As promised, in this post I shall detail the basic structural alterations that I feel society must make in order to build a sustainable society and prevent the almost certain ecological cataclysm that current social systems and modes of production are inexorably driving us toward.
It is a vision of society that rejects the concepts of growth, specialization, hierarchy, dominance and the all-encompassing tyranny of efficiency as being the overriding concern that tramples humanity underfoot and shackles mankind into being the servants of his vaunted economic systems, rather than the other way around.
It is a vision of society that embraces sustainability, permaculture, egalitarianism, decentralization, localized production, appropriate technology, and the shift of cultural mores away from being broadly anthropocentric and technocentric toward those of a sustainable ecocentrism. Instead of being viewed as a collection of objects to used up and exploited, nature, the earth, and the universe itself, must come to be viewed as objects of 'reverence' (for lack of a better word). Mankind must come to view himself, not as the master of all things, but as parts of an inter-connected whole, of which he is but one important part among many.
In this post I will not concern myself with how we get from 'A' to 'B', but will instead confine my post to describing one possible description of 'B' from among many other possibilities. The details (which I present in a scattershot fashion) should, of course, be adaptable to local circumstances. But the more that is adopted from from what follows, the better, I think, the results will be.
Community: c. 250 people incorporated into a worker owned and democratically managed business situated on 1 square mile of land (640 acres). Approximate land usage shall be 160 acres of sustainably harvested woodland, 160 acres of orchards and cropland, 160 acres of pasturage for livestock and 160 acres for residential and industrial buildings (although in accordance with precepts of permaculture, it will not be laid out in single purpose quadrants, but will instead be all interwoven). The Community shall endeavor to be as self-supporting as possible, and to likewise maintain as small a carbon footprint as possible. It shall furthermore strive to provide its members a quality of life that exceeds that of mainstream society.
Housing: worker/owners shall have private apartments in community owned and managed co-housing unit(s). Apartments would be smaller than contemporary standards, but there would be many common facilities available to the tenant/owners, such as a common kitchen, dining room, laundry, child care facilities, guest rooms, and recreational features. Common meals would be served three times daily for anyone wanting to partake of them. With some possible exceptions, that which is within your apartment would be your private, personal property. That which is without your apartment would be communal property.
Construction: Where feasible, all buildings would be 100% off grid structures constructed from sustainable materials such as straw bale, cob, rammed earth and CEB (compressed earthen blocks). Such materials are cheap, locally available, more energy efficient than standard construction and aesthetically pleasing in their own right. Earth sheltering and green (sod) roofs would also be widely employed where applicable. Rainwater harvesting and graywater systems would be standard and widespread. All toilets would be composting toilets.
Energy and Heating: All energy and heat would be generated within the Community through a combination of solar panels, photovoltaic cells, micro wind turbines, wood burning stoves and micro biogas plants (which convert animal and human waste into energy).
Permaculture: This would be the foundational philosophical approach and the prime design criteria applied to the layout of the Community. To quote one site, "Permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more." Another says, "A central theme in permaculture is the design of ecological landscapes that produce food. Emphasis is placed on multi-use plants, cultural practices such as sheet mulching and trellising, and the integration of animals to recycle nutrients and graze weeds. However, permaculture entails much more than just food production. Energy-efficient buildings, waste water treatment, recycling, and land stewardship in general are other important components of permaculture."
Woodland: Fast growing and/or commercially valuable trees such as Black Walnut, Black Cherry and Paulownia would be sustainably managed on 160 acres of land. With 20' between trees, that's 109 trees per acre and 17,440 trees for 160 acres. If it takes a tree 50 years to reach maturity, you could sustainably harvest 2% of the total trees per year (348 trees per year). The wood obtained thereby would be processed within the Community for construction, fuel for for the wood burning stoves, or for the community's custom furniture business (see below).
Crops: A wide variety of organic crops would be grown on approximately 160 acres, including many perennial plants and heirloom varieties. The Community should be able to provide a varied and healthy diet on crops grown within the Community itself. Hay could be grown to supplement livestock grazing if necessary. The Community would also grow several varieties of hops and barley for their own microbrewery (see below).
Livestock: The Community would maintain approximately 160 acres of pastureland to grass feed a variety of dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens, including many uncommon or rare species. This would provide meat for the Community and for sale, and provide cow, sheep and goat's milk for the Community artisanal cheese industry (see below).
Aquaponics: The Community would operate an aquaponics greenhouse. This is a system where hydroponic vegetable gardens and fish raising tanks are connected so that the water circulates between them. The waste water from the fish tanks is filtered through the hydroponic gardens, which provides nutrients for the plants and cleans the water, which is then filtered back around into the fish tanks. If duckweed is grown to feed the fish, then the system is almost wholly self-contained. The only outside requirement would be the energy necessary to operate the pumps and heat the greenhouse. This is one example of 'waste' material being put to use rather than being discarded or discharged back into the environment. Tilapia and prawns could be sustainably raised for internal consumption, or for sale, and certain vegetables could be grown throughout the year.
Industry: Our hypothetical Community could potentially have several different income generating industries. I've arranged our example to have a custom furniture business, a microbrewery and an artisanal cheese industry, all of which would use materials produced within the Community itself and generate income to keep the Community financially solvent. This could be further supplemented by aquaponics, wool shearing, and the sale of organic farm and meat CSA (community supported agriculture) shares to the outlying area.
Labor: Community members would have the option of working in any or all of the Community industries and would be encouraged to participate in several, rather than specializing in just one. This would provide a more stimulating variety of work for the members and provide broad cross training in the event that any one industry should happen to be at peak season, or somehow require extra labor. Workers would be left to arrange their own work schedules as much as possible within the limitations of work availability and requirements. Members active within each industry would elect a foreman to help organize and facilitate production in that industry as necessary.
Food: The community would have an omnivorous diet, with vegetarian (or meat minimal) options being prominently featured. Beef, being the least efficient source of meat, would be rare. Pork and chicken would be more common. Tilapia or prawns from the Community aquaponics industry would also be fairly common. The Community should be able to wholly feed itself from the resources grown/raised within the Community. Eating seasonally, the diet would be more vegetable heavy in the summer months and potentially more meat/dairy heavy in the winter months.
Cars: With the Community members all living within walking distance of their work areas, the need for automobiles will be greatly reduced. As all food items could likewise be obtained within the Community itself, the need for automobiles would be even further reduced. It is presumed that the great cost of owning and maintaining ones own private automobile would no longer be worth the expense and that most (or all) would choose to do without. In order to provide transportation in that event, the Community would collectively own and maintain a fleet of, say, 25 vehicles that members could rent as necessary, paying only for gas and mileage.
Pay: As much of the Community's income is used to maintain itself and to provide for a variety of common services and features, actual wage payment to worker/owners will be quite small as compared to mainstream businesses. When the extremely small cost of living within the Community itself is taken into account, however, the discretionary spending of members may not compare too unfavorably with most of their mainstream contemporaries. But the purpose of the Community is not to provide its members with high wages, but to provide a humane, fulfilling and sust...