Category Archives: nature

Time for Natural Climate Solutions

“The world faces two existential crises, developing with terrifying speed: climate breakdown and ecological breakdown. Neither is being addressed with the urgency needed to prevent our life-support systems from spiralling into collapse”.

So starts an open letter, initiated by George Monbiot and signed by a raft of influential climate, ecology and sustainability thinkers.

Natural Climate Solutions is a new initiative (website) calling on governments to back natural climate solution measures and “to create a better world for wildlife and a better world for people”. It should also be a call to us all in built environment sectors.

“We are championing a thrilling but neglected approach to averting climate chaos while defending the living world: natural climate solutions. Defending the living world and defending the climate are, in many cases, one and the same.”

Signatures to the letter and the Natural Climate Solutions include:
– school strikes activist Greta Thunberg,
– climate scientist Prof Michael Mann,
– writers Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein and Philip Pullman
– campaigners Bill McKibben, David Suzuki and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
– former archbishop of Canterbury, former president of the Maldives, musician Brian Eno
– advocacy group directors John Sauven, Greenpeace UK, Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth,Ruth Davis, RSPB, Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain

Recent research indicates that about a third of the greenhouse gas reductions needed by 2030 can be provided by the restoration of natural habitats, but such solutions have attracted just 2.5% of the funding for tackling emissions.

This is a huge issue for the built environment sector, where costing of approaches for technical carbon reduction solutions far outweigh costing of drawdown of carbon through living systems associated with our buildings and cities. If natural living systems are even considered as carbon solutions that is, to meet our Construction Vision target of carbon reduction by 50% by 2025.

We still see carbon as the enemy, through our too often one sided approach of reduce, reduce, reduce … So, given that, according to the IPCC, we have 12 years to avoid irreversible climate breakdown here are four actions we should embrace today:

  • Ecologists and Landscape Architects now, urgently need to become project leads.(1)
  • Locked in carbon should be the reported key carbon performance indicator and driver, not just the (scope1 and 2) carbon footprint
  • Lets start talking about upfront carbon and not embodied carbon. What matters is the carbon that is being emitted today, and the carbon that is being locked away today .(2)
  • Zero carbon is not enough, we can do better and go beyond zero, we don’t have time just to reduce carbon to zero.

How this aligns with my thinking, keynotes, advocacy and support for built environment client, design, contstruction, fm and academic organisations …

  • Rethinking Carbon – our need to focus on durable and living systems, not just fugitive carbon (3)
Ego, Eco, Seva
  • We need to move from the Eco phase we are currently locked into – to a Seva mindset, where we see buildings as part of nature, the natural ecosystem, not apart from it. (4)
Published 2016
  • FutuREstorative, published in 2016, explores natural and rewilding solutions enable the built environment to address climate breakdown
  • Advocacy, client and project through Living Building Challenge that drives for an ecologically robust future with imperatives such as habitat exchange, urban agriculture and more.
  • Exploring rewilding and regenerative agriculture thinking and its relationship with the built environment.

  1. this was the topic of a Specifi Think Tank in 2018 and received favourable agreement
  2. thanks to the TreeHugger ‘Upfront Carbon’ article by Lloyd Alter (et al) for this
  3. Carbon is not the Enemy
  4. A key outcome in the EU Cost Action RESTORE working group 1

Natural Climate Solutions … a small group of people working voluntarily to raise awareness of natural climate solutions and champion the work of organisations working in this field. who encourage you to support local projects, campaigns and initiatives near you and help ensure that this crucial and exciting answer our global crises receives the attention it deserves.

Blog post based on the Guardian, D Carrington, Article 030418

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Recent Reading : Edition 2

This is the second edition in a 2019 series covering pieces I have been reading online and in print that I think are worthy of further sharing. Followers on twitterlinkedin,  and to a lesser degree on Instagram will be aware that I regularly share items relating to sustainability, the built environment and our relationship with the outdoors and nature. However posts there can be flitting and often difficult to track down and return to. They will hopefully have a longer life here …

Articles, papers and images that catch my eye, or as a result of a search I move into my ever growing Instapaper (and occasionally Evernote) Library. This enables me to read offline, and importantly to keep and or return to for reference: here are a few recents:

Sustainability

It is worse, much worse, than you think. The opening line from David Wallace-Wells’s Uninhabitable Earth continues: The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life un-deformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not circumscribed and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.– there is a free chapter to read here, if you haven’t read it as yet!

Climate Change and Consciousness. Alan Watson Featherstone’s blog thoughts  ahead of Findhorn Foundation’s international conference ‘Climate Change & Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth.

DeepMind Wind Predictions: 4 Ways A.I. Is Saving the Environment How A.I. can be harnessed to reduce the mounting affects of climate change 1. Protecting Scarce Supplies of Water in Arid Regions2. Real-Time Crop Data Will Inform Future Farmers 3. Climate Modeling Offers Extremely Long-Term Forecasts 4. The Big Data of Weather Forecasts Make Solar Panels More Lucrative


Built Environment

Guardian Concrete Week . A series of hard hitting articles: Guardian Cities celebrates the aesthetic and social achievements of concrete, while investigating its innumerable harms, to learn what we can all do today to bring about a less grey world

What Would a “Green New Deal” Look Like for Architecture? – Ocasio-Cortez’s plan,in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s most recent warning that the world has about a decade to get climate change under control, would see buildings as mini power plants that can not only produce enough energy to supply their own needs, but also fuel vehicles and send excess energy back to the grid. (Something explored in FutuREstorative)

The Nature of Air the latest publication from Terrapin Bright Green sheds light on the financial burden of poor air quality as well as the atmospheric mechanisms by which earth is able to addresses air pollution in an energy efficient and circular manner

AI, Machine Learning, construction and bots A great overview from colleague Paul Wilkinson: Construction is waking up to the opportunities posed by artificial intelligence and machine learning to mine rich data and deliver powerful business insights and predictions.

Using public health data to inform building practice  Angela Loder & Regina Vaicekonyte on how the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™) uses public health data and how projects can use this data to inform their project health goals.

Bringing wellbeing to construction with Red List compliant, biophilic net-zero site accommodation. Blog on Chicago-based Pepper Construction who unveiled its Net Zero Jobsite Trailer in November at Greenbuild show at the end of last year.


Outdoors / Nature

Why rewilding? – Rewild Everything! In our attempts to tame and control nature, to de-wild the natural world, we also tame, control and de-wild ourselves, and in the process lose fundamental parts of us that make being alive meaningful and enjoyable. We deny parts of ourselves that frighten and inconvenience us, ignore messages from our animal bodies as we stare at screens under artificial lights, inside concrete buildings kept at artificial temperatures to boost ‘productivity’.

Free Photo Book: NASA Celebrates Earth’s Incredible Natural Beauty Earth,  a free photo book from NASA features stunning imagery captured over the years by various NASA satellites. .

Free Solo Alex Honnold, now 33, has been a legend in the sport for a while, with a rack of insane firsts and nobody-will-evers hanging from his harness (except he doesn’t usually wear one of those). With a goofy grin and a bad haircut, he has been fighting a single-handed battle against gravity, and winning. When, on 3 June 2017, he free-soloed the freerider route on El Capitan, the New York Times described it as “one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever”. Then the film about that climb – Free Solo – came out, and the world outside the climbing community sat up and took note. It is a brilliant, beautiful film – not just the story of an incredible physical performance, but a very human story of a remarkable, beguiling character.

Previous Reading Recently Edition 1

The Nature of Air

When imagining clean, rejuvenating air, one might conjure visions of high mountain-tops or misty waterfalls—in other words, pristine nature.

When imagining clean, rejuvenating air, one might conjure visions of high mountain-tops or misty waterfalls—in other words, pristine nature. In reality, plants, animals, and even underlying geology pose numerous challenges to air quality whether from airborne particulate matter, pollen, mold, bacteria or noxious gasses. Despite these many natural pollutants, Earth’s troposphere—the bottom layer of atmosphere—has remained clean, intact, and molecularly balanced over the hundreds of millions of years it has existed in this particular state of dynamic equilibrium. Utilizing only ambient energy and basic tenets of physics and chemistry, the mechanisms by which the atmosphere remains clean exemplify principles of circularity, synergy, and resource efficiency. Most of these cleaning mechanisms initiate from an interaction between the atmosphere and something else (plants, soils, oceans, rainfall), but arguably the most important atmospheric cleaning process is carried out by the atmosphere itself.

The Nature of Air

The Nature of Air: Economic and Bio-Inspired Perspectives on Indoor Air Quality Management,  the latest publication from Terrapin Bright Green sheds light on the financial burden of poor air quality as well as the atmospheric mechanisms by which earth is able to addresses air pollution in an energy efficient and circular manner. Sponsored by AtmosAir Solutions, the report explores how those same mechanisms can be brought indoors to support rethought indoor air quality management, and how one technology–bi-polar ionization –is doing just that.

This Terrapin Bright Green white paper represents another facet of the ever growing body of research into the human-nature connection. It outlays actionable information that companies can use to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, and the bottom line.

Poor indoor air quality has received greater attention as yet another deterrent of our mental and physical well-being. Despite a growing demand for healthy buildings, IAQ management has remained a design challenge as typical strategies, such as increased filtration, pit energy performance against air quality. Competing outcomes—in this case, energy-efficiency and well-being—can seem intractable, however nature provides a different perspective.

Terrapin Bright Green Blog

Abstract: Poor indoor air quality diminishes cognitive functioning. For employers, reduced work task performance translates into a lower return on their investment in employees. Indoor air quality management remains an industry challenge as efforts to improve air quality, and subsequent occupant wellness, often come at the expense of energy performance. Insights from atmospheric cleaning mechanisms have spurred the development of air purifying technology to realign air quality management with the fundamental processes found in nature. Doing so allows for better management of pollutants and helps to decouple air quality with the amount of air brought in from outside.

The Nature of Air

Header Image: Mist Rolls Down, Roland Batke-Mutschler, Unsplash

Free Photo Book: NASA Celebrates Earth’s Incredible Natural Beauty

We chose these images because they inspire. They tell a story of a 4.5-billion-year-old planet where there is always something new to see. They tell a story of land, wind, water, ice, and air as they can only be viewed from above. They show us that no matter what the human mind can imagine, no matter what the artist can conceive, there are few things more fantastic and inspiring than the world as it already is. The truth of our planet is just as compelling as any fiction.

Earth,  a free photo book from NASA features stunning imagery captured over the years by various NASA satellites. There is a hardcover version for sale, but you can also download a free pdf, or e-version 

But, better than the free book is the online version that also offers interactive elements and image of the day for the four categories: atmosphere, water, land, and ice and snow.

Moose River, Ontario

Sixty years ago, with the launch of Explorer 1, NASA made its first observations of Earth from space. Fifty years ago, astronauts left Earth orbit for the first time and looked back at our “blue marble.” All of these years later, as we send spacecraft and point our telescopes past the outer edges of the solar system, as we study our planetary neighbors and our Sun in exquisite detail, there remains much to see and explore at home.

Every one of the images in this book is publicly available through the Internet, truly making science accessible to every citizen

Source: Digital Trends

Into 2019 …

Business as Usual Sustainability (BAUS)

Business as Usual Sustainability may well prove to be our barrier in addressing the climate change issues we face. To only ‘sustain’ is no longer enough, we now have a real urgency to embrace regenerative sustainability, to thrive … and to enable thriving.

The last three decades have given us many opportunities to embrace sustainability, but have only done so reluctantly and given the worsening CO2, air quality and health issues associated with our buildings, inadequately. So now the options available to us are increasingly radical and of necessity transformative.

The recent 2018 IPCC report has given us 12 years to avoid a painful climate breakdown and the risk of irreversibly destabilising the Earth’s climate. If we are to meet the targets in front of us, related to the 2015 Paris Agreement, the SDG’s and here at home in the UK Built Environment with our CO2 reduction by 2025 targets, we need to move way beyond Business as Usual Sustainability …

The report confirmed that we must take widespread changes to design, construction, maintenance and re-use of buildings. It reinforces buildings account for 40% of CO2 emissions with building materials such as cement and concrete accounting for some 8% of the global figure.  In essence this would require no construction, building, industry, plant or vehicles using gas, oil, coal or fossil fuels; a building products sector converted to green natural products and / or non-toxic chemistry; and heavy industries like cement, steel and aluminum production either using carbon-free energy sources or not used in buildings.

Further, the construction and use of buildings will by necessity need to be positive, not passive, neutral or negative – sequestering and capturing more carbon than emitted, generating more energy than used, improving air quality rather than polluting and improving inhabitants wellbeing rather than contributing to health problems.

The best time to start radically reducing carbon was 30 years ago, the second best time is to start today.

Its time to step up.

We can do this.

The Paris 1.5 aspiration is still within our reach – just! Thankfully the 2018 IPCC report does contain at least one positive, and that is anthropogenic emissions up now are unlikely to cause further warming of more than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades or on a century time scale.

This means that, if we stop using fossil fuels today, the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have already been released into the atmosphere to date are not likely to warm the earth the additional 0.5°C, either by 2030, or 2050, or even by 2100.

No doubt you have read many end of 2018, start of 2019 sustainable lifestyle things we can do – from eating less meat, cycling not driving, avoiding fossil fuel energy – and these are all good, and things we should be doing. But we can do more, and in the built environment we can make significant and meaningful progress in, for example:

Educate and Advocate
As individuals, as organisations and as a sector we must educate and advocate. Many of those entering the design and construction sector over the next twelve years are still in education (many at primary school and have a whole secondary and university education in front of them)They need to be inspired and motivated for a built environment that will be radically different to the one we have today.

Reverse the Performance Gap
The performance gap between design and actual causes unnecessary co2 emissions. As with the Living Building Challenge, let’s make award of any sustainable standard only on achievement of or bettering of the agreed design intent. Perhaps planning should only be given, or priority given to buildings that positively make a contribution – on carbon, water, or air quality. A challenge for Building Regulations and Planning requirements to step up.

Grow from Thousands to Billions
Trees: “Our planet’s future climate is inextricably tied to the future of its forests,” states the 2018 IPCC report, calling for billions of trees to be planted and protected. We have the skills, materials and mindsets to design, construct and maintain buildings that function as trees. Perhaps the flagship here is the Bullitt centre, but we have thousands of buildings around the world that have regenerative attributes. Building on the title of the 2018 World Green Building Council report we can ramp this up from Thousands to Billions – to all buildings.

Monarch Butterfly (selected as cover image for FutuREstorative)

FutuREgenerative

In 2016, FutuREstorative sought to set out what a new sustainability could look like, moving thinking in the built environment from the ‘reducing harm’ sustainability business as usual approach to one that is restorative, regenerative with a connected worldview. working with natural systems, healing harm done in the past.

I must admit I shied away from using the word regenerative in the title of the 2016 edition. Within the UK regenerative has had an uncomfortable meaning, associated with ‘building schools for the future’ and other less successful programmes. As a Project Manager for a regeneration programme in East Lancashire, I saw first hand, just how uncomfortable the ‘regeneration’ label sat with local communities and the wider sustainability agendas.

I am delighted that FutuREstorative has been adopted by many practices (it has inspired at least two start-ups that I know of here in the UK), is being translated into Portuguese and has been adopted by academic organisations around the world. It has also provided the backbone for the EU COST RESTORE programme.

However, and thankfully, the world of sustainability has moved on a-pace, much has progressed from 2016, (Paris, SDG’s, IPCC and WWF reports) Increasingly we hear much more, and are seeing more examples of regenerative sustainability and ecologically principled design in relation to our buildings,  And this includes regenerative buildings that are designed to heal people and planet.  I see this as part of what Daniel Wahl refers to as ‘regeneration rising’ but are far from reaching a tipping point.

So, into 2019, my plans are to …

update FutuREstorative, reframing and possibly re-titling as FutuREgenerative to reflect current regenerative activities globally and pushing our thinking further. Over the coming weeks I will be collating regenerative stories and looking for blog style contributions from those at the sharp end of regenerative sustainability, within the built environment and beyond

further support and enable the communities of practice and discussion groups that have emerged and are growing around FutuREstorative 

If you would like to get involved in sharing your stories and experience through FutuREstorative communities of practice then please do reach out.

Together we can do this …

Vitosha Mountain, walking health, stone rivers and natural patterns …

The merits of walking, of connecting with nature, bringing nature into cities and city people into nature is one of the current sustainability and health zeitgeists. It is increasingly a prescribed remedy by GP’s.

Back in 1895 a famous Bulgarian writer, Aleko Konstantinov, persuaded 300 or so people to leave ‘dusty streets’ and ‘stuffy cafes’ of Sofia to take a refreshing walk from the city centre to the top of Vitosha mountain – Cherni Vrah (Black Peak) A mountain that has now become synomous with Sofia

In front of the National Theatre there’s a stone that marks the starting point of Aleko’s interesting journey.

IMG_5045.JPG

National Theatre, Sofia

I took that journey at the end of a COST Restore working group meeting in the city. Time prevented walking the whole distance from the Theatre, but through a combination of the city’s Metro, buses and taxis, I managed to take in a circular walk starting and finishing at the Aleko huts (1800m).

IMG_5095 2.JPG

Aleko Huts

IMG_5084.JPG

Above Sofia

IMG_5076.JPG

Cherni Vrah (Black Peak) Summit

Vitosha Nature Park, the oldest park on the Balkans, established in 1934 and famous for its ‘stone rivers’ – rock landforms forming lengthy ribbons of huge round boulders that run down the mountainside arising from granite rock erosion.

 

IMG_5100.JPG

Stone River. Natural Patterns.

Cities setting biophilic commitments.

Pittsburgh has become the latest city to be inducted into the Biophilic City network, setting ambitions and commitments to eliminate the use of all pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, to increase the city’s tree canopy from 42 percent to 60 percent by 2030, to pursue  the daylighting of streams in stormwater management efforts and to develop more greenways.

pexels-photo-94616-1

To qualify as a Biophilic City, cities work within a number of guidelines and monitoring indicators:

Guidelines:

  • Biophilic cities are cities of abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of urbanites; biophilic cities are biodiverse cities, that value, protect and actively restore this biodiversity; biophilic cities are green and growing cities, organic and natureful;
  • In biophilic cities, residents feel a deep affinity with the unique flora, fauna and fungi found there, and with the climate, topography, and other special qualities of place and environment that serve to define the urban home; in biophilic cities citizens can easily recognise common species of trees, flowers, insects and birds (and in turn care deeply about them);
  • Biophilic cities are cities that provide abundant opportunities to be outside and to enjoy nature through strolling, hiking, bicycling, exploring; biophilic cities nudge us to spend more time amongst the trees, birds and sunlight.
  • Biophilic cities are rich multi-sensory environments, where the sounds of nature (and other sensory experiences) are appreciated as much as the visual or ocular experience; biophilic cities celebrate natural forms, shapes, and materials;
  • Biophilic cities place importance on education about nature and biodiversity, and on providing many and varied opportunities to learn about and directly experience nature; in biophilic cities there are many opportunities to join with others in learning about, enjoying, deeply connecting with, and helping to steward nature, whether though a nature club, organised hikes, camping in city parks, or volunteering for nature restoration projects;
  • Biophilic cities invest in the social and physical infrastructure that helps to bring urbanites to closer connection and understanding of nature, whether through natural history museums, wildlife centres, school-based nature initiatives, or parks and recreation programs and projects, among many others;
  • Biophilic cities are globally responsible cities that recognise the importance of actions to limit the impact of resource use on nature and biodiversity beyond their urban borders; biophilic cities take steps to actively support the conservation of global nature.

Indicators

  • Natural Conditions (eg % of forest or tree canopy cover, % working/living within 300m of green space, area of green roofs, living walls)
  • Biophilic Engagement ( eg daily visits to green spaces, flora and fauna eco-literacy, outdoor activity membership)
  • Biophilic Institutions, planning and governance, (eg city budget allocated to nature conservation, restoration education)
  • Human Health and Wellbeing (% spending 30 mins + in urban nature, in outdoor activities, equitable and just access to nature)

Other aspects of a biophilic city include bird friendly, water friendly (blue urbanism) and dark sky preservation.

Other Biophilic Cities include Wellington, NZ; Birmingham, UK; Victoria Gasteiz ; Spain; Portland, USA and Singapore.

The Biophilic City website has a wealth of information, stories and resources.