 2013 by bringing together builders, millwrights, boat builders, woodworkers, crafts persons, and historical societies to participate in a Powered Down Waterways Reskilling Festival. Jim Kricker, preeminent restorer of traditional waterwheels, windmills and sailing vessels, rondout woodworking 2will anchor a two-day Reskilling Festival featuring demonstrations, talks, and hands-on instruction. Jim’s website, Rondout Woodworking  is a valuable resource for locating working and restored mills.

The International Traditional Knowledge Institute gathers and protects historical knowledge, promotes and certifies innovative practices. Using traditional knowledge does not mean direct reapplication of techniques from the past, but rather seeks to understand the logic of past models of knowledge. It is a dynamic system able to incorporate innovation subjected to the test of the long term and thus achieves local and environmental sustainability.

Lewis Mumford wrote in 1970:

The great feat of medieval technics was that it was able to promote and absorb many important changes without losing the immense carryover of inventions and skill from earlier cultures. In this lies one of it vital point of superiority over the modern mode of monotechnics, which boast of effacing, as fast and as far as possible, the technical achievements of earlier periods.

There are schools and apprentice shops for learning large-scale woodworking skills that are and will be needed for Slow Tech water-driven mills, and wind-driven vessels that will be part of the continuum that supersedes the “blip” of petroleum powered short term thinking and consumption.

The following are some links to the resources, skills, and techniques that are needed to Transition our Bioregion to one that is carbon constrained yet resilient, abundant, and equitable. Let the following list be a starting point – an opportunity to contribute your water wheelown favorite sites, books, , drawings, and especially experiences with humans with these skills.  Perhaps this list can be the beginning of a Bioregional Traditional Knowledge Database  that will gather and protect historical knowledge and promote innovative practices based on traditional skills.

 

 

To Small to Fail

Too Big to Fail versus Too Small to Fail

Buy Locally, Hire Locally, Invest Locally

Buy local  poster

 I first heard the term “Too Small to Fail” as the title of a CD by satirists Mikhail Horowitz and Gilles Malkine  I then did a little more research and found a book by Louis Hernandez,abc_ann_mm_hernandez_110223_mn Too Small to Fail, about community banking.

I have been thinking and writing about how local food, local energy, local businesses, community/public banking, local currencies, and resilient communities are strategically positioned to be “too small to fail” as opposed to bloated Wall Street financial Institutions, “sunset industries,” and corporate farming that have been, and probably will continue to be bailed out because they are “Too Big to Fail.”  The term “too big to fail” may have been first used by  Congressman Stewart McKinney in a Congressional hearing, discussing the FDIC’s intervention with Continental Illinois in 1984.

“Nearly a century ago, Justice Louis Brandeis railed against what he called the “curse of bigness.” He warned that banks, railroads and steel companies had grown so huge that they were lording it over the nation’s economic and political life.   “Size, we are told, is not a crime,” Brandeis wrote. “But size may, at least, become noxious by reason of the means through which it is attained or the uses to which it is put.”

too big to failFederal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke also defined the term in 2010:

A too-big-to-fail firm is one whose size, complexity, interconnectedness, and critical functions are such that, should the firm go unexpectedly into liquidation, the rest of the financial system and the economy would face severe adverse consequences.” He continued that: “Governments provide support to too-big-to-fail firms in a crisis not out of favoritism or particular concern for the management, owners, or creditors of the firm, but because they recognize that the consequences for the broader economy of allowing a disorderly failure greatly outweigh the costs of avoiding the failure in some way. Common means of avoiding failure include facilitating a merger, providing credit, or injecting government capital, all of which protect at least some creditors who otherwise would have suffered losses…If the crisis has a single lesson, it is that the too-big-to-fail problem must be solved.” 

 In Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book, Too Big to Fail, the Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System and Themselves, he wrote that in a “Too Big to Fail”  scenario, assertions have been made that certain financial institutions are so large and so interconnected that their failure would be disastrous to the economy, and they therefore must be supported by government when they face difficulty. The book Too_Big_to_Fail_filmwas adapted in 2011 for the  television movie Too Big to Fail. The financial meltdown and
the global economic crisis resulting from the sub-prime mortgage debacle began to change the public’s perception of previously trusted financial institutions. 

 Some economists such as Paul Krugman have asserted that economies of scale in banks and in other businesses are worth preserving, so long as they are well regulated.  Other economists, financial experts, bankers (like Former Citigroup Chairman & CEO Sanford I. Weill), finance industry groups, and banks themselves have called for breaking up large banks into smaller institutions and assert  that a companies that benefit from these “too big to fail” policies will deliberately take risky, unsound positions, without being responsible for the losses.

Louis Hernandez, Jr., said in his book, Too Small to Fail:

  “….. using historical examples, points out that the rate of change impacting the financial services industry is accelerating. The industry has been slow to respond to change, and the focus on the recent crisis has uncovered fundamental problems that financial institutions have been avoiding…”

Too Small to Fail:

 Resilient communities are at the core of a Too Small to Fail future. If we don’t plan for more robust communities, and implement solutions for undeniable problems, a catastrophic crash seems inevitable. However crisis can equal opportunity as we saw during the Great Depression and during World War II. But unless sensible plans to manage disaster are formulated and put forward now, the opportunity afforded by crisis could be hijacked by a more organized well-financed minority with an authoritarian agenda.

“Our economic system has failed in every dimension: financial, environmental, and social. Moreover the current financial collapse provides an incontestable demonstration that it is unable to self-correct.… The need is not to repair Wall Street but to replace it with institutions devoted to serving the financial needs of ordinary people in ways that are fair, honest, and consistent with the reality of our human dependence on Earth’s biosphere.” David Korten,Agenda for a New Economy Continue reading