Engineering as a frontline issue
A critique has recently surfaced against aspects of Energy Accounting, which to some extent is a novelty. Usually, criticisms of the Design have been focused on the technical ability to manage information about the environmental capacity of the entire Earth and the production of our civilization, as well as the issue of incentives. These critiques have been levelled at us by proponents of the current or more radical forms of market capitalism. This time, however, the critique was directed from adherents of the Marxist-Leninist variety of central planning. It is certainly not every day one gets the opportunity to be criticised for unintentionally aiming to wreck the environment by people who in principle find the systems employed during the 20th century in the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, the German Democratic Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Democratic Kampuchea to be steps in the right direction.
Given that, the critique was fair, if we assume that we had intended the production lines to be arranged as the friendly detractor pointed out.
In short, their thesis was that it would be inefficient to give each human being a share of the Earth’s production capacity, and that it would be a logistical and environmental disaster to only produce complex goods when people are actively asking for them to be produced. For example, if an individual should be allocating energy units to a new computer, should then all the mining equipment have been dormant until the request for that computer was made? Should then a special train be commissioned, only to transport that computer to that particular consumer? And should that computer be produced locally?
The critique correctly pointed out that such a logistical chain would be insane. Luckily, that is of course not what we are proposing, though a very literal-minded reading of our article on Energy Accounting (http://eosprojects.com/energy-accounting.html) could certainly give the impression that we intend to throw away millennia of knowledge of how to set up logistical transport systems.
One should not forget that our Design is just a broad outline, not even a proposal but a hypothesis, and that we – not unlike orthodox Marxists of the pre-Lenin variety – do not want or even believe that we in detail can predict or design the system of the future in a detailed manner reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral. Given that, the questions which have arisen from this critique are worthy to ponder on, and why not – when we are able to – provide a more detailed outline of how resource extraction and industrial production may look like under the umbrella of a technate?
That is precisely what we intend to do with this article
- In order for human beings to survive and thrive, human beings need to utilise resources taken from nature.
- Human beings are communitarian animals and tend to use language and organisation to reduce the amount of time and increase the amount of resources which can be extracted. This is the economic aspect of civilization.
- This needs repetition – when we are using surface area of our planet, we are depriving other species of habitats and resources, and thus reducing the biodiversity of the planet. And we must do that in order to survive.
- Our current civilization is built on the compulsion of exponential growth, driven by a system of debt and interest (http://eosprojects.com/what-is-money.html).
- We have developed an alternate system, known as The Design, which is aimed at creating the foundations for a sustainable civilization, by being intrinsically adapted to the Three Criteria (http://eosprojects.com/the-three-criteria-for-sustainable-earth.html).
- One part of Energy Accounting, which is an intrinsic part of the Design, is that the individual users should be able to distribute their energy units to what they want to be produced for themselves, and that no cell-phones, computers, sneakers or furniture for example which people are not actively asking for should be produced.
- The problem of course is that production is a multi-step process, and it would represent a huge problem if for example industrial equipment is used just to produce one sofa set, and one train set to transport the raw materials and the finished product to the specific user. It would in short be a logistical nightmare.
- The critique also misinterpreted our calls for de-centralisation with that we somehow would want every village or town to for example have their own computer factory. That is not the case.
- Regarding mining, one could say that there are two methodologies to combine the need for large-scale benefits (which actually could be positive for the environment) with Energy Accounting. These two methodologies could also be combined.
- The first methodology is to gather all allocation data into bundles and then proceed to initiate the extraction of minerals, wood and other materials at a given time during the energy accounting cycle.
- The second methodology would be to guesstimate the amount of minerals and other materials needed during an accounting period, to gather the resources and allow the users to order, with a steep increase in prices if we run out of reserves.
- Regarding industry, to build numerous small factories to produce identical goods would indeed be a waste of resources and a strain on the transport system. It is very likely that the amount of factories under a technate would be lower, but that production would still be de-centralised.
- Because of the intrinsic nature of production under a technate, the abolishment of the growth incentive and the obsolescence of copyright infringement, factories would no longer need to be the exclusive property of companies, since companies would have less need to guard their secrets.
- The Design is at this point only a hypothesis, and it cannot be stressed enough that it as it currently is constituted should not be taken as a political programme or as a finished plan ready to be implemented. Rather, it should be seen as a sufficiently vague blueprint which establishes a model to which we can approximate our ways of resource management.
We do not plan to individualise production
No one has seriously considered that production and mining should be completely dormant for every second and minute until a new individual order dips in, and that a mining machine only should take up the minuscule amount of gold, silver, iron ore, tin, copper, mercury or titanium which is needed to for example make an alarm clock, and then immediately cease with the extraction and wait for three minutes until someone in China requests a tricycle.
That would be a ludicrous way of administering production, and would probably affect the environment in a way which on the whole is as destructive as the system currently applied over most of the Earth’s territory.
So no, the Design is not envisioned like that. Period.
How then could mining be conducted under the system of Energy Accounting as envisioned by the EOS?
Mining is, generally speaking, a hugely disruptive endeavour for the environment, especially in terms of managing the waste products, which could threaten freshwater reserves and biomes. One especially heart-wrenching event was the 2015 Rio Doce disaster in Brazil, which saw 60 000 tonnes of toxic sludge released into the environment and destroying an entire river.
The second criterion for a sustainable future stipulates a circular economy. This means that materials used within infrastructure and product lines would primarily seek to be made from renewed sources, and that there should be systems in place to regularly recycle discarded products to either make nearly identical products, or towards other kinds of use within the economy. However, it is unlikely that mining will cease to be an important part of our socio-economic system.
A central aspect of Energy Accounting is that costs for operations should be equivalent to their total emergy cost, from the establishment of an operation to its closure, as well as the cost for compensating for negative environmental effects. This will mean that mining operations in general will pay a heftier price for the effects they delve upon their immediate environments and the surrounding hydrosphere.
Another factor, which isn’t necessarily a part of the Design, is derived from our view of rights (http://eosprojects.com/relational-rights-a-new-foundation.html) and from the Ideology (http://eosprojects.com/the-ideology-of-the-third-millennium.html), under which relational rights can be seen as a subcategory species. From our views on rights follow that all things which affect the livelihood of local communities should be under partial or whole influence by said local communities. In short, primary stewardship over natural resources will always primarily be in the hands of the people who live within an area potentially affected by the hypothetical extraction of said natural resource.
Having written that, how would mining be conducted under a Technate?
One could state that there are two main routes to get around this challenge.
The first one relates to the fact that energy units – if we assume that the technate is not anarchistic – are distributed out both to the infrastructure/public sector and to individuals. Mining procedures could theoretically be put under the responsibility of the public sector, even though the individual mining Holons may be operated autonomously, and may get increased resources if they for example manage to improve their environmental footprint. In short, the industry will order a specific amount of stock minerals and other natural resources – timber for example – every year.
In that case, the costs of extraction are compensated through the share of energy units distributed to the public sector.
If we however stipulate that a scarcity of a raw material emerges, then orders for extra production will start to kick in, to a significantly higher cost for the consumers. Thus, the market mechanism – which in a technate is dictated by the environment – would constrict the potential damage. This means there could be potential hikes of costs. For the next accounting period, the user behaviour during the previous accounting period could be taken as an indicator for where things are heading.
The other way, is to go through delayed personal Energy Units, meaning that everyone who orders (for example) personal computers during one period will receive them 4-6 weeks later. This follows the opposite logic, and herein the consumers will pay a higher direct cost (on the other hand, everyone who is not in need of a personal computer will get a higher share of the available Energy Units because under this methodology mining will be considered a part of the user sector).
Both methodologies have benefits and potential setbacks. In the first method, we sacrifice some of the accuracy in the way in which we match supply and demand, for the sake of delivering base materials to Industry in a regular stream. Under the second methodology, consumers would have to wait a longer time to get the products and services they have requested, but we will gain a higher degree of accuracy and probably use a smaller environmental footprint.
Ultimately, probably neither of these two models will be used if the Design is actually implemented, but the end product could well borrow traits from both of these methodologies, in accordance with what is least environmentally damaging and provides the optimal degree of satisfaction amongst the public.
We strive towards an increased amount of resilience. It is not only a matter of ecological sustainability, but of autonomy, security and democracy. In a world with increasingly sophisticated and “smart” electronic systems, it has been shown that centralising the power grid as well as the sewage and heating systems can make communities vulnerable to terrorist attacks conducted by hackers. It is also a question of power – if local communities are in control over their production of food, electricity, heating and their water management systems, their freedom would increase and they would not find themselves in situations where distant actors compel them to changes which are adversarial for them.
It could be easy for one taking texts describing broad outlines and principles instead as detailed instruction manuals to misinterpret these goals as that we want everything to be locally produced. That is not the case, not even for food – as most communities will still import food, though the cost of food – just like every other item, will be determined by the emergy cost of its journey through the production chain. Therefore, the transport costs will measured into the amount of energy units allocated to food imports, but food imports in themselves won’t be sanctioned.
Regarding factory floors, the idea that each community would have small factories which make everything they need is as ludicrous as the previous assumption that mining would only commence immediately when individuals have allocated their Energy Units, and that an excavator would only dig up enough minerals to make one cell-phone.
It is very likely that there will be community workshops and factory floors, which mostly would focus on repairs, maintenance and spare parts for the community infrastructure. These will be accessible to the public and to Holons, and serve a similar but more expanded role as study associations in Sweden, as well as probably a few vital societal functions.
Regarding the production of microchips, bolts and screws, panels, electric gears and other aggregates, as well as finished products, infrastructurally speaking there is an opportunity to move towards fewer but larger factories than we presently have. The reason why fewer is that under a technate, there would be no need for the Holons of Ericsson and Nokia (for example) to have separate factories to make their products. The bottlenecks represented by copyright and the situation when two cell-phones are competing for the same client would evaporate, and therefore there would be no rationality in having separate factories.
The same applies in an even higher degree for micro-components and hardware, which can be modularized. Thus, even if production is reduced as a total – due to the fact that The Design is explicitly made in a manner which doesn’t stimulate exponential growth, which doesn’t reward any indulgencies into immediate-reward consumerism and which doesn’t engage in trying to brainwash consumers to maximise their consumption – the load factor, which means the usage rate of the factory floors will be the same.
Also, it could make environmental sense for such factories to be somewhat centralised, at least in their geographical distribution, as it would – maybe a bit counter-intuitively – lead to less transport overall. That would however most keenly be addressed by the overall tracking of the effects on our global footprints, not by well-meaning planners.
However, in regards of how the factories could operate, while there need to be specific Holons maintaining the infrastructure of the factories, the eventual food intake they need, as well as the supply of electricity, heating and water, the operation of the various industrial functions will most likely be shared by numerous separate, autonomous Holons which strive to supply the users with their demand. And these do not need to conform to any other plan than the constraints of our planetary carrying capacity and the input provided by the allocation of Energy Units.
My analysis of how factories probably are going to work within the framework of a technate is based not on ideological convictions, because I believe that ideology should not dictate structural organisation beyond the scope of guaranteeing human rights and striving towards ecological sustainability, but because we can already see this trend today (for example taxi companies which do not own their own cars, hotel chains which do not own any hotels, and so on). A factory which does not produce anything, but which allows multiple businesses and cooperatives to use its space to produce goods and services, is not unfeasible even under today’s unsustainable system.
There would most likely be regional variations, and no one would be compelled to organise a factory or a mine in a certain manner. Our Design opens up for wide diversity and opportunities for those seeking to adapt further towards sustainability.
Design by Vincent Callebaut
It is true that immediate satiation of consumer needs is not possible to combine with Energy Accounting under the Design, as it currently stands adapted. It is not feasible to just mine resources needed for one individual cell-phone, or just cut down trees when one individual sofa needs to be made. It is also not possible to perfectly match the resource usage with the allocation of Energy Units.
That a Perfect system of Energy Accounting is impossible is however not an argument against the Design, since the Design is not modelled to become a perfect system or an ideal imposed on reality. Reality is complex and messy.
What this article has unfolded is that the distribution of Energy Units can be utilised in various ways, dependent on whether they are distributed to the infrastructure/Holons or to individuals/users, in this case with the example of mining. We have also described how a large factory might work under such a system, focusing on the structural rather than the environmental aspects.
Ultimately, a technate where all Energy Units are distributed directly to all individuals currently is very unlikely and unrealistic to succeed, but a technate operated as a centrally planned economy, where all energy units are distributed to the infrastructural aspects which are tasked with providing for all the needs, would probably degenerate into a static, stratified society ruled by bureaucrats rather than the communities themselves.
The most realistic route to expect is to strike a balance between two extremes of that kind, and to facilitate a good cooperation between the users and the infrastructural elements. It is my personal conviction, however, that we should strive towards maximising the possible autonomy of the individual and the community within the framework of such a system, because a de-centralised, localised civilization with an active, informed population would become more resilient, more dynamic and a place where everyone can readily access the tools to improve their well-being.
The Design is proposing the replacement of the current monetary system with one based on Energy Accounting, which derives its basis from Thermodynamics and its goals from the third criteria. Even though the overwhelming majority of people are agreeing with our three criteria, critique and skepticism is inevitably increasing when we are starting to talk about the proposed adjustments provided by the Design.
Of course, skepticism is well-motivated, especially given that our proposal is a novelty which would transform most of the manners in which we are dealing with resources, and redefine concepts such as property, wealth, profit and trade, which have been established parts of human affairs since before historical records started to emerge. Moreover, the Design has not been exposed to the realities of human society and the economy yet, which is why it needs to undergo field tests and simulations first.
To aid understanding of the concept of Sustainability, this article presents a series of diagrams, theoretical background, examples and engineering guidelines. Sustainability as the scientific approach to production, which understands the variables of it's environment rather than simply exploiting it. Offers a fresh perspective on the design of systems of production, which are better able to serve their purpose and are more economical on the long run. Sustainability is a necessity as well as a logical next step.