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A DIY Civilization

Can we create the machines of modern life sustainably, cheaply, and close to home?
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life track tractor by sean church 220x165

The LifeTrack Multi-Purpose Tractor is designed to accept many attachments making it many tractors in one.

Photo by Sean Church

A baker’s oven, a backhoe, a well drilling rig. According to social entrepreneur Marcin Jakubowski, these are a few of the 50 machines essential for any society to sustain a modern, comfortable lifestyle.

But these machines are not only essential, explains Leifur Thor, they’re also expensive, hard to repair and designed to be obsolete in a few years. Thor volunteers with Open Source Ecology, a non-profit Jakubowski founded to develop the Global Village Construction Set. The set will comprise durable, modular machines that people can build and maintain themselves with sustainable, locally available materials—often scrap metal. OSE will give the plans away to anyone who wants them. The money a farmer would have sent to a large corporation to buy a hay cutter will stay in the community. The environmental impact of shipping heavy equipment long distances will disappear. These machines are designed to cost roughly a fifth of what factory-produced models do.

"We’re obsessed with the idea that whatever we’re creating is going to have the maximum benefit, for the lowest cost, for the longest time," says Thor.

Preliminary drawings for a steam engine recently went up on the group’s website. Comments are welcome. “We’re involving the entire world in research and development,” says Thor. Though the Global Village Construction Set is still being designed, enthusiasts are already thinking about how to use it. Through OSE’s web forum, people interested in creating sustainable communities are reaching out to others in their geographical areas. A California company plans on using OSE’s modular tractor to build sustainable pressed earth buildings.

OSE is a reaction to the “tremendous inefficiency” of mass production, Thor says. “This is a natural evolution of technology. If we didn’t come along, someone else would have.”

Marcin Jakubowski explains the origins of OSE:


Colleen Shaddox wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions.

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