PermaBlocks is a project I’m working on to make it MUCH easier to design open-source permaculture systems. My hope is to create a platform that makes it easy to share knowledge in a simple and standard format, to allow for citizen science, massive collaboration, and spark a global design revolution. Read on.
The concept is pretty simple: Natural eco systems are circular. Every eco system is made up of 2 or more species, processes, or “blocks”. Each piece has inputs and outputs that are complementary to at least one other piece. Together, they all link together to make a circular system, like a chain made out of many individual links.
Mature ecosystems can be incredibly complex, and “circular” isn’t quite the right word. It’s more of a web or network. But the general idea is something like: Plants grow in soil and sunlight–> animals eat the plants and turn the plants into poop –> bacteria eat the poop and turn the poop into soil –> new plants grow in the soil…and on and on.
There is no waste in nature. At least not in healthy ecosystems. Everything gets broken down and grown back up, infinitely. It’s pretty neat, and we’re still not sure why the universe does that.
The problem is that human-designed systems tend to be linear, not circular. They are still made of parts that have inputs and outputs, but we don’t often link together to close the loop, and so we produce A LOT of waste that cannot be effectively broken down, and it’s piling up and literally killing the planet.
I don’t think this is because humans are inherently unnatural, evil, or greedy. I think it’s because we just haven’t taken the time to close the links, and it’s time to do it.
With the rise of Permaculture, more and more people have been catching on to the idea that we can actually design entire ecosystems. The classic example is aquaponics: Water from a fish tank is circulated through vegetable grow beds. The fish poop in the water, which provides fertilizer for the plants. The bacteria in the roots of the plants breaks down the waste and filters the water for the fish. You get fish and vegetables, and you don’t have to filter the water. The waste from the one benefits the other.
Well, this idea can be extended infinitely. Every known process, technique, reaction, or animal- anything that converts something into something else can be thought of as a “block”. Everything that has inputs and outputs can be visualized like building blocks in a flow chart.
So the project I’m working on is a database for people to share the plans to their techniques and inventions, and document the inputs and outputs. These then become “blocks” than can be visually linked together with other “blocks” in virtual space.
Here is a VERY BASIC working version. You drag the Tilapia tank and the Hydroponic Bed around, and link the outputs to the inputs, and the inputs to the outputs.
With a relatively small amount of blocks, an infinite number of theoretical eco-systems that have never existed before can be simulated, just like all the ideas in this post are made entirely out of different combinations of only 26 letters.
Phase one of this project, is simply to build this design tool. The next step, which we hope to make happen within the month, is just to add as many blocks as possible. My friend Michael Dougherty is busy hacking away at that, and if you can code Java, you can give him a hand at:
People are already building all the pieces. They have been for a long time. And for every one that even gets a short video on YouTube, or a short blog post made about it, there are probably 50 amazing things people have built they they never document.
All we need to do is document them, and put them in a format that allows people to design them with the big picture in mind.
So phase two of the project is to research all the known projects we can find on the internet, map their inputs and outputs, and hound their creators for more details.
With Pinoccio, the new open-source wifi micro controller, we can get people to wire up their projects with various low-cost flow, temperature, and electricity sensors, so real-time data from multiple sensors can stream to the web at all times.
I believe that the potential of this is a system where permaculture projects are developed an a massively collaborative, decentralized way, much like open-source software is developed today. A new design can be shared, and its performance data streamed live to the web for all to see. New replications of that design will invariably make improvements and changes, and the success of those changes can be recognized by analyzing and comparing the performance data. Every block would constantly be evolving, improving, being tested, replicated, forked, and modified.
And meanwhile, each block will be contributing a larger and larger toolbox of known techniques, that anyone can link together to design ecosystems that provide for their specific needs, like food, clean air, clean water, and energy, driven by things like sunlight, falling water, and decomposition.
I believe that within 5 years, we could have open source plans for complete ecosystems, made out of individual projects that any household could implement, using unskilled labor and easy-to-find materials, that work together in harmony to break down all of our waste, and to produce all the of the necessities of life, including food, clean water, and energy, massively decentralized to the household or community scale.
To do this, I need your help. Here are the next steps:
-We need a graphic designer who can help design an intutive, stylish, and informative graphical interface.
-Michael has graciously donated his time, but we need more coders who will work on the project.
-We need people who have built projects to document their inflows and outflows, and measure them as accurately as possible.
-We need people to spread the word, change the idea, build on it, modify it, change it. This is not my idea- this is how the universe works. If this inspires you, run with it. Ask for help. Attribute when appropriate. We’re all in this together.
If you are interested in this at all, please send me an email at Sam@thesymbiosisproject.org so we can collaborate!
Organized a weekly dance silent party, where people listen to the same music on headphones in public parks.
I bought 30 FM radio headphones direct from the manufacturer. My freind J has a radio show on Tuesday nights from 8-10pm in Portland on KBOO 90.7 FM, so every tuesday during the summer we would pick a public location, hand out the headphones to people who came by, and dance silently in public spaces.
How did it go?
It worked very well! From a social perspective, I learned that creating spaces where people break out of the typical or expected behavior has a very strong community building effect. People know that dancing silently in public is silly, but doing with a large group of people is very powerful. It draws people in and makes them ask questions, and it breaks the ice. I also learned that there is a critical mass effect. If a few people take off the headphones, it can make others feel self conscious, and they take them off too. If there aren’t enough people, this is more likely to happen. 15 is the minimum I would say, and the more, the better. From a technical point of view, there were some drawbacks. The headphones I ordered often had trouble finding the signal. Up to half of them would inexplicably not work at any given time. It was frustrating.
There are a few things I would like to try. I want to get more people in, since size has such huge impact on the social dynamics. To do that, I would either have to do a kickstarter to buy more headphones, or figure out a way to use mobile phones as the receivers. The plus side for the FM headphones is that they are easy to use, easy to hand out and store, no wires, no fuss, no complicated programming or networks. Drawbacks are they are expensive, they have to be special ordered to get a reasonable price, relatively low audio quality, tendency to break. Advantages of a phone-based system would be most people already have wifi enabled phones, higher digital quality, people would just have to bring headphones, potential for much larger crowds. Disadvantages are it excludes people with smartphones, it would probably be buggy, and coding so that all the players are playing the exact same music at the same time is difficult.
What needs where you meeting?
PEACE OF MIND
What problem(s) were you solving?
Public spaces are often not utilized for large celebrations, partially because large sound systems for public announcements and music are very expensive, and disrupt the space for everyone, and so often require permits. Even without regard to laws, its not very considerate to have loud music in a public space, or cause a disruption people can’t opt out of without leaving the space.
The problem was how to create events that utilize public space for celebration without causing a social disruption or inconvenience to those who do not actively choose to participate.
Another problem was simply creating community, and fostering positive interactions between people, particularly strangers.
The headphones where ordered from the B2B site Alibaba.com. The specific headphones where.
The price was about 12.50 per set plus shipping. With an order of 100 it goes down to about $10 per set. These models were loud and clear enough to dance too.
-Loud enough to dance to.
-Very long battery life (10 hours) never need to turn them off at the event
-Compact and easy to store (I put them in a suitcase)
-They break pretty easily,
-A lot of them just would not tune in to KBOO
-Don’t “just work”. After you turn them on, they need to be tuned up one station, then back down to find the signal. You can’t just flip a switch and hand them out
The signal was coming from the local radio station, and I have a friend who is a DJ. Without this, you would need to deal with commercials, or you would need an FM transmitter, which are illegal without a license in the US. You can do it, but the fines are hefty, and the electronics are finicky.
This is a true story. It all starts one week from today.
After reading about it on the internet, a single person in a neighborhood in Portland, OR, decided to start a community beer-brewing co-op. He gathered a group of eight neighbors, and together they bought the equipment to brew 30 gallons of beer for $500. They went up and down 3 blocks, and found 45 people who also wanted to drink and brew beer with them. Here’s how it worked. They asked for $30-100 a month, sliding scale, and in return, the members all got a “share” of one growler (4 pints) once a week at the weekly brew session. At $30 a month that was only $1.88 a pint for delicious home-brewed beer, brewing lessons, and access to expensive brewing equipment. But most importantly, it was an excuse to get together every week with neighbors over a few drinks. Folks who couldn’t make it to the brew sessions got their growlers delivered to their door the next day.
It turned out that everyone in the community was strapped for cash, so everyone just paid the minimum amount, $30 a month, and even still they collectively raised $1350! The ingredients cost $400 a month for 120 gallons, and the brew equipment cost $500 the first month, so in just the first month, the group had covered their expenses and created a surplus of $450, and still had 30 gallons of beer left over even after they gave all the members their growlers. So at the end of the month, they decided to throw a big block party, and invited all their neighbors, whether or not they were part of the coop, to have dinner in the middle of the street and discuss how they wanted to spend their surplus!
During the discussion, one thing that kept coming up is that everyone felt they were paying too much for internet. One member of the community happened to be interested in networks, and offered to use the $450 to buy routers and set them up as a free community WiFi network. For $350 a month, he proposed, they could buy a high speed business internet connection, which could provide fast internet service to everyone on the street! It turned out this would save all 45 households in the neighborhood $30 a month! So during the second month, the wifi network was installed, and another $1000 was raised from the beer brewing.
By the third month, they had raised $1000 from the second month, $1000 from the third, and were now collectively saving $1000 a month on internet. Now they had $3000 a month to work with as a community. Another neighbor had had solar panels installed by Solar City the previous year, and remembered that they offered solar panels for zero money upfront. They made their money by owning the panels and selling the electricity back to the grid, and offering slightly cheaper electricity to the customer, saving the customer $5-10 a month for 15 years. They also offered $400 for referrals. So the neighbor mentioned it to his neighborhood, and, since he didn’t want anyone to think he was trying to sell them something, he said that if anyone got panels and referred him, he’d pitch the referral to the neighborhood fund instead of keeping it for himself.
Panels don’t work on all houses, but out of 45 houses, five of the households did end up getting solar panels, and they all put their referral bonuses towards the community fund, adding an additional $2000!
With weekly brew sessions and monthly community gatherings in the street, the community began to get closer socially, building trust and mutual understanding. Not everyone was best friends, but people generally understood where their neighbors were coming from. At one of the community meetings, someone suggested that they all sign up for Getaround.com. Getaround.com is a car sharing program, that allows neighbors to share their cars. Getaround charges a fee, but it covers full insurance while the car is borrowed, so the owner is covered if anything happens. They tried it out, and found that it met their needs for transportation. A few folks who had cars no longer needed them, because was much cheaper to simply rent the cars from their neighbors at a low rate whenever they needed one. Owning and maintaining a car costs an average of $6000 a year. Every person who was able to get rid of their car on the block was now saving $500 a month!
Sharing food and cars and beer (not all at the same time) eventually brought the community close enough to start talking about hard topics. At a community dinner, one community member admitted that she had lost her job, and was facing foreclosure on her house because she was unable to make her mortgage payments. The community decided to work out an agreement to keep her in her house. The community agreed to rent the house from her, covering her mortgage payments, and in exchange she got to stay in the house and bake bread for everyone in the community, something she loved to do anyway, while she looked for another job. She also offered up an open room in her house as a bunk room, so people could come in live for free in exchange for doing community work, like WWOOFing. The community began accepting applications for people to live in the house for free in exchange for doing the work they were passionate about.
Some students from Concordia University and PCC Cascade, studying urban planning, permaculture, and engineering, heard about this opportunity and applied to their faculty sponsors to receive credit to work as interns, to apply their studies and ideas directly where they live.
One of the students was passionate about bikes and engineering, and offered to build the community a fleet of open-source hybrid electric tricycles, which are electric assist, able to carry groceries and other cargo, and can be weather enclosed so they are comfortable to ride in the Portland rain. They meet all legal standards of a bike. With $3000, one month’s surplus, he was able to build 4 of these, that the community can check out at any time. In addition, by then a few more neighbors had realized that they work near to each other, and had started carpooling to work. This, coupled with Getaround, made it so a few more folks could stop owning cars without compromising their transportation needs at all.
This permit costs $5000, but the community already had that money put away. It takes a lot of work, but the student volunteered to bottom-line the project for school credit. So they began the process, and began planning what they will do with their new communal space. One of their neighbors turned out to be an architect, and another turned out be a contractor, and so they work with the students to create a plan.
The plan closed the street to car traffic, and left 4 parking spaces on either side for community shared cars. It also left a single, 8 foot wide common area large enough for one car to drive down the middle, so that firetrucks and emergency vehicles could enter if necessary. A community kitchen was planned in the middle, with a bread/pizza oven, biogas stove, and beer brewing kettles. EPDM rubber was laid down over the pavement, since it was much cheaper than tearing up the concrete and allowed the neighborhood the option of changing their minds about closing the street. That left 400×32 feet, almost 13,000 square feet of community space, most of which was dedicated to growing food. The sides of the street were lined with gravel-filled beds that ebbed and flowed with water from aquaponics systems- symbiotic systems of plants and fish, which created a source of hyper local meat and fresh produce for the community. The edges of these beds served as community benches where people could gather and talk.
At 6 foot intervals along the street, guide poles were laid. Almost invisible during the summer, in the fall they allowed large bent metal poles to be installed easily, spanning the length of the street. These were covered with a reusable greenhouse sheeting. Installing the greenhouse every year took about a day, and so the community eventually made a festival out of it, celebrating the Fall Equinox on October 21st by raising the greenhouse during the day and eating underneath in the evening, celebrating the shelter and warmth it will provide during the rainy months. In the Spring, they had a festival for removing it in the spring, celebrating the return of the sun.
After having filed for multiple block party permits, the street vacation permit, and following all city and federal laws up to that point, the community was well known by the city government, and viewed as a model of urban sustainability. Now they had hit on something beyond they law, so, working with ReCode and the City of Portland, they installed the first communally owned neighborhood biodigester system, basing it on the new model of performance-based municipal code, as opposed to the outdated technology-based code model. This meant that as long as the system met and continued to meet the agreed upon standards for safety and performance, it could be based on any technology, quickening the pace off innovation and adoption.
The biodigester allowed for all of the neighborhood’s kitchen waste, food scraps, rotting fruit, and even food scraps from surrounding neighborhoods and restaurants to be converted by methanogenic bacteria into clean-burning methane fuel that could be substituted for natural gas. The effluent from the biodigester was simply water with dissolved nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous- a perfect liquid fertilizer! This allowed for the addition of even more aquaponic grow beds, and the production of more vegetables.
Once the biodigester was installed, one of the students hit on a novel approach to heating and lighting the greenhouse during the winter. A second hoop greenhouse was build over the first, with an air gap of 2 feet. The methane from the biodigester was piped through cheap gas lantern mantles, producing pure bright white light, clean CO2, and heat. As the sun went down during the winter, the light from the mantles extended the growing time for the plants by providing supplemental light. The CO2 coming out of the burning mantles passed through heat exchanging pipes within the greenhouse, cooling it down to room temperature while heating the greenhouse, and finally pumped through soapy water. This produced a fine, CO2-filled foam that filled the space between the two greenhouses. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that absorbs infrared light strongly. Water also absorbs IR very strongly, while the white foam reflects visible light. So the net effect was cheap artificial lighting that required no electricity and created an efficient insulation, all while processing the community’s solid waste into a useable fertilizer.
Since the students were working for credit, the community and their faculty advisors required them to show their work. The community required that all of the work the students did be made available for free to the whole world, using a decentralized system of information sharing called “Federated Wikis”- wiki’s that are hosted on servers that are decentralized all over the world, and automatically connect and reference each other when they are connected to the internet. So the project was extensively documented on a wiki page. The community installed a cheap, open-source Raspberry Pi microcontroller to monitor the inputs and outputs of the system- recording things like temperature, pressure, pH, flow volumes of influent and effluent, methane to carbon dioxide ratios, retention times etc. This micro-controller automatically updated data points to the wiki page in realtime, making it’s data available on the internet, along with specific designs, specifications, and materials lists so that anyone in the world could see the performance of the system and learn how to build it themselves and submit it to the same tests.
Due to the success of the project, several other groups from around the world decided to try and build the biodigester systems based on the community’s design. Naturally, each made adjustments based on new ideas, and make-shift adaptations due to the restraints of the materials they had around. It turned out that one of the groups, in India, made a novel design change that lowered the amount of electricity needed to pump water through the system, and another group, in Peru, happened to find that their culture of bacteria produced much more methane faster at the same temperature. They both linked their projects to the original project, so that people could now access not only the plans and performance data of the original biodigester, but the second iterations built by others, and compare their performance.
Back in Portland, the original neighborhood excitedly watched these developments. They could see the pictures and data from the other projects and compare them to their own, but the found that the team in India had written their documentation in Bengali, and the team in Peru had written their documentation in Spanish. Within 2 weeks, however, these projects had been automatically translated from their original languages into English, due to the use of an innovative platform called DuoLingo. DuoLingo is an online language-learning tool, that teaches language comprehension by giving students text to translate fro real-world sources. This harnessed the power of millions of language-learners around the world to translate these projects in every language, for free, while teaching people how to communicate better with other humans and keeping a diversity of languages alive in the face of an emerging global culture.
After the projects were translated, a fourth group was able to build on the new innovations and integrated the new culture of bacteria, and the new pump system, creating a new hybrid system that outperformed all the previous models.
This model of innovation was so successful, that communities around the world began using it to document their permaculture and sustainability projects, so that the entire world could easily find, replicate, share, modify, and improve them, all using standardized tests and measurements for performance, and rapidly being translated into every language. The federated wikis required to share this information, could be hosted and run on open-source Raspberry Pi’s- $30 micro computers that can be powered by solar or bicycle and connected to the internet at long range using shortwave radio.
In addition to federated wikis, the boxes also served as mesh-net routers, and hosted a federated social networking platform called *Diaspora. *Diaspora allows users to own their data, instead of selling it to Facebook, and it allows them to follow hashtags based on their specific interests. Using hashtags, users were then able to fill a social feed with projects from around then entire world, specifically tailored to their particular needs, interests, skills, and passions. It also allowed people with similar interests to find each other and collaborate on large projects by breaking up the R&D into small bits and each doing their part.
Projects could be replicated, and result compared. Improvements could be iterated, and claims could be confirmed. Like open source software, only techniques that had had their performance claims confirmed by independent groups were considered “Stable”. Techniques that had not been substantiated or replicated were considered “Experimental”.
The students leading these groups found that by documenting their work and making it open-source for the entire world to see, review, and replicate, they had recreated peer review in a form that was accessible to all people on earth, free of the for-profit University and Journal systems. The students found that since their work and achievements were immediately available on the internet, they could reference them as proof of mastery of skills and concepts, from engineering, to programming, to construction and design. They found that these documented projects reflected their applied knowledge and skills better than the outdated model of resumes and degrees, and they began pursuing projects as a form of education and reputation building, educating themselves and building careers outside of the debt-based education system.
The interns and students, since they had no other jobs, began engaging the children from the neighborhood in community problem solving as a form of education, using the challenges facing the community as projects and challenging them to apply their learned concepts critically. Children and teenagers, with unlimited access to the internet, were encourage to research problems on their own, and come up with their own solutions. The student mentors did not need to be experts, but simply guides to help the children find and utilize the information needed to problem-solve.
During one of these projects, one of the teenagers in the neighborhood, who was interested in programming, realized that once the data points from several technologies were established and confirmed, it was possible to model the performance of the systems in computer simulations. Just as she had observed in the aquaponics system that fed the neighborhood, the outflows of one system could always be made the inflows of another. By using maximization algorithms, she was able to find out the most efficient combinations of all the open-source technologies on the world-wide federated wiki network and discover new ways to fit them together in continuous cycles, creating plug and play, regenerating ecosystems designed to meet the specific human needs of any community and environment, entirely eliminating the concept of waste.
This led to a worldwide open-source innovation revolution, where the performance of all new micro-scale innovations were documented in a standardized format, and added to a database, with which users could simulate the performance of different combinations of techniques, that would utilize the flows of energy they had in abundance (solar energy, water, wind, decomposition, etc) and use them to drive ecosystems that met all of the needs of the community. Open-source laser sintering 3D printers that could print in metal, glass, ceramic, plastic, and graphene became widely available, allowing for specialized parts for systems could be fabricated immediately in every community, and new, improved parts, were constantly available for download, much like software updates are now.
Innovation on this scale allowed for the utilization of the vast resources of human ingenuity to tackle local problems and generate many different solutions. The computer simulations of the combinations of these solutions closed the gap of linear consumption, and ended the incentives to participate in linear consumption that did not feed resources back into the community. These naturally regenerating cycles created an abundance of food, clean water, energy, information, and technology, allowing the Earth to sustain a high standard of living for all 9 billion of it’s human inhabitants. The open-source model of innovation led to a global sense of brotherhood, since each community gifted it’s solutions in good faith, without forcing their ideologies or assumptions on any other community.
This innovation liberated 9 billion thinking, dancing, loving, exploring, laughing, striving human beings to spend their time exploring their connections with each other, the natural world, their own consciousness, and the things that sparked their passions, ending the age of competition and beginning the next chapter in the never-ending story of the evolution of consciousness.
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Just what, exactly, is going on here? How did we get here? What is life? What is time? What is matter? When did it start? What does it mean to be conscious? There are some really fundamental questions that we all ask ourselves at certain points, but the implications of them are so mind-boggling, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable to talk about. And it’s all so caught up in culture and religion, I find that most people, even close friends, are just not interested in going there.
That’s a shame, I think. Because how you think about the world defines how you act in it, and if we don’t talk about worldview, we end up just kind of pretending to subscribe to dominant religious or scientific world views, which I think are lacking. I suspect that most people have their own theories about just what exactly is going on, and I’d really like to hear what they are.
I have some ideas, and I’d like to share them, strange as they may sound, because I’m curious what other people think. These are all just musings, and, warning, they’re a bit out there if you’re coming from a conventional worldview. But I suspect that most of us harbor ideas that are a bit out there that we don’t share, and if we don’t share ideas that push the limits of our understanding, we’re not making progress. So at the risk of sounding insane, here goes.
The Gaia hypothesis is the idea that the earth as a whole can be seen as a single, self regulating organism. As a metaphor, it’s not a particularly difficult idea to accept. Forests are like lungs, exchanging CO2 for Oxygen. Ocean currents and rain are like a heart and circulatory system, picking up and pushing nutrients around. But it gets a lot trippier when you stop thinking about it metaphorically. The structures of organic life, as we can observe in nature, are iterative. The same patterns tend to repeat themselves at greater and greater levels of complexity. Your blood vessels branch in the exact same mathematical pattern as the branches of a tree. That kind of thing.
My question is, what reason do we have to assume that the successive iteration of the complexity of life stops at us? Why not postulate that we are like cells, part of a larger, living, growing, and ultimately conscious organism?
Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA, posited the idea of “interstellar sporulation”- the idea that life exists other places in the universe, and DNA came to our planet and began to grow into life, much like the spore of a mushroom that floats around in the air until it finds some fertile substrate to colonize. We’ve seen mushrooms do it on Earth, why not entertain the idea that it happens in space too, the same pattern on an exponentially higher scale? Isn’t the universe and nature as we can observe it so vast, complex, and mind bogglingly strange to at least warrant the possibility?
And if we entertain this idea, we can follow it to some interesting places. First of all, try and think about all speciation and nuanced adaptation of life to all of Earths environments in the same way that a tree grows around a rock. The tree’s genetic code is flexible enough to allow it to adapt perfectly to it’s surroundings, while still following the same basic plan of growing into a tree. So the fact that life is adapted perfectly to the Earth does not necessarily imply that life itself originated on earth. Life could be perfectly adapted to earth, and yet still be following some larger plan to grow into a larger organism, that has already existed somewhere else in time and space, and that is growing according to its own distinct structure and plan.
And if this were true, we would be to the Earth what a single one of our cells is to us. Let’s follow this analogy a bit too. Imagine a single neuron on your own retina, on the day that you were first born. During your mother’s pregnancy, this neuron cell had differentiated from other cells, that ultimately became your heart and lungs, and developed the ability to sense color, light, and darkness, and send electrical inputs based on those stimuli.
Now, this neuron cell is capable of perceiving light, and there are billions of cells just like it, all waiting and ready so that when you open your eyes for the first time when you exit your mothers womb, you begin to see and experience the outside world “through them”. Imagine, for a second, that each cell were conscious. Would the individual cells feel differently when this process begins to happen? What would it feel like when a being of higher complexity begins to experience itself through you? And as the baby becomes more and more aware of itself and its surroundings, wouldn’t the cells become more and more specialized to the task of being seen through? Wouldn’t the cells that are not serving the sight of the baby begin to die off, so that their nutrients could be rebuilt into new cells that do?
Something that has always interested me is how often I hear people compare human destruction of the biosphere to a cancer on the earth. What’s really interesting to me is that this analogy is so incredibly accurate. Cancer, in an extremely simplified sense, is what happens when cells are stressed, damaged, or starved of nutrients for so long that eventually they “forget” that they are part of a single, healthy, functioning organism, and they begin to consume all the nutrients they can, growing without end, only looking for their own survival, until they eventually kill themselves and the larger body they are a part of. Cancer is what happens when cells stop dying when the body tells them they should.
So there are two things happening on earth right now. We, the humans, have forgotten our place. With the advent of civilization, we have taken it upon ourselves to decide when we should die, instead of nature. (Daniel Quinn talks about this in Beyond Civilization) and because generally we do not see that we are part of a larger order, we fear death, and try to survive by consuming everything we possibly can. And so we put our needs in front of the needs of the planet, we extract its nutrients and damage its systems. We are malignant, and we are spreading to the earths lungs, heart, and vital organs. We are in critical condition.
But I sense that something else is happening too. The Earth, as a single organism, is beginning to “open it’s eyes”. As human society becomes more and more interconnected, it is beginning to experience itself through the consciousness of humanity as a whole, just as we see through the light sensitivity of all of our retinal neurons as a whole. The Earth is becoming self-aware. This process is happening through us- we are active participants. The process of the Earth becoming self aware requires each individual to become aware of his or her self an integral part of a larger whole. And when an individual accepts this role, the need to consume, the need to live forever, and the drive for endless growth disappears.
When a skin cell dies, is it sad? I know this is unfair, because we all know that a death of a loved on would make us sad. But it would not be meaningless, which I think is the foundation of our fear of death. Death does not mean nothingness. When I die, microorganisms will break the chemical bonds that hold my body together, release my energy into the biosphere and break me down into nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. My atoms will be reassembled by plants, fungi, and bacteria and animals, forging new bonds that better suit the needs of the Earth using energy of the light that hits our planet from the nearest star. That is the most spiritual truth I have ever known.
We are all part of the indescribably, magnificently, impossible miracle of life. We are capable of Love, Happiness, Forgiveness, Compassion, Friendship, and Art, and I believe our role is to pursue those things that give us joy. We are all dancing on a rock floating through space inhabited by a planet-sized living organism that eats sunlight and makes those overwhelmingly beautiful things possible. What a strange and magnificent situation that is. And in the recognition of these miracles, I also recognize that I cannot possibly be healthy unless all people- all beings- are healthy. It would be like saying “I’m healthy, but my liver has cancer.” It misses the implications of our deep interconnection entirely. Until all people are happy, healthy, and free, until the rivers are clean the air is pure, until the concepts of “waste”, “domination” and “weapons” are entirely eradicated from human thought, my work is not done. And though I do not expect this will happen in my lifetime, I no longer identify my life with the lifetime of my current self and body. I literally have all the time in the world, and so I see no reason to set my goal as anything less than the complete and total liberation and happiness of all mankind, the health of the Earth organism of which I am a part, and the spread of self awareness and Love throughout the cosmos.
Phew! Well, there it is. I have no idea what other you will think of this idea. I’m sharing it because I suspect that maybe you might feel this way, or at least a similar way, but our dominant scientific and religious worldviews label this as crazy and so we don’t talk about it. Or maybe it’s just me. Either way, there it is. That’s what I think, and in this tentative and evolving understanding, I’ve found peace and context for my life, and I thought I’d share it. Anyway, enough about me. What do you think?
My first prototype is done! So, here’s how it works:
There’s a tupperware of seed paper squares and markers on the table (not in picture)
Passersby can write their hopes for the future anonymously and deposit them into the box
When they turn the knob, the piece of paper closest to the back falls out, so the person ends up with a strangers card.
If the idea resonates with them, they can plant the card and flowers will grow out of it! I also invite them to visit this website and add the comment into our database, so that a word cloud emerges that represents the most common ideas and words.
-Write tutorials so that others can replicate and improve on this idea.
-Spread the word to blogs
-Design less-difficult versions, and smaller versions for indoor locations like bars and coffee shops.
-Add fun style elements like EL wire and wind turbines
-Create an interactive map where people can either tag a map with the location and message of the card they planted, or allow them to take a picture of the card before they plant it and geo-tag it. That way if you write one, you can search the database for it and find out if it was planted, who planted it (optionally) and where.
-Invite others to interpret this idea freely and run with it!
I was walking through my neighborhood a few weeks ago, and I realized how ugly phone poles are. And they’re everywhere. I thought it would be fun to design something specifically designed to make phone poles into interactive community art spaces, so that anyone could replicate it, and we could take our communities back. So I started drawing and came up with this:
The idea is to make a sort of kiosk, that can be cut out of a single piece of plywood, and assembled by slotting the pieces together around a phone pole. At the kiosk, there will be blank seed paper cards and a bunch of markers, crayons, and sharpies, inviting passersby to share their hopes for the future. When they finish, they can deposit their card into a slot in the table, and turn a doorknob, and somebody else’s card will drop out. If that strangers vision of the future resonates with them, they can plant the card, and it will grow into flowers. That way, when we seed these flowers growing around our neighborhood, we know they represent not just one person’s hope for the future, but a hope that has been cultivated by a stranger.
I started by marking up a piece of plywood.
This is what I ended up with. Not bad right?
The pieces all slot together, and then these off-center round pieces put pressure against the pole. When they’re all secure, you can just put a second screw in and it’ll hug the pole tight, without damaging it at all.
Now, I’m painting the whole thing blue. Next step is to assemble the vending machine mechanism. More on that to come.
My vision is to create a detailed how-to so others can build these and improve or adapt the design if they are so inclined. And I invite everyone to start brainstorming how we can turn phone poles into community spaces, or just works of art. I’m imagining vertical flower and vegetable gardens, vertical axis wind turbines that light up, circular mini-libraries…the list goes on and on. What are you thinking?
My original idea was to get people to share their hopes for the future on seed paper, and then I could compile them into a word cloud. I had a feeling that the most common words would be deeply powerful and together, would give us an idea of the world we all want to grow.
I’ve been invited to speak at several events in the past few weeks, and at each event I’ve left blank seed cards out for people to share their dreams.
I’ve got about 30, and last night I compiled all of them into a tag cloud last night. This is what came out, without any fiddling on my part. The most common words are largest.
This a presentation I gave on Occupy to a packed auditorium of 700 students today! The administration wouldn’t allow filming or recording of any kind, so this is an approximate transcript, based on my original notes. I wasn’t able to talk about the seed project part because of time constraints. Even so, it was amazing! A bunch of kids got really excited and started brainstorming how they could use their talents to get involved! Beautiful!
(Edit: I don’t mean to make it sound like this was just me! I was part of a panel of 5, including an Intel Exec, Police Officer, Credit Union Manager, and an Organizer for Occupy Portland/Our School.)
Hi, I’m Sam from Occupy Tomorrow. I want to talk about something very interesting is happening in our culture right now. There are essentially two forms of culture we interact with every day: Read only culture, and Read/Write culture. Read only culture is the dominant, mainstream culture. It is meant to be received, not changed. When you watch a TV show, it doesn’t ask for your opinion. It’s made to be consumed. Read/Write culture, on the other hand, is the culture of small groups. It’s inside jokes and family traditions. It’s participatory by its very nature, every person who interacts with it helps to create it.
What’s happening right now, is that with the rise of the internet and social media, we are transitioning from being a predominantly read-only society, to a predominantly read/write society. For the first time in history, normal people, not just governments and corporations, are able to reach out to others across the world, and begin to co-create a more participatory culture for themselves.
Let me give you an example of this. I make t-shirts for a living. In 2008, I was in my friend’s living room in Cedar Mill, and I was bored and working on a new t-shirt design in photoshop. It looked like this.
(Showed them our original Philosoraptor t-shirt I was wearing. If you don’t know about this, a few years ago we designed a t-shirt that went viral online. More info about that here)
Raise your hand if you’ve seen this image before. The reason you’ve seen it, is that about 6 months after we put it online, someone, somewhere had the idea to share the image with text over it. Why didn’t it go viral when we put it online? Because it was read only. We had designed it be looked at, not interacted with. But the second someone put text over it, it became interactive. It became a creative challenge. “Here’s a velociraptor thinking. What’s he thinking about?”
Now if you search google, you get over 8 million variants. Are all of them hilarious? No. But a few of them are. The vast majority of them are kind of funny. And a few of them, in my opinion, are really not funny. There are a few that are extremely violent, racist, and offensive.
But that’s also the beauty of a meme, isn’t it? Anyone is free to write whatever they want. There’s no philosoraptor planning committee. There’s no approval process, no voting or debating. You just make one, and share it. They key is that if it’s funny, or insightful, or interesting, it will spread. To create your own version of a meme is to take part in an ongoing process of creative evolution.
It’s really important to look at Occupy like a meme, a read/write phenomenon, and not like an election campaign, a read only phenomenon. It’s choatic. It’s doesn’t have focused goals. It’s not about rallying around a single cause. But that’s because it’s about evolution. It’s about trying out a million different things all at once, and trusting that the things that are effective, productive, and even fun, will float to the top because people will want to share them. But to get there, you need a bunch of ideas that are just OK, and even a few that are really bad.
If you’re used to a read-only world, when you look at occupy you will only see the chaos, only the smashed windows and pepper spray, even though these incidents represent an infinitesimal part of what’s actually happening in occupy. They’re like the stupid memes that no one wants to share, but the media shares them anyway. What’s really happening here is a transition in our culture. The read/write culture, historically confined to small social groups, is now spreading across the internet because of social media, creating a mainstream participatory culture that cannot co-exist with read-only structures.
So Occupy Tomorrow is just our little way of participating in this process. We don’t have any special qualifications. I make dinosaur t-shirts for a living. We’re just a group of friends that decided that this was something important to us. So we started meeting our neighbors, inviting them over for dinner to discuss occupy and how we can make our neighborhood a better place. We found speakers and matched them with communities who wanted to learn.
This might not sound like the Occupy you’ve heard about, but this is what’s so exciting about this movement. It’s not one way. It’s not about supporting a political ideology. It’s about asking yourself what you want, what you have to give, then doing it and sharing it.
How many of you are going to be able to vote in the next election? Not many of you, right? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? To feel like you don’t have a voice?
That’s what Read-only culture feels like. And I’m here to tell you that we are the internet generation, and we are building a new culture. We have the power to share our actions with people around the world. We don’t need to wait for others to make change on our behalf. And we don’t need to ask for permission. All we need to do is all we can do, do what makes us and others happy, do what we’re good at, and share it. Because good ideas spread, and in the age of the internet, that is the power every single one of us has to change the world.
This blog is dedicated to documenting the social and environmental implications of the development of mainstream permaculture. Today, we’re going to talk about Earthships. Earthships are passive-solar, high thermal mass buildings made out of earth and recycled tires. They catch rainwater and use it 3 times. They grow food in biological cells that process graywater from the sinks. They capture solar heat and use thermal mass to stabilize temperature and require no heating or cooling. They produce their own electricity using the sun and wind.
I personally love Earthships, but many people see the adobe/bottle/tire style and think they’re just wacky hippy houses, which, of course, they are. But the aesthetic design of Earthships has very little to do with how they function. So let’s forget for minute how they look, and explore the implications of what they do.
Imagine you lived in a house that was earthquake proof, tornado proof, and fire proof. Imagine it required no energy to heat or cool. No heating bill, no electricity bill. It catches and recycled water, so no water bill. It processes your waste, so no sewage bills and reduced food bills. With some work and intensive hydroponics or aquaponics an Earthship could provide a large proportion, if not all, of your food.
Think of the implications of that. If your house requires no energy inputs, and you have no bills, and your house produces enough food for you to survive, why would you work at a job you hate? Right now there’s a huge political firestorm over jobs. But the fact is that people don’t need jobs. They need food, water, and shelter, and other necessities of life and jobs are one way of getting those things. But if you have a house that provides those things for you, then you’re free. You’ve reduced your expenses so drastically that you can finally pursue the things you love to do, and the modest income that affords you will be enough to cover your other needs.
Of course this won’t happen over night. But this blog is all about painting a picture of the world as it could be. There is nothing stopping us from creating systems like this, that provide for our needs indefinitely. And that is really exciting.
As a society, it seems like we’ve lost our way. We know that pretty much everything we do is destroying the planet, but we don’t know what else to do. It’s a pretty shitty feeling. I would argue that this is precisely the reason why everyone under thirty has a not-so-secret zombie apocalypse survival plan. Everyone seems to have a sinking feeling that we’re on track for some sort of apocalypse that’s pretty much inevitable. That sucks.
So let me paint a different picture. Our planet has the ability to break down our waste and turn it into food. It turns seawater into fresh water and rains down on us thousands of miles away. Enough energy falls on an area the size of Texas to power the entire earth, including all energy needs currently met by fossil fuels.
Not only that, we are now connected by a worldwide internet, increasingly able to connect every single person on Earth and allow the free flow of information and innovation between them, which is how you’re reading this right now. We now have an understanding of ecology that allows us to recreate ecosystems that provide for human needs while making the earth more beautiful and diverse.
Not only that, these systems, when in place, provide equally for all people, with minimum energy input. They take waste and turn it into resources, indefinitely and often for cheap or free. And when people are provided for, when they have enough food, clean water, adequate shelter, they have an overwhelming capacity for empathy and compassion. This is no small point. When people feel threatened, they act selfishly. But it is the rare person who will not help another when they feel secure.
The point is, we have the technology to create a world that provides enough for everyone. In fact, we have the technology to make a world that co-evolves with us, that becomes more complex, more abundant, more diverse by our mere coexistence. This is Symbiosis, the mutually beneficial coexistence of many different organisms. It is not only possible, it is what ecosystems tend to do as they mature.
So if we’re looking for a project as a society, I humbly suggest we consider this one, because it seems way better than wallowing in self-pity and waiting for zombies to eat our brains. And the exciting thing is that this project is already underway, and it doesn’t require a revolution. We don’t need to overthrow the systems of power that are destroying the Earth, we need to make them obsolete. And we can do this together, using the internet to share our ideas and our solutions, so we can solve our problems collaboratively. We don’t need to wait for everything to change all at once, or convince other people they need to change. All we need to do is try to make the world better in whatever small way we can, and share how we did it so that others who are ready to make this transition can benefit from our work. Welcome to the Symbiosis Project.
All over the world, people are learning to work with each other, technology, and the earth, to create systems that are better, cheaper, and more resilient than conventional systems. Join us as we explore what lies beyond sustainability. A more peaceful, abundant, beautiful world is possible. Welcome to the Symbiosis Project.