Sustainability through Massive abundance.

Episode 16: Surviving Disasters

Edenicity vs. pandemics, earthquakes, locust plagues and more. It's like 17 disaster movies rolled into one. But in this case the hero is... the city!

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Pandemic Leadership

I read an article recently about New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, who handled the Coronavirus pandemic extremely well in her country. So I posted it to Facebook saying I was really impressed with her empathy, honesty and decisiveness. Pretty quickly though, somebody replied to my posts saying, "hey, just FYI, Taiwan has eliminated it. elimination means no cases in the community for 15 plus days, has five times the population of New Zealand, much closer proximity to China, and has never had to do a lockdown. Vietnam's success is also remarkable considering the size of their population and proximity and ties to China. Just saying." He also added "Confucian cultures prefer to have their results speak for themselves, but I'm Western, so I'll toot their horn for 'em." Well, my friend had a point, culture matters. And my point, of course, is that leadership matters as well.

Well, Edenicity doesn't prescribe any type of culture or leadership, though I think some promising legal, financial and governance models would do very well there. But here's the real question: Is Edenicity the kind of place you would want to live during a pandemic or other disaster? The short answer is an emphatic Yes!

INTRO [music]

Cities designed like modern Edens, for economic and ecological abundance. I'm Kev Polk, your guide to Edenicity.

Welcome to Episode 16, where I'll discuss the Edenicity of disaster preparedness.

Now, it's early May 2020. And strangely enough, I was thinking about epidemics and disaster preparedness. Not surprisingly, so we're the world's media. The may 7th, 2020 issue of Politico included a list of all possible future disasters that we might worry about. And I thought, "great, here's a list of problems that I could check against the design of Edenicity to see how robust it is."

Major Themes

So our major themes today are preparedness, ecological resilience, and a notion from permaculture, which is that the problem is the solution. You'll see why in a moment.

Pandemics and biothreats

Well, let's start with what's on everybody's mind, pandemics and biothreats.

Edenicity is high density, like twice as many people per square kilometer as Columbus, Ohio, for example. And that's, frankly scary during a pandemic. Now, in the Coronavirus pandemic, the rich are moving to small rural towns and hitting the supermarket and then there's a shortage in food for everybody else. Now, this is a short term shock that will have long term logistical solutions. But still, it's got people somewhat worried. In a scary enough pandemic, anyone who can afford it will move to the country.

But Edenicity is not like a normal city. It's a little bit like having the country in the city. Its transportation design, builds social capital by increasing access to social encounters. But this is embedded in a system that can maintain the highest quality of life during social distancing.

Most of the food that people eat is grown right on their rooftops, and on the block where they live, and most of it is served in cafes, right there in the row of buildings where they live. If there's a lockdown order in such a place, they don't have to go very far to get food. This is really different from say, Columbus, Ohio, where I live, where you still need to get out to a grocery store, or order takeout, and the problem there is that so is everybody else from all over the city. So every week, perhaps several times a week, even during a stay at home order, we have to get out there in public and mingle with people from all over the city. This is what I call distant encounters. And right now the way normal cities are designed, there's no way to avoid them.

Edenicity though, would very easily constrain contacts to block or even building level interactions. So the cafes might shut down and they might do door-to-door delivery. But because they're right there in the building, this would cost very little time and very little expense compared to what we're doing right now in Columbus. And it would drastically shrink the bubbles of exposure that you have. So yes, you might have an outbreak on a block if something were very, very contagious. But that outbreak would be something that you could contain within a block or at worst within a village or town. So a city wide outbreak would be much less likely than in today's cities.

The other thing that I want to look at when it comes to pandemics is transportation. Now if you download the reference design, which I encourage you to do if you haven't done already, you'll see that there are two separate transportation systems. Now Loop and Hyperloop, which I get into an episode 12, would have built in ultraviolet sanitation and routine washing, and also cycle their air rapidly through HEPA filters. The bicycle transportation system includes sheltered bike paths throughout the city. So in a pinch, you can get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time by bicycle in the open air, which is much less vulnerable to disease spread than enclosed spaces. And if you're mobility impaired, then certainly an electric mobility vehicle. So Edenicity would be a much better place than any of today's cities during a pandemic because of its ability to limit distant encounters during social distancing and lock downs, and also because its transportation infrastructure includes bicycle transport in the open air, and because the loop and Hyperloop transit systems would have built in sanitation by design.

Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Tsunamis

Okay, so much for pandemics and bio hazards. What about earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis? Well, the first line of defense that Edenicity has is that it's quite small. It's not a sprawling city by any means. By occupying less than 1.4% of the land, we have the option of locating it out of flood inundation zones and fault lines. So simply locating them intelligently would go a long way toward mitigating those hazards. In addition, the bricks that would be available from the loop and Hyperloop installations would be built to seismic standards. In fact, this is already standard in the specification that the boring company has for the bricks that they're producing in their tunnels that they're digging now.

Now speaking of tunnels, where would you like to be when an earthquake hits? Most people kind of shudder to picture themselves in a tunnel, especially in a high speed vehicle in a tunnel. But the advantage of these systems over things like highways is that they are underground where the force of seismic waves is much lower than at the surface. And they have the ability to slow down instantaneously throughout the system at the first sign of an incident. So basically, the cars would not all crash into each other or into the sides of the tunnels, they would very rapidly slow down and get you to safety. I'll talk a little bit more about the tunnel construction in a moment.


Let's talk about storms. Well, first of all, by building the city to California or Japan's seismic standards, we can also have structures that withstand wind loads, and by building them outside of flood zones, that mitigates a lot of the flooding risk. Now at the block level, the water retention basins would be built very much like those in Village Homes in Davis, California, which have been able to take really large flood events actually not just on the property but also from the surrounding town without incident, so these would be built easily for 1,000 year plus events and basically just retain the water in the soil rather than trying to channel it away. So each block in Edenicity is designed to weather a 1,000 plus year flood event. Now, because each village has its own loop entrance, these would definitely need to be on high ground, but the tunnels themselves would be waterproof.

Geomagnetic Storms and EMP Bombs

Now speaking of storms, one of the most obscure but potentially damaging types of storms is a space storm otherwise known as a geomagnetic storm. These happen when solar flare, which is a big eruption on the sun, hits the earth with radio pulses that interfere with communications or with what's called a coronal mass ejection, which are charged particles that hit the atmosphere. And when these hit the Earth, these create giant coronas or Northern Lights, and can have massive and horrible effects for surface electrical infrastructure.

According to Wikipedia, "the largest recorded geomagnetic perturbation, resulting presumably from a coronal mass ejection hitting Earth's magnetosphere was the solar storm of 1859. The so called Carrington event, which took down parts of the recently created US telegraph network, starting fires and shocking some telegraph operators. Some telographers on the other hand, were able to continue operating with their batteries disconnected, powered by the aurora-induced currents in the lines with normal or improved signal quality. A pair in Portland, Maine, and Boston, Massachusetts, conversed in this way for nearly two hours at the height of the storm, without any manmade power supply."

That gives you a sense of the power of these events. And the vulnerabilities are enormous. They can directly damage satellites, they can bring down the GPS system and everything that depends on it. Now, of course Edenicity, with its underground loop transit system, would be far less vulnerable to GPS outages than people traveling by surface streets. So that's a point in its favor. One of the other vulnerabilities is long distance power grids, including transformers and generators, according to the Politico article, "the worst case scenario whether brought on by manmade cyber attack or a so called geomagnetic disturbance from space is the physical destruction of critical infrastructure, particularly generation equipment. The problem with that is that this equipment is really hard to replace, it might take many years to rebuild." And in that time you have millions of people potentially, without power.

This is life threatening to many of us as we go through the seasons. Summer in Arizona is intolerable without air conditioning. Winter through most of North America is nearly impossible to get through without electricity. So it's very destructive. And so it makes the so called electromagnetic pulse bomb the EMP bomb, a particularly attractive weapon to powers like North Korea, and so there's certainly Civil Defense planners who lose a lot of sleep over that.

Now in Edenicity, happily, the generation is through solar power in the roof of the bike path shelters, and the distribution network is at the block level with a city scale smart grid that would be easily fused to segment into town, block, or village scale sub-grids, depending on the scale of the threat. So you can think of the wires as antennas, the longer, the more vulnerable. And the power of Edenicity is that it can instantaneously shorten those antennas to something very much more manageable.

The other thing that's fairly easy to do at this very small scale is to encase the charge controllers and inverters that convert the solar energy into house current and also route it to the batteries and shield them from electromagnetic pulses. Because the very worst pulses actually threaten the circuitry within that power equipment. So the simplest thing you can do is build what's called a Faraday cage. It's basically just a mesh of wire that completely surrounds it, and then you bring the power in and have a fuse right at that junction, and your system is protected.

So again by design, Edenicity is much less vulnerable than the large scale power grids that we depend on today.

Political Extremism

Another threat that the Polico article warns of is the globalization of white supremacy. But a lot of the extremism around the world is built on the narrative of grievances, often a loss of livelihood a loss of opportunity, a loss of status. But Edenicity provides an environment where you have better health (as I explained in Episode 4), a higher quality of life (explained in Episode 6), a lower incidence of crime and addiction (Episode 7), easy and routine contact with nature, people activities and education, direct participatory governance from block to city (see Episode 18), and guaranteed Basic Income, all of which boils down to a physical structure which promotes inclusion and equity by design so that people aren't marginalized, excluded or exploited.

I knew a psychologist who had studied racism, and I asked her "well, what is the best cure for racism." And you know what she said? She said, working together toward a common goal.

By Design, Edenicity brings people together to solve the problems of daily life, right there where they live. And it brings together people who have previously been in marginalized groups to live together and work in much closer proximity. And so it provides many more opportunities to build social capital across lines that previously divided people. It's the best cure for extremism that I know.

Terrorism and War

Alright, what about the physical threats of terrorism and war? I mean, the Loop transit, the Hyperloop transit would be obvious targets for terrorists.

Well, Loop transit is a gridded network with great redundancy. Basically, every village would connect into the network of loop transit. And so if one station is lost to a bomb or what have you, the other stations would be able to route around it, there'd be no way to knock large sections of it out with one big blow. And of course, the bike transit provides block redundancy while parts of the loop transit are down for repair.

The decentralized power grid is very hard to shut down. Even the Hyperloop which operates between cities, though much more vulnerable than the loop transit, moves people in much smaller batches than airlines.

Now you may have noticed that today's rail throughout the world does not have airline like security with its enormously long lines and slow downs. Instead, they get by just fine with security officers, dogs, cameras and other methods that are low profile.

Now that may not fully reassure you when you picture yourself zooming through a tunnel at nearly the speed of sound, but the tunnels themselves are much harder to access and damage than surface rails, especially since it's hard to bring a large enough bomb on board to damage the tunnel. So the tunnels themselves would remain even if someone blows up one of the Hyperloop pods.

The other element of security is that the Loop and Hyperloop connections would be dynamically optimized very much like the internet routes packet data today. There's no set schedules. It's all by demand, and transfers to and from the loop stations can be randomized through several stations making it hard to target specific locations or people. Because the pods are relatively small, evacuation from any sort of a disaster or attack would be very rapid.

Though Loop and Hyperloop are vulnerable to terrorism and war, they are less vulnerable than any of the systems that we have available today, including, I might add, road systems, which are very vulnerable to bridge attacks.


Okay, what about wildfires? One of the criticisms that I encountered very early on in designing Edenicity was that people saw all these trees and said, "Wait a minute, what about wildfires? I mean, that would be a horrible threat!"

Well, the first thing to understand is that the intent zones two to four forests are built to hold water in the landscape very much like Village Homes, which we had discussed in some detail in Episode 3. This alone would tend to increase groundwater and increase how moist the vegetation is. Now of course, this would also increase the growth of woody fuel load, but these are actively managed areas. So what would otherwise be very dangerous tinder would be removed on a routine basis with routine management, either to provide wood chip mulch or other farm forestry products.

Drought and Famine

Now what about drought and famine? Well, the permaculture Research Institute in New South Wales, Australia, used the earthworks that I just mentioned, to recharge the aquifers in the soil underneath their experimental farms. So, during the worst droughts on record, their groundwater was still running strong, and their farm was still quite green. The other thing going for Edenicity when it comes to drought and famine is simply growing a large variety of foods, and the possibility of having new varieties of foods, which I'll get into in another episode.


Once you solve the problem of producing food during drought and famine, the next big problem is insect infestation, and particularly locusts. Desert locusts have been ravaging Northern Africa in the Mideast this year. And it's been a huge problem. These are city sized swarms that can travel up to 100 kilometers a day and terrorize a region that's over 1000 kilometers across. They can travel fast, they can travel far, and they are ravenous. Each locust will eat its weight in vegetable matter every day. They'll land on fields and completely eat them bare.

So how do you deal with that? Well, one thing you can do is store some reserves, and there would certainly be long term grain reserves in every cafe in the city. This would avoid the vulnerabilities of huge centralized reserves that are potentially more vulnerable to locusts. But the bigger picture... actually there's two:

One is to realize that the locusts thrive on degraded low nitrogen soils. They don't like high protein crops grown in rich soils. So by treating the soil well, as discussed in Episode 15, we also do a lot to prevent locust infestations.

But the best solution is to catch and process the locusts for food!

I know you're probably going "yuck!" Right? Because I mean, it's just not in most of our culture to eat insects at all. But the popularity of "sky shrimp" may have actually curtailed plagues in places like Thailand, where routine day-to-day harvesting of locusts for millet fields fetches a higher price overall than the entire millet crop.

Climate Change

Okay, so much for the locusts. What about the really, really big threats like climate change? Well, first of all, by locating inland, Edenicity avoids sea level rise and flooding. The landscaping prevents urban heat island effects and the construction weathers storms and provides low energy climate control appropriate to various climates where it's built. So basically, it will weather the existing problems quite well.

In addition to that, though, Edenicity would be developed in a regional restoration context. So zone five, which extends well beyond the city, would sequester carbon 10 times faster than the current per capita global emissions, either through the restoration of grasslands or a forests, which have been so damaged in recent centuries.

So Edenicity would be probably the best way to reverse climate change in a hurry.


Now, what about really scary, crazy problems like nuclear weapons?

I grew up in an era where there were Civil Defense drills and duck and cover films and it was terrifying. I had nightmares about it on a regular basis and so did a lot my friends. But if Edenicity catches on, we will be living in a world of dramatically greater prosperity and self sufficiency. This decreases the incentive for Empire to nil. In such a society, dismantling nuclear weapons, and nuclear power infrastructure will be a major high payoff area of collaboration between cities.

Truth and trust

All right, if saved the biggest and maybe most frightening threat for last, and that's the degeneration of truth and trust in society. In 2020, we're going into another election cycle and people are very worried about continued Russian interference in our elections in the United States. We're just swamped in fake news, trolling, and there's also the possibility of deep fake animations that can make anybody appear to say anything. Beyond that, to make a buck, Facebook, Google and other media serve you what you will pay attention to. So we now live in an era of individually tailored and individually marketed media content. And what this does is put each of us in a media bubble where disinformation, propaganda and sales copy are passed off as facts.

Nevertheless, the physical structure of Edenicity lends itself to a governance model that grounds our political activity in the landscape and the various nested communities in which we live. This is a good thing, because political engagement at all levels is about decision making that involves everyone who implements or is affected by a decision.

Delegation is necessary just for efficiency's sake, but it doesn't have to be a signoff every four years. I picture weekly cafe meetings with ad hoc delegates to weekly block meetings and delegates from those in turn to biweekly town and monthly city meetings. This has the advantage of making the meeting and public services personally accountable to the populace on a routine basis and grounding decisions in daily life, rather than abstract ideology. The corporate world has long experimented with governance structures, and I'll have more detail about these in Episode 18.

The world is a dangerous place with pandemics earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, storms, geomagnetic storms, electronic weapons, bio weapons, nuclear weapons, political extremism, terrorism, war, wildfire, drought, floods, famine infestations, climate change and weaponized ignorance.

Does it seem strange that Edenicity addresses all of these threats so well? Well, it shouldn't. Edenicity embodies robust ecological design, and over billions of years ecosystems have overcome just about every conceivable threat. Sound ecological design is remarkably resilient.

Where should you be during the next disaster? In the most robust ecology and economy you can find. Yet another reason to build Edenicity.

Close [music]

If you enjoyed Episode 16, please be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a show. If you haven't already done so, please visit the news link at to download a copy of the reference design. And please join me next time when I'll discuss the Edenicity of population growth and maintenance. I'm Kev Polk, and this has been Edenicity


Edenicity 16: Surviving Disasters

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