Liberate Knowledge

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Translating the lessons of Open Source Ecology to environmental justice

I’ve been increasing interested by the concept of applying the open source software model to the physical world that surrounds us. And Open Source Ecology (OSE), an organization that believes “everyone in the world should have access to technologies needed to escape poverty and generate natural wealth for themselves and their communities,”  is doing just that. On the Commons reports:

OSE’s ultimate goal is to develop 40 open source tools that could allow a group of individuals using scrap materials and other low-cost supplies to create an entire village. To date OSE has successfully created the plans for a drill press, a brick press that produces building blocks out of soil, a mid-sized tractor, and transmission-free hydraulic engine that powers the machinery. By utilizing scrap metal to assemble these machines, the end product is significantly cheaper than buying them.

On OSE’s Web site, Wiki-page and blog, interested groups and individuals can access detailed building and operation instructions as well as projected materials costs.

Now, I would be incredibly intrigued to see how an effort like Open Source Ecology could also be translated to urban or small-scale settings. Environmental justice is a critical issue, yet I’m a little wary of the concept of building new, intentional communities when so much work needs to be done in our existing ones. A few basic examples of pandemic environmental injustices across a wide-range of communities includes a lack of accessibility to healthy food within low-income neighborhoods in cities, environmental racism, the need for clean drinking water, poisoned soil, and so much more.


However, the concept behind Open Source Ecology – “everyone in the world should have access to technologies needed to escape poverty and generate natural wealth for themselves and their communities”- is simply too good to pass up and should be adopted into efforts for addressing environmental injustices within urban settings (as well as other communities with similar issues). For example, we need “open source tools that could allow a group of individuals using scrap materials and other low-cost supplies” in order to help people: grow their own food when living in apartment complexes,  purify their drinking water, clean toxic soil in neighborhoods – and the list goes on and on. Environmental injustice is a phenomenon that disproportionately affects low-income folks, and thus it is crucially important to provide people with knowledge of how to impact their environment (and therefore their health and well-being) easily and cheaply. I believe the efforts, methods, and philosophy of Open Source Ecology supplies us with an uniquely important lesson on how to begin sharing the necessary tools, information, and skills to help folks make that difference in their communities.

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