& Are we overpopulated?
It is widely believed world is overpopulated. In this article I will prove that to be false.
This article will show much land it takes to feed a person within a model I am calling the “Phoenix Ecotopia.”
Let's start with this somewhat humorous two minute video:
For more food for thought concerning population expansion and food production, read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
The video says we could all have a house with a yard on the land mass of Texas. He is not suggesting that we could actually all live on a piece of the land the size of Texas. However, I am going to argue just that point. I would like to show you how we could not only all fit into Texas in homes with yards, but how we could all live off of a landmass of that size.
I am not suggesting that we should all live that close together. I am not suggesting that we all move specifically to Texas. We're just using Texas to demonstrate the size of land we're talking about.
Before going any further, I'd like to point you to the Index to your right. Beneath each decorative divider below you'll find small text saying "Click here to return to the Phoenix Ecotopia Index" – by clicking that you'll return to this part of the page you're looking at right now. The Index to your right will allow you to navigate around this page. You can try it by clicking on one of the links to the right and then clicking on the text that says "Click here to return to the Phoenix Ecotopia Index" to return back to this screen.
Table of Contents | Index
Introduction | Top of the Page
Space Per Person In Buffalo, NY
Fitting Us Into 7.4 Trillion Square Feet
Aquaponics | Garden Pool
Biosphere Home Farming
Property Space Distribution
Food Production Overview
Food Miles & The 4-Hour Work Day
Public Plazas, Parks & Train Stations
Cob Construction | Architecture
Sewage & Water Drainage Systems
Trash & Landfills
Just how big is Texas?
Texas area = 267339 X (5280)^2 = 7,452,732,672,000 square feet
That's 7.4 trillion square feet in Texas.
That's 7.4 trillion square feet in Texas.
Population of world = 6,973,738,433
That's 6.9 billion people in the world.
That's 6.9 billion people in the world.
Divide area with population:
7,452,732,672,000 divided by 6,973,738,433
1068.685 square feet per person
7,452,732,672,000 divided by 6,973,738,433
1068.685 square feet per person
Space Per Person In Buffalo, NY, USA
Let's keep it simple and say that if we all lived in Texas there would be 1050 square feet per person.
How much square feet of personal space do most people have today currently?
Personally, I live in Buffalo, NY in a home with four other people besides myself. Our home has a basement, a first floor, a second floor, an attic, a front yard, a back yard and a garage. This home is very typical for Buffalo and represents an average for the amount of typical space each person has.
Our home is roughly 25 feet wide and 55 feet long. The yard is approximately 50 feet long by 35 feet wide. The entire property, including the driveway, consists roughly of a rectangle that is 35 feet by 105 feet long.
Each floor of the house has roughly 1350 square feet. The basement and attic are not really useable living space, but the first two floors are. That is 2700 square feet of living space within the house. The yard is around 1750 square feet. Together, that is 4450 square feet for five people.
On our average city plot there is 890 square feet of space per person. This, at the least, verifies that we could all have a yard and a home on a land mass the size of Texas without any sacrifice to personal space. 1050 square feet per person would actually be an upgrade from 890 square feet per person.
I've used google to verify that our property size is actually the average in Buffalo, New York, USA. Most of the inner-city homes in Buffalo are two-family homes with anywhere from one person to six people living on a single story of the house. The square footage of a single story being roughly 1350 square feet.
In the graphic below the current typical space distribution is illustrated:
This image shows the homes, driveways, garages and yards. It doesn't show roads. I will get to that issue in the transportation section of this article.
Space Per Person Historically
According to census data, in 1950 the average American had 292 square feet per person. By 2006, the average American had 900 square feet per person.
It happens to be that the amount of space I have in Buffalo, NY is quite average for the times.
Increasing Space Per Person & Fitting Us Into 7.4 Trillion Square Feet
One obvious way to increase person space per property is simply to build taller homes. Also, by building homes that have less square feet per floor we could have more garden space per person. Notice that I say “garden space” and not “lawn space.” If we're going to all live in a land mass the size of Texas (which we will be doing in our minds for the course of this article), then we're going to need to think "Food, not lawns!"
Let's say we shrink the house down to a square. (I'd use circles just because they are prettier, but fitting square feet within circles gets a bit complex, so for the sake of this illustration I'm going to use geometrical shapes despite my personal preference for organic shapes.) Individual homes could be 40 feet by 40 feet, allowing 1,600 square feet per story. Also, as square spaces are more easily utilized than long rectangles, lets make the property sizes 90 feet by 90 feet (8,100 square foot property).
Phoenix Ecotopia Property Design Points:
By increasing the height of the home we increase the outdoor space for everyone and the indoor space for everyone, without actually increasing the amount of land required. If the building had an additional story the indoor space would increase to 753 square feet per person. Also, as will be illustrated further on, the homes could actually be made larger without compromising on food production. Instead of actually making the indoor home design larger, I would simply add porches and balconies to all sides of the building.
We would need 410,219,907 properties that were 90 feet by 90 feet to accommodate everyone in the world. Multiply the number of properties by 8,100 square feet per property and you get 3,322,781,253,370 square feet. That's 3.3 trillion square feet out of the 7.4 trillion square feet in Texas. That means we could actually house everyone in just 45% of the landmass of Texas.
For anyone who doesn't live in the United States and is not familiar with Texas, it is the second largest state in the U.S., second to Alaska. It is one of 50 states that make up the United States of America. For reference, the land mass of Texas could fit into Australia eleven times.
That still leaves 4,129,951,418,630 square feet (4.1 trillion) to use for things like public transit, water treatment facilities, forests, parks and manufacturing plants.
The graphic below illustrates how much wonderful land we would have around our homes.
You're now probably wondering about farms. I'd now like to present how all seventeen people could be fed on just the land they live on. That's right, we're not even going to dip into the the other 55% of the land for agriculture. (At least, we won't need that other 55% for agriculture relating to food production.)
There are several dozen different methods that could allow us to live off of so little land. I'd like to present a hybrid plan using several ideas to create a diverse nutritionally sound diet. For those who know me, you probably think I'm going to suggest a diet without any meat whatsoever, but actually, I'm going to include fish and chicken because these two animals help create a balanced sustainable ecosystem. It would be wise to include fish and chicken in the plan even if everyone was vegan and did not eat these animals. (I will explain why this is the case further on in this article.)
The methods for food production I'm including in this model are: Green roofs, garden pools (aquaponics), biosphere home farming, sprout rooms, permaculture and hydroponics.
Studies have shown that the color green is the most pleasing and calming to the human eye. This makes perfect sense when you consider that we could not thrive in the wild in land that is not green.
A brown desert holds little food and water. Oceans are full of food, but not food that we can harvest easily with our bare hands. Rocky terrain tends to hold snakes, mountain goats, cougars, lizards and spiky plants. None of the animals or plants on rocky terrain are ideal for the bulk of our diet, despite some of the things found there being great for medicinal use. While some of the plants and animals found in rocky terrain could be used as the bulk of our diet, harvesting the food would be difficult, especially if we're thinking in terms of naked man in the wild without tools.
Green land indicates plants we can eat, insects we can eat, and animals that eat those plants that we could also eat if need be. Green is the sign of an ecosystem perfect for man, even if he has nothing but his bare hands to harvest food with.
Green is a color that we don't see much of in our cities. Imagine if every roof were green? What kind of psychological impact might that have on us? In Japan they have “Forest Medicine” as a recognized treatment for many conditions. You can read about that here.
Green roofing prolongs the life of heating units, air conditioning units and ventilation units by decreasing the use of these items. This results in less landfill waste.
Green roofing reduces the load on sewers by holding water at the time of rainfall and slowly letting it evaporate. Depending on the soil used for the plants, a green roof can retain 70-90% of the precipitation that falls on it during the summer.
Green roofing filters the water that passes through it and filters the air. This is a tremendous boost to water quality and air quality in an urban environment. This results in less smog, less dust and less pollutants entering our line of sight and our lungs.
Through the daily dew and evaporation cycle, plants on vertical and horizontal surfaces are able to cool cities during hot summer months and reduce the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. The light absorbed by vegetation would otherwise be converted into heat energy.
The above benefits of green roofs are tremendous for sewage systems, regulating pollution, reducing power needs and so forth. However, for this presentation I'd like to stress their capacity to grow edible plants. If you'd like to learn more about the numerous other benefits of green roofs I have barely touched on, click here.
Each roof will have 1600 square feet to work with for growing plants. How much food can that produce? To find out, I've done my own gardening projects in permaculture and also done reading on experiments that other people have tried.
Rosalind Creasy and Cathy Wilkinson Barash did an experiment with a five feet by twenty feet garden. That is 100 square feet of growing space. They recorded and weighed everything they picked. They did this to prove how much money could be saved on groceries by having gardens instead of lawns. In just 100 square feet they grew enough food to amount to a savings of $685. The set-up for the plot took eight hours and maintenance takes roughly an hour per week. (My own experience shows this can take much less than an hour per week if using a permaculture design, which Rosalind and Cathy were not.)
Rosalind grew this garden over a period of six months. That is 26 weeks. That means they put 33 hours into it total including setting it up. That is 33 hours work to save $685, amounting to getting paid $20.75 per hour. Not bad, eh? I'd rather get paid $20 per hour to work in my garden than $20 per hour in some miserable office building with poor air quality and monotonous duties.
Rosalind grew in her 100 square feet garden from April to September:
- 77.5 pounds of tomatoes: 6500 calories
- 15.5 pounds of bell peppers: 2200 calories
- 14.3 pounds of lettuce: 1100 calories
- 2.5 pounds of basil: 260 calories
- 126 pounds of zucchini: 9715 calories
That amounts to 19545 calories over a period of six months. That's 182 days worth of time. That averages to 107 calories per day. I honestly believe we can get a much greater amount from the land than this, but for the sake of this article, lets say that in a climate where you can grow all year round that 100 square feet can grow 100 calories per day.
Let's assume that our green roof requires 100 square feet for seating space, walkways and a roof entrance. That leaves 1500 square feet for edible landscape. This means the green roof can produce 1500 calories per day. (This is, of course, in addition to all the other benefits like reducing the use of heating and air conditioning within the building.)
A fascinating successful experiment done in Arizona completely revolutionized what can be done for food production in a small space.
The two short videos below show the garden pool and how it utilizes aquaponics to create a system that uses 90% less water than conventional growing methods:
This family gets 7 eggs per day, ½ gallon fresh goat milk per day, all-you-can-eat tilapia fish, and enough fruits and vegetables to keep a family of four well fed. Plants include duckweed, tomatoes, cucumbers, bananas, pomegranates, and an array of herbs. Excluding the space for the goats to roam, this is accomplished in only 480 square feet. We can call that 500 square feet just to be nice and round-numbered.
That means that 500 square feet in the form of a garden pool can be used to feed four people.
Aquaponics isn't limited to outdoor "garden pool" designs. A small indoor aquaponics system has been designed by Nikhil & Alejandro in Oakland, California. I really believe in this project and hope that you will watch the video below and also visit their kickstarter page for more information about ordering one of these remarkable home aquaponics systems.
In the next video (below) another aquaponics system is demonstrated which utilizes snails and a hand-pump.
Biosphere Home Farming
The biosphere home farming unit generates food and cooking gas, while filtering water. The unit supplements a family's nutritional needs by generating several hundred calories a day in the form of fish, root vegetables, grasses, plants and algae.
Unlike conventional hydroponic nurseries, this system incorporates a methane digester than produces heat and gas to power lights. Algae produces hydrogen and the root plants produce oxygen, which is fed back to fish. CO2 is pumped back to the plants. It is a closed loop interdependent system. The system uses waste water and non-consumable household matter and delivers food in return.
Each person can fit one of these units comfortably into a workspace, bedroom, dining room, kitchen or living room. Because the unit is an attractive cross between a fish tank and potted plants, it would actually improve the aesthetic environment of most rooms.
The designer for this unit is Yanko Design.
The concept of a “sprout room” is not a new idea by any stretch, but my particular concept of how a sprout room should exist may be original. (I thought of it myself, but that doesn't mean others have not had the same idea.)
Sprouts may grow quite large without soil or sunlight. The nutrition they need to get their first few inches of growth is already present in the seed and only requires water to be released. The sprout is tremendously more nutritious than the seed because the amino acids in the seed and densely packed into hard-to-digest globular proteins whereas the amino acids in the sprout are well spaced with water and fiber. The actual structure of the “protein” within the sprout is entirely different than that within the seed. The “protein” in the sprout is in the form of amino acids which are much easier for the body to utilize.
Because seeds may be stored for a long period of time before they are sprouted, sprouts are a nutrition source that can be tapped into whenever other food sources are not providing enough.
Sprouts need to be regularly rinsed to prevent bacteria build up. Best growing conditions will include a temperature between 68°F and 80°F and continual air flow. Moderate amounts of light after the sprouts have grown for three days will increase the chlorophyll content of the plants (a nutritional benefit). All of this can be achieved by an automated system within a room that looks like an over-sized shower.
A sprout room needs a few key features to be a sprout room. It needs a drain in the floor, water-proof walls, ceiling and floor (ceramic tiles), shower heads (sprinklers) in the ceiling, plant lights and/or windows, a fan or vent that continually stirs the air, wire shelves and sprouting trays. The room should also have a compost bucket.
On each shelf goes a tray with a thin layer of soil. Each tray has many tiny holes for effective drainage. In each tray a lot of seeds are sown. Sunflower seeds, mung beans, alfalfa seeds, broccoli seeds and radish seeds all produce sprouts that are well-loved and nutritious. Each plant has a seed. Most seeds produce a sprout that is edible and beneficial to humans.
Each day the sprinklers in the ceiling of the sprout room come on for thirty seconds or so in the morning, mid day and in the evening. The sprouts get a quick drenching and then the soil drains thoroughly. The water coming out of one tray's bottom goes into the tray below. That tray empties into the tray beneath that. This repeats for as many wire shelves full of sprouts as the room has until finally the water empties onto the floor and flows down the drain.
The continual drenchings imitate the spring-time rains, telling the seeds it is time to grow, telling the sprouts to keep growing. This germination and sprouting period lasts between two days and two weeks depending on the sprouts you're growing and the desired length. Most sprouts are consumed between two inches and four inches in length. While sprouts can be grown perfectly well without soil, the soil does provide benefits.
Growing with soil allows nutrient uptake by the sprouts, giving more nutrition to the sprout than just what the seed itself supplies. The soil allows the sprout to stand upright making harvesting an easy matter of clipping off the grown sprouts. (When growing without soil it can be a somewhat lengthy process to remove the hulls of the seeds, especially with tough tiny hulls found on seeds such as buckwheat.) The soil is also great because the soil filled with the roots of the sprouts is perfectly quick-composting material. Once composted, this is great for adding to gardens or for bringing back into the sprout room as fresh soil for new sprouts.
Sprouts are a powerhouse of nutrition that can be grown all year long in any climate. A sprout room is not dependent on having light, so it can be done without much in the way of windows or plant lights. However, when growing sprouts longer than five days, windows and plant lights will make the sprouts even more nutritious. Light is also another deterrent to mold, which is the main reason I recommend it in the design of a sprout room. Window light is preferable whenever possible as plant lights can be expensive in their use of power.
Of course, in this eco-friendly design we're creating for the purpose of this article, we can assume that every household will have solar panels on top of their aquaponic green houses (garden pools). In the case of windows or the case of solar panels powering plant lights, we are harnessing the sun to create chlorophyll and mitigate mold.
The main purpose of the sprout room is obviously to grow sprouts. However, several other important benefits can also be created. The sprouts “inhale” carbon dioxide and “exhale” oxygen, improving air quality for humans. The sprout room will also have a healthy level of humidity. This humid oxygen-rich air can then be ventilated throughout the building to provide quality air for the occupants.
Most systems for heating and air conditioning remove oxygen from the air in the process, causing the room to feel “stuffy” or “stale” and making the occupants lethargic. By heating water to a gently warm temperature and watering the sprouts with this warm water and then using the warm humid oxygen-rich air from the sprout room as the major source of heat in the rooms of the building, this “stuffiness” will not be an issue.
Another great benefit of the sprout room is the feeling it gives to anyone coming into the room to harvest sprouts. The sensation of being surrounded by green vibrant life is a significant psychological boost that will improve the mood of the occupants who choose to take time to harvest the sprouts.
A sprout room that is 10 feet by 35 feet (350 square feet) is capable of supporting eight people per day all by itself. Not that anybody would want to eat nothing but sprouts, or that anybody should, but speaking calories alone, it can be done. While I don't suggest anyone live off of sprouts, eating between 100 and 800 calories worth of sprouts per day will be good for almost anybody's health. The graphic below illustrates how this is possible:
The graphic says that the room will produce 100,000 calories in six days. I chose that as an average between the calorie values of a dozen different sprouts.
If the room produced exclusively alfalfa sprouts then the production would be 34,000 calories in six days, which is 5,600 per day. Alfalfa sprouts are an unusually low-calorie sprout.
If the room produced exclusively pea sprouts then the production would be 660,000 calories in six days, which is 110,000 calories per day. Pea sprouts are unusually high-calorie.
Of course, the only issue with the sprout room is that seeds don't just magically appear from nowhere. The seeds, grains and beans must come from a full grown plant somewhere. Today, when seeds are cheap and plentiful, having a sprout room is a very logical investment that is great for your home and diet. For the purposes of this article however, it does pose the problem: Where will the seeds come from?
I propose that a small plot on each property produce one to four different seed-bearing crops and that people trade to get a wide variety of seeds for their sprout rooms. The aquaponic green houses will also have the capacity to produce some seeds. Nevertheless, there may not be enough seed production to produce as many sprouts as a sprout room is actually capable of producing. For the sake of this article, lets say the sprout room supports four people and that each property has one sprout room on the first floor.
Permaculture a.k.a. Forest Gardening
Permaculture easily deserves its own article of equal length to this entire presentation. Permaculture, also known misleadingly as “Forest Gardening” is the concept of harnessing nature in a way that is in complete cooperation with nature.
In the wild each plant takes up certain minerals and nutrients from the soil and gives off certain “waste” that it does not need. Many plants have a symbiotic relationship with each other just as we have a symbiotic relationship with all plants via our exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. Certain insects prey on certain plants, and certain plants attract the predators to those insects.
Plants secrete bitter substances when they're starting to get eaten in order to repel insects. Those same bitter substances are good for us in small amounts but are terrible in flavor in large amounts. A small amount of insects preying on our harvest is good for us and good for the balance ecosystem. No insects creates havoc.
Insects are not only meant to eat plants and one another, but also to decompose into the ground and to leave various waste byproducts which plants consume. The insects eat the plants but the plants eat the insects as well.
Bacteria present on the roots of a plant help the plant draw in the minerals it needs and keep out the substances it does not need. Sprays used in conventional farming kill off this bacteria and cause plants to take in more toxins and less minerals. This is bad for the plants and bad for those who eat the plants.
Animals that prey on the insects and plants in our garden leave behind rich manure that enhances the soil and leaves behind a healthier garden.
The bacteria, insects, soil, plants and animals all feed one another. If any link in this chain is unhealthy, we all suffer. We're seeing the consequences today with the loss of large animals such as bears and the loss of small creatures such as bees. We're seeing “super weeds” which are agents trying to restore the balance, plants that can survive the heavy toxic sprays put on crops.
Weeds are some of the most hearty plants on Earth. A dandelion can have a tap-root up to a hundred feet long. Lettuces produce roots one to three feet long. Which root system has the larger capacity to find and absorb minerals? Which plant can survive through extreme heat and cold? The dandelion, of course. The dandelion is far more nutritious than lettuce and contains bitter substances that strengthen the liver. The dandelion requires no work to grow and little work to harvest. The entire dandelion plant is edible, including the flower which is particularly beneficial.
Dandelions are a ton of work to try to remove and they always come back. This is because dandelions are such a strong and vital plant. Instead of trying to crowd dandelions out of your garden, let them be. In nature we can have hundreds of different plants coexisting in a few square feet. Why should we only grow a single zucchini plant or tomato plant per several square feet?
When creating a permaculture garden we mimic nature, but to our own tastes. We curb some “weeds” that we don't want to eat a ton of, but we don't try to remove them entirely. With permaculture we do try to limit plants that are toxic to humans. We wouldn't want to accidentally eat a toxic plant.
The advantages of permaculture:
- Little to no time spent weeding.
- No spraying, no severe bug problems.
- Strong ecosystem that is resistant to invasive species and disease.
- Wide variety of plant life that is beautiful and sustainable.
- Nutrient-dense harvests that enable the caretakers an incredible amount of vitality.
Disadvantage of permaculture:
- Harvesting must be done by hand.
To get started on this and to have the same raging success I've had in my own garden, I highly recommend Markus Rothkranz's DVD-set called "Free Food & Medicine". This DVD talks about wild edibles in all different climates, their medicinal uses, permaculture and a dozen other related topics. The entire presentation works together to give you a framework for getting healthier food into you at less cost to the environment and vastly less cost in dollars. It's a win-win-win: better health, more food diversity, less cost.
I have a short blog post with a little bit of my experience with permaculture here. (Written August 2012)
For the purpose of this presentation, assume that all property space not occupied with a building, a compost heap, a walking path or an aquaponics system will have permacultured gardens present.
Hydroponics are inferior to aquaponics, sprout rooms and permaculture for food production. However, a small hydroponic system, such as the Aerogarden, can provide a greater diversity in the diet while taking up little space and while being extremely inconvenient. Unlike the aquaponics system, green roof, permaculture gardens and sprout room, the hydroponic unit can be in the kitchen itself.
While biosphere home farming is not a widely available affordable option today, a hydroponic unit is. A single hydroponic unit that takes up less than four square feet can produce eight different herbs together providing always-fresh herbs in the kitchen. Grabbing a fresh pinch of basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme is very easy when you have a hydroponic unit in the kitchen.
Just like any system that has plants, hydroponic systems are aestheticly pleasing and psychologically soothing.
Property Space Distribution
We're using the premise of a plot of land that is 8100 square feet (90 feet by 90 feet). On this plot we have an eight story building that has 1600 square feet per floor (40 feet by 40 feet). There are aquaponic systems taking up 1452 square feet, a large 4-section compost system taking up 256 square feet (16 feet by 16 feet), and walk ways six feet wide taking up a maximum of 600 square feet per property. All of this aforementioned together takes up 3908 square feet – not even half the 8100 square feet of the property. (How all the food production adds up is covered in the next section.)
Below is a graphic showing what five properties could look like:
The remaining 3900 square feet may be dedicated to any number of things. I personally would choose to fill the remaining space with stone-paved areas for congregating and sun bathing (850 square feet to allow for a 10 feet by 5 feet space for each individual living on the land) surrounded by small fruit fruits, berry-producing shrubs and permacultured gardens. Ideally, two people could have a sunning space of 100 square feet enclosed with some relative privacy by trellises covered in vines, a fruit tree and berry-producing shrubs.
Different portions of the aquaponics system(s) could also have designated owner(s) allowing for a private respite space surrounded with living plants, fish and water.
This would still leave roughly 3000 square feet for additional enjoyment. Additions could include all of the following or some of the following: fruit trees and fruit bearing vines; benches and other amenities allowing places to sit; stretches of soft ground cover for tennis, frisbee, hacky sack, golf or other sports; sculptures and/or other artistic additions; a pond and/or swimming pool; a river and/or well; a swing-set; a slide; monkey-bars; a climbing wall; you name it.
(Water use and efficiency is covered in a later section.)
Food Production Overview
To provide for the food needs of seventeen occupants on a plot of land that is 8100 square feet (90 x 90 feet) and contains a home with eight stories with 1600 square feet per level (40 x 40 feet), we have the following:
Aquaponic system(s) (1452 square feet) the size of three garden pools. Feeds 12 people per day.
Sprout room (350 square feet). Feeds 4 people per day. (Can provide for eight people or more with unlimited access to seeds.)
Green roof (1500 square feet). Produces 1500 calories worth of food per day. For this illustration we're considering that enough food to feed .75 people.
Seven biosphere home farming systems (one per floor occupied with people). Produces 2100 calories worth of food per day – enough to feed 1 person per day.
Assorted hydroponic systems and potted plants as desired (for additional variety and personal preference). Provides 500 calories per day. Enough to feed .25 people.
This comes to a total of 18 people per day. This does not include additional food that may grow on the unspecified 3000 square feet of space. With five to ten fruit trees per property, the amount of land could feed even more people. Additional goats could be loved to provide more milk. Ducks could be kept in addition to chickens to provide duck eggs.
In other words, with this system, a plot of land that is only 90 feet by 90 feet could support over twenty people. I'm modestly proposing that it only needs to support seventeen people. (After writing the section of “Architecture: Cob Construction” I've now concluded that this system will actually be able to feed over 24 four people per property.)
Consider this: an acre is 43,560 square feet. That means that this system can feed 129 people per acre. (8,100 square feet fits into 43,560 square feet 5.3 times. Multiply 5.3 by 24 people and you have 129 people.) Compare that to today's conventional agriculture system which only feeds one person per acre!
Aquaponics and permaculture are absolutely required if we're going to turn this vehicle called humanity around before it crashes. Please help spread the word by pinning the image below:
Food Miles & The 4-Hour Work Day
Because all or most of the food we consume would be produced on the land we live on, there would be zero food miles for all 6.9 billion of us. This would eliminate the need for a lot of work. Don't think in terms of “losing jobs” – think in terms of each human being having more leisure time. We'd still have to tend the gardens, the green roof, the aquaponics and the sprout room – but most of the work would actually be harvesting. I know this from personal experience.
In my own permacultured garden I spent a few days on the initial set up, and about two hours per month on “maintenance” and the rest of the time was spent harvesting. I never need to spray anything, and I hardly spend any time weeding. Most of the time spent was tearing out meddlesome grass and encouraging wild sorrel (looks somewhat like clover with tiny yellow flowers) to grow more rampantly as I love the lemony taste of sorrel.
In this ecotopia (eco-utopia) that somehow squeezes into 7.4 trillion square feet, I propose a four hour work day at the shop/office that exists in our own building and/or at another nearby building of choice. The rest of the time can be spent gardening (mostly harvesting), attending classes (yoga, art, psychology, whatever), socializing, preparing food, reading books, watching movies, meditating (or other spiritual practices), researching topics of interest, playing sports, enjoying a hobby, playing board games, playing video games, or otherwise enjoying oneself. And really, I don't think there is any need for the four-hours spent “at work” to be particularly less enjoyable than the rest of the day.
If you cling to the notion that we must be miserable and hard working in order to ever have anything good in life then I had two liberating enjoyable books to recommend to you: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. These two books both illustrate (from completely different approaches) how happy and simple life really can be. Neither of these books is based on idle speculation. Both books are based on real cultures, sound facts and real-life experiences.
For more of my book recommendations and book reviews visit my book recommendations page.
With such an efficient food-production system the rest is just gravy. If we have quality diverse food, quality water, good shelter, aesthetically pleasing living space, something to do that we enjoy, and a supporting community our needs are met and we can be happy. If we have wonderful clothing, fun games and great books besides, that's excellent – and there really isn't any reason we can't have all of these things even if we're confined to only 7.4 trillion square miles.
I will next move on to what we'll do with the other 55% of the land that is not being used for living properties. Before I do that I want to state the over-arching point of this entire article: Our problems are not caused by over-population. Our problems are caused by under-education. Obviously I do not mean the sort of education we can find at a public school or even at a university. Have you ever seen this information that I am presenting at a public school or university?
The idea of a personal car is pleasing to many people, but the entire concept is out-dated. It made sense at one time to replace the horse-drawn carriage with a car. We needed a way to travel a long distance without having to maintain two horses. Feeding horses on a limited amount of land is expensive because horses are intended to roam a very great distance to get a wide variety of grasses and weeds.
The idea that we could have a horseless carriage seemed like an excellent solution. We built more and more extensive road systems. These roads are costly to build and costly to maintain.
According to Economist.com:
“The cost of car ownership in Germany is 50% higher than it is in America, thanks to higher taxes on cars and petrol and higher fees on drivers' licenses. The result is a more sustainably funded transport system. In 2006 German road fees brought in 2.6 times the money spent building and maintaining roads. American road taxes collected at the federal, state and local level covered just 72% of the money spent on highways that year, according to the Brookings Institution, a think-tank.
“The federal government is responsible for only a quarter of total transport spending, but the way it allocates funding shapes the way things are done at the state and local levels. Unfortunately, it tends not to reward the prudent, thanks to formulas that govern over 70% of federal investment. Petrol-tax revenues, for instance, are returned to the states according to the miles of highway they contain, the distances their residents drive, and the fuel they burn. The system is awash with perverse incentives. A state using road-pricing to limit travel and congestion would be punished for its efforts with reduced funding, whereas one that built highways it could not afford to maintain would receive a larger allocation.”
While we would still need some personal vehicles and transport trucks to get things to individual buildings, the amount of need for personal vehicles would be tremendously reduced in the Phoenix Ecotopia. For the main bulk of shipping and transportation, I propose trains.
A freight train can transport one ton of material 436 miles on one single gallon of gas. This is incredibly efficient in comparison to our current system for transporting most goods.
Large trucks get seven to eight miles per gallon. This makes trains fifty-four times more efficient than trucks.
It's all well and good that truck drivers have jobs in America today, but as I said, we all work too much for no reason in our “civilized” societies. We work more than double the hours of people in “primitive” societies and we have less quality of life. It's really absurd when we absolutely have the capacity to create an ecotopia – and we'd only need a land space the size of Texas to accommodate every human being on the planet more comfortably than we do now!
I propose a single Smart Car per property (per seventeen individuals) for the occasions when one or two people need to make a speedy journey and can't wait for a train, like in the case of a pregnant woman about to give birth or in the case of a broken bone. I use a “Smart Car” as an example because these cars are pragmatically small, meaning that they use less resources to be constructed, and also because they are much more fuel efficient. Ideally, the vehicle would be the size of a Smart Car (less than half the size of a “standard car”) and would use hemp fuel and/or electrical power generated from solar panels.
For every train station (every 24 properties) we'll have one larger vehicle for transporting large items from the train to individual buildings. Use of the larger vehicle could be regulated through any number of means: government, postal, private business, etc. In any event, we'd need one per train station / plaza area in order to deliver larger items such as furniture.
For everyday transit I propose using our own two legs to get to our food sources on the property as well as the shop or office that is on the first floor that may be our work space. For longer distances to visit friends or to buy shoes, we can either use our feet, a bike or a train. The car would only be there for emergencies or for toting heavy objects that would be impractical to haul on and off of a train.
In the graphic below I have added a train track and a train station on a public commons “forest park.”
There are many systems possible for how often the trains will run, where they'll run from, how fast they'll go, how many stops they may "skip" on their routes, and so on. Figuring out the best system would have to happen as the communities developed.
It is possible that much less traveling long distances would happen just because we'd have everything we needed nearby. It is also possible that we'd travel more often because we'd all have more leisure time.
I propose a train station per every twenty four properties (creating a 5 property by 5 property box between the train tracks – illustrated in the next graphic).
If the train track area is 20 feet wide and occurs as often as I've described, then the train tracks will take up 18,400 square feet per train station (or per 24 properties). That is 314,501,926,400 square feet total (314 million square feet), which is 4% of 7.4 trillion square feet.
That's right – we can have a transit system that allows us to get to every other home and business of all 6.9 billion people in just 4% of the land-space within Texas. Compare that to the insanely expensive inefficient slabs of of pavement we call "roads" that mark the Earth. No more stinky toxic six-lane highways all jammed up and going nowhere while wasting fossil fuels – none of that in the Phoenix Ecotopia Model.
Public Plazas & Parks
Even though most of us would have a larger “yard” and a larger living area within the building, we would still want larger areas for gathering. Public parks always improve the quality of an area. Trees are majestic without any adornment and our literally our life line. Wide open spaces for games of rugby and soccer would also be considered “essential” by a great many humans on this planet.
This model includes one 90 feet by 90 feet public plaza-park for every twenty four other properties. These parks include a small enclosed station (with a green roof of course) for waiting for a train. (See above section for transportation.) This indicates 17,092,496 (17 million) parks with a little train station.
The public parks would take up 138,449,218,612 square feet (138 million square feet), which is 1% of the 7.4 trillion square feet we have to work with.
Between the train tracks (4%), parks, train stations (1%), homes and gardens (45%) we have now used up 50% of the land mass of Texas.
Architecture: Cob Construction
If you're not familiar with cob construction, you're in for a treat. As shown in the incredible documentary First Earth, cob construction is not inferior to modern methods of architecture. Cob is made from a mix of straw and clay (soil). This mud-straw mix can build a home that can last hundreds of years and withstand powerful earth quakes. As long as the roof is built correctly with enough overhang and large enough windowsills, the home will not need many repairs.
The advantages of cob are numerous: complete freedom of aesthetic design, very readily available building materials, labor so simple that children can do it with little learning curve, walls that are very insulating, and an attractive organic appearance. I highly recommend watching the documentary (click here) for more information on why cob is so great.
For the purposes of this model we'll assume all buildings are being built with cob construction. This is a non-issue when it comes to the mud, but the straw is a by-product of agriculture. Our ecotopia model thus far doesn't include any agriculture in the way we normally thing of it today.
For each eight-story home we'll need approximately 125 bales of straw. I've based this on construction of straw-bale homes and construction of cob homes as shown by numerous different websites including Balewatch.com.
According to WikiAnswers – 250 bales of hay can be grown per year, on average, on an acre of land. One acre of land is 43,650 square feet. To be round, let's call that 250 bales of hay, per year, per 44,000 square feet.
According to Wikipedia, straw makes up about half the agricultural production. So if you're producing 250 bales of hay, you will have 250 bales of straw as well. (Hay contains the grain and is used as a food source for animals. Straw is the leftover stalk and is used in straw-bale construction.)
We'll need 61,532,986,050 (61 billion) straw bales for the homes and 170,924,960 (170 million) straw bales for the train stations. (Total of 61,703,911,010 straw bales needed total.)
I don't know how many straw bales are on the planet today or how many grasses already exist that could be used for their straw (stalks) easily. For this model we're going to assume that there isn't any available straw in the world and that we have to grow all the straw for the construction from scratch.
If we used 25% of 7.4 trillion square feet to grow grass, we would be producing 10,586,268,000 (10 billion) bales of straw (and 10 billion bales of hay) per year over 1,863,183,168,000 (1.8 trillion) square feet. It would take us 5.8 years of growing to get all the straw we need for the homes and train stations.
Let's say we'll spend six years building all these homes and train stations (and everything else yet to be mentioned). We can spend six years on the growing of the straw and bundle it and move it and use it as we go. (Six years should be way more than enough time for seventeen people to build an eight-story cob home plus a little extra.)
In the process of producing all this straw, we'll be producing massive amounts of hay which contain edible seeds that may be sprouted and/or cooked and eaten. We'll have enough seeds to fully-fuel those sprout rooms after all, meaning that the design does indeed have enough food to actually feed more than 24 people per property.
Obviously, if we actually were undertaking the project of creating an ecotopia we would not be limited to 7.4 trillion square feet and we would not be specifically setting aside 25% of that space to grow grasses/grains. However, if we were creating an ecotopia and growing grains for the straw and hay/seed, it would be important to note that we would want to do this in small crops with trees and homes in between. Large mono-crops are bad for the ecosystem. For more on this concept, look into permaculture and why it works so much better than conventional agriculture.
Despite how much we overwork ourselves in today's “modern culture” – we're quite addicted to convenience. The flip of a switch – poof! – we have light. The turn of a nob – poof! – we have water. A quick fifteen minute drive – poof! – we're at a shopping center.
It sounds really great in comparison to what many “primitive cultures” do: walking half a mile to a river, waiting for the sun to rise for light (or building a fire), or walking ten miles to the next village seeking a specific crafter to make those new shoes you'd like.
However, all that walking is just part of a primitive culture's work day. They don't spend eight hours hunched over the computer each day or wait in traffic jams or any of the other nonsense that we do in the name of “steady employment.”
I am not suggesting that we return to a “primitive culture.” This ecotopia model will return us nearly to the freedom of being “primitive” while simultaneously granting us even more convenience than we experience now.
Currently we have to spend a lot of time working in order to earn money to support a vehicle. Then we have to spend a lot of time in that vehicle traveling to distant parts of the area we live in to work, visit friends, shop, meet medical appointments and check out new restaurants. With our current city designs we often have to travel five miles to visit one plaza for one thing and then another five miles to visit another plaza for another thing, and then ten miles to the grocery store and then another three miles to get back home. Many of us spend most of our weekends off from work running errands and barely keeping up with household tasks such as laundry and dishes.
In the Phoenix Ecotopia there will not be any days full of rush-rush-rush trying to complete errands while burning gasoline, time and money. This will be accomplished by the model of having a business of some sort on the first floor of every eight-story building.
Let's look at all the different businesses we currently like to have nearby to in modern life:
- Grocery Store / Health Food Store
- Book / Media Store
- Drug Store / Toiletries Store
- Salon / Spa / Barber
- School / University
- Clothing Store / Shoe Store
- Office Supplies
- Fabric / Crafting Store
- Art Gallery
- Tattoo Shop
- Technology Store
- Appliance Repair Shop
- Home Improvement Store
- Police Department
- Fire Department
- Government Facility
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Water-Treatment Facility
- Electrical Facility
- Natural Gas Service
- Gas Station
- Laundromat / Dry Cleaners
- Church / Temple / Spiritual Gathering Center
- Gym / Martial Arts Studio / Dance Studio / Yoga Studio
- Swimming Pool
- Ice-Skating Rink
- Roller Rink
With the exception of the airport, we'll still want to have all of these facilities (in some capacity) in the Phoenix Ecotopia. I say that we'll need them “in some capacity” because some of these we will still need, but in a different way. For example, we won't need a gasoline station for our tiny hybrid cars that run on solar power and hemp fuel, but we will need a place to purchase hemp fuel and a place to manufacture the hemp fuel.
With the Biosphere Home Farming system we'll already have a natural gas creating system in our home. However, I'm not sure if that will provide for all of our natural gas needs. We may still need an outside source of natural gas. Of course, ideally, we want to get away from needing to rely on natural gas.
We won't need large supermarkets since we're growing all the food we need on our own land, but we'll still like to have food markets where we can bring our surplus and other people can bring theirs so that we can all enjoy the greatest variety of nutrition sources possible. These markets could also sell the grains that were a byproduct of all the hay production.
Most of these facilities can exist in 1,600 square feet.
A fire station might seem like an obvious exception, but a fire station in this ecotopia would be quite different. For one thing, fires won't be nearly so much of as hazard since cob homes aren't as likely to catch fire. For another thing, fire trucks will need to be smaller to fit on the six-foot pathways.
A water treatment facility is a likely exception, and one of the buildings that we'll be able to put in the remaining 25% of the 7.4 trillion square feet. We'll obviously need to devote a lot of space to that. (More on that in a later section.)
The only other exception would be some factories. Obviously we can't manufacture cars – even very small cars – in a space that is only 1,600 feet.
Another consideration is churches. Some may think it's not okay to have a place of worship exist on the bottom floor of a eight story house which seventeen people live in. However, I think many religions would be okay with this, especially if it were only clergy/monks that lived there.
One question that might come to mind when looking at the above image is: “How do you claim that a home improvement store could fit? Home Depot is huge, after all.”
Home Depot is only huge because they carry a massive amount of duplicate items, and much of what they keep in the store won't be relevant to homes built of cob. A small home improvement store could carry an array of power tools, hand tools, and things relevant to building one's own furniture, cabinets and so on.
Walking or Biking Distances
The idea of not having a car and having to rely on a train system might sound anything but convenient to you. However, consider that you will rarely ever need to use a train to get anywhere, and that the nearest train station will be at most 9% of a mile distant from you.
In the above graphic the most distant home from a train station is the Kitchen Supply Shop. The distance from there to the train station (following the paths) is 485 feet or 9% of a mile. Even my mom who has two hip replacements and arthritis can walk that far without much difficulty.
If you lived above the Grade School you would have to walk 340 feet (6% of a mile) to get to the Lecture Hall.
If you lived above the Fire Station you'd need to walk 550 feet (10% of a mile) to get to the Yoga Studio.
If you lived above the Gym you'd need to walk 670 feet (12% of a mile) to get to the Food Market.
Of course, to get to your “groceries” you need only come from your floor to the sprout room, roof and/or aquaponics systems.
Sewage & Water Drainage Systems
Most of the water we use in our homes does not need to go back to a water-processing facility. It's really just a waste of energy and resources to do that. As long as we use organic body products, natural organic soaps, and so forth, everything that goes down the drain will be perfectly fine for depositing in the compost.
In fact, human waste is an excellent fertilizer, just like all animal waste. By cycling toilet waste to the compost there will be much less processing required of water.
The less we waste as a society the more resources that the Earth can keep for other living beings, and also the less useless labor we have to do.
Each story of the building should have one drain that leads back to a chemical processing plant for the disposal of anything toxic that we may end up with in our homes. The rest of the drains can be directed to the compost.
Trash & Landfills
Much of the waste created today is due to needless packaging. Since I started eating a whole foods mostly raw diet I've found that 98% of what I used to throw in the trash doesn't exist in my life anymore. I fill one paper grocery bag with recycling per week – much of which is junk mail and plastic spinach tubs. I fill one large compost bucket (a little bigger than a paper grocery bag) with compost every two days. My trash bin? I might fill it every other month... Maybe. Mostly all I'm ever throwing away are torn plastic bags and twist ties. Everything else may be recycled or composted.
Things that may be composted: Paper towels, tissues, melon rinds, fruit pits, apple cores, banana peels, citrus rinds, spoiled foods, nut shells, coconut husks, leaves, stalks, and all bodily waste (including hair and fingernails).
Things that may be recycled: Most plastic containers, cardboard, paper, most metal cans, and most plastic bottles.
The remaining things that can not be composted or recycled should be things we dispose of rarely, such as appliances. And truly, even these could be taken apart and recycled in most cases with a specialized facility.
In other words, we have land-fills due to poor organization in our society, not because there is a necessity for land fills. Our problem isn't population, our issue is lack of proper education and organization.
One of the greatest challenges for all 6.9 billion people living in 7.4 trillion square feet is water. We need water to drink, water to wash our clothing, water to wash our bodies, water to feed our plants and livestock and water to wash our homes. The amount of water consumed by a single person today is tremendous, especially when you consider how much water is used in to creation of all the disposables that Americans today use. We're wasting more than just landfill space each time we use and dispose of a paper cup.
The green roof design will help conserve water by gathering rainfall. Water running off the roof can be redirected to the aquaponics system and gardens on each property at large. The rainfall on each property would need to go almost entirely into the plants being grown on the property in most climates. If these 7.4 trillion square feet were located very near to the equator as well as the coast, it is conceivable that with very careful conservation we could stick to the water that fell from the sky.
This is really where the entire idea begins to sound pretty bad. We'd essentially need to be carefully harnessing all of the water that rained on that 7.4 trillion square feet. That is bound to be a bad idea.
All in all, everything else is perfectly doable. However, it would be unwise to put that much water to human use in such a concentrated space. The Phoenix Ecotopia could exist in 7.4 trillion square feet, but it would make sense to divide this up into many different places on Earth – not just one lump of land.
It would be beautiful if we could choose a hundred different areas (74.5 billion square feet per area) in the world to populate and leave the rest of the Earth pretty much alone to allow it to recuperate lost species, lost forests and so forth.
We could have expeditions into the wild to film documentaries and TV series. Footage like that of the “Planet Earth” is uplifting and wonderful.
Imagine traveling through endless landscapes untouched by man? Of course, we'd do this only so long as we didn't destroy anything in the process of our traveling.
Currently we're taking up way more land than we need for way less personal space and benefit than we need. We're using up more resources, but have less quality of life. There are just way too many incentives in government and society to do things inefficiently. That inefficiency directly translates to losing hours of our lives doing meaningless tasks that we take no joy or pride in.
I created the Phoenix Ecotopia Model with the constraint of 7.4 trillion square feet to demonstrate several things:
1. We're long past the myth that it takes two acres of land to feed a single person. Two acres is over 87,000 square feet. This model shows how we can now feed 24 people (or more) on a plot of land only just over 8,000 square feet – and that space includes living space and recreational space.
2. We're not over-populated – we're under-educated.
3. Our current transit system is one huge mass of waste, death and unhappiness. Nobody likes traffic jams, toxic smog or paying large sums for car insurance. Many of us don't even like driving. A far more efficient transit system is possible and practical.
4. Landfills are due to poor organization within our homes, within our businesses and within our government. Landfills are not a necessary part of civilization.
There are possible solutions. We don't have to keep on doing things the “conventional way” until we doom our planet and our race. For more on this topic, read Ishmael.
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