Speaking of virtuous cycles...what about local knowledge as a lever for altering the feedback loops?
Say wot? Yup, the part of social capital that's focused on 'who knows what' can be instrumental in reinforcing sustainability initiatives to change behaviors. Here's how.
Say you're stuck in a vicious cycle of dependence on global distribution for all your stuff. Enabling local folks to make and fix their own stuff is a potentially system-changing lever, here.
The more you buy from them, the less able you are to make your own stuff, which makes you more reliant on the particular stuff they distribute, which makes you less able to get stuff that meets your specific needs, which makes you more reliant on them for all the parts and know-how involved in maintaining your stuff...And so on.
Alternatively, D-Lab's elite unit of low-tech mercenaries can help you:
- Chlorinate your own water
- Build your own hammermill
- Create your own water-testing devices
- Turn bagasse into charcoal briquettes
Says D-Lab’s director, Amy Smith, “designs are more likely to be successful if they’re not complicated and requiring all sorts of support and infrastructure. But simple doesn’t mean easy. It’s a challenge to get to those ‘simple’ solutions.”
Andrew Revkin got to watch this "assemblage of tinkerers from 16 countries as they welded, stitched and hammered, working on rough-hewn inventions aimed at saving the world, one village at a time." Says Revkin, "MIT turned its attention toward concrete thinking to improve the lives of the world’s bottom billion, those who live on a dollar a day or less and who often die young" (via NYTimes).
Tim McKeough opines (via good mag):
"What use is an electrical invention if you live in a community that doesn’t have the reliable power to use it, or a fragile device in an area where it’s almost impossible to find spare parts?"
Says McKeough, it's all about "devising cheap technologies that mesh with existing lifestyles could have a big effect in impoverished communities, attacking poverty from the ground up."
A recent D-Lab confab featured Paul Polak, who has become something of a guru to the design revolution movement Polak laid out the principles of development from the bottom up:
- first listen and watch, then invent
- small is beautiful
- cheap is beautiful
- can be sold and bought in increments
As Smith notes, "Nearly 90 percent of research and development dollars are spent on creating technologies that serve the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population. The point of the design revolution is to switch that.”
OK, so if it works for the poor, it also works for the poor community stuck out at the end of America's supply lines.