You Can Fit a Lot of Sustainability in a Box

Jock Brandis, shown in Replan It is now one of my heroes. Not only is he making machines out of common materials, and using parts in ways for which they we clearly never intended, he makes plans, molds, and schematics a part of the project. This to me is so far the best example of what sustainability is meant to be.

Taken for example, the soap project takes what would otherwise be waste material and produces a useful product. The actual work is done by locals that likely were not employed before, and are now making a wage doing essential work. The product is made/processed using a machine that itself is a sale-able product that it easily manufactured locally. It’s more than soap, its an entirely new system that converts waste to essential product and employs labor in both production of the soap, and the soap making machine. It all fits into an 18 by 18 by 24 inch box, and is hand-powered.

The other projects were by now means lesser feats: water pumps of both solar and human powered varieties and a hand cranked nut sheller that reduces human labor be at least an order or two of magnitude. Both also able to be constructed locally, and by local fabricators. We have a lot to learn from Jock. In closing, not only is this sustainable, it is decolonizing.

Moving on to the second required topic, Steven Johnson’s  Here Comes Everybody!
from  Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software was a very interesting read. As an avid gamer that likes to tinker, I have always found it fun to try and trick games into creating organized patterns out of seemingly random chaos. While I have always attributed this to a computer’s inability to generate true randomness, I now see there may be more going on than I though. This reading had me recalling other items I have read about semi-intelligent “swarms” of robots. The goal being to have self-organizing teams of machines that can operate better that large machines with strict operating parameters. The uses vary from the macabre (self-healing minefields) to the noble (swarms of tiny drones that can fly into buildings looking for survivors after natural disasters.)  I agree with the reading that we too often think that things must be ordered in a hierarchy, and I definitely feel I will pay more attention to a possible deeper structure in the future.

Closing thoughts: we took a look at time banks, and work distributed among a community in prior weeks. These ideas combined with projects like Jock’s provide a way for small communities to provide essential services like running water in a way that is both more efficient and less wasteful than even the most high-tech water plant. Specialization of labor can be more efficient, and economies of scale work well in manufacturing, but these small scale “factory in a box” projects are making me rethink things. What if we can look at economies of scale backwards? Small scale can be far less wasteful, and much better tailored to the near population. It won’t build an orbital rocket, but it can replace systems we take for granted that are not so wide-spread for much of the world.


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