Living Technologies for a Living Planet

By Todd, John; Todd, Nancy Jack | Whole Earth, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Living Technologies for a Living Planet


Todd, John, Todd, Nancy Jack, Whole Earth


From the headwaters of creativity, the Todds floated to the innovative mainstream, They're great tinkerers and inventors of biological sewage treatment plants (with real plants and fish and snails and...) and other components of ecological sustainability, including an effective demonstration project to clean up toxics in Chattanooga (see Chattanooga Sludge). They work from Ocean Arks International and publish (with Lindisfarne) a thoughts-full newspaper called Annals of Earth.

Humanity's present overarching crisis has been summarized by author and environmental educator David Orr as follows: "The problem is simply how a species pleased to call itself Homo sapiens fits on a planet with a biosphere." "This is a design problem," he maintains, "and requires a design philosophy that takes time, velocity, scale, evolution, and ecology seriously."

The design philosophy that David Orr advocates is emerging from our research of the last thirty years. It is now being codified into a scientific discipline and successfully implemented in a number of areas critical to both Homo sapiens and our biosphere-blessed planet. Gregory Bateson, who pioneered such thinking, wrote of the mind as "immanent, but not only in the body" and of a "larger mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem ... still immanent in the total interconnected social systems and planetary ecology." That larger mind is observable not only in the metabolism of the living world. It is conspicuously reflected in the self-organizing processes of the contained ecosystems which were first developed by the aquaculture research at the New Alchemy Institute in the 1970s. The technique and technologies have since been honed at Ocean Arks International to form a body of knowledge, now referred to as ecological design.

Ecological design is a comparatively new discipline. It involves more than using renewable resources like solar and wind energy in lieu of fossil fuels or nuclear power. Predicated upon an unprecedented partnership with the natural world, ecological design at Ocean Arks has generated a new and hybrid form of technology. …

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