No Tech Reader #25

Links via Ran Pieur, Aaron Vansintjan, Roel Roscam Abbing, and Hackernews.

The Morrison Shelter

In the UK during World War Two, due to the lack of house cellars it was necessary to develop an effective type of indoor shelter. The Morrison shelter, officially termed Table (Morrison) Indoor Shelter, had a cage-like construction beneath it, and was designed to be able to withstand the upper floor falling, of a typical two story-house undergoing a partial collapse. [Read more…]

No Tech Reader #24

Evaporative Air Conditioning

Evaporative coolers have been known to purveyors of low-cost, sustainable technologies for years. Without the need for electricity, these cold containers have kept produce fresh from farms to tables, protecting against post-harvest losses in the field and food spoilage in hot pantries worldwide.

Now the concept has been applied to air conditioning. Manoj Patel Design Studio in Vadodara, Gujarat (India) has built evaporative air conditioners that can cool a room for days on a single tank of water. The studio designs new products from recycled materials, and they built their air conditioners from ceramics and stone, integrating them with potted plants. By filling rows of ceramic tubes with water, the prototypes maximize their surface area for optimal evaporation while retaining a small footprint.

Read more: This Air Conditioner for Homes and Offices Uses No Electricity, Engineering for Change. Previously: How to keep beverages cool outside the refrigerator: the botijo.

Sustainability Gains from Meat Alternatives

“Meat, an important source of protein and other nutrients in human diets, is one of the major drivers of global environmental change in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use, animal welfare, human health and directions of breeding. Novel alternatives, including novel meat proxies (cultured meat, plant-based meat alternatives), insects and novel protein sources (like algae) receive increasing attention. But plausible socio-technological pathways for their further development have not yet been compared in an integrative, interdisciplinary perspective.”

“High levels of transformation and processing limit the environmental sustainability gains of cultured meat, highly processed plant-based meat alternatives, algae- and insect-based food. At the same time, a high degree of societal coordination is needed to enable the potentially disruptive level of technological, organisational and institutional innovations needed to make these novel alternatives viable. Widespread expectations that solutions require break-through novelties or high-tech alternatives imply a neglect of existing and viable alternatives.”

“Our integrative analysis suggests that the priority given to meat alternatives with limited sustainability potential does not just raise questions of technological optimisation of production systems, but is also a second-order problem of the framing of search directions.”

Read more: Meat alternatives; an integrative comparison, Cor van de Weele et al., Trends in Food Science and Technology, April 2019. Image: Presentation of the world’s first cultured hamburger being baked at a news conference in London on 5 August 2013. World Economic Forum (CC BY 3.0)

I’m not optimistic, but that doesn’t make me a pessimist

Environmental scientist Giorgos Kallis in Knowable Magazine:

“We know there were civilizations that flourished in periods where they did not necessarily expand economically. Greece in the classical period would be an example. And many civilizations tried to put limits on how much money an individual could accumulate, or how much money you can lend, or interest rates. We have examples where we know society tried to limit and tame this self-perpetuating character of growth. And we know there are societies that flourished without having constant growth.”

“The easy but stupid critique to that is, “Oh, you want us to go back and be like hunter-gatherers or live like the Romans?” No, that’s not the point. We’re not saying look at how other civilizations are better, we’re saying let’s study other civilizations to get ideas about how things could potentially work differently in our society”.

Do you think we’ll get this figured out in time?

“I’m not optimistic. To think that tomorrow people will wake up and come to their senses and realize that climate change is a huge problem and economic growth is unnecessary, and take action on that? No, I don’t think this will happen. But this doesn’t make me a pessimist. History has always been dire. I don’t think I’d be better off living 100 years ago, having two world wars in front of me, or facing famines. History never stops, and constantly there’s a moment of fighting for things to be better.”

“The last 200 years, we lived in a capitalist society where growth is fundamental for the stability of the system. Maybe there is no alternative, and the only way is to have growth. If this is becoming catastrophic, what do we do? Do we bow our heads to catastrophe, to disaster, or can we think outside of that? We know that we humans are very inventive. Why can’t we think of alternatives? Why is this the only thing where we can’t think differently?”