I’ve always been a sucker for a good time lapse. This one strikes me as a time lapse within a time lapse. It’s half a day, compressed into less than 5 minutes, with people flitting around like moths, posing for pictures with an ice sculpture of the future. Only the time lapse eyes of the camera can see what’s happening. And by the end the passers by probably can’t even tell what the message might have been. But the art is a piece of time lapse too. A century or a millennium compressed into a day of melting. Even that is a stretch for our attention span. Even the 5 minute video seems long and slow. How can we create a society with a more meditative mindset? With an attention span that reflects the extent of our impacts in deep time?
Streetfilms shows us what a real cycling city looks like, in the Dutch university town of Groningen:
I can’t help but laugh and sigh whenever someone touts Boulder as a “world class cycling city”. We are so, so far from that. But hey, it’s good to have aspirational goals… like 50% of all trips done by bike. Maybe we just need to elect some young leftists to city council, like Groningen did in the 70s!
Passive Passion is a great 20 minute long documentary about the German Passive House energy efficiency standard. It looks at the roots of the design standard in Germany, and gives a bunch of examples of implementations in Europe, from single family homes to row houses, apartment buildings, public housing, office buildings, etc. Talks about what makes the standard work: airtight building envelopes, super insulation, no thermal bridging, heat recovering ventilation. Also looks at a few builders and designers in the US trying to popularize these methods, and do it cost effectively. Clearly it’s possible, we just have to decide to do it!
Vaclav Smil on the the scale and difficulty of executing an energy transition for the civilization. “Calculate with me!” he says, before diving into a bunch of order-of-magnitude demonstrations that this is all much harder than we might like to think. He’s very pessimistic about the large-scale integration of intermittent resources, and also about humanity’s ability to initiate a change voluntarily. Would like to understand those positions better… and still continue to disagree with them. The talk is long and rambling, but he’s so clearly engaged and emphatic that it doesn’t matter.
In the post-war era (the 1950s and 1960s) the Netherlands started down the car-dependent re-development path. Much of the country needed to be re-built, and the nation became wealthy quickly, and then oil and gas were discovered off shore. Then they realized that designing for the automobile came at far too high a price in both blood and treasure and mass protests nationwide reversed the country’s transportation investment policies, returning to the human powered cities we’ve build for millennia. Change is possible.
A good talk from Chautauqua on the interaction between markets and morals. Some interesting examples of morally ambiguous markets: countries paying one another to take on refugee acceptance obligations and the outsourcing pregnancy to impoverished surrogate mothers in Gujarat, India. Sandel argues that in the last few decades we have gone from having a market economy to being a market society. Markets are now a large portion of our governance, and it’s unclear whether this is really a good thing.
Climate Wars – A Canadian radio show exploring some of the climate change scenarios which have been studied by the US Dept. of Defense in a personal, "War of the Worlds" kind of way. Be forewarned, this is apocalypse porn, and probably not productive unless you need to get yourself riled up. (tagged: politicsclimatesustainabilityfuturewar )
The Choice of Cities – I'm not convinced we really know why the humans are coming to the cities. Whether it's a pull, or a push. How the migrants feel about their lot. Is it, globally, the same as the push we had in this country a hundred years ago? Or was it a pull? What happened when the frontier closed, when all the land was spoken for, and the factories and mines and mills were opened for business.
And what will cities look like once everyone has arrived? If we actually reach that day, when the countryside is emptied, and the flow staunched, then how will cities develop going forward? What will their margins look like? Will the slums filled with newcomers vanish? What will they be replaced with? (tagged: technologieurbandesigneconomicshistorytechnologypoverty )
Bike Among the Ruins – Detroit is half abandoned. The houses are almost free. The streets are empty and the people are poor. It's also flat. Could a cyclone of bicycles wipe clean the slate, even within the sight of our beloved, bankrupted, and now employee owned husk of an industrial titan… GM? (tagged: bicycletransportationurbandesigneconomy )
The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized – Iran is one of the first places we get to see old school blood in the streets mixed with the new age of instantaneous, ubiquitous communication. We've tended to focus on the positive aspects, while briefly forgetting the potential powers of an electronic police state, which is to some degree what Iran has built. No massive army of eavesdroppers and informants is needed in such a regime. A few deep packet inspection boxes from Siemens sitting on the fiber backbone, and a few on the microwave towers from Nokia. Technology is largely neutral. (tagged: technologypoliticsinternetprivacygovernmenttwitterweb2.0iran )
How To Destroy Half the Planet for the Low, Low Price of 5% of Global GDP – Never mind the possibility of unforseen climatic consequences. Even if the pessimistic IPCC scenarios are right, and even if they "only" reduce global GDP by 5% over the next 100 years, that purely economic metric is not sufficient, because it turns out you can wipe 2.5 billion people and their nations off the face of the Earth, mainly in the tropics, and only reduce global GDP by 5%. Cold comfort, that. (tagged: climateeconomicsgdp )
Property Assessed Clean Energy Bonds – PACE bonds are a way of overcoming the capital intensivity of many energy efficiency retrofits which make sense in the mid to long-term, but not on the typical short term investors time horizon. They also allow homeowners who may move before their investment in efficiency has paid for itself to pass on the obligation to future owners, instead of losing the investment. They also shift the costs of doing energy efficiency from capital expenses to debt servicing, which is advantageous in many jurisdictions for tax purposes. Berkeley, CA and Boulder, CO pioneered them for municipalities, but they can also work in a commercial context. (tagged: energyefficiencysustainabilityfinancegreendebtinvestingbonds )
Power Struggle – A commentary on Steven Chu's position that we need major basic scientific and technological breakthroughs to successfully tackle our energy problems in the context of global warming. The hope is that in the short term, the vast array of incremental changes we have available is enough to get us started, and that by mid-century, the major breakthroughs will have been forthcoming. Ah, non-linear dynamics. (tagged: technologyscienceenergyclimatenon-linearsustainabilitypolicy )
The Great American Bubble Machine – An article from Rolling Stone, by Matt Taibbi, on the endless bubble building shenanigans that Goldman Sachs has engaged in over the years, and their supposed current machinations to engineer a bubble in the as-of-yet uncreated market for greenhouse gas emissions. Markets, I like. Markets run by some Great American Gangster Kingpin, not so much. Especially not this particular market. Remember: Nature doesn't do bailouts. (tagged: economicsfinancegoldmansachscapitalismclimatebailout )
Paul Romer: A Theory of History, with an Application – Paul Romer talks about two different kinds of informational goods: "technology" and "rules". The former being knowledge about how to re-arrange the material world to increase its value to humans, and the latter being constraints on the ways we interact with each other. His "new/endogenous growth" theory suggests that overwhelmingly, wealth creation throughout history has been due to these two kinds of goods, and that they are virtually infinite resources. What he does not explicitly admit in the talk though, is that much of our increased apparent wealth has come at the cost of virtual liquidation of material resources. Truly sustainable growth absolutely must close the materials loop somehow. Better sooner than later. The rest of his idea is wonderful: we need a system which enables rule set entrepreneurs, or we aren't going to get sufficient innovation in the field. He suggests myriad autonomous city states, and I agree emphatically. (tagged: economicsurbansocietynon-linearpoliticslongnow )
The Swimming Cities of Serenissima – Improvised and chaotic houseboats built from found bits, floating down the Mississippi (2006-2007), or the Hudson (2008), or sailing the Adriatic from Slovenia to Venice (2009). Like a tiny maritime Burning Man. Only a couple of boats today… What if it were an armada? (tagged: artboatperformancesailing )