The property of a small-scale, or subdivided, system which does not, therefore, need the complication of a large-scale infrastructure.

Self-reliant community, being substantially free of the complications of the large-scale, has economies of reduced scale. The holonic form, consisting of many smaller parts interacting for a common purpose, means that there are lots of edges extending throughout the system. With this high edge-ratio, material needs can be exchanged, and the waste they produce can be recycled on the proximity principle—work is done close to where its output is wanted; waste is produced close to where it can be recycled.

An elegant system does need an infrastructure—an intermediate economy—but not on the giant scale (relative to its size) which civic societies, especially our own, must sustain at great cost in energy, materials, organisation, labour and capital. A high proportion of a small-scale community’s work consists of action from which it derives a direct benefit, as distinct from having first to meet indirect, intermediate needs—the regrettable necessities which it must endure simply to cope with the problems of large scale. It is not encumbered.

A scale-literate community makes modest, and realistic, demands on its ecosystem. There is no insatiable ambition which will take its environment, both near at hand and far away, into shock. And it has only a small sorting problem. It does not find itself with large accumulations of waste products, and of goods and people needing to be sorted. Detail comes to it naturally.

Elegance is therefore an idea with leverage: it goes to the heart of the subject, changing the way it is understood, and getting large results from accurate responses. It relies, not on visionary, large-scale ambition, but on the gentle nudges of feedback.E90

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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