The Green Zone

Not that one.

One connection to what’s happening to the planet is the shape our self-interest takes in the form of our kids and what they will be dealing with. In the early years of life when we are learning about the world, unafraid to question adults or puzzle over the answers of more than a few of them, there’s an opportunity to bond with the natural environment in a fundamental way that is a heavy indicator of our later predispositions. Here’s a thoughtful Monitor piece about a mom’s concern for her young sons over global warming.

On the other corner (no offense intended unless appropriate) is this wonderful little bit, via TPM, about the coordination of global warming denial by a former Limbaugh producer. The fun never stops, apparently.

It’s profound in its way, the manner in which that ever-so-brief early epoch of life effects so much of what comes later. Relatedly, in a way that I wish I could say was some kind of extreme example of this but which is way more average than we should be comfortable with, a run down of the top 15 searches on Technorati, via the wit and wisdom of Dr. Cole.

And then, just to round things out, the world’s angriest dog.

Citizen Green USA

Lots of discussions this week about art (imagine that), so I thought it might be a good time to share this site, built by a friend of mine. She’s showing some of the green things you can do in your own life, home and work, and it’s all pretty nifty. In fact, LK’s pretty nifty herself.

She’s adamant about referring to herself as a graphic artist, as though the term artist held some other, reserved connotations (imagine that). She’s a painter, who works by hand – politely sidestepping the term artist while elevating your/her experience. It brings to mind how people throw things around, including that word, so carelessly. But judge for yourself. What she calls graphic design blurs into fine art so seamlessly, you wouldn’t think there is even a difference. No gimmicks necessary. It’s the opposite of the decorations many people attempt to pass off, that hold all the wonder of road signs to blah.

Her Citizen Green antics are only an extension of this, like everything else in her life. Enjoy.

Green Expo(sition)

Not competition, so no wagering. As mentioned early, I interviewed some of the participants at the Green Life Expo last week. Here is part one of the video extravaganza version

Green Expo

I dropped by the Green Life Expo today, to check out what is and is not green. The signs, the products, the people, the giant inflatable planet in the middle of the room… they were all green. It seems we’re just past the marketing extravaganza phase but not quite into the details of what any of it means, as yet. Several people agreed to talk to me on camera about what they or their company were doing, and I’ll post some short videos soon.

Talking to a rep from a large recycling company, one of the things that came up was, after extolling the benefits of recycling, getting small cities and towns on board, doing all manner of public awareness campaigns, when those basics are behind you and you’re left to contemplate the evaporated foreign market for your material what you are left with is creating new profit-streams for companies that collect and “recycle” recyclables. The very nice guy did the equivalent of taking his hat off, wiping his brow and squinting into the sun to say, “Heck, I don’t know, hoss.”

Yeah, no kidding. There are many things like this that people aren’t thinking about, and they might sound complicated – like creating vertical integration with manufacturing companies, or getting companies to be happy with a lower domestic price for recycled materials rather than shipping then stuff overseas for a little higher return. These things are inherent to coupling ethical responsibility with economic viability – and it’s important to acknowledge in someway that this what we’re talkign about. But most of the earnest participants didn’t have anything to add to this besides agreeing that it was a good question.

Green Stimulus

Jokes about the size of Obama’s package notwithstanding, discussion on once-and-future efforts to get the country going again but in a different direction are a re-run of the initial green wave. As a correspondent at Marshall’s puts it

My practice group works exclusively in the public sector. Obama’s only constituency in Congress and the nation for bold initiatives, such as Green infrastructure, will come from states (a small handful) that are ahead of the curve on green initiatives. The biggest candidate is CA, where the Governor has already signed legislation that is more aggressive than the federal government, or likely, any other state in the Union. How much congressional representatives from CA are in line with these initiatives is not clear. Other constituencies will be politicians from states with companies heavily invested in green technologies and industries, such as wind farms, solar, and solar thermal (big energy, small footprint so far). Ironically, many of the bigger companies are based overseas.
My conclusion is that the constituency is not ideological, nor is it very deep. Politicians love Green the way they love “tough on crime.” It’s a great ad, and you don’t have to do too much, other than build a few prisons in the latter case, and show pretty pictures of wind turbines in the former. Green initiatives have been seen as a potential boom catalyst. In a global economy that has driven down the price of oil, the national security imperatives that were the strongest political selling points, are lessened. Obama will need to make a case directly to the people and drag a disinterested Congress with him. Does he care enough? Time will tell.

What this financial collapse on so many levels boils down to is an open opportunity to pivot. We already know that we cannot go back to doing/living/driving/buying/building/traveling/growing/powering the way we used to. So this gargantuan effort to stimulate the economy must be informed by that reasoning. It was going to take a gigantic re-investment in public-oriented (mass transit, updated electrical grid) infrastructure all along. Now we are going to get one under the not very different pretext of saving the economy and creating jobs.

Our energy problems and the depressed economy are related, we must let them be one.

Distorting the public conversation

It mostly goes without saying, for long gaps on this blog at least, that the reason Green is so compelling as a stand-in for sustainability is that it also happens to be highly useful slang for money. And has been for what’s going on an epoch, in any meaningful sense.

It’s the double-entendre that provides its edge – as divergent as the two meanings in one word are. Incoherent is more like it, but just enough to provide a little of each to lap over onto the other and provide some of the ambiguity that might pull us through the rough patch where our pursuit of money has outdistanced its effective ability to shield us from the consequences of its single-minded pursuit. Vagueness is a currency that itself can and will lose effectiveness as the clearly-spelled out cruelties of life re-assert themselves. We’ll hope for vague cover again, to attempt surreptitious movement toward better, more sensible pursuits. Because we can’t do it out in the open.

All this is to point up the way green as money has stepped to center stage again, becoming more precious as its gotten tighter, even more precious than the precarious fate of the planet on which it is spent, invested, given and taken. It’s pitiable but this is the way it is – the way we are. This mentality leads with ‘we will become more energy efficient/invest in new sources of renewable energy when we can afford to’. It ends up where? Like capitalism or any ism, it doesn’t care. Only we can show concern or guard special preferences. We have to decide some things. Like when we might be able to afford to become less wasteful, for one.

And as quickly as the massive financial losses spilled into the open this fall, the money is crawling back into its holes as fast as possible. It might even be able to provide the cover of vagueness again soon and enable us to return to making more (safely) ambiguous motions toward sustainability and ‘going green’. But we won’t be able to decide or allocate anything in any different way as long as this trend remains in tact.

Carbon-free city, sea view

Via, the United Arab Emirates capital of Dubai is planning construction of the world’s first ‘zero-carbon’ city in the middle of a petroleum-drenched desert. It sounds like offering pony rides in the middle of a zombie theme park, but also looks like they’re serious.

Using the traditional planning principles of a walled city, together with existing technologies to achieve sustainable development, this six sq km expanse will house an energy, science and technology community.

Called the Masdar (meaning ‘source’ in Arabic) Initiative, this ambitious plan for a ‘Green City’ is being driven by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, a private, joint stock company established and wholly-owned by Mubadala Development Company.

‘‘As the first major hydrocarbon-producing nation to take such a step, Abu Dhabi has established its leadership position by launching Masdar, a global cooperative platform for open engagement in the search for solutions to some of mankind’s most pressing issues — energy security, environment and truly sustainable human development,” Masdar chief executive Sultan Al Jaber said.

Abu Dhabi accounts for more than 90 percent of the UAE’s oil resources, and the country’s reserves, exceeding 100 billion barrels, ranked third largest in the world.

The ‘Green City’ will house the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate science and research institute that will be established in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; world-class laboratories; commercial space for related-sector companies; light manufacturing facilities and a selected pool of international tenants who will invest, develop, and commercialise advanced energy technologies.

There is also a lark in there about ‘rapid personal transport systems’ and reference to the fact that Abu Dhabi sees temps north of 50C in July and August, so  like any good theme park brochure there’s a little something for everyone.

Even with petroleum reserves of more than 100 billion barrels, the Sultan is seeing the writing on the wall. From the time of Aristotle, scientific knowledge has profited from time spent in Arab hands, so we’ll see. It’s not like we’re trying anything similar outside of Indianapolis or anything. Imagine the headlines if that were the case.

Green Recovery

With the stock market ready to record its biggest annual drop since 1931, conversation automatically advances toward January and what kind of economic recovery investors can look forward to. Pick any of the questionable words/phrases out of that last clause to gauge how out of touch we remain, from a media standpoint, with what is happening to the country, the economy and the planet in concert.

The optimism is hard to overstate; we’re a resilient people, no doubt. The dissonance is amazing. And, truthfully, we shouldn’t be cowering. But we need to put that optimism to the test and face facts. Keeping your head up when things are grim, that’s optimism. Doing the same things over and over and hoping for different results, well, that’s just another way of licking our ears clean.

This future that we’re afraid of is within site; ours is to embrace it, prickly though it be. The assumptions coming back into focus in hopes that this little economic tremor will pass need to be held as suspects for a while longer. Habeas for all – read them their rights, charge them and give them their one phone call. But hold them. We seem to never be able to concentrate on any one problem long enough to get it by the short hairs, if you will, before something conveniently displaces it. I’m not talking conspiracy here. It’s the millions of false equivalences that are a natural outcome of a shallow cultural paradigm we’ve allowed to slip into place, where everyone speaks in the language of commodity but no one understands the slang.

All you money managers out there need to hold your seats for a while. Alternate reality: Figure out something to do with your money within five hundred yards of your driveway as a method to tilt the local tax coffers again. Seriously. Economies of scale have nothing to do with humans.

Recovering the green will mean having people make things for other people. Re-establishing local identities, putting people to work, paying taxes, furthering the public good is the only way to increase the wealth of a wealthy society.

O, brother

This is exactly the type of lame-O ‘Green’ article everyone comes to expect on the road to meaningless for the term, but especially as a stand-in for sustainability.

Maybe it’s the post-modern tendency to strafe both sides with cover fire while you move in for the ambivalent shrug. It works in a dig at two sides that have been set up up for no other reason than to (possibly) make you feel better no matter what side you’re on. Fascinating.

How green are your branches? How useless are your articles? End that one with an exclamation point, you pinheads!

Building blocks

This is the ING Bank Amsterdam, designed by Alberts & van Huut.

From chapter 5 of Natural Capitalism, Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory  and L. Hunter Lovins:

In Southeastern Amsterdam, at a site chosen by the workers because of its proximity to their homes, satnds the headquarters of a major bank. Built in 1987, the 587,000-square-foot-complex consists of ten sculptural towers links by an undulating internal street. Inside, the sun reflects off colored metal – only one element in the extensive artwork that decorates the structure – to bathe the lower stories in ever changing hues. Indoor and outdoor gardens are fed by rainwater captured from the bank’s roof. Every office has natural air and natural light. Heating and ventilation are largely passive, and no conventional air conditioners are used. Conservatively attired bankers playfully trail their fingers in the water that splashes down form-flow sculptures in the bronze handrails along the staircases. The building’s occupants are demonstrably pleased with their new quarters: Absenteeism is down 15 percent, productivity is up and workers hold numerous evening and weekend cultural and social events there.

The results surpassed even the directors’ vision of the features, qualities and design process they had mandated for their bank. Theor design prospectus had designated an “organic” building that would “integrate art, natural and local materials, sunlight, green plants, energy conservation, quiet and water” – not to mention happy employees – and that would “not cost one guilder more per square meter” than the market average. In fact the money spent to put the energy savings in place paid for itself in the first three months. Upon initial occupancy, the complex used 92 percent less energy than an adjacent bank constructed at the same time, representing a saving of $2.9 million per year and making it one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Europe.

Architect Tom Alberts took three years to complete the design of the building. It took so long mainly because the bank board insisted that all participants in the project, including employees, understand its every detail: The air-handling design had to be explained to the landscape architect, for example, and the artwork to the mechanical engineers. In the end, it was this level of integration that contributed to making the building so comfortable, beautiful and cost effective.