Globe-spanning supply chains, the demise of

Reading such an article, I wonder how much we even think about the consequences of the following:

Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages. Rising concern about global warming, the reaction against lost jobs in rich countries, worries about food safety and security, and the collapse of world trade talks in Geneva last week also signal that political and environmental concerns may make the calculus of globalization far more complex.

There is more to this than merely imagining the situation as it exists. Explain it to yourself like you are a ten-year-old, and see how well you do. This is not a test or condescension, but an attempt to see how much of this we really understand. WALL·E did a great job of this, but we all need to challenge ourselves in this way.

Just to hear yourself explain the progress we have made on the back of energy supplied by fossil fuels – acknowledging* the reasons why it cannot continue – opens the door to reconciling its unforeseen consequences with a lower impact existence. Are we not smart enough to do this? And wouldn’t it be the next height of civilization?

*The amount of savvy required to continue to ignore all of this also being within our grasp may provide a wagering element for sporting types.

The Emerald City

“We sleep until twelve, off to work at one, an hour for lunch, and then we’re done.”

I should have known; another clue that’s been right in front of us since 1939.

Bonus: what does the Tin Man have to do with bee hives?

Vis Viva or, Major Failing meets General Awakening

In the 17th century, the German polymath Liebniz first lent expression, both mathematically and otherwise, to the idea that would be called energy a couple of centuries later. His vis viva, or living force of the system, was the quantity that was conserved within the motion of mechanical systems, with a couple of stipulations. But this is not a history lesson.

It is, rather, an introduction into the laws of Thermodynamics. For as long as one might wish to define the present epoch, society has left itself and its fate in the hands of engineers, and as many of my colleagues will and do admit, it has brought us this far. The previous statement has, obviously, both positive and negative facets equally worthy of consideration.

Since the age of Leibniz and Newton, which continues through today, many have followed in their footsteps to flesh out the concepts that have come to define our world. Who was Sadi Carnot or James Prescott Joule and what were their contributions to our understanding of the physical world are not merely questions for the few, but for all of us. Without knowing about them, the contributions of Ilya Prigogine have little meaning. This is to say that without a proper understanding of entropy and irreversibility there will be difficulty grappling with complex systems, the precautionary principle, and ultimately, sustainability itself.

The discussion is over before it begins, in a very fundamental way, and green IS just another fad if there is not a more general awakening connected to a it. Time to nail a ladder up to that ol’ tree of knowledge. More to come.

Investing in Green

Or maybe just apostrophe futures, but what about a Green bubble? I mean come on, let’s get out in front of this thing.

Actually, that makes me wonder how far off are we from the Pop Art breaking point where you can invest in things that cannot be owned (waves, wind, clouds) and for which no discernible value can be ascertained yet can a market be devised. Sound familiar? Now that is the way to stave off recession

The kid was prescient

About two years ago, my son ran for president of his third grade class. While the election was an elementary exercise in civics perhaps, the junior campaigns quickly took on the dynamic of their national models, with signs, slogans and promises. And while his opponents for the presidency took a familiar tack with promises of ending the war in Iraq, bringing world peace and helping the poor, Ellis went right for the gusto, promising a four-day week, longer recess and three-day weekends. Give them what they want, sometimes before they know they want it.

Of course, he won in a landslide.

The spectrum…

Between useless and necessary is one we all seem to be beginning to perceive. Or act like we knew existed all along, I’m not sure which is preferable. In one way, I don’t know whether this device

is green. But while it fits the definition of the word in common parlance, it encapsulates the phenomenon with airtight precision much better even than a story made up to do the same thing. To wit: its designer, having realized a personal crisis over all the useless crap he has birthed into the world over the last thirty years, at the cost of great personal wealth to himself, now brilliantly pivots toward the responsibility trend. On this he will also realize vast fortunes. Who says design is dead? Oh… he did.

But… I think this is how it’s going to work, if ‘going to’ and ‘work’ still have functional equivalents in a post-industrial society. One word cannot intersect itself. Inventing ways to save us and selling it back to us is the intersection of the meanings of Green in English. We all know that and the double entendre is at least part of the crude appeal, indeed the sustainability, of the term. He who had a real impact in creating this morass of consumption, now comes riding to the rescue. Like I’ve said, while not altogether hopeful, I do think people can redeem themselves. So I’ll not begrudge him, only fold my criticisms into a larger loathing for the overall concept of design – the kind of savvy that got us into the situation in the first place.

gadgets and Green

We’re on an island in Greece and, watching a rebroadcast of the Lakers-Celtics with my son before we go swimming this afternoon, we see a commercial for this car.

In the spot, a dog puppet is driving up an idyllic street in the car, and passes a very beautiful woman riding a bicycle. The puppet dog (it might be a chicken) sort of whistles at her as the road becomes a hill. She pulls over, and the… driver motions to the back, where the license plate in the rear of the car pops out. It’s a hidden bike rack.

In the next scene the beautiful woman is riding with the dog/chicken, while her bike is in back, on the rack.

I’m just sayin’. Imagination, people.

Green means $$$

Of course, can’t leave that out. It’s the reason any of this has been conflated into the marketing vortex that it is. So we deign to talk about it; but the minute we do, it’s in need of immediate unpacking.

When discussions about what to do in the face of dramatic climate change brought about by CO2 emissions are constantly framed in terms of what we (i.e., businesses) can afford to do, what’s doable politically, what’s pragmatic, the need for market solutions, etcetera, it might be a good time to remember the purpose of government. There is no need to negotiate with ourselves about just what the most powerful among us might be willing to do to ameliorate a self-induced calamity. Relying on market incentives is the slow way of doing nothing.

We all want to understand, the cut to the chase, to make it simple, to separate the signal from the noise. But to actually do this will entail waking some uncomfortable bedfellows.

It will be no easy business to reappraise the relationship between citizens, the government and business. But it never was, not even in the first place.

According to Locke, the State of Nature, the natural condition of mankind, is a state of perfect and complete liberty to conduct one’s life as one best sees fit, free from the interference of others. This does not mean, however, that it is a state of license: one is not free to do anything at all one pleases, or even anything that one judges to be in one’s interest. The State of Nature, although a state wherein there is no civil authority or government to punish people for transgressions against laws, is not a state without morality. The State of Nature is pre-political, but it is not pre-moral. Persons are assumed to be equal to one another in such a state, and therefore equally capable of discovering and being bound by the Law of Nature. The Law of Nature, which is on Locke’s view the basis of all morality, and given to us by God, commands that we not harm others with regards to their “life, health, liberty, or possessions” (par. 6). Because we all belong equally to God, and because we cannot take away that which is rightfully His, we are prohibited from harming one another. So, the State of Nature is a state of liberty where persons are free to pursue their own interests and plans, free from interference, and, because of the Law of Nature and the restrictions that it imposes upon persons, it is relatively peaceful.

And then, there’s JJ Rousseau:

As time passed, however, humanity faced certain changes. As the overall population increased, the means by which people could satisfy their needs had to change. People slowly began to live together in small families, and then in small communities. Divisions of labor were introduced, both within and between families, and discoveries and inventions made life easier, giving rise to leisure time. Such leisure time inevitably led people to make comparisons between themselves and others, resulting in public values, leading to shame and envy, pride and contempt. Most importantly however, according to Rousseau, was the invention of private property, which constituted the pivotal moment in humanity’s evolution out of a simple, pure state into one characterized by greed, competition, vanity, inequality, and vice. For Rousseau the invention of property constitutes humanity’s ‘fall from grace’ out of the State of Nature.

Having introduced private property, initial conditions of inequality became more pronounced. Some have property and others are forced to work for them, and the development of social classes begins. Eventually, those who have property notice that it would be in their interests to create a government that would protect private property from those who do not have it but can see that they might be able to acquire it by force. So, government gets established, through a contract, which purports to guarantee equality and protection for all, even though its true purpose is to fossilize the very inequalities that private property has produced. In other words, the contract, which claims to be in the interests of everyone equally, is really in the interests of the few who have become stronger and richer as a result of the developments of private property. This is the naturalized social contract, which Rousseau views as responsible for the conflict and competition from which modern society suffers.

The normative social contract, argued for by Rousseau in The Social Contract (1762), is meant to respond to this sorry state of affairs and to remedy the social and moral ills that have been produced by the development of society. The distinction between history and justification, between the factual situation of mankind and how it ought to live together, is of the utmost importance to Rousseau. While we ought not to ignore history, nor ignore the causes of the problems we face, we must resolve those problems through our capacity to choose how we ought to live. Might never makes right, despite how often it pretends that it can.

All this is to say that ‘to guarantee equality and protection for all’ has to be extended and the ability to do so is within the power of people living under government by consent. You give yours in any number of ways. If you want light rail systems and other public transit infrastructure, a different system of tax allocation, less dough spent on highways, more solar energy, whatever… if you want these things agitate for them.

Green means $$$ and how we spend it.

Mediterranean Intermission

For this month we’ll be away, here.

Where they have their own ideas about what green means, as well as blue and white. I’m working on some other projects while our crack IT team will be switching the site over to its permanent home at

You shouldn’t notice the change very much, just adding some more features and keeping the videos and other media available on the front page.

Ephkaristo e Kalinachta for now.

sustainable design

From energy efficient appliances to recycled materials to self-contained power generation, there are many elements to sustainable design and each of them have very specific meanings, as well as ramifications for the way we think about, design and build structures for home and work.

Once there is general understanding of what ‘sustainable’ actually means, the degrees of separation between what we’ve been doing design-wise and what is sustainable into the future will become apparent. This is itself among the first steps toward sustainability.

Tom Lawrence is an engineering professor at the University of Georgia. In addition to instructing students and leading campus initiatives for greater energy efficiency in buildings new and old around campus, in 2007 Lawrence was selected by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) as a Distinguished Lecturer to lead workshops on LEED ratings and sustainable design practices. He travels far and wide to give talks on this very subject. In the primer below, he describes the spectrum of design standards that can be seen in practice today.