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Building With Whole Trees

Anne Raver, New York Times
ROALD GUNDERSEN, an architect who may revolutionize the building industry, shinnied up a slender white ash near his house here on a recent afternoon, hoisting himself higher and higher until the limber trunk began to bend slowly toward the forest floor.

“Look at Papa!” his life and business partner, Amelia Baxter, 31, called to their 3-year-old daughter, Estella, who was crouching in the leaves, reaching for a mushroom. Their son, Cameron, 9 months, was nestled in a sling across Ms. Baxter’s chest.

Wild mushrooms and watercress are among the treasures of this 134-acre forest, but its greatest resource is its small-diameter trees — thousands like the one Mr. Gundersen, 49, was hugging like a monkey.

“Whooh!” he said, jumping to the ground and gingerly rubbing his back. “This isn’t as easy as it used to be. But see how the tree holds the memory of the weight?”

…Loggers pass over such trees because they are too small to mill, but this forester-architect, who founded Gundersen Design in 1991 and built his first house here two years later, has made a career of working with them.

“Curves are stronger than straight lines,” he explained. “A single arch supporting a roof can laterally brace the building in all directions.”
(4 Nov 2009)

From TED: Edward Burtynsky photographs the landscape of oil

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
Here’s an excellent short talk from TED, exploring in a very visual way the impact that oil production has had on the world. It was also great that I wasn’t the only speaker who talked about peak oil!

(12 Nov 2009)

Straight Talk for the Planetary Era: A Trio of Book Reviews

Edward Wolf, Worldchanging
Bikes, boats, and bodies align to spell “350” at events in 181 countries, sounding a worldwide call for climate stability. Congress takes halting steps toward passing a law to limit U.S. carbon emissions and advance clean energy. Diplomats from 193 countries prepare to hammer out a global climate treaty in Copenhagen. But few expect this year’s activism, politics, or diplomacy to change the game. The 21st century to-do list keeps growing. What will it take to accelerate change?

Three recent books say that it’s all about thinking. In The End of the Long Summer, Dianne Dumanoski tells how our thinking got us in planet-scale hot water; in Whole Earth Discipline, Stewart Brand advocates heresy to get us out; in Thinking in Systems, the late Donella Meadows teaches a different way of thinking altogether.

While the subject matter of this trio of titles may sound familiar to Worldchanging readers, all three books deserve a careful read. Each of these authors is an elder with wisdom to impart. It’s up to the generation building a bright green future to match that wisdom to new challenges.

THE END OF THE LONG SUMMER: Why We Must Remake Our Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth
by Dianne Dumanoski; Crown Publishers

Award-winning science journalist Dianne Dumanoski considered her 1985 story on the science of the Antarctic ozone hole, published on the front page of the Boston Globe, “the most important story I had ever written.” Humanity had narrowly escaped full-scale disruption of a stratospheric chemical shield essential to our survival. Faulty assumptions and outright mistakes brought us – and all higher life – to the brink of calamity. How, Dumanoski wondered, could a banal, supposedly inert synthetic compound have triggered global jeopardy? How could its chemistry have been so thoroughly misunderstood, mis-measured, and misjudged?…

WHOLE EARTH DISCIPLINE: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
Stewart Brand; Viking

Cue Stewart Brand, self-described “ecologist by training, futurist by profession, and hacker (lazy engineer) at heart.” Brand founded and published The Whole Earth Catalog, edited CoEvolution Quarterly (later Whole Earth Review), and has founded organizations including The Long Now Foundation and the Global Business Network, where he works part-time. Brand is a playful, inquisitive gadfly who wears a heretic’s robes with relish, challenging readers to reexamine assumptions and to change their minds…

Donella Meadows (edited by Diana Wright); Chelsea Green

Meadows’s long-time associate Diana Wright has edited an unfinished 1993 manuscript into humane, pertinent, and delightful book. Thinking in Systems reflects Meadows’s lifelong effort to understand systems at all scales – their resilience, their pathologies, their response to perturbations, their capacity to defy prediction. A reader seeking to understand the anomalies of our time and to prepare mentally for the likelihood of disruptive change needs this book.
(4 Nov 2009)

Eric Sanderson pictures New York — before the City

Eric Sanderson, TED

400 years after Hudson found New York harbor, Eric Sanderson shares how he made a 3D map of Mannahatta’s fascinating pre-city ecology of hills, rivers, wildlife — accurate down to the block — when Times Square was a wetland and you couldn’t get delivery.

…Before becoming the center of the Western cultural universe, Manhattan was Mannahatta, “Island of many hills,” in the language of 17th-century Native Americans. Using computer modeling, painstaking research and a lot of legwork, Wildlife Conservation Society ecologist Eric Sanderson has re-envisioned, block by block, the ecology of Manhattan as it was when Henry Hudson first sailed into the forested harbor in 1609.

The Mannahatta Project presents the eye-popping fruits of Sanderson’s research, from the now-flattened hills of the financial district to the river otters of Harlem. The project’s astonishing visualizations are realized by computer-graphics wizard Markley Boyer, and encompasses a book, a website and a 3-D map — a sort of Google Earth of ancient New York. Plaques around town will commemorate a lost creek or habitat. Far more than a mournful look back at what has been irrevocably paved over, the Mannahatta Project is designed to inspire ecological sustainability for New York and for other cities.
(Filmed July 2009)
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Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth sequel stresses spiritual argument on climate

Suzanne Goldenberg, the Guardian
Al’s Gore’s much-anticipated sequel to An Inconvenent Truth is published today, with an admission that facts alone will not persuade Americans to act on global warming and that appealing to their spiritual side is the way forward.

In his latest book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, the man who won a Nobel prize in 2007 for his touring slideshow on disappearing polar ice and other consequences of climate change, concludes: “Simply laying out the facts won’t work.”

Instead, Gore tells Newsweek magazine in a pre-publication interview, that he has been adapting his fact-based message – now put out by hundreds of volunteers – to appeal to those who believe there is a moral or religious duty to protect the planet.

“I’ve done a Christian [-based] training program; I have a Muslim training program and a Jewish training program coming up, also a Hindu program coming up. I trained 200 Christian ministers and lay leaders here in Nashville in a version of the slide show that is filled with scriptural references. It’s probably my favourite version, but I don’t use it very often because it can come off as proselytising,” Gore tells Newsweek…
(2 Nov 2009)