It is argued firstly that in view of the global resource and ecological situation sustainability requires rich world per capita resource consumption rates to be reduced by approximately 90%. Secondly, this can only be done if there is a “De-growth” transition to some kind of Simpler Way involving mostly small, highly self-sufficient and self-governing communities in control of local economies within a culture that is not focused on material wealth. It is not surprising that the viability of such a vision is typically regarded as implausible. The aims of this study have been firstly to document the case that normal city suburbs, and more easily country towns, could be restructured along the lines required to cut global impacts by the necessary amount, while improving the quality of life. Data on typical Australian consumption rates, food production yields, suburban geographies, etc. is used to estimate possible reductions achievable. The theoretical conclusion that such reductions could be made aligns with recent evidence from the Dancing Rabbit Eco-village. Profound and radical implications for sustainability and “development” are discussed.
There is now a highly convincing case in support of the general “limits to growth” claim that planetary resource demands and ecological impacts have far exceeded sustainable levels. The World Wildlife Fund’s “Footprint” index is an effective illustration of the magnitude of the overshoot. (2016.) It indicates that the amount of productive land needed to provide current “living standards” for Australians is in excess of 7 ha per capita. If by 2050 the expected world population of 9.6 billion people were to rise to the present Australian way of life approximately 67 billion ha of productive land would be needed. But there are only about 8 billion ha of it available on the planet (and at current loss rates the present area of agricultural land might have been halved by then.) Numerous other measures and studies confirm a multiple of this order. (TSW, 2017a.)
The magnitude and significance of this overshoot is not well understood. The basic implication is that present rich world rates of resource and ecological impact are in the region of ten times the levels that would enable a sustainable and just world. We could not have our rich word affluent “living standards” if we were not getting far more than our fair share of world resources. Yet the supreme priority is economic growth, i.e., to increase levels of production, consumption, “living standards” and GDP without limit. The belief that technical advance can enable all people to rise to present rich world levels, let alone enable further limitless growth, is implausible in the extreme. (TSW, 2017b.) This means that the rapidly worsening global predicament cannot be solved unless there is enormous De-growth down to per capita resource consumption rates that are around 10% of current rich world rates.
The main goal of The Simpler Way project is to show that this can be done, but only if there is enormous change away from the structures, systems and values of consumer-capitalist society. (TSW, 2017c.) Understandably this perspective is usually seen as unduly optimistic and unrealistic. However this Remaking Settlements study derives a detailed numerical assessment of the technical feasibility of reorganising the land uses and socio-economic arrangements of a normal outer Sydney suburb, East Hills, to achieve reductions of the order indicated above. The study shows that would be possible for the inhabitants of such a suburb to live well on something like 10% of present Australian per capita dollar, energy and footprint costs, while greatly improving the quality of life.
It is not implied that hardship and deprivation would have to be accepted. Indeed advocates of The Simpler Way argue that the lifestyle implications would represent a significant improvement on those in consumer-capitalist society. However it would require extremely radical change in the geography of settlements, in economic and social systems, and in attitudes and values. The feasibility of the general vision being argued is supported by evidence from the Eco-village movement, some of which will be referred to below.
Basic area values for East Hills (c. 2016.)
The suburb is located c. 20 k from the centre of Sydney. It is of relatively low density with few houses over a single story. Population varies, up to 3000. There are 940 dwellings, people per household 2.7, cars 1,600. Land areas: house block 760 m2, area taken by dwellings 15 ha, average area taken by a single dwelling 160 m2, total suburb 141 ha, road area (fence to fence) 17.3 ha, parks 16 ha, average house block minus house area, 600 m2, railway corridor plus station 5.1 ha.
Area that could be available for agriculture, commons etc.:
House blocks minus house area: 56 ha
Narrowing several roads to 1/3 their width, digging up some: 14.5 ha
Narrowing the railway corridor: 3.8 ha
One third of existing parks, (e.g., planted with forest gardens): 6 ha
Total gain, available for commons: 25 ha
Total area available for agricultural purposes: c. 82 ha.
= c. 273 m2/pp.
Estimates of areas, yields, and dollar and energy costs.
Most and possibly almost all food could come from within settlements, that is from home gardens, community gardens, neighbourhood commons, and very small farms. The dollar and energy costs would be extremely low. However some grain, dairy products and oils would need to be brought in, ideally in bulk from nearby farms.
A Summary of principles.
This section makes transparent the derivations of estimates of the amount of land needed to provide the major food items for one person p.a. This analysis is mainly in terms of land areas and yields but it is intended that in later studies dietary requirements will also be considered. The figures are not offered with high confidence but are indicative of possible general achievements.
Vegetables. Australian consumption is 112 kg/pp/y. This (along with fruit) should be greatly increased, via reduction in meat consumption. If 75% of the 111 kg/pp/y of meat consumption was shifted to vegetables, increasing vegetable consumption to194 kg/pp/y, and if vegetable production was 15 t/ha/y, then vegetable growing area would have to be only 130 m2 per person. (… much higher output seems possible; below). The suburb East Hills has around 82 ha that could be used for food production, i.e., 273 m2 per person, assuming narrowing of some streets and the railway corridor, and elimination of some streets. No separate area estimate will be made for herbs as patches within domestic and public gardens will be assumed to be sufficient.
Grain. Australian flour consumption is around 70 kg/pp/y. (USDA, 2015.) Australian wheat farms average only around 1.7 t/ha/y but this is due to dry land production. The world average is 2.4 t/ha, and the EU average is 6 t/ha. Backyard production of 2.4 - 2.9 t/ha is reported, (although Pitzer, 2009, p. 13, says it can be 13+ t/ha/y. Assuming village grain land would eventually be of high quality due mostly to nutrient recycling, an average yield of 6 t/ha might be achieved (this might be optimistic.). Per capita land area would then be 117 m2.
However corn yield is much higher, at 17 t/ha for NSW farms, and flour can be made from potatoes which yield 34 t/ha in NSW. It will therefore be assumed that an average yield of 15/t/ha might be achievable, meaning that flour needs might be met by 50 m2/pp, although some of this might best be located outside the settlement.
Dairy. Dairy products require relatively large areas. Dairy Australia (2017) estimates Australian milk consumption, including quantities used to produce butter, cheese and yoghurt, at 180 kg/y. It will be assumed that half of this demand could be shifted to soy milk, adding that area to vegetable land area required. Milk yield can be c. 9 t/ha/y, but 7.5 t/y will be assumed here. This means 120 m2 per person would be needed. (This is somewhat uncertain as estimates vary. Feed supplements might need to be added, but these would require little land area per person; perhaps 30 m2.) Smaje notes that in addition dairy production would also provide 96 kg of calf meat p.a., plus butter milk for pigs.
To produce 59 kg/y of soy might require c. 51 m2, assuming soy yield of 3 t/ha, and soy milk produced at the rate of 10 litres/kg of soy beans. Therefore for total “dairy” produce (i.e., including soy) 171 m2pp will be assumed (located outside the suburb.)
Fruit. Australian consumption is 62 kg/pp/y. Estimating required area is complicated by the fact that fruit trees can be mixed with timber and other plants within dense home gardens, along streets, in complex forest gardens, on the commons and as ornamentals in domestic space and parks. Orchard areas would also double as free range grazing for poultry, sheep, dairy cattle and pigs, while serving as windbreak and fire protection zones.
Commercial fruit yields are around 10 – 20 t/ha/y so taking the mid point indicates a need for 40 m2 per person. However intensive apple systems in Australia can have a minimum of 2,500 trees per ha, and yield a remarkable 70 t//ha/y (…and up to 100t/y in Europe. Dart, 2008.) Such a yield corresponds to the need for about 10 m2/pp.
A normal house block could accommodate many more than ten fruit and nut trees. Thus the 941 house blocks in East hills could have at least 9,410 trees on the 56 ha that is house blocks total area minus the area taken by houses. At 10 t/ha the yield would be 560 t/y, or 187 kg/pp/y, or three times consumption, so an average of 3 – 4 trees per household might suffice. In addition use of dwarf varieties and use of pots and espaliers along walls and fences would reduce the area needed.
It would seem therefore that all fruit needed could be produced in the garden space available on house blocks. In practice fruit and nut trees would make up most of the planting on pubic space.
Meat. Australian meat consumption is 111 kg/pp/y, (incl. 47 kg of chicken, but not including fish.) Beef production is an especially inefficient use of land, averaging about 0.4 kg/y per ha, and requires a large amount of water. It will be assumed that present meat consumption is reduced by 75% (and vegetable consumption is increased accordingly, noted above.) Most meat would be poultry plus other small animals, e.g., rabbits, pigeons, guinea pigs. A small number of pigs might spend some time free ranging in forests and be fed to some extent on food scraps and butter milk from the dairy. Fish consumption is assumed below to be doubled to 30 kg/pp/y, (all via tanks, ponds, lakes and dams within settlements.)
Thus meat consumption would be 28 kg/pp/y, one-quarter of the present figure, made up by 13 kg/pp/y poultry (plus rabbits, possibly pigs etc.) and an increase of 15 kg/person/y of fish (…to 30 kg/pp/y). (This assumes large reduction in poultry consumption, from the present 42 kg/pp/y so there is scope for greater use of poultry if necessary.) Pig and dairy calf sources would add to this scope but have not been accounted here.
Edible/dressed chicken weight might be 1.4 kg per bird. If eaten at 15 weeks of age the number of birds being fed to maintain this rate of harvest per household (2.7 people in East Hills) might be 5. (Obviously not all households would need to keep poultry etc. as there would be production from co-ops and small farms.) Poultry meat production would be integrated with egg production as birds beyond laying age would be eaten; see below.
These poultry meat figures are uncertain and might be unrealistically low. Note that eggs are being regarded as additional to meat consumption. Some sheep and pigs, also providing wool and leather, might be included instead of some of the poultry, but this item has not been accounted separately here. Most sheep and pigs might be located on farms close by, some of them owned by the town and run by cooperatives. Pigs are good consumers of scraps, effective at preparing ground for cultivation, and require little area.
Areas for poultry and fish are difficult to estimate due to significant overlaps in uses, and nutrient recycling. For instance most poultry food would come from kitchen scraps and free ranging through orchards and forests, while ducks, geese and fish would feed from fields, forests and ponds. (See below.)
The area for fish production would be very low, partly because much would come from recreational ponds on commons and from very small tanks (two or three cubic metres) in backyards and fish farms. Carp in ponds can yield 13 tonnes/ha from natural ponds without added feed, 30 times the meat yield per ha. Domestic tanks can produce 50 – 70 kg/m2 in 8 months (Towers, 2010.)
The surprisingly small areas needed for meat production are considered below, in the section on “waste” recycling.
Eggs. Australian consumption is 180 per person p.a., which at 50 g per egg is 9 kg/y. Household consumption would average only 8.4 per week, so at 0.5 – 0.6 eggs per chicken per day, these might be produced by a long term average of less than 2 chickens per household, or 0.4 per person. (ABC, 2014.) Most production might best be via neighborhood poultry co-ops as larger flocks (e.g., 50 chickens) than household scale improve materials, energy and dollar costs per egg.
Almost no area would be needed specially for poultry apart from sheds, because birds would be fed mostly on food scraps, would free range on much of the dairy, orchard, forest, nut and oil (e.g., olive grove) areas, and they would be rotated around vegetable patches to clean up, fertilise and cultivate. Some food supplements are accounted under the “animal feed” category below.
The probably surprising implication of these figures for meat, fish, poultry and eggs is that it would seem to be possible for a settlement of this kind to largely meet its (considerably reduced) meat demand from within its borders, at very low cost due to food scrap recycling. This would free vast rangeland areas for reforestation etc.
Animal feed. Poultry feed per dressed weight can be quite low, down to a ratio of 1.5/1, (and it is even lower for fish than poultry.) A ratio of 2 for poultry will be assumed here. A chicken eats c. 0.5 kg per day so the 0.4 birds per person would need 70 kg/y.
Firstly, in ideal conditions free ranging can provide up to 100% of food requirements. A small US compost firm has chickens foraging on the heaps, producing eggs without any need for grain inputs. Beef cattle, pigs and even dairy cattle can be self-fed via free ranging, but at less than maximum yield for dairy.
If it is assumed that free ranging provides 50% of the food needed and kitchen etc. scraps provide 25%, then feed to be provided for poultry meat production would be very low, in the region of 18 kg/pp/y. To grow 18 kg/y of lucerne at the common dairy farm rate of 20 t/ha/y (…although the grain rate would be much lower) would require only 9 m2/pp.)
However it is likely that need for supplements might be eliminated by use of kitchen, garden and other “wastes”. The necessary quantities are readily available, but the composition might be an issue. Vast amounts food are currently wasted along the present food supply chain. The Transpacific Industries Group, (2015), estimates the amount of food wasted at 414 kg/pp/y, which is only slightly less than the weight of food eaten! Many crops are not sent to market because of appearance or minor damage (including bananas with unacceptable bends!) Supermarkets scrap large amounts. Then much is thrown out within households. Wise (2014) says Australian households throw out $616 worth of food pa. Foodwise (2018) reports that the average NSW household throws out $1,036 of food every year, 345 kg/household or 4 million tonnes costing $8 b/y. At 2.7 pp/household food waste per person would be 128 kg/pp/y, or 0.35 kg/pp/d. This is enough to feed three chickens, given their c. 0.12 kg/d food consumption. (Poultry Hub, 2018, Citifarm, 2018, Tractor Supply Co., 2018.)
A further note on food wastes; about 50% of Australian household garbage collected is biodegradable, most of it from the kitchen. In a restructured suburb all kitchen scraps would go directly to the animals or soils via methane digesters or compost heaps. Even more impressive, the amount or nutrient rich material presently moving from toilets and grey water outlets to be thrown away, more or less equaling the weight of food eaten, would be sent through methane producing digesters and then to food producing ponds and soils.
Compare these quantities with the 4.5 million tonnes of fertilizer produced in Australia each year (Fertilizer Australia, 2018), and the 46 kg/ha/y of artificial fertilizer applied to Australian farmland. Strict recycling of nutrients within a settlement would put much more than ten times as much nutrient rich material into soils if all crop, animal and domestic wastes were included. In addition most of the agribusiness application is wasted in run off, and damages soils and waterways.
Fish in ponds, lakes and dams would feed themselves. Some of the suburb’s nutrient flow would be recycled in the form of grey and black water running through biological filtering and harvesting wetland and pond systems planted with useful species, producing edible plants, fish and duck feed (…and at the far end, perfectly drinkable water.) Duckweeds, worms and grubs can be grown specially for animal feed.
Over time experience would enable adjustment of the nutrient flows assumed here, significantly reducing the need for specially grown animal feed inputs. For instance waste water flowing into trays of fast growing Azola fix nitrogen for gardens.
These figures support the surprising possibility that very small areas of land within settlements would be needed to provide all of the (significantly reduced) amount of meat required.
Nuts. The recommended consumption is 42 g/person/d, or 15 kg/pp/y. Average almond nut kernel yield is low, around 1.3 t/ha (Nut Industry, 2018), similar to walnuts, indicating that 87 m2/pp might be needed. However as has been explained almost if not all fruit and nut trees needed could be located within domestic and pubic gardens and commons, and in areas with overlapping functions, i.e., also producing other food items, making it difficult to estimate specific additional areas needed in the form of orchards. The foregoing tree figures indicate that no additional area for nut production needs to be assumed as there seems to be sufficient area within domestic and pubic space to meet fruit and nut tree requirements.
Cooking oils and spreads. Average cooking plus spread consumption is, 27 kg/pp/y. Sunflower oil yield is c. 10 t/ha/y, olive oil 2.3 t/ha/y, so it will be assumed that 15 ha would be needed, i.e., 43 m2/pp. Again overlapping functions complicate area conclusions, e.g., olive trees could be planted throughout home and community gardens and forest garden commons. The above figures on tree potential (possibly 9,410 for household blocks alone), indicate that much of the need for olive trees might be met within the above tree assumptions.
Sugar/honey. Australian per capita sugar consumption is very high, c. 42 kg/person/year. Ideally this would be reduced considerably as processed/packaged foods are replaced. There should be considerable capacity to reduce cane sugar importation from NE Australia by production of sugar beet and corn fructose, on farmland as near as possible to settlements.
Honey fro local sources could meet some of the need. Bees would range across the suburb so little or no additional area needs to be assumed. Areas are difficult to estimate as evidence is scarce and claims vary considerably. There might be 8 hives per ha in densely planted suburbs, and yield might be 30 kg honey per hive p.a. This would provide 240 kg/ha/year, or 35 tonnes p.a. for East Hills, around 12 kg/pp/y. Australian sugar production from cane is 12.8 t/ha/y. If sweetener consumption was cut by one-third and honey provided 12 kg/pp/y, the 16 kg of imported sugar needed might require 12 m2/pp/y.
Table1: Interim area conclusions. (m2 per person.)
Animal feed 9
Oils, spreads 43*
Gross interim total: 544 m2/pp.
* These areas are for single use; i. e., actual areas needed would be considerably less when overlapping uses of areas is taken into account, e.g., fruit, nut and olive trees as ornamentals and components of forest gardens, some vegetable production under fruit and nut trees, and orchards used as grazing areas.
These figures indicate that given the 273 m2/pp available for food production in the restructured (low density) suburb of East Hills, at least half of food required might be produced within the suburb. Almost all items except dairy and grain could be produced within the suburb.
Reasons why the area figure derived is probably too high.
The yield figures used above have been mostly from national statistics on commercial agribusiness production. Following are important facts and reasons making showing that home, collective and small farm food production could achieve far better yield and area figures.
Urban agriculture in Havana Cuba is reported to produce 21 t/ha/y of vegetables. (Koont, 2009.) The figures from about 5 cases found on the Web are, average yield 27.7 tonnes per ha, and average a value of $125, 600/ha/y. (c. 2007 prices.) Dioron (2015) provides detailed itemised information adding to 17.6 tonnes per ha and $167,000 ha/y. As this is for Maine with only a 6 months growing season much better yields should be possible in Australia. Aliades (2011) reports that his (not fully functioning) 64 m2 home garden yielded 202 kg of food in its second year, equivalent to 12.8 tonnes /ha/y, on only 2 hours “work” per week. This does not include the produce given away, such as an estimated $1000 worth of berry plants. Watson (2015) says the “Victory Gardens” planted by ordinary people in England during World War 2 achieved on average 10 times the typical agricultural yield.
Diggers Seeds, (Blazey, 1999) claims that their trials using intensive home gardening, multi-cropping and heirloom seed varieties show that “…it only takes 60 m2 of space to grow the 242 kg of fruit and vegetables we consume each year.” This includes 10 m2 for vegetables, 8 m2 for potatoes and 42 m2 for fruit, for each person. The figure corresponds to c. 40 t/ha/y, and suggests that the weight of food one person consumes could be provided from c. 90 m2, which is only 17% of the above 544 m2/pp area conclusion. Wise (2014, p. 11) says that the average lawn area on a suburban block could produce 800 – 1,100 kg of food p.a., enough fruit and vegetables for a small family.
Joe Dervaes (2014) operates a remarkable commercial “urban agriculture” in Pasadena where he says he produces 2,727 kg of food p.a. from his 0.04 ha house block. This corresponds to a barely credible 68 t/ha. His output would be even higher if the family was not also keeping chickens, ducks and goats on the block.
Thus research is needed into the yields of many possible products from integrated, overlapping and multi-functional uses of land. For instance what yields might be derived from a food forest providing fruit, vegetables, timber, fuel wood, honey, animal grazing, poultry, sheep/wool, nuts, water retention, medicines, windbreaks, dyes, perfumes, coolness, mulch, fibres and leisure? What savings could be made in the production of water, fertilizer, pesticides and in the need for labour? How would the total yield/ha compare with production of these outputs from separate, distant areas under conventional agriculture which makes it impossible to benefit from overlaps and recycling?
Application of these principles could markedly reduce the total land are needed from the above interim figure of 522 m2 per person. Consider this crude cross check. If we assume the c. 20 t/ha food yield achieved in Havana gardens and a per capita food consumption of 500 kg/y, the per capita area needed would be 250 m2 (and much less if we add feeding small animals on wastes, and aquaponics, etc.) Again the area available in the suburb reported was estimated to be 270 m2/pp.
Labour time.It is commonly assumed that home gardening is inefficient in terms of labour time compared with agribusiness. (It is far superior to conventional agriculture on most if not all other dimensions; see TSW, 2017e.) Unfortunately little evidence could be found on time spent gardening per kg or dollar of produce but the common assumption might not be valid. The National Gardeners Association survey (2009) reports that the average US home gardening time input is 5 person-hours a week, but information on output is not given. The time figure given by Aliades above indicates that his home gardening produced 205 kg of food per year working 1 hour a day, which might correspond to an approximate full time income of at least $50,000/y. However gardening should also be accounted as a leisure benefit, reducing dollar and energy expenditure on the purchase of entertainment etc. My study of alternative/local egg production (TSW: The Costs of Commercial vs Alternative/Local Egg Production.) estimated that if labour is priced at the minimum wage rate, $18/hr, the labour cost of producing an egg costing 30c at the supermarket would be c. 5 c. (The appropriate comparison would be with the c. 90c cost of a free range egg from the supermarket.)
Even if the dollar per hour return to gardening is quite low it can be an valuable option for unemployed and impoverished Third world villagers who have the time and a strong incentive to minimize dollar outlays. There are in addition desirable health and benefits, not the lest of which is the building community resilience in times when global supply systems are likely to become more vulnerable.
Estimated per capita dollar budget.
If we assume extensive home gardening plus chicken pens, free food from commons and “edible landscapes”, bartering or gifting of surpluses, then the average household should need to purchase only a quite small amount of food. This would probably include little more than dairy, soy and grain products. Much of this should be low cost as it could be produced by town businesses and co-ops using bulk supply from local farms and orchards, and would not involve many of the normal middleman costs, transport, packaging, agricultural machinery, waste dumping and other overheads added by global super-marketing. An (uncertain) estimate might be in the region of $3/pp/day.
The 2013 average Australian household weekly food expenditure was $100/person, or $14.5/day (Langley, 2013.) However this does not include dining out, which Bye and Harris (2017) report has recently rapidly increased to $14/pp/d.
Thus the local path might involve a dollar food cost around 10% - 15% of the national average.
Note that in terms of sustainability it is not so important to achieve very low household dollar outlays on food, so long as the purchasing is from local sources with their low resource costs.
Estimated per capita operating energy budget.
The following estimates are based on gardening at Pigface Point (TSW: Pigface Point), providing for approximately10 people. For home gardens and commons there would be almost no running/operational energy cost, apart from 12 volt solar electric irrigation pump. Estimation is uncertain but if 20 minutes watering a day by a 72 W pump is assumed, the annual household total would be 8.7 kWh, or 3.6 kWh/pp/y, or 13 MJ/pp/y or 0.036 MJ/pp/d; i.e., about 1% of a kWh/d.
To this should be added the dollar and energy costs associated with importation of food from nearby small farms, and possibly from more distant grain and dairy farms. These have not been analysed but the assumption below is that they add as much as the dollar and energy costs within the settlement. (This could be an underestimate due to more use of small machinery on farms.)
Estimated embodied energy costs: Equipment inventory and replacement.
The stock of tools and equipment used in vegetable, woodlot and ornamental gardening at the household level is given in the document TSW: Remaking Settlements: Tool Inventory -- Dollar and Energy Costs. It is based on a detailed listing of the equipment used at Pigface Point. The assumptions and derivations are summarised in Appendix 2 below, from which the following summary is drawn. Apart from the 12 v pumps and the six very small home made concrete water tanks and tubs (averaging c. 2 m2), all equipment is hand operated so there are no running costs. The annual figures given take into account assumed lifetimes. The figures do not include food produced beyond the household, e.g. on small farms and commons. (Estimates derived in Appendix 2 differ slightly from those in the Tool Inventory.)
Totals: (This table is repeated in Appendix 2 where the figures are derived.)
Totals:$ $/pp $/pp/y MJ MJ/pp MJ/pp/yTools 915 91 3 2,320 232 8Pumps 2450 120 12 2310 220 22Pens 90 9 .2 800 80 4Sheds 600 60 2 8000 800 20Greenhouse 400 40 1 1000 100 3Tanks, ponds 650 65 2 650 65 1Poly pipe 500 50 5 2975 298 30Fittings 200 20 .5 3000 300 8Cement 80 30 1 1200 120 4 Totals. 5,885 475 29 22,255 2,215 90Thus long term per capita costs of equipment are 8 cents a day, and 0.07kWh.
Thus long term per capita dollar cost of equipment is about 8 cents a day, and the cost of energy embodied in equipment is about 0.07kWh/d. The total for operating and embodied energy costs is c. 103 MJ/pp/y.
The comparison between the energy costs and those for the conventional agribusiness-to-supermarket food supply system is stark. In 2007 US food production was taking 16 times as much energy as was contained in the food produced, and the amount has been claimed by Garza (2013) to be as great as all energy going into gasoline for cars. The energy needed to produce a kg of wheat in New Zealand has been estimated at 2 kWh, i.e., 7.2 MJ (Derived from Safa, undated.) In 2007 the US food supply system was taking around 16% of national energy, i.e., around 15 EJ/y. (Canning, et al., 2010.) (About 20% of output is exported, but almost as much in dollar value is imported.) Thus providing food in the US has a per capita energy cost of around 47 GJ/y.
Compared with the above operating plus embodied energy figure for local production, 103 MJ/pp/y, that is a ratio of over 450/1, even though the conventional agribusiness figure does not include any energy costs embodied in the huge amount of equipment such as ships, feed factories, silos, machinery, warehouses, supermarkets, packaging, “waste” processing facilities, trucks and roads.
Even more important are the improvements in ecological impacts and food quality. Local food is fresh and local gardeners select for the most tasty and nutritious varieties that will thrive in their particular conditions. Local agriculture eliminates the soil damaging effects of agribusiness while enabling Permaculture practices to improve soils. It also largely eliminates the vast indirect global ecological effects of energy, fertilizer and water demand and of dealing with “wastes”. (See Appendix 1.)
In Simpler Way communities where frugal sufficiency is the norm levels of production would be
much lower than in consumer society. There would be much craft production and the
preference would be to work mostly with hand tools, but local firms and farms would need some small engines, motors and machinery such as saw benches.
Regional factories would make simple robust, repairable, durable, mostly small stoves, fridges, radios, heaters, pumps, tanks, furniture, cutlery, crockery, pots, pans, garden tools, and bulk materials such as cloth, sawn timber and ceramic roof tiles.
The national steel works would supply mostly small strip, rod, tube and angle, galvanized iron, fencing wires and chicken wire netting, plus inputs to hardware stores and tool factories (nails, bolts…). In other words there would be very little production of heavy steel beams, pipes, plate, or castings, because there would be little heavy industry or construction. There would be little need for aluminium, copper, lead, zinc or special steels, or for plastics. Some production of small stainless steel items, especially fasteners, would be desirable as these enable very long lifetimes for structures.
Larger tools, such as lathes and drill presses would be available for community use in regional factories, community workshops and small firms.
Thus the scale of manufacture and construction would be enormously reduced, and therefore there would be only a small amount of heavy machinery needed. There would be little if any need to produce high rise buildings, big bridges, tunnels, silos, roads, freeways, aircraft and airports, trucks, cars, ships, ports, cranes, mines, fork lifts or bulldozers. Remember there would be little need to transport consumables into highly self-sufficient towns and regions, and little need to travel far for work or leisure; see below. We would have some buses, a good national and regional heavy and light rail system, and many bikes (and use of horses for short distance cartage), but very few cars, and fewer aircraft and ships. Because economies would not be growing, construction would only be for maintenance and replacement buildings, windmills, roads etc.
Appendix 3 indicates the dollar and energy costs for the non-gardening tool inventory listed in TSW: Remaking Settlements: Tool Inventory -- Dollar and Energy Costs. The basic conclusions
home plus community workshop tools and equipment, taking into account estimated lifetimes, are:
$4,770, $278/pp, $15/pp/y, 8,090 MJ, 86 MJ/pp, 15 MJ/pp/y
Thus the equipment needed for a neighbourhood that is highly self-sufficient in its capacity to produce and maintain infrastructures might cost in the region of $15 per person per year, and involve a per capita energy cost of 4 kWh/pp/y.
Most buildings would be made from earth, straw bales, stone, bamboo and wood. There would be little use of energy-intensive metals and plastics. The reduced quantities of glass, steel, cement (little use of aluminium) might be produced regionally by solar and wind generated electricity in those periods when there is surplus supply. There would be intensive research into local plant sources for chemicals, adhesives, medicines, paints, lubricants, fibres and fabrics. Most of the dangerous and pollution-generating synthetic chemicals in use today would not be necessary. Design would focus on minimising problematic materials. For instance most furniture can be made without metal fasteners, by use of dowelled and pegged wooden joints.
Timber would be a major material, replacing most metals and plastics. It could all be produced by neighbourhood mini-saw mills within and close by settlements, (e.g., old car engines running on biomass methane or ethanol, or hydrogen.) Timber needs would be low in a stable economy, called on only to maintain stocks of housing and furniture. Some combined heating and cooking would be by high-tech woods fires, in well insulated solar-passive houses.
Some materials would be produced in bulk in big regional or national factories, such as fabrics, metals, irrigation pipe and chemicals, and distributed to many small factories, hardware stores and workshops. Demand for paper would be greatly reduced and might be met from local forests and recycling. Eventually roofing iron would have been slowly replaced by ceramic tiles made from local clay and wood-fired kilns.
Cement would be a problem, given that it is such a valuable material enabling permanent structures, especially water tanks. Its global energy cost derives not so much from its MJ/kg rating but the from the quantity currently being used. However when only a stable infrastructure needs to be maintained the quantities needed would be small. Little or no cement would be used in the construction of high-rise buildings, big dams, bridges, airports, sewers, shipping terminals, roads or freeways. Water can be stored in many small earthen dams along water courses, with grassed spillways. These dams would also enable pumped storage for electricity generation.
Leather might also set difficulties, in view of the quantity of this valuable material that might be required in relation to the much-reduced use of plastic and the reduction in use of large animals for meat consumption. Where meat from medium sized animals such as pigs is eaten hides would be tanned for local use.
Fibres for clothing and bedding are considered below under clothing.
Wood would be a major fuel for cooking, assuming use of highly efficient stoves reducing smoke emissions. The amount of cooking could be reduced by increased consumption of greens, vegetables, fruit and salads. For the suburb of East Hills about 10 ha of “plantations” might suffice, yielding 100 – 200 t/y of harvestable timber and fuel wood p.a. Some trees would be harvested individually from time to time within gardens and landscapes, and there would be mini woodlots and plantations on commons and nearby farmland. A stable neighbourhood would not need much timber for repairs etc., produced from a local hobby or cooperative saw bench. Over time retrofitting of houses with insulation and solar passive design (e.g., solar heat storage and cooling) should greatly reduce energy demand for space heating and cooling.
Dollar and energy costs.
Timber quantities used have not been estimated but they should be very low. They would be mostly for the relatively small amount of maintenance needed in a stable settlement, and for arts, crafts and hobbies. An interim assumption might be10 kg/person/y, with an embodied energy content of 200 MJ/person/y.
Almost all the clothes worn could be simple, tough, cheap and durable, old and much repaired. Few if any would need to work in a suit or tie, let alone new clothes. One of my hobbies is darning and repairing the old clothes I wear. (My best jumper lasted 35 years, until a bushfire found it hanging on the clothes line.) We might have a few "nice" things for special occasions, but these need not be expensive. I have one pair of "good" shoes, never wear a tie, haven't worn a suit for about four decades, and wear the same old pair of mud and paint stained trousers for weeks. Those who were more interested than I am in “nice” clothes could of course make or buy them as they wish but hopefully we would have the sense to scrap any notion of fashion. Some people could specialise in dress making and tailoring as a small business.
Old and worn out clothing items would be recycled, sold via second hand shops or given away. Clothes making and repairing would be much-enjoyed hobbies. A few small local firms might mass produce some basic clothing and footwear items using wool and cotton fibres from more distant sources. Factories would supply local hardware shops and clothing makers with rolls of cloth, mostly of the basic kinds needed to make tough every-day work clothes. Our overall energy budgets would hopefully also allow production of less essential materials for use by those interested in dressmaking etc., along with the many materials hobbyists would wish to use. Some footwear can be made at home via hobby production, especially slippers, sandals and winter Ugh boots. There would be a great deal of that miraculous art form, knitting, using wool spun from the local sheep.
It is possible that much of the bulk material needed could be produced locally, including wool and flax. If my jumper is any guide, per capita wool need would be a small fraction of 1 kg/person/y, which might take 150 m2 of land (…assuming 25 sheep/ha and 3.2 kg clean wool/sheep/year, on typically poor soil.). Sheep would graze on commons, orchards and in forest gardens. Cotton would require far less area. Given 2 t/ha/y production and assuming 2 kg (?) use per person per year only 10 m2 per person would be needed. Other fibres including flax, hemp and sisal would add a little to this area, and some of this would be imported from more distant farms.
Based on my clothing and footwear use an uncertain annual expenditure estimate might be $100/pp/y, mainly for sandshoes etc. to work in.) The Australian average spending on these two items is $982/pp/y. (sic!) (ABS, 2015.)
Most manufactured items would be produced in households, neighbourhood workshops and small local firms, and they would be produced in craft ways, not via industrial factories. Crockery provides a good example. It should all be produced by hand within suburbs or towns, from local clay, fired by wood grown there, and made by people who like making pottery. How many new plates does a household need each year to replace those broken? Again when a stable population and economy are assumed relatively small volumes of replacement production would suffice.
Because people would not need to go out to work for money more than two days a week there would be much time for interesting home and neighbourhood craft productive activity. Being able to see the goods one has produced local used by friends and neighbours adds to the sense of making a worthwhile and appreciated contribution.
Small regional factories (e.g., within 5 – 10 km) would produce bicycles, cutlery, pots and pans, roof tiles, containers (although baskets would by made at the neighbourhood level from rushes, willows and vines), nails, bolts, buckles, hacksaw blades, plate glass, preserving jars, ladders, barrows, needles, tools, brushes, paint (from vegetable and fish oils, milk, lime, earthen colours), some of the beverages (juices, fruit wines, beers and ciders), string and rope from yuccas and sisal, and basic appliances such as stoves, radios and fridges. Only small quantities of items such as electronic devices would need to be imported from the national economy.
Attention would go into developing excellent designs for all things, especially models that would last a long time, be easily repaired and recycled and save resources. Research would go into studying the effectiveness of designs in use and improvements would be cumulative. At present much design is shoddy and deliberately results in goods that are flimsy, unrepairable and short-lived. In addition there is far too much “innovation” churning out of unnecessary products.
The above discussion of materials, building, tools, manufacturing, furniture and clothing indicates that few items and materials would need to be produced at large and more distant/centralized locations and moved into the regions close to towns. These would include metals, mostly steel but a little aluminium, copper, and zinc for galvanizing, bulk cloth, dairy products and grains, and various chemicals. The very few items imported long distances or internationally might include high-tech equipment for health, research, electronics, communications, IT, some manufactured products, but very little of these would be needed in everyday life around a suburb or town. (See Remaking Settlements: An Indication of Import Requirements.)
The few sophisticated, specialized and possibly big/centralized factories to produce for example lathes and drill presses, cloth, railway equipment, cement and steel, would be distributed throughout the nation to enable all towns to contribute to national needs and thereby to earn the income they would need to import basic necessities from other regions. International trade would be kept as low as possible and confined to important items that could only be produced within the nation at great difficulty or cost. Even in a non-predatory global economy trade is problematic because it involves high energy costs and loss of national independence, self-sufficiency and resilience.
Various manufactured items might cost much more than at present, given that they would mostly be produced by craft , and that at present imports from the Third World are dollar cheap. This would not be important as not much money would be needed to live well in The Simpler Way, and dollar costs would not be overriding considerations.
Many productive enterprises would be community owned cooperatives. A town or suburb that found it needed more eggs or preserves or overalls might lease premises to a private family business to supply them, or simply set up a non-profit cooperative operation to meet this need. As is explained below things like this will be routine within the new Economy B being built below the normal market economy, geared to meeting needs with no concern whatsoever as to whether or not the activity could compete successfully within the market economy. The town would be simply organizing its available productive capacity to produce things it needs.
Because the new agriculture would rely heavily on permanent crops, especially trees, and relatively little meat would be consumed and all domestic water would be recycled to gardens, water demand would be greatly reduced. Water would be scrupulously harvested locally, from rooftops, catchments and creeks, there would be intensive mulching, and all household water use would be recycled to food production. There would therefore be little need for big dams, mains, large pumping stations, and the bureaucracies to run them. Windmills and small electric pumps would do most of the pumping of fresh and waste water.
Because all “sewage” would be understood as a valuable resource to be recycled to local soils, there would be no need for large systems of mains and pumping stations to deal with it. Composting toilets would cut water use and garbage gas units would produce methane for use while both returned nutrients to gardens. Settlements would be landscaped to retain rainfall via earthen bunds, swales and ponds, eliminating the need for concrete sewer and storm water drains and pipes. Storm runoff would be channeled above ground to ponds and soak-in areas where trees were planted. Few if any underground pipes, mains or concrete works would be needed. Above ground systems are easily monitored and repaired, unlike underground systems. “Keyline” swales running just below contour lines would carry water away from gullies to agricultural, forest, storage and soak-in areas. The change to more vegetable and less meat consumption would make a significant difference as it can take 2,000 times as much water to produce a kilo of meat as it does to produce a kilo of vegetables. (Diggers Seeds, undated, p. 32.) Where possible redesign of settlements would catch water on the higher ground, feed it by gravity to houses, then take nutrient-rich waste water further down to orchards, pasture, ponds and farms, reducing the need for pumping energy. Runoff that could not be stored would operate water wheels along gullies, performing functions that can be carried out occasionally, such as mixing clay, shredding fibres for paper making, and sawing firewood.
The East Hills average annual rainfall is 780 mm, meaning roofs catch 0.78 x 941 x 160 m2/y = 117,000 m2/y, or 39 m2 person/y or 107 litres/person/day. This is far more than is needed for frugal within-house, plus garden use. Diggers Seeds estimates that their house roof collects more than three times as much water as the 34 m2 per person p.a. their vegetable and fruit garden needs. They estimate toilet, bathroom and washing “waste” water from the typical Australian household is 54 m2 per person p.a. My per capita within-house use is c. 35-40 litres/d, or 13+ m2/y, and maybe half of this is garden water pumped from a swamp used to flush the toilet, not drinking water.
So theoretically little water would need to be transported into the suburb. (Even during the 2007 drought only 1 – 4% of Sydney’s rainfall was collected and used.) The main problem would be storage rather than quantity available. Storage would theoretically only need to be sufficient to hold the amount used by the time the next fall occurred to refill storages. If top-up occurred four times a year, storage would need to be 117,000/4 = 29,200 m2, or 31 m2 per house. If half of this was stored in community ponds, household cement tanks would need to hold only c. 15 m2, i.e., one tank 3 m high and 3 m in diameter. However from my household experience considerably larger storage would be desirable for security through the quite variable climate patterns in this locality. Annual climate variability can change Australia’s annual biomass growth by a factor of 3. Evaporation would need to be taken into account as it would make a significant difference to retrievable pond storage.
An estimate of operational energy costs for pumping based on Pigface Point might be (45 min x 75 W)/d for house plus garden water for three, so a negligible 0.019 MJ/pp/d (of PV electricity.)
There would be significant costs involved in restructuring local water systems, such as for cement, reinforcing rods, pipes and small pumps, especially for the construction of household and community tanks and ponds. However most of this could be carried out gradually by working bees, without machinery if necessary, and systems would last for decades with little attention.
An amount of town water supply infrastructure (local ponds and dams) and more centralized/distant water supply (via existing big dams, mains, pumping), would need to be added to the above mostly neighbourhood costs. However it is likely that present provision from distant sources could be greatly reduced, if not almost eliminated. (Pigface Point is not connected to urban water supply or sewer mains.) It is more likely that almost all existing sewer systems could be eliminated.
In the new economy of The Simpler Way there would be little need for transport to get people to work, because far less work would be done, and most work places would be localised and accessible by bicycle or on foot. The few large factories would be close to towns and railway stations.
A few cars, trucks and bulldozers would be needed but the vehicles in most use would be bicycles, with some but relatively little use of buses and trains. Horses could be used for some transport, especially carting goods the mostly short distances required, for instance from local farms. They consume no oil, refuel themselves, reproduce themselves and do not need spare parts or expensive roads, and mostly repair themselves although they do need the occasional vet. Most roads and freeways would be dug up and the space used for gardens. The concrete chunks can be recycled as excellent building stone and bitumen lumps can stack as animal pen fences. Railway and bus production would be one of the few activities to take place in large centralised heavier industrial centres.
Very few ships, large trucks or aircraft would be produced because there would be little need for the transport of goods or people over long distances. There would be little international travel, partly because the fuel for that will in future be extremely scarce, and secondly because there would be relatively little need for it. There would be far less of that huge energy-intensive indulgent luxury that is travel for leisure purposes. (Eight million trips out of Australia every year.) When petroleum becomes very scarce people will be jolted into understanding the unsustainability of the present levels of travel, transport, trade and tourism. We might ration international travel primarily for educational and cultural exchange purposes, so that each person might get one overseas trip in a lifetime. However we could bring back wind ships, so young people might study for their degree while on a leisurely trip around the world.
If I were living within a restructured and highly self-sufficient suburb such as East Hills I might wish to travel to the nearby town or city centre by rail no more than once a month. I would rarely need to hire a community light vehicle. I would not travel for holidays. (I don’t do that now, despite not having a local community as a leisure resource.) The main reason why there would be little travel for holidays is because our settlements would be leisure-rich; there would be many interesting things to do around the town or neighbourhood, or not far away. (See Leisure below.)
The Australian average expenditure on holidays is $1,000/pp/y. (ABS, 2015.)
Energy costs for travel.
Because most of the small amount of personal “travel” would be by walking and cycling, and horses and donkeys would do some of the carting, on average one 15 km round trip per week by rail or bus to a small town will be assumed. The energy cost per person-km of bus travel is reported at 7 times that of train travel. (Wikipedia, 2018a.) If the train cost is assumed to be 200 kj/pp/km (midway between Japanese and Portuguese averages) the energy cost of the trip would be 3 MJ, or 150 MJ/pp/y.
The few goods that needed to be transported into town, assuming 10 kg per household per week moving an average 20 km, would probably have a negligible energy cost. The reported UK energy cost is 0.41MJ/ton-km, indicating a per capita cost of 0.3 MJ /pp/w or 15 MJ/pp/y. However in addition material inputs to local production such as steel and cement would need to be imported to local firms.
The travel plus freight transport total would seem to be under 200 MJ/pp/y, and at current Sydney rail fares personal transport dollar cost would be around $400/pp/y. The present Australian average per capita personal (not including freight) transport outlay is around $1,490/pp/y. Household petroleum use is 20 GJ/pp/y, around 100 times the above estimate for all transport energy use in the restructured settlement.
These figures are uncertain but they do suggest that settlement restructuring could cut per capita travel and transport energy use dramatically. Lockyer’s (2017) study of the Dancing Rabbit eco-village in Missouri found that per capita travel distances and energy use were around 5% of the national averages.
Far less energy would be required compared with the present society. This would firstly be because there would be far less producing and consuming going on, and because much of what remained would be carried out without heavy industry, ships, aircraft, trucks, storage, machinery, and especially with nowhere near as much transport. All these reductions in direct physical materials and energy costs would also generate reductions in the energy costs of overheads such as marketing, personnel, offices, insurance and dividends to shareholders. We would be living in energy-frugal solar passive mud brick houses, recycling, getting to work on a bike, with close access to local sport, cultural and leisure facilities and therefore not traveling much for leisure. Most of our economy would be localised, eliminating most travel to work and most transportation of goods. Most food would be provided by far less energy costly processes than global agribusiness involves.
Heating and cooling is the biggest item in the present Australian household energy budget, taking about 38%, or around 7.7 GJ/pp/y. In new dwellings good solar passive design of buildings made from earth should eliminate almost all demand for heating and cooling in the region of Sydney latitudes, apart from special needs such as in hospitals and aged care facilities. Existing dwellings would be insulated well and people should be much more prepared to rug up for cold weather and to put up with hot weather. Shaded cool green areas such as ferneries fitted with simple sprinklers, mostly in communal areas, can be resorted to on extremely hot days. The much reduced “work” week would enable activities to be postponed during very hot and cold spells.
My (poorly insulated) house uses no energy for cooling and space heating apart from about 250 kg of firewood per person per winter, i.e., c. 4.5 GJ/y. (Note that this is “primary” energy, so it corresponds to about 1.25 GJ of “final” energy compared with that Australian 7.7 GJ/pp above.) Open fires are energy-inefficient so the heat going into the house would be a small fraction of 4.5 GJ/pp/y. If the heat required within the house was 0.5 GJ/pp/y then an electric heat pump might need to consume only 200 MJ/pp/y.
Space heating fires can also be used for cooking and to heat water for showers and washing up. Electric powered heat pumps can deliver about four times the energy in the form of heat that they consume, so would have a valuable role, including reducing smoke from use of wood for heating. Heat can be stored in water tanks so can be accumulated from solar panels during sunny periods.
Much of our energy would be produced locally, from windmills, watermills, garbage gas digesters, solar panels, and biomass sources of fuel and ethanol for vehicles. These sources would be augmented by some larger scale regional wind farms, PV and solar thermal fields, etc., via (much reduced) grids. Horses and donkeys can be useful for the small amount of ploughing and local carrying, in a society where the pace is much more relaxed, and they would also provide some recreational services. Cooking might make considerable use of wood, and of biogas fuel from methane digesters taking wastes on their way to the gardens, although it is of high quality and might be reserved for engines.
Stirling heat engines driven by solar reflectors or wood fuel could power some machinery (e.g., saw mills), and generate electricity. Most of the wood cutting, pumping, machining, electric welding and freezer boosting would be carried out when the sun or the wind was high. The many small local dams, and possibly compressed hydrogen, might enable most of the (greatly reduced) electricity storage required.
Extensive forests would be throughout and around our settlements, providing biomass energy for space heating, wood-fired electricity and small quantities of ethanol or methanol for transport. Candles and lanterns using bees wax and vegetable oils would meet some lighting needs. (Candles can provide good reading light when backed by parabolic reflectors made from pieces of broken mirror. Gas light candles can be fueled by methane digesters.)
A significant proportion of the small quantity of energy needed would come from porridge. That is, human energy would power many functions now performed by machinery, notably food production, construction, travel and transport (bicycles), manufacture (craft), and various infrastructure works (working bees with shovels rather than bulldozers.) These would generate “negative costs” in terms of enjoyment, social interaction, and especially physical exercise.
It is difficult at this stage to estimate the amount of electricity that would need to be imported to the town from the national grid. Space heating, cooling and refrigeration are the main problems. The quantity of stand-alone PV system electricity used at Pigface Point is about 8.3 W/pp, or 0.2 kWh/pp/d, for all purposes including lights, computer, workshop machinery and water pumps (and a small TV could also be run for another 0.05 kWh/d.) Many of these functions, for instance lighting could serve several people in the house at the one time, so the per capita average could be well below the 0.2 kWh/d figure.
Thus average household electricity consumption in the new settlements might be extremely low. The present Australian household electricity consumption, 217 PJ/y, is 9.4 GJ/pp/y or 2,610 kWh/y, i.e., 37 times the Pigface Point figure. There are several common appliances I do not use such as iron, TV, vacuum cleaner, floor polisher, or normal washing machine (mine is powered by a 72 W car fan motor), space heating, and electronic gadgets (apart from laptop and radio.) Total (non-transport) energy consumption at Pigface Point is c. 2,000 MJ/pp/y (mostly for running a small gas refrigerator). Note that the four PV panels (totaling c. 320 W) produce around 320 kWh/pp/y or 1,145 MJ/y, which is about 2.5 times as much electricity as the c.146 kWh/y needed.
Refrigeration is problematic, because it is quite energy intensive. However the easy access to fresh local produce will greatly reduce the need for all types of food preservation, especially by cooling and refrigeration. Some use would be made of evaporative cooling cabinets (“Koolgardie safes”) and community refrigerators located close by within housing clusters. An uncertain estimate based on a 12 volt fridge is 3 amp x15 hrs/d for 5 people, i.e., 39 kWh/pp/y or 140 MJ/pp/y.
Cooking is not a major problem as it only uses 4% of present household energy. A significant amount of cooking might be done by highly efficient wood stoves (reducing emissions) fitted with water jackets and contributing to space heating. A small quantity of methane for quick kettle boiling could come from community digesters taking biomass and wastes. (Alexander, 2018, is able to carry out most cooking via methane from a household digester.) Communal wood-fuelled earth ovens would be used for the bi-weekly community bake-up, especially making bread. There are kitchen stoves that use solar heated oil but materials costs etc. have not been explored here. Lower meat consumption and increased use of fresh fruit, vegetables and salads would reduce cooking energy and refrigeration demand. Open-fire and slow combustion space heating stoves can also be used for some cooking. However the main option might be “induction” cook tops, powered by the 240v local AC grid, into which local renewables could feed, augmented when necessary from the remnant more distant grid.
Hydrogen produced from surplus wind and solar energy seems to be a quite inefficient and costly storage option for very large scale energy supply to energy-intensive societies. However for the settlements being considered here it might be effective enough, again in view of the very low need for liquid or gaseous fuel for transport, the low need for energy storage, the relative scarcity of wood fuel, and especially the relatively simple technology for hydrogen production and storage. Fuel cells seem undesirable in view of their need for problematic catalysts but hydrogen can be burnt in internal combustion vehicle engines, and in rapid response gas turbines for electricity generation. The first choice for electricity storage would be pumped hydro, leaving hydrogen storage mainly for meeting transport demand.
The embodied energy costs of energy producing plant is an important issue but will not be estimated at this point in time. It might not be substantial, given a possibly 30 - 50 year plant life for the kinds of equipment discussed above. The “energy return on energy invested” literature suggests that the embodied energy costs of renewable energy technologies might be around 5 – 10% of the energy renewables produce in their lifetime.
Because in a Simpler Way society people would be content to consume only what is sufficient for a good life, and because many goods and services could be acquired without money from commons and via swapping and gifting arrangements, most people would probably need to go to work for money only one or two days a week. They would enjoy working with friends, or be in control of their own little shop or farm, knowing they were contributing to meeting local needs and helping to maintain a happy community. This assumes considerable collective control over the economy to make sure there is no growth, no significant inequality, no unemployment, no poverty, that all have a worthwhile and respected livelihood, and above all that top priority is given to meeting individual and social needs. These conditions do not and cannot exist in competitive, winner-take-all consumer-capitalist society. (For the detail see TSW: The New Economy.)
On the other five days of the week people would still be spending much time producing important things, for themselves in their gardens and hobbies (e.g., knitting, pottery), in craft groups, and for the community via the working bees, committees, volunteering at schools and hospitals, organizing concerts, leisure activities and festivals. Thus much of their work time would also be enjoyable leisure time, and the distinction between work and leisure would largely disappear.
Leisure is a large dollar and resource cost item in consumer society, and a major source of savings in The Simpler Way. It has been partly dealt with above, in terms of having leisure-rich communities and a lot of time to pursue leisure interests within them. At present leisure time is mostly spent in the passive consumption of momentary experience provided by corporations or professionals, especially via TV and IT, in travel, and in consuming goods and services. The quality of most of this material is “spiritually” negligible if not negative, evident in the mindless TV soap operas, game shows and crime dramas, and especially the violence and destruction in computer “games”. Much leisure time and expenditure goes into purchasing as shopping is a form of entertainment, including the buying of expensive luxuries, clothes, tickets to rock concerts and gladiatorial sporting events. The corporate entertainment industry has taken all the entertaining business (just as the supermarkets have killed off most of the little community-reinforcing shops), and can provide access to the world’s few best performers at the flick of a switch. This debauches; people come to be dissatisfied with anything but the very best, and expect immediate inconvenience-free access. Long ago you would undertake a difficult pilgrimage to experience great art, and then really appreciate it.
Simpler Way settlements and lifestyles are rich in both spontaneous and organized resource-cheap leisure activities. Any town or suburb includes many very talented musicians, singers, storytellers, actors, comedians and playwrights, presently unable to do their thing because the globalised entertainment industry only needs a few super-stars. These people will thrive, having several days a week to practise their art and being appreciated for their (largely unpaid) contributions to the many local gatherings, concerts and festivals.
Much more leisure time will be spent in creative and social activities, as distinct from the increasingly private involvement in computerised leisure pursuits today. In addition much leisure time will be spent in productive activities, such as gardening, making things and arts and crafts. In other words leisure will often involve negative dollar costs. And much leisure time could be spent reading, thinking and learning, discussing community issues, and in doing formal courses. We will have the time to work on the issues that are important in our personal and community development.
The community would be a rich spontaneous leisure resource. In a walk around the town one would encounter conversations, observations of activities in familiar firms, farms and mini-factories, and the enjoyment of a beautifully gardened landscape. Contributing to working bees would be enjoyable. Then there would be the festivals, celebrations, concerts, visits, dances and field days. The local media (mostly radio) would further enhance leisure resources.
In these new enriched physical and cultural landscapes there would be far less interest in the purchase of leisure or entertainment services. People would be busy with interesting tasks and projects and would be involved in many community activities.
We would have leisure and cultural committees organizing a rich variety of interesting activities. They would surprise us with novel adventures and mystery tours. They would work out low-cost options, such as hiring a gypsy carriage and a horse to go on a plodding tour following a map of a scenic route, stopping at quaint old inns, craft centres, galleries and wildlife-rich camping spots.
These many local sources of leisure interest would drastically reduce travel for holidays, especially overseas travel and the tourism industry. This will strike most people today as unacceptable and unrealistic but remember that tourism is an extreme luxury that can be indulged in by only about one-fifth of the world’s people while they rip through far more than their fair share of world petroleum. Although I have no access to a leisure-rich locality my leisure, sport, recreation and holiday expenditure is virtually zero; I do not leave home for holidays and I regard all the “work” I do every day around the homestead as enjoyable “leisure” activity.
Thus for many people the dollar, energy and resource costs of leisure could be reduced to negligible. There need be very little travel for leisure purposes. Hobby, art and craft materials would involve negligible expenditure. An overall tally would be difficult to estimate because as has been noted much leisure activity should also be accounted under “work” or productive activity. Australian per capita expenditure on recreation, sport and holidays is around $3,900/pp/y. (sic!) (ABS. 6530. 2015.)
In the suburb of East Hills there are probably 2,500 adults plus children old enough to contribute to voluntary working bees. If 80% of them turned up to a one hour working bee each week, then 2,000 person-hours per week could be going into community production, maintenance, services, development and activities, within an area only one kilometer across. This is equal to having 50 people working full time, or one for each three hectares. At present Council labour going into maintenance within the suburb would be a tiny fraction of this amount.
If many people moved to part-time paid work, and if informal “drop-in and help-out” activity was included, the total work time for community operation, maintenance and development could be many times this total. In a well-established alternative economy, as on many Eco-villages today, the per capita time that could be comfortably given to community maintenance and production could be several days a week.
Some of this time would be spent on committees, such as for agriculture, youth affairs, care of aged and disabled, leisure activities, energy R and D, infrastructure maintenance and working bee coordination. Within some of these domains there would be specialist sub-committees, such as for fruit and nuts, water supply and recycling, food preserving, recipe development, bee keeping, fish production, poultry, forestry and especially for research and trials on many topics such as the best local plant varieties to grow.
These working bee and committee functions would be crucial not just for achieving technical goals such as ensuring good food supply, but also for the maintenance of high levels of solidarity, mutuality, social consciousness and responsibility, and morale, pride and empowerment. They are central among the procedures which require and reinforce the sense that we are taking control of our fate and are running our town to provide well for all, and we are proud of our town and how we make sure it looks after everyone. These understandings and attitudes would be strongly reinforced by our realisation that our welfare depends primarily on how well we do these things. If we do not all think about the welfare of the town and turn up to working bees then things will not work so well and our own welfare as individuals will suffer.
The far more healthy circumstances in Simpler Way settlements would dramatically reduce the incidence of mental and physical illness, and therefore the resources that would have to be put into health. There would be far less need for personnel, time, training, experts, equipment and buildings, saving a lot of energy and environmental impacts and freeing productive capacity for other purposes.
To begin with, the more labour-intensive lifestyles and the high quality food would guarantee that most people would be much healthier than they are now. Even more important would be the psychological factors, the elimination of insecurity, unemployment, poverty, loneliness and stress, long work and travel times and the worry about housing loan interest rates. (For a detailed account see TSW: The Simpler Way Alternative Society.) Everyone would experience a supportive and cooperative community, a stress free and relaxed pace, interesting projects, having a sense of purpose and being valued for making a worthwhile contribution. Caring communities would sense when someone was having difficulties and would seek to assist and head off crises. This is what happens in ancient societies such as Ladakh, and some Eco-villages have “village elders” with whom one can discuss problems. How high would be the incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, crime, depression, domestic violence, car accidents, eating disorders and random violence? There would be little or none of the mindless drunken pub violence by young people who lack worthwhile interests and purposes. There would be few of these problems on indigenous settlements if people there had purposes, productive activities and hobbies, and self-respect deriving from participating in the running of a thriving, supportive and admirable community.
Health and medical services would be mostly localised, but there would be a few centralised and specialised teaching hospitals. Drugs and medical equipment might be among the items still mostly produced far away in high-tech laboratories and transported into regions. Much of the increased R and D effort (below) would go into medical research. Satisfactory health provision by professionals would be organised primarily as a salaried public service, paid for generously by taxation, and geared primarily to prevention, rather than cure.
One of the many town committees would oversee health, keeping an eye on how sensible people were being about self care, providing dietary and fitness advice, educating, and thinking about preventative measures and what maximises good physical and mental health. Central on the agenda would be social health; concern with indices of solidarity, trust, town pride, crime, conflict, morale, conscientiousness, generosity, readiness to help and turn up for working bees and concerts. (Can you leave your bike unlocked in the street?)
So, for a number of reasons overall health costs would surely be a tiny fraction of today’s figure.
These too should be largely localised, i.e., providing important local information and facilitating discussion of local issues, while also relaying national and international news, information and analyses from a few more centralised sources. The suburb, town and region should be our cognitive centre of gravity, not the distant national or international arena, let alone the trivia provided by the global corporate media networks. A local community cannot run well unless there is a great deal of discussion, sharing of ideas, sorting out of the best options and awareness of how arrangements are working out. When difficult decisions have to be made all this activity contributes to the gradual movement towards consensus on what’s best for the town. Much of this communication, clarification and learning will take place informally but good local media, especially locally made radio programs, will be important in facilitating the awareness that is crucial for collective decision making and in reinforcing social cohesion. Media would also be powerful educational instruments, constantly presenting informative material on ideas, technical ways and innovations, and what other towns are doing.
Much of the program material would come from citizens, as distinct from being prepared by a few professionals. Many talks and interviews would be by local gardeners, craftspeople, experts and scholars. We would elect the voluntary boards of directors, and be able to observe and feedback on their deliberations. There would be no advertisements, but there would be elaborate ways of making information available on new ideas, products, events etc. Much of the “work” would be voluntary. Polished presentations would not be important because as with most things the concern would be what is sufficient, good enough, not what is the best, most slick and polished.
The significance of TV and IT would decline markedly. People would find much more worthwhile and interesting things to do with the time they now spend watching a screen. (The Australian per capita average is said to be more than three hours a day.) Radio would be the main medium. It is relatively cheap to produce and can be listened to while doing other things. Yet TV could have an important educational function and elaborate programs on other countries and cultures would help to satisfy some of the present desire for travel.
Use of papers and magazines could be cut dramatically, replaced by electronic sources. Many people could be engaged in providing entertainment, arts, documentaries, reports, etc., whereas at present global corporations send a relatively few programs worldwide, employing a relatively few super-stars and creative people. Global media send the same news and information material out to everyone, so can’t deal with the issues that are only of interest to your suburb or town.
All important media would be publicly owned and run, mostly via local cooperatives, as distinct from being privately owned. Media provide possibly the most important of all public services; everything depends on how well informed, thoughtful and caring publics are, and on how well issues are analysed and understood. It is therefore crucial that media should be seen as our agencies for conducting these vital public services, and thus should be regulated carefully by us, be fully visible and accountable, and ultimately under the oversight of town committees and meetings. It is not acceptable that they be owned by a distant corporation and operated to maximize its profits and political influence. They could conceivably be privately owned so long as they were subject to monitoring and intervention by the relevant committee implementing the strict performance guidelines. However in my view sound information and analyses are so crucial for the functioning of society that we would opt for public systems.
What about the IT realm? Doesn’t a sophisticated modern society have to be heavily dependent on computers, complex communications systems, satellites, highly trained scientists and wizard technologists? The Simpler Way would make whatever use of this realm was appropriate, and it would be of importance for many functions, but it would not have anything like the centrality it has today. It would have an important role in research, medicine, data storage, access to information, education, etc. but the need for it in business, accounting, media, leisure and everyday life would be greatly reduced. Most systems would not be large and complex. No IT would be needed for most household and local production and small firms and farms probably would not even need a computer. Relatively little leisure time would be spent in front of a screen. There would be IT available in neighbourhood workshops. IT is very energy expensive, takes a lot of talent that could be doing other things, and a high proportion of it produces mind-numbing trivial rubbish. If the worst came to the worst and the satellites could not be kept up there or the computer factories could not be maintained, we could get by well without computers. Just reflect on how good life could have been with 1960s technologies, assuming a rational and caring economy. Most of the above listed productive activities such as food and furniture production could take place quite well without any IT. We were able to make beautiful dinners, houses, clothes, furniture, festivals, public buildings, communities and concerts in the 1960s without it, indeed were able to do those things well in the 1760s!
Thus there would be far less need to produce computers and similar complicated devices. These would still be made in high tech factories, located in a few places in the world and would be among the relatively few things that would need to be traded internationally.
Nowhere are the implications of a zero growth and de-developed economy more profound than for the finance industry… because there would hardly be one. In a stable or zero-growth economy the only reason for investment would be to maintain a constant productive capacity as old premises and equipment needed replacing, or converting to different purposes. This could include developing new and better bakeries to replace old ones, and it could involve increasing the number of bakeries while reducing the number of dairies, but the aggregate volume of capital invested would not change over time. This is totally incompatible with a free market capitalist economy. It could only be done by rational community decision making and social control of investment.
The first point here is that In a zero-growth economy there could be no interest paid on loans. This is not primarily because of the moral unacceptability of people who are rich receiving money just through lending money at interest, when most people cannot do that and have to work for their incomes … producing things the rich consume without having to work. The core problem is that interest is incompatible with a zero-growth economy.
If a few own capital and can lend it and receive more money than they lent and thus accumulate capital, the economy would grow (…unless the lenders spend all their income on goods and services consumed, meaning they would be receiving and living off a fee for enabling borrowing from them to maintain society’s productive capacity …an arrangement that would not be tolerated by people with the sense to set up their own public bank.)
The role of most banks would be limited to providing a safe deposit site for savings, and making available small amounts of capital for development limited to renewing or revising infrastructures. The bank would be a core public institution, owned by the town and run by elected boards with open public meetings on all important issues, including formation of policy and making particular loan proposals. (The Spanish Mondragon bank provides the classic example of such collective control.) Town banks would decide what socially desirable purposes the town’s capital is to be lent for, referring the important cases to town meetings. By contrast the present financial system allows the town’s money to be lent only to those purposes which distant private banks expect will maximise their global profits, meaning that communities are starved of the investment they need.
So, that means the phasing out of almost the whole of the finance industry, presently making up to 40% of corporate profits and involving huge amounts of personnel, premises, equipment, paper etc. that could be saved and/or allocated to better uses. (For the detail see TSW: The Economic System: 3. Money.) More importantly, a) it prevent little people and poor towns from getting investment capital ( because they can’t afford the interest rates big borrowers can pay), and b) it siphons vast amounts of wealth out of communities, via the interest and fees it gets on the loans that it does make. On average in 2017every Australian household paid almost $3000 p.a. in bank profits alone, a total over $30 billion p.a.. The operating costs of a community bank with a board of unpaid volunteers might be almost nothing beyond rent + salaries for a few part-time staff. In addition as Kennedy (1995) documents, interest flows from the poor who have to go into debt, to the rich, who have money to lend. She estimates that perhaps one-third of every dollar we spend goes to pay interest to those who have lent capital.
Similar considerations would apply to insurance. This too should be a community controlled public service, organised to provide security at minimal cost and not to make profits. Insurance payments would be much lower because property would be less expensive. (Houses built of earth have low fire risk.) Far less paid work would need to be insured, especially in dangerous occupations like steel works, mining, agribusiness and multi-story building construction. The main source of insurance would be non-financial, that is, as in any tribe, community solidarity. If the wind blows your roof off everyone will be around immediately to help fix it.
In The Simpler Way most of the goods and services we receive would not involve money. Most could be free, although “paid for” by our giving away of surpluses, contributions to working bees and mutual generosity. Cooperatives would record labour inputs and allocate produce accordingly. Thus it is possible that eventually we might entirely eliminate the use of money, relying where necessary only on records to enable tracking of obligations. (After we don’t need money to organize a good household economy.)
Thus most of the present huge expenditure associated with finance could easily be eliminated.
Older, experienced people would be highly valued contributors to production and more importantly to social functioning, given their wisdom and their knowledge of local people, social conditions, ecosystems and history. Having spent many years contributing to stable communities they would be known, appreciated and respected by the younger people caring for them, mostly informally and spontaneously. There would be no compulsory retirement age, and few would retire in the normal sense. Most would want to remain active contributors, rather than cease “working”. People could slowly phase down their level of activity as they wished. This would ensure that the community continued to benefit from the productive time, expertise and experience developed over a lifetime that is wasted in consumer society.
Much of the care of older people would be carried out by the community via the committees, working bees, rosters and the informal involvement of ordinary people. With five days a week to spare many people would drop in frequently to chat and help out. Old people would be able to remain in their homes much longer, there would be little need for retirement “homes” and specialised staff. There would be small local hospitals and nursing facilities close to where people had lived, set within the busiest parts of settlements, especially the gardens, so people could pop in and so that residents could see and be involved in activities around them. Much of the ordinary work and care would be provided “free” via the community working bees. We might pay some of our town taxes by signing up for extra rosters.
The experience of old, infirm, mentally and physically disadvantaged and mentally ill people would therefore be far better than it is at present. They would be cared for by familiar people right in the middle of their communities, able to observe and be involved in the everyday activities going on around them. There are many valued contributions that even seriously disadvantaged people can make, such as feeding the chickens. Visitors would be dropping into hospitals and nursing homes from the town, especially at morning and afternoon tea time. Compare the way present society isolates older people, invalids and mentally disadvantaged people in expensive institutions with nothing to do or to be involved in or contribute to. “Inmates” are often intensely bored, lonely and convinced they are worthless burdens. Then expensive professional staff have to be paid for to deal with the consequences. As with “health” the corporations have pounced on abundant opportunities for lucrative business. In a good community many functions are carried out automatically and without monetary cost, but in consumer-capitalist society these are no longer provided by ordinary people and are commodified and commercialized, generating sales and siphoning the savings of aged people into pockets of shareholders in health-provider corporations…and providing high quality care for the rich while minimizing provision for the rest.
Old people would have watertight guarantees of lifetime security, unlike today where one’s fate depends on the skill (and honesty) of one’s retirement fund manager in a predatory financial world that can collapse and eliminate one’s retirement savings overnight. Communities would have most of the responsibility for looking after all their members, including young, ill, handicapped, mentally unwell, old and infirm. (This was the arrangement in Medieval Europe, before the advent of individualism and market society.) This is not to say that the remnant state would have no responsibilities in this area but in the coming era of limits and scarcity state resources for such functions will be greatly reduced. In any case states can’t do caring as well as we can. More importantly, as has been explained, in a zero-growth economy provision for old age cannot come from interest on superannuation investments.
A problem to be worked out would be provision for people who have not lived in the town for long and have not yet accumulated much respect, appreciation and “spiritual credit”. However settlements would be more stable than at present, with less mobility in and out, reducing the problem somewhat. It should not be too difficult to work out arrangements for national accounting and transfers of resources and credits between settlements.
In The Simpler Way education has very different goals and procedures compared with consumer society. (See TSW: Education: A Radically Critical View. and TSW: Education in the Alternative Society.) Education would not be about competing for the credentials giving access to jobs and privileges for a diminishing few in robotized consumer society. It would be about enabling an enjoyable, meaningful life as a citizen contributing to a good community, while continually growing in wisdom. The main implication for the present discussion is that there would be a greatly reduced dollar cost, deriving from the fact that most education would take place in the community more or less spontaneously as children worked with adults performing the important every-day tasks needed to keep the community functioning well. Although attention would be given to the educational progress of each individual child, involving (a small number of) professional ”teachers”, there might not be any need for schools. The whole community would continually be teachers, (and learners) and the town’s complex social, political, economic and technical systems would be the “classroom”. There would probably be important roles for some professional educators, but ordinary citizens would do most of the educating.
Education has little to do with training, which is what mostly takes place in schools and universities today. The training of trade and professional people is important and might take place in much the same way that it does today, but far fewer specialists or technical experts would be needed. With much simpler systems many trade level tasks would be carried out by ordinary handymen. (I do all my own plumbing, machinery maintenance, metal work, gardening, fencing, painting, carpentry and building, plant propagation, electrical installation and maintenance, etc., with little expertise in any one area.) In an economy with mostly simple technologies and nowhere near as much production or heavy industry nor as many complex global systems, there would be far less need for highly sophisticated technocrats (let alone lawyers, financial consultants, accountants, security analysts, marketing experts, PR departments, IT experts, CEOs…) Again the “jack of all trades” would be the norm, always with access to a few highly trained experts.
Our educational institutions could then focus on Education (as distinct from mere training), but this can be organized effectively without expensive plant or systems of professional experts; think Wikipedia plus discussion groups, visits, field days, well-read citizens and access to local gurus and art and craft wizards, overseen by the town’s culture, leisure and wisdom committee. (Again see the detailed discussion in TSW: Education in the Alternative Society.)
Because there would be little or no crime, stress, depression, unemployment, ”exclusion” or poverty, the incidence of social breakdown and therefore the need for “welfare” services would be negligible. In healthy communities most of the needs of those people who do run into difficulties are met or headed off spontaneously by ordinary citizens, as distinct from by expensive professionals and institutions. There would however probably always be some minimal need for police, courts and prisons.
A major element in The Simpler Way is the devolvement of most governing to the level of the neighbourhood, suburb, town and region, and mostly to informal processes that do not involve bureaucracy or paid professionals. Town meetings, referenda and spontaneous discussion between people would usually establish consensus about what is best for the town, so in general voting would be avoided if possible. Only the people who live in the town can make the right decisions about what is best for the town. The dollar costs of governing the town would be a minute fraction of present levels.
Ideally the governing of the more distant remnant state would eventually follow Anarchist principles, that is it would be carried out by federations and delegates from towns and/or regions who bring all recommendations back down to towns for decision. States would have no independent power; they would be the agencies receiving instructions from the town level to undertake the relatively few tasks requiring national organization (…such as locating factories so that all towns could export some necessary items to the national economy, in order to be able to import necessities they could not produce for themselves.) Thus the state and national level issues would not be about struggles over mega-buck developments; they would be about how best to organise national capacities to providing the inputs all towns need.
East Hills is a typical dormitory suburb, with almost no discernible community. Few people living there today would have any association or interaction with any others in the suburb. There is not much more than a hotel, about five shops, a dentist and a solicitor’s office. There is not even a shopping centre enabling informal contact and familiarity. Team sports are played on the main park area but this is on an edge of the suburb and much of its activity seems to be hired use by distant clubs. There is a Scout hall but there are few if any sporting or other clubs or associations based within the suburb. The streets are almost completely deserted almost all the time, apart from the few people walking to and from the railway station. All the roads serve only as driveways for cars to get out to the main road once a day. That means more than 17 ha of land remain idle and useless almost all the time.
The suburb provides a classic example of the damage “development” does to millions of villages around the world. The extension of the railway some decades ago bulldozed the whole of the main street, obliterating the town centre including perhaps fifteen shops. The few remaining businesses illustrate the typical pathetic wreckage left by “the death of the high street”, the struggling two dollar junk shop, the boarded up premises, the garage frequently unable to afford petrol to sell, the hair dresser, the mall with only two shops open. Apart from the garage, the small take away shop, and the dentist, none of the businesses provide basic services such as vegetables, groceries, butcher or hardware. In Britain the typical high street now contains many betting shops, op-shops, beauty salons, small fast food outlets, boarded up bankrupt premises …and so many coffee shops that they employ more people than there are in the British army!
Community is a much neglected and little understood phenomenon. It is an extremely important factor in the quality of life, and the viability of a society. It cannot be given, purchased, or imposed. It cannot be artificially created, either by external planners or officials, or by enthusiastic social workers out to build “social capital”. There’s no point trying to whip it up by publicity campaigns or street parties. It can only emerge as a consequence of the economic, geographical and social conditions and forces people experience, conditions which throw people together and generate interaction, familiarity, sharing, cooperation, helping, trust, pride, giving and receiving, social debts, gratitude, reciprocity, mutual concern, feelings of security and connection, and which prompt thinking about the welfare of the locality. The revised suburb described above would subject people to experiences, forces, obligations, conditions, delights etc. which would automatically produce these “spiritual” effects.
These would be the most important elements in the high quality of life the new suburb would extend to all. Compared to them money, property and possessions are of no importance. Much effort should go into assessing and monitoring these non-material factors and they should be the main indices used in the formation and improvement of social policy. Conventional economics is totally incapable of dealing with them, if only because monetary measures cannot represent them. Obviously social policy and “development” thinking should focus on the quality of life, and pay little if any attention to the GDP (…which is only the measure the capitalist class wants us to focus on.) This is where the Eco-village is triumphant; its supreme goal and achievement is strong and supportive community. (For impressive evidence see Lockyer, 2017, and Grinde, 2017.)
The fundamental reasons why only settlements of this kind can enable the huge reductions in resource use required are to do with the integration of functions that localism and smallness of scale make possible.
Consider the supply of eggs.
Industrial/commercial/globalised egg production involves lots of steel, fuels, international transport, machinery, trucks, tractors, ships, chemicals, bank loans, insurance, outrageous CEO salaries, agribusiness feed production, warehouses, packaging, advertising, cool rooms, supermarket lighting, offices and computers, experts with PhDs, and chickens crammed into bad conditions in big sheds. Agribusiness feed production mines the soil of nutrients, which then can't be returned. Manures become a waste problem because they are contaminated with chemicals and are far from the distant soils they came from. Artificial fertilizers must be trucked to the fields producing the chicken feed, where they damage soils and waterways. Chemicals are needed to control disease in the crammed sheds…etc. etc.
Backyard, co-op and local small farm egg production makes it possible to eliminate almost all those costs. Kitchen and garden scraps can be fed to chickens and manure can go into the gardens and aquaponic ponds, helping to eliminate the need to purchase artificial fertilizers to produce food. Chickens clean up and cultivate garden beds. They reproduce themselves. They eat slugs, reducing the need for pesticides, they can find much of their own feed by free-ranging, they provide meat, and are a source of diversity and entertainment in settlements. Backyard chickens are happy. Because people and other functions are nearby “wastes” can be passed directly to users. Packaging, advertising, transport, warehouses and vast armies of expensive professionals in suits operating computers are not needed. An analysis of inputs has found that the dollar and energy costs of the industrial-commercial egg are around 200 times that of a backyard egg.
(Trainer, Malik and Lenzen, 2018.)
The very small scale and short distances in localism make it possible for one activity to have multiple functions. Outputs from a process can be valuable inputs to other processes nearby rather than waste problems. Ducks eat slugs, provide eggs, meat, feathers, manure and entertainment … and ducklings, which can be immediately used nearby. Logistics only involve word of mouth and wheelbarrows, not global trucking, shipping and IT corporations.
Of central importance is the social integration, the informal networks. In consumer society we tend to have only one weak connection with most of the people we deal with; for instance you might know Mary only as the supermarket check-out lady. But in a village the person who bakes your bread could also be the wicket keeper in your cricket team, the comedian at the concerts, chair of the fruit tree committee, the one who enticed your cat down from the roof last Easter, and your go-to man for bee hive advice. This is a multi-faceted familiarity involving a history of many connections and bonds with most of the people around you. Your neighbourhood would have an extremely complex network of these connections feeding into many factors such as reputation and respect, debt and gratitude, friendships, trust, readiness to care and support, collective wisdom, resilience, community solidarity, feeling of security, and capacity to find solutions to problems. One consequence is that synergism can flourish in small communities.
These connections enable rapid, efficient and costless action. Familiar people close by can exchange information, organise, cooperate in managing systems, detect and fix problems, immediately and spontaneously, without any need for bureaucracies, reporting to head offices, or filling out forms in triplicate. Remember these communities manage themselves; everyone is a member of the big team that plans, builds, runs and maintains their own social, political, social and “spiritual” systems. If a pipe is seen to be leaking people will fix it. If it’s a complex problem they will know who has the expertise.
Another consequence of individuals being integrated into caring communities is that the presently huge dollar and psychological costs of social breakdown will probably be largely if not entirely avoided. (Of course small communities can be oppressive too, but Eco-villages work on procedures and skills to make sure that discontents and problems are aired and resolved.)
The care of older people and invalids also illustrates the significance of integration. If facilities for care of aged and unwell people are located in the middle of town beside the main community garden the residents will be able to observe and be involved, and the gardeners will benefit from their ideas and advice. When people only have to earn money a few days a week many will have time to help out and chat, and to enable old people to remain in their homes longer. Thus elderly people will not feel isolated, bored or useless, and the need for expensive professional “carers” will be reduced.
Integration creates redundancy, resilience, empowerment, independence, security and resilience. In highly self-sufficient Simpler Way communities technologies are mostly very simple, supply chains are local, there is a lot of food growing all the time, and almost everyone is a Jack of all trades who understand all the systems and is able to make and fix just about everything. If the global economy self-destructs we will still be able to provide ourselves with good food. Above all our connectedness and mutual dependence empowers; we all know we have great collective capacity to deal with whatever comes our way.
The following tables summarise some of the above dollar and energy cost estimates.
(Per person per year.)
Restructured suburb. Present Australian Average. Production costs. Equipment costs. .
Food. (Purchased.) $1,095 (Uncertain.) $9,125 (My est. Incl. dining out.) $4,564* (Not incl. dining out.)
Food. (Equipment cost.) $29 Non-food items. $15 Clothing + footwear $100 $847* Holidays $1,000 Travel Personal $400 Transport (household only) $3,987* Power and other fuel $790* Recreation $3,3125*
Total goods and services $27,444* *Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2015-2016), Cat. 6530.
Energy costs. (MJ/pp/y.) (There is too little information at this stage for these figures to be very meaningful.)
Restructured suburb. Present Australian average for production/consumption not including embodied energy Production costs. Equipment costs.
Food production. (Excl. small farms.) .036** 90 47,000 (US estimate.) Non food products 15 Clothing and footwear Space heating and cooling. 200 7,700 Holidays House construction 74 Household equipment. 300 Transport Personal 150 20,000 Freight into town 15 Electricity 256 9,400 Food producing equipment 90 Tools (not incl. food producing) 15 Australian primary energy use c. 260,000 Domestic or household use, excluding transport, c. 20,000
The numbers for the remade settlement roughly align with those reported from Lockyer’s (2017) study of Dancing Rabbit eco-village, which found the following extremely low values for % of US average US per capita dollar and energy expenditure.
Car use, 8%.
Distance driven, 10%.
Liquid fuel use, 6%.
Solid waste, 18%
Proportion of solid waste recycled on site, 34%.
Electricity use 18%, and three times as much electricity is sent to the grid as is used.
Water use, 23%, and two-thirds of this is collected from village roofs.
This exploration of restructuring and reducing possibilities indicates that the Simpler Way might enable a reduction in the order of 95% of present energy and dollar costs, but only if radical change in geographical, settlement, political, economic and social systems is assumed.
Again remember that the alternative ways discussed would have their greatest reduction effects not at the household level focused on in this study but on national and international energy and dollar budgets, for instance by eliminating global food transportation.
Similarly the foregoing estimation has been mainly to do with individual household consumption and has not taken into account the synergies that occur at the system level. For instance when a cluster of households shares tools, assistance, surpluses, land and work then individual household rates of purchasing or food expenditure or work time can be dramatically reduced. Similarly there would be enormous reductions in national infrastructure and energy use which do not show up in the above examination of household accounts, such as for road wear, mental illness, crime...
Also, consider the greatly increased “spiritual” productive capacity that The Simpler Way releases, the enthusiasm, time, energy, conscientiousness, thinking and innovation that comes from happy, secure, cooperative citizens proud of their communities and in control of their situation, eager to join working bees and to ensure that their community runs well. The members of an Eco-village are pro-active, always on the look out for things that need fixing or improving and for ways they can contribute to the welfare of their community. They are empowered and energized by the knowledge that their fate and their capacity to create an admirable town are in their hands. Again compare this with the apathy and TV-watching stupification that goes with stressed, competitive individuals isolated in their private houses in dormitory suburbs, having little or nothing to do with their community and no sense of empowerment, and who whose engagement in productive activity is mainly/only driven by a wage. In Eco-villages much development, administration, fixing, giving, innovating and cohesion-building takes place at no dollar or resource cost. Committees, working bees and spontaneous discussion and action attend to local tasks usually without any need for formal organization. (Thus the Anarchist principle of spontaneity is evident.)
The contradiction is stark:
Conventional-consumer-capitalist development is driven by growth and market forces to constantly increase the amount of investment, production, consumption, trade, profit, and GDP, despite the obvious fact that this is accelerating us towards terminal breakdown of global economic, social, political and ecological systems. Even in the richest countries most people might be working three times too hard, paying fifteen times too much for a house, worrying about unemployment and insecurity in old age, seeing inequality and homelessness skyrocket, and watching ecosystems and the quality of life deteriorate. Few realize that as resource scarcity intensifies, especially the possible cessation of access to oil within a decade or so, there is likely to be catastrophic and irretrievable breakdown, caused by the manic suicidal quest by super-rich and deplorables alike for limitless growth in wealth.
The alternative, Simpler Way gears available local resources to the collective provision of the basic goods and services needed. It cannot take place unless the economy has undergone large scale de-growth to a steady state, and unless market forces and profit are prevented from determining what happens. There must be adoption of values which contradict those driving consumer-capitalist society; “lifestyles” must be frugal and self-sufficient and all interest in affluence and wealth must have been abandoned given the recognition that these guarantee catastrophe and that there are much more rewarding alternatives. This alternative can be built quickly, by ordinary people, with little or no dependence on capital. Thousands in Eco-village and Transition Towns movements are either doing these things or moving in this direction.
The profound implications for Third World “development”.
Among the most important and most easily overlooked implications are those for thinking about Third World “development”. Under the dominant approach today development is determined by whatever will maximize the profits of those with capital to invest; need is irrelevant and ignored. Your country will get investment in factories or plantations only if some corporation thinks that will make more money than investing in anything else anywhere else in the world. Governments think their only option is to entice investors, by devoting scarce resources to building the infrastructures they want, and giving tax holidays and access to resources. One consequence is that investment never flows into developing what is most needed. It goes mostly into producing things to export to consumers in rich countries, or to sell to elites in the poor country.
Conventional economics cannot envisage any alternative to this “miniscule trickle down someday” approach, which inevitably results in development mostly for the benefit of the rich, i.e., those who own corporations and those who shop in rich world supermarkets. Meanwhile about 5 billion people live in poverty although they have around them most of the resources they need to produce for themselves thriving communities meeting most of their basic needs and providing high quality of life. The conventional economist insists that the only way to raise their “living standards” is to produce more to sell into the global market economy so they can earn more income…to purchase goods from that economy, and thereby slowly accumulate the capital needed for developing the power stations, freeways, ports, houses etc. … to eventually enable the kind of industries and lifestyles the rich world has.
The Simper Way shows that this entire world view is not just totally mistaken, it masks the plunder that is conventional development. Conventional theory is an ideology endorsing practices that enrich the rich by transferring to them the resources the poor once had, asserting that this is the only way to satisfactory development and in time wealth will trickle down to enrich all. But the above analysis shows that highly satisfactory Simpler Way communities could be developed quickly, by ordinary people and with very little need for capital. It is a vicious myth that a good life for all can only be achieved after decades of trickle down from capitalist development. The amount of resources that would need to be imported to build the simple animal pens and dams and forest gardens needed to raise village self-sufficiency is very small and could easily be afforded by national governments.
But Simpler Way alternative development contradicts the interests of global corporations, banks and consumers. The global rich, including Third World elites, prosper most when people have no alternative but to work in plantations and sweatshops for wages which they then have to spend purchasing imported goods from corporations. It’s no good to them if people grow their own carrots rather than buy them from supermarkets. Conventional capitalist development maximizes the amount of business that people with capital can invest in. Simpler Way communal self-sufficient development is a mortal threat to that.
The tragedy of development is that so few recognize that capitalist development is a monumental and avoidable tragedy. Many people in many regions are groping towards the alternative. The government of Senegal has the goal of converting 1,400 villages into Eco-villages.
ALTERNATIVE VS CONVENTIONAL FOOD PRODUCTION.
Normal agribusiness provision of food is one of the most faulty and unsustainable systems in consumer-capitalist society. Consider the following comparisons with the approach assumed above.
DOLLAR AND ENERGY COSTS FOR FOOD PRODUCING EQUIPMENT.
The items taken into account are listed in Remaking Settlements: Tool Inventory -- Dollar and Energy Costs, along with estimated dollar and energy costs.
a) Tools excluding pumps, greenhouse and tanks. $915 Assuming 10 people using the set $91/pp Assuming 30 year lifetime (?) $3/pp/y Tools equivalent to 58 kg steel = 2,320 MJ 232 MJ/pp 8 MJ/pp/y
b) 12 v pumps, $350 and 330 MJ each(?) At Pigface Point 7 provide for 7 people, but probably could provide for 20(?). Lifetime assumed, 10 years. $2,450 $120/pp $12/pp/y 2,310 MJ 220 MJ/pp 22 MJ/pp/y
c) Animal pens.
Fencing for poultry pens; rabbit, sheep, (pigs?)…wire netting, fencing wire, tie wire, star posts, gates (home made) Assume = 2 pens @ 10m x 5m per household, incl. proportion of community pens, so $40 for 10(?) kg of wire plus $50 for 10 kg of star posts = $90 $9/pp Assume 20 year life $2/pp/y 800 MJ 80 MJ/pp 4 MJ/pp/y
d) Animal sheds, feed sheds. Three small ones at Pigface Point made from earth. (Sheds can be made entirely from mud brick, with dome roofs thinly surfaced with cement.) Assume 40 year life (probably far longer), providing for 10 people.
Floors, concrete in some sheds. Corrugated iron roofs: 10 sheets (200x90cm = 18 m2)/shed = 70 kg/shed = 210 kg = 8,000 MJ Timber frames, can be unsawn saplings. Total; $600 $60/pp $2/pp/y 8,000 MJ 800 MJ/pp 20 MJ/pp/y
e) Greenhouse. 5m x 3m (Earth walls, Alsenite roof and front, plus rafters. 40 year lifetime.. $400 $40/pp $1/pp/y 1,000 MJ(?) 100 MJ/pp 3 MJ/pp/y f) Small water tanks and fish ponds. Home made, thin cement plaster over chicken wire plus rods. Assume five at 2 m diameter x 1 m deep, providing for 3 households, 40 year lifetime.
5 x $130 = $650 $65/pp $2/pp/y 5 x 130 MJ = 650 MJ 65 MJ/pp 1 MJ/pp/y g. Polypipe for irrigation. Approx. 500m of 12 and 25 mm pipe, @ $1/m, and 17 kg per 200m roll $500 $50/pp Assume 10 year lifetime $5/pp/y At 70 MJ/kg 2,975MJ 298MJ/pp 30MJ/pp/y
h. Irrigation fittings: Steel pipe, taps and (home-made, brazed) pipe fittings, plus estimate for brass and copper, brass items (very approximate estimate), plus plumbing tools, including pipe threading dies, pipe vice, thread seal, water filters… assume 50 kg (?) at $20/kg(?)
$200 $20/pp Assume 40 y lifetime $0.5/pp/y Assume 60 MJ/kg 3,000 MJ 300 MJ/pp 8 MJ/pp/y
Difficult to estimate; assume establishment of tanks and ponds around 3 – 4 houses plus their share of neighbourhood commons ponds etc. takes 15 bags of cement (300 kg) at 6 MJ/kg per bag when reinforcing wire and sand are included.
10 bags of cement, @ $10 (incl. sand and wire) $80 $30/pp under $1/pp/y 1,200 MJ 120 MJ/pp Assume 50 year lifetime 4 MJ/pp/y
Totals:$ $/pp $/pp/y MJ MJ/pp MJ/pp/yTools 915 91 3 2,320 232 8Pumps 2450 120 12 2310 220 22Pens 90 9 .2 800 80 4Sheds 600 60 2 8000 800 20Greenhouse 400 40 1 1000 100 3Tanks, ponds 650 65 2 650 65 1Poly pipe 500 50 5 2975 298 30Fittings 200 20 .5 3000 300 8Cement 80 30 1 1200 120 4 Totals. 5,885 475 29 22,255 2,215 90
Thus long term per capita costs of equipment are 8 cents a day, and 0.07kWh.
The figures in this appendix are derived in TSW: Remaking Settlements: Tool Inventory -- Dollar and Energy Costs.
Motors Four c 240 W at $200 and 200 MJ each $800 800 MJ Assuming 15 people $53/pp Assuming 10 year life $5/pp/y 5 MJ/pp/y
Hand tools $2470 = 118 kg steel = 4,720 MJ Assuming 15 people $165/pp 315 MJ/pp Assuming 40 year lifetime $4/pp/y 8 MJ/pp/y Total household tools + motors
$3,270 5,520 MJ $218/pp $9/pp/y 13 MJ/pp/y
Tools at community level workshop.
Small metal working lathe. $1500 = 50 kg steel Wood turning lathe. (Home made .) $100 10 kg “ Heavier drill press. $200 20 kg “ Chainsaw $700 7 kg “ Brazing, welding gear $500 5 kg “ . Community workshop total $3,000 92 kg steel = 3,680 MJ
Assuming 50 people use workshop tools = $60/pp 73 MJ/pp Assuming 10 year lifetime = $6/pp/y 7 MJ/pp/y
Total home plus community workshop tools
$4,770 $278/pp $15/pp/y
8,090 MJ 86 MJ/pp 15 MJ/pp/y
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