A new method emerges for how we live
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

April 27, 2014

I was recently enjoying an afternoon in the sunshine on the back porch, discussing with a roommate, his efforts to get into engineering school with a focus on sustainable development. We talked mostly about single solution inventions vs. systemic educational approaches.

During the chat, I mentioned research I carried out on food waste last year for Unilever. Instead of finding a magic bullet such as better packaging or an aseptic method, my research group found reductions in food waste could be realized if companies located within the same supply chain, communicated better with each other (See online lecture). With more companies becoming involved in moving a single product from inception to consumption over increasingly large distances, food waste through spoilage, industry standards, and transport methods now contribute to 1.3 billion tones of food waste worldwide, annually.

This led me to start thinking about centralization vs. decentralization as a driving force. I believe up until recently, societies at large have increasingly centralized processes as it historically made sense with benefits including protection, production, and knowledge acquisition. If tomatoes are grown at one place, that greenhouse can do a far better job in specializing in tomato production, than many individuals working to complete the same task in separate locations. This would also go for defending cities against aggressors, or many of the production lines associated with the industrial revolution.

However, this centralized effort is inherently dependent on communication and as our economies have grown to include major cities, countries, and now often found operating on a global level, this communication often breaks down, especially across company or country boundaries. Thus increasingly, sources of waste are becoming rampant within our systems from food to energy production.

As this centralized movement starts to lose its advantages at scale, people are not only finding food cheaper to grow, but finding local power generation like solar and wind more efficient. Instead of transporting electricity across miles of cables and loosing energy to the environment, localized production and now storage in batteries like the Tesla vehicles are becoming the name of the game.

I would not go so far as to say centralizing processes is completely negative. It still serves many valuable needs up to now, including community cohesion and most importantly the spread of education. The web for instance has given us the ability to communicate rapidly and efficiently across the world, which is certainly needed as we increasingly operate as a single global population. But perhaps what we’re currently starting to realize is that the process of centralization applied to most aspects of life as a solution since 10,000 B.C. is not a silver bullet anymore. The world is still a big place and our challenges with communication and transport over vast distances are still very real. As a concept it may still apply to various industries, but a new method is emerging and it is proving to be highly efficient.

With that, time to get back to the garden and till the soil for the spring crop.

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