Notes from Windward: #67


Sustainability and the Inverse Square Law

why going "hands-on" is so important

     Windward's approach to advancing the suite of sustainable options involves what can be thought of as a three-legged stool. That's a useful metaphor because we believe that achieving a critical mass of sustainability requires the simultaneous development of

  • (1) a diverse food supply system that can be operated on marginal land using collected rainwater and renewable energy inputs,

  • (2) a bio-mass based energy system that will provide heat, fuel and electricity sufficient to maintain a high quality of life, and

  • (3) a social contract based on representative consensus sufficient to enable us to work effectively as a group while still retaining a high degree of individual autonomy.

and moreover, that it's not enough to succeed at one or two of these goals, but rather that some degree of success in all three areas is necessary in order for a community based system to reach a critical mass of sustainability.

     Most people are only familiar with component-type systems in which all that matters is what happens within the system. An examples would be a factory ship that focused on becoming ever more efficient at vacuuming up all life out of the ocean--yes, the ship becomes ever more profitable until the fish are gone, and then it's just so much scrap metal.

     Sustainability, on the other hand, is an integrity based system. The ship in the above example can also serve here in that it is dependent on the integrity of its hull. If you punch a good size hole through the hull anywhere below the water line, it doesn't matter how well the rest of the systems on that ship are functioning--the ship is going to sink because the integrity of its hull has been breached.

     Natural systems are integrity based systems. If a calf doesn't get the iron it needs, it can't produce the hemaglobin it needs in order to grow. If your land has been depleted of magnesium through years of removing crops without "sweetening" it with dolomite, your crops are going to turn yellow and die. If you feed your sheep on hay grown on land that lacks selenium, the ewes will die trying to give birth because the enzyme needed to dilate the cervix is based on selenium.

     Those are just three quick examples of how the details really matter when your goal is to establish a sustainable system. However easy the concept might be when viewed from a distance, there's no substitute for building an "up close and personal" relationship with the actual organisms involved. And the reason for that can be found in...

     The Inverse Square Law: the usefulness of intelligence decreases by the square of the distance from the facts.

     Most intentional communities have come about because of the power of some visionary to enable people to imagine a better way to work, live and love; in our case, that visionary was Robert Heinlein; here's what he had to say on the subject.

     "What are the facts? Again and again and again - what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what 'the stars foretell,' avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable 'verdict of history' - what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your only clue. Get the facts!"

     And it's the Inverse Square Law that tells us why, in order to get those facts, it's vital to roll up our sleeves and get as much "hands-on" experience as we can with actual systems and the actual living organisms that make up those systems.

     Besides that's where most of the fun is anyway :-)

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67