Friday, September 14, 2007

Report from the World Watch Institute

This is a sobering report from the World Watch Institute. See the whole story at:

Window to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change Closing; EU Should Press for Immediate U.S. Action

By Worldwatch Institute
Created Sep 13 2007 - 1:00pm

The warming climate is undermining biodiversity by accelerating habitat loss, according to Vital Signs 2007–2008.

Washington, D.C.— Consumption of energy and many other critical resources is consistently breaking records, disrupting the climate and undermining life on the planet, according to the latest Worldwatch Institute report, Vital Signs 2007-2008.

To see the rest of the report:

Type the rest of your post here.



Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Designer's Challenge

David Orr, a member of the Center for Ecoliteracy board of directors,
is Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and
Politics at Oberlin College, and the James Marsh Professor at Large,
University of Vermont.

This talk was delivered as the commencement address to the School of
Design, University of Pennsylvania, on May 14, 2007.

The Designer's Challenge

By David W. Orr

Dean Hack, distinguished faculty of the School of Design, honored
guests, and most important, you the members of the class of 2007: It
is a great privilege to stand before you on your graduation day.

As a Penn alumnus I feel a deep sense of affection for this
institution and for this place. My own interest in design was kindled
here long ago by Ian McHarg, who as much as anyone was the founder of
modern landscape design and the larger field of ecological design. His
book Design with Nature remains a classic statement of the art of
intelligent inhabitation. From its founding, the city of Philadelphia
has been home to a great deal of innovative urban design and
experimentation now carried on here in the School of Design. You are a
part of a great history and have inherited a legacy of which you may
be justly proud. But the work of designers is now entering its
critical and most important phase.

It is said that we are entitled to hold whatever opinions we choose,
but we are not entitled to whatever facts we wish. Whatever opinions
you may have, there are four facts that will fundamentally shape the
world in which you will live and work.

The first is the fact that we spend upwards of 95 percent of our time
in houses, cars, malls, and offices. We are becoming an indoor species
increasingly shut off from sky, land, forests, waters, and animals.
Nature, as a result, is becoming more and more an abstraction to us.
The problem is most severe for children who now spend up to eight
hours each day before a television or computer screen and less and
less time outdoors in nature. Author Richard Louv describes the
results as "nature deficit disorder" — the loss of our sense of
rootedness in place and connection to the natural world. In some
future time, it is not farfetched to think that disconnected and
rootless we would become unhinged in a fundamental way and that is a
spiritual crisis for which there is no precedent.

Second, when Benjamin Franklin walked the streets of Philadelphia
there were fewer than one billion of us on Earth. The human population
is now 6.5 billion and will likely crest at 9 or 10 billion.
One-and-a-half billion live in the most abject poverty, while another
billion live in considerable wealth. One billion suffer from the
afflictions of eating too much while others suffer from malnutrition.
When I was a graduate student at Penn the ratio of richest to poorest
was said to be 35:1. It is now approaching 100:1 and growing. The
problem of a more crowded world is not just about what ecologists call
carrying capacity of the Earth. It also a problem of justice with more
and more people competing for less and less.

A third fact has been particularly difficult for a society built on
the foundation of cheap portable fossil fuels to acknowledge. We are
at or near the year of peak oil extraction, the point at which we will
have consumed the easy and better half of the accessible oil. The
other half is harder to refine, farther out, and deeper down, and
mostly located in places where people do not like us. We are not
likely to run out of oil or liquid fossil fuels from one source or
another, but we are nearing the end of the era of cheap oil. We have
known this for decades, but we still have no coherent or farsighted
energy policy. In the meantime the penalty for procrastination grows
daily along with the risks of supply interruptions and volatile energy

There is a fourth fact. When the University of Pennsylvania was
founded the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per
million. But now the level of all human-generated heat-trapping gases
is 430 parts per million CO2 equivalent. We have already warmed the
Earth by .8 degrees C and are committed at least to another .6 degrees
C. According to the scientists who participated in writing the Fourth
Report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we are not
just warming the Earth, but destabilizing the entire planet. Climate
scientist James Hansen says that we are close to making Earth a
different planet and one that we will not much like.

Four facts.

One has to do with the largeness of the human spirit and our capacity
to connect to life.

The second has to do with justice, fairness, and decency in a more
crowded world.

The third has to do with our wisdom and creativity in the face of
limits to the biosphere.

The last is about human survival on a hotter and less stable and
predictable planet.

In the face of the remorseless working out of large numbers do you
have reason to be optimistic? Frankly, no. Optimism is a prediction
that the odds are in your favor — like being a Yankees fan with a
one-run lead in the ninth inning and two outs and a two-strike count
on a .200 hitter and Mariano Rivera — in his prime — on the mound. You
have good reason to believe that you will win the game. That's
optimism. The Red Sox fans, on the other hand, believing in the
salvation of small percentages, hope for a hit to get the runner home
from second base to tie the game. Optimism is a bet that the odds are
in your favor; hope is the faith that things will work out whatever
the odds. Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. Hopeful people
are actively engaged in defying the odds or changing the odds. But
optimism leans back, puts its feet up, and sports a confident look
knowing that the deck is stacked.

If you know enough, you cannot honestly be optimistic. But you have
every reason to be hopeful and to act faithfully and competently on
that hope. And what does that mean for you as designers?

My message to you is this. As designers you hold the keys to creating
a far better world than that in prospect, but only if you respond
creatively, smartly, wisely, and quickly to the four facts described
above. Your generation does not have a choice to solve one or two of
these problems. You must solve them all — rather like solving a
quadratic equation. And you have no time to lose. As designers you
must design so artfully and carefully as to help reconnect people to
nature and to their places. You must design to promote justice in a
more crowded world. You must design a world powered by efficiency and
sunlight. You do not have the option of maintaining the status quo — a
world dependent on ancient sunlight. And since Nature is a ruthless
and unforgiving bookkeeper, you must do your work in a way that
balances the carbon books. How will you do such things? The answers,
fortunately, are many, but the principles of design are few. Let me
suggest three.

The first has to do with the scope of your work. You must see design
as a large and unifying concept — quite literally the remaking of the
human presence on Earth. Design in its largest sense has to do with
how we provision ourselves with food, energy, materials, shelter,
livelihood, transport, water, and waste cycling. It is the calibration
of human intentions with how the world works as a physical system and
the awareness of how the world works to inform our intentions. And
good design at all times joins our five senses (and perhaps others
that we suspect) with the human fabricated world. When designers get
it right, they create in ways that reinforce our common humanity at
the deepest level.

Ecological design is flourishing in fields as diverse as architecture,
landscape architecture, biomimicry, industrial ecology, urban
planning, ecological engineering, agriculture, and forestry. It is
gathering momentum, driven by necessity, better technology, and
economic opportunity. Designers in diverse fields are learning how to

* use nature as the standard, as Ian McHarg proposed;
* power the world on current sunlight;
* eliminate waste;
* pay the full cost of development;
* build prosperity on a durable basis.

Design as a large concept means, in Wendell Berry felicitous words,
"solving for pattern," creating solutions that solve many problems.
When you solve for pattern you will also have created resilience,
which is the capacity of systems to persist in a world perturbed by
human error, malevolence, and what we call "acts of God." And by
solving for pattern you are also likely to learn the virtues of
reparability, redundancy, locality, and simplicity.

Here is an example of good design: Last week I took a class to a farm
in Virginia in which the farmer raises poultry, cattle, and hogs so
artfully that each element enhances the others while improving soil
fertility and making a substantial profit by selling directly to a
large base of local customers. As a designer, he has designed out
chemicals, pollution, genetically modified organisms, pharmaceuticals,
and most of the fossil fuels necessary to transport food long
distances. The result is health in the large: of land, animals,
people, and economy.

As a corollary, you must see yourselves as the designers, not just of
buildings, landscapes, and objects, but of the systems in which these
are components. That means that you must reckon with economic,
political, and social aspects of design. And the hardest but most
important object for designers is the design of what Peter Senge calls
learning organizations, in which designing ecologically becomes the
default setting, not an aberration.

Second, you will need a standard for your work, rather like the
Hippocratic Oath or a compass by which you chart a journey. For that I
propose that designers should aim to cause no ugliness, human or
ecological, somewhere else or at some later time. That standard will
cause you to think upstream from the particular design project or
object to the wells, mines, forests, farms, and manufacturing
establishments from which materials are drawn and crystallized into
the particularities of design. It will cause you, as well, to look
downstream to the effects of design on climate and health of people
and ecosystems. If there is ugliness, human or ecological, at either
end you cannot claim success as a designer regardless of the
artfulness of what you make.

As a corollary, you, as designers, ought to think of yourselves first
as place makers, not merely form makers. The difference is crucial.
Form making puts a premium on artistry and sometimes merely fashion.
It is mostly indifferent to human and ecological costs incurred
elsewhere. The first rule of place making, on the other hand, is to
honor and preserve other places, however remote in space and culture.
When you become accomplished designers, of course, you will have
mastered the integration of both making places and making them

Third, as designers, you will need to place your work in a larger
historical context — what philosopher Thomas Berry calls, your Great
Work. No generation ever asks for its Great Work. The generation of
the Civil War certainly did not wish to fight and die at places like
Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, or the Wilderness. But their Great Work,
the end of human bondage, required just that of tens of thousands of
them...and they rose to do their Great Work. Those now passing from
the scene that Tom Brokaw calls "The Greatest Generation" did not wish
to fight and die in places like Iwo Jima or the battlefields of
Europe. But their Great Work, the fight against Nazism, required them
to do so and they rose to the challenge to do their Great Work as
well. Your Great Work, however, is not one of fighting wars, but of
extending and speeding a worldwide ecological enlightenment that joins
human needs and purposes with the way the world works as a biophysical

Your Great Work will be no less demanding and no less complex than
that of any previous generation. But in outline it is very simple.
Your Great Work as designers is to:

1. Stabilize and reduce all heat trapping gases
2. Make a rapid transition to efficiency and renewable energy
3. Build a world secure by design for everyone...a world in which
every child has a decent home, food, water, education, medical care
4. Preserve the best of our history and culture
5. Enable us to see our way forward to a world that is sustainable
and spiritually sustaining

This challenge, your Great Work, is neither liberal nor conservative;
neither Republican nor Democrat. It is, rather, the recognition that
the present generation is a trustee standing midway between a distant
past and the horizon of the future. As trustees we are obligated to
pass on the best of our civilization and the ecological requisites on
which it depends — including a stable climate and biological diversity
— to future generations. The idea that we are no more than trustees
was proposed long ago by Edmund Burke, the founder of modern
conservatism (1790), and by one of the founders of modern
revolutionary politics, Thomas Jefferson (1789), as well. It is a
perspective that unites us across our present divisions in service to
our posterity.

Your Great Work is a sacred trust given only to your generation. If
you do not rise to do your Great Work, it will not be done. We know
enough now to say what no other generation could rightfully say: the
price for that dereliction — not rising to do your Great Work — will
be high and perhaps total. Your Great Work as designers is to honor
wholeness, health, and the great holy mystery of life. No other
generation before you ever had a greater challenge and none more
reason to rise to greatness.

My charge to you is to do your work so well that those who will look
back on your time — the beneficiaries of your Great Work — will know
that this was indeed humankind's finest hour.

Copyright(c) 2007 David W. Orr

David W. Orr, a member of the Center for Ecoliteracy board of
directors, is Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental
Studies and Politics at Oberlin College and the James Marsh Professor
at Large, University of Vermont. Nationally recognized as a leader in
environmental education, ecological literacy, and environmental
design, he is a contributing editor to Conservation Biology, the
author of The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment
in an Age of Terror, The Nature of Design, Earth in Mind, and
Ecological Literacy, and coeditor of The Global Predicament and The
Campus and Environmental Responsibility..



Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Walk Score

Check out this site I ran across that calculates the walkability of where you live. It was designed for real-estate purposes to help people find a good place to live, but I think it works well for the enviro crowd too. It is a complete google maps mash-up, using multiple sets of semantic data and an algorithm to calculate how easy it is to get places from any location. My house scored an 88, what does yours score?

Perhaps this would be a good tool to demonstrate to people how silly it is to drive most places in Manhattan, or at least that you don´t need to drive to campus if you live close.



Monday, September 10, 2007

Your Diet and the Environment

I received my monthly issue of Co-Op America recently, which mainly consists of information concerning investments and ways to cool the earth through them. This month however, there was an interesting article concerning the diet and it's effects on the environment, specifically meat diets. A 2006 study conducted by Drs. Pamela Martin and Gidon Eshel of the University of Chicago, http://geosci.uchicago.edul~gidon/papers/nutri/nutri.html, provided a neat graph that compared different meat (and non-meat) diets with their average annual greenhouse gas emissions. The results: Vegan: 0 tons, Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: .8 ton, Poultry: .9 ton, Avg. American: 1.485 tons, Fish: 2 tons, Red Meat: 2 tons. These diets are based on a 3,774 calorie diet. All diets including meat are calculated as 72 percent plant-based, 14 percent meat, 14 percent eggs and dairy. The lacto-ovo diet is 90 percent plant based, 10 percent eggs and dairy, reflecting the actual animal product consumption o the average lacto-ovo vegetarian. You might be asking yourself, why such an outrageous amount of calories when the usual average is 2000? Well- this 3,774 number is an "FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) figure that represents the number of calories produced and distributed per person in the US, meaning that while we don't necessarily eat that much on average, we eat or waste that much at grocery stores and at home." This study took into account the entire life cycle of these diets. How much energy it took to grow, harvest , transport , and prepare them. The FAO released a report this past February stating livestock accounts for 18 percent of our world global warming emissions. Switching from a Toyota Camry to a hybrid Toyota Prius would save 1 ton of greenhouse gases annually while making the switch to a vegan diet would save 1.5 tons! After reading this article, it only reaffirms what I heard on Real Time a couple of weeks ago; "One can't be an environmentalist and a meat eater." These words spoken by a representative of PETA. What really surprises me is that the fish diet is equivalent to the red meat diet in avg. annual ghg emmisions. "I am a vegetarian, but I still eat fish" doesn't cut it anymore.