Project DRAWDOWN how we can reverse climate change

With all the doom and gloom that talking about climate change in the anthropocene engenders in ones audience, all the hype and positivity I can muster flags when I read about the size of the problems faced and the inadequacies and failings of individuals and governments to act, and in fact my own poorly implemented and limited attempts to do something! It seems as if it is extreme hubris on my part to say we can change our lifestyles, consumerist habits or other people’s desires. I was pleasantly surprised while I was researching on LAF’s (Landscape Architecture Foundation) website for a recent magazine article, to discover Martha Swartz talking about the book edited by Paul Hawken’s “Drawdown The most comprehensive plan ever to reverse global warming” Having viewed the website’s info and watched the video I am eagerly awaiting the book.

As Martha Swartz says in the interview on LAF’s websiteI was introduced to Drawdown by Pamela Conrad, a Senior Associate at CMG Landscape Architecture, while preparing for a conference presentation on climate change with her two years ago. We gave a presentation about the book, why it’s important, and why it’s important specifically for landscape architects. We got up there and talked about what climate change is and why it’s so urgent that we address it. What really struck me about Drawdown is that it gave metrics for its solutions. They weren’t theoretical, but actionable ideas” 


Here is Paul Hawken, the projects instigator, the books editor and the evangelist of the crusade to make a difference, telling us what inspirited him and how it can affect us and what we can do ourselves, more than just lamenting the lack of efficacy of our recycling or our governments alternative energy strategies!

A New Language For Carbon – CO2 is not the Enemy !


While searching for some information on the Cradle To Cradle certification I came across this is article by William McDonough in Nature and reviewed in Scientific American and summarised on his website

William McDonough in the ICEhouse at the 2016 World Economic Forum. Credit: Marta Chierego

This view an idea is relevant to the articles I have been posting on the site the last few weeks and to the idea of requiring all design to become CARBON POSITIVE as I state in feature post On Advocacy

Climate change is the result of breakdowns in the carbon cycle caused by us: it is a design failure. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make airborne carbon a material in the wrong place, at the wrong dose and wrong duration. It is we who have made carbon a toxin—like lead in our drinking water. In the right place, carbon is a resource and tool.

The world’s current carbon strategy aims to promote a goal of zero. Predominant language currently includes words such as “low carbon,” “zero carbon,” “negative carbon,” and even a “war on carbon.”

The design world needs values-based language that reflects a safe, healthy and just world. In this new paradigm, by building urban food systems and cultivating closed-loop flows of carbon nutrients, carbon can be recognized as an asset rather than a toxin, and the life-giving carbon cycle can become a model for human designs.

The new language signals positive intentions, leading us to do more good rather than simply less bad. It identifies three categories of carbon:

  • Living carbon: organic, flowing in biological cycles, providing fresh food, healthy forests and fertile soil; something we want to cultivate and grow
  • Durable carbon: locked in stable solids such as coal and limestone or recyclable polymers that are used and reused; ranges from reusable fibers like paper and cloth, to building and infrastructure elements that can last for generations and then be reused
  • Fugitive carbon: has ended up somewhere unwanted and can be toxic; includes carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, ‘waste to energy’ plants, methane leaks, deforestation, much industrial agriculture and urban development

Working carbon is a subset of all three categories and defined as a material being put to human use. For example, working living carbon is cultivated in agricultural systems. Working durable carbon is recycled, reused and reprocessed in circular technical systems; and working fugitive carbon includes fossil fuels used for power.

The new language also identifies three strategies for carbon management and climate change:

  • Carbon positive: actions converting atmospheric carbon to forms that enhance soil nutrition or to durable forms such as polymers and solid aggregates; also recycling of carbon into nutrients from organic materials, food waste, compostable polymers and sewers
  • Carbon neutral: actions that transform or maintain carbon in durable Earth-bound forms and cycles across generations; or renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydropower that do not release carbon
  • Carbon negative: actions that pollute the land, water and atmosphere with various forms of carbon, for example, CO2 and methane into the atmosphere or plastics in the ocean

Offering an inspiring model for climate action begins with changing the way we talk about carbon. Our goal is for all to embrace this new language and work toward a Carbon Positive design framework; and in doing so we may together support a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world—with clean air, soil, water and energy—that is economical, equitable, ecological, and elegantly enjoyed.

On Advocacy: A Landscape Architects Submission on transforming the world!

Recently I was asked to write a short piece for ProLandscaper Africa on what can the landscape profession do to make difference on environmental and social issues, should we shrink back in our shells and hide in our gated villages from all the problems that plaque Africa and the world or should we become activists and advocates for positive change? So inspired by the work of activists in the Africa Centre for Cities and The Landscape Architecture Foundation’s (LAF) New Landscape Declaration, here goes with credit to LAF’s Action Plan

MY SUBMISSION:

I have been involved in the practice of landscape design, construction and management my entire life, I love plants and everything to do with the natural and built landscape, while I have had my head buried in the sand of personal interests and passions for many years and I have often been  a poor people’s person, I am now acting positively for change and to not being “part of the problem” but working on co-creating a resilient and awesome future with all of those who share my passion. 

I believe the landscape profession is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in addressing the most important issues of our time and I am positive we will do so. Challenges include: adaptation and mitigation of the impacts of climate change; addressing moral, social, economic impoverishment and inequality; building resilient new infrastructure that runs on clean energy; co-creating and managing innovative urban places that provide social and ecological justice for all peoples and species.   

We can develop a clear vision of our role and capacities, nurture inclusive leadership, embrace advocacy and activism, seek commitment and action from those who feel the same as we do.

To be committed means:

Be more and keep on learning – know the terminology and science of climate change, improve your cultural literacy, read widely, expose yourself to dynamic, uncomfortable circumstances and people; get to see others point of view. Take part, if not in government, then in your local area, PTA or ratepayers association, take part in ILASA, SALI or SAGIC or your own professional or business organisation; assist on an awards committee or organise a function. 

Become a visible exampleof the current best practice: evaluate your personal and business actions and act to reduce your carbon, water and waste footprint and aim to become carbon neutral or better, carbon positive.

Build equitable teams; partner across disciplines, practices and publics; mentor young people towards leadership; encourage involvement in real physical networks and form communities of interest with others who share your passion.

Become invested in where you live, assist those who are less fortunate, advocate for what you believe in, give assistance and support to organizations and people who are making difference. Act where you see social or ecological injustice, get to know your local area and national political representative, advocate for the positive role of landscape to them.

Climate Positive Design – Becoming CO2+

I am on admission to understand and act on becoming “carbon positive” – I believe it is the way landscape architects can become truly relevant and effective.

A series of recent posts by Landscape+Urbanism on understanding climate change for landscape architects has been catalytic for m intoning about the role of landscape architecture, cities and our lives here on this planet. December post from the Dirt by Andrew Wright reporting on  ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and the climate positive design talk by  Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a senior associate at CMG Landscape Architecture   

“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Conrad “We believe our profession can be part of the solution, and that it’s time to work together.”

Pamela Conrad has developed a calculator that predicts the emissions and carbon sequestration potential

“A few years back, I assumed I could go online and download a tool that would tell me exactly what I wanted to know. But frankly, those tools really only exist for architects right now. Because we have the ability to sequester carbon, perhaps we need our own tools to measure these impacts.”

life_cycle
Landscape Carbon Calculator / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad’s tool, which is still in beta testing and has not yet been publicly released, measures sources of embodied emissions in landscape materials against the sequestration potential of vegetation on a site to calculate both the carbon footprint of a project and the amount of time it will take for sequestration to completely offset emissions. Past that point, the project will  sequester additional atmospheric carbon dioxide, a condition Conrad calls being “climate positive.”

carbon_footprint.jpg
Climate Positive Design / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Using the calculator, Conrad has been able to estimate the carbon footprints of her recently completed projects and, by tweaking the input parameters, model strategies that could have reduced their climate impacts.

“We can plant more trees and woody shrubs; we can minimize paving, especially concrete; we can minimize lawn areas; we can use local or natural recycled materials.” With these strategies, Conrad estimates that she could have cut the time it will take for her projects to become carbon neutral in half.

“The design of those projects didn’t change at all, or the quality for that matter. But what a difference it could have made if we just had the resources to inform our design decisions.”

park
Carbon Positive Design / CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad argued that, through climate sensitive design, landscape architects could be responsible for the sequestration of as much as 0.24 gigatons of carbon over the next thirty years, enough to place landscape architecture in the list of 80 solutions to climate change studied in Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project.

And “if we were to include other work we do, like incorporating green roofs into projects or making cities more walkable and bikeable, that would put landscape architecture within the top 40 solutions.”

Conrad plans to release the calculator to the public next year and hopes that it will be used to set measurable goals for designing climate-friendly projects and create opportunities for accountability.

“How are we going to keep tabs on ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing these things?” she asked her fellow panelists. “What would it take for us to have a 2030 challenge specific to landscape architecture?”

The Foundations of Climate Change Inquiry

Jason King of Landscape+ Urbanism has written a great review and references for understanding the climate change fundamentals and I will be diving into this myself, although written for North American audience, he does reference international resources as well, for an African audience, this local book by Anton Cartwright and team from UCT’s African Centre for Cities is worth looking at Climate Change at the City Scale: Impacts, Mitigation and Adaptation in Cape Town   

In an attempt to be intentional and informed in tying landscape architecture to climate change and asking some of the fundamental questions I posed in my introductory post, I starting to develop a plan and amass a wide range of resources. Even now, I’ve barely scratched the surface, although this initial study has been illuminating, perhaps just in posing more questions. 

First, I wanted to focus on climate change mechanisms and impacts, of which there is not shortage of resources, covered in a combination of technical reports, books and articles. Second, I wanted to tap into many of the strategies from design and planning world, of which there is a steadily growing collection of articles and books, to address this in the context of solutions based in landscape architecture, architecture, and urban planning. Lastly, is the rich resource of academic journals and papers that connect the issues and approaches with a layer of evidence to further inform potential solutions. In this initial post I will focus on the first, and relate some of the initial experiences.

Climate Change Reports

One impetus for my recent obsession was the release (to much fanfare) over the Thanksgiving weekend of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). This report gives a detailed account of the “Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States.” Authored by an army of experts, and published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program this is the de facto standard for US Climate Science and has helped transform and amplify discussions.

Climate impact lingo

Because the IPCC’s work is so central to global scientific understand, it is helpful to get acquainted with the particular communications style of the IPCC… [it] forms a common language across fields and thus encourages interdisciplinary understanding.”Hamin-Infield, Abunnaser, & Ryan (eds), 2019 p.10

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Boston Living with Water

The proposal for structural new protection of Boston – by Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes prize winning entry in the city’s competition– against coastal flooding turns a safety precaution into an opportunity to create a multifaceted ecology feature

This article was originally published, feature-lenght, in the Green special report, Domus 994, September 2015

The focus of our competition entry “Total Resilient Approach” is based on the redesign of Morrissey Boulevard, a strategy that works on local and territorial levels.

Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Top: preliminary sketch showing waterways and the grid of the built environment. Above: site plan of the project area

Operating on different scales within a single ecological network, the protection plan can be implemented over time and is therefore adaptable to climate changes. The Boston Bay is destined to undergo rapid changes due to rising sea levels. The defence proposals afford an opportunity to speed up landscape transformations with a multidisciplinary approach. A long-term element of our project for the Bay is the rehabilitation of its ecosystems in order to protect the coastline by means of sea-grass meadows, oyster barriers and dunes, and improve biodiversity by enhancing self-adaptive systems such as salt marshes.

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The Myths of Alien Species: An Alternate Perspective on “Wild”

Ditya Gopal reviews a new book on of The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation, by Fred Pearce from The Nature of Cities  that will add grits to the dispute between conservationists, landscape architects and the public on what constitutes  an acceptable stance to non-native species and invasive aliens and how we view wilderness and wildness along with the age old debate on how nature is constructed.

“The New Wild is an intriguing book that looks at non-native species and nature in new light, challenging popular notions of ‘nativism,’ ‘wild’ and nature’s ‘fragility.’ Although the author, Fred Pearce, has taken on a controversial topic, his sources show that he is not alone as an increasing number of ecologists and scientists are questioning the “good natives, bad aliens,” narrative. As a seasoned journalist with years of experience reporting environmental and development issues, Pearce strengthens his arguments with plenty of examples—most of which he has personally observed. The book critically reviews the vilification of non-native species, common misconceptions in ecosystem restoration, and pitfalls in conventional conservation”

This topic is of particular relevance here in Cape Town which is situated right in the middle one of the worlds ecological hotspots and with its unique vegetation is the site of frequent conflicts between the ruthless eradication  of all alien plant species including what many see as valuable urban forests. The position that many of us have is that it is preferable to have the large exotic trees and shrubs in the urban environment for their social, aesthetic and habitat benefits for urban birds and other wildlife than to revert to the natural vegetation of the place (mostly sand veld fynbos or renosterveld, that cannot be recreated in a viable dimension within the fragmented urban fabric, nor do these vegetation types support large trees and human scale environments, most of the large deciduous northern hemisphere tree species are  benign and not able to survive as C and are classified as such by the CARA legislation.

“As a unique and extreme form of novel ecosystems, Pearce urges conservationists to see the great potential in urban badlands/brownfields that nurture numerous rare species. The success of brownfields suggests that nature just needs places that are left alone, with little human intervention. Brownfields might not fit the conventional definition of nature, but they have a huge potential for conservation. Pearce quotes the case of the Chernobyl nuclear station as one of the most remarkable brownfields where nature is making a huge comeback, including the return of large mammals, rodents, birds, and so on. Although highly radioactive, Chernobyl is an extreme example of “nature’s salvation and resilience.” He adds, “nature doesn’t care about conservationists’ artificial divide between urban and rural or native and alien species” or pristine and badlands. This is a powerful statement that we, as conservationists, ecologists, and nature enthusiasts, need to bear in mind. Pearce suggests that conservationists should move on from conventional conservation and its two main aims—“saving threatened species” and restoring nature to its pristine state; and adapt to current environmental realities that include changes due to climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and intensive agriculture. Aliens seem to be “rapidly changing from being part of the problem to part of the solution.” And they are the ‘new wild.’

With the onset of climate change, which is giving rise to an increasing number of climate refugees, adopting a zero tolerance approach towards migrants seems problematic. Previous ice ages and extreme climatic events are testament to massive migrations of species and evolutionary changes. As Prof. Chris Thomas of the University of York is quoted, “A narrow preservationist agenda will reduce rather than increase the capacity of nature to respond to the environmental changes that we are inflicting on the world.”

In the last paragraphs, Pearce expresses that there is no harm in intervening to protect certain aspects of nature that we cherish, nor is there harm in defending against “pests, diseases and inconvenient invaders.” But, “we are serving our own desires and not nature’s needs.” Nature might organize differently than we would like it to. “Open up to evolutionary changes. Let go and let nature take its course.” “…Nature never goes back, it always moves on. Alien invasions will not always be convenient for us, but nature will re-wild in its own way. That is the new wild.”

“The New Wild is persuasive, with well-supported arguments that make for a good read. The simple language and case studies make it easy for even a non-ecologist to follow. This book should be a must-read at the university level for future scientists, researchers, and conservationists, to develop an open mind towards non-native species.

As an ecologist who works in cultural landscapes, this book is refreshing. ‘Wild,’ to me, means spontaneous and not domesticated or cultivated. In many big European cities that I have visited, the median strip along roadways, the small patches of green at road junctions and other nooks and crannies in the city are beautifully decorated with colourful flowers—almost nearing perfection. It was only when I moved to Berlin that I noticed something different. It is refreshing to see dandelions and daffodils appear and vanish on their own. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to bring back the urban wild and it seems to be popular. Yes, it differs drastically from my notions of ‘wild’ as a child who grew up reading encyclopedias and watching National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel. But, there is something magical about seeing what nature has to offer. Many of the spontaneously growing plants, often considered weeds elsewhere, add character to the city. Some are natives, some aliens. It doesn’t matter. To me, these spontaneous species are the new wild.”

Divya Gopal
Berlin

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Jan Gehl: «Architects know very little about people»

Jan Gehl on his passion and mission for liable and human scale cities

He likes high-rises only from far away, he thinks cars should be banned from city-centers and he wants the public space to be the «living room of a city»: The danish urban planner Jan Gehl visited Basel on an official mission. By Matthias Oppliger  in Tages Woche

Basile Bornand: Jan Gehl: «Traffic is like water, it goes where it can. And when it can’t go somewhere, it stops.»

As adress of welcome Jan Gehl hands a business card. Printed on its back is a photography. It shows the typical yellow-red tram from Baselland. «This should be in Switzerland.» Gehl gathered the various pictures on his business cards during numerous travels.

Despite his hometown Copenhagen being one of the most liveable places of the world, the danish architect Jan Gehl gets about a lot. With his company «Gehl Architects» he helps cities around the world to build «cities for people». A few days ago, he visited Basel on invitation from the local planning department. We met him outside the «Gundeldingerfeld», where he held a well attended public lecture about sustainable cities the day before.

Jan Gehl, how many steps did you walk so far today?

I know that precisely (he fumbles for something and brings out a little red device). This is called a pedometer and it was given to me by the mayor of Kaliningrad. It says I walked 5000 steps so far, but actually it should be more. So I have to walk another 5000 steps today. You get seven more years to live, when you walk 10’000 steps a day.

Where have you been?

I have been walking around with these crazy people here all over this neighbourhood (Gundeldingen).

I’ve read somewhere that you like to stroll around a city and that you always bring your little camera along. What pictures do you take?

People mostly. People using public spaces. And I’m also interested in good solutions to planning problems. Or, of course, in silly solutions. I use this pictures in my presentations as I did yesterday. Or in my books. I’ve done this on five continents for fifty years. So I’ve got a lot of pictures by now. Pictures of people are always interesting. You can go on for hours looking at them, but by looking at pictures of houses or motorcars you will get bored pretty soon.

Did you take a picture in Basel too?

I haven’t had time to take many, because we worked a lot during my stay.

«The mutual love affair between people and their cars has waned.»

But did you take one? What drew your interest walking through the streets of Basel?

The first picture I took was of the little ferryboat on the Rhine, which was not propelled by anything but the sun and the streaming river. It’s genius. And I also took one of the Münsterplatz. I like it, it is a fine example of a good old city square. Its dimensions are within the human scale. You can still see the people standing at the far end. Modern squares are often built outside the human scale and therefore you lose sense of its dimension.

Just a few years ago, this exact square was regularly used as parking space. Now we have somehow managed to get rid of them.

This is a general pattern all over the world. The mutual love affair between people and their cars has waned. People start to think there might be other qualities in cities than just making space for cars.

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Going With the Flow

With Climate Change and sea level rise a motivated topic of concern (or yawns- depending who you talk to!)  I found this article on the Netherlands approach to Sea level rise edifying. From the New York TImes via Archinect By 

Dick Sellenraad/Aeroview, the Netherlands..

Overdiepse Polder, an infrastructure project in the southeastern province of Brabant south of Amsterdam, will have eight elevated farms.  More Photos »

OVERDIEPSE POLDER, WASPIK, THE NETHERLANDS — When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York proposed the other day to spend up to $400 million to buy and raze homes in the floodplains damaged by Hurricane Sandy, I thought of Nol Hooijmaijers.

Some dozen years ago the Dutch government ordered Mr. Hooijmaijers to vacate the farmland that he and his family shared with 16 other farmers so it could be turned into a river spillway for occasional floods. I visited Mr. Hooijmaijers recently. He and his wife, Wil, served coffee in their new farmhouse and showed off the new stall for their cows.

How they and their neighbors responded to that government order, and how in turn the government dealt with their response, is a story that might now interest Mr. Cuomo and other New Yorkers.

It has been to the Netherlands, not surprisingly, that some American officials, planners, engineers, architects and others have been looking lately. New York is not Rotterdam (or Venice or New Orleans, for that matter); it’s not mostly below or barely above sea level. But it’s not adapted to what seems likely to be increasingly frequent extreme storm surges, either, and the Netherlands has successfully held back the sea for centuries and thrived. After the North Sea flooded in 1953, devastating the southwest of this country and killing 1,835 people in a single night, Dutch officials devised an ingenious network of dams, sluices and barriers called the Deltaworks.

Water management here depends on hard science and meticulous study. Americans throw around phrases like once-in-a-century storm. The Dutch, with a knowledge of water, tides and floods honed by painful experience, can calculate to the centimeter — and the Dutch government legislates accordingly — exactly how high or low to position hundreds of dikes along rivers and other waterways to anticipate storms they estimate will occur once every 25 years, or every 1,000 years, or every 10,000.

And now the evidence is leading them to undertake what may seem, at first blush, a counterintuitive approach, a kind of about-face: The Dutch are starting to let the water in. They are contriving to live with nature, rather than fight (what will inevitably be, they have come to realize) a losing battle.

Why? The reality of rising seas and rivers leaves no choice. Sea barriers sufficed half a century ago; but they’re disruptive to the ecology and are built only so high, while the waters keep rising. American officials who now tout sea gates as the one-stop-shopping solution to protect Lower Manhattan should take notice. In lieu of flood control the new philosophy in the Netherlands is controlled flooding.

Governor Cuomo’s plan would turn properties in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island into parks, bird sanctuaries and dunes that could act as buffer zones for inland development. The idea is to give homeowners an incentive (perhaps up to $300,000) to move voluntarily out of areas where, in hindsight, single-family houses shouldn’t have been built in the first place. The Dutch have pursued a more aggressive and complex relocation strategy.

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Tao and Climate Change

The other day a colleague was wearing a badge about supporting ” Climate Change” and I flippantly commented that I was a sceptic. later on reflection, I was forced to reconsider that statement and I wrote this  to her: 
“I am more a sceptic than a denialist in actuality – Climate change is a fact  – it always has been!
 
 I am currently reading Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and he documents the visible evidence of the changes that have taken place over immense spans of time and as well as those that happen very suddenly and cause immense shifts to  topography and climate on a vast scale enough to wipe out hundreds of species through natural causes, volcanoes, earthquakes etc, as well as devastating changes to landscapes also on a vast scale caused by mans indiscriminate clearing of forests and the unwitting introduction of alien species in South America – this in 1832!


My skepticism relates not to the incontestable fact that we as a species have overrun the Earth and caused the massive changes that we now see to every square centimeter of the Earths surface, in space and in the oceans, but that like a virus, that even though it is aware of its effects in killing its host it will too die, is unable to stop itself from fulfilling its nature, which is to expand at an uncontrollable rate till all its food is exhausted!

if  you read Collapse by Jared Diamond – the story of the civilizations that have come and gone like the Easter Islanders, The Mayans etc all appear to have perished from exhausting their sources of food and thus survival.
Or the evidence as documented by Landscape Architect Casey Brown of PREx in his Rome scholarship of 47 economic crashes from Roman times through the Renaissance  up to the present day including the great depression etc and in all civilizations –  caused, in his view,  by reckless land speculation and the exhaustion of productive cultivatable land in Roman times, due to its sacrifice for short term profits – he postulates that this behavior is innate in humans and is key to their survival to date – but at various times it results in the near complete loss of the civilisation and its plunge into cronic chaos before it is able to rise from the ashes once again and reach even greater height of booms and their resultant  accompanying deeper bust!   Terragrams – Casey Brown of PREX Continue reading