Tricks

The plague time COVID-19 pandemic underscored the critical importance of outdoor space in urban life. This shift should be  here to stay, with building projects  judged on the merits of their outdoor environments.

Microclimate experts help developers, designers, and urban planners maximize the value of a new building by elevating and activating its exterior assets. But there is even more we can do with existing, no tech strategies like white rooftops:

The meteorological phenomenon of the urban heat island has been well known since giant cities began to emerge in the 19th century. The materials that comprise most city buildings and roads reflect much less solar radiation – and absorb more – than the vegetation they have replaced. They radiate some of that energy in the form of heat into the surrounding air.

The darker the surface, the more the heating. Fresh asphalt reflects only 4 percent of sunlight compared to as much as 25 percent for natural grassland and up to 90 percent for a white surface such as fresh snow.

Most of the roughly 2 percent of the earth’s land surface covered in urban development suffers from some level of urban heating. New York City averages 1-3 degrees C warmer than the surrounding countryside, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – and as much as 12 degrees warmer during some evenings. The effect is so pervasive that some climate skeptics have seriously claimed that global warming is merely an illusion created by thousands of once-rural meteorological stations becoming surrounded by urban development.

Climate change researchers adjust for such measurement bias, so that claim does not stand up. Nonetheless, the effect is real and pervasive. So, argues a recent study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, if dark heat-absorbing surfaces are warming our cities, why not negate the effect by installing white roofs and other light-colored surfaces to reflect back the sun’s rays?

And there are others that seem a lot more kooky than they are – mirrors, concrete roads instead of asphalt, distributed microgrids. We need to get moving with this stuff.

Image: Photo: Twitter @nycCoolRoofs

Making Whether

This Bloomberg Cleaner Tech (!) article about whether humans can control forces beyond our control (the weather) accidentally highlights the ways we ignore the choices and actions well-within our grasp:

In an effort to control future rainstorms, scientists in Japan are working on an ambitious government-backed project involving everything from giant curtains floating on the sea to fields of wind turbines to protect the island nation. Their goal, they say, is to turn extreme weather into “a blessing” — if it works.

The effort feels ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel, but it’s attracted dozens of researchers across Japan. The team, led by Kosei Yamaguchi, an associate professor at Kyoto University, is focused on reducing so-called “guerrilla” rainstorms that can bring large quantities of rainfall within a short period of time. Their goal is to develop an array of weather control technologies that can reduce deluges to manageable rain and roll them out by 2050.

It’s the shiny-object school of journalism – the very next words in that article are the subhead ‘Dams in the air’ – we need something new/fresh/exciting/risky/improbable/easy to attract eyeballs and viewers and clicks. What actually happens even when this works – and let’s not consider whether it’s the true function (whoopsie!) – is that people simply move on.

That’ simply moving on’ repeated over and over into perfection becomes its own feedback loop. Not sure ‘soothing’ is the right word, but numbness definitely follows. An ensuing restlessness opens the door to helplessness, what can I do, what does any of it matter? At the bottom of that fountain (l’eau impotable) lies despair. And adding in the crucial context for a business publication, of course Billions are at Stake. And they certainly are. But which billions, other billions, are left unconsidered.

Image: cloud seeding rocket (Photographer: Zhang Haiqiang/VCG/Getty Images)

The Long Slow before the Quickening

Before it takes shape, as it gradually gains hold, the transition to consuming less – basically, what sustainable neutrality reverse is all about, no matter how specifically construed – is happening painfully too slowly. That ‘pace,’ if that’s the right word, explains part of the associated pain that feels all around, as though it were the the only thing accompanying the shift.

News media – ‘legacy’ is a very generous modifier at this point – have little at their disposal beyond the language of cost, suffering, loss, giving up, change in the context of deprivation. We can say this is the wrong framing, but acknowledging the limitation is important, especially if we are going to progress beyond it.

No magic button here, but a recognition of a kind of system-wide failure, of education, articulation, creativity. But that limit is shading another, broader system-wide failure unfolding right in front of us so slowly, slowly as it can and gradually as a massive system/combination of overlapping massive systems does, that it can seem invisible, not believable, deniable.

Maybe it has slipped the bounds of deniability, as several big things begin to occur at once and more quickly. The need to reckon with the slowness and the quickening, while not seeming to be our major challenge, is the key to unlocking all the other challenges. The cognitive dissonance of a world on fire/drowning will lead to despair absent the ability to think our way out of it.

In some quarters, that is indeed a dark thought. But that’s what we’ve got to do. As I’ve written here and elsewhere over the years, the Earth is still a kind of lady in waiting, with waning patience for us to get our act(s) together. She’s going to start touching herself soon and we’re still not close to ready to think about that.

Weather or not…

That orange dot was Wednesday July 5.

You want to believe the reports or your lying eyes, it’s getting more and more difficult to hydrate climate denial. Yes, people are still getting rich doing so, with full employment for lobbyists who still help companies muddle the puddles. But that’s basically what they are now and we are full on in our incoherence meltdown. Slow moving isn’t slow enough for the summer news cycle, and though they are always looks for way to spice things up, there’s not a lot of chase left to cut to:

The past three days were quite likely the hottest in Earth’s modern history, scientists said on Thursday, as an astonishing surge of heat across the globe continued to shatter temperature records from North America to Antarctica.

The spike comes as forecasters warn that the Earth could be entering a multiyear period of exceptional warmth driven by two main factors: continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, mainly caused by humans burning oil, gas and coal; and the return of El Niño, a cyclical weather pattern.

The sharp jump in temperatures has unsettled even those scientists who have been tracking climate change.

“It’s so far out of line of what’s been observed that it’s hard to wrap your head around,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research scientist at the University of Miami. “It doesn’t seem real.”

On Tuesday, global average temperatures climbed to 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 17 Celsius, making it the hottest day Earth has experienced since at least 1940, when records began, and very likely before that, according to an analysis by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Up next: stuck weather patterns, wavy flow, amplified troughs and ridges – and that’s just for the mid-latitudes. Get wise to the flimflammery.

Image: By Elena Shao/The New York Times

Super trees, smh

Not to pick on MIT Tech Review – though kicking Silicon Valley is another story and actually fine – but this story reads quite a bit like VCs trying to re-invent the bus:

At Living Carbon, Mellor is trying to design trees that grow faster and grab more carbon than their natural peers, as well as trees that resist rot, keeping that carbon out of the atmosphere. In February, less than four years after he co-founded it, the company made headlines by planting its first “photosynthesis-enhanced” poplar trees in a strip of bottomland forests in Georgia.

This is a breakthrough, clearly: it’s the first forest in the United States that contains genetically engineered trees. But there’s still much we don’t know. How will these trees affect the rest of the forest? How far will their genes spread? And how good are they, really, at pulling more carbon from the atmosphere?

Living Carbon has already sold carbon credits for its new forest to individual consumers interested in paying to offset some of their own greenhouse gas emissions. They’re working with larger companies, to which they plan to deliver credits in the coming years. But academics who study forest health and tree photosynthesis question whether the trees will be able to absorb as much carbon as advertised.

Even Steve Strauss, a prominent tree geneticist at Oregon State University who briefly served on Living Carbon’s scientific advisory board and is conducting field trials for the company, told me in the days before the first planting that the trees might not grow as well as natural poplars. “I’m kind of a little conflicted,” he said, “that they’re going ahead with this—all the public relations and the financing—on something that we don’t know if it works.”

Re-engineering trees, okay. Super-charged trees. His misgivings are right there, as are the preconditions of going ahead with this:  ‘headlines’, ‘public relations and financing.’ Like they just came out of nowhere.

I, too, want super trees to be a thing. But c’mon. Strauss is actually quoted in the article saying, “There could be a negative. We don’t know”

The point is that Climate Solutions Hype (patent pending) continues to outstrip existing effective solutions that we just don’t like, are bored with or wish were sexier and have become one more dynamic with which the Earth must contend. Along with irony.

Image: Regular Lombardy Poplar tree (also quite super).

View from nowhere, of no thing

This is the best they do and it’s terrible. NPR runs an infomercial on a carbon capture company as news:

DANNY CULLENWARD: Carbon removal refers to things you can do, whether it involves nature-based systems or technologies to literally pull CO2 out of the atmosphere.

KLIVANS: Danny Cullenward researches carbon removal as a fellow at American University. Scientists agree that to avoid catastrophic warming, humans need to stop putting climate-harming pollution into the air, and we need to draw some down. The world’s forests and oceans naturally pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But – and here’s Cullenward again.

CULLENWARD: The problem is if we don’t intervene in these systems, they won’t suck up enough because we put such an unfathomably large quantity of pollution in the atmosphere in the first place.

KLIVANS: Startups like Charm Industrial need money to develop carbon removal technologies. That’s where the private sector is jumping in. A group of companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Stripe, Alphabet and Shopify, plan to pay Charm millions of dollars. In exchange, the company will bury the bio-oil equivalent of what 31,000 passenger cars emit a year. That’s just a tiny amount of what needs to come out of the atmosphere, but it’s a start. Nan Ransohoff is head of climate at Stripe.

NAN RANSOHOFF: We want to get more companies to the starting line and then help them get down the cost curve as quickly as possible so that we can build carbon removal solutions that have the potential to get to the scale that we need to solve the problem.

But it’s a start? 31,000 cars? Okay, sure. “Let’s plug this cool new startup, you guys! I have their Head of Climate on speed dial.”

Is it to soothe people in their cars so they can worry about really scary things like AI? Wait, don’t answer that – and that story came immediately after the one above. Caveat auditor.

They actually listen to sales people talking about extinction, but in the wrong story.

A stage play about climate change

Is it possible? Thanks to Flagpole for the coverage of the readings for my new project:

Suppose you, unlike most people, start taking climate change seriously. Suppose, too, that your skills lie in areas having to do with communication—you’re a writer, a publicist, a blogger; you interview people on television. So when you start taking something seriously, something as all-encompassing as climate change, you naturally begin thinking about how to share your climate concerns, which, you realize, should concern us all, but which you know are far from most people’s consciousness.

Climate change is so far from our everyday lives (and so near) that it is almost impossible for the finest scientific and academic minds to wake us up. But if you’re Alan Flurry, who has all the communication skills mentioned above, plus more (he’s a drummer), you’re still going to have a go at finding a vehicle that tries to bridge the wide gap between everyday and everywhere.

Alan’s solution is to write a play. You say that’s more likely to put them to sleep than wake them up. Nevertheless, a communicator communicates, and Alan has written a play about climate change, which will have a staged reading a couple of times next week, directed by Alexis Nichols.

Flurry uses the device of a play within a play, or actually several plays within a play. The main through-line belongs to the character known as “Director.” Director, you see, is staging a play and is at the point of read-throughs when he begins musing with Adam, one of the actors. In fact, Director, thanks to split staging and multiple time frames, is staging several plays, but the one foremost in his mind is about climate change. So, we’ve got all the plays in the process of production, but Director continues to bring us back to the main event—his preoccupation with climate change.

Continue reading…

Hopefully coming to stage near you in the near future.

And they just said No

Maybe because it leans the wrong way, against the grain/norm/whatever, but this is the kind of dissonant outcome that can be difficult to fit into the pro-business framing of most news reporting:

The US Supreme Court turned away oil-company appeals that sought a key procedural edge in about two dozen lawsuits blaming the industry for contributing to climate change.

The justices Monday refused to consider shifting the lawsuits into federal court, where corporate defendants often fare better. The companies say the suits are governed entirely by federal law, giving them the right to move them out of state court.

In the lead appeal, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc. sought to transfer a suit by two Colorado counties and the city of Boulder. The lawsuit contends the oil companies should compensate taxpayers for the increased cost of maintaining roads and fighting forest fires.

At issue was a legal doctrine known as removal, which lets defendants in many cases shift the forum for lawsuits filed in state court. In the Colorado case, a Denver-based federal appeals court said Exxon and Suncor lacked grounds to remove the suit because Colorado state law governs the claims.

Legacy Guilded Age damage usually allows companies preference to advance appeals claims on practically any point where they are held to account, but this time the court just said no. Of course, Alito recused as a stockholder in at least one of the parties(!) and Kavanaugh would have granted the case. But still, appeal denied.

So maybe the lesson is to keep yelling.

Image: Supreme Court portico, via wikimedia commons

Almost as If

Dr. K brings the medium, sensible heat today regarding Russian failures in Ukraine. It’s a good explainer without the jingoism, importantly including the economic offensives alongside the military ones that have been less than dispositive, or perhaps more so depending on your rooting interest.

But the kudos to Europe for not only resisting energy blackmail but in so doing, also for revealing that the planning and execution of the energy transition are well under way:

So what can we learn from the failure of Russia’s energy offensive?

First, Russia looks more than ever like a Potemkin superpower, with little behind its impressive facade. Its much vaunted military is far less effective than advertised; now its role as an energy supplier is proving much harder to weaponize than many imagined.

Second, democracies are showing, as they have many times in the past, that they are much tougher, much harder to intimidate, than they look.

Finally, modern economies are far more flexible, far more able to cope with change, than some vested interests would have us believe.

For as long as I can remember, fossil-fuel lobbyists and their political supporters have insisted that any attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be disastrous for jobs and economic growth. But what we’re seeing now is Europe making an energy transition under the worst possible circumstances — sudden, unexpected and drastic — and handling it pretty well. This suggests that a gradual, planned green energy transition would be far easier than pessimists imagine.

Read or listen to (not recommended!) the business news any day of the week and everything any normal person would consider good news – strong jobs report, tight labor market, increased consumer protections, penalizing reckless banking and investment behavior – is all cast in terms of doom and gloom. The sky is always falling and we can’t do this or have that and so stop wanting it and vote for more oppression of the powerless. Kick down, pull up the ladders, that’s all we can do.

What if – and yes, caution, slight optimism ahead – all of that is itself just a form of corruption? The fossil fuel industry, just as an obvious example, has been assuring us since the 1970s that it just can’t be done, there is no way to replace coal as our primary energy source, so stop trying. Wind stops blowing. Solar? Have you heard of nighttime? It’s too expensive, too impractical, is itself bad for the environment. Birds! Plus, people hate to see windmills. They don’t want electric cars. Meanwhile what has happened? What is happening?

What if we decided to get even more bold, rather than cowering in fear about what we’re afraid to do, that we are reminded we can’t do? What other issues out there might not be so inviolate?

Guns?

Designing Horizons

Funny thing about Green buildings – we need them! That’s decidedly unfunny BUT… timing is very important as far as the technology available and what seems most durable when architectural engineers choose how to power the building. Especially if it’s innovative and edgy:

Some of the building’s most important green features were the right answer to the climate problem in 2016, when design work was completed. “And then the answer changed,” Mr. Wilcox said.

Unlike many skyscrapers, One Vanderbilt generates much of its own electricity. This was a leap forward a decade or so ago — a way of producing power that saved money for landlords and was cleaner than the local grid.

However, One Vanderbilt’s turbines burn natural gas. And while natural gas is cleaner than oil or coal, it is falling from favor, particularly in New York City, which in recent years has adopted some of the most ambitious climate laws in the world, including a ban on fossil fuels in new buildings.

As that transition happened, SL Green was caught in the middle. Although One Vanderbilt went up relatively quickly, topping out after three years, its owner had to watch as the city’s environmental strategy raced forward.

The building is one of those skinny, ribbon skyscrapers in Manhattan. And they had the right idea. Kind of. It was right at the time, which seems like, well, ouch.

It is akin to many familiar things, like choosing a vocation that will interest you for decades and hopefully longer. It can be tricky, based on what you think is out there. If you choose a life of exploration – artistic, scientific, whatever – you throw the rock (the thing you’re chasing) as far as you can. Hopefully the journey to finding/achieving takes a long time, years, enough time for you to develop as a finder of such things.

Building is slightly different, as it is so permanent. So… go with ancient designs or new bells and whistles? It’s a gamble, much like choosing a vocation, if you are so fortunate. Choose wisely.

Image: an ancient design, Le Pont du Gard