Big machines VS gentle machines (and donkeys)

After millenia with large populations, not to mention world wars, Europe had devastated their environment.  That's why Green parties became so influential in countries like Germany.

In contrast, the American environment seems in better shape, due to just a few hundred years of settlement, plus relatively few people per square mile.

Nevertheless, Europe does have things to teach America about conservation... and thinking small.

Gentle machines

When I visited Norway in 1974, I was impressed by the variety of small farm vehicles.  There was a motorized wheelbarrow you could steer with handlebars as you walked behind it.  It was great for small farms with steep fields.

About ten years ago in Italy, I saw a similar device employed in ancient towns where the streets often consisted of stairs.  These machines could crawl up the stairs to deliver groceries or construction supplies.

Also in Italy, I saw tiny monorails used to bring the grapes out of vineyards high on steep slopes above the Mediterranean Sea. The aerial tracks were installed in sections like an erector set. The motor of a gas-powered locomotive grabbed onto "teeth" along the bottom of the track... so it could climb up the steep slopes. These tracks went right over the rows of grapevines without disturbing them.

Monorail near Italian town of Vernazza

Along the scenic Amalfi Coast near Naples, there was a small village called Nocelle nestled in cliffs high above the road.  The only way to get there was by a long trail with many stairs.  At one point, it skirted a narrow canyon, many hundreds of feet deep.

Because of its tourist potential, the Italians were building a road to the town.  When I visited the area several years later, they were still building the road.

Americans would have blasted out the rock, letting debris tumble into (and despoil) the canyon.   Instead, Italian workmen were carving a route along the cliff,  block by block.  Then they used the blocks to shore up the roadway and make it wider, much as you would build a carefully-crafted stone wall. 

But it was taking years.  Having seen the Etruscans and Romans come and go, the Renaissance and Mussolini--the Italians have a different perspective on time.  Looking at the portion of road already finished, you could barely see where it crossed the cliff--there was hardly a scar.

The Amish

In the US, the Amish are doing quite well economically.  When biking near Wildcat Mt State Park, we saw Amish chopping silage using machines dating from the late 1800s.  The kind you sometimes see rusting in fields.  They were powered by a gasoline engine that drove a long belt connected to the chopping machine.  It's OK to use engines for stationary work.  Horses are used for field work.

The Amish seem odd to many Americans.  But the Amish believe that, by carefully deciding which technology to adopt, they are making technology and machines their servants, instead of the other way around.  More

"Modern" farmers (and contractors) often seem slaves to their machines.  Serving the debt on expensive farm equipment, fertilizer, and fuel has driven too many modern farmers to bankruptcy.  Meanwhile, the Amish are steadily expanding.

Donkeys to the rescue

Now I learn that one Italian town has returned to donkeys for collecting the garbage.  With an economic downturn, the town was having trouble finding money to replace aging garbage trucks.  So they brought back... the donkey.   With narrow streets, the garbage donkey proved cost-effective.

And besides, tourists love the donkeys.

According to the Mayor of Castelbuono: "Today we have 30 donkeys and they work in shifts. When the females get pregnant, they even have maternity leave so our program complies with union rules.  We’re showing the world that an essential service like garbage collection can be done successfully using a very old resource like the donkey.  I think we should not wait for a good example from Rome. We should start, the local community should start."  More details   Photos

Don't underestimate the Italians--theirs is a fully modern, industrial country.  One of the G-7.   Sometimes they just have the courage to think small.

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