Formatting has not been copied over well, but can still be read ok. Some sections aren’t very developed or could even be blank, this is not a formatting copy error, I’ll get around to finishing all the sections eventually; welcome to anarchy my friends.
Vol 1: On Decentralization
Part 1: Solar Energy Society
Humanity’s Energy Choices
A collapse of nature is the greatest problem we face today. Some of our ecological problems are mass-extinction, desertification, ocean acidification, rain forest destruction, soil and water table depletion, bio-accumulating pollutants, and climate chaos. These problem are caused by our destruction and disturbance of ecosystems and diversity, which support complex living systems, including humans.
These problems do not simply affect us in some distant future we can ignore but poisons our bodies, impoverishes our surroundings and is the result of a social organization profoundly harmful in its own right to most people.
The root of these ecological and social catastrophes lie in our super-exploitation of nature using centralized processes, a work centuries in the making but recently amplified out of all control and perspective by the incredible energy unleashed by oil, and other fossil fuels.
This problem is not static: as we modify the world we also modify our problems and ourselves, which make matters even more complicated.
One such complicating problem we face is the immanent peak in oil production that may collapse the global mechanized economy, completely changing society as we know it (this peak may already be in the past according to many experts).
Though our dependence on oil is central to our environmental problems, one way to deal with the decline of cheap oil is the rapid expansion of low quality fossil fuels and/or a wholesale conversion of the biological sphere into synthetic bio-fuels.
Both these ongoing strategies have the potential to cause far greater environmental damage than cheap fossil fuels have up to now.
However, peak oil does not force us in any one direction, but rather accelerates the choice we must make between complete destruction of our habitat and living in some other way. The proposition explored here is using solar energy directly. Solar energy is free, abundant, can be concentrated by simple methods for high-efficiency and high-temperature applications, and can be used locally.
However, it is infeasible to simply plug renewable energy to the globalized mechanized economy as we know it. Fossil fuels stored conveniently underground requiring little energy to extract, in particular oil, permitted the modern world to achieve a level of waste that is simply impossible to maintain through renewable energy.
(Note from 2019: Since writing the above paragraphs in 2010, conventional oil has peaked in production and dirtier sources, such as fracking and bitumen sands, are filling the gap. In 2010 the word “oil” referred to oil, bitumen referred to bitumen, shale referred to shale; it’s only since that all these, as well as not even fossil fuels such as ethanol, started to be all called “oil” to imply nothing significant has changed.)
The simple realization that energy is precious and not accessible in infinite quantity, that there is a limit to oil for instance, is incompatible with the entire modern approach to essentially everything.
As such, we have only 4 realistic choices:
1. Fossil-Industrial Subsistence — to the bitter end,
2. Bio-Energy Economy — similar to the Medieval period,
3. Depopulation — such as mass genocide and sterilization,
4. Decentralized Direct Solar Energy Society — based on simple high-power solar concentrators.
This chapter summarizes these choices and concludes that a direct solar energy society is the only choice that is both ethical, feasible, resilient and sustainable.
Choice 1: Fossil-Industrial Subsistence
The most dangerous path the world can take is fossil-industrial subsistence, where the industrial system falls into fossil-fuel entrapment, in which there are only enough resources and fossil-energy to maintain the global infrastructure functioning at a minimum level, and as a consequence no extra energy to build or transition to an alternative system.
Reorganizing society (or deploying a miracle technology if we magically find one), requires energy and resources, and if there is no surplus available then society can do nothing else than attempt to maintain the system as is. An analogy is a boat that is so badly damaged all hands are needed to simply keep it afloat and no hands are available to navigate it, much less repair it or build some life rafts. No matter what ideas or tools the sailors have they have no spare-energy to make use of them; they can only hope to stay afloat long enough to either be rescued or crash into land. Since, every passing moment we become more and more tired (expend the energy we have) and since our vessel deteriorates further all the time, our chances are slim. Though there is always hope to be saved stranded in a boat, for the world as a whole it is far less likely we’ll either be rescued at the last moment or crash into a new habitable earth with new resources.
If we are bailing the planet of her resources to keep civilization afloat there may not be an island to be stranded on.
In other words an industrial subsistence economy will not only cause incredible ecological damage to already fragile life systems, but be highly unstable due to the diminishing volumes of available oil year by year, always necessitating more pressure on life systems and inciting more wars for the remaining cheap oil, all the while mechanized infrastructure will continue to deteriorate with increasingly infrequent maintenance. Since oil is finite, the situation could not possibly last and a far worse collapse is guaranteed sooner or later.
Due to declining oil extraction, the time in which a “renewable” mechanized mega-machine could have hypothetically been constructed is long past. What it look like and whether it could have ever been possible to begin with is of only academic interest.
If the choice of fossil-industrial subsistence is taken, the damage of the fossil fuels age will be extended until the absolute physical limits are reached; there is reason to believe whatever life remains will not be able to support human life. In the worst case scenario civilization embarks on converting as many plants as possible into synthetic fuels, which would be a short and feeble dying breath of industrial civilization before asphyxiation, quite possibly in a literal sense.
Unfortunately, for industrial nations this is the choice of least thought and so represents a real and significant danger to us all. Central governments, for the time being at least, seem to be going down this path as fast as possible.
Fortunately there are other forces at work in the world.
Choice 2: Bio-Energy Economy
The choice of least thought for non-industrial nations is to revert to an economy based on local sources of bio-energy, mostly on fire-wood and draft animals. Such an economy would remind us of life in the Medieval age, though with some important differences.
Though in many places a local bio-energy economy still exists, it is a mistake to underestimate the fossil fuel input into non-industrial societies. For instance, though about half the world’s population cook with firewood, essentially all steel mining, smelting and working is based on fossil fuels (or electricity mostly derived from fossil fuels); to imagine reverting to wood charcoal for even a small percentage of this work would represent a significant amount of energy that could not be sustained. Likewise, 97% of all transportation in the world is based on oil.
For industrial and industrializing nations a fuel-wood draft-animal based system is infeasible without a radical voluntary reduction of activities such as eating meat, metallurgy, pottery and ceramics, concrete, electricity and motorized transport, not to mention electronics and wanton consumption.
For instance, all of Europe’s forests have an estimated annual wood production of 200 kg per person, about 145 Kg equivalent of oil energy, and currently the average European consumes energy roughly 2300 kg of oil equivalent annually. But even with a ten fold decrease in energy consumption it is still debatable whether such a system would be sustainable, as before the coal-industrial revolution Europe is considered to have had reached a maximum biological capacity.
Today Europe not only has 4 times more people but her soil has been steadily degrading since the the Medieval period. Moreover, essentially all primary forests have been destroyed and a significant amount of rivers are dead. Much the same can be said of most of the world.
Though this choice is hypothetically workable it is extremely difficult to put into practice for both social and bio-physical reasons.
The political difficulty in transferring to a local bio-energy system globally is very intense. For, even if developing nations succeed in returning to a bio-energy system (whom may have no other choice), this may be largely irrelevant if industrial nations decided upon continuing business as usual at all costs, consuming as many biological resources in the world as possible through their “assymetric” trade policies already in place.
The bio-physical factors working against such a plan: ecological-energy-amplification and ecological-collateral-damage, are discussed below.
Choice 3: Depopulation (Mass-Genocide)
The certain cataclysm that would be caused by fossil-industrial subsistence, and the extreme political and practical difficulty a bio-energy economy, leads some to propose killing a majority of people, often the poor, under the euphemism of “depopulation”.
This genocidal movement, often praised in the main-stream media and ecological circles, lobbies for plans ranging from exacerbating famines, engineering super viruses, forced abortions and sterilizations, to passive justification of the loss of human life due to industrial exploitation of poorer nations (albeit the irrationality of this last position seems to betray a cynical and/or diabolical intent, as it is of course consumerism, based on the over exploitation of poor nations, that causes far more damage.
The problem with this plan is first that it is unethical to kill someone, or let someone die, if it is avoidable. The depopulation lobby confuses the idea that “the potential that something could be necessary in certain situations” with “that thing is actually necessary”.
However, this is clearly untrue, simply imagining something might be necessary under certain circumstances does not mean those circumstances actually exist in the real world. For instance, I can imagine a situation where it would be necessary to kill you in self defence, but my imagining this does not mean you are actually attacking me in the real world.
In the real world depopulation would only be ethical to pursue if all viable alternative options to diminish our impact on nature had been tried and failed in as transparent and democratic a way as possible (not in some report by a handful of people sitting in an office).
This exhaustion of alternatives is currently far from being the case. And even if all these third options were tried — doing away with consumer culture, local solar economies, eating less meat, growing edible algae, putting the subsidies into developing permaculture that is currently put into the ongoing petro-chemical-mass-plant-cloning-experiment on both animal and human subjects, food forests, greening arid land with food-forest-permaculture techniques, to name a few — a depopulation program would only be ethical if it too was democratically adopted and managed.
We should also note it is nearly ethically essential that the main proponents of depopulation be the first to volunteer for the program, otherwise it is difficult to assume their arguments are born from a genuine concern for humanity.
Secondly, if an alternative way of living sustainably is developed, humans may find important ecological roles, and a large population may actually be helpful in replanting trees and detoxifying the world. 
However, rather than try to work against people’s tendency to adapt, the alternative option is to work with this tendency and develop ways of living without fossil fuels nor the heavy ecological impact of a medieval-like society.
Choice 4: Direct Solar Energy Society
Serious physical and moral impasses are encountered for essentially every ecological study that assumes only the above three choices exist, usually based on the assumptions: 1) that a non-industrial world must necessarily be similar to a Medieval world, and 2) that no significant improvement to our ecological impact can be made above that of the Medieval period. These assumptions are both false.
There is at least a fourth choice. This fourth choice is based on the observations that nearly all phenomenon on the earth is powered by the sun.
For instance, medieval society exploited all locally accessible natural solar derived energy (bio, wind, hydro) to near, or above, the ecological maximum, save one: direct solar energy. This is a very important fact if one wants to use Medieval-like bio-energy society as a basis for evaluating our own ecological prospects. For, there is more energy available in direct solar energy than all of the natural solar derivatives combined, including wind, bio-mass, hydro and fossil-fuels. 
For, not only is there far more energy available in direct sunlight, but the ecological impact per watt of using solar energy directly is far less than for natural derivatives of solar-energy. This is for two main reasons, ecological amplified energy and collateral ecological damage.
A. Ecologically amplified energy
A watt of naturally derived solar energy, from a plant or river, represents a direct piece of the ecosystem. A solar-derived-watt, or ecological-watt, represents many more “phantom watts” that nature required to make the watt we actually use.
For instance, a tree will not absorb all the solar energy that falls on it, will use a significant amount of energy to grow, and not grow when conditions are unfavourable, all of which is energy represented in the small fraction we extract from the tree when we burn it. Every eco-watt we get from a tree actually represents the tip of a sun-burg, since for nature to replace that tip we’ve just burned would require the whole sun-burg. The size of this sun-burg is about a hundred times greater than what we actually extract, sometimes much more, when all factors are considered: at least 90 percent is lost in photosynthesis, energy used by the tree, non-growth hours when too hot or too cold or too dry or insufficient nutrients, energy required to cut and transport the tree, energy lost in burning process, and energy lost to dealing with health affects from smoke.
Likewise, every watt of river power represents hundreds of times more solar energy which was required to evaporate the water and then which was further lost to friction with the air and ground before a drop arrives at a damn. Every watt of fossil-energy represents millions of years of solar energy required to build up those deposits.
Only wind energy does not have this obvious amplification since it is a much more direct transformation of solar energy (not the end of a long cycle and so less ecological damages); but, only two percent of solar energy is transformed into wind, and this wind is only concentrated at some times and some locations. So it is essentially impossible to run a majority of energy tasks on wind.
B. Collateral ecological damage
In order to extract these tips of a natural sun-burg, we have to literally cut into nature to get them, which can cause significant collateral ecological damage.
In the case of trees we have to build roads and cut the whole tree down in order to extract the carbon rich trunk. In the case of river damns we have to cut the river in half. In the case of fossil fuels, we have to unleash chemicals into the biosphere and atmosphere that were previously stored below ground spilling it here and there. These excisions into nature can cause massive, and often completely unforeseen, ecological damage above and beyond the intrinsic amplification of extraction of natural energy discussed above. The collateral damage ranges from desertification to species extinction to dead rivers to climate chaos.
Though we can think of ways to mitigate this collateral impact, it is very difficult with ecologically dependent energy systems because these foray’s into nature to extract energy cost energy, resources and time, so there is significant pressure to make them as energy profitable as possible in the short term — and to support industrial civilization a large energy profit margin is a requirement — which means if we build a damn we want to extract the maximum amount of energy, and not let half the river flow naturally with more complex infrastructure and planning. If we want a fire we want to cut the whole tree down from every tree in the forest and take the energy rich logs in one go, not cut only some trees here and there with greater transportation and organizational costs, trying to leave the forest largely undisturbed. Above all we want cheap crude oil that can be simply pumped out of the ground and into a system of pipes in seemingly indefinite quantities.
The above problems are unavoidable when extracting concentrated energy that is locked up in the ecosystem. But, if we use solar energy directly then we tap the base of the sun-burg, relatively outside the ecosystem, and so for every solar-watt we use a single watt is made unavailable to the ecosystem, and not hundreds or thousands more ecological watts destroyed.
The reason that humanity has not used direct solar energy for most of history is because, without concentrating it artificially, solar energy heats things only mildly and we require higher temperatures for a wide range of tasks, from cooking to metallurgy; thus, we had to find naturally concentrated solar energy to do these kinds of things. However, today we can concentrate solar energy directly using simple but powerful solar concentrators accessible to everyone to create a solar based society.
The practical methods are discussed in the next chapter, but what solar concentration means is that by using direct solar energy our ecological impact is much closer to being directly proportional to the amount of energy we use compared with all available solar energy, and not multiplied many times beyond that as in the case of tree cutting, rivers, and fossil-fuels. We currently use, for non-food energy, 15 terrawatts of energy which is a small fraction of the 174 petawatts of solar energy that hits the planet (174 000 terrawatts); this is 12 000 times more energy than humanity currently consumes. Yet, our current impact on nature is not remotely close to occupying a mere 1/12 000 (0.00008 %) of solar radiation, but is grossly amplified and completely unsustainable: bringing over 25 percent of land species to the brink of extinction, causing the destruction of now over 50 percent of rain forests, collapsing 3 of the 5 major fisheries, destroying 50 percent of corral-reefs from ocean acidification, destabilizing the world’s climate, and these problems are accelerating.
Furthermore, if we use direct solar energy, we can tap into watts anywhere on the surface of the earth without any physical excursion into critical natural structures to do so. Which means we are not forced to re-organized nature in radical ways to extract energy; thus the surface area we may occupy with a solar device to tap a comparable amount of energy represents a radically lower impact on nature, very little collateral ecological damage.
To put this in perspective one square meter of solar concentrator, operating at 50 percent efficiency (easy to attain as we shall see the following chapters), can replace roughly 500 square meters of fuel-wood forest exploitation . Furthermore, even the square meter that is used can be placed somewhere that interferes with the vegetation in a minimal way, and when not operated the light can be either redirected towards plants, or the mirrors places parallel to the sun’s rays allowing the light to fall through to the vegetation bellow.
Though we will delve into the practical details of direct solar energy in the next chapters, it is interesting to note that since there is no feed-stock of fuel, or other petro-products and the resulting waste, nor the need to commute to petroleum conversion centres such as cities — which is all activity that requires constant high volume transportation and large complex infrastructures — in a local solar society, a tiny fraction of the existing transportation infrastructure, equipment and energy input, could easily support trade in solar concentrators, applications and components. So, even though a solar concentrator can be built and maintained locally, which significantly increases the resilience of the technology, this does not exclude complex systems of production and trade. For, once a concentrator and application is put into place all the material transformed — such as water, food, clay, bio-char, metal, etc. — can stay in a relatively local circuit, i.e. walked to and from the solar concentrator, so the energy requirements of moving the solar concentrators and applications is nearly insignificant compared to the energy saved by transforming materials locally.
Now, to gain confidence that a direct solar energy society is a truly sustainable choice, we must do a few things: 1) be sure the energy required to make a solar concentrator is far less than will be provided (a high positive net energy), 2) show that solar concentrators can be built all over the planet, accessible to everyone, in sufficient numbers in a reasonable amount of time (that the practice is scalable before the ecosystems start to collapse), 3) show that if global society was based on solar concentration we won’t destroy the planet (we would be within the carrying capacity of the ecosystems).
Visit article: Humanity-s-Energy-Choices.html
SouSous: Local Solar Solution
Though the highly concentrated stores of ecological energy, such as in wood, rivers and fossil fuels, are easier to remove and transport, these energy sources rest upon the peak of an immense energy sun-burg as we saw in the previous chapter.
Fortunately, there is far more direct solar energy available than all other renewable energy sources combined. This is nearly a necessary fact, since, besides geothermal, it is the sun that powers the wind, trees and rivers, and so there must be more energy at the solar source than in the things it powers.
The world currently consumes roughly 15 terrawatts of energy, yet there are 174 petawatts of solar energy available (174 000 terrawatts), relatively easy to capture as we shall see. Whereas there is only 870 terrawatts of estimated wind potential energy we could ever capture, 32 terrawatts of potential geothermal, and 15 terrawatts of hydro power, which is to say nothing of the ecological cost of extracting these energy’s (See image below, from wikipedia ).
The obstacle is that, the 174 petawatts of direct solar energy hitting the earth is, at any given moment, diffused over half the planet and not directly available in a highly concentrated, conveniently stored form, such as a tree or oil; natural sunlight can dry fruit and clothes but is not concentrated enough to power many of our energy intensive tasks, such as boiling water, roasting produce, making pottery, baking bricks and ceramics, melting metal, and making paper.
Fortunately, there’s nothing stopping us from simply concentrating solar energy directly ourselves.
Solar concentrators only require a reflective surface, in a relatively simple geometry, supported by a relatively simple structure that can move to track the sun. The materials, tools, and knowledge to create all three are widely available.
Thus, to massively develop solar concentration, there’s no need for any theoretical break through, nor rare materials, nor would a bottleneck be formed by the reliance on a limited material or skill, nor would we find the energy source is useful in only a minority of situations, (or that there is relatively little net energy.
To build a relatively powerful solar concentrator, the basic materials are extremely common, and for each material component there are dozens of possible substitutes — many can be be easily recycled from (soon to be defunct) infrastructures — and the knowledge, skills and tools are widely available.
But to be sure we must study a few questions mentioned in the last chapter: 1) that the energy required to make a solar concentrator is far less than the energy such a solar concentrator will provide (a high positive net energy), 2) show that solar concentrators can be built all over the planet in sufficient numbers in a reasonable amount of time (that the practice is scalable before the ecosystems start to collapse), 3) show that if global society was based on solar concentration we won’t destroy the planet (there is not high direct or collateral ecological damage that risks overwhelming the ecosystems).
Why is it not already done then?
Seen the incredible abundance of solar energy and that we are capable of concentrating it to essentially any temperature and power we currently use, a natural question is why isn’t solar concentration already widely developed and used?
The reason is that though naturally concentrated solar derivatives, such as trees, rivers and oil, are in far more limited supply, the high quality supplies that do exist are easy to access, extract and store. So, as long as high quality stores existed and the environmental consequences could be ignored, it is more convenient to chop down a tree or pipe fossil fuels around than to concentrate the sun’s energy ourselves. In short, for naturally concentrated solar derivatives, nature has already done the work of concentrating the energy, saving us the trouble. However, now it is clear nature concentrates these energies for her own purposes.
All actions require energy, and so the first condition any energy system must fulfil is that it provides more energy than it takes to build and maintain. For example, if it took more energy for your organism to digest food than energy you obtain from food, you will necessarily starve no matter how much food you eat. Clearly, the energy it takes you to digest food must be a smaller percentage than what your body absorbs from it.
The same must apply to any external energy system society may build, and the higher the net energy the more energy can be used to do things other than simply repair and replace the device in question.
There is a fair amount of controversy on how exactly to calculate net energy, whether and how to include the energy used for the workers to live as well as how much to include of the energy required to maintain all the associated infrastructure required to build the device, but we will skip over these details because solar concentration has a very high net energy and requires very little infrastructure to build, so compared to a technology that has far lower net energy and far higher dependence on complex infrastructures (large windmills, photo-voltaic, nuclear reactors), regardless of the exact figures employed, we can be sure that such a solar concentrator has a far higher net energy.
To build a solar concentrator we need some mirrors, usually made with a metal, such as aluminium (the third most abundant element on earth), bonded to glass. The energy it takes to make a square meter of mirror can be supplied by a square meter of solar concentration in a few weeks. The structure of a solar concentrator can be made with bamboo or wood, which requires a few weeks of sunlight to grow on a square meter. Metal can be used for the structure, which will increase the energy pay-back time, but will provide a structure that could exist for hundreds of years if maintained. Some small metal pieces may also be required for a bamboo or wood structure, but the energy needed is small. To hold the mirrors in place resin and fibre can be used which can be grown in a few weeks on a square meter of land. Though the times noted may change from region to region or material to material, at most it should only be about six months for a solar concentrator to pay for itself in an energy sense.
The mirror will be the most energy intensive thing to replace, and usually lasts 30 years. So even if the entire machine is replaced after 30 years, this gives a net energy of about 30 to 60.
What is as important, aluminium, steal, and glass can all be smelted or recycled using solar concentration, and so the technology can proliferate itself (and so does not rely on another low net energy, or non-renewable energy to be build and/or maintained). Furthermore, a basic solar concentrator can be built on location with a minimum of transportation. Raw materials may need to be transported, but there is no complex global production line required.
Though the actual global fossil-fuels economy can create a lot of relatively small objects, even complex ones, in a relatively small amount of time, replacing the infrastructure that allow this global fossil-fuels economy to exist takes far longer. This infrastructure cannot simply be “produced”. For this reason it is difficult to scale a highly technical energy solution as it requires fundamental changes to the global infrastructure (as the infrastructure itself would also have to run with the new energy system, which may not be a simple task). Though these changes aren’t impossible, it is unlikely they can be made before declining oil production sends the global economy into chaos, which seems to already be occurring.
Simple solar techniques on the other hand can be implemented globally in a very small amount of time without any central planning or immense structural and energy intensive undertakings. Fire and tilling are two examples of techniques that once invented had spread very quickly over nearly the entire planet. So, the closer we are to a technique that can be spread exponentially through every community, the faster the technique can be scaled.
Since solar concentration is intrinsically local, depending on the sun’s free rays and not some vast complicated system, it has the potential to spread like the fire. However, a few conditions must be satisfied: techniques must be refined enough to be easily transmitted and built anywhere, and powerful enough to be obviously beneficial. This book attempts to show these conditions are attainable.
As we saw in the previous chapter solar energy is intrinsically less ecologically destructive than natural derivatives of solar energy, such as bio-mass and river power. We can also note that building solar concentrators does not necessitate deadly toxins, nor require reforming land masses and ecological structures, nor does waste built up indefinitely. Indeed, everything in a solar concentrator can be recycled into new solar concentrators, or biodegrade.
For all these reasons solar concentration has the potential to lower a persons ecological impact below anything that has existed since the discovery of fire. Though making fire is a common quotidian experience for nearly all humans for the last 200 000 years, it is in fact a very ecological destructive source of energy, due to ecological energy amplification and ecological collateral damage, discussed in the previous chapter.
For direct solar energy, however, since the space occupied by even a large solar concentrator is nearly insignificant, compared to the population density of essentially any region, and furthermore no vast transportation infrastructure is required to make use of a solar concentrator, as it works on location, it is possible to lower our ecological impact of close to only our food system (addressed in the second part of this volume), yet still with the energy access to boil, cook and bake things. <! — With>
With solar concentration we are no longer tempted to cut down our fruit trees to burn them.
Solar Fire Economy
One of the most important factors in developing solar concentration is that the solar fuel is essentially free. Free-fuel means that activities can be created where there was no such activity before, and that we can completely break the assumption that we must replace activities as they currently exist in the globalized economy. New solar economies could be spontaneously built in places all over the world and spread; i.e. no vast centralized plan or inter-national agreement is necessary to develop solar concentration.
As important, a society based on direct solar energy would be agreeable to live in, solving many existing social problems. Currently, employment in the modern economy is essentially equivalent to the consumption of fossil-fuels, since fossil fuels are in limited supply, employment too must be in limited supply. When fuel is free however, using solar energy in one location does not diminish someone else’s access to solar energy elsewhere, in any significant way.
Though the modern economist likes to define poverty in terms of dollars, real poverty is defined in terms of energy, and it is only because dollars are required to access energy in the modern economy that the modern economist is able to ignore reality. Since solar-fuel is free however it is possible for everyone to access the energy required to boil water, cook, heat their home, and start any new activity that would benefit the community. Furthermore, the very nature of solar energy is that it cannot be dominated by a few companies or countries; since solar concentrators need to be built, maintained and operated by people, a direct solar energy society is not a strange undesirable vision of society where most people are essentially useless, living in large boxes and towers, provided “inputs” through a mechanized system of tubes and box displacement.
Since decentralization is necessary to utilize solar energy effectively, in a solar society people would live close to nature with a fair amount of space, in communities compatible with the human psychology. Access to water, energy, and land would thus be a real birthright of every person.
However, though solar-fuel is essentially free, so the above economic benefits are only possible once solar concentration are widely understood and in use. Individuals, NGO’s, and universities and other organisms can greatly speed this process by building solar centres for demonstration and development where anyone can learn to build a solar concentrator. In such a centre people would be able to see the various techniques and applications that exist and so be able to choose and adapt what is best suited to their situation and needs. Solar concentration artisans and technicians could be trained and new uses invented.
We can thus start to imagine a society where people reappropriate their source of energy and thus their economy, community and society. As solar energy is accessible everywhere it is a path to political liberty, the right to self-determination of a community, in the most profound sense.
All the above factors mean that solar concentration is resilient. Solar concentrators do not need complex interconnected economies to be constructed, and are not interconnected between themselves like the electricity grid. This means that if a solar concentrator stops working in one location, it won’t affect a concentrator somewhere else. Likewise, if one solar concentrator breaks this will not some how break solar concentrators elsewhere. This is fundamentally a different situation than any electricity grid, where complex economies are required to build an electric infrastructure, and the entire grid can crash due to a single event.
So since local solar concentration does not depend on the complex globalized economy, and can be used to build yet more local solar concentrators, the strategy of building as many concentrators as possible is both feasible and robust, as it can succeed even through severe disruptions to society as we know it.
<! — High-technology>
However, for a solar technology to be truly universal, truly local, and truly feasible it has to be designed along the appropriate principles.
Though direct solar energy is not simply lying around waiting for us to cut it down or drill into, the advantage of its diffuse nature is that it is not only an energy source but an energy distribution system.
What some may see as extra work in having to concentrate this energy ourselves, is more than gained by no longer having to build and maintain as massive and complex energy and transportation infrastructures, diminishing the liquid fuels and electricity problem to a manageable level.
However, to take advantage of no longer depending on a massive infrastructure and mega-cities for energy, we must use solar energy as close to the resources we depend on as possible. Our primary resources, air, water and food, and so a reversal of the urban trend must accompany the development of solar concentration to be effective, as we shall see in the next volume.
Visit article: Local-Solar-Solution.html
SouSous: Which Solar Concentrator?
There are of course many solar technologies, but in order to replace the majority of (non-food) energy use in a relatively short period of time — under a wide range of social conditions, both present and likely to occur, such as the depletion of fossil fuels and collapse of related infrastructure — we are searching for a technology that can be built with the minimum of resources and skills but is powerful enough to satisfy a large majority of real and perceived energy needs.
We can posit the following working design principles for such a technique:
Since the advantage of direct solar energy is that it can be used on location, our technology must be capable of being built, operated and maintained locally, using only basic tools and materials, a minimum of specialized knowledge and no electronics.
2: High temperature
Processes that require high temperatures can never be run with low temperatures, so a viable technology must be able to reach the highest temperatures a community needs.
However, since high temperatures can be easily diluted into lower temperatures, which means a high power concentrator can run lower temperature processes, we do not need to multiply solar devices for every temperature range. Better yet, the waste heat of a high temperature process, like baking ceramics, can be used for a low temperature task, like heating water.
What’s more, efficiency is directly dependent on temperature, the higher the temperature the higher the potential efficiency. So a high temperature concentrator can not only accomplish a wide variety of tasks, but can do those tasks more efficiently, meaning less surface area and material is required.
Not only does a high power concentrator avoid a proliferation of single use low power devices, it would occupy less surface.
3: Local but large
Though the temperature difference will determine what and how efficient our applications can be, the surface area of our concentrator will determine how much energy we have to work with. Or more plainly, the temperature of our concentrator answers “what can we do?” and the surface area answers “how much can we do it?”.
So we require a technique that can be built easily at large enough scales to provide the quantity of energy a community needs.
4: Fixed focal point
A solar concentrator (simple enough to be built locally) cannot avoid needing to move to track the sun. The focal point however can remain fixed relative to the ground.
Though there can be theoretical benefits for a moving focal point, the practical disadvantage is that any application must be attached to the concentrator and move with it. This movement makes the application difficult to access, any pipes to and from the focal point (for steam for instance) requiring a much more complicated design, and finally attaching the application to the concentrator creates a significant limitation in the weight of the application (as leverage will significantly increase the force acting on the concentrator). 
In brief, a fixed focal point solves so many problems that in most cases the convenience far outweighs a loss of theoretical efficiency. At the very least, a fixed point solar concentrator is a good starting point and switching designs to a moving focal point concentrator should be done only when it is clear the benefits outweigh the inconveniences.
5: Manual tracking
Manual tracking is essential since automatic tracking can easily increase the complexity of a solar concentrator, both to build and maintain, many fold. To truly accomplish our goal of a technique simple enough to be built anywhere, our basic designs must track the sun by hand.
And in most cases the inconvenience is minor. Many applications require being close by to observe and work with, and so in these cases adjusting the concentrator every 10–20 minutes is not a problem, and soon becomes second nature.
Tracking should require little physical and mental effort (which is usually the case since the focal point is very visible and a solar concentrator can be easily balanced so minimum energy is required to move it).
A tracking system can easily be more expensive than the concentrator itself and can easily break down and be difficult to repair, but even when automatic tracking would be a significant help, such as for steam production, it makes sense for most people starting a solar concentration activity to first test the idea with the minimum at first, hence with manual tracking, and only once the concept is proven and running smoothly think of installing automatic tracking.
So the best designs would be though for manual tracking, but have the possibility of installing automatic tracking later. And of course, if the automatic tracking ever breaks down, the manual option remains a backup. As there are more and more solar concentration artisans in the world, such smooth development of a solar activity will become easier, and the mastery of gravity based tracking will also arise; but before then we should not imagine that manual tracking is a limiting factor, as it remains less work than collecting, cutting and storing wood in many regions.
6: Open Source
For a locally built design to proliferate as widely and as fast as possible it must be Open Source. This is all the more necessary with solar concentration since the available materials and end uses can vary widely from region to region, and person to person, so an effective design must be open source so that anyone can adapt the technique to their conditions and needs.
Moreover, as we will see in the chapters to come, what is critical in solar concentration is the design of applications. However, for applications to be designed requires an easily accessible solar concentrator design.
7: Hybrid power or co-generation
When it’s not practical to reach the desired temperature with only solar concentration, as too much or a too constant energy is required, then in this case direct solar should be used as much as possible and the energy difference completed by combustion or electricity.
Now, with these design principles we have eliminated most solar technologies that currently exist. However, this does not mean such technologies, as well as other renewables, would not play a part in a sustainable solar based society; what is meant is that complicated, low temperature, moving focal point, and/or limited energy sources would be used in limited situations and for limited tasks, and could not in themselves form a feasible basis for the majority of society’s real and perceived energy needs in the near future.
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SouSous: Solar Fire Technique
There are many solar concentration techniques that are easy to build but low temperature, and so are limited in use. There are also techniques that are high temperature but complicated to build, and so have many uses but are not economically possible in most of the world.
However, there are 2 noteworthy designs that fulfil the design principles of the previous chapter: the Solar Fire Technique (SFT) and the Scheffler reflector (which will be integrated into this chapter on a later date; see solare-bruecke.org). This is largely because these techniques were developed with exactly these criteria in mind and under the economic conditions representative of most of the planet. The Solar Fire Technique was developed in Mexico starting in around 1995, then Cuba and Mali in 2007, and India in 2009. The Scheffler Reflector was developed largely in Kenya and India since 1982.
I will start with the Solar Fire Technique as I actively develop this technique and so can convey a better understanding of it.
Solar Fire Technique
At the heart of the Solar Fire Technique there are small parabolic reflectors mounted on straight rows, using a method that can be accomplished almost anywhere. To build a larger machine is straightforward: we simply multiply the small reflectors, add and lengthening the rows as required. What’s more, even after the limit is reached, since the focal point is fixed, many machines can be easily coupled together in the same steam system.
The Solar Fire Technique is a method of building high power solar concentrators locally, without any special materials, tools or skills. We understand this to mean construction possible with only wood or bamboo, steel, mirrors and resin/fibre, with no parabolic bending of material, no measuring instruments more precise than measuring tape, and no math skills more advanced than arithmetic.
With these qualities the SFT can be built in any economy in the world, and especially in economies that are poor in consumption but rich in sunlight.
The development of the technology and various free construction guides are available on solarfire.org.
To focus light onto a small point a solar concentrator must be precise, and so the basis of SFT is a very simple method to calibrate precise parabolic reflectors by hand, using just wood, mirror, screws, glue and eyesight.
By placing 9 mirrors on a board, with one mirror in the centre, and three screws under each mirror, the screws can be adjusted until the reflections of all the mirrors overlap.
Calibrating the Primary Reflectors for demonstration model.
Much larger machines can be built, see solarfire.org.
When the board is relatively small, say a square of 30 cm to a side, everything can easily be done by hand and by eye. Now, this wood screw contraption, a Primary Reflector, takes time to make, calibrate and is fairly heavy. For all these reasons we then cast a mould in plaster to be able to easily copy the shape of our Primary Reflector as many times as needed –- for as many machines as needed.
Making the reflector moulds.
Our Primary Reflector is concave and so our mould is convex. When we place new mirrors face down on our mould and glue them together, with resin and fiber, we then take off our original concave shape.
Putting the reflectors together.
When we have enough of these reflectors we can place them on rows and tilt them all inward to reflect onto a single focal point, again adjusting by hand and eye. When the sun moves, the whole machine can turn to face the sun, and each row adjusted to hit the focal point.
In practice the structure must be built first and different primary reflectors calibrated for different positions. However, because many positions on the structure have basically the same distance to the focal point, we can use the same Primary Reflector for multiple positions (for a concentrator of 30 positions we usually make 5 or 6 primary reflectors).
The further advantages of the SFT over and above the criteria of the previous chapter are:
As mentioned, the primary reflectors are a bit tricky to calibrate. Though it’s only a matter of trial and error, even so, from each primary reflector we can make as many moulds as we like (a few everyday). Mixing chopped fiber into the plaster further increases strength and makes our moulds easy to transport and durable.
So calibrating a single primary reflector can start an exponential growth of final reflectors. In theory only one primary reflector needs to be built for each position and design, to equip the entire world with moulds for that position. So the little skill required to make the primary reflectors can be easily multiplied and sent as moulds, which contain the entire machine within them.
No parabolic construction
The other big advantage of the SFT is that no material has to be cut or bent into a parabolic shape. The parabolic shape results from the calibration of the reflectors by simply watching the reflection and adjusting flat mirror surfaces with screws. The rows our Final Reflectors rest on are completely straight, mounted on a frame also made of straight lengths. This significantly decreases either the tools or the time required to make the machine.
Vertical and horizontal
The technique can be used to make both a vertical and horizontal concentrator, which will be seen more clearly in the applications. The advantage of horizontal reflection is that the focal point can be at ground level for easy access, which is ideal for an oven type application. Vertical reflection on the other hand produces a focal point off the ground and above the machine, but it becomes simpler and more efficient to capture the energy, since heat rises; this is more suited for energy intensive applications like steam production.
All the construction guides in the appendixes are based on steel and mirror, because these materials are widely available and easy to work with. There are of course plenty of other construction, reflective and adhesive substitutes which may be better depending on the situation.
However, the material that has the most promise of significantly reducing cost is bamboo, which is typically 50 times cheaper than steel, if not freely available locally, and will continue to grow under essentially any economic condition, such as the increase in the price of fossil fuels.
At least the rows in the Solar Fire Technique should be relatively easy to construct with bamboo. The rows represent the majority of the steel in the machine and are simply straight members holding the relatively light Final Reflectors. Though with bamboo rows may bend out of shape and it would be necessary to re-tune the machine more often, the time tuning would still be fairly minimal compared to the operation of the machine (and the machine can continue to operate while individual reflectors are tuned to the focal point).
To provide as much rigidity as possible, my design proposal is three bamboo lengths in a triangle configuration, with periodic pieces of flat steel, placed through the triangle, which can serve as the connecting base for the reflectors. A single larger piece of bamboo should work as well, but may be heavier. Development and experimentation is needed.
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SouSous: What Local Solar Applications?
A high precision solar concentrator will provide a focal point of intense heat. An artisan built SFT Helios or Scheffler Reflector can reach temperatures of above 900°C. The next step is to use this heat to power something.
Clearly, the same basic criteria of simplicity, local construction and maintenance, and open source, that we applied to solar concentrators must apply to basic applications. However, beyond these criteria we can add:
Higher efficiency was mentioned as an added bonus of solar concentration. This is because energy efficiency is always proportional to some form of energy gradient. With heat the greater the difference between the “heat source” and the “heat sink”, the more efficient anything in between can run, be it roasting grains or running a steam engine.
However, for application design, striving for greater and greater efficiency may be unproductive. Chasing marginal gains in efficiency may make sense with fossil fuels, since the fuel costs money and so small increases in efficiency pay for themselves over time, but with solar energy the fuel is free, so at some point simply increasing the size of the collector is more effective than increasing efficiencies. For instance, in most situations having the ability to boil water, cook, bake pottery, produce steam, run a small steam engine, would be better than having only one complex application.
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Furthermore, in most situations all the solar energy potential will not be used, so it is better to have a diverse set of functional applications rather than a single efficient application — since many things can be done on location with solar energy, the energy lost to inefficiencies in a “crude” design is often much less than the energy it would take to transport the material to a centralized processor and back.
Easy to dismount
Since many applications can be mounted on a concentrator, each application should be easy to dismount, and when possible share as many of the same components as possible. So for oven applications, an oven can be built so that the interior can be removed and replaced with another interior for another task. For steam applications, turning a valve can send the steam from one application to another.
Application development strategy
Though all the applications in the following chapters are possible to build now, clearly some are easier to build than others. So it makes sense to first try to develop what is easier, and the experience gained in the process will help developing the next application.
So the series of applications described in the following chapters are presented in an order intended to create a domino effect of development.
A single individual developing, refining, using or demonstrating a single application can have a significant impact in both developing new ideas and techniques as well as in inspiring others to build and development.
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SouSous: Solar Roasting and Charcoal
As mentioned in the previous chapter, in order to develop solar concentration it is good to identify applications particularly compatible with solar energy and economically feasible.
So, we are looking for activities:
not dependent on the time of day
can be performed in rural areas where space isn’t a problem
where manual tracking would not be a significant inconvenience
are technically simple to construct
create new economic activity, that did not exist before, which can provide the motivation and resources to build and adopt solar concentration, and
is not culturally complicated for people to adopt.
Two activities of prominent note that fulfil these criteria are roasting cocoa, peanuts, coffee, etc., and (bio)-charcoal production. Solar roasted cocoa beans have been developed in Oaxaca since 1995 and a solar peanut roaster has been commercialized in India, 2009.
Both roasting and charcoal are the transformation of a local material, produce such as beans for roasting and any organic matter for charcoal, which are not at all sensitive to the time of day; i.e. it’s not a problem to wait for a sunny day to roast and make charcoal. Both are of course intrinsically rural activities so there is plenty of space. Since the roaster must be watched over, beans stirred and swapped out for instance, adjusting the concentrator every 10–20 minutes is not a problem; though charcoal takes longer to produce than more roasts it can be done in large batches. Both require ovens at temperatures of around 300 C, so don’t require any special insulation or materials to construct. Roasting beans, such as cacao and coffee, and making charcoal are both economic activities that could be created almost all over the world, and where villages don’t currently have access to roasters are charcoal could represent a significant increase in income and quality of life (as the concentrators can also be used for other things, such as boiling water). Finally, local roasting and charcoal making doesn’t present any cultural factors.
To put this in perspective, an examples of an activities that do not are cooking and electricity. Cooking is very dependant on the time of day and presents large cultural barriers for people change habits, and may not create any new activity that didn’t exist before. Electricity production is not technically simple and it’s very inconvenient to have to adjust the concentrator, so automatic tracking is very desirable in these cases. Though these activities present no fundamental challenge, they will be easier to deploy on a large scale after more basic applications are in wide circulation.
Many produce must be roasted. When fuel must be paid for, any marginal gain in fuel efficiency often pays for itself, so it becomes economical to centralize all roasting in large machines. When fuel is essentially free, such as with solar, the benefit of radically reduced transportation and complexity costs of decentralization far outweigh lower fuel efficiencies.
Roasting produce is a typical example that effects most of the worlds rural areas. Bringing roasting into the community level allows the on location transformation of produce, and so the farmer can sell at a higher price. Thus the benefit of the technology is obvious and economical to adopt.
Since there is no boiling or evaporation of water, high efficiencies are not required and so horizontal reflection roasts extremely well.
Another important factor is that there is no strict time table during the day when roasting needs to be accomplished, and so the farmer can easily wait for the sun to roast. Furthermore, one’s presence is required to monitor and stir the beans so there is not a high inconvenience if needing to track the solar concentrator manually.
An added benefit is that there is no combustion in solar heating and so no pollutants, the roast is thus extremely pure. This added purity and sustainable growing could form the basis for Solar Roasted fair trade labels, which would further add value to solar roasted beans and help spread the technology globally.
Making charcoal, from biomass, is perhaps the most important starting application for solar concentration at a global scale.
To make charcoal simply requires heating wood, or any other organic matter, in an air tight container; the moisture in the wood will evaporate as well as the esters (other organic compounds), leaving nearly pure carbon. Without moisture this carbon will burn far more efficiently and also be able to reach much higher temperatures than a wood fire. Burning charcoal inefficiently produces carbon monoxide, but various strategies exist to avoid this.
Burning wood in a normal fire produces plenty of toxic volatile bi-products, but also plenty of tar balls (which are semi burned particles of wood, giving smoke its grey colour, and causing a significant amount of health problems in the world); these tar balls are not only toxic for humans and nature, but can travel long distances and land on glaciers significantly contributing to their melting.
The esters that evaporate can be burned directly, but more interestingly can be condensed into organic tar. This tar can be used directly things from waterproofing roofs and boats to medicine, but can also be put back into the soil to promote humus growth <! — directly>
The carbon a tree requires is derived from the air, so burning the carbon now in the charcoal does not disrupt the nutrient cycle in any fundamental way. We could even be tempted to call the process carbon neutral, but this term should be avoided since biomass energy is only carbon neutral in a diverse healthy ecosystem where the rate of burning is extremely small.
Charcoal replace wood
Since charcoal can burn at higher temperatures than the wood, this is the common way to heat ovens to high enough temperatures, in uses such as ceramics and pottery, which require ovens at around or above 1000 degrees Celsius. High temperature oven’s could produce ceramics, and of course could be also heated by solar (charcoal only being burned to boost the temperature or stabilise the temperature on a cloudy day.)
By powering an oven to produce charcoal with direct solar energy, all the wood previously burned as a fuel is immediately saved. In most circumstances half of the wood is burned to turn the rest into charcoal, so solar char will either double the production of charcoal or halve the consumption of wood.
A horizontal concentrator, such as the SFT Helios or Scheffler Reflector, creates a focal point close to ground level. Any insulated oven can be used to make charcoal, or a mass oven which will also serve stock energy from one batch to the next.
Other uses of charcoal
There is another interesting use of charcoal, terra pretta, invented by ancient Amazonian tribes, that could increase the health of our ecosystems and arboculture.
Bio-charcoal and bio-tar can in fact form a basis for organic chemistry, only not toxic like their fossil fuels counterparts.
Despite the myriad uses, the catch in making charcoal traditionally is the cost of the energy required to transform the wood into charcoal. Though the charcoal remaining burns more efficiently, there is a net loss of energy due to the wood burned to make the charcoal. With solar energy this equation changes dramatically.
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A entirely charcoal based society is however not a global solution, as, despite even the use of solar to produce the charcoal, the worlds forest would quickly be destroyed. However, the development of this technique accomplishes three fundamental things.
First, it saves energy in itself and allows the decentralization of the charcoal making process.
Second, it is an easy vector to introduce solar concentrators into society. The goal is not that every village will start producing massive amounts of charcoal, but rather realize even less wood must be collected if the concentrators were used for other things, such as boiling water.
And third provide a basis for the production of non-petroleum based organic compounds, for instance resins (again the goal is not to recreate a ecologically sounding consumer society but develop the techniques used at a relatively small, decentralized scale for what is actually useful).
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SouSous: Boiling, Cooking, Baking
Though roasting and charcoal seem like applications particularly easy to spread on a global scale, as discussed in the previous chapter, there are of course other simple activities that are easily developed, but may have one or two barriers to overcome before spreading world wide. However, once solar concentrators are fairly common for things like roasting and charcoal, then these other activities will follow as a matter of course. The more development and examples exist in the mean time the faster this process will go.
Boiling water takes a surprising amount of energy, and is essential in nearly all people’s quotidian lives. Boiling water with a solar concentrator is particularly easy to put into practice as only a pot is required as an application.
The only barrier is that there are few economic activities that require only boiling, and the one’s that do generally depend on the time of day or in an urban environment where space is a problem.
What’s more, a high powered solar concentrator built for any other application can boil water in extra sun hours. Especially in a decentralized system, there are few applications, if any, that must run all the time. So, with the installation of any high power solar concentrator for any of the reasons any extra sun hours can be used to boil water at little extra cost.
Another advantage of boiling water with a high powered concentrator is that it boils quickly and so there is little waiting time.
Solar concentrators would also be an immense health revolution in regions where many people cannot afford the means to sterilize drinking water. When boiling water for sterilization is the only activity even simple methods such as placing the boiled pot in a larger pot to pre-heat the next water to be boiled, can speed up the process.
Cooking and Heating
Cooking is the local solar application that has so far been the most developed.
Collective cooking has existed for some time, notably in India. Very numerous solar cooking programs exist all around the world developing a wide range of solar concentrators (see www.solarcookers.org).
Cooking requires relatively low temperatures. The challenge is that cooking is very sensitive to cultural habits, the time of day, and in urban environments space can be a problem. As solar cookers generally need to be used outside, this presents a practical problem for women. Though cultural habits can be changed to some degree, practical solutions must also be sought, such as placing the focal point in the house, through a whole in the wall. Though an in house focal is not a complicated idea, it requires a radical change in architecture for most houses on the planet.
So, for solar cooking to become a new cultural norm may require as much an architectural change, to integrate solar cooking into the home, as it does a mastery of solar concentration.
This architectural change is also necessary for heating homes passively with solar, using windows and intelligent design. So we can conceive of both these challenges together as a fundamentally architectural problem.
Changing both existing buildings and architectural practices is extremely difficult, so the more commercial applications that are easy to implement are developed the more it will become obvious that solar energy can power the majority of humanity’s energy needs and the solar way of thinking will instil throughout society. Though, as with every example, the more experience gained in solar cooking and passive solar architecture the sooner and faster the explosion of solar cookers and architecture will be.
Unlike roasting and charcoal, baking food is more sensitive to the time of day. For any commercial baking it is not possible to simply wait for there to be good sun to bake, so a hybrid system with wood, bio-char, gas or electricity should be envisioned. Furthermore, by increasing the mass in the oven, more thermal momentum can be accumulated resulting in more even baking and greater stability of the oven temperature from passing clouds.
However, not only food can be baked in the solar oven. As seen in the previous chapter, a char box can be easily created to either simply dry the wood or turn it to bio-char. So, an oven originally installed to make charcoal can slowly be used to bake in extra sun hours, as the users realize baking directly with the sun means less work to make charcoal, or more charcoal can be saved to trade.
Traditional lime mortar requires only baking at 250 °C for a around 5 hours. Lime mortar is more flexible than concrete and can breath. Flexibility allows for walls to move without cracking and breathability allows moisture to be expelled rather than to condense. What’s more, when lime mortar is stressed to the point of cracking it tends to make many small cracks rather one large one; these smaller cracks can self heal when atmosphere enters in and causes further carbonization of the mortar.
Lime mortar, and other traditional mortars, can be easily made in a basic solar oven.
Plaster cannot be made without high temperature but can be recycled by baking at relatively low temperature (all the moisture will be expelled and the hard plaster will return to powder). With much higher temperatures plaster and concrete can be made.
Though baking bricks requires much higher temperature, we should note that adobe construction and compressed clay bricks require no baking. Though not a mechanically strong as other materials, such clay constructions are flexible and breatheable, self regulating a comfortable atmosphere.
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SouSous: Steam, Refrigeration, Tin and Aluminium
There are already many uses of steam today in plenty of industrial processes, so a solar boiler can be simply piped into many existing systems.
Steam Engine and Stirling Engines
Both steam and sterling engines can provide mechanical power from only a heat source, easily supplied by a solar concentrator, and any waste heat used for a secondary application.
The internal combustion is cheaper than the steam or Stirling engine, as compared to steam there is no boiler or pipe system and so less parts and compared to Stirling an internal combustion engine is easier to build. However an internal combustion requires a liquid explosive to function and cannot function on direct sunlight. This is the reason for the renaissance steam and Stirling engines are currently experiencing. For though a steam and Stirling engine are more expensive to build, if powered with solar energy, the fuel is free, so far cheaper and far less environmentally damaging in the long term.
Before the internal combustion engine half the engines in the world were steam engines and the other half Stirling, but today we are far from having a similar community of steam and Stirling engineers and mechanics around. However, as petroleum depletes and becomes more and ore expensive, if available at all, the existing community of engineers and mechanics for internal combustion can easily re-learn steam and Stirling, as all the knowledge still exists, as well as examples in museums. This process is already occurring, but the sooner a stand alone solar-steam or solar-Stirling system that is obviously cheaper than petroleum, the sooner an explosion of steam and sterling engines there will be.
For both steam and Stirling, the advantage of a fixed focal point is particularly useful, since for steam it allows many relatively small concentrators to be easily coupled together in the same steam system to power a single steam engine. For Stirling engines, which can simply be placed in the focal point, a fixed focal point allows the Stirling engine to not be attached to the concentrator, but rather directly to the ground, significantly reducing vibration problems that could easily destroy the concentrator otherwise.
The reason that before the internal combustion engine half the engines were steam and half sterling, is that both engines have their advantages. Where a steam engine is easier to build than a Stirling, a steam engine requires a boiler and more maintenance. Where a Stirling engine can function for long periods without any maintenance and can be more efficient, they must in general function without lubrication which means a much more precise construction than steam engines, and much more difficult to repair if need be.
The absorption refrigerator has no moving parts and requires only a heat source to function. For these reasons it is cheap to produce, highly durable, and was the principal refrigeration device for the first half of the 20th century, and still used for off-grid refrigeration today. The disadvantage is that it is less fuel efficient than compression based refrigeration.
However, when the fuel is solar energy which costs essentially nothing, the advantages far outweigh the fuel efficiency factor.
In regions where there is no electricity grid, or electricity is expensive, and compression refrigerators also expensive and difficult to maintain, solar concentration power absorption refrigeration is an ideal solution to extend food stores.
In industrialized nations, absorption refrigeration can significantly increase the autonomy of a household, reduce electricity costs, and at the social level reduce the electricity load on the grid.
A solar concentration can heat directly the input of the absorption refrigerator or steam can be circulated for the job.
Tin and Aluminium
Tin melts at 250°C so can be easily worked in a solar forge.
Though aluminium cannot be refined from ore at low temperatures, once pure it melts at 660 °C so can also be worked with a concentrator relatively easy to construct and for the foreseeable future there is plenty of aluminium to recycled from defunct machines and infrastructure.
Solar aluminium working is of special note since aluminium is the third most abundant substance on earth, and can be used to make solar concentrators, but the mirrors and the structure.
Bronze is 10–20 copper and the rest tin, but though tin can be easily melted, copper melts at about 1000 °C. Existing locally built concentrators can reach 1000 °C, but this is at the focal point and it is yet to be seen how much heat can be transferred to the metal (a focal point of 1200 °C or above may be necessary to heat the copper to 1000 °C), so further development is necessary here to bring copper melting out of the range of advanced applications.
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SouSous: Advanced Solar Applications
Advanced applications are defined here as requiring above 1000 °C, as existing local methods cannot reach this temperature, examples being steel working or refining silica from sand to make photo-voltaic panel. Since existing local methods do not yet reach significantly over 1000 °C, the principle of local construction may not hold.
Where the line is drawn between what is more effective to build on location and at a specialized workshop is difficult to say; only time and experience will tell. And of course, as techniques are developed more and more, what is feasible with local concentration augments all the time, pushing further the definition of an advanced applications.
However, it should be noted that no advanced application is likely to be necessary for life, so even if these sorts of applications were transported long distance, a given community would not be dependent on the applications to survive, and so not vulnerable to a collapse in the supply line. The danger of monopolies would thus be avoided, and the advantage of specialization where effective reaped.
It should also be understood that the transportation of such applications, to transform a resource on location, would represent a nearly insignificant volume compared to the transportation of those resources themselves, as is the current practice in the global economy.
However, applications are usually, if not always, relatively small compared to the concentrators that provide the energy, and the sun energy available per square meter is the same for all solar technologies (a complicated solar concentrator can’t generate more sunlight). So, even for an advanced application it is probably still far more effective to build the concentrator close to location. Also, it can quickly becomes more effective to add 10% more surface area than proportional increase the efficiency of the design, as even for advanced applications a relatively simple solar concentrator would likely remain effective.
Existing advanced concentrators can melt steel and even rock, but they expensive experimental units. For the foreseeable future extreme temperatures will likely continue to be achieved with fossil fuels, but this may not be environmentally devastating if everything that can be easily powered with solar concentration is powered with solar concentration. Domestic energy is far from requiring temperatures of above 1000° C and it is estimated that 80% of energy consumed in industry is to run processes below 200 °C. Though there is probably no solution to maintain the global transportation system as we know it today, which is powered by over 97 % fossil fuels, we humans can easily live without such a transportation system as we have for the hundreds of thousands of years before the internal combustion engine.
However, that all domestic heating and the large majority of industrial energy is way below 1000 °C means that most every type of object produced today can be produced locally with solar concentration, from roasting produce to making paper, traditional mortar and steam forming wood. And if this is achieved, we will find that what is currently difficult to produce with solar concentration is manageable with the remaining fossil fuels that exist as well as with solar-charcoal, which can reach well above 1000 °C.
However, even if steel and glass working continue to be powered by fossil fuels for the time being, it is still far better to first power then as much with solar concentration as possible, and start designing and experimenting to reach 100% solar powered. Especially with ceramics, which in many places in the world is currently produced with inefficient charcoal and oven methods, often in desertifying regions, a solar-charcoal hybrid oven can have a significant impact.
Pottery and other ceramics require temperatures of at least 1000 °C to harden. Where charcoal is used to fire the ovens there is a huge consumption of wood: first because half the wood is burned to turn the other half into charcoal, and second, the ovens are fairly inefficient and so consume vast amounts of charcoal, and third, ceramics is an energy intensive task regardless of the methods used.
Though a 1000 % solar economically feasible ceramic oven may take a few years of serious development, it is simple with existing methods to first make the charcoal with solar energy, reducing wood consumption by half, and second heat the oven as much as is possible with solar energy, the difference being attained by burning charcoal.
Steel and Glass Smelting
Though iron melts at only slightly more than what is necessary to make ceramics, to make steel requires a mastery of the heating and cooling processes (unlike aluminium which has no complicating factors to melt and reform), and so we must consider steel smelting a more advanced application than even ceramics, regardless of a proximity in temperature.
Whether a hybrid system with charcoal can be practical would require some experimentation. For now, we can discuss what it would take to adapt existing local solar concentration techniques to achieve temperatures approaching 2000 °C. More precision is required than previously discussed.
The most precise concentrators of the world are double reflection, where a parabolic concentrator is stationary on the ground and a (or multiple) heliostats (flat mirrors that can track the sun) reflect light into the concentrator. As there are two reflections, not only does this increase material and cost, but it requires even greater precision of both reflectors, as any error becomes amplified. Though for extremely advanced applications, such as refining silicon, this sort of concentrator may be necessary, we should first push existing methods as far as possible.
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Subchapter: Part 2: The Forest Garden
SouSous: The Greatness of Trees
Trees have deep roots, up to 120 meters, and so can access far more water and nutrients than annual (perennial) crops who have roots usually no more than 50 cm. With far deeper roots trees can grow in a far greater variety of places and are far more resistant to drought and other stresses.
Trees have a lot of leaves and so can more efficiently capture light than annual crop. For instance, when an annual crop grows every year there’s a long period where the plant does not occupy all the space, so plenty of light simply falls on the ground. A tree on the other hand doesn’t have to regrow every year so can immediately capture plenty of light. A tree also has far more depth which allows it to better capture diffuse and reflected light. Capture more light means more energy for the tree and so more biomass.
Fruit bearing trees will bear fruit from year to year without needing anyone to till the soil, weed, or do any work at all other than pick the fruit, though some pruning and other other tasks may be beneficial.
Trees will protect the soil from erosion from wind and rain. This is in addition to not requiring to completely expose the soil through tilling in the first place.
Due to these qualities, trees provide a far sturdier ecological base than annual crops, but also require less effort to maintain and can produce more food than annual crops.
Especially in the energy perspective of the last chapter, trees require far less energy to interact with and provide far more energy in terms of human food.
But trees also provide building material and a host of other goodness.
Why Annual Crops Then?
The historical reasons humanity developed annual crops into forests to begin with are many, explored in depth in Appendix 1.
Today the major reason is that the whole process of growing annual crops can be completely managed by petro-machines and petro-chemicals, up to now. 
Imminent Annual Crop Catastrophe
Now, erosion of top soil, depletion of aquifers, build-up of petro-chemicals in the environment, increase resistance of pests to petro-chemical poisons, are all factors, which individually can lead to harvest failure, and together are creating a world wide famine.
Tomorrow, petroleum and natural gas will be in a terminal decline of production, and so expensive if available at all, making the agri-petro experiment no longer possible to pursue even if the lobbying will existed.
Solution: Plant Trees
The only sustainable food system possible on a global scale is one based on fruit, nut and otherwise edible trees.
We must reforest the areas we have deforested, with a mix of trees that grow something edible as well as other trees for ecological diversity.
From the sterile green deserts of mono-culture to the man made sand deserts, we must plant trees everywhere.
And we must plant them 10–20 years before we absolutely need them, while we still have some soil and time to wait for the trees to mature and bear fruit.
Visit article: The-Greatness-of-Trees.html
Joseph Tainter, in his Collapse of Complex Societies, pointed out that social complexity increases until further investment in complexity becomes counterproductive
He also pointed out that complex systems do not self-simplify; they collapse catastrophically and are eventually replaced with much simpler systems
Diminishing returns are observable and measurable
Diminishing returns cannot be explained using the internal logic of the systems involved
The people involved in maintaining these systems struggle along, but are eventually forced to give up
Municipal water = bad risk
Flushing with potable water = insanity!
Many grades: drinking water, washing water, irrigation water, gray water, “lively” water
Sewage is a very bad idea; composting much better
Roof rainwater collection, barrels, filters for drinking water
Swales dug into hillsides can boost groundwater
Hot water for washing: rocket stoves fed by brush piles
Passive irrigation systems instead of pumps and hoses
Runoff from disused parking lots and other structures can be saved in cisterns
Flat roofs can be planted with sod to soak up water and keep buildings cool
Proper placement of shade trees and evaporation pools can make air conditioning unnecessary
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In a decentralized society there is no waste. Or, rather, waste may take it’s ancient meaning of referring to what’s wood scraps are left after carpentry work and will be used later for something else.
All organic things, such as food and wood, can be composted and returned to the land base.
For things such as metals, when they can be worked locally with solar concentration, there is never any reason to through them away.
As for things that are toxic to humans and the ecosystem, there is no reason to produce them in the first place (though we may have to manage the billions of tons of toxic waste we’ve already created, see Appendix Q).
Organic material simply left in the ecosystem will decompose, such as apple cores. However, depending on the volume or kind of organic matter needing to be returned to the land base, other methods may have advantages.
Where we must pay special attention in terms of type is especially with respect to our own excrement which we want to avoid returning directly to our food supply, the land base, since this can allow the proliferation of disease. However, neither do we want to attempt to not-return our excrement to the land base, as this will drain nutrients from the ecosystem we depend on.
The solution is to return our excrement to the land base after a composting method that kills all the communicable diseases.
Visit article: Compost.html
SouSous: Organic Farming
There’s plenty of propaganda arguing that industrial agriculture is the only way to feed the world. There are several problems with this view.
1. We know that industrialism in general is unsustainable; industrial agriculture is no exception. Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer are all made with fossil-fuels, and tractors and other processing machinery are all powered by fossil fuels. For every calorie of consumable substance industrial agriculture produces, nine calories of fossil fuels are consumed. So to say the only way to sustain current substance production quantities is with a fundamentally unsustainable industrial system is simply non-nonsensical.
2. We know that nature adapts and that fundamentally unnatural processes are doomed to failure. The attempt to make nature a large controlled laboratory and grow mono-culture crop clones in a sterile environment, through killing all other organisms with herbicides and pesticides will eventually result in organisms resistant to these herbicides and pesticides. This has already happened with a great many of our magical chemicals, such as penicillin which is longer effective in the vast majority of cases. Each time a “pest” develops resistance to the point where the quantity of current chemicals would produce immediate ill effects on the human population.
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Vol 2: On Democracy
Subchapter: Part 1: Political Principles
SouSous: Car Fallacy
Many political theories and discourse take as a unquestionable principle the idea that the purpose of all politicians, scientists, and economists is to maintain, or create, a life style based on the personal vehicle.
We can call this the car fallacy. A car is of course a tool that can be used for good or ill, and is not some sort of metaphysical ideal humanity must inherently aspire to. The question is of course when and when is not a car useful to accomplish some task. If the task is to live, we find that a car is relatively useless in daily life, as all necessities to live can be procured locally.
That there can be marginal uses of small motorized vehicles is a certainty, but organizing the entirety of society around building cars and roads is an absurdity. Not only do the material and environmental costs far outweigh even perceived gains of a sense of freedom and speed (these gains are not real as walking and hiking provides access to far greater locations, and in most urban settings the time spent working to purchase and maintain a car coupled with time spent in traffic jams renders an average speed equal to or less than walking ), but, being unsustainable, this entire system cannot be sustained.
In contemporary discourse where the rarity of petroleum is accepted, the only conclusion drawn from this fact is usually only that a substitute is required to power the global fleet of cars and trucks in the future. However, though technical substitutes exist, none of them are nearly as free as is petroleum: batteries, hydrogen, and bio-fuels cannot be simply pumped out of the ground. Furthermore, no known potential substitute has the energy density of petroleum, and so it is either infeasible to run the heavy trucking system on them (batteries, compressed air) or the costs are so great that the fact that the trucking system is far less energy efficient than localized living and electric trains when reasonable (both of which are a mature technology requiring no scientific breakthroughs), means it is simply impossible to continue to pretend that personal vehicles and heavy trucks are a good ideas. Just as it is technically possible that we all live in Zeppelins, just highly impractical, it is technically possible to find a substitute to petroleum for personal vehicles and trucks, only highly impractical.
Thus, insofar as any main stream debate takes it as fact that the personal vehicle cannot be questioned, all such debates encounter a dead end, as an inherently wasteful system can never be maintained indefinitely.
However, once the car fallacy is understood, then the never ending search for miracle technologies (hydrogen, lithium batteries, bio-fuels, nuclear fusion, etc.) no longer seems necessary, humanity’s energy requirement is significantly lowered: as not only do vehicles consume over a third of humanity’s energy, but the life style to justify owning a car consumes much of the rest. And so, if we remove cars from a nearly religious status, a wide range of simple and feasible measures open up to solve our problems.
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SouSous: Ideal Fallacy
Politics is the that area of our activity that organized society. For each person to participate in this activity requires them having some idea of how society should be organized, some idea of an ideal society.
However, I have essentially refrained from any further using the word ideal outside this footnote , not because the ideal is not worth pursuing but because the “ideal fallacy” is so common it has been associated with the word itself (and so in the following chapters I use equivalent formulations of the word ideal).
The “ideal fallacy” is any argument in the form “Ideally there would be X and Y; therefore Q: if there is Y then there will be X”. Whether or not X and Y would really be ideal is of course always up for discussion, but what we can be sure is that approaching Y doesn’t mean X will be equally approached. For instance the argument, “ideally (X) people competing against each other results in the good for all, and (Y) ideally there would be no government as it takes resources and entails a significant amount of risk; therefore (Q) if we remove government entirely (Y`) people would be free to compete resulting in the greatest good of everyone (X`) without needing to pay taxes or risk totalitarianism.” Is a popular ideal fallacy in the western world. Though X and Y both seem fairly ideal, the argument that Y would entail X is false.
Though people can compete in a positive sense — bettering themselves, being honest, keeping their word and engagements, inventing new techniques, and taking the full responsibility of their actions — people can also compete in a negative sense — rather than trying to better themselves, trying to make the competition worse by harming them in any number of direct or indirect ways or simply destroying them all together, being dishonest, breaking their word, and offloading as many bad consequences of their actions onto others as possible.
And so simply removing all government may result in some positive competition but may also result in a relatively few people making enormous efforts in negative competition, including taking control of what government is left (which has become weaker than non-government actors due to deregulation) to destroy competition and offload responsibility even further.
Other examples are “Ideally, everyone would think good, and the good would be the same for everyone; therefore, if everyone thinks the same, everyone would think good.” ; “Ideally, society would be just and everyone would have about the same pay; therefore, if everyone was paid the same society would be just.” ; “Ideally, believing in god inhibits corruption; therefore if everyone believed in god no one would be corrupt.”
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SouSous: Class Fallacy
The disorganization of society has resulted in a significant amount of inequality, leading to the formation of classes in one form or another.
However, simply because someone is in a class of economic or political privileged, does not mean that person shares in the perceived interests of their class. Not only can people in privileged classes be fighting to advance political equality and sustainability, but people in lower classes may be fighting to preserve class inequality and unsustainability.
… Total Cooperation
… The idea of a “class war” simply isolates people with the same intentions and fractures the social movement.
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SouSous: Depopulation Fallacy
For the moment this is just a copy of choice 3. from Humanity’s Energy Choices. But it will be expanded on in time. Thank you for your patience.
The certain cataclysm that would be caused by fossil-industrial subsistence, and the extreme political and practical difficulty a bio-energy energy economy, leads some to propose killing a majority of people, often the poor, under the euphemism of depopulation.
This genocidal movement, often praised in the main-stream media and ecological circles, lobbies for plans ranging from exacerbating famines, engineering super viruses, forced abortions and sterilizations , to passive justification of the loss of human life due to industrial exploitation of poorer nations (albeit the irrationality of this last position seems to betray a cynical and/or diabolical intent).
The problem with this plan is first that it is unethical to kill someone, or let someone die, if it is avoidable. The depopulation lobby confuses the idea that “the potential that something could necessary” with “that thing is actually necessary”. However, this is clearly untrue, simply imagining something might be necessary under certain circumstances does not mean those circumstances actually exist in the real world. For instance, I can imagine a situation where it would be necessary to kill you in self defence, but my imagining this does not mean you are actually attacking me in the real world.
In the real world depopulation would only be ethical to pursue if all viable alternative options to diminish our impact on nature had been tried and failed in a transparent and democratic way (not in some report by a handful of people biased towards depopulation publish).
This exhaustion of alternatives is currently far from being the case. And even if all these third options were tried — doing away with consumer culture, local solar economies, eating less meat, growing edible algae, putting a fraction of the subsidies into developing permaculture that is currently put into the ongoing petro-chemical-mass-plant-cloning-experiment on both animal and human subjects, food forests, greening arid land with food-forest-permaculture techniques, to name a few — a depopulation program would only be ethical if it too was democratically adopted and managed.
We should also note it is nearly ethically essential that the main proponents of depopulation be the first to volunteer for the program, otherwise it is difficult to assume their arguments are born from a genuine concern for humanity.
Secondly, if an alternative way of living sustainably is developed, humans may find important ecological roles, and a large population may actually be helpful in replanting trees and detoxifying the world.
However, Rather than try to work against people’s tendency to adapt, the alternative option is to work with this tendency and develop ways of living without fossil fuels nor the heavy ecological impact of a medieval-like society.
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SouSous: Use Theory
The need of a theory about what is useful is brought about by the abundant energy of the fossil age, which has allowed humanity to build many fundamentally useless things and systems, such as highways.
As long as energy was essentially free, there was little hard questioning of these systems. However, in a future where energy will be abundant, thanks to the sun, but require effort and thinking to capture, there will be hard pressure to do and build useful things.
Now, to judge usefulness presupposes an ethic and a purpose, in this book the purpose is preserve life, but even before getting to the specifics of a particular purpose, certain generalities can be useful, as the modern world is so full of absurdities that often things come to pass that fulfill no coherent ethic we are able to imagine, outside the goal of wasting things as much as possible.
Technique or technology
We can begin by distinguishing between a technique and a technology.
A technique is simply a method of using a set of objects to do something. With fiber and a good technique, a good rope can be made. For instance, with rope and the right technique a good hammock can be made. Though a given technique may depend on already having materials made with other techniques, the technique itself is knowledge and skill. A technique is inseparable from the person performing it, without a person a technique cannot exist. A technique thus presupposes an understanding of the nature of the material, processes, and one’s own body and mind. Techniques thus can always be adapted to new situations and inspire new methods. A technique weighs nothing and so in general the more techniques known the better, and the more techniques a given person knows the more problems they are likely to be able to solve.
A technology on the other hand is a material system meant to accomplish some task nearly independently. Though, a technology is usually designed by one or a group of engineers and realized with many techniques and other technologies, the person interacting with the technology to perform the task may have no understanding of it’s inner workings nor how it interacts with the environment. In the vast majority of cases a technology can rarely be adapted to new situations other than what it was designed, though technologies generally can be taken apart and the pieces found marginal use (though with a comparative effectiveness far below the original technology). Though this does not make technologies intrinsically useless, it does mean that much thought should be put into deciding whether the technology in question is actually useful to build. For a technology requires material and time to build, and material and time to maintain, and so if the technology is not fundamentally useful a whole bunch of time and material are wasted.
Equally so, a theoretically useful technology given some presumably good purpose that is designed and built poorly and so cannot be maintained can easily be of negative use. Likewise, a technology, in order to function independently of human motor force, must generally consume things, such as energy, in order to function, in turn these inputs are generally provided by other technological systems; so, if a theoretically useful technology is built but depends on systems that in turn cannot be maintained, then again a negative use is encountered.
It is also easy to create technologies that are counter-productive. For instance, an energy technology that consumes more energy than it generates should garner serious skepticism. Or a medical technology that creates more diseases than it cures.
So whereas learning techniques is an activity by nature easy to defend, as the skill and knowledge will surely have some use at some time, building or acquiring a technology is much harder to defend, requiring precise knowledge of the systems involved and whether the technology will actually have more benefits than costs.
However, we should not confuse the knowledge and skill required to build a technology and the technology itself. The knowledge and skill themselves are not material and so, like techniques, have no weight and generally cost little to
Considering that much that people have in the modern world is made by someone else, one useful conditions we can place on usefulness of these objects is whether, given enough time, you would build the object in question yourself? If you could never imagine building the object for yourself, since the effort it would take would always be greater than the effort it saves, then it’s nearly certain the object is useless, if not an obstruction to actual useful things.
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SouSous: Government Fallacy
There is a lot of confusion concerning the nature of government. This confusion is largely due to most, if not all governments, defining themselves as eternal, whether explicitly (representing God for instance) or implicitly (by simply not defining under what conditions the government should be dissolved). Along with this eternal view is usually a theory of government that excludes all other views and simply ignores the subject of when and how a government can be ethically changed. The expression of this eternal-government approach is usually the substitution of legal perception for reality. If reality is perceived through the legal system constructed by the government, all non-legal acts defined as bad and/or heretical, and only legal acts justifiable (or thinkable), then the only method open to affecting the organization of society is through the present legal system, which in turn is embedded and inseparable from the current form of government, and thus, insofar as this view is adopted by a sufficient number of people, the government can never be changed in any fundamental way.
However, if this legal perception of the world was true, no governments would ever change, and none of the currently existing governments would exist.
A clearer view is to define government as the dominant organizational force in society, maintained by a combination of force, legal apparatus, coercion, genuine supporters and simple expectation (which we will study further with respect to institutions in the next chapter). Clearly, this dominant organization force can be changed in many extrinsic ways, invasion and revolt being the principal agents.
… For a government not to be considered to have this eternal view of itself, it must include a way society can change every detail of the government, replacing it entirely if need be, as well as deliniate the conditions upon which it should be judged to no longer be functionable and thus just to resist.
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To preserve life and humanity will require an organized effort, to one degree or another, between those that share this intention.
Our broad choice of organization is between democracy, where everyone is encouraged to participate in the decision making, and dictatorship, where a small group attempt to make the decisions for everyone.
Defence of Democracy
Though there are plenty of theories about how some form of dictatorship would be very efficient, these theories can only ever work in the imagination.
In practice all “social control” theories must propose that A. the majority of people cannot be trusted to make decisions, B. therefore they must be controlled and C. by a theory about how to manipulate them (for their own good). Without these propositions it is impossible to argue in favour of dictatorship.
But, any such theory, no matter how it is construed, must always hinge on a selection of a minority of “trustable” people, call them the “guardians”, who understand ABC and can be entrusted to carry out the theory. However, can this ever be achieved?
It is crucial to ask this question before even considering the details of the theory, i.e. what responsibilities the guardians would have, how they would maintain control, and what other jobs would exist to maintain society. For, if no trustworthy guardians could ever be selected, what they, and everyone else, are supposed to do is completely irrelevant.
In order to choose our guardians we can either select at random or with some criteria and process.
Given that in order to justify the need for guardians we must presume the majority of people are untrustworthy, we cannot select at random, as the likely result would be more untrustworthy people than trustworthy ones. 
So, if we cannot select at random, we must select based on some criteria and process designed to identify the trustworthy minority among the untrustworthy majority. However, with little elaboration we must conclude that this is impossible. For, whatever the criteria and process might be, its success must invariably depend on the selection of still yet another group of trustworthy people to carry out the selection, and decide who the deciders will be. But for this “deciding the deciders group” we arrive at the same impasse as for the guardians to begin with, requiring yet another group to decide who these deciders of the deciders will be, but we encounter yet again the same problem for this group, and so on indefinitely.
We are obliged to conclude that a society that is on the whole untrustworthy can never select from among itself a cast of trustworthy people to govern it. And so any society that chooses to invest the majority of power in a few, must always find itself ruled by corrupt and/or incompetent people, until either this ruling cast destroys society or the majority decide upon and achieved another organizational structure, regardless of the opinions of the present rulers. .
The only way out of this impasse is to assume that society is in general trustworthy.
Now, this does not prove society is in fact trustworthy. However, just as I, likewise, cannot prove to myself that my own senses and reasoning is trustworthy — since if my reasoning and senses are flawed they are as likely to conclude they are sound as not, and so I simply must trust myself on the whole to make any decision at all — to live within society and strive for any coherent social action at all requires a basic trust in society as a whole. 
Though again, this does not mean every single person, institution, or proposal can be trusted, or even usually trustworthy people trusted all the time in everything, , it means decisions can be made without impasse, from the everyday risk of walking past someone without assuming they wills attack me, to participating in discussions and spreading ideas under the assumption that the best will be retained and used more often than not for good rather than evil, to the idea that everyone should be able to participate in the decisions concerning society.
However, though there is no functional alternative to corrupt despotism, practising democracy is far from simple, made all the more difficult by centralization. For, with the centralization of power, the decision process is far easier to manipulate and far harder for the average person to participate in; since people are far from the decision making process, they can at best be represented by a few representatives; but, when so few are selected to make decisions and their decisions so difficult to observe, we must be in constant vigilance for either the infiltration of untrustworthy people, whom we may assume will be drawn to centralized power as flies to a light, as well as the corruption of previously trustworthy people — and in either case they can often easily modify the centralized political process to remove democracy. 
But, regardless of whether centralized democracy could work and whether existing centralized democracies actually are democratic (or to what degree), if democracy were to be decentralized it would likely function far better, as people would be in more immediate contact with who they are deciding with and what they are deciding upon. Considering also that centralization is at the heart of most if not all of our environmental and social problems, as discussed in Vol 1, decentralizing economically would allow a significant reduction in environmental destruction as well as allow a decentralized democracy to flourish.
But to decentralize politically would be difficult to achieve through a centralized government and economic system. Though centralized structures should not be ignored and should be encouraged to support good decisions, and though the idea of centralized government may be at odds with decentralization, we should not presume everyone within centralized government values the power of their institution over the survival of humanity and life as we know it. Nor should these structures be simply eliminated as even in a decentralized society, where the great majority of goods and decisions are made locally, there will still exist some issues that can only be solved through a centralized body — such as watching over nuclear waste and like matters. The important ingredient in a decentralized democracy is that any centralized institution is not more powerful than the local communities that constitute it and allow it to exist in the first place (that any centralized institution can be dissolved at any moment by the communities that support it, without any difficulty or practical means of resistance from the centralized institution in question). And though in some situations physically modifying the centralized economic structures out of decentralized consent may be necessary, every effort should be made to avoid conflict, and if regime change is necessary to depose a tyranny then only the social and material structures of tyranny be destroyed without the intent to kill anyone. For a tyrant, without a social fabric conditioned to carry out their wishes, is only a fool.
But for local political bodies to take on more responsibility, such as for food, energy, and living arrangement, requires autonomy in these areas. For, if a community depends on a centralized economic process for vital needs, then the community must abdicate political responsibility to an equally centralized political body that can manage these processes, and forthwith be at the mercy of them insofar as this is the case.
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Subchapter: Part 2: Organizing Community
SouSous: Breaking Dependence
Dependence of thought
… all in the head.
Nearly everything about the modern world is addictive. This is not surprising considering that the great majority of people find modernity nauseous, destructive of community and the environment. If there was not a strong compelling force to maintain modernity, in the communities where it is implanted, or to adopt it, in the communities where it is yet, then we might expect a great number of alternatives to modernity.
We should also expect modernity to e addictive as it is the fruit of capitalism. Clearly a product that is addictive will sell better than a product that is not, and so, even without the intention to do so, the companies that manage to create highly addictive products will do better than those without addictive products by simply following profits. Fructose-glucose artificial sugar is an example of this. Initially the soda industry was motivated to create artificial sugar because it would be cheaper, and then shortly after its use noticed an increase in profits. In both steps, 1. finding a cheaper alternative and 2. expanding the use of a product that sells well, is a predictable result regardless of whether anyone in the soda industry was aware, or even wondered, that this new artificial sugar was addictive. Shortly after, nearly every mouth substance industry found that adding glucose-fructose sugar to their products added to their profits, and so we find glucose-fructose artificial sugar in everything from bred to honey.
We also find that television is addictive
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SouSous: Ethical Discourse
In the modern world we are accustomed to view argument as a form of conflict or battle. And though it may seem ideas battle against each other, it is unnecessary to view argument as actual conflict.
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SouSous: Project Politics
Whereas a government is defined as the dominant organizational force in society, submitting partisans and non-partisans alike, a project is defined as a not-so-dominant organizational force dedicated to a specific effort.
Though many of the principles of government apply to a project, some do not. Most importantly, whereas it’s good for a government to include all its people in the decision making process (see On Democracy), a project by definition must inherently strive to include those people that share in the effort that defines the project and exclude those that don’t share the effort. Though direct decentralized democracy is perhaps the only coherent form of government, there are many forms of coherent organizations viable for a project, depending on who is affected by the project and what is required for the project to succeed.
Personal and Benign
A project that is by definition personal and has no noticeable affect on others, such as make a sand sculpture, has little use of a organizational committee insofar as the material required for the project can be assumed by the person undertaking the endeavor.
Community and Benign
A project that would affect people “outside the project” as anyone is liable to see the sculpture, and so such a should consult with the people affected to ensure there is no potential conflicts that would arise from the nature of the project and if so attempt to resolve them. However, such a project need not include all affected people in the deciding upon the details.
Examples of such projects would be the idea to erect a sculpture on top of a hill. Insofar as no one is bothered by the idea, how exactly the sculpture is made, installed and whether it is successful is largely irrelevant to those who, though not opposed to the idea, have no particular desire or time to contribute to it’s success.
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SouSous: Creative Revolution
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SouSous: Bridging Social Divides
Divide and conquer is one of the oldest military maxims. When people are divided amongst themselves, it is far easier to control them. By such means a small group can control a people.
A people can of course divide itself through a real or imaginary difference. However, to turn a necessary debate over a novel issue into a division of society (with little communication between the factions) is often facilitated by a propaganda campaign, by one of the factions or by a group with a vested interest in social divide .
Racism is perhaps the oldest foundation of social divide.
More modern methods are characterized by trying to force people into a market configuration, where they are forced to compete against each other rather than cooperate for a common purpose. But this does not always suffice, and so amplification
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SouSous: Functioning Without Money
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Vol 3: On Decisions
Subchapter: Part 1: Ethics
SouSous: Trust and Action
Though the word “faith”, standing alone, has become synonymous with religion in much contemporary discourse, in context it is still often used for it’s original meaning. For instance, a person might say “I have faith in so and so” or “I have faith in this system” or indeed “I have faith in my myself”, all of which can be uttered outside the context of a religious doctrine or institution.
We can define faith as the “decision to act as if something was true without any absolute proof.” For instance, there’s no possible proof that a person is who they seem to be, or even if they are who they seem to be at the moment won’t suddenly decide to do something completely different. Likewise, there’s no absolute proof possible that some technical system will work or continue to work. Many people have faith in both other people and technical systems, and if we dig deeper most would conclude such faith is necessary to simply be in society. This type of quotidian faith is widely viewed as reasonable to have.
However, there is a movement in contemporary discourse that views all faith as irrational. Even if they seem to continue to put implicit and explicit faith in both people and technical systems on a daily basis, they may argue this is not faith but based on some probability calculation of observation of people and technical systems. Now, whether such a probabilistic proxy to social and scientific faith can work in theory is difficult to say. However, in practice this approach simply shifts the faith from the people and objects at hand to the writers of scientific literature, and when this is exposed to the debaters own senses and reasoning.
And so, no such “pure rationalism” approach can ever be applied as it presumes a faith in one’s own ability to reason. There cannot be any rational proof of one’s own ability to rationalize as the former depends on the latter. One can never be certain to be a rational being, one can only act assuming this to be true; i.e. have faith that it is so.
However, that faith is a precondition of being able to function at the most basic level, this does not imply that all faith is reasonable. For instance, having faith that it is both day and night, that one is both alive and dead, that I can fly by jumping off a tall enough mountain or breathe underwater, are all examples of faith most people would view as unreasonable. There seems a serious difference between the kind of basic faith that allows one to operate in society, and faith in arbitrary propositions.
Though many thinkers don’t go this far, or if they do simply leave it at that, there is a way to construct reasonable faith as apposed to unreasonable faith. Namely, faith is reasonable when there is no other choice. For instance, many of us had no other choice but to have faith in our parents when young. As adults, most of us also, at least feel, there is no other choice that to have faith that when all people won’t try and kill when we walk down the street unless evidence to the contrary, as assuming all people are robbers, unless evidence to the contrary, would make basic interactions with society unfeasible. Indeed, what would proof someone is not a robber include? as it is in the nature of the robber to appear not a robber, and anyone that appears not to be a robber may simply be cleverer, and there can not be any proof that one is cleverest.
Moreover, even if we entertain the idea of going living in complete isolation on an island somewhere and assume all humans encountered are robbers, for most people this would entail assuming everyone along the way aren’t robbers in order to get there. But more fundamentally, if we entertain the notion that part of the purpose for human life is helping to continue life and humanity, it is difficult to see how this can be achieved in complete isolation.
So, it is impossible to argue that complete isolation, as in a lack of basic faith, in humanity is rational without having faith that complete individualism is rational, which is anything but a given. However, we hardly have to debate this point as any adherents of this sort of individualism cannot by definition be here to argue about it, for fear that we rob them.
That being established, we may wonder how this reasonable faith can be put into practice. The key concept is “pointless to assume”. Faith is simply what is left from what is pointless to assume. For instance, it is pointless to assume that I have no reasonable abilities, as I would have no reasonable grounds to assume this, being unreasonable. It is pointless to assume all people are robbers if one strives to better humanity. Likewise, it is pointless to assume the majority cannot govern, as there is no way for society as a whole to pick a minority (though countless minorities throughout history and today have picked themselves, there is no reason to give preference to the arguments of one minority over another; and indeed, unless one is in the minority to accept this view is to assume one is incapable of participating in governance and making such decisions as which minority is to govern).
However, the resulting faith need not be total. For instance, a basic faith in society does not necessitate an absolute faith in everyone all of the time. Basic faith can be turned to distrust as soon as there is evidence to support it. Likewise, in the absence of reason to distrust one need not have complete faith. For instance, for most people I encounter we exchange the basic faith in each other that we won’t do violent harm or intentionally obstruct one and the other. However, this basic faith required to become physically close, and not each hiding in a forest somewhere, does not support a total faith of divulging all one’s thoughts, secrets, plans and entrusting all one’s possessions to such a stranger. Rather, after an initial encounter, based on the result faith can be increased a little more or decreased to complete distrust.
Likewise, though one must have faith in one’s ability to reason, one need not have total faith in all of one’s reasoning, only that one is capable of correcting oneself if reason appears to doubt previous conclusions. Faith in one’s own capacity does not support a complete refusal to doubt oneself, only that it is worth it to try.
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Though one may have an idea of what is good or even a sophisticated ethical theory, to come to such thoughts in the first place requires effort and an act of will, and thus is already an expression of one’s ethic. So, though we may discuss our ethical point of view, our true ethic precedes all discussion and argumentation. For, without the choice of what to think, there could be no choice of what to do, and thus our fundamental choices precede even our thoughts. Thus what we think about our thoughts, and what those thoughts may say about what we find is good, is in fact a result of our choices of what to think about to begin with, what the philosophers call will, and whether we actually muster the courage to do what we will we may call our effort.
And since our will is with us and expresses our ethic even before we think about one subject or another, and certainly before we engage in argument, we can never be convinced to change our ethic in any fundamental way. For, it takes a fundamental will to even hear someone out, and much more to consider what they say and put one’s own opinions into doubt and compare the two. This process that must take place even before I understand what you say cannot happen without my own active effort, my willing to understand, my ethic that is expressed through my consideration of your words.
And so, it is useless for me for instance to try to convince someone that life has value who is fundamentally set at disregarding or even destroying life. All I can do is address myself to those who already value life and attempt through our common search for how best to value it.
Hence, it is completely irrelevant to speak of fundamental ethics, and only relevant to speak of what we should do who already share the same or compatible fundamental ethic, except insofar as we speak of fundamental ethics to establish that we should not engage in an unending quest to convince those with a fundamentally opposed will to change their effort (for this is impossible, through our discourse at least), but rather we should pass directly to action. Our action may include our discussing further actions as well as what best way to take into account those with a fundamentally opposed actions.
For this reason, this book is an attempt to discuss and advance the understanding of what we should do to preserve life, and not a justification of why we should try to think about it in the first place.
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SouSous: Inter-Ethic Cooperation
For two people to cooperate they need at least some common ground between them.
Though a bit of common ground does not guarantee cooperation, as there may be greater opposing goals, it is useful to see first if cooperation is possible. Since people can have many, often unclear and sometimes even contradictory goals, discovering the possibility of and actually building cooperation is far from simple.
It is essential to first understand the simple theoretical cases first considering simple and clear goals (ignoring for now the ambiguous). There are only four broad modes of relationship between people: cooperation, indifference, conflict and manipulation.
By definition, cooperation is best when possible, since cooperation means striving for the same goal, if a person has a simple and clear goal they necessarily want to achieve it as effectively as possible. Therefore, if it’s possible to cooperate with someone to achieve the goal faster, it is necessarily part of the goal to do so, otherwise the goal would not be so simple.
However, cooperation is not always possible, as the nature of someone’s goal in itself may exclude cooperation or the situation may renders the differences between people seem more important than what may be held in common.
For instance, take the simple goal of the hermit, taken to the extreme. The goal of the hermit is to live autonomously outside society, completely alone. By definition then, the total hermit’s goal in itself is the goal to not cooperate with anyone. So, it is not possible for the hermit to enter into cooperation, insofar as total autonomy is the goal. However, neither is the hermits goal to interfere with or control anyone else, so the relationship with the rest of society is one of indifference. Again, a real hermits goals may be more complex, perhaps only wanting to live in autonomy in certain ways, such as for food and shelter, and completely willing to cooperate in other ways, such as helping a passer-by or discussing the mysteries of the universe. However, the case of the total hermit illustrates well that the nature of a goal may exclude cooperation but not entail conflict or manipulation.
Now, when cooperation is not possible, indifference is the best relationship. For, by definition if we want to achieve a goal we do not want to be opposed in doing so, neither do we want to unnecessarily oppose others in their pursuit of their own goals, as such would take time and energy and not advance our own goals.
However, conflict may be impossible to avoid. If someone’s goal is to destroy the entire earth and another persons goal is to continue to live on the earth, then these two people cannot go about their goals in complete indifference to each other. At some point it will become clear that the activities of each other are inherent obstacles for pursuing the goals of each.
A special case of conflict is when one party is unaware of the conflicting goals and is led to believe that advancing the goals of the manipulating party is to advance their own goals. This is of course a worse situation than outright conflict for the manipulated party, and in favour of the manipulating party’s goals. However, some goals are incompatible with manipulation and so a person with such goals that engages in manipulation actually does disservice to not only their victims goals but their own goals as well. In the case of manipulation being used for such goals, this is the worse possible situation.
Now, as said, these four basic forms of relationship are for simple and clear goals. In the real world the intentions of people can be very complex and unclear, even to themselves. So, it is entirely possible for people to cooperate in some areas, while being in conflict in others, completely indifferent in still others, and trying to manipulate each other on some points. So, these four modes are usually only practical to apply for specific individual aspects of a relationship with someone, and not to describe the entire relationship bluntly. There are few people who’s only goal is to live in complete isolation or to destroy the entire earth. Likewise, there are few people in the world with precisely the same mutually compatible goals that can cooperate in everything at every moment of the day. Manipulation is even more problematic since it is by definition not explicit (few manipulators will say outright “prepare to be manipulated”), and people often try to manipulate others for their own good so an actual reason for the conflict (when the manipulation is discovered) may not even exist.
So the theoretical points above is not so proposed for the purpose of categorising everyone you know into rigid boxes of cooperation, indifference, conflict, and manipulation, but rather to help clarify each relationship you have by trying to understand what areas is cooperation possible, where indifference may be preferable, where and when could conflict arise, and to be on guard on what points another may try to manipulate, for whatever reasons (which is never justified in the authors opinion).
Situation Dependence of cooperation
The second important theoretical point is that the relationship modes described above are usually as dependent on the situation as they are on the ethic of each. Only the special cases of two people with absolutely compatible goals or absolutely conflicting goals, would there be absolute cooperation or absolute conflict regardless of the situation. These special cases rarely exist, so usually the situation people find themselves in will either reveal common ground (compatible goals) or reveal incompatible goals and so conflict.
A classic case is are a captor and a prisoner in a war that become stranded on an island, or lost in a forest, or face to a fire, and the only way they can survive is by working together; so if the captor’s goal of self preservation is greater than his goal to not let his prisoner escape, these enemies may find themselves in close cooperation until the day a new situation is reached where they are no longer co-dependent for survival. The prisoner may be recaptured or may escape, and one or both may be killed in the process.
The application of this knowledge is especially in understanding that situations change and looking for when cooperation may suddenly be possible or no longer possible and so foreseeing when conflict may arise in order to resolve it beforehand.
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SouSous: Ethics of Default
In the coming years much debate will surround the ethics of default on debt.
Though individual cases may differ, on the whole we must conclude that defaulting on debt to the banking establishment is justified. We can show this in two ways.
First, we must note that everything that is necessary is ethical. It would be absurd to say that something that must happen, such as the sun setting, is unethical. Ethics is clearly concerned with those matters in which a choice is involved. The majority of debt default that will occur cannot be avoided, is necessary, and thus ethical. This is shown in more detail below, but it is .
The second way to justify, at least essentially all government default, is that the majority of these debts in the world were carried under previous and/or non-democratic governments, and there is no metaphysical way to somehow bind these debts to the population. There is no ethical, theory known to me, that makes people responsible for the debts of a criminal organization that declares itself a government.
Fractional Reserve Lending
In modern banking, when a bank makes a loan the money does not come from a previous deposit at the bank, but is simply made up on the spot. Though this may seem strange at first, it is only poses a conundrum if we assume the bank is lending out value (which is difficult to be understood as something that can be invented from nothing in infinite quantity). Rather, what occurs is a “reverse investment” where the perceived “borrower from the bank” is actually the one lending to the bank their own in time and/or material (in some enterprise along with everyone who accepts the notes for further reverse investments of time and material), directly or indirectly, in return for a bank note. The system works if all these reverse-investments are profitable in terms of real things, and thus all the reverse investments can unwind.
The only room for confusion is if the “lender to the bank” thinks they have actually been lent something of value from the bank in the here and now. A simply example can quickly show how this confusion can come about.
Take for instance the beginning of fractional reserve lending. If we use the perspective that a bank would write bank notes representing gold they have that doesn’t exist, it’s difficult to see how this system works. Rather, if we use the perspective that the bank writes “promises to pay gold at a future date” and then gives these pieces of paper to a captain who then invests his ship and time to travel to the new world to plunder and/or mine gold, and returns to share the loot with the bank, we become closer to the truth. As long as the bank receives more gold from these reverse investments (time and material lent to the bank) than the bank owes in outstanding bank notes they’ve written, the system can continue. How this can be assured is that when the ship captain lends his time and material to the bank in some endeavour, he also agrees to return all the bank notes, or corresponding gold, with interest. The advantage to bank is clear: the bank receives labour and material (activity carried out on its behalf), and on top of this the promise to repay value in gold corresponding to this reverse investment.
The real confusion is not the operation of the bank but why the captain would accept such a deal. Why would the ship’s captain accept future promises to pay gold (bank notes) and simultaneously promise to pay the same sum of gold with interest in the future (bank debt)? The reason is the bank notes (debt from the bank) is presented as promised at any given moment whereas the loan (debt to the bank) is promised at a specific date farther into the future.
The captain’s problem is that he cannot sail alone, and so by distributing these “reverse investment notes” around to a crew and everyone that equips the ship, they may be convinced to take part in the venture. We are now in a position to understand what is going on. 1) The captain wants to voyage to the new world to find gold, but doesn’t enough gold presently to pay for the required crew and equipment. 2) Ideally, the captain could convince the crew and suppliers to lend him (invest) their time and material in his project for a share of the profits, but 3) Not enough people trust the captain enough to invest; so 4) The ship’s captain displaces the burden of debt in this affair from himself and hit project to the bank, and distributes bank notes that people trust more; and 5) for this service of debt displacement the captain agrees to pay the equivalent sum with interest. All that happens is instead of the captain owing directly everyone that has contributed to his enterprise, the bank owes these people and the captain owes the bank.
Why I keep calling it a “reverse investment” is that the people accepting the bank notes tend to think these notes are “money” and that they have been paid in the here and now with real value, rather than perceive the truth that they have accepted bank debt.
The main function of this form of lending, is to trick people into lending their time and material into things that they wouldn’t otherwise have done, either from being unconvinced or for ethical concerns (e.i. pillaging gold).
This first phase of fractional reserve lending works as long as the enterprises that owe the bank in exchange for debt displacement (reverse investment) bring in more gold or other real things than bank-notes redeemed at any given moment.
The justification of this system of banking is that the bankers are more intelligent than the common person (at least at investment), and must trick the common person into investing their time and material in the bank’s projects or proxi-projects (carried out on behalf of the bank: e.i. the projects of those that borrow from the bank). After all, if the crew, outfitters and suppliers saw the opportunity the captain is after was solid and invested their time and material directly, the captain would have no need of the bank.
There are two views we can hold. 1) the banker has a comparative advantage in investment and can spot the good ones, as well as diversify over the long term to cover any short term potential losses 2) the common person requires also a moral reason to act and plundering the new world and creating social and material structures that rob the common person of autonomy and dignity transferring leverage to the central government, does not seem moral to the average person, and therefore the common man is reluctant to invest directly in the schemes of the bank or the banks proxi-organizations, but due to the habit of money can be easily tricked into doing so in exchange for pieces of paper.
Phase II: Central Banking
The problem with the first phase of fractional reserve lending, is that banks can easily fail. If more people ask to have their bank notes redeemed for gold (or other assets) than the bank possesses, all confidence is lost in the bank and the paper previously perceived as money becomes suddenly perceived as simple paper. Not only can this happen due to the banks error in distributing reverse investments, but another bank A can collect bank notes of bank B and redeem them all at once provoking a bank failure. Or bank A can simply spread a rumour that bank B is bankrupt. This is typically the case when there is not an overstock of plundering to be done (a shortage of time and labour compared to the available resources) and so the banks enter into direct competition against each other.
This risk of bank failure under phase I also does not diminish with the size of the bank, as a bigger bank simply has a bigger amount of outstanding bank notes. In fact, a bigger bank may have more inherent risk as it becomes far harder to see, much less control, where the bank notes are going, and so a secret plan to collapse the bank through collecting notes and redeeming them at once may have an easier time. And big or small, the law of averages states that all phase I banks will fail eventually, since an anomaly in bank note redemption or incoming reverse-investment repayments is bound to occur at one time or another.
So, big banks A, B and C go to government D, and ask for the burden of debt to be transferred from individual banks to the government. The government prints the notes, lends them to the banks at a low interest (or no interest), who then the banks lend to their clients at a higher interest. This system is more stable in the short term since a government can simply outlaw all other forms of money, and can accept these bank notes in the form of taxes.
Though interesting to note that taxes under central banking taxes don’t actually provide income for the government (the government can simply print more money whenever it wants, either directly or through loans to itself), but rather maintains the value of the government notes since only these notes are accepted to settle taxes, and therefore a large number of people are obliged to collect these government notes to pay their taxes. This near obligation to hold government paper under central banking (compared to the previous choice between holding bank paper or gold and/or silver directly) guarantees a minimum demand for bank paper and thus it’s perceived value. However, some value is also lent by a simple cultural momentum to perceive money as real value.
Central banking protects the larger banks form when the central bank is put into place (and history shows us that the large banks in a banking industry undergo essentially no change after central banking is put into place), however, it also makes fractional reserve lending impossible to “unwind” without a collapse of the entire financial system.
The same inherent problem still exists, except when a bank lends money it is the government which is ultimately liable to pay it back, the only difference is that the “reverse investments” are called “economic activity” and the value of the loss of value of the notes does not happen all at once, called a bank run, but happens gradually and is called inflation. However, again, if all the economic activity does not bring in new real wealth into the system, the system crashes, which is why all governments with central banks must grow the economy or their financial system collapses.
The world is of course finite and the indefinite exponential growth highly implausible. Whether hypothetically indefinite exponential growth is even hypothetically possible, it would necessary require a sustainable system, which our current economic model is far from. A sustainable social system could be created, but it would necessitate de-growing the current economy, thus provoking, in any case, the collapse of the financial system.
Thus, debt default, on the whole, is necessary, and so, on the whole, ethical.
Central governments will have little or no way to deal with this mass defaulting, but communities will continue to exist and can continue to survive with creative comparative autonomy.
This ongoing financial collapse is actually a good thing, as it creates serious problems in the global exploitation system before all resources are extracted and nature can no longer support human life.
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SouSous: Ethic or Ideology?
Though there are plenty of definitions of ideology, the one I find the most useful is an idea diffused with the intention of affecting the decisions of other people, whereas ethics is concerned with one’s own decisions.
To this end ideologies often include a covert ethic or circumvent the question of ethics to begin with. The formula is usually “idea A” thus “action B” without any real reasoning between the two.
A simple example is the ideology of depopulation, where the intention is to establish the idea that “we’re too many” and conclude with the decision “we must eliminate a large part among us one way or another”.
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Subchapter: Part 2: Economic Notes
SouSous: What is Economics?
Economics is the study of how things can be accomplished effectively. As such economics can only ever be concerned with the minor details of a discussion or plan. For, without a purpose, what is “economic” has no meaning. Clearly, what is economic to do if I wish to consume as many resources as possible in the shortest amount of time will differ from what is economic to do if I wish to preserve the ecosystems for future generations.
If economics is a science, then it is concerned only with observation, and the analysis of observation, and cannot by definition provide any grounds to choose one purpose over another. However, we take this up more closely in the chapter on the failure of institutionalism, as this function of the institutions of economics to provide pretext for otherwise unjustifiable policies of other institutions is better understood in the context of whole of the institutional project.
Bu as for the “science of economics” itself viewed as an objective discipline, we must note that once a purpose is decided upon, the major things needing to done are usually extremely obvious. The discipline of economics is only helpful in a limited number of obtuse circumstances, especially in a decentralized system of communities. And since the major components of a sustainable life style are far from being put into place, I will leave those organizational questions that do not flow naturally from common knowledge and sound reasoning to a later date.
We can however dispel certain absurd or incomplete notions that have led many, associating themselves with economics, into confusion.
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SouSous: Comparative Advantage or Autonomy?
For believers in modern economics, the principle of Comparative Advantage is often viewed as the most important thing, the basis of specialization, free trade and globalization. The principle is used to “prove”, or at least imply that a proof exists somewhere, that trade is beneficial in all circumstances.
To accomplish this “proof” the principle is allowed one aspect of reality: time. It takes time to do things, so even if you could do everything better than me you couldn’t do everything simultaneously. So, even if you were superior in all things, you would end up with more stuff if you concentrated on what you did the best and then traded for other things. If you have ever delegated some work to less well trained individuals because you had to many things to do, you’ve implemented the principle of Comparative Advantage.
Unfortunately, comparative advantage cannot be taken to the extreme, and any attempt to do so must result in catastrophe. If other aspects of reality were allowed in the economics classroom this would be obvious even to the economic initiate.
Transportation and organization
Reality does have the aspect of time, but also aspects such as space and energy. For a trade to occur things must travel through space and this takes energy and organization. At some point the gain in the “efficiency of production” by specialization is surpassed by the cost of transportation and organization.
For instance, you could have a slight comparative advantage in a service like getting dressed, and I could have a slight comparative advantage in a service like brushing teeth. According to the principle of comparative advantage, a trade should be mutually beneficial. However, it’s obvious to most people that a trade would be ridiculous, no matter how close we lived. Even a trained economist would immediately point out that the transportation and organization costs, in energy, time and effort, for you to come to my place everyday and get me dressed, then I brush your teeth, would be far higher than whatever gain in producing these services in themselves would exist.
Though we could always imagine some strange circumstances that would lead to such a trade being reasonable, the principle of comparative advantage is meant to prove specialization and trade is mutually beneficial always, which would mean that even if you could do both, getting dressed and brushing teeth, better than me it would still be beneficial for us to trade, but obviously you would never do so: even if for some reason you had to get me dressed, you would still probably get dressed and brush your teeth yourself.
And indeed, any time we do anything for ourselves we are providing an example of the limitation of comparative advantage. For, if the principle was true in all circumstances, then in a large globalized economy, there would be people only brushing teeth and others only dressing people, and it would be obvious to most people that purchasing their services saves time for their own specialized work. 
This has been pointed out since the principle of comparative advantage was proposed, possibly long before then. Adam Smith, writing a hundred years earlier, noted that high degrees of specialization only occurred where transportation was easy, specifically close to bodies of water, the easy mode of transportation of his time.
So comparative advantage is hemmed in by other principles arising from physics such as the energy it costs to transport something.
New trade theories such as the “gravity model” which correlates trade to distance are based on precisely these sorts of obvious things
However, there is also an almost completely unknown, or at least little used, principle in main stream economics, which is the advantage of independence, let’s call it Comparative Autonomy, which was touched on in Vol 2, but let us revisit it hear to bring a complete understanding of the limits of comparative autonomy.
Though it has been often noted that high specialization gives rise to interdependence and complexity, and that both these things are inherently unstable, few to my knowledge (at least economists) have tried to model this in terms of the benefit of independence. Comparative
Autonomy is not with respect to someone else, but with respect to one’s own situation.
In its simplest form it can be measured in the days one could survive if cut off from the rest of the society. For instance, a bureaucrat might have a comparative autonomy of 2 or 3 weeks, someone with a bit of outdoors experience several months, maybe years, and a hunter gather or organic tree gardener a few decades, maybe a life time. This simple model gives us the idea that in the event of an unlikely catastrophe the organic farmer is better off — has a comparative advantage in autonomy compared to depending entirely on the system through trading a single specialized skill.
The practical application is that anyone likely to actually be cut off from the rest of society — perhaps because they live on an island or mountain — should have a very high Comparative Autonomy. And indeed, people who live in isolated places often have far more plans and supplies than people who live in cities.
Though this simple model gets the idea across, it does not tell us the use of comparative autonomy in places unlikely to be isolated. For instance in a town or city, regardless of the catastrophe, society will probably continue to exist in some form so it may be difficult to see the benefits of being comparatively autonomous.
For a more sophisticated model we have to look deeper into what gives rise to survival: adaptation. In this general model we can measure comparative autonomy in how easy it is for someone to adapt.
Since we don’t know what might happen, one might say no one can be more able to adapt than another; however, in the real world it seems obvious some people adapt more easily than others. Precisely because we don’t know what might happen, the more we know and can do, and the less dependent we are, the more able we are to adapt. When measured in this way, we can see that the benefit of a high comparative autonomy is not just in the event of extreme catastrophe, but also in mundane changes such as losing a job or having to move (for instance outside the city where it’s nicer).
Comparative autonomy also protects from, allows one to adapt to, price gouging, limited supply and coercion. Price gouging is the practice of rising the price of an essential service far above its real cost. Anyone dependent on the service will be forced to pay whatever price, and huge profits can be made. Likewise, if suddenly there is huge demand or a crunch in supply, the same price hikes occur. Though free marketeers will claim this rarely occurs in a free market, the opposite tends to be true in the real world, and most people have experienced price gouging or “market driven price rises” to a point where if they had the basic knowledge and tools to go without the service they would choose to, though they may not be aware of this due a comparative autonomy below the first level, see below.
Now, though the above arguments show that trade is not always beneficial, they do so only when the costs of transportation and organization or risk of dependence outweighs the benefit of a potential trade.
When this is not the case trades can of course make perfect sense.
Balance to monopolies
On the macro economic scale, comparative Autonomy is a balance to monopolies. If one isn’t dependent on the service, then one isn’t forced to pay regardless of the price, so if enough people aren’t dependent on the service then there is intrinsic limit to the price a monopoly can set. And when a monopoly exists the more people who can act independently the more likely for a monopoly to be broken. 
Levels of comparative autonomy
We can usually break down Comparative Autonomy into different levels.
The first level is simply having knowledge that an autonomous alternative to the market exists.
The second is experience in this alternative.
The third is the actual tools and materials ready to implement the alternative.
And the last degree is actually using this alternative.
In general the first degree of Comparative Autonomy, knowledge, is always desirable since without knowing if and how autonomy would be possible it’s impossible to decide when it would be reasonable to actually become more autonomous or not.
And the most important thing to be comparatively autonomous in is making decisions.
Though on face value some may see the principle of Comparative Autonomy as support for individualism, the contrary is the case. Not only does the Comparative Autonomy of one’s community affect one’s own Comparative Autonomy (its usually far easier to adapt with a community also able and willing to adapt), but a lack of Comparative Autonomy at a community level will diminish one’s own.
The simplest example is water. An entire community willing to depend on water supplies from far away, or filtering installation they do not control and could not maintain independently, and furthermore willing to let local supplies poison or deplete, will lower the potential of Comparative Autonomy for all the people in that community. Whereas with access to clean local water supplies, an individual could manage if need be, with poisoned local water supplies this comes far more difficult.
Likewise, regions with a low Comparative Autonomy will lower the autonomy potential for all the communities within them, and likewise for provinces, states and so on.
So the individual must participate in the organization of their society to ensure that the conditions for potential autonomy exist.
Though Comparative Autonomy is with respect to any and all possible events, of special note is coercion. Dependence can be easily used to manipulate. Comparative Autonomy is of course the only defence against such manipulation.
Though price hiking and marketing is the likely form of manipulating the individual in society, communities and governments are much more susceptible to other forms of coercions.
For instance, a community might be coerced to accept some nefarious law by the central government threatening, explicitly or implicitly, to cut off services like energy or transportation, which the central government controls. The central government in turn might be coerced into implementing such nefarious laws by a multinational corporation threatening to cut off some financial or military service. The multinational corporation could be in turn coerced by other central governments and multinational corporations, and so on.
What is interesting is that though the layers of coercion can be built up indefinitely, they can be broken at the lowest level: communities, small or large, capable of some degree of self sufficiency are capable of resisting nefarious laws or markets, and the whole house of manipulation comes crashing down.
Even a few months of resistance could be a high enough price for the central government to prefer resisting their own sources of coercion. Comparative autonomy for communities, provinces etc. can be measured in the same way as for individuals. However, where individuals are limited in comparative autonomy to individual capability, communities can extend their comparative autonomy to things requiring team work. Again, in some instances, comparative autonomy may only be sought in theory, while in others instances a community may find autonomy far cheaper.
The benefit of trade
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, comparative autonomy is the potential to be autonomous, not the actual act of doing something autonomously. One could have relatively high comparative autonomy in growing organic vegetables, but choose to trade for organic vegetables because it makes sense in the circumstances. But, if ever vegetables became more expensive or unavailable one could not only start growing organic vegetables oneself, but given the real, or perceived, lack of vegetables grow more and trade the excess. Indeed, we can’t imagine the free marketeers ideal world without comparative autonomy.
So trade may or may not be mutually beneficial. The only certainty is that trading away one’s own or one’s communities ability to survive independently is virtually always not beneficial.
The principle of comparative autonomy is of course applied in most peoples daily lives, but also at the international level.
If we look at the nations which fiercely defend the globalization of the free market, we notice that they defend just as fiercely protecting their own essential services. For example the US and EU subsidize their own agriculture, but in the name of free trade and comparative advantage, through the IMF, World Bank or their own machinations, always trying to force smaller countries into becoming agriculturally dependent, either through simply destroying their local market through cheaper subsidized imports or through technology dependence by destroying local foods adapted to the region.
Not sufficient for sustainability
Though the principle of comparative autonomy is useful, it should be noted it is not sufficient to derive a sustainable society from this and self interest. For, though each individual may recognize the value of their own comparative autonomy, to value the ability for future generations to survive requires a fundamental ethical decision and effort.
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SouSous: Negative or Positive Competition?
Within main stream economics the idea of competition is fundamental. By competing with each other we become more efficient, and so offer better and cheaper products and services to the community, and so everyone benefits.
Unfortunately, the goal in competition is not to better oneself or one’s community, but simply to be better compared to the competition. This can indeed be accomplished by working hard to making oneself better, but there is a second way which is to make the competition worse. The first way we can call positive competition, as it contributes to the community, and the second way negative competition, as it detracts from the community.
Main stream economists do employ this concept when they mention that the law must be enforced and respected for a market economy to function. Probably the most mentioned is that people require protection from highway robbery to bring things to market and protection from contract breaking to enter into many exchanges. However, this legal conceptions of things is woefully insufficient for two reasons. First, people are always inventing new and creative ways to compete negatively and second the laws, for old and new things, have to be made by someone based on something.
The first reason is easy to prove even within mainstream economics. The law of diminishing returns is well known, and requires us to conclude that at some point any further effort put into positive (constructive) competition will have only slight benefit, whereas even a little effort into the new areas of (destructive) negative competition will have a huge gain. Anyone trying to compete must strive for a balance between these two methods to be efficient. A simple example is that a few Kiploos invested in a match could burn down the facilities of one’s competitor resulting in a huge advantage in the market. In a totally free market, the result of competition is a lot of violence and very inefficient products.
Furthermore, since any competitive advantage over time will result in market dominance, we can predict that any mature free market economy will be dominated by organizations using a balance of positive and negative competition. Though there seems to be more positive competition than negative, this is much more easily explained by the fact that no free market economy exists under any government.
The best model we have a truly free market is the mafia. The mafia employs a very balanced approach to competition, as likely to seek destruction of the competition as improving their own business. The effect on services provided by the mafia is well known, 1 kilo of cocaine can be produced for 1000 US Dollars, sold for 30 000 dollars, cut with plenty of other drugs and fillers to procude 100 kilos of final product, and sold for 20 dollars a gram to the consumer. The final sales worth is 2 000 000 USD. In any market where only positive competition is used, such a profit margin would be impossible, and cocaine would have a price similar to other processed grains such as flower. Though some economists may claim the inflated price of cocaine is not due to the price of negative competition but because of the cost to curtail central governments, in the scenario a central government can be simply modeled as another mafia, interacting with other mafias in a sometimes negative competition and sometimes positive competition way. Mafias and governments are equal in terms of being free market agents.
So, though it is clear negative competition exists in the world, it still seems dominated by positive competition. Most communities and societies have relatively little mafia dynamics, but we can note that mafia dynamics can come to dominate a society on every level.
There are two explanations of why society does not degrade into a mafia dynamic, one is the government which prevents it and the choice of most people to not compete destructively.
The second reason is slightly harder to prove, since it’s possible to claim that all laws are already good enough or that all new laws can be based on old laws. However, fortunately there is a mathematical theorem, Kurt Godel’s incompleteness theorem, that will guarantee, since the physical universe is capable of computation (through quantum computers) or is simply obviously more complex than principia mathematica that can describe some parts of it, than any set of rules describing something in the physical universe, such as what is and is not legal, will be incomplete. However, for the non-mathematically minded its obvious that law makers can arbitrarily change the old rules, that the old rules can even be contradictory and that entirely new situations can arise no one ever thought of before nor made a law, and therefore lawmakers must have some basis to either keep old rules, resolve contradictions, apply old rules to new situation or invent new rules entirely.
And indeed, one of these ways to compete negatively is to try to change the laws to benefit oneself.
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SouSous: Economic or Ethical Rationality?
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SouSous: Mono-culture or Diversity?
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SouSous: Consumer or Maintenance Society?
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SouSous: Irrelevance of Despair
The seemingly overwhelming weight of the problems facing complex life oft times leads to a bleak view of things. However, even if our situation was hopeless changes nothing. Intentions, etc.
if the intention is to preserve life, then it matters not if one’s actions contribute to preserving life for a billion years or a second.
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SouSous: Growth or Purpose Economy?
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SouSous: Anonymous Cooperation
Though cooperation is essential if we are to preserve life and humanity, cooperation need not be formal or even clearly visible.
There is a whole spectrum of cooperation, from close team work, spontaneous help, to anonymous cooperation, where one does not even know one’s collaborators.
When one does know one’s collaborators there are of course a miriad ways of organizing, if at all, the effort, depending on the situation. However, it is useful to first thoroughly think through the nature of and merits of anonymous cooperation.
Though in some situations it may be reasonable to purposefully hide one’s identity from those one is trying to cooperate with, for other projects there is essentially no other option. For instance, most people who read a book never reveal their identities to the author, and so their cooperation in thinking about and developing the ideas of the author, if not carrying them out, is completely anonymous from the authors perspective; indeed, the author may have died centuries ago. Likewise, someone who improves a trail or cleans up waste need not be known to those who use the path or enjoy less pollution. And when we think further, the vast majority of things we use on a daily basis are built by people unknown to us.
In the above cases the cooperation is one-way: one party creates something of which another benefits. In modern economics this is viewed as irrational, and so there are various attempts to correct this “flaw”: property rights to enforce a royalty paid to the author of a book, tolls on paths, that waste will always increase and can only be mitigated slightly by employing waste clearing personnel (chronically understaffed as by the same reasoning the people that created the waste also do not want to pay for it to be cleaned, directly or indirectly), and the market economy as a whole.
If we assume that every person’s purpose is to simply accumulate as many things as possible through exchange, work, fraud, theft and any means where the cost-risk-profit equation is more positive than any known alternative (see Negative or Positive Competition), then it is a reasonable conclusion to assume that if intellectual property was not enforced, no one would write any books or maintain paths, and that people will always throw waste where it is most convenient to do so disregarding all consequences.
However, if we assume that a person’s purpose can be to search for truth and contribute to life and humanity, then in this case limiting the access to a book or path is irrational, as the goal is not to exchange knowledge against material wealth, but to diffuse ideas and experience to collaborate with all those valuing life. Likewise, it is possible to assume that if such people understood the consequences of reckless waste they would not only avoid creating naucif waste in the first place, but would also spontaneously contribute to cleaning what has already been created.
What is also interesting in these three cases, is that for society as a whole anonymous cooperation is far more efficient than any market based solution: the more people with access to knowledge the more knowledgeable people there will be, the less tolls on things the resources are required to enforce the toll, and not creating waste in the first place (and if so disposing of it rationally) is far cheaper than paying an army to sweep a region to remove all waste (which is why this rarely happens ).
In these above cases the cooperation is not only anonymous but open ended, the creators of the objects in question know not even the purposes of the people that may read, walk, or employ their creations. So we can note, cooperation is not even guaranteed, as if the people who use the work have an entirely different purpose, it is counter productive to publish books, clear a path, or any other action intended to benefit society as a whole. All anonymous cooperation entails this risk: someone might use the knowledge of a book for evil, or trod down a path for war.
To reduce this risk an would be creator of some useful thing may try to control access to their work. Though in some instances this maybe reasonable if the risk is overwhelming (though in a decentralized society no such objects are necessary), it seems very much less reasonable if an author demanded to interview everyone wanting to read their book.
For things where the risk is not overwhelming
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SouSous: Property or Democracy?
Though this incompatibility between absolute property and democracy may seem radical in self perceived democratic society today, it is in fact a very old idea fairly well established in the communities that value property the most. Hayak, US conservatives: “Freedom is not compatible with democracy” etc.
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SouSous: Sovereignty or Principles?
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SouSous: Rights or Decisions?
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SouSous: Necessary or Unnecessary Economy?
A common approach in modern economics is to divide the economy in the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors. The primary sector extracts resources, the secondary sector transforms those resources into goods, and the tertiary sector provides services in and around those goods.
Though this perspective can help understand how any specific object came to be, that resources are required before an object can be manufactured and served, it cannot describe the relative value of these objects and services.
Necessary, Useful, and Superfluous View
A more descriptive approach is to divide human activity into necessary, useful and superfluous sectors.
The necessary economy we can understand as all activity that is required for society to live in the short term.
The useful economy we can understand as activity that though not completely necessary in the short term either renders necessary activity more efficient or helps humanity to adapt in the long term.
The superfluous economy is that activity which serves no purpose.
Though there may some areas were there is wide disagreement on what is necessary, what is useful and what is superfluous, which we will touch on below, most people would agree that water, food, shelter are necessary things, that some tools, some crafts, some knowledge and all some art are useful, and that over-consumption is superfluous.
The disagreement is of course on what tools, what craft what knowledge and what art is useful and what exactly we can consider over-consumption or other superfluous activity. For instance, I consider hand tools useful and large infrastructure superfluous, I consider knowledge about how to coexist with the ecosystems we depend on necessary and knowledge about how to control these ecosystems in the short term superfluous (unless used to manage the damage we have already done, or to offer further proof that such a strategy cannot possibly work in the long term), etc.
But regardless of whether one agrees with these statements or not, it cannot be avoided that activity can be necessary, or useful, or superfluous, as categories exist independently from what exactly, if anything, is in them, and from these abstract view certain other abstractions can be deduced.
Firstly, since the necessary economy is essential for the life of society, when hard times society will make every effort to support this activity, and next useful activity, and lastly try to limit superfluous activity to concentrate effort and material where it is necessary or useful. And so, those that find themselves in the necessary economy have far greater security when society faces serious problems; and so, whatever one’s opinion of what activity is indeed necessary or useful for society, one should either work directly in these fields or have the ability to work in these fields quickly.
For instance, currently I am writing this book, which I believe is useful but not necessary, so if some crisis occurs which obliges society to focus on only what is necessary I may find it difficult finding some necessary task to do and so support from society to do it, if I concentrated solely on this writing work. However, aware of this, I choose to live in the country and I learn organic gardening and maintain relations with the organic farmers of the area, so that in the event of a disruption to the status quo I may integrate quickly and smoothly into the necessary economy.
In the event of a minor crisis, which requires society to refocus on only that which is necessary but can still spare material and effort to support what is useful, regardless of my belief that my writing work is useful, society may disagree. So, not only do I maintain the ability to integrate into organic, hopefully tree, agriculture, I also strive to diversify into plenty of other useful skills, such as solar concentration design and construction, welding, mathematics, Linux, programming and website creation, editing, dish washing, translating, cutting wood by hand saw and axe, political philosophy, tiling and whatever else I have learned (some well and some less well) in hopes that in difficult times for either society as a whole or only for myself one or more of these skills will be recognized as a contribution to society (and hopefully actually be a one); or failing any recognition of worth, these skills would allow me to live as independently as possible. Which is of course another way to say that increased comparative autonomy and diversity increases stability.
Macro Economic Disruption
In a macro economic perspective, we can note that the necessary economy supports the existence of the useful and superfluous economy, regardless of the mechanism. 
Clearly, too many people doing superfluous things, and more importantly with experience only in such things, is very dangerous for society as in the event of a crisis, the failure of the necessary economic system due to natural or human causes, there might not be enough people in society who can do necessary things to support society as a whole.
However, a superfluous heavy society we should also expect to be unstable even while the necessary economy functions. For, though we may argue about what is and is not part of the necessary economy, physical reality provides a constant test and proof so that society has learned things such as air, water, food and shelter are of the utmost necessity, and all other things less useful to one degree or another. When we arrive at things that, though may be considered to useful by some, are highly debatable and clearly not necessary such activity is vulnerable to be no longer supported by society due to a mere change of opinion, and not any real physical change such as a drought, soil erosion, or peak oil. And so by whatever mechanism the necessary economy supports the superfluous economy, in the event of a change in opinion a section of the superfluous economy may collapse. In the event one section of the superfluous economy is required to justify the existence of other superfluous parts this superfluous collapse may be cascading.
This instability decreases when the majority of people in what may be a superfluous activity have ways of integrating into what is more clearly necessary or useful activity. But we can note that this is difficult in a highly urban society as cities provide nothing of what is necessary and there is a limit to what is useful.
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SouSous: Failure of Institutionalism?
Somewhere during the 19th century, the European culture embarked on the project to construct a society based on scientific principles.
This project has failed for 2 fundamental reasons. The first is that science has no ethical component and so in itself cannot be used to make any decisions nor form a basis for agreement. The second is that this project of basing social organization on science was built within the pre-existing European project of basing social organization on a group of largely independent and self perpetuating institutions.
The Failure of Science
As we shall see in the second half of this chapter, science has little meaning outside the scientific institutions that decide who is and is not a scientist and what is and what is not scientific truth. However, to clarify the absence of any ethic within science let us consider the scientific method at the individual level and suppose that an individual, say lost an island, can observe their surroundings and come to a certain understanding about it and make predictions.
Though these predictions can be used to inform the decisions our lost islander makes, they do not in themselves resolve anything. For instance, through observation our islander may conclude that some plants are edible and other plants cause sickness, but this knowledge does not, and all similar knowledge cannot, resolve the question of whether it is better to be healthy or to be sick. If our islander decided it would be better to die
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SouSous: Formal or Organic World?
Formal machine like world is the goal of various ideologies.
Though much of the debate surrounding these ideologies is on whether such a world would be desirable or not, we should note from the outset that formalizing the functioning of the world is impossible as the world is not a formal place.
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“… humanity uses much more concentrated levels of energy for many energy intensive tasks, such as boiling water, roasting produce, making pottery, baking bricks and ceramics, melting metal, and making paper.” These tasks are of course not necessary both from a epistemological as well as survival point of view, but in the short and medium term it is difficult to imagine humanity going without these practices.
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Not only can direct solar energy be used in far greater quantity before creating ecological instability, it is available in essentially every location on the planet. Using solar energy at one location does not reduce solar energy access at another location.
Not only can tapping a relatively small percentage of solar energy directly provide more energy access than current energy systems, but on-location solar transformation requires little transportation energy, and energy requirements can also be significantly reduced by reducing transportation and the transportation infrastructure. So not only does direct solar energy have far less environmental impact per kilowatt than extracting natural solar derivatives, such as fossil fuels, rivers and biomass, but its on-location nature reduces the energy requirement of the energy system.
Though this does not in itself guarantee a more equitably and wisely managed earth, it can put energy access in the hands of those currently outside the petro-chemical complex.
Due to Problems 3 and 4, the oil society will have a difficult time adapting to a decentralized solar society, and risks complete collapse. The construction of a decentralized solar society in still largely decentralized non-petrochemical regions will create a motor for global stability in which a collapsing petrochemical society could be inspired in terms of learning the model, skills, tools, and designs required to decentralize. A decentralized solar option on the planet would also reduce pressure on and conflict over fossil fuels and biomass.
The very existence of an alternative decentralized solar society somewhere in the world forms a powerful argument against an all out effort to maintain resource extraction at all costs or embark on a massively destructive war, both of which risk consuming the remainder of the resources and energy that could be used to decentralized while tipping the ecological balance towards a complete collapse of the systems that support complex animal life.
Particular dangerous in this scenario is the possibility of fossil fuels entrapment in low quality hydro-carbon fuels. Not only are low quality hydro-carbon fuels, such as tar sands, coal, and bio-fuels, far more ecologically destructive than conventional oil, but they require much more energy and fresh water to extract and refine. Since we know fossil fuels society is unsustainable, using the last reserves of high quality fossil fuels to build a system to extract low-quality fossil fuels, is not only long-term environmental madness, but since those energies require more effort to extract and refine there is great risk that there would not be enough surplus energy to both maintain the present petro-chemical infrastructure of industrialized nations in the short term and build an alternative infrastructure. So, this path significantly increases not only the environmental destruction of centralized, petro-chemical society, but risks entrapment in short-sighted “industrial-subsistence” based on low quality fossil fuels leading towards complete environmental collapse.
Furthermore, non-petrochemical societies currently rely heavily on biomass from tree fuel. By replacing biomass combustion with solar, in ecologically degrading regions deforestation and desertification can be reversed, and in all regions where biomass combustion is replaced solar the ecosystems would be able to grow in capacity. Such a global forest growth would increase precipitation, absorb pollutants, help stabilize the atmosphere, increase habitat for creatures, and increase ecosystem stability in a general way. In conjunction with a largely vegetarian food-forest food system the collapse of the ecosystems that support complex animal life as we know it could be avoided (Appendix Q).
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SouSous: Net Energy
To capture and use energy requires energy. Net energy expresses how much energy is actually gained when energy costs are taken into account.
The importance of net energy is unfortunately little understood by main stream economics, as the main stream economist is often paid not to understand things but also because this need of energy to capture energy is fairly unique among commodities (stuff), which the main stream economist is familiar with. Understanding this difference with other stuff is a good way to understand net energy.
For instance, in order chop down wood, very little wood is consumed compared to the logs brought to market. To mine for iron, very little steel is consumed in the process. To grow coffee, the growers drink relatively little (or none at all as they can’t afford it on some “farms”).
However, if we imagine ancient miners whose tools would wear very quickly, or a lumberjack so strong that every time he hits a tree with his axe the handle breaks, or coffee growers who drink a lot of coffee, then very quickly we must consider net production. If more metal is consumed in wearing tools then a miner can produce, or more wood consumed than our lumberjack can produce, or our coffee growers drink more than they grow, then these activities cannot possibly be profitable no matter what the price of metals or wood. If our lumberjack breaks more than a tree of axe handles to cut down a tree, the activity is clearly pointless. Though for mining, wood and coffee (and essentially any commodity) we have to imagine particular circumstances where there would be no net production, for energy it is an entirely different matter. For though there’s no physical reason wood has to be consumed to cut down trees, or coffee has to be consumed to grow coffee (and so the economist can simply assume net production will always be positive and all that matters is supply and demand), all activity in the universe requires energy and so too capturing energy. Since capturing energy requires energy (pumping oil, building damns, transporting energy around etc.) we must play close attention to how much energy we are in fact consuming to extract energy.
Why we must pay close attention is because net-energy will depend on many factors, which may be different from place to place and from time to time. The same energy practice can have a lower net energy in one place rather than another, and can decrease over time even in the same place. When our ancestors started agriculture they encountered this phenomenon repeatedly throughout: in clearing a new area of old growth forest, the soil is of excellent quality and so everything grows extremely well, but without trees the soil exposed to wind and rain and so erodes away year by year until eventually the land cannot grow enough plants to feed the farmers on it, there’s no net energy, and so the land must be abandoned. The net energy over time will depend on the plants being grown, the farming practices, the initial soil quality, rate of erosion etc.
Net energy is thus not so well suited for the over-abstractions ; we cannot say “farming has a net energy of X” or “oil a net energy or Y”, we can only say “this farm has a net energy of X, for the time being”, “this oil well has a net energy Y, until now”, or “these farms, over this time, on average have a net energy of Z”.
The concept of net energy does not provide an illusion that all is well. Though everyone alive is the result of positive net energy, various energy systems could be in terminal net-energy decline. Under terminal net-energy decline, if nothing is done eventually there’s only enough energy to maintain the system as it is and no extra energy to do anything else (called industrial subsistence in the first chapter). Since we might not experience any real problems until our net energy turns negative, it is easy to miss the signs and presume normality will continue. Most importantly, as soon as net-energy is negative the system fails rather quickly, if a community of farmers can’t produce more than they eat they will starve rather quickly (but up to that point, which could be the result of a long erosion process, life could be very comfortable).
Net energy of Industry
To illustrate net energy, all the examples above where fairly local. A traditional farmer will live, grow, and eat on the same piece of land and so it’s fairly easy to calculate net-energy: we need only know the energy in the food grown compared to the energy in the food eaten. If the farmer grows twice as much food as is eaten, then the net energy of the farm is 2 to 1.
Industry on the other hand is today completely globalized, and it is often unclear what a process depends on, and so it is very difficult to calculate net energy. Complex machines may require parts to build and maintain from all over the world, clearly both the fabrication and transportation of these parts takes energy which we must add to the energy the machine actually consumes to run. This we can define as “face-value-net-energy” and it can usually be calculated with some precision. However, underneath this face-value-net-energy is all the infrastructure that allowed these parts to be made and transported and all the people that are involved at every level, including trainers and politicians, and all the energy consumed to create the context in which the actual transformation of material into parts can take place.
Whereas face-value-net-energy is easy to identify, the systemic-net-energy is extremely difficult to identify. What systemic-net-energy means however is that whereas a local traditional farmers can survive by growing just as much food as is eaten, net-energy of 1:1 (though in practice there must be good years to compensate the bad years), industrial energy processes must have much higher net energy not only to maintain the entire industrial infrastructure but also to provide some benefit. Whereas in growing as much food as is eaten the grower lives, a machine that extracts as much energy as it consumes doesn’t benefit anyone. For instance, an oil pump that pumps just enough oil out of the ground to power the pump, can technically function, but is of no use to anyone.
So, to support the entire industrial system much more energy is required from the industrial energy sources then the face-value-net-energy of the energy devices themselves. There is scant research on how much net energy, but estimates seem to range from 3–5 as a minimum (meaning all energy is spent on the energy system, and virtually no other social activity not-related to energy can exist).
This net-energy requirement
Energy Return on Investment
Another important concept is Energy Return on Investment (EROI). Though EROI will include the energy invested, as in net-energy, it can also cover over inputs such as water and material. Though net-energy governs whether an energy strategy can physically function to begin with, EROI can cover other costs, both human, material and environmental. For instance, do we want to invest 2 barrels of fresh water or ecological stability in general water for a barrel of oil.
So, whereas net-energy is a straightforward calculation when all the variables are known, EROI may differ depending on how much value we attach to fresh water, the ecosystem of an entire river network, or the lives and health of coal miners. So depending on whether and how much we value fresh water, ecosystems, or the lives of coal miners, we can end up with very different EROI’s for a given energy practice.
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SouSous: Energy Problems
Today, our energy system is based on extracting highly concentrated forms of energy we find in nature, such as fossil fuels, large rivers and waterfalls, and burning trees.
Unfortunately, our energy system is dysfunctional because highly concentrated forms of energy are in short supply and play critical roles in the ecosystem.
Because energy is the basis of all activity this dysfunction propagates throughout all of our activity and interactions with nature, manifesting as problems essentially everywhere, such as deforestation, ocean acidification, mass poverty, pollution, diseases, malnutrition, water table depletion, suburban sprawl, corruption, to name a few in no particular order.
Many of these problems are caused directly by our energy exploitation, such as pollution, but even those problems that seem on the order of pure choice, such as over-fishing or clear-cut logging, if we dig deeper we find that it is not only highly concentrated natural energy that makes this highly concentrated destruction possible, but it’s also the centralized infrastructural-cultural system built around these energy sources that applies an immense pressure to over-exploit all resources everywhere.
Short Energy History
The energy history of humanity is one of using ever greater concentrated sources of energy found in nature. Each form of concentrated energy we master has allowed us to access the next. However, more concentrated forms of energy are not necessarily high in absolute abundance nor low in negative health or environmental impacts, in fact the opposite has been the case. This is to be expected given the laws of thermodynamics, but we need not go into “theoretical expectations” when the practical examples are in front of us and we can summarize succinctly.
In the very beginning humans ate mostly fruits, nuts, vegetables and probably some roots, insects and water creatures. We did not eat grass and leaves, at least for energy, as we cannot digest the energy found in the cellulose of this sort of plant matter. The plant matter we can digest is all in concentrated forms, and all creatures we might eat are by definition a concentration of the energy they in turn eat, ultimately plants.
Though we can only digest relatively concentrated forms of energy , there is more energy in total in the less concentrated forms of plant energy.
For instance, though the sugar in a fruit or protein in a nut is a concentrated source of easily accessible energy, there is more total energy in the leaves, branches and roots of the tree, but all this other plant matter is in a less concentrated molecular form, as far as our organisms are concerned, and so more difficult to digest. The biological advantage of relying on concentrated plant and animal energy is that we can spend far less time eating and digesting. The disadvantage is that our total base of energy is far smaller. We cannot digest the molecules in a lower energy state, such as the cellulose in leaves, but if we could and did rely on eating grass and leaves we’d have to spend a lot more time eating, since there is not only less energy we can extract in every gram of leaf but it takes more energy to break it down and absorb it than a fruit.
Again, it’s worth repeating we’re measuring energy concentration for food in terms of “digestible value” not simply “joules”, and I trust the reader is intuitively aware that fruits, nuts, fish, etc. is more “concentrated food value”.
The result, is that already our natural predisposition to concentrated forms of energy allowed us to spend less time eating. So we are can imagine that the free time this provided allowed us to work on tools and discover things like fire.
Though we can’t digest all that non-fruit energy stored in a tree, we can light it on fire. With the fire, we can warm ourselves directly, meaning we not only need to eat less to stay warm but can stay warm in climates that are so cold our own metabolism and paltry fur would not suffice. Fire also allowed us to break down organisms that we normally couldn’t eat, as well as make better tools.
This free time and fire allowed us to hunt and eat larger creatures, which represented an even larger concentration of energy.
But our hunting activity also allowed us to take advantage of the energy concentrated in a large creature by controlling it’s movement directly. For instance, it is thought dogs where domesticated when wolves started to follow bands of human hunters that would leave them scraps, and horses domesticated when it was discovered they could be captured and eaten later. In any case, it was certainly through tool making and hunting that allowed the domestication of animals.
With fire and the help of domesticated animals, humans were able to make the tools to tap even larger concentrations of energy, such as building boats with sails to hunt whales and fish on a large scale, making all the tools needed for agriculture, and inventing the water and wind mills for grinding grain, which evolved from draft animal powered mills.
Finally, this tool system became sophisticated enough to mine coal (when the wood started to run out) and transform it into mechanical energy for ships and machines. This mechanical sophistication gave birth to the tools to pump, pipe and crack oil into it’s component chemical parts
However, though natural gas in more concentrated energy source than oil, it is oil that has the advantage of being a liquid and easy to manipulate and store. With the gasoline, diesel, and kerosene derived from oil motorized transport on a mass scale became possible, and an explosion of technical sophistication such as the construction of roads, made from asphalt also derived from oil, construction of mega-damns, acceleration of mining of all things, and the piping technology to move natural gas long distances.
With mining, chemical and mechanical sophistication it became possible to tap nuclear power, which is the most concentrated energy source humanity currently uses.
This history has been brief as more details are not really required. Looking around the modern world, it is clear humanity can bring huge concentrations of energy to bare on moving planes, mega-tankers and hundreds of millions of trucks and cars, build sky scrapers, high-ways and damns, and that these “big” activities require equally large amounts of energy to accomplish that our ancestors could not fathom. Increasing in tool sophistication and tapping into more concentrated forms of energy has been the physical requirement to achieve “modern economy”.
This modern economy is praised by its supporters as being “efficient”, but, whenever we hear this word we must ask: efficient at what? And if we bother to answer to this question we find that the modern economy is very efficient at moving concentrated energy, stored underground or in the built up complexity of living systems, to an even more concentrated hub of transformation and distribution to final end point where the energy-product is consumed, over a global scale infrastructure that takes a lot of energy to build, maintain and run.
If this isn’t our goal, then this concentrated energy consumption paradigm creates a lot of problems.
Energy is the basis of all activity. Without energy, nothing moves nor transforms; and so a sustainable society can only exist based on a sustainable energy system.
Though highly concentrated forms of energy found in nature allow the free time to make ever more sophisticated tools quickly (and or win wars), their use is not sustainable.
In general, the practice of extracting naturally concentrated energy causes 4 interrelated fundamental problems: Disrupting natural energy flows, Depletion, Centralization, and Resource wars. 
Disruption of natural energy flows
Nature concentrates these energy flows for her own purposes, and when we disrupt or divert them we cause extreme havoc within natural systems — from clear cutting whole forests, to damning rivers, to unleashing a chemical cocktail hitherto stored safely bellow ground.
This disturbance shouldn’t surprise us as as energy is required for all living activity, and concentrated energy flows have critical functions: Forests form critical organs of life that clean the air and water, draw moisture from deep underground, and provide habitat for most land-based species. Rivers are the arteries that circulate the water essential for life. Fossil fuels represent huge amounts of carbon that when dug up and burned disturb the thermal balance of the entire globe.
These concentrated energy sources are the summit of a vast energy pyramid/network and form the key stones of the entire web of life; by removing or disrupting them we risk collapsing the whole structure we stand upon. This is the root of the ecological crisis.
Depletion and unsustainability
Inherent in the first problem is that there is relatively little of these naturally concentrated stores of energy around.
This is because it takes energy to concentrate energy and far larger amounts of energy are needed to make large stores of concentrated energy. All energy sources discussed above are derived from solar processes, and so by definition there is less energy present in all solar-derived energy sources than the primary solar energy hitting the earth. Though an immense amount of solar energy is at the beginning of most natural processes, there are relatively few high quality stores of energy generated at the end.
For instance, it has taken hundreds of millions of years for fossil fuels to form, and yet the sun provides more energy in a single year than humanity will ever extract from fossil fuels. Likewise, 43 percent of solar energy hitting the planet is turned into water vapour, but after friction with the air and ground, absorption by the soil and plants, and re-evaporation, there is little of the energy left in the form of large rivers; it’s estimated that the maximum river energy humanity could possibly extract is a mere 7 terrawatts, less than half humanity currently uses — and that’s assuming the ecological destruction that would be cause massive droughts, reducing both the river energy extracted and life’s ability to survive. About a percent of the solar energy is absorbed by plants by photosynthesis, but plants require this energy to grow, defend themselves and create off spring; only a small fraction of this energy it’s estimated we could extract, and again that’s ignoring the ecological destruction that would not erode the forest nutrient base and eventually turn them to deserts.
The general rule is that there’s far less energy in natural solar derivatives than direct solar energy. This is also true for wind energy, which although in more abundant, especially at some locations, than some of the above energy sources, only a small fraction of the original solar energy is converted to wind and only a small fraction of this energy we could ever extract — short of building windmills as tall as the atmosphere.
As for the non-sun derivatives, such as geothermal, tidal and nuclear, we find that they simply don’t compare to the giant hydrogen furnace we call the sun.
A complete exhaustive critique of every energy source other than direct solar, but if it is the case that humanity has survived for great majority on natural solar energy derivatives, then it is certain that humanity would have far more energy access, and far less ecological impact, by concentrating solar energy directly, as there is by definition far more solar energy available than all we could ever extract from SED’s combined.
But as long as there where always more pockets of high density energy to be found, humanity was content to hunt them down.
Over-exploitation of biomass causes a rapid erosion of the land and far less biomass production in the future. Fossil fuels form over hundreds of millions of years and so essentially any rate of extraction is unsustainable. Even river damns, which seem a steady constant source of power, will eventually fill with sediment requiring a new damn to be built. And that’s assuming … As for geothermal and nuclear.
Not only does exploiting naturally concentrated forms of energy cause immense environmental and social problems mentioned above, it transforms the structure of society itself.
The resulting social structure not only amplifies these problems but makes even understanding them exceedingly difficult.
The transformation that has occurred is from a decentralized society to a to a centralized society, to 90 percent of people living rurally to 90 percent of people living in cities.
When energy is effectively extracted in relatively few centralized locations, such as oil refineries and large electric power stations, the material society needs to transform is found far away. Either the energy must be brought to the material or the material brought to the energy. Our actual system employs a combination of both, distributing energy to extract resources and then transporting them to centralized locations for transformation (then to other centralized locations to be consumed, and finally dumped as waste in other centralized locations).
Though other configurations are physically possible this method is probably the most efficient way to transform oil, the industrial worlds primary energy source as well as major material input.
Since it takes energy to transport energy, the majority of human activity must lie within the physical bound of where this energy can be efficiently transported. Energy can be expended to run some activity outside this bound, for instance transport propane by helicopter to a mountain refuge, but the majority of the activity, building and maintaining the helicopter, must be closer to the energy source, where it does not take more energy to transport the energy than the energy is worth, and the majority of all activity within the energy bound.
In practice some energy can be spent creating highly efficient energy corridors such as pipelines, train tracks, high voltage electric cables, large ports, canals and super tankers, and highways. But since creating this infrastructure requires energy and material, it cannot be spread everywhere. At some point it takes more energy to build and maintain the infrastructure than there is energy available. And since it is even more efficient, by reducing infrastructure, to group activity in infrastructure hubs at points in the energy corridor network, this is what society has done though we normally call them cities.
Cities amplify our problems both physically and psychologically.
Physical problems caused by centralization
The structure of a centralized society itself caused further environmental problems beyond the over-extraction of naturally concentrated energy needed to maintain it.
In a centralized society transportation between fossil fuel hubs becomes so great that ecosystems are broken up between our energy corridors, and centralized land use will exclude essentially the entire native ecological system.
In a decentralized system both the transportation network and human dwellings can co-exist within natural habitat.
Perhaps most significant, is that for the decentralized resources society requires, such as food and wood, there is immense pressure in a centralized society to attempt to exploit all resources in a centralized way. This leads to mega-farms and clear cut logging in the name of higher extraction per hectare. However, such maximum extraction per hectare in the short term, caused ecological destruction in the long term. After the top soil is eroded, either nutrients must be brought in (or manufactured) from outside to attempt to sustain the extraction rates or the land is abandoned and the same process begun on another parcel.
Decentralized resource extraction, on the other hand, can reduce impact to a level where the native ecosystem can continue to function. A few carefully selected trees and branches felled per hectare, at specific moments of the years, will not increase erosion and deforestation. Likewise, forest garden agriculture, where the native forest ecosystem is simply guided to produce more edible plants, maintains the native ecosystem intact. Though in both cases extraction per hectare in the short term is less than centralized methods, more hectares can be used. However, reducing impact over more area is only really possible when people are decentralized as well, as otherwise the cost and impact of transportation to centralize a decentralized resource to the cities is much higher.
To make things worse, all these centralized structures themselves require far more resources to build and maintain than the comparable structures that would support the same amount of people in a decentralized society.
The very nature of centralization, bringing resources from distant places to be consumed in cities, requires, as a minimum, far more infrastructure than if resources were consumed close to location. But the centralization of infrastructure requires even more resources and energy than each considered individually, as infrastructure must be constructed above or below other infrastructure. The energy and material required to build a very tall building is far greater than building the same volume in many smaller hobbit dwellings; which is why suburban sprawl is an unstoppable force in our societies as it is cheap to build. However, though suburban sprawl is cheap to build, it is very energy inefficient in the long term and destroys vast areas of productive ecosystem for little to no benefit.
Finally, waste in a centralized society is an intractable problem, as not only are far more energy and resources consumed, and so waste and pollution generated, but this waste cannot be easily returned to the natural cycles the material was borrowed from. Whereas a decentralized society, force of living within the ecosystem they depend on, almost cannot avoid returning resources to their natural habitat [and have an obvious advantage of recycling any material that is not found locally], a centralized society would require whole new complex systems, and the infrastructure and energy to run them, to do the same. In the short term it is far easier to simply centralize waste into dumps where precious nutrients are mixed with toxins and the long term viability of society is significantly reduced.
Though decentralization will reduce the energy, resources and ecological impact society needs to survive, it is only a precondition, not a guarantee, for sustainability.
Specifically, a decentralized society that uses a significant amount of wood combustion would degrade their environment in the long run directly by destroying to many trees, but it seems also the case of indirectly by moving towards the trap of annual crops and wood parcels grown only for fuel, and excluding a forest based agricultural system.
Direct solar energy however can reduce the reliance on tree-fuel to a sustainable level. Direct solar energy can convert solar radiation to human thermal purposes at 50 to 80 percent efficiency, with rudimentary techniques, whereas a tree converts solar radiation to human thermal purposes at less than 1 percent efficiency, largely because photosynthesis is only 10 percent efficient to begin with and the tree will not photosynthesis when it is too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, or a nutrient is missing; but even then, the tree uses much of this energy to live and the moisture in the tree decreases combustion efficiency. So, trees are not an efficient solar thermal technology, but luckily efficient solar thermal technology does exist.
[indeed, many anthropologists and archaeologists are beginning to conclude that humanity has been unsustainable since ].
Psychological problems caused by centralization
But the impact on society is also psychological. In a centralized society where energy and material are simply inputs, taken for granted, coming from outside, people live outside the natural systems they depend on and it becomes exceedingly difficult to understand these natural systems in even a basic way, and impossible to understand in a profound way — just as it is difficult to understand another culture from a distance, and impossible to profoundly understand without living among them). This renders problems out of sight and out of mind … for as long as the system can be maintained.
So the capacity for denial in a centralized society is augmented since sensory contact with the ecosystem is diminished, but the capacity to adapt (even when the problem is recognized) is also diminished.
When activity is centralized, transportation between the population is diminished, which makes super-specialization possible. Whereas normal specialization is when every person in a community can do a variety of artisan crafts, but each person will be better at some crafts than others, super-specialization is where each person does a single task. Though super-specialization increases the efficiency at which oil can be transformed, as centralized transformations require large mechanical structures requiring regular and predictable gestures to run and maintain, it radically decreases the adaptability of society.
Mastering a particular art or craft will aid in mastering any other craft, since craftsmanship requires an understanding of the underlying nature of the material and natural principles in question, since due to a certain homogeneity of nature’s workings, a deep understanding of one subject will lend to an accelerated understanding of another. Craftsmanship is also a very creative activity as previous experience is applied to new problems and situations. Furthermore, in a decentralized society things must always be adapted to the organic structure of the ecosystem; localities cannot simply be levelled to attain standard preconditions for a standard mechanized process. Due to this need of understanding and creativity a society of artisans can more easily adapt to new problems. 
In a centralized mechanized society on the other hand, memorizing a series of predetermined gestures, requires only repetition and little, if any, understanding of the material or natural principles at work. Moreover, interacting with a predetermined machine is a very uncreative process. For these reasons each “functional agent” has a hard time adapting to even new predetermined tasks, a much more difficult time if required to learn a craft, and an extremely difficulty time in understanding the workings and state of society as a whole. So, a society of regular gestures has a very difficult time seeing and adapting to new situations and problems.
Beyond this, centralization is now also suspected to cause many psychological and social dysfunctions, as humans are adapted to live in small communities and the organic structures of nature.
Inherent in the second problem that these energy sources are limited is pressure to secure these sources by violent means, and once controlled, to exploit them at the fastest rate possible.
For, as soon as an energy problem occurs the immediate response is to simply put more pressure on these resources rather than less, depleting them still faster.
In the short term this can keep the machine working, for a while. In the long term however the problem becomes more and more chronic, wars more and more destructive, and there is less and less energy available to build an alternative system.
Visit article: Energy-Problems.html
SouSous: Passive Solar Energy
Authors note: A chapter on passive solar energy was in the original outline of the book, but I have no profound knowledge of passive solar energy and so will develop it here in waiting for enough material to warrant a full chapter. Ironically, passive solar energy simply so obvious that there is little to explain, but I will work on gathering as much technical info as possible.
For temperate climates, the orientation and size of windows, as well as intelligent design and good insulation, can fulfil nearly all heating needs in most regions.
For cooling, the placement of trees and vines around the dwelling lends significant freshness, creating shade but also breathing out water vapour. Construction is clay also also regulates the temperature, by adding thermal mass, but also the humidity as the clay will absorb vapour from the air when it is too humid and evaporate humidity into the air when it is too dry, tending towards the humidity level of 70%, within the ideal comfort zone for humans.
It is also possible to create a draft affect with a solar chimney which can cool the inside.
In regions where heating is necessary in winter but cooling necessary in summer, ledges above a window angled at roughly 22° upwards will allow sun to pass through the window in winter (when the sun is low in the sky) but block the light from hitting the window in summer (when the sun is high).
Visit article: Passive-Solar-Energy.html
SouSous: Climate Chaos
Global warming does not appear in the forefront of the main text of Decentralized Democracy. This is because it is impossible to understand global warming as a problem without first understanding the problems of soil erosion, water depletion, deforestation, ocean death and species extinction, among others. Global warming is a problem for humanity as it affects these systems and exacerbates the problems we already face in these domains. However, our soil, water, forestry and land practices are already completely unsustainable, and so it is pointless to discuss mitigating the consequences of global warming without first making our forest, agriculture and ocean practices sustainable. And in doing so, then it is most likely the problem of global warming will be resolved as a consequence: soil and water allows forest to grow, healthy forest absorb pollutants and stabilize the atmosphere; the oceans are as or more important than the forests and the problem of ocean acidification alone demands a radical reduction of carbon dioxide pollution. We also know that fossil fuels is a finite resource, so burning it is by definition unsustainable. So, though global warming is a great problem, essentially any sustainable economy we could think of would resolve the issue.
Thus, the global warming debate should not be framed as a question of needing to do a few things to stabilize the atmosphere, but rather, with or without global warming, we need to do a lot of things to maintain the ecosystems we depend upon, and on top of all these obvious problems with relatively obvious solutions, global warming could amplify all of them completely out of control and render us extinct if we don’t do something soon — to resolve soil erosion, water depletion, deforestation, ocean death, and mass species extinction.
However, once these primary problems are understood, it becomes possible to understand the problem of global warming in a relevant context.
Much contention of course exists around what precisely are the causes of global warming, how much global warming will occur, and what the consequences of this global warming will be. Since the climate is a complex system it is difficult to understand all three. As for predictions, models range from showing it is possible that global warming could feed itself and run out of control, heating the planet 15 degrees or more, to models showing it could trigger a new ice age.
The only thing that is certain is that the climate will change in some way due to our modifications of land, water bodies and the atmosphere, as all complex systems change when factors affecting them change in a significant way. Thus, the term climate change (a climatology term covering any and all changes of climate) was taken to refer to this entire issue (at the institutional level at least). However, climate change isn’t a very good name as it does not connote how big this change might be or whether it is for better or for worse.
A much better name is climate chaos. For, when we understand the climate as a complex system we immediately know it is foolish to try to determine with a high degree of certainty what precisely will happen, as the very nature of complex systems is that we cannot predict any event at all with certainly. Rather, what we can know is that currently the climate is in a stable state and our actions risk pushing it into a chaotic state. By definition the outcome of a chaotic state of affairs cannot be predicted with certainty, except to stay that it is unpredictable.
Though it is important to try to understand and predict as much as we can, to first be aware that a chaotic state may be approaching and second understand events better as they unfold, the ethical imperative and reasonable course of actions can be formulated without any complex modelling and little scientific understanding.
To put this is perspective it is useful to take an example far from the atmosphere, in fact underground at the CERN particle accelerator. While CERN was being built, there was a debate in scientific circles of whether it was ethical to turn it on, as there was a chance CERN would produce black wholes and/or exotic particles and a chance we have no idea what these black wholes and exotic particles would do. Though the risk was agreed to be very small, what was less clear was how much risk is acceptable. Is it ethical to risk destroying the planet with a 1% chance for a scientific experiment, a 0.1 % chance, 0.001%, and so on ? Where must the line be drawn between relatively irrelevant scientific experiments (irrelevant to most if not all the problems humanity faces today) ) and the safety of the entire earth?
Where exactly this line is to be drawn is difficult to place (especially with an inapplicable ethic), but essentially anyone would consider scientists to be mad if they risked the entire world in an experiment with a 50 % chance or even 1 %, and most I think would agree 0.1% or 0.001% is still fairly high, considering how many times experiments must be repeated to have significance.
By thinking this though we arrive at the understanding that any action entails the responsibility of all the possible outcomes, regardless of its probability. For instance,we view drinking a mysterious liquid as irresponsible since there is a chance it may be poisonous. When a potential outcome is absolutely unacceptable, then the action becomes unacceptable.
In the case of the mysterious liquid, if there is no need to risk death then there is no reason to drink the liquid, regardless of whether we surmise it has a 50% or 1% or 0.1% chance of being poisonous.
The only time when it becomes reasonable is when the chance of death from not drinking the liquid in question is greater than the chance of death from drinking it. For instance, the water I drink everyday I cannot know with 100% certainty is safe, but I do know with nearly 100% certainty the consequences if I don’t drink any water at all.
Likewise, the only reasonable way to risk the entire planet is if there was an even greater risk to the planet from not doing it.
In the case of CERN it may or may not be reasonable that the chance a particle accelerator would save the planet directly or indirectly, is greater than the chance a CERN exotic particle would destroy the planet, but, if so, this reasoning can only be be supported in a bubble, as there are other risks to the planet significantly more dangerous — namely soil erosion, water depletion, deforestation, ocean death, and species extinction — that are a far greater priority than asteroid defence programs or space travel (though this does not mean such programs should not exist, only that their respective funding should be proportional to their priority in these troubled times).
The CERN budget maybe relatively small, but what CERN scientists should ask is whether other more immediate problems are being adequately addressed?
Applied to climate chaos, it is irrelevant whether the risk of catastrophic warming and/or cooling is 90%, 10%, 1%, only that common sense tells us dumping billions of tons of waste into the atmosphere and modifying the ecosystems in profound ways entails risk to the global ecosystems.
This risk is unacceptable as there is no greater risk to the planet and humanity that the modern economy addresses: There is no reason to risk destroying the planet to maintain frivolous consumption, and therefore there is every reason to reverse soil erosion, water depletion, deforestation, ocean death, and mass species extinction through simple things such as non-consumption, direct solar energy, planting a lot of forest gardens, local production and management of essential goods and services, more vegetarian diets (as in not meat at every meal), and stopping the acidification of the oceans by not wantonly burning things in superfluous pursuits.
The participants in the CERN risk debate all agreed that the risk of globl destruction for pure scientific experiments should be very small, on the order of 0.0001 % or less. The debate was in what miniscule number in particular should be chosen, who had the right to set this number, and how exactly calculating what level of global risk CERN presented should be carried out.
Yet, nearly all ecological models show there is a far greater level of risk than 0.0001% for a truly catastropic events if we continue to destroy ecosystems, release novel and unstudied chemicals, discupt ocean and atmospheric chemistry, melt large ice-masses and so on; so I fail to see how any competent scientist (who agrees a 0.001 risk to the planet should be avoided ) could be seriously concerned with anything else.
Visit article: Climate-Chaos.html
SouSous: On the steady state mailing list someone…
On the steady state mailing list someone posted that ressource consumption misses the point of steady state economics, which should be defined as a steady population and constant output.
Here is my reply:
As for defining steady state in terms of resource consumption/waste on balance with resource availability/waste sinks, I do not see any other useful definition of a steady state. Population can stay the same while consuming more resources more unsustainably (until a crash) and some hazy economic “aggregate” metric is liable to inform us even less about reality. Of course resource consumption/waste-sink balance puts constraints on population and other things, but it is resources/sinks that are fundamental (if we had infinite resources we could have infinite population).
Your conditions of “(1) A steady human population and (2) a steady physical level of output” is what misses the point, as both can stay constant and lead to ecological collapse. I can pump at a constant, exponential, or even declining level of output from a well and pump it dry; what matters is if the total water pumped is below or above the recharge rate of the ground water.
However, I agree that a steady-state can be dynamic, using resources ever better and increasing leisure time would be nice, but this is not a necessary condition for steady state; leisure time could stay constant.
As with GDP zero-growth, population “zero growth” is a likely characteristic of any steady-state society, but the converse is not necessarily true, as a zero growth population can still collapse the ecosystems (population growth would be negative after that).
This error in reasoning I think comes from population over-shoot examples in the natural world. There is a huge difference between natural overshoot and what humanity faces: other animals do not have technology, so their only means to overshoot is population; but to then apply this lesson to humanity and reduce overshoot to population makes no sense as it ignores our technological systems.
The distinction I think is very important as focusing on population is usually made to “shift blame” to poor regions with high population growth ignoring the resources they actually consume, and excusing the far higher consumption of rich regions, where the persons making these claims usually reside — thus shifting focus from the industrial “consume everything” economic system to voiceless “overshoot patsies” elsewhere who have little measurable impact on the global ecological system.
For instance, the very rich, who consume enormous amounts, are particularly interested to decrease population, a target that has been mentioned is reducing by 15% the projected plateau of population growth (essentially all these population “savings” to be in poor countries).
15 % reduction is consumption is no where near what is needed to have a meaningful impact, and since these un-peoples will be not-born in poor regions, they would represent even less actual reduction in consumption.
Now, if we accept 15% is basically meaningless to the worlds problems, and set our sites on 50% to 80% reduction, on a relevant time scale, this could only be achieved by:
1) World War III using nuclear weapons: likely to have far greater negative ecological impact than the population reduction has positive ecological impact.
2) Widespread ecosystems collapse resulting in global famine: ecosystems collapse is what we’re trying to avoid.
3) Nazi-style systematic genocides: “workable” in theory but I would argue the executive managers necessary are unlikely to have the ethical characteristics to manage the earth’s resources sustainably: as I would argue it’s unethical to kill if other options are available (which they are).
4) High-fatality rate global pandemic.
5) Moving 50–80% of people into space colonies.
1&2) The first two options, if undertaken for population reduction measures, achieve the result they are intended to avoid, ecological collapse.
3) The third would mean Nazi-style totalitarian takeover of most of the world, either overtly or covertly (systematic killings could be administered through food, drinking water etc. with a time-delay kill vectors difficult to attribute a cause).
4) The fourth would be an “ethical” possibility if such a pandemic happened spontaneously, if “engineered” see option 3. However if spontaneous it’s not “unethical” but neither it is an ethical course of action, as sitting around for something to happen continuing business as usual is not constructive but wishful thinking: maybe the wish will come true but that is not a course of action but inaction, even if one was pinning one’s hopes on pandemic the ethical course would still be to do all other actions likely to decrease resource consumption and waste-sink saturation.
5) No current technology is available to achieve this, and it’s entirely unlikely to arrive on any relevant time scale.
However, if we focus on resource consumption rather than population we arrive at a very different analyses.
We have the technology and the methods to reduce consumption and ecological impact radically, requiring no global upheaval that makes managing things likely to spin out of control.
Some (as in most of what we need) measures we can simply choose to do now (through appropriate regulation):
Reducing meat consumption.
Reducing frivolous personal fossil transportation.
Mandating cradle-to-grave product life-cycle management (i.e. taxing externalities).
Banning (with enforcement) high ecological impact activities like shark finning, deep sea bottom trawling, logging in high-biodiversity areas, etc.
Multiple independent studies (i.e. real science) into the ecological impacts vs. yield of the agricultural systems available (rather than basing policy on single corporate funded, private data, “studies”).
Renewable energy, in particular solar concentrating systems which are low impact, high temperature, low cost, globally deployable and in particular in poor regions where deforestation can be reduced (disclaimer: I work in this field).
So the above are common sense policies that are both ethical and together would have far more impact than even a 15% reduction in population. The only argument against them are “people don’t want to consume less” or “corporation won’t tolerate internalizing costs”; true there is resistance to these policies, but basing argumentation on the assumption that people are unreasonable / unethical is unlikely to yield any ethical result. If people are unethical then they are liable to want to consume all available resources to “keep the party” going regardless of alternatives, and any feasible plan the “enlightened” manage to get going is either likely to be mismanaged in any case or is delusional to begin with (i.e. the “enlightened” are liable to be just another ignorant / unethical group).
Considering our ressource consumption is not tied to population, as with essentially every other creature, but almost entirely due to our technological systems, technology / infrastructure choice is where all the sustainability gains are.
The data says we are heading to stable population in any case, and the data also says our global ecomomic system is incredibly wasteful: most grain going towards meat, most fuel burned for unecessary transport, most energy could be easilly generated clost-to-point of use with renewables, in particular solar (which powers the other non-geothermal renewables).
Of course, we can always nitpick and claim renewables are intermittent, but if the energy is cost effective what’s the problem of doing a majority of energy tasks when the primary solar energy is there in abundance (i.e. extremely low-cost) and storing some biofuels-charcoal for when needed?
The problem with “adapting” is that it goes against business as usual. But starting with business as usual as the criteria is liable to result in business as usual as the conclusion. However, it’s business as usual that’s got us into our ecolgoical quagmire, there’s no reason to assume like-minded thinking will solve the problem. People have lived with intermittent interior lighting (the sun), intermittent water (monsoons), intermittent food access (migrations passing, harvests, big catch), and have managed to live for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years under such conditions. Sleeping at night, water storage (West India essentially perfected rain water storage, but threw away that system easilly replicable and sustainable system in favour of massing damning projects and well-pumping), food storage, have been successful adaptation strategies to intermittent ressources.
Of course technologies exist to compliment the low-cost sun-shine making this almost a moot point now, but my point is that it shouldn’t be a criteria, if the energy is low-cost when available (i.e. when the sun shines) adapting to this is relatively easy, much easier than adapting to a radically different cliamte pattern / atmospheric chemistry, ocean-death or ecosystems collapse (which a recent paper showed could happen without obvious predictive signals that are feasible to monitor; i.e. hitting tipping points may not be obvious until after-the-fact).
Visit article: On-the-steady-state-mailing-list.html
SouSous: Starting a blog
I’ve run into some spare time over the next few months where I hope to finish this free-book.
I’ve been working fairly intensely on Solar Fire this past year since I believe strongly that the pre-condition for spreading decentralized philosophy and mode of living are the tools we need to actually live decentralized. Many tools we need have been preserved from decentralized times past and many new tools have been developed, but decentralized solar energy seems to be a critical piece that I felt I could contribute to.
I of course still think so, but I feel I’ve simplified the solar fire technique as far as I can take it at least. I’ve recently come up with the tri-truss technique that I’ll be throwing up some models about on solarfire.org, and I’ll blog it here as well when I do.
So I think I can contribute more on the decent ideas front which is also needed along with the tools to actually do it.
So I’ll be posting about what I’m additions/improvements in the book, future plans, and perhaps some commentary on current events from the decentralized perspective.
So stay tuned and don’t hesitate to email me any thoughts at wissenz (at) gmail.com.
Visit article: New-article.html
SouSous: Solar Fire and Hannah Arendt
In my previous (and first blog) oto chronicle the long process of writing Denentralized Democracy, I was under the impression I had time in front of me to work on Decentralized Democracy.
… Then we decided to launch a Solar Fire campaign to develop a wood based solar concentrator. Though of course this is work on decentalized democracy, since developing a solar based fire is a critical precondition it’s bloged about on www.solarfire.org.
But solar is not the only important thing, and so I return nudging forward the overall task here at Decent-Democracy.
In finishing this morning Hannah Arendt’s, On revolution, I am shaken by the gems on decentralized government, what Arendt call “the council system” in the last chapters of the book.
I have no specific affinity in the revolutionary literary tradition (outside understanding history) for reasons Arendt expresses succinctly:
“The part of the professional revolutionists usually consists not in making a revolution but in rising to power after it has broken our, and their advantage in this power struggle lies less in their theories and mental or organization preparation than in the simple fact that their names are the only ones which are publicly known. — p252
She also has an end note mentioning “[…] an interesting example. At the election to the National Assembly in 1871, the suffrage in France had become free, but since there existed no parties the new voters tended to vote for the only canditates they know at all, with the result that the new republic had become the ’Republic of Dukes’. )
So in this light the purpose of Decent-Democracy is to make a guide book not for self-appointed revolutionaires, but to real communities, real ’councils’ that ’For the remarkable thing about the counciles was of course not only that they crossed all party lines, that members of the various parties sat in them together, but that such party membership played no role whatsoever. They were in fact the only political organs for people who belonged to no party. Hence, they invariably came into conflict with all assemblies, with the old parliaments as well as with the new ’consituent assemblies;, for the simple reason that the latter, even in their most extreme wings, were still the children of the party system. At this stage of events, that is, in the midst of revolution, it was party programmes more than anything else that seperated the councils from teh parties; for these programmes, no matter how revolutionary, were all ’ready-made formulas; which demanded not action but execution — ’ to be carried out energetically in practice’, as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out […] the counciles were bound to rebel against any such policy since the very cleavage between the party experts who ’knew’ and the mass of people who were supposed to apply this knowledge left out of account teh average citizen’s capacity to act and to form his own opinion. The councils, in other words, were bound to become superfluous if the spirit of the revolutionary party prevailed. Wherever knowing and doing have parted company, the space of freedom is lost.”p. 256
For Arendt notes the spontaneous organization of the people into the council system, in every major revolution since the French revolution (as well as previously noting the “town hall meatings” as the driving force of the American revolution), such as “the French captical under siege by the Prussian army ’spontaneously reorganized itself into a miniature federal body’, which then formed the nucleus for the Parisian Commune government in the spring of 1871; the year 1905, when the wave of spontaneous strikes in Russia suddenly developed a political leadership of its own, outside all revolutionary parties and groups, and the workers in the factories organized themselves into councils, soviets, for the purpose of represnetative self-government; the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia, when ’despite different political tendencies among the Russian workers, the orgaization itself, that is the soviet, was not even subject to discussion’; the years 1918 and 1919 in Germany, when, after the defeat of the army, soldiers and workers in open rebellion constituted themselves into Arbeiter- und Soldaternate, demanding, in Berlin, that this Ratesystem become the foundation stone of teh new German constitution, and establising, together with the Bohemiams of the coffee houses, in Munich in the spring of 1919, the short-lived Bavarian Raterepublick; the last date, finally, is the autumn of 1956, when the Hungarian Revolution from is very beginning produced the council system anew in Budapest, from which it spread all over the country ’with incredible rapidity’. — p254 (Arendts sites many interesting sources) 
“The mere enumeration of these dates suggests a continuity that in fact never existed. It is precisely the absence of continuity, tradition, and organized influence that makes the sameness of the phenomenon so very striking. Outstanding among the concils’ common characteristcis is, of course, the spontaneity of their coming into being, because it clearly and flagrantly contradicts the theoretical ’twentieth-century model of revolution — planned, prepared, and executed almost to cold scientific exactness by the professional revolutionaries’. It is true that wherever the revolution was not defeated and not followed by some sort of restoration the one-party dictatorship, that is, the model of the professional revolutionary, eventually prevailed, but it prevailed only after a violent struggle with teh organs and institutions of the revolution itself [i.e. the council system]. The councils. moreover, were always organs of order as much as organs of action, an it was indeed their aspiration to lay down the new order that brought them into conflict with the groups of professional revolutionaries, who wished to degrade them to mere executive organs of revolutionary activity.” p.255
Ok, I could essentially quote most of the last quarter of the book, so these one’s I just wanted to get down to incorporate into the Decent book. Well, ok, one last one:
“… The founders should have found it easy enough to console themselves with the thought that the Revolution had opened the political realm at least to those whose inclination for ’virtuous disposition’ was strong, whose passion for distinction was ardent enough to embark upon the extraordinary hazards of a political career. Jefferson, however, refused to be consoled. He feared an ’elective despotism’ as bad as, or worse than, the tyranny they had risen against: ’If once [our people] become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves.” — p. 230 (Quotin Hefferson from a letter to Colonel Edwards Carrington, 16 January 1787).
So what has this to do with Solar Fire
Everything! Since all the above leads up to the question “Why did the revolutionary party (controlled by professional revolutionists who mostly ’show up’ after the revolution is already underway) defeat the spontaneous council system of the people?” as Ardents says in no unequivocal terms:
The outbreak of most revolutions has surprised the revolutionist groups and parties no less than all others, and there exists hardly a revolution whose outbreak could be blamed upon their activities. It usually was the other way round: revolution broke out and liberated, as it were, the professional revolutonists from wherever they happened to be — from jail, or from the coffee house, or from the library. Not even Lenin’s party of preofessional revolutionists would ever have been able to ’make’ a revolution; the best they could do was to be around, or hurry home at the right moment, that is, at the moment of collapse. Tocqueville’s observation in 1848, that the monarchy fell ’before rather than beneath the blows of the victors, who were as astonished by their triumph as were the vanquished at their defeat,’ has been verified over and over again. p.252
Indeed, she observes that Bolshevik party (professional revolutionists) had to name their new government after the soviet councils who they did everything to destroy and did destroy, but so associated were the soviets with the cause, work and purpose of the revolution, that
“Practically, the current ’realism’, despair of the people’s political capacities, not unlike the realism of Saint-Just, is based solidly upon the concious or unconscious determination to ignore the reality of the councils and to take for granted that there is not, and never has been, and alternative to the present system.”p. 262
“The councils, obviously, were spaces of freedom. As such, they invariably refused to regard themselves as temporary organs of the revolution and, on the contrary, made all attemps at establishing themselves as permanent organs of government. Far from wishing to make the revolution permanent, their explicitly expressed goal was ’to lay the foundations of a republic acclaimed in all its concequences, the only government which will close forever the era of invations and civil war;’ no paradise on earth, no classless society, no dream of socialist community fraternity, but the establishment of ’the true Republic’ was the ’reward’ hoped for as the end of the struggle. p.256 Arendt citing Anweiler.
Her answer is found on … to be continued.
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SouSous: Working on a relaunch of this project
I’ve been working a lot on Solar Fire / GoSol.org the last few years, working on creating the lowest barrier to entry solar energy device possible, which I believe could have much bigger impact than mere words.
However, I still think books are important too so I’m going to organize a more traditional funding model to make time to write a mature version of the book. I’ve been working on a lot of new material for this new launch.
So, i’ll be launching a new model to finish the work in one go the best I can. Again, don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to help out with relaunch or to just stay informed when it launches.
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