Category Archives: nature

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.

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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).

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Aleko Huts

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Above Sofia

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

UK among the most nature-depleted countries in the world…

Agriculture, Urbanisation, Wetland and Forestry Management alongside Climate Change are the cause in a significant drop in the health and state of UK nature and wildlife. The State of Nature 2016 report published today describing the UK as “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”

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The 2016 Report led by the RSPB and the collaborative effort of over 50 conservation organisations details the dramatic decline in nature as a result of climate change “overwhelming negative” agriculture, industrialisation and urbanisation, pointing out that it is not just historical but continues today.

The report highlights the positive efforts with examples of natural habitat and wildlife recovery but sadly points out there are too few to prevent a tipping point, citing how public funding for biodiversity has decreased by a third over the last 7 years.

Of particular interest, relating to the current surge of interest of nature within the health, wellbeing and biophilic agendas, and recognition of biophilia and rewilding as the secret sauce for sustainability, is the report’s Connection to Nature Index.

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  • Nature can have positive impacts on young people’s education, physical health, emotional well-being, and personal and social skills,
  • Only 21% of eight to 12-year-olds in the UK currently have a level of connection to nature that is considered to be a realistic and achievable target for all children.
  • Children who were more connected to nature had significantly higher English attainment” and that there are “strong correlations between [connection to nature] and pro-nature behaviours and pro-environmental behaviours.”

 

 

Going Wild for 30 Days

From 1st – 30th June 2016. The UK WildLife Trusts are running a month-long nature challenge.

Reconnecting with nature through campaigns such as #30DaysWild can be seen as part of the secret sauce for sustainability behaviour. We spend 90% of our time inside buildings, and as our relationship with nature disconnects, then our tolerance for respecting the environment and behaving sustainably will diminish.

Rewilding Nature, Rewilding Buildings and Rewilding People is a key aspect in addressing sustainability, health and building performance gaps.

 

Here, then are my #30DaysWild plans …

  1. Stop to appreciate nature, birds and wildlife when cycling
  2. Spread the word about biophilia and rewilding within construction circles
  3. Sleep out under stars
  4. Climb a tree
  5. Re Read Feral
  6. List all the trees in our garden
  7. Visit Brockholes Nature Reserve
  8. Garden with bare hands
  9. Plant trees
  10. Turn off technology for a day
  11. Identify 10 ‘weeds’
  12. Support Curedon Valley Park visitor centre project
  13. Present at least once on Living Building Challenge
  14. Walk in the rain
  15. Bivy or Bothy by Bike
  16. Create log pile
  17. Take time to identify dawn chorus birds by birdsong
  18. Capture nature, wildlife, birds,  with GoPro
  19. Catch a sunset from a Bowland Fell
  20. Add a twibbon to twitter account
  21. Brew coffee on a hill, mountain top
  22. Share extracts from FutuREstorative
  23. Capture nature in images for future presentations
  24. Reinvigorate our compost heap
  25. Take time to site and tune into nature
  26. Stargazing – become familiar with a new constellation or cluster
  27. Read Wild – An Elemental Journey’ has been on reading list too long!
  28. Shop by bike, not car
  29. Bring pond back to life
  30. Watch sunrise from Bleasdale Woodhenge

Join in & do something wild every day for a month and share with #30DaysWild

 

Ecologically Rethinking Construction

Jonathan Dawson, head of economics at Schumacher College, writing on Guardian Sustainable Business asked “How do we redesign a new economic theory framed by ecological systems?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA question we need to ask and start addressing within the built environment.

We are seeing a new vocabulary emerging with concepts such as biomimicry, zero or net energy, water and environmental impact, Living Buildings, biophillia, circular economy … and more … As the interest and importance of these concepts influence in the way we design, build and use buildings, do we need a new paradigm?  Some 15 years after Egan, do we need to again rethink construction to address these emergent sustainability themes. approaches and skills that once again the sector is lacking, engaging the economists, surveyors and accountants? As Jonathan Dawson comments:

Ecology offers the insight that the economy is best understood as a complex adaptive system, more a garden to be lovingly observed and tended than a machine to be regulated by mathematically calculable formulae.

A comment that makes a nice resonance with the Living Building Challenge philosophy

And of course a key element in this new thinking is the internet, web 2.0 and the power of social media.

Enabled by the growing power of information technology, whole new ways of doing business and organising society are emerging, whose strength lies not in economies of scale but in economies of co-operation and symbiosis

Over the weekend , via twitter I caught a slide via Rachel Armstrong illustrating the difference and need to move from 20th century Cartesian or Newtonian thinking into 21st complexity, emergent thinking …

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Jonathan Dawson: “This moment of history calls on us to rewrite the dictionary and create new stories, much as the generations following on from Copernicus did to reflect the new world-view that emerged from his astronomical insights”