I was recently asked,”What sort of livelihoods would you like to see people preparing for and getting involved in now, so that we have a stable infrastructure or community in place when things turn for the worse?”
Through the ages, many scholars and philosophers have prophesied an inevitable “collapse of civilization as we know it.”
It does bring up again an interesting question to contemplate.
If the “plug” does get pulled, would we look back on today and wonder what we should have done. I think the best thing to focus on for the future is that, no matter what the problem, the solution remains the same: fill fundamental functions first.
We need to focus all of our resources—technical, ecological and intellectual—to create the conditions for a world with clean air, food, water and habitat, for all inhabitants.
Because of my decades of Permaculture work, I think natural systems provide the answers for what needs to change now, to prepare for tomorrow.
As evidenced by natural succession, Nature sets up systems as if with a long term vision, setting the stage today for the abundance of the future.
To plan for the future’s abundance, here’s what I think will be the best livelihoods to focus on today:
First Things First
Among the most critical jobs in preparing for the future is Politics.
The key to sustainability is in setting a new approach to domestic and foreign policy.
The commonality in all true solutions is a fundamental change in how we view and use resources. The western dominators simply cannot continue to waste the world’s cultural and natural resources and expect respect, cooperation or security (homeland or otherwise). The respected politicians of the future will be today’s non-violent activists, grassroots ecologists and educators.
Most of the world’s arable lands have been poisoned by chemicals and modern methods of agriculture. Maintaining and protecting biodiversity is among the most important work we all can do.
Polycultures create habitat for natural predators and naturally supply nutrients for health and vigor. Instead of today’s “thousands of acres of a single crop” model, future farms will be more like amosaic pattern of productive beauty across the landscape: hundreds of thousands of diverse gardens, manicured by mothers with hand tools providing healthy and delicious food to their children and neighbors. Instead of the good-old boys with bigger and bigger implements, I predict that graceful garden goddesses will rule the food production industries of the future.
Fresh water reserves will also be of critical concern.. Livelihoods in homescale distillation and water harvesting will be needed. Rainwater, even in the most polluted areas on Earth, is the cleanest and safest water for drinking.
Building broadscale infiltration systems for groundwater recharge and backyard cisterns for collecting/storing water will be vital local enterprises in every community. Water conservation will remain paramount. Lawns will be outlawed.
Land Management and Reclamation
The surest livelihood in land-use management will be teaching and using “biotecture” and bio-remediation: using living materials to slow erosion and siltation and to mitigate toxins in soil, water and air.
Living walls are now used to mitigate particle pollution, strengthen bridges and roadways and control flooding. Constructed wetlands are cleaning municipal sewage; other constructed ecologies, designed to support bacteria and fungi, are working to clean and detoxify some of the world’s worst chemical pollutants.
Manufactured goods no longer have a cradle-to-grave lifecycle. Architect William McDonough has popularized the new trend to create such a lifecycle, which will be the norm of the most successful businesses in the future.
Since all future business and industry must adopt a “corporate conscience,” consultants are needed now to help existing corporations create a working triple-bottom-line model, where long-term cultural and environmental effects have to be considered along with profit.
Many businesses now are showing that being good neighbors and being harmless to the environment not only improves the quality of life but actually improves profit. The Dow Jones Sustainability World Index and the Jantzi Social Index are both a start for monitoring the economics of social environmentalism.
Products -Services -Skills
I believe the best way for us to meet our day-to-day needs is through small, local businesses. Service centers, business incubators and home-scale manufacturing guilds will become the wave of the future and so will helping those entrepreneurs capitalize and manage their businesses.
Coordinating, organizing, accommodating and, most of all, supporting barter fairs & street vendors will not only keep sales and marketing overhead low for entrepreneurs but will directly prevent local dollars from going to Big Box stores. Street vendors and fairs add character and charm to any community.
There is a realization by many people today that there is, in fact, a way out, beyond fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Innovative, low cost, combination solar/wind/water energy systems are now being tested and used. Solar industries are now making energy cells in flexible panels, roofing tiles—even photovoltaic paints.
Thanks to NASA, there are now window tiles made from fresnel lenses with tiny solar cells inside that focus light more efficiently than silicon cells and also capture, regulate and distribute heat in the process!
But even today’s newest technologies cannot stand alone. Many people are still stuck in the notion that there is going to be one large solution for one large energy problem. But in looking to natural systems, we know that there are always multiple players for single functions.
I believe the energy answer lies in developing many types of fuels and fuel-using products. New technology must go hand-in-hand with diversification as well as conservation. A variety of fuel and energy sources will be needed.
The future jobs in the energy fields lie in gaining experience with them all, from high-tech hydrogen cells and carbon-based solar cells to vegetable oils, backyard ethanol and bio-diesel production and more.
Of course, waste recycling and salvage boutiques are and will become more popular. A grassroots effort that needs to start now is 100% recyclable production and manufacturing mandated by law.
Some of the most promising jobs in the future will be in the design and construction of affordable buildings and pre-fab manufacturing. I predict a wave of modular, manufactured green homes that will provide the livelihoods in tomorrow’s building industry.
Building-code-approved kits and prefab homes made from non-toxic and sustainable materials, designed for solar orientation and fitted with energy-saving devises are already available.
I am a big believer in compressed-air technology. Using natural wind, tidal and river flow, along with existing and alternative energy sources, air can be compressed relatively easily and stored indefinitely with no energy loss over distance. Today’s engineers will be hailed in the future for creating feasible transport systems powered by air.
Information and Communication
Clearly a weak link in solving future needs is the lack of non-polluting, energy-conserving means of communication and information transfer. Affordable, recyclable, non-toxic computers, phones and other personal devices are the needs of not just tomorrow but of today.
I think that a sustainable future depends on earth literacy education at a local, hands-on level. Permaculture Design should be taught by experienced people in elementary through high school levels, and every student should be trained in some vocational trade—and we might as well teach them all to be Emergency Medical Technicians while we’re at it!
Back to “the collapse of civilization as we know it.” Well, first off, civilization is ALWAYS changing as we know it! While it’s true that any new stressor, to any system, does indeed have the potential for disruption and demise—it is also true that it has the same potential for causing improvement! I am of the opinion that things are not only going to get better, but that things are better, now. ?