Friday, December 31, 2010

Hogmanay

The remains of Boghall Castle at Biggar are emblematic of the Scottish environment LINK, an outline of the new environmental laws put into place this November. It's the turning of a new page in Scottish culture and its burgeoning environmental movement. This movement embraces history and tradition as well as a future that protects biological diversity and plans for a sustainable society going forward. This is outlined in the document, "Scotland's Environmental Laws Since Devolution - From Rhetoric to Reality". It focuses on the protection of the National Parks, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and emphasizes biodiversity, a core issue. How can these and other parks be protected with a clear strategy while developing river management plans and wind farms? The necessity for public participation in this dialogue are emphasized, for it's people and culture that make Scotland unique.

In Scotland, one of its indigenous customs is among oldest celebrations in human history - the Hogmanay. It's the ancient New Year's winter pagan festival, famously celebrated throughout Scotland's cities and towns. So with that, we'll take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne. And welcome the earth's renewal in the coming years.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Colonial Pakistani Hymn



Some British-era churches of the Raj in Murree Hills, Pakistan (formerly British India before 1947) In the northern Punjabi region near Islamabad. Masonic Lodges in Pakistan also share this unique history. This Imperial style of architecture evolved throughout the nineteenth century in India, reaching its peak in New Delhi.
(Music) "Ave Maria" by Sarah Brightman

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another Year Later

Again, after a fall rainstorm, the golden leaves are swept away in the wind. We're having a stormy period this time, interspersed with record-breaking high temperatures. This decade is the hottest on record, and the progression keeps slowly moving on, with increasing fires in the foothills. Our local disastrous Station Fire of August of last year has left us with denuded hillsides above the foothill cities in the San Gabriel valley, so those places are expecting rain and mudslides again. Recovery will take years. In the meantime, we're hoping that the US Forest Service will take further responsibility for the management of the remaining forest lands and begin the restoration process in areas that need them.

Restoration and enhancement of viable natural habitat in the mountains and forest lands is crucial to regaining the ecological balance of the woodland habitat, as well as water management issues that arise with the debris basins during the winter. Lately, the County of Los Angeles has attempted to catch up with lack of maintenance in these dams by proposing to truck out large amounts of sediment and dump it into what little riparian area remains. This is happening at the Santa Anita Reservoir and at the Hahamongna Watershed Park near JPL in Pasadena, creating a huge backlash by the local residents. Of course the problem is exacerbated by the debris flows from the fire, but a comprehensive and rational management approach is needed. One that allows the water and sediment to flow downstream and recharge the aquifer in a more natural fashion without destruction of the mature trees and habitat that currently exists.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bay Delta Decision

The USGS California Water Science Center has been working in the Delta for decades. Their work includes water monitoring, experimental wetlands and fish tagging. This data is the basis for the evaluation of the ecological health of the Bay Delta. The 2008 Bay Delta environmental study was ruled last Tuesday to be based upon faulty science and called for a rewrite of the US Fish and Wildlife plan for the Bay Delta.

This decision by Judge Wanger in the complex case of resolving the water management issues in California's critical water supply has reset the terms of discussion and future agreements of managing this resource, based upon information from all parties and the benchmarking by the USGS. The Fish and Wildlife Service has always emphasized the Delta Smelt issue as being key to measuring the Delta's health and functioning, and this ruling upends that argument. The responses cheering this decision are primarily from Southern California entities which filed the lawsuit and that are demanding more water from the Delta, including the MWD and its associated Water Contractors. The decision opens up the opportunity to send more water to Southern California and to agriculture, which drives the requirement for the Peripheral Canal construction to move more water out of the Bay Delta.

This Peripheral Canal would be funded by a water bond that was postponed from the midterm elections to the next statewide ballot in 2012. The proposed implementation of the Peripheral Canal has been covered very comprehensively by the Los Angeles Times. Today's edition covers a compromise "tunnel" option to the canal and existing pumping systems that's also on the table.

Aquafornia has a review and discussion of how the Bay Delta functions as the hub of water storage and and delivery, but also points out the deterioration that has taken place in the levees and water flow management. It also reviews the earlier decision by Judge Wanger in 2007. In March 2007, a state court ruled that DWR was in violation of the California Endangered Species Act by repeatedly failing to protect the smelt and endangered salmon over the last two decades. The judge threatened to shut down the pumps in 60 days, but the decision was appealed. In May, Judge Oliver Wanger, a federal court judge, threw out the federal permit, ordering all parties back to the court in August 2007. This decision had the effect of cutting water exports from the Bay Delta, but only in a temporary fashion. Now the Federal Secretary of the Interior has weighed in with support on the "tunnel option" as a solution to the impasse on dealing with this situation.

This battle for water as a diminishing resource in the State of California will only become more critical going forward, so it's imperative to develop a major plan for managing this key water resource in a responsible way. Its degradation shows just how treating it all as a plumbing problem to supply the highest water bidders is shortsighted and eventually disastrous.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Population Bomb Redoux

Remember Paul Ehrlich's book, "Population Bomb", which predicted mass starvation by the early 1980's due to runaway population growth? Didn't happen, we ducked that bullet by increasing the agricultural yield and upped our consumption of fish and meat. This required corporate farming and fishing which used financial resources to input the energy and effort to increase food supplies, mostly at the expense of local ecosystems. Part of it is due to the costs of energy and equipment to keep food production at a maximum - turning oil into food - which again dumps pollution, pesticides, fertilizers and carbon into the air and water. It's a system of money that props up an artificial food supply that is increasingly volatile and has encroached on natural systems that are the "commons" of the globe.

Money is one form of information, and tracking it as it expands and contracts underscores how systems can collapse and degrade very rapidly, and take years to recover. It's a dynamic interaction, with many complex factors that have to be balanced in order to prevent the degradation of the common resource pool that unregulated use of assets creates. There is no "invisible hand" moving capitalistic systems or natural systems to balanced equilibrium. It is, rather, an increasingly volatile cycle of intensive buildup and subsequent disintegration.

The "Tragedy of the Commons" is a paper that showed that the relationship of self-interest and resource management has to be balanced. This rationale, originally an exploration of the issue of overpopulation, has now expanded to show how self-interest destroys common assets and natural resources. This means that the modern commons must be considered as all of nature and animal populations in the global commons. There is obviously a limit to how much humanity can consume without restoring balance to the natural systems.

But how do you achieve this preservation of the common global resources with a population that has already exceeded earth's carrying capacity since 1980? An interview with Bill Ryerson, founder of the Population Media Center, outlines how groups of people can be taught through stories to change their behavior. These stories are entertainment, soap opera, and educational documentaries. What this could do is help populations of people become self-limiting by choice, and thus diminish the demands on ecosystems that use up all available resources and diminish the critical diversity of species that is necessary for functioning ecosystems.

The fiscal reality check that we're currently experiencing on a worldwide basis has its parallel in natural system collapse, which is something that can be averted by the development of a steady-state system that produces a livable environment without consuming the world's common resources. That's the tragedy of the commons. Everyone's self-interests ends up devouring more than the planet can bear.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blue is the New Green

The idea of regenerative architecture being used to heal existing degraded land or add land mass to accommodate structure is emerging as an advancement in sustainability. Many of the large design firms are tackling this issue in creative and thoughtful ways. For example, "Blue is the new Green", this being a mode of going beyond building conservation strategies and taking a deeper look at all the elements of sustainability and using less energy while regenerating the natural environment, returning water and resources, especially developing landscaped "carbon sinks". This goes well beyond the code mandates, even the benchmarking that is evolving in building design. For example, GSA is seeking for info on green building technologies as a process streamlining rather than new thinking about regenerative processes.

There has been an "existing green" urban rehab strategy in New York City for quite awhile, and it's beginning to show some results. This is an urban fabric repair that tries to bring down the energy consumption and improve the efficiencies of older buildings.

Blue design, however, creates places that are not just neutral, but actually add back to the natural world and its resources, and is the future of sustainable design and architecture, according to an interview with Paul Eagle, managing director of Perkins+Will, New York; and Janice Barnes, principal at the firm and global discipline leader for planning and strategies.

Another major design firm, F X FOWLE, has published a Regenerative Architecture series, which involves land reclamation in Copenhagen. These new concepts are addressing the climate change issues that we are now faced with because of the carbon that's been dumped into the environment since the industrial revolution. As a global community, we haven't been able to come to an agreement or put measures in place to abate the carbon damage we're doing to the land and the ocean, so it has come to this: figure out how to adapt to a rapidly deteriorating planet.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Long Life, Low Energy, Loose Fit

This architectural mantra of the late '70's was an early definition of sustainability. Integrate flexibility and adaptability to future unknown uses; provide long span, high-load capacity structures, allow freedom of internal configuration within a passive envelope approach. This passive solar approach was one of form and orientation, much like the historical homes and structures that have evolved in different countries and cultures as a response to climate. Sustainability as defined by the Bruntland Commission in 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." A site called Original Green goes into other attributes of "true sustainability", which emphasizes the sustainability of place and the notion of flexibility as the grounds for being sustainable.

This is fundamentally different than the "green" approach as codified by building codes and standards; the presupposition being that it relies on machines to reduce energy consumption. The LEED standards, in particular, are a system of counting up "green" points for certain products and systems that take into account the energy to produce and transport these products. There are points for site location and rehabilitation of existing structures, but again, a formula that may or may not generate good results.

This approach is being studied extensively by the building industry.There's a demonstration project by NASA that will take the extreme measure of an operating facility to see what the "green building" approach can be capable of. The National Audubon Society has built a prototype nature center structure in Los Angeles, and plans to build a thousand urban facilities around the country by 2020.

While the building industry is examining technological methods for energy conservation and reuse which has become the de facto code and LEED approach to the problem of consumption and energy use, there remains a more fundamental path towards sustainable habitation of the land. That has to do with the actual regenerative natural systems that we find in undisturbed ecosystems, which we're beginning to investigate more deeply. This approach is known as biomimicry in many fields, but in architecture it means adapting the strategies and structures of nature and using organic processes to develop and support habitable structures. The Biomimicry Institute in Missoula, Montana is promoting this approach, and has a network of resources and case studies.

In the meantime, as the photo above shows (click to read about collecting rainwater through a "skin"), there are all kinds of creative design experiments going on in form generation that are exploring these more nuanced approaches to sustainability that get to building form as a functioning biological system that integrates with the local site characteristics and consumes very little energy and water. While they're not scientific per se, they open many new possibilities that leave the code-generated "green" structures way behind their exploration of process.

A firm that is taking this process seriously by integrating management change of the design process is DLR Group. Exhibiting leadership in the adoption of the AIA's 2030 Plan addressing global challenges in the built environment, they are adapting their firm's core values to address all aspects of sustainable practice. Part of this approach involves pushing the envelope on digital communications and design technologies in order to manage the massive amounts of data needed to solve complex and knowledge-based design solutions.

The proliferation and power of technology tools, used in concert with building information modeling and other modeling platforms, are crucial to pushing the boundaries of sustainable design. Today, 3-D models created in BIM tools can collect information and accurately analyze the built environment to validate design ideas. Powerful analysis engines such as IES-VE, GBS, and Ecotect energy modeling software can quickly produce meaningful results including energy analysis, daylighting and lighting studies, utility costs, code analysis, and life cycle cost studies.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Water Barons

Serious water issues are impacting California in the near future, particularly considering the Bay Delta fisheries collapse and the environmental degradation it has experienced from being overdrafted. The picture of ground water withdrawals above is from the Ground Water Atlas, online at the USGS website. The site is full of maps and charts illustrating the situation with our water use in this state. Most of the groundwater usage is in the central valley for agriculture, and also in Los Angeles County. In Southern California, this groundwater is not sufficient for our population or industrial/agriculture needs, so we rely on the State Water Project, the Colorado River Aqueduct, and the Los Angeles pipeline from Mono Lake.

Aside from the politics of multiple water districts and their subcontracts, formal supply requirements and allocation of water useage, there's the important issue of the agricultural water. It is being consumed by corporate farms for very inappropriate kinds of produce for the environmental conditions and fed by very inefficient water systems and meters. An illustration of this is a story from Alternet, which covers the story of Roll International, owned by the Resnicks, which controls most of the claimed water in Kern County. The Resnicks became billionaires growing almond and pistachio trees with their takeover of a public water bank. They developed this tree farm on the Westside of the Central Valley, which is marginal land that should never have been used for irrigated farming, particularly water-intensive crops like the trees.

However, the currently dying trees made for good copy for water demands based upon the lingering drought of June 2009 in the valley, creating the impression that increased water supply was critical to propping up this water-intensive crop.

This is an example of the very difficult situations that must be resolved with new Bay Delta policies that need to implement environmental restoration, system upgrades and repairs with a balance of appropriate allocations for use in California. We're at our limit of water consumption, with the aquifers being currently overdrafted and a dwindling supply of water from imported water due to climate change. The BDCP study shifts the emphasis to appropriate use and conservation rather than continuing to consume water in our current pattern. Reform of agricultural water use is thus a high priority. As the article points out,

The Delta is the hub of California’s water engineering system and the current focal point of the state’s infamous water wars. Environmentalists and Delta communities want to reduce water exports. Irrigators in the San Joaquin and their strange bedfellows in the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which draws water pumped through the Delta, want to increase water exports. There is one thing all sides agree on: The Delta is a disaster waiting to explode.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Archiporn, Critters, Caltech and Turkey

Sometimes the creative fulcrum is a response to issues that at first seem at complete odds with each other. Let's say you need to fast-track a structure beyond all reasonable possibility due to politics. Well, start by re-using everything and designing as you go into construction. There's this existing building, a dynamic client program, and, oh by the way, an earlier unused design in your hip pocket. The design concept as it was originally born in Pasadena, for Caltech, was unused when that project was canceled. Its original idea was the passive cooling strategies in the taller central core, facilitating air ventilation flows to the exterior.

The "wolf in sheep's clothing" was a response to the need to minimize the materials used in a structure, as well as provide flexibility during construction as the design is actually resolved. Good idea, but wasn't used, at least not at Caltech. But, when the same architect has another design opportunity in a country across the globe that required immediate design and construction to beat a one-year deadline, the mashup happened. A building was re-used, an idea about a flexible construction process with locally adapted materials evolved, and a highly integrated team used a 24-hour design and construction cycle to make the deadline. The result is a highly thought-provoking building that was born in adaptive reuse and came out as a landmark solution. The Nakkastepe structure in Istanbul is the corporate headquarters of two corporations - Vakko Fashion House and Power Media Center.

It involves not only the need for a structure adapted to the language and the culture of Turkey, but also to be able to withstand the severe earthquakes that would challenge even California structural design:

“Given only two weeks after initiating design to submit the Showcase’s steel order, REX and its engineers designed a set of steel boxes that could be assembled in a myriad of configurations. This strategy allowed the steel shapes and quantities to be ordered from the steel mill before the final Showcase design was complete. Ultimately, space use requirements, code restrictions, and a circulation path winding from bottom to top of the tower dictated the final stacking of the boxes.

“Whereas the Annenberg Center’s Ring was a fragile, post-tensioned concrete structure which depended upon the robust, steel interior for support, the Vakko/Power’s existing Ring is painfully over-designed, the byproduct of numerous deadly earthquakes in Turkey."

Yet the simplified steel design allowed for a very effective and streamlined response to the seismic problem; it is a research-driven response rather than computer-generated form for its own sake. The resulting facility is unusual in its expression of these structural issues, which tend to drive a massive scale into some smaller programmatic spaces that become subservient to its overarching physical demands. Intentionally chaotic in its expression, the final form is deceptively calm on the exterior. It's a rather pure interplay of structure, material and purpose due to necessity, and stands as an example of how this problem produced an expressive facility grounded in its culture that has roots in ideas half a world away.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Glowing Light

As we begin the season of Advent, anticipating the light of a religious epochal event, we're at the threshold of our own great secular challenge. Democracy Now interviews Derek Jensen about his latest book, "Deep Green Resistance":

"...in the book, What We Leave Behind, what we came to for a definition of "sustainability" is leaving the physical world in a better place than when you were born, that the world is actually a better place because you were born.

A lot of definitions of "civilization" that we see are not really very specific, and the definition I like the most, which is defensible both linguistically and historically, is civilization is a way of life characterized by the growth of cities—once again, defensible both linguistically and historically. And a couple things happen as soon as you—well, wait. Back up. So that’s great, Derrick, but what’s a city? A city, I’ve defined as people living in numbers large enough to require the importation of resources. And what this means, that the Tolowa didn’t live in cities, because they didn’t require the importation of resources. They didn’t live in cities; they lived in villages, camps, and they ate salmon. They ate what the land gave willingly.


And two things happen as soon as you require the importation of resources. One is that your way of living can never be sustainable, because if you require the importation of resources, it means you denuded the land base of that particular resource, and as your city grows, you’ll need an ever larger area. And the other thing it means is that your way of life must be based on violence, because if you require the importation of resources, trade will never be sufficiently reliable, because if you require the importation of resources and the people in the next watershed over aren’t going to trade you for it, you’re going to take it.

And one of the problems with this whole system is that destroying your land base gives you a competitive advantage over the other cultures who don’t. The forests of North Africa went down to make the Phoenician and Egyptian navies. And if you destroy your land base, if you don’t care about the future, you can turn this into immediate power and then use it to conquer, and which is something you have to do, because you’ve destroyed your own land base. And as time goes on, you have to keep expanding. And that’s not a very good idea."


We're at the precipice of the immense ecological impact of the consequences of human consumption. I would hope that we can somehow change the course of our unwitting destruction and create a balance that provides for the regeneration of the ecosystem that gives us life.

So far it's been all take and no give. A Green Resistance could change this course.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bay Delta - the Details

Following up yesterday's post on the controversy surrounding the BDCP study, the Los Angeles Times published an excellent article, photos and map of the proposed peripheral canal. Click on the map produced by the LA Times to go to the complete story.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Shrinking Delta Pie

The Bay Delta water issues are coming to a head this week, with the release of a preliminary study of the Bay Delta water allocation now scheduled for final form at the end of the year, just before new Governor Jerry Brown takes office.

The preliminary BDCP is posted on the state website for the Department of Natural Resources. The proposal has been in development for five years and is finally being completed in draft form. Unfortunately, it is considered seriously flawed by a coalition of Northern California cities and agencies because of the inclusion of a peripheral canal which removes more water from the Bay Delta ecosystem. The consensus is that this ecosystem is already over-allocated, and there is disagreement about how this proposed canal (a holdover from the original state water plan that was never built) would affect the estuary. The Northern California groups contend that it's a Southern California water grab.

It's an issue that's been controversial for years, with protests from some of the stakeholders. The plan generally focuses on old engineering and dam technologies to pipe water around, as opposed to using natural systems to relieve the demands on the ecosystem. The Bay Institute, a member of the BDCP steering committee, publicly criticized the plan. The environmental organizations are at loggerheads over this draft, principally with the Westlands Water District .

According to the PCL Insider,


This week Westlands Water District (Westlands) issued a press release withdrawing its participation from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process. Jean P. Sagouspe, the President of Westlands’ Board wrote to the Department of Interior, "As a public agency, Westlands cannot continue to spend millions of our ratepayers' dollars on a project that is likely to deliver no more and potentially less water to the public than they are receiving today.”

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that diversions from the Delta must be reduced in order for its ecosystem to be revived. Although Westlands does not like the broad scientific consensus, they are beginning to realize that diversions will be reduced, not increased.

Westlands’ withdrawal does create the possibility that the other parties to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, including the yet-to-be appointed Brown appointees, will be able to develop a reasonable approach that will provide what everyone really needs, not just what some want.

It will be a special challenge for the new Governor to resolve these issues, given the support of the BDCP peripheral canal solution by Schwarzenegger, Feinstein, and the Metropolitan Water District. Once again, it will come down to big agency politics, water profits and a possible intervention by mother nature - her diminishing ability to provide sustenance to natural systems and the demands of human habitation. In the face of global warming, studies have shown that there are clear impacts that must be accounted for, as required by another state agency concerned with future statewide resources.

Left hand and right hand need to work in concert, and not confuse public policy.

Update Nov 29th:
SEC Should Investigate Westlands: The (Salmon Water Now) letter asks, how could the largest irrigation district in the United States with declining revenues, highly leveraged debt, an uncertain water supply, and few actual water rights, borrow $50 million in a bond market still reeling from the credit collapse of 2008? Add to this Wall Street mystery, the fact that the borrowing was to quietly finance the early phase and highly uncertain phase of California’s most controversial public works project--- the “Peripheral Canal” -- a massive project previously defeated by the state’s voters in 1982.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Gold to Green?

California is famously "the golden state" because of, well, gold in 1849. This kicked off a boom in mining, growth, development, agriculture, and settlement in a wild west that operated under a loose legal status. It was a place of new beginnings and great opportunities for wealth. This legacy of resource consumption drove tremendous increases in population, and sparked the Intercontinental Railway project that connected Sacramento to Omaha and five additional lines that were completed by 1893. California became legendary for its growth and development, and ultimately in the postwar period it became known for its missile and rocket production, aerospace industry and the developed technology for the atomic bomb. The subsequent explosion of babies, homes, cars and highways is legendary.

Yet California has always had a strong environmental streak and an affinity for wilderness preservation, as Kevin Starr points out in his sixth book of his "California Dream" series - "Golden Dreams, California in an Age of Abundance 1950 - 1963". Under Governor Pat Brown in the 1960's, a resistance to the massive growth pushing California into the position of the largest state in the union was already taking shape. The Sierra Club, led by David Brower, emerged as a leading force in the state's environmental movement.

Today, the issue has come full circle. California has reasserted its commitment to ecological sanity and sustainable habitation even as the population strains the resources of the State Water projects and saturates the highways, railways and transit lines with commuters and cargo. Urban and suburban development has sprawled across the state and created immense pollution and heat island sinks, adversely impacting the land, the water and the air.The statewide vote to retain its environmental regulations in this past November's election has unleashed some long-planned initiatives to turn around a state that's no longer golden and is on the brink of fiscal and infrastructure collapse.

The Governor has seized the opportunity to take the lead on global climate action by using the third Governors' Global Climate summit to introduce global leadership through the R20, a nonprofit incorporated in Geneva. This organization is a coalition of governments that plan to take leadership positions to expand the global green economy, create new green jobs and build commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Governor has issued a position paper on this commitment.

California is creating alliances with other governments and countries in order to accommodate global initiatives which will be discussed with recommendations, starting at the COP 16 meeting in Cancun, Mexico next month.The R20, while outside the United Nations framework, will maintain a close working relationship with the United Nations and play a complementary role. The Governors' Global Climate summit is being held in partnership with the UN Development Programme and the UN Environment Programme.

The hope is that science and economics will provide a synergism that will rapidly push innovation, business and production into a new direction of clean technologies and businesses in order to address the climate change that is upon us now. Lacking leadership in Washington, DC, California has decided to go for leadership in the greater environmental sphere, largely in the hope that the state can redress its increasingly out of balance political and fiscal structure while it rebuilds the promise of its postwar legacy.

It's a historic moment, as California reaches for the green.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Traveler

The experience of the authentic and the real is a crucially important aspect of adventuring in other countries, tasting their character, history and ways of seeing. Different places and people can teach one so much about the character and quality of everyday lives and of the culture, and ultimately, the way a country impacts the world in its exercise of policy and its shepherding of resources. In the Old World, these influences come from a timeline of history reaching back thousands of years, unlike our young country of the USA, dominated right now by commercialization and mass marketing. The fundamental synthesis here is that the environment (built and natural) is key to character of place and way of life, and establishes the framework for how a society succeeds or fails in its ability to sustain its existence.

In Croatia and Slovenia, the recovery from their wars of independence is underway with new governments and repaired structures, with a struggle to revive the production of agricultural resources and a marshaling of their ecological heritage. These values come through loud and clear as one travels up the Dalmatian coast, and it's delightful to talk with people about their lives, hopes and dreams.

An excellent series of articles is being published in Stratfor by George Friedman on the Geopolitical Journey, which delves into the exploration of the Eastern European countries around the Black Sea and their bedrock cultures and historical geopolitics. As he says, "Geopolitics teaches us to think in terms of constraints and limits. According to geopolitics, political leaders are trapped by impersonal forces and have few options in the long run." This means that political vision is shaped by culture and the land and its resources. Which hopefully leads us to the conservation of resources to the benefit of each society and its descendants, which is what sustainability is ultimately about. These countries are currently experiencing the consequences of war which drains life and vitality out of these regions, and takes generations to rebuild. Perhaps that makes their way of life so much more dear in the face of limited resources and counterproductive global fiscal structures.

Jared Diamond constructs the same thesis about the availability of resources across the equatorial land mass in his book, "Guns, Germs and Steel", and the impact that has on human history, which is the written record of human migration and conflict. The land and its configuration, resources and character have a direct impact on political structures through the availability of food, water, minerals and energy due to the unique way in each environment that its population has to solve the habitability challenges and food supply needs.

So it's important to experience and understand what these places and their resources are about. It helps us solve the complex problems that seem to be simply ideological or profit-driven, and get to the heart of the resource and land management issues that drive how humans live on their land and experience it, use it, and conserve it for future generations.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010: State of the World

"Like a tsunami, consumerism has engulfed human cultures and Earth’s ecosystems. Left unaddressed, we risk global disaster. But if we channel this wave, intentionally transforming our cultures to center on sustainability, we will not only prevent catastrophe, but may usher in an era of sustainability—one that allows all people to thrive while protecting, even restoring, Earth".

The most recent State of The World report has a new urgency, one that calls for a movement against the consumerism that threatens our global ecology. Following up previous reports, the World Watch Institute is an organization that calls for ongoing reform of capitalistic practices that do not burn up our global resources, and establishes benchmarks for achieving balance.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Part of the Solution


So we've overdeveloped ourselves into a climate crisis, now what? That's the major, major problem going forward for the entire world: how do we cut down our demands on a natural system that is crumbling under the weight of human habitation? One of the first steps, and the easiest, is to follow the lead of the IPCC guidelines and reduce the energy demands created by the built environment. This built environment accounts for nearly half of all energy and resource consumption, so it's the logical place to begin to reduce our impact.

Examples of this kind of approach are emerging in projects around the globe. They are projects that are moving towards "zero carbon" footprints in response to this challenge.

Architecture 2030 identifies that buildings are the problem, as well as the solution. It lays out a strategy of carbon reduction over time, with the idea that older, inefficient structures will be recycled or replaced with structures that minimize this carbon cycle in its construction, operation and maintenance. This approach is being most effectively implemented by three organizations, USGBC, AIA and Architecture 2030.

What kinds of development and building structure emerge from these requirements? Eco-Structure showcases three buildings that have completed the first full set of third-party audits for the Living Building Challenge from the International Living Building Institute. A slideshow of these buildings show a very sensitive placement in their environments, and these structures exhibit very simple use of materials and systems.

The approach to our human systems must be that they function in concert with natural systems, and that the entirety of our human systems doesn't exceed what the natural systems can support. We've passed that point with the cumulative extraction of coal, oil and gas, and must now move quickly to put this in reverse and live within the means of energy and water that can be sustainably used. The mindset has to change when the net demand of human societies is greater than the air, water and food sources that this planet can support. The mindset must necessarily shift from consumption to putting money in the bank and not eroding principal. The same thing every parent should be teaching their kids, but which capitalism pitched out the window in an overweening assault on people and ecology for little pieces of green paper.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Our Global Debt


This is not a financial article, but it could be. The parallels are famously congruent, as Thomas Friedman has emphasized repeatedly. The United States, in its aggregate, owes an immense debt to the developing countries of the world. Using the balance of measure of the ecological capacity calculation, the US has a footprint of over 150% of biocapacity. According to the Global Footprint Network, "This ecological debt is not equally spread. The report shows that over three quarters of the world’s population “live in nations that are ecological debtors – their national consumption has outstripped their country’s biocapacity. Thus, most of us are propping up our current lifestyles, and our economic growth, by drawing (and increasingly overdrawing) upon the ecological capital of other parts of the world.”

"The Ecological Footprint has emerged as the world’s premier measure of humanity’s demand on nature. It measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resource it consumes and to absorb its wastes, using prevailing technology."

The global consumption footprint now exceeds the capacity of the planetary resources by 50% and is headed towards 100%. Clearly, this is not sustainable and will have disastrous impacts upon the global systems that currently support life. Much of this is due to population growth and the concurrent industrial revolution that managed to magnify the resource demands while creating toxic pollution, first with coal power and then moving onward to manufacturing and oil-based industries that dumped pollution into the land, air and water that is now breaking down natural processes. In addition, there's the toxicity of building over and suffocating much of the natural landscape and forests that provided the "ballast" against this destructive activity for several hundred years even after being diminished by thousands of years of human habitation.

This doesn't even begin to address the climate change that is increasing the volatility of weather, inflicting flood and drought throughout the globe, eroding the stability of existing resources. We're in a very dangerous vise right now, of our own making, and unless we pull together as nations and people and devise constructive ecological strategies through technology and communication, I don't see a positive outcome to this. The laws of physics and systems will kick in, and we all know what happens when human societies fight over a shrinking pie.

The clear solution is a very, very rapid response to correct these issues of carbon production (energy sources), pollution and trash production resulting from inefficient processes which dump toxins in the middle of what should be a complete cycle of deconstruction and reuse. Some of these strategies are beginning to emerge, for example, as the 2030 Challenge, exemplified in the ICC Code, to achieve zero carbon in construction in 2030, in the building sector - which consumes more energy than any other sector.

This strategy runs in concert with reduction of the physical human footprint with highly efficient structures and a restoration of natural habitats and biodiversity. It means that human societies will have to do more with much, much less. It means we will have to decide what "profit" really is, and demand actual real value for whatever it is we do to come back into balance with the natural world that provides us with life.

I hope we have the will to do what has to be done, before systems start collapsing around us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Walk Through a Land of Water

WATER HYMN - Plitvice Lakes from Greenwave on Vimeo.


This is Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, a stunning series of lakes and falls that are cascading down the verdant hills at the center of the country,
near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The lakes are situated on the Plitvice plateau, between two mountains The sixteen lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster formed by runoff from the mountains. The lakes collectively cover an area of just under a square mile, with the water exiting from the lowest lake to form the Korana River.

The Plitvice Lakes lie in a basin of karstic rock, mainly dolomite and limestone, which has given rise to their most distinctive feature. The lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is deposited by the action of moss, algae and bacteria. The encrusted plants and bacteria accumulate on top of each other, forming travertine barriers which grow slowly each year. The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colors, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colors change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight. The lakes are divided into the 12 Upper Lakes (Gornja jezera) and the four Lower Lakes (Donja jezera). The Plitvice Lakes national park is heavily forested, mainly with beech, spruce, and fir trees, and features a mixture of Alpine and Mediterranean vegetation. It has a notably wide variety of plant communities, due to its range of microclimates, differing soils and varying levels of altitude.

The serpentine boardwalk is an amazing experience, no handrails, and winds endlessly through the falls and lakes. There is just no other place like this one, and the area is largely unspoiled as well as full of wildlife in the forested area. Croatia is recovering from its war of Independence from Yugoslavia in 1995, as are other former Baltic states, and are preparing to enter the European Union. One governing principle of this country and others are a commitment to sustainable existence and preservation of the natural ecosystem. Further south in Dalmatia, the country is struggling to re-establish olive, lavender and wine production in the rocky soils of the islands. The intent is to establish eco-tourism as well as promote the well-known resort areas of Dalmatia and its historic remains of the Roman Empire, the Venetian occupation of Dalmatia, and the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The government is taking these steps forward with great care, and exhibits a commitment to its own culture and history. In this sense, it's not a "third world" country, its approach is a conservative one that does not want to embrace an urban lifestyle as a source of investment and development, or create massive engineering projects for its infrastructure. It has an extremely rigorous historic preservation ethic in its existing towns and cities, and is seeking to repair and reinforce its heritage.

Makes me want to start over in the US when I see the dysfunctional urban and industrial landscapes around our country; the endless roof farms. And we've never even been bombed like most of Europe. We just trash the land and then keep moving on...it's all "immediate profit" and very little planning for effective sustainable use of the land by the community, which pays off in the long run.

I'm beginning to sound like a European Socialist!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water

Today is Blog Action day, and the topic is water. It's the UN topic for a global effort directed at providing clean water to people all over the globe, largely in impoverished countries. But it's also about preventing pollution, cleaning up waterways and restoring them so that they perform their natural functions in ecosystems that have been degraded by urban development. That greatest store of our water on the planet, the oceans, have become the dumping ground of toxins that will disintegrate the chain of life if this activity proceeds unchecked.

I've written extensively on this blog about the state of water supply in California, particularly as it extends to the plumbing approach taken by the State Water Projects and the primitive engineering of the Bay Delta, as well as emerging watershed management and regenerative land planning approaches that preserve natural systems. Here's the list of my posts involving water and its vital importance to life and all of its processes. Just about every sustainable land use and building practice involves completing the circle of the water cycle.

I can only hope that we can learn to live within our environmental means before we go the way of the Anasazi.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fall Sabbatical



And memories of an old land of wisdom. See you folks later in October!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dry Pipes

An article from the New York Times yesterday has highlighted the problem of water supply that exists along the lower Colorado water system that ultimately supplies water to California via the Colorado River Aqueduct. The entire watershed system that supplies the water is undergoing severe drought stress, and the population around Las Vegas has grown exponentially since the 1950's. This is building into a long-range scenario due to climate change, and strategies for conserving water are inadequate in the face of this plumbing design that was created for a different climate, and assumed that certain high-consumption lifestyles were to remain the norm. Las Vegas is quite close to the dry pipe scenario right now, which will escalate tensions about water supplies and rights in this region. An article in The Smithsonian describes how that urban region is trying to deal with the shortage created by development and climate change.

An excellent National Geographic article published in April of this year examined the statewide scope of the water supply problem in California. It traces the history of water supply evolution from the Bay Delta provision for the farming areas of the San Joaquin valley to the State Water Projects that sent imported water over miles of pipeline to rapidly-growing urban areas. This water system, now nearly obsolete, has fostered the illusion of plentiful water in basically a desert environment. Since this system has clearly hit its limits, other strategies must come into play. As the article states:

Therein lies a crucial part of the solution, water experts say, one much simpler and closer to home than a massive plumbing patch: learning to live within the water resources of an arid landscape. Fully 70 percent of residential water in southern California is used outside the home for lawns, pools, and other niceties. Reducing that demand by using drought-resistant plants and recycling wastewater offers the fastest and cheapest potential water savings in the state.

I would add to that the design of "net zero" structures (energy and water) and landscaping that not only conserves water but produces it without consuming huge amounts of energy is key to the solution. This involves employing the natural cycles in place, and the use of site-based design to create self-sustaining environments with the buildings and facilities acting as "partners" in the process, rather than economic behemoths that try to overwhelm nature and stifle its processes in order to create "investments". Restoration of natural systems and terrain in an intelligent approach to this problem would provide sustainable urban and suburban habitation as well as mitigate the impact of human system on local ecologies.

The method of accounting for these costs and balances, as I've detailed before, is a methodology known as Natural Capitalism.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Cosmology?



The video clip above from Shift of the Ages, "Tata and Titicaca", features the guide Rose Marie, who led our small group in 2004 on an excursion through the lake, to the Island of the Sun, and to Tiahuanaco which was possibly constructed in 15,000 BC. I wrote earlier about the monumental ruins and excavations, and it turns out that Tiahuanaco is an old port city miles from the lake, and there are more ruins below the surface of the lake itself.

Some of the old ruins and temples are on the Island of the Sun, and Rose Marie took us to many sacred places and taught us the blessings, the use of the flowers and the scattering of pure alcohol into the ground - a version of holy water. Remember that the ancient practitioners had to distill the alcohol using simpler and more primitive methods, so it was comparatively difficult to obtain and relatively expensive.

The Bolivians have ancient Andean legends about the lake, about how it was the birthplace of civilization. Viracocha, the creator deity, lightened a dark world by having the sun, moon, and stars rise from the lake to occupy their places in the sky. Life in the Incan empire was measured by a thousand year cosmic cycle called an Inti, which means 'Sun'. There is also talk of the legend and carved formation known as "Gate of the Gods".

Myriad archaeological, astronomical and NASA satellite earth studies have unearthed some highly unusual theories about how these legends and remnants of ancient history may be linked together in a cosmological fashion to larger structures in the solar system and its consequential impact on planetary systems. It's an expanson of the view of the earth as not in isolation as a planetary system, but as an integral part of a much larger system that is playing out in an unusual fashion at this particular point in time. Hence, the "Shift of the Ages".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Best Laid Plans

The ongoing evolution of water planning in this state is beginning to make itself known in the shifting political structures that are responsible for resolving water distribution and planning issues. A new agency is taking shape that will take up the reins from the old order of the CALFED group, and put greater emphasis on the environmental concerns of water and fisheries in the Bay Delta region. This is the plan (CASP) that needs to go forward as a consensus, and is being dealt with as a separate problem solution from the immediate need to coordinate conservation of water in farming practices, as I blogged about previously.

The new Delta Independent Science Board (ISB) comprised of 10 nationally and internationally prominent scientists will hold its first meeting Sept. 30-Oct. 1. During the initial public meeting, the Delta ISB charge will be given and the Delta ISB Chair and Vice-Chair will be elected. Additionally, there will be a Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Panel discussion and an update from the National Research Council Committee on Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009 (Delta Reform Act) established the Delta ISB, whose members were to be appointed by the Delta Stewardship Council, which was also created by the Delta Reform Act as an independent agency of the State of California. The Delta ISB replaced the previous CALFED Independent Science Board.

The Delta Stewardship Council clarifies its role, arising from its establishment as an independent state agency by this Act. Its duty is to develop and adopt a Bay Delta Conservation Plan (CASP) by January 1. 2012. It is meeting on Sept. 23 and 24 to outline the directives being given to the ISB regarding the Bay Delta water quality and fisheries elements of the Bay Delta, which now includes a charge to identify the impact of recent information from NOAA on the policies for this region.

The complex political and environmental issues are being addressed in this manner so as to account for all the impacts of water planning decisions in a statewide, synergistic way. Some policies currently in place directly contradict effective water management solutions, such as are pointed out by Wayne Lusvardi in his review of the book, Running Out of Water:

SB375 requires regional planning agencies to put into place sustainable growth plans. It will require that new housing development be shifted from the urban fringe, where groundwater resources are more abundant, such as San Bernardino County, to highly dense urban areas near public transit and light rail lines, such as Los Angeles and Pasadena, where local water sources are patchy and often polluted. The environmental intent of SB375 is to reduce auto commuter trips, air pollution and gasoline consumption.

However, the legislation will unintentionally result in more reliance on imported water supplies from the Sacramento Delta, Mono Lake and the Colorado River for thirsty cities along California's coastline instead of diverting development to inland areas that have more sustainable groundwater resources
.

The fundamental issue here is that the cost, and the power required to move all this water to populated areas, is the major cause of unsustainable development. The existing water projects are already at their limit, and are being impacted by climate change that reduces the snowpack and rainfall. Groundwater resources are important, but these sources are also at their limit with some of the aquifers under populated areas already being overdrawn, such as the Raymond Basin. Therefore these solutions will have to be crafted in a way that don't rely on moving massive amounts of water across the state. This basically speaks for recycling wastewater into landscape irrigation (the biggest usage - up to 80% - in residential areas), since this wastewater is already produced by heavily populated areas. Toilet to tap, as they say, but all water has to be processed because of the pollutants and organic waste (fish poop!) that occurs naturally in lakes and streams. Which is why you can't safely drink water from a river without a filter mechanism.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Epic Fail

The long-discussed and debated drought conditions are now upon us, and the unfortunate state of affairs at the moment continues to be status quo. By that I mean water usage has not received effective oversight, but rather political expediency for profit, such as high water use crops planted by the big farms in the San Joaquin valley using cheap water, massive investment-driven development with vast consumption footprints granted permits by counties and cities with "paper water", and so forth. As Lake Mead dries up due to climate change and unmanaged growth, we also face the specter of power shortages by 2013, such as California went through in 1976 due to drought.

While California has historically been a volatile place with respect to decade-long drought conditions, this time we are also facing the consequences of the huge population increase that's been permitted to occur. This factor is key to water shortages worldwide, and in Southern California the overdevelopment that's taken place will create an even more severe crisis than would have occurred otherwise.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is responsible for managing water supply in this state, and they're online with the usual palliative conservation measures that unfortunately don't address fundamental problems such as the water rights management in the face of dwindling water supplies that are affected by climate change.

Their page discussing some of the water industry issues is here, and a review of proposed policies is here, along with the most recent policy paper, "Planning for a Dry 2010".

The DWR does have a planning document up for review, but the lack of action on any comprehensive plan ranks an epic fail. Fortunately the pork-laden water bond proposed for this November was shelved for two years, because the elements of it don't work with the proposed planning document, and it's a Trojan Horse for the peripheral canal (unbuilt "Part 2" of the original water system). This demonstrates an ongoing lack of commitment to real watershed and resource management and control of development, as well as a lack of integration of power and water, which go hand-in-hand. This whole thing is beginning to sound like the excuses dished out by Wall Street for why they shouldn't be held accountable for the financial implosion of the banking and real estate industries that they engendered, taking huge profits and fees even as the system collapses.

I suspect that eventually the cities are just going to have to work out their own methods of local water supply and storage, and start putting limits on the amount of development and sprawl that they'll allow. This will happen because the cost of infrastructure maintenance and replacement will be extremely high, having been deferred for decades, and the cities won't be able to afford more development. Whether that will do any good up against the County's lack of restraint in development and water giveaways, as well as the lack of power to run the water system regardless of supply, remains to be seen.

Today's interesting update: The California State Board of Food and Agriculture is meeting in Sacramento this Wednesday, Sept. 22, to gather input toward a white paper that the board will submit to the secretary of agriculture, the governor and the new administration specifically on the topic of agricultural water conservation and efficiency in the short and medium terms, before the implementation of Delta solutions. The agenda is here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Global Collaboration

A notice from CSR Wire came across my desktop today, announcing the 14th year of the globally synchronized dance and prayer event for peace, taking place at 4 pm PST on 9/18/10 in over 50 nations. Prayer for Peace is a growing movement by Earthdance International, which joins other global events such ranging from Earth Day to Burning Man to 350.org's 10-10-10. It asserts the notion of global family and the responsibilities of each person to stand for peace and constructive cooperation. Many orgs, churches, groups and people are involved. Including Arcosanti, where I workshopped as part of the '78 East Crescent.

It advertises as follows: Now the largest global synchronized music and peace event in the world, Earthdance International coordinates with regional event producers, private party hosts, individual participants and peace organizations to join in the celebration. Each paid Earthdance event agrees to donate at least 50% of its profit to a local charity in the areas of peace, sustainability, and social justice.

In using cutting-edge technology to foster participation in global social networking and outreach media, this organization is creating a mechanism for cooperative peace process that engages people in all communities across the globe. It's an ultimate grassroots movement that extends past national government boundaries and official policies and answers to the needs of people to find solidarity in the face of global corporate misappropriation of local resources and environmental damage that affect them directly, yet leave them with no voice.

This growing response against the corporate takeover of governments and policies is a direct repudiation of the character of corporate power which sees extraction of resources and human capital as its only goal, and results in the depletion of resources and natural systems for all people.

A description of this corporate nature and character is here in Orion, very similar to descriptions of corporate sociopaths that have been explored in several books and articles. These globally synchronized events are using the power of human connection (via technology!) to push back against a rapacious form of capitalism that is making governments and societies all over the world blind to the destruction being created by these processes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

EcoRepairs: Urban Forestry

A method of re-establishing the critical carbon sinks around the world in order to balance the destructiveness of human development is that of planting urban forests and managing their growth and care. This vision of nature coexisting with human development instead of being subservient to it is beginning to take hold. What easier thing than to flow with the energy cycles of nature that provide water, oxygen, shade and food to the local climate regions? The principle that life adapts to the available resources is not only universal, but critical to the balance of nature.

There are examples of this urban forestry taking hold through community cooperation with government policies. The city of Johannesburg in South Africa has been documenting, managing and growing its massive urban forest since 2000. It is one of the largest urban forestry projects existent, to the point that it has regenerated lands that were previously barren:

On satellite pictures, the city looks like a rain forest, albeit man-made, but because the city does not get the required amount of rainfall to qualify as one, it passes as an urban forest. In the 1860s, when trekkers first settled on the Witwatersrand, there was not a tree in sight, and the area of rocky grassland was dotted with the odd shrub and several streams.

This was achieved with partnerships by many entities, public and private, and includes, by necessity in all urban reforestation efforts, a public re-education about the actual value that trees in managed ecosystems can provide.

Another one of the oldest and largest urban forests is in Rio de Janiero and its environs. Interestingly, the deforestation caused by human development generated an outcry in 1658 because of the degradation that impacted the water supply; without the trees that had created the natural forest, the wetlands dried up, as did the water supply. So in 1860 it was mandated that the barren hills be reforested with native plants and trees. It's an impressive story, but the warning is that 400 years later the forest has still not recovered its natural biodiversity, so the wild and natural forests are not yet able to maintain natural systems. This means that the natural regenerative mechanisms are still not back in place, and it's incumbent on us to take this to the next level - which is to pull back from the edges and allow natural regeneration to happen. More recent, urgent issues are created by political events in Brazil -
In 20 years, Curitiba, Brazil has increased the green space per inhabitant from 0.5 to 52. The intention was to plant one and a half million trees in 20 years for, since the 1988 murder of Chico Mendes (the campaigner to save the rainforest), Brazil had been on the defensive in ecological circles.

Many communities worldwide foster their urban forest in an informal way with guidelines and arguments for citizens to cooperate in keeping the urban tree canopies healthy and promote undergrowth such as shrubs and mulch. It's a much more natural feel than you'd find in typical suburban roof farms that are acres of asphalt and a few scraggly trees captured in concrete sidewalks. This form of cancer can and should be reversed for the sake of sustainable habitation.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cathedral to Nature

Sometimes the sheer audacity of something, which leaps over the boundaries of the standard-issue responses to habitation issues, can become an agent of needed shift, or change. Here's an example of this in Bergamo, in northern Italy. This project is a structure made out of living trees, a cathedral form that will grow into form and shape.

It's a collaborative effort between government, artists, community, and businesses. The result will be a living cathedral, recently consecrated by the Church and standing as a message about the relationship between humanity and nature. It has a similar site response as other small "spiritual" cathedrals have had in natural settings, such as the Swedenborgian Wayfarers Chapel by Lloyd Wright in Palos Verdes, and Thorncrown Chapel by E. Fay Jones in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

To quote Gadling:

The man behind the work is the recently deceased Giuliano Mauri, an Italian artist who was commissioned as part of a project for the UN's International Year of Biodiversity. The frame of the building will initially be made up of more than 1,800 fir tree poles, 600 chestnut branches, and 6000 meters of hazel branch, planted in-between with growths of live Beech trees. As the Beeches grow, the wood frame will decompose, allowing the living trees to take over the structure.


According to the italian site CATTEDRALE VEGETALE DI OLTRE IL COLLE

Originally the idea of President Park Orobie Franco Grassi, to erect one of the first green cathedrals in Italy, could not find an outlet in its practical implementation because of the unavailability of a place to realize it here in Over the Hill - with the mayor Manenti Rosanna and her team - immediately found enthusiasm and what was missing.

No funds or funding for the work, of course, but a location with environmental certification, well fit for purpose, and most importantly the ongoing revaluation and the full cooperation of the Municipality and local associations and with which there excellent value.
In a few months, we could see materialize in our area starting this realization "of art and nature" (better defined the term land art or earth art), which will include more than ten years to complete, and then the maintenance will require the involvement and participation not only institutions but also the volunteers, fans and experts, not always in reality, having the knowledge of the art of constructing Roccoli.

I am convinced that one day we will all be even more proud to include amongst the beauties which attract the attention of visitors in our concerts, this "Cathedral plant" that nature and human intervention make over the years a true work monumental art.

Claudio Massimo Leoni

Tourist President Pro Loco Over the Hill

July 2008


Inaugurated Sept 4, 2010 Video (Italian) interview with Grassi, with documentation of the design and drawings.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Empathic Civilization



From RSA: For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress. Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.

In this clip, bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. This view turns the idea of capitalism on its head, and points the way to a new ethic. It's one promoted by Riane Eisler and Frances Moore Lappe as the basis for a new global economic structure that is regenerative rather than destructive. It follows a path of empowerment rather than destructive and aggressive industrial mechanisms, which have just about destroyed the ecology of our planet.

This makes development for profit an exercise in irrelevance, and gives the lie to massive profits that go to very few at the expense of the rest of the 90% of humanity and the entire ecosystem. Natural Capitalism then becomes the basis of accounting for the entire systemic impact of human habitation and the relationships between people, planet and wildlife.

There's an interesting little example here at The Baseline Scenario of how economics training actually goes against the grain of people's intuitive sense of fairness, which should actually be the guide to effective policy in human relations and economic structures.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Regeneration: Wetlands Park

Here's an example of remediation and turning around open space that is currently not being used in a sustainable way. This strategy by Save LA River Open Space conceives reworking a Studio City golf course into wetlands parkland adjacent to the LA River. This is a long slog, as community orgs such as North East Trees has discovered in its attempts to capture water and retain it near the river, such as is done at the Oros Street project adjacent to the Glendale Narrows portion of the LA River.

The community participation is a crucial factor in getting these kinds of projects to come together, as well as the financing from many sources that require significant cooperation and teamwork. It requires not only design and engineering, but also an ability to implement the construction of these kinds of wetlands and water swales so that they work with the local ecology and the Los Angeles River itself, not to mention the myriad City and County regulations that must be satisfied in these situations. In a watershed, many important public policy and water regulation structures must be dealt with. This can be a very long process that is difficult to fund.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Climate Storytellers

Our government and scientists all over the world have been gathering data and information about the changes that our planet is going through. The format is satellite photos, digital surface scans, site testing and earth bores, and field surveys. Science is the tool by which we can measure what's happening and quantify the changes that are taking place. At some point, this information has the potential to change our behavior, as social media and broadcast/internet media have done.

But this has not always been effective in dialogue about important global public policy. When there's too many megaphones and not enough real content, the dialogue gets lost in the information haze. Debate degenerates into political babble, and the information is not clear or viable any more.

Then what happens when an international photographer and activist becomes alarmed with the destructiveness of climate change that he sees for himself? Subhankar Banerjee has been giving voice to the dying forests and diminishing oceans he sees; he acts as witness to this as the world governments fail to curb the destructive acts of carbon generating energy acquisition. His leadership is emerging in a powerful new climate movement that will no longer allow businesses and corporations to ignore the environmental consequences of their actions. He is calling for a new, engaged climate movement that will act in time to save what remains of the living ecosystems on this planet. He is driving it by sharing his photodocumentation of changes that he is seeing over the decade, and using it as a personal call to action.

He is collecting stories to tell, and this is one of the first to be told.

The urgency increases as the ecological situation deteriorates. An alarm raised by Jim Garrison tells us to prepare for frequent climate catastrophes now that the tipping point has passed.