Nature: The Brand

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This photo of John Davis and Dave Foreman in the early days of Wildlands Network was taken by Doug Tompkins, who had a knack for photography among many other gifts.

Doug Tompkins, prematurely deceased at age 72 by way of a kayaking accident, leaves a cadre of older conservationists behind, many of whom are still on the front lines of nature protection. Still, his passing sounded the note of an era’s end and a changing of the guard. Old time enviros turned out in good form for Tompkins’ memorial service last week, held at Herbst Pavillion in San Francisco’s Fort Mason. Herbst is usually filled to the rafters with antiques, art work, used books, or racks of clothing for sale and at first I was taken aback by the plushly perfect art direction that transformed the space into a gigantic sun-filled aerie. A large cadre of volunteer attendants in uniform green Patagonia vests dispensed mint and Earl Grey tea with Tcho chocolates, almonds, and orange slices ahead of the proceedings. Banks of unobtrusive catering stations lined the walls and after several hours of testimonials to the life and times of Doug Tompkins, wine and food were served. To about 400 people.

Is this the right tone? I wondered, taking my seat and scouting the audience for wilderness celebrities – and sighting among them Terry Tempest Williams and Gary Snyder. A wall-sized photograph of the Andes anchored the stage. It was all simple, and not. The place expressed exactly the kind of understated overstatement that is a hallmark of San Francisco today. But what about Tompkins’ message, that protecting nature is our moral imperative? Among many other initiatives Tompkins founded the Foundation for Deep Ecology, building on the philosopher Arne Naess’ conception that nature exists for its own sake beyond its utility for people. It’s not that loving nature need always be equated with bad granola. Believe me I was very happy to have a cup of tea and a good chocolate (or two), but still, the setting induced some cognitive dissonance.

As those close to Tompkins testified, the perfect surroundings began to cohere with their portraits of the man. With his wife Kris, Tompkins protected more than 2 million acres of Argentina and Chile. As she described living remotely and even arduously in the wilds of South America, the picture of a restless and relentless perfectionist emerged. Susie Tompkins Buell, Tompkins’ former wife and co-founder with him of the North Face and Esprit clothing companies, reminded those gathered that before he was a conservationist, “Doug was a capitalist.” Doug and Susie built their brands the way Doug and Kris protected nature – thinking big, and following beauty.

There were many highlights, fine words from fine people, and music. One friend talked amusingly about Tompkins’ fastidious attention to art. For me, however, the most moving depiction of Tompkins came from his daughter Quincy Tompkins Imhoff, who managed to portray her father’s strengths with appreciation and to indicate his failings with depth but not rancor. In Imhoff’s description Tompkins at last sounded like a real person. Imhoff recalled the heady days of growing up with the Esprit brand in full fettle, traveling to its stores all over the world in corporate gangs, with great energy and purpose. “We were a tribe,” she said. Imhoff talked about a period in her life when she wondered about organized religion, not present in her upbringing. It wasn’t until quite recently, she said, that she realized just how much “spirit” she had been raised with. “Espirit de Corps” suddenly meant something bigger than a line of youthful clothing.

Doug Tompkins eventually shifted his retail ardor to the natural world but he couldn’t have done the enormous things he did without big capital. He wanted man-made things to be beautiful and available to a lot of people. He wanted natural beauty to remain so and also available to a lot of people. But we’re all still stuck with the problem of how to protect more nature without depleting big swaths of it to finance the project. Somewhere in all this there lurks a potential to tap brilliant branding to promote saving nature so that it’s as compelling as consuming it. This was my thought as I bit into some sort of smoked cheese potato frittata. The vision is generous, and the food is very, very good. But we’re still eating beauty.

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The Urban Condition Is the Human Condition

“A city is more than a place in space. It is a drama in time.” So wrote the urban planner Patrick Geddes at the start of the 20th century. Today, that drama has taken on new urgency and complexity. The world’s cities have become the global stage for some of humanity’s greatest challenges, calling on our collective ingenuity, investment, and commitment to solve.

The number of people living in the world’s cities has more than quintupled since 1950. Already, there are more than 3.5 billion city dwellers worldwide, and that number is expected to surpass 6 billion by 2050.

Urbanization on such a large scale, however, is more than just a trend. It is a fundamental transformation in how people live and societies are structured. And while the rapid pace of urban migration reflects the incredible opportunities that modern cities make possible, it also adds to the urgency of two interrelated challenges: social isolation and environmental sustainability.

First, we know that people in cities often struggle with feelings of isolation and a lack of belonging.

Big crowds and busy streets do not always help to create a sense of connectedness; for many city residents, they actively contribute to feelings of alienation. Rapid urbanization is exacerbating this challenge as walkable spaces shrink, parking lots replace playgrounds, and high-rises eclipse neighborhoods–all of which make it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy sense of community and belonging. New arrivals, especially immigrant populations who may not speak the language, can struggle to establish a sense of belonging amidst the crowd.

Second, as urban areas and populations continue to grow, I believe that cities may become the next environmental frontier.

From Burkina Faso to Bangladesh, we have already witnessed the effects of global climate change pushing rural residents to migrate to urban areas. Yet, climate change can have severe consequences for cities too, in the form of extreme weather events, rising sea-levels, and heat waves.

Meanwhile, as cities expand, the infrastructure needed to sustain new populations often cannot keep pace with demand. For that reason, unchecked urban growth can negatively impact human health and safety, gravely lowering the quality of life for city residents.

The impact of these dual challenges is becoming evident in cities around the world. In China, for example, residents of Shenzhen worried that rampant construction growth was creating a dangerous accumulation of debris. Their concerns were largely ignored until December 2015, when a massive landslide of dirt and waste destroyed more than 30 buildings, claiming dozens of lives. Also in December, the capital city of Beijing, which is being developed into a supercity larger than the country of Senegal, issued two unprecedented “red alerts” as a result of hazardous smog in the air.

Notably, the burdens of both social isolation and environmental degradation can weigh heavily on the most vulnerable members of urban populations. During his September 2015 visit to New York City, Pope Francis called attention to the “forces that push us into isolation,” cautioning that “big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong.” It is these “second-class citizens”–including the poor, the elderly, and children–who are disproportionately at risk of diseases caused by air pollution and other environmental hazards.

The good news is that many of the solutions to these challenges are mutually reinforcing. Open spaces and public transportation, for example, promote social connectedness and are good for the environment too. By the same token, a sense of shared purpose and responsibility among city residents and officials is essential to support good environmental policies–which, in turn, can reduce the isolation of marginalized groups and individuals.

To provide healthy social and physical living environments, cities and stakeholders at every level need the tools to effectively measure their problems and progress. That is why the 2016 Environmental Performance Index is such an important resource. Launched in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the EPI measures the environmental performance of 180 countries across nine key areas, including air and water quality, wastewater treatment, and energy consumption. And as the EPI shows, many of these issues affect urban populations most acutely.

Looking ahead, understanding the specific impacts within specific cities and regions will be critical to cultivating increased awareness and action. In Chicago, for example, one recent study found a link between local air pollution and criminal activity. Could such a link exacerbate social isolation, if people are afraid to leave their homes? The 2016 EPI reveals that more than 3.5 billion people live in places with unsafe air quality. At stake may not just be human health, but the health of society itself.

Measuring and understanding these challenges at the urban scale is our best hope for success in improving the quality of people’s lives in the places that most people live. The time is now to work together to find innovative solutions for combating isolation and promoting environmental sustainability in tandem.

And we must work together, for collective progress depends on collective action–summed up, as sustainable development champion Cherie Nursalim has described, in the Indonesian belief of Pancasila, or uniting in diversity. Only by joining as one human family can we make our cities places where every family can thrive. In the end, the urban condition is the human condition and we need to find ways to lift both.

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Exposure to air pollution 30 years ago associated with increased risk of death

Exposure to air pollution more than 30 years ago may still affect an individual’s mortality risk today, according to new research. Highest risks were seen for respiratory disease, such as bronchitis, emphysema and for pneumonia. Air pollution also affected mortality risk from cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease.

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Why not recycled concrete?

From paper towels to cups to plastic bottles, products made from recycled materials permeate our lives. One notable exception is building materials. Why can’t we recycle concrete from our deteriorating infrastructure for use as material in new buildings and bridges? It’s a question that a team of researchers is examining.

from Top Environment News — ScienceDaily http://ift.tt/20kYd50

That Was Then

Fifty years ago, no one questioned whether it made sense to drill for oil or dig for coal. Extracting any and all fossil fuels was accepted practice because that was the cheapest, easiest way to get energy. And for a while, it worked.

But that was then. Today, as the Interior Department prepares to release a new draft of a five-year plan (2017-2022) for oil and gas leases off our coastlines, it’s time to recognize how much has changed. This is not 1966 — or even 2006. So why does this draft plan read as if the rags-to-oil-rich Beverly Hillbillies were still on the air?

The proposed plan for the U.S. outer continental shelf would actually add 10 new leases in the Gulf of Mexico and in America’s Arctic, while also offering a lease for drilling off of the mid-Atlantic coast from Virginia to Georgia.

Here some of the reasons why that makes no sense in 2016:

First, we already know that we can’t develop all of our proven fossil fuel reserves if we want to avoid truly catastrophic climate disruption. In fact, 80 percent of those reserves need to stay in the ground. The last thing we should be doing is looking for new oil and gas reserves that we can’t afford to burn.

Second, by now it’s clear that — magical thinking aside — “safe and responsible” offshore drilling is a fantasy. The Gulf of Mexico is still suffering the effects of BP’s massive blowout five years ago. If a disaster like that one were to happen in the Arctic, the consequences would be at least an order of magnitude worse. As for the Atlantic, perhaps the only good thing to come of the Deepwater Horizon disaster was that it caused President Obama to cancel plans to open the outer continental shelf off the East Coast to drilling.

Third, oil use is actually declining in the U.S., and that’s a trend we need to encourage. You don’t do that by looking for risky new places to drill. That goes double for environments like the Arctic and mid-Atlantic, where a single disaster would be so devastating.

Finally, our outer continental shelf does have a role to play in providing energy — but not by subjecting it to dangerous drilling. The more than 1.5 million acres off the Atlantic coast that have already been designated for wind energy development could generate enough electricity to power more than five million homes. That’s where we should be investing — not in new potential mega-disasters. Currently, of the more than 3,000 offshore wind turbines in the world, not a single one is spinning above U.S. waters.

We’re already seeing a transition to clean, renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. President Obama knows that the only way to build on the progress and promise of the Paris climate summit is to accelerate that transition and base our fossil fuel policy on the mandate to “keep it in the ground” whenever and wherever possible. On that basis, we should be finding ways to scale back offshore drilling, not expand it. President Obama has an opportunity to further cement his climate and energy legacy by consigning offshore drilling to the past and focusing on bold visions of the future, such as his just-announced proposal to invest $300 billion over the next decade in a 21st-century clean transportation system. We’re heading toward the future whether we like it or not — it’s time to plan accordingly.

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There’s No ‘Big Fix’ For Water Crises

SAN FRANCISCO – January 27 was the 100th anniversary of Hatfield’s flood. You may have missed the occasion unless you were with Cynthia Barnett. Barnett, an environmental journalist, has written three books about water and last week she was in Corte Madera, California discussing her most recent book, “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History,” which was nominated for the National Book award.

In “Rain,” Barnett writes about Californian Charles Hatfield. Hatfield was a “rainmaker” – someone who persuaded the public that he could conjure precipitation with a mix of special chemicals. In 1915 Hatfield convinced the San Diego City Council to pay him $10,000 if he could bring enough water to San Diego by year’s end to fill Morena Reservoir. “He built his derrick, he climbed it, he was cooking up all these chemicals in a pan and right away it began to rain and rain and rain and flood,” said Barnett. “This is in January 1916. The reservoir filled, it overtopped and then the dam broke.” The flood wiped out houses, the city’s bridges and killed more than 20 people. Hatfield fled town chased by armed vigilantes.

Hatfield, of course, didn’t know how to make rain, and meteorologists know now it was back-to-back atmospheric rivers that caused that flood, explained Barnett. But the story still resonates for an important reason. People were inclined to believe that huge problems like drought can be easily solved. We still are.

“Every time we’re in a drought, and that goes for then and now, we seem to have this great wish for the Big Fix,” said Barnett, who is also a Water Deeply advisor. “There is always someone who is going to pop up and say they have this great idea and they’re going to solve our water issues.”

But as Barnett’s work has shown, water issues are much more nuanced than that. While there is no Big Fix, there are lots of other things we can do, starting with developing a water ethic. She recently sat down with Water Deeply to talk about what she has learned researching the history of rain, traveling the world in search of a water ethic and how bad weather has led to witch hunts.

Water Deeply: Last week you visited California to speak at the California Irrigation Institute’s annual conference. Your talk was about our need for a water ethic, an idea you explored in depth in your second book “Blue Revolution.” Can you explain what a water ethic means?

Cynthia Barnett: It means that we live today in a way that doesn’t jeopardize things for future generations. But specifically, it means using less water and polluting less, which we actually know how to do. It’s not terribly hard and we could do it in every sector of the economy.

Water Deeply: Where does the idea come from?

Barnett: The real tangible work of it goes back to Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. In the “Sand County Almanac,” he articulated a land ethic in the wake of the Dust Bowl that really changed the way we lived with the land and the soil – things like crop rotation, not ripping out all the prairie grass, soil management – so that in future droughts we would not have the huge black dust clouds and the other devastating impacts of the Dust Bowl.

Water Deeply: And the same goes for water?

Barnett: The same is true for water. In every sector, in agriculture, in utilities, with the rest of us who use water, there are really tangible ways to use less water and pollute less. But too often we don’t do it because it’s economically beneficial to keep doing what we’re doing now.

I write about Luna Leopold, Aldo Leopold’s son, who first articulated the water ethic. He took his father’s idea about the land ethic and he put it into terms for water. He said technology wouldn’t solve the problem. We needed a “reverence for rivers” and that we would all have to come to value water and to value it in its natural form.

Water Deeply: Where have you seen this water ethic in practice?

Barnett: I traveled to Singapore and Australia where there has been a widespread public ethic for water and they really changed their water fortunes. So it’s not like a touchy-feely idea. It really is a new way of living with water but it only happens when the whole community is together and insists on it.

The United States hasn’t been there since the early 1970s. That was the last time we all paid a lot of attention to water. There was visible pollution in the industrial rivers of the northeast and that’s when here in the west there was drought and there was a proposal to dam the Grand Canyon. That was a time when a lot of people became upset with what was happening with water and we changed things. We stopped building the huge dams. We created EPA and the Clean Water Act.

That’s what I think we’re getting near to now and that’s what’s needed because the largest users aren’t going to change on their own. It takes that public pressure to change the culture and it needs to be the whole culture.

Water Deeply: What made you decide to write your most recent book “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History”?

 

Barnett: One reason is that I absolutely love rain, I have always loved it since my childhood. I feel oppressed by too sunny a day. I like to have a little drama in the weather.

The other reason is that when I would go around the country talking about “Blue Revolution_”_ I found that even people who didn’t want to talk about climate change or refused to, they loved to talk about the weather. They want to talk about the drought, they want to talk about hurricanes and extreme rains.

I began to see rain as a journalistic entree to climate change, which I think it has been.

Water Deeply: From the time you wrote “Blue Revolution” until now, when you’re touring with “Rain,” have you noticed a change in people’s perceptions of climate change or how they talk about it?

Barnett: I do notice that. I think there is less denial but in a way the denial that I see is more insidious. Ten years ago Florida’s governor and California’s Gov. Schwarzenegger were both Republicans who were working really hard on climate change. But now for the past nearly eight years, Florida has had a climate change denier as a governor and we’re in a state that is most vulnerable to both sea level rise and more extreme hurricanes.

I see that more people are open-minded and increasingly concerned, and yet at the level where one can make a difference there is a really insidious amount of denial.

Water Deeply: Speaking of climate change and deniers, in “Rain” you wrote about how a misunderstanding of the weather led to thousands of executions of so-called witches.

Barnett: The Little Ice Age between 1350 and 1850 was a period of climate change – really extreme weather, deadly winters. Those conditions led to crop losses, which also led to famine.

The story that stands out to me that has strange connections to modern times are the witch-hunts of the Little Ice Age. The Witch Era is tied to many things – sociopolitical issues, religion – but it was also tied to the increase in extreme weather.

The whole era was a time when the poor suffered more. Just like always. Just like forever. The poor will suffer these extremes more so than the rest of us. That was true then and it’s going to be true with climate change.

Water Deeply: Do you think it will take a catastrophe to motivate people now, like Australia’s 10-year-long drought?

Barnett: Tim Flannery, one of Australia’s most famous scientists, made a pronouncement that Perth would become the first ghost metropolis and it would actually have to be abandoned for lack of fresh water. After that people really woke up and realized they wanted to live differently.

They used to all have bore holes in their backyards, or what we call groundwater wells, and when I interviewed people there they say now they would never think of pumping groundwater out of their aquifers any more, just for something like watering the lawn. They feel totally different about it, but it took a huge disaster, being at the brink for the ethic to change.

I do think it’s changing here. People are using less water all the time. Industry is using less water. It’s happening but it’s not widespread.

Water Deeply: California has done pretty well in the past year with a conservation mandate. It seems lots of people care about water, but they value it differently. How can we make policy changes with that in mind?

Barnett: People have their picture of their water – their water for agriculture or their water for salmon and really every drop is valuable. Even if it’s in a toilet, it can be recycled. And that seems to be the next big thing that will happen – really large-scale wastewater reuse and recycling, which is what is going on in Singapore. Singapore is 100 percent recycled water but Australia is getting closer and closer to that. Even food crops can have reused water. We really have to look at all water as valuable.

This article originally appeared on Water DeeplyFor weekly updates about the California drought, you can sign up to the Water Deeply email list.

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How Morocco Is Harnessing Solar Power To Achieve Energy Independence

Morocco is on the way to dramatically cutting its dependence on imported oil after successfully launching Noor 1 — the first phase of what will eventually become the world’s largest concentrated solar plant. 

The country has historically relied almost entirely on imports from abroad for its energy. Now it has found a way to transform its abundance of sunlight into an economic asset. 

When the project is completed in 2018, it’s expected to reduce Morocco’s fossil fuel reliance by two and a half million tons of oil and provide enough leftover energy to export to Europe.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI inaugurated the first installment of the new thermodynamic project on Thursday in the desert city of Ouarzazate, flanked by famous guests like French Energy Minister Ségolène Royal and balloonist Bertrand Piccard

Five hundred thousand curved mirrors now line the Moroccan desert in rows, spanning a surface area that is visible from space.

The project is funded by the World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank and private stakeholders, and its first phase cost an estimated $894 million. The total price tag for the project will be approximately $9 billion, according to Moroccan officials.

“The Noor Project will allow Morocco to reach energy independence,” Moroccan Communications Minister Mustapha El Khalfi told HuffPost Morocco.

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Initially, Noor 1 will provide 650,000 residents with 160 megawatts of power, the Guardian reports. It’s eventually expected to generate 580 megawatts of power for 1.1 million people, 20 hours per day

The government also plans to build power stations in other Moroccan cities, aiming to complete the Noor Project by 2018. Together, the power stations should yield 2,000 megawatts of solar energy — reducing Morocco’s carbon emissions by a projected 760,000 tons per year.

Noor 1 alone will eventually reduce carbon emissions by 240,000 tons per year, said Mustapha Bakkoury, chairman of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy, which spent six years developing the power plant in Ouarzazate.

This video, which is narrated in French and posted to YouTube by Pierre Gable, gives an overview of the Noor Project.

So far, the project has earned plenty of praise. A study conducted by the German research institution Wuppertal Institute and the NGO Germanwatch found that “Unlike the potential harm associated with mining activities and fossil fuel power plants at the local level, the negative impacts stemming from Noor I were found to be low and significantly lower in areas including harm to public health and air and water pollution.”

“It is a very, very significant project in Africa,” said Mafalda Duarte, the manager of Climate Investment Funds, an organization that helped fund the initiative. “Morocco is showing real leadership and bringing the cost of the technology down in the process,” she added.

The new power plant will lead to energy security and job creation, said Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, the World Bank country director for Maghreb. “With this bold step toward a clean energy future, Morocco is pioneering a greener development and developing a cutting edge solar technology,” she said.

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In November, Morocco will host COP 22, the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, where world leaders discuss strategies to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Initiatives that lower carbon emissions are particularly important in North Africa, a region at risk of great climate change-related damage, studies show. Scarce water and rising temperatures will ultimately shorten growing seasons and reduce crop yields, threatening agricultural lands that are an important source of revenue

Morocco aims to reach 52 percent clean energy production by 2030. Beyond its powerful new solar plant initiative, the country is also making strides in its water management initiatives, intended to combat desertification by protecting the country’s vulnerable oases.

Also on HuffPost: 

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