Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Green is the new black

Bronx Group Photo © 2006 James Burling Chase
By Majora Carter

In 1999, our small part of New York city handled 40 percent of the entire city’s commercial waste, a sewage treatment plant, a sewage sludge pelletizing plant, four power plants, the world’s largest food distribution center, and other industries which bring in more than 55,000 diesel trucks to the area each week. Four power plants and another 5,000 diesel truck trips were on the way.

Not surprisingly, the area also has one of the lowest ratios of parks to people in the city. So, when I was contacted by the parks department about a $10,000 seed grant to develop waterfront projects, I thought they were well meaning but a bit naïve. I had lived in this area all my life and knew that you could not get to the river because of all the facilities there.

Then, while jogging with my dog one morning, she pulled me into what I thought was just another illegal garbage dump. There were weeds, piles of garbage, tires, and all kinds of waste, but she kept dragging me. And lo and behold, at the end of this lot, was the river. I knew that this forgotten little street end, abandoned like the dog that brought me there, was worth saving. This was the humble beginning of the community-led revitalization of the new South Bronx. The Hunts Point Riverside Park became the first waterfront park we’ve had in the South Bronx in sixty years, and the $10,000 seed grant has leveraged more than 300 times into a $3 million project.

Linking Environmental and Racial Justice

Environmental Justice, for those who may be unfamiliar with the term, goes something like this: no community should be saddled with more environmental burdens and less environmental benefits than any other. Unfortunately, race and class are reliable indicators as to where one might find the good stuff, like parks and trees, and the bad stuff, like power plants and waste facilities.

As a black person in America, I am twice as likely as a white person to live in an area where air pollution poses the greatest risk to my health; I am five times more likely to live within walking distance from a power plant or chemical facility, which I do.

These land-use decisions create the hostile conditions that lead to problems like obesity, diabetes, and asthma. Why would someone leave their home to go for a brisk walk in a toxic neighborhood? Our 27 percent obesity rate is high even for this country, and diabetes comes with it. One out of four south Bronx children is diagnosed with asthma symptoms, seven times higher than the national average. These impacts come in everyone’s way, and we all pay for solid waste costs, health problems associated with pollution, including high rates of incarceration of Black people and Latinos.

Fifty percent of South Bronx residents live at or below the poverty line; 25 percent are unemployed. Low-income citizens often use emergency room visits as primary health care. This comes at a high cost and produces no proportional benefits: poor people are not only still poor, they remain less healthy.

Growing up in the Bronx

To understand how things got the way they did for the South Bronx, it is important to know its history. I can use my family as an example. In the late 1940s, my father, a Pullman porter, son of a slave, bought a house in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, and married my mom. At the time, the community was a mostly white, working class neighborhood. My dad was not alone and even as others like him pursued this American Dream, “White Flight” became common in the South Bronx and in many cities across the country.

Banks “redlined,” certain sections of the city, including ours, deeming them off limits to any sort of investment. Many landlords believed that it was more profitable to torch their buildings and collect insurance, than to sell under these conditions. Hunts Point was formerly a walk-to-work community; but now many residents had neither work nor home to walk to.

A national highway construction boom added to our problems. In New York state, Robert Moses, one of the key builders of New York City, spearheaded an aggressive highway expansion campaign. One of its primary goals was to make it easier for residents of wealthy communities to travel by car between Westchester County and Manhattan. The South Bronx, which lies between the two, didn’t stand a chance. Residents were often given less than a month’s notice before their buildings were razed— about 600,000 people were displaced by this project.

Antiquated zoning and land use regulations are still used to justify putting polluting facilities in my politically vulnerable community. Are these factors taken into consideration when land use policy is decided? What costs are associated with these decisions, and who pays? Who profits? Does anything justify what the local community goes through? This was “planning” that did not have our best interests in mind. Once we realized that, we decided to do our own planning.Why is this story important? Because from a planning perspective, economic degradation begets environmental degradation and then social degradation. The disinvestment that began in the 60s set the stage for the environmental injustices to come.

Sustainable Solutions from the South Bronx

In order to address the economic and environmental degradation that has historically affected the South Bronx, we initiated the Bronx Ecological Stewardship Training (BEST), which provides job training in the fields of ecological restoration and brownfield remediation, so that folks from our community have the skills to compete for well-paying jobs. Little by little, we are seeding the area with a skilled “green collar” workforce that has both a financial, and personal stake in their environment.

Another project we are working on is the Bronx Recycling Industrial Park. a proposal for an industrial park, where one industry’s waste becomes the raw material for another. The proposed site is a 20-plus acre brownfield and the project could provide between 300-500 jobs. The city currently has plans to build a prison on the site.

We also built New York City’s first green and cool roof demonstration project on the tops of our offices. Cool roofs are highly reflective surfaces that don’t absorb solar heat and pass it on to the building or the atmosphere. Green roof materials are soil and living plants. Both can be used instead of petroleum-based roofing that absorbs and radiates considerable heat, and degrades under the sun, adding to urban air pollution.

Green roofs also retain up to 75 percent of rainfall, so they reduce a city’s need to fund costly “end of pipe” solutions, which usually consist of expanded and/or new sewage treatment facilities, the majority of which are then located in communities like the South Bronx. This demonstration project is a springboard for our own green roof installation business, bringing jobs and sustainable economic activity to the South Bronx. Green is the new black!

Neither the destruction of New Orleans’ ninth ward nor the Bronx was inevitable. But we have emerged with valuable lessons about how to lift ourselves up. We are not national symbols of urban blight or problems to be solved by empty presidential campaign promises.

Prior to Katrina, the South Bronx and New Orleans’s ninth ward had a lot in common. Both were largely populated by poor people of color. They are both hotbeds of cultural innovation. In the post Katrina era, we have still more in common: our communities were at best ignored—and maligned and abused, by negligent regulatory agencies, pernicious zoning, and lax governmental accountability.

The Bronx Now

Sustainable development can produce projects which have the potential to create positive returns for all concerned: the developers, the government, and the community. At present, that is not happening and New York City is operating with a comprehensive urban planning deficit. For example: A parade of government subsidies is going to proposed big-box and stadium developments in the South Bronx, but there is scant coordination between city agencies on how to handle the cumulative effects of the increased traffic, pollution, solid waste, and the impacts on open space. Never mind local economic and job development that these projects could adversely affect.

What is missing from the larger debate is a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis between not fixing an unhealthy, environmentally challenged community, versus incorporating sustainable structural changes. I am not “anti-development.” We do live in a city, not a wilderness preserve. Sustainable, community-friendly development can still be profitable for developers. I do have a problem with developments that hyper-exploit politically vulnerable communities for profit.

What We Can Do

We are all blessed with the gift of influence, if we choose to use it to collectively influence decision-makers and not fight amongst ourselves. Use your influence in support of comprehensive sustainable change everywhere. Don’t just talk about it amongst yourselves. We are trying to build a nationwide policy agenda. As you all know, politics are personal.

Help me fight for environmental and economic justice: support investments/developments with a triple bottom line return. Help democratize sustainability by bringing everyone to the table, and insisting that comprehensive planning be addressed everywhere.

Peace. ♦

Majora Carter is a MacArthur Award recipient and director of Sustainable South Bronx.

Race, Poverty and the Environment (A Project of Urban Habitat)

Monday, August 28, 2006

The deepwater solution

By Craig Salters
The Cape Codder

Can the United States, the first nation to put a man on the moon, develop deepwater wind turbines capable of harnessing the ocean's vast wind resources?
The answer is "yes." Unfortunately, it's not the right question, because the real puzzler is whether deepwater technology can be made cost-effective. If it can - and experts believe the answer to that question may be at least a decade away - deepwater wind farms could offer a real alternative to fossil fuels or nuclear energy.
Deepwater wind farms could also provide an alternative to their near-shore cousins, proposed projects such as Cape Wind's bid to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Such projects have sparked controversy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that, however large or small, they can be seen from the shoreline.
Then again, argue some, we may have to build near to get far.
"Mostly, in terms of technology, we could do it (build in deepwater) today, but would a business want to invest in it?" asked Walt Musial, senior engineer at the National Wind Technology Center, part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The laboratory, in turn, is part of the Department of Energy's national lab system along with more famous sites such as Argonne, Brookhaven and Sandia.
Musial, who is in charge of offshore wind programs, said approximately 60 researchers work on various "parts of the puzzle" when it comes to wind power in general. Regarding offshore wind, he said, the center didn't even approach the problem until a few years ago.
"As a lab, we're just getting into this research," he said.
According to Musial, the center does not view offshore wind as land turbines "with some marinization" and is not focused on one or two offshore proposals. Its current goal, he said, is to see what breakthroughs would be necessary for the United States to enter offshore wind in a serious way.
"We're talking about new technologies that would need to be developed," he said. "It's an 'R and D' [research and development] question."
Right now, Musial said, the technical limit for offshore wind farms is about 25 meters deep. After that, problems occur, such as turbine foundations becoming more costly to ship and install in the ocean floor. Another problem is the monopoles themselves, which become unwieldy with increased height, weight and diameter. Maintenance also becomes more of an issue due to severe ocean storms.
Then there's transmission costs, with a project's price tag rising by about $1 million for every additional mile of cable.
"Basically, it's the substructure that gets more expensive," he said.
Developing more powerful turbines, machines which could double the output of today's 3.6 megawatt models, would reduce costs because they would reduce the number of foundations needed for the same amount of energy. Put another way, it costs the same to lay one transmission cable but it's a lot cheaper if that cable connects to 40 turbines and not 80, provided the energy output is the same.
"A big part of the game is to get more energy from the same area of swept blade," Musial said.
Scotland's project
One of the more ambitious deepwater projects is to be found 15 miles off the coast of Scotland where Talisman Energy is installing a pair of 5 megawatt turbines in water 45 meters deep. At a cost of more than $60 million, the turbines will provide power to nearby gas and oil platforms.
"They're doing what needs to be done," Musial said of what Talisman calls a demonstrator project. "The first project that goes in is never going to be cost effective."
Musial added that Cape Wind's plan and a similar project proposed for Long Island are not demonstrator projects but are based on models already working in Europe. While not offering comment on the merits of either project, he credited the proposals with pushing the envelope in terms of federal regulation and review of offshore wind farms.
Some of the "next step" technology under consideration for deepwater turbines includes tension leg platforms, which use several vertical legs instead of one monopole. There's also the idea of a floating platform, which are then tethered to the ocean floor.
In reality, much of that technology already exists in the oil and gas industry - "There are floating platforms in the Gulf of Mexico right now," Musial said - but oil rigs and wind farms are not one and the same.
"For oil rigs, every one of them is a custom job," said Musial, who explained that, unlike oil and gas rigs, deepwater wind farms would require some form of mass production.
Solution for the century?
The payoff for all the research and development lies in the fact that, according to Department of Energy estimates, the U.S. possesses around 900,000 megawatts of potential offshore wind power, or about the nation's current electrical capacity. Furthermore, almost 80 percent of that untapped energy is found in waters more than 20 miles offshore.
While states such as North Dakota and South Dakota are known as "the Saudi Arabia of wind," Musial said that, since they aren't near major population centers, transmitting the electricity to cities and suburbs is cost prohibitive. Not so with offshore wind power, which is adjacent to coastal cities.
"It's not just a few projects," said Musial. "[Deepwater wind farms] could contribute to the energy solution for this country."
For Greg Watson, vice president for sustainable development and renewable energy for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the deepwater question is both a challenge and an opportunity.
"Massachusetts is poised to be a leader in this field," said Watson. In fact, he said, researchers from MIT and other universities are already hard at work on the details of such things as floating platforms for turbines. "It promises real, honest-to-goodness manufacturing jobs."
Watson said that, whether it be off Hull, Cape Cod, Long Island or somewhere else, the nation would need practical experience in near-shore wind farms before it literally ventured into deeper waters. The deepwater solution, if there is one, is still in the future.
"We could be talking 10 to 15 years but it all depends on the resources we put into it," said Watson, referring to the need for "an Apollo mentality" from the nation and its leaders. "If we got serious, we could cut into that timeframe."
To that end, MTC has partnered with GE and the DOE to form the Offshore Wind Collaborative, an organization that seeks to bring the best and brightest together on the topic of offshore wind. In September 2005, the collaborative released "A Framework for Offshore Wind Energy Development in the United States," a 30-page document which identifies the steps needed to develop this untapped resource.
"It's a road map," said Watson. "We're bringing people together who've never talked to one another before [about offshore wind]."
Within the next month, the collaborative will introduce a business plan to achieve the goals set out in the framework. Again, the idea is to bring the concept of deepwater wind farms that much closer to reality.
"The question is how can we do it economically," said Watson. "Can we go beyond the horizon?"

August 25, 2006

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Louisiana's beleaguered wetlands

Louisiana's Crowded Coast
Blue lines represent offshore oil pipelines, orange dots
are oil and gas platforms, purple dots depict oil and gas wells
(click graphic to enlarge)
National Geographic, October 2004
Less than a year before Hurricane Katrina, A 2004 National Geographic article warned: "Louisiana's wetlands disappear under the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 33 football fields a day". Today engineers and environmentalists agree that this loss of protective marshes and barrier islands has increased the region's coastal communities vulnerability to storm surges and flooding associated with hurricanes, and certainly played a role in Katrina's devastating impact.

In the final part of Spike Lee's HBO documentary "When The Levees Broke" John Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood and How It Changed America stresses that "One of the main reasons New Orleans has become vulnerable to hurricanes is because the wetlands have been eroded."

Later in the same documentary Dr. Ivor Van Heerden, Director of Hurricane Public Research, LSU Hurricane Center expands on Barry's comment. He says, "Wetlands reduce storm surges when hurricanes come by. Over the years in order to expand oil and gas infrastructure (pictured above), thousands of miles of canals have been dredged to accommodate pipelines, drilling and navigation. We are starving our wetlands to death."

In fact, Louisiana is losing its wetlands faster than any place in the United States. A $14 billion plan has been proposed to save what remains. (GW)

Read the National Geographic online version of the 2004 article here.

Politics aside, what about the levees?

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the U.S. Gulf Coast just days away, Ernesto has the potential of being the first hurricane of 2006 to make landfall in that region. Questions are again being raised about whether anything can be done to lessen the severity of the human and economic toll inflicted by the flood waters and storm surges that storms approaching Katrina's strength or greater produce.

Specifically, the big question that must be looming in the mind of virtually every below-sea-level-resident of New Orleans has to be: Will the rebuilt levee system hold if Ernesto or another hurricane strikes?

Col. Lewis Setliff, of the Army Corps of Engineers interviewed in Spike Lee's gut-wrenching four-hour documentary "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" that premiered on HBO last week would only say that the levees are stronger than before. When asked the same question Robert Bea, Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering at the University of Berkeley, California responded that the levees are "not safe." He added that what happened in New Orleans is "the most tragic failure of the civil engineering system in the history of the United States".

Is there better ways of controlling floods and storm surges than what the Corps has constructed along the U.S. Gulf Coast?

The answer is yes. Within weeks after Katrina, the New York Times printed a story by William J. Broad on Europe's successful efforts in designing modern, dependable flood control technologies.

'"On a cold winter night in 1953, the Netherlands suffered a terrifying blow as old dikes and seawalls gave way during a violent storm.

Flooding killed nearly 2,000 people and forced the evacuation of 70,000 others. Icy waters turned villages and farm districts into lakes dotted with dead cows.

Ultimately, the waters destroyed more than 4,000 buildings.

Afterward, the Dutch - realizing that the disaster could have been much worse, since half the country, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, lies below sea level - vowed never again.

After all, as Tjalle de Haan, a Dutch public works official, put it in an interview last week, "Here, if something goes wrong, 10 million people can be threatened."

So at a cost of some $8 billion over a quarter century, the nation erected a futuristic system of coastal defenses that is admired around the world today as one of the best barriers against the sea's fury - one that could withstand the kind of storm that happens only once in 10,000 years.

The Dutch case is one of many in which low-lying cities and countries with long histories of flooding have turned science, technology and raw determination into ways of forestalling disaster."

Click here to read the entire New York Times article. (GW)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pulling the plug on automotive innovation?

The Dymaxion Car designed by Buckminster Fuller sported a sleek aerodynamic design and reach speeds of up to 120 miles per hour. Capable of carrying 11 passengers while achieving a fuel efficiency of 30 miles per gallon, its revolutionary design features included three wheels (two in front, one in the rear), a rear engine, rear-wheel steering and front-wheel drive.

A prototype was built in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression and in time for viewing at the Chicago World's Fair.

However, the Dymaxion was involved in an accident at the fair when it was reportedly clipped in the rear by another car causing the prototype to roll over. The driver was killed and the two passengers seriously injured. Fuller was prevented from examining the wrecked vehicle for more than a month.

By that time the publicity surrounding the crash frightened away would-be investors. However, according to Art Kleiner in his book The Age of Heretics, the real reason why Chrysler refused to produce the car was because the bankers threatened to recall their loans fearing its availability would destroy sales of existing automakers.

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to see "Who Killed The Electric Car?" at the Woods Hole Film Festival. It's a documentary about the curious fate of GM's popular, but short-lived Electric Vehichle -- EV1. I found it to be a disturbing portrayal of the lengths to which vested interests will go to maintain the staus quo.

The EV1 was powered entirely by electricity and was capable of meeting the needs of the average commuter (capable of going 125 miles between recharges). It offered hope that it might bhe possible to significantly reduce our transportation system's dependence on oil. Mass produced EVs would also create an additional incentive to develop wind energy as an indigenous, inexhuastible source of fuel for these zero polluting vehicles.

But like the fuel efficient Dymaxion Car, the EV never made it into mass production. Chris Paine's provocative film attempts to help us understand why. (GW)

Who Killed the Electric Car? chronicles the life and mysterious death of the GM EV1, examining its cultural and economic ripple effects and how they reverberated through the halls of government and big business. The year is 1990. California is in a pollution crisis. Inspired by a recent announcement from General Motors about an electric vehicle prototype, the Zero Emissions Mandate (ZEV) is born. But the electric car threatened the status quo. The truth behind its demise resembles the climactic outcome of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express: multiple suspects, each taking their turn with the knife. WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? interviews and investigates automakers, legislators, engineers, consumers and car enthusiasts from Los Angeles to Detroit, to work through motives and alibis, and to piece the complex puzzle together.

Year: 2006, Length: 92 min., Format: various, Origin: California, USA Producer/Director: Jessie Deeter, Chris Paine, Cinematographer: Thaddeus Wadleigh, Editor: Michael Kovalenko, Chris A. Peterson

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

An Electric Car Unlike Any Other

By Jesse A. Zirwes and Matthew de Paula

Rick Woodbury and son Bryan have a plan to dominate the global automotive market with a revolutionary electric vehicle the width of a motorcycle that has more torque than a Bugatti Veyron 16.4 and can outperform many sports cars. With one complete car made and sold so far — to George Clooney, no less -- they need about $50 million to jump-start large-scale production at their start-up firm, Commuter Cars Corp.

“The plan is to put 150 million of these cars on the road within 15 to 20 years,” said Woodbury, who speaks with infectious enthusiasm. “I’m not saying this will happen overnight; I’m saying it will happen gradually.”

Spokane, Wash.-based Commuters Cars, which Woodbury runs with his son, already builds and sells the Tango T600 -- actually, father and son build the car themselves pretty much by hand. It costs $108,000 and doesn’t meet federal crash regulations, though it does comply with race-car safety regulations designed to protect drivers in crashes of up to 200 mph. The T600 is sold as a partially assembled kit in order to skirt federal safety regulations. It ships 95 percent complete; Woodbury arranges sale and delivery of the remaining 5 percent and will even fly wherever needed to bolt it together -- though it's not too difficult for the mechanically inclined to do themselves using the included manual, he said.

“Our car is 39 inches wide, making it the narrowest car in the world, yet it has stability akin to a Porsche 911,” said Woodbury, who raced 911s for car dealership Beverly Hills Porsche Audi, where he once worked. The slender T600 doesn't look stable, but the weight of up to 25 batteries used to power two electric motors sitting four inches off the ground all but cement the tires to the road. It has a maximum range of 80 miles and can be fully charged from a standard home plug outlet in three hours.

Gridlock No More

The idea for the Tango's mix of car and motorcycle attributes came to Woodbury decades ago while crawling along in L.A.’s highway gridlock. He noticed that there was only one person in almost every car and decided that doubling the road capacity for all of those single occupants by using lanes and cars half as wide as normal would solve the gridlock problem, not to mention reduce pollution and fuel consumption. "The government could just draw a line down an already existing lane and make two Tango-size lanes," he said. The T600 is designed to have more clearance on either side of it in a six-foot-wide lane than a tractor-trailer does in existing 12-foot lanes.

George Clooney bought the first T600 last fall during production of Ocean’s Twelve after reading about it in a magazine. At publication time, two others were being built for clients whose names Woodbury wouldn't disclose.

In order to crash-test and get two less-expensive, more basic models into production -- called the T100 and T200, which should retail for $18,700 and $39,900, respectively-- the Woodburys are looking for a $50 million infusion to create full-fledged engineering and production facilities. To prove there's a viable market to would-be investors, they're using the Commuter Cars website to secure fully refundable deposits for future Tangos: $10,000 for the T600, $1,000 for the T200 and $500 for the T100. So far, they've amassed 75 deposits for Tangos since they began taking orders online a couple of years ago.

The seminal T600, which seats two in one row, would seem to hold a particular appeal to residents of L.A., where "lane-splitting" -- driving down lane dividers in backed-up traffic -- is legal. More than half (57 percent) of the 280 people that Woodbury informally polled at a recent L.A. auto show said that they would drive a Tango in order to avoid traffic jams.

Usually lane-splitting is reserved for motorcycles, but the T600 is narrow enough to fit between two lanes of cars. In fact, at 39 inches wide, it's actually narrower than Honda's beefiest cruiser motorcycle, the Gold Wing, which is 44 inches wide. Another advantage to the slender footprint is that the Tango can be parked in small spaces usually reserved for motorcycles, including perpendicular to the curb, where laws allow.

Faster Than A Corvette

Don't be fooled by its modest size and alternative powertrain: The T600 can out-accelerate a Porsche Cayman S from a stop. Woodbury said it has shamed many sports cars at local Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) meets that test a car's handling limits through a challenging, twisty course.

Though only 8.5 feet long, 3.25 feet wide and five feet tall, the Tango T600 weighs a stout 3,057 pounds, which is more than a Honda Civic. The batteries account for a thousand pounds, and without them the car would be more tip-prone than an SUV, which the two Woodburys discovered the hard way when testing an early Tango prototype.

"We had two of us in there; my son hung a fast u-turn and hit a gully at the same time and over we went," the elder Woodbury said. "We decided, 'Well, we need more ballast.'" His use of nautical terms such as "ballast" hints at the Woodburys’ foray into yacht building -- a hobby that equipped father and son with steel-welding skills to build the Tango T600's frame and roll cage as well as seed capital from selling boats they built. “We started an automotive company with less than $50,000,” Woodbury said.

Each of the T600's rear wheels is driven by a direct-current electric motor that cranks out a stout 500 pound-feet of torque at low revolutions per minute and redlines at 8,000 rpms. These motors are used in forklifts and in vehicles at airports that load and lug baggage. They're mated to direct-drive transmissions, so there's no gear shifting involved.

To put the T600's power into perspective, consider that the million-dollar-plus exotic Bugatti Veyron 16.4's outrageous 16-cylinder engine cranks out 922 pound-feet of torque versus the T600's total of 1,000 pound-feet.

The T600's upper limits of performance haven't been officially tested, but judging from other drag-racing cars that use similar electric motors -- yes, people actually drag race electric cars and there's even a National Electric Drag Racing Association -- Woodbury estimates the T600 can bolt from zero to 60 mph in four seconds, sprint through a quarter-mile in 12 seconds and reach a top speed of 130 mph. That's Ferrari and Corvette territory and couldn't be further from the kind of performance most people expect from an electric vehicle.

“If you had to race across L.A. for pink slips with any other car in the world, this thing would blow its doors off. Nothing can touch it except a motorbike,” Woodbury said, mustering his usual Donald Trump-like penchant for hyperbole. Imagine Vin Diesel racing Paul Walker in a skinny Tango T600 instead of a 1969 Dodge Charger in the film The Fast and the Furious.

Equity and the Environment: Rebuilding Green - Rebuilding Black

The horrific, unforgettable events that unfolded along the U.S. Gulf coast in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina raised many serious issues including the possible role that climate change may be having on fueling more intense storms, the insurance industry's shameful use of semantic gymnastics to avoid paying policyhoders for damages to their homes and businesses, and the vulnerability of the country's oil and gas infrastrucuture.

However, for many those issues pale in comparison to the series of injustices that were inflicted on the region's poor and elderly residents as a result of government's utter failure at all levels to take responsible and timely actions. It began with the lack of plans for evacuating those without the means of leaving to avoid harms way once the severity and trajectory of the storm became apparent. That was followed by an inexplicable display of paralysis on the part of those charged with public safety immediately following when people were left stranded in attics, atop roofs and in sweltering, overcrowded, unsanitary stadiums. Government's woefully inadequate response continues right up to the present time as still, very little in the way of rebuilding or even cleanup has taken place.

The one possible positive outcome some envisioned might result from this tragedy was that government officials would seize this unprecedented opportunity to work with residents, planners, ecological designers, environmentalist and others to completely rebuild their communities based on proven and effective state-of-the-art sustainable design concepts.

Recently Urban Habitat convened a roundtable to discuss the options for rebuilding a "green/sustainable" New Orleans. Participating were: Dr. Manuel Pastor, Director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Robert D. Bullard, Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University; Paul R. Epstein, MD, MPH Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School; Dr. Michel Gelobte, Executive Director of Redefining Progress; Dr. John Talberth, Director, Sustainability Indicators Program; Don Chen, Director of Smart Growth America.

To read what they have to say click here. (GW)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Pilot Program ‘Gives Back’ to Local Farmers

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 21 2006) – As students stream onto the University of Kentucky campus for the start of fall semester, they’ll soon discover that some of them traveled farther than the food they’ll eat. In an age when much of the food on grocery shelves travels an average of 1500 miles from producer to retailer, UK is making a concerted effort to narrow that distance. Starting in August, a pilot program at the university will offer fresh, locally grown produce in all campus restaurants.

“It’s (local produce) something our customers want. It’s something we want to provide,” said Roger Sidney, assistant director of UK Dining Services.

Sidney approached UK horticulture assistant professor Mark Williams six months ago about providing campus restaurants with produce grown on UK farms. Williams was hesitant to do that because “it’s taking money away from local farmers.” Instead, he formed a committee with Sidney and the College of Agriculture’s Tim Woods, Jim Mansfield, Lee Meyer, Mark Keating and Herb Strobel. The team devised a three-month pilot program that will test the feasibility of using locally produced products in all 20 dining areas on campus.

The program is in line with House Bill 669, which the Kentucky legislature passed during the 2006 session of the General Assembly. The bill requires that state agencies buy Kentucky-grown agricultural products, dependent upon their availability, quality and pricing.

Though it is not clear yet how this affects state universities, UK is investigating the potential behind having local food options available.

“We want to tie into all that and make UK one of the leaders in supporting local agriculture,” Williams said. “Hopefully, with the buying power that they have they can create an excellent marketing option for some of our local growers, and perhaps even influence others interested in developing similar programs elsewhere in our state.”

To Williams, the leader behind the creation of the College of Agriculture’s new four-year degree program in sustainable agriculture, one of the hallmarks of sustainable agriculture is the support of local food economies. That’s what UK is trying to build with this pilot program, he said.

Mansfield, senior Extension associate in the Department of Agricultural Economics, sees widespread benefits in opening markets such as this.

“We keep the dollars at the local economy, we support keeping green space open with viable farm enterprises and people get fresh produce,” he said.

Finding local markets is not as easy as it might sound, however. Farmers who are new to the produce field and who are accustomed to the fairly stable tobacco, corn or beef markets may be unsure of the outlets available to them.

“If a farmer wants to try produce for the first time, there’s no place that they can go to have a ready market. They have to find the market. They have to find the customer willing to buy and grow what the customer wants them to grow,” Mansfield said.

But having a market even before fields are sown can change the whole landscape of vegetable or fruit farming, Williams said. A viable market will also encourage farmers to see the economic feasibility in extending the growing season by investing in tools such as unheated greenhouses or high tunnels, all the while increasing the potential for a stronger bottom line.

“Having a market, having a place to sell produce, that’s a pretty unique thing to start with,” he said. “So if there’s a place for people to sell this food, it can drive not only research, but it can hopefully show farmers that there’s a need and a market for extending their season.”

UK Dining Services has initially linked with Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County and Reed Valley Orchard in Harrison County for the trial period. Mansfield said they are hoping to get other farmers involved as they work through some of the logistics issues in the pilot project.

Elmwood’s Ann Bell Stone made the first delivery of cantaloupe, squash, zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes bright and early on an August morning. She thinks Elmwood was a good fit for the trial because her family had experience in packaging and boxing quantities of product, as well as delivering to area restaurants and local institutions over the past 15 years.

The tomatoes filling the bed of her truck spoke volumes about the advantages to offering locally grown produce in UK’s dining halls.

“It’s definitely a fresher product,” she said. “It’s much nicer to have a tomato that’s picked at the peak of ripeness and the peak of flavor and all the nutritional benefits that go with having a ripe fruit versus a well traveled fruit.”

“I think it’s important in a couple of ways,” said Jeff DeMoss, executive director of UK Dining Services. “We know where the produce is coming from. We can go to that farm. We can see what’s going on.”

He added that it’s also about “giving it back.”

“You know, 60 percent of our university is Kentucky born and I think that’s important, too,” he said. “Because some of these young people who work for us, some of these young people who are in classes, their moms and dads are farmers.”

“My hope is that if this thing takes off it can be a model that is used by lots of other state agencies or schools,” Williams said. “When one of the flagship research and academic institutions in the state sets the standard, if that happens, if we can really develop something here, I think that can have a lot of impact. If we can develop local food economies, this can increase our food security, and it puts the money back in the hands of the people in this state, not from California or … other parts of the world.”

There’s even a simpler idea at work here, as well, according to Dining Services’ Sidney.

“We want to be part of the community and give back to the community. This is something that’s a no-brainer for us,” he said.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Wind turnbine enroute to oilfield

August 20, 2006

The first of two of the world's biggest offshore wind turbines has left a former Highlands oil fabrication yard.

The tower and its components were being taken by barge from Nigg, in Invergordon, to the Beatrice Field in the Moray Firth.

A Scottish-based consortium led by oil firm Talisman and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) will test the deepwater turbines in a £35m pilot.

If successful, a full 200-turbine wind farm will be built 12 miles offshore.

Talisman Energy Project Director, Alan McAskill, spoke to BBC Scotland as work got underway to transfer the first turbine.

He said: "What we actually saw happen was the crane barge come away from the pier with all of the equipment on board which weighs about 1000 tonnes and is 120m tall by 100m wide with the blades on it.

Renewable energy

"It then connected up to the tug and sailed out of the Firth on its way to Beatrice where it should arrive for first light when the process of installing the turbine on the jackets will begin.

"When we get there we will lift it up, move it over, lower it down and put a fully assembled power turbine and blades in one lift, which will take about four or five hours."

When the transfer of both turbines is complete they will be tested in depths of about 45m, with the hubs rising to 88m above sea level. The blades will be 63m long.

It is hoped the site will be capable of generating one Gigawatt of electricity, enough renewable energy to power the city of Aberdeen.

European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs inspected the turbines at Nigg in July.

Government funding was secured two years ago, with £3m from the Scottish Executive and £3m from the Department of Trade and Industry.

Story from BBC

2006/08/20 21:03:56 GMT© BBC MMVI

Integrated World Electric Grid

During the Jimmy Carter Administration when the U.S. and the then Soviet Union were still very much engaged in the Cold War, Buckminster Fuller became aware of a technological development that provided an opportunity to optimize the generation of electricity.

Having just gained the ability to economically transmit electricity across distances approaching 1,500 miles Fuller proposed creating an integrated world electric grid by connecting the U.S. and Russian systems via the Berring Straits. (GW)

“We must integrate the world’s electrical-energy networks. We must be able to continually integrate the progressive night-into-day and day-into-night hemispheres of our revolving planet. With all of the world’s electric energy needs being supplied by a twenty-four-hour-around, omni-integrated network, all of yesterday’s, one-half-the-time-unemployed, standby generators will be usable all the time, thus swiftly doubling the operating capacity of the world’s electrical energy grid.”

"In the early years of Trudeau's premiership of Canada when he was about to make his first visit to Russia, I gave him my world energy network grid plan, which he presented to Brezhnev, who turned it over to his experts. On his return to Canada Trudeau reported to me that the experts had come back to Brezhnev with: "feasible . . . desirable."

R. Buckminster Fuller. Critical Path. Page xxxi

In 2003 Wired Magazine ran a story entitled "Power Up!" That piece noted that:

Some 30 years ago, Buckminster Fuller came up with a plan to plug all the world's continents into the same electrical grid. The idea was to let power flow between, say, Siberia and the northwestern US, or Norway and Laos. Energy companies dismissed the notion as pie in the sky - and then proceeded to build such a grid. To get the most use of their generation capacity and to maintain an emergency reserve, power companies found it efficient to connect their grids to their neighbor's, who then connected to their neighbor's.

Plans for European Supergrid Announced

August 2006

Europen Union energy developers are well ahead of the U.S. in developing their renewable energy resources -- especially wind. Airtricity is exploring the intriguing premise that
large scale grids that transcend different weather systems may effectively address the troublesome issue of intermittency that critics often point to as wind technology's greatest shortcoming.

Renewable energy company Airtricity has proposed to develop a European Offshore Supergrid, bringing together the latest technology in wind generation and electricity transmission to provide a secure, sustainable and uninterrupted supply of electricity to EU member states. Airtricity is a leading international renewable energy company specialising in the development, construction and long-term ownership of onshore and offshore wind farms.

Europe faces the prospect of being caught in an ‘energy crunch’ within the next 20 years. The depletion of finite indigenous resources, political risk and increased global competition, in particular amongst the US, India and China, are factors which threaten Europe’s security of energy supply.

Europe has some of the world’s richest wind resources and advances in technology have made the process of converting wind to electricity more effective and commercially competitive. Airtricity’s vision is to harness this natural energy resource by creating a European Offshore Supergrid located in the seas of Northern, Western and Southern Europe.

By connecting and integrating geographically disperse wind farms across Europe, each experiencing a different phase of the region’s weather system, electricity is produced wherever the wind is blowing and transported to regions of demand, ensuring a reliable and predictable source of energy.

12 Universal Degrees of Freedom

We have more options than we think we do

"I think I tend to avoid using the word will because I spontaneously associate it with the term 'free will' and all the controversies regarding the history of such human beliefs. I have felt that all such controversies lack adequate knowledge of science's generalized laws. To me it is obvious that no amount of individual will can nullify any cosmic law. It is also obvious to me that few know of and comprehend the significance of nature's having six positive and six negative equieconomical alternative moves to make with each turn to play in cosmic events.

It is clear to me that most humans tend to think in a linear, Go-or No-go, greenlight-redlight manner. To me, will is an optionally exercisable control by mind over brain--by wisdom over conditioned reflex-that becomes realizable when mind is adequately convinced regarding which of the 12 alternatives will produce the most comprehensively considerate vital advantage for all."

R. Buckminster Fuller. Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking. Section 537.51-537.52

Einstein reminded us that we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Bucky's nonlinear approach to problem solving revels that we always have more options than linear analysis suggests. (GW)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Who was Bucky Fuller? Why are his insights and discoveries more important than ever?

Buckminster Fuller's insights inspired the creation of the Whole Earth Catalog and an approach to technological development based on an understanding of Nature's design strategies . He is responsible for introducing concepts such as "whole systems," "comprehensive anticipatory design" and "synergy" into our vocabulary.

Hindsight will surely acknowledge him as the discoverer of no less than the elegant geometrical principles by which the Universe expands, DNA twists, snowflakes form and thoughts take shape.

Bucky's major work, Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, was published in 1975. In his June 29th review of this astonishing book in the New York Times
G.B Hardison Jr., writes: "You grope for analogies. The Notebooks of Leonardo. The Opera of Paracelsus. Pascal's "Pensees."

Bucky's discovery of Nature's way of doing "more with less" was the result of a fifty-six year commitment he made to himself to "dare to speak and live and love the Truth." His passionate and selfless pursuit of the eternal verities of Universe were driven by feelings similar to those expressed by renowned biologist C.H. Waddington:

"Most people are beginning to feel that they must be thinking in some wrong way about how the world works. The ways of looking at things that we in the past have come to accept as common sense do not work under all circumstances, and it is very likely that we are reaching a period of history when they do not match the type of processes which are going on in the world at large."

"Evolution" Bucky reminded us, "is bound and determined to make humanity a success." He was convinced that collectively the human species possesses the know-how and resources to support all of humanity for generations to come at higher standards of living and individual freedom than any humans have thus far experienced without endangering or undermining the ecological integrity of Earth.

He also knew that this can not be achieved without fundamental changes in how we relate to one another and to the planet. In other words, nothing short of a revolution. His hope was that we would opt for the bloodless variety:

"The world teeters on the threshold of revolution." he warned. "If it is a bloody revolution, it is all over. The alternative is a design science revolution." Design science is capable of producing so much life support per unit of resource invested as to take care of all human needs in harmony with natural systems.

This is the basis upon which I,
an African American male,
could commit myself to the environmental movement. Bucky offered a perspective that underscored the point that environmental quality and economic equality were equally important goals that must be pursued in tandem.

The good news is that the design revolution as envisioned by Bucky is well underway. Less encouraging is the fact that it is not really being reported on or acknowledged by the mainstream media in ways that can inspire those who are interested to pursue peaceful change.

This blog will offer my perspective on how the revolution is unfolding and my attempts to convey the hope its progress represents for Spaceship Earth and all its passengers.

The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Buckminster Fuller Estate or the Buckminster Fuller Institute. (GW)

The official site of the
Buckminster Fuller Institute can be found here.