Regular readers and subscribers to my Fairsnape blog here will be aware that I have shifted platforms to a substack called Regen/Notes that provides a better blogging experience as a email based newsletter.
If you have enjoyed my blog posts here (and they go back to 2007) please do pop over and read or subscribe there. There is also much content here on this site so it won’t be abandoned (see pages on About, Zoom Regenerative, Publications and Downloads)
Recent posts over on the substack Regen Notes pages have been on a COP27 and COP15 theme of nature-positive, including …
An area of nearby Beacon Fell in the Forest of Bowland, was felled by high winds a few years ago and then recently cleared by forestry operations leaving acres of tree stumps. It is an area where we have taken over 100 daily walks in 2020, since the first lockdown back in March, giving the privilege to watch the area regenerate through spring, across the summer months and now into autumn, preparing for new growth.
One of the fascinating, mesmerising and mindful observations is not in the self seeding saplings, abundant foxgloves, or the increase in scrub, but in the minutiae of lichens, mosses and ferns around and on the remaining stumps. A miniature eco system (reluctant to call it a miniature garden!) of Electrified Cat’s Tail moss (I think … Mosses and Lichens are visually and intriguingly named – Oakmilk, Witches Butter, Devils Matchsticks … )
Mosses and liverworts, arriving by air as invisible spores, thrive on these flat, porous surfaces left by chainsaws, free from the shade cast by surrounding brambles and ferns. Some recently cut stumps are already showing signs of colonisation; deeper in the forest I found others, felled a decade ago, that have become luxuriant moss gardens.
It’s tempting to think of evolutionary success stories as inexorable advances in complexity, driven by competition. But there is another, less anthropocentric, dimension: resilience. The lowly organisms in front of me, whose origins span unimaginable geological timescales, now colonising remains of fallen giants, survived cataclysmic global mass extinctions. Mobility, as spores carried everywhere on the wind, has been their enduring asset in an ever-changing world.
Kimmerer is also author of Gathering Moss, which is where this wonderful interview starts, asking the question “What can Mosses teach us about uncertainty” ?”and provides insights to learning and connecting with nature as we find ourselves in lockdown here in the UK, and elsewhere around the world, once again. Gathering Moss is described by Maria Popova on BrainPickings as “an extraordinary celebration of smallness and the grandeur of life, as humble yet surprisingly magical as its subject — botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer extends an uncommon and infectious invitation to drink in the vibrancy of life at all scales and attend to our world with befitting vibrancy of feeling”
Janice Lee: In this time of intense grief, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s work resonates with the wisdom of the entire plant world, its past and present and future. Plants are not simply of the world, passively shaped by external forces—they are world-builders, and they make it possible for the rest of us to exist.
RKW: Mosses are so very permeable. I think about them in contrast to higher plants, which have barriers and boundaries, waxy leaves and so forth, trying to keep the inside in and the outside out. But mosses don’t have that capacity and therefore they’re really intimate with their environment. And that means there is a relinquishment of control. When moss dries out, it dries out. But that’s not the end of the world. You just wait and it’ll be wet again. And, you know, no harm done. It’s that notion of control and having all needs satisfied—or all wants satisfied—at all times that, of course, our society and our economies have really propelled us toward. That notion that we’re entitled to the wealth of the world and to comfort and to convenience is pretty new for humans. And those comforts and conveniences themselves can be barriers to intimacy and connection and relationality because they make us think it’s all about us and our needs, which are not independent of the needs and desires of the millions of other species on the planet
RKW: Because mosses have, as you know, a strong sense of philopatry, that love of home. They live “here” in a very specific niche and not anyplace else (many of them). By staying home, people and mosses are able to engage in reciprocal relationships with place. That place is taking care of you, but in order for that to happen, you have to take care of that place, which mosses do, and which people can do when they are rooted in place.
And wow, the autumn sky colours we are seeing now as sunset coincides with our daily evening walks, and we find ourselves adjusting work patterns to make time to be on the fell to catch the sundown light.
Whilst writing a technical built environment blog post on emerging from the crisis of lockdown, I tuned into a wonderful book group session on Zoom with Robin Wall Kimmerer and Robert Macfarlane, with Robin reading from her book Braiding Sweetgrass, an exploration of our sense of place, our sense of reciprocity with nature.
Discussions between Robert, Robin and in the chat grounded on ‘reciprocity’ with nature, with place and with community, citing our 8pm UK hand clapping for key workers ” a beating of pots and pans with gratitude and reciprocity” Illustrating the power of the softer, arguably more urgent and important aspects of connectivity with nature and each other as we exit from lockdown and isolation.
One of the participants on the discussion was write David Abram, who by chance popped up in a tweet mention from Daniel Wahl this morning, quoting from Abram’s article in Emergence Magazine, (who hosted the book event, the nature writing course I am taking and other upcoming book reading groups as part of their community outreach)
Abrams writing“In the Ground of our Unknowing’ is insightful ‘finding beauty in the midst of shuddering terror, and isolated, we can turn to nature to empower our empathy for each other …. “
Right now, the earthly community of life—the more-than-human collective—is getting a chance to catch its breath without the weight of our incessant industry on its chest.
Much that influences the future shape of our societies will ride on how we emerge from this crisis—assuming we do emerge—how we transition out of the strangely suspended dreamscape in which we suddenly find ourselves adrift.
Governments and their administrative agencies will play their roles as best they can, each trying to claw or engineer its way back into the daylit realm. But the textures and tastes that eventually come to predominate, the rhythms of community in our bioregion, the generosity and convivial ethos of the larger body politic—or the robotic and bureaucratic rigidity of that body politic—will to a large extent be determined by the choices each of us makes in this cocoon-like, shape-shifting moment.
The future will be sculpted, that is, by the elemental friendships and alliances that we choose to sustain us, by our full-bodied capacity for earthly compassion and dark wonder, by our ability to listen, attentive and at ease, within the forest of our unknowing.
Connecting with nature should be easy. It surrounds us, and we are ourselves part of nature. From early TQM and worship facilitation days, I used getting out of the classroom, hotel or business conference room for a walk as means of introducing more energy and creativity into the sessions. Indeed my approach to connecting, although not called that in the 1990’s (I referred to this as finding your site spot to think) was to
Find a nice spot
Today we may add do not share the experience through social media, its yours – something inconceivable back in those 1990’s business or university construction improvement modules.
Yet, as we spend 90%+ of our time indoors, getting out into green space to find that nice spot is not easy for all. We are greening our buildings and spaces with biophilic design, more green landscaping, and great initiatives:
The 10 minute initiative is a USA mayoral programme to ensure everyone in their cities has high-quality park or green space within 10-minute walk of their home or office. Whilst this sounds a great, just try walking in a city for 10, even 5 minutes, through our typical built environments, it is quite a stretch.
We have wonderful green community spaces emerging within our inner cities. I visited the Phoenix Community Garden in London recently as research for a possible community garden in our local Lancashire town. We need more of this.
London contractor Modus, encouraging project staff and operatives to eat lunch in green space through maps showing where they can find green space close to the project.
But connecting with nature is not just about health …
In FutuREstorative I referred to biophilia as the Secret Sauce for Sustainability. The more biophilic connectivity with nature we have within our built environment, the better the access to real nature connectivity, then the better our sustainability behaviour, and importantly the better our creativity and imagination for regenerative climate crisis solutions.
Although over recent years in the built environment, ‘on our watch’, we have been discussing and to varying degree implementing biodiversity net gain, biodiversity units, action plans, habitat exchange, ecology of place, connectivity with nature and biophilic design. Yet today’s State of Nature report paints a dire picture of decline and loss of so many species and habitats. And, worryingly, reports no significant improvement since the 2016 State of Nature report, that labelled the UK as “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.
Causes of the losses are reported as intensification of farming, pollution, plastic, urbanisation – destruction of habitats for houses and development, hydrological change, the climate crisis and invasive alien species.
Over recent months many architects, civil, structural & service engineers and landscape architects have signed a biodiversity emergency declaration, in recognition that an emergency exists, to tell the truth and take regenerative, net positive actions to address. Now then is the time to act – and to consider every decision of design, construction and operation of buildings as being part of nature, rather than apart from nature.
Realigning how people understand and relate to the natural environment that sustains us. … The intent of the Living Building Challenge Place Petal
Jackie Morris in the latest episode of the excellent FolkonFoot podcast series mentioned that children in schools she had visited didn’t know what a wren or bluebell or dandelion was. This ‘revelation’ that led to the creation of The Lost Words with Robert Macfarlane and reinforced the importance of words, and reminded me, why in FutuREstorative, I referenced a passage from Robert Macfarlane.
In a recent revision to the Oxford Junior Dictionary, a number of entries no longer deemed appropriate to were deleted and replaced by more modern entries. As nature writer Robert Macfarlane noted: ‘The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow.’ These were replaced by block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. As Macfarlane said: ‘For “blackberry”, read “Blackberry’’’. This emphasises the need to re-wild our language as a precursor to understanding the importance of connectivity.”
Imagine if those children, oblivious to what a bluebell was, move on to a career role in construction, or design or planning. Being unaware of the ecological importance and cultural history, would they be less likely to protect, and more likely to sanction development?
The twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the most serious issue of our time. Buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.
Such a lack of knowledge reinforces the need for ecology, and or climate emergency however you wish to define it, be a taught not only in schools but also as an ecology 101 for all design, construction trade and management training programmes. As we move more and more towards natural solutions for our buildings and building services, understanding how natural ecological systems function is vital. Without such knowledge, we will not indeed be able to design buildings that function as trees, living buildings such as the Bullitt Center, still the greenest building in the world
(Buildings and Cities) behave so much like living organisms that it is time to begin thinking of them as such. They consume oxygen, water, fuel and other natural resources, and burp out the waste. They have circulatory systems and neural pathways and at least a reptilian sort of brain to provide governing impulses.
A Module Programme for students and professionals, based on FutuREstorative, takes participants from an understanding of culture and challenges, ecological and human health, through a new thinking to regenerative building standards and digital futures. For more information, just ask.
“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)
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)
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.
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 twitter, linkedin, 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:
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!
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Header Image: Mist Rolls Down, Roland Batke-Mutschler, Unsplash
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.
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