Squamish Nation not squeamish on blending indigeneity and urban design

Clunky title, but this story on the re-development of one of Canada’s smallest First Nations reserves mixes boldness with vision for Vancouver that is easy to romanticize but more nearly resembles a living model for cities going forward.

Few First Nations reserves in Canada are found so centrally in urban areas, and this unique location has given the Squamish Nation a chance to explode local city-building norms. Construction begins in 2021, and at more than 500 units per acre, Senakw’s density will reach Hong Kong levels – a fact that is only allowed because Senakw exists not on city land, but on reserve land, which is technically federal.

Another striking feature is that only 10% of apartments will include parking, unlike the city’s rules that mandate one parking space per unit. The buildings will also forgo the podium-and-tower design that’s become a hallmark of “Vancouverism” in favour of slender high-rises maximising public space. The buildings could be up to 56 storeys tall, towering above the low-rise neighbourhoods nearby.

But beyond even the serious density considerations, there is the language slight of hand that gets at something far more pernicious:

“In the early history of Vancouver, and colonial cities generally, there is this opposition assumed between the civilization cities are imagined to represent, and the imagined savageness of Indigenous people,” [Stanger-Ross] says. 

The ways that the terms ‘urban areas’, ‘cities’, and even abstractions like ‘density’ have been co-opted as code words for racist politicking is maybe coming full-circle. Hopeful, I know. But good work, First Nations folk. Right racists depend on decent people being too nice, too squeamish, plus the ever-present lack of temerity to call out, punch back, or in this case, build up. Re-take the words, then re-make the savage cities with civilizing force of architecture.

The power of the Frame

Good catch by Fallows here.

See if you can guess how the lead paragraph of the story ends. It begins this way:

“Americans are using more gadgets, televisions and air conditioners than ever before. But, oddly, their electricity use is barely growing, …”

Possible choices for the rest of the paragraph are:

(a) “… reflecting hard-won efficiencies in electric-power use by industries and utilities.”

(b) “… raising hopes that economic growth can coexist with reduced resource-use and greenhouse-gas emissions.”

(c) “… which together with increased shale-gas production may hasten the era of ‘energy independence’ for the United States.”

(d)”… posing a daunting challenge for the nation’s utilities.”

OK, you peeked, and know that the real answer is (d).

The objectivity of news versus the corporate mentality. Fallows says there is no way to be objective about news that some outlets will report one way and others will report another, but I think this skips a vital point about our susceptibility to corporate propaganda. Corporate messaging takes us, by ambulance, to the monument of corporate personhood. There, cases like Citizens United are debatable, while back on the street or over the fence, the look silly. Editors at major news outlets allow corporate personhood to become another point of view, but we have to view this is as a fundamental corruption we live with voluntarily and not allow it slip into yet another example where views merely differ.

Missing the Mark

So… it’s probably important to note how alternative energy antagonists fund misinformation and disseminate it into the public sphere.

In 2010, New Jersey passed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act. This act “require[s] that a percentage of electricity sold in the State be from offshore wind energy” and will be financed through $100M in taxpayer subsidies. But is this a good deal for ratepayers? Americans for prosperity commissioned the Beacon Hill Institute to find out – and the results are devastating.

What’s devastating is how utterly easy it is for people with deep pockets to spread misinformation. Whether it’s taxes or creationism. All you need to do is syphon a few of your millions toward some pliant writers or scientists and suddenly you have bogus evidence! to pass around. Michael Conathan at TP:

  • The study dramatically underestimates the economic savings realized from the environmental benefits by assuming a static price for the valuation of reduction of greenhouse gasses – which will inevitably rise over time – and by applying an absurdly high discount rate of 10 percent to the benefits when most economic studies use rates of 3-5 percent.  The discount rate mistake alone could lead to underestimating the benefits of offshore wind by as much as 50 percent. (This Bloomberg article contains a concise description of how an excessively high discount rate dramatically undervalues future benefits.)
  • It also artificially inflates the costs of the project compared to fossil fuel generation by failing to account for the reality that as costs go up, people will reduce their consumption thereby partially offsetting the price increase. Furthermore, the study estimates the cost of natural gas and coal based on historical prices rather than based on forecasts of future market conditions. While natural gas prices are difficult to predict, experts believe coal prices will rise in the future.

And this isn’t some game for the vast majority, or even for the lucky few believe it is. The consequences of this kind suffused idiocy becoming dominant in our so-called culture provide all kinds of new growth opportunities, though not the good kind. When journalists get to be more coy about serious matters, politicians can be more craven on behalf of corporations that support them. Apparently, less 40% of Americans now believe in evolution. Ask yourself how that is even possible.

What’s the Question?


Oh, yes: Why are BP’s profits down?

Analysts at banks including UBS, Bank of America and JPMorgan Cazenove now predict BP could unlock as much as $100 billion for investors, either by splitting its upstream exploration and production division from its refining and marketing arm, or selling off its entire US business.

BP’s shares are still trading 28% lower than they were at the time of the Macondo spill in April, despite oil prices soaring to $127 a barrel this year. Shell is up 13% over the same period.

A breakup? Is the writing on the wall that difficult to parse? Investors – I resent that term – may indeed only feel the company has only lost its way. But they are fooling themselves in their larger capacity as citizens grappling with how an oil giant deals with the future of transportation. What happens at those board meetings anyway? Do they really sit and listen to climate change deniers spout off? Really? Electric cars as the connection from the past to what’s next continue to dog the energy dinosaurs [sorry]. It’s powering those which is where the money is and will be, until people can figure how to live closer to work. What happened to Beyond Petroleum? Was it only an excellent marketing strategy?

Power to Use Less

This is, while amazing, perfectly believable.

Those little boxes that usher cable signals and digital recording capacity into televisions have become the single largest electricity drain in many American homes, with some typical home entertainment configurations eating more power than a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems.

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

So… we are those fat people in Wall*E, hovering in lazy boys with the power always on. And this, near the end, perfectly incapsulates that way(s) we deflect any responsibility for our actions:

Mr. Wilson recalled that when he was on the California Energy Commission, he asked box makers why the hard drives were on all the time, using so much power. The answer: “Nobody asked us to use less.”

Consider yourselves asked. Please.

Existing Technology

Stanford University researchers are on the job, making the case for producing all the world’s energy needs from renewable resources in 20-40 years, using only what we know today:

The world they envision would run largely on electricity. Their plan calls for using wind, water and solar energy to generate power, with wind and solar power contributing 90 percent of the needed energy.

Geothermal and hydroelectric sources would each contribute about 4 percent in their plan (70 percent of the hydroelectric is already in place), with the remaining 2 percent from wave and tidal power.

Vehicles, ships and trains would be powered by electricity and hydrogen fuel cells. Aircraft would run on liquid hydrogen. Homes would be cooled and warmed with electric heaters – no more natural gas or coal – and water would be preheated by the sun.

They point out the obvious – that there are no technical barriers to converting the entire world to clean energy production. Only a lack of will. That, and a refusal to count the entirety of actual costs of relying on fossil fuels, which facilitates the lack of will.

One of the benefits of the plan is that it results in a 30 percent reduction in world energy demand since it involves converting combustion processes to electrical or hydrogen fuel cell processes. Electricity is much more efficient than combustion.

That reduction in the amount of power needed, along with the millions of lives saved by the reduction in air pollution from elimination of fossil fuels, would help keep the costs of the conversion down.

So back off, Kochs. Everybody else, wise up; we’re getting punked on energy and how impossible it is to change. Don’t wait for the commercials. Believe in clean energy now and start expecting it.

Two Roads Diverged in Our Forest

This, recently from JR at Climate Progress:

Humanity has only two paths forward at this point.  Either we voluntarily switch to a low-carbon, low-oil, low-net water use, low-net-material use economy over the next two decades or the post-Ponzi-scheme-collapse forces us to do so circa 2030. The only difference between the two paths is that the first one spares our children and grandchildren and countless future generations untold misery (see “Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water” and “A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice“).

Wedges, stabilizing the PPMs of carbon dioxide… oh, yes: preservation. Deploying all the technology and energy efficient we can means basically using what we already have. Yes, maybe boring – living closer to work, buying lighter vehicles. But only boring because we like big-budget thrillers, bells, whistlers, hookers, firetrucks, okay… bells and whistles. A lot of the shrugging is tied up in the non-existent technical conundrum that this just can’t be solved, so what is there to do besides wait for the magic science elephant to pull the solution(s) out of the trunk.

Save the unlikely scenarios for that script you should be working on. Take the low road.

Greenface vs. Peacebook

It seems a little much.

Social networking giant Facebook has been taking heat from enviros recently for its decision to site a massive new data center in Prineville, Ore. The issue? Pacific Power, the utility that serves Prineville,gets most of its power from coal, the enemy of the human race. Greenpeace International has started a Facebook group opposing the move.

But as Roberts points out, it’s the movement of the societal norm needle against/away from coal that’s the key here. Coal sucks and is doing some very terrible, long term damage the longer we use it. But we have quite a lot of it and it’s cheap – the perfect storm for planetary self-extortion. We’d like to change but we can’t afford to. We hedge about its effects on the future as a way of making ourselves feel better, but this ploy does absolutely nothing for long term self-preservation. It’s not a ploy in that direction at all, but a psychological ameliorative. Until somebody does something.

Big manufacturers can’t envision a way to replace the trainloads of coal flowing into their plants each day, so they do nothing. The government hasn’t found the courage to begin to discourage coal usage and/or incentivize clean energy on a grand scale. So what to do? One thing: you might begin to castigate, ridicule and generally create negative PR buzz on the coal front for the entities who are effected by such things. It’s weak, I’ll admit. But we already make all kinds of small decisions like this that re-enforce the status quo on energy consumption, and there are and will be that many more that will have to be reckoned with – or ignored on the basis that nothing can be done – to begin to effect change.

If it’s going to happen.


I thought it was something I had already mentioned, but this kinda makes sense: harnessing consumer power to help communities buy solar power. One Block Off the Grid, or 1BOG.


Cool logo. Check it out.

h/t Times Green blog.