Archive for May, 2012

Abundance and Vertical Farming

“Abundance – The future is better than you think “ by Steven Kolter and Peter Diamandis was 2nd on the NY Times bestseller list back in March. What they are saying is that humanity is entering a period of radical transformation where technology can lift living standards with goods and services previously reserved only to royalty could now be available to all. Right now they say a Masai warrior in the african bush with a smartphone which is connected to google has more communication and information than President Clinton in his day 20 years ago.

For those of us who are cynical and brought up on the scarcity model of economics (Malthus) and a diet of modern media bombarding us with messages about doom and particularly global gloom they blame the amygdala, a part of the brain developed to take notice of danger and so this distortion in the news gives us a negativity bias. So big picture or at a macro-level they claim the numbers support the notion that the whole of humanity has better a standard of living than ever before, average lifespan, real income, childhood mortality, the cost of food and communication have all moved in favourable directions in the last 50-100 years. Also we are living in the most peaceful time of human history.

The wrapping of the book is designed to look like aluminium because they identified that back in history it was the most expensive metal on the planet and used for dinnerware by royalty in the 1840s, however now with the development of electrolysis aluminium is used to wrap throwaway items. This is seen as a precursor for many aspects of our world that are changing at an accelerating rate due to 4 emerging forces:

1. Technology. They cite Moore’s law which states that every 2 years computing power doubles and costs fall and they claim that right now we are at the knee of the exponential curve (where it goes from 64 to 128 and 128 to 256) and so the advances are really starting to accelerate now in the areas of artificial intelligence, nano-technology, robotics and healthcare.
2. DIY innovators. They observe that smaller inventors can quite often achieve solutions to major problems usually assigned to government agencies. One example might be the Slingshot water distillation system (Dan Kamen who also invented the Segway) which is as big as a fridge yet extremely economical to run and can convert contaminated or sewage water into clean drinking water, some 1000 litres per day for 2 cents per litre.
3. Techno-philanthropists. Some large world problems are being addressed foundations like the one funded by Bill Gates who aim to eradicate malaria. The X prize foundation (Dan Kamen and author Diamandis are on the board) have offered a $10m prize to the inventor of a tri-coder, a gadget used on Star Trek which as big as a cell phone will diagnose illness better than a team of doctors from a drop of body fluid and using online access from the cloud perhaps using IBM’s Watson supercomputer. When not if this arrives they claim will offer access to modern healthcare to anyone including poor communities some distance from a doctor.
4. Access to the net. By 2020 some two thirds of the worlds population or another 3 billion people will plug into the internet and global economy with corresponding education and commerce outcomes.

The authors claim that these forces combined offer humanity a once unimaginable scenario where all the world’s peoples have clean water, nutritious food, housing, education, medical care and non polluting energy!

The authors show that history proves that birth rates will always fall where populations have access to clean water, education and freedom for women. Technological advances mentioned above and access to the internet will gradually and assuredly bring these changes to communities currently in the 3rd world.

Other significant changes they predict will be in the area of food production. They claim that 1 acre of a traditional farm can produce the same quantity of food as 1 square meter in a vertical farm i.e. a farm in a multi-storey building using hydroponics and located in the city. These are controlled environments using a fraction of the water, without the need of pest controls and because they are located inside city boundaries no food miles.

Genetic engineering they claim will bring fortified rice with vitamins and minerals and in-vitro meat or cultured meat made in bio-reactors could end beef farming as we know it being heavily resource dependant and reliant on food miles.

And so the future of agriculture is not in the country but in the city! Remember you heard it here first.

This book is important for me because it considers that abundance really is possible despite the significant problems we now face on this planet, that participation in the global economy can be empowering and enable us to solve the worlds problems together.

Check out one of the authors on TED Talks, he really is a fascinating guy!

Brendan Clegg May 2012

May 30 2012 | Uncategorized | No Comments »