On Wednesday evening an 8.0 earthquake struck central Peru, devastating the Ica region of the Andean country. The official death toll from this unfolding disaster currently stands at 502 [as of 16 Aug -- Ed.]; around four hundred of these were residents of Pisco, a city of over 100,000 near the epicenter of the main quake. Pisco is reported to have lost 80 percent of its homes.
As we speak the usual suspects of international disaster response and recovery are busy on the ground. Typically, when the media turns its gaze from one pressing story to the next, funding dries up; by the time affected towns and cities enter the reconstruction phase three to four months after the initial diaster, there are only funds available to build the same unstable housing as before. Is this good enough? Are there models for building a sustainable and safer future for Pisco? Or is this only reserved for First World post-disaster reconstruction?
This week's podcast, the second of three from the Creators Series , is a conversation with Moose Curtis, a reverse grafitti artist based in Brighton, England. Curtis began making public art by cleaning walls on a grand scale beginning in 1999, an idea he got after seeing that people had written their names on dirty tunnel walls in his hometown of Leeds. At first he did it purely for sport, creating freehand stylings (while fulfilling his fetish for cleaning) using a shoe brush and water. Later, after large corporations began asking him to write their names in the dirt as well, he began taking commissions, which he still thinks is great but his friends think is terrible. With his company, Symbolix, he has taken clients such as Microsoft and Smirnoff, while continuing to pursue his own personal exploits.
Eco-bloggers multiplying like bunnies; bamboo (the new eco-correct fiber) in nearly everything money can buy; Leo DiCaprio succeeding Al Gore as this year's big screen prophet of global warming. With all this latest attention to green, you'd be forgiven for thinking that environmental concerns have finally seeped into the consciousness of everyday America.
I'm not so sure.
Environmental issues, particularly global warming, might be showing up in spheres as seemingly unlikely as corporate boardrooms and shareholder meetings, and the Evangelical Christian movement. But they haven't been much in evidence at this year's umpty-ten presidential candidate forums and debates. Historically, environmental issues are non-starters in presidential campaign politics, falling well below issues like the economy and national security in voter's concerns. So if the candidates are not talking about climate change now, over a year before the election, it's unlikely to become a central issue next year when the campaign is underway in earnest.
Maternal mortality -- death due or related to childbirth or pregnancy -- is the leading cause of death among women in Afghanistan. The maternal death rate in Afghanistan is the second-highest in the world; only Sierra Leone's is higher. For every 100,000 women who go into labor in Afghanistan, about 1,900 die. According to UNICEF, one in nine women in Afghanistan will die during or shortly after pregnancy at some point in her lifetime. (By comparison, the maternal mortality rate in the US and Japan is eight per 100,000 births.) Infants whose mothers die in childbirth have only a one in four chance of surviving, so the high maternal death rate threatens women and children alike.
Most of these deaths are preventable, the product of unsanitary conditions, poorly maintained roads, limited access to health care, forced marriages, lack of education, poor nutrition and sanitation, and a fundamentalist religious regime that, even in the post-Taliban era, prohibits women from seeing a male doctor or health care practitioner and limits them largely to the home.
In 2005, green architect William McDonough and British engineering firm Arup separately announced plans to build ambitious eco-cities housing up to 500,000 inhabitants on the mainland. For a few months following these announcements, coverage was enthusiastic (we have written about these cities a number of times, with early articles here and here). Much of this coverage was deserved. Designers are, after all, devising solutions to what promises to be one of the largest rural-to-urban migrations in history.
But in recent months, journalists have begun to look at how these cities are shaping up. After publishing a glowing article on McDonough's designs for sustainable Chinese cities in 2005, Newsweek ran an article this May that reads like a retraction. Its assessment of Huangbaiyu, the model village in McDonough's program and the first in a series of seven planned eco-cities, is bleak:
Many of us would love to get rid of our cars (or at least cut down on the number of cars our family owns), if we could find a sensible alternative. That time may not be far off; increasingly a combination of good urban planning, new technology and more flexible models of ownership is making car-free life not only possible, but alluring. And add on well-built density, walkshed technologies and car sharing, and we already have a pretty good model for not only getting access to things we want, but saving money and protecting the environment while we're at it... as long as we stay in the parts of your city which are similarly served.
And there's the rub, because what the automobile most represents in our psyches is freedom. The freedom of the open road. The freedom to go anywhere you want, whenever you want (even though most of us rarely or never exercise that privilage). And that definition of freedom is a hard thing go give up.
Tens of thousands of people are packing up their camping gear, putting the last touches on their art projects and costumes and planning their journeys to the Nevada desert for a week of unmitigated self-expression and revelry. Burning Man has long been the world's largest Leave No Trace event. While there's no denying the fundamental unsustainability of erecting a temporary city in the desert for one week each year and then burning much of it to the ground, the culture of the community breeds a deep respect for the desert that temporarily hosts Black Rock City each year.
The art theme of Burning Man 2006 was "The Future: Hope and Fear" and participants pondered what the future might look like to them. 2007 is the year of The Green Man: recognizing our place in the ecosystem and creating a sustainable future.
Time banks, a mechanism that relies on mutual collaboration to promote sustainability and cohesiveness in communities, can leverage the use of new communication tools to lead deprived communities towards prosperity and heal the gaping omissions in public services.
Time banks effectively use people's time and talents as currency for exchanges of value. It's been effectively used across the world to tackle explicit local issues, such as childcare provision or urban regeneration. It's also been used to reach those from socially excluded groups who have unmet needs, such as minority groups, single parents, and the unemployed. Time banks have been successful in delivering small but important local results because they excel at building networks of reciprocal social relations, trust, civic participation and community solidarity.
Scientists at the Beacon Institute are working with IBM engineers to weave a network of sensors, robots and simulations that will monitor 315 miles of New York's Hudson River on a "minute-to-minute" basis, creating the most complex model ever created of a river's flow.
The Beacon Institute... will use the array of real-time monitoring devices the way a doctor uses the data from a heart monitor, assessing the condition of the river from moment to moment. The comprehensive system, which could be in place within a few years, will provide far more detailed information than has been available before, people involved with the project say. And a new I.B.M. technology will let scientists analyze countless bits of data at the same time that it is being collected.
Knowing a river through technology is cool, of course, but what's really interesting here are the larger implications of the fact that the Hudson project is merely an early data point in what is likely to become a much bigger trend: the wiring of the natural systems of which we are a part, as a means to understand how better to protect them.
This week's wintry weather (lows in the 50s F., showers predicted well into next week) nearly scotched my plans to try out my new solar cooker, which I got for $18 at a company called Sun Toys.
My conundrum: because I live in a city where it's cloudy more often than it is sunny, solar cookers are of limited use. Even if it's sunny early in the day, there's no guarantee it will stay that way long enough to keep solar-cooked food from becoming botulism stew. There are some hybrid versions, which solve this problem by including a regular electrical heating element that kicks in when the sun fails to shine. The tradeoff: you lose a lot of the environmental benefits of a true solar cooker. And they cost far too much to be a practical option in less affluent countries, where solar cooking carries its own challenges.
Fortunately, mercurial weather doesn't have to be an intractable problem. The secret to successful solar cooking in variable climates is choosing foods that don't take long to cook through--things like nachos (about as simple as it sounds), fish and shrimp (simple recipe: wrap shrimp in basil and prosciutto; marinate in white wine, vinegar, and olive oil, and bake in solar oven for an hour) that take just minutes to cook in a conventional ove
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