The “Abundance Pyramid” is a high level approximation of human survival and flourishing, published in Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, a techno-optimist’s book written by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. The pyramid is designed to break down the worlds problems into strata approachable by engineers and social entrepreneurs. Diamandis utilizes graphs to support his position of optimism:
These statistics are encouraging and Diamandis attributes them to advances in technology and the productivity that arises from technological innovation. But after reading What Machines Can’t Do, I’m convinced that technology in and of itself is not enough to uplift and sustain communities of the working class. So this is the first post in a series exploring the intersection of technology and politics of direct action, as they pertain to fundamental human needs.
This blog post will focus on one of the foundations of the Abundance Pyramid: Food.
Food scarcity has long been the alarmist problem of the future. Malthus pointed to a future of overpopulation and its plights – famine, disease, and territorial conflict. This is a logical conclusion considering the finite space on the surface of the Earth, and an upper limit of sustenance that Earth’s resources are capable of providing. Addressing these issues requires looking at the issues that come up with, and because of, food production. Growing and distributing food, particularly meat, is energy and labor intensive. Moreover, it requires an enormous amount of water. A solution to these inefficiencies that is often thrown around is vertical-indoor farming.
There are companies around the world exploring this new industry, including Japan, Korea, Los Angeles, and Boston. From growing in clean rooms to shipping containers, the technology of vertical farming is proving itself to be not only possible, but optimal. Vertical Farming has been shown to use 10% of the water of traditional field farming, require substantially less labor than outdoor farming, if performed in sterile conditions it requires no pesticides or herbicides, growing area is increased significantly, and crops can be grown throughout the year (source: verticalfarms.com)
Furthermore, Internet of Things (IoT) technology can be fully integrated into the vertical farming system, such that the harvest is fully monitored and automated. And when agriculture is opened up to automation, the growth, harvest, and processing of food could be optimized and accelerated to meet human needs and provide surplus for the foreseeable future. The FarmBot is a glimpse into this agro-automated industrial revolution.
Beyond plant-based food is lab-grown meat, dairy, and eggs – animal products produced without the suffering or captivity of animals. New Harvest is a non-profit that funds projects devoted to researching methods of cellular meat and animal-by product production.
Considering that the world is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, these food production technologies will likely require extensive utilization to prevent or mitigate mass suffering. Furthermore, it is estimated that between 6 and 7 billion will live in cities by 2050. By designing and implementing systems that produce food in urban centers, where most people will live, distribution costs to both people and the environment can be dramatically reduced. And most food will be delivered to an individual fresher than possible now.
Beyond culturing meat and growing plants indoors using robots and clean rooms, there are projects, technology, and ideas that can empower communities to have more control over their local resources and the knowledge required to use them to their full potential. Projects like the Open Source Seed Initiative aim to empower farmers to retain control over the intellectual aspects of their work:
While projects like Open Source Ecology aim to create open design kits of the industrial tools necessary to steward land – from homesteading to raising crops, and beyond:
When going through the list of these projects it’s hard not to think of the Abundance maxim: “The Future is Better than You Think.” But this is only a potential future, and one that hinges on vision, experimentation, and consistent effort to push for a society that puts people at the center of political/economic systems, utilizing technology that can optimize those systems, and prevent the worst of human nature from coming through.
Considering that the rich would rather prepare for a world ruined by their own greed than distribute wealth across society, collective and direct action is necessary in the design of this potential world now.
That direct action can be seen in the likes of Ron Finley’s Guerrilla Gardening or the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative. Food, and the means of producing it, can lead to profound shifts towards independence for disadvantaged communities. Moreover, collective ownership of the distribution of food, like that pursued by the Long Beach Grocery Cooperative, can be used to ensure that the food consumed in a community is traced back to clean and fair practices, while the money spent on that food stays within the locale of the cooperative.
While new technologies may offer opportunities of optimization or a complete re-imagining of global production and service, politics are required to organize and action labor to design and implement that new technology. Open-source is one means; utilizing blockchain to ensure transparency and trust might be another. Whatever the methodology is, it will need to be driven with an understanding of its impact on community and environment alike. This is particularly true for the production of food as our global population surpasses 9 billion. To me the fundamental question is simple:
“How can we ensure that food is a guaranteed right to every human being on the planet?”
I believe it’s possible, but the answer is ‘To Be Determined’. With enough minds from around the world, my faith is that determination will come when we need it.