Hello @inge, finally I answered the interview questions. (The problem is that this is necessarily freetime activity for me – I’m paid for tech work in Edgeryders projects. And I discovered that I basically have no freetime … there is always something that must be done … )
I’ll write some more even if it does not belong to the question in a narrow sense, to help you compile an article from this without further back and forth.
And one more thing: I write and publish a lot on the web, about problems, ideas, solutions and thoughts. But nearly never about me personally or my life circumstances. That’s just not very important and also the web is not the most trustable place to put that out. It won’t be different here, so don’t be surprised. In other words: there will be no home story.
1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself: who is @Matthias?
Somebody unusual. A friend called me once a living synthesis of the arts (“Gesamtkunstwerk” in German) I don’t know how true that is … but it’s true that I’m an unusual person and try to make sense of life in a way that’s different from how anyone I know tries to. And I try to make sense without contradictions between the pieces of my life. That’s probably why this friend called me a “Gesamtkunstwerk”. He’s a musician; as an engineer I’d rather called it systems engineering, but yeah, different models, same reality
2. What are you most proud of in your life?
I can’t recall anything. Maybe I was proud of something earlier in my life. But the global ecological crisis became very obvious to me, and also that I have not found a single point of leverage to fix it. I mean, to help fixing it at scale. Not just by living a minimal consumption lifestyle – that’s not about fixing anything, it’s just about me not making it worse as fast as I could.
For a bit of background: when I say “minimal consumption lifestyle” it is about some experimental techniques that I use to drive resource consumption towards zero. I made myself the guinea pig of these ideas, and I’m learning a lot, and the more ideas I try the more I have. Practically I live in a 9 m² deep freezer box (mounted to an oldtimer firetruck) and heat it during the winter with a bit of trash wood. (If it’s not obvious: that’s carbon neutral.) I use 600-700 Wh of electricity per day, which is about 90% less than the per-capita electricity consumption in Germany where I originate from. Except for two months in winter, all of that electricity is made on my rooftop with 400 Wpeak of solar panels. The same 90% reduction applies to water, probably to buying “new stuff”, and in the future hopefully also to trash generation. (For that, I’m working on a plastic shredder and this foldable 3D printer – foldable because it has to fit into my limited 9 m² living space – to recycle all plastic trash into useful objects.)
And all this does not feel like scarcity. It’s just how you adapt your behavior naturally when you live in a truck and more consumption means more work. As in, you have to carry all your water and wastewater in 20 l jerrycans in and out. I think that it is mostly this behavior setting that drives down consumption. If that holds up to further examination, it means that this is a simple antidote to the dreaded rebound effect that kills most or all technological efficiency gains. It’s basically about cutting off the grid. Haha, what a “realistic” policy proposal
3. Who did you look up to when you were growing up?
Let’s put it like this: I have been raised as a follower of Jesus the Christ. That’s still where all my idealism and strong moral convictions come from, both of which are preventing me from having any success as a grown-up in this society Maybe that’s the reason why I never really became a member of this society.
Let’s say, I’m a visitor. I come and go. I live here and there, and I like remote villages in so-called “developing” regions the most … and also any place close to nature. I imagine in quite some details how else a civilization could be organized, and I publish about that stuff. (It does not mean that my publishing changes anything or anyone changes. So far the main benefit is just that I can justify to myself why I abstain from making more money by taking a 9-5 job in an ecologically destructive “civilization”.)
Now I’m very interested in technology (and I guess I should be, as CTO of Edgeryders) and all my visions for a different mode of civilization are grounded in what is technologically possible. If you want a taste of that, my publication “An Autarky System for Cities” is a concise collection of such ideas. (There’s also something called EarthOS, which later inspired the Edgeryders EarthOS unit. But I have to warn you. That one is a thousand pages of unsorted ideas and inventions for anarchist ecological civilizations. Let me bring that into a publishable form first …)
4. What was your biggest failure, and why do you feel like it was?
Mmmh, that’s not really a category that exists in my thinking. By social norms I’d be probably expected to say “that I don’t have any impact with my ideas”. But success or impact is a social phenomenon, so it’s absence could be my failure, sure, but there is also the very real possibility that not granting this success is a failure of everyone else. And given that I’m basically saying with my ideas and proposals that Western civilization is rotten to the core and has to be rebuilt from scratch … I can imagine how this is not a particularly attractive message But I don’t mind. Everything has its time, and with a crisis comes opportunity …
5. Why are you part of edgeryders, and how did that happen?
Well … I was following @hexayurt on Twitter and some good day in 2012 he posted that “Edgeryders” is organizing a European conference for activists and attendance is free. That was LOTE1. So I went there, made some good friends, Council of Europe paid the train tickets, and @alberto said he might have a job for me in the next iteration of Edgeryders. And the rest is history.
6. What kind of impact do you hope to have with what you do?
Like I said, I think we have to rebuild civilization from scratch. I’m doing some of the foundational work, and I hope I can inspire enough others to join so we can make it happen.
It’s not realistic, though. Sometimes I think that: nothing will happen, I will have the same zero impact I had so far. We’ll burn the planet down completely, devastate the remaining animal populations and plant habitats as we go, and then humans will go extinct, too, and leave the planet in the tohubohu state it had in the very beginning.
But then again, why would it have to end like that? Why?? I am as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!! I want to at least show that an eco-restorative civilization is possible. So what’s the smallest size for such a civilization to exist? I think 150 – 200 people. That’s it. The challenge is not so much a technical one but a political one: Europe is so full of millions of elite-serving, innovation-stiffling, crappy rules and laws that it is impossible to do this here. What then, let’s get an old oil rig and go to international waters? That’s EarthOS Equipment Level 5. But no, not really … there have to be better ways to demo this. I’ll give it some more thinking … and of course, suggestions are welcome.
7. Tell me more about the most memorable period in your life and how this has shaped you
I always knew I’m a misfit in Europe, but only after my time in Nepal for Edgeryders it became clear to me how much that is true. I had a profound “reverse culture shock” experience when coming back from Nepal: nothing here in Europe made sense anymore, all the luxury and resource waste felt just obscene, and on top of that Europe felt deeply miserable and hopeless. It is as if, in spite of all that wealth here, Europeans realize that we’re collectively stuck with our way of doing “civilization”: there’s no progress anymore, nothing improves, and all along we’re destroying our own natural living environment.
On the contrary, there is a lot of hope in Nepal: a road is coming to the village, or piped water supply arrives (actually they installed it in our house in Kathmandu while @natalia_skoczylas and I lived there!), or so many other little steps of progress. And they expect it will continue like that. That’s what a hopeful civilization feels like.
Now I don’t say they should feel hopeful: they’re implementing the same type of wasteful, industrial, capitalist civilization that we got stuck in and that is implemented in more or less the same way everywhere on the planet. But I say, it feels so much better to feel hopeful! Without hope, a lot of resentment soon becomes political mainstream, as we can observe in Europe today.
And, purely from a tech perspective, from what physics allows humans to do, there is a lot of reasons to be hopeful. (Just go and calculate how much energy the sun radiates to Earth every day.) We’re stuck because our political elites expect the transition to an ecological civilization to be effortless, and because our capitalist overlords expect it to be profitable for them. That won’t happen. A Green New Deal for Europe, or however it will be named when it comes, will be hard work for everyone. But it’s meaningful work, and people will love it because it gives them hope and because they can leave their bullshit jobs behind.