Monday, November 29, 2010

A Glowing Light

As we begin the season of Advent, anticipating the light of a religious epochal event, we're at the threshold of our own great secular challenge. Democracy Now interviews Derek Jensen about his latest book, "Deep Green Resistance":

" the book, What We Leave Behind, what we came to for a definition of "sustainability" is leaving the physical world in a better place than when you were born, that the world is actually a better place because you were born.

A lot of definitions of "civilization" that we see are not really very specific, and the definition I like the most, which is defensible both linguistically and historically, is civilization is a way of life characterized by the growth of cities—once again, defensible both linguistically and historically. And a couple things happen as soon as you—well, wait. Back up. So that’s great, Derrick, but what’s a city? A city, I’ve defined as people living in numbers large enough to require the importation of resources. And what this means, that the Tolowa didn’t live in cities, because they didn’t require the importation of resources. They didn’t live in cities; they lived in villages, camps, and they ate salmon. They ate what the land gave willingly.

And two things happen as soon as you require the importation of resources. One is that your way of living can never be sustainable, because if you require the importation of resources, it means you denuded the land base of that particular resource, and as your city grows, you’ll need an ever larger area. And the other thing it means is that your way of life must be based on violence, because if you require the importation of resources, trade will never be sufficiently reliable, because if you require the importation of resources and the people in the next watershed over aren’t going to trade you for it, you’re going to take it.

And one of the problems with this whole system is that destroying your land base gives you a competitive advantage over the other cultures who don’t. The forests of North Africa went down to make the Phoenician and Egyptian navies. And if you destroy your land base, if you don’t care about the future, you can turn this into immediate power and then use it to conquer, and which is something you have to do, because you’ve destroyed your own land base. And as time goes on, you have to keep expanding. And that’s not a very good idea."

We're at the precipice of the immense ecological impact of the consequences of human consumption. I would hope that we can somehow change the course of our unwitting destruction and create a balance that provides for the regeneration of the ecosystem that gives us life.

So far it's been all take and no give. A Green Resistance could change this course.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bay Delta - the Details

Following up yesterday's post on the controversy surrounding the BDCP study, the Los Angeles Times published an excellent article, photos and map of the proposed peripheral canal. Click on the map produced by the LA Times to go to the complete story.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Shrinking Delta Pie

The Bay Delta water issues are coming to a head this week, with the release of a preliminary study of the Bay Delta water allocation now scheduled for final form at the end of the year, just before new Governor Jerry Brown takes office.

The preliminary BDCP is posted on the state website for the Department of Natural Resources. The proposal has been in development for five years and is finally being completed in draft form. Unfortunately, it is considered seriously flawed by a coalition of Northern California cities and agencies because of the inclusion of a peripheral canal which removes more water from the Bay Delta ecosystem. The consensus is that this ecosystem is already over-allocated, and there is disagreement about how this proposed canal (a holdover from the original state water plan that was never built) would affect the estuary. The Northern California groups contend that it's a Southern California water grab.

It's an issue that's been controversial for years, with protests from some of the stakeholders. The plan generally focuses on old engineering and dam technologies to pipe water around, as opposed to using natural systems to relieve the demands on the ecosystem. The Bay Institute, a member of the BDCP steering committee, publicly criticized the plan. The environmental organizations are at loggerheads over this draft, principally with the Westlands Water District .

According to the PCL Insider,

This week Westlands Water District (Westlands) issued a press release withdrawing its participation from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process. Jean P. Sagouspe, the President of Westlands’ Board wrote to the Department of Interior, "As a public agency, Westlands cannot continue to spend millions of our ratepayers' dollars on a project that is likely to deliver no more and potentially less water to the public than they are receiving today.”

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that diversions from the Delta must be reduced in order for its ecosystem to be revived. Although Westlands does not like the broad scientific consensus, they are beginning to realize that diversions will be reduced, not increased.

Westlands’ withdrawal does create the possibility that the other parties to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, including the yet-to-be appointed Brown appointees, will be able to develop a reasonable approach that will provide what everyone really needs, not just what some want.

It will be a special challenge for the new Governor to resolve these issues, given the support of the BDCP peripheral canal solution by Schwarzenegger, Feinstein, and the Metropolitan Water District. Once again, it will come down to big agency politics, water profits and a possible intervention by mother nature - her diminishing ability to provide sustenance to natural systems and the demands of human habitation. In the face of global warming, studies have shown that there are clear impacts that must be accounted for, as required by another state agency concerned with future statewide resources.

Left hand and right hand need to work in concert, and not confuse public policy.

Update Nov 29th:
SEC Should Investigate Westlands: The (Salmon Water Now) letter asks, how could the largest irrigation district in the United States with declining revenues, highly leveraged debt, an uncertain water supply, and few actual water rights, borrow $50 million in a bond market still reeling from the credit collapse of 2008? Add to this Wall Street mystery, the fact that the borrowing was to quietly finance the early phase and highly uncertain phase of California’s most controversial public works project--- the “Peripheral Canal” -- a massive project previously defeated by the state’s voters in 1982.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Gold to Green?

California is famously "the golden state" because of, well, gold in 1849. This kicked off a boom in mining, growth, development, agriculture, and settlement in a wild west that operated under a loose legal status. It was a place of new beginnings and great opportunities for wealth. This legacy of resource consumption drove tremendous increases in population, and sparked the Intercontinental Railway project that connected Sacramento to Omaha and five additional lines that were completed by 1893. California became legendary for its growth and development, and ultimately in the postwar period it became known for its missile and rocket production, aerospace industry and the developed technology for the atomic bomb. The subsequent explosion of babies, homes, cars and highways is legendary.

Yet California has always had a strong environmental streak and an affinity for wilderness preservation, as Kevin Starr points out in his sixth book of his "California Dream" series - "Golden Dreams, California in an Age of Abundance 1950 - 1963". Under Governor Pat Brown in the 1960's, a resistance to the massive growth pushing California into the position of the largest state in the union was already taking shape. The Sierra Club, led by David Brower, emerged as a leading force in the state's environmental movement.

Today, the issue has come full circle. California has reasserted its commitment to ecological sanity and sustainable habitation even as the population strains the resources of the State Water projects and saturates the highways, railways and transit lines with commuters and cargo. Urban and suburban development has sprawled across the state and created immense pollution and heat island sinks, adversely impacting the land, the water and the air.The statewide vote to retain its environmental regulations in this past November's election has unleashed some long-planned initiatives to turn around a state that's no longer golden and is on the brink of fiscal and infrastructure collapse.

The Governor has seized the opportunity to take the lead on global climate action by using the third Governors' Global Climate summit to introduce global leadership through the R20, a nonprofit incorporated in Geneva. This organization is a coalition of governments that plan to take leadership positions to expand the global green economy, create new green jobs and build commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Governor has issued a position paper on this commitment.

California is creating alliances with other governments and countries in order to accommodate global initiatives which will be discussed with recommendations, starting at the COP 16 meeting in Cancun, Mexico next month.The R20, while outside the United Nations framework, will maintain a close working relationship with the United Nations and play a complementary role. The Governors' Global Climate summit is being held in partnership with the UN Development Programme and the UN Environment Programme.

The hope is that science and economics will provide a synergism that will rapidly push innovation, business and production into a new direction of clean technologies and businesses in order to address the climate change that is upon us now. Lacking leadership in Washington, DC, California has decided to go for leadership in the greater environmental sphere, largely in the hope that the state can redress its increasingly out of balance political and fiscal structure while it rebuilds the promise of its postwar legacy.

It's a historic moment, as California reaches for the green.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Traveler

The experience of the authentic and the real is a crucially important aspect of adventuring in other countries, tasting their character, history and ways of seeing. Different places and people can teach one so much about the character and quality of everyday lives and of the culture, and ultimately, the way a country impacts the world in its exercise of policy and its shepherding of resources. In the Old World, these influences come from a timeline of history reaching back thousands of years, unlike our young country of the USA, dominated right now by commercialization and mass marketing. The fundamental synthesis here is that the environment (built and natural) is key to character of place and way of life, and establishes the framework for how a society succeeds or fails in its ability to sustain its existence.

In Croatia and Slovenia, the recovery from their wars of independence is underway with new governments and repaired structures, with a struggle to revive the production of agricultural resources and a marshaling of their ecological heritage. These values come through loud and clear as one travels up the Dalmatian coast, and it's delightful to talk with people about their lives, hopes and dreams.

An excellent series of articles is being published in Stratfor by George Friedman on the Geopolitical Journey, which delves into the exploration of the Eastern European countries around the Black Sea and their bedrock cultures and historical geopolitics. As he says, "Geopolitics teaches us to think in terms of constraints and limits. According to geopolitics, political leaders are trapped by impersonal forces and have few options in the long run." This means that political vision is shaped by culture and the land and its resources. Which hopefully leads us to the conservation of resources to the benefit of each society and its descendants, which is what sustainability is ultimately about. These countries are currently experiencing the consequences of war which drains life and vitality out of these regions, and takes generations to rebuild. Perhaps that makes their way of life so much more dear in the face of limited resources and counterproductive global fiscal structures.

Jared Diamond constructs the same thesis about the availability of resources across the equatorial land mass in his book, "Guns, Germs and Steel", and the impact that has on human history, which is the written record of human migration and conflict. The land and its configuration, resources and character have a direct impact on political structures through the availability of food, water, minerals and energy due to the unique way in each environment that its population has to solve the habitability challenges and food supply needs.

So it's important to experience and understand what these places and their resources are about. It helps us solve the complex problems that seem to be simply ideological or profit-driven, and get to the heart of the resource and land management issues that drive how humans live on their land and experience it, use it, and conserve it for future generations.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010: State of the World

"Like a tsunami, consumerism has engulfed human cultures and Earth’s ecosystems. Left unaddressed, we risk global disaster. But if we channel this wave, intentionally transforming our cultures to center on sustainability, we will not only prevent catastrophe, but may usher in an era of sustainability—one that allows all people to thrive while protecting, even restoring, Earth".

The most recent State of The World report has a new urgency, one that calls for a movement against the consumerism that threatens our global ecology. Following up previous reports, the World Watch Institute is an organization that calls for ongoing reform of capitalistic practices that do not burn up our global resources, and establishes benchmarks for achieving balance.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Part of the Solution

So we've overdeveloped ourselves into a climate crisis, now what? That's the major, major problem going forward for the entire world: how do we cut down our demands on a natural system that is crumbling under the weight of human habitation? One of the first steps, and the easiest, is to follow the lead of the IPCC guidelines and reduce the energy demands created by the built environment. This built environment accounts for nearly half of all energy and resource consumption, so it's the logical place to begin to reduce our impact.

Examples of this kind of approach are emerging in projects around the globe. They are projects that are moving towards "zero carbon" footprints in response to this challenge.

Architecture 2030 identifies that buildings are the problem, as well as the solution. It lays out a strategy of carbon reduction over time, with the idea that older, inefficient structures will be recycled or replaced with structures that minimize this carbon cycle in its construction, operation and maintenance. This approach is being most effectively implemented by three organizations, USGBC, AIA and Architecture 2030.

What kinds of development and building structure emerge from these requirements? Eco-Structure showcases three buildings that have completed the first full set of third-party audits for the Living Building Challenge from the International Living Building Institute. A slideshow of these buildings show a very sensitive placement in their environments, and these structures exhibit very simple use of materials and systems.

The approach to our human systems must be that they function in concert with natural systems, and that the entirety of our human systems doesn't exceed what the natural systems can support. We've passed that point with the cumulative extraction of coal, oil and gas, and must now move quickly to put this in reverse and live within the means of energy and water that can be sustainably used. The mindset has to change when the net demand of human societies is greater than the air, water and food sources that this planet can support. The mindset must necessarily shift from consumption to putting money in the bank and not eroding principal. The same thing every parent should be teaching their kids, but which capitalism pitched out the window in an overweening assault on people and ecology for little pieces of green paper.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Our Global Debt

This is not a financial article, but it could be. The parallels are famously congruent, as Thomas Friedman has emphasized repeatedly. The United States, in its aggregate, owes an immense debt to the developing countries of the world. Using the balance of measure of the ecological capacity calculation, the US has a footprint of over 150% of biocapacity. According to the Global Footprint Network, "This ecological debt is not equally spread. The report shows that over three quarters of the world’s population “live in nations that are ecological debtors – their national consumption has outstripped their country’s biocapacity. Thus, most of us are propping up our current lifestyles, and our economic growth, by drawing (and increasingly overdrawing) upon the ecological capital of other parts of the world.”

"The Ecological Footprint has emerged as the world’s premier measure of humanity’s demand on nature. It measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resource it consumes and to absorb its wastes, using prevailing technology."

The global consumption footprint now exceeds the capacity of the planetary resources by 50% and is headed towards 100%. Clearly, this is not sustainable and will have disastrous impacts upon the global systems that currently support life. Much of this is due to population growth and the concurrent industrial revolution that managed to magnify the resource demands while creating toxic pollution, first with coal power and then moving onward to manufacturing and oil-based industries that dumped pollution into the land, air and water that is now breaking down natural processes. In addition, there's the toxicity of building over and suffocating much of the natural landscape and forests that provided the "ballast" against this destructive activity for several hundred years even after being diminished by thousands of years of human habitation.

This doesn't even begin to address the climate change that is increasing the volatility of weather, inflicting flood and drought throughout the globe, eroding the stability of existing resources. We're in a very dangerous vise right now, of our own making, and unless we pull together as nations and people and devise constructive ecological strategies through technology and communication, I don't see a positive outcome to this. The laws of physics and systems will kick in, and we all know what happens when human societies fight over a shrinking pie.

The clear solution is a very, very rapid response to correct these issues of carbon production (energy sources), pollution and trash production resulting from inefficient processes which dump toxins in the middle of what should be a complete cycle of deconstruction and reuse. Some of these strategies are beginning to emerge, for example, as the 2030 Challenge, exemplified in the ICC Code, to achieve zero carbon in construction in 2030, in the building sector - which consumes more energy than any other sector.

This strategy runs in concert with reduction of the physical human footprint with highly efficient structures and a restoration of natural habitats and biodiversity. It means that human societies will have to do more with much, much less. It means we will have to decide what "profit" really is, and demand actual real value for whatever it is we do to come back into balance with the natural world that provides us with life.

I hope we have the will to do what has to be done, before systems start collapsing around us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Walk Through a Land of Water

WATER HYMN - Plitvice Lakes from Greenwave on Vimeo.

This is Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, a stunning series of lakes and falls that are cascading down the verdant hills at the center of the country,
near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The lakes are situated on the Plitvice plateau, between two mountains The sixteen lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster formed by runoff from the mountains. The lakes collectively cover an area of just under a square mile, with the water exiting from the lowest lake to form the Korana River.

The Plitvice Lakes lie in a basin of karstic rock, mainly dolomite and limestone, which has given rise to their most distinctive feature. The lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is deposited by the action of moss, algae and bacteria. The encrusted plants and bacteria accumulate on top of each other, forming travertine barriers which grow slowly each year. The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colors, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colors change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight. The lakes are divided into the 12 Upper Lakes (Gornja jezera) and the four Lower Lakes (Donja jezera). The Plitvice Lakes national park is heavily forested, mainly with beech, spruce, and fir trees, and features a mixture of Alpine and Mediterranean vegetation. It has a notably wide variety of plant communities, due to its range of microclimates, differing soils and varying levels of altitude.

The serpentine boardwalk is an amazing experience, no handrails, and winds endlessly through the falls and lakes. There is just no other place like this one, and the area is largely unspoiled as well as full of wildlife in the forested area. Croatia is recovering from its war of Independence from Yugoslavia in 1995, as are other former Baltic states, and are preparing to enter the European Union. One governing principle of this country and others are a commitment to sustainable existence and preservation of the natural ecosystem. Further south in Dalmatia, the country is struggling to re-establish olive, lavender and wine production in the rocky soils of the islands. The intent is to establish eco-tourism as well as promote the well-known resort areas of Dalmatia and its historic remains of the Roman Empire, the Venetian occupation of Dalmatia, and the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The government is taking these steps forward with great care, and exhibits a commitment to its own culture and history. In this sense, it's not a "third world" country, its approach is a conservative one that does not want to embrace an urban lifestyle as a source of investment and development, or create massive engineering projects for its infrastructure. It has an extremely rigorous historic preservation ethic in its existing towns and cities, and is seeking to repair and reinforce its heritage.

Makes me want to start over in the US when I see the dysfunctional urban and industrial landscapes around our country; the endless roof farms. And we've never even been bombed like most of Europe. We just trash the land and then keep moving's all "immediate profit" and very little planning for effective sustainable use of the land by the community, which pays off in the long run.

I'm beginning to sound like a European Socialist!