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A Resilient New World of the Small and the Many May Replace the Risky World of the Big and the Few

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, December 1, 2011

History is heading in new directions, Bill McKibben suggests, from too big to fail to small, local, diverse and resilient.

McKibben is an environmentalist, educator and author who warned about global warming 20 years ago, and who now urges creation of new communities that will help us weather unprecedented trouble many scientists expect climate change to bring. His recent article in Orion Magazine describes some encouraging social trends.

For the first time in 150 years, he writes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the number of farms in the United States has actually increased. The trend that took us from a nation of 50 percent farmers to less than one percent is slowly reversing, and the rise is mostly in small farms. A story by Max Ajl in Inside Climate News reports that the most recent count on farms, 2,204,792, represents a four percent increased from 2002, and the biggest rise was in micro-farms with sales of less than $1,000. Those are no threat to factory farming giants, but several university studies find small farms actually improve the environment.

A Cornell University study shows food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles before it is eaten. That means a head of Iceberg Lettuce, which provides 110 calories, requires 4,000 calories worth of energy per head in fuel if it’s shipped from California to New York. The study found food consumed where it’s grown saves vast amounts of energy. Further, small farms keep more carbon in the soil and reduce atmospheric carbon, whereas industrial farms increase it. And you’d probably rather not even consider the methane from the livestock waste lagoons on factory farms.

McKibben lauds the logic of sun and wind producing energy on millions of roof tops and ridges, and potential changes in health care that will make more primary and preventive care available from local practitioners rather than high-tech institutions. He says we also need banking closer to home, where loan officers have a better sense of risk and need, rather than huge banking institutions that devote themselves to "baroque financial instruments.” That development may be further off. Financial writer John Mason reports the number of existing banks in the U.S. is declining. A Knowledge@Wharton article reports the country has only half as many commercial banks as it had 20 years ago, and small community banks are the most vulnerable to consolidation and acquisition.

McKibben observes that powerful industrial giants in banking, energy, agriculture and health care will fight change and probably delay it. "But all the money in the world can’t, in the end, hold back history,” he writes. "It’s heading toward something new and different and interesting. Or many, many somethings, each of them small and beautiful.”

In response to the November 17 Complexity Post "Ecology of Cancer"

Tumor-host dynamics under radiotherapy (pdf), by Rolando Placeres Jimenez, and Eloy Ortiz Hernandez from Chaos, Solitons & Fractals, 44 (2011) 685-692.

The interaction of host cells and malignant tumor cells must be considered a dynamic process. Many complex interactions appear between these populations, which fight one another for space and resources. Scientists are able to model the behavior of health cells, the tumor cells, and the evolution of cells under treatment.

Special thanks to Alicia Juarrero, PhD, professor of philosophy at Prince George's Community College, Largo, Maryland, for sharing this complexity-informed article on the tumor as a strange attractor.

We love hearing from you! Email us (prucia@plexusinstitute.org) or leave a comment here.

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