Transition, Permaculture, and Slow Technology

The Center for Post Carbon Logistics

Part one, the Origins of the Center for Post Carbon Logistics

 Traditional knowledge is in danger and its disappearance would not only cause the loss of people’s capability to keep and pass on the artistic and natural heritage, but also of an extraordinary source of knowledge and cultural diversity from which the appropriate innovation solutions can be derived today and in the future.

Lewis Mumford wrote in 1970, “The great feat of medieval technics was that it was able to promote and absorb many important changes without losing the immense carryover of inventions and skill from earlier cultures. In this lies one of it vital point of superiority over the modern mode of monotechnics, which boast of effacing, as fast and as far as possible, the technical achievements of earlier periods.”

Slow Money, Slow Food, and Slow Tech

“ …..just as the last 10 years or so have brought people greater awareness about the provenance of their food, we believe this is the moment to move people towards a greater understanding of their technology.”

Slow Food

 Slow Money is a movement to organize investors and donors to steer new sources of capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and local food systems. The Slow Food movement aims to preserve cultural cuisine and in so doing to preserve the food plants and seeds, domestic animals and farming within an eco-region. It is also a social and political movement that resists the dehumanizing  effects  of fast food and corporate farming.  Slow Tech  is about the re-invigoration of heirloom technologies and traditional skills needed to thrive in a carbon-constrained future.

Transition and Permaculture

Transition is the movement by which people are re-skilled in heirloom technologies.  Permaculture gave birth to the Transition movement and offers guidance on how to use those skills to design resilient lives.  The ethics; earth carepeople care, and fair share  form the foundation for Permaculture and are also found in most traditional societies.  

Transition fosters and supports the revitalization of Slow Tech skills and Permaculture asks us to consider relearning the proficiency needed to reanimate wind mills, watermills, and sailing vessel while putting hand tools, levers, and blocks and tackle back into service.

Permaculture incorporates knowledge from cultures that have existed in  balance with their environment for much longer than our consumer centered fossil fueled society. We should not  ignore the positive accomplishments of modern times, but in the transition to a sustainable future, we need to consider values and concepts different from what has become the social norm.

Slow Technology:

C. Milton Dixon, interviewed in The (Chicago) Examiner, May 2011, said:   “(high tech is) industrial technology and refers to things that are out of your control, as opposed to low technology, which is simple things done in a smart way.  (S)Low technology is using the intelligence of nature to accomplish tasks. High technology is buying an apple from the store; low technology is getting an apple from a tree you planted yourself. One of the big differences is in high technology you are disconnected from cause and effect relationships. So if you pollute through high technology, you may not feel the direct result. Low technology is connection because you are involved in the process and you are directly affected by the consequences.”

Small is Beautiful

The idea of Slow Technology has its roots in the ideological movement called “appropriate technology,” a term coined by E.F. Schumacher in his book “Small is Beautiful,” first published in 1973.  Slow or appropriate technology centers on ideas of proper scale: technology should be “people-centered.”  “Slow technology as an ideology that extends thoughtfulness about how devices shape our relationships to time, emotion and energy. Slow Technology is articulated in an article about the concept written about by two Swedish designers, Lars Hallnas and Johan Redstrom, who in 2001 described Slow Technology as “a design agenda for technology aimed at reflection and moments of mental rest rather than efficiency in performance.”  The two also said, “The appropriate technology movement has at its philosophical heart the desire to capacitate people of all walks of life to create (1) Meaningful Employment, (2) Comprehension of Technology, (3) Self-Reliance, and (4) Reduced Environmental Impacts.” 

Technology can be Slow in various ways: 

  • It takes time to learn how it works,
  • It takes time to understand why it works the way it works,
  • It takes time to apply it
  • It takes time to see what it is
  • and it takes time to find out the consequences of using it

Slow Tech Practice:

Hand Woodworking Tools

No woodworker’s first project is a chair, a house, or a boat.  My first lesson in woodworking was to take a piece of rough lumber, and using hand tools, shape it into a three dimensional absolutely square finished piece of wood.  It took me a full day and I used every tool on my bench.

Chairs

Once my practice was established I developed a method that worked for me.  First I sat with a piece of tracing paper and did a rough sketch of the final product.  Then I drew it full scale in three views.  From that drawing I could determine what amount of wood was needed, where each joint would go, and how the pieces would transition from one to another to create an aesthetically pleasing whole.  Then the sawing, planing, joinery, shaping, and finishing would take place.  Each of those steps were learned by doing, learning from others, by using traditional references, and knowing that the dimensions and materials were appropriate for the final use.

I was lucky both to have mentors and to have the time to hone my skills first as a student of Alan Lazarus at Virginia Commonwealth University  and then as a resident woodworker at Peters Valley Craft Center in New Jersey.  Peters Valley gave me the opportunity, and the time, to learn the business, practice my craft, and teach.  It also was a community of like-minded professional potters, weavers, metal workers, and woodworkers that supported one another. 

If we are to learn the skills necessary to survive and thrive in a post carbon world, more places like Peters Valley will be necessary, more experienced craft workers will have to open their shops to apprentices, and more people are going to have to be willing to take the time, resources, and effort to learn.

In future posts I will talk about preserving other skills and tools to serve a post carbon future such as building and restoring water and wind mills, wooden boat building, repair and restoration, artisanal fishing, farming, and “future proof” communities. 

There are schools and apprentice shops for learning large-scale woodworking and metal working skills that are and will be needed for Slow Tech water-driven mills, and wind-driven vessels that will be part of the continuum that supersedes the “blip” of petroleum powered short term thinking and consumption.

The following are some links to the resources, books, skills, and techniques that are needed to adapt to carbon constrained future that is resilient, abundant, and equitable.

Water Mill

Let the following lists of links and books be a starting point – an opportunity to contribute your own favorite sites, books, drawings, and especially experiences with humans with these skills.  Perhaps this list can be the beginning of a Traditional Knowledge Database that will gather and protect historical knowledge and promote innovative practices based on traditional skills.

Please send you ideas, links, and experiences to nfo@postcarbonlogistics.org

 “International Traditional Knowledge Institute” (ITKI) 

Foxfire

WoodenBoat magazine 

The Museum of Old Techniques

Compendium of operating grist mills

Low Tech Magazine

Museum of Early Trades and Crafts

Institute for Traditional Knowledge

Appropedia

Ropes, Knots, and Hitches

Maritime Museums

 Mills restored by Rondout Woodworking

Rocking the Boat

Buffalo Maritime Center

The International Windship Association

The Hudson River Maritime Museum, Riverport Wooden Boat School

The Apprenticeshop

Yestermorrow

Books, please try your independent bookseller first:

  • The Nature and Art of Workmanship, David Pye, Herbert Press
  • How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, A Manual of the Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot,   John Muir and Tosh Gregg, Avalon Travel/Perseus Books.
  • The Power of Just Doing Stuff, Rob Hopkins, Transition Books
  • A Museum of Early American Tools, Eric Sloane, Wilfred Funk
  • Why We Make Things and Why it Matters, Peter Korn, David R. Godine
  • The Craftsman, Richard Sennett, Yale University Press
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig, Harper Torch
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford, Penguin Press
  • The Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, et al, The Whole Earth Truck Store
  • Transportation in a Post-Carbon World, Anthony Perl, Richard Gilbert, Post Carbon Institute
  • Foxfire Series, Eliot Wigginton and Foxfire Fund, Inc. Penguin Random House

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