Tuesday, March 27, 2012

John Todd and the New Alchemists

Inventor Jay Baldwin, quoting Buckminister Fuller, says that in order to survive, we need a design revolution. The revolution would have to be comprehensive, anticipatory, and science-based revolution that takes entire systems into account. And this, says Jay Balwin, is exactly what Dr. Jonathan Todd is doing. Jonathan Todd is a Canadian-born environmental scientist and activist. In 1969, he, his wife Nancy Jack Todd, and William McLarney founded The New Alchemy Institute, a small farm just outside Woods Hole in Massachusetts. The goal of the Institute was pretty simple—change the world.
 "Among our major tasks is the creation of ecologically derived human support systems - renewable energy, agriculture, aquaculture, housing and landscapes. The strategies we research emphasize a minimal reliance on fossil fuels and operate on a scale accessible to individuals, families, and small groups. It is our belief that ecological and social transformations must take place at the lowest functional levels of society if humankind is to direct its course toward a greener, saner world."   Fall 1970Bulletin of the New Alchemists

In 1974, John and Nancy returned to Canada to build The Ark, a smaller version of the Institute, at Spry Point, P.E.I. Research At the Ark involved a number of trailblazing and now established green or sustainable elements: solar orientation, solar collectors, wind energy, thermal storage, and composting toilets. These formed the basis for the Living Machine®, his wastewater treatment system. The New Alchemist's built stuff, lots of stuff. They worked at systems thinking, building greenhouses with a built-in aquaculture component, making greenhouses that require minimal inputs. Their work is what has led to things like the “million pounds of food on three acres” people at Growing Power. I remember reading The Book of The New Alchemists and seeing the first examples I'd seen of integrated systems thinking. Here was a greenhouse with above-ground fishtanks serving as supports for the plant benches. The water moderated temperatures in the greenhouse and served as a growing medium for tilapia. The water was cycled back through the plant cultures, fertilizing the plants and cleaning the water. The tilapia are vegetarian fish, and are fed with the greenhouse cleanings (prunings and the like). Most importantly, the New Alchemists kept detailed notes about what they were experimenting with, and distilled the notes into various papers and publications over the years. The Greencenter has become the custodian of this information, and continues to offer it to the world as a kind of open source biological research.

example of a bioshelter design

 Todd eventually decided to pursue his work with the Living Machine® on a larger scale, and is now building organic water treatment systems.

His more recent work is also the topic of a TEDx talk. Not the best talk I've ever watched, but a lot of fascinating stuff being said.

No comments:

Post a Comment