We already know what a sustainable technology looks like: men, horses, rivers, steam and trains. Men for the planning and work requiring intelligence and manual dexterity. Horses for the 'horsepower' - to which we still refer today, when discussing the capacity of engines of various sorts.
Rivers for steady, relentless conversion of energy into different, more useful forms: electricity, sawmills, grain mills.
Steam for where even horses are insufficient - and by way of note on that topic, we have here in Moravia two working steam engines - magnificent beasts, I know not how old, but near a hundred, I think, carrying a couple of thousand gallons of water in a nose tanker over the boiler. They still operate, and I am told they used to be used to pave roads and other challenging tasks. Replacement parts are custom-made by a foundry in Pennsylvania, I am told.
Trains for transportation - the commercial isn't kidding when it says it can move a ton of freight on a gallon of fuel - trains are very efficient ways to move things, and, as importantly, require much less infrastructure than other forms of distributed, often private, transportation.
Humans got by quite well with all of this save trains, of the mechanical variety, anyway. History spoke of caravans and trains long before we ever made one of iron and put it on rails.
So we know how to do sustainable, although the factors outlined above are in no way what those who eat, live, and breath 'sustainable' as both a 'lifestyle' and an ideology are thinking. No, what those folks are thinking of as 'sustainable' translates to, in plain speak, as: 'a guilt-and-relatively-cost-free-method, preferably less expensive than current methods, of living fairly closely to the way I currently live, and without the toxins in my seafood'.
We want sustainable without having to affect our livelihood in significant ways. Most people I encounter who participate in behaving sustainably do, in fact, lower their footprint. But it's on such a small scale as to be nearly meaningless. 'Rationing' trips to the store. Growing more at home. Re-purposing items, bartering, etc.
Great stuff! I'm a huge fan, as much because such actions bring us closer to a true exchange of value than paper money has any hope of doing, as because such a lifestyle is a fundamentally more human way to live. And in the particular case of barter, as each party to a barter is calculating not only their advantage, but their trading partner's advantage as well - and, if ethical, not just to ensure that one is receiving a fair value, but that one is granting a fair value as well, it's a more humane way to live as well.
Taking advantage in a barter economy gets one aught but trouble. Barter economies tend to be small, and reputations tend to be known and taken seriously.
Eh. I digress.
The root of it is, going sustainable means using electricity only during certain periods of each day. It means doing most things by hand - without the aid of powered machines. Of living more locally and simply.
If a public conversation were to be had, and I were to maintain - as I until now have maintained privately and here maintain publicly - that the point at which we will soon find ourselves is much nearer the known sustainable technology point than it is to the hoped-for sustainable technology point, then I should expect to soon be roundly criticized and mocked. (And I am no stranger to these circumstances, but mostly on a personal scale in intimate conversations with fellows. Only rarely am I greeted as at all insightful).
Anyway, as the anti-sage once said, "bring it on".
The truth is, and I believe it's about to become very up close and personal to each of us, is that we're very soon - and here I mean weeks and months - going to have to get used to getting by with a whole lot less of everything, but mostly energy, and it is, after all, energy upon which our making and getting of everything else is based.
I don't know how many nails I can pound in a day with a hammer, but it's certainly fewer than I can drive with a decent nail gun and a compressor.
And that's leaving aside the energy input into the two architectures. The first, of course, is simply a man, a hammer and a box of nails. We'll call it Architecture'. It's components all require energy to grow or make, it is true. Make note of it.
Yet it's sustainable based entirely upon energy inputs from the sun - no manufactured nuclear energy, nor any recaptured solar energy (hydrocarbons), is necessary. The man, the hammer, and the nails may all be produced, directly or indirectly, via the energy received from the sun over the course of a normal human lifetime.
(It's getting late, and I don't much feel like adding a logical proof of that last point, but if you wish to challenge, feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org))
But then consider the energy input that goes into manufacturing the nail gun, the nails, the adhesive or paper or plastic or wire holding the nails together, the box in which they are packaged, the compressor, the hoses, the brass fittings, the entire delivered-electricity network, to include, just by way of one example, that industry and it's components responsible for felling, preparing, transporting, and employing the buried dead trees to which we attach the copper wire to carry the electricity to power the compressor.
And, of course, the vehicle upon which to load and transport the gun, the nails, the compressor, the hoses, the cords; and the vehicle's associated industries and ad infinitum,and we are all guilty, myself as much as anyone.
We'll call this Architecture". Architecture" is not sustainable because it relies either upon energy inputs that are either so toxic as to destroy our species with cavalier elan; or are fast diminishing and irreplaceable over the course of at least the next two decades (and likely never).
Do you think we have a sustainable future with nail guns? Do you know how many 'green' types I have met here cheerfully running around building off-grid houses using nail guns? Is our cultural sense of irony decayed, retarded, or, alas, dead?
So for those who have asked recently, this why I do as much as I can by hand. To understand what it takes to do these things by hand, that used to be done by hand, and now are done by hand if at all only with the assistance of myriad waldos, realized and unrealized. Because Architecture' is going to win, and I'm just trying to get ahead of the curve, so that when things get rough, at least my hands have been toughened.
I sense I'm soon not going to have a choice, so it's simply sleeves-rolling-up-time.
Semper fuckin Fi', Rangers Lead the Way, Deeds Not Words, and all that oo-rah and hoo-ah shit, which, if you get right down to it, at least has the virtue of being up close and personal. Plus, those are worthy codes. There is honor in every one of those credos. Something profoundly lacking in our society.
Someday soon when the wheels of commerce seize and the banks are broke and falling like ashes and money has once again become mere paper, then the unexpected outcomes will kick in - when trade fails, and we notice that we make nothing of immediate usefulness here in this country; certainly not the stuff we need every day, then we'll begin to understand what it means to have such limitless quantities of energy at our fingertips, every second of every day, that we may have our shoes made half a world away, and the laces elsewhere still, somewhere across yet another distant ocean, and our tomatoes from across a continent, and yet we make nothing ourselves, every day.
We'll understand when it's taken away.
Sometime during that realization, we'll all begin to understand much, much better what it means to get by with things, as James Howard Kunstler would put it,"...made by hand." Because we'll have to make so much more in exactly that way. And walk so very many more miles than to which we are so recently accustomed.
I have told my family now, for some time, and I have spoken of this to some few others as well, that I believe 2011 is the year when, as I put it, 'the wheels come off'.
I believe this is the year when our currencies collapse, when our global population enters the early stages of collapse, when climate change becomes undeniable to all save the most fringy, when our governments fail, when our trade ceases, when corporations crumble, when war erupts and the grand chaos so desired by Christians, claiming it portends the rapture and their salvation, waxes in mournful splendor, casting us humans aside as pawns-in-play on a ne'er used chessboard sweep aside the dust of centuries.
Mind: we are not the pawns. We are not so grand. We are the dust.