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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Decentralize



Recently I was reading an article on the potential for a major cyber attack. The financial system goes down, then the power grid and communications. Of course, the financial system can do that without any outside help. Same for the grid. Complex systems are prone to failure.

The tendency is to try and fix complex systems by adding more complexity. It might even work for a while. Eventually the band aids can’t be applied fast enough. These things are well known.

The fixes are possible, but unpopular. Decentralize and simplify.

Let’s take the grid. Instead of a few big grids running the country, break it up. Concentrate on using power where it’s made. In some places that might mean solar panels on every house. Other places might benefit from wind or hydro. Rather than run high tension power lines to a factory, locate the factory next to the power source it needs. Cyber attacks can’t take everything down because they aren’t connected. When one system has problems, it will stay a local problem and not spread across the network. It might seem inefficient, but there are huge efficiency gains by eliminating high tension lines.

Food should be relocalized. Once again, it’s inefficient, but much less prone to failure. It won’t happen overnight, but a general transition to the local would increase food security. Even urban farming helps. Landscaping can incorporate more edibles. It’s not necessary to provide all your food locally, but there no reason to not provide a significant part of our calories near where we live.

Our computer communications could be made more robust with an ad hoc wireless mesh network. Something like Project Byzantium. It looks more complicated than it is. The idea is that local computers can communicate with each other -independent of the regular Internet. (and free from Internet controls!)

One of the big ones is political power. Problems are often more efficiently solved at the local level. We’ve learned that in a natural disaster whatever resources the locals have on the ground is what you’ll have. Rather than plowing more and more money into FEMA, why not allocate more for the people on the ground who actually know what’s going on?

Getting the President’s ear is almost impossible. My local Selectman or State Legislature are easy to get hold of. These people are neighbors, friends and relatives. What those guys do or don’t do affects my life as much or more than what the President does. The further down the hierarchy a problem is solved, the cheaper and better the solutions.

Cheap energy, high speed communication, fast transportation and computers have made it possible to centralize. It’s efficient, but not very robust. It guarantees that when problems happen, they are huge problems. Disturb any one of the pillars that centralization stands on, and the whole house of cards comes down.

Things cannot become infinitely more complex. Sooner or later there is a reset. It can be done voluntarily, or by collapse. The choice is ours.

Okay, the choice really isn’t ours. It’s in the hands of the very people who’ve benefited from centralized control. They have no incentive to change. Don’t look there for solutions. Start at your own household. Decentralization begins with you.

-Sixbears

14 comments:

  1. Great post Sixbears! Couldn't agree with you more! Well said.
    Don't go into politics, you're too valuable doing what you're doing.
    Now how do you get to the masses. You need to be heard by them...

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thanks!

      Don't worry, I've successfully resisted elected office all my life.

      Delete
  2. Very true. I think, though, that centralization isn't so efficient, it's just that most costs are well hidden, often purposely. Large systems are simply there because they speed the money flow to the "pockets that be."

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    1. Good point.

      I'd rather have the money flow back to all our little pockets.

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  3. It has always amazed me how little redundancy there is in the grid. One big hiccup is all it takes and it's lights out. Ships have double and even triple redundancy in their power systems, and the ability route the juice many different ways, bypass damaged sections of the bus... Centralization is never a good thing.

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    1. Looks like the Northeast will soon find out how fragile the grid is.

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  4. thats why have been making progress to being a micro nation/ tribe of makers/ or just a bunch of fellow lunatics helping each other survive better...

    in any case you did a good blog again...

    Wildflower

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    1. Thanks Wildflower.

      The future is a tribe.

      Delete
  5. Of course it is still large, but here in Texas we have our own grid all within the state.

    You know there are designs for mini nuclear power plants, some of which are small enough to service one or several homes. Trouble is people are afrid of them, but being so small they pose very little danger.

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    1. I remember the SNAP generators that ran on the decay of plutonium. Nobody would misuse that, right?

      TX has a more robust grid that the rest of the country. New England's is a mess.

      Delete
  6. Goods points again, Sixbears. Folks need to realize just how fragile things really are!

    Nail on the head, my friend!

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    1. Thank you. People should know so they can take actions to protect them and theirs.

      Delete
  7. Excellent post!
    You are right, decentralization begins with the individual. And don't expect much help either. In fact there are all kinds of hurdles including those purposefully placed there by the big money interests that control centralization. But everybody can at least do something. Heck, grow 20 carrots or put in a dozen potato plants. Even a small start can lead to amazing results.

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  8. Thanks!

    Even a small starts is a start -much better than doing nothing.

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