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No Island is an Island - Lucas Gonzalez

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.

At least for the time being, there's just one planet for all of us, including humans. But my <1500-gram brain has trouble visualizing even this single planet, with its zillion life-forms plus the relationships among them and the around-life molecules and energies. So I'll stick to the Canary Islands, where I live, and you can focus on any piece of land that you think you know well.

To make the thought-experiment solid, I'll imagine there's no “away”. No food or other resources coming from distant coasts, and no place to dispose of our litter. When we do that, the ecological footprint concept must be stared at eye to eye: our islands are all there is. As to information, we are not cheating if we assume all open human knowledge is close at hand for the two million human beings living in these seven islands.

Can we get what we need, want and prefer from what we have? Could we do it now (to respond to a sudden supply crisis) and indefinitely (to develop sustainability) or simply if we wanted to? Can we survive and thrive and, as we do, put our learning out there as part of the commons' treasure? Can we leave the camping site in a better condition than when we arrived?

As I write this, the idea of gathering around a local-focus wiki (and now Localpedia) may be starting to get legs. Some of us intend to create a set of pages with the essentials for water, food and energy. We'll likely look at the full six basic causes we'll all die from: too hot, too cold, thirst, hunger, illness (including unavoidable aging) and injury (from nature or from human violence). Some domain experts will want to look into communications, transport, coordination and all the other elements essential for people to operate as groups and organisations (see SCIM).

To start with, we intend to compile a set of 300+ questions (factual and exploratory), ask 30+ people to compile preliminary always-perfectible answers in 100 days, and publish that under an open license.

We'll look at the data we have, with rough consensus estimates where there's nothing more accurate. We'll convert macro-data to micro-data (grams of fruit produced or needed per person and per day, calories per square meter and per year) and back to macro. We'll ask about things no-one has asked for yet, even though they are important if we are to create a facts-based vision for our islands. How much mass of animal-edible weeds can grow per month in non-cultivated arable land? How many trees can we grow from a few branches from each of our existing trees, and what kind of trees for each place and purpose, and how?

We'll find guidance for thinking style – facts in numbers, then ideas, then muscle – in seminal works like Without Hot Air and Seawater Greenhouses for a high lethality pandemic.

We may be looking at three levels. One is basic survival, of the kind computed for refugee camps, where we need to focus on people staying alive a few more days, months or years, and where if rice is all there is, then rice is what we eat. The next level is comfort and the resilience that comes from a certain degree of flexibility. The third is luxury and expansion through beyond-basic but also-human needs, such as creating and enjoying music. Hey, we may even find beyond-fossil-fuels ways to reuse the golden molecules someone inserted into our now-broken cell-phones.

Not sure we want to tell anyone about this, but are we serving the wiki, or is the wiki serving us? You tell me. The wiki will be the (more or less structured) information space, and we'll grow it. But there's lots outside the information space, namely the conversation space (where we talk about what we need to write next, how to organise it, and so forth), and the action space (where we build physical workshops, water fruit trees and take care of each other's injuries). We want to document the essentials, with video and audio and how-to pages and art. That way, others can join in at their own pace, with their own style, doing whatever they feel needs doing right now.

How do we start the job, and how do we keep it going? I guess it all starts with an invitation, drafted and crafted in the “open space” way. The invitation makes room for data, passion, lateral thinking, experiments, and generally lots of fun, both serious-fun and fun-fun.

'Cos, you know, life started already and some things we can't leave for later.