Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Confluence of Harmonics

We live within an incredibly dynamic and unique planetary structure; it's actually a remarkable dual body that has created the cycles of life on this planet from which life, and ultimately humanity, arose.

Isaac Asimov's "Tragedy of the Moon" is a collection of non-fiction essays on science. The second chapter, The Triumph of the Moon, points out how the earth-moon dual system created the conditions for evolution of life due to the tidal forces it generated. Asimov also describes how made it possible for the development of mathematics and science; it created the conditions for humans to transcend Earth and conquer space.

This dual system has the effect of not only a dynamic of the two bodies, but creates a planetary stability that allows for a regular seasonal variation that influences the evolution of plant life with strong, repeating cycles of warmth and darkness over the course of the year. These stable and repeating cycles are among the drivers of evolution.

For example, on Mars there are indications that the North Pole was actually warm enough in the recent past for water ice to become liquid. The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter, or MRO, used radar pulses to peer beneath the surface of the ice cap. These data reveal that the ice, just over a mile thick, formed in a succession of layers as the climate alternated between warm and cold.

Our planet avoids mood swings like this in part because its spin is stabilized by a massive moon. Mars' spin is not, so it can really wobble, with the pole tilting toward the sun for long periods. New observations by the MRO spacecraft show that these wobbles can lead to dramatic releases of CO2, and warming periods due to an increase in the greenhouse effect.
The earth itself is also a changing structure, with the landmass expanding on tectonic plates over the millennia, moving and shifting in the seas as they balance out over the globe. This is driven by the molten core of the planet as well as the gravitational tides created by the earth/moon dynamic. This progression is animated here. This has transformed the ecosystems with the creation of massive mountain ranges and subduction zones that create startling and unique life forms and feed the ocean's creatures with upwellings of nutrients. The variety of life thus increased in range and structure.

As life evolved out of the seas while the plants terraformed the atmosphere with oxygen and captured CO2, the system developed the anti-entropic qualities that supports all life. Since its creation 4.5 billion years ago, it has evolved into highly complex ecosystems that interact in tremendous diversity to produce an abundance of life. A brief timeline is here.

We've been here for but a relative nanosecond of earth's history, yet have managed to rapidly bring its ecology to the brink of destruction with the reduction of forest cover, the diminishment of the natural processes and the dumping of formerly sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere. Our failure to understand the uniqueness of our planetary system and its harmonic properties is leading us, and the life that has evolved over millennia, to a bleak conclusion.

Carbon emissions have drastically impacted this planet before.
National Geographic recently ran a report, “World Without Ice,” on a period 56 million years ago when, relatively suddenly, huge amounts of carbon flooded the oceans and atmosphere -- about the equivalent amount, scientists suggest, to “the total carbon now estimated to be locked up in fossil fuel deposits” on this planet. The Earth heated up drastically, turning life upside down. This interval of global warming that scientists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum lasted 150,000 years before Earth reestablished its equilibrium, with different ecosystems and species in place.

If we can move swiftly to understand these living systems and work within them, perhaps this conclusion isn't inevitable. Otherwise, as the article states,
tens of millions of years from now, whatever becomes of humanity, the whole pattern of life on Earth may be radically different from what it would otherwise have been—simply because of the way we powered our lives for a few centuries.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Great Turning

All is not lost. US global warming emissions are headed lower in the near future, and much lower if strong implementation of the EPA guidelines is in effect, thanks to environmental regulations now in place.

While the current session of Congress has seen attempts by the big corporations and special interests to water down the EPA, there is a growing resistance to this attempt to erode the standards that address climate change. The anti-environment votes taken by the House include 20 votes to block actions to address climate change. These include votes to deny that climate change is occurring; to block EPA from regulating carbon emissions from power plants and oil refineries; to block EPA from regulating carbon emissions from motor vehicles, which also reduces oil imports; and even to eliminate requirements that large sources disclose the level of their carbon emissions.

But there is a counterrevolution brewing. An example of the framework proposed for corporate responsibility in the realm of equitable economies is laid out by the New Economy Working Group. It envisions an economy in which life is the defining value and power resides in people and communities. It contrasts with the popular New Economy 1.0 fantasy of a magical high-tech economy liberated from environmental reality and devoted to the growth of phantom wealth financial assets, the current state of affairs driving the corporate effort to roll back EPA standards.

Its main proponent, David Korten, has established a forum for dialogue on moving the world's economy forward into a truly sustainable business model. His proposal for changing the existing economic model calls for building a money/banking/finance system of local financial institutions that are transparent, accountable, rooted in community and dedicated to funding activities that build community wealth and meet community needs. The proposed system will look quite similar to the one that existed in the United States before the wave of financial deregulation that began in the 1960s.

Since the basis for the old industries has proven so destructive to our social and environmental well-being, it's necessary to move ahead with a new model that regenerates our resources even as it provides the growth potential that businesses require to be profitable. We're running out of "earth" to consume, so we're at the turning point of managing our resources and developing ways to restore natural processes, by creating new economic models that work for the benefit of all of us, not just a small few at the top who can't see into a future that works for the next generation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shards of Hope

The days of intense focus on the WTC memorial have concluded, and what remains is to sift through the shards of hope remaining after a decade of our country's self-destruction in the name of revenge.

The WTC Memorial disappoints. This memorial amounts to a hole in the ground, a blank nothingness, a relevant metaphor for the Great Hole in our country's policies and the lack of respect for democratic process and transparency in government. This site has been about immense greed and unthinkable evil. That hole is robbing us of a vision of renewal and life, which is a fundamental necessity for the kind of regenerative work that must be done in our physical environment. The vision initially proposed was one of life, renewal and that of greater horizons filled with light.

So how do we move on from here? Turn around and look up, with a renewed commitment to restoring the processes of the natural world that give us life. There are ways to use economics of rebuilding cities and repairing nature that produce cycles of renewal for nature and humanity. The engagement of the people, the corralling of resources that exist and can be reintegrated into cities that foster creative ways of living, establishment of Natural Capital benchmarks, can all be accomplished with a greater vision of how living environments increase in depth and complexity, building on itself year after year.

Storm Cunningham has outlined a process for civic revitalization that goes deeply into ecology and economics. His book, Rewealth! is an outline and a case study of cities that have started revitalization around their dying port cities, specifically Chattanooga, Tennessee and Bilbao, Spain. To cite the book:

Revitalization programs differ from renewal projects in three key characteristics:

DURATION: A program is ongoing, or very long term, whereas projects normally have end dates measured in months, or a few years;

SCOPE: A program addresses the entire community or region, whereas a project normally focuses on a specific property or asset;

PURPOSE: A program has softer, harder-to-measure goals, such as inspiring confidence in the community's future (to attract investors, employers, and residents), reversing a decline, raising quality of life, enhancing overall environmental health, etc. A project's goals are usually more tangible, such as attracting a particular employer to a particular site, widening sidewalks to make a downtown more pedestrian-friendly, etc.

Mr. Cunningham has also established the Revitalization Institute to help other cities develop these P3 partnerships and keep them alive with renewal vision and renewal culture. There is also a RevitalizFORUM for the discussion of the integration of resources to do these processes.

This process of engagement, focused on life and its meaningful expression, can take these shards of hope and bring them fully into a regenerative vision that restores our world to us, rather than the destruction that the old industries and extractive energy sources have wrought on our planet. Mr. Cunningham's presentation at TEDxMidAtlantic 2010 is a 22-minute presentation of his material on how to restructure our vision.