by Kareen Erbe
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Appropriate technology and permaculture design go hand in hand. Remember that permaculture is a design approach that meets our food, energy, shelter and other needs. Through appropriate technology, we are engineering ways in which to meet those needs in the simplest, most locally based ways possible.
The ecological crises that we are facing today is very much related to the fact that our economy, our agriculture, and our technologies are out of scale with what the planet can support. When entities are out of scale, natural patterns in the landscape are disrupted. In fact, it is our advances in technology that have led to a lot of that destruction. For example, combine harvesters have allowed us to cultivate large monocultures that have led to soil erosion and topsoil depletion.
Advances in cell phones and computers, coupled with consumerism and a global economy, have not only mined the earth of natural resources, but have created tons of electronic waste that fill our landfills.
Understanding and using appropriate technology is about bringing things back into scale and applying the permaculture principle of using small and slow solutions.
As mentioned in the video, appropriate technology is technology that is suited to the social and economic conditions of a particular region in which it is to be applied, is ecologically sound, and promotes self-reliance on the part of those using it. It is:
Often labor-intensive but energy efficient.
Reducing our consumption first.
Before you think of applying appropriate technologies, think first about reducing your consumption. Though it’s heartening to see advances in alternative energy, such as solar and wind, it seems like many of these advances are designed to meet society’s current needs, without addressing our overconsumption.
For example, people choose to put solar panels on their roofs to power their TVs, dryers, multiple appliances, and possibly even multiple cars.
While it may be a step in the right direction, alternative energy technology often prevents us from taking a good look at our consumption. What’s more, these technologies contain a lot of embodied energy. From the extraction of the base materials to the manufacturing and the shipping, the energy involved in producing a product like a solar panel or a wind turbine is substantial.
Chances are that if you live in a developed nation, you are likely consuming at a level that is not sustainable for the rest of the planet. The challenge is not to find an energy source that will support that lifestyle, the solution first lies in our willingness to reduce our consumption.
Then, we can look at appropriate technologies to meet our reduced needs.
The most obvious way to reduce consumption is through growing your own food. Reducing our transportation miles from farm to table immediately reduces our impact.
Household strategies for reducing consumption.Simple strategies in your home can go a long way. For example, though we have a permaculture homestead, we do live in a conventional home. However, before putting solar panels on our roof, which is perfectly aspected for that technology and in a climate where it makes sense, I am going to look at ways to reduce our energy use first.
This is what we have done so far:
In the coming years, our plan is to attach a greenhouse to the front of the house. This will not only provide passive solar heating, which is key in our cold climate, but serves the additional function of growing more food and extending our short growing season. Only after we’ve added a greenhouse, will I then consider solar panels. However, I’ll evaluate our energy bills at that point, balancing the expense of the panels and their embodied energy versus the energy produced.
Again, using small and slow solutions that take minimal resources is your primary goal. Below is a checklist for easily reducing your household consumption in a conventional home.
Checklist for easily reducing household energy consumption in a conventional home.
Appropriate Technology For Cooking and Food Storage
Heating your home, cooking and food storage are some of the most consumptive ways in which we use energy. According to the aforementioned report, lighting and other appliances (e.g. toasters, ovens, blenders) comprise 30% of energy consumption in a home, and refrigeration accounts for 5%. In my video, I cover one simple and easy appropriate technology for cooking and food storage that you can start using within minutes, and touch briefly on several other technologies to consider.
Here is a link to the photo album on Facebook that I reference in the video. This will take you through the step-by-step process of building a cob oven.
Here’s some activities you could do to use what you’ve learned:
Make a blanket box for your household and cook something with it. If you need a reminder on how to make a blanket box, go back to the Appropriate Technology For Cooking and Food Storage video in this module. Make a note of how long it took your meal to cook and how much energy you saved.
Invite your friends over to share a blanket box meal and get them to commit to doing the same! During the dinner, share ways in which you will be using appropriate technology and reducing consumption around your home. Ask them to commit to one action.
This material is excerpted from the Appropriate Technology module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Kareen Erbe.
Kareen Erbe is the owner of Broken Ground, a permaculture business in Bozeman, Montana, USA, that teaches people how to grow their own food and become more self-reliant. She has taught hundreds of students through her workshops, both live and online, and offers consultations and permaculture design services. She and her family live on a ¾ acre suburban homestead with large kitchen gardens, a food forest of fruit trees and berry bushes, a greenhouse, a pond, beehives as well as chickens and ducks. Kareen is a regular contributor to Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine and can be reached through her website brokengroundpermaculture.com. She also has an online course platform at brokenground.teachable.com.
Further reading on this topic
Bubel, Nancy and Mike. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 1991.
Kerr, Barbara. The Expanding World of Solar Box Cookers. Self-published. 1991. - A 79 page book with plans/diagrams for solar cookers. Here is a link to the text of the book and info about purchasing.
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