Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It Deepens Us

The traditions and hopes of the Advent season are upon us again. We look to the future with an enhanced understanding of our place this world and the burdens we're placing on it. Enlightenment comes in the shape of science, history and ethics.

As we forge a path forward in the changing global future, we'll necessarily have to make a conscious shift in our values and cultural patterns, which have outraced the capacity of this new Eaarth that we now inhabit to sustain our unthinking consumption. Our resources as a global society will have to be put towards repairing the damage of climate change, as well as ongoing efforts at ecosystem restoration. But this won't be easy. To cite the linked article:

The countries that are most powerful and most addicted to fossil fuel aren’t ready to come to terms with it. You can’t really have an AA meeting while everyone’s still in denial. In each of the last three years, Exxon Mobil made more than any company in the history of money. That may give them enough political power to keep the U.S. in denial for years to come.

Here in the US, we're the key to unlocking a sustainable future. A commitment by the people, the businesses and ultimately the corporations are imminently necessary to change this course. We've seen what economic collapse has done to the world, and now the ecological systems are being pushed to the same brink. Hopefully we've learned something from this first collapse, so as to correct our ecological course through the power of human networks and a deeper connection to the natural world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eyes of the World

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael K├Ânig on Vimeo.
Every once in awhile a reminder surfaces about the importance of intelligent data in understanding the things that we're doing on our home planet. The International Space Station, currently marooned without adequate US funding or a Space Shuttle program, relies on the European Space Agency to keep the research platform aloft and functioning. As this video shows, it provides a way of opening our eyes to a vital understanding of how our planet works, and the effects of human habitation have had on it over the last few hundred years. It's also part of a network of earth satellite systems that provide not just information, but communications and earth studies that are critical to our industries on earth.

As a joint project with Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada, it represents a collaborative model as well as a potential alternative methodology of developing an on-orbit infrastructure for lunar settlement and mining, as well as Mars exploration. It could be of the biggest elements of a strategy to deal with climate change management and new resource extraction that doesn't affect our planet. Moving some of the industrial and energy activity to orbital and lunar facilities avoids carbon pollution as well as moving the focus of global attention to an exciting and dynamic strategy that creates partnerships and generates wealth for participating countries. It creates a larger frame of reference that puts resource and water conflicts on this crowded planet into perspective, thus helping us solve the problems on earth as well. It presents us with the alternative model of "many futures" rather than just the old military grandstanding of the one-shot deal space race.

An article published in the December issue of Scientific American lays out an incremental approach to developing a Mars mission, published by two scientists from JPL. It has great diagrams of how to make the incremental process work for a Mars mission, which involves multiple feedback loops, recycling of materials that steps out of the gravity well into an industrial space infrastructure that supports many kinds of futures that we couldn't possibly envision now. The article (preview only) is available online, the meat of it is in the published magazine or digital subscription.

The information and technologies involved with multi-platform satellite earth observation data can be critical drivers of a new on-orbit infrastructure that serves clean industry and technology. Then you can truly benchmark cause and effect, provide a science-based methodology for dealing with the water, agricultural and resource extraction activities that we are now facing from climate change. Growing this infrastructure gives industry a place to expand and push the leading edge in all kinds of sciences, and escape the limits of gravity and resources that our planet necessarily imposes on us in the unforgiving laws of physics: cause and effect.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Memoriam: Scott Wilson

I wanted to note the passing of a good friend and a gifted teacher who cared about people. His leadership by example with a passion for restoring the earth - by getting his hands dirty and teaching people of all ages how to care for the natural world - is unsurpassed. It's rare that you see that kind of single-minded focus on a goal that grows into many pockets of nature cared for by so many hands, and which has changed the public dialogue about what resource-challenged neighborhoods can do for themselves.

Scott's favorite story of how he got started planting all those trees was the one he told on his wife, Clarli, and he's got her saying, "For better, for worst, but not for lunch, go," instead of laying around the house after he retired from teaching horticulture. As a result, he committed himself to planting five trees per day for the rest of his life. And he well exceeded his goal, too, and created North East Trees in the process.

He tells his own story about how he got started by rounding up people, donors and resources to plant a stand of trees at Occidental College back in 1989. Then North East Trees grew into a topnotch creator and builder of people's parks, with bioswales and self-sustaining landscaping along the LA River, including the Oros Green Street Project, the first in Los Angeles, and Steelhead Park. It appropriated grants to build these parks and get the residents involved in regenerating their neighborhoods while directing water back into the aquifers.

The expertise built up by Scott, and the design and planting teams he fostered, delivered very high-quality projects to these neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles, adopting Best Practices and Low Impact Development strategies that are now part of the regulatory standards for the city's project planning and design guidelines. He did his own projects, too, like a greywater system installed to water landscaping through the dry summers.

Scott's story goes on for many chapters, but I will best remember him for his absolute values of caring for life and for people. And he could be tough about it, and realistic in the face of extreme adversity, but he almost always managed to carry the day. And came out in the end of it with a lot of friends, no matter what.

I have learned much from him and will miss him.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Warlords R Us

“Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.” – 1992 Rio Declaration.

With all the talk about climate change and environmental disasters, one major issue seems to have skittered under the radar: the endless propensities for war due to tribal conflicts, formal wars and terrorist activities as defined under Homeland Security regulations. War is the most hideously damaging enterprise of all human activity, and we now have the Military-Industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about in high gear all over the globe.

In particular, the environmental impact of war is devastating.This page has a war timeline that examines the destructive impacts of wars over the last century, and you'll notice that they have escalated significantly in the last 20 years.

From the Learn Peace site:

The earth’s environment is battered by war, its preparation, practice and aftermath. It is destroyed as an act of war; it is used as a weapon of war; and its destruction is expensive and sometimes irreversible. Its integral involvement with war is often secret, widely ignored, and easily forgotten – until now.

Now, some people are beginning to talk and listen. Some people are beginning to act. There is a treaty to ban landmines now. There are moves towards tackling the problems of nuclear waste and weapon stockpiles. There is a growing global awareness – with charters to prove it – that war has created consequences which cross boundaries and ignore territories. Natural disasters are costly enough; the cost of war damage is much higher. Even if politics don’t achieve change, economics might.

Corporatocracy has fueled this unending war strategy for profit, and is now complicit in the global encroachment into human rights that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems. Democratic rights even in the US have been eroded as corporations buy police departments with their "donations" to these public instruments of government, and turn them to squelching public outcry against corporate control of government and finance. Corporations fomenting war and weapons of repression (from artillery to guns to financial wealth transfer from sovereign nations and citizens) have become bigger than many countries. A step in the right direction would be massive disinvestment in corporations like Halliburton, Boeing, Rockwell, Northrup Grumman, Blackwater/Xe and this list of war profiteers. Another important step is to increase transparency of corporate money flows and extinguish the corporate shelter tax havens so that corporations carry their share of supporting governments operating under the rule of law, which reduces global systemic risk as well.

The point is, of all of our strategies to combat climate change and achieve sustainable habitation on this planet, ending conflict and repression is the biggest sledgehammer in the toolbox. Corporate influence in this out-of-control war machine must be removed. We've got to make this issue a priority as we pull back on carbon emissions and learn to live within the energy budget that will pass a healthy world onto future generations.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reinventing Fire

"Imagine a world where carbon emissions have long been steadily declining—at a handsome profit, because saving fuel costs less than buying fuel; where global climate has stabilized and repair has begun; and where this planetary near-death experience has finally made antisocial and unacceptable the arrogance that let cleverness imperil the whole human prospect by outrunning wisdom."

--Amory Lovins, Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Scientist; August, 2007

In 2004, when the Rocky Mountain Institute released "Winning the Oil Endgame", Lovins received funding from the Pentagon, the world’s largest oil buyer, to outline a plan for making the United States oil-free through the use of modern technology and smart business strategies. “We’ve had a remarkable consistent vision of the kind of world we are trying to help create. Our current statement of that is a world thriving verdant and secure for all forever,” he said. “And the best way we know to do that is to create abundance by design. That is, turn scarcity by in-intention into abundance by design. By using a different kind of design called integrative design, to achieve very large savings of energy and resources.”

The Rocky Mountain Institute has now come blazing out of its corner with a new vision to move the world off of the fossil fuels that have become so destructive to this planet and the carbon emissions that are creating this climate instability and acidifying the ocean. They've come out with a book that outlines the very effective and immediately doable things that can be done about our situation in a constructive way and that are also a path to profitable businesses. This amplifies existing efforts to deal with the damage inflicted by destabilizing climate change.

So in solidarity and support, I dedicate this post to the Rocky Mountain Institute. Get involved in a sustainable future; it's the only thing that matters now.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's Real

Spent the weekend at a conference sponsored by the Claremont School of Theology and the Center for Process Studies, among others, called "Brave New Planet, Imagining Ecological Communities". The headliner and main plenary speaker was Bill McKibben, author of "Eaarth" and the climate change activist who recently led hundreds of people to get arrested in front of the White House during the massive D.C. protests against the Keystone oil pipeline project. Now that catastrophic climate change is actually occurring at an accelerating rate, the question is whether real people will act responsibly and decisively to pursue ethical outcomes in the face of what is sure to be widespread and unprecedented suffering.This conference is particularly timely in response to Richard Muller's "Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST)" that just recently has verified that climate change is accelerating even faster than initially projected, much to the dismay of the climate deniers who hired him, the Koch brothers.

If one looks at the global oil consumption charts we have now (above) which is, along with coal, a main driver of climate change due to the release of carbon, it's quite obvious that the United States is by far the major producer of climate change. And if one further checks out the projections for oil and other fuels in the Energy Outlook published by the US Energy Information Administration, you can see that out to 2035 this only increases as energy demands rise.

If we're already into an uncontrolled ecological collapse (McKibben), how can this continue? Some answers are emerging in the form of eco-communities and campuses such as the Oberlin Project. Self-sustaining communities that don't consume lots of energy are one response in moderating the built form. Regeneration of natural processes and landscapes go hand-in-hand with highly efficient structures.

Other responses come from the global engineering profession, ahead of December’s COP17 climate change talks in Durban:

“While the world’s politicians have been locked in talks with no output, engineers across the globe have been busy developing technologies that can bring down emissions and help create a more stable future for the planet.

“We are now overdue for government commitment, with ambitious, concrete emissions targets that give the right signals to industry, so they can be rolled out on a global scale.”

In other words, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The Rocky Mountain Institute has come out with an entire 6-point program for immediately reducing the carbon output of human civilization as we try to stabilize our energy use. They emphasize that it's a synergistic approach that involves many strategies in concert with each other.

Since the world governments are not taking the lead on the collaboration and regulation that's desperately needed in order to bring these emissions and habitations into alignment with the earth's ability to support human activities, it's become apparent that people will have to take things into their own hands and just begin to take the initiative to tackle these problems. Some of the ideas for this kind of action have been presented in very humorous and inventive ways, such as Greg Craven's sequence of videos on the subject. They're snarky, smart and creative. He's clear about addressing the need for policy changes and immediate action in his latest video, particularly because of the accelerating climate destabilization we're now seeing.

So, it's real. And so is the need to move very quickly into a new vision of sustainable life for this planet.