#postscarcity or bust!

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meet robert shields

Posted by straw prophet on November 10, 2011 at 2:45 AM

meet robert shields



i noted a while back on this blog that i would like to do more interviews of people who are working on our common problems, but i haven't been keeping up with that very well. in an attempt to get back on track with the interviews, i sent a few questions to a very interesting gentleman in fairbanks named robert shields. robert's article "farm the polaris" calls for alaskans to develop their food independence through vertical farming...



"In Alaska, we import about 95 percent of our food which makes us extremely vulnerable to political, climatic and economic global instability, and things are looking pretty unstable. This does not mean we have to start genetically modifying our food, although it does require some innovation and courage. As productive farmland worldwide diminishes, a group of students has developed a novel solution that has the discussion of locally grown organic food looking up. The idea is vertical farming. Just two 30-story structures (or four 15-story structures) could sustainably feed every man, woman and child in Alaska for generations."

without further ado, here are robert's responses...



what's your background and training?


While attending high school in Fairbanks (Lathrop) I saw clear evidence of profit being put before people and planet.  I didn’t have any real knowledge about the issues or any resources to effectively create solutions. So I started my journey by attending Sterling College in Vermont where I earned an AA in natural resource management and then spent 10 years working in every aspect of the sustainable industry of Portland, Oregon.  Learning through practical study about how the issues where connected and what to do about working toward a solution. While there I founded the Sustainable Today program and established the sustainable contractor, Sustainable Solutions Unlimited.  I sold my interest in the company and in 2010 came back home to get to work.



what do you see our major social problems being? the "root" issues?


Simply put: to save the planet we have to stop throwing it away.  Looking closely I have discovered that the inequality of resource distribution is simply a logical conclusion of the cycle of consumption.  Designing things for the dump is how we have so effectively trashed the planet in a very short amount of time, and like a group of lemmings our trash has pushed us off the edge.  Therefore I propose that if we did NOTHING else but eliminate trash then the world would be a brighter (and cleaner place) with the resources to feed, shelter, and cloth every many woman and child alive today.



if you had an unlimited budget to start fixing the world today, how would you go about it?


First of all I would not want an unlimited budget because then everything I did would look like a social program and with no investment, (no skin in the game) people will not learn and grow which we stopped doing when our happiness started coming from things instead of nurturing healthy relationships.   I am working on community investment models which will provide opportunities for individuals to invest in program and plans which they feel offer the best return on the investment.

The solutions I would implement are the ones I am implementing.  Through education and innovative I am working with several groups of dedicated individuals to build models of a zero-waste economy for Alaska using the TerraCycle program as a successful model for replication.  Models which not only serve to educate but create real time solutions to natural resource management issues facing many remote northern communities. With these models in place they can be replicated the world over until the day when the only place you can find “waste” is next to “fossil fuels, poverty, homelessness, and hunger” –in a history book.



maybe share some info about vertical towers and food security?


Simple enough, people need food, and it is a good motivator to encourage people to act.  In Alaska we import 95% of our food and export or put into the landfill on average 6lbs of waste per person per day (2 lbs above the national average).  This is a huge disconnect and danger our state security.  In Alaska the proven model for growing food is greenhouses.  While there are several effective models of this strategy most of them exist outside the urban centers where the people who like to eat live.  I know in Fairbanks we have at least one empty building and in Anchorage I believe there is one or two multi-story buildings which could serve the purpose.  Right now I am working to create the steering committee which I can draft the plan around to build a vertical farming plan that creates the opportunity to make this a reality for Alaska. This is based on the Columbia University model of the Vertical Farm concept.  I expect in the next 10 years every Alaskan will have abundant access to a rich diversity of locally grown organic food.



in what ways do we currently fail to be sustainable, and how can we correct those failings?


On this physical plane of reality I would have to say that the dis-ease is the disconnect we create when we separate ourselves from Nature.  It begins a cascade of breaks in empathy which ultimately ends up back on us.  Because when you stop caring about this and that it's not a long path before you stop caring about anyone including yourself.

I felt it important to frame the answer in this manner because I believe the very fact we believe we are physical beings is part of the problem.  I believe that in order for us to truly begin to living as part of the world and not just on her we must examine the possibility that maybe we were created to evolve.  That in God’s image means beings of light that grow, change, and evolve over time.  I see in Nature the evidence of a divine plan and I believe we exist to provide perspective to our own existence so that in moving along this path back toward that from which we came we gain a greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the Universe, which allows the Universal Conscience to evolve. Simple, right.

We cannot list this however as a failing anymore than we can list the ability of a toddler to sprint a failing. Wisdom is the experience of applied knowledge and as long as we acknowledge change is constantly occurring and work proactively to apply our imagination and intellect to producing innovative solutions that work for everyone, then we are learning to walk and that is how you learn to run.



who and what are all of the organizations you support and where can everyone contact them?


It is not possible to list every organization I think is doing something good for the planet and listing them does not mean I think everything they are doing is right.  In general, however, here are some groups I believe are taking major steps toward creating a sustainable society.












thanks, robert!

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