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Valuing Elegance: Annoyances and Annualized Geo-Solar

Jeff Vail, A Theory of Power
This is perhaps the scariest thing that I have seen in recent memory: “My Super Sweet 16” on cable network MTV. The reality show chronicles the 16th birthday parties of American teenagers. Even in the ‘80s, I’m not sure that people actually exclaimed “it’s supposed to be all about me!” the way one recent birthday-girl did on the show. This show, unwittingly but unerringly, documents the conspicuous-consumption attitude of today’s youth, facilitated by both pop-culture marketing and their credit-happy parents. One girl was actually picked up from her comparatively-dumpy suburban condo in a stretch Range Rover and dropped off at the red carpet to her $30,000 birthday party. We—and by that I mean humanity—are so screwed.

From my not-far-removed vantage point, this seems pretty pathetic. While conspicuous consumption may be de rigueur among the young and hip, it strikes me as falling short. If American youth—and their parents—really want to distinguish themselves, they should consider conspicuous simplicity. Elegance—not the elegance that has been spun by the media-marketing establishment, but the original notion of elegance: seemingly effortless beauty in form, proportion, or design. Along those lines, I’ve recently been captivated by the concept of Annualized Geo-Solar design.

Solar power is the root of most of our energy: it is captured by carbon-based plant life and available for our later use as firewood or ethanol or oil, it causes the wind to blow. It powers Photovoltaic Cells—high technology, low efficiency means of converting solar energy into electricity, and a notably poor example of elegance. PV is really more of a brute-technology approach. A much more elegant design use of solar energy is passive solar.
(7 May 2006)
Jeff Vail, always interesting, seems to have turned to permaculture-ish trains of thought in recent posts, after having written extensively on military/political strategies. -BA

Resurgence issue on “Animate Earth” (sustainability)

Resurgence Magazine #236
Sample articles:

WHICH WAY CHINA? – Herbert Girardet
Dongtan, the world’s first eco-city, is leading the way in urban sustainability.

Building for beauty, efficiency and abundance.

EARTH DWELLINGS – Katy Bryce & Adam Weismann
Cob building encompasses the spirit of simplicity and elegance: wabi-sabi.

Making our savings work for people and planet.
(May-June 2006)
Many of the articles on online.

CSIRO Sustainability Network Newsletter #58
(PDF – 505Kb)
Elizabeth Heij (editor), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

“If you want something really important to be done, you must not merely satisfy the reason; you must move the heart also”
– Mahatma Ghandi

In terms of the above feature quote from Ghandi, the global sustainability challenge is obviously “something really important to be done.” All too often, however, in seeking to promote this cause, we forget the need to address both reason and heart together – failing to recognise the balance itself as more powerful than either pure rationality or blind emotive fervour. The materials in these Updates invoke varying proportions of “reason” to “heart”, but hopefully the overall balance will speak loudest of all.

The lunacy of equating economic growth with progress;
More data from a domestic ‘eco-efficiency’ project;
The energy payback of roof-mounted solar PV cells;
Planning for energy descent;
Feedback on: political inertia on sustainability, used-water treatment, and more.
(30 April 2006)

Fossil-Free Landscaping

Owen Dell, County Landscape & Design
Santa Barbara landscape contractor Owen Dell has been lecturing on Fossil-Free Landscaping. Some of the writings available on his website show what he has in mind:

The Sustainable Garden (#1): A Polemic
…As the industrial revolution began to inform the garden, something started to happen to the attitudes of gardeners. Suddenly it seemed easier to waste than to conserve. After all, the garbage truck came every few days, so why compost? Besides, fertilizer was so cheap that it seemed to make no sense to sift and spread and muck about with smelly manure teas and all that bother. Gardeners made a gradual and unconscious shift to the linear mode that had begun to poison our relationship with nature: plunder a resource, use it once, throw it away and go get some more. The world’s bounty seemed so great that we felt freed, by the grace of modern industrial processes, from ever having to conserve anything again.

The Sustainable Garden (#2): Imagining a Better Garden
…INPUTS: FOSSIL FUELS: Fossil fuels are used in the garden in some sneaky ways. Of course, trucking materials from afar and making trips to the landfill burns gasoline, but do you realize that many chemical fertilizers and pesticides are made primarily from petroleum byproducts? And of course, all that gas-driven equipment uses petroleum, too. By planting right-sized plants that don’t need cutting back so often, and by keeping their growth steady with a lean diet of organic fertilizer and water, you’ll be reducing the need to use all that equipment to cut them back and haul them to the dump. (And don’t forget that the soft new growth stimulated by fertilizers and water and constant pruning makes the plants more susceptible to pest infestations.) If you do need to prune, use hand tools rather than power tools to eliminate one more source of fossil fuel use.

Understanding the Basics
It’s a remarkable moment in the history of landscaping. People are beginning to look at the impact of their gardens and are realizing that they can have a beautiful landscape without making excessive demands on the environment. You might call it the “Post-Xeriscape Era,” since we’ve come to understand that there’s more to having a low-impact landscape than just saving water.

Today, we look at the things that flow into and out of a landscape and try to minimize their use. For example, a typical garden requires a number of resources for its construction – concrete, lumber, plants, compost, PVC irrigation pipe and so forth. There will be additional inputs needed for the maintenance of the garden, such as water, fertilizer, fuel to operate power equipment, pesticides and herbicides, to name a few. A garden also generates materials that may be harmful to the environment, such as lawn clippings, tree and shrub prunings (collectively referred to as “greenwaste”), polluted runoff of chemical-laden water and others. The idea behind sustainable landscaping is to develop ways to reduce these inputs and outputs without sacrificing beauty, economy and ease of maintenance.

As you’ll see in this article, a sustainable landscape can actually be less costly and easier to maintain, because it’s designed correctly. Far from being a sacrifice, developing a sustainable landscape can bring you rich rewards and beauty you may not have thought was possible.
(May 2006)

Cassandra Without Portfolio: Maine’s Edward Myers

William Morgan, Providence Journal via Common Dreams
Scientists say that global warming has reduced the height of Mount Everest by four feet, through melting snow and ice. This is an irony that Edward Myers, a Yankee curmudgeon and spokesman for the earth, would have relished.

Maine and the world lost a remarkable voice three years ago. Myers preached in the many community churches along the Mid-coast, and he wrote a column for The Working Waterfront, a newspaper published by the Island Institute. His immediate audience was local, but his outlook was global.

Some of Myers’s writings are now available in a 160-page book entitled Turnaround: Musings on the Earth’s Future (Tilbury House, $15). The book contains essays and sermons by this Princeton-trained philosopher and pioneer commercial mussel farmer, and tributes to him from half a dozen influential environmentalists.

Myers helped Tom Chappell start his socially responsible business, Tom’s of Maine (“He gave me confidence, guidance, and money, all with a sense of good nature and humor,” says Chappell). Richard Kennedy, of the environmental education group Kieve Affective Education, says that no one forgot Myers: “Who else do you know who rowed a dory on a mussel farm while wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt, a regimental striped bowtie, an old pair of mud-encrusted boots, and a ceaseless smile on his face?” Angus King, former governor of Maine, says that Turnaround ought to be “required reading for anybody in the public-policy business or, for that matter, anybody whose car gets less than 20 miles to the gallon.”

Myers was the father of aquaculture in the Pine Tree State, but Ed Myers’s true life’s work was to save the earth from humankind’s environmental folly. For example, Myers struggled to close the nuclear-power plant in Wiscasset (he wryly noted that he lived downwind of the plant, though none of the power company’s officers did), and argued for replacing it with solar collectors. He drove an electric car with a vanity plate that made a Dickensian reference to foul air. His erudition was a combination of the Bible, history, and a fisherman’s common sense.

Although he laced his pronouncements with humor, Myers always had grim statistics at hand: 50 million acres change from cropland to desert every year; rain forests disappear at a rate of 27 million acres a year . . . For those of us concerned about climate disruption, this little book makes such data conveniently if frighteningly handy.

Earth, we are reminded, was in balance until industrialization’s exploitation of fossil fuels. Now we are “engaged in a giant chemistry experiment.” How many tons of carbon particulates, dioxins, and other pollutants can we pump into the atmosphere “before entire living Creation is suffocated?”
(9 May 2006)