Colorado Transition Network


Rather than mix our "energy descent plan" comments in with general group discussions, this discussion focuses specifically on the issues, information, and ideas that impact such a plan. The topic can be expanded to include all possible changes to our community to deal with resource depletion (of all kinds), waste effects and their mitigation (including climate change), and any other related problems we expect to face as a result of excess consumption and ecological degradation. Our ultimate goal is to decide upon the kind of community we want to live in, given future conditions, and to develop a plan to help create it.

Tags: adaptation, change, climate, community, depletion, descent, energy, local, plan, resource

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I recommend the following broad strategy: (1) Learn about our community as it currently exists; (2) understand the variables that are influencing the community and how they can and cannot be controlled by the community; (3) define what we would like the community to be like in the future (50 and 100 years out); and (4) devise a plan to use our understanding to convert the community from what it is to what we would like it to be.
Our community at present -- Reply to this comment to discuss what we know about the community as it currently exists.
The 3 communities of Westminster, Arvada and Broomfield are mostly bedroom communities where people likely live and shop, but most don't work in the city they live. Broomfield has a lot of high-tech companies in the Interlocken area, so there are probably many employees of those companies living nearby. Broomfield also has the shopping center (Flatirons Mall). Westminster extends east and also contains a lot of retail, some office and professional, but mostly residential.

I was a resident of Broomfield from 1994-2003. I've been a resident of Westminster since 2003. Except for 2 years during that time period when I worked downtown Denver, I've worked from home. I've gotten to know the trail systems, the shopping centers and I've seen a trend toward residential/retail development in both cities. Broomfield used to have a lot of empty land back in the late 90s - not so much anymore. Westminster seems almost devoid of arable land except for huge tracts near Rocky Mtn Arsenal/Indiana Road.

A few years ago, the City Council of Broomfield voted to allow the Arista Development and the Broomfield Event Center to be built, despite the protests of many Westminster & Broomfield residents. What I know from news stories is that the Event Center is struggling and the condos near the center are standing vacant. That doesn't seem like a successful development, but they keep foraging ahead. I mention this because it demonstrates that City Councils will push for retail development in order to squeeze more tax revenue out of the available land, without thought or consideration to the opportunity cost of that land or the protests of residents.
Variables affecting the community -- Reply to this comment to discuss the variables affecting our community.
Here I think we need to ask: What are the most critical needs for survival and well-being, and what most affects their being met? Food, water, shelter (protection from physical extremes in the environment), health care (protection and recovery from injury and illness), and social order (minimizing of destructive human behavior) could be put on the first list. Usable energy, material resources, skills, knowledge, and cultural controls could be put on the second list.
Medical: We as a community can educate and "reskill" ourselves better about medical science and practice than we generally do, and this should be a focus, but also we need to focus on retaining talent and expertise in this field. One can imagine that good doctors will be in high demand, and ultimately it will be up to the community to attract such talent to live locally. Lastly, alternative medicine and medical supplies, obtainable locally, may be needed to substitute in case of medical shortages.

Housing: Clapboard homes were never built to last long, but rather to make their builders a tidy profit. One by one they will fall down. This is a big reskilling and community-enriching opportunity, as we use natural alternative resources to recreate our habitats.

Water & food: Big challenges here on the front range, but they can be met if laws get rewritten (allowing rain water catchment, a huge one) and priorities shift (acquisition of farmlands for citizenry to grow their own food, combined with re-thinking residential property to grow as much food on as possible.)
There are of course several large-scale trends affecting our community. Among the most important are climate change and increasing scarcity of natural resources used by modern civilization.

The climate is warming due to excess pollution in the form of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide among the most prominent). This has already resulted in an increase in wildfires, stressing of plant and animal populations, extreme weather, and limits on water supply for domestic and agricultural use. Our region may eventually become a desert like the Sahara unless drastic action is taken now to limit it.

We tend to focus on diminishing supplies of fossil fuels, most prominently oil (which we will need to stop using anyway because of its contribution to global warming), but other natural resources are also on a path to becoming scarce in our lifetimes that include soil, fresh water, and metal.
There is no disputing that our current system depletes certain resources but I think of that as incentive to change the system. When we think in terms of what is required for human beings to thrive, resources are not scarce.

It actually takes very little to maintain a human being. It takes a certain number of calories, vitamins and minerals every day, clean water, the ability to keep one's body temperature within a certain range. After that, what is a life worth living? - health - intellectual stimulation - material comforts - distractions?

Once we recognize that this is the purpose of human systems - to provide what is needed for humans to thrive - we can set about creating the systems that accomplish that - and resources are not a limitation on our capacity to do that.
In my comment I referred explicitly to "modern civilization," which depends on all of the things I mentioned.

My own research suggests that the mass of material the world consumes is proportional to the minimum number of interactions between all the people in the population. What you've called "bridges" may well be exchanges of material (resources), or at least the amount of energy needed to enable the interaction. If so, then we are presently consuming what we need to support a world-wide community. To change this, we would have to either reduce the size of the population or create smaller, totally isolated populations that are limited to what they can find locally (which is sure to result in at least some casualties, as some people find themselves in regions that are not endowed with even the most basic of resources for survival).

The approach I advocate, as you probably already know, is to build up the stock of renewable and reusable resources to replace the non-renewable ones we currently depend on. This would be the equivalent of re-creating the ancient, natural environment that once supported us, with a few modern perks thrown in. The rub is that we would need to effectively triple what we had in order to support a global community of the size we have now, which will require a LOT of R&D. We are also starting with a huge deficit that comes from thousands of years of exploitation.

You brought up water, which an engineer friend of mine insists is not a problem, for pretty much the same reason you stated: The oceans are full of it. The problem is that it is a daunting and energy-intensive task to desalinate and distribute the water where it is needed. Nature has an excellent solution -- the weather -- but it is, and will likely always be, uncontrollable in quantity and distribution, especially as global warming takes hold.

One way I can see people getting the most out of what Nature can provide would be for the world's population to move to regions where they can find adequate food and water as opposed to the increasingly uninhabitable parts of the world. Everyone would then need to learn how to cooperate and stop all of the ecologically destructive activities embodied in the famous acronym HIPPO: Hunting, Introduction of invasive species, Population growth, Pollution, and Over-harvesting.
Actually, I would do it the other way. The data about carrying capacity is based on a choice between undisturbed natural systems or industrial agriculture - there is the third choice of permaculture. We can design to use each resource for multiple purposes in closed loop systems - rather than designing for monoculture and economies of scale - and we can put these integrated systems where our ancestors have previously destroyed the ecosystem - as in the 'fertile crescent'.

I have collected some examples of how this third choice changes the equation (and I agree we need a lot of R&D) at Examples of Systems of Integrated Production. Note in particular the Greening the Desert Video.

From Organizing to Heal Nature and Produce Abundance:

Lets say we were going to go out in the desert and build solar panels. What else could we do with that land? Could we build green houses and homes under the solar panels? (food and shelter) Could we include teachers and nurses? (education and health care) If the enterprise provided food, shelter, education and health care does that change the economics of the project?

What other goals might we address? How about greening the desert? Maybe a RV park and nursing facility for aging baby boomers?

As to the issue of clean water - in the proposed system, one could use brackish or contaminated water in an evaporative cooling system and capture purified water through a dehumidifying process.
I'm pretty sure we're talking about the same thing, just using different terminology.

When I say "reusable resources," I'm referring to the mathematical equivalent of recycling or efficiency: resources that can be used over and over again. This can include anything from recycled water to products whose constituent materials can be used for other things. Ecosystems are the ultimate recycling mechanisms, and emulating them would come as close as possible to creating closed systems like those you describe. The distinction between "reusable resources" and "renewable resources" is that renewable resources are raw materials that replace themselves, such as wood from trees.

"Building up a stock" of these resources, as I envision it, would exactly involve such activities as building natural ecosystems where they've been destroyed, increasing the size and continuity of forests, and reducing fishing so that fish populations can recover. Permaculture is one way this can happen, albeit with the explicit goal of using Nature to meet human needs.

Measurement of the carrying capacity of the planet is not, as I've read about it, focused on industrial agriculture (or, more generally, industrial activity). More specifically, the "ecological footprint" which is used to derive it is a measure of how much of the biosphere's collective productivity we utilize, whose unit of measure is conveniently chosen as the average amount of land occupied by the raw resources and other species that provide what we use or process what we waste. Put another way: How much of Nature do we use, and how much space does it take up? Carrying capacity is therefore the total amount of this abstract space divided by the amount the average person uses (which may be historical -- the way I use it -- or a variable subject to control or arbitrary definition).

To your larger point, I happen to share your belief that economics needs to become more ecological in both its scope and function. We must get away from the model of "resources," "products," and "services," and instead treat everything and everyone as part of an integrated system that is constantly changing state, and whose survival as a system with a maximum diversity of states (enabled by, and represented by, life) is the ultimate purpose.
I like your distinction between renewable and reusable. You may be interested in the approach they take at ZERI - Zero Emissions Research & Initiatives - waste is food. They treat the recycling by nature essentially the same as designing for the waste of one industrial process to be the feed stock of the next industrial process.

Unfortunately, ZERI is structured around "zeri certification" which seems to have a lot to do with supporting Gunter Pauli - as opposed to permaculture - which also tries to structure around certification - but the only requirement is to teach the material in the Design Manual.

My own approach is two fold. The first step is understanding that our individual well being is inseparable from the well being of the eco-socio-economic system within which we reside. The second step is understanding that we create that system - it is the cumulative result of all the choices each of us makes. We are not in control but each of us is either contributing to an upward spiral or to a downward spiral whether we are conscious of that or not.

It is all about whether there is an increasing number of places for people, plants and creatures to fit, or a decreasing number of places for people, plants and creatures to fit. It is about needing to fit in the system if we are going to survive - which is a different understanding than the popular one about 'survival of the fittest'.


Facing challenges of peak oil, climate change and zero waste


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