Town planning as an ecological function

Town planning, including the building of: agricultural, industrial, residential, transport and other infrastructure; can be more effectively achieved with far greater ecological, technological and social gains, by reconfiguring its protocols as functions of the principles of Ecological Systems Modelling & Thermodynamics.

To discuss this further, let’s revisit one recently published issue, that of population.

When human beings settle an area, we require space, we consume resources, and sometimes the resources we require come from another area … but our technological capacities allow us to drive any ecological system harder than it can actually support, and this results in the degradation of that ecosystem, which in turn can result in the extinction of species, the destruction of habitat, and the ultimate collapse of those ecosystems … which can then take decades, centuries, or even millennia to recover … even after which recovery, we’ve still lost all the potential output they could have been producing during those intervening years of recovery, there’s often no recovery possible of extinct species (as we have no genetic record for them), and there’s absolutely no recovery of the specific individuals (many of whom were sentient), because they’re dead … and that’s the end of them.

If you think this is anything but a shitty situation, you have very low standards … and if you think it’s unavoidable, you have no imagination. From a thermodynamic standpoint, this is the definition of insanity – if you do not yet have the capacity for interstellar space flight – and even then, it’s still at the very least, both stupid and unwise.

So … as much as it may be possible to exceed the resources of one location by borrowing from another, one should limit such action to a level at which it is sustainable … BUT NOT from the perspective of your own selfish interests (for this is rationalisation, not genuine sustainability), AND INSTEAD from the perspective of the very species and ecosystems you’ll actually be impacting.

With this in mind, it is important to note, that the methods and motivations we use for every single human induced action, are the determining factors of the quantity (and type) of resources consumed, per unit of needs fulfilment … in other words: there’s more than one way to get things done, and if we are always selecting the best method INCLUDING the analysis of our motivations for doing something in the first place, ONLY THEN can we maximise real sustainability from a non-species-biased perspective.

Now … 

  • Q: what is the one thing capitalism refuses to do (especially the die-hard supporters)?
  • A: question the validity of the profit motive itself.

So we’re kind of up shit creek right from the start … but for the purpose of this article (especially given that I’m covering these motivations repeatedly and comprehensively in other articles), let’s just for a minute pretend we weren’t up shit creek, and without dealing with the bigger issue of which economic system we’re operating under, let’s just isolate the question of how we can effectively apply the principles we should be applying, to the isolated field of town planning.

Population density function:

Ok, town planning should be a function of 2 main things:

  1. Maximum population density;
  2. Minimum species diversity and density.

What you should be trying to do, is balance the needs of different species; because ultimately (like it or not), the continuing existence of humans is dependent on species symbiosis and the robustness of ecosystems … So with the exception of the dystopian future scenario, in which we become an interplanetary plague of psychopathic, predatory and parasitic people (if you’ll excuse the alliteration), the best way forward is otherwise a bit of enlightened self interest, which requires thinking about the needs of other species, and about the non-living aspects of ecosystems.

Perhaps these priorities should be in the other order though, to indicate that your first priority in the long term is to ensure the maintenance of a minimum acceptable species density and diversity of the ecosystems of your surroundings (way above what current economic principles would tell you is such a level, since they don’t actually care) … and only then do you consider what is the maximum human population, which can maintain at least such levels for other species.

So town planning is (or should be) not only the capacity to make such a calculation in the first place, but the capacity also to respond to it with solutions, which achieve ever increasing benefits for all species … for the more you benefit the other species, the more you benefit yourselves, and thus it turns the present day profit based motivation on its head.

An example:

Let’s say you have a desert environment, where the land is relatively flat, the average daytime temperatures are high, there’s little or no shade, vegetation is restricted to grasses, shrubs and succulents like cacti … and the animal population is largely restricted to smaller creatures which can burrow and hide from the heat, including a few reptiles which can take advantage of the heat (being cold blooded).

So species density and diversity are both low … the actual soil could be as mineral diverse as you want it, but without vegetation and rainfall, any soil will quickly erode away in the wind (and the rest washed away in the occasional rains, as there’s no significant root structures or fungal mycelia to bind the soil … water is the key ingredient missing.

So for humans to live here at all, we will likely have to consider a few things:

  1. Water storage, reclamation & recycling;
  2. Shade and temperature regulation in enclosed environments;
  3. Agricultural irrigation;

… and so on.

Now, since there are no major forests to speak of, it would be easy enough to incorporate the local vegetation into public and private gardens, so there’s no need to remove any plants at all, since most of what you’re looking at is just sand and rock … and while those plants within such gardens will gain the benefit of human care, because we can use our own effluent and waste as a source of organic material for composting and the creation of soils … However, we must take care to do so in such a way as not to smother those species with anything imported, which means an analysis of the interactions between all intentionally introduced species AND the potential interactions resulting from migration of species from adjacent areas, as the impacts of human settlement progress over time and make such migrations more likely (not to mention the species we may bring accidentally).

Arguably, the probability is that 2 things will be generally true:

  1. Any species which has adapted to the harsh conditions of desert life will be extremely tough, and with the greater availability of water and food, it’s extremely efficient systems will do well with such newfound resources … but;
  2. There are other potential consequences which they have either no adaptation to deal with, or only a dormant adaptation which may take a few generations to reawaken … assuming it even can;

So these species will need us to take care, and they may additionally require our support through that transition phase.

Building:

On a different topic of concern for this example, we would be well advised to build underground, as this can help us reduce the resource cost of environmental modification for our living quarters, and as long as we are underground, why not make transport corridors underground too? Which leaves the above ground space free of unnecessary structures, and thus the greatest surface area availability for other species, which of course can become more numerous and dense as the years, decades and centuries pass … until eventually human influence has turned this desert into a green space … a diverse and beautiful ecosystem.

Were we to pursue and achieve such an objective, we would eventually have extensive underground spaces for human activity, and a lush self perpetuating above ground environment in which to play, grow food, and enjoy ourselves.

Over-population?

As I’ve covered in other articles previously: a calculation of the total land surface area of the planet, with significant areas removed and considered (for the sake or argument and simplicity of the equations) to be untouched and unpopulated wilderness … there is still well enough land on the planet (not even including the efficiency of going underground, and ignoring completely the entire resource base of all the world’s oceans), for every single individual and family on the planet to have enough land for their exclusive use, to both house and feed themselves, with room to spare, and gigantic land areas reserved for other communal and private infrastructure … BUT … this does require the greening of the deserts, and the demise of our present economic paradigm.

Contrasting example:

Ok, so let’s now travel to the other end of the spectrum, and take a highly biodiverse, lush, fertile and mountainous environment … there are plains, hills and valleys, plus all sorts of ridges, escarpments, peaks, gulleys and so forth. This variable environment has great mineral diversity in the soil, extensive fungal networks in the soil biome, and the capacity to support great variety and populations of species.

So … what do humans do at present when we find this?

We cut down huge areas of forest, create settlements, farms, industry, roads, other infrastructure … and generally fuck it up for every species (including ourselves), such that all that remains are isolated pockets of wilderness (many of which are mere shadows of their former selves, especially following past logging) … and while the degradation was occurring relatively slowly at the start, it is occurring everywhere on the planet simultaneously, and it is accelerating exponentially … so eventually, even these last remaining pockets are under pressure for exploitation of various kinds, the environmental regulations of such exploitation are minimal, the enforcement is almost non-existent, and extremely unsustainable developments are given a big tick (largely for marketing purposes), as officially “sustainable developments”.

Now … anyone who calls any part of the above “sustainable” in any context, is some combination of:

  1. a complete fucking idiot;
  2. completely fucking ignorant;
  3. ideologically fucking insane;
  4. utterly fucking misinformed;
  5. absolutely disinfuckingenuous.

… because there is nothing whatsofuckingever sustainable about any of this.

What SHOULD we be doing?

Well, let’s start the same way we did before in the desert.

  1. We analyse existing species and their symbiosis within ecosystems;
  2. We determine that – given the high existing availability of resources – there isn’t much we can do for them except stay out of their way, and try not to take so much from them and their environment, as to cause serious problems;
  3. Since the temptation to grow without constraint is high, we have a conversation about population growth, and how we can both allow for individual determinism regarding fertility rights, but also put in place some kind of motivational framework which encourages people to regulate their own desire to breed, and thus at least influence any decisions they make in that regard (which has been dealt with in a previous post);
  4. So we then look to the existing food availability of that environment, determine the harvesting seasons for various naturally occurring food resources, and we limit our comsumption to prevent hardship to other species;
  5. Once again we find that advantage and value exists in building underground, but for different reasons; this time being that the typical above ground construction would always require deforestation (which we want to minimise);
  6. However we do have in this environment the capacity for building tree houses, earth ships, and walkways between the trees, with minimal impact to that environment … but the above ground ecosystems do not require our organic waste so much as the desert did (for fertilisation and support of the soil biome);
  7. Therefore: we’re free to use a biomass gasification process (and other methods) to extract energy from our organic waste, leaving a final waste product which is basically just mineral ash & dust that can be returned to the forest, or separated into its atomic elements for agricultural, chemical & industrial uses;
  8. From our various methods of energy production (including both the insulative properties of being underground, and the potential access to geothermal energy), we could even create underground farms powered by artificial light which simulates the same EMF spectrum as natural sunlight;
  9. Ultimately we could have an entirely green planet, with very little above ground real estate wasted on such things as roads, power infrastructure, and other rather ugly buildings / structures which consume valuable real estate, but do not actually require anything about the above ground environment for any aspect of their function (assuming it even has a valid purpose anymore, in a non-property/trade/currency-based economic paradigm … which many of the things we’re used to seeing, won’t);
  10. We could indeed have an extensive and utterly Ecologically & Socially Friendly & Sustainable underground population, with vast and beautiful areas of outdoor wilderness, each filled with fun things to do … from camping, surfing and kayaking, to abseiling, rock-climbing, base-jumping and hang-gliding … it’s not that I’m suggesting no above ground structures would exist, but we just wouldn’t have covered all the Earth’s fertile land surface area, with stupid things, and wouldn’t have destroyed all our ecosystems.

An intermedia example from the real world:

I remember seeing recently a case from the Middle East, where an historical construction style was updated and upsized with modern technology. Basically how it works is that tall buildings are built close together, such that the light can reach down through the gaps to the streets below (where those gaps widen into streets, walkways, courtyards etc.; but the heat of the sun is soaked up by the building structure way above, thus keeping pedestrians cool, allowing for vegetation … and the heat energy can be captured and utilised, or just re-radiated at night.

Such a scenario is an alternative but similar to the first example, in which the same principles apply.

Conclusion:

Anything is hypothetically possible, but we run a destructive and stupid economic paradigm which achieves extremely poor results on average, and even the absolute heights of isolated achievement within this existing economic framework, are diminished by the absolute tragedy that is pretty much everything else that goes on, everywhere else on the planet.

One must wonder (with such potential possibilities), why would any caring, imaginative, rational and sane person argue in favour of an economic paradigm, which has failed so consistently and miserably, at ever approaching even the barest outskirts of this potential … despite holding (for several centuries running, if not millennia) the absolute and unquestionable dominance of all resource acquisition and allocation.

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