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Friday Roundup: Our Favorite Finds This Week

We can't decide if we love this concept or hate it (though we'll admit our animosity stems partly from a nasty accident Alex once had while racing a souped-up Segway at FOO Camp). While the concept of a 300-lb vehicle is pretty cool, we know the main problem with vehicles won't be solved simply by building smaller vehicles, gasoline-powered or otherwise. From this article, however, it seems like there's no danger of the PUMA being developed for sale anytime soon ... put that way, the concept sounds a little like a grasp at relevance from the ailing GM. (See Clark Williams-Derry's blog on the PUMA for the best headline we've seen all day.) Photo source: Segway Inc.

Living Walls on the Rise
We posted this week about Vancouver's new six-acre green roof, an impressive civic development project that underscores the scalability and growing feasibility of living roof design. But when we stumbled across this post from WebEcoist -- featuring photos of 15 very different living wall installations around the world -- we realized that the vertical version isn't far behind. On the contrary, it seems like green walls offer even more versatility for indoor and outdoor uses, which offer the potential to boost insulation, improve air quality, and of course add visual appeal.

IMG_2270_300.jpgUpdate: Shipping Containers as Sustainable Housing
The team at Clemson University is making quick progress on their plan to design livable, sustainable dwellings using the large shipping containers sent to Caribbean nations (get the background in this post). According to Professor Douglas Hecker, the students will begin construction on two containers next week, using two separate "pod" designs created to be completely off-grid. One is a "water pod," which provides drinking water and water for personal hygiene, uses a self composting toilet to minimize wasted water, and stores graywater for reuse in the unit's "emergency garden." The other design, a "tech pod," provides minimal cooking, lighting and an outlet for power, with the goal of allowing residents to pursue business opportunities more competitively. Hecker says the project -- which has been selected for the 2009 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam -- has garnered industry support, via their Atlanta-based corporate partner Container-IT, and as a part of the Intermodal Steel Building Units (ISBU) Association's Project Greencube, an initiative which plans to introduce ISO Containers into architecture curricula nationally. Read more about their progress, and watch videos, on the project blog. Photo credit: Dustin White

36 Gallons Per Egg?
We've talked before about virtual water and water footprints, which are great ways of making visible the surprising amounts of H20 needed to produce our stuff. Our friends at GOOD prepared this great-looking chart that shows how many gallons of water are embedded in a few daily activities -- and how much we can save with alternative appliances, energy sources, diet choices, etc. Instead of steak (1,500 gallons), wine (31) and bread (11) for dinner, try chicken (287), beer (20) and a baked potato (7). Put the dishes in the dishwasher instead of hand-washing under a running faucet, and you'll save a whopping 1,255 gallons of water a year at your evening meal. Though we understand that the chicken option keeps many readers from balking, we do wish GOOD would have thrown a meat-free dinner menu up there for an even starker comparison.

The Silicon Valley of Water
Ally Jacqueline Novogratz discusses the idea that Milwaukee is positioning itself as the “Silicon Valley of Water:”

I also couldn’t help but think that this approach of retooling some of America’s own cities to focus on transforming other parts of the world could have an incredible impact on transforming the cities themselves. It is this virtual cycle that we need not only to be aware of but to pursue avidly, and to communicate effectively. My mentor John Gardner would often tell me that sometimes you have to “push the inevitable.” Taking our best and brightest and asking them to focus on solving some of the world’s toughest problems from a sense both of humility as well as audacity is what is needed at this critical time in our shared history on the planet.

Indeed, cities in the developed world have a giant opportunity to lead the way towards new, bright green infrastructure and urban design (with resilience and economic benefits galore) and then share the results to help emerging megacities in the developing world adopt the technologies they find useful in building their own versions of sustainable prosperity.

What Era Is This, Again?
We've touched on this before, but in light of our Save the Holocene! essay, it seemed worth noting that it's gaining credibility: the Early Anthropocene hypothesis. Put succinctly:

"A wide array of archeological, cultural, historical and geologic evidence points to viable explanations tied to anthropogenic changes resulting from early agriculture in Eurasia, including the start of forest clearance by 8000 years ago and of rice irrigation by 5000 years ago. In recent millennia, the estimated warming caused by these early gas emissions reached a global-mean value of sim 0.8 °C and roughly 2 °C at high latitudes, large enough to have stopped a glaciation of northeastern Canada predicted by two kinds of climatic models. CO2 oscillations of sim 10 ppm in the last 1000 years are too large to be explained by external (solar-volcanic) forcing, but they can be explained by outbreaks of bubonic plague that caused historically documented farm abandonment in western Eurasia. Forest regrowth on abandoned farms sequestered enough carbon to account for the observed CO2decreases. Plague-driven CO2 changes were also a significant causal factor in temperature changes during the Little Ice Age (1300–1900 AD)."

In other words, it's possible we've been causing climate change for longer than we thought.

Day in the Life
And while we're on the subject of knowing the planet, here's a fun short video about what a day on Earth is, in terms of our relationship to the Sun:

Resilience is Good Business
Jamais does a great job explaining the basics of resilience thinking in this Fast Company post:

Two factors stand out as core assumptions of a resilience approach: 
the future is inherently uncertain, so the system needs to be as 
flexible as possible; and failures happen, so the system needs to be 
able to identify failures early and not make things worse as a result. 
These may seem like common-sense notions, but today's global systems 
work best when everything's running smoothly and predictably. 
Resilient systems are optimized for rough roads with sudden turns.

Resilience/ survivability is not the same thing as sustainability, just as sustainability is not the same thing a prosperity: but if we do our job right, we'll get all three.

True Meme:
Wind power now employs more people than coal mining.

Have a great weekend!

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You state that "resilience/survivability is not the same thing as sustainability." I'm having a hard time differentiating the two since they are so interrelated. Could you explain what you mean, please?

Posted by: James on 10 Apr 09

An individual life, business or city could be sustainable -- say carbon-neutral, closed loop, non-toxic -- without be resilient (i.e., able to withstand shocks to the systems it depends on).

Similarly, resilient things can operate in ways that make them extremely tough and rugged without being sustainable if scaled. The U.S. military is full of resilient systems that are completely unsustainable.

Obviously, the best solutions work on both scales, but the scales themselves are not the same. Mistaking them to be the same is the cause of some real problems in our thinking.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 10 Apr 09

Here's what Crutzen thinks about the "Early Anthropocene":

“To assign a more specific date to the onset of the 'anthropocene" seems somewhat arbitrary, but we propose the latter part of the 18th century, although we are aware that alternative proposals can be made (some may even want to include the entire holocene). However, we choose this date because, during the past two centuries, the global effects of human activities have become clearly noticeable. This is the period when data retrieved from glacial ice cores show the beginning of a growth in the atmospheric concentrations of several 'greenhouse gases", in particular C02 and CH4 (7). Such a starting date also coincides with James Watt's invention of the steam engine in 1784. About at that time, biotic assemblages in most lakes began to show large changes.”

Frankly, I agree with that ascertaining with precision when the Anthropocene originated really isn't the point. Bigger is the indisputable notion that the Anthropocene exists here, and now. That has profound consequences on what may or may not be resilient, sustainable, either or both...

And we're failing, collectively, to acknowledge this fundamental shift, of humans as geologic force. Of the Great Acceleration, the Death of Birth and the Great Forgetting.

Regardless of how you define 'sustainability' or resilience, these fact and science-based observations of the Panarchy

Any predominantly human-defined system or standard of sustainability is not ultimately sustainable. In Nature, sustainability looks a lot like mere survival...continually earning the right to keep playing the game, essentially. In nature, if you're not 'sustainable', you're either food or fossil. It's really that simple. How you go about achieving survival, well...that's immensely more complex in this non-linear world of constant change. With the Anthropocene is the tremendous acceleration of change, of first disintegration, then collapse in scales of the Panarchy.

Our systems of design, manufacturing and building have not acknowledged, let alone assimilated, the prevailing forces and unfolding consequences of the Anthropocene.

Posted by: Josh Stack on 13 Apr 09

Have you seen this on the I-House? Relatively green pre-fab housing:>1=35000

Posted by: Lx on 14 Apr 09

Living in shipping containers, now thats dignified!

Posted by: steve on 9 Apr 10

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