Coevolutionary with the Natural World

In The Pentagon of Power, Louis Mumford refers to machines as defective organisms. Mumford observes: "A monotechnics based upon seien-

".elligence and quantitative production, directed mainly toward eco-7 \pansion, material repletion and military superiority has taken the : polvtechnics, based primarily, as in agriculture, on the needs, apti-•_nd interests of living organisms: above all on man himself.'" As his-:>lds in the latter part of the twentieth century, one relatively un-: ;:>< issibility with the greatest promise of maintaining ourselves on _::.ct lies in what could be seen as a partial reversal or step back from '"rhnics—but with a difference. With the age of computers well upon t :»"efficient that marks our time as so different from all preceding > :> the fathomless wealth of information that is available to us. Draw-t.:> resource we would designate a precept that, when possible, hard-tossil-fuel-powered machines be replaced by either information ¿".:>ms or, in a surprising number of cases, a combination of both. To nd be one of the more sophisticated attempts at creating a work-^ between the human and natural worlds.

V.e have described previously a working example of this precept in

- - 7 the bioshelter with its contained living ecosystems made up of a i of organisms. The building and its components are monitored

" 7, ung basis so we can gather as much information as possible from .i-r.ership of organisms and electronics. The expanded possibilities i - -pe of partnership are endless. Such a conjoining represents an

- "H\ for the extension of human intelligence and the intelligence natural systems. Natural systems have a kind of thrift, a built-in i _ _:bilitv, that we have foresworn during the recent, profligate past. --- _-cnera) sense the natural world eschews waste. Unlike a number of r ; h ievements, most natural events, even those as dramatic as volca-r .: ricanes, are, over time, recycled or healed over. The same could : ned for nuclear technologies, to seize on the most obvious exam-i :ntorgiving technology, the scars of which, if unleashed, will not r v- time frame that has any meaning for us at all. Less long-lived )i serous are the thousands of chemicals, many of them toxic, with > 7 .ontinue repeatedly to saturate the land, air, and water. \ .here is the hubris of the modern mindset and its stubbornness ir 7 , acknowledge a superbly worked-out, non-human resource bet-ii> .--¿ted than in our treatment of the basic elements of soil and water.

■ ne United States, as a result of mechanized contemporary agri-- - l loss is occurring over a land greater than that encompassed by thirteen colonies. Globally the crisis is amplified. Deforestation and the concomitant loss of resources had already occurred on a scale that is larger than the land mass of Brazil. At the same time, in almost all urban and suburban areas, and many rural ones as well, vast amounts of organic waste materials, which easily could be converted into fertile soils, are allowed to go completely unused—an extraordinary waste of an extremely valuable resource.

At New Alchemy our soils were poor and we were interested in proving that such a process could be reversed. We undertook an experiment. The soils in the New Alchemy gardens now show the results of large-scale composting. In the early days, both the evidence of our senses and the results of soil tests proclaimed our soil to be inadequate, imbalanced, and lacking organic matter. To remedy this and build up the soil we turned to scavenging. We haunted supermarkets and school cafeterias for their spoiled food or leftovers. We scoured beaches for seaweed. We put up a sign at the town dump asking people to bring us their leaves for recycling rather than leaving them to be buried as landfill. Everything was grist to the mill of the compost pile. In the first two summers we made easily ten tons of compost. The result in three years was a healthy balanced soil that could support our organic gardens and orchards. We no longer need to make compost in such large quantity, but it is part of good gardening practice to replace what is taken from the soil in the form of the yearly harvest. Composting either in ditches between rows of raised beds and the more orthodox compost pile accomplish this—simply by providing the raw materials for the bacteria and the earthworms who are only too eager to do the job. The end product is free, and neither based on fossil fuels like boxes of chemical fertilizers nor limited to a narrow spectrum of macronutrients as are the major phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium fertilizers. The composting process, in combining a human need and the activities of thousands of microorganisms transforms waste material that under most circumstances is regarded as having only nuisance value.

Information, particularly information in the form of microorganisms, can be used in many ways to accomplish the given ends. We had some first-hand experience with the capabilities of organisms in fields other than composting in the early days at New Alchemy as well. At that time we were looking for an inexpensive, low energy method of purifying the nitrogenous wastes in the fish tanks in order to maintain the water in a condition acceptable to the fish. Reading an aquaculture manual that had been published in the 1920's, Bill McLarney learned that it was feasible to place a calcium sub-

:he ponds which would serve as a host for a strain of bacteria that :he nitrogenous wastes given off by the fish. Armed with this clue,

- ~r\ed several old refrigerator liners from the Falmouth dump and i- : hem along the edge of the pond. We laid a layer of clam shells-in i -r >">n Cape Cod it was quahog shells—for the substrate, then added

- ■ .ninths for further water purification. Using a water pumping wind-r ne case and an electrical pump in another, we pumped the water z pond through a series of purification tanks. Aeration of the water d ■ e ved simply by placing the purification tanks above the level of the r.d and letting the water splash down several feet on its return. We t: i onlv that the water was satisfactorily purified for the fish in this .■ :he formerly toxic ammonia was tranformed by the bacteria into r • ¿nd nitrates which acted as a fertilizer for the algae which were the i : .'-d supply for the fish. Unexpectedly, another level of integration

7 he point here is that an area an comprehensive as a landscape can

- I ases be restored with a wise use of scientific information and bio-.i - is in place of capital-intensive strategies. In ecologically reduced

- i most invariably, one finds that the soil is too porous and has lost its n< >ld moisture for long periods. A goodly portion of the planet that lit™"" v erexploited by humans and their livestock is in this state. When < '-sr :heir spongy, water-absorbing qualities, flash floods, drought, and ir ps< >iIs become the norm. Lack of fresh water near the soil surface is nj« r tumbling block to the restorative process. A major challenge to a

■ rn . e science will be to find ways to reverse the process, to learn how

>» e were confronted with just such a challenge on a coral island in the ik : the Indian Ocean. Several years ago we were asked by the Thresh-* danon, based in London, as part of their fledgling "Islands in the <e\t '. to visit, with several colleagues, an atoll in the Seychelles and ».rebate the possibilities of increasing ecological diversity there. Fresh 'is i major problem on coral islands. Coralline soils are notorious for axfxe of surface lakes or ponds and for their inability to hold water. % iter is normally held in household cisterns or water is pumped up :?e underground lens often found under coral islands. Unfortunately, r-~<<rs are readily depleted and invaded by salt water, which was hap-:nc n the atoll in the Seychelles, ierlecting on the inability of the soils to hold water at the surface, we remembered a research paper we had read about a decade earlier. Several Russian scientists had wanted to find out why bogs and small ponds often formed on top of rubble-heap hills, places which under normal conditions would not hold water for long. They discovered that this was made possible through a biological process that occurs over rather long periods of time, a process they called gley formation. Gley is like a biological sealant or plastic that forms in the absence of oxygen when the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of accumulated plant material is just right.

We were curious to find out if surface lakes could be made on coral islands through a speeded up or "quick-time" gley formation. The atoll provided a chance to experiment, to simulate a natural process specific to bogs in Russia at least. We had a large pond dug with a small backhoe and had coconuts shredded and laid six-inches deep on the pond bottom. To add nitrogen and other essential ingredients, we gathered and added another six-inch layer of shredded wild papaya, trunks, leaves, and stems-papaya being a prominent understory plant there and suited to our task. To drive out the oxygen and produce an anaerobic environment, we laid down a layer of flimsy plastic sheeting and, on top of that, six inches of coral sand. We tamped down the bottom and the sides.

The pond was given an initial infusion of well water and then we waited for the rainy season to come. The pond filled with the rains and stayed that way. It began to act as an ecological magnet for all kinds of life forms, increasing the base for diversity in the gardens and livestock. On a visit later to the island, the ornithologist Sir Peter Scott discovered that the fresh-water pond was attracting migratory birds that rarely land in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean.

There is another side to the tale. The outstanding soil biologist, Stuart Hill of McGill University, was with us during our stay. He lamented the fact that the soils there were so alkaline that few domestic plants could be grown in them. He decided to neutralize the garden soils by adding acids from a biological source. Because compost releases organic acids just before the process is completed, he made a compost heap. When it reached the acid-releasing stage, he placed some of it, not yet ready by ordinary standards, on the gardens where they could release their acids and make the soils more suitable for growing food. It was Dr. Hill's ecological equivalent to the expensive petrochemically-based methods of balancing soils. Such experiences illustrate that there exists a vast storehouse of knowledge locked up in the insular reaches of academic and scientific institutions that

»er: Sewage Purification, Aquaculture, Electricity Facility

"ir vrd to form the basis of both the science and the practice of earth car:-"/.p. The keys to the restorative process are inherent in the work-

<er to home the concept of using natural organisms and solar r nurifv sewage is gaining acceptance. We have mentioned that a 7*r i Cape Cod towns are interested in a new approach to sewage . i- • incorporating bioshelter to enclose a warm solar-heated envi-r within which sewage-purifying aquatic ecosystems would be es-n<r--. such waste-treating ecosystems are being pioneered by the Na-» --- inautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Lucedale, Missis-i i - bv Solar AquaSystems of Encinitas, California.

T'-.e Solar AquaSystems method involves preliminary treatment of and then pumping it into special ponds inside the solar ..r ,.fc. Once inside the ponds, the sewage is aerated and bacteria, - roscopic animals and higher aquatic plants such as floating water mi ' > jo to work removing toxins and organic matter from the water.












Scientists in Europe have discovered that bullrushes and sedges added to a system like this will take up harmful metals.2

The solar purification process we illustrate here produces by-products with commercial value. The aquatic plants can be harvested and made into high quality soil amendments or into supplemental livestock feeds. Biogas and electricity can be generated from the plants and sediments. Parts of the bioshelter can double as fish hatcheries making use of the solar heated, purified, and sterilized sewage water.

Such concepts are already proven in a number of research facilities and are being considered or tried out in a number of towns. All of these new sewage treatment plants are regarded as prototypes. However, the ecological purification elements work, and small towns, particularly those with septage wastes, would be wise to adapt bioshelter-based water purification and to propagate and market the many economically useful by-products. Treating wastes this way would no longer be a monetary drain on a community. Instead the biotechnology would create a sewage driven "farm," which would be an economic unit in its own right.

Ideas such as these are being listened to, and in some cases adopted. Their time has come. Renewable energy and the myriad skills of the organic world are gaining credibility and as energy and material costs rise will achieve the ultimate stamp of approval, economic credibility. Teamed with intelligent and sensitive monitoring and information technologies the horizon expands. Toward the end of The Pentagon of Power Dr. Mumford summarizes, "If we are to prevent megatechnics from further controlling and deforming every aspect of human culture, we shall be able to do so only aid of a radically different model derived directly, not from - hut from living organisms and organic complexes (ecosystems), oe known about life only through the process of living—and so is cn the humblest of organisms-must be added to all the other as-. an be observed, abstracted, measured." 1

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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