Wednesday, October 14, 2009

John Todd: Making The World Safe For Itself

John Todd came to me via the Whole Earth Catalog, and its subsequent incarnations. In 1969, Todd, his wife Nancy Jack, and other colleagues like Bill McLarney founded the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, and that organization catalyzed my hippie fantasies.

I believed that madness like segregation and the war in Viet Nam happened because we lived wrong, and what we needed was experiments in how we might live so as to avoid war and oppression. These people were living my dream! They were collaborating with like-minded people to turn waste into food. They had gardens, wind turbines, passive solar heat, methane generators, and they were recycling garden wastes through these big, interesting-looking fiberglass tanks full of fish. They were ending the war by creating wealth.

Like a lot of hippies, I was wondering, “Why aren’t we doing something like that here.” I wasted a lot of time waiting for New Alchemy-Midwest to materialize.

Todd went on to design systems for cleaning polluted bodies of water, living machines which turned the sewerage in small towns and ski resorts into salable bait fish and decorative plants, and an Ocean-Going Pickup, an inexpensively manufactured small sailboat for third world fishermen. Todd won the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge grant for his proposal, “Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia.”

Challenge of Appalachia is a plan for repairing existing damage from coal mining, managing ecological succession to reforest the area, and building ecologically sensitive industries and other institutions to afford citizens comfortable and self-reliant livelihoods for generations to come. The idea is that this would spread, and in his proposal, Todd says they have a similar project in operation in Cost Rica.

I was at a permaculture discussion once, in which somebody said, “If John Todd doesn’t get a Nobel Peace Prize, there’s something wrong.” You can quibble about theories and strategies, but peace prosperity and stability are only going to come to stay where people have learned to live as part of the planetary ecosystem. John Todd is somebody who has spent forty years building reproducible examples of how that can be done.

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