Sunday, April 26, 2009

Easter Island at a global scale

The current issue of Scientific American discusses the consequences of current global population impact upon water consumption and the food chain supply. As happened on Easter Island, overconsumption resulted in social devastation, ecological collapse and the final, poignant array of bleak volcanic faces gazing out to the ocean.

The article discusses the impact of trend-driven climate change on global commerce, as well as the likelihood of many failed states that could pull down the global network. We've begun to see this in Somalia and Zimbabwe as these states disintegrate under the weight of population, failure of government structures and lack of sustainable policies.

One answer to this among many is a carbon tax, which would provide incentives for capitalism to manage the carbon cycle. Thomas Friedman makes an example of Costa Rica, and its strategies to maintain its ecosystem while providing revenue to local businesses and residents. Beyond taxing the carbon process are the opportunities to derive profit from the "deconstruct" side of business and manufacturing - recycle, reuse and remake, while producing oxygen and water instead of toxic byproducts. There is more profit in this model than there is in fighting to keep the primitive industrial processes and supply chains.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

California at the Tipping Point

Climate Watch: A Story from Quest

The world's climate is changing and California is now being affected in both dramatic and subtle ways. Get an in-depth look at the science behind climate change as we explore the environmental changes taking place throughout the state.

Watch the video here.

Among many other video links that explain the changes happening now in our State and around our planet. The State of California has put out a position paper on the damage that global warming will do. They are also backed by a group called Next 10.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Building Green using LEED

The Audubon Center at Debs Park is a local Platinum LEED
Zero Energy Building where local environmental and architectural organizations hold occasional meetings. North East Trees is an org that interfaces with Audubon.

This project is extracted from the Bulding Green database of buildings that actually meet the criteria after completion of construction. This is an excellent database for the LEED-compliant projects and the final level of achievement in conservation.

There are issues around LEED, of course, not only in the criteria (which is continually being updated), but in the new areas of liability that it can open up for professionals. Clients need to understand that LEED is a target, and that multi systems performance in a variable environment is not something that can be guaranteed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Existing green: Decarbonization

How do we reconcile the issue of tremendous amounts of existing buildings and housing stock that must be modified to lessen their demands upon the environment and our resources?

The "Green Towers" movement in NYC has been going on since the mid-90's. The videos are here. In 2001 in NYC, the American Planning Association put on a "Green Towers" tour featuring the Audubon House by Croxton Associates (the first renovation case study) and their NRDC Headquarters, as well as the Four Times Square skyscraper by Fox and Fowle. These predated the City's innovative High Performance Building Guidelines (1999) which forged a new direction for sustainable building strategies in a highly dense, urban environment.

Now we see this movement becoming the new norm in the building community - Green Revolution Hits Existing Iconic Architecture, from Architecture World News:

According to the U.S Department of State, buildings account for an estimated 36 percent of overall energy use, 65 percent of electricity consumption, 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and 12 percent of water use in America, exemplifying a major area of interest for ecologists.

“Architects are going to be an integral component of our efforts to decarbonise the built environment,” said John Alker, Public Affairs Manager, UK Green Building Council. “They should be absolutely central to major refurb projects in commercial buildings and will increasingly be of use on smaller developments including homes, especially social housing, given the scale of the carbon reductions needed and what that means for the fabric of the home, heating and cooling.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Green is our City?

Image from Google Maps (satellite) - click on maps to enlarge

Image from NASA shuttle photo database

Opportunities for greening our city are endless, including water conservation, sustainability and urban forestry. What if cities stopped invading nature and nature starts invading cities? What if this became the new paradigm for commerce: such as is promoted by Paul Hawken in Ecology of Commerce. This means that business and processes produce growth and profit on the de-manufacture side as well as the manufacture side, just like the hedge funds do in either an up or down market. This allows human culture to complete the cycle, and prosper as it reduces the ecological burden and contributes to healthy ecological systems that promote all human well-being. "City of Gardens" then becomes far more than just an idealistic vision, it becomes an ecological reality.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cato’s skeptic ads draw a flurry of responses

From Alternet: For the first time in scientific history, however, climate scientists have not only reached a near-unanimous consensus that human-made global warming threatens humanity, but have formed a global organization—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—to try and prevent it. Their most recent report states: "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature [since 1850]. ... [Climate change], together with sea level rise, are expected to have mostly adverse effects on natural and human systems [including] ... increased risk of deaths, injuries and infectious, respiratory and skin diseases ... water and food-borne diseases; post traumatic stress disorders ... increased risk of deaths and injuries by drowning in floods; migration-related health effects." LA's "heat island" effect is discussed here.

See this article at Grist It talks about the capitalist system's denial of the consequences of unfettered growth and pollution.

A response to this -
Regeneration, Not Recovery - emphasizes that the regeneration phase of the adaptive cycle on the environmental issues can begin to solve this as well as provide the payoff that capitalism is looking for. See the article here, by Chip Ward.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Report from the World Water Forum, Istanbul, April 2009

(click on image to see source geotech article)

By Jeff Conant at Alternet:

If we learned anything from the World Water Forum it should be that the privatization model has failed and a grassroots movement is needed:

"On the last day of the Forum I spoke at length with a reporter from Agence France Press who had come to look for stories of appropriate technology and small-scale, community-driven development -- of rainwater catchment and ecological sanitation and village-level water purification and the revival of traditional water management strategies. He didn't find them. So I pointed him to Rajendra Singh, of Rajasthan, India, whose work with villagers over three decades brought seven rivers back to life. "We learned to value traditional knowledge," says Rajendra, "where knowledge is shared for the good of all people and not for the good of some people to keep others down. Knowledge of the land's contours, of the land's capacity to hold water, and of the people's capacity to manage it -- geo-cultural knowledge. So, we have revived seven rivers in Rajasthan with the participation of people who were thought of as poor, as illiterate -- and this not only brought the rivers back; it has brought back the meaning to their lives."

I've outlined a local strategy on my November post. This is a method implemented by strategies developed by North East Trees and the Green Street model.