Climate emergency plans

A number of city councils in Australia are acknowledging that we have entered into dire climate conditions. They are preparing “Climate Emergency Plans” in order to direct their actions and to mobilize the communities.

An excerpt:  Council has recognised that we are in a state of climate emergency that requires urgent action by all levels of government, including local councils. We will undertake ambitious action and advocacy to reach our core goals, which are:

  • to provide maximum protection for the community of Darebin and for people, civilisation and species globally, especially the most vulnerable
  • to restore a safe climate at emergency speed by eliminating greenhouse emissions and enabling drawdown
    of excess carbon dioxide in the air
  • to encourage research to find safe ways to protect people, species and civilisation from near-term dangerous temperatures, while zero emission and carbon dioxide drawdown strategies are being enacted
  • to enable our community to be resilient in the face of any unavoidable dangerous climate impacts
  • to engage, empower and mobilise governments, communities and organisations to take action on and achieve these goals with certainty and at emergency speed.

Read more here.

What to do about plastic

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Plastic Pollution: The Age of Unsolvable Problems

By Ugo Bardi, originally published by Cassandra’s Legacy

How bad is the situation with plastic pollution? Rather bad, by all means. Citing from a recent paper by Geyer et al., more than 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. Of this mass, 9% percent was recycled, 12% was incinerated, the rest is still around. It is this mass of plastics, billions of tons, which generates the pollution we see today. It is almost one ton of plastic waste for every human being living today. Imagine if it were magically to appear in your living room: one ton for every member of your family.

Still following Geyer et al., we learn that in 2015 the world produced 380 million tons of plastics from fossil hydrocarbons. To get some idea of how polluting this mass is, we can compare it to the total carbon emissions produced by hydrocarbon combustion, which today can be estimated to be around 9 billion tons per year. As an order of magnitude comparison, we can say that about 4% of the fossil hydrocarbons we extract become plastics.

4% doesn’t seem to be a large amount, but it is not negligible, either. Apart from the Continue reading “What to do about plastic”

Clueless in Seattle

By Steve Austin

The Seattle Times recently posted an article that talks about 5 new emerging trends in design in the Pacific Northwest. One of those trends was entitled “Greener is the New Green.”  How cute.  The piece describes some of the innovations in smart materials – induction cooktops! ductless mini splits! – AND smartphone controlled homes! Great, that will enable the rich to continue to live as they want to.  There is nothing in the article about those without permanent housing or the average folks in the distant suburbs.

The only remote discussion of energy is in a blurb about “Green Canopy Homes (which now is setting its own trend by building exclusively net-zero-energy and net-zero-energy-ready homes).”

Nothing about ZERO CARBON homes, or even better, BELOW ZERO CARBON homes.  Net zero would have been a good idea decades ago.  Now, it does nothing to account for the huge amounts of embodied carbon dioxide emissions in construction materials and processes.

If a good idea is too late to do good, is it still a good idea?

The idiocy is summed up by this beaut of a quote: “Homebuyers began to expect that new construction should be more sustainable in a progressive city such as Seattle…”

Really, all this is marketing to virtue signalers that all can be well, but only if you invest in “greener.”  Seattle is no more immune to the coming turmoil than any other place. I did think that it was smarter.

Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy

Climate change is non-linear, meaning that we may have already unleashed the forces of our destruction.  Is it too late?

This is a brief excerpt from an article by Professor Jem Bendell BA (Hons) PhD:  “It is a truism that we do not know what the future will be. But we can see trends. We do not know if the power of human ingenuity will help sufficiently to change the environmental trajectory we are on. Unfortunately, the recent years of innovation, investment and patenting indicate how human ingenuity has increasingly been channelled into consumerism and financial engineering. We might pray for time. But the evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war.”

Read the rest and be challenged in your comfort.

The Spanish city that banned cars

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This is a glimpse into the future – a city where people walk and bike. We can get there by vision, by choice.  Or we can get there through the pain of resource depletion.  But either way, this is where we are headed.

“How can it be that private property – the car – occupies the public space?”

From the Guardian:

“In Pontevedra, the usual soundtrack of a Spanish city has been replaced by the tweeting of birds and the chatter of humans.

People don’t shout in Pontevedra – or they shout less. With all but the most essential traffic banished, there are no revving engines or honking horns, no metallic snarl of motorbikes or the roar of people trying make themselves heard above the din – none of the usual soundtrack of a Spanish city.

What you hear in the street instead are the tweeting of birds in the camellias, the tinkle of coffee spoons and the sound of human voices. Teachers herd crocodiles of small children across town without the constant fear that one of them will stray into traffic.

“Listen,” says the mayor, opening the windows of his office. From the street below rises the sound of human voices. “Before I became mayor 14,000 cars passed along this street every day. More cars passed through the city in a day than there are people living here.” Continue reading “The Spanish city that banned cars”

“Sustainable” concrete won’t save us #1

By Steve Austin

Ahhhh….another breathless article touting how technology will save us all.  This one is from the Journal of the American Institute of Architecture.  In this case, the miracle cure is concrete that can generate and store electricity.  One product is “Dyscrete, a prefabricated concrete panel coated with organic dye-sensitized solar cells (DYSC). Functioning like the chlorophyll in plants, these dyes generate electricity via electrochemical reactions that occur when illuminated.”

Sounds neat!  See, there is absolutely no need for us to call off our plans for murder-suicide  all other life on this planet. We can just make a substance that acts like plants to give us more power!

But wait there’s more!

“Concrete has also been coaxed to produce electricity from mechanical pressure. British industrial engineer Laurence Kemball-Cook developed a concrete paver called Pavegen that utilizes piezoelectric technology to convert applied mechanical stress from footfalls into an electrical charge. The pavers incorporate recycled tire rubber as the energy-capturing surface, which rests above a recycled polymer concrete base. The electricity produced can be readily utilized for functions like nighttime illumination.

‘Ten slabs around a streetlight would power it all night long from the energy generated during the day,’ Kemball-Cook told Scientific American in a 2011 article. ‘You can get 20 or 30 seconds of light from a small light fitting from one footstep.’ Pavegen pavers are also supplied with footfall sensors that enable the tracking of pedestrian activity for security or consumer behavior purposes, and were recently installed on London’s Bird Street.”

Even neatoer!  Who can be against people power?

Unfortunately, this article doesn’t mention a thing about concrete’s impact on climate change.  CO2 emissions from concrete production may be as much as 10% of global total.  Currently, and maybe permanently, concrete is impossible to make in industrial scale quantities without enormous CO2 emissions. In the below zero era, CO2 emissions must essentially cease, and the drawdown of excess CO2 in the atmosphere must vastly exceed any further CO2 emissions.  That’s not a good prognosis for concrete’s future, even if it produces a little electricity.  If technology is indeed going to save us, it will be through finding ways to build with no C02 emissions AND in ways that sequester CO2.  But that probably sounds too boring – or impossible – for architects.  Better to focus on the “cool” factor, even as the planet burns.