Plenty of Oil

Written by Energy Tinkerer, wimbi

A man feels himself in need of some energy, so he goes to the lady who deals in that sort of thing, and orders some oil. To his surprise and delight, she gives him a hundred barrels, and only asks for one barrel back as payment.
“Wow” he says, “what a bargain”, and goes off and spends his oil on lots of fun things. 

But pretty soon he has burned up his 99 barrels of oil, and since he has got into some wasteful habits with it, is hankering for more, so he goes back to the lady, and again, she hands over 100 barrels of oil right off the shelf, but this time she asks for two barrels of it back as payment. The man is slightly surprised but still thinks he as got a great bargain for his 98 barrels of oil, and rushes off to the same games as before. 

But the next time he goes for oil, he is again surprised to find that this time the lady asks for 4 barrels in return, still a bargain, and he goes back to his oil-lubricated partying. 

The next trip to the lady, and this time its 8 barrels, then 16, still a great buy, but getting a bit painful, since by now he has got into wasting it real fast. And the next time, she wants 32 back, leaving him with only 68 to feed his addict habits- starting to really hurt. And the next, when she asks for 64 barrels back out of the 100 she gives him, he starts to get seriously worried, but what can he do, he’s just gotta have that oil. 

Then things get really bad, for his next fix, the lady offers him his 100 barrels same as always, but then, of all things, demands 128 barrels back as payment! Nonsense! The man is outraged- he can’t pay that price of course, since he hasn’t saved a drop of all the oil he has bought, he had blown it straight up into the stratosphere as quickly as he got it. 

“Hey, what kinda fool do you think I am, nobody would pay more oil than what they get when they get it!” 

The lady smiles pleasantly “You ask what kind of fool are you? A really big one, looks to me.”

The man is doubly outraged. She has added insult to injury. Unbearable! 

“Look here, you told me you had plenty of oil, and now you tell me it’s gonna cost me more than it’s worth. This is crazy, you have let me fall into a trap! But I gotta have that energy. I can’t live without it. What am I gonna do?” 

“Sure, I have plenty of oil,” Replies Mother Nature in a cheerful tone, “but of course you have to pay the price for it, which has got to go up as you use up the easy stuff and have to start digging deeper. Ever try heavy plumbing jobs on a heaving boat in a 40 below blizzard while being bulldozed by an iceberg? You are in a trap, alright, but you built it, and then jumped into it, I didn’t push you” “And” she adds as an afterthought, “you might have thought a little about how to use that oil when you had it, like, for example, finding some other source of energy before it got too expensive”, she says, squinting into the sunlight as a sort of a hint. 

The man, seeing no way out, falls down in a tooth gnashing, dirt-tearing, hopeless addict fit. 

Mother Nature, ignoring the silliness, goes off about her business, carefree as ever. 

Arthur Morgan And A Century Of Sustainability

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Bob Brecha

During this week’s sustainability commentary, University of Dayton professor Bob Brecha ties the work of Arthur Morgan and the Miami Conservancy District to our modern concept of sustainability.

It’s really hard to be in the Miami Valley area for very long without hearing about the Great Flood of 1913.   Cold spring days in March and torrential rains – about 10 inches over three days - resulted in devastating damage to communities all along the Great Miami River.  In today’s dollars, the destruction was around two billion dollars.   And that was not the first flood Dayton had experienced.  In fact, disaster struck every twenty years or so over the previous century of the city’s existence. But as Dayton continued to grow, the situation was clearly intolerable.

After the flood, a group of civic leaders knew that something had to be done. They turned to an engineer named Arthur Morgan to lead the effort to find a solution.  Often, and especially a century ago, engineers tended to address a complex and large-scale problem by quickly building big things and moving lots of earth, as well as people.  

But Morgan had a somewhat different approach to the task at hand. Often we think of rivers in isolation from their surroundings.  But in reality, the waters flow to other rivers and eventually to lakes and oceans. Morgan knew he would have to deal with not just the Great Miami River as it flowed through the City of Dayton, but the entire watershed, including the Mad River, the Stillwater, Wolf Creek and Twin Creek.

First, he worked to understand the whole river and its watershed as a system – realizing along the way the watershed did not care about political jurisdictions.  Second, he wanted to resolve the flooding danger once and for all. He spent a lot of time with his engineers studying long historical records of flood recurrences in Europe.  Based on that research, he concluded that to be safe from any foreseeable flood, Dayton would need a system to handle an event about 40% greater than the 1913 event.  One option might have been simply to build very high levees along the river, channeling any conceivable amount of water through the city – and downriver to the next town in the water’s path.  Instead, he came up with the idea of dry dams, which act passively to allow water to flow in normal, or less-threatening conditions, but which retain water behind the dams under infrequent high-water events. Although some people had to be displaced as land was taken over for these retention areas, we gained recreation areas – and avoided repeated disasters. Out of this thinking came the Miami Conservancy District, celebrating its hundredth anniversary this year.  Not many realize that MCD is funded to protect the Dayton region from flooding by its own authority that is separate from political boundaries.

I think that one of the most interesting parts of Morgan’s project is how he dealt with the workers on the construction sites. He knew what kind of trouble male workers could get up to if they are dumped on a site for months or years at a time. He himself was a teetotaler who didn’t smoke or gamble. He couldn’t bear the thought of creating the conditions for men to lose their moral bearings.  So, instead of just prohibiting undesirable behavior, Morgan decided there should be a town at each of the five construction sites with comfortable housing, modern conveniences, schools and stores – everything that would make life attractive for families.

I consider Arthur Morgan’s efforts as being in many ways a model of how we can think about constructing resilient, sustainable systems.  Learning from history and experience, thinking about future generations, respecting nature, and taking the needs of people seriously – that’s not a bad starting point.

If Everyone Lived in an ‘Ecovillage’, the Earth Would Still Be in Trouble

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Samuel Alexander

We are used to hearing that if everyone lived in the same way as North Americans or Australians, we would need four or five planet Earths to sustain us.

This sort of analysis is known as the “ecological footprint” and shows that even the so-called “green” western European nations, with their more progressive approaches to renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transport, would require more than three planets.

How can we live within the means of our planet? When we delve seriously into this question it becomes clear that almost all environmental literature grossly underestimates what is needed for our civilisation to become sustainable.

Only the brave should read on.

The ‘ecological footprint’ analysis

In order to explore the question of what “one planet living” would look like, let us turn to what is arguably the world’s most prominent metric for environmental accounting – the ecological footprint analysis. This was developed by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, then at the University of British Columbia, and is now institutionalised by the scientific body, The Global Footprint Network, of which Wackernagel is president.

This method of environmental accounting attempts to measure the amount of productive land and water a given population has available to it, and then evaluates the demands that population makes upon those ecosystems. A sustainable society is one that operates within the carrying capacity of its dependent ecosystems.

While this form of accounting is not without its critics – it is certainly not an exact science – the worrying thing is that many of its critics actually claim that it underestimates humanity’s environmental impact. Even Wackernagel, the concept’s co-originator, is convinced the numbers are underestimates.

According to the most recent data from the Global Footprint Network, humanity as a whole is currently in ecological overshoot, demanding one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity. As the global population continues its trend toward 11 billion people, and while the growth fetishcontinues to shape the global economy, the extent of overshoot is only going to increase.

Every year this worsening state of ecological overshoot persists, the biophysical foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined.

The footprint of an ecovillage

As I have noted, the basic contours of environmental degradation are relatively well known. What is far less widely known, however, is that even the world’s most successful and long-lasting ecovillages have yet to attain a “fair share” ecological footprint.

Take the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, for example, probably the most famous ecovillage in the world. An ecovillage can be broadly understood as an “intentional community” that forms with the explicit aim of living more lightly on the planet. Among other things, the Findhorn community has adopted an almost exclusively vegetarian diet, produces renewable energy and makes many of their houses out of mud or reclaimed materials.

Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland.  Irenicrhonda/Flickr ,  CC BY-NC-ND

Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland. Irenicrhonda/FlickrCC BY-NC-ND

An ecological footprint analysis was undertaken of this community. It was discovered that even the committed efforts of this ecovillage still left the Findhorn community consuming resources and emitting waste far in excess of what could be sustained if everyone lived in this way. (Part of the problem is that the community tends to fly as often as the ordinary Westerner, increasing their otherwise small footprint.)

Put otherwise, based on my calculations, if the whole world came to look like one of our most successful ecovillages, we would still need one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity. Dwell on that for a moment.

I do not share this conclusion to provoke despair, although I admit that it conveys the magnitude of our ecological predicament with disarming clarity. Nor do I share this to criticise the noble and necessary efforts of the ecovillage movement, which clearly is doing far more than most to push the frontiers of environmental practice.

Rather, I share this in the hope of shaking the environmental movement, and the broader public, awake. With our eyes open, let us begin by acknowledging that tinkering around the edges of consumer capitalism is utterly inadequate.

In a full world of seven billion people and counting, a “fair share” ecological footprint means reducing our impacts to a small fraction of what they are today. Such fundamental change to our ways of living is incompatible with a growth-oriented civilisation.

Some people may find this this position too “radical” to digest, but I would argue that this position is merely shaped by an honest review of the evidence.

What would ‘one planet’ living look like?

Even after five or six decades of the modern environmental movement, it seems we still do not have an example of how to thrive within the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet.

Nevertheless, just as the basic problems can be sufficiently well understood, the nature of an appropriate response is also sufficiently clear, even if the truth is sometimes confronting.

We must swiftly transition to systems of renewable energy, recognising that the feasibility and affordability of this transition will demand that we consume significantly less energy than we have become accustomed to in the developed nations. Less energy means less producing and consuming.

We must grow our food organically and locally, and eat considerably less (or no) meat. We must ride our bikes more and fly less, mend our clothes, share resources, radically reduce our waste streams and creatively “retrofit the suburbs” to turn our homes and communities into places of sustainable production, not unsustainable consumption. In doing so, we must challenge ourselves to journey beyond the ecovillage movement and explore an even deeper green shade of sustainability.

Among other things, this means living lives of frugality, moderation and material sufficiency. Unpopular though it is to say, we must also have fewer children, or else our species will grow itself into a catastrophe.

But personal action is not enough. We must restructure our societies to support and promote these “simpler” ways of living. Appropriate technology must also assist us on the transition to one planet living. Some argue that technology will allow us to continue living in the same way while also greatly reducing our footprint.

However, the extent of “dematerialisation” required to make our ways of living sustainable is simply too great. As well as improving efficiency, we also need to live more simply in a material sense, and re-imagine the good life beyond consumer culture.

First and foremost, what is needed for one planet living is for the richest nations, including Australia, to initiate a “degrowth” process of planned economic contraction.

I do not claim that this is likely or that I have a detailed blueprint for how it should transpire. I only claim that, based on the ecological footprint analysis, degrowth is the most logical framework for understanding the radical implications of sustainability.

Can the descent from consumerism and growth be prosperous? Can we turn our overlapping crises into opportunities?

These are the defining questions of our time.

Miller Fellows at Community Solutions

Introducing our Miller Fellows, Lucas Bautista and Rose Hardesty! The Miller Fellowship Program is a program of the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, funded by the Nolan J. and Richard D. Miller Endowment Fund.  Nolan Miller (d. 2006) was Associate Editor of The Antioch Review, a noted writing teacher and a beloved Antioch College professor.  His brother, Richard (d. 2009), was a highly regarded artist working in many different media.  The purpose of the fund is to support fellowships for Antioch College students who engage in service for the benefit of the Yellow Springs community. As part of Antioch’s co-op program, instituted by Arthur Morgan during his time as college president, students are required to spend one quarter each year in a full-time work setting. Miller Fellows work part-time for up to 10 hours per week during the three study quarters, and full-time during the work quarter.

Lucas Bautista is a first year student from Chicago, IL. He took a gap year before coming to Antioch College. During that year he spent three months in Uganda as a substitute teacher, three months working in a cafe in Mexico and a month on a sustainable farm in West Virginia. He works with Community Solutions doing technical support as well as translation and video editing.


Rose Hardesty grew up near San Francisco, CA. She has previous work experience in office and childcare settings, and has volunteered in alternative pre- and K-12 schools, a restorative outreach program for incarcerated youth, and on a sustainable urban farm. Community Solutions represents an intersection of her interests in environmental conservation and the creation of caring and just human systems. She is planning to pursue a self-designed major in Ecopsychology.