Saturday, April 14, 2012

Our Crumbling Infrastructure

We Americans today have been a lot like a generation who's inherited our grandparents' mansion. People drive by going "nice house," but when you go inside it, it's falling apart.
Stephen Flynn

An economy runs on infrastructure, and America is no different. Energy and fresh water must be available wherever it's needed, and waste of all kinds must be removed to maintain a healthy environment. Roads, bridges, waterways, aviation and transit systems keep people and products moving. Dams and levees are critical to taming mother nature's propensity to provide too much water in one instance, too little in another.

And America's infrastructure is falling apart, as Pew Research reported back in 2008.
The numbers are staggering. More than one in four of America's nearly 600,000 bridges need significant repairs or are burdened with more traffic than they were designed to carry, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Homebrew Production Model

In earlier columns in this series, we've explored technologies that promise to challenge mass production and distribution of goods, much as decentralized arts have begun to challenge the major media outlets and local farming is becoming a nascent threat to factory farming; technology that will soon be as readily available to the local craftsman as farming implements are to the local farmer.

Both an ecological and economic case can be made for the wastefulness of the current production-push model of goods creation. Making cheap, disposable goods centrally and distributing them globally in a never-ending cycle uses considerably more resources and energy than crafting durable, repairable goods for a smaller geographic area. As with produce, the hidden costs of socialized infrastructure account for a considerable portion of the supposed economic advantages of mass production.

The counter-argument can be made that only centralized production lines can produce many goods, such as today's sophisticated electronic consumer goods. To continue down the path toward a more decentralized economy, new models of decentralized production will be necessary. Fortunately, some models have already shown themselves to be viable, and others offer great promise.