The arch online magazine of politics and ideas has just posted an excerpt from Almost Green. The section in question is a bit of a romp — after obsessing over my neighbor’s exterior floodlamps for many nights, I launch a devious social-engineering campaign to convince him to turn the damn things off.
Salon will leave the piece up over the Thanksgiving weekend, which is awesome, because I figure we Americans will be turning to our computers in droves to escape our families! Take a look.
Joe Van Belleghem, a chartered accountant and the cofounder of Windmill West, the project’s developer, graciously showed me around. Here’s a shot of a new commercial building on the site; the three turbines up top will power the ventilation system when the wind blows. Workers are installing photovoltaics on the window awnings.
Here’s Joe showing off his wastewater treatment plant. The development treats all of its sewage onsite, which is more than you can say about the whole city of Victoria. By the end of the process, the one-time “wastewater” is almost good enough to drink. It’s a challenging environment for photos, but beneath the grates underfoot is a froth of raw sewage. It didn’t smell a bit.
Here’s the roof of the second tower of Synergy, seen from the first. Those are food gardens up there for the residents.
Update: File under, credit where it’s due: My pal Dan Paris at Vancity Enterprises points out that his company, along with Vancity Credit Union, together own a 75 percent stake in Dockside along with Joe’s company Windmill West. Vancity Enterprises is as green as they come: The company’s Verdant project, in the new neighborhood at my alma mater, Simon Fraser Univeristy, is evidently even more energy efficient than Synergy, the building I toured at Dockside. It also sold at 20 percent below market value and uses an innovative legal agreement that Dan’s company created to protect affordability in perpetuity. Both these guys are leaders, and they deserve acclaim.
I visited Victoria as a guest of Harbour Air, North America’s only carbon-neutral scheduled airline. This all-floatplane company serves Canada’s West Coast, and purchases carbon offsets for each flight on behalf of each of its passengers. Thanks for the ride, gang, and keep up the good work!
Can Web 2.0 help bring us back down to 350 ppm? Google Maps, long used to manage car-sharing co-ops, is cropping up in interesting mash-up applications that may give people the tools to inch us closer to a better society.
Here are two local examples of how mapping serves green ends, and an idea about where to go next.
The Cycling Route Planner is a Web interface created by a University of British Columbia research team studying barriers to urban cycling. Enter your destination, and then choose from a variety of route options from a drop-down menu. Not wild about hills? Choose the maximum grade you’re willing to crank. You can also ask for the most direct path, or the one with the least traffic, or the one with the most tree cover. The database crunches topographic data, elevation overlays, particulate emissions concentrations, and voila. (But will it get more people on bikes?)
Then there’s YouMapVancouver, a collaboration between Smart Growth B.C. and the city’s Planning Commission. The city is inviting residents of Vancouver neighborhoods to plot their favorite “amenities” on a Google map. An amenity is planner-speak for “community benefits” — libraries, ice rinks, community centers, and so on, but the city is widening the concept to include “any place that is special to you.” A nice view, for example. A corner where dog-walkers like tend to congregate on Sunday mornings. Some folks are painting their bike commute routes to work on the maps–note the pink lines above.
One of these two examples is a “top down” application — an interface that mines existing “objective” data such as topography and traffic. The other is fundamentally a “bottom up” project — a new-wave cartographic wiki of sorts, a plot of physical space that the collective will hopefully annotate with layers of emotional relevance.
I’d like to see another evolution of this mash-up, a combination of the top-down with the bottom-up. The middle zone between “data mining for green” and the reaching and hoping vaguely socialist vibe that is at the moment compartmentalized inside households that may not even speak to each other on the street.
Could I add a time-sensitive craigslistesque tag to a neighborhood map that is always present in some way in my datastream? Could I add a tag offering free fruit from my backyard pear tree for “this weekend only”? Could I invite people in my hood to dump their grass clippings into the monster compost box that I’ve just built over my back fence? Could I offer my neighbors a stack of surplus building or landscape materials?
Could the network’s social layer work at the scale of the neighborhood to enable culdesactivism? Might tools of this ilk take away one more barrier to a better world by eliminating the “homework” factor? Green shouldn’t be an inconvenience, and it shouldn’t require roll-up-the-sleeves research. (If I want to look into LED lighting for my home, why do I need to spend an evening chasing search-engine dead-ends?)
Let’s open-source the whole damn playbook and watch what happens. More on this soon.
The global economic downshift could potentially be hitting home in an unexpected place: your blue box.
“Recycling companies are saying we can’t take metal or plastics anymore,” says Mairi Welman, Director of Communications for the Recycling Council of British Columbia. “They don’t have any space to put it, and they can’t sell it.”
The problem originates with the hundreds of mills in India and China that normally accept corrugated cardboard, glass, mixed papers and plastic, but that have closed their doors to new materials, Welman explains. She also has heard that there are issues among the container shipping industry with letters of credit.
“The whole market has crashed on everything across the board,” confirms Mike Sullivan, general manager of Metro Waste Paper Recovery, one of several materials-processing firms in the British Columbia. “We are still taking mixed paper, but nobody can move glass. For mixed plastic, everyone that has it is just stockpiling the stuff.”
“In China they are not producing finished goods, so they are not buying the corrugated boxes to pack them in, and then the box mills are not in turn buying the waste corrugated material from Britain or North America.”
“I don’t think we are going to see any improvement in the next month; I haven’t seen anything like it in 25 years. It is not just a few mills closing down in the Northwest. It is not just a few on the east coast shutting down for a few weeks. We are talking about every mill.”
Read the rest of my story over at The Hook. It’s ironic, really. In reducing our consumer appetites for packaged goods manufactured in Asia, we are — in a round-about way — starting to crunch our recycling programs. Perhaps we could start stacking our tin cans and plastic tubs in the stadiums. Is Wall-E available?
The president-elect records a short video for a meeting of climate wonks in California, pledging $15 Billion a year for clean energy research. Obama’s plan also calls for a cap-and-trade system that will help reduce U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by a further 80 per cent by 2050. "Anyone who wants to develop clean energy has a friend in the White House."
And not a moment too soon. Watch the video. It fills me with hope.
Shift alert: This is a full back-page Corona beer ad from yesterday’s Globe & Mail newspaper. The image shows the same deck chairs we’ve seen a million times, the same blissed-out vacationing couple, the same bright sunshine, but with a key difference. Instead of a beach in Cancun, they are clearly in cottage country–the lake district a few hours north of Toronto. Click the thumbnail above to see the full image.
The copy: “Relax responsibly.”
This is huge. Corona built its brand, at least in this country, on the dream of the cold-season tropical getaway, the prospect of blazing beachfront bliss for frostbitten Canucks. It would seem that the company now recognizes that these equatorial escapes aren’t as socially kosher in the target market as they used to be. By turning the old “Drink Responsibly” liability dodge on its head, the company links frivolous air travel — its marketing stock and trade — with frivolous carbon release. Bravo, and kudos.
Of course, there’s an elephant in this room; the beer is still made in Mexico. The most “responsible” way to relax would be to instead choose a locally brewed refreshment. But we’ll let Corona bask in this moment. I know this stuff is market-tested up the yin-yang, but this ad shows leadership on the climate file. They done good here.
Nobody likes the middle. It’s the realm of compromise. It’s pretty boring, really. The place where you might find yourself “stuck.” All the really interesting stuff happens at the edges, right? Perhaps. But the middle is also a place of great potential, especially when it comes to triggering runaway social change.
Ecological “footprint” co-creator Bill Rees recently told me that when it comes to large-scale transformational change, there are four prime movers: Price signals (oil goes up, and SUV sales plummet); Catastrophes such as war, floods, and hurricanes represent another category. Coercion is another: The power of law, the foundation of civil society. Then there’s social change, “the cumulative effect of civil society, the counter-movements. But they can take decades.”
So on this last point, I’ve been thinking about behavior change as of late. With the new U.S. administration comes a completely new aura of hope about what’s possible. What will it take, I wonder, to trigger runaway social change, one of the four arrows in the Rees quiver that could prevent runaway climate change?
How do we get to the place where vast numbers of us understand that a balanced atmosphere is the key to prosperity, security, stability. That it is not only the path out of this economic crisis but also the key to our shared future. I sense large numbers of us — those who do get it — reaching and stretching and imagining. More than a million people have signed up for the We Can Solve It pledge.
We’ve seen some once-fringe green behaviors enter the normalsphere as of late. Cloth shopping bags are a good example. They’re now de rigeur for even the Lexus RX set. Ditto bottled water, sales of Dasani are plunging, as people discover that, wait, tap water works, too—and doesn’t have the scent of petroleum.
I’ve been thinking about these little shifts as of late, these little tremors. I’ve also been thinking about the people on the “continuum of green.” Here’s a slide I put together for a recent talk I gave the Interesting Vancouver conference.
Let’s put green types into three groups: the “baseline” greens, the “keen” greens, and the “bright” greens. Here’s how we might break them down by the things they buy, don’t buy, and do…
Baseline Greens : This is the realm of normalized planet-friendly behaviors, products and actions that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in most parts of North America. Here we’d place chestnuts such as recycling, composting, shopping for organic and fair-trade labels, cloth shopping bags, push mowers, programmable thermostats, re-usable aluminum water bottles, fuel-efficient cars, swirly light bulbs, bamboo pillowcases, hemp Ts, etc.
Keen Greens occupy the next level up the scale. These are folks who have made some kind of personal resolution. They’re mall averse, they love eBay and Craigslist, they have one car or a shared car, they’re avid cyclists, they’ve purchased carbon offsets, done some kind of home retrofit. They’re locavores and food gardeners. They volunteer. They shop for durability, not just price. They’re culdesactivists .
Finally, the Bright Greens. These people are simply ahead of their time. They’re revolutionary thinkers. They perhaps live in Eco-Villages, or want to. They have fashioned careers out of deep-green thinking, perhaps in renewable-energy research. They’re seed savers, and somewhat anti-fashion. They push the boundaries constantly. They’re not luddites working the farm, though, they’re very tech-savvy. All that said, they’re also somewhat socially isolated; they have trouble relating to “regular” people who don’t get what is going on in the world. In public, they are relentlessly optimistic. But privately, they are terrified that the change is not coming as fast as it needs to, and the clock is ticking.
So where will the change come from? I think it will come from the middle section of this continuum. The keen greens find inspiration in the bright greens, and “push down” better behaviors and choices to the baseline group, who in turn look up to them as models. It’s up to those who have made some changes to show the larger group just a few steps to the left that there’s nothing to fear. Now all they need to do is make it easier for them… more on that soon.