Images of hand tools and mini excavators

Using An Excavator When A Rake Will Do.

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Using High-Tech Solutions to Patch up Flawed Strategy

Three years ago I spent a few weeks doing some construction inspection on a structural culvert rehabilitation. After completing the structural work the site had to be cleaned up and erosion control measures put in. There was a small area that needed topsoil and seeding, let’s say 4m x 4m. Excavators are commonly used to place the topsoil and then the soil is manually raked to make sure it meets the specifications before seeding. The young foreman was determined to do it all by machine. He drove back and forward over this patch of soil trying to smooth it out. Each time, making a bigger and bigger mess with the excavator tracks while the hand rake was leaning against a tree. I finally grabbed the rake and raked out the soil in a few minutes (inspectors are not supposed to do this).

So what is the point of this story?

In the age of easy and relatively cheap energy and technology we are often looking for technological and mechanical fixes to solve problems. Often ignoring the simple elegant, well proven, less energy intensive solutions that already exist. The rake may not be powerful or shiny or high tech but it got the job done, cheaply with very low energy and material inputs.

So why does this matter?

We need to transition quickly to a low carbon economy. We also need to significantly reduce our non-renewable and renewable resource use. There is no magical technological solution to this problem. To date using more and more technology has just increased our material and energy use.

The common approaches to transition to the low carbon sustainable economy are to:

  • shift to renewable energy and materials
  • be more energy and materially efficient and reduce waste
  • virtualize products and replace old materials with advanced renewable one.

The fact is that these approaches are not working. We are just adding more and more layers to already flawed systems.

“Many of our high tech solutions are not used for the benefit of humanity but to patch up flaws in modern strategy” Colin Tudge

We need to get back to basics and look for simple elegant solutions. There are many simple elegant solutions rooted in the past. Before people had massive amounts of material, computing power and energy at their fingertips. Perhaps if we take some of the tried and true elegant solutions and add in just a little modern magic we will come up with integrated, resilient, cyclical, location appropriate ways to provide the goods and services we need.

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