Open Future Image Twenty-two Aspects of a Transition to a Sustainable Society
by John S Veitch
We need to learn how to live more lightly on the Earth, to use fewer resources in order to live useful and happy lives, and in doing so protect the environment.
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Transition to a Sustainable Community

The Only Source of Real Change is "ME":
We each have to discover who we are. Then we need to re-examine the world for ourselves and make our own assessment. Ten or twenty years later, we finally understand how our family, education and community indoctrination made us good tools to continue the destruction of the planet. Once we realise our own role in continuing that process, we can begin to make changes for ourselves. When it comes to saving the planet, we are pre-conditioned to work against our own interests. The new knowledge we have about planetary systems isn't embedded in our culture yet, and may not be for 100 years. By then irreparable damage will have been done. It's the collective "ME' who's responsible.

Overuse of the environment for production or for the disposal of toxic wastes, destroys biodiversity and reduces the ability of natural cycles to function. All the materials we use eventually turn into waste, sometimes toxic waste. We need to live in ways that reduce the flow of materials through the system. We need to develop methods of production that don't produce toxic materials, or that capture those toxins in a safe way.

We need to stop financial subsidies to agriculture. Farming based on oil powered machines and chemically produced fertilizers, has a limited future. Without the energy provided by petroleum it's doubtful if we can feed the present population on Earth. We should not be promoting a system that we know is unsustainable. We need to promote local food systems that are stable and reliable. Food shipped across the world should be the exception not the general rule.

Climate change is melting the ice caps and the polar ice and altering the flow and distribution of the world's fresh water. We are suffering more regular floods and more severe floods. We can't stop them, so we have to adapt to that reality. Water that once flowed all year round as the ice caps melted is increasingly absent from the river bed for weeks at a time. Some of the world's major rivers are so overused that at some times during the year the river never reaches the sea. This is directly caused by our systematic abuse of the environment.

Human activities have for many generations been adding unusual gases into the air through our agricultural and industrial activities. When this activity is widely distributed and moderate in intensity, the effect of our activity was slight. However, the process of economic development has concentrated harmful health effects in local areas, and the continued production of gaseous wastes is now causing climate disruption and is slowly changing the Earth's climate. We now understand that when we burn something, that the gases do not simply go away. We also now understand that composting or decay, and digestion, and fermentation are all forms of "burning" that add gases to the atmosphere. We've discovered that one of the most critical gases is carbon dioxide, because human activities produce a lot of it, and that is a key driver of our warming climate. The suggested target for CO2 in the atmosphere is 350ppm. Methane is another greenhouse gas that might in the long run be as important as CO2. Stored methane in the ground is being released by natural gas exploration, coal mining and by thawing permafrost.

Housing should be built to minimise running costs in terms of energy use and water conservation. We should also seek to use appropriate materials, sometimes choosing to build a light well insulated structure, and for other purposes building heavy dense heat conserving structures. Design can do much to utilise the sun both as a source of heat and light and also to drive natural ventilation. As we discover the joy of living in well insulated houses there is a demand for much higher levels of insulation than experts once recommended.

Business as usual, in the 20th Century way, cannot continue. With a 20th Century world view, there is a green cloud of economic disaster approaching. We cannot be sure what will happen, how the future will play out? We do know that the endgame of the 20th Century model is a disaster for mankind. Change we must. We also know that there are some green jobs, perhaps millions of green jobs. That's one place to begin. We know that as transport costs rise, some of our present activities will become uneconomic. As one industry exits new opportunities open. One vision is that horses might become a viable short haul transport option. That the population of small rural towns will increase and that industries we have not seen for almost 100 years might return. There might be lots of employment available, but probably not at high wage levels.

We anticipate a rapid rise in the cost of petrol and diesel fuel, forcing all but the most essential personal cars off the road. Commercial transport will also be down sized, some moving to railways, some to ships and barges. There may be a rebuilding of canals for freight. In some areas, the horse-drawn vehicle may return. I'm sure there will be electric vehicles, but I'm not sure we'll be able to run many of them.

People who can afford it are already moving into walled subdivisions with security guards. There is likely to be a time in the future when poverty and hardship led to riots and disorder. In Egypt, local street patrols kept neighbourhoods safe while there were demonstrations in Tahrir Square. As the old business and political model collapses, in the transition, many people will be disadvantaged. We need to look first at our own security, but also to devise our own local neighbourhood support network. As the American economy declines, gun sales go up. Faced with the prospect of declining incomes, and street riots, some nation states might seek an external war as the lesser of two evils. We are likely to see resource wars, but in the long run, there are no winners.

Our use of the energy of the sun stored over millions of years, for industrial purposes, has released gases into the atmospheres that were for most of human history safely stored in the ground. If we are to avoid destroying the normal climate the earth is adapted to; we need to stop that behaviour, and find ways to re-store greenhouse gases back underground. This is a huge problem, and there may be no practical solution. There are many sources of energy that are not so climate destructive, but our capacity to produce those in quantity, at reasonable cost, and without the extensive use of cheap oil or coal is in doubt. We badly need better ways to capture CO2 and to store it underground. We badly need better battery technology so that we can store surplus energy from industrial processes and from home generation for later use.

I don't expect that humanity will find the political and social and technical resources to solve the population problem. In an increasingly hostile climate there will be famine, followed by disease and high death rates. In this environment, some new strain of a virus is likely to develop and become widespread. Modern transport systems will ensure the disease is carried to every nation. I expect a massive, quite sudden, decline in the human population on earth, caused by something like that. Post disaster, human beings might try to live in a more sustainable way.

Health Care
Healthy living begins with a clean environment, quality food and a lifestyle that includes exercise and social activities with other people. Quality health care has to focus on the prevention of future problems, by making the world we live in a safer place to be. There is much that the health systems we have developed can do to restore people to health. However, with limited resources, treatment will not be available for everyone. The capability of the Health Department, and the medical system, will be more limited in the future, unless we solve the energy supply problem.

We all want our children to live long and happy lives. Sadly, because of the damage we've done to the environment; the prospect of that outcome looks increasingly bleak. Our children need quality education, not mere indoctrination. They need to learn how to learn from their personal experience, not just to repeat what's written in books. They need to be able to speak, to write and calculate, but they also need to play an instrument, to dance, and to enjoy sporting activity and games.

Elderly and Disabled
Elderly people who are active in their thinking and physically active too, can contribute to the community for a long time. Today most people over 65 are supposed to be retired, but many continue to work, partly because of the interest in the work itself, but also for the money. The elderly are very active in educational activities and in maintaining clubs and sporting organisations. With the possibility of financial collapse being very real, it is likely that pensions promised in the future will not be payable, at least not at the promised rate. In some private schemes, maybe not at all. I look to the local community at street level to care for the very old and the disabled. I expect that centralised systems of care will break down.

We have to learn to sustain a satisfactory level of consumption yet use far fewer materials. Most communities are doing basic rev=cycling, but that's just the tip of the problem. When products are designed, they need to be designed with a process for dismantling and recycling in mind. The golden principle is to take raw materials, use them, and return them to the materials stream again.

In the name of economic growth, much of the effort in the science community has been diverted to near-term projects likely to produce a commercial result. At the same time, much of the knowledge produced by science is willfully neglected, because it doesn't suit the political agenda of the moment. Science should tell us about the nature of the world we live in. That knowledge doesn't come in political colours, and choosing to ignore the message, when you don't like it, isn't a sensible strategy.

We have no idea which of the current technologies will be sustainable in the energy restrained future. It's wise to maintain a diversity of technologies and to train people to have a diversity of skills. It is likely that in a less specialised society , each of us will have to develop new skills to do things we employ other people to do today.

Every person should be engaged in lifelong education, and action learning. The skill of learning from primary experience is something we all need to develop. If the Internet remains a viable technology, the prospects for a lifelong personal education for adults are excellent. My concern is about what will happen to schools. They may become places for increased indoctrination.

Social Arts and Entertainment
The education we require should be focused on science and the arts. The education we require should be focused on science and the arts. Each of us needs to be involved in the arts, not just as a customer or a member of the audience, we need to engage with the arts ourselves. This is much easier if our training as children encouraged us to develop basic skills. The arts provide a low impact way for people to find a productive activity, which produces pleasure and social interaction.

Consciousness and Spirit
In social groups, clubs and organisations we learn about your community. As adults we need to be responsible for the direction our community is taking. If our world is to be sustainable, it's entirely up to us to make is so. This is our real, and it doesn't matter if we succeed or fail, the mission, to preserve the planet and to ensure a viable life of future generations, is what makes it important to be alive, and committed at this critical time in human history.

21st Century Paradigm
If we are to enter as successful transition from the 20th Century to the 21st Century so that we can build a sustainable society, most of us will need to do a complete "reset" of our attitudes and our world view. We've been talking about this change of consciousness since the 1960s, while not being exactly sure what it was we were describing. People have sought "enlightenment" from mystics in India, for instance, or from drugs like LSD. Perhaps now we can see that what we need is de-schooled ability to see the world as it really is and not as our cultural indoctrination tells us it should be.

When more people have this experience and share the experience, young people in their family life and schooling will begin to learn different lessons. Schools will not forever keep repeating the mistakes of a bygone educational age (Although many of them will try to.). At some stage society itself will shift, and the meaning and direction of what people call "progress" will change.

There is no surety that the Internet will remain viable for everyday, almost free, public use. I'd expect telephones and cell phones to survive, and that radio might again become important. Although we like our big-screen TV's, their popularity might not last. I expect we'll maintain the key advantages of the Internet, for business, for government and for medical uses, for instance. However, computers and the power to run them, might not be cheap. Household and educational use of computers may decline.

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