Archive for May, 2008


Sandor Katz Fermentation Webinar

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements, is taking his ancient food technologies to the modern digital age by teaching a webinar on June 7th and 8th. Come and learn some great fermentation recipes.

Sandor’s invitation:

On June 7 and 8, I will be teaching an intensive 2-day webinar, to be broadcast live over the internet from 10AM-4PM (Pacific daylight time) both days. We will be making kraut, miso, tempeh, natto, kefir, amazake, mead, fish sauce, sourdough, porridge, and idli. Internet viewers will be able to email questions, and participants will receive an edited DVD recording of the workshop. The cost of the workshop is $60. For further information and registration, visit http://www.academyofspirit.com/sandor.html

Also visit Sandor’s web site at http://www.wildfermentation.com.

NYC’s Bicycle Experiment

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Bicycling to work is more popular than ever–especially in urban areas where people tend to live only a few miles from their jobs. washingtonpost.com has an article detailing NYC ‘s recognition of that fact and the city’s rather dramatic steps to protect their biking population from the roaring traffic of the city streets.

From the article:

N.Y. Hopes to Ensure Smooth Pedaling for Bike Commuters
By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 25, 2008; Page A02City officials, hoping to make commutes like his less treacherous, have created a seven-block experiment of a bike lane on Ninth Avenue. Here, concrete dividers and a row of parked cars shield a bike lane from the street and its traffic. Low mini-traffic lights show when cyclists have the right of way. Bike commuters, messengers and delivery people peel down perfectly smooth paths.

It’s great to see government officials beginning to take the bicyclist population seriously. I’m usually upset when I see roads being expanded, but for the purposes of bike lanes, I make an exception. Bike lanes make the roads safer for motorists, safer for bicyclists certainly, and they provide a green commuting option for those who avoid their bicycle due to the fear of winding up as Mack truck potato cake.

WWF Study Finds Electric Cars to be Most Eco-Friendly

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Even though electric cars rely on electricity from our dirty, antiquated (usually coal-fired) electric power grid, a new study by the WWF finds that even despite that fact, electric cars are the greenest option for the future.

From the article:

Dramatically expanded use of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles would be a way to a transport future that doesn’t risk climate catastrophe, a major new WWF analysis has found.

Such a move would also reduce the risk of conflict over less oil more and more concentrated in relatively unstable areas of the world.

Plugged In: The End of the Oil Age considers the future of a transport sector now 95 per cent dependent on liquid hydrocarbon fuels and examines the impacts and practicalities of electric, coal-to-liquid, gas-to-liquid, natural gas and hydrogen powered transport for the future

It finds that vehicles running solely or partly on grid-connected electricity are more efficient and less greenhouse gas intensive than all alternatives, even with most power now being generated using fossil fuels.

Read the full article here.

Are you our next author?

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Win $1,000 and a publishing contract with Chelsea Green by submitting one of the best proposals for the next book in our Green Guide Series!

Think you’ve got what it takes to become our next author? Have a good idea for the next Green Guide to Technology, Green Guide to Travel, Green Guide to Remodeling, or Green Guide to … Something Else? Then take a crack at writing a proposal for our next Green Guide! See the contest description and guidelines below. Good Luck!

Our big idea.
We launched our new website to bring together our readers, authors, staff members, progressive bloggers, and others in a virtual community built around a simple goal: change the world. And change starts with great ideas that can be put into practice. That’s why we are inviting the community members who come to this site to enter our Green Guide Contest.

Our Green Guide series is a collection of big ideas in small packages. Current guides convey the basics you need to know to confidently get started composting, biking to work, greening your office, lowering your energy footprint, recycling to the max, and conserving water. And they convey it all in a small, 92ish-page format. In fact, our guides are small enough to travel in pockets, concise enough to make green practices seem as easy as they are, and useful enough to help their readers actually change they way they live and work.

So, about that contest.
Write to us, tell us about a Green Guide you would like to research and write, why you’d like to write it, how it should be illustrated, and a bit about yourself. If you’re one of up to five winners we’ll offer you a publishing contract that includes an advance of $1,000 against royalties.

For how to enter, see our contest guidelines below. Deadline for entries is July 4, 2008 (yes, Independence Day) in honor of the local, independent communities we hope the Green Guides will help create—free from the domination of fossil fuels, global warming, and toxic pollution.

We want to put your best ideas about how to live and work more sustainably into print.

Green Guide Contest Entry Guidelines

Thank you for your interest in our Green Guide contest. We know there are many people out there with great ideas on how to live and work more sustainably and we look forward to seeing your entry.

The Prize.
Chelsea Green will offer a publishing contract that includes a $1,000 advance on royalties to the best entry or entries for new Green Guides as judged by Chelsea Green’s contest committee. Up to five contracts will be awarded.

What to submit.
All contests have rules, right? Here are ours. They are designed to ensure that all entries are received in comparable formats and all contestants are treated fairly. So, here goes.

  1. Entries must be in English and must consist of original work by the person making the submission and cannot violate any copyrights.
  2. Entries must be for new books that will fit into our existing Green Guides series. In other words, the topic and contents should:
    • Promote environmentally sustainable practices.
    • Be suited to the uniform format of the Green Guides (i.e., suitable for publication in paperback that’s 4 ¾ inches wide x 6 ½ inches tall, and about 96 pages long). See examples here, here, and here.
    • Be able to be illustrated. However, no illustrations are required at this time as part of your contest entry. If your entry is chosen as a winner, you will be responsible for supplying any artwork to be used in your Green Guide, and acquiring any rights to use artwork produced by others.
  3. Multiple entries are allowed, but must be submitted separately.
  4. Submit entries via email to our editorial director, Joni Praded, at contest -at- chelseagreen.com.
  5. Please make the subject line of your entry read “Green Guide Entry – Your Name” (enter your own name). If you are making multiple entries, please enter the number of each entry as part of the subject line, for example “Green Guide Entry 1 – Jane Doe” and “Green Guide Entry 2 – Jane Doe.”
  6. Entries must be in the form of a single word-processing document that is readable by Microsoft Word (either the .doc or .rtf format will work, but Microsoft’s new .docx format will not). Please attach this document to your email submission. If you use a program other than Microsoft Word, be sure to convert your file to a type that is readable by Word.
  7. Entries must include all of the following items as part of the document you submit:
    • Your first and last name.
    • Your mailing address.
    • Your email address.
    • Your telephone number.
    • A brief (one page or less) summary of the topic of your proposed Green Guide.
    • A brief personal biography that includes information on your expertise and knowledge in the subject area of your proposed Green Guide, and a listing of any previous publications whether in the form of books, print magazine articles, or online publications.
    • A table of contents for your proposed Green Guide.
    • Brief summaries of each chapter or section of your proposed Green Guide.
    • Finished samples of your proposed Green Guide including:
      1. The Introduction/Preface (if any).
      2. A minimum of two sample chapters, if organized in chapter form.
    • Whatever the form, the samples should add up to a minimum of 3,500 words.
  8. Entries must be received at contest -at- chelseagreen.com on or before Friday, July 4, 2008.
  9. The winner or winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 2, 2008.

The fine print.

  • Chelsea Green will make every good-faith effort to contact the winner or winners. Any winner(s) whom we are unable to contact in a reasonable amount of time will lose their claim to the prize and Chelsea Green will award that prize to the next runner up, if applicable.
  • Unfortunately, Chelsea Green cannot be responsible for technical problems in email transmission, technical problems with submitted documents, or any other technical problems that may cause an entry to fail to be received as intended by the contestant. (If you don’t receive a reply acknowledging the receipt of your entry within 24 hours, we advise sending it again.)
  • You will receive notice that your entry has been received, and we will inform you if you are a finalist. Again, thanks for your participation!

Biomimicry and the “Evolution” of Tidal Energy

Friday, May 30th, 2008

The Oil Drum just posted a great article about the “evolution” of tidal generators and the rise of biomimicry in general. Essentially by mimicking the design of plants and sea-swelling creatures that have adapted to an underwater environment for millions of years, we are able to build systems and devices that are more likely to achieve peak efficiency…or at least go a long way towards it.

From the article:

In my post on ocean energy a few months ago I briefly mentioned a scheme by a small Australian company called BioPower to trial some tidal power and wave power technologies in Bass Strait that used “biomimicry” based design principles.

The project is due to go live next year, with 2 prototype units being deployed – the wave power system will be off King Island and the tidal power one off Flinders Island. Each unit can produce up to 250 kilowatts. The $10.3 million system is half funded by the Australian Government and the electricity generated will be used by Hydro Tasmania. BioPower CEO Tim Finnigan says the locations were chosen because Tasmania “offers a world-class wave climate on the west coast and a fantastic tidal environment on the eastern side”.

The field of biomimicry (also called “biomimetics” and “bionics”) is a new one that has gathered an increasing amount of attention in recent years, with advocates promoting these types of designs as being efficient ways to harness natural resources and to use them in a sustainable way. In this post I’ll look at the history of the science (apparently you can get a degree in it now) and at a range of examples where it is being applied.

Read the full article here.

Soldiers Flee After Saddled with a Second 4 Year Commitment

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Rich Droste and Josh Randall are two of the most recent additions to the growing list of American soldiers turning their backs on the war in Iraq. The aggressive stop-loss policy, longer tours of duty, poor governmental support, and the fully-debunked reasons for going to war in the first place are hard on the moral of our already tired soldiers. According to the Army, 4,698 soldiers deserted in 2007, compared to 3,301 in 2006.

Peter Laufer covered this phenomenon in his book Mission Rejected: US Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq. On ChelseaGreenRadio you can listen to Laufer interviewing Clifton Hicks, Darrell Anderson, Joshua Key, and Robert Zabala; some of the soldiers from his book.

The Owen Sound Sun Times recently printed this article describing the details that led up to the mens’ decision to leave.

From the article:

Ask Droste if he fled because he was afraid to die and he grows restless. “I hate that question,” he said in an interview before Saturday’s presentation, vigorously objecting to the idea that he won’t fight because he’s afraid.

“I joined when I believed the war was necessary. I was great at my job. I loved it.

“There’s something very primal about it, something that you dream about since you were a little boy. You know, shooting and blowing stuff up.”

Droste, who came to Canada in March, hasn’t become an overnight pacifist though. Sometimes war is still necessary, he said.

“If it wasn’t a war for oil. If it wasn’t political and about one man’s agenda, then I would have considered fighting.”

The non-commissioned officer had completed almost all of a four-year commitment when his service was extended another four years under the U.S. “stop-loss” policy. He had been told about the possibility, but it was only supposed to happen if the Third World War broke out, he said.

Read the full article here.

Nuclear River of Money

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Yes, I admit, we folks here at Chelsea Green have a certain crazy love for all things “green” and renewable. A bevvy of us ride our bicycles to work every day, we have a worm bin under the kitchenette sink, we print any book we can on post-consumer recycled paper, and you won’t find an incandescent bulb within shouting distance of our offices. So given our profound love of sustainability, clean energy, and progress, you can understand why some of us are upset over McCain’s recent support for the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, which funnels money away from clean energy (wind/solar) and pours it into the nuclear industry. This is precisely the moment we need to invest in solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and other clean energy technologies, not direct money away from it.

Sign this petition from Credo Action, and then help us spread the word: Nuclear is not the future.

Nature: Now THERE’S an idea!

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Zero Emission Research and Initiatives (ZERI) and the Biomimicry Guild have teamed up to create The Nature’s 100 Best Initiative, a study focused on discovering the environmentally-friendly solutions that will enable our future by studying the systems that exist in nature today.

The Initiative has already found ways to improve many items and processes that make our modern quality (and length) of life possible: everything from a better pace maker to better vaccine storage. We are proud to be publishing the Initiative’s preliminary findings in the forthcoming book, Nature’s 100 Best: World-Changing Innovations Inspired by Nature.

The Nature’s 100 Best Initiative works in partnership with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The following is a press release about the Initiative from the UNEP.

Nature’s 100 Best Initiative Publishes Preliminary Findings on How to Green the Global Economy
Ninth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity 19-30 May

28 May 2008, Bonn/Geneva/Nairobi—A super-small pacemaker modeled on the wiring of the humpback whale’s heart and pigment-free colour coatings from the light-splitting structures of a peacock’s feather are among a range of extraordinary new eco-breakthroughs emerging from mimicking nature.

Other commercially-promising advances, inspired by natural world and its close to four billion year-old history of “research and development” include:

  • Vaccines that survive without refrigeration based on Africa’s ‘resurrection’ plant.
  • Friction-free surfaces suitable for modern electrical devices gleaned from the slippery skin of the Arabian Peninsula’s sandfish lizard.
  • New antibacterial substances inspired by marine algae found off Australia’s coast that promise a new way of defeating health hazardous bugs without contributing to the threat of increasing bacterial resistance.
  • Toxic-free fire retardants, based on waste citrus and grape crops inspired by the way animal cells turn food into energy without producing flames—the so called citric acid or Krebs cycle.
  • A pioneering water harvesting system to recycle steam from cooling towers and allowing buildings to collect their own water supplies from the air inspired by the way the Namib Desert Beetle of Namibia harvests water from desert fogs.
  • Biodegradable, water-tight packaging and water-repellant linings for pipes to tents that mimic the Australian water-holding frog.

These are just some of inventions, innovations and ideas at the centre of a new collaborative initiative called Nature’s 100 Best.

The initiative is the brainchild of the Biomimicry Guild and the Zero Emission Research and Initiatives (ZERI) in partnership with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and IUCN-the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

It is aimed at showcasing how tomorrow’s economy can be realized today by learning, copying and mimicking the way nature has already solved many of the technological and sustainability problems confronting humankind. According to Janine Benyus and Gunter Pauli, co-creators of the Nature’s 100 Best project, “Life solves its problems with well-adapted designs, life-friendly chemistry, and smart material and energy use. What better models could there be?”

The Nature’s 100 Best List, a mixture of innovations at various stages of commercialization from the drawing board to imminent arrival in the marketplace, is set to be completed by October 2008 in time for the IUCN Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The Nature’s 100 Best book will be published in May 2009.

Today the collaborators and partners unveiled some of the preliminary projects and products being included on Nature’s 100 Best from an original list over 2,000.

It coincides with the ministerial part of the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting taking place in Bonn, Germany where up to 6,000 delegates and over 190 governments are meeting to slow the rate of loss of biodiversity.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “Biomimicry is a field whose time has come. Anyone doubting the economic and development value of the natural world need only sift through the extraordinary number of commercially promising inventions now emerging–inventions that are as a result of understanding and copying nature’s designs and the superior way in which living organisms successfully manage challenges from clean energy generation to re-using and recycling wastes”.

“There are countless reasons why we must accelerate the international response and the flow of funds to counter rapidly eroding biodiversity and rapidly degrading ecosystems: Nature’s 100 Best gives us 100 extra reasons to act and 100 extra reasons why better managing biodiversity is not a question of aid or an economic burden but an issue of investing in the non-polluting businesses, industries and jobs of the near future,” he said.

Janine Benyus, head of the Biomimicry Guild added, “Biomimicry is science at the cutting edge of the 21st century economy and based on 3.8 billion years of evolution. Indeed the way nature makes novel substances; generates energy and synthesizes unique structures are the secrets to how humans can survive and thrive on this planet.”

Gunter Pauli, head of the Zeri Foundation based in Geneva, added: “Steam and coal transformed the 19th century; telecommunications and electronics, the 20th. We are now on the edge of a biologically-based revolution and in some of the inventions showcased under this new initiative will undoubtedly be the business models for the new Googles, Welcomes, Unilevers and General Electrics of the modern age. With over one billion Euros already invested in the most important technologies this is a trend in innovation for industry to follow” he said.

Humpback Heart Pacemakers
Over 350,000 people in the United States alone are fitted with new or replacement pacemakers annually. The cost of fitting a new device is up to $50,000 per patient.

Enter Jorge Reynolds, Director of the Whale Heart Satellite Tracking Program in Colombia, whose research is unraveling the mysteries of how the Humpack’s 2,000-pound heart pumps the equivalent of six bath tubs of oxygenated blood through a circulatory system 4,500 times as extensive as a human’s.

The work is also pinpointing how this is achieved even at very low rates of three to four beats a minute and how the electrical stimulation is achieved through a mass of blubber that shields the whale’s heart from the cold.

The researchers have, through listening devices called echocardiographs and via autopsies on dead whales, discovered nano-sized ‘wires’ that allow electrical signals to stimulate heart beats even through masses of non-conductive blubber.

The scientists believe the findings could be the key to allowing the human heart to work without a battery-powered pacemaker and to stimulate optimal heart beats by by-passing or ‘bridging’ dead heart muscle via special whale-like wiring.

The world-wide market for pacemakers is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2010. The new invention could cost just a few cents to make; reduce the number of follow-up operations because it avoids the need to install new batteries and thus supplant the traditional pacemaker.

“Resurrection Plant”
Two million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, rubella and whooping cough each year. By some estimates, breakdowns in the refrigeration chain from laboratory to village means half of all vaccines never get to patients.

Enter Myrothamnus flabellifolia—a plant found in Central and Southern Africa whose tissues can be dried to a crisp and then revived without damage, courtesy of a sugary substance produced in its cells during drought.

And enter Bruce Roser, a biomedical researcher who along with colleagues recently founded Cambridge Biostability Ltd to develop fridge-free vaccines based on the plant’s remarkable sugars called trehaloses.

The product involves spraying a vaccine with the trehalose coating to form inert spheres or sugary beads that can be packaged in an injectable form and can sit in a doctor’s bag for months or even years.

Trials are underway with the Indian company Panacea Biotech and agreements have also been signed with Danish and German companies.

The development, based on mimicking nature, could lead to savings of up to $300 million a year in the developing world while cutting the need for kerosene and photovoltaic powered fridges.

Other possibilities include new kinds of food preservation up to the storage of animal and human tissues that by-pass storage in super cold liquid nitrogen.

Slippery Lizard
The two main ways of reducing friction in mechanical and electrical devices are ball bearings and silicon carbide or ultra nano-crystalline diamond.

One of the shortcomings of silicon carbide is that it is manufactured at temperatures of between 1,600 and 2,500 degrees F—in other words it is energy intensive involving the burning of fossil fuels.

The synthetic diamond product can be made at lower temperatures and coated at temperatures of 400 degrees F for a range of low friction applications. But it has drawbacks too.

Enter the shiny Sandfish lizard that lives in the sands of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and enter a team from the Technical University of Berlin.

Studies indicate that the lizard achieves its remarkable, friction-free life by making a skin of keratin stiffened by sugar molecules and sulphur.

The lizard’s skin also has nano-sized spikes. It means a grain of Sahara sand rides atop 20,000 of these spikes spreading the load and providing negligible levels of friction.

Further tests indicate that the ridges on the lizard skin may also be negatively charged, effectively repelling the sand grains so they float over the surface rather like a hovercraft over water.

The researchers have teamed up with colleagues at the Science University of Berlin and a consortium of three German companies to commercialize the lizard skin findings.

The market is potentially huge, including in micro-electronic-mechanical systems where a biodegradable film made from the relatively cheap materials of keratin and sugar and manufactured at room temperature offers an environmentally-friendly “unique selling proposition.”

Superbugs and Bacterial Resistance—Australian Red Algae to the Rescue?
Seventy per cent of all human infections are a result of biofilms.

These are big congregations of bacteria that require 1,000 times more antibiotic to kill them and are leading to an ‘arms race’ between the bugs and the pharmaceutical companies.

It is also increasing antibiotic resistance and the rise of ‘super bugs’ like methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus that now kills more people than die of AIDS each year.

Enter Delisea pulchra, a feathery red alga or seaweed found off the Australian coast and a team including researchers at the University of New South Wales.

During a marine field trip, scientists noticed that the algae’s surface was free from biofilms despite living in waters laden with bacteria.

Tests pinpointed a compound—known as halogenated furanone—that blocks the way bacteria signal to each other in order to form dense biofilm groups.

A company called Biosignal has been set up to develop the idea which promises a new way of controlling bacteria like golden staph, cholera, and legionella without aggravating bacterial resistance.

Products include contact lenses, catheters, and pipes treated with algae-inspired furanones alongside mouthwashes and new therapies for vulnerable patients with diseases like cystic fibrosis and urinary tract infections.

The bacterial signal-blocking substance may also reduce pollution to the environment by reducing or ending the need for homeowners and companies to pour tons of caustic chemicals down pipes, ducts and tanks and onto kitchen surfaces to keep them bug-free.

Beetle-Based Water Harvesting
By 2025, the United Nations forecasts that 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with water scarcity and two thirds of the world’s population could be under conditions of water stress.

Climate change is expected to aggravate water problems via more extreme weather events. Many intelligent and improved management options can overcome these challenges and one may rest on the extraordinary ability of the Namib Desert beetle.

The beetle lives in a location that receives a mere half an inch of rain a year yet can harvest water from fogs that blow in gales across the land several mornings each month.

Enter a team from the University of Oxford and the UK defense research firm QinetiQ. They have designed a surface that mimics the water-attracting bumps and water-shedding valleys on the beetle’s wing scales that allows the insect to collect and funnel droplets thinner than a human hair.

The patchwork surface hinges on small, poppy-seed sized glass spheres in a layer of warm wax that tests show work like the beetle’s wing scales.

Trials have now been carried out to use the beetle film to capture water vapour from cooling towers. Initial tests have shown that the invention can return 10 per cent of lost water and lead to cuts in energy bills for nearby buildings by reducing a city’s heat sink effect.

An estimated 50,000 new water-cooling towers are erected annually and each large system evaporates and loses over 500 million litres.

Other researchers, some with funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Agency, are mimicking the beetle water collection system to develop tents that collect their own water up to surfaces that will ‘mix’ reagents for ‘lab-on-a-chip’ applications.

Notes to Editors
Nature’s 100 Best is a compilation of 2,100 of the most extraordinary technologies and strategies found in nature that are being mimicked or deserve mimicking.

The 100 Best List will be launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain in October 2008.

At the same time the Biomimicry Institute will unveil AskNature.org, an online database of biological knowledge organized by engineering function in order to engage and inspire entrepreneurs and investors.

Zeri www.zeri.org

Biomimicry Guild and Institute www.biomimicryguild.com, www.biomimicryinstitute.com

UNEP www.unep.org

IUCN www.iucn.org

Ninth Conference of the Parties to the Convention for Biological Diversity in Bonn www.cbd.int

Case studies from today’s preliminary launch and more details on Nature’s 100 Best at www.n100best.org

The book will be available through

http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/natures_100_best

For More Information Please Contact

Nick Nuttall, Spokesperson/Head of Media, UNEP on Tel:
+254 20 7623084, Mobile:

+254 733 632755 or +41 795965737, E-mail: [email protected]

Or Anne-France White, Associate Information Officer, at tel:
+254 20 762 3088, Mobile: + 254 728600494, or e-mail: [email protected]

Or contact [email protected]

UNEP Media Release 2008/12

Environmentalist Diane Wilson to appear in NH

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Diane Wilson, author of An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas and Chelsea Green’s forthcoming Holy Roller: Growing Up in the Church of Knock Down, Drag Out; or, How I Quit Loving a Blue-Eyed Jesus will be giving a free public presentation at the Howe Library in Hanover, New Hampshire.

WHEN: Monday, June 9th 7:00 pm
WHERE: Howe Library-Mayer Room; 13 South St., Hanover, NH (maplink)
WHAT: A presentation by environmentalist Diane Wilson

The event is co-sponsored by the Howe Library and the Sierra Club.

For more info contact Sharon Racusin at [email protected].

Four Future Scenarios

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

As announced by Eat the Suburbs!, David Holmgren, author of Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, has launched Future Scenarios at www.futurescenarios.org. The site is a long essay from David that has been broken down into informative micro-chapters, each detailing what David sees as a possible future.

In the essay, Holmgren has outlined the following four future scenarios with thoughtful analysis and evidence for the possibility of each outcome.

Brown Tech: Top Down Constriction
Slow energy decline rates, severe climate change symptoms

The Brown Tech world is one in which the production of oil declines after a peak 2005-2010 at about 2% per annum and the subsequent peak and decline of natural gas is also relatively gentle, but the severity of global warming symptoms is at the extreme end of current mainstream scientific predictions. In this scenario strong, even aggressive, national policies and actions prevail to address both the threats and the opportunities from energy peak and climatic change. The political system could be described as Corporatist or Fascist (which Mussolini described as a merger of state and corporate power).

Green Tech: Distributed Powerdown
Slow energy decline rates, mild climate change symptoms.

The Green Tech scenario is the most benign, in that adverse climate changes are at the low end of projections. Oil and gas production declines slowly as in the Brown Tech future, so the sense of chaos and crisis is more muted without major economic collapse or conflict. This allows resources to flow to a greater diversity of responses at the global, national, city, community and personal level. In some already densely populated poor countries, conditions worsen.

Earth Stewardship: Bottom Up Rebuild
Rapid energy decline rates, mild climate change symptoms

In this scenario the decline in oil production after a peak in total liquids production before 2010 is at the extreme end of authoritative predictions (about 10%)49 and is followed by an even faster decline in gas production plus a simultaneous peak in coal production. The shock to the world’s fragile financial systems is overwhelming, resulting in severe economic depression and perhaps some further short, sharp resource wars.

Lifeboats: Civilization Triage
Rapid energy decline rates, severe climate change symptoms.

In this scenario, supplies of high quality fossil fuels decline rapidly, the economy fails and human contributions to global warming collapse but lag effects and positive feedbacks in the climate system continue to drive an acceleration of global warming. As of 2007, an increasing number of scientists believe it may already be too late to avoid catastrophic climate change.50 In the Lifeboat scenario the adverse symptoms of the Brown Tech and Earth Steward scenarios combine to force a progressive collapse in most forms of economy and social organisation. Local wars, including use of nuclear weapons accelerate collapse in some areas but the failure of national systems of power prevent global warfare. Successive waves of famine and disease breakdown social and economic capacity on a larger scale than the Black Death in medieval Europe leading to a halving of global population in a few decades.

Personally, I’m pulling for the Green Tech future. Not only is it the most benign of the four scenarios, but, for an eco-geek like me, it also has the coolest toys.

Check out David’s web site for more.


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