Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Green Transect: benchmarking sustainability

(click on image for larger view)
Implementing sustainable development in urban and suburban areas will require developing new benchmarks for areas and regions as opposed to "scoring" specific amenities in a building or a site. It is a more systemic, or comprehensive view, of a local cluster of structures and landscape. This goes well beyond current LEED guideline developments.

A method used in "smart zoning" is called an urban transect, and the sustainable version of this approach is called a green transect. How does this transect (mapping areas and systems relative to the distance from an established point) reflect a scale of sustainable, or "green" building strategies?

There needs to be a ranking based upon the development scale. This ranking could say that the best method to build small homes is to use simple stratgies such a solar orientation, building form, conservation in landscape drainage, and so forth.

Larger projects and major structures should be required to produce their own energy and recycle all water and waste, or become part of a system of local recycling with 100% recapture. In other words, it is a set of benchmarks that are imposed depending upon the scale of the impact of the development, or its "footprint". This would be evaluated in much the same way that an Environmental Impact Report is done now, except that there would be very specific requirements for the system's energy and water performance. Very large projects would need to provide a net surplus of power and water, with no carbon production outside the system; in other words, Regenerative.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Climate-driven desertification

"The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state." --Dr James Lovelock, August 2008

Alternet: Australia faces collapse

Tom Dispatch: Burning Questions

Extreme drought means desertification, especially if it lasts for hundreds of years, as the recent NOAA-led study found (see NOAA stunner: Climate change "largely irreversible for 1000 years," with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe). The regions that NOAA identifies as facing permanent Dust Bowls:

* U.S. Southwest
* Southeast Asia
* Eastern South America
* Southern Europe
* Southern Africa
* Northern Africa
* Western Australia

To visualize this, here's a map from the World Resources Institute, Information and Analysis tools

The point of this map is to show that not only is desertification happening, which destroys water resources (watershed and aquifers) and food production for human societies, it is spreading across that horizontal global band of historical development of civilization. Understanding the biggest threat to industrialized countries that are overdrawing their local resources is to view this through Jared Diamond's chronicle of the expansion of human civilization that took place because of plentiful resources across the millennia, in his book "Guns, Germs and Steel".

It will hit the highly developed societies the hardest, endangering not
only human civilization but planetary systems of life. Diamond further documents the consequences of human depletion of resources in "Collapse", as well as the choices that human society must make very quickly. Humanity now faces the unwinding of the civilization bubble, and our choices lie in how we manage this without further devastation across the globe. Further discussions of "far-ahead" thinking is at the Long Now Foundation.