Sun Jul 27th, 2014 at 07:33:38 PM EST
I've been going to public lectures on climate change at Harvard, MIT, and other places since at least 1980. Lately I've been thinking that I have yet to hear an ecologist talk about the subject. I've seen climatologists, atmospheric chemists, atmospheric physicists, glaciologists, rocket scientists (thanks, S Fred Singer), oceanographers, and geologists address the subject. But I can't recall hearing an ecologist talk about climate change and ecological systems. This becomes even more frustrating to me when I attend a lecture on geoengineering. In the last couple of years, a joint Harvard and MIT group has been meeting to discuss this topic and the enormous intellectual effort devoted to rather simplistic solutions to complex systems problems is astonishing to me, especially since there seems to be such a great reluctance to engage on the systems issues.
Recently, some friends and colleagues have begun trying to remedy the situation, focusing on the global carbon cycle and, in particular, soil carbon. Part of this is through the work of Allan Savory and his practice of Holistic Management in relation to livestock grazing patterns. Another part is through the work of Tom Goreau protecting and, in some cases, restoring coral reefs. Through their efforts, this year's Northeast Organic Farming Association Summer Conference will have an extensive "Soil Carbon and Climate Track" introducing practicing farmers to ways in which their daily work can sequester carbon from the atmosphere for years, decades, and even centuries, becoming an important tool in diminishing climate change and, just possibly, reversing it.
A few weeks later, the NOFA Massachusetts chapter will host two day-long workshops with Dr. Christine Jones, an Australian soil biologist, on "Practical Options for Food Production Resilience in an Increasingly Variable Climate." One workshop will be in the Boston area and the other will be in Western Massachusetts.
Lastly and certainly not least, they are organizing a conference at Tufts University at the end of November on "Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming." Not only will the conference bring together experts from all over the world to talk about ecosystem solutions to confront climate change and global warming but it is also designed to start a global conversation and network to begin practicing these systemic solutions, sharing what works and understanding what doesn't and why.
This is a development I have long waited for and will participate in as much as I can.
Mon Jul 21st, 2014 at 01:12:41 PM EST
Switzerland came to the Boston area a week or so ago. There was a conversation with one of the political leaders of the country, Doris Leuthard, Councillor of the Swiss Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communications, at MIT on "Future Energy Supply and Security in Switzerland" and the next day a seminar on Watt d'Or, the Swiss award for the best energy projects in the country (http://www.bfe.admin.ch/org/00483/00638/?lang=en), at Northeastern University to celebrate the opening of an exhibit that will stay up at Northeastern's International Village until September.
I attended both events and learned quite a few exciting ideas from the Swiss and, inadvertently, something more about the limitations of MIT's view of the energy future.
Tue Jul 1st, 2014 at 10:39:17 PM EST
I spent the Christmas weekend of 2010 with Henri Cartier-Bresson, watching the few documentaries he made and a few documentaries about him. I've always liked his photographs, who could not? His idea of capturing the decisive moment and his success in that make his black and white photos immediate and living. In one documentary, he is shown photographing a street market in Paris, dancing to capture that instant when something, anything happens. He is thin and dapper in his suit and as graceful as Fred Astaire.
His impatience with being called an artist and his work art resonates with me. For him, the camera is an extension of his eye and the geometry of the image is what makes it work:
"The greatest joy for me is geometry, that means a structure. You can go shooting for shapes or patterns and all this but it's a sensuous pleasure an intellectual pleasure at the same time, to have everything in the right place. It's a recognition of an order which is in front of you." When eye, heart, and mind are aligned in the shot, he has what reveals, what remains. His refusal to use light meters and flashes, his respect for the subjects of his regard is more than admirable; it is necessary for the quality of his work and shines through it.
Sat Jun 28th, 2014 at 03:00:25 PM EST
A few months ago, I found an old paperback book called Skis Against the Atom by Captain Knut Haukelid (London: William Kimber and Company, 1954) and bought it. As a lifelong skier with a father who served in the original US ski troops, the 10th Mountain Division, in WWII, I felt that I had to pick it up. It is the memoir of a Norwegian soldier who fled Norway to England when the Germans occupied his country and then returned after training to commit sabotage and organize the resistance in his home country, far behind enemy lines. Captain Haukelid was one of the soldiers who committed what some call the most successful act of sabotage in WWII: they blew up the heavy water manufacturing facility in Vemork near the Rjukan Falls in the Telemark region and, later, destroyed the store of heavy water that it had produced while it was en route to Germany. This small group stopped the Nazis from building an atomic bomb.
Thu Jun 12th, 2014 at 08:53:48 PM EST
Solar is power and currency not only as energy, electricity, heat but also as politics, economics, and sociology. Solar energy is, by definition, local production, swadeshi, what Gandhi called the "heart of satyagraha," soul force, non-violent action.
Gandhi would spin for an hour each day, usually producing a hundred yards of thread, and helped develop a simple spinning wheel (charkha) that allowed many to do the same. He believed that spinning was the foundation of non-violence. I believe this type of practical labor has to be the core of any sustainable ecological action.
We need a solar swadeshi, an ecological practice on a daily basis that allows us to live within our solar income. Gandhi used the charkha, the spinning wheel. What would be an ecological charkha, a solar charkha?
Could we do with electricity what Gandhi did with cloth, at least for emergencies and disasters? Can hand-made electricity, 21st century khadi cloth, provide real electrical power to the people and a survival level of energy independence and autonomy?
Here are some examples where solar energy is building economies that are closer to the practices of a Gandhian economics, a non-violent economics, a solar swadeshi, a kind of sun money.
Sat May 3rd, 2014 at 04:45:50 PM EST
On Friday, May 2, 2014 FossilFreeMIT (http://www.fossilfreemit.org) declared a flood zone all around their campus at Hurricane Sandy strength plus projected 2050 sea level rise to publicize their divestment campaign. It was also a good advertisement for the same weekend's annual Sustainability Conference focusing on resilience and coastal cities. Here's how the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer looks under this climate change scenario.
Sun Apr 27th, 2014 at 03:28:29 PM EST
Just read these two short books, pamphlets really or essays, both bookstore finds, one in the MIT Press bookstore hurt books and the other in Harvard Books remainder section, both from France:
The Administration of Fear by Paul Virilio with Bertrand Richard
LA: Semiotext(e), 2012
The Path of Hope by Stéphane Hessel and Edgar Morin
NY: Other Press, 2012
Virilio is a sociologist and urban planner and the book/pamphlet/essay is about the present as a manifestation of speed and terror based upon Hannah Arendt's and Günther Anders' idea "Terror is the realization of the law of movement" from their The Origins of Totalitarianism. The title of the book/pamphlet is a play on Graham Greene's WWII espionage novel The Ministry of Fear.
Whether we like it or not, we cannot separate the magnitude of power, or success, from the magnitude of poverty, or finitude. Our collective determination to separate them has led us to the third great fear, the ecological fear. The Earth is too small for progress; it is too small for instant profit. Acceleration dominating accumulation ("just-in-time, zero stock") is making it implode before our eyes. Consider the logics of distribution that we see today: there are fewer and fewer warehouses, almost no stock, only the flow of goods. You can see how acceleration, the pure speed of circulation, has overcome accumulation. Turbo-capitalism has exploded the capitalism of accumulation and the major banks in favor of even larger banks that no nation state will ever be able to bail out.
Stéphane Hessel and Edgar Morin are both veterans of the French Resistance and fighters against what they call Vichyism, the collaboration with the Fascist occupiers. Hessel wrote another short book/pamphlet/essay translated as Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous! which was one of the European manifestations of political unrest in the year(s) of the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados, and Occupy Wall Street. This book/pamphlet/essay is a follow-up with some recommendations of how to wrest control from the plutocrats:
A new and independent national policy is possible. This political approach would follow the twofold principles we have set forth: globalize and deglobalize, develop and envelop. Deglobalization and envelopment, as we have pointed out, safeguard the vital interests of homelands and regions, while at the same time protecting living cultures. This twofold principle is the basis for a political approach that guarantees links of global and national solidarity, fellowship among the various local collectives, and the benefits of local farming.
As someone who went from the antiwar movement into the environmental movement into the local agricultural economy, there is much here to appeal to me. Growing your own food is a radically (all puns intended) subversive act in this financialized and globalized society. That 50% of the US population do it is an unrecognized constituency for change.
Sun Apr 20th, 2014 at 09:06:07 PM EST
James Hansen visited MIT on April 15 and April 16 and gave two public talks. One was for Fossil Free MIT (http://www.fossilfreemit.org), a new student group concerned with divestment, on the politics of climate change, "Combatting the Climate Crisis: the Path from Science to Action," and the other was for the climate science community on "Ice Sheet Melt, Sea Level and Storms," the subject of a paper he is now working on.
The good news is that, according to Hansen, we do not have to worry about catastrophic methane releases from the tundra or ocean clathrates as the paleoclimate record shows there were no such releases in higher temperature periods.
The bad news is that, according to a paper Hansen is now working on, we do have to worry about the effects of ice sheet melt on ocean currents and thermoclines as well as the possibility of dramatic wind intensity increases in storms. Again, based upon the paleoclimate and geologic record.
Mon Mar 10th, 2014 at 11:22:02 PM EST
HEET [Home Energy Efficiency Team http://www.heetma.com ], a Cambridge, MA nonprofit which organizes public weatherization parties and barnraisings, is crowd funding a natural gas leak monitoring project in Cambridge and Somerville. Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips, who drove the streets of Boston last year with a high-precision methane analyzer to find 3,356 natural gas leaks, will loan HEET his methane analyzer and other equipment to drive the roof Cambridge and Somerville roads mapping every leak. Moving at 15 MPH, covering both sides of every street should take about three weeks. You can learn more about HEET'S Squeaky Leak project and help fund it, if so inclined, at http://www.heetma.com/what-we-do/squeaky-leak/
Professor Phillips will analyze and map the results and HEET will do the driving, following up thusly:
Map of the leaks on the HEET website
Report the leaks to NSTAR to get all Grade 1 leaks fixed
Share the location and amount of leaks with the governments of Somerville and Cambridge so they can work with NSTAR to fix these leaks
Publicize the map to raise awareness about natural gas leaks in order to make sure effective actions are taken on the ground and in our legislature ( https://malegislature.gov/Bills/BillHtml/122690?generalCourtId=11 ) as soon as possible to reduce the leaks not only in Massachusetts, but across the country
Lastly, to compare the amount and number of leaks between Cambridge and Somerville, to see whether Cambridge's decade-long policy of fining NSTAR heavily for opening any roadway that the City is not already working on, while charging it nothing to repair pipes under the roads the City is about to work on succeeded. Since NSTAR has not shared with the city any map or information about the current or past gas leaks, Cambridge does not know whether this policy worked or not. HEET's and Prof Phillips' project would provide that data.
Wed Feb 26th, 2014 at 02:35:48 PM EST
Peter Wilson (in a Cambridgewickedlocal with news from the Chronicle and Tab LtE http://cambridge.wickedlocal.com/article/20140220/NEWS/140229717/2014/OPINION) wrote that "Net zero is not a practical goal in New England" and that may or may not be true. There are a number of net zero energy single and two family buildings in NE, including in colder climates than Cambridge, MA like Vermont, although the experience with larger and high rise net zero energy buildings is just beginning. However, there are a few examples that approach net zero, including one in Vienna, Austria, the Raffeisens Bank, a 21 story building built to PassivHaus standards (http://www.viennareview.net/news/ideas-and-trends/raiffeisens-upward-sustainability).
Whether or not net zero is a practical goal, it is an essential thought experiment we need to run. By viewing net zero energy as an approachable goal, the way statistical quality control views zero defects on a production line under Total Quality Management, we will assuredly come across many different ways we can reduce our energy needs, perhaps significantly.
I say we are not going far enough. We should be thinking not only about net zero energy but also zero emissions throughout our infrastructure. We know that pollution causes problems, that pollution is waste, and should be smart enough, wise enough to think about reducing the waste we generate to as close to zero as possible. I like the motto of Zero Waste Europe (http://www.zerowasteeurope.eu), "If you are not for zero waste, how much waste are you for?"
If you are not for net zero energy, how much wasted energy are you for?
However, even if we mandate that all new buildings achieve net zero energy, we still have to fix our existing buildings and probably have to start developing district heating and cooling to become a net zero energy community. This is a hard problem and requires concentrated efforts. Net zero energy for new buildings, if it is achievable (and I believe it is), is still only a start.
Thanks for your time and your work.
Sat Jan 18th, 2014 at 06:49:59 PM EST
Help empower coastal Caribbean communities with a solar sailboat that will provide workshops and materials for solar electric modules, solar cookers and phone chargers. Campaign now going on at Indiegogo: $18,000 over the next 40 days.
This is a project of Dr. Richard Komp, a solar scientist who has worked since 1977 empowering rural communities with solar energy projects around the world, providing both hands-on teaching and renewable resources.
Sat Jan 11th, 2014 at 09:10:11 PM EST
Susan Murcott, Bob Lange, and Richard Komp are three grassroots environmental activists who are changing lives all around the world. Susan is a water researcher whose work on simple water filters has benefitted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from Guatemala to Ghana. Her latest project is building a block of toilets for a school in a village in Ghana, the second project of this kind she has been involved with. Bob is a physics professor who has been doing science education in Africa for many years, an activity that morphed into installing small solar systems for villages in Tanzania and now into designing, building, and installing efficient cookstoves with the Maasai people. This year, his work is expanding into Uganda. Richard is a solar expert who has worked on everything from the physics of solar electricity to building solar stoves from scrap. He has been teaching people all around the world how to do solar as a cottage industry for about three decades now. His latest idea is to outfit a sailboat as a floating solar workshop that can teach people throughout the Caribbean how to better their lives with simple solar technologies. You can read his reports on his international work at http://www.mainesolar.org/Komp.html
I consider myself immensely privileged to know all three of these remarkable and remarkably effective people.
Mon Jan 6th, 2014 at 07:36:15 PM EST
I'd like to participate in an ongoing on and off line brainstorm using Buckminster Fuller's World Game design criteria, "How can we make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone?" and one of Bill McDonough's Ecological Design Principles, "Use only available solar income."
Here are some free resources that are edging, gingerly, towards that possibility.
"Age of Sustainable Development (https:/www.coursera.org/course/susdev) gives students an understanding of the key challenges and pathways to sustainable development - that is, economic development that is also socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable."
free 14 week course taught by Jeffrey Sachs
starting January 21
Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided (https:/www.coursera.org/course/warmerworld )
"It is now becoming clear that without necessary climate action, the world may become 4°C warmer by the end of this century. As this threatens to roll back decades of development progress, this is a `make or break' point. This course presents the most recent scientific evidence as well as some of the opportunities for urgent action."
free World Bank MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] on climate change
starting January 27
Thu Dec 19th, 2013 at 07:14:46 PM EST
Wakawaka (http://us.waka-waka.com) makes a
super efficient, sustainable, lightweight, sturdy and compact solar phone charger and lamp. It enables you to charge virtually any type of (smart)phone or small electronic device within just a few hours and will provide you with up to 80 hours of safe light.
They are offering a buy one/give one program which provides their solar lights and chargers to Syrian refugees:
Perhaps a way to promote the Christmas spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all. (Bah Humbug!)
hat tip to http://inhabitat.com
Sun Dec 8th, 2013 at 06:46:48 PM EST
One of the sites I regularly visit is http://www.americablog.com and today they included a video about Alice Herz-Sommer the 110-year-old woman who is both the oldest living Holocaust survivor and oldest living pianist. There is a new documentary about her called "The Lady in Number 6."
You can find out more and buy a DVD of or stream the whole documentary at http://nickreedent.com
There is also a book about her, A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor by Caroline Stoessinger
(NY: Spiegel & Grau, 2012 ISBN 978-0-8129-9281-6) which I read last Spring after finding it in the new books section of my local library. My notes follow with page numbers in parentheses (), although I did leave out her recipes for chicken soup and apple cake.
Tue Nov 19th, 2013 at 02:54:44 PM EST
Cambridge, MA has been debating a net zero energy and/or emissions standard (http://www.netzerocambridge.org) for new buildings over 25,000 square feet since the Spring of 2013, partially because of an ecodistrict plan with MIT and others on a large parcel in East Cambridge (a plan MIT refused to make net zero even though they are rumored to be building a net zero project with some of the same partners in Basel, Switzerland).
The City Manager (Cambridge has a city manager form of municipal government, along with proportionate representation so city politics get weird fast) has established a "Getting to Net Zero" Task Force to study the issue. Cambridge Community Development Department produced a fine overview of the state of the art in larger buildings for zero net emissions at (pdf alert) http://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/CDD/ZoningDevel/Amendments/2013/Connolly/zngamend_connolly_
As the national Ecodistrict Summit was in town recently, the Community Development Department and Sustainable Performance Institute (http://www.sustainable-performance.org) hosted experts from Integral Group (http://www.integralgroup.com/), a deep green engineering firm to present lessons from the more than 40 net zero buildings they've worked on.
Thu Oct 31st, 2013 at 03:47:41 PM EST
Here are my rough notes (slightly polished) from three recent events I attended at Tufts, MIT, and online. My comments are within [brackets].
Energizing Sustainable Cities: Findings from the Global Energy Assessment
with Arnulf Grubler, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Yale University
Thursday, October 24, 2013
(a light lunch will be served - no RSVP, first-come first-served)
[university lectures are often a violation of the second law of thermodynamics, "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" or TANSTAAFL by offering free lunches]
Tufts, Cabot 703, The Fletcher School, 160 Packard Avenue, Medford, MA
Energizing Sustainable Cities: Assessing Urban Energy
Book of the same title as the talk, Energizing Sustainable Cities
New report includes a chapter on urban energy assessments, chapter 18 (http://www.globalenergyassessment.org). No business as usual scenario.
3/4 of all final energy is urban
World rural population likely to peak at 3.5 billion and decline after 2020
Cities are 0.2- 2.7% of world landmass
96% Internet routers are urban
Small cities, less than 100,000 population, are where most people live and are not studied enough [neighborhood and village scale]
City dwellers have lower energy and carbon footprints
Lack urban energy and carbon accounting for embodied energy, import/export balance
Annex 1 [industrialized] cities are generally lower than average per capita energy use but cities in Annex 2 countries approach Annex 1 levels of consumption while paying a higher relative price.
Most of the urban energy flow is in embodied energy, goods and services
City density enables demand/supply management and calls for low waste/zero impact systems - density demands zero emissions or zero impact - high levels of pollution happening in high population density areas is not good
Vienna which has had municipal utilities and services for a hundred years. In first law analysis, it is 50% efficient and with second law analysis it is 83% exegetic, has the ability to do useful work. You can increase energy efficiency by a factor of five without violating physical laws. [Raiffeisen Bank building in Vienna, 21 stories, 20,000-square-metre building or 65,000 sq ft, PassivHaus standard]
Vast improvement possibilities but they require integration and management of the urban form and systemic change
The largest leverage from systemic change but requires overcoming fragmentation (zero emissions as an approachable goal, statistical quality control)
Focus on the midpoints: efficiency of end use in buildings, processes, vehicles, appliances; land use; urban form (transportation, housing)
Syncity simulations work on these midpoints [Synthetic city simulations scaling up to world (peace) games as MOOs]
Q: Cambridge is planning on becoming a zero net emissions city. Any suggestions?
Partner with similar scale cities in becoming a zero emissions city to discover useful commonalities
1 Bryant Place in NYC claims to be the most efficient building of 51 stories [http://www.durst.org/properties/one-bryant-park]
Biggest district heating grid in the world is ConEd in Manhattan
Zero emissions at point of consumption - electricity and hydrogen. Hydrogen introduced on the model of town gas or natural gas infrastructure [natural gas/methane is not going away]
Exergy as optionality, the higher the exergy the more possibilities
Switzerland as a model of microgrids based on civil defense CT's microgrid program:
In developing world, concentrate first on squatter settlements bare minimum to bare maximum, solar swadeshi:
Thu Oct 24th, 2013 at 04:44:54 PM EST
The second largest utility in Germany, RWE, says, "...we will position ourselves as a project enabler and operator, and system integrator of renewables."
RWE is based in Essen, Germany and provides 50,000 MW of electricity generated from coal, oil, and gas-fired plants to 24 million customers throughout Europe.
"The guiding principle is `from volume to value' with technologies ranging from large-scale offshore wind and hydro to onshore wind or photovoltaic. But we will no longer pursue volume- or percentage- targets in renewables (x TWh/y % in 2025). We will rather leverage our skills set by taking a `capital light' approach. Based on funds sourced largely from third parties, we will position ourselves as a project enabler, operator and system integrator of renewables."
They are also one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in Europe.
Mon Oct 21st, 2013 at 07:13:02 PM EST
I publish a weekly listing of Energy (and Other) Events at the colleges, universities, and in the community around Cambridge, MA (http://hubevents.blogspot.com) and have been doing it consistently since the end of January, 2010 (http://hubevents.blogspot.com/2010/01/events-january-25-2010.html). This is the second iteration of the idea as I published a similar listings service plus reviews and articles from February, 1995 to February, 1998, "A List of Environmental and Telecommunications Events and Issues" or "AList...." for short (http://world.std.com/~gmoke/AList.html) [The issues from April 1997 to February 1998 are available at http://world.std.com/~gmoke/AList.index.html but you have to click on the weekly issue heading first before you can read any of the articles.]
My original idea was to have a searchable calendar of all the public lecture information at all the colleges and universities around the Boston area, something like 70 of them, so that anyone could take the opportunity to gather in all the free learning they want. Imagine the resource for anyone from high school kids to retired people. I'd been availing myself of the privilege for a number of years already, meeting in small seminar rooms with distinguished experts and famous names that normally you'd only see on TV. And I even got to ask them questions. What a gift! As an experienced autodidact, I took notes at the events I went to, when something of actual note occurred, and thought that the next step would be to invite others to contribute their notes from the events they went to that I couldn't attend so that all that wealth of information could be captured, a community commonplace book.
Sun Sep 29th, 2013 at 05:49:05 PM EST
Recently, I've noticed there has been a shift from talking about mitigation to adaptation to resilience when dealing with climate change. From my perspective, this is not a bad development as resilience focuses on practical preparedness for immediate hazards. This can partition change into small increments that are readily understandable and remove the polarized politics of climate change from the discussion. If you're talking about measures to prevent system failure because of a weather emergency, it tends not to matter what your position is on greenhouse gases because everybody remembers the last hurricane, flood, or blizzard. In addition, resilience measures can also be adaptation and, even in some cases, mitigation strategies for climate change as well. At least, this is what I'm observing here in the Boston area and what I've heard out of post-Sandy New York and other areas.
This week I attended a discussion at the Boston Society of Architects about a new report, Building Resilience in Boston
pdf alert: http://www.greenribboncommission.org/downloads/Building_Resilience_in_Boston_SML.pdf)
Before the meeting, I spent some time scanning the document and found it to be superlative work, a great introduction to the concepts of urban design for resilience and emergency preparedness and, most especially, a fine literature search of the state of the art all around the world. If you want to begin the process in your own city or town, this document will give you plenty of useful ideas and show you where to get more. It is useful not only for cities like Boston, London, and New York but also towns like Chula Vista, CA and Keene, NH.
Another indication of growing seriousness on these issues I noticed is that the dangers from temperature extremes are entering the picture, especially since there has been a 2,300% increase in casualties from heat waves and 189% increase from cold snaps in the 2001 to 2010 decade (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/16/1224282/-World-Meteorological-Organization-Heatwave-Decade).
According to Christina Figueres of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, whom I also saw this week, there are over 300 cities around the world which are actively working on mitigation, adaptation, and resilience in the face of climate change. So while international organizations are struggling to find actionable agreements and individual countries are fighting to avoid responsibility, municipalities around the world are taking practical steps.