Tag Archives: Environmentalism

Designing for the cities of the future

Kent Larson offers a fascinating glimpse into new technological and design possibilities aimed at making the cities of the future more accessible, more environment-friendly, more space-efficient, and more liveable:

Yes, please!

The transformable apartment, in particular, seems to be an idea that’s catching on. Hong Kong architect Gary Chang has already made it a reality.

(via TED)

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The case for optimism, cont’d: Towards a literature of hope in the “age of man”

I like how David Biello thinks:

We move more earth and stone than all the world’s rivers. We are changing the chemistry of the atmosphere all life breathes. We are on pace to eat to death half of the other life currently sharing the planet with us. There is nothing on Earth untouched by man — whether it be the soot from fossil fuels darkening polar snows or the very molecules incorporated into a tree trunk. Humanity has become a global force whose exploits will be written in rock for millennia. […]

As in all things, however, it is up to fiction — make-believe, imagination, speculative play — to really show us what the Anthropocene could be. And it is in science fiction that the Anthropocene often plays out, most recently perhaps in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, which depicts a Bangkok post-apocalypse, with high sea levels kept out by dikes, an absence of fossil fuels replaced by manually wound springs to run robots or sailing ships, and the routine use of genetic modification and warfare. It is typical of the genre, which features, above all, doom. Yet, in all this dystopia — albeit resilient dystopia where humanity endures against all odds — can no one imagine hope? […]

Ultimately, I’d argue the Anthropocene needs a non-fantastic literature that directly grapples with the problem of managing a planet so that it can remain the sole (known) home in the universe capable of providing life support and a passage through the void to a rich array of animals, plants, minerals, microbes and more. This literature will need [Ray] Bradbury’s optimism and imagination, heralding a new “green morning,” rather than the end of nature we find in Blade Runner’s dystopian portrait of a world whose only hope lies in migration to other presumably, less ruined planets or Frankenstein’s suggestion that we will be undone by our own creation. […]

Things can get better, and there’s a large portion of humanity working towards that these days, a global hive mind connected by the internet. In the end, science will give us clues and cues for the pathways that will either save or destroy us, but it is our own imagination that will light the way.

There is no other planet like Earth, no other home than the one we now run […] The most important literature we write in the Anthropocene will be the words that enable us to ensure breathable air, drinkable water, nutritious food, and the persistence of the abundant life that makes it all possible on this rocky mothership. […] We need an enduring, resilient, hopeful literature for the Anthropocene.

Read the rest here. More reasons for optimism here.

(Photo via Wondering the World)

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Still vanishing

Oh, god:

[…] 56 exotic creatures — a fierce menagerie that included wolves, monkeys and 18 Bengal tigers, an endangered species whose numbers total less than 3,000 in the wild — […] had fled their cages on a 73-acre private reserve. Friends described the couple who ran it as animal lovers, but they also had a history of run-ins with the authorities.

By late Wednesday, a day after the hunt began, the authorities in this central Ohio city of 25,000 said they had killed or captured all but one of the animals, a monkey. It had not been seen all day, and officials believed that it might have been killed by one of the other animals, said Tom Stalf, assistant director of operations at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The creatures had been freed on the reserve, a few miles west of downtown Zanesville, after one of the owners apparently cut open their wire cages or opened the doors and then fatally shot himself, the authorities said.

An attempt was made to tranquilize one of the tigers, but ultimately all eighteen were shot and killed.

I understand the authorities putting public safety first, but the deaths of so many innocent, frightened, and in many cases endangered animals are still a tragedy.

As I’ve written before (and as the article points out), there are only three thousand tigers left in the wild — with just a thousand breeding females — and their situation is no less dire today. Click here to help.

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The case for optimism, cont’d: “The most radical political act there is”

Colin Beavan, a.k.a. “No Impact Man,” argues for optimism:

When I was child, and I first heard of war, I was appalled. My mother had taught me hitting was wrong. I categorically understood that people should not hurt each other. Then I grew up and I became realistic. Peace, feeding the hungry, a healthy planet, an end to war, these things just aren’t realistically possible, a mature mind understands. Well, when it comes to these things, I’ve been both an idealistic child and a realistic grownup, and I think I was a better person when I was an idealistic child.

I believe in the goodness of human nature. I believe we can get distracted by many things, but that, ultimately, we all want to do what is best. Because that is true of people, I believe we can make the planet better for all of us, that we can have peace, feed the hungry and end war.

I believe too that every action each of us takes makes a difference. Every time each of us rejects a disposable bag brings the world one step closer to being the kind of place where sea turtles don’t die from eating plastic. Every time each of us sacrifices a car ride brings us the world one step closer to being the kind of place where there is no global warming. Every time one of us tithes our income brings us one step closer to ending world poverty. Every time one of us calls a member of congress brings our representatives one step closer to caring more about voters than campaign contributors.

Perhaps people will think I’m too optimistic. But this is for certain: these things can’t be true if no one takes the chance of believing they’re true. Because if we don’t believe they are true, we won’t act as though they’re true. And if we don’t act as though they’re true, they can’t come true. That’s why realism does little but protect the status quo.

Being optimistic, on the other hand, is the most radical political act there is.

The more I think on this, the more I believe it to be true. Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” What she didn’t explicitly point out is that those thoughtful, committed citizens must, at heart, be optimists — not naïve Pollyannas who expect to dream their utopia into reality, but people who find the courage and the will to work hard towards their big idea because they think it just might work.

When it comes right down to it, optimists are the only ones who have ever changed the world.

This is why, as funny as George Carlin often is, I’m not really a fan of his work. He makes some very smart and pointed critiques about society, but his underlying message is a nihilistic one: “The powers-that-be have won; the game is hopelessly rigged; there’s nothing you can do; we are all well and truly and irreversibly fucked.” Whether or not this turns out to be true, it’s an utterly useless observation. It does nothing to inspire people to get up off their couch and demand change. It gives them reasons to simmer in cynicism and despair — but not reasons to hope, and therefore, not reasons to act. And when nobody acts, then Carlin’s rants become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I choose optimism — like Matt Ridley, like Hans Rosling, like Carl Sagan, like Colin Beavan. In another post well worth reading, “Advice from an Accidental Activist,” Beavan says this:

The question is not whether you can make a difference. The question is, do you want to be the person who tries? […]

Who’s going to fix things if it isn’t us? I can’t help thinking that the time has come for us to take back our culture. It’s time for every citizen with a good idea to get to work, to trust yourself, to start. Sooner or later you have to accept the fact that you need no other authority than your good intentions and your loving heart.

More reasons for optimism here.

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Here are a few items I haven’t had time to write about, but are still, I think, worth your attention. I may revisit and more fully discuss some of these in the future, but there’s no reason not to share them now.

James McWilliams makes the case against eating meat. And Mark Bittman, questioning the line we draw between “pet” and “animal,” calls attention to our continuing cruel treatment of farm animals. (He writes a must-read follow-up here.)

Maria Bustillos discusses “Wikipedia And The Death Of The Expert.” Interesting to revisit this piece after having finished Robert Sawyer’s excellent WWW Trilogy, which projects a breathtaking and optimistic vision of the benefits of our online interconnectedness (and the emergence of a benevolent online AI). But it’s also interesting to consider this “democracy of opinions,” “we are all experts” mindset in the light of a recent talk by Timothy Ferris at last weekend’s World Science Festival. Ferris said that while science and democracy have flourished together (as he wrote in The Science of Liberty) the real test of democratic culture today is whether such a diversity of voices can produce the quick, decisive actions needed to respond to climate change. The Internet broadens our landscape of data and opinions — but is it slowing down our power to choose among these options, to act to save ourselves?

Why libraries matter: because every damn kid matters. And hey, every prisoner matters too.

On the education front: Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, speaks out against standardized testing. David Bornstein explores a better way to teach math. And while the US faces a crisis in civics education, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reminds us that learning about government can be fun: check out her brainchild, the nonprofit gaming site icivics.org. (My daughter’s favorites: “Executive Command” and “Argument Wars.”)

A must-read piece by Linda Holmes on how we should deal with the fact that, no matter how much we individually read and watch and listen and consume what culture has to offer, we’re going to miss almost everything.

Edward Lerner rails against the media for celebrating the end of the space shuttle flights and basking in NASA’s old glories, rather than getting the public excited about the need for a continuing, active, and ambitious space program.

Michael Boylan asks: “Are There Natural Human Rights?”

Jonathan Franzen suggests that technology makes us more self-directed, while love makes us other-directed. Well worth reading. And in conjunction, read David Brooks’ op-ed, “It’s Not About You.” Perhaps they overstate the case in some areas, and there’s some thoughtful pushback in the comments, but these are still, I think, wise pieces.

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Only in dark the light

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.

— Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Creation of Ea”

Lighting architect Rogier van der Heide gives an excellent talk on the judicious use of light and the necessity of darkness:

I’m glad he calls attention to the issue of light pollution — not just an aesthetic problem, or a hindrance to astronomers and city-dwelling admirers of the night sky, but a serious biological hazard to many species, including humans, as well. Verlyn Klinkenborg discusses the issue in National Geographic: Continue reading

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“The Story of Stuff”: rethinking the materials economy

This week, the scientist-philosopher bloggers on 13.7: Cosmos and Culture are exploring ways of rethinking and reimagining our materialistic, consumer-based society. Following that conversation brought me to Ursula Goodenough’s insightful evolutionary perspective on our self-absorbed human culture — “If there has been an overarching human error, it has been to construct cultural contexts that fail to mesh with planetary realities” — which led me to her earlier “homily on stuff,” which in turn pointed me to this video, “The Story of Stuff,” by Annie Leonard. I’d seen it before, but it’s one that bears frequent rewatching — to remind ourselves of how we live, of how we could live, and of the difference between the two.

There’s lots in here to think about — not just the process by which we turn the Earth’s resources into skinny jeans and iPads, but the role of government and corporations, and the vital necessity of rethinking the very nature of the economy itself: the kinds of jobs and identities we should wish to have in order to exist in a sustainable web, one that both respects the Earth and fulfills our need for meaningful ways of living. Not an easy task, in these hard times (and in this toxic American political season), to ask ourselves if the economy we depend on is even a good thing, when so many people are struggling and just want the damn thing up and running again.

More information, including videos on specific issues, can be found on the website of The Story of Stuff Project. It’s a great introduction to how the materials economy works, and how we can make it better.


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