Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public Parks are Public Trust

Alaska's incredible public parks didn't happen by accident, they happened because of the commitment of the US government and the public to the preservation of wild lands and native cultures. Right now a PBS special by Ken Burns is highlighting Denali National Park as well as the other parks established in this state. Alaska has the most acreage of the US Park System, and Denali is the largest, which includes Mt. McKinley and its immense snowfields and cloud covers, home to wolves and the caribou who survive on lichen and other plant forage, at least for now. I went on a charter flight that operates out of the local airfield and takes 5-6 people on a "bush pilot eye view" of the terrain and lakes. Chased a bear on the way back.

The ecosystem preservation is critically important, but the global climate change is heavily influential in this area, particularly in the sensitive north latitudes. Hence, public awareness and participation beyond a superficial impression is key to the solution to this problem. The Alaskan native culture and wilderness extends all the way down through Canada to the Pacific Northwest, and is very prevalent in the Seattle historic parks and cultural galleries. They embody a way of life that adapted to the natural ecology, and was able to exist within it.These influences can be seen in the Alaskan native architecture that adapted to the climate and terrain thousands of years ago, which has been preserved most fully in the wilderness park areas. Some of the areas of Alaska that have not yet been built out still have the rough-and-tumble quality of the old logging, hunting and canning operations that were carried out in the region hundreds of years ago. These resources are in the process of being further built over and drilled out, and it's imperative that the public commitment to these wilderness lands be reinforced. Viable ecosystems are critical to human civilization.

This shot is from the Seward Highway south of Anchorage. Kenai Lake is fed by melting glaciers and does not have the silt that many of the lakes and streams have, which results in an emerald color. It's a good fishing spot, and this lake feeds into Ressurection Bay at Seward. At Seward, the Fijord cruises depart around the Kenai Peninsula, and we spotted otters, steller sea lions, harbor seals, humpback and grey whales, puffins, eagles, and gulls. On the Kenai Peninsula, along the steep banks of the Fijords, it's not hard to spot bears and mountain goats.

It's still possible to see some of the sunken forest beds and displaced landscape (by about two feet) resulting from the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 that created a tsunami (tidal wave) that essentially destroyed Seward. The harbor was rebuilt afterwards, and is currently undergoing a change of character as the fishing industry declines and the tourist industry increases.

Monday, September 28, 2009

City as a Node of Intelligence

How cities grow like brains; an article from Science Daily. Interconnectedness is just as important to cities as it is to brains, according to researchers who've just released a study about the organizational similarities between cities and brains. Cities grow in an organic fashion, and increase the availability of knowledge, resources, commerce and trade. In other words, it increases the sheer number of potential interconnections that people and businesses thrive on . This can be traced through infrastructure networks, such as roads and highways, power, phone and internet. These opportunities increase exponentially for structural and organizational strategies that are effective for its residents and workers. Universities, colleges, convention centers and business incubators (biotech, etc.) represent key urban area draws for this reason, since their connection networks foster innovation, commercial production and knowledge-sharing throughout a region.

This quality of cities has been recognized for centuries as human civilization expanded out of Mesopotamia and urban centers took root along trade routes and grew into major centers of exchange. The evolutionary aspect of this built form has been investigated by Soleri in his arcology studies at Arcosanti, based upon the concept that the noosphere's growth in dense living configurations fosters human evolution.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Earth, Life, Structure, Communicating

For me, an early fascination with built form and the reasons for its shape and patterns has led to some "global galloping" in exploration of indigenous architecture and how living creatures change their environment as they interact with each other in the web of life. All the way from the inhabitants of Galapagos and the African savannah to the early indigenous forms of civilization in Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, China, the American Southwest, Alaska, Hawaii and Indonesia, to the old ruins of Stonehenge and built remnants in France, Spain and Italy, I've found coherence in form response to climate and habitation patterns, human and animal.

Architecture is an earth science and a formgiver of purpose and vision in human cultures, evolving into ever more complex patterns. The beginnings of built form, starting with animal adaptations (the Darwinian approach) through to the human modification of the earth that emerged in different cultures and climates are at the roots of this practice. Animal-created architecture presents a valuable window on organizing natural systems, outlined in Animal Architecture: "As ecosystem engineers, the influence of builders is extensive and their effect is generally to enhance biodiversity through niche construction. Animal builders can therefore represent model species for the study of the emerging subject of environmental inheritance." A more general book by the Goulds is Animal Architects. An interesting blog also delves into what its author calls "Cospecies Coshaping"

This is what life does. It organizes patterns to higher levels of effectiveness and dynamic interaction, using available resources. Systems theory (Check out Robert Pirsig's "Lila"). In this sense life is anti-entropic, and the built environment as we create it today is destructive to life, the arrow of entropy moving from vital systems to entombed molecular structure.

As our human ancestors began their large monumental earth-shaping structures based upon their cultural and belief patterns, the first emergent structures were tombs and religious pyramidal structures that oriented to and interacted with sun, moon and stars. The smaller structures that housed shops and living quarters, such as those found in Pompeii, were small, repetitious structures that flexibly accommodated living patterns and chains of commerce and gradually built up into temple structures and civic plazas.

The cultures of Indonesia and Asia produced indigenous structures unique to their climates, local materials and living patterns. Early human settlements represent a very dynamic interaction between the agricultural societies and the resources of the region. These ancient constructions, embedded in human history, emerged with an immense variety and diversity of form strategy and mastered the ability to passively modify climate to the advantage of humans for food and shelter. Prodigious numbers of these ethnoarchitectural structures emerged over thousands of years of history. They have lessons for modern humans in their richness of form and simplicity and durability of structure. Biomimicry Guild is a leading proponent of incorporating these lessons.

These kinds of constructs, from the animal kingdom to the human world, are purpose-driven and integrate valuable systems of behavior to the benefit of natural systems and living societies of all kinds. I think our self-directed evolution has gotten far off track, relying on brute-force-engineering and must now move to a greater wisdom in a post-industrial form of habitation - that is constructive of rather than destructive to - living systems. Civilizations must live within their means to survive and prosper.

The overgrown Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Friday, September 25, 2009

Marketing the Green Stuff

Okay. It's huge. The environmental movement comes into its own at last. Everything is green, except when it isn't. A case study is called for, this one's Kaiser Permanente's "Thrive" campaign. From Kaiser:

‘Emerald Cities,’ is a 30-second spot that conveys how Kaiser Permanente's use of advanced technology benefits Kaiser Permanente's health care delivery system by saving lives, managing chronic conditions and making medical breakthroughs. The ad also communicates Kaiser Permanente's focus on sustainability - by using electronic health records the amount of paper used within the organization is drastically decreased - saving thousands of trees annually. To date, Kaiser Permanente members have completed 6 million doctor's visits without using one gallon of gasoline. Simply put in the spot's opening line: "By putting an end to paper medical records, we have ushered health into the digital age."

The video is here, it runs to the tune of "Clair De Lune" by Debussy, who wrote it with Paul Verlaine's poem in mind.

This campaign is brilliantly produced by the very capable firm of Campbell-Ewald Advertising, which is no stranger to controversy in its manipulation of image content and product marketing.

The sub-genre created in reaction to this campaign as well as Kaiser's well-known control of services and products, and its arbitration clause that its policies are built on shows how public reaction can be carried out in counter-moves in the press and online. What's fascinating is the imagery used by Campbell-Ewald to create the "soft-touch hi-tech green" imagery in a perfect world of health and service to its members. Which of course it limits to protect its profits. Public health option, anyone?

But the bait. It's so pastoral, even Bambi is in there. Our global environment reduced to a marketing gimmick? It's just about on life support right now, so maybe it's appropriate that the metaphor works both ways.

Clair De Lune, indeed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Forest Lawn for the Living

James Howard Kunstler, author of "Long Emergency", takes issue with the omission of suburban development as the vehicle for Wall Street's meltdown in James Stewart's article "Eight Days" in the Sept. 21 New Yorker magazine. His argument is that this fundamental way of life that emerged during the post-war era is unsustainable in all ways, from the sanitized zoning codes encouraging flight from urban centers to the immense spread of energy consumption during the era of cheap oil's marketing expansion. This consumerism is the basis of the unravelling of Wall Street derivates, according to Kunstler, and the systems of capital based upon the resale of consumer debt leads only to ultimate failure of the system.

He has an interesting solution to this global issue, and it's posted on his intriquing website "World Made by Hand".

It concerns visions of a post-oil future that is reminiscent of the 18th century Romantic Era, an age of crisis that gave rise to new thought, the critical idea and the creative effort necessary to cope with the old ways of confronting experience. It was a reaction to cultural and industrial rigidity that was giving way to a new paradigm of the Industrial Revolution.

So he seems to be signaling a real paradigm shift in our global culture, one that is necessary for many reasons and that could hopefully spur a shift in values from accumulating wealth from physical construction to wealth creation through social capital and environmental restoration. The same avenue of thought is followed by Thomas Friedman in his book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded".

And a tip of the hat to Rick Cole for popularizing this infamous quip.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Water Water Everywhere

And not a drop to drink? How about when it's running down the street as has been happening on a regular basis in Los Angeles this month? According to KTLA news, the DWP has recorded 35 "major blowouts" in its water system in which streets were flooded and pavement buckled since Sept. 1.By comparison, there were 21 in all of September 2008, 17 in September 2007 and 13 in September 2006. There's a question about whether this is due to the mandated two days per week that landscape sprinkling is limited throughout the city, or whether it's simple old age.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has been issuing annual reports over the years that basically give a failing grade to infrastructure across the US. Water infrastructure gets a D- for example, and these reports point out that US investment in infrastructure is a fraction of that of the countries in Europe. Our infrastructure is built out over huge distances, and is not as old as European infrastructure which has been in repair mode for centuries under systems of government that tax heavily to maintain it.

But an awareness is building that the infrastructure must not only be maintained, it needs to be replaced with more efficient systems in these times of drought and population demand. A systems analysis is necessary to understand the problem; it's done with GIS software and lots of data collection. This does present the opportunity to improve existing systems by integrating them with natural gradient flows and topographic modifications so that natural processes do some of the work and less money is spent on propping up existing equipment. The tradeoff is more labor for regular maintenance of supply piping and basins, cleanouts and drains, but that's what green jobs are for, right?

A more compact urban distribution system would be effective, especially if subdivision sprawl can be cut back. Many cities are starting to take a look at what they can afford to maintain. It may become very expensive to be long distances from main distribution lines, and there are already some examples of local water sourcing by recycling it into aquifers, rather than importing it over long distances.

Window of Opportunity

Recession results in steep fall in emissions
By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent, Financial Times

Published: September 20 2009 23:30

The recession has resulted in an unparalleled fall in greenhouse gas emissions, providing a “unique opportunity” to move the world away from high-carbon growth, an International Energy Agency study has found. In the first big study of the impact of the recession on climate change, the IEA found that CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels had undergone “a significant decline” this year – further than in any year in the past 40. The fall will exceed the drop in the 1981 recession that followed the oil crisis.

Falling industrial output is largely responsible for the plunge in CO2, but other factors have played a role, including the shelving of many plans for new coal-fired power stations owing to falling demand and lack of financing.The article is continued here (free signup)

This underscores an opportunity to instill a new and integrated approach to human habitation in step with natural cycles. An advocacy org for this is the Revitalization Institute (RI), an academic network and advocate for the restoration economy in which natural, built, and socio-economic assets are continuously enhanced rather than depleted or demolished. Storm Cunningham has set up a network of web sites around his books, Restoration Economy and reWealth. Restoration Economy started it all: the first time all the disciplines that are restoring our natural & built environments were revealed as a single global trend.

Of course a network of investment and funding is also set up, at Regeneration Fund and Places to Invest.

The point being that all the resistance by industry and massive corporate lobbying against adopting processes that work with natural cycles is not only counterproductive, but is a failure to capture effective production and cut future costs of waste and pollution. The Chamber of Commerce approach is strictly short-term cost-cutting that leaves industry and commerce stuck in unproductive, outmoded production models that are primarily embedded in oil as a fuel or a resource material, which is at the heart of the carbon consumption cycle. It's time to move on, and free this country from the oil industry.

It's Just Not That Hard.

Michael Klare writes about the geopolitics of this transition in his article, "The Era of Xtreme Energy" at Tomgram, and paints a rather tough picture of it. If demand for energy doesn't recede, this could be the way it plays out. But Xtreme Capitalism may be drawing to a close, as well, and this could change the picture. Efficiency and miniaturization are being brought into play, and the footprint can shrink.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Countdown to Copenhagen

A huge, viral campaign is tweeting this way! Today's the day. The live screening of "Age of Stupid" has its global premiere beamed from New York City into selected theaters in order to engage people globally. Click picture above to get to the trailer.

This is the new movie from the UK: Director Franny Armstrong (McLibel) and producer John Battsek (One Day In September). Pete Postlethwaite stars as a man living alone in the devastated future world of 2055, looking at old footage from 2008 and asking: why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance? It was released in UK cinemas on 20 March 2009, and will be followed by other countries.

Those who are not stupid, and ready to change history, are going here.

The group supporting this "popular front" activism behind the movie is, coordinated by Oxfam with several other orgs, and is working alongside the "Yes Men Hoax" on the global wake-up call, which ironically has much truth to it. Timed for the Climate Week in NYC which represents a broader movement, it puts a radical spin on the global warming issue.

It's in the spirit of Edward Bellamy's utopian novel "Looking Backward" and the "Bellamy Clubs" that resulted in the Nationalist movement, as well as the science-fiction apocalyptic films and TV series (famously Rod Serling's Twilight Zone). This is a film that presents the intensely personal and immediate regrets of those few souls living alone in a devastated future.

It doesn't take that much imagination for those of us who remember that first Earth Day in 1970, when schoolkids and their parents sounded the alarm about pollution and overpopulation. Back then, we'd just begun seeing catalytic converters on new cars and were bundling up a lot more in winter. Water was so cheap and plentiful that pools exploded into suburbia. The roof farms were just beginning their encroachment into the hills and forests. Tremendous growth, cheap power and plenty of money resulted from the postwar expansion, especially in California. Malls became the new center of life, leaving city centers and churches in the dust.

Yet there were plenty of natural resources and vast swaths of wilderness: desert, savannah, forest, jungle and mountain ranges full of wildlife, oceans full of mysterious and dangerous life forms.

I really miss that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


For Kenyan nomads, the end of a way of life (click on image for video)

The nomadic pastoralists who live in the arid scrubland on the Kenya-Somalia border are being forced out of their traditional way of living by a succession of worsening droughts. Peter Beaumont travelled to the border town of Elwak to meet the desperate families abandoning the ranger lands for an equally uncertain future living by the road.

More here

Thursday, September 17, 2009

To Be or Not To Be

That is the question, famously posited by Shakespeare in his epic "Hamlet".

It's a question I've been addressing here, about scale of human habitation and about resources manipulated by government to the benefit of development rather than conservation and stewardship. The tension between resources and the public good vs. the need for profit and development is known in public policy as the tragedy of the commons.

Growth and development are fundamental to the fiscal structure of the State of California, throughout all of its agencies, regulations, backroom deal network and resource commissions. The state's history has always been driven by unbridled expansion and sprawl, recently amped by the need for more local tax revenue due to Prop 13 directing funds to Sacramento. This underlying fiscal structure based upon "building stuff" is why the communities have to constantly defend their character and scale. Push-and-pull, yin-and-yang of all history, actually. But now we're into it with limits to resources and natural processes, and the stakes are no laughing matter. That's why I keep arguing for ways to turn the tide, use human intelligence to complete the cycles and integrate into natural systems. Entire civilization systems have failed over that issue ("Collapse" by Jared Diamond) and now we're at a global scale, and must balance our demands and resources.

Otherwise it's over.

I see constructive networks and intelligent solutions emerging in various places, so I list those on my blog sidebar as I find 'em.

It's dynamic solutions, not man vs. nature, or capital vs. poverty, it's a balance based upon the inclusion of natural capital and social capital in the equation. Social capital as in keeping a community intact, which is a classic issue in all small communities - it's about scale, something that's not in the capital development equation as the banking community seems to just have figured out. I see that Phil Angelides is heading up the task force to look at that, it should be interesting. He's a developer who is an original proponent of the "double bottom line", now evolved to "triple bottom line".

A different, needs-based and interesting approach to targeted development is emerging instead of the arbitrary targeting such as is imposed by SB 375 that undercuts CEQA via the RHNA numbers generated by SCAG. This bill forces development around "projected numbers" in local communities even if they are built out and there's no local demand for housing, particularly the condo development this specifically implements. This is development on top of what's already here, it doesn't stop traffic impacts, especially if mixed use development draws regional traffic from households outside the immediate transit corridor. So it's very destructive, even as it is couched in the language of stopping sprawl and making the built footprint more compact via transit linkages. This is how
SB 375 is forcing communities to upzone their land use. That, of course, increases land value and triggers the entire max-out build scenario.

Moving beyond today's strictures into the global value change necessary to guide us into appropriate solutions is the approach discussed in David Korten's "The Great Turning" . This is about establishing a community-based model of commerce and development, as well as preservation and enhancement of the natural world in the future's necessary evolution of climate policy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Harder than It Looks

                                     Porous Concrete Replaces Traditional Drainage Systems

Publication Date: 26-AUG-09
Author: Melissa Traynor, McGraw-Hill Construction newsletter

article is here

As storm water runoff from streets and parking lots becomes an ever-more sensitive environmental issue, eliminating it altogether with pervious pavement can be an elegant solution. All eyes are on a parking lot at the University of Connecticut where contractors have installed a pervious lot designed to handle all rainfall on the spot.

Chicago is also experimenting with eco-friendly paving material that is porous, keeps the surface cool with retained water, and also filters the water. I wonder how long before this kind of pavement gets clogged with oil and rubber residue? It turns out that
maintenance will require use of vacuum brooms to keep the pavement pores open.

The issue is the absorption of rainwater into the ground, which is necessary for the hydration of the soil and replenishment of underlying aquifers. Aside from removing hard surfaces and creating planted drainage swales, this is a means of retaining local  rainwater instead of shunting it off into storm drains.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Water Reform in the Bay Delta

The image above (click to enter the site) of this entire critical watershed is from Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, and identifies the scope of the problem identification as well as the land-limited response by the State and the legislature in terms of its necessary scope and integration with all facets of this system. It has resources for public education on the habitat issues as well as interactive maps. The issue encompasses the entire balance of natural systems, from farming ecology to fisheries, and has been disrupted by Bush administration policies that steered water from rivers and streams to drought- starved farms in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The legislature has recently come close to a resolution of this critical issue in the Bay Delta, but politics struck again and water management and environmental reform went by the wayside. Schwarzenegger's failed leadership as Governer is highlighted by his demands that dam construction be included in the much-hoped-for water bill or it will face his veto, despite the fact that these old-style plumbing solutions will only exacerbate the problem.

The Chair of the Metropolitan Water District, Tim Brick, published his article today in the Star-News, pointing out that a Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the necessary central focus of the latest effort to restore and repair this estuary that supplies water to Southern California and is home to a vast ecology of wildlife and fish. An accompanying article in the paper also outlines the "back room dealing" that goes along with the current bill, given the profits traditionally made from large-scale construction approaches by a strictly limited group of firms. There have been serious deficiencies in the proposed water bill for over a year now, since it relies on outdated and expensive technologies, per Conner Everts. Conner is the Executive Director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance and Co-Chair of the Desal Response Group, working on the environmental response to ocean water drinking water plants. He is on 8 boards including being chair of POWER, Public Officials for Water and Environmental Reform and senior advisor to the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water.

The Aquafornia organization has also taken a lead on the approach that working in tandem with natural processes to supply water and restore wetlands is the most feasible way to go, rather than building very expensive infrastructure which will consume tremendous amounts of power to operate.

The bigger picture: as the entire western United States dries out, like other countries around the globe, it will heavily impact our ability to sustain any kind of lifestyle at all as we know it, regardless of our approaches to this problem of water resources and overdevelopment. It's happened before.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Impossible

While in Peru (Machu Picchu of course) and Bolivia back in 2004, I did make it up onto the altiplano to Tiahuanaco, an ancient city that has been undergoing formal excavation and study for almost 100 years. The ruins of the Kalasasaya (see the map on this page) have been partially restored, and the adjacent Acapana pyramid was just beginning excavation when I was there. In observing the dig, I was struck at how deliberate the excavation work was, the trenching followed precisely in the plan of the uncovered stones, rather than being a single large hole or random diggings.

I consulted our Aymara guide, Rose Marie, about this, and she showed me the cruciform-shaped tablet that was being used like a compass to direct the excavation. This tablet image has been passed on down through the oral and graphic traditions of the Tiahuanacota people who had no written language. But clearly they had a geometric and graphic record of their methodologies in constructing the city, and rules about how things were to be oriented and scaled. So this tablet provided all the instructions needed to accurately excavate the pyramid, which the local Aymara laborers were doing under the direction of the Bolivian government. It is now a World Heritage site.

There are questions as to its exact age and purpose, but it's clearly a ceremonial site with statues and the Gate of the Sun covered in geoglyphs. It appears to have been oriented according to skycharts regressed back 15,000 years through a study of archeoastronomy, and its "sound holes" that magnify voice and its framed statuary in concise orientation are all indicators of a highly evolved understanding of geometric structure and celestial positioning.

The more conventional description of its age and its cultural context dates the construction to around A.D. 200, but that could be the time when the Aymara moved into the existing site and its ruins, primarily due to its agricultural resources, capable of supporting a large population.

Lake Titicaca, 12 miles away, has many ancient beliefs attached to it, particularly at the Island of the Sun. In the ancient Andean myths, the world is recreated after a massive natural holocaust by the god Viracocha who emerged from the lake.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Art of the River Walk

The LA River has been undergoing some small transformations under the watchful eyes of the Santa Monica Mountains conservancy, which instituted a nature restoration/art walk/community space project along the river. This has involved many organizations and art projects, including one carried out by North East Trees which uses bioswales to return rainwater to the aquifer instead of running it into the storm channel. This is the Oros Green Street project, also known in this chain of projects as Steelhead Park.

Folks have been blogging about these projects for awhile, including Eric Garcetti and the LA MetBlog. The arts are integrated into the fabric of the river restoration in order to encourage increased social use of the river walk. As the river is revitalized and becomes more "green", it will become a natural playground and open green space for families in the city. These projects are significant, because as Eric states on his blog, "Oros marks the first complete Prop O project, and also marks the success of the city in meeting its federal water quality standards. We are the only city in the nation in compliance with our Total Maximum Daily Load compliance timeline, thanks to the installation of hundreds of catch basins throughout the city and projects like Oros."

Things inspired by the river's presence are a book, pictures up on a photostream, an onsite theater production, and what most people do, a bike ride.

Cudahy River Park, also by North East Trees, opened in April of this year at the intersection of Clara Street and River Road next to the Los Angeles River in the City of Cudahy. These linkages are small and disparate right now, but will ultimately link people and places all throughout the stretches of the LA River.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Possible

Philadelphia's urban sustainability competition, "Brown to Green" challenges students across North America to create a new vision for South Philadelphia's Grays Ferry Crescent. With the industrial DuPont Marshall Laboratory complex closing down and the Schuylkill River Development Corporation extending its riverfront park trail along the edge of the site, this area offers strong potential, but also great challenges. The competition gives students the opportunity to push the envelope on cutting-edge ideas for transforming brownfields of an industrial past into sustainable environs for a green future.

Entrants are encouraged to focus more broadly on the role of industrial sites in a modern city such as Philadelphia" is in the program section of this design criteria.

It's the new standard to bring the old abandoned industrial land uses - particularly oil extraction and refining - into a restored capacity to function within the natural ecosystem and contribute to civic open space. Cities have been implementing ideas like this for years, particularly Seattle and San Francisco. Los Angeles has begun its regeneration along the LA River. This competition provides a view of the information required to develop intelligent design solutions to this kind of a problem, although I have to say that it barely scratches the surface compared to the engineering and geotechnical work studies required to pull this off.

More and more agencies are putting these urban spaces out there for public problem-solving, and it's creating a great public buy-in as well as a refreshing way to capture new energies and ideas. As long as these requested ideas are credited where they're due, it's a great way to help build a vision that the big design and engineering firms can use as a starting point.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Can You Imagine?

As I've pointed out in earlier posts here and here, the US is heavily into funding armed conflict with our tax dollars that should be more wisely spent on our programs here at home that support the middle-class safety net as well as provide infrastructure repair and upgrade so that the US can meet the necessary global CO2 goals that are approaching very quickly. I've also mentioned the policy shift that's being carried out by our Secretary of State to shift funding from the military to climate change, now considered a security threat to the USA.

The USA is currently the top arms supplier to conflicts around the globe. This has everything to do with propping up corporations for now, like Boeing/Lockheed Martin, until they can shift to more peacetime production. Our tax dollars are not just going to banks and auto production, they're also being used to support global armed conflict, which drives national public policy. This is a major portion of US industry. The list of aerospace and defense companies is here. This whole thing doesn't strike me as an example of a capitalist free market, it's like a Monopoly game with the winner holding the money bag; no transparency or balance is possible with this kind of an old-boy network.

Many industry publications track this activity and stump via their government connections and lobbyists for further Federal funding for their companies; examples here and here. The DOD has an extensive website on their structure and armed forces organization, very helpful.

What if we spent these dollars not to fund war and conflict, but to heal the eco damage we've done and produce sustainable businesses and global community so that there are equitable returns for countries around the globe? What if we were in balance with natural processes? Could there be better return on investment here? Can you imagine?

But the room will have to be half-full of women...

Saturday, September 5, 2009


(the picture above is a link in real time to the UCLA TowerCam at Mt. Wilson, and it's aimed at the fire for now)

Well, here we go. Everyone's responsible for shutting off their faucets and sprinklers. Meantime, development expansion and paper water sales continue apace. The California Department of Water Resources is attempting to stem the abuses with a water management plan, but progress is glacial, to use a bad pun. Just like the legislature. A struggle goes on now in the state over the nature of water reform, and shifting it to a conservation-based structure rather than a plumbing problem focused on highest revenue.

Consume and buy. A directive issued by Bush immediately in the aftermath of the 9/11 destruction. A small problem appears, however. The jobs are gone, the big profits have dried up, and there's no financial reserves. California has already blown through a big chunk of its firefighting budget at the beginning of the fire season, another indicator of how overdevelpment and corporate supply chain to consumers (what happened to "people"?) has decimated the processes that provided a temperate climate, fresh air and adequate water to people in this region. This is mirrored in the global picture, as our human-inflicted climate change reduces the resources provided in nature, as well as its diversity.

Backlash to this arson-initiated destruction of the Station Fire has begun; I would expect that it will encompass the larger issues in the Southern California region very quickly. Hopefully it will result in a reaffirmation of the central importance of the natural environment in people's lives, and return the focus from profit to stewardship.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chill out the Planet

Wait a minute. Or a day, or a year, or a millennium. What are we doing here? Nature has worked for free for millions of years until the Industrial Revolution began to carbonize the environment, and the beginning of the century in 1900 ushered in the chemical pollution and waste that became pervasive in the subsequent World Wars and the conflicts after that. What drives all this destruction? Growth for profit.

Growth of civilization is not a force of nature, it's a characteristic of unrestrained population expansion due to the human intervention in natural cycles. Not to say that's completely out of line, but we've overrun the ecosystem with our lack of comprehension on how we should "fit" into our niche. Basically it violates the UN-adopted concept of sustainability.

This runaway growth of one species has mushroomed into a massive impact that must pull back significantly, with a restoration of natural processes in an intelligent fashion. Yet we now have a form of denial in the concept of re-engineering the earth, when we can't even keep our own systems going without massive costs or energy transfers. These untested and massive-scaled interventions address only one dimension of any given problem, when we really need to understand that we've unbalanced the system, which has to return to its "resting" state. These interventions are like any other "bubble" that we've produced financially, for example - they collapse. Some ways of returning to the balance are better than others, but they've all got to start with scaling back our use of the planet for single-purpose efforts. The BBC article on the feasibility of geoengineering the earth states this in its preface.

Sustainable development has possibilities, but hacking the earth is pure dystopian panic, and as Prison Planet points out, the US Government is already doing this on a dangerous and untested scale.

So chill out, everybody. A steady, focused multi-systems reversal of ecological damage is key to this problem that has been over 300 years in the making by human civilization. A forward push in new technologies in Net Zero design of reconstructed cities is another viable strategy, as is urban reforestation and ecological repair. All of which we would not be paying for now if we had forestalled the growth of human populations and its consumption much earlier. So we need to figure out how to get commerce and the corporations to pay back for all this. The clawback, as it were...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Station Fire Update from Home

Everyone now knows about the Station Fire just above Pasadena and its massive plume that hangs over Los Angeles, threatening the communications center of the region and its significant Mt. Wilson observatory, its historic Hale museum and Chara array. A view of it has turned up on the earth observation aggregation service, EOSnap, clearly showing the extent of the carnage from space. What you don't see is the horrific damage in the Angeles National Forest, local structures that have burned and the hazardous air quality that the region is experiencing as a result.

The EOSnap, an international web portal, describes its mission:
" We have been working in the field of earth observation for over 13 years. Even after all this time, I am continually surprised by how beautiful and varied our planet is. Every day, we generate photorealistic images from satellite data. I am lucky that this work puts me in the privileged position of observing the planet in great detail. EOSnap is meant to be a small window on our planet that allows all people to appreciate the Earth’s beauty and also, hopefully, a way of increasing public awareness on environmental issues so that such beauty can be preserved for future generations." Luca Mellano (Founder and CEO of Chelys) May 13th, 2008

This site generates worldwide photo documentation and mosaic photo assemblies of geographic earth scans, and is easily viewable. This creates a critical awareness of the scope of global environmental conditions, an awareness necessary to create a regenerative public policy in all nations for the survival of the ecosphere and, of course, human life.