How does it feel to change 12 time-zones over night? That’s flying from Burlington (VT) to Shanghai, China — the other side of the globe! It was great to chat with stage director of Cirque du Soleil and spend the rest of the flight sound asleep. I guess I am getting used to this: I had zero jet-lag!
Immigration on Pudong airport was very smooth. Nobody asked anything about my bare feet. I had a flash-back to my youth in socialist Yugoslavia, but only in terms of the spirit of the culture, while technology was shockingly advanced and the faces, well, strikingly Chinese.
China: the Earth is (almost) flat!
Practically all scooters I’ve seen in Shanghai are electric. I can imagine the day when all cars are electric too. What I can’t imagine is where we’ll acquire all the necessary resources in our one-way economy (grab from the nature, consume, burn, and dump) within the exponential growth equation.
I was asking myself: How many batteries does the Earth need to run life? How many batteries does it take to end all life? Or can we make ingeniously smart systems for storing and using energy that don’t rely on extracting precious minerals from the Earth’s crust?
Jevons paradox observes that when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, the rate of consumption of that resource rises due to increasing demand. When we have better batteries, we use more of those batteries; when plane engines become more economical we fly even more – so the total consumption keeps increasing, even when it would seem logical to see them decrease.
Our paradigm of how to store and use matter and energy is distorted. We still behave as if nature were an inexhaustible source and as if she can keep on absorbing all the pollution we produce. It has gone so far that we perceive literally everything as an object of consumption, and if we cannot use it for our own benefit, we dismiss it.
In our community house, there is a special tiny “door” in the wall. Bees made a beehive in the old chimney before we changed the plaster. Right now, as I am writing this, I am observing bees through my window as they congregate at that “door”. I am amazed at their “circular economy”.
People ask, why do we have bees in the wall when we can’t extract any honey? We reply that we keep them for the service they do for plants everywhere around (pollination) while they take care of their own family and store food for themselves for the winter. They don’t need to pay any rent for living in our house. We consider ourselves equal co-inhabitants of the house.
In most places on this planet we humans made ourselves exempt from the circulation of matter in nature. We don’t participate in the ecosystem. We don’t return our urine and stool to nature, we don’t return our corpses.
Sadly, what we are returning are left-overs of our technology in form of poisonous gasses and plastic polution.
Our society thinks that “circular economy” means simply being less wastefull with materials, which we have grabbed from nature so far. It also means minimizing the leakage of waste materials into the nature. But within our current paradigm circular economy doesn’t come even near to ending the grabbing. We haven’t come to the point of good-for-all conomy, it is just at the point of “slightly less bad for all” – and even that more in theory than in practice.
There is no design assignment in our civilisation to make leftovers of our technologies beneficial for the environment, whether in form of goods or services. We don’t make assessments of natural “fields” we extract from, so we could pay these fields back (with interest!) for what we’ve grabbed (without ever asking). We take resources and energy for granted and that’s dangerous!
People in developed countries are completely spoilt with plugs being always available. When our gizmos’ batteries get flat, we always have a plug nearby to charge them. We extract energy and pay a meagre price for it, while vast areas are being carelessly destroyed to produce the batteries and the energy in them.
So, I think, in a few decades, the flat-earth geeks will be right to say: the Earth will be flat!
My mission in China was to facilitate a training for 60 participants from all provinces of China for World Cleanup Day 2018. I was astounded by their maturity and understanding the context they live in. The contrast to the U.S. was striking!
The free society of the U.S. seemed almost disorienting. It seemed to me that U.S. citizens lived in their narrow, self-created contexts, with little sense for broader ones. Not only globally, but also in their own country. Here in China, I thought that people I worked with understood their constraints very well and knew how to navigate inside them. I was not amazed at all that World Cleanup Day 2018 was struggling to grow momentum in the freedom of the U.S., Canada and Western Europe, while it did very well in less “free” societies, where political and religious constraints were well defined and strong.
Experiencing this was inspiring. It gave me hope for the future as I flew back to Europe to Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) conference, which took place in Lilleoru, Estonia.
Estonia: false hopes never die!
Global ecovillage network (GEN) is about community and nature. It is about harmony between people and the ecosystem they live in. Is such a harmony even possible?
I keep reading very pessimistic scientific articles and reports about rapid degradation of coral reefs, acidification of oceans, plastic pollution everywhere, climate change progressing much faster than even recent predictions assumed etc. Do we stand any chance of survival?
This year the annual European GEN conference took place in Estonia. I prepared well, since last year in Sweden mid July was crazy cold at night! Luckily for us, the North of Europe experienced a heat wave; but the rest of nature suffered! Again, I was questioning my society’s measuring standards and trying to make us smaller than our ecosystems. I have to adapt to the ecosystem I am in, not vice versa!
I wrote a long article about GEN conference, so I won’t go into details here. I will wrap up my thoughts about it by saying that I hope we will keep all our false hopes alive. False hopes are more powerful than realistic hopes, thus they give us at least some hope. Without false hopes we would already be doomed!
Baltic Sea: Too much life can kill you!
How could I say no to the opportunity to sail from Tallinn to Gotland with this amazing 80 year old sailing boat Hawila? Two days and nights passed very quickly with day and night watches, talks with the crew and passengers, delicious meals and beautiful views.
Only looking down to the water of the Baltic sea was a sad sight: algal bloom stretched across the entire sea. It was as if Nature was saying to us: “It seems that you people want to kill all life in oceans, so let me help you and accelerate the process!”
How did this even begin? Wasn’t it just our naive curiousty? We took things apart to figure out how they work. Thus we ended up breaking vast stretches of Nature to figure out how they worked. I rememberd the words of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings: “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
I journeyed across Baltic Sea to visit inhabitants of Suderbyn ecovillage, who are doing an amazing job in fixing broken nature and broken people.
Too much of one single life kills the diversity of life. Algal bloom is not much different from human bloom. How can we set limits to ourselves in the service of rich diversity?
More about this and about the final part of my journey in part 3!