Decentralizing For A Better Future

Decentralization can in many instances be a better alternative to the conventional centralized ways of doing things.  Especially when it comes to solving or at least mitigating the deleterious effects of human activities on the natural environment.  Although far from being a panacea, when carefully and rationally applied, it can be of immense benefits.   As we move into the second decade of this century, we face the insurmountable challenges of dwindling natural resources with exponential increases in demand.  It is becoming painfully obvious that in order to meet our needs, we will have to do a lot more with far less.  Equally obvious is that life styles, the very paradigms or our ways of thinking we use in our everyday life will need to change.

The tendency to arrange how we do things with centralized systems, is mostly a matter of simple economics.  “It’s less costly to do it that way” is the usual logic.  While this may hold true for many immediate needs and circumstances, it is woefully myopic and inappropriate when dealing with the “bigger picture” of what is called “complex systems“.  Such systems are used to model processes in computer science, biology, economics, physics, chemistry, and many other fields.  They are in short, how we understand the Real World.

Some things in the Real World cannot, for practical reasons, be done in a decentralized way, mining for instance.  Nature deposits substances like metal oars and coal, in concentrated areas and we in turn have to centralize our activities in order to extract them from the ground.

The number of good, practical solutions to particular Real World problems are often perceived by many people as being very few.  Usually the proponents of competing interests will insist that there are only two.  When in reality there are probably others that may be better.  This is often the case when a third alternative solution calling for decentralizing something that is commonly centralized is available.

To illustrate what I mean, I want you to consider the current issue of the coal mine Arch Coal Inc. wants to dig directly underneath Buckhannon-Upshur High School, in Upshur County, West Virginia.  Arch Coal Inc. maintains that it is safe to do so, while The Upshur County Board of Education objects to it.  A better resolution to this conflict might arise if the Upshur County Board of Education would change their current paradigm of how a high should be run to a more progressive one. They would then see that by decentralizing their operation it would substantially reduce costs while increasing it’s quality.  It would also be apparent then, that a big High School building is no longer needed.  Although high schools don’t normally use such things as Distance Learning and low-residency programs, they have been in use by other institutions of higher learning for quite a long time and have been proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, to work better than traditional methods in many ways.  While it is true that there is a considerable capital investment in the campus and its buildings, my guess is that Arch Coal Inc., the 2nd  largest U.S. Coal Producer, could afford to buy it and would if the deal left them looking like they were supporting education rather than undermining it.

Of course, this is far easier said than done and not likely to happen unless, at the very least, the over whelming majority of the people in Upshur County, W.V. demand it.  But if it did, it would dramatically reduce the size of the “environmental footprint” of the school.  Decentralizing of many, if not most, human activities must happen soon if people, even in the wealthy nations, are going to have a reasonable standard of living in the very near future.

Victory: Arch Coal agrees not to mine under high school!

Great news! Late last week, Arch Coal agreed not to mine for coal underneath Buckhannon Upshur High School in West Virginia.

More than 60,000 CREDO Action members signed a petition to Arch Coal telling the company that mining underneath a high school is unacceptable, and the company responded to the public pressure.

In addition to the petition signatures we delivered, more than 600 CREDO activists called Arch Coal CEO Steven Leer to urge him not to go forward with the proposed mine. Your pressure worked, and made it clear to Arch Coal that endangering schoolchildren in order to mine coal is not acceptable.

Hunter Mullens, an attorney for the Upshur County Board of Education, told the Associated Press what this victory means. “It’s really good for the Upshur County children because we know that school is going to be safe,” he said.1

Thank you doing your part to keep the coal industry in check.

1 Arch agrees not to mine under W.Va. school complex, Associated Press, October 21, 2011

They call this a “Victory”, I see it as a draw at best.

My guess is that they are going to end up with a building that will cost substantially more than by building several-many small neighborhood size schools.  For example, it would cost a lot less to move the Teachers K-12 from building to building, then to bus all the kids from home & back.  That is effect saving 60-80 trips per class per day! When gas becomes +$5/gal I’d guess that would be more than $1/day/student.

What’s wrong with a one room schoolhouse?  One big advantage I see is that it is an opportunity to teach parenting skills at essentially zero cost.  It’s not practical for the older kids to be interacting so intimately with the younger ones in separate classrooms.

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