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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
“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
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.
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
Four 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 130′ transatlantic and/or Caribbean electric clipper, a 65′ River and Coastal Scow Schooner, a “39′-45′ pick up of the sea,” and a solar electric canal barge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.https://www.youtube.com/embed/U250mCuxPPw
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.”
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.
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, solar, electric and alternative fuel vessels.https://www.youtube.com/embed/GkTsnjIYJG8
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.https://www.youtube.com/embed/n-p9akU8MIc
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.
A Post Carbon Gateway to the Hudson Valley and the World
A Comprehensive Plan for a Working Waterfront and the Transportation of Goods and Peoplein 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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.”
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:
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.
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;
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:
The City of Kingston and town Esopus are working with stakeholders and partners on The Rondout Waterfront to improve the resiliency and sustainability of the shoreline, implement an economic development strategy, and cultivate better access to the river via waterfront parks and open space for people on foot, on bicycle, and launching boats.
The Town of Esopus, is also working on a comprehensive plan that contains waterfront goals for the Wallkill, Hudson, and Rondout Creek Waterfront access and usage. These plans include development policies to restore, revitalize, and redevelop deteriorated and underutilized waterfront areas for commercial, industrial, cultural, recreational, and other uses.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
 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 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.
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.
WellbeingFarm 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:
TheFarm will be centrally located in the Hudson River Bioregion.
Wellbeing Farm will house the headquarters of The Center for Post Carbon Logistics, the Hudson Valley Resilience Hub, and the Bioregional Traditional Knowledge Database and Library – offering these institutions one central place where colleagues can share expertise, experiences, stories, electronic and physical resources. Wellbeing Farm will serve as a “living library,” gathering and protecting historical knowledge, while exploring and promoting innovative sustainable solutions based in traditional crafts and skills.
The farm will regularly host the annual Hudson Valley Common Ground Country Fair, Chautauquas, and other bioregional celebrations.
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.
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 oil, climate 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
resilient, future-proof “too small to fail” Hudson Valley communities:
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
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.
A few practical lifeboat building ideas: community flood-proofing in preparation for climate chaos, implementation
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;
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
“Moving goods and people from place to place in a carbon constrained future will be dependent on sailing vessels, hybrid/fossil free electric ships, and people/electric, powered transport for first and last mile logistics. “
New York’s Working Waterfront has long been a key contributor to the region’s
financial wellbeing 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 City’s Waterfront 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 financial sector?
The biggest question of all: How do we address this daunting multitude
of challenges and turn them into opportunities for transforming the waterfront
and Port in order to effectively and efficiently serve our regional and
national economy far into the future?
“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…. How will New York re-invent its waterfront?”
If present trends continue, New York Harbor will need to be transformed into a hub of the spokes for “short sea shipping” (any movement of freight by water that doesn’t cross oceans such as freight ferries, short-haul barges and various other marine vessels). rather than serving as an unsustainable container cargo port. The good news: the New York metro region has an extensive network of waterways, and so is very well suited for the short sea shipping mode of freight transport. Moreover, public agencies and private companies are investigating the potential economic and environmental benefits of transferring more cargo from road to sea.
As New York moves forward to the working waterfront of tomorrow, the constraints, and in some cases the advantages, of smaller and (s)lower tech modes of transport must be considered; allowing for the integration of slowtech transport into harbor infrastructure to support these imminent changes.
If the New York
port is to thrive, 19th, 20th, and 21st Century
technology must meld seamlessly into new, mid-century methods of transport, also
with an emphasis on what might seem like bygone, but productive, methodologies
in order to become more self-sufficient and sustainable.
To offer just one example, ships of all sorts will need 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 the climate crisis and social upheaval abroad. These new vessels will likely be very different than the ones built today
As fossil fuels become more expensive and are restricted by climate change policy, port infrastructure will need to be part of a carbon neutral trading network that links us to the region and the world. The good news: our port is well positioned to become a laboratory for maritime innovation, offering competitive freight rates on 18th and 19th Century shipping routes enhanced by 21st Century technology.
A Port Facing
the Greatest Challenges in Its History
Our world is now convulsed by converging crises of a magnitude never seen by humanity: climate change and sea level rise, global economic instability, and peak everything. Add to these threats the risk of wars over natural resources, climate migration, failure of aging and over stressed infrastructure, unstable economies, and the erosion of community values. Each of these crises presents particularly thorny problems for New York City, its Port, and the region. Challenges which also offer opportunities.
New York City owes its very existence to its location on one of the greatest ice-free harbors on earth; in turn, that great urban powerhouse was built on its Harbor and shipping industry. But as new threats loom, our aging Port has devolved into a dangerously tenuous lifeline to the world overseas.
far-flung international trade network that once pumped vibrant economic life
into New York City and our region is threatened with collapse as imported
natural resources grow more expensive, carbon pollution from shipping grows
much worse, and the fossil fuels needed to transport goods become increasingly
scarce and costly. Spiralling petroleum costs, and turmoil in nations upon which
we rely for imported goods could snap our international lifeline at any time.
The present system
is unsustainable, so we must prepare to transform it, and we must move quickly
It’s important to understand that all of the many crises we face are
intimately linked to each other, and magnify each other, impacting our port’s
future. Just a few troubling examples:
A severe long-term drought in the American Midwest, could cut off our region’s supply of wheat, corn and soy, causing food shortages and a financial calamity.
Peak oil requires that we drill for fossil fuels in increasingly extreme landscapes, like the deep-water Gulf of Mexico, prone to more and more powerful hurricanes, or by using hydraulic fracturing that will likely contaminate groundwater in the heart of our regional foodshed, and the grain belt. Sudden price surges would impact shipping and our Port.
Our sprawling global oil pipeline stretches around the globe, making us vulnerable and dependent on volatile states prone to war, revolution, and migratory upheaval. Again, such conflicts could seriously impact global commerce and our Port.
An economic crash or a financially-sapping resource war abroad, could wreck our balance of trade and shatter our tax base, then making it fiscally impossible to adapt our infrastructure to accommodate climate change impacts, which would lead to more unpreparedness and economic hardship.
Meanwhile, poor harbor planning, and inappropriate non-water-dependent development along New York City’s flood prone waterfront could seriously hamper adaptation to these many crises.
The accumulation and interaction of such shocks could be catastrophic if
we do not prepare
Despite its present dominance, the New York Port and its current maritime logistics system remains fragile. It is reliant upon carbon-based fuels, driving internal combustion engines. This local fossil fuel-dependent system is interwoven into long-distance, globalized trade and is designed for Just-In-Time delivery. Importantly, it also depends upon a financial accounting system that avoids paying for negative environmental and social externalities such as global warming, environmental pollution, and sea level rise. But the bill for these negative externalities is coming due now and will be paid by our Port, our city, and our regional economy for decades to come if we don’t prepare to prevent that from happening.
Here is a stark reality that we must deal with if
we are to thrive as a 21st Century Port: The
World Economic Forum determined in 2018 that if shipping were a country, it
would be the world’s sixth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Those maritime
emissions must be slashed, and soon. That being true, there are grave doubts
that our current shipping system can easily adapt to the policy and
technological shifts needed to successfully curb climate change. But failure to
adapt will be catastrophic for our Port: sea level rise alone could make sure
of that. So we have no choice: we must adapt.
The NY/NJ Port, New
York City’s working waterfront, and the greater region are at a crossroads, a
turning point. Looking forward rationally at all the indicators, our “business
as usual” carbon model, dependent on globe-trotting fossil fuel powered
container ships is putting us on course for systemic failure, marked by
cataclysmic energy shortages and infrastructure collapse, inundation from sea
level rise, financial meltdown and its attendant social disarray.
For those who think otherwise, our climate change future and its inevitable impacts were foreshadowed when Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York City in October 2010, bringing with it a destructive wall of water that flooded subway tunnels and neighborhoods, cut off power to lower Manhattan, washed away century-old structures, cost the city millions, and left it forever changed. Sandy “was a turning point, that’s true not just for anticipating future Sandy-like storms, but also for predicting overall sea-level rise and such climate-change impacts as more frequent heat waves, which the New York City Panel on Climate Change projects will triple by the 2050s.”
Despite widespread agreement upon these future climate change-driven inevitabilities, the Port Authority — because it has invested so heavily in large container port infrastructure — continues to write “resiliency” reports, even as large container ships becomes increasingly obsolete — outdated dinosaurs at the end of a fossil fuel era.
It is also expected that Port Authority will continue to pour
millions of dollars into incremental “port improvements,” while failing to
address the inexorable rise of the sea and the eventual destruction of most of its
expensive industrial port infrastructure. Likewise, the Corps of Engineers,
despite some attempts at “greenwashing” remains in denial, as are the City of
New York, and the States of New York and New Jersey. Bold initiatives proposed
after Hurricane Sandy collect dust on agency bookshelves. Attempts at “pilot” projects related to climate
change protection and adaptation have so far been way too feeble, too small and
Challenges of a 21st Century Port
If the Port (and the City and Region it serves) survives into the
second half of this century it will be
significantly smaller, more sustainable, and resilient with an emphasis on
adaptation, and realistic outcomes for the continuation of the transport of
goods and people.
The contemporary Port of NY/NJ is the largest
port on the East Coast and the third largest in the US. For the freight
offloaded at its facilities, our Port is just one stop in an extensive
intermodal distribution chain.
But here’s another important fact: we drastically underutilize an invaluable regional transportation resource: our local waterways. In New York City’s metro region, 80% of freight transport today is carried by truck, a practice that congests our highways, increases air pollution, and is entirely dependent on fossil fuels. In the context of a working waterfront of the second third of the 21st century, (electric) trucks and rail may continue to have relevance in city-to-city transport, but all large trucks will likely have necessarily disappeared from the urban core. Congestion, pollution, and quality of life issues make this inevitable. And Just in Time delivery will be replaced by Warehouse in Transit Logistics (WIT or Warehouse –in- transit” is the successor to JIT or just-in-time which is now selectively outdated. Many cargoes that speed along highways to spend days in a warehouse could as easily and more economically / beneficially move by water).
In the 18th, and 19th and
early 20th centuries, the Hudson River, the New York Harbor, and the NY/NJ Harbor
Estuary and its river tributaries served as a bustling network of marine highways
linking even the smallest communities to a web of regularly scheduled
commercial routes. Boats of all sizes met 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 of vessels to
bring in supplies and deliver goods to market. The NY/NJ Harbor Estuary and its
tributaries — and the ships and boats sailing them — were vital and integral to
those who worked and lived along our inland waters.
Historically, thousands of vessels plied these marine highways,
sailing to and from The City’s Harbor to the farming communities of New
Jersey and the Hudson Valley, delivering fresh local farm produce, fish,
shellfish, and passengers to ports along the way.
Today, those marine highways
still exist, but thanks to the boom in highway construction in the mid-20th
Century, have fallen into deep neglect. They now need to be
reinvigorated. Injecting new life into these regional maritime trade
routes is far more than just a celebration of tradition. In a carbon
constrained future, sustainable water transport will be a necessity. As the climate crisis deepens, water-based low-or-no
carbon transportation routes could link communities throughout the region.
The rivers, bays, canals, and coasts of the Hudson Valley, NY
Harbor, and Mid-Atlantic region continue to be a marine highway today, but one
that is limited to deeply dredged channels leading to container ports and
fossil fuel and chemical tank farms.
In a carbon constrained future, we will need to return to our
region’s nautical roots and advocate for the maritime,
and for the “first and last mile technology” necessary for moving goods and
people from place to place minimizing carbon pollution, opting for existing and
emerging low carbon shipping and post carbon transportation businesses and
Question: How can we rapidly develop a new approach to waterway transportation
logistics that is attentive to, and resilient to the climate emergency? And
under fast-evolving environmental and social conditions, how can we alter our
Port to sustain a vibrant economy and standard of living for ourselves and future
generations — one that is also equitable and inclusive?
Vision for a Working Waterfront
and NY Port in the Second Third of the 21st Century
Oddly enough, a vision for an efficient,
economically vibrant, post carbon working waterfront in the 2030s, ‘40s and ‘50s
will likely resemble the New York Harbor of the late 19th century,
rather than what we see today. The Harbor of the near future will need to link
not only to roadways and railways, but to our region’s marine highways, which
will carry massive amounts of cargo and people.
Shoreline infrastructure will have to scale down and increase in capacity, and be nimble in its response to rising sea levels and more violent storms. It will have to be accessible to smaller, more numerous vessels on a preserved and restored Working Waterfront that is socially and culturally integral to the communities and our ‘sense of place” and include:
Charging stations for electric and electric hybrid vessels, flood-proof storage and production facilities for biofuels like methane (from sewage treatment plants), biodiesel (from used fryer fat), and hydrogen (created from seawater while sailing vessels are underway).
Waterfront and flood proofed warehouses and trading houses, business that specializes in facilitating transactions between a home country and foreign countries. (A trading house is 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).
Local ship and boat building and repair facilities to support a local fleet,
More accessible customs clearance areas,
More traditional break bulk cranes for bulk, palletized, and bagged cargo,
A new agreement with transport unions to allow ships to load and unload with their own equipment. Working with the Unions to hire and train more people for post carbon longshore work.
A partnership with the region’s Maritime Academies and the Harbor School to retrain mariners and for logistics careers for the new post carbon working waterfront; creating a maritime education center where professional practitioners and apprentices can participate in practical workshops to relearn maritime and Port skills of the past to serve the future.
An endowment for the preservation and utilization of traditional maritime skills and tools, and a traditional knowledge database, library, and pre/post carbon tool, technology, and machinery collection. This activity serves to preserve, restore and promote the re-use of traditional skills.
Establish a Sustainable Working Waterfront Toolkit—enumerating the historical and current uses and economics of New York’s waterfront. The toolkit must include legal, policy, and financing tools which river ports, blue highways and estuarine communities can use to preserve and enhance local and regional port facilities.
Create maritime mixed-use zones where public parks, walkways and bikeways are built in flood zones and are adjacent to and part of a working waterfront.
Advocate for a reduced, less intrusive regulatory role for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Instead, encourage funding to the Corps for partnerships with other agencies, non-profit organizations, and an engaged public for developing, and redeveloping, a sustainable NY Port in a carbon constrained future, including but not limited to working with NY/NJ Baykeeper, the billion oyster project, and the Hudson River Foundation to build oyster reefs for habitat improvement and shoreline protection.
The New Working Waterfront will also:
Create jobs in seafaring, logistics, ship building, harbor maintenance
Revitalize waterfront communities by preserving the working waterfront and
commercial enterprises, while providing more public access and recreation.
Improve regional food production and distribution, linking producers to
Imagining our Working Waterfront, circa 2050
Put simply, the shift from road, rail, and
fossil fuel dependence, to dependence on our region’s extensive network of marine
highways in a low-or-no carbon era, is a “breeze.”
Water-based transportation is just about the
only form of transportation other than the bicycle that requires little or no
roadway maintenance. There are no surfaces to grade or pave, no tracks, no
bridges or trestles to care for. Of course, canals need to be restored and
preserved; navigation channels need to be marked with buoys; locks and
lighthouses need to be manned and maintained. But unlike motorway or railroad
maintenance, these activities don’t require a large industrial base, and are
far less energy-intensive than alternatives.
The 363-mile-long Erie Canal system, linking
the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes, for example, has been continuously operational
and profitable since 1825. The cost of keeping it running is tiny compared to
the cost of equivalent highway mileage and with winters expected to be more
mild the canal may be open year round.
The Hudson, Long Island Sound, the Bays of New
York Harbor, and a significant number of natural and artificial waterways in
the US and Canada comprise the greatest set of transportation assets in the world.
Those marine highways will only see their status grow in a post carbon world —
and the NY/NJ Harbor area is especially blessed with such waterways.
Let’s imagine: It is a hot, humid, late autumn day in 2050. From a high floor in one of lower Manhattan’s surviving skyscrapers, a trading house ship spotter, sees the topmasts of a tall ship entering the Lower Bay. The watcher signals the pilot schooner on post off of what was once Sandy Hook, and waiting Tug Augustin Mouchot a solar powered tug are dispatched to tow the engineless sea-going square rigger to a berth in the new port in the recently completed Gowanus Bay and Erie Basin Harbor with its oyster encrusted seawall created by repurposing concrete and stone from waterfront buildings and piers inundated by rising seas over the last 30 years.
The ship, the Jorne Langelaan, named after the builder of the first of the post carbon Eco-Clippers, has its crew aloft putting a harbor furl on the hemp cloth sails. She carries a mixed cargo of Caribbean fair trade coffee and cocoa beans bound for the region’s roasters and chocolatiers as well as preserved tropical fruits and rum. The Langelaan is looking a little “worse for wear” having skirted the 5th named Atlantic storm of the season. But her New York trained crew of young men and women is in good spirits, looking forward to spending time ashore, and to a few drinks of brew, cider, and spirits locally made and delivered by sloop and schooner from around the region, and to a good meal at a cafe serving up dishes harvested from the Harbor’s new artisan fishery and from oyster beds in shallows created by submerged piers and streets.
A long shore 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 loading of schooners.
Crews on solar electric canal barges and sloops make ready to transfer cargo
from the Langelaan to their holds,
and to carry that cargo to ports up and down the Hudson River, to the newly
opened Delaware and Raritan, and Delaware and Hudson Canals, coastal New
Jersey, Long Island, and New England.
The Pilot Schooner comes
alongside the Langelaan and the pilot
goes up the ladder to the helm to direct the square rigger to its destination. Customs
agents sail from Staten Island to clear the cargo.
A huge tarred manila hemp hawser
is passed to the ship from the tug and the last few miles to port pass under
the clipper’s hull. The docking pilot skillfully moves the ship to the dock
while the Clipper’s crew readies the ship’s gear, opening hatches, and starting
up a steam winch that will do most of the lifting. There are also floating
cargo cranes that can be used for cargo heavier or bulkier than can be handled
by the ship’s gear.
This (s)low tech port makes
the best use of tried and true 19th century technology, supported
with 21st century solar and battery electric gear and vehicles. More
people are at work on the waterfront than any time since the 1920s; there are
more warehouses and trading houses, ship building, repair facilities, and docking
facilities than at any time in New York’s nautical history.
Just behind the waterfront
are sail and rope makers utilizing New York hemp; forges and foundries using
concentrated solar heat to form steel and bronze fittings. Riggers are hard at
work in rope walks making running rigging and dock lines for the numerous
sailing ships. Dry docks and shipyards look out on bikeways and walkways
circumscribing the tidal flats from which hundreds of locals and tourists watch
the port activity — safe in the knowledge that food and goods continue to come
into the city, not “just in time,” but perhaps just enough.
This narrative offers a positive look forward at the New York Port at mid-century. But that optimistic future totally depends on the will to make it so. Should we pursue politics and policy as usual, we may face a grimmer New York waterfront in 2050: Abandoned, flooded, mouldering buildings and piers; failing, low-lying sewage treatment plants and electric utilities; climate change and rising sea-driven New York City migrants crowding upstate communities seeking food and shelter; a polluted, fish empty estuary as oil and chemical plants go underwater. Food and fuel become too expensive except for the very wealthy; Crime and violence escalating, as are protests and riots bordering on insurrection, hard for law enforcement to contain; The City becomes more and more ungovernable, and faces a dark future bounded by economic gloom and rising water.
The choice is ours. The
path to a bright, sustainable future starts with this process of city-wide
community engagement, and a research gathering effort that seeks input on a Working
Waterfront. A good first step is being taken to better inform the waterfront
The next step will be even more critical: to
take all of the information gathered, and 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 than just convene. We
must inspire individuals, communities, local leaders, city and state governments
to commit to creating a thriving, post carbon Working Waterfront. 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.
knowledge is in danger and its disappearance would not only cause
the loss of people’s capability to keep and pass on the artistic and
natural heritage, but also of an extraordinary source of knowledge and
cultural diversity from which the appropriate innovation solutions can be
derived today and in the future.
Lewis Mumford wrote in
1970, “The great feat of medieval technics was that it was able to promote
and absorb many important changes without losing the immense carryover of
inventions and skill from earlier cultures. In this lies one of it vital point
of superiority over the modern mode of monotechnics, which boast of
effacing, as fast and as far as possible, the technical achievements of
Slow Money, Slow Food, and Slow Tech
“ …..just as the last 10 years or so have brought people greater awareness about the provenance of their food, we believe this is the moment to move people towards a greater understanding of their technology.”
Slow Money is a movement to organize investors and donors to steer new sources of capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and local food systems. The Slow Foodmovement aims to preserve cultural cuisine and in so doing to preserve the food plants and seeds, domestic animals and farming within an eco-region. It is also a social and political movement that resists the dehumanizing effects of fast food and corporate farming. Slow Tech is about the re-invigoration of heirloom technologies and traditional skills needed to thrive in a carbon-constrained future.
Transition and Permaculture
Transition is the movement by which people are re-skilled in heirloom technologies. Permaculture gave birth to the Transition movement and offers guidance on how to use those skills to design resilient lives. The ethics; earth care, people care, and fair share form the foundation for Permaculture and are also found in most traditional societies.
Transition fosters and supports the revitalization of Slow Tech skills and Permaculture asks us to consider relearning the proficiency needed to reanimate wind mills, watermills, and sailing vessel while putting hand tools, levers, and blocks and tackle back into service.
Permaculture incorporates knowledge from cultures that have existed in balance with their environment for much longer than our consumer centered fossil fueled society. We should not ignore the positive accomplishments of modern times, but in the transition to a sustainable future, we need to consider values and concepts different from what has become the social norm.
Milton Dixon, interviewed in The (Chicago) Examiner, May 2011, said: “(high tech is) industrial technology
and refers to things that are out of your control, as opposed to low
technology, which is simple things done in a smart way. (S)Low technology is using
the intelligence of nature to accomplish tasks. High technology is buying
an apple from the store; low technology is getting an apple from a tree you
planted yourself. One of the big differences is in high technology you are
disconnected from cause and effect relationships. So if you pollute through
high technology, you may not feel the direct result. Low technology is
connection because you are involved in the process and you are directly
affected by the consequences.”
The idea of Slow Technology has its roots in the ideological movement called “appropriate technology,” a term coined by E.F. Schumacher in his book “Small is Beautiful,” first published in 1973. Slow or appropriate technology centers on ideas of proper scale: technology should be “people-centered.” “Slow technology as an ideology that extends thoughtfulness about how devices shape our relationships to time, emotion and energy. Slow Technology is articulated in an article about the concept written about by two Swedish designers, Lars Hallnas and Johan Redstrom, who in 2001 described Slow Technology as “a design agenda for technology aimed at reflection and moments of mental rest rather than efficiency in performance.” The two also said, “The appropriate technology movement has at its philosophical heart the desire to capacitate people of all walks of life to create (1) Meaningful Employment, (2) Comprehension of Technology, (3) Self-Reliance, and (4) Reduced Environmental Impacts.”
It takes time to understand why it works the way it works,
It takes time to apply it
It takes time to see what it is
and it takes time to find out the consequences of using it
Slow Tech Practice:
No woodworker’s first project is a chair, a house, or a boat. My first lesson in woodworking was to take a piece of rough lumber, and using hand tools, shape it into a three dimensional absolutely square finished piece of wood. It took me a full day and I used every tool on my bench.
Once my practice was established I developed a method that worked for
me. First I sat with a piece of tracing paper and did a rough sketch of
the final product. Then I drew it full scale in three views. From
that drawing I could determine what amount of wood was needed, where each joint
would go, and how the pieces would transition from one to another to create an
aesthetically pleasing whole. Then the sawing, planing, joinery, shaping,
and finishing would take place. Each of those steps were learned by
doing, learning from others, by using traditional references, and knowing that
the dimensions and materials were appropriate for the final use.
I was lucky both to have mentors and to have the time to hone my skills first as a student of Alan Lazarus at Virginia Commonwealth University and then as a resident woodworker at Peters Valley Craft Center in New Jersey. Peters Valley gave me the opportunity, and the time, to learn the business, practice my craft, and teach. It also was a community of like-minded professional potters, weavers, metal workers, and woodworkers that supported one another.
If we are to learn the skills necessary to survive and thrive in a post carbon world, more places like Peters Valley will be necessary, more experienced craft workers will have to open their shops to apprentices, and more people are going to have to be willing to take the time, resources, and effort to learn.
In future posts I will talk about preserving other skills and tools to
serve a post carbon future such as building and restoring water and wind mills,
wooden boat building, repair and restoration, artisanal fishing, farming, and “future
schools and apprentice shops for learning large-scale woodworking and metal
working skills that are and will be needed for Slow Tech water-driven mills,
and wind-driven vessels that will be part of the continuum that supersedes the
“blip” of petroleum powered short term thinking and consumption.
The following are some links to the resources, books, skills, and techniques that are needed to adapt to carbon constrained future that is resilient, abundant, and equitable.
Let the following lists of links and books be a starting point – an opportunity to contribute your own favorite sites, books, drawings, and especially experiences with humans with these skills. Perhaps this list can be the beginning of a Traditional Knowledge Database that will gather and protect historical knowledge and promote innovative practices based on traditional skills.
Despite its present dominance, our
current logistics system engaged in moving people and goods from place to place
is fragile. It is reliant upon carbon-based fuels driving internal combustion
engines. It is interwoven into long-distance, globalized world trade. It is
designed for Just-In-Time delivery. And it depends upon its present ability to
avoid paying for negative externalities such as carbon emissions and environmental
pollution, and to avoid being governed by meaningful labor, environmental,
health, and other laws. The World Economic Forum determined in 2018 that if
shipping were a country, it would be the world’s sixth-biggest greenhouse gas
There are serious doubts as to the capacity of the current system to
adapt to structural changes in the status quo. The political context is
changing and, in some regions, unstable. Carbon pricing regimes are likely to
arrive in the coming years, which will raise prices for carbon-based fuels and
for producing goods.
Warming is undermining agriculture and fishing in many regions, and
other economic sectors may be affected. Climate-triggered conflict is already
causing mass migration, which is in turn improving the political fortunes of
nativist political groups, which is already straining the current world trade
model. These trends and unpredictable new shocks are certain to strain the
system in the coming years and decades. As an increasing number of sectors act
on the need to reduce carbon emissions and an increasing number of policies and
strains make carbon prices higher and more volatile, the question is whether
local, national, and global economies are prepared.
Better than asking whether we will be
prepared is knowing that changes both predicted and unpredicted are happening
and more are on the way—and then asking how we should prepare.
How can a new approach to transportation logistics be developed that is
resilient to the climate emergency and the resulting changes in the economic
landscape, one that stands some chance of preserving some of our current
standard of living for future generations, one that is also equitable,
inclusive, and just in delivering the benefits of the new system and whatever
version of shipping and trade is to come for future decades and generations?
To answer these questions, we have created the Center for Post Carbon Logistics (CPCL), Our approach is to identify new—and old—technologies, skills, economic models, and regulatory and logistics practices that will serve the future.
Locally, CPCL will model, implement, and evaluate the development of these global practices. One aspect of this will be to build partnerships with local governments, businesses, economic and community development organizations, and nonprofits to develop new, resilient “working waterfronts” that will facilitate regional waterborne shipping, connecting goods to low-carbon first and last-mile delivery modes and creating economic opportunity and jobs. CPCL’s local pilot projects in the Hudson Valley will bring direct local benefits while providing insights to be disseminated widely for locally-tailored replication elsewhere.
CPCL will also build a central library and database collecting low- and
zero-carbon techniques, skills, and tools for shipbuilding, rigging, ship
loading, port operations, warehousing, trading houses, and first and last-mile
Researchers will collect these practices. Existing skills and tools that
are at risk of being lost will be preserved. To build a community of practice,
CPCL will provide training and apprenticeship programs with participating
partners, developing the necessary local workforce and catalyzing job creation.
CPCL will also disseminate the knowledge that it creates and preserves, exhibit
at and host regional, national, and international conferences on post carbon
logistics and sail freight. It will partner with Hudson Valley institutions to
host exhibits for the public.
The climate crisis is already here, and even though the exact timing is
not yet obvious, it is clear that the contemporary logistics system will have
to adapt. In the Hudson Valley, local farmers and food processors, distillers,
brewers, and cider makers, are already looking for low carbon ways to move their
goods beyond the local market; there are practitioners who are ready and
willing to pass on their knowledge; local governments are desperate to find new
economic development strategies; and consumers are hungry for lower
carbon-footprint goods. These are the challenges and opportunities in which the
Center for Post Carbon Logistics will engage.
Before the Industrial Revolution, people adjusted
their energy demand to a variable energy supply. Our global trade and transport
system — which relied on sail boats — operated only when the wind blew, as
did the mills that supplied our food and powered many manufacturing
The same approach could be very useful today,
especially when improved by modern technology. In particular, factories and
cargo transportation — such as ships and even trains — could be operated only
when renewable energy is available. Adjusting energy demand to supply
would make switching to renewable energy much more realistic than it is today.
Renewable Energy in Pre-Industrial
Before the Industrial Revolution, both industry and
transportation were largely dependent on intermittent renewable energy sources.
Water mills, windmills and sailing boats have been in use since Antiquity, but
the Europeans brought these technologies to full development from the 1400s
At their peak, right before the Industrial
Revolution took off, there were an estimated 200,000
wind powered mills and 500,000 water powered mills in
Europe. Initially, water mills and windmills were mainly used for grinding
grain, a laborious task that had been done by hand for many centuries, first
with the aid of stones and later with a rotary hand mill.
However, soon water and wind powered mills were
adapted to industrial processes like sawing wood, polishing glass, making
paper, boring pipes, cutting marble, slitting metal, sharpening knives,
crushing chalk, grinding mortar, making gunpowder, minting coins, and so on. [1-3]
Wind- and water mills also processed a host of agricultural products. They were
pressing olives, hulling barley and rice, grinding spices and tobacco, and
crushing linseed, rapeseed and hempseed for cooking and lighting.
Even though it relied on intermittent
wind sources, international trade was crucial to many European economies before
the Industrial Revolution.
So-called ‘industrial water mills’ had been used in
Antiquity and were widely adopted in Europe by the fifteenth century, but
‘industrial windmills’ appeared only in the 1600s in the Netherlands, a country
that took wind power to the extreme. The Dutch even applied wind power to
reclaim land from the sea, and the whole country was kept dry by intermittently
operating wind mills until 1850. [1-3]
The use of wind power for transportation – in the
form of the sailboat – also boomed from the 1500s onwards, when Europeans
‘discovered’ new lands. Wind powered transportation supported a robust, diverse
and ever expanding international trading system in both bulk goods (such as
grain, wine, wood, metals, ceramics, and preserved fish), luxury items
(such as precious metals, furs, spices, ivory, silks, and medicin) and human
Even though it relied on intermittent wind sources,
international trade was crucial to many European economies. For example, the
Dutch shipbuilding industry, which was centred around some 450 wind-powered saw
mills, imported virtually all its naval stores from the Baltic: wood, tar,
iron, hemp and flax. Even the food supply could depend on wind-powered
transportation. Towards the end of the 1500s, the Dutch imported two
thousand shiploads of grain per year from Gdansk. 
Sailboats were also important for fishing.
Dealing with Intermittency in
Although variable renewable energy sources were
critical to European society for some 500 years before fossil fuels took over,
there were no chemical batteries, no electric transmission lines, and no
balancing capacity of fossil fuel power plants to deal with the variable energy
output of wind and water power. So, how did our ancestors deal
with the large variability of renewable power sources?
To some extent, they were counting on technological
solutions to match energy supply to energy demand, just as we do today. The
water level in a river depends on the weather and the seasons. Boat mills and bridge mills were
among the earliest technological fixes to this problem. They went up and down
with the water level, which allowed them to maintain a more predictable
operating regime. [1-2]
To some extent, our ancestors were
counting on technological solutions to match energy supply to energy demand,
just as we do today.
However, water power could also be stored for later
use. Starting in the middle ages, dams were built to create mill ponds, a form
of energy storage that’s similar to today’s hydropower reservoirs. The storage
reservoirs evened out the flow of streams and insured that water was available
when it was needed.  
But rivers could still dry out or freeze over for
prolonged periods, rendering dams and adjustable water wheels useless.
Furthermore, when one counted on windmills, no such technological fixes were
available.  [6-7]
A technological solution to the intermittency of
both water and wind power was the ‘beast mill’ or ‘horse mill’.  In
contrast to wind and water power, horses, donkeys or oxen could be counted on
to supply power whenever it was required. However, beast mills were
expensive and energy inefficient to operate: feeding a horse required a land
area capable of feeding eight humans.  Consequently, the use of animal
power in large-scale manufacturing processes was rare. Beast mills were mostly
used for the milling of grain or as a power source in small workshop settings,
using draft animals. 
Obviously, beast mills were not a viable backup
power source for sailing ships either. In principle, sailing boats could revert
to human power when wind was not available. However, a sufficiently large
rowing crew needed extra water and food, which would have limited the range of
the ship, or its cargo capacity. Therefore, rowing was mainly restricted to
battleships and smaller boats.
Adjusting Demand to Supply: Factories
Because of their limited technological options for
dealing with the variability of renewable energy sources, our ancestors mainly
resorted to a strategy that we have largely forgotten about: they adapted their
energy demand to the variable energy supply. In other words, they accepted that
renewable energy was not always available and acted accordingly. For example,
windmills and sailboats were simply not operated when there was no wind.
In industrial windmills, work was done whenever the
wind blew, even if that meant that the miller had to work night and day, taking
only short naps. For example, a document reveals that at the Union Mill in
Cranbrook, England, the miller once had only three hours sleep during a windy
period lasting 60 hours.  A 1957 book about windmills, partly based on
interviews with the last surviving millers, reveals the urgency of using wind
when it was available:
Often enough when the wind blew in autumn, the
miller would work from Sunday midnight to Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning to
Thursday night, and Friday morning to Saturday midnight, taking only a few
snatches of sleep; and a good windmiller always woke up in bed when the wind
rose, getting up in the middle of the night to set the mill going, because the
wind was his taskmaster and must be taken advantage of whenever it blew. Many a
village has at times gone short of wheaten bread because the local mill was
becalmed in a waterless district before the invention of the steam engine; and
barley-meal bread or even potato bread had to suffice in the crisis of a
windless autumn. 
In earlier, more conservative times, the miller was
punished for working on Sunday, but he didn’t always care. When a protest
against Sunday work was made to Mr. Wade of Wicklewood towermill, Norfolk, he
retorted: “If the Lord is good enough to send me wind on a Sunday, I’m
going to use it”.  On the other hand, when there was no wind,
millers did other work, like maintaining their machinery, or took time off.
Noah Edwards, the last miller of Arkley tower mill, Hertfordshire, would “sit
on the fan stage of a fine evening and play his fiddle”. 
Adjusting Demand to Supply: Sailboats
A similar approach existed for overseas travel,
using sail boats. When there was no wind, sailors stayed ashore, maintained and
repaired their ships, or did other things. They planned their trips according
to the seasons, making use of favourable seasonal winds and currents. Winds at
sea are not only much stronger than those over land, but also more predictable.
Sailors planned their trips according
to the seasons, making use of favourable seasonal winds and currents.
The lower atmosphere of the planet is encircled by
six major wind belts, three in each hemisphere. From Equator to poles these
‘prevailing winds’ are the trade winds, the westerlies, and the easterlies. The
six wind belts move north in the northern summer and south in the northern
winter. Five major sea current gyres are correlated with the dominant wind
Gradually, European sailors deciphered the global
pattern of winds and currents and took full advantage of them to establish new
sea routes all over the world. By the 1500s, Christopher Columbus had figured
out that the combination of trade winds and westerlies enabled a
round-trip route for sailing ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
The trade winds reach their northernmost latitude
at or after the end of the northern summer, bringing them in reach of Spain and
Portugal. These summer trade winds made it easy to sail from Southern
Europe to the Caribbean and South America, because the wind was blowing in that
direction along the route.
Taking the same route back would be nearly
impossible. However, Iberian sailors first sailed north to catch the
westerlies, which reach their southernmost location at or after the end of
winter and carried the sailors straight back to Southern Europe. In the 1560s,
Basque explorer Andrés de Urdaneta discovered a similar round-trip route in the
Pacific Ocean. 
The use of favourable winds made
travel times of sailboats relatively reliable. The fastest Atlantic crossing
was 21 days, the slowest 29 days.
The use of favourable winds made the travel times
of sailboats relatively predictable. Ocean Passages for the Worldmentions
that typical passage times from New York to the English Channel for a mid-19th
to early 20th century sailing vessel was 25 to 30 days. From 1818 to 1832, the
fastest crossing was 21 days, the slowest 29 days. 
The journey from the English Channel to New York
took 35-40 days in winter and 40-50 days in summer. To Cape Town, Melbourne,
and Calcutta took 50-60 days, 80-90 days, and 100-120 days, respectively. 
These travel times are double to triple those of today’s container ships,
their speed based on oil prices and economic demand.
Old Approach, New Technology
As a strategy to deal with variable energy sources,
adjusting energy demand to renewable energy supply is just as valuable a
solution today as it was in pre-industrial times. However, this does not
mean that we need to go back to pre-industrial means. We have better technology
available, which makes it much easier to synchronise the economic demands with
the vagaries of the weather.
In the following paragraphs, I investigate in more
detail how industry and transportation could be operated on variable energy
sources alone, and demonstrate how new technologies open new possibilities. I
then conclude by analysing the effects on consumers, workers, and economic
On a global scale, industrial manufacturing
accounts for nearly half of all energy end use. Many mechanical processes that
were run by windmills are still important today, such as sawing, cutting,
boring, drilling, crushing, hammering, sharpening, polishing, milling, turning,
and so on. All these production processes can be run with an intermittent power
The same goes for food production processes
(mincing, grinding or hulling grains, pressing olives and seeds), mining and excavation
(picking and shovelling, rock and ore crushing), or textile production (fulling
cloth, preparing fibres, knitting and weaving). In all these examples,
intermittent energy input does not affect the quality of the production
process, only the production speed.
Many production processes are not
strongly disadvantaged by an intermittent power supply.
Running these processes on variable power sources
has become a lot easier than it was in earlier times. For one thing, wind power
plants are now completely automated, while the traditional windmill required
constant attention. 
However, not only are wind turbines (and water
turbines) more practical and powerful than in earlier times, we can now make
use of solar energy to produce mechanical energy. This is usually done
with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight into electricity to
run an electric motor.
Consequently, a factory that requires mechanical
energy can be run on a combination of wind and solar power, which increases the
chances that there’s sufficient energy to run its machinery. The ability
to harvest solar energy is important because it’s by far the most widely
available renewable power source. Most of the potential capacity for water
power is already taken. 
Another crucial difference with pre-industrial
times is that we can apply the same strategy to basic industrial processes that
require thermal energy instead of mechanical energy. Heat dominates industrial
energy use, for instance, in the making of chemicals or microchips, or in the
smelting of metals.
In pre-industrial times, manufacturing processes
that required thermal energy were powered by the burning of biomass, peat
and/or coal. The use of these energy sources caused grave problems, such
deforestation, loss of land, and air pollution.
Although solar energy was used in earlier times, for instance, to evaporate
salt along seashores, to dry crops for preservation, or to sunbake clay bricks,
its use was limited to processes that required relatively low temperatures.
We can apply the same strategy to
basic industrial processes that require thermal energy instead of mechanical
energy, which was not possible before the Industrial Revolution.
Today, renewable energy other than biomass can be
used to produce thermal energy in two ways. First, we can use wind turbines,
water turbines or solar PV panels to produce electricity, which can then be
used to produce heat by electrical resistance. This was not possible in
pre-industrial times, because there was no electricity.
Second, we can apply solar heat directly, using
water-based flat plate collectors or evacuated tube collectors, which collect
solar radiation from all directions and can reach temperatures of 120 degrees
celsius. We also have solar concentrator collectors, which track the sun,
concentrate its radiation, and can generate temperatures high
enough to melt metals or produce microchips and solar cells. These
solar technologies only became available in the late 19th century, following
advances in the manufacturing of glass and mirrors.
Limited Energy Storage
Running factories on variable power sources doesn’t
exclude the use of energy storage or a backup of dispatchable power plants.
Adjusting demand to supply should take priority, but other
strategies can play a supportive role. First, energy
storage or backup power generation capacity could be useful for critical
production processes that can’t be halted for prolonged periods, such as food
Second, short-term energy storage is also useful to
run production processes that are disadvantaged by an intermittent power
supply.  Third, short-term energy storage is crucial for
computer-controlled manufacturing processes, allowing these to continue
operating during short interruptions in the power supply, and to shut down
safely in case of longer power cuts. 
Compared to pre-industrial times, we now have more
and better energy storage options available. For example, we can use biomass as
a backup power source for mechanical energy production, something
pre-industrial millers could not do – before the arrival of the steam engine,
there was no way of converting biomass into mechanical energy.
Before the arrival of the steam
engine, there was no way of converting biomass into mechanical energy.
We also have chemical batteries, and we have
low-tech systems like flywheels, compressed air storage, hydraulic
accumulators, and pumped storage plants. Heat energy can be stored in
well-insulated water reservoirs (up to 100 degrees) or in salt, oil or ceramics
(for much higher temperatures). All these storage solutions would fail for some
reason or another if they were tasked with storing a large share of renewable
energy production. However, they can be very useful on a smaller scale in
support of demand adjustment.
The New Age of Sail
Cargo transportation is another candidate for using
renewable power when it’s available. This is most obvious for shipping. Ships
still carry about 90 percent of the world’s trade, and although shipping is the
most energy efficient way of transportation per tonne-kilometre, total energy
use is high and today’s oil powered vessels are extremely polluting.
A common high-tech idea is to install wind turbines
off-shore, convert the electricity they generate into hydrogen, and then use
that hydrogen to power seagoing vessels. However, it’s much more practical and
energy efficient to use wind to power ships directly, like we have done for
thousands of years. Furthermore, oil powered cargo ships often float idle
for days or even weeks before they can enter a port or leave it, which makes
the relative unpredictability of sailboats less problematic.
It’s much more practical and energy
efficient to use wind to power ships directly.
As with industrial manufacturing, we now have much
better technology and knowledge available to base a worldwide shipping industry
on wind power alone. We have new materials to build better and
longer-lasting ships and sails, we have more accurate navigation and
communication instruments, we have more predictable weather forecasts,
we can make use of solar panels for backup engine power, and we have more
detailed knowledge about winds and currents.
In fact, the global wind and current patterns were
only fully understood when the age of sail was almost over. Between 1842 and
1861, American navigator Matthew Fontaine Maury collected an extensive array of
ship logs which enabled him to chart prevailing winds and sea currents, as well
as their seasonal variations. 
Maury’s work enabled seafarers to shorten sailing
time considerably, by simply taking better advantage of prevailing winds and
sea currents. For instance, a journey from New York to Rio de Janeiro was
reduced from 55 to 23 days, while the duration of a trip from Melbourne to
Liverpool was halved, from 126 to 63 days. 
More recently, yacht racing has generated many innovations
that have never been applied to commercial shipping. For example, in the 2017
America’s Cup, the Emirates Team New Zealand introduced stationary bikes
instead of hand cranks to power the hydraulic system that steers the boat.
Because our legs are stronger than our arms, pedal powered ‘grinding’ allows
for quicker tacking and gybing in a race, but it could also be useful to reduce
the required manpower for commercial sailing ships. 
Speed sailing records are also telling. The fastest
sailboat in 1972 did not even reach 50 km/h, while the current record holder —
the Vestas Sailrocket 2 — sailed at 121 km/h in 2012. While these types of
ships are not practical to carry cargo, they could inspire other designs that
Wind & Solar Powered Trains
We could follow a similar approach for land-based
transportation, in the form of wind and solar powered trains. Like sailing
boats, trains could be running whenever there is renewable energy available.
Not by putting sails on trains, of course, but by running them on electricity
made by solar PV panels or wind turbines along the tracks. This would be an
entirely new application of a centuries-old strategy to deal with variable
energy sources, only made possible by the invention of electricity.
Wind and solar powered trains would
be an entirely new application of a centuries-old strategy to deal with
variable energy sources.
Running cargo trains on renewable energy is a great
use of intermittent wind power because they are usually operated at night, when
wind power is often at its best and energy demand is at its lowest.
Furthermore, just like cargo ships, cargo trains already have unreliable
schedules because they often sit stationary in train-yards for days, waiting to
become fully loaded.
Even the speed of the trains could be regulated by
the amount of renewable energy that is available, just as the wind speed
determines the speed of a sailing ship. A similar approach could also work with
other electrical transportation systems, such as trolleytrucks, trolleyboats or aerial
Combining solar and wind powered cargo trains with
solar and wind powered factories creates extra possibilities. For example, at
first sight, solar or wind powered passenger trains appear to be impossible,
because people are less flexible than goods. If a solar powered train is not
running or is running too slow, an appointment may have to be rescheduled at
the last minute. Likewise, on cloudy days, few people would make it to the
However, this could be solved by using the same
renewable power sources for factories and passenger trains. Solar panels along
the railway lines could be sized for cloudy days, and thus guarantee a minimum
level of energy for a minimum service of passenger trains (but no industrial
production). During sunny days, the extra solar power could be used to run the
factories along the railway line, or to run extra passenger (or cargo) trains.
Consequences for Society: Consumption
As we’ve seen, if industrial production and cargo
transportation became dependent on the availability of renewable energy, we
would still be able to produce a diverse range of consumer goods, and
transport them all over the globe. However, not all products would be available
all the time. If I want to buy new shoes, I might have to wait for the right
season to get them manufactured and delivered.
Production and consumption would depend on the
weather and the seasons. Solar powered factories would have higher production
rates in the summer months, while wind powered factories would have higher
production rates in the winter months. Sailing seasons also need to be taken
If I want to buy new shoes, I might
have to wait for the right season to get them manufactured and delivered.
But running an economy on the rhythms of the
weather doesn’t necessarily mean that production and consumption rates would go
down. If factories and cargo transportation adjust their energy use to the
weather, they can use the full annual power production of wind turbines and
Manufacturers could counter seasonal production
shortages by producing items ‘in season’ and then stocking it close to
consumers for sale during low energy periods. In fact, the products themselves
would become ‘energy storage’ in this scenario. Instead of storing energy to
manufacture products in the future, we would manufacture products whenever
there is energy available, and store the products for later sale instead.
However, seasonal production may well lead to lower
production and consumption rates. Overproducing in high energy times requires
large production facilities and warehouses, which would be underused for
the rest of the year. To produce cost-efficiently, manufacturers will need to
make compromises. From time to time, these compromises will lead to product
shortages, which in turn could encourage people to consider other solutions,
such as repair and re-use of existing products, crafted products, DIY, or
exchanging and sharing goods.
Consequences for the Workforce
Adjusting energy demand to energy supply also
implies that the workforce adapts to the weather. If a factory runs on solar
power, then the availability of power corresponds very well with human rhythms.
The only downside is that workers would be free from work especially in winter
and on cloudy days.
However, if a factory or a cargo train runs on wind
power, then people will also have to work during the night, which is considered
unhealthy. The upside is that they would have holidays in summer and on good
If a factory or a transportation system is operated
by wind or solar energy alone, workers would also have to deal with uncertainty
about their work schedules. Although we have much better weather forecasts than
in pre-industrial times, it remains difficult to make accurate predictions more
than a few days ahead.
However, it is not only renewable power plants that
are now completely automated. The same goes for factories. The last century has
seen increasing automation of production processes, based on computers and
robots. So-called “dark factories” are already completely automated (they need
no lights because there is nobody there).
It’s not only renewable power plants
that are now completely automated. The same goes for factories.
If a factory has no workers, it doesn’t matter when
it’s running. Furthermore, many factories already run for 24 hours per day,
partly operated by millions of night shift workers. In these cases, night work
would actually decrease because these factories will only run through the night
if it’s windy.
Finally, we could also limit the main share of
industrial manufacturing and railway transportation to normal working hours,
and curtail the oversupply during the night. In this scenario, we would simply
have less material goods and more holidays. On the other hand, there would be
an increased need for other types of jobs, like craftsmanship and sailing.
What About the Internet?
In conclusion, industrial manufacturing and cargo
transportation — both over land and over sea — could be run almost entirely
on variable renewable power sources, with little need for energy storage,
transmission networks, balancing capacity or overbuilding renewable power
plants. In contrast, the modern high-tech approach of matching energy supply to
energy demand at all times requires a lot of extra infrastructure which makes
renewable power production a complex,
slow, expensive and unsustainable undertaking.
Adjusting energy demand to supply would make
switching to renewable energy much more realistic than it is today. There
would be no curtailment of energy, and no storage and transmission losses. All
the energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines would be used on the spot
and nothing would go to waste.
Admittedly, adjusting energy demand to energy
supply can be less straightforward in other sectors. Although the internet
could be entirely operated on variable power sources — using asynchronous
networks and delay-tolerant software — many newer internet applications
would then disappear.
At home, we probably can’t expect people to sit in
the dark or not to cook meals when there is no renewable energy. Likewise,
people will not come to hospitals only on sunny days. In such instances, there
is a larger need for energy storage or other measures to counter an
intermittent power supply. That’s for a next post.
Kris De Decker. Edited by Jenna Collett.
Part of the research for this article happened
during a fellowship at the Demand Centre, Lancaster, UK.
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 One of the earliest large hydropower dams
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the 18th century, the largest dams were up to 260 m long and 25 m high, with
power canals leading to dozens of water wheels. 
 Although windmills had all kinds of
internal mechanisms to adapt to sudden changes in wind speed and wind
direction, wind power had no counterpart for the dam in water power.
 This explains why windmills became especially
important in regions with dry climates, in flat countries, or in very cold
areas, where water power was not available. In countries with good water
resources, windmills only appeared when the increased demand for power created
a crisis because the best waterpower sites were already occupied.
 Tide mills were technically similar to
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out, freeze over, or change its water level than a river.
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 The global wind pattern is complemented
by regional wind patterns, such as land and sea breezes. The Northern Indian
Ocean has semi-annually reversing Monsoon winds. These blow from the southwest
from June to November, and from the northeast from December to May. Maritime trade
in the Indian Ocean started earlier than in other seas, and the established
trade routes were entirely dependent on the season.
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world.” The Royal Navy, Somerset (1973).
 Windmillers had to be alert to keep the
gap between the stones constant however choppy the wind, and before the days of
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power of the wind, to judge how much sail cloth to spread, and to be prepared
to stop the mill under sail and either take in or let out more cloth, for
there were no patent sails. And before the fantail came into use, he had to
watch the direction of the wind as well and keep the sails square into the
wind’s eye. 
 A similar distinction was made in the old
days. For example, when spinning cloth, a constant speed was required to avoid
gearwheels hunting and causing the machines to deliver thick and thin parts in
rovings or yarns.  That’s why spinning was only mechanised using
water power, which could be stored to guarantee a more regular power supply, and
not wind power. Wind power was also unsuited for processes like papermaking,
mine haulage, or operating blast furnace bellows in ironworks.
 Very short-term energy storage is
required for many mechanical production processes running on variable power
sources, in order to smooth out small and sudden variations in energy supply.
Such mechanical systems were already used in pre-industrial windmills.
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