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Industrial ecology takes the lessons of an ecosystem, where there is no such thing as waste, and applies it to production processes. This is a radically holistic approach to the chemical and physical processes that our society is built on.
Meanwhile, another egregious waste occurs more silently, and is no less to be mourned for being abstract in nature.
Students, especially high school and university students, do an enormous sum of work, in total. They reformulate old ideas, invent new ones, and experiment with ways of expressing them. They craft their assignments with care and with painstaking hours of work, before submitting to their teacher... and in most cases the work is never seen and barely thought of ever again.
That is, unless the students' work is to participate in building something which will be used. This is happening in small ways - Wikipedia, Wikiprogress and Appropedia.
Service learning uses the real world as a learning platform - which is less predictable than the traditional learning methods it supplements, but all the more valuable for it. At its best, service learning has a positive impact, creating something of value and inspiring the learners.
I'm waiting for the downpour to stop - I could catch a taxi, but it's only a 5 minute walk. It's close enough to could make a run for it, but Kafe Sono is right here, and sipping a tea and people-watching is more appealing, along with the chance of bumping into a friend. A few get off at the same stop. The community feels much more relaxed in recent years, since cars stopped dominating (thanks to fuel prices, distance-based taxes and finally, a decent public transport system) and since the green space has increased so much. But it's not something I do enough of.
The notices catch my eye. The cafe is becoming more community-friendly, with live music twice a week and local groups meeting to discuss or organize. One of these, a local community group meeting on Saturday afternoon, looks interesting. There are plenty of demands on my time, but it's meeting in a pleasant cafe in a pleasant setting, so I take out my phone, swipe the barcode on the notice and add it to my calendar, adding a "maybe" RSVP at the same time. I make a mental note to check the noticeboard online in future, if I'm not at the cafe for a while.
The rain was easing I got off the train, and it's just about stopped now. As I walk home, I recollect visiting this sprawling tropical city 20 years ago in 2007, and being caught in a major flood. This low-lying area where I now live would have been flooded with polluted water after 15 minutes of tropical rain - ironically, while buildings a few kilometers away were destroyed by soil subsidence caused by loss of groundwater. Now, walking along the permeable pavement, leaves poking through the gaps, I realize I haven't seen a flood since I moved here permanently two years ago. These pavements help, as do the rainwater tanks, rain gardens, absorption wells, and above all, the fact that these things are found throughout the catchment area.
This would be hot weather to you, perhaps, but I've acclimatized, and this rainy afternoon is pleasantly cool. I take a warm shower - powered by a tiny solar hot water system - amazing that they took so long to take off, considering how easy it is for the sun to heat water in this climate. The apartment, with its passive solar design and thermal mass, is at a steady, pleasant enough temperature. I could turn on the air conditioning to reduce the temperature another 2 or 3 degrees, but the ceiling fan is actually nicer. Also more energy efficient, but since the electricity comes from a solar thermal electric plant outside the city, I have no problem with turning on the air-con if that's what I feel like doing.
I pick a salad to have with lunch, from the balcony garden put together with help at the community working bee in early spring. It's astounding how much can grow such a small space, with the right choice of plants, compost thriving with microorganisms, and the right layout, vertical and horizontal.
I've done community courses before - massage was my favorite, and I even got a certificate and worked part-time at it for a while.
This is a walkable neighborhood - a mix of medium and high density housing leaving lots of room for green open space, with enough people within walking a ten minute walk of the transport hub that public transport has become far more viable, with services every minutes into the city and away from it, and into other suburbs. But I leave 20 minutes early and take my bike, and take a ride by the canal.
There are still poor here, but they live in hexayurts and have at least some legal rights - soldiers won't be arriving to tear down their homes. Most of them are also enrolled in a land ownership saving program - and when they make contributions, these are matched by a mixture of government and private funds. (Some of those private funds were very controversial, as they came as "in-kind" donations of land and infrastructure from large developers. But their offers were available for scrutiny online for months before the deal was done, and it's doing something good. Those corporations gave something of real value, and they get something in return - it's the other kinds of corporate deals that bother me far more.)
I marvel, too, at their placement. 15 years ago, these would have been flooded perhaps once a week in the wet season. Now, the water cycle approximates a natural cycle, but with extra safeguards built-in, and floods are a rare event. (I know from visiting the hexayurts that belongings are stored on shelves near the roof, and there's an awareness that when the flood sirens go off, they need to head straight uphill. It would be foolish to thing that nature is ever tamed.)
An elderly lady near her hexayurt sprinkles compost tea over the patch of public land she's claimed for her garden. It's the same compost tea I use on my balcony garden, and it's amazing what life it can breathe into soil.
Arriving at the cafe after my ride, I'm energized, in a positive mood with the exercise-induced endorphins, and hungry. I know what it's like to be isolated in a room in a car-filled and socially isolated city, and to be squeezed into a peak hour train, and am so thankful for this "future" we've created. I introduce myself to two others who also arrived early for the meeting, and pick up a menu.
This is a meditation. The future may or may not be very much like this. It won't be anything like this if we stay on our current trajectory. However, there is a possibility here. How much environmental impact did this "future me" have, in the experiences described above? Amazingly little. The economy described in this story could grow with little if any negative effect on the environment. The key impacts have been drastically reduced - private fossil-fuel driven transport is out of the picture, and the building is intelligently designed.
Freedom and democracy
A level playing field - I've heard that phrase from political leaders. But this is impossible when the economies of scale and access to regional and national media give a huge advantage to corporations with deep pockets.
Targeted affordable advertising for micro-entrepreneurs
Buying and selling have wider impacts and suggest certain responsibilities. That's what taxes are for, to fulfill these responsibilities; it's what carbon credits are for, to bring some of these wider impacts into the market, to be accounted for.
Once those responsibilities have been discharged, and all costs paid for (both the obvious costs and significant externalities), are we free? Is the small trader free to sell on the footpath outside the shopping mall and outside 7-11, as they do in Thailand? Or will someone try to take that freedom away, whether in the name of a full-blown socialism (denying the right to trade with another consenting individual) or private property and a corporate state (denying the right to set up shop unless you give a large chunk of the spoils to a landlord).
Essential freedoms. cf software freedoms - relevant?