Archive for December, 2007

later is over, says Hansen: crappy new year!

350ppm co2 limit

Ya run the risk, over these holidays, of missing key information...since so much new learning is arriving daily. And especially before and after Bali, it's been a remarkable month of truly shocking new findings.

So, we're forgiven if we missed Bill McKibben writing in last Friday's Washington Post on the latest news regarding the 'safe' limit in carbon emissions.

Turns out, James Hansen's presentation at the SF AGU meet included this statement: "The evidence indicates we've aimed too high -- that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350 ppm."

Published by Ken on December 31st, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Island Vulnerabilities | Comment now »

who’s on first? EU as climate playmaker

EU as climate playmaker

Better hope the EU continues to enhance the effectiveness with which it wields new-found influence.

Why? Because by the time the US gets a new president and turns to face its climate kuleana (responsibility), the EU should already have hammered out the makings of a global climate deal that just might do the trick.

Writes David Steven, by February 2009 we should have a rough idea of what scale of cuts each country can envisage making by 2020 (via open democracy).

Published by Ken on December 30th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comment now »

wot’s not to like about markets? plenty

market forces

Nuance is everything, especially when engaging the "free market" religion.

Fact is, so many folks take the goodness of markets as self-evident that it's hard to engage this discourse at all (via common dreams).

And even when you mention, as Paul Hawken did 15 years ago (in The Ecology of Commerce), that "markets are superb at setting prices, but incapable of recognizing costs", you tend to get blank stares.

Never mind that it's those hidden costs, so long ignored or 'externalized', whose coming home to roost defines our sustainability challenge.

Published by Ken on December 30th, 2007 tagged Systems Thinking | Comment now »

inside the gates of paradise: on a Kauaian paradigm

rebecca solnit

Since it's a theme wot's been on my mind for a while, let me riff off Rebecca Solnot's marvelous essay  and delightful new book, "Storming the Gates of Paradise", by updating my own sense of where we are inside the gates of our Kauaian paradise.

...and by recapitulating my deepening sense of disaffection for politics, per se.

Solnit is, first of all, writing from a place of personal integration. She's not just of the world, she's in it.

Her impulse to immerse in nature, not as an escape from society, but as a completion of it, parallels my own lifelong wanderings.

Published by Ken on December 29th, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking | Comment now »

speaking of economic growth: another elephant

Ctr for advancement of the steady state economy

Sure, we need to drastically cut our emissions and switch away from non-renewables, yet we also need to get a handle on population growth AND reorient our economies to a steady state (via CASSE).

Yup, somehow, among all our other challenges, we've gotta break out of the 'economic growth' trap.

Never mind that there's piles of money to be made in the process...yet, we also need to reduce and level-off our production and consumption, per se.

That's where the 'steady-staters' come in. See, plenny brilliant economists have thought through all this stuff, and they see fairly common-sensical ways to pull it off.

Published by Ken on December 29th, 2007 tagged Best Practices, Sustainability Science | 1 Comment »

poke fun at self: this economist lampoons economists

yoram bauman at carolines with economist comedy

Forgive my nascent glee with economist jokes. I've been making fun of economists my whole professional life...if only by pretending to be one.

Perhaps you, too, will enjoy this bright young economist, Yoram Bauman, going off about the silliness of contemporary American economic principles (via Ctr for Advancement of Steady State Econ).

I especially like Bauman's bit about how "microeconomists are wrong about specific things, while macroeconomists are wrong about things in general."

Most important, Bauman destroys economic theories that presume folks are rational, noting that if all these market mechanisms require rational thought, and since most folks don't act that way, then people must be stupid...

Published by Ken on December 28th, 2007 tagged Best Practices, Systems Thinking | Comment now »

lookin’ for love (next US prez) in all the warm places

demo prez candidates on global warming

Wanna quick sense of who's proposing what on America's response to global warming? Check out this marvelous summary from Daily Green.

Let's see, Dodd and Gravel are the only Democratic presidential candidates who endorse a carbon tax.

Richardson wants a 90% emissions reduction, while Kucinich, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Biden and Obama settle for 80%.

Kucinich wants a FDR-like Works Green Administration and a New Green Deal to transfer clean energy technology to developing nations.

Clinton wants a 'Connie Mae' program to help low-income and middle-income families make investments in energy efficiency at home.

Published by Ken on December 28th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Community Initiatives | Comment now »

speaking of battery tech: how’s this hybrid nuke?

hyperions mini nuke power plant

Yes, I'm looking for answers: does this make any sense? A hot tub-sized nuclear power source that its inventor, Otis Peterson, prefers to call a battery.

See, the thang is, Hyperion's portable nuclear reactor uses no water and produces only a tiny fraction of the waste produced by other types of reactors. It's encased in concrete, trucked to a site, buried underground, and hooked up to a steam turbine (via santa fe reporter).

Voila! Plug in this 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy and forget it...Does this make it at least interesting?

Published by Ken on December 28th, 2007 tagged Energy, Island Vulnerabilities | Comment now »

Kauai sustainable farm does chocolate tours

lydgates steelgrass farm on kauai

Looking for a landscape that's sustainable, edible and meditative? Check out Kauai's new Steelgrass Farm.

While the bamboo, vanilla and cacao plantings mature, the main product for now is public education on the potential of diversified, sustainable agriculture on Kauai (via starbulletin).

Twice-weekly, the Lydgate ohana conducts their Chocolate Farm Tour, which covers the spectrum of chocolate production, from growing the cacao trees to sampling the world's favorite sweets.

"We do blind tastings of 10 fine dark chocolates", says Tony Lydgate.

Turns out, Steelgrass is a nickname for bamboo, a member of the grass family that's as strong as steel and widely used in construction in Asia and South America.

Published by Ken on December 27th, 2007 tagged HI-specific, Island Ecosystems | Comment now »

saving a thousand flies: on Hawaii speciation

endangered hawaiian picture-wing fly

Further proof that Hawaii is an entomologists' heaven: the picture wing fly is getting added 'endangered species' protection because it has evolved from a single fly to 1,000 distinct species...in only 26 million years.

Whew! Da bugger's been busy, no?

As good buddy Jan TenBruggencate points out, "It's an amazing amount of genetic change in a very short period. That diverse assemblage of closely related species is a goldmine for the study of evolution."

Now comes news that 'critical habitat' has been designated on 5 islands for 12 of these "picture wing" species, as a "Revised Proposed Designation of Critical Habitat for 12 Species of Picture-Wing Flies" was published in the Federal Register on November 28, 2007.

Published by Ken on December 27th, 2007 tagged HI-specific, Island Ecosystems | Comment now »

dude, where’s my resources: on world mineral reserves

peak mercury

Some folks believe nothing's more important than 'Peak Oil', yet oil ain't the only natural resource that's peaking.

So say a chemist and physicist who took the first detailed look at world resource reserves (via oil drum).

Italians Ugo Bardi and Marco Pagani have examined the world production of 57 minerals reported in the database of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and found 11 cases where production has clearly peaked and is now declining.

Leading the list are Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Selenium, Tellurium, Phosphorus, Thallium, Zircon and Rhenium.

Published by Ken on December 26th, 2007 tagged Sustainability Science | Comment now »

let us now praise unreasonable people: on climate savers

unreasonable men create progress

Of all the commentators on the Bali bash, my fav is the godfather of sustainability, John Elkington (via open democracy).

If Bali produced a 'road map', says Elkington, we should stay well off that 'thundering highway'.

Why? "These great parades of the great and good (and not-so)" says Elkington, "combine good intentions with an almost willful myopia about the scale of the challenges we face."

So "it's not Bali or the political arena where the real action is." Instead, Elkington believes we must support the "unreasonable people" on the ground whose ambition, skills and courage make them the extraordinary change-makers we most need now.

Published by Ken on December 26th, 2007 tagged Best Practices, Climate Change | Comment now »

hard parts: on negotiating global climate agreements

climate deal to be negotiated

Ya may think we all agree on the urgency and feasibility of emissions reductions, yet how we gonna bang out all the details on 'who-does-what-and-how-when' over the next two years?

Not surprisingly, the negotiating table is already being set, as various parties now float proposals for consideration.

One of the more interesting early ideas addresses those who (like the US) aren't yet at the table. 'Punish 'em', say the Greens in the EU (via common dreams).

They wanna levy special taxes or sanctions on energy-intensive US produces, such as steel and aluminum, which are exported to Europe.

Published by Ken on December 24th, 2007 tagged CO2 Emissions, Climate Change | Comment now »

U talkin’ to me? on knowing wot you’re talking about

alaxander the magician knows wot you know

Momma always said, "Kenny, if ya don't know what you're talking about, better keep your mouth shut." Nuff said.

Imagine, then, my cumulative frustration with the quality of our civic discourse, as far too many folks take up lots of our 'face time' spouting off about stuff they know little about.

As my book noted in 'No-Nos of Networking', "some folks think they know stuff that is simply not true, and sometimes our conviction in ignorance is truly astonishing." (TTGI, p. 85)

More worse, for many of us, our unknowns are unknown. That is, we don't know we don't know jack.

Published by Ken on December 23rd, 2007 tagged Best Practices, Community Initiatives | Comment now »

arrow shoots straight: top economist debunks uncertainty

ken arrow on uncertainty

Tired of armchair experts who assert the scientific consensus on global warming is apocryphal? Tell 'em to take this Arrow and call ya in the morning...

That would be Kenneth Arrow, prolly the world's most distinguished economist and respected commentator on economics. Things like the prospective cost of cleaning up our atmospheric mess (via globalisation-and-the-environment).

Following Britain's release of the Stern Review, which argued for early action as the cheaper alternative, there has been lot's of debate about Stern's methods. Enough to pump a bit of life into the uncertainty camp.

Now, Arrow dispels all that in a few paragraphs.

Published by Ken on December 23rd, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comment now »

letter contest winners urge next prez: change course

carnegie mellon letter writers

Wanna hear wot students want from our next president? Read this prize-winning ‘open letter’ addressing the candidates on energy policy and sustainability (via sus research).

Carnegie Mellon graduate engineering students Shahzeen Attari, Ines Margarida Lima de Azevedo, Benjamin Flath and Constantine Samaras won a national letter-writing contest called "Tomorrow's Energy Ambassadors, Managers and Scholars" contest, sponsored by Johnson Controls.

Their prize-winning letter concludes, “as president, your next four years are crucial in shaping the evolution of humanity. The world is yearning for an alternative and sustainable solution. Change our course and lead the world. We are waiting."

Published by Ken on December 22nd, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Community Initiatives | Comment now »

people’s car meets climate change: whither India?

indias tata motors build peoples car

Now that India's mass market will get access to the world's cheapest cars, ya gotta wonder about the downside.

Wudja believe ultra-cheap cars are not required to meet safety and emissions standards?

This country with non-existent public transport and 65 million scooter owners could boast 300 million car owners by 2020. So, this godsend for millions should be flashing the hazard-warning lights, warns Ethical Corporation magazine (via WBCSD).

Viewed as a global carmaker's dream, this prospect is giving nightmares to India's green campaigners and road safety advocates who fear that ultra-cheap cars will dangerously increase toxic emissions, urban congestion, unsustainable fuel use and road deaths in the country.

Published by Ken on December 21st, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Transport | Comment now »

new addiction to alcohol: US jonesing for biofuels

biofuels are fuelish

Good thang ethanol (aka drinking alcohol) can be blended directly into gasoline, yet too bad it doesn't help with emissions reductions.

Course, that didn't stop the Bushies from playing "fuel on the hill" with a new energy bill betting the farm that corn ethanol is the best alternative fuel for the future.

As Joseph Romm opines, "it isn't. Biofuels from most food crops or from newly deforested lands do not provide a significant net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions." (via salon).

In fact, recent research by Paul Crutzen found that corn ethanol might generate up to 50 percent more greenhouse gases than gasoline.

Published by Ken on December 20th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Transport | Comment now »

take umbrage with that? store does fabber, live

umbra concept store with fabber

Make it and take it is the thang at the Umbra Concept Store in downtown Toronto (via gizmodo).

That's where some of Umbra's product designers go in-store to work on their designs with a desktop fabricator...and get customer feedback in real time.

Hmmm...in-store fabrication. Wot a concept, no?

Says gizmodo, Umbra is "known for low-cost designy plastic kitchen and bathroom tchotchkes, which seems like the perfect brand to start doing in-store production of its less microchippy wares."

The Toronto store features a a rapid prototyping machine (in the form of a 3D printer) which their designers can use to create models of their work.

Published by Ken on December 20th, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives | Comment now »

DIY goes chic: on why handmade is better

handmade slippers

Since DIY (do it yourself) implies distaste for consumer culture, it seems eminently commendable to buy handmade gifts for others this season, and request that others do the same for you.

That's the aim of the Handmade Consortium, and so far 6,500 people have made this pledge at buyhandmade.org (via ny times mag).

Rob Walker looks at why buying handmade is better for the environment, both as an alternative to mass production and to avoid supporting sweatshops.

Published by Ken on December 19th, 2007 tagged Best Practices, Community Initiatives | Comment now »