Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Way We Were

When the ecological alarm bells had started going off in 1999, we had anticipated that there would be a worldwide engagement in the reduction of pollution, carbon emissions and consumption of resources. At that time, the architecture profession was engaged in a dialogue about how to live on the earth more responsibly and mindfully, as the article above from The Architecture Review attests (click to enlarge). Our atmospheric concentration at the time was at 367 PPMV, and the weather had not yet begun to destabilize. This was in the decade before the limit of 350 PPMV was declared by James Hansen of NASA and became a focus of the 2009 UN COP international climate treaty.

These hopes have been dashed by the corporate sector that controls the US Congress, particularly the fossil fuel industry, as well as the governments of India and China in the chase for extreme energy development. The chart below shows how the emissions accelerated instead, resulting in the recently begun polar melting and collapse, as well as the disastrous climate impacts that we're currently experiencing.

California, in particular, has become an extreme case of climate change impact, as the NASA GRACE satellite photos show below. One can only imagine what the US Congress can be thinking as the US attempts to disrupt the climate agreements coming up at COP 20 in Lima and COP 21 in Paris so that the US, China and India can continue to spew carbon into our ecosphere and complete its destruction.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Different Take On It

Just for fun, looking at it as a spiral vortex. And then, another view
This is a Venus-Centered view of the Earth:Venus:Sun cycle where 8 Earth-Years equal 13 Venus-Years with 5 Venus:Earth 'kisses' [apogee-moments] during that time. The music is the first movement of the Trio for Viola, Clarinet and Piano [wr A Meyer; performed by Rusen Gunes, Bob Hill, Amanda [?] at the 'Purcell Room' on London's 'South Bank' July 1985.

We're taking the long view now because of the Global People's Climate March, September 21, 2014, across the planet. It's a disruptive campaign, meant to focus attention on the need for immediate action on drastically reducing carbon emissions by all countries.

This is ahead of the UN Climate Summit in NYC, September 23, where Countries have agreed on the need for a meaningful, robust, universal, legal climate agreement by 2015. The Secretary-General is convening the 2014 Climate Summit to mobilize action ahead of 2015 and to increase political will for greater action and ambition.

It forces us to look beyond the short-term and destructive view of our civilization and planetary ecosystems, and understand that we're part of a harmonic whole. It's the only way to forge the agreements that will allow the regenerative cycles to take hold.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Case Study

In the photo above, W.G. Nye and Loy E. Moore, owners of the Peerless Incinerator Company, display their inventory of backyard incinerators as they hear reports of banning all incinerators. "We're convinced we're being made the goats for some other industry," said Moore, Oct. 20, 1954. Incinerators were finally banned in So Cal on Oct. 1, 1957, and people had to tear them out. Then the trash collection industry went into business, bigtime. Previously only food garbage was picked up. This was before electric garbage disposals were installed in kitchen sinks and changed the habits around food waste, as well.

A very complete article is here, and you'll find the history of trash, going forward, here.

By 1956, Los Angeles County had started to phase in trash collection in areas where incinerator use was being phased out. A total ban on incinerators was in place by October 1, 1957. Thus the death of one industry, backyard trash incineration, gave birth to a massive new one. The public safety issue of pollution in the Los Angeles basin had trumped the "politics as usual" around the smokestack industries because of the obvious pollution impacts on human health and the environment. This legislative route to zero is a good precedent for the methodology that will be needed to phase out fossil fuels in order to get to zero by 2050.

The practical impact of going to zero on fossil fuels will require a layered system of "zero points" on carbon emissions for various fuels. Based upon the weight of carbon emissions, it's necessary to phase out the heaviest fuels first as the transition is made to renewable and zero-carbon fuels. The carbon limits on fuels can be layered so that the most rapid cutbacks are mandated by zero emissions per fuel type by weight of carbon. This can be a VERY effective system in the management of the convergence of emissions if they're adopted globally, based upon a system such as Contraction & Convergence, with the contraction year set at 2020.

For example, in the scenario where the global budget is equitably distributed at RCP 2.6, the "zero year" for these fuels are established as 2020 for coal, 2025 for fracked gas, 2030 for oil, and 2050 for natural gas. The other fuels, wind/wave/solar/geothermal/hydroelectric/algae/ethanol, have no zero date, and thus are the targets for long-term investment strategies.

Setting up a rough chart for this, the height of the carbon emission bar chart of carbon per unit of energy is taken from the EIA page.

What this does is tell the global industries and investors the timeline allowed to taper to zero for each fuel under RCP 2.6 so that we don't exceed 2C in our ecosphere; this is the stability needed to get off of carbon sources and move to clean energy with exceedingly rapid investment and development. So the chart for the convergence sequence implementation starts to look like this. The rapidity with which the carbon is reduced is quite revealing, and using sequential zero years shows that this can be very effective, just as it was in Los Angeles in the 1960's and '70's and the air began to clear significantly.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

California on Eaarth

The map above outlines the basic water supply issue in California. It's a massive system of hydraulic engineering developed since over 100 years ago to bring water into the drier areas of the state. While it supplements groundwater supplies and rainwater, it's a system that has been aging in an increasingly dry climate. There's much higher cost for this processed water, vs. the groundwater via wells; this is the expensive State Water Project (California Aqueduct via the Bay Delta) and Colorado River Aqueduct, which import water over huge distances. Los Angeles also has its own aqueduct from the Owens River.

Increasing water needs rely upon rebuilding and renovating the levees in the Bay Delta in order to prop up the heart of this aging water system in the state of California, which is vulnerable to drought and earthquakes. This year the State Water Project has limited allocations to nearly zero as the drought impacts water supplies.

Farming operations get the majority of the water. California agriculture uses about 80% of our water but provides only 5% of economic output. Humans drink less than one gallon of water per day, but livestock consumes up to 23 times that amount of water a day per animal, according to a North Dakota State University study. That’s a huge amount of water to keep millions of animals alive.The ongoing drought and shifts in federal policy are only making water more expensive. The ag farming practices of flooding vast tracts of rice fields and almond trees for export have also become unsustainable, according to the California Progress Report, basing it on subsidized water to the detriment of California's environmental and economic future. This has created a political and environmental issue around the Bay Delta.

So, finally after a couple of political cycles, the legislature has produced a new version of a water bond to address some of these issues, after subtracting lots of Steinberg pork at Jerry Brown's behest. The new version of the water bond approved by the legislature for November ballot excludes previously proposed water tunnels in the Delta. Because of these complexities, and the massive groundwater depletion resulting from these earlier practices, Sacramento is also developing regulation of underground water for the first time, so that wealthy corporations can't drain a common aquifer that supplies many different cities and farms. The wild, wild west has finally been tamed.

Many cities are now looking beyond groundwater, surface water and imported water, and are developing reclamation systems for existing water. This is a relatively new and very expensive approach to making up for the lack of snowpack and rain in this new climate. It's also affecting the building and development industry, since new subdivisions can't go in due to lack of water supplies, which are already vastly oversubscribed. The Los Angeles DWP and the region is looking at water recycling projects:

"The Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, which supplies wholesale water to 1 million residents, is planning a recycled water project to recharge the basin with 10,000 acre feet a year of recycled water. An acre foot is equal to the water used by two families in Southern California per year.The $50 million to $75 million project would move treated water from the Sanitation District’s San Jose Creek Water Reclamation Plant in Whittier eight miles north to existing recharging areas that feed the porous San Gabriel River. It would reduce dependency on imported water by 25 percent, said Shane Chapman, USGVMWD general manager."

This follows a global trend for desalinization and water recycling, and it's changing the water business and the resource management practices necessary to conserve the dwindling water supplies. As a result, cities all up and down the coast are planning to install desalinization plants.Santa Barbara is planning to revive a plant that was previously decommissioned after the last drought ended. The Carlsbad desalinization plant is under construction just north of San Diego. Sand City in the Monterey Peninsula has built a desalinization plant. Huntington Beach is developing a desalinization plant as well, and Orange County has been recycling water since the 1970's.

Because of this current drought, which is a 100-year event that could last for several decades, California is now facing the biggest challenge the state has had since before it was founded in 1850. Critical cooperation between the water agencies and big users will have to take place. Climate change has come home to roost.

Update 9/08/14: Delta Stewardship Council Seminar -  Expanding desalination capacity along the California coast raises a variety of environmental, social, and economic questions, many of which are not fully answered.

Update 9/25/14: The Associated Press reported the area’s regional water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, could be without reserves by early 2016

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lead or Follow?

'Design! Life Depends on It' Ed Mazria's keynote at the AIA National Convention 2014 from Architecture 2030 on Vimeo.

Our profession holds an annual conference, this year in June at the AIA National Convention in Chicago. Ed Mazria, Founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, delivered the keynote address 'Design! Life Depends on It'. The 20-minute video lays out the blueprint for a carbon-free and just built environment by 2050, reviews the progress made in the building sector since issuing the 2030 Challenge in 2006, and outlines the critical role architects and designers must play in securing a livable future.

His organization, Architecture 2030, has the full support and endorsement of the National AIA. His challenge amounts to saying that the buidling industry must assert leadership in rapidly reducing carbon emissions. This position is important because the building and construction industry represents about 70% of urban emissions.This includes the emissions related to building these structures as well as the shipping, hauling, service delivery and maintenance involved in maintaining them, in other words, the local transportation sector and the building management industry.

As one of the myriad strategies available to reduce carbon emissions, it can represent a critical means of moving early and swiftly to make the transition to a clean economy, implementing carbon reduction ahead of global emissions agreements.

Update 8/14/14: From Architecture 2030 - Architects to phase out carbon by 2050 as declared at the 2014 UIA  General Assembly in Durban

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rape Pillage and Burn

California's record drought has been making the news, and its images from NASA have gone viral (above). It's the result of a long-term shift into drought conditions, exacerbated by climate change. However, the unseen tragedy unfolding beneath our feet is the groundwater dessication that's been happening over the years as water has been extracted by wells for urban areas and agricultural use to compensate for growth and development that exceeds the normal capacity of the local aquifers. This is partly because water laws in the western United States are based upon the Homestead Act instead of common law. At this point, the ground beneath our feet has literally no moisture in it, and our trees are beginning to die. This is what a long drought does to natural systems, and it's made exponentially worse by the groundwater retreat throughout our southwestern watersheds.

The groundwater level in the San Bernardino Basin area is at its lowest point in recorded history.That would put it below the previous low recorded in 1964, a period that followed a 20-year drought. A study now reveals that the Colorado River Basin drying up faster than previously thought.In the past nine years, the basin — which covers Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California — has lost about 65 cubic kilometers of fresh water, nearly double the volume of the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead. That figure surprised the study’s authors, who used data from a NASA weather satellite to investigate groundwater supplies.These groundwater supplies take a century to recover, if ever. As our drought deepens, this situation takes on nightmarish proportions as farmers begin to drill ever deeper to save their unsustainable crops, going far beyond historic well depths.

The grimmest part of this picture is the unregulated fracking that's now taking place in California, since it was allowed starting back when the EPA was restricted by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that excluded hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act’s Underground Injection Control’s regulation. The Bush administration was very interested in supporting companies like Texas-based Halliburton in its rape, pillage and burn model. California farmers are alarmed as energy companies outbid ag water districts for resources, the most obscene aspect of the fracking issue. Millions of gallons of groundwater are polluted and used up while agriculture and urban areas go dry. Out-of-state, (primarily Texas-headquartered) energy companies with deep pockets from record profits and the strongest lobby in Sacramento are anxious to extract as much severance tax-free California oil from the ground as quickly as possible.Anticipating that a Democratic two-thirds majority could finally mean an end to their decades long free ride they spent so much political action money achieving, not just Exxon/Mobil, but Texaco, Chevron and British Petroleum are all outbidding agricultural water interests by a 3-to-1 margin.

The California water market has been roiled with skyhigh prices. Some water economists have called for more regulations to keep aquifers from being depleted and ensure the market is not subject to manipulation such as that seen in the energy crisis of summer 2001, when the state was besieged by rolling blackouts caused by the Enron (Texas-headquartered) electrical market manipulations before its scheme imploded.The prices are so high in some rural pockets that water auctions have become a spectacle. For example, the California-based wine industry is fighting to maintain its resources of clean water against these petroleum companies.

Meantime, the California regulators have not seen fit to exercise their oversight of fracking, specifically the Division of Oil and Gas of the California Department of Conservation, probably for longstanding politcal reasons as well as a lack of awareness of its impacts. What has been considered a "bridge" to clean power is actually a "green" road to hell.

Some of many nonprofit groups working with residents to stop fracking in this state are Clean Water Action and the The Environmental Working Group. They act as public advocates to try to shut down the fracking formerly regulated by EPA oversight. They are assisted in cause by the larger national groups such as Earth Justice, the NRDC, and the Sierra Club.

As a result of this unprecedented challenge, a coalition of water districts has formed to manage California's groundwater, known as the Association of California Water Agencies. Their Director says "there is a nervous consensus in the water management world that we have to bite this bullet and deal with the groundwater crisis. There's a lot of angst, but no one is saying don't do it. Our position has astounded a lot of people."

Let's hope for all our sakes that the guys in the white hats win.