How “low-tech” encourages considering and performing past know-how


The Ecological Transition Company (Ademe) carried out a examine revealed in March 2021 to attract up a list of low-tech approaches and related views. As a result of if the idea takes root within the Seventies with authors like Ivan Illich, Lewis Mumford, Ernst F. Schumacher, Jacques Ellul or Cornelius Castoriadis, there isn’t any frequent and shared definition regarding this time period. The target was due to this fact to suggest one other, complementary one.

In brief, whereas the mass of the “techno-sphere” (objects, machines, tools, infrastructures, and so on.) made by people (estimated at 1100 billion tons) would have exceeded that of the terrestrial biomass (estimated at 1000 billion tons) in keeping with a examine revealed in Nature in December 2020, the low-tech strategy goals to cut back the scale, depth and complexity of the technical system of the economic system in order that it “re-embeds itself”, because the Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi would say, inside the limits planetary.

Contrasting key elements of world biomass and anthropogenic mass in 2020 (based mostly on dry weight) – E. Elhacham, L. Ben-Uri, J. Grozovski, YM Bar-On & R. Milo

So let’s attempt to define it…

The “usefulness, sturdiness, accessibility” triptych


And concretely? The time period low-tech is related in folks’s minds with the discount of the environmental footprint of a specific object – for instance, a photo voltaic cooker or dry bogs. The Low Tech Lab, a low-tech exploration, documentation and demonstration laboratory, attracts up an inventory of three standards characterizing low-tech merchandise: accessibility, sturdiness and utility.

Accessibility refers back to the democratization of entry to technical data, know-how (and even interpersonal expertise), with a view to open circulation (open supply) by transmission and applicable coaching programs.

Low-tech is sustainable in that it’s a part of the logic of round economic system, re-use, re-use, recycling. It due to this fact encourages reflection on sobriety but in addition on eco-design and the simplicity of the technical device, by avoiding, for instance, alloys of supplies, which make recycling rather more troublesome.

Lastly, the low-tech object have to be helpful: reducing the ecological footprint of an object that meets a necessity arising from ostentatious and superfluous consumption wouldn’t make sense.

Some criteria for low-tech approaches complementary to those of the Ademe study
Some low-tech strategy standards complementary to these of the Ademe examine – Arthur Keller & Émilien Bournigal / Wikimedia CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Discernment, a treatment for technical ambivalence

All these standards are in fact on the coronary heart of the definition that Ademe has tried to assemble, and that of utility in thoughts: it refers back to the notions of sobriety and discernment, as a treatment for the ambivalence of the approach used ahead by the historian and sociologist Jacques Ellul, and the necessity to collectively decide its goal earlier than creating it.

A photo voltaic water heater could also be low-tech in design, however it does not make sense if it is getting used to warmth a personal swimming pool. Equally, low-tech agricultural instruments are irrelevant in the event that they serve agricultural organizations and practices which can be economically inefficient, energetically unsustainable and harmful of soil and residing issues. Conversely, some strategic sectors, such because the navy or healthcare, will discover it troublesome to do with out sure cutting-edge applied sciences.

Behind it’s a complete system of thought and values ​​that should assist remodel the low-tech strategy, even earlier than the purely technological dimension.

When tinkering and sharing becomes a political gesture
When tinkering and sharing turns into a political gesture – L’atelier Paysan / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

A central questioning of wants

As a result of it questions our anthropological relationship to know-how, significantly within the gentle of sure renunciations of consumption, the low-tech strategy due to this fact goes past the easy scale of the thing or the service offered by know-how, and that’s what that Ademe needed to indicate: it’s not solely a query of designing sustainable technical programs, of sustaining the prevailing one slightly than changing it, of democratizing entry to them and likewise of controlling their makes use of, but in addition and above all to query our wants from totally different mixed angles (psychological, sociological, well being, financial, cultural, historic, geographical, and so on.).

In an try to objectify it, such an strategy may result in shifting from the mannequin of the totemization of GDP, from reductionism to the individual-consumer and from technological solutionism to that of a “energy to reside nicely and to do issues collectively”. characterised by quantitative and qualitative indicators with regard to climatic, vitality, meals, ecological, well being, technological, financial, social, id, cultural and bodily insecurities suffered beneath the mixed results of globalization and the overstepping of limits.

Degree of social inequalities, entry to employment, life expectancy in good well being, high quality of vitality, meals, water, air, soil, schooling, healthcare , data, entry to mobility, tradition and nature, resilience to shocks, well being indicators (weight problems, alcoholism, smoking, and so on.), ranges of violence, development of separatism and obscurantism, and so on. : so many variables to research of their interactions to create the situations for a stable social cohesion important to a extra sober and resilient nation and due to this fact extra low-tech.

Like every strategy to sobriety, it have to be a part of a deliberate and equitable administration of planetary limits by the State, by favoring for instance the instruments of structural regulation by portions (laws, democratically outlined quotas) in parallel with investments within the alternate options. As a result of the cyclical regulation by costs (support, taxation), along with rising the general public debt, penalizes particularly probably the most modest amongst us or doesn’t free them from their dependence on finite sources, when the wealthiest have margins of great discount in consumption and the technique of circumventing or supporting taxation.

​An intrinsic systemic strategy

Ambitions that open up a large transdisciplinary area of scientific exploration and experimentation involving a systemic strategy that takes into consideration the assorted endogenous and exogenous variables, their advanced interactions and the targets or features of the system into account.

Take the instance of the mobility system. The low-tech strategy then embarks on a worldwide evaluation upstream which results in a system transformation mission decreasing its depth and technological complexity, anticipating the rebound results and disalienating the human.

Right this moment, we are able to see that the vitality consumption and emissions of vehicles are usually not falling regardless of extra environment friendly and fewer polluting engines. And that is due not solely to the rise within the measurement of the worldwide automobile fleet but in addition to the rising unit weight of automobiles, linked to the addition of consolation and security tools, themselves induced by a social demand formed by advertising and social mimicry (advertisements, influencers, and so on.), and permitted by the excessive visitors speeds of the Freeway Code.

Thus, in a mobility system dominated, in its a number of variables (tools, automobiles, infrastructures, visitors guidelines, companies, services, collective creativeness, and so on.), by the person automobile, using automobiles thought of extra low-tech, such because the bike and its variations, won’t be able to deploy rapidly.

ADEME low-tech mobility convention of September 29, 2020 (France Innovation, September 29, 2020)

​A passage to the ladder to have interaction

Moreover, the query of deploying low-tech programs on a bigger scale includes fascinated with socio-economic and organizational fashions that can facilitate scaling up, specifically by the lever of the commons, i.e. pure, technical but in addition socio-cultural and political sources outlined and managed by an meeting of residents or their representatives in keeping with democratically established guidelines.

For instance, Ademe has launched a nationwide initiative referred to as the eXtreme Problem, which goals to convey out ecosystems for the design and manufacturing of low-tech automobiles, intermediate between the bicycle and the automobile. A variety of standardized automobiles, very gentle, low gasoline consumption, simply repairable and geared up with fewer spare elements, which intends to change into a reputable different to the automobile, particularly in sparsely populated areas.

This problem goals to create territorial ecosystems, with native actors and standardized and open manufacturing processes, in keeping with the logic of commons talked about above, with a purpose to take away the brake on mental property and speed up the deployment of information and know-how, in a collaborative perspective. The ambition of the eXtreme Problem is for these ecosystems to be operational inside three years, with a manufacturing of 30 to 40 automobiles per 12 months, in keeping with a “serial manufacturing” fee.

​Relocation technique in Europe

Lastly, this territorial dimension of the low-tech strategy additionally goals to reorganize bodily flows (items and folks) in time and area. It’s due to this fact a part of the nationwide methods for the relocation of productive actions and regional planning, with the will to rebalance the dynamics between metropolises, that are very unsustainable and resilient to future shocks by their sizes and exercise densities. , and rurality, in demographic decline, usually socio-economically devastated.

It may well make a strong contribution to this technique of territorial rebalancing, specifically by favoring small and medium-sized cities and villages linked by a effective mesh of mobility programs for folks and items (bicycle, intermediate automobile, bus, coach, carpooling, practice, boat), and by creating affluent economies, that are extra intensive in extremely certified and worthily valued handbook, service and mental jobs (and typically mixed in a number of professions) than in applied sciences and machines, largely based mostly on ecological and peasant agriculture, and extra typically on the preservation of ecosystems and the care of residing issues.

In truth, it’s meant to be a creator of which means, with a purpose to re-enchant the worth of labor as a approach of emancipation and autonomy, each particular person and collective, following the instance of the struggles of the European labor actions concomitant with the economic revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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This evaluation was written by Thibaut Faucon, scientific and technical coordinator at Ademe (Ecological Transition Company).

The unique article was revealed on the positioning of The Dialog.

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