Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shrinking Bigfoot

The building and development sector is undergoing a major learning curve as the impacts of carbon on climate change become apparent, and the linkages to carbon production are more and more centrally linked to development. More development and construction not only consumes resources, but creates the single biggest impact on the planet by the production of materials, consumption of all resources during construction, the shipping, trucking and transport of materials from all over the globe, in order to produce a result: a black hole.

The black hole, as I've talked about before, is the replacement of existing natural processes, using millions of btu's worth of energy, to create huge blocks of structure that consume even more btu's, water and resources over its lifetime (unlike nature, which returns water and oxygen to the area it covers) and produces waste that is environmentally destructive over a much bigger area than the structure itself. It now creates greater traffic demand, which is part of the entire destruction cycle, and the whole thing spirals downward.

This black hole is driven by expansionist and capitalistic development pressures, in our artificial system of monetary profit that does not recognize the value of the environment or even acknowledge that it's fundamental to our existence. Pressures such as legislation requiring more development, as SB 375 does in California, is a result of wholesale profiteering by an industry that is not only attacking the environment, but the residents who are trying to protect what remains. The truly ugly part of this setup is that public dollars are used to push this development into communities that are already at the limits of their resources, in direct opposition to resident concerns about existing overwhelming development and its impact on the local environment, such as the "heat island effect" created by urban development and the degradation of local terrain.
New systems of funding major "public private partnerships", or P3, have come into play to combat the cost spiral that has historically doubled or quadrupled original cost estimates at the beginning of these large projects. These systems of partnering combine financial, legal, and government process into a system that streamlines the project but eliminates the "firewall" of checks and balances that create public accountability for projects of this magnitude. Frequently these projects require projections of use to justify their existence and revenue, but have historically fallen far short of these projections leaving the public holding the bag for these projects as well as the destructive impacts. Understand that the monies are going into private pockets at public expense. Like the black hole of Iraq.

The scale of development, its funding and character, must change. Massive projects and overdevelopment have created damage that will take centuries to balance out, if ever. For example, the big dams have destroyed rivers and silted them over, creating far more problems than they attempted to solve, as well as failing to produce the energy to society over time that they remove from the rivers. A principle well known in the financial arena is "reversion to the mean". In the sciences, this is called entropy, and it means that a system cannot exceed the energy that exists within it, but can only move it around - and in so doing, convert energy to matter (heat to carbon).

A regenerative approach, which operates in a systems fashion and is flexible in scale and internal feedback, is the direction that natural systems have evolved on our planet, and it's critical that human society learns quickly to adapt this model. It'll be necessary to construct a financial system that follows this model instead of the destructive mechanisms we have now that devour resources to benefit the few. The scale of human habitation now dictates that we can no longer try to operate outside the laws of nature, but within its systemic capacity. In doing this, the existence and structure of human social capital and natural capital will finally be recognized and incorporated.

Ways to do this are outlined in books such as "Getting a Grip", by Frances Moore Lappe and "The Real Wealth of Nations" by Riane Eisler. I find this fascinating, because Nature is a woman, too.