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Elegant Technology

Chapter Eleven:
Technological Elegance

Those who believe that there is a difference between art and technology know little about either! Anon.

The battle between industrialization and environmentalism is more intense than the conflict between communism and capitalism and 6000 years older. It is as old as the conflict between the hunter and the farmer. By asserting that the only route out of the industrial-economic crisis is to join these two opposing forces, this book could easily be dismissed as a utopian fantasy. Industrial environmentalism is an idea whose time could never come! Moreover, because cooperation between the industrial and predator classes has produced such lovely phenomena as Fascism and the military-industrial complex, the suggestion of cooperation is frightening and fraught with danger.

Yet, industrial-environmentalism is neither a utopian fantasy nor an impending nightmare. It is an exercise in social, economic, and political minimalism--a solution that requires the least change in human behavior. The economic-industrial crisis is the creation of human efforts. The efforts that caused the problems can and must be redirected toward a cure. Industrial environmentalism is not a utopian fantasy because both industrial activities and environmental activities can be undertaken jointly as a means for survival.

A common motivation for survival means that these two strains, often considered dissimilar, are really alike. There is a much misunderstanding between those who consider themselves industrialists and those who would be environmentalists, to be sure, but this lack of understanding between these groups can be minimized if both parties understand that they are pulling in the same direction. The misunderstanding could be eliminated if this move toward a common goal could include a common strategy. Industrial environmentalism is that common strategy.

The best way to understand industrial environmentalism is to think in terms of a total environmental accounting. Everything that is made must either be made for permanence and maintenance or must be designed to be unmade at some future date. This goes far beyond what even the most radical environmentalists have ever proposed. There is a big difference, however, since most environmental proposals so far have been negative: stop cutting down trees, strip-mining the valleys, polluting the air and water, and selling parkland to developers. When fuel was short, the nation was asked to slow down and turn down thermostats and shiver in the cold. Stopping the damage to the environment was going to cause pain, it was thought, though if the pain were felt by closed mining communities and steeltowns, truck drivers, old people and welfare families, so much the better. Environmentalists have never quite shed their elitist image because of their negative suggestions affect groups less powerful than they.

Industrial environmentalism is positive and inclusive. Because the industrial crisis is caused by errors in design and construction of the industrial infrastructure, rebuilding should be considered an economic development challenge for the industrial nations. It is a job large enough to occupy the energies of a generation or two. Building is more positive than stopping and has the advantage of including groups that are excluded from most environmental proposals. Building a closed-loop industrial system to the most stringent environmental standards will wed industrialization with environmentalism and is a positive, inclusive economic strategy for survival. It is also a method for making nations very rich.

Elegant Technology

Because high technology has become a meaningless phrase, elegant technology is the best expression for the technology necessary for industrial environmentalism. Elegant is a description used by designers and engineers to describe a design that solves more than one problem. If a new design is cheaper to manufacture, is more durable, and opens a distribution bottleneck, the design is more elegant than the design it replaces. Other design criteria for elegance are: reduces waste in manufacture, uses a plentiful natural resource, comes from a more reliable source, is the waste product of another process, reduces the energy necessary for manufacture, reduces the tooling costs, and is more beautiful. Those who would claim that beauty is not a common element of engineering should look at the precision castings inside engines such as those on the Italian motorcycle, the Moto Guzzi. The Italians have been at the casting business since before Michelangelo and they have learned a great deal in 500 years.

Industrial environmentalism asks that elegant engineering add relevant criteria to the accepted definitions. To be elegant, a design should include a provision for its ultimate disposal. A new design must deal with the waste generated by the manufacturing process and the product itself. The person who designs a product is most likely to have the relevant information as to how it can be safely disposed of.

Elegant technology is that technology where the disposal, and any other form of downstream problem, is dealt with from the beginning. When industrial designers acknowledge that raw materials may only be borrowed from the planet and must be returned at some future date, then and only then will technology be truly elegant. The most simple and direct criterion for evaluating elegant technology is to ask, "what will happen when everyone uses this technology?"

The Rules of Industrial Elegance

The following examples of elegant strategies for industrial environmental renewal are just that--examples. A technologically literate reader can think of dozens of other examples and criticize the choices made.

Examples are debatable--but the essential principles of elegant technology are not. Like Murphy's Laws, there are corollaries yet to discover. Even so, while the following rules may not be definitive, they describe most industrial-environmental applications.

Everyone in an industrial society is a producer.

This is difficult for most people to understand because what most folks produce is called garbage. There is a Japanese production principle called Just-In-Time (JIT) production that helps illuminate this rule. JIT works best when every worker in an industrialized setting acts as if the next worker or process is a customer.

The consumer of industrial products would benefit from such thinking. Everything that is consumed is being processed for the next customer. Although it is difficult to imagine you as a consumer are producing a product for the trash hauler, that is really the correct way to view the relationship. Just as in JIT, where the quality of the ultimate product depends on each person doing the job correctly, the harmfulness of waste is a function of each person's processing efforts. Of course, because of the complex nature of most industrial products, the average consumer is totally lacks the means of processing products into useful forms of garbage--even with good intentions. A consumer's inability to process goods into waste correctly is determined by production decisions made much closer to the original raw material.

Pollution is a function of design.

The most effective way to treat pollution burdens is not to create them in the first place. Source reduction in the industrial setting may be, in fact, the only way of eliminating industrial pollution.

Design is hard to understand in an economic setting--especially for an American brought up on the notion of designer jeans. Designer jeans are to design what a comic book is to the Bill of Rights. Even a person who understands the economics of why designer jeans command a higher price knows that all jeans are equally difficult to dispose of properly when worn out. Design as a solution for industrial waste seems hopelessly subtle. It is not. Simply put, if all waste is to be properly processed, the separation of waste into components is almost as difficult as the original combining of elements. Demanufacture is roughly equal to manufacture.

Demanufacture is made easier when it is anticipated in the original manufacturing process. Designing for Disassembly (DFD) is best done by the original product designers. They have the most relevant expertise.

It is only money!!!

The value of money, like pollution, is a function of design. Design is the key link between the economy and the environment. The financial superstructure must be the servant of the real economy--not the other way around! Despoiling the environment so some predatory financiers can prove their industrial ignorance while misprogramming computer chips is intolerable. The argument that something of environmental necessity cannot be done because there is not enough money, is utterly absurd. Money can be created by pushing a few buttons on a computer. To think otherwise is to be trapped in a preindustrial mind-set. If monetary policy creates pollution problems, then the time has come for a new monetary policy.

The principle of elegant designs can, and should, be applied to everything. Since everything is too wide a subject to treat meaningfully, this discussion of the applications for elegant technology will be confined to five areas: waste management, food production, medicine and population control, elegant tools, and energy. Keep in mind that because elegant technology is closed-loop technology, these five areas cannot be easily separated, even for this simple discussion.

Elegant Waste Management

The most important aspect of waste management is to separate toxic substances and combinations from the rest of the waste stream. Cardboard can be fed to four-chambered-stomach farm animals as food if it is not contaminated with toxic inks and other chemicals. Burning waste products is less possible when toxic waste is present. If toxic substances can be kept from the rest of the waste products, many interesting possibilities for elegant solutions for waste disposal become possible.

Nontoxic wastes can be placed into three categories: fresh organic waste such as human or animal excrement, grass clippings or leaves, and discarded food; fibrous or flammable organic waste such as wood products, paper and packaging, or tires; metals and other inorganic waste such as old concrete. Most non-toxic wastes have intrinsic value so that recovery efforts should pay for themselves by almost any accounting method, even (or especially) if the recovery methods are sophisticated. Some waste disposal methods are profitable.

Fresh organic waste should be composted and returned to the soil. The Dutch have applied significant technology to mass composting efforts. They believe that composting creates a fine fertilizer that will replace a much petroleum-based, synthetic fertilizer. Composting is equivalent in hard costs to any other form of sewage treatment. Living in a tiny country, much of which was wrested from the seas with great effort, the Dutch long ago reached the conclusion that fresh organic waste is too valuable to discard--even if they had a place for disposal. They realize that proper composting is best done by professionals, with the proper equipment, and in a central location. Farmers may compost for themselves because they have the space for such an activity, but crowded cities afford no such option. Even in the United States, where many people live on suburban plots large enough for personal composting efforts, such effort is rare because it is a bother. Waste to fertilizer conversion will only happen in urbanized, industrial societies when it is done in cities and towns because of the nature of the people who live in them.

Burning waste, even when the heat is fully used, is a solution of last resort. Sophisticated burning efforts can produce safe gasses such as carbon dioxide and water vapor--both used by plants. The ash has significantly less mass than the products to be burned and can be mixed into the compost heap. Ash disposal is greatly simplified if the burning process does not itself cause the formation or collection of toxic substances in the ash. Therefore, a burning solution must involve upstream considerations.

The burning process itself is a downstream solution that is greatly simplified if what is to be burned lacks known toxic additives. Plain paper can be safely burned in the environment. Paper with ink on it, which is most of the paper discarded, presents a much greater burden. Plastics are flammable but usually produce toxic gasses when burned. The best solution would be to make ink and plastics so that they may be safely burned. When that is not possible, the incinerator must be more sophisticated to compensate for these substances. As in all good design problems, this decision will involve a trade-off between the costs of reformulating ink and plastics versus the costs of greater incinerator sophistication.

Since the public will end up bearing the costs for any solution, including the decision to do nothing, how this is accomplished and by what method must be a public decision. Since there is valuable heat as a by-product of this disposal method, the benefits must also be weighed in the cost accounting.

There is no known safe method for disposing of automobile tires. There is much potential energy in a worn-out tire but burning them causes a big mess. Whoever solves this one will be an environmental hero.

One thing must be remembered whenever burning is suggested as a solution. Burning is, by definition, rapid oxidation. Simply, this means that while visually the pile of ash is smaller than the pile of garbage, oxygen has been added to whatever has disappeared. Eventually, most waste plus oxygen equals carbon dioxide. Of all the pollutants, carbon dioxide is the least harmful, unless huge amounts are generated. Any burning scheme must consider the volume of carbon dioxide generated and plan for its reuse. Societies must be very careful because fire, by itself, will not eliminate any environmental stress.

Metals should be recovered and recycled into the resource stream. Old concrete and other discarded building products can be safely buried. Buildings are supposed to be permanent so their disposal does not cry out for an elegant solution. Steel can be taken out of the waste magnetically and most other metals have enough value to justify individual recovery efforts.

The key is separation. First there is the separation between toxic and nontoxic wastes and then there is the separation within categories. Who will do the separation is a social question of the first order. There are several answers. In a community where people are normally very responsible, trustworthy, thrifty, and fastidious, the separation efforts may be entrusted to the individual waste generators. An apartment building could have two garbage chutes: one for flammable waste and the other for metals. Fresh organic waste would go down the sewage system. Such as solution would be the least expensive but the presence of a very few uncooperative individuals would cause the scheme to fail. A simple-technology alternative would be to hire unskilled workers and separate the waste at a central location. The snazzy method would be to separate the waste using highly automated systems.

A technologically simple solution would be best for locales with unemployment and lower capital availability. The automated method would be best for wealthy suburbanites who like to see their city employees wearing ties. How the separation process is accomplished is far less important than the critical decision to separate.

Coping with nontoxic waste is best solved with macro solutions. The toxic waste problem is a micro problem in that each chemical or other waste product must be treated individually. The problem of nuclear waste is being deliberately ignored here because there is no known solution. The great geniuses who gave humanity this form of toxic waste must be put to work on a solution--if there is one.

It must be remembered that toxic waste is both a technical and a social problem. The technical problem can only be addressed with the certain knowledge that everything that can be made can be unmade. Some toxic waste can be burned under very careful conditions if the true nature of the waste is known. Even this solution assumes a great deal about the social reality. For toxic waste to be known, collected, and treated properly, it must be tracked very carefully from manufacture to disposal. Getting a large company to spend the effort to track the progress of a toxic waste will be very simple compared to tracking the millions of individuals and small companies who produce toxic waste. It is impossible to imagine an environmental police force able to check every person that buys a can of paint remover. It may come to the point, however, that toxic substances are sold only to licensed individuals and companies paying to neutralize, alter, treat, and recover the toxic waste. This would force companies that make toxic substances to alter their formulas or get out of the market--a powerful incentive to reformulate their products. This would be the preferred upstream solution.

Unmaking a toxic waste involves a process very roughly equivalent to making the product in the first place. Under linear industrialization, the costs of toxic de-manufacture are nearly impossible to ascertain because much is still technologically impossible--under such conditions, costs are practically infinite.

Early DFD efforts have shown that with elegant design, demanufacturing requires approximately 1/4 the energy and 1/10 of the labor necessary to manufacture the original product. To be completely successful, DFD should meet a disposal cost target of 1/100 of the energy and 1/1000 of the labor.

For many vital toxic substances, DFD may prove impossible. Unless a toxic waste can be converted to a valuable new resource--a very improbable solution in many cases, or can be easily identified and neutralized, proper disposal for toxic waste will, mostly, result in added costs. These costs, whatever they may be, must be reflected in the selling price of toxic substances--however necessary.

Elegant Agriculture

Agriculture is the original industry from which all other industries sprang. Not only are many tools, inventions, systems, and production structures directly related to agriculture, but agriculture provides the food necessary for the growth of all other industries. In a real sense, cities are the product of agriculture. Industry and agriculture are so closely linked that a discussion of one is a discussion of the other.

If environmentalism is defined as preservation, then agriculture is the original anti-environmental activity. Agriculture does not preserve but alters the landscape. Whether this alteration is an improvement is very much open to debate. Some agricultural practices, such as terracing, are improvements over the natural state. Others, such as slash and burn--unless done in a carefully controlled, preindustrial, long-cycle manner--leads to the environmental catastrophe of the Amazon basin.

There is an incredible array of agricultural practices. Almost every method of food production has probably been tried somewhere on the planet. Agriculture methods vary with soil conditions, climate, and culture. The environmental reason for owner-operated agriculture is that because these natural differences are so subtle, each small plot of land must be cared for like a cherished member of the family. Within the body of collective wisdom gathered through experimentation are to be found all the necessary elements for an environmentally benign, elegant, and sustainable agriculture.

Environmental decline caused by agriculture can be traced to two basic sources: the adaptation by agriculture of the lessons of linear technology learned in the industrial revolution; and, the scale of agriculture brought on by the rapid population growth rates associated with the twentieth century. Both sources are closely related and manifest themselves extensively in the agricultural practices of North America. Because North American agriculture is considered to be so successful, it is widely copied and admired throughout the world. Without meaning even the smallest slight to agricultural practices in the rest of the world, this discussion will focus on industrialized North American agriculture. The environmental questions of North American agriculture must be solved or else we are leading others to their doom.

As the early products of twentieth century industrialization found thier way to the farm, life became much easier. Tractors and the internal combustion engine joined forces with nineteenth century inventions such as the Deere plow and the McCormick reaper to make farmers faster and more productive. Farms that could be run by a single family grew in size. The cultural definition of a farmer also began to change.

Each additional industrial product changed the way farm work was organized. If a farmer bought a tractor, his job description changed to include the ability to fix a tractor when it breaks at a critical time during harvest. There are implement repairmen in the small communities that serve agriculture, but when harvest comes, they are too busy to help everyone. Farming as an occupation now includes the skill of heavy equipment repair.

The distinction between modern and preindustrial farming is the availability of electricity. A modern dairy barn is filled with the technologies of a small factory--compressed air, hydraulics, refrigeration, vacuum lines, and conveyor belts. Equipment for bovine medicine and bacteria reduction, artificial insemination, and equipment sterilization show that the modern farmer has become a scientist. To feed the cows, the farmer must grow crops--a process that involves selecting genetically altered seeds, testing soils, purchasing appropriate soil nutrients and predicting the weather.

The modern American farmer-mechanic-lab technician-scientist-businessperson must have absorbed more information and mastered more skills than almost any other known occupation. Far from being peasants, modern farmers constitute an elite profession. Less than two percent of the population feeds the country with surpluses for export--the agricultural crisis of the 1980s was not caused by inefficient production methods. Not all this production efficiency flows from good farming practices, unfortunately. As with other industrial enterprise, American farming is charged with environmental devastation--such as soil erosion, groundwater contamination, and pesticide poisoning.

If an elegant agriculture is the goal, it must be remembered that the cultural needs of agriculture are larger than the technological and environmental changes required. An elite profession is being asked to get better. The science of sustainable agriculture is well researched, yet the 1980s crisis in American agriculture has increased the cultural difficulty of converting to sustainable agriculture. During that time, anyone with debt faced the fact that banks could change numbers faster than a farmer could increase production. The old song about the mortgage working overtime gained new meaning. When the numbers exceeded production, the lender foreclosed. The farmer most likely to be in debt was young. The 1980s catastrophe in American agriculture changed the demographics of the land--there are no young farmers left. Most operating farmers are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. These old foxes are set in their ways. If this trend continues, we may see the day when potential farmers must be financially encouraged to farm--much like rural doctors. It is possible that the United States will have a sustainable agricultural future only if elegant agriculture is treated as a public works project.

Any form of enterprise that has many examples of linear technology is probably going to be an enterprise that has replaced human muscle with mechanical power. Nothing could be more descriptive of agriculture. North American agriculture is much admired because it is productive. This measure of productivity is not a measure of how much food is produced on an acre of land although North American agriculture rates very high in this category; rather productivity is a measure of how much food is produced by each farmer. By this measure, the North American farmer has no peer. It must be remembered that this form of productivity is a function of automation and automation requires energy. The high energy requirement for the current realization of North American agriculture is a technology trap.

Primitive agricultural methods avoid the technology trap, but primitive agriculture means giving up many things that are routine fixtures of twentieth century life and choosing a life that is very difficult. Some groups, such as the Amish, have maintained a continuous link to past agricultural practices and have an organized social structure that eases the burden through communal cooperation. Most modern farmers have long since passed the point of returning to past agricultural practices. The ability to weld a broken part on a combine and the ability to fashion a harness for a horse are two very different skills. As multitalented as most North American farmers are, their talents are different in scope and function from the talents of an Amish farmer. To adopt the methods of primitive technology, most North American farmers would literally have to start over from the beginning. As farming is a complex, multiskilled occupation that really can only be learned by growing up on a farm, starting over from scratch would give the expression "born again" a new meaning. This is obviously impossible.

Energy is not the only technology trap. Modern agriculture relies on a host of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Anyone who seriously believes that pesticides are something that can and should be eliminated, should be required to read the accounts of the grasshopper invasions of the 1870s and 1880s. People starved to death. People watched as a year's work was devoured in 30 minutes. Synthetic herbicides and fertilizers have caused productivity of both land and human effort to rise dramatically. Fragile, but high producing, hybrid seeds need heavy applications of both. Doing without either could cause serious food shortages.

Synthetic land additives are destroying the very land they are supposed to protect. The rich, black topsoils of the central prairies of the United States are not so rich and black any more. In many places, continuous applications of chemicals have destroyed the natural fertility. In places where topsoil used to contain 200 kinds of worms, there are none left. Worms enrich the soil although some, such as cutworm, destroy crops. Killing them all to destroy the one reduces natural fertility. Add to that, agricultural practices which encourage erosion, and there is not very much topsoil left--even the dead kind. Fertile topsoil is as necessary to life as water. Natural fertility can be replaced with artificial fertility and the plants will not know the difference. Destroying natural fertility and replacing it with a fertility that is manufactured from a finite supply of oil and natural gas is a prescription for disaster. Americans should be aware that Iowa is now largely a natural sponge that holds water, chemicals, and plant roots. Because these synthetics are based on expensive petroleum feedstocks, the first sign of an agricultural crises caused by this technology trap will be widespread economic distress. Economic distress among farmers is merely the symptom of the impending environmental distress, which, in turn, could cause a catastrophic collapse in food production. The society that is caught in the technotrap of synthetic land additives will be crippled.

Elegant solutions to the problems of agriculture are socially possible but technically difficult. Replacing synthetic land additives and fossil energy is a huge problem. Often, the technoproblems of agriculture are caused by practices that are perceived to be the ideal or best solution. Most farmers will not argue substance when the subject of environmental technotraps is raised. Their response is more like, "Sure I have problems because energy is too expensive, fertilizers do not raise productivity enough to pay for themselves, and the poison I am using to kill weeds is making me sick. I'd drop every last one of them if there was a better solution!" Farmers probably understand the notion of a closed loop system better than anyone. Not only are they daily witnesses to natural processes that city dwellers may see a few times in a lifetime, they already employ many elegant, upstream, closed-loop systems. Every time a farmer spreads manure on the field, an age old and simple demonstration of a closed system practice is taking place.

The farmer does not have the time, energy, or resources to organize new industrial solutions--running a 600 acre farm is work enough. It is organizationally impossible for a single farmer to change the base of the fertilizer from natural gas to municipal waste. Composting produces a low-grade fertilizer in the sense that there is not as much enrichment value per pound as in the concentrated synthetics. Shipping the organic waste from the city back to the farm may seem a good idea, and inevitably, that is what must be done.

The costs of shipping heavy, low-grade fertilizers would be absolutely frightening to an industry that has been plagued by shipping woes. The farmer cannot do the research and development necessary to concentrate compost so that shipping would not be a greater hassle than the current levels. That is the job for universities and cities and industry. The farmers cannot pay the price to ship low-grade material. The elegant technical solutions for agriculture must come from cities populated with people who have never thought for one second about the source of their food. City dwellers have the capacity to solve the technical problems of agriculture but first they must become aware that agriculture dilemmas are their own as certainly as zoning ordinances and police protection.

Elegant solutions to agriculture must have an emphasis on a trouble-free operation. Farmers with feedlots could probably generate their own methane with devices such as are used on large farms in China. The Chinese claim that some of their collective farms are energy self-sufficient because of their methane generators. As a typical North American farmer has about the same resource input as a Chinese collective, the scale of the technology is about right. For Chinese methane generators to work in North America, they must be almost automatic and extremely reliable. This cannot be a technology that requires several operators working full time. A farmer could be encouraged to solarize the buildings, make fuel from droppings, or any of a host of other elegant solutions, if and only if the farmer can be assured that the solution is cost-effective and works as promised. Until now, most of these solutions have been nothing but a major headache. Equipment maintenance already occupies more time than the farmer would wish-more headaches he does not need.

Of all the needs for elegant technology, the needs of agriculture are most pressing. There is simply no way to argue with the biosphere and raise food simultaneously. Farming in North America is an industrial enterprise, but it is also an environmental enterprise. Only an industrial environmental solution will produce the required result. Linear industrialization and agriculture are incompatible. Closing the loop with agriculture is not so much a problem of farmers but of joining the farm to the city. An elegant agriculture must move away from a focus on production and toward diversification and sustainability. Government agricultural programs must trade production controls and price subsidies for environmental concerns. This known route of city-farm cooperation should be explored further in any democracy where the numbers of directly interested farmers have fallen so far that all legislative muscle is lost.

Elegant Medicine and Population Control

Unregulated industrial medicine in the United States has redefined the meaning of absurd. While millions are denied basic care, others have so much medicine forced upon them they must go to court to have treatment stopped. While prenatal care is neglected, hospitals will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to "save" the life of a one-pound prematurely born infant--a life permanently deformed by invasive medicine. Transplanted organs promise new life but in fact, make patients permanently addicted to hospitals while incurring costs that no one person could ever afford. Medicine consumes nearly 13 percent of GNP, which cripples industry. Medical waste is emerging as the largest single hazardous disposal headache. Worst of all, many cultural dilemmas are intrinsic to industrial medicine itself. Socialized medicine, as it is manifest in Scandinavia, fairly delivers services and preventive care, but environmental costs are similar.

Industrial medicine is a downstream solution and is fraught with serious ethical questions. It has become so expensive that the upstream solution of prevention has finally regained popularity. The basic idea is that because getting sick is so expensive, the better alternative is to stay healthy.

Wearing seatbelts is an example of an upstream industrial approach to a serious medical need. The general drop in automotive fatalities in North America can be attributed, in large part, to better trauma treatment. Huge applications of industrial medicine have saved the lives of many who would have otherwise died. Often, however, the lives that are saved are not very fulfilling because of permanent injuries--many of which are to the brain and nervous system. Most head injuries in automobile accidents are the result of the head striking some portion of the interior of the car. In the past 15 years, improvements in automobile design have greatly reduced the possibility of injury. There is a catch. None of these design improvements work unless people take the time to buckle in. Seatbelts are a public health issue. Even with airbags, seatbelts must be worn.

Passing mandatory seatbelt legislation was so difficult that it does not bode well for other forms of necessary upstream public health changes. The rise of neonatology, the medical practice of treating premature infants, is illustrative of the medical infatuation with downstream solutions.

Neonatology has two general forms of patients: those with low birth weights, and those with birth defects. Low birth weights often associated with premature birth have obvious upstream solutions. Prenatal care for the mother, mostly in the form of proper nutrition, could solve the medical tragedy of low birth weight. This solution is unpopular for political reasons. The medical lobby has far more clout than poor mothers so while governments willingly pick up the high cost of treating the prematurely born, much more cost-effective nutrition programs are cut. As it can easily cost $500,000 (1992) to treat a premie, and the treatment itself can cause expensive lifelong medical troubles such as brain damage, even expensive nutrition programs become exceedingly inexpensive by comparison.

The upstream solution to birth defects must address another problem. It can be argued that most birth defects are environmentally caused. It makes intrinsic sense to so argue. The theory of evolution teaches that species mutate in response to a changed environment. It makes perfect sense to assume that a child born without a skull, or some other ghastly birth defect, is simply nature's experiment in trying to produce a human who can cope with PCBs in the water supply or some other form of toxic pollution. The rate of children born without significant defect has fallen to 88 out of 100 in the United States. The effect of toxins in the environment on the birth of healthy children is an emerging health issue. Getting rid of toxic waste is the upstream medical solution. If a significant fraction of the resources given over to industrial medicine were applied to toxic waste disposal, the issues might be resolved. The first step is to connect the two.

Population control is the ultimate upstream-downstream issue. No matter how many elegant solutions are found to the hazards of linear industrialization, the planet is still finite. Linear industrialization could continue in its present realization for a very long time if the populations were small and stable. Almost any practice known to humans is harmful if enough people do it. High populations put intense pressure on the biosphere.

Because the biosphere is finite, any form of human industrial life-support activities must also be finite. Those who would argue against population control or believe that the solutions will take care of themselves, should be required to explain how the planet is going to support these new humans or be ignored.

Elegant Tools

Elegant technology assumes the existence of elegant tools. Tools, according to Bronowski, drive the development of the human species. Peaceful industrial cultures arise when a society places more importance on the development of tools than on weapon improvements.

Tool-driven social and cultural advances are not automatic and there is often a large time lag between a major tool improvement and the social response. The tool that drove the Protestant Reformation in Germany--the printing press, was perfected over a half century before the social change.

Those not familiar with tools may even recognize this time lag in the history of music. Most musical forms have a classical period. At some time following the perfection of a new instrument, there is a period when the music written for this instrument is considered the best of the breed. For the pipe organ, the favorite composer is Bach: the piano, Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt: the large concert hall-large orchestra, Beethoven: the small concert hall, Hayden and Mozart: electric guitar, Chuck Berry, James Brown, the Beatles, and the Doors.

All have become standards of excellence by which all later efforts are compared. Subsequent composers are considered derivative. Orchestra boards attempt to educate their patrons with new music while everyone wants to pay to hear the old warhorses. Rock music has spawned radio stations devoted to playing classic rock exclusively. Popular music written from 1964 to 1974 will be played forever--second generation fans of the Doors and the Who exist already.

The pattern of technologically driven change appears constant. In the above examples, the science came first--sufficient precision to manage compressed air in the case of the pipe organ. In its day, the tracore-action organ was the most sophisticated and difficult construction feat attempted by humans--the sixteenth century's space shot. A cast-iron frame gave the piano its large sound and dynamic range. Improvements in stringed instruments and concert hall construction made possible the glories of collectivized sound. Beethoven has been called history's greatest acoustical engineer. Electric amplification made it possible for a tiny group of self-taught musicians to play their music for the whole world.

The time lag between the appearance of new technology and the classical period of the new art form seems about 30 years. The generation of people who produce the new technology seems less creative with the possibilities than the following generations that assume the technology's existence from birth. It is then the creative geniuses appear who exploit the new technology's most fascinating possibilities. In the case of music, a finite number of melodies are pleasing to the ear. Discordant orchestral music causes accelerated hearing loss as the Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam recently discovered. The classical period in music occurs when a composer, or a handful of composers, use up all the pleasant melodies of the new technology.

Since the industrial revolution, producers have been forced to choose between inexpensive and versatile tools that produce primitive products, or expensive precision tools that are the requirements of technical excellence. Precision is expensive: How precise do you want to be?

The tool dilemma of industrialism has been solved. In a technological tour de force, Toyota stunned the industrial world with the introduction of the Lexus 400SC. Car and Driver called it the automotive equivalent of "piling on" in football. It was Toyota's way of telling the automotive world--whatever you make, we can make it better.

Toyota has no magic pipeline to superior tools. Therefore Toyota's message of the 400SC is even more telling--it is not the tools but how the tools are used. More telling yet--Toyota's most productive engine plant uses tools at least 30 years old. A plant engineer explained that this time was necessary fully to understand these classic machines.

Normally, when an automobile maker brings out a sedan designed to be completely new, the sport coupe derivation is considered a marketing device sold to a small group of aficionados. In essence, the price of a coupe is higher than a sedan with two more doors.

Toyota changed the rules. Their sport coup would cost less and would use over 80 percent new parts. These were not just any new parts, either. The SC was styled in Southern California by artists who were instructed not to use pencils.

For much of the history of machine tools, precision was a function of straight lines and circles. Other shapes cost more to produce and were made with less precision. Using computer-operated tools brought precision and equal cost to the manufacture of any shape. The instruction to the stylists--think shape, not line. The stylists dreamed up the shape of the 400SC by hand forming wet plaster in balloons. It was not only the overall shape of the car that was sculpted, all the parts of this new car were sculpted--down to the last knob and speaker grill.

Toyota showed true commitment to their promise--very few of these delightful sensual sculptures--designed to be touched--were overruled for production or cost considerations. Such a commitment to artistic purity is still rare, but proves an important point. Toyota demonstrated that they could fabricate any shape from any material for any reason. They proved that the problem of production is lack of imagination because everything is possible.

Though an enlightened tool-driven culture is possible, it is not inevitable that tools will lead to the promised land--there is no technological determinism. A successful tool-driven culture reflects a conscious social choice.

General Motors has tools that make Toyota's look positively primitive. Former GM CEO Roger Smith spent $20 billion in one decade for better tools. He could have been a producer hero-but he will never be. Smith, a living advertisement for outlawing accountants as heads of industrial companies, did not know why he was buying these tools. The only legitimate reason for new tools, during Smith's crazy reign, was job elimination. GM market share plunged from over 50 percent to less than 30 percent. The average age of the buyer of GM's products rose to between 55 and dead. Job losses destroyed GM factory towns.

Industrial environmentalism is the ultimate possibility--made possible by elegant tools. Again, this is not technological determinism--cultures must choose to use the new tools for this end. Evidence is still slim that elegant tools lead to elegant production. Fortunately, there exists a perfect example of environmental choice driving the uses of technological possibilities.

Sweden decided by election to abandon nuclear power. This was a grave choice! Nuclear power drives Sweden's high living standard. There are no simple alternatives. Solar power is weak at her far northern latitude--Stockholm's days are less than two hours long at the winter solstice. She has no oil and the few remaining supplies of metallurgical coal are too precious to burn--besides global warming is a hazard and burning coal is not an environmental improvement. Good hydropower sites have been developed.

One of Sweden's hero-occupations is mechanical engineering. If a replacement for nuclear power was to be found, it would be an engineered solution. Because space and water heating was the largest single source of energy consumption, conservation here would produce the largest energy savings. A house that used less energy was the socially defined goal. Ideas that would lead to no energy consumption at all would be entertained.

This effort in cultural ways resembled the American space program of the 1960s. Large corporations and universities joined forces. The first major decision was to produce an airtight, super-insulated house. It was assumed that such a house could not be built unless modern factory methods were employed. To be airtight and energy-efficient, the house must fit together as well as a Volvo's engine.

Folks do not like factory-built housing because of its well-deserved reputation for ugliness. Borrowing a winsome idea from the Danes, the Swedes decided that precision-crafted manufactured parts of a house could be assembled like a giant Lego® toy. These super-Lego parts could be as large and complicated as necessary so long as it could be trucked down the highway. Each fresh house design would be analyzed by computer and broken into to super-Lego components. Anything from a mother-in-law's cottage to a mansion could be built with these methods. Anything, as the Toyota's stylists were told, would be possible. If these factory-built houses were ugly, it would not be the fault of the factory.

Computers would direct production machinery which meant that a materials list, down to the last screw, could be calculated instantly. A new home-owner could be informed of each modification's cost with certainty--not only in Kroner cost but in energy consumption. With factory methods, the energy performance of a new house could be projected as accurately as the mileage on a new car.

Because factory housing was an environmental project, environmental design was given new openings. It was discovered that a program could generate a landscape planting design based on each building site's unique environmental setting. By analyzing the path of the sun and the prevailing winds by day and speed, this program will specify the best tree species and location to block the wind, shade the dwelling in summer and allow the sun to shine through in winter. This program can recommend window locations, size of eave overhang, and door location.

Factory housing had satisfied the architects, the consumer advocates, and the environmentalists, but all objections were still not overcome. The health experts were concerned about the indoor air quality of a super-tight dwelling. Moisture and radon gas were big sticking points. High moisture grows molds and fungus which can cause health problems and structural damage. Elegant design solved this concern. An exhaust system drawing from the bathrooms, laundry room facilities, and the kitchen would use an air-to-air exchanger to warm the air drawn in from the outside. By equalizing air pressure between indoors and outdoors, this exhaust system saved far more energy than it consumed. Indoor air pollution was eliminated.

These houses perform magnificently. In many examples, body occupant heat and electric lighting are sufficient to heat the home on most days--even in winter. In one culturally telling example, twelve homes are provided with hot water and indoor warmth from the exhausted heat of the refrigeration unit for a hockey rink.

As every producer knows, great projects only succeed if they are funded. Banks had to be convinced that this method of homebuilding was a good investment. High-performance housing was more expensive. Banks had to be shown that the energy savings paid for the better house. Because factory methods are so reliable, the energy consumption of the new home could be predicted for 50 years--longer than a mortgage. The sophisticated argument postulated that because this new housing was less vulnerable to an energy price increase, the owner was a more reliable source of mortgage payments and deserved an interest-rate cut. Lower interest rates changed the energy equation so that more sophisticated improvements could be designed into the new house without raising the monthly payments. By designing energy efficiency into the structure and landscape, these improvements became permanent.

Because these houses are somewhat portable, they can be erected at great distance from the factories. When England expanded its military presence in the Falkland-Malvenas Islands in 1982, it faced a severe housing shortage. Within weeks, a Swedish factory was producing the parts for cozy, energy-efficient housing for a cold, windswept island near Antarctica.

Before the dollar devaluation of 1985, Sweden even tried to sell this housing in the cold-weather parts of the United States and Canada with some success. It was discovered that if the military is not paying the shipping bill, the practical economic limit is about 50 miles. The Japanese, world masters at spotting a good industrial trend, duplicated the production facilities and wrote new environmental programs.

One can only dream of how the world would be different, in terms of global policy and internal disorder, if the United States and the old Soviet Union would have employed these methods. Tragically, both had all the necessary tools.

Tools are only tools. They are promise, not results. The culture has to decide how they will be employed. Industrial environmentalism is only possible--not inevitable.

The essential element of elegant technology is design excellence. Design excellence is a product of environmental awareness. Tool sophistication is an important element of the industrial environment. Truly elegant solutions to industrial-environmental dilemmas include an awareness of the on-site access to various levels of technology. Elegant design must take this into account.

Because elegant tools make mass production unnecessary, the problems of mass-production, from the wastefulness of excess capacity to environmental ruin, are no longer imperatives of the tools themselves. Many of the design compromises necessary for mass production can be no longer justified. This leads to a significant shift in thinking. There is a big difference between designing the perfect housing unit and designing the perfect house for a particular site. As each site is different, so each housing unit should be different even if the same design criteria are used. The example of housing is illuminating because people are already aware that different sites require different structures.

The unimaginative who fear social change see the computerization of tools as a capitalist plot that will be used to enable higher rates of production with fewer workers. Often, they have a strong point because the equally unimaginative managers of industry have mostly confined themselves to this application. In this case, the fault is not with the tools, but with the misunderstanding of their potential.

The industrial environmental solution will not fail for lack of tooling potential. In fact, all the pieces may already be in place. The last missing piece in the tooling puzzle was the necessity that computer chips were formerly mass-produced items. Computer chip manufacturers were about as capital intensive as steelmakers. By 1991, the chipmaking tooling has become so sophisticated that designer chips can be made in very small numbers. Chipmaking may become a cottage industry, which in turn means that micro-fine, computerized manufacturing tolerances are available to production runs of ONE.

If tools are no longer the restraint, then the problems are social and economic. The end to mass production, mass consumption, and mass distribution will require major cultural changes even though the alternative is so promising. This is true especially in the United States where size is considered the ultimate measure of the success of any endeavor. The universal availability of very sophisticated small-scale manufacture may lead to the desired regionalization of technology. In response to the industrial environmental needs, each locale has a slightly different subset so each solution must be different. It is comforting to know that tools are not the issue. It is distressing to know that the dilemma is now merely lack of imagination.

Social institutions do have a way of responding, however slowly. If the cooperative was the social invention to respond to mass-production, the franchise is the response to the demassification of industry. What is relevant about the franchise idea is that it is a way to spread industrial recipes in a commercially valid way so that consistency can be maintained in essential areas. As the franchise idea has grown, the distinction between what is essential and what is not has become more sophisticated. In the early days, for example, fast-food franchisers insisted that the buildings must be identical. Now, individual operators have wide latitude over architecture, decor, suppliers, community involvement, hiring practices, and so on. Even so, a Big Mac tastes pretty much the same in Tokyo or in Memphis so tight control is maintained over the basic recipe.

Whether franchising will come to the business of recycling waste control filter elements or some other form of Industrial environmental necessity is an open question. What is known is that the franchising idea could become much more sophisticated in scope and application. Preparing food is one of the simplest industrial recipes. There is nothing to prevent a complex recipe from being distributed through the same social device.

If the system of franchising is not up to the task of industrial regionalization and demassification, then a new social and economic mechanism must be invented. What it will look like or be named is not known. What is known is what it should do. The trick is to invent a social-economic-distribution system that will enable more expensive, well made and sophisticated products to be sold more cheaply. For example, when a product must sell for four times production cost to pay for distribution, there is a real incentive to lower production costs below the point where a proper product can be produced. There must also be new tooling arrangements to prevent overproduction. The waste of overproduction is no longer environmentally, socially (as in jobs lost) and economically affordable. The goal is to make the minimum number of ideal products rather than the maximum amount of junk.

Elegant Energy Applications

No industrial-environmental solution is possible without a discussion of energy. The second law of thermodynamics cannot be ignored. Organic fossil-based energy use is the prefect example of a linear system built into the industrial infrastructure. Waste steel can be collected, toxic waste can be traced and treated, but it is impossible to collect the energy of the urban heat island. Once energy becomes diffuse, it lacks practical value. Unfortunately, the one-way path of energy is the paradigm of the industrial state. Run short of high-grade energy and linear industrialization stops. Fortunately, high-grade energy sources are not necessary for most of the uses to which they have been applied.

The key to elegant energy application is to use little, employ many renewable sources, and reuse as much high-grade energy as possible. The industrial-environmental solution to linear energy must be a combination of conservation, renewability, and reuse. All must be employed because energy is the power for industrialization in all its forms.

In the United States, approximately 50 percent of energy consumed goes for space heating and domestic hot water, 25 percent goes for electrical generation, 20 percent is used for transportation, and 5 percent is used for manufacturing and industrial applications. Each use could be reduced, in some cases dramatically. The use of high-grade energy for such low-grade applications as space and water heating is likely to be affected by conservation efforts but all forms of energy use can be reduced through available technical means. What is important is that energy use is a function of design. It is built into the system. The United States' consumption patterns are a function of the nature of the industrial infrastructure: how cities are laid out, how food is processed and distributed, how efficiently fuels are changed into useful work, and how buildings are insulated.

Generally speaking, manufacturing processes and transportation require high-grade heat energy, space heating requires a very low-grade form of heat, and electrical generation falls somewhere in between. High-grade sources of energy are finite and increasingly rare. Lowering consumption of high-grade energy, a laudable and necessary goal, must be addressed by technical improvements: making a car go farther on a gallon of gasoline and by structural changes, such as converting a low-grade need to use a low-grade source of energy. Most people have some experience with technical improvements but do not understand structural improvements.

Most electricity is generated by steam turbines. Water is heated in a pressurized system that forces a super-heated steam through turbine blades. The electricity generated is about 40 percent of the heat used to heat the water. This may seem like a low rate of conversion efficiency but it is quite good. Gasoline powered automobiles are about 20 percent efficient, even though the car may get very good gas mileage. In cars, the excess heat is removed through the exhaust pipe and the radiator. The heat lost is low-grade heat in that it is no longer useful for powering an automobile. In electrical generation, the low-grade heat is dispersed through cooling towers and warm water dumped into rivers where it enters the environment as thermal pollution.

The exhausted low-grade heat from electrical generation still contains useful heat energy. In most countries of northern Europe, this water is piped through cities and used for space heating and domestic hot water. This system is usually called district heating. With district heating, citizens get electricity and heat for the same amount of energy as formerly only got them electricity. Forty percent of the energy still goes for electrical generation and the 60 percent is not discarded but is used to heat buildings and water.

District heating is an extremely good idea. It does not solve the linear direction that energy must take to conform to the second law of thermodynamics; it merely reuses the energy more than once as it tends toward entropy. Structurally, it is an elegant solution. Once the pipes have been laid and the homes converted to district heating requirements, any form of low-grade heat can be used. Where the buildings to be heated are very weather-tight to begin with, very small sources of low-grade heat can go a long way. Burning refuse can yield home heat with district heating. Most cities in the United States north of the 40th parallel could profit from the installation of district heating.

District heating is not the only example of changing the quality of the heat input. Electric trains are another example. Diesel fuel, which is used by most locomotives in the United States, is a high-grade heat source. It is also a premium fuel that is rare. Power a train with electricity and you can power the train with garbage, coal, falling water, wind, peat, and other sources of energy more common than diesel fuel. Since electricity is easily transported, the source of power does not have to be near the train. It can be located close to the energy source or close to a city where the waste heat can be used.

Combine technical improvements with structural improvements and only manufacturing, cars, trucks, airplanes, and farm machinery require high-grade sources of fuel. Low-grade sources of fuel are sufficient for all the other applications. Make the energy requirements low enough and the world of solar power become a distinct possibility. Solar power is plentiful but diffuse. This causes a technical headache when solar power is to replace conventional fuels. Attempts have been made to fashion a solar powered airplane or automobile without much success. A solar powered aircraft has flown over the English Channel but it was an experimental rather than a serious form of alternative transportation. Flying is a high-grade energy proposition. No meaningful discussion of the future can exclude the subject of solar power. For the immediate future, however, solar power must be confined to low-grade applications.

Solar power encompasses technologies such as biomass, wind power, solar concentrators, and photovoltaics. In the early, optimistic, and experimental phase of solar power, it was assumed that putting a solar collector on the roof would lead to everything from power-sharing to sinless perfection. Simple solar collectors did not work, unfortunately. The notion that a portion of the roof could collect enough energy to heat the interior of a conventional house was technologically preposterous. This phase was referred to as "active" solar power. Almost no examples of active solar worked. What proved to be much more successful is something called "passive solar." The idea of passive solar is to make the building as energy efficient as possible with insulation, quality windows, and an air-tight weather envelope. When the structure has energy needs so low that a human body or its lights can keep rooms warm under most conditions, then a proper orientation to the sun, well-designed overhangs, and solar porches become enough to heat the home. The only active solar collector that has proven itself is one used for hot water. This is logical because the dwelling only has to be warmed to 70· Fahrenheit whereas water must be heated to about 110· Fahrenheit.

Solar power as wind power has a bright future. The whole of the United States is linked together by an electrical grid. Where the power is generated is largely irrelevant and some areas of the United States have a plentiful supply of wind. North Dakota is a very unpleasant place to live and not many people have made it their home--yet it sometimes called the "Saudi Arabia" of wind energy. One of the worst features is the wind that blows almost constantly. People who live in North Dakota look on their windswept prairie as an ocean where exposure to the elements is incessant. Only the towns offer protection from the wind. A string of windmills along the North Dakota-Canadian border could produce electricity about 80 percent of the time which is about double the operating record of a nuclear power plant.

The key to wind power is embodied in the notion of a string of windmills. Experiments in wind power have concentrated their efforts on large windmills. This is contrary to good industrial practices. In leisure-class parlance, mass production is associated with shoddy production. This is false, of course, because the more examples of a single design produced, the more time, effort, and money can be spent on perfecting the design. Reliable windmills mean reliable bearings, lubrication systems that function in all weather conditions, blades that are not damaged by rain, sleet and snow, easy maintenance, and a whole host of considerations that will not be addressed by large, one-off, prototype windmills. Only mass-production techniques will make wind power a viable energy alternative. Many perfected windmills are preferable to fewer large windmills for another reason: when one fails, the results are much less noticeable. As for the social realities of mass wind power, North Dakotans already put up with Minuteman missile silos, so a string of windmills should cause little concern.

The Elegant Mix

The industrial-environmental future becomes most attractive when all the elegant methods are combined. Imagine a city with a resource recovery center that burns flammable waste for electrical generation and space heating, composts and concentrates organic waste for use by agriculture, and collects and recycles metals for reuse including the building of other recovery centers, laying the pipe for district heating, and infrastructure improvements. Imagine a city that reprocesses all toxic waste. Imagine a city without operating landfills and smokestacks. Imagine medicine designed to keep people healthy and when the time comes, lets them die with dignity. Imagine a system planned so that each new member of society has a place to fit in an environmental and industrial sense. Imagine a society where agricultural practices can continue far into the future without causing devastating environmental consequences. Imagine all that, and the possibilities of industrial environmentalism become real--a pleasant thought.

The scale of industrial environmentalism is at the same time its greatest attraction and its most serious drawback. It is a huge scheme. Any responsible person must ask how such a scheme can be politically and socially possible, and more importantly, how it will be paid for. These questions are not frivolous and the answers will constitute the remainder of this book. The question of what may happen if industrial environmentalism is not tried will also be addressed.

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