Tag Archives: John Muir

4 Laws of Ecology: Revisited

Four Lawas of Ecology

I undertook the task earlier this week of reviewing references for our upcoming RESTORE working group publication {Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative}. One of those references was to Barry Commoner’s popular quote and definition on ecology, that the first law of ecology is that everything is connected.

This lead me to pick up a copy and re-read deeper into Commoner’s 1971 The Closing Circle and revisit the Four Laws of Ecology.  The Closing Circle describes the ecosphere, how it has been damaged, and the economic, social, and political systems which have created our environmental crises. It gives us a clear and concise understanding of what ecology means that is evermore relevant today.

And timely, Commoner’s second law – everything must go somewhere – resonates with a comment I gave to our local Lancashire Evening Post on plastic pollution. (We need to We need to be critically questioning single use plastics and acutely aware of plastics impact on health and the environment – and be aware of what happens when we throw plastic away – as really, there is no ‘away’)

The First Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

The Second Law of Ecology: Everything Must go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown. Any waste produced in one ecological process is recycled in another. A core principle for the Circular Economy.

The Third Law of Ecology: Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but any human change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system” And in the context of chemicals of concern we are looking to eradicate from buildings (through eg the ILFI Red List) “The absence of a particular substance in nature, is often a sign that it is incompatible with the chemistry of life”

The Fourth Law of Ecology: There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Exploitation of nature, will always carry an ecological cost and will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless.

The four laws warn that every gain is won at some cost. Because our global ecosystem is a connected whole, any impact, anything extracted from nature by human effort must be replaced. There is no avoidance of this price and delay only creates the ecological disruption and biodiversity loss we are witnessing.

This reinforces statements I make so often in presentations (see Specifi Edinburgh and RESTORE Budapest for example) and within FutuREstorative, that sustainability is the point at which we start to give back more than we take, and that we no longer have the luxury to just reduce our impact but we have delayed too long to do more good to rebalance the ecosystem equilibrium.

 

 

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Equality, Respect, Image, Sustainability … all connected.

‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe’ John Muir

With todays International Womens Day, falling mid week of the National Apprentice Week and concurrent with Eco Build, here are my thoughts on the inter-connectivity of equality, respect, image with sustainability.

Earlier this morning I shared on twitter what I thought was a  brilliant quote, seen within a full page ad in todays papers for International Womens Day under the #RewritingtheCode hashtag

“Because none of us can move forward if half of us are held back” #IWD2017 #RewritingTheCode

This is a topic dear to me, and as I concluded within FutuREstorative …

There can be no sustainability in an unequal world. Indeed sustainability should embrace the three E’s of ecology, economy and equality.

As part of our sustainability journey, the language of construction also needs to evolve – from one that is perhaps too combative, technical and confrontational to one that is mindful, and embraces a language of collaboration, sharing, care and love.

I return to and close, for now, with one of the most important and powerful of the Living Building Challenge’s aims: the transition to a socially just, ecologically restorative and culturally rich future.

These points were emphasised just last week in my talks at a Baxall supply chain workshop that focused on Sustainability, the Sustainable Development Goals, Modern Slavery and FIR, Fairness, Inclusion and Respect

Untitled 2

Slide from Sustainability, Modern Slavey and FIR Presentation

So, as Eco Build progresses with Redefining Sustainability then it is important and encouraging that the wider sustainability aspects of health, just, equality, respect and inclusion are taking center stage. A sustainability stage that will see the rather passive Brundtland definition replaced by the positive and proactive SDGs.

SDG

Connecting the Dots …. The Sustainability Development Goals. 

A Sense of Urgency

I was delighted to be invited to present in Italy (REGENERATION Edition 2 in Dro, Trentino) and Scotland (SEDA Green Drinks in Ayr) recently on insights from FutuREstorative, updates from the LBC Cuerdon Valley Park project and in the case of many at SEDA, introduce the Living Building Challenge.

The Ayr event fell on John Muir’s Birthday and on the eve of Earth Day 2016, so this made a fitting and related introduction, and I guess constituted my annual EarthDay presentation, (something I have done at numerous events annually since 2009 – 2009 presentation is on slideshare here)

Cowed: A Book Review

imagesCowed:  The Hidden Impact of 93 million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture and Environment, 

Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes

Do Cows hibernate Dad? asked one of my sons a decade or so ago when we moved into rural Lancashire, noticing that cows were absent in the fields during winter months and as then not aware of the noisy, steamy and rather smelly over wintering cow sheds. One of the rural spring treats which we will witness soon, is when the cows are let out into the spring green fields, where they literally can jump for joy like spring lambs. the word cavorting* would seem invited for just this occasion.

Cowed is an entertaining and educating insight into the American relationship with its cattle, triggered by the authors visit in the UK and noticing how very different cattle in UK fields appeared to that seen or indeed out of sight in the US.

From Cowboys through to intelligent, mechanised milking, Denis and Gail provide real insights from their environmentalism knowledge, (Denis was cofounder of Earthday in the 70’s, now founder /CEO of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle and a recent guest on our #sustldrconv series,  Gail is an Environmental lawyer, health writer and editor)

Throughout, I was reminded of John Muir’s comment that ‘when we tug on one part of nature we find it joined to everything else”, This may be as on the day I started reading Cowed, I visited a botanical garden in Vancouver where this quote was engraved into the floor and entrance screens.

Nevertheless, for me it summed up one of Cowed’s core themes. That the Cow, which we have removed from natural habituation and domesticated or rather industricated, is now so intrinsically linked to so many aspects of our lives from food to furniture and in doing so, uncoupled from its natural connections and bio-relationship with soil, air and water.

Cowed provided, for me a straightforward  explanation of the recent research, debate and controversy on natural cattle grazing patterns and impact for soil carbon sequestration based around the work of Allan Savory. This is something I had come across before on a TED talk but poorly understood.

Living in rural Lancashire I easily recognised the description of dairy farming within the first few pages, but I struggled to recognise the US description of cattle management in the remainder of the book, perhaps with the exception of the cattle ranching images from old Westerns!. Yet Cowed does highlight issues we here in the UK need to be aware of and guard against as concepts of mega farms are proposed and debated here.

*to jump or move around in a playful way, sometimes noisily, and often in a sexual way

Leopold, Muir and Badger Cull

Thoughts and quotes that come to mind as the Badger Cull trial in Gloucester and Somerset approaches, and how we never listen to great wilderness and nature minds …

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”
― Aldo Leopold Sand Country Alamanac

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

John Muir My First Summer in the Sierra

environmental literature top 5

Looking at the search topics entered to land at isite, the subject of environmental literature, movies, music and people features large. So starting a new mini series of environmental muses, I scanned my book shelf for what I would consider five of the more important environmental literature that has influenced my thinking over the years. Other topics will include music, environmental handbook or guidance texts, videos and people that have shaped my views.

Environmental Literature top 5:

Very much influenced by ecology, relationships with the great outdoors and connectivity with nature, these are not about climate change, about zero carbon or even sustainability, but fundamental to my understanding of how we approach environment and ecological issues.

Yvon Chouinard – Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman 

An autobiography that brings CSR firmly into business. Every time I have done the write thing for the environment I have made a profit write Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing organisation. Any organisation serious about Corporate Social Responsibility should read and learn from this one.Not surprisingly Anti Roddick recommended this book for every school teaching business.

Henry Thoreau – Walden: Or, Life in the Woods 

The classic, often quoted, I first read this in-situ in New England in the late 1970’s after visiting Walden Pond, and remains a book that I dip into again and again. The notion of living simply in a cabin in the woods has always been appealing – but for me it would now be on the Isle of Skye with Internet access!

Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac: With other Essays on Conservation from `Round River’ (Galaxy Books)

Aldo Leopold was an American ecologist and environmentalist, For me this contains a classic passage that still haunts me when I read it – reminding us of the connection we need to find between everyday life and nature.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra: The Journal of a Soul on Fire 

A journey in which Muir makes connections with nature. In the UK The John Muir Trust is one of the country’s leading guardians of wild land and wildlife. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States. His writings and philosophy strongly influenced the formation of the modern environmental movement.

Robert MacFarlane The Wild Places

A tour through McFarlane ‘s Wild Places in the UK serves as a reminder of why we need wild places, and what wildness means to us, even if we don’t get to see them, and only view them from maps, TV programmes and sat navs. It is also a book that laments about ecological damage. It is about experiencing the wild places, some to be found in very unexpected places. And in the case of McFarlane, experience means sleeping wild, including on frozen Lakeland tarns – and swimming in wild waters.

Limiting this list to 5 was hard and had to leave out Jim Perrin one of our best current essayists – from his 1970’s essay on the Centre for Alternative Technology (within Yes, to Dance: Essays from outside the Stockade) to his current piece in The Great Outdoors and Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

What would you add? What are your environmental literature muses?

sustainable connectivity

A new look for isite with a new image on the top banner(*). I like this design as it includes a RSS button – to get isite delivered to your desktop, and a search facility to search back through isite items.

But a little more too. After reflection on this blogs contents and direction, I have slightly amended the purpose of isite.

Yes it will continue to be a news views and comments blog for the built environment, poking here and there when things dont seem quite right or dubious, or indeed covered with greenwash. It will continue to be a voice to the online world for the Lancashire Best Practice Construction Club and to a lesser degree the CKE, and will continue to focus on collaborative working, integrated working, facilities management, futures and improvement towards excellence. The emerging web2.0 or even 3.0, and I include second life here, is an important theme that links and enables allot of what we, what I do, so will remain a key element of the posts and comments.

isite is also of course the outlet to the world for my business – fairsnape.  (the name was taken from the local hill in the Forest of Bowland visible from my base here)

However, more importantly I see isite starting to look at connectivity with the natural environment. A number of activities I have been involved with lately has made me realise we may be where we are today because we have lost, and struggling to regain connectivity with our impact on ecology in its widest sense.

What does this mean? – Ecological footprints more than carbon footprints – as John Muir said when we tug on a single thing in nature we find it attached to everything else . – natural materials rather than harmful – renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, community based FM rather than endless target driven fm, about responsible sourcing rather than supply chain bullying, all putting a new direction to CSR.

I have long used the triptych of fit for people purpose and planet (before it became enshrined into the triple bottom line concept I like to think) . It is what Patrick Geddes would call folk, work and place, nearly a century ago, and reading Satish Kumar over the weekend – he described our modern trinity as needing soil, soul and society. Soil for the environment. soul for a spiritual dimension and society for justice.

Kumar a great walker – now based at the Schumacher college in Dartmoor, that incidentally run courses on Zen and Construction, talks about never trusting ideas that you never worked through whilst walking. “when you walk you are connected with nature, when in a car or a building your are disconnected, you walk to connect yourself”.

A while ago I started a benchmark walking programme to do just this – getting workshops and learning sharing events out of a training room or hotel into the countryside. With a loose agenda that emerges to deal with peoples real improvement needs, benchmarkwalks allows real learning and sharing, I likened it to doing business on a golf course – but this is business improving on a walk.

So all this as a preamble to a new thread for isite – connectivity – one I hope that will give it more scope, depth and importance as we address the sustainability issues, the soil, soul and society issues facing the built environment.

(* taken at Beacon Fell, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire recently – a location for many benchmarkwalks)