Preserving the Past to Serve the Future, Andrew Willner
Waterways Reskilling: Back to the Carbon Neutral Future
Heirloom Technologies and Modern Know-how Create an
Environmentally Sound Future for the Hudson River, her Tributaries and
Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) &
SUNY New Paltz Environmental Task Force
November 23, 2013, New Paltz, NY
”Today, traditional knowledge is in danger and its
disappearance would not only cause the loss of people’s
capability to keep and pass on the artistic and natural
heritage, but also of an extraordinary source of knowledge
and cultural diversity from which the appropriate
innovation solutions can be derived today and in the
Slow Money is a movement to organize investors and donors to steer
new sources of capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and
local food systems. The Slow Foodmovement aims to preserve cultural
cuisine and in so doing to preserve the food plants and seeds, domestic
animals and farming within an eco-region. It is also a social and political
movement that resists the dehumanizing effects of fast food and
corporate farming. Slow Tech is about the re-invigoration of heirloom
technologies and traditional skills needed to thrive in a carbonconstrained future.
The idea of Slow Technology or “Slow Tech” has its roots in the
ideological movement called “appropriate technology,” a term coined by
E.F. Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful, first published in
1973. Slow Tech should be thoughtful about how devices shape our
relationships to time, emotion, energy, and bioregional environment.
C. Milton Dixon, interviewed in The (Chicago) Examiner, May 2011, said:
”(high tech is) industrial technology and refers to things that are out of your control,
as opposed to low technology, which is simple things done in a smart way. Low
technology is using the intelligence of nature to accomplish tasks. High technology is
buying an apple from the store; low technology is getting an apple from a tree you
planted yourself. One of the big differences is in high technology you are disconnected
from cause and effect relationships. So if you pollute through high technology, you
may not feel the direct result. Low technology is connection because you are involved
in the process and you are directly affected by the consequences.”
It takes time to learn how it works,
It takes time to understand why it works the
way it works,
It takes time to apply it
It takes time to see what it is
and it takes time to find out the consequences
of using it
Transition is the movement by which people are re-skilled in heirloom
technologies. Permaculture gave birth to the Transition movement and offers
guidance on how to use those skills to design resilient lives. The ethics; earth
care, people care, and fair share form the foundation for Permaculture and are also
found in most traditional societies. Permaculture incorporates knowledge from
cultures that have existed in balance with their environment for much longer than our
consumer centered fossil fueled society. We should not ignore the positive
accomplishments of modern times, but in the transition to a sustainable future, we
need to consider values and concepts different from what has become the social norm.
Transition fosters and supports the revitalization of Slow Tech skills and asks us to
relearn the proficiency needed to reanimate the skills need to reinvigorating our
bioregional waterways for a post carbon future.
A Transition Reskilling turns back the clock to reclaim technologies that have
immediate relevance and are key to the carbon neutral future of the MidAtlantic region:
1) Sail-freight, which is resurging as people build and rebuild wooden ships for
the transport of goods along coastal and inland waters of the Hudson
2) Small and micro-scale, direct hydropower generation,
3) Port & dock restoration, design and management,
4) Future fisheries,
5) Boat-building and watermill restoration.
Historically, thousands of vessels plied the waters to and from cities on
the Harbor and the farming areas of New Jersey and the Hudson Valley
delivering fresh local farm produce, fish, shellfish, and passengers to
ports along the way. The Hudson River and the Harbor was once a
bustling highway linking even the smallest communities into a web of
regularly scheduled routes.
Farmers and oystermen relied on this vibrant and diverse fleet of
vessels to bring their goods to market and to receive supplies. The
schooners, sloops, and steam boats provided a unique way of life for
early inhabitants. For those who worked the inland waters of New York
City Bioregion, the sea was a common element in their lives.
Small hydro is the development of hydroelectric power on a scale serving a small community
or industrial plant. The definition of a small hydro project varies but a generating capacity of
up to 10 megawatts (MW) is generally accepted as the upper limit of what can be termed
Small hydro plants may be connected to conventional electrical distribution networks as a
source of low-cost renewable energy. Alternatively, small hydro projects may be built in
isolated areas that would be uneconomic to serve from a network, or in areas where there is
no national electrical distribution network. Since small hydro projects usually have minimal
reservoirs and civil construction work, they are seen as having a relatively low environmental
impact compared to large hydro. This decreased environmental impact depends strongly on
the balance between stream flow and power production.
There are places where traditional fishing is still
practiced, and fishermen have the knowledge to pass
on. From Maine to the Carolinas, fishermen and the
communities in which they live are starting to “take
back” the management of their fisheries. Commercial
fishermen long thought of as “ocean rapers” and
“bottom scrapers” are at the heart of a “community
based fisheries management and science
movement, and community supported fisheries.
As the Hudson and the region reinvents portions of the
waterfront for living, playing, and relaxing, it is critical to invest in the parts of the waterfront
devoted to working.
The working waterfront is vital to the economy of the region. It is home to tugboat and barge
marinas, and ship-repair outfits that provide
maritime support services.
The waterfront is not only the preferable place of
business for many firms, it is essential to their
daily operations. And workers, in turn, depend
on these businesses for their livelihoods. A renewed working waterfront is essential in a powered
down future as much of our food and other commerce will happen on the rivers and estuaries in our
bioregion. It will also be the main way that we communicate with each other.
The skills used in building timber framed watermills and
large wooden vessels are very similar. Woodworkers not
only have to build objects of rare beauty but for hard use.
The techniques used by craftsmen like Jim Kricker, his
crew at Roundout Woodworking and Erik Andrus at the
Vermont Sail Freight Project are keeping traditional Slow
technologies alive for the next generation of craftsman and
a world in which these essential tools will be necessary.