Monday, 30 May 2011

Before a Transition, we must Prepare

For those of you that have read my Posts: Changing The World and Summary of the Transition, some of the beginning here might sound like repetition, so feel free to skip the next paragraph. If you have not heard of a Resource Based Economy, please take some time and click here, although I must state that I am not promoting the Venus Project or Jaque Fresco in this post.

The one thing everyone (99.8%) on the planet has in common, is that we are not billionaires. To eliminate this issue and several others, and to fix more than half the problems around the world, we must rid ourselves of the concept that we own possessions. Rather, the next logical evolutionary step is a shift to a shared global resource based economy. 

To achieve this economy, there are a number of detailed requirements. These include a Global awareness of a viable alternative economy and plan for transition into this economy, unity of action and purpose, a dynamic autonomous resource management system(designed for efficiency and sustainability), several well organised support programs using experts in various fields to assist with transitions, the list goes on.

Achieving a "world without money" seems like a completely idyllic setup. One that most people would shun very quickly. Looking at the internet after a quick search for The Venus Project will show a great number of people latching onto the lack of a detailed plan of transition into a RBE. I have also joined this bandwagon, and now consider the Venus Project to be an elitist (scarcity based) endeavor. My summary of transition has met with no reply from Mr. Fresco or Miss. Meadows, leaving me with no alternative but to spurn them, and try to gather their followers toward achieving a better world.

This is not simply done. Fresco is the only person to ever truly study a resource based economy in much detail, and so (being that he has been so very secretive about his work), I can only begin to emulate his designs. The principles are simple though.

7 Principles of a Resource Based Economy
  1. With the correct, direct application of technology geared toward sustainability, a significant improvement in the health, well being, education and productive input of the global general population can be achieved.
  2. A shared global economy would mean an equal responsibility and accountability for all, as well as access for all to the myriad of advantages of a RBE offers.
  3. With a shared economy comes a global reduction in crime (around 50% initially, and a further 15% within 10 years) because 50% of all crime is based on ownership and property.
  4. A shared economy results in a higher amount of educated professionals capable of innovation and improvement, and a complete removal of all inferior products and inefficient production techniques.
  5. More responsible research projects, that do not suffer from budgetary restrictions, allowing for exponential intellectual growth.
  6. A Resource Based Economy encourages the fundamental security of all resources for sustainable use, with quality as an end purpose instead infinite growth or profit.
  7. Technology will allow all redundant and unwanted jobs to be eliminated and/or replaced by more efficient systems, creating abundance, in turn creating new industries and boosting many of the arts.
All of these sound delightful, and so far fetched from the current system, that it is almost impossible to imagine how to get there. Almost. As explained in my post Summary of the Transition, the entire process would require 4 essential phases, the last 3 of which would take approximately 3 years. That post did not define the first phase, Which is predominantly where I am heading now.
Before Unification, Adaptation, or Introduction can take place, there must be: PreparationWere we to attempt converting to a Resource Based Economy without making the right preparations, the consequences could be dire. We will therefore attempt to be as well prepared for change as possible.
In order for everyone (again 99.8% of the planet) to be prepared, they will require:
  • Information: Nobody can make the "right" choice if they do not have information pertaining to their choices. Information to be included in Activism handbook: Reverse Thinking Crash Course:The False Constructs (Ownership, Nationalism, Religion), The explanation of a resource based economy, A complete up-to-date technology report, The self-sustainability guide.
  • Self-sustainability: Through the use of open source sharing, a simple set of solutions for home-use can allow the planet's consumers to get off the the economic grid (reducing global debt in the immediate future and undermining corporate profit interests in resource scarcity). The self-sustainability is only a short term solution, and using built-in obsolescence to reduce reliance in the long term, will allow a smooth transition into a resource-abundant and shared resource society. The self-sustainability guide should include @home:
  • energy solutions, 
  • water purification, 
  • water heating solutions, 
  • vertical farm solutions, 
  • herbal health solutions, 
  • carbon footprint reduction solutions,
  • eco-friendly construction techniques and materials, 
  • and finally efficient waste recycling and/or disposal.
  • The Dynamic Autonomous Resource Management System (DARMS): a high-level encryption AI program, using global supply and demand to manage resources efficiently. Eliminating the human ability to use resource scarcity for profit. This system is vital to a transition, as it will afford people a reprieve from the struggles of logistical and bureaucratic entanglement. Open Source combined with transparency, will allow for the system to function according to the 7 Principles of a Resource Based Economy.
  • The Global Social Support Network: Because our biggest resource is people, they need support and nurturing. This is most easily done in the form of a global centralized art network, encouraging expression, acceptance, creativity and tolerance.
These 4 elements will create a global mindset geared for change, prepared for transition and ready to begin the journey toward the freedom of self-governance.

I am currently busy compiling the activism and self-sustainability guides while searching for people that are willing to design and code the DARMS and anyone who wishes to help would be most welcome.

Have you got any ideas you would like to add?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Why choice is everything...

Daily, we complain about a great many things, some do it more than others, and a very few are the exception. But how much of what is wrong with our lives and the world around us, is a direct result of our own choices?
I most certainly didn’t dig up vast amounts of oil, or design a combustible engine, or a monetary economic system. I did not start a religious war in the middle east. I did not enslave millions of workers and pay them minimum wage. I did not withhold food, or waste it, or spill chemicals into our oceans or over-fish or kill off thousands of species. None of that was my choice…. was it?
Unfortunately, according my own personal set of beliefs, it was. According to my beliefs, if there is a God, and I can prove no existence other than my own beyond a shadow of a doubt, I must be God. Now before everyone condemns me as a heretic, I would ask that you hear me out.
All of reality can be expressed simply through a series of chemical and electrical reactions withing the brain. Therefore, the only true evidence any of us can give ourselves of our own existence, is our own thoughts.
I think, therefore I am - Descartes
Now let’s look at the term God: the dictionary has it as
Definition of GOD 1capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: asa : the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universeb Christian Science : the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit : infinite Mind2: a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship;specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality3: a person or thing of supreme value4: a powerful ruler-Miriam-Webster
Let us now look at each definition with the understanding that the only reality we can prove is our own.1.
“The supreme or ultimate reality”, seems a very apt description for the only reality that has any corroborative evidence. “Perfect in power” You always have a choice (even if you dont like it) “Wisdom” no-one can understand your reality better than you, “and goodness” do we not strive to live our lives right? have we not created laws and rules to govern our existence according to our understanding of right? “who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe” I have not yet found evidence that it was not me who created it, and I certainly tell people often enough that it’s my life. 2.
 ”a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers” you wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen people do, and the more people doing it, the more astounding the things I’ve seen.
“a person or thing of supreme value” ask any mother holding a new born what they value most supremely. And when faced with death or the loss of the material? we begin to value ourselves most supremely
“a powerful ruler” We are currently subverted from self-rule by adhering to the rule of others, but is their “rule” needed? or do we rule ourselves ultimately?
If I work from the assumption that I am God, then I must take responsibility for all the wrong in my World, and this is where everyone pulls up short, and immediately denies their Godliness. 
I have accepted mine, and am now beginning to flex my Godliness to effect change in my world. I’m choosing to make a difference where I see a need. What are you doing with the rest of your life?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Evolution of Government: The caveman evolves

I have shown how the construct of ownership is very much stuck in it's early stages of evolutionary development, but it is not alone. We currently have several of our mental constructs still learning about fire and inventing the wheel. But there are a few that have shown tremedous growth throughout their lifespan to-date.

There is the construct of government, which is much younger than that of ownership, dating back only as far as 3500bc in it's official capacity, although even tribal man felt the need for structure and order and chose a chief or council of elders to make big decisions and act as arbiter. This would later evolve into depotic kingdoms, led by kings. There are some kingdoms that have sequestered themselves in their kingdomatic evolution and remain steadfast even today. Later, with over population, dissention among the masses and an inability for one man to effectively rule, those kingdoms became empires, ruled by one and governed by a ministry. It is this ministry that would later grow to power, overthrow the ruler and become a structured government. Today we have several varieties of this government structure:

  • Autocracy (The Rule of One) *Here, the flaw is obvious
    • Dictatorship
      • Military dictatorship
      • Stratocracy
      • Despotism
    • Kleptocracy
    • Kritarchy
    • Monarchy
      • Absolute monarchy
      • Constitutional monarchy
      • Duchy
        • Grand Duchy
      • Diarchy
      • Enlightened absolutism
      • Elective monarchy
      • Hereditary monarchy
      • Non-Sovereign Monarchy
      • Popular monarchy
      • Principality
      • New Monarchs
      • Self-proclaimed monarchy
      • Regent
    • Plutocracy
      • Timocracy
    • Police state
    • Oligarchy
      • Saeculum obscurum
    • Theocracy
    • Tyranny
  • Anarchy (Absence of organized government) *Although many advocate a move to this system, it will invariably lead back to other forms of government
    • Ochlocracy
    • Tribalism
  • Anarchism (Government of consent, not coercion) * although this is similar in principle to an autonomous government, the human factor still makes it corruptible
    • Anarchist communism
    • Libertarian socialism
    • Libertarian municipalism
    • Anarcho-capitalism
    • Green anarchism
    • Isocracy
  • Socialism * without an efficient and abundant system, this essentially cuts 1 cake into 6,5 billion pieces
    • Socialist state
    • Communist state
    • Collective leadership
    • State socialism
    • Soviet republic (system of government)
  • Democracy (The Say of the People) * although this is the most modern of all the systems, it is also the most deceptive, democracy essentially creates division, and one that will always have a majority against a spread of minorities.
    • Consociationalism
    • Deliberative democracy
    • Democratic socialism
    • Totalitarian democracy
      • Dictatorship of the proletariat
    • Direct democracy
    • Egalitarianism
    • Futarchy
    • Open source governance
    • Participatory democracy
    • Representative democracy
      • Parliamentary system
        • Consensus government
        • Westminster system
      • Polyarchy
      • Presidential system
      • Semi-presidential system
  • Republic (The Rule Of law) * this system, very specifically, creates thoughts of Patriotic Superiority, leading to nationalism and xenophobia
      • Constitutional republic
      • Parliamentary republic
      • Federal Republic

To date, not one of these has brought unity, freedom and prosperity to the world as a whole, but this is not surprizing, as none of these goverments were designed to accomodate the entire planet. When government first became the rational option for people, there were only individual states to be concerned with.Now the picture has changes, and the politcal system must evolve, or it will collapse under the enormous weight of a dissatisfied planet. It is time for the next logical evolutionary step to be made. The step, in my opinion, is not one that can be simply decided upon and done. There is an entire planet full of people to consider. 

So let us run a thought experiment:

We are asked to design a new goverment for the entire planet. That allows freedom, cultural difference and is completely transparent. One that is dynamic and can adjust to the needs of the planet in real time. A system that does not raise one person's control over others by means of political fearmongering. 

This system is not as far-fetched as one might believe. We already have a completely functional system that caters for all of these requirements. And it is an autonomous system. Wikipedia has no single body of control, but rather, is governed by the people using the system. Of course, wikipedia has been touted as questionable in it's authenticity. But fi one is aware of the fallible nature of the system, then there are simple ways to circumnavigate the problem. The easiest of which is human intervention, whereby, someone familiar with the decision reaching process steps in and makes the decision. In a real-world autonomous govenment, this would mean that experts are only required in exigent circumstances.

The main thing to note, is that government was never designed to enforce laws, or dominate it's society. It was designed to govern. Which is actually a job of diligence and maintenance, is today misused as a position of authority and power.

Getting to a a better world. Without money, borders, hunger, poverty, disease or war.

Since as early as 1960, people like Jaque Fresco have been researching and designing aResource Based Economy (RBE), their work details the reason it is needed, its structure and the benefits it would have for society. There are, today, more than a dozen large projects based on this research and the RBE philosophy, each with hundreds, even thousands of avid followers and believers. However, as yet, we live in a monetary economy with no actual change in the foreseeable future. Many have used the RBE concept as a means of getting a following, only to have it all fall apart, or not have enough funding, or support, or they have simply been self-serving. This is, in part, because of natural human resistance to change, but predominantly because of a lack of security. As yet, none of these designs have given a simple and effective method for transitioning into this new system. Thus far, each proposed plan, requires a leap of “faith” at some point. Where we must trust in mankind’s better nature. To use an analogy:
there is a river we must cross, with logs floating so that crossing is possible, but tricky. If we know which logs are stable, we can cross, but unstable logs look safe even though they could easily turn on us and mean our downfall, so we are hesitant.
And rightly so, too often has the human race jumped headlong into the future with no pause to think about ramifications.
I will describe here my bridge to that new world, a step by step plan to achieve a RBE with security and virtually no negative change. The plan has three major parts: Unification,Adaptation, and Introduction. Each divided into its required steps and all following a detailed timeline. The timeline will only begin once a system for unification is in place. This system is simply a single forum followed by the majority of society. For obvious reasons, the further we go along the timeline, the less predictable the next required step will be. This does not mean that we should not make the change, merely that a solution for global distribution of resources, that does not include government, must be found. 
By combining the efforts of the thousands already striving for a RBE with a unified system and a plan for the future, I hope to show the world that ownership is not the only way, that a free society is not just possible, plausible and needed, but more importantly that it does not have to be a time transition including chaos and trouble.
Part 1 : Unification
Before an effective Transition Timeline (TT) starting date can be established, we need unified global awareness. With modern social networking providing instant global news, we are at a prime location in human history to make this change. Strategically managed social accounts and an effective global media campaign should be used to garner mass public interest.
Once a maximum global audience is achieved and the message begins to spread, there should be no longer than 6 months for the TT starting point to be established. Any longer, and global attention will wander and the window of opportunity will close.
It is in these 3-6 months that the 99.8% of the global community must be made aware that the one thing everyone has in common: is that they are not wealthy. The majority of the planet is poor and in debt. It is now almost common knowledge that 1% of the world’s population controls 40% of the planet’s wealth. Forbes currently lists 1210 Billionaires in the world. And if you didn’t know it, you do now. When expressed this way, we immediately see the gross inequity of the economic divide.
However, statistics can be turned on their head, like all things man made. And so it is to be noted that 99% of the population controls 60% of the wealth. This instantly shows us that the majority of the planet owns the majority of the wealth and resources. Obviously this 60% of the wealth is spread out over the 99% of the population, and so is rendered ineffective against the concentrated wealth of the 1%. But, a unified global account and account management system designed with the interest of the people could use this majority share to restructure the systems on the planet, freeing everyone living under economic suppression.
Summary of steps before TT startpoint establishment:
  1. Global Social Connection (The Maximum number of global followers is the aim)
  2. Global Unified Majority Account (Complete transparency is a must)
  3. Global Account Management System (Designed specifically for ability to manage particular sectors Energy, Agriculture, Health Care, Transport, Infrastructure etc)
Once the TT begins there will, for all intents and purposes, be no more money, and so corruption of the Global Council becomes quite difficult.
I am deliberately ignoring the topics of race, religion, culture and creed as they have no influence on the fact that everyone is entitled to the basics of life. Food, Water, Shelter, Health Care. 
So TT Phase 1 step :
  1. Spreading of a Unified Account Access Card (simple mag-stripe credit card). This card will access the Global Account for all transactions; food, health, transport etc) The Unified Global Account can act as a complete tracking system of all resources. The complete transparency of the account will show irregular activity, easily pointing out cases of misuse of the account. As part of this step, each person should be given a complete guide to sustainable living. The spreading of the cards, although seemingly daunting, when viewed in perspective, is not that hard to grasp. Banking-like distribution will allow for 6 billion people and around 4 billion businesses and organisations to register within a very short period of time. Simple math shows us, 10 billion registrations, across the world’s approximately 2,5 million cities gives an average of 4000 registrations per city. This is easily within 1 city’s weekly normal transaction limitations. Also, cards need not be re-printed and manufactured for this transition, as there are cu
  2. Unified Global Resource Assessment. Before we can say what is needed where, we need to know what is actually where. Once everyone has a card, and tracking has begun, this can become a real-time computer-controlled RBE. The assesment will include reports from every administrative area.
  3. Unified Global De-nationalization. There is no way to force each country to relinquish it’s borders, but any borders remaining will only hinder that country’s access to the new Global Economy. The new system does not require import or export duties. And a Unified Global Nation, recognizing several hundred different sets of cultures, can reap the benefits of a healthy global sharing of wealth. Government is not required if we re-evaluate the way we reach decisions. Global digital conferences can be held, where solutions to the problem of distribution of resources can be addressed. Everyone already has a vested interest in the planet. It would make the most sense, in my opinion, to combine current forms of government, and redesign them according to a free system. The concept democracy, allows the public to have a voice and in theory holds government responsible for general well being, whereas, the concept of communism is to create equal opportunity, where, theoretically, no individual has power over another. Without money and ownership to hinder us. Might a new political system combining the best of each system not work? Evolution of politics demands we govern ourselves differently, and a system driven by transparency is the most likely to survive.
  4. Unified Industrial. Competition may be healthy, but so is sharing, and sharing competitively, well that’s just marvelous. Industrial revolution with an open, idea-sharing market. When the incentive is responsible advancement, research and development teams working under the strictures of transparency, will be helping each other globally, permanently. Suppression of tools for advancement, for the sake of profiteering, will no longer be a problem. Think of sport. Although much of it today is played professionally, it never starts out that way. Most will spend years in training and competition, simply for the love of the sport. It is only when it becomes professional, and money is included into the system that we find the Good Sportsman mentality begin to break down. Work could be the same, without money, the goal is to deliver the best work you can, and in order to do that, most of the time, collaboration is the best option. Together, we are greater than the sum of our parts.
  5. Unified Education. As this is the most long-lived of all the proposed projects, it must begin in Phase 1. This step will form a separate branch on the TT.
Phase 2 & 3: Adaptation & Introduction
Once we have unified the planet toward saving the planet and making a difference, we can begin to adapt current system, rid ourselves of those that do not work, and introduce new systems.
I would be doubling the length of this essay simply by including a list of all the adaptations that need to be made. Instead, I have compiled a list of links, that show how we are already on the path to this future, all we need is a catalyst to bring about change. 
I am aware that this plan does not cover every contingency, and it never will. For every answer we find, there are two more questions. It, like all life, is a work-in-progress. If you have managed to read this far, I would ask that you go a step further, and ask me a question, point out a mistake, follow my blog, tell others about it and reblog me. Together we truly can make a difference.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The CaveMan Theory

Evolution. A wonderful term, essentially meaning to complicate things. The more complexities you build on or in to something, the more evolved it becomes. Take the human being for example. We have, according to popular science, evolved from microbial organisms, into what is a now a very complicated chemical construction, so intricate, that to this day, even with all our technological marvels, we still struggle to map the human brain effectively. Quite complex indeed.
The human race, in its infinite complexity, has also created countless constructs. These include: time, ownership, belief, truth. And as time has gone by, we have evolved these. Some of the constructs have undergone major evolution. Take for instance the philosophical construct. From cavemen worshiping the sun, to tribal stories, tales and myths explaining the origin and meaning of life, to ritualistic theological practice. The more man contemplates the soul, the more he discovers and postulates. Resulting in a staggeringly large array of philospophical and theological constructs today.
Not all constructs have evolved though. Religious practice remains predominantly archaic, with the odd rebellious attempt at evolving being sporadically made. Our perception of time is only now beginning to truly take shape, and we’ve been contemplating it for over 10 000 years. This leads me to the conclusion that, for some of our constructs, there is a heavily laden “Caveman” mentality attached. Where the lack of evolution within the construct has rendered it moot in an ever-changing world.
The specific application of the Caveman theory I’m using here, is on the construct of ownership. Of all our constructs, this, in my opinion, is the most damaging. The early caveman lived a life of danger, wariness and possessive hoarding of all things within it’s reach. The male claimed ownership of his cave, his mate, his kill and his kin. Fortunately, the lack of evolution on the familial construct, is a rare case of positive stagnation. Equally fortunate, is that, finally, after millenia of opression, the female sex has begun to shake the bonds of ownership. This leaves the kill and the cave. 
When we look at the modern westernized human, we find a unique creature, capable of creation and destruction with equal voracity. He wards his cave from dangers, demarcates his land and stands proudly banging his chest saying: “Mine” He then goes out daily to make his kill, because he is top of the food chain, and all the earth is his market. For Caveman, growth was an end in and of itself.
10 000 years after we first decided to own things, we’re still at it. Claiming ownership over all and sundry, we have even gone so far as to make up things we can own. My personal favorite is intellectual property. The idea that your thought’s have material value just makes me cringe at the caveman mentality. or better yet, flags on the moon. This ownership gives us the perception that we have the right to deface, demolish and destroy, because, after all, it does belong to us, and we can do what we want with out property!
How long before we decide to build on a construct that is so very obviously false and destructive? And what is the next step in the evolution of ownership. If anyone were to ask me, I would say that there are several option, but that the only positive step forward is: We own the whole planet, and the same applies to everyone. This takes the concept of ownership to the maximum limits within my view. It combines ownership with a more admirable construct… that of sharing. Together, the two constructs create a larger, and more positive construct, an evolved form of both. one that is beneficial to all.
Do you have an opinion?

Friday, 13 May 2011

“The Rise of Vertical Farms”, by Dickson Despommier, in Scientific American, 2009 Nov.

Together the world’s 6.8 billion people use land equal in size to South America to grow food and raise livestock—an astounding agricultural footprint. And demographers predict the planet will host 9.5 billion people by 2050. Because each of us requires a minimum of 1,500 calories a day, civilization will have to cultivate another Brazil’s worth of land—2.1 billion acres—if farming continues to be practiced as it is today. That much new, arable earth simply does not exist. To quote the great American humorist Mark Twain: “Buy land. They’re not making it any more.”
Agriculture also uses 70 percent of the world’s available freshwater for irrigation, rendering it unusable for drinking as a result of contamination with fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and silt. If current trends continue, safe drinking water will be impossible to come by in certain densely populated regions. Farming involves huge quantities of fossil fuels, too—20 percent of all the gasoline and diesel fuel consumed in the U.S. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions are of course a major concern, but so is the price of food as it becomes linked to the price of fuel, a mechanism that roughly doubled the cost of eating in most places worldwide between 2005 and 2008.
Some agronomists believe that the solution lies in even more intensive industrial farming, carried out by an ever decreasing number of highly mechanized farming consortia that grow crops having higher yields—a result of genetic modification and more powerful agrochemicals. Even if this solution were to be implemented, it is a short-term remedy at best, because the rapid shift in climate continues to rearrange the agricultural landscape, foiling even the most sophisticated strategies. Shortly after the Obama administration took office, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu warned the public that climate change could wipe out farming in California by the end of the century.
What is more, if we continue wholesale deforestation just to generate new farmland, global warming will accelerate at an even more catastrophic rate. And far greater volumes of agricultural runoff could well create enough aquatic “dead zones” to turn most estuaries and even parts of the oceans into barren wastelands.
As if all that were not enough to worry about, foodborne illnesses account for a significant number of deaths worldwide—salmonella, cholera, Escherichia coli and shigella, to name just a few. Even more of a problem are life-threatening parasitic infections, such as malaria and schistosomiasis. Furthermore, the common practice of using human feces as a fertilizer in most of Southeast Asia, many parts of Africa, and Central and South America (commercial fertilizers are too expensive) facilitates the spread of parasitic worm infections that afflict 2.5 billion people.
Clearly, radical change is needed. One strategic shift would do away with almost every ill just noted: grow crops indoors, under rigorously controlled conditions, in vertical farms. Plants grown in high-rise buildings erected on now vacant city lots and in large, multistory rooftop greenhouses could produce food year-round using significantly less water, producing little waste, with less risk of infectious diseases, and no need for fossil-fueled machinery or transport from distant rural farms. Vertical farming could revolutionize how we feed ourselves and the rising population to come. Our meals would taste better, too; “locally grown” would become the norm.
The working description I am about to explain might sound outrageous at first. But engineers, urban planners and agronomists who have scrutinized the necessary technologies are convinced that vertical farming is not only feasible but should be tried.
Do No Harm
Growing our food on land that used to be intact forests and prairies is killing the planet, setting up the processes of our own extinction. The minimum requirement should be a variation of the physician’s credo: “Do no harm.” In this case, do no further harm to the earth. Humans have risen to conquer impossible odds before. From Charles Darwin’s time in the mid-1800s and forward, with each Malthusian prediction of the end of the world because of a growing population came a series of technological breakthroughs that bailed us out. Farming machines of all kinds, improved fertilizers and pesticides, plants artificially bred for greater productivity and disease resistance, plus vaccines and drugs for common animal diseases all resulted in more food than the rising population needed to stay alive.
That is until the 1980s, when it became obvious that in many places farming was stressing the land well beyond its capacity to support viable crops. Agrochemicals had destroyed the natural cycles of nutrient renewal that intact ecosystems use to maintain themselves. We must switch to agricultural technologies that are more ecologically sustainable.
As the noted ecologist Howard Odum reportedly observed: “Nature has all the answers, so what is your question?” Mine is: How can we all live well and at the same time allow for ecological repair of the world’s ecosystems? Many climate experts—from officials at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to sustainable environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai—agree that allowing farmland to revert to its natural grassy or wooded states is the easiest and most direct way to slow climate change. These landscapes naturally absorb carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas, from the ambient air. Leave the land alone and allow it to heal our planet.
Examples abound. The demilitarized zone between South and North Korea, created in 1953 after the Korean War, began as a 2.5-mile wide strip of severely scarred land but today is lush and vibrant, fully recovered. The once bare corridor separating former East and West Germany is now verdant. The American dust bowl of the 1930s, left barren by overfarming and drought, is once again a highly productive part of the nation’s breadbasket. And all of New England, which was clear-cut at least three times since the 1700s, is home to large tracts of healthy hardwood and boreal forests.
The Vision
For many reasons, then, an increasingly crowded civilization needs an alternative farming method. But are enclosed city skyscrapers a practical option?
Yes, in part because growing food indoors is already becoming commonplace. Three techniques —drip irrigation, aeroponics and hydroponics —have been used successfully around the world. In drip irrigation, plants root in troughs of lightweight, inert material, such as vermiculite, that can be used for years, and small tubes running from plant to plant drip nutrient-laden water precisely at each stem’s base, eliminating the vast amount of water wasted in traditional irrigation. In aeroponics, developed in 1982 by K. T. Hubick, then later improved by NASA scientists, plants dangle in air that is infused with water vapor and nutrients, eliminating the need for soil, too.
Agronomist William F. Gericke is credited with developing modern hydroponics in 1929. Plants are held in place so their roots lie in soilless troughs, and water with dissolved nutrients is circulated over them. During World War II, more than eight million pounds of vegetables were produced hydroponically on South Pacific islands for Allied forces there. Today hydroponic greenhouses provide proof of principles for indoor farming: crops can be produced yearround, droughts and floods that often ruin entire harvests are avoided, yields are maximized because of ideal growing and ripening conditions, and human pathogens are minimized.
Most important, hydroponics allows the grower to select where to locate the business, without concern for outdoor environmental conditions such as soil, precipitation or temperature profiles. Indoor farming can take place anywhere that adequate water and energy can be supplied. Sizable hydroponic facilities can be found in the U.K., the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand and other countries. One leading example is the 318-acre Eurofresh Farms in the Arizona desert, which produces large quantities of high-quality tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers 12 months a year.
Most of these operations sit in semirural areas, however, where reasonably priced land can be found. Transporting the food for many miles adds cost, consumes fossil fuels, emits carbon dioxide and causes significant spoilage. Moving greenhouse farming into taller structures within city limits can solve these remaining problems. I envision buildings perhaps 30 stories high covering an entire city block. At this scale, vertical farms offer the promise of a truly sustainable urban life: municipal wastewater would be recycled to provide irrigation water, and the remaining solid waste, along with inedible plant matter, would be incinerated to create steam that turns turbines that generate electricity for the farm. With current technology, a wide variety of edible plants can be grown indoors [see illustration on opposite page]. An adjacent aquaculture center could also raise fish, shrimp and mollusks. Start-up grants and government-sponsored research centers would be one way to jumpstart vertical farming. University partnerships with companies such as Cargill, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland and IBM could also fill the bill. Either approach would exploit the enormous talent pool within many agriculture, engineering and architecture schools and lead to prototype farms perhaps five stories tall and one acre in footprint. These facilities could be the “playground” for graduate students, research scientists and engineers to carry out the necessary trial-and-error tests before a fully functional farm emerged. More modest, rooftop operations on apartment complexes, hospitals and schools could be test beds, too. Research installations already exist at many schools, including the University of California, Davis, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, Michigan State University, and schools in Europe and Asia. One of the best known is the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, run by Gene Giacomelli.
Integrating food production into city living is a giant step toward making urban life sustainable. New industries will grow, as will urban jobs never before imagined—nursery attendants, growers and harvesters. And nature will be able to rebound from our insults; traditional farmers would be encouraged to grow grasses and trees, getting paid to sequester carbon.
Eventually selective logging would be the norm for an enormous lumber industry, at least throughout the eastern half of the U.S.
Practical Concerns
In recent years I have been speaking regularly about vertical farms, and in most cases, people raise two main practical questions. First, skeptics wonder how the concept can be economically viable, given the often inflated value of properties in cities such as Chicago, London and Paris. Downtown commercial zones might not be affordable, yet every large city has plenty of less desirable sites that often go begging for projects that would bring in much needed revenue.
In New York City, for example, the former Floyd Bennett Field naval base lies fallow. Abandoned in 1972, the 2.1 square miles scream out for use. Another large tract is Governors Island, a 172-acre parcel in New York Harbor that the U.S. government recently returned to the city. An underutilized location smack in the heart of Manhattan is the 33rd Street rail yard. In addition, there are the usual empty lots and condemned buildings scattered throughout the city. Several years ago my graduate students surveyed New York City’s five boroughs; they found no fewer than 120 abandoned sites waiting for change, and many would bring a vertical farm to the people who need it most, namely, the underserved inhabitants of the inner city. Countless similar sites exist in cities around the world. And again, rooftops are everywhere.
Simple math sometimes used against the vertical farm concept actually helps to prove its viability. A typical Manhattan block covers about five acres. Critics say a 30-story building would therefore provide only 150 acres, not much compared with large outdoor farms. Yet growing occurs year-round. Lettuce, for example, can be harvested every six weeks, and even a crop as slow to grow as corn or wheat (three to four months from planting to picking) could be harvested three to four times annually. In addition, dwarf corn plants, developed for NASA, take up far less room than ordinary corn and grow to a height of just two or three feet. Dwarf wheat is also small in stature but high in nutritional value. So plants could be packed tighter, doubling yield greenhouse); courtesy of eurofresh farms (aerial view) per acre, and multiple layers of dwarf crops could be grown per floor. “Stacker” plant holders are already used for certain hydroponic crops.
Combining these factors in a rough calculation, let us say that each floor of a vertical farm offers four growing seasons, double the plant density, and two layers per floor—a multiplying factor of 16 (4 × 2 × 2). A 30-story building covering one city block could therefore produce 2,400 acres of food (30 stories × 5 acres × 16) a year. Similarly, a one-acre roof atop a hospital or school, planted at only one story, could yield 16 acres of victuals for the commissary inside. Of course, growing could be further accelerated with 24-hour lighting, but do not count on that for now.
Other factors amplify this number. Every year droughts and floods ruin entire counties of crops, particularly in the American Midwest. Furthermore, studies show that 30 percent of what is harvested is lost to spoilage and infestation during storage and transport, most of which would be eliminated in city farms because food would be sold virtually in real time and on location as a consequence of plentiful demand. And do not forget that we will have largely eliminated the mega insults of outdoor farming: fertilizer runoff, fossil-fuel emissions, and loss of trees and grasslands.
The second question I often receive involves the economics of supplying energy and water to a large vertical farm. In this regard, location is everything (surprise, surprise). Vertical farms in Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, southern California and some parts of East Africa would take advantage of abundant geothermal energy. Sun-filled desert environments (the American Southwest, the Middle East, many parts of Central Asia) would actually use two- or three-story structures perhaps 50 to 100 yards wide but miles long, to maximize natural sunlight for growing and photovoltaics for power. Regions gifted with steady winds (most coastal zones, the Midwest) would capture that energy. In all places, the plant waste from harvested crops would be incinerated to create electricity or be converted to biofuel.
One resource that routinely gets overlooked is very valuable as well; in fact, communities spend enormous amounts of energy and money just trying to get rid of it safely. I am referring to liquid municipal waste, commonly known as blackwater. New York City occupants produce one billion gallons of wastewater every day. The city spends enormous sums to cleanse it and then dumps the resulting “gray water” into the Hudson River. Instead that water could irrigate vertical farms. Meanwhile the solid by-products, rich in energy, could be incinerated as well. One typical half-pound bowel movement contains 300 kilocalories of energy when incinerated in a bomb calorimeter. Extrapolating to New York’s eight million people, it is theoretically possible to derive as much as 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year from bodily wastes alone, enough to run four, 30-story farms. If this material can be converted into useful water and energy, city living can become much more efficient.
Upfront investment costs will be high, as experimenters learn how to best integrate the various systems needed. That expense is why smaller prototypes must be built first, as they are for any new application of technologies. Onsite renewable energy production should not prove more costly than the use of expensive fossil fuel for big rigs that plow, plant and harvest crops (and emit volumes of pollutants and greenhouse gases). Until we gain operational experience, it will be difficult to predict how profitable a vertical farm could be. The other goal, of course, is for the produce to be less expensive than current supermarket prices, which should be attainable largely because locally grown food does not need to be shipped very far.
It has been five years since I first posted some rough thoughts and sketches about vertical farms on a Web site I cobbled together (www. Since then, architects, engineers, designers and mainstream organizations have increasingly taken note. Today many developers, investors, mayors and city planners have become advocates and have indicated a strong desire to actually build a prototype highrise farm. I have been approached by planners in New York City, Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle, Surrey, B.C., Toronto, Paris, Bangalore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Incheon, Shanghai and Beijing. The Illinois Institute of Technology is now crafting a de tailed plan for Chicago.
All these people realize that something must be done soon if we are to establish a reliable food supply for the next generation. They ask tough questions regarding cost, return on investment, energy and water use, and potential crop yields. They worry about structural girders corroding over time from humidity, power to pump water and air everywhere, and economies of scale. Detailed answers will require a huge input from engineers, architects, indoor agronomists and businesspeople. Perhaps budding engineers and economists would like to get these estimations started.
Because of the Web site, the vertical farm initiative is now in the hands of the public. Its success or failure is a function only of those who build the prototype farms and how much time and effort they apply. The infamous Biosphere 2 closed-ecosystem project outside Tucson, Ariz., first inhabited by eight people in 1991, is the best example of an approach not to take. It was too large of a building, with no validated pilot projects and a total unawareness about how much oxygen the curing cement of the massive foundation would absorb. (The University of Arizona now has the rights to reexamine the structure’s potential.)
If vertical farming is to succeed, planners must avoid the mistakes of this and other nonscientific misadventures. The news is promising. According to leading experts in ecoengineering such as Peter Head, who is director of global planning at Arup, an international design and engineering firm based in London, no new technologies are needed to build a large, efficient urban vertical farm. Many enthusiasts have asked: “What are we waiting for?” I have no good answer for them.