Thursday, April 30, 2015

Deal with It

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Drought Monitor has a portal for the current global drought conditions. The status as of right now is this:

By the end of March 2015, a preliminary look at drought indicators points to a general degradation in drought conditions throughout the month.   Europe was mostly wet in March with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula and the Great Britain. Conditions around the Mediterranean  and Black Seas have improved during the past few months.  In Asia, drought continues to be focused in the eastern part of the continent.  Very dry conditions exist from Russia, through Mongolia and China, and into northern India and Southeast Asia.  In Taiwan, water restrictions are in place and two northern cities are experiencing a stop to their water supply service two days a week.

A recent report on Taiwan reveals that water rationing is underway. Water supplies will be cut off entirely for two days each week, on a rotating basis, in several northern cities due to lack of rainfall. In São Paulo the primary reservoir at Cantareira feeding much of the metropolitan city is nearly bone-dry. People in São Paulo are resorting to deliveries from bicycle riders carrying jugs of water. Others are digging their private wells on their own land or even in basements, which can lead to contamination issues. Those who can afford it are hoarding water, and the more resourceful are using cisterns and building rainwater catchment systems.

We're seeing a global impact on water supplies as areas of very high population experience drought as the planet warms up and dries out. The snow and glaciers no longer provide the spring water supplies that many areas rely on because of the lack of precipitation over the winter. In the United States, the western pacific states, particularly California, are in extreme drought, which is bad news for the California central valley that provides most of the produce sold across the country and about 28% of the crop that is exported to countries such as China, as well. Central Valley farmers are unlikely to receive water from the region's major irrigation project this summer, which means that growers will probably have to idle more land — and produce fewer crops — because there is simply not enough water for all of their fields.

So what is drought? It's a condition where the population's requirements for water outrun the resources of a region or country. California's drought is a periodic phenomenon with a historic record showing its fluctuations, documented by a report from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). It's an excellent study dated February 2015 (large file). But it's also exacerbated by the climate change that severely reduces the snowpack that's critical for the water supply in the Central Valley as well as the urban areas of the state. The urban areas have their own issues of inefficiencies and waste, consider the ongoing freshwater supply pipe breakage because of a deteriorating infrastructure in Southern California, especially in the city of Los Angeles, with regular flooding from water main breaks. California Governor Jerry Brown has therefore declared 25% water reductions in urban areas by executive order, emphasizing that climate change impacts are not a hoax.

A very good summary of the arguments developing over water in this state between agriculture and the large urban populations is summarized in an article in Grist magazine. It's not a simplistic problem that can be reduced to the blame game or pie-in-the-sky technology fixes; the best approaches to solutions involve far better management of lands and watersheds as well as recycling and reducing demand. It's a search for resilient solutions to the problem of limits. It's also a shift in expectations that the local populace has about their lifestyles, namely, the "English estate" lifestyle versus the reality of a dry Mediterranean climate. This inevitably leads to a discussion of population reduction or relocation, which still seems to be the "third rail" in climate dialogue and resource allocation negotiations.

Three agencies will implement a first-of-its-kind federal commitment to support resilience of the nation's natural resource via landscape partnerships at the national level. The Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative is a key part of the Obama Administration’s Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda, a first of its kind, comprehensive commitment across the federal government to support resilience of America’s natural resources. This is the necessary level of effort required of nations and regions in order to face the climate change impacts that have now become inevitable.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Southern California Classic

A new book about Smith and Williams has been published by the Getty Press, reflecting an exhibit that was staged at UC Santa Barbara in 2013 and documented the work archived there by Whitney Smith. It's an interesting look back at some of the many projects done by this firm, including a brief look at the Community Facilities Planners office in South Pasadena that served as the office for this firm. It mentions in passing the roots of the firm's practice within the USC group that produced a significant body of work covered in Esther McCoy's documentation of The Second Generation of California architects.

The Case Study Houses 5 and 12 are mentioned, also a subject of an exhibit and a McCoy publication, which made use of the lath, or "screen" that became so prominent in their work as an integration of exterior and interior spaces. These became ancillary spaces to the formal structure of the collective smaller buildings themselves, as was used in the Neighborhood Church campus as an organizing element before the trellises and small buildings were demolished for a very large addition, amputating the entire site plan concept and overshadowing the existing historic Greene and Greene home on the campus (Cole House) as well as the adjacent Gamble House. This unfortunate overdevelopment obliterated the spatial qualities of the campus and erased the integration of the gardens and structures, resulting in a significant loss of coherence in the site design.

A few mentions in the book are made of post-1973 projects by Whitney Smith, but omitted is one of his last projects completed before he relocated to the pacific northwest. This small complex is located in South Pasadena as well, and makes a completely different kind of reference to the locally traditional mexican courtyard style vocabulary. He also made extensive use of skylights in the same way he did with his own separate office building designed after 1973, also in South Pasadena and not listed in this book. It's an example of the strategy of an adapted vernacular that has evolved dramatically in the profession today.

Main entrance off of the side alley
Birdseye view
The firm itself arose out of the collaborative process between many architects and professionals, and some of  that's covered in this blog as well as in another paper written by Tim Gregory as research for a residential project in San Marino. Whit started his practice with homes in this community. A further compilation of the Smith and Williams legacy and the exhibit is online here, courtesy of John Crosse.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Sound of Silence

"Fools," said I, "you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

Many more conservative voices are beginning to join the chorus of progressive warnings over the impact of the changes taking place on our planet. The small voices we heard forty years ago are swelling in alarm at the rapid shifts that we're seeing now in climatology, oceanography, geography and the enlarging drought plagued lands across the continents. The willful blindness of governments and industries about the impact of fossil fuels are beginning to crumble. Willful blindness is a legal concept which means, if there's information that you could know and you should know but you somehow manage not to know, the law deems that you're willfully blind. 

Or perhaps we now see that we're suffering a collective form of implicatory denial because of the overwhelming risks clearly before us, and now that denial is no longer possible or realistic. It has become too evident that swift changes must come and are coming to our economy because of the clear impact that carbon emissions are having on our planet.

The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies now hosts a website for their project on Climate Change Communication: Bridging Science and Society. It consists of research, outreach and a synopsis of possible actions that people can take to speak out and take action on restricting the carbon emissions that are changing our planetary systems and degrading the ecology that supports life.

A group that's spending millions of dollars to actively promote the need for engagement in the discussion of climate risk is the Risky Business Project, whose members are presenting research to business groups that highlights how the effects of climate change, like increased flooding, as in the streets of Queens, N.Y., could hurt business and the economy. This group uses the Clinton Global Initiative as a platform to influence public policy.

The Aspen Ideas Festival this coming June will engage conversation on this critically important issue, including "Our Environmental Future" which is a look at the manifestations of climate change as seen through extinction, drought, and natural resource development, juxtaposed with the trailblazing technologies and ideas that can reverse trends and rethink human interaction.  The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. It's influential on public policy through the press and the Atlantic Magazine.

The sound of silence has begun to shatter.

Update 2/25/15: Denial dries up: Americans finally seeing the light on climate change

Update 3/11/15: Silences occur where powerful interests are at risk of exposure

Thursday, February 19, 2015

California Climate Leadership?

On Feb 10, several members from the California State Senate introduced a package of legislative proposals that will strengthen California's leadership in powering a new clean-energy economy. The proposals include historic benchmarks for pollution reduction, energy efficiency, and petroleum use that will spur innovation and investment and maintain California's lead in creating jobs in the advanced energy sector. This will be the first series of bills introduced by Senate Democrats to combat climate change and preserve the environment.

Details of the proposals along with bill language, charts, articles, and statements from a broad coalition of supporters are online at the State Senate page.

Our Governor Jerry Brown wishes to attend COP 21, as the state's big utility providers are all aware. Brown hopes climate policy advances in California and other states can be used to pressure heads of state during international climate talks in Paris in December. Per the Sacramento Bee, “We call this policy the road to Paris, because the governor wants a seat at the table in Paris,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable. “We want to be supportive – we told them that – but we’ve got to have a policy that provides balance.”

The Bee goes on to note: One month after Gov. Jerry Brown proposed dramatically expanding California’s greenhouse gas reduction laws, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León announced legislation on Feb. 10 to enact the proposal. In a move to blunt opposition from business interests and moderate Democrats, de León cast the package of environmental measures as a jobs program. The legislative package includes measures to cut petroleum use in half by 2030 and to expand, from one-third to one-half, the proportion of electricity California derives from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

Yet the Governor got called out on his environmental grandstanding by a protest march this Feb 7, which calls for a ban on the increased fracking that is taking place in the state and poisoning groundwater supplies during a historic drought.

Across the country, Governor Jerry Brown benefits from the widely-held notion that he is a leader on climate issues, a legacy from his ecologically-framed "Governor Moonbeam" first two terms of 1974 - 1982. But over the last four years, Governor Brown has not delivered on his promise to put our water and health first in order to carry California into a new clean-energy economy. Instead, he’s chosen to expand extreme oil and gas extraction, which harms our communities and undermines his own greenhouse gas reduction goals for California. In March of last year, a protest march was held in Sacramento to urge the Governor to end fracking, and this issue has created tremendous public opposition activity to oppose the expansion of this destructive technology.

So, his new moniker has become "Big Oil Brown" to note the shift, and he is also favoring legislation that will drain water from the San Francisco Bay area with gigantic twin tunnels to direct water to the central valley agriculture community. For which the voters in Southern California are being asked to disproportionately to pay the bill. It's tragic that his legacy now consists of unsound environmental practices that directly counter his political posturing for the global climate movement, and critically undermines his credibility with the climate leadership in the US and throughout Europe.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Remember Me

A paean to the natural world, Vangelis' "Beautiful Planet Earth" is included in this gorgeous production that revels in the natural environment as it exists with us in this moment. Vangelis has been celebrating our planet and its creatures with music for over 45 years now, and as the hymn begins to fade and its notes dim, perhaps now we shall conscript it to memory?

L'Apocalypse Des Animaux is Vangelis' masterpiece recording for a French ecological/wildlife film documentary series by director Frederic Rossif, produced in 1972. Over forty years have gone by since the recording of the remarkable beauty of each of the tracks that make up this, Vangelis' second solo album, after leaving the progressive rock band, Aphrodite's Child.

Especially poignant are the atmospheric 10-minute epic, "Creation du Monde" (Creation of the World), the liquid "La Mer Recommence" (The sea begins once again) and the three most luminous tracks of the album: "La Mort du Loup" (The death of the wolf), "Le singe bleu" (The blue monkey) and one of Vangelis' most eternal works, "La Petite Fille de la Mer" (The little girl from the sea.)

Hymne is a resplendent track in the Opera Sauvage (L'Enfant) released in 1979 as the score for the nature documentary by the same title, again by French filmmaker Rossif. Years ago,“Hymne” was used by a Barilla commercial in Italy.Since then, it became the “Barilla song” for all things Italian, as well as for a Gallo wine commercial in the US in the 1980's.

This music penetrates our consciousness with the harmonic flows of natural rhythm and its rich textures, now beginning to thin and fray. As these notes echo and fade into the dimmer recesses of memory, we come starkly to the realization of what we have wrought and its implications for the future of life as we know it. Scientists, who have documented these changes and their human sources for decades, are now sharing their grieving process. Their failure to give a vehement, clear voice to the lost regenerative power of natural things has hurt deeply.

"I don't know of a single scientist that's not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost," Parmesan said in the National Wildlife Federation's 2012 report. "It's gotten to be so depressing that I'm not sure I'm going to go back to this particular site again," she said in reference to an ocean reef she had studied since 2002, "because I just know I'm going to see more and more of the coral dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae."

Friday, January 16, 2015

Casablanca - We'll always have Paris

News has hit the wire that the planet is rapidly becoming hotter than ever, and the destruction of our ecosystem, water supplies and food continue unabated. My astonishment at the lack of response or concern by the international leadership is also laced with grief. The chart above (Time history of atmospheric CO2) shows the definitive science research on the atmospheric carbon that our post-industrial civilization as punched into the atmosphere, creating unprecedented rapid heating in the atmosphere and the oceans.

Welcome to the anthropocene. Could be a short epoch.

A rational response to the predicament that we're creating for ourselves, coming from some industry groups, is encouraging. The rapid ramping down of fossil fuel use, as well as a severe reduction in our human impact over the next few decades is the only thing that might get us out of this jam; a WW II style global mobilization. A couple of examples of these include:

Does 2015 mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era? It seems to be the earliest indications of a remarkable progression in the necessary rapid reduction in fossil fuel use, as Architecture 2030 lays out in its notations of remarkable changes.

The Rocky Mountain Institute in partnership with the Carbon War Room summarizes the Top 10 Clean Energy Developments of 2014. It notes some significant changes in the approach to energy development over the last few years, providing a means of alternative investment in renewable and non-carbon fuels.

Aside from that, we shall have to see if Casablanca really does happen in Paris.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Music for Generational Change

The music produced on a violin has, for centuries, been expressed through classical composition and techniques.The long history of music since the violin was invented in the early 16th century in Italy reveals how a variety of musical interpretations have evolved on this instrument. It continues with modern compositions today.

Instruments of approximately 300 years of age, especially those made in Italy by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, are the most sought after instruments (for both collectors and performers). The Ave Maria (Bach - Gounod) clip above is performed on the ex-Napoleon/Molitor Stradivari Violin.

There has been an effort, examined on this website from a French violin maker, to illustrate the charted climate variations during the last 600 years with a violin. The composition expresses the graphics of the rising global temperatures in an intuitive movement showing this progression using an electric violin. It's a direct evocation of the changes experienced on this planet through the sonic rendition of the historic temperature cycles.

The expression of harmonic scales and integral ratios of the octaves underlie a deeper understanding of the structure of music that explores the fundamental behavior of all other materials and living things and their relationship with the interconnecting energies of the physical world. It's the sonic mathematical equivalent of quantum physics and the geometry of shape, size, relative position of figures and the properties of space, just as colors are a song in light, seen across the spectrum as a rainbow.

It's all harmonics.