A follow up on William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, whom I referred to in a prior post. Time magazine named him “Hero of the Planet“. I saw him speak at Stanford on Oct. 15th. He hit his main points from the earlier podcast, but with new detail and data. (Links below.) He discussed eco-efficiency within architecture, civic planning, general manufacturing processes
He states a goal we should conditionally adopt:
I say conditionally, because we don’t know now what we will know in the future. We may need to modify this as time goes one. And overcommitment to any one philosophy is a bad idea. It could then be called an ‘-ism’, like socialism, capitalism, or ecologism. That last one’s from McDonough, who adds that an ‘-ism’ is fundamentally out of balance, leading society inevitably towards troubles. He advocates a balance, where society maintains an equilibrium between being ecological, economical and equitable.
During the Q&A phase, I asked who he would like to see as a Presidential adviser on the subjects of sustainability and energy, he suggested John Holdren, Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center. He was also on an science advisory committee for President Clinton. My impression from casual research on Professor Holdren is that he would bring a balanced approach in advising for sustainablity while reminding everyone of the value of expertise. We need to undo and more the efforts of the Bush administration to devalue science in our culture. One of our dire needs right now is for government to get advice from true experts on how to best direct the limited resources of our declining economy towards climate change mitigation, prosperity and equality.
McDonough also said he would like to see substantial activity at the federal level aimed towards building and vehicular efficiency, sustainable energy, improving infrastructure, etc.
~ In the North Pacific Gyre, the large scale vortex flow in the North Pacific driven by the Coriolis effect, there is a ratio of plastic to plankton of 6 to 1.
~ 48% of the anthropogenic carbon since the industrial revolution has gone into the oceans. This has dampened the atmospheric global warming effects, but we are raising the acidity of seawater. Historically, the Ph has been between 8.8 and 8.2 according to the Ross Ice Shelf cores. We are currently at 8.06 and it could reach 7.9 by 2099. At 7.9 Ph, calcium carbonate goes into solution, meaning that none of the creatures that make shells will be able to do so. This will create a huge die-off at the bottom of the food chain, creating more die-offs further along the food chain. In other words, massive extinctions and a potential end to the fishing industry.
A few of the examples he sited during his talk:
~ Better Place: CEO Shai Agassi has a vision of oil independence for Isreal by employing plug-in electric vehicles with batteries that can be swapped at service stations for trips longer than a single charge. ~ Wiki article
~ Could we just lift farmlands up onto the roofs of buildings, so that the city integrates farms rather than displacing them? McDonough + Partners worked on a plan with the city of Liuzhou in China to implement his Eco-Efficiency standards into an upcoming expansion of the city. All the new apartment buildings will have rooftop gardens & solar panels, and the local sewage treatment plant will provide fertilizer and 20% of the local cooking gas.
~ For the green roof of the Gap HQ in Redwood City, they planted native grasses of the area, taking a first step in reversing the trend of developers reducing the native habitats of local birds and incects.
~ For the roof of a Ford truck plant in Michigan, they made a 10 acre green roof that captures the rainwater that would have had to be cleaned by a waste treatment plant. They saved money immediately, and their roof is consuming CO2 and providing habitat.
Balancing Economy, Equity, and Ecology Through Design – Oct. 15, 2008 – at Stanford, audio & some video
Speech at the Feb. 2005 TED talks, MP4 download
Cradle to Cradle Design, a talk on Feb 11, 2003 at Stanford, audio
As we face this financial crisis, we can watch for at least one positive effect from an environmental standpoint: less sprawl.
Both the lending mechanisms and the insurance industry have been hurt badly. This will result in more caution on the part of developers, their investors, and their customers. They will build fewer developments due to the comparative lack of available funds. And where they do build, they will find less demand from home buyers whose agenda coincides more and more with the sustainable development movement:
– The migration of population away from remote suburbs towards more dense urban centers will mean the jobs will follow.
– If there’s too much of a threat from floods, forest fires, hurricanes, or coastal erosion, then insurance will either be too expensive or totally unavailable.
So as the population moves from owning to renting, the units closer to jobs will be in higher demand. The developers will build denser neighborhoods with shorter commutes and less insurance risks from climate change effects. And the wise home-buyer will be seeking out more sustainable homes, giving the green developer a market advantage.
And with enough of a sustainability sentiment in government, we might even see additional market incentives through a carbon market or tax breaks for LEED homes.
There will be personal hardship for many, and I don’t mean to minimize or dismiss the impending struggles of those who will suffer (probably including myself). But I am pleased that some of the market mechanisms seem to be making the more sustainable choices coincide with financial wisdom.
Scary Idea: Technology learns 10,000 times faster than you do (according to John Smart of the Acceleration Studies Foundation).
For example, the silicon chip industry has remained consistent with Moore’s Law, doubling almost 30 times the concentration of transistors per chip per $1000 since its invention. That means that today’s chip is about 10 billion times better than it was 50 years ago.
Since we designed our technology to get us into this ever-increasing climate disaster, maybe we should start designing our technology to get us out of it. So how do we do that? We start by specifying what is needed. Industry calls such specifications design challenges. They usually seek them out on their own, but we need solutions faster. So let’s start collecting and voting on the best ideas for improving the situation.
There are a few advantages for the marketplace specifying what is needed. One is that the design challenges remain in the public space. Patents won’t keep other companies, governments and individuals from coming up with new, better solutions. And solutions can be low budget enough to be accessible to the poor and developing country populations.
Another advantage would be shifting of some of the market research out of the hands of the short-term profit oriented corporations and into the hands of the community. We can ask for solutions that won’t be huge sellers in Walmart in the next quarter. (See Chris Anderson’s notions on ‘the Long Tail’ and ‘Free’ –
Our technology development cycles will seek to solve these design challenges, treating the victims of the unresolved issues as an unserved market eager for a solution in the form of a product or service. Why? Because these are ripe market opportunities. As Vinod Khosla, the founder of Sun Microsystems and Khosla Ventures said, “No one will pay you to solve a non-problem.” “Every big problem is a big opportunity.”
(video clip: http://edcorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=26)
A third advantage is that the community would do it’s own marketing for the best solutions. A voting process would show companies and inventors both what the solutions were the most demanded (what they should be working on) and which solutions were the best (how each solution performs). This would encourage industry, technologists, and Do-It-Yourself types to design better solutions faster.
Google has made something of a start along this process. Their “10ToThe100” contest (which just stopped accepting submissions, dammit!) is looking for the best ideas based upon how many would be helped. They are in a narrowing phase right now and will offer the 100 best ideas for public voting on Jan. 27th. So make sure you vote.
I missed the deadline, so I will post a few of my ideas over the next few days. And I make no apologies if they are a bit out of reach of current technology. Remember these are design challenges, and technology is a fast learner.
References & Inspirations:
~ Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, Author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, and Disrupting Class
Book purchase: The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business (Collins Business Essentials)
The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns
~ John Smart of the Acceleration Studies Foundation
~ William McDonough of William McDonough + Partners, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), and author of Cradle to Cradle
Book purchase: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
~Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems and Khosla Ventures
video clip: http://edcorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=26
~ Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, author of The Long Tail and Free (being published in ’09… for FREE!)
Book purchase: Long Tail, The, Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More
“The EDITT Tower (Ecological Design In The Tropics) is set to be built in downtown Singapore. It’s design integrates a gray water system, central recycling, passive heating and cooling and solar panels. Half of the surface area of the building will be covered in local, organic vegetation. If that isn’t enough, sewage from the building’s inhabitants will be converted into biogas. Go Poo Power!”
Highlights starting from: 6:28 12:10 16:05 21:35
Waterblogged is now my favorite water site… lol
“Below, Waterblogged.info presents the proud winners of the future coveted Waterblogged.info Excellent Trophy for Truly Inspiring Excellence, informally dubbed the Wettie, soon to be a word in a household near you.”
Category: Best Inevitable Use of Rap in a Video about the Water Cycle
“The Water Cycle Jump” by Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
“Your mind must be on vacation if you don’t know about evaporation.”
Category: Best Well-meaning Public Service Animation about the Water Cycle Gone Terribly, Terribly Wrong
Groundwater Animation produced for the King County (Oregon) Water and Land Resources Division.
Honorable Mention: “The Water Cycle,” produced for NASA. Why?
Honorable Mention: Protect Your Water – Groundwater – Video 9, produced for the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan. This is unintentionally unintentionally funny.
Category: Best Use of Minimalist Claymation in a Video about the Water Cycle
The Winner: “Bob and the Water Cycle.”
“Bob is a blob.”
Category: Best Video about the Water Cycle Created by–We Guess–a Science Teacher Whom Students Either Love or Consider Weird, or Both
“The Water Cycle” by Mr. Davis.
“Somewhere, out there, the sun is shining on a little puddle. That’s just part of something we call the water cycle.”
Category: Best Tortured Use of Anime in a Video about the Water Cycle that Rips Off the Above-cited Mr. Davis’s Song
Fruits Basket Science Theater’s “The Water Cycle”
In all seriousness, I think they should regularly air some of these on t.v.
This Friday, in Beijing, begins the 17 days of international competition that countries take years to prepare for. It is easy to carried away with the Olympics. Over ten thousand athletes from two hundred and five countries will compete for the gold in 28 sports. The games will be covered by every major media outlet in the world. NBC alone is planning over 3,600 hours of programming across its sister stations. In every sense of the word, the games will truly be a spectacle. China sees the Olympics as its official arrival unto the international stage and has been busily preparing since it was chosen to host the games in 2001. The Olympics are not often held in developing countries.
The progress in Beijing has been dramatic as China has sought to make bold statement about the progress it has made as a country economically, technologically, and even ecologically. In anticipation of the Olympics, Beijing became a massive construction site. Its stadiums and buildings are an impressive site. A 91,000 seat stadium wrapped in tensile like steel dubbed the bird’s nest and a giant cube of plastic bubbles mimicking water molecules surrounding the Olympic swimming pool are but a couple of examples that have been applauded by the architecture and design community for their design and innovation. Architects have seen in China the chance to try anything: the chance to build the gargantuan and the outlandish, to leave an indelible impression in the history of Architecture, to build modern monuments. It works. The stadiums are well suited to the role of being China’s opportunity to promote its image abroad. But what can you truly say about an architecture that is said to be only able to exist in China, an authoritative state?
Not only did the stadiums and other Olympic venues need to be built, but so did the infrastructure needed to support them. New roads have been constructed and old roads repaved. Sidewalks have been added and so have parks. Flowers raised specially to bloom in August and trees have been planted. Subway and rail lines have been built. New housing has been constructed and the buildings surrounding the Olympic venues and transit routes have been upgraded. Bejing looks now not like a modern city, but a city of the future, at least on the surface. What we may call progress has been made, but at what costs? Financially the cost are tremendous. The costs for the games is expected to top 44 billion dollars. The new stadium cost around $500 million dollars and the new airport over 3 billion. The costs itself is several more times the cost of the 2004 games. And though this is a small portion of China’s national economy, hundreds of millions are still mired in poverty. As spending on the Olympics has increased, social spending has faltered. “Until there is a full, accurate, transparent accounting for the full Olympics expenditures — not just estimates and budgeted figures — you can’t really argue anything about…costs being reasonable,” says Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China, based in New York.
The social costs (links to PDF) too have been high. To make room for development, people have been forced from their homes and property often with little or no compensation, not enough to provide for them the life they had worked to accomplish. Evictions have been forced and often violent. The threat of violence, torture, and prison keep most from protesting. Estimates for the amount of displaced people because of the Olympics are estimated to be as high as 1.5 million. What the land is used for often profits those in power. After their homes and property are stolen, they are often demolished to build in their place more profitable developments: luxury high rises, golf courses, and shopping plazas. Those forced off the land often end up meanwhile in shanty towns.
These were to be a green Olympics. The different Olympic venues have made efforts to incorporate some sustainable building practices. China has made an effort to improve its environment. As a response to concerns about the air quality in Beijing, car usage has been limited, steel mills have been retrofitted or shut down, and factories have been relocated. They were needed efforts, if done for perhaps the wrong reasons. The scale of China’s ecological problems are huge, and exist far outside of Beijing. The majority of its rivers are polluted making potable water inaccessible to nearly half of the population. And since Beijing was awarded the Olympic games, birth defects, which many have linked to the pollution in China, have increased 40 percent. Together, it seems like a very steep price for just 17 days of the Olympic games.
Additional Information: What will China do for the Gold?
Quest, a science program that airs on KQED public television in San Francisco, recently ran a program featuring three Bay Area individuals whose homes make extensive use of alternative energy. Here is a summary. Chris Beaudouin, a resident of the Castro district, at the recommendation of California’s Department of the Environment, contacted Blue Green Pacific, the wind generation start-up company of another San Francisco resident, Todd Pelman, who is a marine and energy engineer. Soon to be on top of Chris’s garage (only one has been installed), looking as he describes it like two pieces of sculpture, will be two vertical wind turbines. He is anticipating that his experiment with micro-wind generation will reduce his energy bill 20-30%. The target price for one of the systems is $5000 dollars. Pelman estimates the payback period to be 8-10 years. Gavin Newsom, recently encouraged home owners to experiment with wind energy.
The second home featured is the home of Lisa and Michael Rubenstein, a 6,000 sf single level home in Hillsborough. Despite its size, the average monthly energy bill is $8. The Rubensteins wanted their dream home to be as sustainable as possible and so invested in a geothermal system as well as PV cells. The home is 41 percent more efficient than state Build It Green Standards. (The home was built before a residential LEED program was in place.) Other eco-friendly measures include: graywater recycling, reclaimed wood floor, insulation made from recycled denim, dual flush toilets, and fly-ash concrete.
The third home was the remodeled Victorian home of Dixon Beatty and Stephanie Parrot. They remodeled the home to use solar thermal energy to provide hot water and heat to their house and photovoltaic cells to meet most of their electricity needs.