Monday, December 22, 2014

Music for Generational Change

The music produced on a violin has, for centuries, been expressed through classical composition and techniques.The long history of music since the violin was invented in the early 16th century in Italy reveals how a variety of musical interpretations have evolved on this instrument. It continues with modern compositions today.

Instruments of approximately 300 years of age, especially those made in Italy by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, are the most sought after instruments (for both collectors and performers). The Ave Maria (Bach - Gounod) clip above is performed on the ex-Napoleon/Molitor Stradivari Violin.

There has been an effort, examined on this website from a French violin maker, to illustrate the charted climate variations during the last 600 years with a violin. The composition expresses the graphics of the rising global temperatures in an intuitive movement showing this progression using an electric violin. It's a direct evocation of the changes experienced on this planet through the sonic rendition of the historic temperature cycles.

The expression of harmonic scales and integral ratios of the octaves underlie a deeper understanding of the structure of music that explores the fundamental behavior of all other materials and living things and their relationship with the interconnecting energies of the physical world. It's the sonic mathematical equivalent of quantum physics and the geometry of shape, size, relative position of figures and the properties of space, just as colors are a song in light, seen across the spectrum as a rainbow.

It's all harmonics.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Sixth Year - The Rains Came

A dent in our drought, thanks to the Pineapple Express that developed suddenly in December, has appeared, and our gardens and hills are beginning to revive in the rain. The high-pressure ridge over California that prevented the storms from coming in has apparently dissipated.

"We've had a few weather systems come through," said Leslie Wanek, a meteorologist in Salt Lake City at the regional headquarters of the National Weather Service. "But it just keeps rebuilding there. It's kind of a mystery about why. Why is the global atmospheric pattern stuck like this?"

This resilient ridge has actually altered the geography in California, and has displayed some unusual warming in the local weather, based upon computer simulations.

Using these climate model simulations, we found that the human emission of greenhouse gases has very likely tripled the likelihood of experiencing large-scale atmospheric conditions similar to those observed in 2013.

This rainy season is just a small dent in this long-term drought, and we need a lot of rain to recover. Groundwater reserves throughout the state are drastically depleted and need years of good rain to recover.

The climate change that has heated up the atmosphere apparently contributed to the lessening precipitation all across the globe, it's not an isolated phenomenon. That, along with the increased human consumption and pollution of rivers and waterways, is a recipie for stressed landscapes and scarce water. While our public policies around the world have moved towards "resilient design" to cope with this new climate, it's imperative that we rapidly take the steps necessary to reduce emissions to zero before climate change becomes irreversible.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Foreshadowing

This Advent season, we will have the gathering of world representatives for COP 20 in Lima, Peru in order to forge a consensus on the framework for a global climate agreement to be finalized in December 2015. Last September there was a preliminary UN conversation in Washington, D.C. along with several parallel conferences and the People's Climate March taking place worldwide. One notable presentation for the Club of Rome was a presentation by David Wasdell, the Director of the Apollo-Gaia Project which is part of the Meridian Programme in the United Kingdom. It was called, "Beyond the Summit,Sensitivity, Target Temperature & the Carbon Budget".

In the presentation, Wasdell is adamant about the clear and present danger of our current global carbon emission path: 

It is now abundantly clear that limiting temperature change to 2°C cannot be achieved by emissions reductions on their own. There is no available carbon budget. Emissions must be reduced to zero in the shortest possible time and the existing stock of atmospheric greenhouse gasses must be drastically reduced. Moreover, the 2°C target has been set far too high and must be lowered from 2°C through 1.5°C to a mere 1°C in order to avoid dangerous climate change, and comply with the global commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In conclusion - Ending the Addiction: an Inspirational Challenge

This is therefore a call for global transformation. It is a call to break free from our addiction to fossil energy. It is a call to break free from the fossilized slavery at the very heart of human civilization. We must end fossil slavery now. That is the imperative of the strategic agenda.

This conclusion that we have already exceeded our carbon emissions budget under which we have a habitable planet is grounded in Wasdell's systemic calculations of the global sensitivity factor, which has been omitted in previous IPCC calculations and studies along with the feedback mechanism from arctic melting. He takes a very deterministic stance on this factor, sounding the alarm on its critical importance in the climate picture as well as its omission from the models used by the IPCC.

Wasdell notes in an earlier paper that the IPCC models are minimally computed in the AR4 report, and this remains uncorrected in the AR5 models recommending the 2°C upper bound, estimating the 2.6 RCP scenario of a remaining 250 Gt C carbon emission budget. The IPCC AR5 report does state that the Climate Sensitivity factor is important, but it lies within a range of consensus. So Wasdell's position is that the budget really needs to be at zero as soon as possible, setting that point at about 2050; therefore the current models are horribly in error and will only produce a lethal future scenario for our planet if they're adopted in Paris at COP 21. The Precautionary limit should be 1°C to allow for the probable overshoot in accomplishing this goal. That is merely a path on the way back to a safer level of 350 PPMV for the atmospheric concentration of carbon which should be established by 2100 if we want our civilization to continue.

The further path - back to the natural atmospheric carbon concentration of 280 PPMV - that we experienced prior to the Industrial Revolution in 1800 is a task for our descendants (if we have them) in the next century beyond 2100.

The practical reality is that these agreements don't forge the necessary action. Historically, the goals recede in the face of economics and pragmatic local policies. According to Rob Stavins, the Paris agreement could provide a post-Kyoto framework that finally gets the world on track for an eventual climate fix. “The way to judge the negotiations coming out of Paris is whether or not the structure is a sound foundation for meaningful long-term reductions.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Way We Were

When the ecological alarm bells had started going off in 1999, we had anticipated that there would be a worldwide engagement in the reduction of pollution, carbon emissions and consumption of resources. At that time, the architecture profession was engaged in a dialogue about how to live on the earth more responsibly and mindfully, as the article above from The Architecture Review attests (click to enlarge). Our atmospheric concentration at the time was at 367 PPMV, and the weather had not yet begun to destabilize. This was in the decade before the limit of 350 PPMV was declared by James Hansen of NASA and became a focus of the 2009 UN COP international climate treaty.

These hopes have been dashed by the corporate sector that controls the US Congress, particularly the fossil fuel industry, as well as the governments of India and China in the chase for extreme energy development. The chart below shows how the emissions accelerated instead, resulting in the recently begun polar melting and collapse, as well as the disastrous climate impacts that we're currently experiencing.

California, in particular, has become an extreme case of climate change impact, as the NASA GRACE satellite photos show below. One can only imagine what the US Congress can be thinking as the US attempts to disrupt the climate agreements coming up at COP 20 in Lima and COP 21 in Paris so that the US, China and India can continue to spew carbon into our ecosphere and complete its destruction.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Different Take On It

 Just for fun, looking at it as a spiral vortex. Part 2 of this video is here.
There's a critique of it, too. And then, another view:

This is a Venus-Centered view of the Earth:Venus:Sun cycle where 8 Earth-Years equal 13 Venus-Years with 5 Venus:Earth 'kisses' [apogee-moments] during that time. The music is the first movement of the Trio for Viola, Clarinet and Piano [wr A Meyer; performed by Rusen Gunes, Bob Hill, Amanda [?] at the 'Purcell Room' on London's 'South Bank' July 1985.

We're taking the long view now because of the Global People's Climate March, September 21, 2014, across the planet. It's a disruptive campaign, meant to focus attention on the need for immediate action on drastically reducing carbon emissions by all countries.

This is ahead of the UN Climate Summit in NYC, September 23, where Countries have agreed on the need for a meaningful, robust, universal, legal climate agreement by 2015. The Secretary-General is convening the 2014 Climate Summit to mobilize action ahead of 2015 and to increase political will for greater action and ambition.

It forces us to look beyond the short-term and destructive view of our civilization and planetary ecosystems, and understand that we're part of a harmonic whole. It's the only way to forge the agreements that will allow the regenerative cycles to take hold.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Case Study

In the photo above, W.G. Nye and Loy E. Moore, owners of the Peerless Incinerator Company, display their inventory of backyard incinerators as they hear reports of banning all incinerators. "We're convinced we're being made the goats for some other industry," said Moore, Oct. 20, 1954. Incinerators were finally banned in So Cal on Oct. 1, 1957, and people had to tear them out. Then the trash collection industry went into business, bigtime. Previously only food garbage was picked up. This was before electric garbage disposals were installed in kitchen sinks and changed the habits around food waste, as well.

A very complete article is here, and you'll find the history of trash, going forward, here.

By 1956, Los Angeles County had started to phase in trash collection in areas where incinerator use was being phased out. A total ban on incinerators was in place by October 1, 1957. Thus the death of one industry, backyard trash incineration, gave birth to a massive new one. The public safety issue of pollution in the Los Angeles basin had trumped the "politics as usual" around the smokestack industries because of the obvious pollution impacts on human health and the environment. This legislative route to zero is a good precedent for the methodology that will be needed to phase out fossil fuels in order to get to zero by 2050.

The practical impact of going to zero on fossil fuels will require a layered system of "zero points" on carbon emissions for various fuels. Based upon the weight of carbon emissions, it's necessary to phase out the heaviest fuels first as the transition is made to renewable and zero-carbon fuels. The carbon limits on fuels can be layered so that the most rapid cutbacks are mandated by zero emissions per fuel type by weight of carbon. This can be a VERY effective system in the management of the convergence of emissions if they're adopted globally, based upon a system such as Contraction & Convergence, with the contraction year set at 2020.

For example, in the scenario where the global budget is equitably distributed at RCP 2.6, the "zero year" for these fuels are established as 2020 for coal, 2025 for fracked gas, 2030 for oil, and 2050 for natural gas. The other fuels, wind/wave/solar/geothermal/hydroelectric/algae/ethanol, have no zero date, and thus are the targets for long-term investment strategies.

Setting up a rough chart for this, the height of the carbon emission bar chart of carbon per unit of energy is taken from the EIA page.

What this does is tell the global industries and investors the timeline allowed to taper to zero for each fuel under RCP 2.6 so that we don't exceed 2C in our ecosphere; this is the stability needed to get off of carbon sources and move to clean energy with exceedingly rapid investment and development. So the chart for the convergence sequence implementation starts to look like this. The rapidity with which the carbon is reduced is quite revealing, and using sequential zero years shows that this can be very effective, just as it was in Los Angeles in the 1960's and '70's and the air began to clear significantly.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

California on Eaarth

The map above outlines the basic water supply issue in California. It's a massive system of hydraulic engineering developed since over 100 years ago to bring water into the drier areas of the state. While it supplements groundwater supplies and rainwater, it's a system that has been aging in an increasingly dry climate. There's much higher cost for this processed water, vs. the groundwater via wells; this is the expensive State Water Project (California Aqueduct via the Bay Delta) and Colorado River Aqueduct, which import water over huge distances. Los Angeles also has its own aqueduct from the Owens River.

Increasing water needs rely upon rebuilding and renovating the levees in the Bay Delta in order to prop up the heart of this aging water system in the state of California, which is vulnerable to drought and earthquakes. This year the State Water Project has limited allocations to nearly zero as the drought impacts water supplies.

Farming operations get the majority of the water. California agriculture uses about 80% of our water but provides only 5% of economic output. Humans drink less than one gallon of water per day, but livestock consumes up to 23 times that amount of water a day per animal, according to a North Dakota State University study. That’s a huge amount of water to keep millions of animals alive.The ongoing drought and shifts in federal policy are only making water more expensive. The ag farming practices of flooding vast tracts of rice fields and almond trees for export have also become unsustainable, according to the California Progress Report, basing it on subsidized water to the detriment of California's environmental and economic future. This has created a political and environmental issue around the Bay Delta.

So, finally after a couple of political cycles, the legislature has produced a new version of a water bond to address some of these issues, after subtracting lots of Steinberg pork at Jerry Brown's behest. The new version of the water bond approved by the legislature for November ballot excludes previously proposed water tunnels in the Delta. Because of these complexities, and the massive groundwater depletion resulting from these earlier practices, Sacramento is also developing regulation of underground water for the first time, so that wealthy corporations can't drain a common aquifer that supplies many different cities and farms. The wild, wild west has finally been tamed.

Many cities are now looking beyond groundwater, surface water and imported water, and are developing reclamation systems for existing water. This is a relatively new and very expensive approach to making up for the lack of snowpack and rain in this new climate. It's also affecting the building and development industry, since new subdivisions can't go in due to lack of water supplies, which are already vastly oversubscribed. The Los Angeles DWP and the region is looking at water recycling projects:

"The Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, which supplies wholesale water to 1 million residents, is planning a recycled water project to recharge the basin with 10,000 acre feet a year of recycled water. An acre foot is equal to the water used by two families in Southern California per year.The $50 million to $75 million project would move treated water from the Sanitation District’s San Jose Creek Water Reclamation Plant in Whittier eight miles north to existing recharging areas that feed the porous San Gabriel River. It would reduce dependency on imported water by 25 percent, said Shane Chapman, USGVMWD general manager."

This follows a global trend for desalinization and water recycling, and it's changing the water business and the resource management practices necessary to conserve the dwindling water supplies. As a result, cities all up and down the coast are planning to install desalinization plants.Santa Barbara is planning to revive a plant that was previously decommissioned after the last drought ended. The Carlsbad desalinization plant is under construction just north of San Diego. Sand City in the Monterey Peninsula has built a desalinization plant. Huntington Beach is developing a desalinization plant as well, and Orange County has been recycling water since the 1970's.

Because of this current drought, which is a 100-year event that could last for several decades, California is now facing the biggest challenge the state has had since before it was founded in 1850. Critical cooperation between the water agencies and big users will have to take place. Climate change has come home to roost.

Update 9/08/14: Delta Stewardship Council Seminar -  Expanding desalination capacity along the California coast raises a variety of environmental, social, and economic questions, many of which are not fully answered.

Update 9/25/14: The Associated Press reported the area’s regional water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, could be without reserves by early 2016

Update 12/14/14: from KQED Science:  How California’s Water Rights Make It Tough to Manage Drought

Update 1/12/15: The California Drought: Who Gets the Water and Who's Hung Out to Dry? Photoessay from EarthJustice

Update 1/19/15: Chronicling the drought, LA Times

Update 4/24/15:  Drying Up: The Race to Save California From Drought, Newsweek

Update 7/20/16: California Water Fix - Paying for the Delta Tunnels. At Capitol Weekly's Water 2016 Conference, a panel discusses the fiscal impacts of the California Water Fix

Update 7/30/16:  Recently, the Sacramento Bee invited Jeffrey Kightlinger, General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District, to talk about the California Water Fix

Update 8/1/16:  Public review for new tunnel diversion points ahead in 2017

Update 2/11/19:  The Bay Delta and Statewide Planning Processes Resource Library.

Update 4/29/19:  Governor Newsom directs agencies to prepare a water resilience portfolio

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lead or Follow?

Our profession holds an annual conference, this year in June at the AIA National Convention in Chicago. Ed Mazria, Founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, delivered the keynote address 'Design! Life Depends on It'. The 20-minute video lays out the blueprint for a carbon-free and just built environment by 2050, reviews the progress made in the building sector since issuing the 2030 Challenge in 2006, and outlines the critical role architects and designers must play in securing a livable future.

His organization, Architecture 2030, has the full support and endorsement of the National AIA. His challenge amounts to saying that the buidling industry must assert leadership in rapidly reducing carbon emissions. This position is important because the building and construction industry represents about 70% of urban emissions.This includes the emissions related to building these structures as well as the shipping, hauling, service delivery and maintenance involved in maintaining them, in other words, the local transportation sector and the building management industry.

As one of the myriad strategies available to reduce carbon emissions, it can represent a critical means of moving early and swiftly to make the transition to a clean economy, implementing carbon reduction ahead of global emissions agreements.

Update 8/14/14: From Architecture 2030 - Architects to phase out carbon by 2050 as declared at the 2014 UIA  General Assembly in Durban

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rape Pillage and Burn

California's record drought has been making the news, and its images from NASA have gone viral (above). It's the result of a long-term shift into drought conditions, exacerbated by climate change. However, the unseen tragedy unfolding beneath our feet is the groundwater dessication that's been happening over the years as water has been extracted by wells for urban areas and agricultural use to compensate for growth and development that exceeds the normal capacity of the local aquifers. This is partly because water laws in the western United States are based upon the Homestead Act instead of common law. At this point, the ground beneath our feet has literally no moisture in it, and our trees are beginning to die. This is what a long drought does to natural systems, and it's made exponentially worse by the groundwater retreat throughout our southwestern watersheds.

The groundwater level in the San Bernardino Basin area is at its lowest point in recorded history.That would put it below the previous low recorded in 1964, a period that followed a 20-year drought. A study now reveals that the Colorado River Basin drying up faster than previously thought.In the past nine years, the basin — which covers Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California — has lost about 65 cubic kilometers of fresh water, nearly double the volume of the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead. That figure surprised the study’s authors, who used data from a NASA weather satellite to investigate groundwater supplies.These groundwater supplies take a century to recover, if ever. As our drought deepens, this situation takes on nightmarish proportions as farmers begin to drill ever deeper to save their unsustainable crops, going far beyond historic well depths.

The grimmest part of this picture is the unregulated fracking that's now taking place in California, since it was allowed starting back when the EPA was restricted by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that excluded hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act’s Underground Injection Control’s regulation. The Bush administration was very interested in supporting companies like Texas-based Halliburton in its rape, pillage and burn model. California farmers are alarmed as energy companies outbid ag water districts for resources, the most obscene aspect of the fracking issue. Millions of gallons of groundwater are polluted and used up while agriculture and urban areas go dry. Out-of-state, (primarily Texas-headquartered) energy companies with deep pockets from record profits and the strongest lobby in Sacramento are anxious to extract as much severance tax-free California oil from the ground as quickly as possible.Anticipating that a Democratic two-thirds majority could finally mean an end to their decades long free ride they spent so much political action money achieving, not just Exxon/Mobil, but Texaco, Chevron and British Petroleum are all outbidding agricultural water interests by a 3-to-1 margin.

The California water market has been roiled with skyhigh prices. Some water economists have called for more regulations to keep aquifers from being depleted and ensure the market is not subject to manipulation such as that seen in the energy crisis of summer 2001, when the state was besieged by rolling blackouts caused by the Enron (Texas-headquartered) electrical market manipulations before its scheme imploded.The prices are so high in some rural pockets that water auctions have become a spectacle. For example, the California-based wine industry is fighting to maintain its resources of clean water against these petroleum companies.

Meantime, the California regulators have not seen fit to exercise their oversight of fracking, specifically the Division of Oil and Gas of the California Department of Conservation, probably for longstanding politcal reasons as well as a lack of awareness of its impacts. What has been considered a "bridge" to clean power is actually a "green" road to hell.

Some of many nonprofit groups working with residents to stop fracking in this state are Clean Water Action and the The Environmental Working Group. They act as public advocates to try to shut down the fracking formerly regulated by EPA oversight. They are assisted in cause by the larger national groups such as Earth Justice, the NRDC, and the Sierra Club.

As a result of this unprecedented challenge, a coalition of water districts has formed to manage California's groundwater, known as the Association of California Water Agencies. Their Director says "there is a nervous consensus in the water management world that we have to bite this bullet and deal with the groundwater crisis. There's a lot of angst, but no one is saying don't do it. Our position has astounded a lot of people."

Let's hope for all our sakes that the guys in the white hats win.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


This pictogram, presented at a municipal building industry conference in Los Angeles this April by DNV-GL, reveals a growing concern about climate change by the insurance and reinsurance industry.

This company, along with the big reinsurance corporations that handle the majority of global risks undertaken by companies, cities and countries, is educating its clients and investors about the increasing vulnerability of physical assets and human welfare to the volatility of climate change events. The largest companies, Munich Re, Swiss Re, Berkshire Hathaway/Gen Re Group, Hannover Re Group, and Lloyd's of London are all addressing this progression in risk exposure in their public and private communications. Munich Re, for example, lays out the possible dynamics of the upcoming El Nino oscillation this year.

The oscillation in and of itself isn't unusual, but the increasing average surface temperature is, which creates more disruptive events in the weather. These factors are becoming more critical in human habitation, and so the entire building and planning industry is affected, requiring more resiliency in architectural design, urban planning and industrial systems. As NOAA has documented, the entire planet is rapidly becoming warmer. This drastically impacts food and water supplies for an overburdened planet.

These damages are becoming a major factor in the costs to provide all products and services, not only reducing profits, but actually creating negative economic growth by mid-century. This is the actual, real damage that will be inflicted on the planet as carbon emissions continue to heat up the planet.This is driven by the atmospheric carbon concentrations which are increasing rapidly now, potentially moving into an irreversible runaway cycle because of the increasing natural methane emissions from a collapsing arctic environment.

This issue is more comprehensively covered in Mark Schapiro's LAT Op-Ed piece, "The Carbon Taxes We're Already Paying", and reviews the risks and damages that have been accumulating over the last decade or more because of externalized costs being borne by the public. He points to the $2.5 trillion annual environmental costs which are not accounted for in corporate profit and loss statements.

We're facing an unprecedented problem that the world must decisively deal with very soon, and fortunately other global players besides the oil hegemony are now coming into the mix. The twentieth century should not be allowed to make a wasteland out of the 21st.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lets Frame It

Our world is facing a crucial point of decision making as a civilization, in that climate change must be grappled with very soon, before we enter an irreversible environmental collapse because of our carbon emissions.The graph above shows rather simply that we've almost burned up the entire safe budget of emissions to stay under 2C temperature increase from 1750.

The US Congress needs to support the US participation as signatory to the global climate agreement at COP 21 for carbon emissions. The agreement is scheduled to be finalized via the UNFCCC in December of 2015 in Paris, France. There is a Key Drafting Step in December 2014 (COP 20 in Lima, Peru).

1. This is necessary because we are facing a global climate emergency due to excessive carbon emissions.
2. This deeply impacts every citizen, country and corporation on the planet, thus the US must be present, given its extensive presence in policies and economies of all other countries.
3. The UN is negotiating a total carbon budget with the world; it should be the smallest carbon budget on the table, a precautionary approach. Based upon the preliminary total Absolute Limit IGPG UNFCCC IPCC allowed REMAINING carbon budget of 250 Gt C emitted since 2010 to keep global temperature increases under 2C, it is necessary to allocate future emissions goals to each country. Best estimates are that we have already burned through most of the 1 trillion ton budget overall i.e. going back to ~ 1800 budget and face the necessary implementation of a rapid reduction of carbon emissions to avoid dangerous climate change.

4.The UN is negotiating a rate of carbon reduction with the world based upon equity and fairness with zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is important to agree on a neutral equity framework rather than ones that require damages from richer nations. The US must be at the UN table to defend an equitable framework instead of fighting a "damages" framework like GDR.

"Developing nations see [damages] as a way to underline the fact that the rich have burnt most fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. Rich nations say it would take too long to figure out, and that blame is constantly shifting. A related idea by developing nations to ask the IPCC to examine historical responsibility for causing global warming, as a guide to future action in sharing out emissions, is also a minefield at the Warsaw talks...Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, said it would be disastrous to try to apportion historical blame."

Frameworks that attempt to address this by incorporating a GDP formula are bound to fail because of the arbitrary nature of that metric.It's already outdated as a basis for a true measure of economic value because it ignores damages and risk and relies on growth. This would be the GDR framework as well as others that import arbitrary GDP formulae that distort the emissions budget allocations along economic lines to the point where the first world countries are pushed into "negative emissions" and will therefore never agree to or comply with such a framework. Carbon doesn't disappear from the environment because you pay money to someone.

One framework that works fairly is Contraction and Convergence, by GCI. It is based purely upon the science of carbon impact on global climate and resulting concentration of atmospheric gasses. We must return to a carbon level of 350ppmv in the atmosphere for a safe climate; we are now at 400ppmv, according to global carbon emissions measurements.

5. Leadership is necessary in Congress to achieve these ends. Ways to accomplish the carbon reductions to meet our agreed emissions goal are:
  • Economic - Carbon tax, remove fossil fuel subsidies, increase subsidies for non-carbon energy sources and technology development. Corporate accountability.
  • Resources - Move rapidly to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, wave technology, hydropower, earth-bio, geothermal, algae fuels and close obsolete power plants
  • Human habitation and buildings - Zero carbon in new construction by 2030, adapt existing structures and recycle all materials, incorporate water collection in native landscapes
  • Agriculture - reduce wasteful watering practices, immediately shift away from oil-based fertilizers and toxic pesticides, shift to appropriate crops and reduce meat production
  • Technology - Rapidly evolve efficient power grids, new ways of power generation and storage, efficient public transportation, electric vehicles
  • Carbon absorption - protect existing natural lands and watersheds with conservancies, regenerate forest lands and wetlands, shrink human habitation. This is absolutely necessary to restore atmospheric carbon to the 1990 level of 350ppmv.
A graphic demonstrating how these can work in concert is here. It's all do-able, and can generate tremendous global revenue, but the need to forge consensus has become urgent, and all of us must be at the table to achieve a global climate agreement. Nothing else really matters any more.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Gross Domestic Product

What is it? Why is everyone using this failed metric? What is this rubric that assumes infinite growth of production and population is rational and sustainable? Why does it ignore the price of risk? Why does it only look at the supply side? Does it even make sense?

John Perkins puts it succinctly: Today we have what can only be described as a global Death Economy – one based on militarization and ravaging the earth’s resources. It is a feudal system that harks back to medieval times – the Dark Ages – but on a far grander scale. A very small portion of the human species, the corporatocracy, represents the lords of the castles; the rest of us are their serfs.

It's time to leave GDP behind as a measure of purely market transactions. It ignores social costs, environmental impacts and income inequality. The GDP was born in the shadow of World War II. During the war it was used as a strategic index, as important as the allies' battlefield conquests. It was developed in 1934 by the economist Simon Kuznets for the U.S. Department of Commerce. But it was in Keynes’s master work, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” that GDP figures met their ultimate destiny. The statistics he had wanted developed for the purpose of wartime planning became the building blocks of modern macroeconomic policy.

So it has nothing to do with the actual fiscal state of the global economy, it's a compilation of statistics that show roughly "how big" the materialistic extractive resources are. Note that the stock market shows huge moves on merely social media now, tech companies that make no profit go out in IPO's worth billions. Google and Facebook are just the first. As warfare moves into cyberspace, more and more dollars are attributed to digital infrastructure and the value of information (not things). Entertainment and virtual interaction/communication by people, driven by the digital industry, generate huge value and are expanding exponentially; the takeover of media channels by the Kochs and the Murdochs show how critically important that is to capturing value by steering public information and opinion in order to leverage political power.This yardstick also excludes the work and productivity of nonprofits and NGO's, especially churches. None of these entities are required to disclose finances, yet they influence huge numbers of people and are emerging as big players on the world scene.Their human capital is uncounted.

Then, of course, there's the vast financial corporate assets that are now offshored and are larger than many countries. They're not being held to account in the global calculation of responsibility for damages as a result of their international activities. Much of the supposed real wealth is thus being held off of the official books, distorting the GDP metric.But the sheer scale of the measurements suggest what a grossly inadequate measure traditional gross domestic product actually is when it comes to telling us meaningful things about a society’s sustainability and well-being.

Therefore another metric has to evolve that reflects the true state of this world and its people. Harvard business professor Michael E. Porter, who earlier developed the Global Competitiveness Report, designed the Social Progress Index (SPI). A new way to look at the success of countries, the SPI studies 132 nations and evaluates 54 social and environmental indicators for each country that matter to real people. Rather than measuring a country’s success by its per capita GDP, the index is based on an array of data reflecting suicide, ecosystem sustainability, property rights, access to healthcare and education, gender equality, attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, religious freedom, nutrition, infrastructure and more. It's astonishing to see the different view of the world that emerges from something like this.

We need to understand our world far better so that we can see what we're really doing to it, the resources and its people. It's the only approach that will let us address the enormous ecological and political issues facing us now.

Update 7/25:  Robert Rubin Echoes Robert F. Kennedy: GDP Is Fatally Flawed Measure Of Economic Health

Update 5/30:  Krugman's Growthism, by Herman Daly

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Time to Act

In a new op-ed in the New York Times on June 21, Hank Paulson says he's seeing the same systemic stresses that nearly brought down the banking system, and which led to the Great Recession, are playing out in the global climate. He makes a call for action on all fronts in order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of emitting more carbon. To quote his op-ed: "We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked." He cites the Risky Business report, a bipartisan project backed by three former US Treasury secretaries, that sets out estimates of the potential costs of problems such as flooding caused by rising temperatures and higher sea levels.

"That means the decisions we’re making today — to continue along a path that’s almost entirely carbon-dependent — are locking us in for long-term consequences that we will not be able to change but only adapt to, at enormous cost. To protect New York City from rising seas and storm surges is expected to cost at least $20 billion initially, and eventually far more. And that’s just one coastal city."

Its aim is to move the debate in the US, which has become characterised by partisan divisions, into a more practical assessment by business and political leaders of how to manage the risks posed by climate change. The study looks only at the US, and only at potential costs, rather than possible solutions.The project is chaired by Hank Paulson, who was Treasury secretary under President George W Bush; Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York; and Tom Steyer, the former hedge fund manager turned environmental campaigner.

Mr Paulson, who was chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, between 1999 and 2006, and then led the US administration’s response to the financial turmoil of 2008, drew a parallel between climate change and the “failure of risk management” that led to the crisis. “We are experiencing a climate bubble,” he said. “In the run-up to the financial crisis, we incentivised lending. Today we are encouraging the overuse of fossil fuels.”

A June 8 article discussing this in the Financial Times also reveals that the analysis, based on work by Rhodium, a consultancy, and academics at Rutgers and Berkeley universities, attempts to calculate financial values for climate risks including flooding and storm damage, heat-related deaths, working hours and energy demand, broken down by state and locality. Because of the large uncertainties involved in predicting both how far temperatures will increase and what the effects of those higher temperatures will be, the estimates of potential damage come in wide ranges.What turns up in many of these estimates is that the greatest potential costs come from flooding in Florida and Louisiana and heat-related deaths in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.

Back in 2012, tracking the hottest year on the planet at that time, the Daily Kos outlined the destructive path of climate change and raised the alarm that the US is ground zero for climate change in the southern part of the country. This is due to the carbon emissions that are forcing temperatures into extremes not seen before, and we are rapidly burning into the remaining "safe" budget of total carbon emissions:

"What most U.S. politicians and the the political junkies here don't understand is that the U.S. is ground zero for climate change. Most of the additional heat from global warming is going into the oceans and the north Atlantic is taking up the most heat of all the world's oceans. That heat is moving the big high pressure north and east towards Europe. That shift of the high pressure dries out the western and central U.S. Our bread baskets heat up and dry up."

California Senator Dianne Feinstein has expressed her awareness of this issue in her public missive earlier this month in "A Time to Act", emphasizing that legislation must be set into place immediately to address the dangers ahead of us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Art of It

The reverberant song of the natural world is rising through the arts and music now; it's becoming overwhelming. A story that stands out among many is that of Zaria Forman, who paints with her fingers in pastels. Her work often has underlying environmental themes. For example, the piece above was part of her Maldives series where she wanted to promote awareness of the Arctic polar melt that’s causing rising seas. This comes via the story of her mother:

My mother, renowned artist Rena Bass Forman, dedicated her life to photographing the most remote regions of the earth and was inspired by Bradford’s journey. The cold and isolated landscape of the Arctic consumed her interest for the past ten years. She created her own series of journey’s entitled Chasing the Light and the Greenlandic expedition is the third in the trilogy. Her work from her Arctic trips have been compared to 19th century photographers John L. Dunmore and George Critcherson who were on Bradford’s expedition.

It's called "Chasing the Light". She is currently leading a historically contextual art expedition in the Arctic in honor of her mother who passed away in 2011:

Continuing the story of polar melt, which is the main cause of rising seas, I followed the meltwater from the Arctic to the equator. I spent September 2013 in the Maldives, the lowest and flattest country in the world, collecting material and inspiration to create a body of work celebrating and representing a nation that could be entirely underwater within this century. Two award-winning artists who participated in the Greenland expedition Chasing The Light joined me in this venture: Painter Lisa Lebofsky, and director, filmmaker, and actress Drew Denny.

During our month on the islands, we shared the concept of our project with children on the islands, inviting them to document their homeland as it transforms throughout their lives. The children can use their creativity to continue spreading awareness while inwardly processing the ecological transformations surrounding them.

I hope my drawings will raise awareness and invite viewers to share the urgency of the Maldivians’ predicament in a productive and hopeful way.  I believe art can facilitate a deeper understanding of crises, helping us find meaning and optimism amidst shifting landscapes.

Another artist, Daniel Crawford, came up with a completely different approach. He’s using his cello to communicate the latest climate science through music. Crawford used an approach called data sonification to convert global temperature records into a series of musical notes. The final result, “A Song of Our Warming Planet,” came about following a conversation Crawford had with geography professor Scott St. George during an internship. St. George asked Crawford about the possibility of turning a set of data into music, and this is the result.

In an urgently collaborative effort in the first few months of 2014, over 120 musicians and poets participated in The Climate Message; creating and submitting short video clips that combined moments of astonishing beauty with calls to action on climate change.

Google Doodle asked kids, grades K-12, to draw an invention that would make the world a better place for their 7th annual Doodle 4 Google competition. The winner, Audrey Zhang, invented a transformative water purifier. It takes in dirty and polluted water from rivers, lakes, and even oceans, then massively cleanses the water into clean, safe and sanitary water, when humans and animals drink this water, they will live a healthier life. Tragically, we see here a child frantically trying to save her own world.

These have become the voices of the New Environmentalists who are engaging hearts as well as minds, with the courage to challenge the status quo and go forward with beauty and light in these dark times.

Update:  On June 22: Bearing Witness To The Climate Crisis — Welcome To Our Festival Of Song And Sound!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I'm copying an outtake of a section from an urgent report by the David Suzuki Foundation for the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency study that calculated emissions trajectories for industrialized countries based on the “contraction and convergence” scheme, in which national per capita emissions converge starting in 2012 until they are equal in 2050.

This scheme is based on the equity principle of equal per capita rights to emit. Industrialized countries’ emission reductions by 2020 are quite similar to those in the “multi-stage approach,” but the reductions by 2050 are significantly more stringent.

3.3 No time for delay

Climate change is a long-term problem: the impacts are (for now) appearing gradually,and the emission reductions needed to limit the impacts will take a few decades to achieve.This is because the reductions are very large and are constrained by feasible turnover rates of capital stock such as industrial facilities and transport infrastructure.The long-term nature of the problem, combined with the scale of the efforts needed to solve it and a perception of little immediate electoral benefit from taking action,can deceive decision makers into thinking there is little or no urgency about initiating deep emission reductions. This is a grave error, as well as a failure of leadership. First, more attention needs to be paid to the wide range of climate change impacts that are already being observed. Some of these are already spectacular, especially in the Arctic (see Section 2.2).

Second, the reality is that the emission reductions needed are so large that if they are not initiated immediately by enough countries, the lower levels of stabilization of GHG concentrations will become, for practical purposes, impossible to achieve. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency study cited in Sections 3.1 and 3.2.1 examined this question and found that if the US and developing countries take no action for two decades after 2012, stabilization at even the highest level considered in the study – 550 ppmv CO2e – would require the other industrialized countries to reduce their emissions by about 90% between 1990 and 2025.36 Even if unlimited international emissions trading allowed such countries to meet a 90% emission reduction target by paying for reductions outside their borders, this would clearly not be politically feasible, even if it were economically feasible.

The same study considered another case where the US merely limits its emissions to the 2000 level by 2025 and where developing countries take on emissions intensity and then absolute emissions targets much more slowly than for the results reported in Sections 3.1 and 3.2.1. In this case, the other industrialized countries have to reduce their emissions by about 50% between 1990 and 2025 for stabilization at 550 ppmv CO2e, by about 60% between 1990 and 2025 for 500 ppmv CO2e, and by almost 100% between 1990 and 2025 for 450 ppmv CO2e or lower. Again, emissions targets such as these are not politically feasible.

Given the scale of the required reductions in emissions below 1990 levels – let alone below business-as-usual levels – any economically rational (cost minimizing) strategy will immediately initiate an emissions trajectory that leads to deep reductions. A key finding of the International Symposium on the Stabilisation of GHG Concentrations, convened by the UK government in February 2005, was that “even a delay of just five years could be significant. If action to reduce emissions is delayed by 20 years, rates of emission reduction may need to be three to seven times greater to meet the same [global average]temperature target.” It is virtually certain that such dramatically increased rates of emission reduction will carry a high price tag.

As noted in Section 2.1.1, the national science academies of the G8 countries plus China, India and Brazil, have made the same point: “Failure to implement significant reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions now, will make the job much harder in the future.... We urge all nations ... to take prompt action to reduce the causes of climate change.”

If, on the other hand, decisive action is not initiated immediately, as capital stock turns over decisions will continue to be made to invest in infrastructure with potentially enormous GHG emissions and operational lifetimes of decades. Abandoning such infrastructure before the end of its normal lifetime is then very difficult as it leads to large capital losses for investors.

It is also pertinent to recall here the argument presented in Section 2.3.2, that optimal(cost minimizing) behaviour in light of the uncertainty in “climate sensitivity” is to pursue lower concentration objectives than would be optimal if there were no uncertainty because the risk of incurring the high costs of delayed action to correct to a lower target, after the uncertainty is removed, outweighs the costs of early action. Or, as it was put in the UK government study accompanying the Energy White Paper (Section 3.2.1), “‘burn now, pay later’ is a high risk approach.”

This only further reinforces the urgency of initiating deep emission reductions immediately.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

City of the Angels

City Lights - Los Angeles Timelapse from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

California has become a key player in the climate change dialogue here in the USA, and Los Angeles provides a main stage for the Obama administration's current west coast fund-raising tour for the DNC.

President Obama was in LA on May 7 for a fundraiser at the home of the chair of Walt Disney Studios, and hundreds of people from the environmental group mobilized to greet him and say Keystone is Goofy! Outside the fundraiser, this group rallied in opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. San Diego 350 contends the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to Texas for refining, will increase greenhouse gas emissions and worsen the impacts of climate change.

Obama has delayed a decision on whether to approve the project for several months. Meanwhile, in the Senate, a bid by supporters of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline to force a vote on the controversial project fell apart Wednesday amid partisan bickering over how the vote should be conducted.

Obama began his trip in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening headlining a joint fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the Bel Air home of Disney Studios head Alan Horn, according to an online invitation. He then headed over to the 20th anniversary gala for the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation, an institute for visual history and education, hosted by Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg where he was given an ambassador for humanity award by the organization’s founder Spielberg.There, he made some interesting comments about the limits of his influence in the presidency.

On Thursday Obama heads to the San Jose area for several additional events to raise money for the DNC. One of them will be hosted by Y Combinator President Sam Altman and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, according to an invitation posted at the Sunlight Foundation’s website. 

Continuing the White House’s focus on climate change this week, the president will cap his California trip with a speech on energy efficiency Friday morning in San Jose, where he will stress the importance of partnerships between the public and private sector to reduce carbon emissions. The entire administration campaign has been focused on an incremental approach to reduction of carbon emissions, with the strong partnership of California and its key cities. Having just released the key National Climate Assessment yesterday, the administration is building strong financial and political support for this platform, which is that climate change is already happening and that drastic action is called for.

 May 10 Update:

A video and transcript of the State of the Climate presentation from The White House is available. Participants include the US Global Change Research Program which houses the National Climate Assessment. This program is now affiliated with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House. They are working in concert with NOAA to prepare US citizens for the destructive effects of climate change. They can be reached at #ActOnClimate

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day of the Earth


A video produced by UNIFY, subtitled "A New World is Being Birthed" focuses on a timestream of key global ethical movements from 1941 to the present. is a platform created to support organizations and people who are organizing Global Synchronized Movements of good in the world. It is a social networking outreach and organizational platform focuse on overarching global ethical issues. was birthed on December 21st, 2012 to serve the self-organizing emergence of intentional events, flash mobs, meditations, ceremonies, and prayers on that day. Millions of people at sacred sites around the world aligned their expressions of consciousness and participated in a historic moment of global unity.UNIFY’s vision is to provide a sacred mirror reflecting back to humanity its inherent state of unity regardless of nation, race, politics, color, creed or gender.

This Earth Day was the time and place for their global synchronized meditation upon Love Water. It's about hope and action in the face of the overwhelming evil of ecocide and environmental degradation by the economic and political forces emanating from fossil fuel development and extraction over the last 200 years. Do we, as inhabitants of the earth, stand by while life is decimated in the name of control and power?

Rabbi Jeffrey Newman is a UK Earth Charter member, and is an advocate of an equitable framework for a global climate agreement. His essay, Hannah Arendt: Radical Evil, Radical Hope in the Berghan Journal, Volume 47, Issue 1, 2014, European Judaism, addresses this issue: "The world is facing a multitude of interconnected issues, leading to avoidable starvation, poverty and death for hundreds of millions. Is Arendt’s concept of the ‘banality of evil’, which she adopted in preference to Kant’s ‘radical evil’, applicable here? Are we bystanders, addicted to ‘growth’? The paper considers the central role of thinking and, with the help of Greek myth and Nietzsche, the relationship between evil and hope. Finally, there is an emerging concept of ‘radical hope’. What is this, could it be of help and how would it connect with Judaism’s teachings of the Messiah?"

A response to this, by Peter Head, Executive Director of The Ecological Sequestration Trust, on January 21st 2014 engages this question of radical hope. Their purpose states:

Our priority is to develop a network of ‘at scale’ demonstration projects that each encompass city-regions of up to 5 million citizens in China, India and an African country and link them to parallel regional activities in two European centres.Through our Advisory Board and network of partners, we aim to bring together leading local and international experts to catalyse and implement evidence-based action in a network of high-ambition, large-scale demonstrator projects in selected city-regions across the world. The Ecological Sequestration Trust (TEST) was formed in 2011 to demonstrate at city-region scale how to create a step change in improving energy, water and food security in the face of the combined challenges of changes of climate, demography and increasing resource-scarcity. To quote Mr. Head:

"Radical Hope is very relevant. Radical because dealing with the severe problems requires serial cutting edge innovation in the integration of previous disconnected decision making processes-it has never been done before.

Resilience is a good general goal and we have to learn more about what it means in detail as we go but the UN SDG process is doing that right now. The current development of UN post 2015 SDG’s will be sufficient to define the resilience goal I think. It brings together world leading thinking from all the sectors. The concept of resilience is important because it means the solutions have to come from within society and not be imposed from outside if they are to succeed. Hope is the theme that comes through my engagement all over the world with many people, with the most common reaction being that the approach has hope and is inspirational."

Even as the world seems to be careening towards self-destruction, it's possible for its people to calmly stand against the unfolding events and consciously choose a different path towards life. The strength and resiliency needed to do this is immense, but humanity has prevailed before in spite of terrible odds.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Day of Reckoning

This last December, a definitive paper was published by James Hansen and his colleagues that effectively shows why carbon emissions must stop immediately in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, and that most likely even one degree of change in the global temperature is not safe, let alone the two degree change currently on the table for discussion by the UNFCCC for a climate agreement.

A review in a recent article of the urgency of the situation emerging from scientific study is sobering. The diagram developed in this article is based upon information published in Science magazine showing an assembled curve known as "the wheelchair", which is a temperature chart that tracks the historic carbon levels precisely. It's documented with lots of other science measurements in a Climate Change summary and update page being maintained by Guy McPherson.

In order to show the essence of the situation that we're in, and anticipating the decision that the world will need to come to in December of 2015 in Paris, I've appended the diagram to lay out the kind of future that we'll be effectively deciding on, just to clarify the issue. As you can see, human civilization emerged and flourished over 10,000 years during a time of very benign conditions consisting of a balanced ecosystem with abundant plant and animal life. This ecosystem was fairly self-regulating in that the carbon was balanced by living systems. That mechanism is nearly gone now, having been decimated by human habitation. We are now creating a new mass extinction, wiping out countless species. On top of that, the carbon spike we've created is pulling a massive trigger, and the system now has a minimal capacity to balance and is beginning to wobble. The Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine is now tracking these climate anomalies on a daily basis.

This spike in carbon that shows on the chart is unprecedented - its rate of increase is faster than anything in the total record of geological history. Before humanity existed, the carbon and temperature had periods where these conditions existed, but these changes ocurred over thousands of years, not in the extreme spike of the 200 years of our industrial age. The atmospheric carbon was absorbed and trapped by the ecosystem which ultimately balanced out after the last ice age.

The astronomically rapid release of heat and carbon by human activities, which this planet has never seen before except during extinction events (there have been five) is triggering catastrophic climate anomalies that are destabilizing a very weakened ecosystem that no longer has any reserve capacity to absorb the shock.

The IPCC's AR5 fifth assesssment report, Part 2, has just been released, and their consensus is that we're experiencing an already dangerous impact on the global climate. A summary of the high points is here. A video from this report - Working Group II - Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, goes into further depth on their perspective.

The responsibility for a solution lies ahead of us in Paris next year, and it simply consists of an equitable global agreement on emissions by all countries that rapidly cuts back on all fossil fuel use. As a strategy, all countries need to enact policies and laws that will enable them to arrive simultaneously at the agreed-on goal of zero emissions. Large and rich energy consumers will need to curb their energy use faster than the poorer countries. The poorer countries will not be asked initially to make large sacrifices but must agree that they will strive to reach zero carbon emissions at the same time as everyone else. Rich nations  will assist them so they do not have to sacrifice their social or environmental goals but poor countries need to understand that they will be held accountable and not exempt from the unified global effort. Without this concerted global effort the strategy will fail, and there won't be much left to do about it.

Even then, we're probably out of time. From Climate Code Red:  After 30 years of climate policy and action failure, we are in deep trouble and now have to throw everything we can muster at the climate challenge. This will be demanding and disruptive, because there are no longer any non-radical, incremental paths available.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Winds of Change

It feels like I'm no longer screaming into the wind. Last night 28 Senate Democrats held an all-night session presenting the myriad points about the need for climate action, livestreaming on C-span. These are the members of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, headed up by Bernie Sanders, and taking the policy cue from the President's Climate Change Action Plan, upon which he has based some executive actions.

The discussion basically went through the IPCC AR5 report point-by-point, establishing that there is a global emergency that must be addressed quickly and forcefully. These Senators have been working for months to craft a position that will allow legislation to be passed by the entire legislature in future sessions. It needs to be a bipartisan effort, and they spoke at length about that issue. They decried the partisanship that has arisen around climate change, which is a legacy of the collapse of the Democratic legislative efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

A significant plank in this legislation would be phasing out the fossil fuel subsidies, a point raised in the discussion. The International Energy Agency estimates that the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies – which amount to more than $500 billion every year globally – would lead to a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below business as usual by 2050. These subsidies, which incentivize emissions, sadly dwarf the paltry incentives to reduce them. Free marketeers, small government advocates, and others who dislike distorting government subsidies should be appalled at the tax money poured into fossil fuels.

The stakes for the entire world have never been higher. Rebecca Solnit describes the magnitude of global climate change, and how it now literally threatens our existence. Yet we continue to fiddle away...

Documentation of this session from the US Congressional Record is here.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Zero in 2050

Feldman Architecture
A 2005 Governor's Executive Order and 2006 statute establish GHG reduction goals and mandates for California. The Climate Action Initiative (Executive Order S-3-05, June 2005) set the following GHG emission reduction targets for California: by 2020, reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels, and by 2050, reduce GHG emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels.

This is in general alignment with the evolving global GHG emissions reductions currently being negotiated at the international level, with an agreement expected in January of 2015. In so doing this, California is at the forefront of dealing with US emissions reductions strategies and implementation.

California's new energy code - Title 24 - is requiring that all new residential buildings be net-zero in terms of emissions by 2020 and all new commercial buildings be net-zero by 2030. Fifty percent of existing state-owned buildings will be zero net energy by 2030. Other states are enacting tax credits to create incentives for similar building techniques. In coordination with these code revisions, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) is revising the financial incentives offered through utilities to encourage energy efficiency investments by building owners. The CPUC is reducing or eliminating past financial incentives for energy efficiency investments that are now mandated by Title 24. This year a new set of financial incentives will be launched that support comprehensive building solutions.

What is a net zero structure? Basically it's one that creates no emissions in its materials assembly and uses solar panels to offset electrical use. No natural gas is envisioned for new construction. California is aware that a steep increase in renewable energy must come with an investment in a smart electricity grid — and energy storage is a key part of the equation. Storage is intended to help address the intermittency of renewable energy generation, and can also improve the resilience of the electricity grid overall. This and other major impacts are anticipated on the physical infrastructure of our cities as well as industry codes and practices.

A case study and good example of the kind of things that will need to be done in residential construction, for example, are here at Treehugger. But the impact of these practices go far beyond simply designing in the traditional manner; this will radically change because of the real-time analysis in the design environment, enabling design decisions like form, orientation and facade design with real-time feedback using BIM program software. Integrated performance analysis lets designers understand the impacts of design options and allows for faster, more efficient design decisions with an audited design trail exported as clear reports. This represents a major shift for the architecture and construction fields, particularly since the construction product supply chain will be tracked in the design models as well, in order to comply with LEED-type standards.

This is the cutting edge of design and construction practice, being driven by the requirements of the GHG emissions reductions. Once in place, it will move rapidly on a technological learning curve which will outpace the old fossil fueled mechanics to embrace a flexible, dynamic and living environment.

Update: Emerging trends transforming the digital design and building production process. This is an approaching gamechanger for the built environment and compliance with extreme energy conservation design.