Tag Archives: Sustainability

No dilemma, the human omnivore’s prerogative is unsustainable

Radical slow food guru Joel Salatin is not popular with vegetarians. New Age wisdom has held that modern man had to transcend meat, the only sustainable future calling for us to cut out the middle beast and narrow our source of nutrition to the more efficient vegetable kingdom. Except it turns out that agriculture is no more sustainable than mining. Here’s the lesson I gleaned from Joel Salatin’s lecture last Saturday. Nature wants to grow grass not grain. The greatest environmental disaster to befall Earth was mankind’s development of wheat. Calling humans omnivores pretends we can eat anything, when in reality outside of meat we’re limited to the product of tillage, for the most part requiring irrigation and fertilizer. A sustainable biosphere calls for perennials cycled through their consumers, ruminant herbivores. As omni as we wanna be, we’re not herbivores.

Can you manage a World Car-Free Day?

The publishers of Car Busters have proclaimed every September 22 to be WORLD CAR-FREE DAY. Consider taking the bus, riding a bike or walking to work today. Where possible, the World Carfree Network suggests you walk in the middle of the street where the automobile-dependent will get the point. It’s not your fault the MSM hasn’t told everyone we have a chance today to rethink the sustainability of how to get around.

Apropos to how to get people out of their cars, Vancouver scholar Patrick Condon has released a text about Design Strategies for a Post Carbon World, titled Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, published by the University of British Columbia Press. The table of contents offers talking points enough:


1. Restore the Streetcar City
The Streetcar City as a Unifying Principle
Urban Form and the Pattern of Walkin and Riding
Continuous Linear Corridors, Not Stand-alone Nodes
Buses, Streetcars, Light Rail Transit, and Subways
Streetcar as an Urban Investment
Cars, Buses, Streetcar, or Heavy Rail?
Case Study of the Broadway Corridor in Vancouver
What Is the Optimal Transit System?

2. Design an Interconnected Street System
Challenges of the Denritic Street System
Four Types of Interconnected Street Systems
Ideal Block and Parcel Size
Road Width, Fire Access, Queuing Streets
The Corner, Lanes and Alleys
Greenhouse Gas and Street Pattern

3. Locate Commercial Services, Frequent Transit, and Schools within a Five-minute Walk
Sense of Place in Corridors
Transit, Density, and the Five-minute Walk
Designing for the Bus or Streetcar
The Walk to School

4. Locate Good Jobs Close to Affordable Homes
The Historic Relationship between Work and Home
Metropolitan and Community Scale

5. Provide a Diversity of Housing Types
The Influence of Building Type on GHG Production
The Sustainable Single-family Home
Build and Adapt Neighborhoods for all Ages and Incomes
Buildings with a Friendly Face to the Street

6. Create a Linked System of Natural Areas and Parks
Fredrick Law Olmsted and Linked Natural Areas and Parks
Ian McHarg and the Greenway Revival
Case Study at the Regional Scale:
The Damascus Design Workshop
Case Study at the Neighborhood Scale: Sustainable Fairview
and the Pringle Creek Community, Salem, Oregon

7. Invest in Lighter, Greener, Cheaper, Smarter Infrastructure
Watershed Function
Four Rules for Infiltration
Green Infrastructure for Parcels
Impervious Paved Infiltration Streets

CH2M pushes UAE Masdar as model PRT

In writing about the recent PPSBN Sustainability conference, I failed miserably to highlight the keynote speaker Nancy Tuor, who represented CH2M Hill as a model green corporate citizen. Ms Tuor, the “Group President and Executive Sponsor for Sustainability” at CH2M Hill, had headliner status at the conference because she is Program Manager on the MASDAR ‘Green’ City development in the United Arab Emirates, a smoke and mirrors project if ever there was, and it’s smoke from burning oil.

According to the program for this week’s conference in Colorado Springs:

CH2M HILL is the delivery partner for the first phase of the MASDAR development, a carbon-neutral and zero-waste sustainable city nestled in the heart of Abu Dhabi—the first major hydrocarbon producing nation.

First, a sustainable city built on income generated by fossil fuel is an oxymoron. Second, UAE’s efforts appear to be centered on securing the technological rights to new sources and practices before their monopoly on oil expires.

MASDAR is a comprehensive Abu Dhabi government program to address the issues of sustainable energy sources and environmental practices. The program is focused on developing and commercializing advanced and innovative technologies in renewable, alternative, and sustainable energies.

In other words, their definition of sustainable is much like the military’s, they want to sustain their profits.

Minneapolis Confidential‘s Ken Avidor contacted NMT about another outlandish aspect of CH2M’s green charade in Masdar. It relates to an announcement which Nancy Tuor made at the conference:

MIST delays impact PRT schedule. At a sustainability conference in Colorado Springs on November 3, 2009, Nancy Tuor, CH2M Hill’s program manager for the MASDAR ‘Green City’ in the United Arab Emirates, announced that the personal rapid transit (PRT) system will open to public use in about six months.

It seems a central showpiece of the Masdar development is a Personal Rapid Transit system which always fails to materialize. As Avidor writes:

You may have seen blog posts and news stories about a “sustainable” city in the United Arab Emirates called Masdar. One of the supposed “green” features of the Masdar project is a “Personal Rapid Transit” (PRT) system. It turns out the PRT system is a joke… but what do expect from a country where a prominent royal family member tortures people and has it all documented on video.

One of Avidor’s astute readers makes the point that the US tortures people, and documents it on video as well. So much for that dig at UAE, but Avidor’s central criticism stands. PRT projects worldwide are being lauded with out merit, but of critical relevance, PRTs are being used as stalking horses to thwart the finite budgets which metropolitan regions have for mass transit.

Interestingly, Avidor’s blog posts are being dogged by two detractors who can’t sing praises enough for PRTs. Maybe they’re new technology freaks who want to see Jetsons fantasies in their lifetimes. Maybe they believe the argument against mass transit, that contemporary man doesn’t want a community experience when he commutes. If they aren’t PRT industry shills, they should at least concede that no number of personal pods will accommodate the masses. They’re luxury hogs who don’t want to share the ride.

As cars sank the trolleys, so could PRT smoke and mirrors sink trains and subways. But the rich man has no need for mass transit. Why not get the taxpayers to fund something that will be available to only he: personal transit. Where there’s no room for the masses. It’s the same strategy the rich use to fund their charter schools at the expense of public schools.

Where the rich are fleecing the needy, you can always count on Colorado Springs to sign on.

Sustainability catch phrase for profiteers

COLORADO SPRINGS- At Rosamund Naylor’s CC lecture “Where’s the Beef?” about the basic unsustainability of beef, whether corn or grass fed, we discussed three facets of the sustainable equation: biophysical, economic and social. The Southern Colorado Sustainability Conference taking place today and tomorrow is more interested in a fourth: military sustainability, or how to sustain its mission. The PPSBN event is a green wash for area businesses, primarily weapons industry contractors, and Fort Carson, to claim for example, that setting aside land for a firing range will ameliorate urban growth. Their keynote speaker this year is Nancy Tuor of CH2M Hill, one of the top war profiteers in Iraq and Afghanistan, implicated among the disaster profiteers of Hurricane Katrina.

A sustainable army is a very, very small one. There is no sustainable offensive capability, nor even as deterrence. A big stick is only sustainable as a plowshare.

A blimp-neck military type’s concept of sustainability is fertilizing the status quo.

But a word about Rosamund Naylor’s lecture. Gates Common room was overflowing with students and locals who seemed already very much up to speed about the grass-fed versus industrialized beef agriculture. I was almost completely impressed by the caliber of the students, when a tangle-haired student seated in front of me posed this question: “Could developments with GMO grasses produce greater yields which in turn could make grass-fed beef more feasible?” Naylor answered that GMO development was unlikely for perennial grasses because where’s the profit for Cargill? But the boy defended his question, as if Naylor’s answer had come from a Luddite, and the little innocent reaped back slaps from his friends all around.

Unsustainably powered lights on parade

Parade of Lights 2008
COLORADO SPRINGS- There used to be a float in the PARADE OF LIGHTS which set an example for energy conservation. The lights were generator-driven and the admittedly un-flashy vehicle moved along entirely under pedal power. Did it look out of place between the commercial affairs shellacked in Christmas light?

Fort Carson’s boot on your 4th of July

Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph July 4, 2008I just love the Gazette’s headline on their July 4th front page: POST IS KEEPING TABS ON ITS ‘BOOTPRINT’. Is it a cute eco play on words, or an ironic malapropism? About collateral damage, Rumsfeld famously said the US doesn’t do body counts. I am reminded of course of George’s Orwell’s foretelling: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”

Certainly the PR crew at Fort Carson meant to imply the equivalent of an environmental footprint in Army lingo. But footprint is itself no longer the literal track left behind you as you walk. It has come to mean the space you occupy, or the resources you consume. Or that of your computer or the printer on your desk for example. The portion of surface resources which each item displaces.

There must be a semantic fallacy which applies here, a mixed semaphore perhaps? As if you could tell me “put a sock in it.” And the Army would add “Put a BOOT in it. HA HA.”

If the Fort Carson sustainability spin doctors want to call the Army eco impact a “bootprint” instead, it probably is more accurate. Their activities have devastation-unleashing consequences. And as the interviews in the article reveal, the warrior’s real passion is in the warfare, hybred-whatsits be damned.

On this Independence Day when we’re all wishing ourselves “Happy” Patriotism, let’s reflect on the full context of Orwell’s 1984 passage:

Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Eco-conscious, yes. Sustainable? Hardly.

COLORADO SPRINGS- Johann of First Affirmative Financial Network, asked me to relate my experience at the now notorious PPJPC meet-up to discuss Economic Sustainability. Though Tony wasn’t able to attend, he’s initiated a debate here: is there such a thing as “economic sustainability?” Since I was there, perhaps I could elucidate, because I believe I heard the answer.

I was quite impressed by the questions brought to the event by the audience, who proved to be no shrinking violets. The interests ranged from some who wanted to indict the Fed, to those who questioned economic growth as being sustainable. The housing market for example is predicated on real estate increasing in value. Must it? Should it? Can it? Successful investing is inherently about your investment growing, otherwise you are losing money. Can investment be done without growth? When posed this question, our intrepid investment-biz guest braved an answer: “I don’t know.”

I supposed as much, hence my initial skepticism about the subject of the talk. But I expected to hear about options, not to hear my foregone conclusion foreclosed. What then does FAFN, our fellow sustainability boosters, have to offer? It turns out it is the usual green investing. Working Assets was so 90s, “sustainability” is the eco catch-phrase of the new millennium. It’s still about the 3Es, as Johann told us they say in the greening biz, or the 3Ps: people, planet and profit.

Johann’s employer’s concrete claim to “sustainability” was a novel certification of a green office remodel. No small task, although the pitch from Johann is that it requires a surprisingly small expenditure. So, small task. And FAFN is all about giving recognition for setting a good example. Here’s how this works in their business model: Chiefly their portfolio is comprised of only green stocks, plus stocks you might want to encourage to be green. General Motors is decidedly not green, but you could recommend them as an incentive for GM to show some eco-thinking. That’s an actual example from our discussion. I’m hoping if Monsanto issued a press release that they would be recycling their break-room Dixie cups, our sustainability cheerleaders wouldn’t jump tp award the bold step with a buy recommendation.

I came to the PPJC meeting with an even more hardcore question. How can someone who makes a living from the interest earned on money, consider themselves sustainable? Our guest’s response was “there certainly are plenty of us around.” But is that an answer? Economically sustainable, yes. Environmentally? Hardly. I believe that is the crux of what Tony raises as a paradox.

Charging interest for the loan of money has presented an age-old moral dilemma. The function of money was to facilitate barter, as one good or service was exchanged for another. Religious thinkers have most often concluded that a person should not profiteer from the exchange of money itself, adding as they have, no value to the equation. Jesus was certainly against it. Although Johann interpreted “go forth and multiply” to mean you should multiply your money.

Whether it’s moral or not, how can money lending be environmentally sustainable? If you are producing no good or rendering no labor, what should you be taking out of the system for your consumption? Can a negative-contribution be sustainable?

When I first moved to UCLA, and saw the mass of wealth built around the west side of Los Angeles, the opulence seemed to me built on an intangible cloud of finance. I wondered what kind of bank vacuum lay behind the scene, sucking from the natural and human resources of the world to sustain the decadence beyond imagination of LA’s suburbs, foothills and ridge-tops. I concluded something then. The arbitrary financial arrangements, probably no more legitimate than royal lineage, or less usurious than a loan shark, were the only grip the owners had on the victims of their exploitation. Short of militarized enforcement, it would become tenuous at best, and certainly will not be sustainable, economic or otherwise.

When in Rome, do you know what to do?

Apparently the music at Give Peace a Dance was terrible -in the opinion of those over 50 who excused themselves early because they thought the noise was deafening and/or cacophonous. Had the PPJPC targeted the dance to younger people, I’m sure critical reviews would have been favorable.

Outreach to community subgroups different from your own, might by definition, require stepping outside your comfort zone. Catering to youth might mean a buffet at odds with your palate. So what? Don’t go. But if you admit the need to embrace age diversity into your organization, perhaps you have to tolerate some of their ways.

Likewise if you’re thinking to reach out to “the internets,” there’s a chance the language and discourse of that world might be too coarse for your sensibilities. Send internet emissaries to do your courting. That’s the principle behind ambassadors. Send someone who can speak to the natives. Don’t venture where you might be fainthearted.

Courting diversity and different strokes is paramount to building a broader community consensus. It may be a compromise of your particular taste, and it may feel like one hell of a compromise, but it shouldn’t mean compromising your fundamental principles.

Covering your ears to bear the discord is a far cry from disparaging your own ideals in order to ingratiate yourself with potential recruits. I’d sooner speak in another language to reach people foreign to my cause, than speak English but repudiate my origins in order to find agreement with erstwhile opponents.

There might be something honorable in cozying up to your enemy to show them you are flesh and blood like them. If they agree with you on one thing, perhaps they will become acclimatized to consider another. It’s a fitting long term goal, but in the meantime, what? Do you grab knives and partake in the crimes you are against?

The PPJPC has a group of members interested in the cause of sustainability. Our opponent, the war machine, has a PR department that has glommed unto “sustainability.” On one side you could call that green-washing the business of death and destruction. Neither death, nor destruction being sustainable. On the other side of the argument, you could say that the mother of all budgets being splurged on promoting sustainability cannot but help. Both sides can be true.

So death might be portrayed as fertilizing the soil for new life. Feeding the cycle of life, TM Disney. Do we no longer hold sacred the sanctity of each life span individuated from the cycles?

Killing is wrong, no matter how much fertilizer you are able to make. Reaching across to the sustainability crowd, by minimizing anti-war ideals as merely differences of opinion, is to compromise not just taste, but substance.

Walden Pond is goin’ green

This year I’ve resolved to be a better Earth citizen. Last night I watched The Story of Stuff. It’s a digital video making its way around the internet and it elucidates clearly the materials economy, from natural resource inputs to consumer consumption and, finally, to waste landfills and garbage incinerators. It is truly disheartening to see what we are doing to the planet. There is no question that things better change, and soon. The earth can’t sustain our never-ending demands much longer.
Today I read that 13% of home energy bills go toward heating water. To make some headway on our resolution to be eco-conscientious, I presented a couple of options to my kids. We could commit to taking shorter and cooler showers. Or we could economize in the way my mother did while my dad was in Viet Nam and she was left home alone to care for 5 young children.

green bathtub
My daughter just came upstairs, post shower, with blue lips and goosebumps galore. I think I have my answer.