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skills in the negentropic economy

the AI’s idea of eco-clipper zero emissions transport by sea

Yesterday I had a cultural outing in Brightlingsea to a showing of a film about “engineless sailing”. This was presented on board the ship The Blue Mermaid which is itself an educational project. The Sea Change trust, which runs the ship, offers the experience of life on board as a way of developing transferrable skills, as well training in the specific requirements of the Sailing Bargemaster qualification. The Blue Mermaid, a replica of a barge made in 1930, carries 120 tons, as much cargo as four lorries.

Wind Tide and Oar by Huw Wahl, is partly about the skills, or maybe the attitudes, needed to handle a boat without an engine. The people in the film seemed to have developed their skills mostly on the basis of practical experience. This would have been the case in the days, not so long ago, when there were thousands of ships like the Blue Mermaid in and around the Thames estuary. As the film comments…there have been 6,000 years of sailing and only 100 years of engines.

On a deeper level, the whole ethos of engineless sailing chimes with the demands new ecological principles in economics, and with the ancient Chinese concept of Wu Wei. (The idea is rendered in English as Non-activity, which could easily be misinterpreted - like everything in Daoism). That is to say, using the already existing flows of nature, rather than trying to force against them by a human effort of will.

Zero emissions transport could be imagined as fitting into various of the epochs described by Tom Chi in this conversation about Composting Late stage capitalism.

0 - the current stage where flows of goods are forced by attempts to maximally extract from nature, and the environment is regarded as free (in the sense of being exploitable at no cost) and limitless.
1 - to do more with less, the capitalists save money on fuels by adding sails to their ships.
2 - work with the flow of nature. The movement of goods is remodelled to fit prevailing wind and tide patterns. Sail-powered transport replaces lots of wasteful land-based methods. Communities develop skills to make maximum use of their surroundings, such as the muddy banks of Essex estuaries for loading and unloading.
3 - negentropy - where we add to nature. The estuary ecosystem with its seabirds, shellfish and seaweed can flourish in partnership with human activity of the right sort. Maybe in the future Brightlingsea will again provide the world with tasty cheap protein in the form of oysters… The Thames estuary makes an ideal environment for them to grow and form reefs. The reef itself is a carbon sink, and also provides protection for marshes and wetlands behind them. We may think of oysters as a posh snack, but they were once eaten in large amounts and shipped, for example, as far away as Rome. Because of the way they feed by filtering, oysters improve water quality. In this stage, the process of loading goods, and deciding where to send them, will depend on the landscape and the natural forces flowing through it.

This final stage will require the skills and attitudes of people with experience of working with, and closely observing, their local environment.

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