Human-scale, decentralised technologies

small is beautiful latest edition coverIn Lean Logic, the late David Fleming recalls that in in 1995, the Times Literary Supplement placed a book by E.F. Schumacher, the chief economic advisor to the UK Coal Board for two post war decades, among the 100 most influential books published since World War II. Small Is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered has been translated into many languages.

This internationally influential economic thinker, statistician and economist, who advocated human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies, would have heartily agreed with Karen Leach’s observation that the global drive for the mega and mega-complex solution is part of the centralisation drive – where decision-makers can’t see the collective potential of small scale technology, now often called ‘appropriate technology’ (AT).

Fleming records that Schumacher deplored the “countless ‘experts’ who cannot conceive the possibility of any industrial production unless all the paraphernalia of the Western way of life are provided in advance. The ‘basis of everything’, they say, is of course electricity, steel, cement, near-perfect organisation, sophisticated accountancy. . . In blind pursuit of [a] highly questionable utopia, these ‘experts’ tend to neglect everything that is realistically possible“.

 Locally designed using local materials

AT is designed to fit the circumstances of the people who are to use it; people who need a solution which is cheap to build, small-scale, made from local materials, easy to operate, simple to maintain and energy-efficient is often. It does not start a sequence of pollution, with clean-up commitments, repairs and costs extending into the future. We suggest example:

  • micro-hydro turbines, long-lasting and low-maintenance provide enough power for a number of houses or a small community. The nearest example is probably the Beeston Weir project in the East Midlands. Practical Action can offer far cheaper turbines than commercial products in this country;
  • off-grid living can include solar which generates electricity for immediate use, with no grid connection; solar panels convert sunlight to energy which charges the battery built into lights, computers and refrigerators;
  • there are several reed beds in the region used for the water treatment of a single house or a small neighbourhood – water is cleaned by micro-organisms living on the root system; probably the nearest small-scale example is at Ryton Organic Garden near Coventry.
  • straw-bale construction, probably the nearest regional example is the next door neighbour of Dragon Orchard in Herefordshire;
  • see also the simple-to-build, cost-effective low environmental impact office in Moseley.

LWM’s Mission statement

Localise West Midlands is a not-for-profit organisation which exists to promote the environmental, social and economic benefits of:

  • Local trading, using local businesses, materials and supply chains
  • Linking local needs to local resources
  • Development of community and local capacity
  • Decentralisation of appropriate democratic and economic power
  • Provision of services tailored to meet local needs.

This localisation approach makes economic development and government systems more sensitive to local autonomy, culture, wellbeing and the responsible use of finite resources, and is growing in popularity with people and organisations all over the world.

For more information about some of these technologies, contact the Renewable Energy Centre in Kenilworth. See also Localise West Midlands Scoping Study: Decentralised Energy for Birmingham (pdf)

.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *