Thrivability: A Collaborative Sketch

This is a collection of essays and images crafting a “topography for thriving.” Beyond ideas of personal hardship and sacrifice, towards a mindset of abundance and caring for our planet and society.

It includes contributions by Lonny Grafman (President of the Appropedia Foundation), myself, plus Michel Bauwens, Clay Shirky, Gil Friend and around 60 other thinkers whose work deserves to be better known. Jean Russell, an inspiring ambassador for the concept of Thrivability, herded and encouraged us in our contributions, and curated the work.

The best way to view the book is through the slideshow, above, but there is also a PDF version.

Thank you Jean!

From the cradle of civilization to global collaboration

The birthplace of civilization (at least based on the clearest evidence we have) was in population centers based in abundant agricultural lands, at the crossroads of moving groups of varying ethnicities:  the Fertile Crescent, i.e. the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.

This was an exciting development in human development. Cities are culturally dynamic and innovative places. At a critical time in our history, seeking to change the direction of civilization and commit to a zero-carbon or negative carbon economy, we do well to remember this.

Most observers agree that the way forward for Canada lies in achieving a more effective innovation economy, but there is considerably less understanding of the role that cities play in an innovation economy. The reality is that cities are ever more important as sites of production, distribution and innovation around the globe.

via Conference Board Speeches and Op-eds > Innovative economy vital to take cities into the future.

On the other hand, people outside the cities are more connected than ever. So while a city’s face-to-face interactions are great for innovation,  we can still keep track of a project like the Factor-E Farm, where innovative appropriate technologies are being developed in an off-the-grid context that’s forcing them to hard work and creativity to achieve their aims.

There’s no need for a a fiery debate about whether off-the-grid or cities are better. Each have their advantages, and there are different choices for different people – and a thrivable future means having choices. But off-the-grid technologies and the social, creative energy of cities can work together. Social technologies that enable collaboration – of which Appropedia is one example – can bring together the creative forces of cities and physically isolated people.

Not sure if that was coherent or a ramble. But share your thoughts in the comments.

Thrivability 1: Milk

Fake cow by macieklew.

In 1993, the FDA approved the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), otherwise known as bovine somatotropin (rbST), in cows. Farmers inject this synthetic hormone into their animals to increase their milk production. This practice has been banned in Europe, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

via Organic Milk – Hormones rBGH and rbST in Milk – thedailygreen.com.

I’m not going to get into the details of the good and bad of rbST – but the Wikipedia article refers to European Union and Canadian government reports that the use of rBST substantially increases health problems in the cattle. The effect on human health is less clear, it seems, but causing suffering to the animals that produce our food is something I want to avoid.

I also find that organic milk tastes better, and organic dairy farmers seem to pay more attention to the animals’ welfare (if only to get certification and keep their customers happy – that’s how capitalism works, after all). Considering all this, I do now have a strong preference for organic milk, and will go without milk rather than use milk from system that abuses its animals in this way. We’ll see how strong my willpower is. And yes, I already knew they abused the animals, but this brought it home.

There’s a bigger picture here: that’s the question of how we attain abundance. Consumerism might be rejected by us green folks, but having plenty of tasty food to eat is something people around the world aspire to, especially those who don’t have enough.

So, let’s admit we want it – that simple living is fine up to a point, but most of us don’t want to live on a meager diet, or pay through the nose for our staple foods. Let’s ask: can we attain abundance and at the same time protect the world that supports us, and without compromising on issues like humane treatment of animals?

This is not just the better way, it’s the only way. Selling “being hungry and paying through the nose” just doesn’t look promising. Selling thrivability means building and showing a path to change – it’s hard work, but an achievable outcome, and one that we’re continuing to strive for.

How do we achieve this? How we advance towards “thrivability” rather than just sustainability? This is something that we explore together on the wiki, and something that we’ll look at in coming blog posts. Stay tuned!

Photo credit: Fake cow by macieklew, open-licensed underAttributionShare Alike CC-BY-SA

“Encyclopedia of the future”

In the non-mathematical field there is wide scope for the use of [computing] techniques in things such as filing systems. It is not inconceivable that an automatic encyclopaedia service, operated through the national teleprinter or telephone system, will one day exist.

— Trevor Pearcey, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Australia, 1948. Quoted in Electronic Brains: Stories from the Dawn of the Computer Age. Hat tip to the Downlode Etext Library.

Visionary thinking, 53 years before the launch of Wikipedia.

Let’s do some visionary thinking of our own, and expand the kind and amount of knowledge available freely online, and the ways of making it available.

Do you have knowledge or tech skills? Do you want to help expand the freely available, open knowledge that will help build a thrivable world and give us a chance to get us through the climate crisis? contact us by leaving a comment below.

A nourishing and abundant future

The Transition Towns movement began in the UK and is spreading around the world – towns that collectively sign up to transitioning to a net zero carbon economy.

One of the founders, Rob Hopkins, wrote The Transition Handbook, which is now being revamped for the second edition (and you can contribute – it’s a wiki!)

In the Introduction to The Transition Handbook,  writes:

Central to this book is the concept of resilience – familiar to ecologists, but less so to the rest of us. Resilience refers to the ability of a system, from individual people to whole economies, to hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shocks from the outside. This book, The Transition Handbook, argues that in our current (and long overdue) efforts to drastically cut carbon emissions, we must also give equal importance to the building, or more accurately to the rebuilding, of resilience. Indeed, I will argue that cutting emissions without resilience-building is ultimately futile. But what does resilience actually look like?

In 1990 I visited the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, which until the opening of the Karakorum Highway in 1978 had been almost completely cut off from the outside world. When I visited I knew nothing about permaculture, of the concept of resilience, or even a great deal about food, farming or the environment, but I knew when I arrived that this was an extraordinary place.

I found a quote in a book which I read as I travelled up towards Hunza (I no longer remember the title): “If on Earth there is a garden of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this.” They were words that replayed in my head many times over my two weeks in Hunza. Here was a society which lived within its limits and had evolved a dazzlingly sophisticated yet simple way of doing so. All the waste, including human waste, was carefully composted and returned to the land. The terraces which had been built into the mountainsides over centuries were irrigated through a network of channels that brought mineral-rich water from the glacier above down to the fields with astonishing precision.

Apricot trees were everywhere, as well as cherry, apple, almond and other fruit and nut trees. Around and beneath the trees grew potatoes, barley, wheat and other vegetables. The fields were orderly but not regimented. Plants grew in small blocks, rather than in huge monocultures. Being on the side of a mountain, I invariably had to walk up and down hills a great deal, and soon began to feel some of the fitness for which the people of Hunza are famed. The paths were lined with dry stone walls, and were designed for people and animals, not for cars.

People always seemed to have time to stop and talk to each other and spend time with the children who ran barefoot and dusty through the fields. Apricots were harvested and spread out to dry on the rooftops of the houses, a dazzling sight in the bright mountain sun. Buildings were built from locally-made mud bricks, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And there was always the majestic splendour of the mountains towering above. Hunza is quite simply the most beautiful, tranquil, happy and abundant place I have ever visited, before or since.

(Read or edit the complete introduction…)

This is not a book about how dreadful the future could be; rather it is an invitation to join the increasingly whole people in hundreds of communities around the world who are taking the steps towards making a nourishing and abundant future a reality.
Rob Hopkins

Dartington, 2008

This extract and all Transition Handbook pages are released under GFDL and Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike. By contributing to these pages you agree to release you work under these terms.