Category Archives: Principles

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The bus stops of Botswana

By Mark T. Brown

The Bus Stops of Botswana took on a life of its own the first time I drove from one end of the country to the other.  It wasn’t long after crossing the Limpopo River from South Africa into Botswana on my way to the Okavango Delta that I noticed these sculptures of found objects that occasionally appeared along the roadside.

BusStop1 Curious, I asked our guide and friend, Mike, “what’s up with the roadside sculptures?”

His answer was simple, like so much in Botswana,”It’s a competition of sorts.”  Pressed, he elaborated, ”No one knows for sure how or why they got started, but it seems not long after one or two were seen here and there, the numbers suddenly increased to where there are now hundreds throughout the country.”

He went on. ”It’s thought that as more bus stops showed up along the roads, the creators were challenged to add more to existing ones, so it’s not unusual to see existing bus stops grow in complexity over time. It’s a competition. Batswana (the people of Botswana are called Batswana or Motswana) are not competitive by nature, but in this subtle way they compete.”

Pressing Mike further, he suggested that they are the places where people, who live kilometers back in the bush come to the main road to wait for a bus, or possibly a passing friend, to take them to town.

BusStop2I imagined the first bus stop was constructed out of the urge to create and the time to do so.  Waiting for a bus in the bush of Botswana can take some time, as they may only come once a day, or they may not come at all.  Hanging around for hours, waiting, with an occasional car or truck driving by, it’s not long until you pick up that hub cap and that bumper and stack them, then rearrange them, then add something else, purposefully composing a statement from found objects.  Maybe even walking down the road a ways and carting back that broken chair you saw  fall off a passing truck.  Before you know it, the bus stop has taken on a life–drawing you,  beseeching you to add more.

Some are very elaborate, others simply a plastic jug impaled on a stick (I think of these as just getting started, as seeds, or at most seedlings just emerging from the chaos). As my understanding of the bus stop culture grew so did my desire to photograph them.  Traveling anywhere in Botswana became an all day affair, no matter how short the distance.  No one wanted to ride with me, as I stopped at every bus stop.  Occasionally there would be someone there, waiting,  and not wanting to up set them, I’d pass it by, take a GPS reading, and make a plan to return. I was obsessed.

My collection now stands at well over 100 bus stops, and almost 1000 images.  I often reflect on the bus stop culture.  It’s art, no question, but maybe more interesting is that it is an example of self-organization–spontaneous global order and coordination arising out of local interactions without a central agent directing or coordinating things.  The feedback that results from observing another bus stop causes an artist to add to his/her own, which increases the order.  In complexity theory, the bus stops are “attractors”–islands of organization in a sea of chaos. I’ve never been able to look at roadside trash in quite the same way as before, often thinking that discarded fender would make a great bus stop beginning.

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Self-organizing societies

By Mary Logan

“If the future is to remain open and free, we need people who can tolerate the unknown, who will not need the support of completely worked out systems or traditional blueprints from the past.” –Margaret Mead

Modern societies have developed as adaptations to a high-energy world by producing surpluses of non-renewable energies, especially in the United States. These complex, crumbling societies have developed a powerful system of centralized, top-down control system, with a widening gap in power and wealth from the mainstream, as the balance of power diverges even further between the haves and have-nots, with a hollowing out of the middle class. If we are to have any future society, it will be more cooperative and self-organizing one. What are self-organizing societies, and why should you be hoping for one as an alternative to the current emphasis on centralized control? How can we develop them? Continue reading

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Asking the right questions

answersaresimpleIn 1981, H.T. Odum and Herschel Elliott taught a systems philosophy course together at the University of Florida, entitled Systems, Philosophy, Energy, and Environment. The exams from the course are filed in box 67 of Odum’s collection at UF Library. The textbooks for the course were Energy Basis for Man and Nature (Odum & Odum, 1981) and Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity (Ophuls, 1977).  Some of the questions from the exams were excellent, and they offer structure for thinking about philosophical frameworks for descent.  Continue reading

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What might a smart paradigm include?

by Paula Williams

Dr. Williams wrote her dissertation on The role of social paradigm in human perception and response to environmental change. She is the director of UAA’s Office of Sustainability. Her previous post on this topic appears here: http://prosperouswaydown.com/williams-not-economy-paradigm/

If not a stupid paradigm, then, as previously described, what might a smart paradigm include?

Many people who live in societies that embrace the western industrial dominant social paradigm don’t subscribe to that paradigm in whole or in part.  Many realize, or sense, that our current paradigm threatens our ability to survive long-term.  Our current paradigm tells us that the economy must continuously grow; that the role of government is to enforce contracts and keep it’s regulatory hands off of business; that technology will save us, particularly from our environmental sins; that humans are the most important forms of life; and that competition is the best way to manage systems and people.

Because this paradigm shapes the way most people think about how the world works and even shapes our living space (for example, with an emphasis on roads and driving) it won’t be easy to change.  But since not changing it will clearly impact whether we survive into the future and what future life for our children and grandchildren will look like, changing the paradigm, or trying, is a moral imperative.  First we need to consider what a new paradigm should look like. Continue reading

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A highly transformed society

by Mary Logan

The picture above is a metaphor for our contracting society in an era of declining nonrenewable energy. What is the emergy basis of an electric bike powered by a solar power battery that the bike and rider tows?  How do we use technology while our horizons of available yet marginal net energy recede? The award-winning bike/solar bob is touted as every environmentalist’s dream, where I can have my cake and eat it too. If I tow a solar panel behind my electric bike, I can boost my power and range to go longer distances at higher speeds. I can even charge electronics and power LED lights. What Is the true value to society of the electric panel towed behind on a bob, and is it worth it? Is the time we save worth the expenditures of energy? Can high-tech boosters augment or be layered on top of human-powered technology in a lower energy world? How much tech is too much? In our struggle to extract usable energy from the surrounding environment to maintain our society based on high-quality fossil fuels, our highly transformed society uses energies of varying qualities in substitution for each other, without an understanding of the Transformity involved in different types of energy. Continue reading

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Lies, damn lies, and radiation health

by Mary Logan

Recent news about Hanford leaks, a flurry of news surrounding the two-year anniversary of Fukushima, and today’s news about breast cancer rates in the US center my thoughts on blind spots in health research. I will use ionizing radiation again as an illustration of environmental linkages to disease, beginning with the trigger for this post, which was a new World Health Organization (WHO) report. Previous posts about nuclear hazards are linked here and here.

This week, the WHO published a preemptive report on Fukushima, only two years after the disaster. The WHO concluded that “for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.” This conclusion is from the same organization that has been muzzled on the topic of ionizing radiation contamination of our environment since 1959, when they agreed to misinform the public in subordination to the global nuclear governing body, the IAEA, to protect civil and military nuclear interests.  If you believe that Fukushima has not increased background risk and there will be no increases in cancer rates, I have a bridge to sell you. Mark Twain’s maxim about lies, damn lies, and statistics can be applied here. The point of this post is to examine western medicine’s epistemology of disease, specifically examining how we select the risk factors that are involved in cancer and other diseases.  Continue reading

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A sailboat is a microcosm of life

One Ship Sails East
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1916

But to every mind there openeth,
A way, and way, and away,
A high soul climbs the highway,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.

But to every man there openeth,
A high way and a low,
And every mind decideth,
The way his soul shall go.

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

By Mary Logan

seagrapesWe’re sailors. Sailboats have been part of our lives for decades, beginning with my husband Todd’s 17-foot sloop, the AtLast, so titled because his mother finally got her garage back when he finished building the boat in high school. Eventually we sold the small sloop when we developed competing interests such as family, and I refused to help my husband paint the wooden boat, yet again. Ever since then, we’ve had various small boats, from small catamarans, windsurfers and even a sailing canoe, to a snow-kite and an ice boat here in Anchorage. Todd built the ice boat in our garage here in Anchorage in an attempt to accommodate his need to sail in the subarctic winter–I christened it Risk for Injury, because those were the first words on page one of the design plans. The ice boat can hit speeds of up to 60 mph if unencumbered by various limits. Todd is not allowed to take the craft out alone (that’s another story). Sailing on ice in winter does not really feed our fix for sailing, and sailing in the summer up here has to compete with many other interests during a very short summer. We generally wait until we head to warmer climes to sail.

This month, we have burned through many people’s allotments of fossil fuels to come to the cruising grounds of the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) to warm up and to sail. We have done this trip many times before, typically during the off-season in the summer when we lived in Florida, in order to unplug from high-pressure jobs. But I am sensing that traditional vacations where we fly somewhere far away to go sailing may be on the way out. We have some discretionary income this year, and who knows how long it will hold its value/meaning? So this is one last fling in the BVIs, with a flotilla of two boats and thirteen sun-starved Alaskans–the winter has been grim this year in Alaska, with lots of dark but little snow.

Sailing can be a cheap vacation if we rent a boat that we share with friends while provisioning, cooking, and sailing ourselves. Americans often feel that we must buy our own things, but renting a boat for the occasional use is far cheaper than owning. We have watched many friends and family members struggle with boat ownership, and the old maxim, a boat is a hole into the water into which one pours money, is really true. Over the years, the charter boat industry has become a monopolized industry, paralleling the development in many other industries. There are fewer but larger companies to charter from. This year, during high season, the charter docks for those companies were full of boats, and it was easier to find anchorages alone. The charter industry appears to be hurting from the global economic recession.

Sunrise, Anegada Reefs

Sunrise, Anegada

I’m writing this post organically this time, using pen and paper, sitting with my coffee in the quiet mornings, before the trades freshen for the day in response to the heating sea and land, watching brown boobies and pelicans feed on schools of fish in quiet anchorages. My thoughts circle the idea of sailboats as a slice of life that demonstrates on the small-scale the limits of energies, materials, and wastes, the importance of teamwork, and how technology changes over time as surplus energy continues to flow. Continue reading

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