Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Fair Consensus

In support of the Contraction and Convergence submission to the UN Climate Negotiations (UNFCCC) in February of this year by Aubrey Meyer (in video above, click to play) of the Global Commons Institute, I'm dedicating this post to the implementation of its framework. Many other signatories to this submission are listed here.

This climate agreement model is a very transparent and fair methodology for setting the framework for convergence of carbon emission containment and regenerative ecological habitation by all countries. It is a very clear and rational approach based upon per capita allowances. It's a necessary step because the timeline to reduce human carbon emissions to zero is only 50 years, due to recent documented changes in the climate system.

Double-Jeopardy of unsustainable growth of human population demands and concomitant increased costs of climate damage is a very clear risk model, and it's shared by every country on the globe. It's the limit to growth problem, and the methods by which this risk is contained are grounded in the rapid evolution of renewable energy, conservation and ecological recovery. These things are eminently doable, as is evidenced by the rapid development of net-zero strategies by the building industry, and the capability for rapid energy production transformation as outlined by the Rocky Mountain Institute. Many regional projects around the globe have already regenerated their rivers, forests and resources as part of their development.

The costs of the impact of climate change, as the financial community has observed through its re-insurers, are running well ahead of rate of growth of the global economy. This creates destructive economic as well as physical vectors and generates a future of great uncertainty for all countries. Destabilization of climate, food and water supplies, energy and resources come as an ultimate price of unchecked growth, placing this huge cost upon every country on the planet. Thus the argument that carbon emissions can continue going forward is shown to be utterly destructive to all human societies and living systems by the projections in this model.

Therefore the choice is not whether to agree, but how swiftly this method needs to be put into place. The sooner it is achieved, the better the future is for all countries, and the damage to human life, as well as to all life and ecological systems can be minimized both economically and in terms of resources.

This is a shift in the idea that human existence requires continuous expansion; rather it focuses on the quality of life on earth and the idea that a less mechanistic existence requires fewer resources and fosters the regeneration of that which supports life for all. Human suffering and extinction of natural processes are not rational choices under this model, which is something that can be agreed to in principle very quickly by all countries; the stakes are clear.

How this is achieved is left up to individual countries and fostered by ability of low-emission countries to create value for their renewal strategies and low carbon levels. This creates an incentive game where this value is sought after, thus creating a market for non-emission of carbon. It's the inverse of how fossil-fueled capitalism works now, but uses the same kind of fiscal incentives, and creates an entire new paradigm for human existence within the natural world that stabilizes the future and allows the earth to regenerate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Again, Bay Delta

The Bay Delta Water Plan is once again in the forefront of a major statewide debate about how to manage water infrastructure for a state that is already on the brink of its ability to supply water and manage it in a way that preserves the environment. I've covered this issue in several posts, along with concerns that the plan is grounded more in politics and money than science and ecology that would regenerate the natural processes that the entire state relies upon.

As a new water agency, the Delta Stewardship Council, formed by the 2009 California Water Legislation, is tasked with developing a Delta Plan.  As stated in their website, "The Delta Stewardship Council is charged with protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the critical role it serves in the water supply for millions of Californians and its unique ecosystem and way of life." A draft Delta Plan is online here, and can be reviewed and commented on by the public. There's already a major backlash from the Restore the Delta folks, who are angry that a conveyance canal is built into this plan, as well as insufficient development of the critical levee system in the Delta. Another issue, the critical costs and actual ratepayer bill for this plan, is being challenged via AB 2421. Food & Water Watch, Southern California Watershed Alliance, and Green LA Coalition challenged the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) for its opposition to an independent cost-benefit analysis of the proposed multibillion-dollar Peripheral Canal or Tunnel project which is incorporated as part of this plan.

The water agencies and the farming community are in favor of the plan as presented, since the proposed canal is considered the only way to provide adequate water for the planned future development in the southern part of the state, as well as to the agriculture in the central valley.

Cal Watchdog has a more critical view of what may be considered absent issues in the report, including the documentation of kinds of water available and where these water supplies should be transported to. Unfortunately the plan still relies upon the "plumbing model" of water management. It basically follows the money, not science or ecology. Alternate strategies such as using the storage capacity of existing underground water basins are also suggested by the same author in another article, published this January. It's a political history of the Bay Delta situation.

The big question here is, can more growth be accommodated? It's the historic engine of California's prosperity that right how has taken a massive hit due to the Wall Street boondoggle of leveraging debt. So the political climate right now may preclude a more enlightened set of strategies around the water supply issues. California will very likely end up being a very dry state with extremely high water and power rates due to a lack of vision in water management, and absent conservation based upon ecological principles. This could prove to be the demise of the state's capability to provide a fundamentally sound ecosystem supported by the natural systems which were formerly so abundant.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The idea that human habitation can be used as a tool to regenerate ecology is finally coming into its own after experimentation with projects all over the world. It's not a zero-sum game, it's a way of bringing together all the environmental and engineering factors together in a place such that it renews natural processes instead of destroying them. It takes a great deal of skill, knowledge and experience to work out the systems that result in the creation of place that interconnects all these factors. Many major corporate engineering, design and development firms are investing in think tanks to take this to the next level, such as Arup, a global design, planning and engineering firm.

Jerry Yudelson's moderation of a panel at Greenbuild 2011, hosted by the Green Building Council in Toronto, centered on a discussion of Ecodistricts. An ‘ecodistrict’ is an urban planning term for a specific section of an urban area, whether a neighborhood, school campus, industrial park, etc. that can operate as a self-contained and self-sufficient entity, while remaining connected to other adjacent ecodistricts. This concept is widely used throughout Europe and parts of Asia, but is still relatively unknown here in North America. The ecodistrict concept brings technologies such as district heating, decentralized wastewater treatment, and local food production down to a manageable scale, both for construction and financing.

Howver, many of our college, university and school campuses in the USA are designed with this fundamental concept as a basis for infrastructure design because of the efficiencies involved. The use of ecology as part of its inherent function is the more advanced and recent application of the "green" ethos. Shared resources and local sourcing go beyond just the idea of energy conservation or LEED buildings, since systems and supply chains are integrated with biological systems to regenerate the local ecology. Major firms have developed this expertise, for example the Bioengineering Group, which is entirely about solving these kinds of challenges.

Urban areas are capable of tremendous regeneration, as well as becoming a node for this kind of intelligence in managing ecologies for the better. These nodes of density can also be nodes of regeneration given that the systems are synergistic and balance off of each other. The World Futures Council has developed an outline policy that can be used as a template for this kind of organic, metabolic pattern of habitation.

Thus regeneration is necessarily the paradigm of the future, and it doesn't need to be a bleak vision of dense boxes and rigid limits. Life is abundant if it is handled intelligently and reverently, something our mechanistic societies have taken thousands of years to figure out. Limits are the fount of creative thinking and living, and decisions made by a society for its best integration with natural systems and bounds will provide the needed resources and balance with natural environments. Our best engineers and designers are entirely capable of creating these systems if the will to make regeneration a priority exists in our societies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chapel Notre-Dame du Haut

Experiencing an iconic project such as this one, designed by Le Corbusier in 1955, is an exercise in understanding its purpose and meaning as well as the execution of form, light, color, siting and the play of spaces that intersect with each other. This one is a masterful exercise that challenges the perceptions of inside/outside, silence/performance, form evoked in light/dark, explosive color/white austere form with "the hat". There are many, many layers of form and meaning here; it is to be experienced as part of a setting that is part pastoral, and part of the actual assembly of many people within the broad expanse of landscape. The larger part of the structure is actually not "there", an ineffable statement that says the human recognition of the sacred is an act of profound significance.

This presentation is an exceptionally good one, with some description of the design program as well as an exemplary video showing the parts of the site that generally don't show up in the architectural mags. This kind of work in a shared spiritual place is a rarity that underscores the necessity of open, peaceful space and the work of nature that quietly informs its purpose.

The place, the structure, its myriad meanings and the natural world are integrated as one.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Setting an Equilibrium

The Nash Equilibrium, named for the Nobel Prize winning economist John Forbes Nash, is an important concept  for developing a framework of international cooperation on action to counteract climate change. Nash's equations demonstrate that if one party takes an action unilaterally for its own benefit then the overall benefit to all parties will decline. This is an important principle that needs to guide global cooperation in reducing carbon emissions and controlling the human impact on the environment. There should no longer be any tolerance for countries that flout global guidelines and proceed with their own energy and resource consumption methods that produce unsustainable carbon emissions.

The vision that nature needs rights as well as the entire spectrum of human habitation is crucial to this balance and its success, otherwise a flawed agreement will doom efforts to reduce the impact of human activity on our planet. The world needs an agreement that includes the natural processes and resources of the earth, and all humans need to internalize its key principles if the planet, and we, are to survive. Unlimited human growth is not a viable model for life on this planet.

An example of the unilateral approach to growth and energy production at all costs is in China, with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. A description of the project in 2008 only begins to scratch the surface of the ecological impact of this dam. Increasing energy demands are driving higher carbon emissions as China relies more on coal and shale gas, as well as tar sand supplies of energy. This is partially due to the lack of projected rainfall by 40% that has reduced the anticipated power production of the Three Gorges Dam. This is how climate change impacts all of the projected costs and benefits of these major infrastructure projects. Chinese scientists predicted many of the effects of this dam, yet their voices were silenced in what the government claimed was the national interest. In multibillion-dollar projects, the national interest is often taken hostage by political prestige, bureaucratic power struggles, and the generous kickbacks of a bribery-prone industry. These vested interests need to be balanced and held accountable by a fully transparent and participatory decision-making process.

So the international framework that must be agreed to in the climate change discussions - which are ongoing - must be put into position recognizing the benefit that it will have for all human societies and the global ecosystems. The issue is becoming urgent.