How to design a sailing ship for the 21st century?

Re-posted with permission from Kris De Decker and Low-tech Magazine

Most images: Alan Villiers collection.

It is surprisingly difficult to build a carbon neutral sailing ship. This is even more the case today, because our standards for safety, health, hygiene, comfort, and convenience have changed profoundly since the Age of Sail.

On board the ship `Garthsnaid’ at sea. A view from high up in the rigging. Image by Allan C. Green, circa 1920. 

The sailing ship is a textbook example of sustainability. For at least 4,000 years, sailing ships have transported passengers and cargo across the world’s seas and oceans without using a single drop of fossil fuels. If we want to keep travelling and trading globally in a low carbon society, sailing ships are the obvious alternative to container ships, bulk carriers, and airplanes.

However, by definition, the sailing ship is not a carbon neutral technology. For most of history, sailing ships were built from wood, but back then whole forests were felled for ships, and those trees often did not grow back. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, sailing ships were increasingly made from steel, which also has a significant carbon footprint.

The carbon neutrality of sailing in the 21st century is even more elusive. That’s because we have changed profoundly since the Age of Sail. Compared to our forebears, we have higher demands in terms of safety, comfort, convenience, and cleanliness. These higher standards are difficult to achieve unless the ship also has a diesel engine and generator on-board.

The revival of the sailing ship

The sailing ship has seen a modest revival in the last decade, especially for the transportation of cargo. In 2009, Dutch company Fairtransport started shipping freight between Europe and the Americas with the Tres Hombres, a sailing ship built in 1943. The company remains active today and has a second ship in service since 2015, the Nordlys (built in 1873).

Since then, others have joined the sail cargo business. In 2016, the German company Timbercoast started shipping cargo with the Avontuur, a ship built in 1920. [1] In 2017, the French Blue Schooner Company started transporting cargo between Europe and the Americas with the Gallant, a sailing ship that was built in 1916. [2] All these sailing ships were constructed in the twentieth or nineteenth century, and were restored at a later date. However, a revival of sail cannot rely on historical ships alone, because there’s not enough of them. [3]

The Noach, built in 1857.

At the moment, there are at least two sailing ships in development that are being built from scratch: the Ceiba and the EcoClipper500. The first ship is being constructed in Costa Rica by a company named Sailcargo. She is built from wood and inspired by a Finnish ship from the twentieth century. The second ship is designed by a company called EcoClipper, which is led by one of the founders of the Dutch FairTransport, Jorne Langelaan. Their EcoClipper500 is a steel replica of a Dutch clipper ship from 1857: the Noach.

“Old designs are not necessarily the best”, says Jorne Langelaan, “but whenever proven design is used, one can be sure of its performance. A new design is more of a gamble. Furthermore, in the 20th and 21st century, sailing technology developed for fast sailing yachts, which is an entirely different story compared to ships which need to be able to carry cargo.”

More economical sailing ships

These two ships – one under construction and one in the design phase – have the potential to make sail cargo a lot more economical than it is today. That’s because they have a much larger cargo capacity than the sailing ships currently in operation. As a ship becomes longer, her cargo capacity increases more than proportionally.

The Eco-Clipper

The 46 metre long Ceiba is powered by 580 m2 of sails and carries 250 tonnes of cargo. The 60 metre long EcoClipper500 is powered by almost 1,000 m2 of sails and takes 500 tonnes of cargo. For comparison, the Tres Hombres is not that much shorter at 32 metres, but she takes only 40 tonnes of cargo – twelve times less than the EcoClipper500. A larger ship is also faster and saves labour. The Tres Hombres requires a crew of seven, while the EcoClipper500 only has a slightly larger crew of twelve.

Life cycle analysis of a sailing ship

Although the EcoClipper500 is still in the design phase, she will be the focus of this article. This is because the company conducted a life cycle analysis of the ship prior to building it. [9] As far as I know, this is the first life cycle analysis of a sailing ship ever made. The study reveals that it takes around 1,200 tonnes of carbon to build the ship.

Half of those emissions are generated during steel production, and roughly one third is generated by steel working processes and other shipyard activities. Solvent-based paints as well as electric and electronic systems each account for roughly 5% of emissions. The emissions produced during the manufacturing of the sails are not included because there are no scientific data available, but a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation (for sails based on aramid fibres) signals that their contribution to the total carbon footprint is very small. [4]

The EcoClipper500 has a carbon footprint of  2 grammes of CO2 per tonne-kilometre, which is five times less than the carbon footprint of a container ship.

If these 1,200 tonnes of emissions are spread out over an estimated lifetime of 50 years, then the EcoClipper500 would have a carbon footprint of about 2 grammes of CO2 per tonne-kilometre of cargo, concludes researcher Andrew Simons, who made the life cycle analysis for the ship. This is roughly five times less than the carbon footprint of a container ship (10 grammes CO2/tonne-km) and three times less than the carbon footprint of a bulk-carrier (6 grammes CO2/tonne-km). [5]

Looking aft from aloft on the ‘Parma’ while at anchor. Alan Villiers, 1932-33. Villiers’s work vividly records the period of early 20th century maritime history when merchant sailing vessels or ‘tall ships’ were in rapid decline.

Transporting one ton of cargo over a distance of 8,000 km (roughly the distance between the Caribbean and the Netherlands) would thus produce 16 kg of carbon with the EcoClipper500, compared to 80 kg on a container ship and 48 kg on a bulk carrier. The proportions are similar for other environmental factors, such as ozone depletion, ecotoxicity, air pollution, and so on.

Although the sailing ship boasts a convincing advantage, it may not be as big as you might have expected. First, as Simons explains, there’s scale. A container ship or bulk carrier enjoys the same benefits over the EcoClipper500 as the EcoClipper500 enjoys over the Tres Hombres. It can take a lot more cargo – on average 50,000 tonnes instead of 500 tonnes – and it needs only a slightly larger crew of 20-25 people. [6]

Second, fossil fuel powered ships are faster than sailing ships, meaning that fewer ships are needed to transport a given amount of cargo over a given period of time. The original ship on which the EcoClipper500 is based, sailed between the Netherlands and Indonesia in 65 to 78 days, while a container ship does it in about half the time (taking the short cut through the Suez canal).

Building a fleet of sailing ships

There’s two ways to further lower the carbon emissions of sailing ships in comparison to container ships and bulk carriers. One is to build ships from wood instead of steel, such as the Ceiba. If the harvested trees are allowed to grow back (which the makers of the Ceiba have promised), such a ship may even be considered a carbon sink.

However, there’s a good reason why the EcoClipper500 will be made from steel: the company’s aim is to build not just one ship, but a fleet of them. Jorne Langelaan: “There are few shipyards who can deliver wooden ships nowadays. Steel makes it easier to build a fleet in a shorter period.”

A possible compromise would be a composite construction, in which a steel skeleton is clad with timber keel, planks, and deck. Andrew Simons: “This would reduce the carbon footprint of construction by half. It could also be feasible to make superstructures and some of the mast sections and spars from timber instead of steel.”

Driving sprays over the main deck of the ‘Parma’. Alan Villiers, 1932-33.

Towards the future, another possibility to further decrease a sailings ship’s emissions per tonne-km is to build it even larger. While the EcoClipper500 has much more cargo capacity than the cargo sailing ships now in operation, she is far from the largest sailing ship ever built.

Historical ships such as the Great Republic (5,000 tonnes), the Parma (5,300 tonnes), the France II (7,300 tonnes), and the Preussen (7,800 tonnes), were more than 100 metres long and could take more than ten times the freight capacity of the EcoClipper500. Langelaan already dreams of a EcoClipper3000.


Most cargo sailing ships travelling across the oceans today can also take some passengers. Fully loaded with cargo, the EcoClipper500 takes 12 crew members, 12 passengers, and 8 trainees (passengers who learn how to sail). If the upper hold deck is not used for cargo, another 28 trainees can join, so that the ship can take up to 60 people on board (with a smaller cargo volume: 480 m3 instead of 880 m3).

The carbon footprint for passengers amounts to 10 g per passenger-km, compared to roughly 100 g per passenger-km on an airplane.

Consequently, and since ocean liners have disappeared, the EcoClipper500 also becomes an alternative to the airplane. According to the results of the life cycle analysis, the carbon footprint for passengers on the EcoClipper500 amounts to 10 grammes per passenger-kilometre, compared to roughly 100 grammes per passenger-kilometre on an airplane. Transporting one passenger thus produces as much carbon emissions as transporting 1 tonne of freight.

Engine or not?

Importantly, the life cycle analysis of the EcoClipper500 assumes that there is no diesel engine on-board. On a sailing ship, a diesel engine can serve two purposes, which can be combined. First, it allows to propel the ship when there is no wind or when sails cannot be used, for example when leaving or entering a harbour. Second, combined with a generator, a diesel engine can produce electricity for daily life on board of the ship.

For most of history, energy use on-board of a sailing ship was not too problematic. There was firewood for cooking and heating, and there were candles and oil lamps for lighting. There were no refrigerators for food storage, no showers or laundry machines for washing and cleaning, no electronic instruments for navigation and communication, no electric pumps in case of leaks or fire.

However, we now have higher standards in terms of safety, health, hygiene, thermal comfort, and convenience. The problem is that these higher standards are difficult to achieve when the ship does not have an engine that runs on fossil fuels. Modern heating systems, cooking devices, hot water boilers, refrigerators, freezers, lighting, safety equipment, and electronic instruments all need energy to work.

Crewman of the ‘Parma’ with a model of his ship. Alan Villiers, 1932-33.

Modern sailing ships often use a diesel engine to provide that energy (and to propel the ship if necessary). An example is the Avontuur from Timbercoast, who has an engine of 300 HP, a 20 kW generator, and a fuel tank of 2,330 litres. Large sail training vessels and cruising ships have several engines and generators on-board. For example, the 48m long Brig Morningster has a 450 HP engine and three generators with a total capacity of 100 kW, while the 56m long Bark Europa has two 365 HP engines with three generators – and burns hundreds of litres of oil per day.

Depending on the lifestyle of the people on board, the emissions per passenger-km may rise to, or surpass, the levels of those of an airplane.

Obviously, the emissions and other pollutants of these engines need to be taken into account when the environmental footprint of a sail trip is calculated. Depending on the lifestyle of the people on board, the emissions per passenger-km may rise to, or surpass, the levels of those of an airplane. To a lesser extent, electricity use on-board also increases the emissions of cargo transportation.

Energy use on board a sailing ship

The EcoClipper500 has no diesel engine on board, which is a second reason to focus on this ship. Obviously, a sailing ship without an engine cannot proceed her voyage when there’s no wind. This is easily solved in the old-fashioned way: the EcoClipper500 stays where she is until the wind returns. A ship without an engine also needs tug boats – which usually burn fossil fuels – to get in and out of ports. For the EcoClipper500, these tug services account for 0.3 g/tkm of the total carbon footprint of 2 g/tkm.

Without a diesel engine, the ship also needs to generate all energy for use on board from local energy sources, and this is the hard part. Renewable energy is intermittent and has low power density compared to fossil fuels, meaning that more space is needed to generate a given amount of power – which is more problematic at sea than it is on land.

Renewing caulking on the poop of the ‘Parma’. Alan Villiers, 1932-33.

To make the EcoClipper500 self-sufficient in terms of energy use, a first design decision was to shift energy use away from electricity whenever possible. This is especially important for high temperature heat, which cannot be supplied by electric heat pumps. The ship will have a pellet-stove on board to provide space heating, as well as a biodigester – never before used on a ship – to convert human and kitchen waste into gas for cooking. Thermal insulation of the ship is another priority.

Nevertheless, even with pellet-stove and biodigester (which themselves require electricity to operate), and with thermal insulation, energy demand on the ship can be as high as 50 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day (2 kW average power use). This concerns a “worst-case normal operation” scenario, when the ship is sailing in cold weather with 60 people on board. Power use will be lower in warmer weather and/or when less people are taken. During an emergency, the power requirements can amount to 8 kW, while more than 24 kWh of energy can be needed in just three hours.


How to produce this power? Solar panels and wind turbines are only a small part of the solution. Producing 50 kWh of energy per day would require at least 100 square metres of solar panels, for which there is little space on a 60 m long sailing ship. Vulnerability and shading by the sails make for further problems. Wind turbines can be attached in the rigging, but their power output is also limited. The low potential of solar and wind power are demonstrated by the earlier mentioned sailing ship Avontuur. She has a 20 kW generator, powered by the diesel engine, but only 2.1 kW of solar panels and 0.8 kW of wind turbines.

The hydrogenerator is the only renewable power source that can provide a large sailing ship with enough energy for the use of modern technology on board. Hydrogenerators are attached underneath the hull and work in the opposite way as a ship’s propeller. Instead of the propeller powering the ship, the ship powers the propeller, which turns a generator that produces electricity. In spite of its name and appearance, the hydrogenerator is actually a form of wind energy: the sails power the propellers. Obviously, this only works when the ship is sailing fast enough.

Furling sail on the main yard of the Parma. Alan Villiers, 1932-33.

The EcoClipper500 will be equipped with two large hydrogenerators, for which Simons calculated the power output at different speeds, taking into account the fact that the extra drag they produce slows down the ship somewhat. He concludes that the EcoClipper500 needs to sail at a speed of at least 7.5 knots to generate enough electricity. At that speed, the hydrogenerators produce an estimated 2,000 watts of power, which converts to roughly 50 kWh of electricity per day (24 hours of sailing).

At a lower speed of 4.75 knots, the generators produce 350 watts, which comes down to 8.4 kWh of energy over a period of 24 hours – only 1/6th of the maximum required energy. On the other hand, at higher speeds, the hydrogenerators produce more energy than necessary. At a speed of almost 10 knots they provide 120 kWh/day, at a speed of 12 knots this becomes 182 kWh/day – 3.5 times more than needed.

Saltwater batteries

According to her hull speed, the EcoClipper500 will be able to sail a little over 16 knots at absolute top speed – this is double the minimum speed required to generate enough power. Achieving this speed will be rare, because it needs calm seas and strong winds from the right direction. Nevertheless, in good wind conditions, the ship easily sails fast enough to produce all electricity for use on board.

Good wind conditions can last for days, especially on the oceans, where winds are more powerful and predictable than on land. However, they are not guaranteed, and the ship will also sail at lower speeds, or find herself in becalmed conditions – when hydrogenerators are as useless as solar panels in the middle of the night.

Because she has no engine, the EcoClipper500 faces a double problem when there’s no wind: she cannot continue her voyage, and she has no energy to maintain life on board. The first problem is easily solved but the second is not. Life on board goes on, and so there is a continued need for power. To provide this, the ship needs energy storage.

To cover the needs for three days drifting in cold weather, an energy storage of 150 kWh would be required, not taking into account charge and discharge losses. Five or seven days of energy use on-board would require 250 to 350 kWh of storage. For emergency use, another 25 kWh of energy storage is needed.

Scraping the deck onboard the ‘Parma’. Alan Villiers, 1932-33.

Not having an engine, generator and fuel tank saves space on board, but this advantage can be quickly lost again when one starts to add batteries for the hydrogenerators. Lithium-ion batteries are very compact, but they cannot be considered sustainable and bring safety risks. That’s why Jorne Langelaan and Andrew Simons see more potential in – very aptly – saltwater batteries, which are non-flammable, non-toxic, easy to recycle, have wide temperature-tolerance, and can last for more than 15 years. Like the biodigester, they have never been used on a sailing ship before.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries, saltwater batteries are large and heavy. At 60 kg per kWh of storage capacity, a 150 kWh battery storage would add a weight of 9 tonnes, while a 350 kWh storage capacity would add 21 tonnes. Still, this compares favourably to the total cargo capacity (500 tonnes), and the batteries can serve as ballast if they are placed in the lower part of the ship’s hull. The space requirements are not too problematic, either. Even a 350 kWh energy storage only requires 14 to 29m3 of space, which is small compared to the 880m3 of cargo volume.

The emissions that are produced by the manufacturing of the hydrogenerators, biodigester, and batteries are not included in the life cycle analysis of the ship, because there are no data available. However, these emissions must be relatively small. Hydrogenerators have much higher power density than wind turbines, and thus a relatively low embodied energy. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation learns that the carbon footprint of 350 kWh saltwater batteries is around 70 tonnes of CO2. [7]

Human Power

There’s another renewable power source and energy storage on board of the EcoClipper, and that’s the humans themselves. Like the pellet stove and the biodigester, the use of human power could reduce the need for electricity. Nowadays, cargo ships and most large sailing ships have electric or hydraulic winches, pumps, and steering gear, saving manual labour at the expense of higher energy use. In contrast, EcoClipper sticks to manual handling of the ship as much as possible.

Crew at the capstan of the Parma, weighing anchor. Alan Villiers, 1932-33.

Simons and Langelaan are also considering the addition of a few rowing machines, coupled to generators, to produce emergency power. Two rowing machines could provide roughly 400 watts of power. If they are operated around the clock in shifts, they could supply the ship with an extra 9.6 kWh of energy per day (ignoring energy losses) – one fifth of the total maximum electricity use.

In fact, as I tell Simons and Langelaan ten rowing machines operated continually in shifts would provide as much power as the hydrogenerators at a speed of 7.5 knots. If there are 60 people on board, and everybody would generate power for less than one hour per day, no hydrogenerators and batteries would be needed at all. “A very interesting thought”, answers Simons, “but what impression would we be painted with?”

Hot Showers?

Even with a biodigester, hydrogenerators, batteries, and rowing machines, the passengers and crew on board the EcoClipper500 would be far short of luxurious, and perhaps too short of comfortable for some. For example, if 60 people on board the ship would take a daily hot shower – which requires on average 2.1 kilowatt-hours of energy and 76.5 litres of water on land – total electricity use per day would be 126 kWh, more than double the energy the ship produces at a speed of 7.5 knots.

The ship could supply this energy at a higher sailing speed, but there would also be a need for 4,590 liters of water per day, a quantity that could only be produced from seawater – a process that requires a lot of energy. Even a crew of 12 taking a daily hot shower would require 25.2 kWh of energy per day, half of what the hydrogenerators produce at a sailing speed of 7.5 knots. The Bark Europa is the only sailing ship mentioned in this article that has hot showers in every (shared) cabin, but it is also the ship with the biggest generators and the highest fuel use.

On the forecastle head of the Parma in fine weather. Image by Alan Villiers, 1932.

Andrew Simons: “On the EcoClipper500 there needs to be a manageable compromise between energy use and comfort. Energy use on board will have to be actively managed. Resources are finite, just like for the planet. In many ways the ship is a microcosm of challenges that the wider world has to face and find solutions to.”

Jorne Langelaan: “At sea you are in a different world. It doesn’t matter anymore if you can take a daily shower or not. What matters are the people, the movements of the ship, and the vast wilderness of ocean around you”.

Measuring the right things

This article has compared the EcoClipper500 sailing ship with the average container ship, bulk carrier, and airplane in terms of emissions per tonne- or passenger-kilometer. However, these values are abstractions that obscure much more important information: the total emissions that are produced by all passengers and all cargo, over all kilometres.

The international ocean freight trade increased from 4 billion tonnes of cargo in 1990 to 11.2 billion tonnes in 2019, resulting in more than 1 billion tonnes of emissions. International air passenger numbers grew from 1 billion in 1990 to 4.5 billion in 2019, resulting in 915 million tonnes of emissions. Consequently, lowering the emissions per tonne- and passenger-kilometre is neither a necessity nor a guarantee for a reduction in emissions.

If we cut international cargo traffic more than fivefold, and passenger traffic more than tenfold, then the emissions of all container ships and airplanes would be lower than the emissions of all sailing ships carrying 11.2 billion tonnes of cargo and 4.5 billion of passengers. Vice versa, if we switch to sailing ships, but keep on transporting more and more cargo and passengers across the planet, we will eventually produce just as much in emissions as we do today with fossil fuel powered transportation.

The mizzen of the ‘Grace Harwar’; view aft from the main crosstrees. Alan Villiers, 1932-33.

Of course, none of this would ever happen. The amount of cargo that was traded across the oceans in 2019 equals the freight capacity of 22.4 million EcoClippers. Assuming the EcoClipper500 can make 2-3 trips per year, we would need to build and operate at least 7.5 million ships, with a total crew of at least 90 million people. Those ships could only take 0.5 billion passengers (12 passengers and 8 trainees per ship), so we would need millions of ships and crew members more to replace international air traffic.

We should not be fooled by abstract relative measurements, which only serve to keep the focus on growth and efficiency.

All of this is technically possible, and as we have seen, it would produce less in emissions than the present alternatives. However, it’s more likely that a switch to sailing ships is accompanied by a decrease in cargo and passenger traffic, and this has everything to do with scale and speed. A lot of freight and passengers would not be travelling if it were not for the high speeds and low costs of today’s airplanes and container ships.

It would make little sense to transport iPhones parts, Amazon wares, sweatshop clothes, or city trippers with sailing ships. A sailing ship is more than a technical means of transportation: it implies another view on consumption, production, time, space, leisure, and travel. For example, a lot of freight now travels in different directions for each next processing stage before it is delivered as a final product. In contrast, all sail cargo companies mentioned in this article only take cargo that cannot be produced locally, and which is one trip from producer to consumer. [8]

This also means that even if sailing ships have diesel engines on board, they would still bring a significant decrease in the total emissions for freight and passenger traffic, simply because they would reduce the absolute number of passengers, cargo, and kilometers. We should not be fooled by abstract relative measurements, which only serve to keep the focus on growth and efficiency.


[1] Between 1978 and 2004, the Avontuur was operated as sail cargo vessel under Captain Paul Wahlen. The Apollonia, originally built in 1946, is another cargo sailing ship in operation since 2014. It is 19.5 metres long and carries 10 tonnes of cargo.

[2] Very recently, Grain de Sail was buillt and launched for Trans-Atlantic shipping of wine and cocoa. She is a modern sailing ship without an engine, built from aluminium, and can take 35 tonnes of cargo.

[3] Andrew Simons: “There are plenty historical sailing ships, but either very costly to get into service as a regulatory compliant cargo vessel, because they are still used for other purposes, or not suitable.”

[4] Unfortunately the envelope got lost.

[5] In the case of the EcoClipper, most of the emissions are produced during the construction of the ship, while in the case of bulk carriers and container ships, they are mainly produced during operation and fuel production.

[6] The largest container ships now take 190,000 tonnes of cargo.

[7] There is not much data available on saltwater batteries, but they are less energy-intensive to build than many other types of batteries. The calculation is based on an estimate of 66 kg CO2/kWh of storage capacity and three generations of batteries over a period of 50 years. 

[8] Almost one third of all cargo transported are fossil fuels themselves.

[9] The study can be downloaded when you subscribe to EcoClipper’s newsletter. The research is based on a typical life cycle analysis, but note that this is not a peer reviewed study.

The Northeast Grain Race

A Blog Post by Derek Ellard

The Hudson River Maritime Museum, in cooperation with the Center for Post Carbon Logistics and the Northeast Grainshed Alliance, will be conducting a Grain Race in May of 2022. Contestants in four capacity categories will vie for the highest score when moving cargoes of grain from growers to producers and users such as brewers and maltsters across New England, New York, and New Jersey. Each Ton-Mile of cargo moved earns one point, but 5 points are lost for each liter of fuel, or 10 kWh of power taken from the grid.

Based on the Great Grain and Tea Races of the 19th century, conducted by ships sailing from Australia and China to England, but adapted to facing the current climate crisis, this race is designed to add some drama and interest to the topics of local food systems and food transportation.

Each contestant set can enter a single cargo voyage during the month of May 2022, using the indicated Google Form, which will be verified by a panel of judges. Winners will be published on the 15th of June, and prizes awarded thereafter.

The rules and current Directory of Participants and Supporting Organizations can be accessed here. Those interested in participating can have themselves added to the directory through the provided contact link in the document, while those with questions can contact the Hudson River Maritime Museum for further information.

Blog Post

The Northeast Grain Race is many things, a history lesson, an “all things considered” invitation, a competition and an opportunity to make a difference but it also highlights another race – a race against time.  The world urgently needs initiatives like this to make us sit up and take a good look at what we all take for granted – the food in our local store and how it gets there. To put it bluntly, we must find better ways to put food on the table without destroying the farms that grow it, and recent disasters are surely stark reminders that we’re rapidly running out of time.  The good news is this is a race we can win, we can come out on top if we apply ourselves to this, The Race Of Our Lives. In our marine team, we have access to the best of history, the best technology and the combined expertise of the best Maritime Minds and Lateral Thinkers so the odds are good – we can win this one!

This race could herald a new era as the seeds of a new ocean order come to fruition – history will be written. ) we are evolving to a point where we will wield real power. Power to initiate sensible change as we jointly reject the old obsolete ways of the past and embrace the new ways of the past – the abundant natural capital of wind and sun re-interpreted for the 21st century.

The power to commission a new generation of better cargo ships, clean, efficient and profitable ships driven by wind and sun, is within our grasp. Our time is now.

As an Australian member of this group of visionary minds, my own contribution is both modest yet my aims are global. The principles are simple – take the best of the old and press a big refresh button. Our small sailing ketches and cargo schooners would not, at first glance, look out of place moored to a 19th century wharf, but look closer and you will see that every single component of every one of our boats is upgraded. We’ll refine the time-honoured sailplans, upgrade all the gear and build in electric auxiliaries.  A new generation of sailmakers will weave their composite spells, new alloys like Scandium will be extruded for our spars and our underwater lines will cleave the waters with no oily scum in their wake.

Every aspect of the power delivery systems is designed for efficiency. Form Energy’s new generation iron-air batteries show great promise as ballast with benefits, new pumps and fridge compressors will cut power consumption by half – Magtor take a bow, and hats off to the Alpha 311 creators for their innovative roadside wind generators, we have designated spaces for them on board. There’s high-performance, self-lubricating bearings for props, rudders and dagger boards. All this and up to 36 TEUs in the holds, that’s 800 tonnes or 1,400 cubic metres (49,440 cubic feet) in our new Schooner. Food on the table without trashing the trade routes.

Our new wind ships are freighters, feeders and short sea traders with a good attitude, not afraid to exploit the best of the new but built on the solid, risk-averse foundations of the world’s maritime history, a history with a particularly rich vein running right through the North Eastern States

This business model only takes us so far however, you are not going to power a full-sized container ship with solar panels over the cargo hatches but our C100 Ketch will generate 12kW on a good day and power the inboard electric engines in the calms to help keep the owner’s accountant happy. And there’s the business case in a nutshell – free fuel, there for the harnessing.  I’ll gladly leave the development of the mega ships to those best qualified for the job but America and indeed the whole planet will always need small ships, new generation zero-carbon square riggers for the trade winds and new schooners, sailing barges and cutters for the rivers, estuaries and islands.

So what’s the big idea then? Where do we go from here?

Back to future I say, and I take my cue from the amazing World War 2 Liberty Ship program initiated by good old-fashioned US entrepreneurs and an enlightened government applying Henry Ford’s mass-production techniques to the slipways. The current war threatens annihilation so we’d better get down to it. We need mass-produced sail and sun driven ships by the thousand. We will need the discipline and strategy of the military, the precision of robotics and the hard work of the Nation’s best shipwrights and we need them now.

So what’s stopping us? Capital. Where there’s a will there’s a way and we have the will already. We need to pool our abundant resources, take a collective deep breath and speak up – loud and clear. It’s no longer a case of “THEY SHOULD DO SOMETHING!” Protest is past, action is present, WE will do something, our voices must ring out in the boardrooms of the powerful. The message is crystal clear, free fuel can no longer be ignored and the starting gun for the future-proof shipping race has already been fired – the winds of change are here!

The author:

Derek Ellard is an Australian boat builder and designer at Go Sail Cargo.  He has designed “purpose built” “electric clipper” sail cargo vessels ranging in size from 24’ to 180’.  Derek has been working with the Center for Post Carbon Logistics, The Schooner Apollonia, the Hudson River Maritime Museum, and Sustainable Hudson Valley as part of an effort to R&D. design, finance, and build 5 new ships including an ocean-going sail cargo vessel to be locally built in a Hudson Valley shipyard to complement the movement of goods and people to and from the Caribbean, New York Harbor, and the Hudson Valley in a carbon constrained future. Derek can be reached at

Towards A Food Movement Movement.

A Blog Post by Steven Woods. Mr. Woods earned his master’s degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College in 2021, with an undergraduate degree in History from LeMoyne College. He has worked in museums for over 20 years and is making a career transition to the sustainability field after 6 years in the US Airforce. He is presently the Solaris Coordinator at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A shorter, slightly less technical version of this blog was originally posted by the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s History Blog. As theMuseum and The Center for Post Carbon Logistcs have different missions, the publication of two different versions was deemed appropriate.

I’m willing to bet a lot of people clicked this article thinking something along the lines of “How about ‘Towards Hiring A Proofreader, Eh?!'” Despite this, the title is accurate: The Food Movement lacks any real vision of how food will move in future from the farm gate to the citizen’s fridge. I am very much talking about a social movement concerned with the physical movement of food.

We could also call such a movement by other names: “Tucker Transit To-Do,” “Respect For Refreshment Relocation,” “Comestible Conduct Concern,” “Victual Voyage Verification,” and “The Food Flow Front” were all suggested to friends before I was summarily kicked out of their house. While “Whence The Vittles?!” was a personal favorite, it seems these are mostly just good ways to make enemies and alienate people while not getting your point across in a helpful way. Thus, we are left with the boring but utilitarian name of The Food Movement Movement.

There are a lot of studies out there about regional food self sufficiency, some dating from the 19th century, and others from just a few years ago. The topic of food sovereignty has been a matter of debate since the 17th century, and usually comes to the fore during and after armed conflicts and other crises which might result in embargos or other interruptions to the food supply, such as Brexit quite recently. Agriculture and food security have long been considered matters of national security and tools of foreign policy, and in war many blockades specifically target food movement into and within enemy nations as a way of inflicting losses and destroying the enemy’s will to continue the conflict..

Far fewer studies actually touch upon how food is supposed to move between its points of origin and consumption within a peacetime food system model. Even fewer touch upon how this can be done at the necessary scale in a post-carbon future.

How food was, is, or will need to be carried over land and sea through the use of self-propelled vehicles, trailers, barges, carts, pack animals, ships, or human powered systems such as bicycles is chronically under studied. A great historical study of this overlooked element of food systems is Walter Hedden’s book “How great cities are fed” from 1929. Without this transportation, food goes to waste and people starve. It is simply impossible for New Englanders to eat food which is sitting in crates on a Texas, Florida, Kansas, or California farm table for lack of transportation capacity. As a result, it is difficult to overcomplicate or underestimate the impact of insufficient transport capabilities on any socio-alimentary system.

New York City Foodshed

With a carbon-constrained future rapidly approaching and demanding significant changes to transportation habits, this issue is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, it is routinely ignored in food system visions, which are normally published without direct and detailed attention to the distance and means by which food will be transported. Take New England, for example: A New England Food Vision by Food Solutions New England hopes to expand agriculture so half of New England’s food is produced within the region by 2060. While laudable and achievable, this publication doesn’t tell us how literally tens of thousands of tons of food per day will arrive in New England from elsewhere, all year round. The study simply assumes there are sufficient transport resources which are independent of petroleum fuel supplies, will not raise the cost of imported food beyond the reach of citizens, and doesn’t rely on similarly vulnerable, scarce, and unpredictable renewable electricity sources. It also expects petroleum-based paved infrastructure, tires, and other supplies underpinning our current transportation system to continue existing in sufficiently decent condition to carry these millions of daily ton-miles across the region and the continent.

None of this should be taken for granted, but it is easy to understand why it is forgotten in our current economy and era of easy access to energy. With cheap fossil fuels, low shipping costs, and a probably misplaced faith in miracle technologies, we as a culture and a nation have a tendency to get carried away with the thought of our current transport system existing forever. It is honestly difficult to imagine anything else, even when you put your mind to it.

Large Sail Freight Vessel

So, the need clearly exists for a Food Movement Movement. But how would it operate? What vehicle could possibly provide New England’s massive import requirements with oil- and electricity-independent, renewable, reliable, and emissions-free transportation without the need for paved infrastructure? The answer isn’t terribly difficult to find for those who have studied the region’s history: Sailing Vessels.

Visit any one of the dozens of Maritime Museums in New England, and you can see there is plenty of tradition, knowledge, and capacity to supply New England’s food imports by sail freight. By my calculations (Pages 74-78 Here), a mere 3,000 ships and 18,000 sailors would be able to meet this demand with room to spare for a small amount of delays, time off, and some commodities I hadn’t included in the original math. This is with small vessels, too: A ship of only 111.5 tons cargo capacity, with a crew of 6.5 sailors was used as the rule.

Sail Training Vessel with Cadets

It is eminently possible to build, launch, and crew these vessels over the next 40 years, while creating tens of thousands of jobs. It is also more than possible to use existing training infrastructure from organizations such as Tall Ships America, US Sailing, and The American Sailing Association to ensure a sufficient pool of skilled windjammer sailors are at hand to take them over the seas.

This fleet only supplies the import needs of New England. The Coastal Trade in New England is prime territory for exploitation by enterprising Yankee Sailors, due to the historical settlement patterns of the region. Dozens of small ports and harbors can become points of carbon free shipping within the region, as was seen with the Vermont Sail Freight Project and Maine Sail Freight. These projects have shown the way to a Slow Food Movement Movement, though some brokerages and other infrastructure will need to be built to support this type of transportation. This type of business pattern change is a minor thing in all reality, and can be accomplished if we set some Yankee determination and ingenuity to work on it.

Tres Hombres Sail Freight Vessel

Far larger areas than just New England can be served by Sail Freight: Cities and towns along all four of the USA’s coastlines (Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes) can benefit from Sail Freight, as can the massive regions of the midwest served by our over 12,000 miles of inland waterways. As with any other such infrastructure, ports, harbors, anchorages, channels, locks, dams, sluces, dry docks, weirs, inclined planes, and shipyards must be maintained every year, fully funded, and cared for. However, unlike other infrastructure investments, they are long term, lasting up to or in excess of 50 years for locks, and support carbon free shipping in the place of resource-intensive gas, diesel, and electric powered vehicles.

As we think of Slow Food, we should keep in mind the importance of moving that food around the block and around the world as sustainably as it was grown. With a bit of planning, civic involvement, prudence, and forethought, far more than just the slow food movement can benefit from the slow movement of food.

Sail Freight Revival

A Master’s Thesis by Steven Woods

This article is a summary of the Steven Woods’ Master’s Thesis: “Sail Freight Revival: Methods of calculating fleet, cargo, and labor needs for supplying cities by sail.” Master’s Thesis. Prescott College, 2021. The full thesis can be read Here.

Solar Electric USCG Inspected passenger vessel Solaris

Steven Woods earned his master’s degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College in 2021, with an undergraduate degree in History from LeMoyne College. He has worked in museums for over 20 years and is making a career transition to the sustainability field after 6 years in the US Airforce. He is presently the Solaris Coordinator at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

Ssil Freight Schooner Apollonia

Sail Freight is an ancient, proven, and fuel-independent means of transportation for both cargo and people. At scale, it could easily provide a means of provisioning cities across the world with food and other essential goods, while avoiding the use of strategic materials such as lithium, cobalt, biofuels, solar panels, electricity, and copper which are needed for the land-based energy transition. The challenge of moving to a sustainable transportation system is of critical importance, and the need to maintain a sufficient transportation capacity for food is literally a matter of life and death.

Sail Freight Vessel Tres Hombres

Sail Freight has gained popularity and visibility as a means of near zero carbon transport, and justifiably so. As complex Sail Freight networks have existed for at least 4,000 years in the Mediterranean, and possibly as long as 40,000 years in the South Pacific, the art of sailing is not new, and does not require complex or energy intensive technologies. Once a sail freight vessel is launched, the carbon emissions from the vessel are nearly zero, and service lives can cover several decades. As 90% of the world’s commerce moves by sea, and modern container ships normally burn over 100 tons of heavy fuel oil per day on their voyages, sail freight seems a good means of cleaning up global commerce.

Until recently, it seems no one has examined the scale at which sail freight must be adopted to fulfill these hopes and aspirations, nor has anyone looked at the auxiliary challenges of adopting sail freight, such as the capacity available to train windjammer sailors, build ships, and so on. Other challenges arise simultaneously to fleet capacity: Food systems and diets must change, warehouses be revived and staffed, superfluous shipping avoided, and foodsheds altered, while regulations change and physical infrastructure needs to be modified. Without a systems view of the whole readoption of sailing freight; any discussion thereof is unlikely to grasp the magnitude of the task at hand.

Black Seal unloading in Brooklyn

The first step in such a process is establishing a level of supply needed in a given city, which in our case with be the New York Metro Area. To survive, the city must have 2.5 kilograms of food per person daily. With a population of some 20,000,000 people, the New York Metro Area needs 50,000 metric tons of food per day, at a minimum, to prevent starvation. This gives us our daily requirement but does not give the full picture. A representative model of the NYMA Foodshed must be established, and the travel times from the food’s origin to destination must be calculated, alongside time for loading and unloading, as well as time for the ship to return to the origin for its next cargo.

The table below gives one such model for the New York Metro Area, at two levels of supply, using relatively small vessels, and illustrates the challenge before us quite well.

As can be seen, even at the lowest possible level of supply, it would require nearly 10,000 ships and 65,000 sailors to supply New York with food, and this without allowing time for crew rest, delays, or ship maintenance. At our current pace of launching Sail Freight Vessels, it would take near 44,500 years to build such a fleet. If we put all the shipyards in the US to work on the problem, however, it could be accomplished in as little as 13 years. While this feat would only be a start, as other cities will need their own fleets, these figures show the scale of the problem we are confronted with, and that it can in fact be solved quickly and effectively.

Of course, ships without trained crews are useless. The time to train windjammer sailors must also be considered. With an average program able to train around 650 sailors in a given year, the number of training program years needed to train the NYMA fleet’s crew requirement would be some 100 years, though with 8 such programs running concurrently this could also be accomplished in less than 15 years. The chart below shows the relationship between training program years and shipyard years and demonstrates that training a sufficient number of sailors will likely take longer than the construction of a sufficient number of vessels for the mission at hand.

sail training vessel

These figures all rely on a “Survey Average Vessel” of 111.25 tons capacity, and 6.5 crew members on average. These would be relatively small vessels, and larger vessels will need fewer of both ships and crew to give the same Fleet Tonnage. It is likely in the beginning of sail freight’s revival that small vessels will be involved, both reclaimed and newly built, which will have larger crew requirements and lower tonnages than the model here portrays. It is worth taking a comprehensive look at the current sail training resources in the US and subsidizing the training of windjammer sailors and captains as soon as practicable.

In the case of Sail Freight, fuel or energy efficiency is not applicable in the same way as with conventional transportation. The appropriate metric of efficiency is “Tons Per Sailor” as the major cost is labor. The higher the tons per sailor, the lower the cost of moving cargo becomes, and the large the vessel, the greater the tons per sailor. Further, this metric is effected by rig, as seen below.

Sloops and Scchooners fore and aft rigs

Through the intelligent choice of rig for specific applications, crew requirements can be brought down somewhat as larger vessels proliferate. Fore-and-Aft rigged vessels such as sloops, schooners, and brigantines generally have a smaller crew and are well suited to the coastal trading which will likely constitute much of a sail freight food movement system. Barks, Ships, and very large schooners will also likely see use on longer routes with far more cargo, but moderately sized crews.

Other challenges are present for reviving sail freight. Without substantial changes bringing the external costs of road and fossil fueled transport into the economic equations through weight-distance, tire, fuel, and carbon taxes, sail freight will remain economically uncompetitive excepting on very long routes with high-value cargos. As the price of fossil fueled transport rises, this competitiveness will even out, and short sea shipping under sail will most likely gain traction in the economic mix.

truck pollution

There are significant benefits to moving to sail freight for climate policy which makes the case for its adoption despite these challenges. It has been calculated that at a minimum, more than 220,000 tons of CO2e could be eliminated from US transportation emissions through supplying the NYMA with food via Sail Freight. This model assumes that all food is brought via 10,000 TEU container ships, which can move some 380 ton-miles on a liter of diesel fuel. Trucking, by comparison, nets only 1.58, while trains can get up to about 118-ton miles per liter of diesel fuel. If the latter number was calculated for trucking emissions instead of conventional maritime transport, it would be some 21 billion liters of diesel fuel and 63,560,087,101 Tons of CO2e avoided annually.  This amounts to some 362,000 barrels of oil per day.

pollution from ships

Alongside these benefits, shifting cargo to waterways will reduce congestion, wear, and tear on highway and rail systems, thus likely increasing the overall fuel efficiency of these same systems. Biofuels made from food wastes will be freed for use in supplying cities without nearby port facilities and demands on the grid for electrical power to fuel electric trucks will be lessened. In addition, the number of electric trucks to be built will also decline, making electrification faster and simpler in the long run.

Vermont Sail Freight Ceres

There are other advantages to Sail Freight which are less obvious than the environmental benefits and the challenge of training crews and building ships. For example, small vessels can be built inexpensively and with little needed in the way of facilities. Small ships can be built in the tradition of the Farmer’s Ships of the Aland Islands, which was effectively a combination of bot community supported agriculture and community supported shipping. Ceres of the Vermont Sail Freight Project is an example of just such a vessel, which made several successful voyages from Lake Champlain to New York City for the mere cost of some $20,000. With more advanced designs becoming available, planned for mass production and low cost in the style of the liberty ships of World War Two, these higher-capital ships will be in financial reach of cooperatives all around the four coastlines of the US and abroad.

Schooner Apollonia

This more democratic ownership model for transport, independent of fossil fuels, removes major costs for farmers in rural areas, especially as the cost of fuel and trucking rises. This can have the effect of lowering or stabilizing food prices for citizens while keeping more money moving to farmers and sailors. This is of mutual benefit to both city and countryside, clearly, but also reduces the power of banks and major corporations in both the transportation and food systems.

NYC Foodshed

Despite these benefits, there are many social and cultural adaptations which must be made to adapt to a Sail Freight future. The idea of constantly having fresh produce, in the off-season from 3,000 and more miles away will have to be abandoned. Diets must become more regionalized and localized, and the use of preserved foods instead of fresh in agricultural off seasons will become the rule. With innovative growing techniques, green houses, and other adaptations, there are likely to be small supplies of fresh foods in off seasons, but New York is unlikely to have shiploads of citrus arrive in good condition from Tampa after over a week in transit. Citrus juices, jams, preserves, and other shelf-stable confections will have to take the place of these foods where possible, and processing happen near the point of origin.

Next-day delivery will be impossible, and Just-In-Time delivery systems will be a thing of the past, replaced by acres of warehousing. wastes reduced, and material goods designed for repair instead of disposal. Superfluous Single-Use items such as coffee cups, plates, flatware, and bags should be banned on both environmental and logistical grounds. If every member of the NYMA used a single disposable coffee cup weighing 18 grams per day, the mass of cargo would amount to over 360 tons daily, or 131,400 tons of cargo in the year. If manufactured in Shanghai, 368 Survey Average Ships would need to be in constant motion between the two ports to maintain this entirely unnecessary practice.

Sail Freight Vessel Tres Hombres
Neoline Sail Freight

The future of Sail Freight is promising. Through the combination of modern knowledge and technology with proven older forms, a sustainable way of keeping cities alive can be created. While the challenge of building a Sail Freight future is certainly not easy, it can be done if we put our money, our time, and our backs to the task at hand. So doing could significantly alter the course of climate adaptations and climate change mitigation, provide hundreds of thousands of jobs, and democratize the economy in many beneficial ways. Given the gravity of our situation and the benefits to be gained, the case for Sail Freight should be clear to all.

Building Future Proof Liberty Ships

Locally built, from locally sourced and recycled materials, crewed with locally trained mariners, home ported along the Hudson, the Harbor, and the canals, carrying locally grown, locally processed, and locally manufactured goods – with liberty from fossil fuels, these future proof ships will be a positive disruption to the status quo.

Future Proof Liberty Ships Brutally Simple

WW II Liberty Ship

Liberty ships were a class of cargo ships built in the United States during World War II The design was adopted by the United States for its simple, low-cost construction. Mass-produced on an unprecedented scale, the Liberty ship came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial output. The immensity of the effort, the number of ships built, the role of women and minority shipwrights in their construction, and the survival of some far longer than their original five-year design life are a testament to what is possible to do when confronted with an emergency. At the peak of production yards were turning out 2-3 ships a day with a 40-day build time.

To meet the emergent climate crisis, and to confront the immense carbon pollution of the existing fossil fueled international and domestic fleet, “future proof” Liberty from Fossil Fuel Ships will be built in US yards to enable us to continue the movement of goods and people from place to place in a carbon constrained future.

These ships will be brutally simple, but elegant, built by aa new generation of shipwrights to kick start the revival of US flagged ships in international and domestic trade. Using proven construction techniques and tried and true (as well as innovative) sail propulsion/electric propulsion technology these “flagships of the future” will be the first steps in adapting to and mitigating the climate crisis, that in significant part is caused by international and domestic shipping.

Why These Ships and Why Now?

Polluting Ship

The international shipping industry is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters. If the maritime sector were a country, it would be one of the top six carbon polluters.  The shipping industry has been reluctant to take unilateral leadership on emissions.  The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is puttering around the edges. It recently declined to make a greenhouse gas reduction plan or commitment. 

The Center for Post Carbon Logistics (C4PCL), along with a local, regional, and international coalition posit an alternative.  That alternative is disruptive competition from an emerging suite of technologies – hydrogen, solar, and wind/sail powered shipping on New York waterways.  Water-borne shipping, even now, is dramatically more energy-efficient than its land-based counterpart.  New York, with its network of waterways connecting the Great Lakes to the Hudson, to New York Harbor, and the ocean, has a leadership opportunity in growing this industry.

In New York, achieving the State Climate Act’s goals will require addressing the enormous footprint of transporting goods and people from place to place using fossil fuels.  Building Future Proof Liberty ships in New York Hudson River shipyards is the first step toward a regenerative shipping industry on New York’s canals, the Hudson River, The Harbor, the East Coast, Caribbean, and transatlantic routes.

The Hudson River, a Water Highway

Not so long ago the Hudson River was a bustling highway linking even the smallest communities to a web of regularly scheduled commercial routes. Schooners, sloops, barges, and (much later) steamboats provided a unique way of life for early river town inhabitants. Farmers, merchants, and oystermen relied on this vibrant and diverse fleet of vessels to bring in supplies and deliver their goods to market. This arm-of-the-sea was an integral part of the lives of those who worked New York’s inland waters.

Sloops at Anthon’s Nose

The Hudson River sloop was the main means of transportation on the Hudson River from the early days of Dutch settlement in the 17th century (1600s) until the advent of the steamboat.  Based on a Dutch design, this single-masted sailboat carried passengers and cargoes up and

down the Hudson River between New York and Albany and points in between for over two hundred years From The Hudson River Maritime Museum Blog

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater
Ferry Sloop Woody Guthrie

The legacy of these sailing cargo vessels continues in the iconic Sloop Clearwater and the organization that supports it. The “Ferry Sloop” Woody Guthrie is another example of both the historic nature of those ships and the skills that it takes to sail, maintain, and rebuild when necessary. A complete rebuild of the Woody Guthrie, and three restorations of Clearwater were performed at the shipyard at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, in the last few years, by Rondout Woodworking in conjunction with the Museum’s Wooden Boat School staff and volunteers

Precursors, Prototypes, and Disruptors

Vermont Sail Freight, the Vessel Ceres,

“Contrary to the techno-paradise that some expect, my belief is that our future will likely resemble our past, and that we may fall back on proven, low energy approaches to supporting human life that have been historically proven to work.  “Isn’t that pessimistic?” asked the interviewer. I replied that I don’t think so. It is in my view even more pessimistic to imagine a world continuing on the current path, becoming a place in which there is no place for human labor or creativity, where rather than doing things with our backs and hands and minds, we must instead wait passively for conveniences and solutions to be marketed to us. That, to me, is the most depressing future imaginable.” — Erik Andrus Founder the Vermont Sail Freight Project

Vermont Sail Freight Vessel Ceres

While others were writing and talking about reviving sail freight on the Hudson and the Canals, Erik Andrus, a Vermont Rice farmer was building a sailing freight barge. Erik sells baked goods produced on the farm at farmers markets in the Vermont communities adjacent to Lake Champlain and realized that he was delivering the locally produced organic and farm baked goods in a fossil fuel truck. He immediately began to research horse drawn bread trucks and built one.

Taking this idea to the next stage, he envisioned floating his and his neighbors farm goods down the Hudson on rafts until he researched the difficulties of doing so and conceived of the Vermont Sail Freight Project. Beginning in 2012, the Vermont Sail Freight volunteers, led by Erik, designed, and built a 15-ton capacity sailing barge and raised funds for her construction from grants, donations, and pre-sale of cargo items.  The Ceres was launched on July 27, 2013 and was ready to journey downriver with cargo in October 2013.  This was made possible in part by the participation of Greenhorns, USA and by the support of the Eastman and Waterwheel Foundations.  In October 2013, $56,000 worth of products from small farms in the north were delivered and distributed along the Champlain-Hudson waterway at farmers’ markets and through events and wholesale accounts. Although Ceres’ last voyage was in 2014 its legacy and Erik’s vision is the foundation on which moving goods and people in a carbon constrained future will be built.


In 2011 two cities on the Erie / NYS Barge Canal were among U.S communities that lost the most population the previous decade. Naval architect, Geoff Uttmark’s NYSERDA funded Eriemaxship design and HEFTTCo. business plan was developed ” to stimulate growth by creating a green, lower cost trade route using ship-kit, electric powered, owner-operated small freight ships.”

Although the ship itself was not built, the rigorous analysis, of the cost of building, cargo handling, crewing, and port infrastructure requirements, are still viable models for the evaluation of wind and alternative fuel cargo carrying on the Hudson, and Canals.

Uttmark’s Ship Shares initiative is a comprehensive conduit for maritime development, education, networking, and support of not-for-profits inspiring tomorrow’s marine industry leaders.

ERiemax HEFTCO Business Plan Summary

“Our Vision is to lead impact investing in the marine shipping space. We do this by leading or joining design of seaborne transport initiatives that have strong social and environmental merit in addition to positive traditional financial metrics, and by research, design and identification of potential “game-changer” technologies that can span multiple shipping sectors. Our emphasis in all endeavors is to advance local or regional social benefit projects or disruptive technologies with world-class expertise and world-wide capital to maximize the impact of invested human and financial resources.”

The Schooner Apollonia and the Solar Electric Solaris

The Schooner Apollonia is engaged in commerce under sail on the Hudson River and New York Harbor.

Schooner Apollonia

Apollonia is a 64-foot steel-hulled schooner built in Baltimore, MD in 1946. She is designed to move efficiently through the water, powered by a traditional gaff-rig sail plan designed by naval architect J Murray Watts.  With a 15’ beam and rugged steel construction, she’s a stout work boat capable of carrying 20,000 lbs. of cargo. Being a schooner, the crew requirements are smaller, and the variety of sails gives us flexibility for different conditions that we will encounter on the river.

On her most recent trip to New York City from Hudson, she carried a mixed load of cargo including bags of grains and malted barley for breweries along the River. When access to a dock was limited, cargo bikes were used for “last mile logistics.” On her return trip she carried a variety of French wines and chocolates cross docked from the ocean sailing freighter Grain de Sail during a meet up in Brooklyn. Securing funds for needed upgrades, and financial stability is a primary goal of the Liberty from Fossil Fuel Ships initiative.

The Hudson River Maritime Museum’s solar electric Coast Guard inspected passenger vessel Solaris has proven its seaworthiness and efficacy over the last three seasons. Solaris is a classic “launch” design adapted to her 21st century solar electric propulsion system. Solaris is a pioneering example of near future ferries, larger passenger vessels, and self-propelled canal barges. Conceived of by David Borton, designed by Dave Gerr, and built by Rondout Woodworking at the Wooden Boat School, she is the working prototype for a class of solar electric commercial vessels.

Solar Electric Passenger Vessel Solaris

The Hudson River Maritime Museum recently received a grant to build a dock in Rhinecliff, NY’s Amtrak train station to begin a ferry service to Kingston and The new State Park in North Kingston. Support for Solaris’ maintenance and financial security is also a priority of the Liberty from Fossil Fuel Ships Initiative.

Liberty from Fossil Fuel Ship Prototypes

Five prototypes are proposed to be R&D’d, designed, financed, and built in Hudson Valley, NY shipyards: examples include, but are not limited to, a 180′ “short sea,” coastal, transatlantic, and/or Caribbean electric clipper, a 65′ river and coastal Sharpie Schooner, a “39′-45′ pick up of the sea,” “Eriemax” 80′ River, Canal, and Coastal Sail Freighter, and a solar electric canal barge.

180’Electric Clipper

65’Sharpie Schooner

39′ – 45′ “pickup of the sea”
Eriemax 80′ River, Canal, and Coastal Sail/Electric Freighter Geoff Uttmark design
Solar Electric Canal Barge

Look for Blog Posts and Articles on R & D, design, financing, and building these prototypes and a March 2022 Sail Freight Conference at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions

Originally Posted on Mongabay News & Inspiration, Mongabay Series: Covering the CommonsOceansPlanetary Boundaries March 15 2021, Author Andrew Willner

Mongabay video New Age of Sail is available here.

Schooner Apollonia a Hudson River Sail Freight vessel operating now

  • If ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization.
  • But change is on the way. Wind, solar electric, and hydrogen-powered ships offer innovative low- or no-carbon alternatives to fossil fuel-powered cargo vessels, with wind about to make a huge comeback in shipping, say experts. New experimental sail designs include hard sails, rotating vertical cylinders, and even kites.
  • Today, startup companies like Fair Transport (with its retrofitted wooden vessels Tres Hombres and Nordlys); modest sized proof-of-concept firms, with purpose-built vessels like Grain de Sail; and large cargo ship retrofits and purpose-built vessels like Neoline’s new large cargo vessels, are starting to address CO2 emissions.
  • Through the late 1940s, huge steel sailing ships carried cargos on some ocean routes. By 2030 — less than 100 years since the end of the last great era of sail — fossil fuel-powered cargo vessels may give way to high- and (s)low-tech sailing ships thanks to a revolution in energy technology, that reduces shipping costs with less emissions.

In January 2010, an “unpowered” wooden sailing vessel more than 70 years old, the Tres Hombres, arrived in Port-au-Prince carrying desperately needed earthquake relief supplies from Dutch humanitarian organizations for the people of Haiti. Although not the first contemporary version of “green logistics,” Tres Hombres — propelled by a trio of clean energy technologies: sails, wind turbines and recycled vegetable oil — epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit of today’s retro-revolutionary sail freight movement.

To many maritime experts, Tres Hombres’ cross-ocean journey stands out as a symbol of the rebirth of cargo-carrying wind power — incorporating a marriage of old and new technologies becoming a viable alternative to fossil fuel-powered ships on the open sea.

Today’s gigantic diesel fuel-reliant container ships, decks overloaded with cargo, are still a common sight in harbors from New York to Hong Kong. But the days of these gargantuan vessels, driven by massive internal combustion engines, may be numbered.

The engineless modern cargo transport sailing ship Tres Hombres. Image courtesy of Fair Transport.
Sails that don’t look like sails: Wallenius Marine is developing the Oceanbird, able to ship 7,000 cars and trucks across the Atlantic propelled only by high-tech wing sails. Image courtesy of Wallnius Marine.

An economic and climate driven sea change

Despite the present dominance of fossil-fueled cargo ships, it’s well understood by industry insiders that the current maritime logistics system is both aging and fragile.

Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization’s most recent data.

This annual surge of atmospheric carbon released by ocean going ships not only worsens climate change — one of nine scientifically defined planetary boundaries (PBs) we now risk overshooting — it also contributes to ocean acidification (a second planetary boundary) which is beginning to seriously impact biodiversity (a third PB). And add to that significant chemical pollution (a fourth planetary boundary) that is emitted from ship smokestacks.

All of these planetary boundaries interrelate and influence one another (negatively and positively): for example, reducing black carbon (or soot), the fine particulate matter emitted from fossil fueled oceangoing vessels could slow global warming somewhat, buying time to implement further steps to reduce carbon emissions.

A loaded fossil fueled container ship docked in Hamburg, Germany. Image found on Visualhunt.

Another problem with today’s vessels: when cargo ships dock, they use auxiliary engines that generate SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate discharges, while also creating noxious noise and vibrations. (Innovators are already solving this problem with cold ironing, providing shoreside electrical power to ship berths, allowing main and auxiliary engines to be shut down.)

Today’s cargo industry is plagued not only by environmental issues, but by a difficult logistical and economic problem: its current fleet of fossil-fueled container ships are mostly behemoths — with immense carrying capacities. However, the “overcapacity” of these giant ships leaves them without the nimbleness to adapt to unexpected shifts in global supply and demand; the world’s ports and specialized markets could likely be better served, say experts, by smaller, far more fuel-efficient cargo ships.

The current sea cargo system — reliant upon high-priced carbon-based fuels and unstable energy markets; interwoven inextricably into long-distance, globalized world trade; and designed for just-in-time delivery that requires precisely scheduled shipments — is increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel shortages, price shocks and surges, as well as geopolitical conflict and volatility in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere.

Equally problematic, today’s fossil-fueled ships depend upon an ability to avoid paying for negative externalities such as carbon emissions and environmental pollution, while also being governed by lax international labor, environmental, health, and other agreements.

Winds of change, especially triggered by new international commerce and climate pacts and policies, could soon push us rapidly beyond carbon into a New Age of Sail, with the need for a planet-wide cargo fleet rebuilt from the keel up.

Airbus plans to equip one of its large cargo ships with the Airseas “Seawing,” a sky sail that uses wind power to reduce fossil fuel costs and cut emissions. Image courtesy of AIRSEAS.

Birth pangs for a New Era of Sail

As far back as the 1970s, the global shipping industry began struggling with both its business models and environmental issues. Oil embargoes in 1973-74, the failure of US Lines in 1986, and surging fuel prices in the 1970s and ’80s led some transport companies to start experimenting with sail-assisted technology on tankers and container ships to save costs and reduce emissions. By the 1980s, Japanese shippers had designed new and retrofitted sail-assisted merchant ships.

In 2018, in response to environmental concerns, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted mandatory measures under an umbrella of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by international shipping: under the IMO’s pollution prevention treaty (MARPOL); the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), which is mandatory for new ships; and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP). Many of these mandated changes go into effect by 2030, less than 10 years from now.

An embrace of old technologies, made new

Facing these many challenges, the big question for the cargo industry is: how does it get to a new age of post-carbon shipping and sailing, with the least amount of economic pain?

In fact, change is happening now — fast — as sailing vessels get put on the water by startup companies, like Fair Transport, with its retrofit wooden vessels; by modest sized proof-of-concept companies like the Schooner Apollonia; and by firms with newly built ocean-crossing sailing ships like Grain de Sail; and lastly by large cargo ship companies launching innovative retrofits and purpose-built vessels like Neoline’s new large cargo vessels.Video here about Fairtransport Cargo under sail.

All of these innovators embrace different technological approaches to address the same problems of CO2 emissions, the high cost of fossil fuels, and new global economic and regulatory realities.

Wind propulsion systems cover a wide spectrum in modern commercial shipping,. These range from wind-assisted fossil-fueled vessels (where wind provides auxiliary power), to purely wind-driven ships without auxiliary power, to sailing-hybrid ships where the primary propulsion come from the wind but is augmented by engines to ensure schedules are maintained.

Internationally, the growth in small- to medium-sized sail freight companies has been exponential, with old sailing vessels brought up to modern standards and new ones built. The New Dawn Traders website, for example, includes links to several startup sail cargo ventures:

Fair Transport’s 32-meter (105-foot) schooner Tres Hombres has been sailing emissions-free since December 2009. She maintains a sustainable oceangoing general cargo route between Europe, Atlantic and Caribbean islands, and the Americas. Her cargo capacity tops 35 tons, and she can accommodate a crew of seven professionals and eight trainees. (Training is vital, as today’s sailors need to be taught a combo of yesteryear and cutting-edge sailing skills).

Fair Transport has added to its sailing fleet: Nordlys is a 25-meter (82-foot) ketch, built in the Isle of Wight in 1873 as a fishing trawler; she now carries up to 30 tons of cargo between European ports.

Avontuur-Timbercoast is a two-masted gaff-rigged schooner built in 1920 in the Netherlands, and regarded as one of the last true cargo sailing ships of the 20th century. It’s goal today: “Mission Zero — to eliminate pollution caused by shipping cargo.”

The Sailing Vessel Kwai was built in 1950 as a herring fishing vessel in Bremen, Germany. Refitted, she is 43 meters (140 feet) long and can carry 250 tons. She presently serves as a packet vessel in the tropics, sailing between Hawai‘i and the Cook Islands.

Ceiba-Sail Cargo Inc. transports freight using a sustainable carbon-neutral sailing system. Its first ship, CEIBA, will offer something special to exporters and importers: an eco-friendly means of moving their most important organic, sustainable products.

The Hawila Project also offers an environmentally friendly way of shipping organic goods between small coastal communities, especially European producers. The vessel can transport 55 tons of cargo using only wind power.

Grain de Sail combines the best of old and new. It is a freshly built 24-meter (80-foot), 35-ton-capacity schooner with a state-of-the-art climate- and stability-controlled hull for maintaining fragile goods. Sail powered, it is equipped with cutting-edge navigation technologies and made out of aluminum for a better weight/performance ratio and greater durability. In December 2020, Grain de Sail unloaded a shipment of wine and cognac at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, becoming the first ocean-crossing sail cargo ship to unload cargo in New York since the schooner Black Seal delivered cocoa beans by sail to Mast Brothers chocolate makers in 2011.

Of these startups and proof-of-concept vessels, Jorne Langelaan, a veteran of Fair Transport’s sail cargo venture, may possess the boldest old-new sailing concept. Ecoclipper, when built, will be a big new “square rigger” and full-sized replica of the Dutch cargo ship Noach, built in 1857 — with an equally big mission. “She is to be operated in the deep-sea trade: Trans-Atlantic, Trans-Pacific and around the world,” says her promoter. She’ll be rigged with three square-rigged masts, boasting 930 square meters (10,000 square feet) of sail, “traveling without mechanical propulsion,” and able to transport up to 500 gross register tonnage (GRT) of cargo.

The Alcyone, Jacques Cousteau’s turbo sail ship, a research vessel launched in 1985, and precursor of today’s rotor sail cargo ships. Image courtesy of

High-tech innovations

Maybe among the most unique innovations in the cargo shipping sector today are sails that look less and less like traditional sails. Known as sail-assisted or wind-assisted propulsion devices, the concept often is to fit existing fossil-fueled vessels with a variety of new sail technologies that offer a boost in power while cutting carbon emissions.

These cutting-edge approaches include wing sails, which are inflatable; “hard sails” which look like an airplane wing set up vertically; “Flettner” vertical rotor sails that resemble smokestacks (but which use the Magnus effect, a force acting on a spinning body in a moving airstream); the Dynarig, “a state-of-the-art, modern, high-tech rig, relying on the use of cutting edge, high-strength materials currently used on high-performance racing yachts”;  and sail-assist kites or sky sails that look and act like hang gliders, launched from a ship’s bow with a cable to help pull the vessel downwind.

Neoline is a company capitalizing on new sail technology it says is “immediately available and [a] powerful enough solution to propel cargo ships.” The firm is already finding its eco-niche, establishing shipping contracts with tiremaker Michelin and automaker Renault, along with other companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint. The Viking Grace ferry, which sails the Baltic Sea, is equipped with Norsepower’s Flettner rotor sail, which provides clean, auxiliary power. Wallenius Marine is developing the Oceanbird, able to ship 7,000 cars and trucks across the Atlantic propelled only by high-tech wing sails.

These and other innovators have joined together in the International Windship Alliance, a gathering of new technology companies, ship builders, and shippers of all sizes who are changing the face of ocean shipping, replacing smoky fossil-fueled “dinosaurs” with nimble, “back to the future” sailing, sail assist, solarelectric and alternative fuel vessels.

To learn more about the New Age of Sail, look into Jan Lundberg’s Sail Transport Network, Dmitry Orlov’s insightful writings, Gavin Allwright and the International Windship Association, Madadh MacLAine and the Zero Emissions Ship Technology Association, and Di Gilpin’s Smart Green Shipping.

The New Age of Sail isn’t only evolving on the high seas: Lane Briggs’ Tugantine, Erik Andrus and Vermont Sail Freight, and Maine Sail Freight, are all forerunners of an epochal change underway in the way goods and people are moved along inland rivers and in coastal waters in a post-carbon era.

As fossil fuels grow scarce and expensive, sailing ships and alternatively powered vessels will replace fossil-fueled shipping, and the new ideas are seemingly endless: hemp and other cellulose-based plastics can replace fiberglass and other synthetic hull and sail materials; ships will ride above the waves on hydrofoils, maybe replacing airline high-speed passenger service; and many more small river, estuary and ocean ports will be renovated and updated to create an “internet” of coastal and island-linked small- to mid-sized shipping lanes.

New vessels will also require a different type of port: electric and people-powered first- and last-mile logistics, with old skills of seafaring, ship-keeping, and shipbuilding preserved, renewed and intermixed with 21st century know-how.

We are fast entering a world of sail, battery, and hydrogen; cargo shipping beyond carbon.

Before he died in 1947, Gustaf Erikson, who ran a fleet of Baltic Sea windjammers in the Åland Islands, “was fond of telling anyone who would listen that a new golden age for sailing ships was on the horizon: sooner or later, he insisted, the world’s supply of coal and oil would run out, steam and diesel engines would become so many lumps of metal fit only for salvage, and those who still knew how to haul freight across the ocean with only the wind for power would have the seas, and the world’s cargoes, all to themselves.”

That imagined day has nearly arrived.

Andrew Willner is a former boatbuilder, sailing vessel master, and retired NY-NJ Baykeeper, who in 2013-14 was recruited as a volunteer aboard the Vermont Sail Freight sailing barge Ceres built by Erik Andrus in his Vermont barn. The Ceres made two successful voyages from Burlington on Lake Champlain, traveling down the Hudson River to New York City with a shelf-stable cargo of high-value farm products, sold at pop-up markets at ports along the way and at the New Amsterdam Market final destination. Willner is also executive director of the Center for Post Carbon Logistics.

Rondout Riverport 2040

A Post Carbon Gateway to the Hudson Valley and the World

 A Comprehensive Plan for a Working Waterfront and the Transportation of Goods and People in a Carbon Constrained Future


Rondout Riverport 2040 proposes a pragmatic, positive, and prosperous vision for the near future in which the communities of Kingston and Esopus are enriched by a transformed port, boasting a shoreline synergy of leading-edge maritime commerce and working waterfront technologies that profit and engage individuals, businesses and communities, allowing for an equitable transition beyond fossil fuels, as together we forge a vital and vibrant economic bond with the greater Hudson Valley Bioregion.

Over the next twenty years, Rondout Riverport 2040 offers the communities of Kingston and Esopus an extraordinary opportunity and vision for remaking and transforming the Rondout Creek and Hudson River Working Waterfront.

Rondout Riverport 2040 provides a trailblazing and sustainable development template for our community, harnessing and enhancing our region’s widely shared prosperity, even as we enter into an economically demanding carbon-constrained future.

The Riverport in 2040, as envisioned here, will offer far more capacity, while being significantly more compact in land area, more robust, and resilient than the current patchwork of diffuse land uses found on today’s waterfront. The core mission of tomorrow’s port is the post carbon maritime transport of goods and people up and down the Hudson River and beyond. The Riverport, as imagined here, is designed to attract shipping, distribution, commerce, hospitality, and craft businesses, creating a dynamic collaboration and nexus for optimized local and regional market productivity. The result: an economically, culturally and environmentally resilient post carbon working waterfront — a gateway to the Hudson Valley and world.

Think of Rondout Riverport 2040 as a signature project benefiting from the creative contributions of its many partner organizations, local governments, and institutions to address and transcend the near future threats of sea level rise; increasingly turbulent extreme weather events; and unexpected global, national and regional economic shocks. The port’s versatility will depend on the linking of its economic opportunities with environmental restoration and sustainable commerce. Embracing this multi-generational project will also be a source of inspiration for broader long-term action on climate change.

We can best accomplish these visionary waterfront goals via an integrated “placemaking” approach. Placemaking provides a method for answering critical questions: What are the best ways to mobilize and coordinate our many community assets? How do we effectively draw on public and private partnerships to creatively identify opportunities? How can we successfully coordinate our implementation efforts? And where do we find the resources needed to accomplish our vision for a transformed riverport?

We don’t have to wait until 2040 to start benefiting. Communities can begin now, as they participate in a vigorous planning process, while taking key steps for future proofing our shoreline against the harms threatened by a more politically, economically, and environmentally chaotic planet in a post-carbon future. The path to a bright, sustainable future starts with community engagement and data collection to build an actionable vision for the Rondout Riverport, a vision that incorporates a proud sense of community and place, local stewardship, and widely shared economic opportunity. The choice is ours.

 A Vision for Rondout Riverport Working Waterfront, circa 2040

Imagine: It is a hot, late autumn day along the Hudson in 2040. From the rooftop of a trading house in Kingston, a ship spotter sees the topmast of a large sloop. The sloop signals a waiting solar tug, the Augustin Mouchot, which tows the engineless sailing ship toward a berth in the newly completed Rondout Riverport Inner Harbor.  

The sloop, the Pete Seeger, is loaded with high-value cargo from abroad, transferred in New York Harbor from the oceangoing post carbon Eco-Clipper, Jorne Langelaan. The mixed freight consists of Caribbean fair-trade coffee and cocoa beans bound for the Hudson Valley’s roasters and chocolatiers, along with preserved tropical fruits and rum destined for local Kingston stores. The Seeger’s crew put a harbor furl on the hemp cloth sails, even as other crew members ready the on-board cargo gear. The sailors open hatches and set up the onboard cargo boom which will do most of the heavy lifting. The crew can also access the harbor’s floating cargo cranes for heavier or bulkier freight. 

These locally trained young seafarers are in good spirits, looking forward to spending some time ashore, and to a few drinks of locally made brew, cider, and spirits. Like any sailors, they are also hungry and ready for a good meal at a tavern — the local fare includes dishes harvested from the Hudson’s new artisan fishery and from oyster beds seeded in shallows created by former piers and abandoned roads, submerged downriver over the last 20 years due to climate change’s rising seas and increasing river levels. After dinner the sailors walk along the sea-life-encrusted seawall, built from repurposed concrete and stone from former waterfront byways, buildings, and piers inundated by the Hudson’s rising waters.

A longshore crew, warehouse workers, drovers and their electric-assist people-powered tricycles and wagons converge at the waterfront’s new storm-proofed floating dock — which rises and falls with surging tides. Cargo surveyors assist with the unloading of the coastal Schooner, Sam Merrett down from Maine with a load of lobsters. The square foremast tops’le Schooner Kevin Kerr Jones is unloading citrus from Savannah. Other stevedores are loading the solar electric Feeney shipyard built canal barge David Borton, bound for ports up the Hudson River with a final destination at Buffalo. Some smaller solar barges are loading for Port Jervis, then on to the newly opened Delaware and Hudson Canal. 

The (s)low tech Rondout Riverport is modern and efficient. The port is no longer dependent on prohibitively expensive fossil fuels, nor the notoriously unreliable overseas energy supply chain. Instead, Roundout makes the best use of old and new — tried and true 19th century technology blended seamlessly with 21st century solar and battery electric gear and vehicles. More people are at work today on the waterfront than at any time since the 1920s; there are more warehouses and trading houses, shipbuilding, repair facilities, and docking facilities than at any time in the Rondout’s nautical history.

Bronze foundry

Just behind the waterfront are coopers using sustainably harvested local oak,  sail and ropemakers utilizing New York hemp; forges and foundries use concentrated solar heat to form bronze fittings. Riggers are hard at work in ropewalks making running rigging and dock lines to equip the numerous commercial and recreational sailing ships and boats. Dry docks and shipyards look out on bikeways and walkways circumscribing the tidal flats, from which hundreds of locals and tourists observe the port activity, safe in the knowledge that food and goods continue to pour into a port that — thanks to good planning 20 years ago — is well adapted to keep pace with a changing climate and evolving post carbon economy. All of this could be, if only we take a can-do proactive approach toward tomorrow.

Slar Canal Boat

Reinvigorated Waterways

The Foundation of a Resilience Strategy

Contrary to the techno-paradise that some expect, my belief is that our future will likely resemble our past, and that we may fall back on proven, low energy approaches to supporting human life that have been historically proven to work.  “Isn’t that pessimistic?” asked the interviewer. I replied that I don’t think so. It is in my view even more pessimistic to imagine a world continuing on the current path, becoming a place in which there is no place for human labor or creativity, where rather than doing things with our backs and hands and minds, we must instead wait passively for conveniences and solutions to be marketed to us. That, to me, is the most depressing future imaginable. — Erik Andrus Founder the Vermont Sail Freight Project

Not so long ago, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Hudson River bustled with commerce and lay at the heart of a thriving network of marine highways linking the large cities and smallest communities to a web of regularly scheduled transportation routes — waterways stretching from the Atlantic west to the Great Lakes. Boats of all sizes served local cargo and passenger needs: schooners, sloops, barges, and steamboats connected river town inhabitants. Farmers, merchants, and oystermen relied on this vibrant and diverse fleet to deliver goods to market and to bring back supplies. The Hudson River — and the ships and boats sailing her — were vital and integral to those who worked, lived and thrived along our inland waters, putting places like Kingston and Esopus on the map. Historically, thousands of vessels plied these marine highways, sailing up and down the Hudson Valley, delivering fresh local farm produce ranging from apples to applejack, fish and shellfish, and carrying passengers to ports along the way

View near Anthony’s nose

The Kingston and Esopus’ Rondout Creek and Hudson River Working Waterfront has long been a key contributor to our region’s financial wellbeing — though it could be so much more. Now, as we enter a carbon constrained future our Riverport is poised for rebirth, to again become a key regional hub for the transport of goods and people. As we move into a world facing increasingly tough political, economic, and environmental challenges, we must ask ourselves: How shall we, living beside the Hudson River, meet the looming threats of climate change, rising sea level, aging infrastructure, changes to global shipping patterns, threats to food security, upheavals in energy production and distribution, and the risks all these disruptions could bring? As in the 19th and 20th centuries, the answer to those questions, and the solutions to our problems lie only as far away as the lapping waters of our home river.

NOAA Sea Level Rise Rondout Creek

This proposal, Rondout Riverport 2040; A Comprehensive Waterfront Plan for a Working Waterfront and Transportation of Goods and People, offers a pragmatic look forward to what — with proper preparation, cooperation and investment — could result in a revitalized and highly profitable Rondout Riverport at mid-century. This plan provides a practical salient vision of resilient shorelines and a working waterfront, redesigned to protect our community from sea level rise and storm surges, built to accommodate a wide spectrum of business, cultural and social uses that will benefit our communities and the Hudson Valley Bioregion. This, to put it simply, is a waterfront proposal that “floats all boats,” promising equity and prosperity for our citizens, large and small industries, investors, entrepreneurs, craftspeople, environmentalists, boatmen and women, dreamers and doers.

But here is a warning: An optimistic future depends on our will to make it so. If we pursue politics and policy as usual, we could face a grim tomorrow as our region is hobbled by climate change: Abandoned, flooded, moldering shoreside buildings and piers; low-lying and failing sewage treatment plants and electric utilities; eco-refugees crowding our upstate communities seeking limited food and shelter; and a polluted, dead estuary as oil and chemical plants are inundated. Despite sincere efforts at incremental change and adaptation planning, without visionary action right now, our region could face a dire tomorrow marked by rising water and plummeting economic fortunes. The choice remains ours.

The reality of escalating climate change makes clear that we must redesign our economies if we are to maintain quality of life in a carbon constrained future. A major opportunity offers itself: to take advantage of our wealth in waterways and return to our bioregion’s nautical roots and pioneer a new industry grounded in tried and true technology that once drove our economy: low/no carbon shipping and post carbon transportation businesses and organizations.

In the New York City metro area today, 80% of freight transport is carried by truck, a mode of transportation that is congesting our highways, increasing air pollution, and entirely dependent on fossil fuels. In a carbon constrained future, sustainable water transport (an innovative mix of sailing vessels, hybrid/fossil fuel free electric ships, and people/electric powered transport) will almost certainly be a necessity. As the climate crisis deepens, water-based transportation routes can link communities and promote resilience throughout the Hudson Valley — doing so without congestion, without pollution, while being energy efficient, non-dependent on increasingly expensive fossil fuels, and very profitable. 

Water-based transportation — once ubiquitous on the Hudson — is just about the only form of transportation, other than the bicycle, that requires little or no roadway maintenance. Navigation channels are less costly than roads to keep up; they do not require a large industrial base, and are far less energy-intensive than alternatives.

And you needn’t look far for proof: The 363-mile-long Erie Canal system, linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes, has been continuously operational since 1825. The cost of keeping it running is tiny compared to that of equivalent highway mileage. The Hudson and its linked waterways comprise the greatest set of transportation assets in the world — assets greatly underutilized today. Those water blue highways will see their status grow in a post carbon world, and communities along them will prosper as a result. Kingson and Esopus are two such communities. The Rondout Riverport is strategically located to be part of this great renaissance: located just ninety miles from one of the greatest ice-free harbors on earth; and sixty miles from the entrance to the Erie Canal. 

But to make this opportunity a reality, Riverport infrastructure must be created to increase capacity, while being nimble enough to respond to rising sea and river levels and worsening storm surges, as well as shifting economic tides. The port will also need to be made accessible to smaller, more numerous vessels on a protected and restored working waterfront. To thrive as a maritime and commercial center in a carbon constrained era, Rondout Riverport’s infrastructure must include:

  • Charging stations for electric and electric hybrid vessels, flood-proof storage and production facilities for biofuels like methane (produced by sewage treatment plants), biodiesel (from restaurants’ used fryer fat), and hydrogen (created from seawater while sailing vessels are underway);
  • A flood proofed waterfront and flood proofed warehouses and trading houses;[1]
  • Local ship and boat building and repair facilities to support our local commercial fleet;
  • More traditional break bulk cranes for transfer of palletized, and bagged cargo;
  • Across-docking facilities for transfer of goods from ship-to-ship and from ship to first and-last-mile providers (i.e. small sailing, rowing, hybrid vessels as well as people/electric powered commercial trikes and wagons);
  • Access to innovative training facilities to provide a labor force: the new traders, river rovers, seafarers and port workers. This labor force will need training based on models for “preserving the tools and skills of the past to serve the future.”
Pre-carbon Working Waterfront

Rondout Riverport will not stand alone, but will be integrated into the greater Hudson Valley Bioregion, along with the wider Northeast and U.S. transportation and distribution system, with which it will engage collectively and creatively to unleash an extraordinary, historic transition to a future beyond fossil fuels; a future that is vibrant, abundant, resilient, and ultimately preferable, more equitable, and more economically viable than the current model.

Rondout Riverport 2040 will serve as an empowering example to our bioregion and our country — demonstrating the viability of ethical livelihoods and teaching beneficial sustainable technologies that do minimal socio-environmental harm; methodologies that foster self-reliance and promote Slow Tech hands-on work practices.

The result: entrepreneurs, professionals, technicians, craftspeople, academics and students from across our bioregion, and across the United States, will be drawn to our state-of-the-art waterfront — gathering here to learn from each other. Our waterfront will be like no other in our region, or maybe in the nation: Becoming a living laboratory, cultivating not only practical and sustainable energy, commerce and transportation solutions, but generating a flow of fresh, pathfinding ideas. 

To bring these advanced infrastructure changes about — working with partners throughout the region — we will need to establish:

Street of Ships
  • A new binding agreement with the region’s farmers and farm advocacy organizations in our “foodshed” that offers subsidized support of infrastructure including, but not limited to:
    • Full employment in year-round growing season zero carbon greenhouses;
    • First and last mile transportation of agricultural products to processors and the waterfront (using existing and new rail-trails as bike/trike corridors);
    • Solar powered cold storage at critical locations;
    • Year-round indoor farm markets.
  • An inter-port agreement with small and mid-sized ports along the Hudson River, the Erie, and Champlain Canals, and New York Harbor:
    • This agreement would include the sharing of information on resilience and “future proofing” of all waterfronts;
    • Establish a Sustainable Working Waterfront Toolkit — making available the historical and current uses and economics of New York’s waterfronts as a resource. The toolkit must include legal, policy, and financing tools that river ports and waterfront communities can tap into to preserve and enhance local and regional port facilities.
  • Small ship access to flood proofed regional produce and fish markets:
    • The Hunts Point Market and Fish Market must be made accessible to small ships, delivering farm goods from upstate and returning with seafood from the Market;
  • A new agreement with transport unions that allows ships to load and unload with their own equipment. Local industry will need to work in close conjunction with the unions to hire and train more people for post carbon longshore work;
  • A partnership with the region’s Maritime Academies, the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s Wooden Boat School, and the Harbor School to train mariners, and to teach the logistics careers required to serve the new post carbon working waterfront; with the ultimate goal being the creation of an education center in the mid-Hudson Valley where professional practitioners and apprentices can participate in practical workshops to relearn maritime and other heritage skills and old-new technology to serve present and future needs; 
  • An endowment for the preservation and utilization of traditional maritime skills and tools, the establishment of a traditional knowledge database/Wiki; library; and pre/post carbon tool, technology and machinery collection. This innovative interactive educational resource serves to preserve, restore, and promote the re-use of traditional skills, integrating those skills and methods with modern know-how and appropriate post carbon technologies;
  • Create maritime mixed-use zones where public parks, walkways and bikeways are built in flood zones and are adjacent to and part of the working waterfront — acting as a source of recreation and as a vital part of flood control;
  • Establish a strong working relationship with NOAA’s National Sea Grant Program for working waterfronts;
  • Advocate for a reduced, less intrusive regulatory role for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Instead, encourage Corps funding be channeled into partnerships with other agencies, local non-profit organizations, and an engaged public in order to develop, and redevelop climate change-resistant and resilient Hudson River Ports, and to create living shorelines, restored wetlands, and estuarine habitats.

Through this diversity and synergy of uses, Rondout Riverport’s working waterfront will also:

  • Create jobs in sailing, logistics, shipbuilding, harbor maintenance, craft, food production and more;
  • Revitalize the waterfront community via economic development combined with better public access and recreation;
  • Improve regional food production and distribution, linking producers to markets in the Hudson Valley and beyond.
  • Design and build a maritime commerce micro-hub for, aggregation, warehousing, co- packing, and marketing. 

Rondout Riverport will be the homeport for future-proof sailing, alternative fuel, and solar electric ships. It will provide training in maritime skills, shipbuilding, and longshore trades, while also educating crews in “earth care, people care, and fair share” principles. These future-proof ships and their locally trained crews will carry people, goods, and knowledge to and from towns along the Hudson and on the canals. 

As Rondout Riverport becomes the working waterfront of tomorrow, the constraints and advantages of smaller and (s)lower tech modes of transport must be considered in every aspect of the port’s design.  Historic and modern technologies must meld seamlessly to offer approaches that are more self-sufficient and sustainable. Just one example: ships of all sorts, meeting a variety of needs, will have to be built (and rebuilt) locally, from locally sourced or recycled materials, and be crewed by locally trained seafarers, in order to adjust to declines in these resources globally, declines brought on by a combined climate and economic crisis and social upheaval abroad. These new vessels will likely be different than the ones we build today; smaller, more versatile, adaptable, energy-smart, and affordable.

As fossil fuels become more expensive or less available, replaced by alternative sources, and are restricted by climate change policy — port infrastructure will need to be part of a carbon neutral trading network for “short sea shipping” that links us to the region and the world, serving the Hudson Valley, the New York/New Jersey Harbor, Coastal waterways, and transfer points for goods from overseas. 

Moreover, the Roundout Riverport will be well positioned to become a laboratory for maritime innovation, as public agencies and private companies accelerate their investigations of the potential economic and environmental benefits of transferring more cargo from roadways to blueways.

Imagine the Future, Realize the Vision

Life at the water’s edge is rapidly changing. The impacts of new technology, patterns of urban development, and globalization are redefining global logistics, and while some waterfront cities will thrive as ports and grow under these new conditions, others will need to evolve in order to survive and succeed…. 

The Rondout Creek today, lapping at the shores of Kingston, and of the Sleightsburg and Connelly hamlets in the town of Esopus, is in the flux of significant change. The waterfront as it is, represents an amalgam of positives and negatives. At its best, it boasts commercial shipyards, marinas, marine services businesses; institutions including the Hudson River Maritime Museum (and its Wooden Boat School and Shipyard); along with wetlands, open space, promenades, magnificent scenery and recreational possibilities. But at its worst, it is marred by brownfields, combined sewer overflows, and a variety of non-waterfront dependent uses that make poor use of water accessibility, marine transportation and port possibilities.

Most unfortunate of all: existing development plans lack a sweeping vision and often fail to take a future into account dominated by climate impacts, including severe storm surges, along with a steady sea and river level rise that will soon inundate portions of the currently existing Roundout and Hudson shoreline. Plans that fail to take climate change into account will drown in insolvency.

Over the past few years, a variety of plans and proposals have been put forward, each with very good elements, but also with gaps and flaws:

However, importantly, very few if any of these proposals are in the implementation phase. And little of the available climate and sea level change studies and data are included in the port plans as presently formulated.

Rondout Riverport 2040 is unique in that it takes likely forecasts of the near future fully into account; it is a proposal that offers a hard, sober look at the realities of our climate change, alternative energy, and global supply chain future.   

But for this plan to be realized, stakeholders, partners, and existing maritime institutions will need to buy-in now and participate actively in the planning and implementation process. Those institutions include, but are not limited to the Center for Post Carbon Logistics, the Schooner Apollonia, the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s solar electric passenger vessel Solaris, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Sustainable Hudson Valley’s Regional Hudson Valley Climate Action Plan,  The Riverport Coalition, and the Beacon Sloop Club’s Woody Guthrie. This diverse partnership must also be inclusive of public and private landowners, as well as land conservation organizations, including but not limited to the Kingston Land Trust, Scenic Hudson, and the hundreds of Hudson Valley organizations and individuals working for a more resilient and sustainable future.

Threat Assessment:

A first step: the Rondout communities must start by objectively assessing near future threats and evaluating our greatest points of weakness — assessing local infrastructure, and economic, political, social, and environmental structures. Rondout Riverport communities will especially need to fortify against the economic and environmental storms to come by doing work to enrich our towns and neighborhoods today, reducing risk and enhancing resilience for the future, by:

Threat Assessment
  • Implementing community flood-proofing and simultaneously introducing drought-resistant landscaping, in preparation for extreme weather patterns;
  • institutionalizing green building practices;
  • zoning against development in climate disaster-prone floodplains;
  • installing redundant communication and storm-proof energy systems;
  • establishing systems for community-wide food security
  • creating “resiliency hubs”, equipped to deal with sudden health, environmental, or weather / climate disasters, and develop strategies for proactive risk minimization and management;
  • using the tools of community “placemaking” to include the broadest possible participation in planning for, and developing, a working and recreational Rondout Waterfront and Port that will be operational and adaptable for the first half of the 21st century and beyond.
  • develop an education and training center for rapid proliferation of all these practices and trades in and beyond the Rondout Riverport

Placemaking — a pathway to the future:

Rondout Riverport 2040 will engender the Hudson Valley’s can-do spirit, harness our region’s inventiveness and our love of innovation, allowing our region and its people to not merely survive in the Post Carbon era, but thrive. And why not? After all, our region gave the world the steamboat, the telegraph, the submarine, FM radio, the first interactive software systems vital to today’s computers, and even potato chips. We seem born to invent the future!

Roundout Riverport 2040, by cooperating fully with all partners, will incorporate the best elements of existing planning documents; undertake a thorough land use, flood plain, and sea level rise analysis; examine current trends in shipping, energy, food security and port management; assess the best climate change and economic forecasts; and create an adaptive re-use Waterfront plan that incorporates the best of 19th, 20th, and 21st century technologies. 

But this process will do far more than construct a vision. It must ensure that this vision is aligned with community values and sensibilities. To achieve this goal, we will use a placemaking approach as the structure for addressing critical questions about how best to mobilize the many assets of the Rondout Riverport in a coordinated fashion to meet community needs and attract diverse resources.  

Placemaking is a holistic approach for considering the possibilities inherent in a locality by identifying a unifying purpose or theme — the essence of the place — and then identifying multiple strategies, at multiple scales, that relate to this theme, providing direction for achieving unified objectives and goals.

The foundation of placemaking is a focus on the many natural benefits of public space – in order to achieve the most comprehensive multiple uses, aesthetic benefits, connectivity, and social interaction. This process will generate key insights into how state, municipal, and county government agencies can best coordinate implementation efforts and find the resources to address problems and opportunities.

The placemaking approach will catalyze the integration of the many layers of conceptual planning already underway by various entities, aiding in the development of collaborative strategies for redeveloping the Port so that it serves multiple river uses and users.

The partners will work with, and gain consensus from, other Hudson Valley organizations to begin realizing the Rondout Riverport 2040 vision. A network of groups, including the Boatbuilders, Sustainable Hudson Valley Senior Fellows, Good Work Institute Fellows Network, C4PCL’s advisory board, plus staff and contractors, will provide intensive inputs and garner resources to translate the partners’ vision into robust planning during the rest of 2020 and 2021.

It is now past time to implement the many excellent ideas generated by our communities and their planners. It is time to bring the planning process forward into those communities. The path to a bright, sustainable future starts with research and engagement, and placemaking in Kingston and Espopus and on the Roundout Waterfront.

Regenerative Port

The source of our inspiration and empowerment will be our region’s shorefront and its waters, its hands, and minds. Here the best and brightest, urban and rural, “Slow” technologists, craftspeople, educators, planners, artists, schoolchildren, and seniors, can come together to remake our post-modern world. Here we’ll find new, efficient, green ways to produce energy; revolutionize agriculture to assure food security; reinvent transportation on land and water to move goods up and down our Hudson and to prosper in the challenging times ahead. Here we’ll help birth a new, inclusive regional economy that rewards all citizens, while celebrating democracy, cooperation, and public service.

Picture a Roundout Port in which every day, diverse participants — Transition and Permaculture practitioners, boat and ship builders, coopers, riggers, longshore workers, managers, carpenters, commercial fishermen, millwrights, engineers, potters, community development financial institutions, weavers, woodworkers, planners, architects, writers, historians, archivists, computer and IT experts, and people from wildly diverse vocations — will all merge and meld their talents to realize the vision of Rondout Riverport 2040.

In implementing the Rondout Riverport vision, we’ll move via hands-on experiences beyond spin and abstract buzzwords ­– past “environmental”, or “sustainable”, or “eco” this or that. Here, our work will focus on a single place and on a Just Transition away from fossil fuels. The times ahead will give new meaning to the word deckhand, as all join together to create the naturally viable means for living and being in community in the 21st Century — as we prosper economically, emotionally, and spiritually, beyond the realm of coal and oil. 

The next step will be one of the most critical: to gather all our research and data, analyze it, and commit to honestly confronting challenges, while also boldly embracing opportunities and possibilities. We must move forward quickly and vigorously — climate change and economic change are moving ahead swiftly. We must inspire individuals, communities, local leaders, and City, County, and State officials to commit to the creation of a thriving, innovative Rondout Riverport and Working Waterfront, as a gateway to a vast system of sustainable blue waterways that together will enable a Post Carbon Future full of hope and opportunity.

[1] A trading house an exporter, importer and also a trader that purchases and sells products for other businesses. Trading houses provide a service for businesses that want international trade experts to receive or deliver goods or services.

Wellbeing Farm, a “Slow Tech Living Laboratory” for the Hudson Valley Bioregion


Harvest the Past to Power the Future

Wellbeing Farm will explore an array of innovative heritage and leading-edge technologies by which individuals, communities, and the Hudson Valley Bioregion can thrive in decades ahead – designing and realizing pragmatic, environmentally and economically sound tools for peacefully, equitably, and intelligently transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Imagine a place here in the Hudson Valley where skilled craftspeople, technicians and visionaries travel back in time to harvest the best, most energy efficient and practical technologies of bygone eras, then retool and repurpose those technologies to meet the challenges of our Post Carbon Future.

Wellbeing Farm is that place, and the time for its genesis — here among our forested hills and in our fertile river valley — is now.

Located in the heart of the Hudson Valley Bioregion, Wellbeing Farm will be a working farm with access to a river port, that will engender the Valley’s can-do spirit, harness our region’s inventiveness and our love of innovation, allowing our region and its people to not merely survive in the Post Carbon era, but thrive. And why not? After all, our region gave the world the steamboat, the telegraph, the submarine, FM radio, the first interactive software systems vital to today’s computers, and even potato chips. We seem born to invent the future!

Wellbeing Farm will be located on one large site or multiple locations in the Mid-Hudson Valley — a real place, or a scattering of several organizationally linked places — that will address the entwined themes of education, food production, alternative energy production, health and wellness, and the equitable distribution of knowledge, facilitating the transfer of an abundance of innovative traditional processes, technologies, and products to the local community. 

Wellbeing will be an “invention factory” of an entirely new and surprising sort. The source of its inspiration and empowerment will be our region’s earth and waters, its hands, and minds. Here the best and brightest urban and rural, “Slow” technologists, craftspeople, educators, artists, schoolchildren, seniors, can come together to remake our post-modern world. Here they’ll find new, efficient, green ways to produce energy; revolutionize agriculture to assure food security in an increasingly unstable world; reinvent transportation on land and water to move goods up and down our valley and beyond. Here they’ll help birth a new inclusive regional economy that rewards all citizens, while celebrating democracy, cooperation, and public service.

On the farm, every day, diverse participants — Transition and Permaculture practitioners, farmers, wranglers, post and beam builders and boat builders, commercial fishermen, millwrights, engineers, potters, weavers, woodworkers, writers, historians, archivists, computer and IT experts, and people from wildly diverse vocations — will merge and meld their talents.

Here, they’ll move via hands-on experiences beyond spin and abstract buzzwords ­– past “environmental”, or “sustainable”, or “eco” this or that. Here, our work will focus on a Just Transition away from fossil fuels, giving new meaning to the word farmhand, as all join together to create the naturally viable means for living and being in community in the 21st Century — as we prosper economically, emotionally, and spiritually, beyond the realm of coal and oil. 

Wellbeing Farm will be a center for Permaculture, the crafts of Transition, and for re-skilling. It will be a showplace, offering living demonstrations of the efficacy of local food and energy production, a place where practitioners will be given the time and space to develop and implement solutions intended to move the world away from an extraction and unlimited growth paradigm; toward a sustainable, steady-state economy that benefits the local community, its small businesses and residents.

Most of all, Wellbeing Farm will be a place to dream, and realize those dreams, a place to be nurtured by our heritage, to experiment and boldly face the challenges of a post-pandemic, post carbon, human community — a place to grow crops, breed livestock, construct new buildings and boats, and an empowered future for the Hudson Valley Bioregion.


Permaculture Design System Evolution

A place to explore Transition, Re-skilling, Permaculture, and Slow Tech, while meeting the challenges of our Post-Carbon Future.

Wellbeing is defined as a “happy, healthy, or prosperous state.” Wellbeing Farm, therefore, will be a physical place where the principles of wellbeing in a post-carbon age are practiced, where Permaculture (an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems reflecting and conserving the natural world), and Transition (where those same principles, as well as other innovative approaches), are applied to solving the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil within the Hudson Valley Bioregion.

The necessity for establishing Wellbeing Farm first occurred to me and others in 2013 at the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub Waterways Reskilling Gathering, when it became clear that those who attended and presented – Transition and Permaculture practitioners, farmers, millwrights, boat builders, post and beam barn and mill restorers, commercial fishermen, engineers, potters, weavers, and woodworkers — all needed a physical location and community center, a place to be, gather, hold workshops, teach classes, congregate, train apprentices, share stories, and create real world solutions to achieve an urgent Transition into the post-carbon Appropriate/Slow Tech era..  Slow Tech urges a thoughtful, empowering, nature-based process, utilizing a variety of scaled down tools with which to reshape human relationships, conserving time, energy, and our bioregional home. 

Well Being Farm will address the entwined themes of education, food production and alternative energy production, health and wellness, and the equitable distribution of knowledge, along with the transfer of an abundance of innovative traditional processes and products to the local community. 

Wellbeing Farm will be a physical place, located in the heart of the Hudson Valley Bioregion, where participants can move, by means of, hands-on experiences beyond abstract buzzwords ­– past “environmental,” or “sustainable, or “eco” this or that. Here, their work will focus on a Just Transition, giving everyone the tools needed to create the naturally viable means for living and being in community every day, on into a positive future — as we prosper economically, emotionally, and spiritually, beyond the realm of coal and oil. 

Wellbeing Farm won’t only teach pragmatics skills and livelihoods; it will be a living laboratory in which participants take part in designing Transition ­– where teachers and learners join in a collective adventure and commit to a common journey, originating pathways that lead beyond fossil fuels, helping people feel not like cogs in a faceless corporate gear, but like active, vital, creative individuals involved in the important work of revolutionary societal transformation. 

Wellbeing Farm will be a center for Permaculture, the crafts of Transition, and for re-skilling to meet the challenges of a post-carbon world. The Farm will be a showplace, offering living demonstrations of the efficacy of local food and energy production, a place where practitioners will be given the time and space to develop and implement solutions intended to move the world away from an extraction and unlimited growth paradigm; toward a sustainable, steady-state economy that benefits the local community, its small businesses and residents.

Wellbeing Farm; the basics:

Wellbeing Farm Mission

Wellbeing Farm will explore an array of innovative heritage and leading-edge technologies by which individuals, communities, and the Hudson Valley Bioregion can thrive in decades ahead – designing and realizing pragmatic, environmentally and economically sound tools for peacefully, equitably, and intelligently transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Wellbeing Farm will serve as an empowering example – demonstrating ethical livelihoods and teaching beneficial technologies that do minimal socio-environmental harm; methodologies that foster self-reliance and promote Slow Tech via hands-on practices, as professionals and students gather regularly from across our bioregion on a farmstead like no other in our region: a living laboratory cultivating not only resilient  food production methods and energy and transportation solutions, but fresh, pathfinding ideas as well. 

The Farm will take its essential lessons from nature, incorporating the values of earth stewardship, community cooperation, and individual initiative, while emphasizing the sharing of surplus, teaching that our actions have consequences, that we all have vital responsibilities, and ultimately fostering care and love for the environment, society and for each other. 

The Power of Just Doing Stuff

Wellbeing Farm will teach traditional skills and re-skilling for a post-carbon world. It will house Permaculture demonstration projects; alternative energy and water conservation pilot projects; and a plethora of innovative educational activities offered up within beautiful, peaceful, productive, energy-efficient spaces where students, scholars and practitioners can meet, perhaps live, and learn from each other.

The farm will not stand alone, but will be integrated into the greater Hudson Valley community, with which it will engage collectively and creativity to unleash an extraordinary, historic Transition to a future beyond fossil fuels; a future that is vibrant, abundant, resilient, and ultimately preferable, more equitable, and more economically viable than the current model:

  • Wellbeing Farm will be a physical place, showcasing the efficacy of producing local food and power in our bioregion. 
  • It will provide the space, time, structure, and opportunities needed in which practitioners can develop implementable ideas for achieving a locally focused, highly functioning, steady state economy.
  • The Farm’s workshops will preserve the skills and tools of the past, reworked and transformed into crafts that will serve us adroitly in a carbon constrained future. Among those skills: Wood fired ceramics; small scale iron forging and bronze casting; traditional rope making (using locally harvested natural fiber); woodworking; stone and thatch work; “passive – zero net energy” building design and construction; wind, water mill, and solar steam energy solutions; leather working to create tack for working horses; beer, cider, and spirit distilling utilized in food preservation and medicine making; “bio-digestors for methane and fertilizer; low carbon transportation (including “short sea” sailing freight vessels appropriate to the Hudson River, Hudson Estuary and coastal trade), plus a multitude of other post-carbon commerce and communication technologies.
  • Wellbeing Farm will provide educational opportunities for experimenting with, and realizing, real world solutions to the environmental, economic, and social crises we face today, and those we will face on into the future.
  • Wellbeing Farm will enable people working locally to transition our Hudson Valley communities and the bioregion from a consumptive industrial model to a restorative model — shifting to a truly sustainable economy dedicated to core values of human and environmental health, cultural and biological diversity, care for commonly held resources, and cooperative nonviolence. 
  • Wellbeing Farm will, above all, focus on Transition: on the common journey we must all take together if civilization is to thrive, evolve and fulfill our dreams for a better world. This will not be a journey born of desperation or despair, but one that is joyful and empowering. To paraphrase the title of Rob Hopkins’ book: Wellbeing Farm will embody the Power of Just Doing Stuff

Wellbeing Farm; Three Organizing Principles

Principle 1: Permaculture — Permaculture practitionersdesign ecologically-sound human habitats and food production systems. This discipline strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, farming techniques, and communities within the surrounding natural world, including the microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water. The focus is not on these individual elements, but rather on the shifting relationships between them to create a prosperous balance between human and natural communities. This synergy is enhanced when human systems actively mimic patterns found in nature.

The core tenets of Permaculture are:

• Take Care of the Earth: Provide first for all life systems so they flourish and multiply.

• Take Care of the People: Offer everyone access to the resources needed to thrive.

• Share the Surplus: Healthy natural/human systems generate plentiful outputs for all.

Permaculture principles practiced at Wellbeing Farm will entail eco-friendly food production, and far more. Energy-efficient buildings, nature based wastewater treatment, recycling, and land stewardship are other key holistic components.

Permaculture on the Farm will include research into practical economic and social structures that support the evolution and realization of more sustainable communities, encompassing co-housing and eco-village models, for example. Participants at the Farm will look closely at ways in which we can all interact productively, while respecting and working closely with nature.

Principle 2: Transition — The Transition Movement represents one of the most promising models available to modern society today for engaging individuals and communities in the far-reaching actions required to mitigate the negative socio-economic-environmental impacts of peak oil, climate change, and the global financial crisis. A key component of Transition is a move away from a large-scale, global production/distribution model and toward re-localization – achieving fulfilling and equitable local livelihoods, lived in harmony with home bioregions.

Underpinning Transition is an understanding that peak oilclimate change and the global economic crisis require urgent local action now. Without that immediate action, an era of far-more-costly fossil fuels – marked by disastrous global supply chain interruptions and shortages – looms and is inevitable.

Industrial society has lost the resilience needed to cope with such system shocks. So immediate adaptation is essential. And we must act together, using all our skill, ingenuity and intelligence, our home-grown creativity and cooperation, to unleash the collective genius of local communities and our bioregion to achieve an abundant, connected, and healthier future for all.

Wellbeing Farm will not need to reinvent the wheel to meet these Transition challenges.

Transition US is an already existing, and vital resource for building resilient communities in the United States, while Kingston New York Transition is tuned into local issues and solutions. Both organizations are linked into the worldwide Transition movement in which hundreds of interconnected communities foster their own unique local initiatives, benefiting all.

In addition, The Good Work Institute envisions a Just Transition to environmentally sustainable and resilient systems in the Hudson River Bioregion by advancing ecological restoration; democratizing communities, wealth and the workplace; fostering racial justice and social equity; re-localizing production and consumption, and retaining and restoring cultures and traditions.

Principle 3: The Folk School – Wellbeing Farm will operate utilizing five well-established Folk School philosophies and values: 1). Re-skilling – offering training in a varied range of past and contemporary practical tools and skills; 2) Inclusivity – assuming everyone has something to add to the journey, and to creating a more sustainable and resilient Hudson Valley; 3) Honoring Elders – recognizing that the young can learn invaluable lessons from elders with unique skills and stories to share; 4) Awareness – Transition requires we give up old paradigms to create a viable, abundant future; 5) Networking – cooperation, not competition, is the key to all citizens benefiting from innovative new learning opportunities.

Yestermorrow School

Wellbeing Farm; Creating a Sense of Place

The physical location, acreage, scope of programs and services at Wellbeing Farm will be dependent on funding and upon the needs of practitioners in the Hudson Valley Bioregion. It may begin small, then grow to meet our post-carbon societal and educational needs.

As we envision it today, Wellbeing Farm will be centrally located on multiple acres in the Mid-Hudson Valley. It could be centered at a single location, or scattered at several, depending on availability of facilities, land, and community need. It should be located near public transportation, near or on a major body of water, and sited near other sustainable activity centers and established institutions such as the Farm Hub, Esopus Agriculture Center, Arrowhead Farm Agricultural Center, Garrison Institute, and the Omega Institute.

Element 1: The farm itself – No matter where situated, Wellbeing Farm must offer a welcoming, bucolic, stimulating, beautiful landscape in which to think, work, create and write – a place where practitioners can experience relationships between human beings and the natural world. Instructors and mentors will be drawn from a wide variety of disciplines and experiences; they will require physical amenities to achieve their teaching goals, for example:

Anagama Kiln
  • Builders will require sufficient land to construct full-sized buildings, for teaching post and beam, cob, cordwood, stone and thatch construction, and other green building methods. 
  • Millwrights will need a place to build/repair water and wind projects
  • Farmers, foresters, and those working with horses will need sufficient land and facilities for crops and livestock, to practice veterinary skills, harness making and repair, and for modifying tractor-drawn machinery for horses.
  • Sail freighters will require a dry dock and waterway on which to build / rebuild small sail freight boats, learn rigging, and seamanship. 
  • Wild foragers will require forest, meadow, and wetland habitat in which to teach forest gardening and gleaning techniques. Boyers (bow makers) and gunsmiths will likewise need a place where natural materials and tools are available.
  • Furniture makers must have a local source of wood, a sawmill, drying shed, and workshops.
  • Weavers will need a wool source, plus a place to clean, spin, and dye.
  • Potters will require clay, wheels, kilns and shelter.
  • All participants will need a place to socialize and learn skills from each other.
  • Ultimately, what may evolve is a centralized Wellbeing Farm facility, surrounded by nearby satellite locations providing all sorts of teaching opportunities for people of all ages.
  • Also, a portion of the farm must be left undisturbed and natural, serving as a place for nature observation and solitary contemplation.

Element 2: The Bioregional Traditional Knowledge Database – Wellbeing Farm will serve as a repository for vital traditional knowledge — encompassing arts, crafts, livelihoods, and connections to our natural heritage, all in danger of disappearance. This database will form an “extraordinary source of knowledge and cultural diversity from which the appropriate innovation solutions can be derived today and in the future.”

The Farm’s bioregional database will emulate and interface with the UNESCO International Traditional Knowledge Institute (ITKI)  an ambitious project intended to preserve, restore, and promote the re-use of traditional skills and inventions from all over the world. ITKI includes among its important resources an online encyclopedia of low-tech know-how.

The physical and electronic database at Wellbeing Farm will include a collection of books, blueprints, photos, and drawings showing how things were made and how we fed ourselves in a pre-carbon world – including resources such as the Whole Earth Catalog, books published by Shelter Publications, the Foxfire books, mechanical engineering texts, trade encyclopedias, and downloaded and printed reproductions like Small Hydropower Systems, home built windpower, and books and resources for pre-petroleum technology.    

Element 3: Common Ground Fair Hudson Valley – Working with the New York Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NY), Wellbeing Farm will provide space for an annual “Common Ground” Country Fair. This event will bring together a large gathering of farmers, change agents, artisans, musicians, Slow Money social entrepreneurs, Permaculture and Transition practitioners, Eco-Villagers, organic farmers, fishermen, seed companies, natural food stores, chefs, cooperatively owned small businesses and thousands of families from throughout the region interested in manifesting and welcoming a new approach to the future. This event, along with other celebratory activities will generate strong lasting bonds between the Farm and surrounding communities.

Element 4: Educational Opportunities for Children – Wellbeing Farm is, above all else, a place where people of all ages can learn. And while many participants will be adults honing new skills, it is vital that an honored seat at the table be maintained for children, and for their education.

Permaculture as a design system is rooted in an understanding of ecological principles – and it is best if that understanding is cultivated early, through sensory awareness of the natural world, natural cycles, energy flow and interconnectedness. For that reason, the farm will foster a close relationship with Hudson Valley Bioregion schools pre, primary and high schools, and existing programs such as Creek Iverson’s Seed Song Farm Summer Camp, and Wild Earth’s summer camp. Field trips will often arrive at the Farm, bringing young people to see how their world is being re-skilled; likewise, practitioners will travel to schools often to teach a range of new livelihoods.

In this way, the Farm will help ensure that our children have the best possible start to understanding the “why” behind the “how” of our Permaculture ways — learning skills that far transcend the deskbound limitations of old school education models. Children will be introduced to a vast range of hands-on crafts and folk art skills, ranging from toolmaking to basketry; clothing construction, fiber and fleece production; gardening and farming, gleaning and food preparation; learning to work with and respect working animals; while also cultivating a love for traditional, self-made music, storytelling, nature observation, and much more.

  Wellbeing Farm; Why Now?

We live at a highly precarious – but also fascinating and hopeful – point in history. The convergence of massive challenges, particularly climate change, peak oil, and the global economic crisis, has brought us to an historical moment where we are profoundly prompted to act.

We the People are surrounded by “experts” telling us that we have gone too far, that civilization, and maybe humanity, are doomed; and worse that our end is inevitable – that the web of life as we know it will collapse catastrophically and soon.

While these dangers are real and dare not be dismissed, at the same time something very powerful and positive is stirring, taking root the world over and in our own bioregion. People are choosing life and manifesting that empowering choice in their daily lives and communities.

The magnitude of the challenge ahead is huge, and the obstacles are plenty. But there is an emerging energy, positive spirit, and the will to succeed and thrive. There is a sense of exhilaration arising out of our talking and listening to each other, to not accepting the faltering status quo, but envisioning what we want and then rolling up our sleeves and starting to co-create it.

There is no denying the challenges we face, but there is also no denying the practical, instinctual, democratic response that is arising among We the People today. In towns and cities everywhere we are asking each other: “What can I do right now? How do we get started?”

In a world of rapidly diminishing resources and increasing stresses on natural and social systems, we must rapidly join to implement innovative equitable strategies to restore degraded landscapes, to feed all people well, to convert our energy-wasteful infrastructure into holistic natural/human systems that benefit everyone. Wellbeing Farm is part of that vision – a real place in the Hudson Valley Bioregion where we can create a bountiful future together.

How Our Maritime Past Can Serve a Carbon-Constrained Future

This post originally appeared on the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s Riverwise website on June 25, 2020

The Hudson, the River that flows both ways has been a transportation corridor for hundreds of years before Europeans first saw it.  The Hudson rises in the mountains at Lake Tear of the Clouds in Essex County, NY and empties into Upper New York Bay.  The Hudson is a drowned river as its bottom is below sea level almost all the way to Albany.  The Hudson is also considered a fjord one of very few in North America.  The River has been a commerce highway for as long as humans have inhabited the North American continent.  Henry Hudson and other early European explorers were convinced that the River was part of the Northwest Passage.  

Lake Tear of the Clouds, headwaters of the Hudson River, c. 1888. Photograph by Seneca Ray Stoddard. Library of Congress

The Hudson River once formed a bustling highway linking even the smallest communities to a web of regularly scheduled commercial routes. Schooners, sloops, barges, and steamboats provided a unique way of life for early river town inhabitants. Farmers, merchants, and oystermen relied on this vibrant and diverse fleet of vessels to bring in supplies and deliver their goods to market. This arm-of-the-sea was an integral part of the lives of those who worked New York’s inland waters.

“The Hudson at Tappan Zee,” Francis Silva, 1876, Brooklyn Museum of Art. This painting is actually not at Tappan Zee, but more likely near the Esopus Meadows and depicts the 1830s Esopus Meadows Lighthouse in the background.

The Hudson is connected through New York Harbor to the Coast and the rest of the world.  With one of the world’s greatest ice-free harbors on earth, New York City was built on a shipping industry that has over time become a dangerously tenuous lifeline to the outside world for the region. Today the far-flung international trade network that once pumped vibrant economic life into the region threatens to collapse as imported natural resources and the fossil fuels needed to transport them become increasingly scarce and expensive. Higher petroleum costs, and higher wages in countries in which much of our imported goods are made could snap that lifeline. 

Aerial view illustration of the tip of Manhattan in New York City, featuring Castle Garden in Battery Park and docks on the rivers. Brooklyn Bridge under construction is shown in exaggerated scale, circa 1880. Library of Congress.

New York State’s working waterfronts have long been a key contributor to the region’s financial well-being and our nation’s economy. But, in a carbon constrained future, how will goods and people be moved from place to place, and what role will the Hudson River play in this vision? 

​How should we meet the looming challenges of climate change, rising sea level, aging infrastructure, changes to global shipping patterns, threats to food security, and the risks these changes bring to New York’s Hudson Valley.

Photo by Joachim Kohler Bremen.

​The biggest question of all: How do we address this daunting multitude of challenges and turn them into opportunities for transforming waterfronts and ports to effectively and efficiently serve our regional economy far into the future?

​The solution in this time of rapid change may be a return to the “Slow Technology” of our recent past — sail powered freight ships – and to the present, solar powered ferries and barges.  Tomorrow, New York City’s port and the ports of the Hudson Valley will likely continue to be a commercial hubs due to their strategic location, but those harbors will likely resemble their 18th and 19th century selves rather than the ports we know today. 

Solaris, Apollonia, and Clearwater rafted together at Albany, NY.

We hope the “RiverWise: North Hudson Voyage” has served to engage the public and commercial interests along the Hudson in how ​these two important examples of 19th and 21st Century technology will create opportunities for communities to re-examine how their waterfronts will be used for recreation, conservation, and commerce.  This voyage of discovery is the first of many with more and more ships joining this flotilla of hope and inspiration.  
​The next step will be even more critical, to commit to honestly confronting challenges, while also boldly embracing opportunities and possibilities. We must move forward quickly and vigorously, and we need to do more. We must inspire individuals, communities, local leaders, city and state governments to commit to creating a thriving, post carbon transportation and logistics system. We must also commit to the creation of a network of sustainable blue waterways in a region that advocates for a post carbon transition that people will embrace as a collective adventure, as a common journey, as something positive, and above all, as a future full of Hope. 

Solaris and Apollonia passing Kingston Point. Photo by Carla Lesh.

Building Lifeboats – Building Community


“‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” ― Voltaire

The sinking of the Titanic is horribly memorable for many reasons, but one stands out above all: that so many lives were needlessly lost due to “if only” or “what if.” The “unsinkable” vessel lacked sufficient lifeboats to easily hold all passengers and crew, and when launched, those boats were only partly filled.

Looking deeper: many more Titanic passengers could have been saved if only the crew had been better trained, if only the lifeboats had been deployed in a timely way, if there had been a lifeboat drill, If third class “steerage” passengers had been assigned emergency stations, and if only the ship’s captain had taken iceberg warnings seriously instead of being in deadly denial. Today, no passenger vessel can leave port without an adequate number of well provisioned lifeboats, proper training and preparedness. So the impacts of disasters at sea, which do inevitably occur, are minimized. 

Leaping forward from an historic calamity to a looming catastrophe: the world is sailing toward a Titanic moment — a collision of unprecedented proportions between blasé “business as usual” planning and a rapidly escalating and increasingly violent climate crisis. New York’s Hudson Valley is the world in microcosm.

Looking forward rationally and unflinchingly at all major indicators, extreme weather events far worse than Hurricanes Irene and Sandy could lie just over the horizon, meaning that our communities could soon face cataclysmic food and energy shortages, transportation disruptions, infrastructure failures, inundation of vital facilities and valuable properties by sea level rise, a massive financial meltdown and all manner of attendant debilitating social disarray. But no one is seriously preparing.

forest fire

 We lack both the leadership and the necessary wherewithal at the state, regional, and community levels. But we know that intensifying climate shocks are no longer far off, low probability events. We’ve been warned not only by the climate models — maps of our potential future — but also by daily current events: unprecedented heatwaves storms and droughts are here now. For proof, we need look no further than the cataclysmic fires in Australia and the Amazon, or Paradise, California.

The stages of climate grief:  

With every passing day it grows more dangerous for us to depend on good luck or forced optimism and false hope as our best protections. Sooner or later the United States, the Northeast and the Hudson Valley will be slammed by climate disaster. Will we be ready?

The short answer: we won’t, unless we rapidly move through the stages of climate grief, from paralysis to action. The climate change facts at hand tell us we should already be well past the first stage, denial. But that isn’t the case, with the national government — our ship of state — making its rudderless way through a wildly roiling sea of political division, while individuals are consumed by incapacitating grief. Clearly, the only way forward right now is through decisive local action.

To help determine the healthy way ahead, let’s look at the stages of our global trauma:

Obviously, we need to move to the fourth stage as quickly as possible — without panic, acting rationally as we prepare ourselves for unpredictable, but increasingly likely climate shocks, the “what ifs” of our current historic moment.

Survivalists, preppers and lifeboat builders:

Some may compare lifeboat builders with survivalists (1) and preppers (2) — those constructing fortified bunkers in remote areas to protect themselves from the “others” in event of “Apocalypse.” 

But there is a significant difference: lifeboat builders aren’t only thinking of themselves; they’re leading the way, constructing small, local, resilient community systems where we will all be able to rely on each other for survival and safety. This sort of local resilience allows us to live not separately, but together in hope and possibility, rather than in fear — to thrive rather than merely survive.

Like a ship captain and crew, however, today’s lifeboat builders must prepare well in advance of chaos. They must anticipate disaster as it might unfold, making sure they’ve provided enough boats, stocked them with adequate provisions and trained crew who know how to respond in a crisis. As we sail into the uncertain waters of climate chaos, we must ready our households, neighborhoods and communities. 

And just as we would never accuse a ship captain who conducts regular lifeboat drills of “doom and gloom thinking,” we must face reality: the real danger of impending climate chaos comes from us ignoring the signs and doing nothing. Inaction puts us all at significant risk. Action offers us hope.

A New Narrative:

As a species, we are storytellers. And the stories we tell collectively, whether they be found in Gilgamesh, the Bible, or traditional American History all serve as action plans for the time. They tell us what worked well in the past so we might move into a productive future. But sometimes those tales become outdated and the signposts pointing to safety in the past instead lead us down paths into danger.

The tale we’ve told ourselves over the last 300 years, since the Age of Reason and on into the Modern Age of Expansion, is that we live in a time of limitless progress, of ever-expanding opportunity and possibility, in which there is a high technological fix for every problem.

In this story, we tell ourselves that unlimited growth and soaring GDP is a real measure of economic health and community wellbeing; that a rising stock market protects us, no matter how rundown our neighborhoods;  that deregulation stimulates investment, even as climate destabilizing emissions rise; and that national security need only focus on existential threats beyond our borders, and not on quality of life and preservation of civil liberties.

Today, climate change — along with the socio-environmental and economic upheaval it brings — is turning the idea of endless progress on its head

Unnatural disasters — pandemics, human-amplified heatwaves, intensified storms and droughts, and rising sea levels falling like bombs randomly across the landscape — are as destructive and demoralizing as war. Extreme weather events now batter whole countries, states, cities, suburbs and rural areas; disrupting commerce, undermining the bottom line, putting human lives at stake, destroying homes and hopes.

That’s why it is long past time for us to tell a new story: one that recognizes the turbulent sea of change we sail in; a story that recognizes the dangers around us, but doesn’t demand a fear or grief response. This new story inspires us to prepare together as communities with open eyes, minds and hearts — ready to face the risks of impending calamity while embracing the promise of resilience and hope of regeneration.

We need to change the narrative now, embrace a new story truer to circumstance — a storyline in which we heroically face adversity together, creating abundance out of crisis together, moving with agility through chaos toward new community values that will sustain us in the unsettled years ahead.

The roots of that story are certain: we will thrive only by being earth and community stewards, rather than exploiters; only by demanding that our leaders address not only the economic balance sheet, but also our ecological and equity balance sheets. Only then will we be able to go ahead with hope and find a safe harbor in the climate crisis. Only then can we leave a better world for our children.

Planning resilient, future-proof “too small to fail” Hudson Valley communities:

Future proofing communities can be difficult….  Thinking ahead to the challenges of tomorrow is not something that every community proactively considers. By doing so however, and by actively working with an eye to the future, communities can both improve themselves now and put them in a better position for the years to come.

While it is true that there is little that small communities can do to independently reverse climate change, there are many things these same communities can do to mitigate the climate crisis in their area as it unfolds, and to future-proof themselves against climate chaos.

Importantly, because communities are smaller than states or nations, they have the capacity for rapid change and quick course corrections. They are better able to bring citizenry together, to reach consensus and to act decisively.

As such, individual Hudson River communities can serve as laboratories, where citizens work together to build lifeboats, to stock and staff them against the dangers ahead. Moreover, many local communities acting in this way throughout the region could ultimately “float all boats” in a climate emergency — increasing our chances of mutual survival across the region.

Where to begin? Every community needs to start by objectively assessing threats. Then we need to unflinchingly evaluate the greatest points of weakness — whether these take the form of infrastructure; social, public health, economic and political structures. Finally, communities need to fortify those weaknesses against the storms to come — work that will enrich our towns and neighborhoods in the present, while reducing risk and enhancing resilience for the future.

food Security

A few practical lifeboat building ideas: community flood-proofing in preparation for climate chaos, implementation of drought-resistant landscaping, institutionalization of green building practices, zoning against development in climate disaster-prone floodplains, the installation of redundant storm-proof energy systems, the establishment of community-wide food security, and the creation of damage control centers equipped to deal with sudden disasters — all of this and much more can protect our communities now, while future-proofing them against the harms common on a much warmer, more turbulent planet and in a post-carbon future.

Resilient communities are at the core of a “Too Small to Fail” future. If we don’t plan for more robust proactive communities, and implement solutions for looming problems, a catastrophic crash seems inevitable. However, in our new storyline, crisis can equal opportunity — as our nation learned during the Great Depression and World War II.

But if sensible democratically arrived at plans to manage disaster aren’t formulated and pressed forward now, the opportunity afforded by crisis could be hijacked by a better organized, well-financed minority with an authoritarian agenda that benefits the few at the cost of the many. One need look no further than autocratic governments in today’s Brazil, Turkey, Venezuela, and China to see what is at risk.

Here is glimpse of what our Hudson Valley Lifeboat Culture might look like:

  • Governance: We will prosper via an eclectic egalitarian innovative amalgam of businesses, public interest non-profits, county and municipal governments working together towards a common goal;
  • Energy production: We will promote rooftop and regional solar farms, wind farms, small hydro, tidal energy, community choice aggregation, and conservation to achieve energy independence from the global fossil fuel grid;
  • Food production and food security: We will encourage and protect rural and urban farmers (and the land), develop a new “Grange,” promote “victory” gardens and rooftop/backyard apiaries; convert city and suburban lots into linked “front yard” farms; provide opportunities for artisanal commercial fisheries, fish farmers, and fish mongers; grow our local farmers markets, and build and stock community/emergency food and water storage facilities.
  • Transportation: We will work toward a local water-based and human electric/transportation system to bring goods to market and continue to move people from place to place.  That system will also be hardened and fortified against the impacts of rising sea levels and extreme weather events;
  • Communication: We will develop communication networks and devices that are independent of large corporate telecommunication networks.  An emergency ham radio system for communication in a disaster, community and neighborhood internet, community equitable internet initiatives, and mesh services, and expanded neighbor to neighbor communication.
  • Emergency preparedness:  In the event of an emergency citizens and organization have to be trained and in a position to augment the emergency services, or when those are overwhelmed take a leadership role in both preparing for disaster and implementing responses.
  • Environment: We will clean up our waterways to make them more productive; restore and create wetlands that guard against flooding and storm surges, while serving as nurseries for fish and wildlife; nurture wildlands and “forest gardens” where fruits, nuts, mushrooms and herbs can be sustainably harvested; manage sustainable forests that are logged selectively with an eye on future production; convert urban brownfields to greenfields that balance natural systems with commercial needs.
  • Economics: We will avoid sole reliance on a nationally volatile currency by creating a (or expanding the use of existing) local currency used to pay for local commodities; buying and hiring (and training) locally; creating public works projects for sustainable development, move away from an international and national economy toward a regional economy that fosters local businesses and micro-industries — ranging from brewers and butchers to cheese makers and toolmakers; from ship builders and seafarers, coopers, blacksmiths, and bicycle builders; local wind turbine, solar collector, and tidal generator manufacturers and installers; shoemakers, Repair Cafes, and fix it shops; composters and fryer fat oil recyclers.  Land for farming and sustainable forestry will be protected through conservation easements and equitable urban development will be conserved through community land trusts.
  • Society and education: We will develop regional and seasonal “Common Ground” fairs and celebrations and Chautauqua’s with music, dancing, demonstrations and exhibits of local makers’ products, local food, beer, wine and spirits, and fellowship. Encourage an education system that doesn’t result in graduates leaving for other regions, but in their staying within their communities to pursue sustainable livelihoods. We will ensure affordable housing, improve work opportunities for disadvantaged groups, and allow seniors and children to play useful and valuable civic roles.

These goals can seem utopian, especially if we look at them through the lens of the old story of “progress.” There are, of course, also hard realities to contend with as we develop a Lifeboat Culture.  The Hudson Valley and the New York City Bioregion — is connected to the rest of the world by literally thousands of lifelines, all of which are now at risk. These include an aging and increasingly failure-prone power grid; an aging and leaky water system; and a vast network of roads, rails, shipping and air routes that rely exclusively on fossil fuels whose supply is prone to sudden cost spikes and shortages.

Like a patient on intravenous life support, any major interruption in the flow of these resources to the  region can hamstring or harm its economy and people. With global oil, gas and coal production predicted to irreversibly decline in the next 10 to 20 years, a related economic collapse becomes not a question of if, but when — unless we act now to soften and deflect the blow, creating redundant energy, food, product and transport systems that kick-in as international resources become unreliable.

In the face of this reality, how do we transition from the storyline of unlimited growth and intense capitalist competition to a storyline that calls for community union, local shared economic prosperity, and the building of a Lifeboat Culture? The journey begins as:

  • The region and its communities commit to being a leader in sustainability and resilience.
  • Local people hold their elected officials responsible for inaction and reward effective action.
  • We recognize that real economic pain is associated with the changes needed to mitigate and avoid the effects of sea level rise and climate change, and find ways to reduce that pain.
Main Street

Main Street versus Wall Street:

Any plan for a resilient bioregional economy must insure that every citizen has fundamental needs met for nutritious food, shelter, healthcare, education and ecosystem services. This must be a non-negotiable condition if we are to meet the climate change challenges ahead and satisfy the promise of our great egalitarian democracy.

As radical as the ideas presented in this proposal may seem when seen from inside our current myopic progress-obsessed worldview, many of these concepts are rooted in our common regional immigrant heritage:  my immigrant grandfather, for example, joined with a friend who owned a pushcart to start a lumber company. They scavenged construction sites daily for discarded lumber and wood scraps, selling the material for what it was – a recycled product. They built their company into a large wholesale/retail lumberyard, and eventually became a regional self-serve hardware and lumber company.

What my grandfather and uncles, who eventually took over the business, never forgot was that they had an obligation to their employees — many of whom worked at the company for their entire careers. The firm sold a good product, treated their customers with respect, supported their community, and made a living for their families. But after my uncles retired, their partner sold the company to a Fortune 500 company and within a few years it no longer existed.

I tell this story for a reason: that lumber company was a Main Street business — locally rooted and privately held. It was innovative, successful, and sold materials to people who became repeat customers because of the quality and service they received. As soon as the company became the property of Wall Street, those values were lost; replaced solely by a drive for limitless profit. Until that point, their business had been “too small to fail.”

Evidence increasingly shows that every dollar spent at a “too small to fail” locally owned business generates two to four times more economic benefit – measured in income, wealth, jobs, and tax revenue – than a dollar spent at a globally owned business. This is because locally owned businesses spend much more of their money locally and thereby are a regional economic multiplier.

Under our present economic system, large transnational companies reap big profits. But no local businesses receive any of our pension savings, investments in mutual funds, venture capital firms, or hedge funds. The result is that many of us over-invest in Fortune 500 companies we distrust, and under-invest in the local businesses we know are essential for a strong local economy.

That’s why we need new mechanisms to enable investment in local, place-based, “too small to fail” Main Street businesses. At the heart of such mechanisms is our investment in a Lifeboat Culture. By thinking small, not big; local, not global, we strengthen community resilience against climate change.

Main Street investing is how the local economy once functioned, and it was the basis of much 20th century urban prosperity. It was then in the interest of well-off farmers, merchants, and small town banks to loan money to, and invest in, businesses that hired local people, in order to make something that held value and created real wealth.

When we support “buy local / hire local” campaigns, promote “locavesting,” urge a resurgence of local currencies; and institute new public and community banks, community development financial institutions, credit unions and other local lending institutions, we reinvigorate our region’s Main Street economy. And by so doing, we strengthen our regional Lifeboat Culture — put simply, in such a world, the Hudson Valley thrives!

Revival of the Commons: Share management of shared resources

A key strategy of our Lifeboat Culture, if it is to succeed, will be for communities to take back the commons — finding ways to manage our waterways, fisheries, pastures, forests and other local landscapes in a sustainable manner that can be productive for hundreds of years.

This means reinstituting many of the rules that people created and used in generations past to protect shared resourced for future generations so that they could be harvested and shared without degrading ecosystems. While local supervision flies in the face of 21st century trends of federal and state management, corporate exploitation, or privatization — it helps to build community resilience.

Like a bank account, a farmer or fishermen never removes more from a commons ecosystem than nature can replace in a reasonable amount of time. And it is the community that ultimately benefits.

The co-operatives model:

Co-operatives in various forms (production, retail, housing, and credit) are another organizational model in which ethics are embodied and embedded, and which are vital to a functioning local Lifeboat Culture.

Co-operative principles confer greater resilience – which matches the priority for safety and security in difficult times. Although there are no panaceas and co-ops can fail too, it is also true that co-ops have a track record of longevity and survival that is superior in many cases to private companies that is vital in times of economic contraction and environmental turmoil.

Living fully in a world of “what if”

At the start of this proposal we profiled the human tragedy resulting from the wreck of the Titanic — an unnecessary loss of life that occurred not only because of a natural disaster, but that resulted from human carelessness, unpreparedness, elitist hubris and stupidity.

As the Hudson Valley sails into an uncertain, but surely dangerous, climate crisis, we can learn from the horrors experienced by the Titanic on the high seas. We can move steadily away from dependence on increasingly undependable fossil fuels, giant transnational companies and international finances. We can build energy, food and economic redundancies into local communities to buffer them against international and national shortages and systems collapses. We can invest in our neighborhoods and our neighbors, working together to create “too small to fail” Main Street businesses, non-profits and local governments that strive in union to serve their communities and the people.

None of this will insure us totally against the dangers ahead, but preparedness as engendered in a Lifeboat Culture, will give our communities resilience and staying power. By acting now with foresight and hard work, we can care for each other, reinvesting in people and the land, creating a future for the Hudson Valley that emphasizes Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.

We can create organizational and institutional structures that are sustainable, endowed with ethical values that serve all citizens not only a privileged elite. In our Hudson Valley Lifeboat Culture, the emphasis will not be on blind, reckless progress at all cost, but on the creation of an equitable society that avoids resource depletion while fostering slow growth, and most importantly, hope for everyone, including the most vulnerable people and species. 

Ultimately, the journey begins simply, with the joining of hands; the breaking of bread; and in taking a first step together, in your community or in mine. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

(1) a person who makes preparations to survive a widespread catastrophe, as an atomic war or anarchy, especially by storing food and weapons in a safe place.

(2) a person who believes a catastrophic disaster or emergency is likely to occur in the future and makes active preparations for it, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies.  “there’s no agreement among preppers about what disaster is most imminent”

(3) a farmers’ association organized in 1867. The Grange sponsors social activities, community service,