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Blog item: Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, Chapter 5

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1 comment on Aug-11-2008   Add a comment   Author:  stevehinton (Aug-11-2008)    Play a Video
Categories: Peak Oil/Gas & Energy Demand, Pollution, Sustainable Living

A communal farmThe story so far:

Reporter Max Wahlter has visited  the sustainable city of Porena (see earlier chapters). It seems it IS possible - even preferable - to live sustainably without working. Yeah but where do you get all the food to eat many will ask. "You grow it" is the answer.

This week: Max finds a way to travel ecologically, grills a family on where food comes from, gets close up to a new kind of architecture and muses on Maslow.

Journey four: Grow Food Everywhere


Strangely enough, even though I have not actively worked with Porena recently, it has been working with me - a lot of things have fallen into place.

For example, looking back over what has happened I see I was encouraged to ask specific questions. Whatever the question was, it got answered. Often with a surprising answer. If it wasn't surprising it probably wasn't coming from the right place.

On the other hand I am still not any closer to 'bringing back' my sustainable, money-making invention. 


To today's question.  Explain more about how growing food everywhere works.

Large beige - coloured tiles make up the floor of the entrance hall. It seems to be a long way to the entrance area.  I walk toward a bench with what appears to be rubber plants growing behind it.

I sit down on this shiny, highly varnished wooden seat and look around. Seeing a moving pavement, with a PORENA sign over it, I walk over and get on it. At the end, steps lead down to a flat, wide open space looking like a construction site.

Coming out into the sunshine I see a large, round aircraft, like a flying saucer. Metallic, round and shiny sitting on legs. Steps lead up to the door under a PORENA TRAVELS sign. People are sitting in a circle, in comfortable seats. I join them. I guess the craft is getting ready to leave.

'Where am I?'

'This is the Library.'

I see no books, maybe there is an electronic thing to... 

'It's in the chairs, what you need comes to you.'

There a few magazines around, I pick one up from the gap between the chairs. PORENA library. This seems to be an instruction booklet cum magazine for the library. A picture of the library itself. People walking in to it. The latest news is a multiplicity screen on the roof, whatever that is. I turn to the section marked multiplicity. A cross between a book and an etch-a-sketch shows up, with instructions to 'hone in on what you want' using the knobs.

Finding it hard to concentrate and take it all in, I flip to the next page, an article about walking and then about growing plants, featuring the seed trays and cassettes I saw in the kiosk. It's all here, I'm on my way.

The urge to explore further takes me up the stairs, and it's not a library I see but some kind of control room. Knobs and dials everywhere – I could swear I was on a flying saucer.
Slipping into the pilot's chair in the middle of all these controls, I see 'Porena' on the center of the screen.

You cannot just get into a flying saucer, which is also a library and fly it. Or can you? Looking at these controls it hits me. The most ecological machines are the ones that you cannot do any damage with. Ones that are failsafe. Completely. Like they are talking about controlling cars on the motorway, and letting the driver relax.

This one does the thinking for you. A guy come up behind me and, following his encouraging remarks, I push the lever to my right. The doors close, and very slowly and gracefully we take off in the direction of Porena.

We're flying low and slowly over fields of what looks like bamboo or another fast-growing energy crop. I get the idea it's for energy anyhow- green oil. I walk back down the stairs and start to engage passengers (is that what library visitors are?) in conversation.

I ask: 'Is there anybody who would like to show me how you grow food everywhere?'

I get invited home. After landing we walk to the housing area. The houses, or maisonettes, are built in wide circles. They are cream coloured with tile roofing. My host shows me the wheat grass on the balcony. The corn etc, all grown in what appears to be ordinary potting soil.

Here's what I got out of the interview. They don't have to grow food at home, because everybody grows food everywhere. The cassettes I asked about contain cotton wool and start seedlings off, they can replant them on the balcony or in the area outside. This family has a skylight in the roof to let in natural light, and they put some plants under that. Artificial light is not ecological and is not used.

I asked about composting and for that I needed to go outside. On the southern side of the maisonette the front doors open out onto a glazed-in section, rather like a conservatory. Here, the heat from the sun warms the air, providing insulation and extra heating for the houses as well as a growing area.

This is communal and tended by everybody. The principle is permaculture. That is to say a plant and leave concept, bearing fruit and nuts annually requiring the minimum of tending.

I have to ask: 'How can you get along as neighbours, all helping out? Surely someone will slack!'

The explanation comes back; 'Everyone helps out as they understand it is in their own interest.'
In the glassed area they grow green peppers, corn, sweet potatoes and tobacco for medicinal purposes. Tobacco is decorative too.

Outside, towards the centre of the area, they have the composting machine.  It looks like a large black cauldron. They dry the organic matter first, using heat from the sun, before it crumbles into a kind of powder to be put back onto the soil.  Another thing, all buildings are designed with growing in mind. Horti-architecture. Cool name, huh?

I return to the craft, push a button labeled 'Return', the door closes and we hover off.

Technology notes

Flying saucers I see the ecological in these craft. Flying slow (need less fuel, need no road/ rail infrastructure, nature unspoiled). Failsafe technology (no destruction from crashes). I also liked the idea of making them libraries so you can use the travel time.

Growing under glass on the southern wall. Warms up and insulates buildings while providing growing facilities near the house, as well as a nice extra room.

Cassettes. I have seen small mini- greenhouses about the size of a lunch-box with ready-to-plant seeds and dried potting soil on sale at garden centres. These cassettes seem to be the same idea.

Porena Philosophy. This is what I have gathered so far. Like my boss says, you have come at something from enough angles to be able to say you understand it. I am not sure I have covered enough angles. Anyway. My description of it, and it is mine I underline again, goes like this:

Porena Philosophy focuses on the organism (described earlier like the part of the human that evolved in the pre-historic times), making up a community living in the biosphere. By reducing the risk of subjecting the organism to undue stress (that is, outside naturally occurring limits) risk of permanently damaging environmental pressure on the biosphere is minimized. That is to say reducing the risk that the 'footprint' exerted by the human community will not be sustainable.

To take an example in the ascendancy, the organism is so stressed by hunger that the community takes to fishing the seas to the extent that stocks of fish are reduced to a level of possible extinction.

I remember picking up, again not explicitly so I must tread carefully, that there were five main stresses. Let's speculate:

1) Nutrition
2) Shelter
3) Mechanical
4) Societal, communal
5) Toxic

Which makes me think... how do they get this over to people? And what education system do they have? Must be the subject for one of the next journeys.

Societal stress.
They say they are going to cut back on staff even more at the journal. I am getting to experience this stress on my organism first hand. Although I know I am good at my job and intellectually know I can get another eventually, I am sure my body is taking the toll. I'm sleeping badly and get pains in my chest occasionally.

And not being able to pay my bills for food and my flat is so terrible a prospect that I'd take a job that poisoned half the rivers if it meant I could pay my bills.

More reflection: Maslow's hierarchy revisited

Regular readers will remember that in the sustainable society of PORENA, a lot of work was done to understand what they called the five stresses.

The theory was that there are limits in all these areas, and exceeding them is deleterious to human health. That is to say, it puts a stress on the human organism that the human cannot resist for a long time without a breakdown in health. The clearer these limits are understood, the better work, buildings, society, production, etc. can be designed.

There's more. If you could reduce stress levels in these areas, you would achieve a change in behaviour. There would be a rapid reduction in destructive behaviour, and consequently in the sustainability-reducing effects of this behaviour.
This could be actually what Maslow wanted to say with his hierarchy model. This model is a sustainability promoting invention. Psychology could contribute to development by illuminating how these basic needs could be met. By doing what it could to reduce these stresses, society would reduce destructive behaviour.
We have to find ways to side-step this gigantic supply chain using up energy and spewing out waste, that in our (the consumer's) name is 'helping us fulfil ourselves'.

To enjoy your life, to fulfil yourself does not have anything to do with what you work with. You work primarily to keep life supported. The first two Maslow steps.  Then, the other steps should be accomplishable with the minimum of consumption of energy and resources.

Next week:    Under the sustainable city of Porena lies an advanced transport system. Max digs deep to reveal its inner workings.


Related reading:
  Conservation And The Community Garden: One Subur... (May-6-2010)
  If Nothing Else, Save Farming (Nov-24-2009)
  How Do I Invite You to Grow Food? (Oct-12-2009)
  What goes around, comes around? (Aug-17-2009)
  Permaculture for Humanity (Jun-30-2009)
  Corporate Couple Become Permaculture Activists (Apr-26-2009)
  Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, Chapter 17 (Apr-11-2009)
  We Make the Road by Walking - White Oak Farm CSA (Feb-7-2009)
  Our Local Future: Conference Videos for Your Edi... (Feb-6-2009)
  Animal, Vegetable... Minerals, Vitamins, Environ... (Jan-18-2009)

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Comment by:  stevehinton (Stephen Hinton) (Aug-11-2008)   Web site
Do not think that the flying craft mentioned in this blog are only products of fantasy. See the zero fuel aircraft on YouTube:

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About author/contributor Member: stevehinton (Stephen Hinton) stevehinton (Stephen Hinton)
   Web site:

Member: stevehinton (Stephen Hinton) Started out as a Science Teacher, went over to management training and then Program Management. Was Managing Director of a sustainable drinking water company for nearly two years. He is now offering his services as change agent and releasing his book INVENTING FOR THE SUSTAINABLE PLANET.

Some environmental credentials:
  • trained in internal environmental auditing at Ericsson
  • Worked as specialist reporter for technical magazines, covering environmental issues
  • Familiar with GRI reporting, ISO systems in general specifically 14000 and the work environment methodology
  • Attended numerous environmental seminars in Sweden including the pivotal "After the peak of oil"
  • One of three original founders of Oil Awareness Stockholm

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