NOTE: Make sure you read the first three posts (in order!) before tackling the rest, or it could be confusing: Post 1 is Designing the future, Post 2 is Setting up the problem, and Post 3 is Estimating basic requirements.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Comment roundup

There are a number of discussions and questions in the comments this week about some very key issues. I wanted to capture my thoughts in a full post so nobody misses them.

One commenter keenly pointed out that there is a distinction between sustainability and self-sufficiency. Sustainable design typically uses self-sufficiency as a path to sustainability, and that is the approach I’m using in the ‘Homestead Project’ example problem. Self-sufficiency is, of course, not failsafe: an independent farmer may still allow his field to erode away; a lazy hunter might leave half his kill to rot; or an electrical generation system may leach toxins into the environment.

I think he is correct in that the sustainability goals he cites should further modify our example problem. However, I feel there is no problem with a sustainable community being ‘high-tech’; it need only have ‘less tech’ (as in quantity) from what most of us are familiar. In fact, if we are truly looking at ultimate long-term sustainability for our species, we must develop the ability to expand civilization into space. We risk premature extinction if we do not. I believe this is a possible goal for a sustainable civilization, an assertion I will discuss at length in the future.

Also, please don’t misunderstand the purpose of the example problem. I have started with a small ‘community’ of a single family primarily to illustrate principles of Systems Engineering without getting lost in the complexities of a large community. I’m not making choices for anyone – everyone decides for themselves what their future looks like. A family which chooses self-sufficient isolation will most likely be vulnerable to lack of medical care, limited food diversity, depression (from lack of social interaction), critical tool shortages, and many other serious risks.

I plan to use the ‘Homestead Project’ as a baseline for building one or more larger projects, ones which serve to explore the trade-offs between individuals' skills and strengths, critical infrastructure, community size, strategies for government, and thoughts on security, among hundreds of other considerations.

If you remember one thing from this post, remember this: Do NOT get bogged down in the details of the example problems on this blog! Focus more on the structure, less on the content, as every project’s design and solution will be different. We will explore solutions and design strategies (look for such a post tomorrow), and that is when you want to critically examine the content.


At 11:20 PM, Blogger Jerry said...

Thanks for the kind words regarding my comment on sustainability, much appreciated. I'll take your suggestion that we further modify the goals of our example problem as all the encouragement I need to offer my own version of said modification (replace 'N' with the next available goal number):

Goal N: The community will meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Objective N.1: The community will use renewable resources at a rate that does not exceed their regeneration.
Objective N.2: The community will use nonrenewable resources at a rate that does not exceed the rate at which sustainable renewable replacements can be developed.
Objective N.3 The community will emit pollution at a rate that does not exceed the capacity of the environment to assimilate it.

Obviously these are taken almost verbatim from the quote I cited earlier, and there is still much to be said about goals that explicitly require a community to live within the carrying capacity of it's environment, but for purposes of our example problem I think the goal stated above is fine.

I completely agree that 'environmental equillibrium' should not be equated with 'no technological progress'. In fact, the authors of the 'Limits to Growth' cited earlier go to great pains to emphasize that 'no growth' does NOT mean 'no development'. I would go even further and suggest that a community that is not investing all of it's capital and energy in exponential growth and the attendant crises of overshoot and collapse is a community that will have that much more to invest in the greater advancement of arts and sciences, to the benefit of all.

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