Sunday, May 29, 2011

Happy Memorial Day my friends

I will not write anything new this week, but have no fear - I will return to my regularly scheduled ranting soon.

This is a week dedicated to the brothers who never came back from Mosul. May you rest in peace.

Photo by: SGT Walter Gaya

"CPT Bill Jacobsen is in charge of the formation while 1SG Bordelon called out the names to make sure all are present. SPC Tommy Doerflinger, CPT Bill Jacobsen, SGT Robert Johnson, CPL Jonathan Castro, SPC Lionel Ayro, PFC Oscar Sanchez, SGT Nathanial Swindell, SGT Adam Plumondore, SPC Clint Gertson, SGT Anthony Davis. 1SG Mike Bordelon, SPC Tyler Creamean, 1LT Aaron Sessan, and SGT Ben “Rat” Morton. These 14 warriors now stand high above us overwatching us, providing guidance and direction in the most difficult times. Never was so much owed by so many to so few.

On this day, we ask almighty God to grant us patience and steadfast resolve in all that is to come. We ask the Master Physician to reach down and use his healing hand to heal our wounded brothers. May God Bless Deuce Four, 1st Brigade, and may God Bless America."

LTC Kurilla, commander of 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment

Iraq Campaign 2004-2005

Thursday, May 26, 2011

“Welcome to the Anthropocene,” but what the f’ is that?

I would dislike the word “Anthropocene” on facebook if I could dislike on facebook, but I’d be popping the happy bubble of social media. I will just dislike the word on my own page, please take all of the offenses to anthropocentricism as intended.

I first learned the family of words “anthropocentricity” from a philosophy professor who specialized in the theory of pain and is also an avid environmentalist. I thought the word, and all of its variations people use to pontificate, is rather ironic - here we are, talking about ourselves as if we were not here. But my professor insisted that we learn the word and its meaning. I remember thinking how odd it was to have a sense of distaste for the word even then, these days I can barely stand using it or reading it; but it’s like crack, once you are hooked, you are HOOKED.

I got my fix of that oh so sweet “crack” today reading the Economist. The article’s title drew me in, and immediately my Spidey senses kicked in:

“THE Earth is a big thing; if you divided it up evenly among its 7 billion inhabitants, they would get almost 1 trillion tonnes each.”

Only humans could imagine such a thing, as if no other creature mattered on earth and we could just cut it up and sell it. Does the author intent to use the anthropogenic meaning correctly? I kept reading. As it turned out, the Welcome into Anthropocene is a rather stern warning and yes, the author did in fact pontificate correctly. The minor confusion is perhaps for artistic value. Surprisingly, the article aimed its sights square on the heart of sustainability thinking.

“Almost 90% of the world’s plant activity, by some estimates, is to be found in ecosystems where humans play a significant role. Although farms have changed the world for millennia, the Anthropocene advent of fossil fuels, scientific breeding and, most of all, artificial nitrogen fertiliser has vastly increased agriculture’s power. The relevance of wilderness to our world has shrunk in the face of this onslaught. The sheer amount of biomass now walking around the planet in the form of humans and livestock handily outweighs that of all other large animals. The world’s ecosystems are dominated by an increasingly homogenous and limited suite of cosmopolitan crops, livestock and creatures that get on well in environments dominated by humans. Creatures less useful or adaptable get short shrift: the extinction rate is running far higher than during normal geological periods.”

I could not have said it any better. It’s obvious now why I dislike the word and my senses tingled when I see it in use. It also explains why I occasionally use the word when I have something to say. My professor had made sure we were sufficiently disgusted by the mere presence of the word that we inadvertently put human centered thinking subordinate to the holistic presences of everything else.

“For humans to be intimately involved in many interconnected processes at a planetary scale carries huge risks. But it is possible to add to the planet’s resilience, often through simple and piecemeal actions, if they are well thought through. And one of the messages of the Anthropocene is that piecemeal actions can quickly add up to planetary change.”

I think the Dali Lama had once said that when he is troubled, he would think of the eons and eons of our universe and the insignificance of our own existence and all of his worries would melt away: the mere ability to put yourself outside of an anthropocentric state of mind is enlightening, but it’s a disappointment if we cannot make any meaningful progress from it. I for one don’t want to be the blissful monk waiting for the world to change. I want to change the world.

“The Anthropocene is different. It is one of those moments where a scientific realisation, like Copernicus grasping that the Earth goes round the sun, could fundamentally change people’s view of things far beyond science. It means more than rewriting some textbooks. It means thinking afresh about the relationship between people and their world and acting accordingly.”

Here is the new lesson I learned today: acknowledging anthropocentricism is like confronting denial, what is left is progress. I had once been conditioned to loath the word, now it has to take on a whole new meaning – almost a paradigm shift.

I’m glad I have a tingling when I see the word anthropo-anything, it’s even more like pain – you feel it to feel alive and you want to do something about it. Just don't put a band-aid on it . . .

Should issues of worker health and safety fall beneath the purview of LEED?

A recent Cornell graduate, Ann Lui, argued for the human sustainability issues from a health and safety perspective. Her paper perked my interest because she made her case under the LEED principles. Since I am trying to pass my LEED and I am always one who wants to apply cross discipline principles, I am glad she did the ground work for me.

In her white paper, she wrote:

“While LEED attempts to stride forward in questions of occupant health, it stays stagnant in regards to worker safety. . . [It] only makes mention of worker safety in one credit (IEQ credit 3.1) which seems to be an afterthought.”

I think this is a prevalent problem in many professional certifications. Six Sigma has great potential to address sustainability problem, but its body of knowledge focuses on process improvement for mere profit gain. LEED focuses on green design and construction, successfully popularizing the environmental problem and adds incentives economically; it does nothing to shift our focus on equity. This lack of coherent and totality approach gives us yet another silo of earnest professionals who may end up being counterproductive to the sustainability movement.

“Once, green design was regarded as costly effort with no immediate payback, now LEED has become a prestigious certificate which can attract tenants, garner publicity, and even help get discounts from government agencies. It’s no secret that many owners and developers clamor to attain LEED certification whether or not they truly care about sustainability; this has been proven as LEED-rated buildings checked years later for performance frequently do not out perform their non-rated peers, and in some cases, significantly under-perform them.”

I haven’t looked into LEED’s community development path so I can’t say for sure that it is not moving in the right direction. But I agree with Lui that sustainability is more than just buying green, building a fashionable home for the rich. Sustainability is more than about eating a $10 salad and believing that you are making a difference.

“It is, after all, lives at stake. The MGM CityCenter in Las Vegas, an $8.5 billion dollar project constructed in 2008, includes six LEED gold rated buildings.[6] Yet six workers died during construction, a rash of tragic deaths that resulted in union picketing and workers refusing to continue on unsafe job sites.”

Sustainability is about the whole of human race and the many problems we face. Sustainability is a totality of experiences that confront old thinking and build new ones. As we move forward in our discovery of a new sustainable culture, let’s not revert back to a disembodied mentality of profit and gains. Let’s keep ecology, economy, and EQUALITY in mind and build something we can be proud to leave for our kids.

Ann Lui, a recent Cornell University graduate, is a Chicago-based writer and
designer. She is working at an architecture firm and has also written for Architect's Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine POV, and ArchNewsNow.

You can read the full text of Lui's paper here. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

EPA, DOT Unveil the Next Generation of Fuel Economy Labels

May 25, 2011

New information underscores increased efficiency, fuel savings achieved with the Obama Administration’s historic national car rule

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today are unveiling new fuel economy labels that will help consumers take advantage of the increased efficiency standards achieved under the Obama Administration that will save families money at the pump starting this year. The new labels, which are the most dramatic overhaul to fuel economy labels since the program began more than 30 years ago, will provide more comprehensive fuel efficiency information, including estimated annual fuel costs, savings, as well as information on each vehicle’s environmental impact. The new labels underscore the benefits of the historic, bipartisan passenger car and truck fuel economy rule adopted under this administration by the EPA and DOT in 2010.

These improvements will give consumers better, more complete information to consider when purchasing new vehicles that are covered by the increased fuel economy standards. Starting with model year 2013, the improved fuel economy labels will be required to be affixed to all new passenger cars and trucks – both conventional gasoline powered and “next generation” cars, such as plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

Upon taking office, President Obama directed DOT and EPA to prioritize the development of new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards, resulting in the historic standards that will be represented by these new labels. This is the latest step in EPA’s and DOT’s joint efforts to improve the fuel economy and environmental performance of vehicles and to provide consumers with useful information to inform their purchasing decisions.

The 2010 fuel economy rule, developed with input from major automakers, environmental groups, and the states, will dramatically increase the energy efficiency of cars and trucks built in model years 2012 through 2016, saving 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program and the average consumer $3,000 in fuel costs.

In July, the administration plans to finalize the first-ever national fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for commercial trucks, vans and buses built in 2014 to 2018. These standards are expected to save hundreds of millions of barrels of oil over the life of these vehicles and promote the development and deployment of alternative fuels, including natural gas. The administration is also developing the next generation of joint fuel economy/greenhouse gas emission standards for model year 2017-2025 passenger vehicles and expects to announce the proposal in September 2011.

The new labels announced today will help consumers take advantage of the new, more energy efficient fleet, allowing them to save money at the pump. Consumers will see the new labels in showrooms early next year, when 2013 models begin arriving. Automakers may also voluntarily adopt the new labels earlier for model year 2012 vehicles.

“President Obama’s work to shape a Clean Cars program is fostering a marketplace of cutting-edge American vehicles that are more fuel efficient than ever before. The EPA and DOT are creating a new generation of fuel economy labels to meet the needs of a new generation of innovative cars,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Today’s car buyers want the best possible information about which cars on the lot offer the greatest fuel economy and the best environmental performance. The new labels provide comprehensive information to American car buyers, helping them make a choice that will save money at the gas pump and prevent pollution in the air we breathe.”

“Our new fuel economy and environmental labels are a win for automobile consumers and for the nation’s energy independence,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “These labels will provide consumers with up front information about a vehicle’s fuel costs and savings so that they can make informed decisions when purchasing a new car.”

Broadcast quality video and audio of Administrator Jackson discussing today’s fuel economy label announcement is available for download at:

The new labels will for the first time provide:

· New ways to compare energy use and cost between new-technology cars that use electricity and conventional cars that are gasoline-powered.

· Useful estimates on how much consumers will save or spend on fuel over the next five years compared to the average new vehicle.

· Easy-to-read ratings of how a model compares to all others for smog emissions and emissions of pollution that contribute to climate change.

· An estimate of how much fuel or electricity it takes to drive 100 miles.

· Information on the driving range and charging time of an electric vehicle.

· A QR Code that will allow users of smartphones to access online information about how various models compare on fuel economy and other environmental and energy factors. This tool will also allow consumers to enter information about their typical commutes and driving behavior in order to get a more precise estimate of fuel costs and savings.

The new labels are required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Consumers can get more information about the new label at:

More information on the new label can be found at: and .

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

EPA administrator testifies before House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

I paid $3.38 a gallon today filling up my Ford Ranger. After a twenty cents per gallon savings from shopping at Kroger, my full tank cost me about $45. I was glad that I don’t drive much and my truck is pretty fuel efficient comparing to some of the gas-guzzlers out there. Lauren and I calculated some people we know may be spending just under a thousand dollars a month to fill up. We are glad we only pay about a fraction of that, but $45 still hurts the wallet these days.

But buying less oil is even better!

EPA administrator opened her prepared statement to the House and Govt. Reform Committee today with the topic of rising price of gas:

“. . . America cannot prevent gasoline and diesel prices from rising. Still, all else being equal, buying a barrel of American oil is better than buying a barrel of foreign oil.”

Brain, why is global destruction so difficult?

Ms. Jackson goes on to defend a air pollutant emission permit requirement for the drilling operations in Alaska. I guess the industry have been complaining that these silly environmental safeguards are government red-tapes, impeding economic progress and our path to energy independence.  I, for one, am in favorite of less government regulation. But I wonder if we turn a blind eye to these permit requirements, will our gas prices actually go back to $2 per gallon? or will it just line the pockets of a few "poor" oil companies and we are stuck with rising gas prices and inefficient cars and business operations? 

In her defense to the air pollutant emission permits, Ms. Jackson noted the amount of air pollutant emitted from a single one of these drilling operations can match the emissions of a large oil refinery. Just because most of us don't live in Alaska, it doesn't mean we shouldn't care about the air quality in Alaska.  I applaud her statements.

But then I was a bit disappointed by what she had to add. Being the careful politician that she is, Ms. Jackson also hailed “fracking” advances in technology to increase our natural gas resources. Is this a give to the tugs from the industry? Is she trading safe water for clean air? Is this the way politics are played?

I forgive her Washington sliminess because I know the EPA will make sure our corporate interests frack responsibly.


Ms. Jackson:
“The price we pay for natural gas is not set on a global market the way the price of oil is, and burning natural gas creates less air pollution than burning other fossil fuels. So increasing America’s natural gas production is a good thing.”

After all, if Congress has asked the EPA to “study the relationship between fracking and drinking water” we can be sure our water is safe to drink post-fracking . . .


“We are doing that, with input from technical experts, the public, and industry.”

That’s what she said . . .

In the meantime, EPA promises to protect local residents if a driller jeopardizes clean water and the state government does not act. I wonder what kind of things is the EPA prepared to do, how much will the industry attempt to pay their way through.

All that worrying aside, I am glad to hear Ms. Jackson address the fuel efficiency standards for new cars at the end of her statement. I’m an optimist, so that gives me the right to hope and believe we can do a lot better than ten miles per gallon, or thirty, or even fifty; I think sixty miles per gallon is the goal. I hope more people drive more sensible cars, drive less; and I hope the industry will create that market for us with a little bit of red-tape of mandates from Congress. I guess this is one area I hope for a bit more federal intervention, glad the EPA is standing firm on this issue.    

Thank you Madam Administrator, for setting your conscience clear.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Caution, I got my license to write from a Cracker Jack Box

(This post is rant and ramble at its best. I've been fighting off writer's block and trying to finish a legal paper at the same time. This is my attempt to find my way back from where I've gotten lost in the woods. 

This post also contains language not appropriate for minors. Read at your own risk, and please do not email me to complaint about this post. You assumed the risk when you marched forward. Enjoy) 

Love is everything. Love starts when you realized there is someone else there, someone else who is real and who matters to you.

Love is everything.

You can pay for love, or what is suppose to be love, at the Bunny Ranch.

The Bunny Ranch is a house in Nevada. A lot of beautiful women live there selling love as a commodity. They take us for fools, and we take them to be whores – a misunderstanding on both. But that is the way things goes on this planet. We all seem to misunderstand each other.

So we gladly buy what they sell and we don’t call it love. We call it sex and we make laws about it to make us feel better. Because we can’t seem to find love, we like to tell others why they shouldn’t find love either; if we are going to pay for this stuff, we might as well make it hard to buy so we’d have more incentives to enjoy the fantasy we are buying.

And in the course of a few thousand years, we learned to make laws that made no sense; there are a lot of things about humanity that made no sense. We keep on making laws about those things as well.

Most of us live with a law that says we can’t buy love, as if we know why love is sacred and cannot be bought or sold. We also have laws about how we must find love. A lot of us still want to impose our idea of love onto others.

The Bunny Ranch in Nevada is in a place where people are told how to find love, but at least they are sensible enough to allow knock-offs for love, knock-offs they believe to be reasonable substitutes for love.

Young men who are sent to war goes to the place to buy love before they die. They are too young to know what true love is. We pay the government, who then pays these young men to kill or be killed. They use what they get from us, from the government, for the value of their short lives, and they buy cheap knock-offs for what I think of as love.

It doesn’t seem fair.

The Bunny Ranch doesn’t think it’s fair. I’ve heard that if you are one of those young men on an active order to a war zone, you can get a credit for some free love from the bunnies.

An active order to a war zone is like a winning lottery ticket to a place where confused young men and women are sent to get blown to pieces by home made bombs. Some people of this part of the world misunderstood one thing or another about us and they think of these young men as their enemy, infidels. I was trained to help these young men as a medic in those idiotic explosive experiments, I had to try and save some lives before it’s too late for all of us.

That meant I had an automatic winning ticket to a war zone. I never got to cash-in on my free love.

But that’s okay. I found my love. I got to come home in one piece to find that love and learn its wonderful meanings related to the whole complete world.

Having made it home in one piece made me feel the faint acceleration of life taking hold. Having met Lauren led me to find ways to discover my self in love. I’ve come to see love as not just who I am metaphysically, or how I speak of cheesy things in tacky poems. (I once thought of love in a deep introspective way, and I forget that what I am is but an insignificant part of the whole – a whole so monumental that makes me so meaningless, but my love for the world so meaningful.)

Having learned to see things less anthropocentrically, having found a love that forces me to look at things outside of me, I’ve come to appreciate love in a whole new different way.

by Kahlil Gibran
Love is more than a metaphysical concept. Love is a way we connect with the world. Anything you put love into you will receive equal amount in return.

But we have lost that sense for love. Great prophets gave us specific instructions to love the world, but we seem to not want to learn the lesson. We want what is cheap and easy, we want a book to tell us what to do, not a philosophy to tell us how to love.

We devised bibles, manuscripts, and stories to enhance the metaphysical love. We pass laws about buying love, some we allow: mail-ordered-brides, best-selling trashy novels, classic tales about love and death, of Romeo and Juliet. Some we prohibit: gay marriage, growing our own crops.

I’m not qualified to argue for gay marriage. But I am an expert eater so that makes me an expert witness for the love of food.

Unlike the kind of metaphysical love, the kind you can only buy knock-offs in Nevada, the physical aspect of love for life that comes from food can be purchased cheaply in ever corner on earth. We are trying to put up as many food whorehouses as we can: McDonalds, Burger King, Panda Express. We hire even younger fools to work these places, to sell knock-offs of our love for food.

We pass stupid laws that say we can also discriminate the kind of love we get form food. It has to be inspected, pesticided, fertilized, fossilized . . . it has to be demoralized. We are paying for this stuff after all, making ourselves feel better about whoring out our love for food, we tax ourselves. Nothing different from the Bunny Ranch, yet somehow it’s better to sell fake love this way.

The pay back: doctor bills, a fast food nation, and detachment from our families and the world.

I’ve come home in one piece for this love. I never cashed-in on my free love from the Bunny Ranch in Nevada; I sometimes buy cheap love from KFC. But others have given their lives for me to have a chance to find real love.

So I did. 

Since I’ve met Lauren, I’ve found my way to love. I grow what little bit of food I can in my yard each year to love my food. Lauren helps me and we enjoy our times spent. I cook as much as I can to love my food. Lauren started to learn how to make different things to love our food. We love life and we just love food.

We are working on finding exactly how far we have traveled away from our love for food and how far we have to travel back to love food again. Others tell us we have gone about 1,500 miles a meal. I’ve also gone across the ocean back to China, more than 7,000 miles, to rediscover my love for food...

We are working on making our way back. 1,500 miles a meal is too far to travel to love our food.

Love is everything. Love starts when you realized there is someone else there, someone else who is real and who matters to you. Food is real, and should matter to you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Stockholm Memorandum: Tipping the Scales towards Sustainability

“The Earth system is complex. There are many aspects that we do not yet understand. However, we are the first generation with the insight of the new global risks facing humanity. We face the evidence that our progress as the dominant species has come at a very high price.

Unsustainable patterns of production, consumption, and population growth are challenging the resilience of the planet to support human activity. At the same time, inequalities between and within societies remain high, leaving behind billions with unmet basic human needs and disproportionate vulnerability to global environmental change.”

That was the beginning of a compelling report generated by some 20 Nobel laureates. They were called to Stockhom to draft a warning to the human race: change our ways or perish.

“Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. . . We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence.

Our predicament can only be redressed by reconnecting human development and global sustainability, moving away from the false dichotomy that places them in opposition.

In an interconnected and constrained world, in which we have a symbiotic relationship with the planet, environmental sustainability is a precondition for poverty eradication, economic development, and social justice.

Our call is for fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change and move toward fair and lasting prosperity for present and future generations.”

The group recommended a dual track approach to tackle our sustainability crisis.

“a) emergency solutions now, that begin to stop and reverse negative environmental trends and redress inequalities within the current inadequate institutional framework, and

b) long term structural solutions that gradually change values, institutions and policy frameworks. We need to support our ability to innovate, adapt, and learn.”

Specifically, the group pointed out our problems with

“[u]nequal distribution of the benefits of economic development are at the root of poverty. . . more than a third of the world’s population still live on less than $2 per day. . . Environment and development must go hand in hand."

They recognized our challenges of social inequity and proposed to:

“Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, in the spirit of the Millennium Declaration, recognising that global sustainability is a precondition of success; and

[a]dopt a global contract between industrialized and developing countries to scale up investment in approaches that integrate poverty reduction, climate stabilization, and ecosystem stewardship.”

Let’s not forget that the best way of achieving a global scale sustainability, we need to localize investments to integrate poverty education in a distributed way utilizing social technology – invest locally and connect globally.

The group then proposed some basic steps to cure our climate change and they emphasized again on the importance of energy access in equity on a global scale:

“Keep global warming below 2oC, implying a peak in global CO2 emissions no later than 2015 and recognise that even a warming of 2oC carries a very high risk of serious impacts and the need for major adaptation efforts.

Put a sufficiently high price on carbon and deliver the G-20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, using these funds to contribute to the several hundred billion US dollars per year needed to scale up investments in renewable energy.”

I am glad to see the group focused on a paradigm shift in our consumption – something I think is fundamental and critical to address in any sustainability assessment:

“We must transform the way we use energy and materials. In practice this means massive efforts to enhance energy efficiency and resource productivity, avoiding unintended secondary consequences. The “throw away concept” must give way to systematic efforts to develop circular material flows.”

The group recommended that we:

“Introduce strict resource efficiency standards to enable a decoupling of economic growth from resource use.

“Develop new business models, based on radically improved energy and material efficiency.”

I would like to add that we also implement a labeling standard to let our consumers know just exactly how efficient and sustainable is the product they are buying.

Finally, the group addressed one of the most important problem of our time, the access to food when we seem to have a production surplus:

“Current food production systems are often unsustainable, inefficient and wasteful, and increasingly threatened by dwindling oil and phosphorus resources, financial speculation, and climate impacts. This is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today. We can no longer afford the massive loss of biodiversity and reduction in carbon sinks when ecosystems are converted into cropland.”

The group recommend that we:

“Foster a new agricultural revolution where more food is produced in a sustainable way on current agricultural land and within safe boundaries of water resources.

Fund appropriate sustainable agricultural technology to deliver significant yield increases on small farms in developing countries.”

I am a home grower, so I also want us to start really think about distributed (localized) farming. Because Lauren and I don’t use chemicals and pesticides, and instead we labor to make sure our produce are health and plentiful. I think if enough people took up a hand to grow, we can exchange some of our labor for pollution reduction and alleviate our food problem. Again, grow locally, impact globally.

There are a number of other important recommendations the group made including: rethink the conventional model of economic development, reducing human pressures and consumerism, reforming multilateral system to cope with “transforming humanity’s relationship with the planet and rebuilding trust between people and nations,” and finally filling public knowledge gaps and deepening our understanding to find solutions.

“We are the first generation facing the evidence of global change. It therefore falls upon us to change our relationship with the planet, in order to tip the scales towards a sustainable world for future generations.”

Click here to download a PDF version of the full report.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You will never hear a guy say "let’s talk about shoes," but that's exactly what I'm going to say.

I’m an avid runner. I’ve been told by my old Army boss, COL Brown, to get new running shoes every three to six months. It seems a bit over the top but I have chronic back and knee problems, so I gladly follow his advice. (He happens to be a sports medicine doctor as well, more authority to what he says about the subject.) But I try to only buy new shoes when my knees start to hurt from running, a sure sign that the support in my shoes have collapsed.

Growing up, my shoes lasted a lot longer than three to six months. We didn’t have fancy designer shoes either. China in the 80s and 90s rocked cloth shoes or rubber military style “sports” shoes. The cloth shoes were mostly made by old women or small operations in the city. The rubber sports shoes were a leftover from China’s attempt at building up military surplus. They were cheap, costing about 5 to 10 Yuan (equivalent of $1 at the time); but still my mother would only buy a pair for me when the last had holes. It was normal to have holes in your shoes. It was almost a badge of honor amongst my friends. It had the same cool factor of having an old beat-up bike, it meant you weren’t rich and you didn’t care. That was important back then, Beijing was attempting to tell China to “get rich” but still maintain communist principles. The government spent a lot of man hours teaching us about that kind of old shoe old bike “cool.”
I saw my first pair of designer running shoes on my tenth birthday, 1989, when my grand uncle and aunt came to visit us in Beijing and brought me a pair of Nike knock offs from the eastern coast. The shoes looked puffy and unnatural to me, making my feet appear out of place. I gladly wore them anyway because it looked foreign. Things foreign would give me instant celebrity status in the sixth grade. I still remember how strange it was to have so much on my feet, but twenty-two years later I can’t live without them.

But I’m not here to tell you not to buy shoes. I still try to buy a new pair of running shoes a year, a lot more consumption than my rocking-rubber-green-shoe days. I see it as necessary, a carbon footprint I find hard to reduce.

That is why I was excited to see Puma’s name appear in my news aggregate below this blog’s Post section. It appears that Puma

“is the first company in the world to put a value on the ecosystem services it uses to produce its sports shoes and clothes . . . and has published an economic valuation of the environmental impacts caused by greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and water consumption along its entire supply chain. It plans to become even more ambitious by integrating both its social and economic impacts.”

 - the Triple Pundit. 

I’m not here to sell you Puma shoes. I want to sell you the idea. What if Congress passed a bill that required most, if not all, of the producers to include such things as GHGs and water consumptions on the labels? I have been studying up for my LEED exam and I see this voluntarily adopted in construction and building design. Puma is smart to kick off this type of thinking in its business strategy and it won’t be the last. It’s not the majority of the marker that I am worried about because I think a lot more companies will follow. I trust the free market will shape this initially.

It’s the companies that has something to hide and will refuse to label their products this way who worries me. Those are the companies probably making the worst impacts on our consumers and our environment.

So if we should just depend on the free market to drive this kind of responsible corporate culture, we may fall short of curing our problems. Should we depend on legislatures remains an important question we have to answer. Until then, let’s give Puma a pat on the back and say thank you for your transparency.

"Why fast food isn’t cheaper than healthy food."

Dr. Tim Harlan did an outstanding job making a case for eating home-cooked food on Huffington Post today, but he seemed to have neglected two important things: our healthcare cost and how to eat better and control our costs by reducing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Those diseases are leading our nation in spending comparing to the rest of the world. I think if we are talking about fast food and health, then we should address the connected and pressing problems. I wonder why Dr. Harlan neglected the issue.

Well, perhaps it is because he is a certified internist and reducing medical cost by reducing demand would mean reducing his profession. That’s like a lawyer wanting to popularize the law and let everyone get a legal education. But that would be a bad assumption to make, surely he wouldn’t jeopardize his professional responsibility to public health. I think Dr. Harlan wanted us to draw our own conclusion.

An obvious conclusion.

wait, i think i've got it!
 I learned from Dr. Campbell’s book, The China Study, that eating more whole food and plant based proteins, and decrease our in-take of animal based proteins, we can reduce our chances of heart disease, diabetes, cancers, etc. This matters to me personally because I have high cholesterol. I am an average height and weight, mid-thirties, male. I run two or three miles every other day most of the year. I do strength and endurance training as well just in case I should get the chance to dive again in the big great ocean. I am otherwise healthy but I can’t seem to shake this high-cholesterol problem.

And I think I know why.

I eat too much meat. I can’t seem to help it. It’s my vice that goes with drinking microbrews and cigar once in a great while. (I use to chain-smoke, as a philosophy student, but I quite after a year smoking harsh Turkish cigarettes without filters; I finally told myself not to die from lung cancer.) But I still drink a little bit too much at times and I eat too much red meat, bad habits from my risk taking days I guess.

I have always cooked my own meals a lot because I chase a reminiscence of the taste buds form my childhood. I also can’t get that authentic Chinese taste from any restaurants here in the States no matter how hard I try and look. So I cook the stuff myself, replicating the best I could my mother’s red-tofu-steamed-pork-belly and other delicious thing that were too expensive back in my China days. I also love to grill. My army buddy Paul introduced me to the taste of a medium rare stake, and I love grilling out to this day for the thrill of getting that perfectly done medium rare. I also try and grill a lot of vegetables and I do have a tendency of grilling too much and eating it all in one sitting. You should think since I eat a lot less fast food, and a lot more vegetables and home-cooked meat, I would not have the kind risk for killer health problems like stroke and heart attacks.

Again, I remind you I have high cholesterol and I am at-risk. I know, I complaint too much. It seems after I passed thirty, all I do is grip about what isn't going right. I sure hope this isn't a sign of old age.

Back to Dr. Harlan’s point about cost and health of fast food: granted eating less double Big Mac with cheese and more home-cooked pot-roast will be better for you. By all means, eat less Big Mac. The kinds of meats served at these fast food joints are also most likely from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Think about how much pollution we can help reduce. But eating a lot of meat with your meal doesn’t make you that much healthier and buying a lot of CAFO meats from Kroger is just as bad as buying them from Burger King.

Believe me, I check my blood to know. Since reading about the health benefits of plant-based proteins from Dr. Campbell’s book, I have reverted back more to my childhood’s eating habits: consisted of mostly vegetables and tofu. Lauren and I have cut back to eating meat about once a week. We also try to buy our meats form local farms as much as possible. I’m hoping to have my cholesterol checked again in a few months to see if I’ve made any improvements.
This brings me to a few more points Dr. Harlan overlooked. All of which I assign value to so it's a factor in my consideration for "cost." Eating home-cooked meals brings your family together more, you eat around a table instead of in cars. You are more time efficient because you can be sharing valuable family time together cooking a lot of different things in just under or about 30 minutes to an hour (about the time it would tak you to get into your car, drive to a place, wait in line, and get a meal to bring home). You are also not burning gas getting to the fast food place, exhaust surf the turf waiting in the drive-through, and then bringing it back a brown meal half way cold.

So if your family is still eating fast food on a daily basis, you should really think about reading Dr. Harlan’s blog post (it's worth the read). But just remember that if you really want to make a meaningful impact on your own health and on the health of our planet, eat more vegetables and less meat, a lot less meat.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Falling off the short end of a metaphysical table and becoming a Capitalistic Buddhist.

"When one nation's army turns its guns on another, far from starting a war, they are the products of a war started long ago through economic exploitation."

Since I started my social entrepreneurial project, I’ve been called an aspiring capitalist more than once. My far left leaning friends think I’ve gone to the dark side and I can no longer be trusted with the agenda of social welfare and social equity. My friends on the right think I’m chasing empty dreams believing there could be some kind of compromise between profit and public interest. I dismiss their mislabeling because I know they do not care enough to want to know and they are too wrapped up in the system to believe anything otherwise. I’d say there are almost as many mindless liberals as there are conservatives, but then again who am I to bust their sweet bubble of ideologies?

I am a capitalist; I believe in Buddhist Economics and the supremacy of secular mondology. Say that three times fast and a magic cat will whisk away your worries into wonderland where the queen will off with your heads, I promise.

All jokes aside, Buddhists can be Capitalists and I wish more Capitalists are Buddhists. I have found Americans are more accustomed to feeling relief when they hear strong economic figures. I turn on Bloomberg each day and I see a worship of numbers and sales but I don’t see these numbers include values that should be accounted – things like our quality of life, health, happiness.

The Buddhist economics values quality of life, health, mental well-being, and other things outside of material comfort and wealth. The Buddhist teaching also does not prohibit capitalistic principles. Buddhist teaching focuses on free thinking to minimize suffering, liberate the minds, reduce violence, simplify desires, and bring together the communities for positive gains.

Strangely, Buddhist economics is very similar to the core principles of sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Well, Buddhists are more spiritual I guess, they would value also contentment and limited desires; but we can all agree against poverty. What is important to an Buddhist also is the principles she or he must uphold. As wealth comes with time, one’s principles should be rooted strongly against imbalance. Wealth should not be squandered aimlessly to contribute more suffering and more degradation of our sustainable planet. It should be employed wisely.

Having discovered these amazing similarities between the mysteries of my life, I am glad I fell off my metaphysical table as a child, hit my head hard, and I can no longer fit into the liberal/conservative crowd.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“No, seriously, you get to decide.” - journal entry from the space cadet

"Civilization’s shortening attention span is mismatched with the pace of environmental problems"

Stewart Brand

I know my views about nuclear development put me at odds with the die-hard environmentalists. I can’t blame them. Mother Nature is sacred to them and any tinkering is offensive. I share their faith in Nature, but I happen to be a fool of an optimist. My father spent his entire life trying to cure cancer with genetics, so I must defend science.

I believe we do in fact have free will, and we have the choice to invent and tinker with nature responsibly. I'm not opposed to GMO, but I do question who is using these GMOs and doing what. I guess this would also make me a follower of philosophy and not of any particular religion (well, maybe some form of freely associated Buddhist if I must conform to make you happy).

Just as I am equally prejudice to those who tinker for profit, I cannot align myself with their views. I share their appetite for innovation, but I do not share their incentive to innovate. I fear their keen focus on profit is the reason why we have come to this almost breaking point of sustainability. But I do not offer solutions here; any attempt of ideas from me to cure the sustainability crisis meant only a quick medicinal dose of ego in the social-websphere that will not save humanity;

it is WE who must decide.

We are the consumers of natural resources and we have to decide what to use and how we pay for these resources. Up to this point, we have been losing a battle to the tinkers with no brains. We gave our most precious scientific advances to the development of weapons of mass destruction. We blindly let go of our care of food and our health to the greedy industrializations in exchange for tasty food with no nutritional value. We polluted our land and killed species for the sake of just one more gadget to plug into the wall. We may need some of these things, but surely we do not need them all.

Back in 2007, John Rice, GE’s vice chairman and the man in charge of GE’s nuclear constructions, explained the matter this way:

“The U.S. has 103 aging nuclear plants, and the last one was built in the 1970s. Over the next fifty years, the nation will be retiring about two plants a year. These plants produce about 20 percent of our electricity and demand is supposed to rise by 50 percent by 2030, where will this power come from? We’ll need to build a new plant every six months just to stay even.”

The Argyle Private Equity Conference, June 11, 2007.

So as we continue to consume, we seem to need that energy after all. Or else we cut all forms of consumption out and let the world go into chaos. Or perhaps we can consume less and demand more alternatives than nuclear and fossil. But again, it is WE who ,must decide. 

But for now, we have to live with the choices we have made in the past. We have a need for nuclear energy to help us make the transition from fossil fuel dependencies to an entirely sustainable one. The world cannot be allowed to reach back into chaos. Science would not allow it.

Stewart Brand, an environmental activist and author of The Whole Earth Catalog, agrees with this view. He understands there are problems with cost overrun, accidents, terrorist attacks, and waste disposal problems, but he understands nuclear options cannot be taken off the table. So my vote of confidence is with Mr. Brand.

I want the tinkers to tinker with nuclear energy but I also want us to tinker with our own minds to lessen our impact on the planet. If we put our collective efforts to that end, we may see less of a need for more dangerous nuclear programs. In the mean time, I hope there are enough smart people out there tinkering with how to solve the cost overrun, accidents, terrorist attacks, and waste disposal problems.

So you see, it is YOU, US, who must decide: how much we consume, how we consume, how we can give our children a better planet. . . 

Perhaps one day my great grand kids will look back on our nuclear understanding as fundamental as Newton’s gravity; I hope he get back to my home planet to make me proud.

Space cadet out.

Creativity and innovation, a symbiotic Jedi relationship.

Art by: Warwick Johnson Cadwell
I was driving home today and heard an interview of Malcolm Gladwell, author of the Tipping Point, about his new article on innovation and creativity. I liked most of his books and I was excited to hear some insightful comments about innovation. I obsess over innovation because I have a strong preference for optimism and I believe we will invent our way out of our sustainability crisis. I was happy to confirm what I had suspected all along, innovation is not necessarily the same as creativity. Innovation, according to Gladwell, requires recognizing the recognition of how to adopt creativity to make progress. Steve Jobs was not the inventor of most, if not all, of his successful products; he was an innovator that saw what other creators could not. You have to be holistic to be creative because you have to see the missing opportunity, but you have to be even more so to be innovative because you have to apply a totality of ingenuity to create opportunity for others.

I strive to be both a creator and an innovator. I am a novice at best and a lost seeker at worst. Luckily for humanity, we are not depended on my lack of abilities.

A UT-Austin Jedi team (these guys are the real 1337) developed a new nano-structure of “negative curvature” single atom wall carbons that is porous. I suspect that creativity is symbiotic with innovators; another group from Brookhaven National Laboratory then help explained the structure

“can be incorporated into “supercapacitor” energy-storage devices with remarkably high storage capacity while retaining other attractive attributes such as superfast energy release, quick recharge time, and a lifetime of at least 10,000 charge/discharge cycles. . .. [This] will have a broad range impacts on research and technology in both energy storage and energy conversion,”

Sorry Mr. Gladwell for taking the spot light away from your keen observation, but this is great news for the sustainability enthusiasts. This will impact many different types of energy technology dissolving many of the current market barriers. This will help push further our transition from fossil based energy consumption and help us get our carbon emission under control. I sure hope to see, in my life time, an electric car charged on renewable energy capable of traveling over a thousand miles without stopping.

Click here to see the white paper published by the Brookhaven team.
The work at Brookhaven was supported by DOE’s Office of Science; the UT - Austin team’s research was supported by the Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the Advanced Technology Institute.

The Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit

Monday, May 16, 2011

EPA Releases Searchable Website for Drinking Water Violations

Every time Lauren and I visit family out in eastern Indiana, we notice a funny smell coming from the tap water. It is a musty rotting smell and that can't be good, but I've had worst. My mother taught me it's impolite to say anything bad about your host and I desperately want to ask if they had noticed the same. But in the past, I just keep the asking to myself and accept their hospitality graciously. I do worry about everyone in the household drinking this water and I assume they have noticed the same and have checked into the matter. Who am I to question their water? who am I to be ungrateful for their kindness?  

I am glad to relate the follow EPA new release regarding a searchable database for the public, but I should remind you that EPA does not yet regulate non-point discharges such as agricultural run-offs. Here is a fact sheet from the EPA about these runoffs. 
For immediate release: 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced improvements to the availability and usability of drinking water data in the Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) tool. ECHO now allows the public to search to see whether drinking water in their community met the standards required under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which is designed to safeguard the nation’s drinking water and protect people’s health. SDWA requires states to report drinking water information periodically to EPA. ECHO also includes a new feature identifying drinking water systems that have had serious noncompliance.

“Today’s improvements to EPA’s ECHO tool support President Obama’s directive to make it easier for the public to search for and use the information we collect,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Improved access to information about our nation’s drinking water is critical for communities, nonprofit organizations, public water suppliers, regulators and industry that all have a stake in ensuring the water in our communities is safe and healthy to drink.”

The new Safe Drinking Water Act information on EPA’s website provides:

- Users with information about whether their drinking water has exceeded drinking water standards.
- A serious violators report that lists all water suppliers with serious noncompliance.
- EPA’s 2009 National Public Water Systems Compliance Report, which is a national summary of compliance and enforcement at public drinking water systems.

The serious violators list identifies water systems that have had serious noncompliance due to a combination of unresolved violations. The data in ECHO shows that overall, the number of systems identified as serious violators continues to decrease due to lead agencies, in most cases the states, more efficiently addressing serious noncompliance. Currently, approximately 4 percent of all public water systems are considered serious violators. Through increased oversight and enforcement efforts, EPA will continue to work to reduce the rate of noncompliance and the number of public water systems that are serious violators.

Under the SDWA, water suppliers are required to promptly inform customers if drinking water has been contaminated by something that could cause immediate illness or impact people’s health. If such a violation occurs, the water system will announce the violation and provide information about the potential health effects, steps the system is taking to correct the violation, and the need to use alternative water supplies (such as boiled or bottled water) until the problem is corrected. Systems inform customers about violations of less immediate concern in the first water bill sent after the violation, in a Consumer Confidence Report, or by mail.

EPA’s enforcement goals for clean water include working with states and tribes to ensure clean drinking water for all communities and improving transparency by making facility compliance data available to the public. The release of drinking water violations data in ECHO advances these goals and creates additional incentives for government agencies to improve their reporting of drinking water violations and increase efforts to address those violations.

EPA will host a webinar demonstrating how to use the Safe Drinking Water Act violation information in ECHO on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 2 p.m. EDT. The demonstration will show users how to search for information about local water quality, how to compare data by state, and highlight other features of the tool.

Reserve webinar seat:
Safe Drinking Water Act search page:
Enforcement and Compliance History Online tool:

The frog, the bird, and the well.

I live in the Midwest. There are a lot of conservative corn and soybean farmers who complaint about the way President Obama is spending. I don’t blame them for their fear of our growing national debt; I too fear that our children could not afford to pay it back when the time comes. But I look at the way Obama is spending and I think at least some of it makes more sense than what the farmers are doing. Allow me to explain:

The farmers who would like to see Obama leave office are mostly corn and soybeans growers. They have long left real farming behind and they farm the “old fashion” way of using petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. To me, they may not have borrowed from banks, but they have and continue to borrow from our land, our children, and our health. The are using subsidized fossil fuel and by products that pollute and deplete our land, water, and air; they produce genetically modified corn for the ever expanding CAFO and industrial food industry to feed an obese nation and plaguing our children with a massive healthcare bill from heart diseases, cancer, diabetes; they are dumping the real costs of what they are doing – droughts, floods, global warming, air pollution, world conflicts, onto our future generations. There isn’t a giant billboard that counts just how much damage they have done and how much they are borrowing from our kids, so they feel entitled to sit on their farms and criticize the few who are trying so hard to turn this nation around.

This kind of hypocrisy sickens me. While I served as a medic in Iraq, I watched children barely old enough to vote die for our interests in oil. I was taught to blame that on terrorism. These farmers are supposedly patriotic and they always pretend to sympathize with me. They too blame it on terrorism, but they rarely ask why we have such a thing as terrorism. I wish I could tell them how the world lives at the expense of our overindulgence in oil and other things. But their excuse is that they have never left their small town USA and they have no intention of doing so. What the world does outside of their well is not their concern. They are comfortable sitting on their rocking chair and demand that the world is the way as they see.

How could such honest and hardworking people be so ignorant?

When I was a child, my mother would tell the story of a frog sitting at the bottom of a well. The frog would look up at the sky above its head from the bottom and pontificate about how the sky is and what a wonderful thing the sky must be. One day, a bird landed on the edge of the well and heard the frog talking to himself about the sky. The bird kindly informed the frog that the sky is much bigger than what the frog can see. The sky is full of power and unpredictable vengeance. The bird offered to take the frog out of his well to look for what the real sky looks like. The frog refused:

Why would I want to know what the sky really looks like when I have a perfect vision of what it is to me?

When I try to talk with these farmers about our Sustainability crisis, I get blank stares. When I try to defend Obama’s focus on renewable energy and initiatives to improve our health, our food, our energy dependency, they dismiss it as misguided devotion to a politics that will doom our nation to bad debts.

does she know to fire that thing?
I wanted to ask what kind of politics are good politics, but I do not have the heart to destroy their perfect view of Sara Palin from here.

Just for the record, I am not a defender of Obama as a politician. But I am going to defend what I think is a reasonable investment in our future in terms of education, planning, sustainability development. I won’t be the frog who would be comfortable sitting at the bottom of the well. I may not trust the bird that will fly me to see the sky, but I aspire to see the sky at least to make my own decisions as to how our future should bear our foolishness and our debts.I may be a frog, but I am not settled to be just sitting at the bottom of this well. I'm going to get to the top of this.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Green buildings and the bubble economy - the Chinese Connection.

Remember our housing bubble? Urban sprawls and cheaply made homes - a scatter of disconnected developments joined only by highways and carpool lanes if you are lucky. We are not so fortunate here in the Midwest and out by where my parents live, you can’t even find sidewalks. Cars seem to have taken over our landscape; belching tailpipes linking our McMansions and placing a heavy toll on our resources and pollute our air and waters.

Putting aside the CO2 emissions debate, at the very least you have to care about rising oil prices and falling supply. We all have to face the consequences of our choices in the past, no one is an exception to that rule. We took quite a risk against sustainability when we began our Industrialization and now we seem to be approaching a economic and ecological breaking point in our ever expansion for suburban utopia. There is also a hidden equity crisis in our housing problem, but rarely is that discussed in the media because they are about the poor, poor people don't make good news items.

What is done is done.

Building these highways and urban sprawls was necessary I guess. It was certainly natural for the industrialization of American cities post WWII and we had a good run. The bankers and CEOs got careless and consumers became complacent. After all, we were prospering, having just won a world war and landed on the moon, we had every right to want bigger cars, bigger houses, more things to plug into our walls. Our mistake was believing there is always one more tree to cut or one more oil well to drill. The tragedy of our commons is hidden and even glorified at times. We were told by billions of dollars worth in advertising campaigns that these are what happiness is all about. When someone does challenge the status quo, they are labeled and are assured there is always new creative ways to poison our earth and drain its core for more resources. “Drill baby, drill!” (See: EPA Seeks More Information from Natural Gas Drilling Operations to Ensure Safety of Wastewater Disposal)

Then the bankers got greedy and began to use different tricks to keep up their profit growth. Empty collateral is put on top of empty collateral. The ill-informed were placed at the bottom to carry the heavy burden forward.

Half a decade later, and a few market crashes in progress, we now know more about corporate interests, environmental impacts, and possible catastrophic results. The public began to ask how we can make better choices and restore the healthy balance to our economy and our planet. But we have built our communities around the kind of economy that destroys our ecology and our equity; and we feed a media machine with more and more incentives to deceive ourselves. The rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor and it is the poor who has to live in the worst polluted areas and food deserts. The middle class is not much better off, being fooled and conditioned to live off fast food, processed food, CAFO meats, medications, and all of it intricately tied to fossil energy to top off the caveat. We are like the poor Betsy who never sees a grass-field and lives her entire life in a warehouse with thousands of other Besties, fed something we are not meant to eat and die a young death for our pounds of profits. We have marched out of feudalism right into the grips of capitalist greed, and we enjoyed every minute of it between burgers and fries. Drug companies and fast food moguls laugh at our expense all the way to the bank along side of real estate trolls and mortgage flippers.

I am glad to see food trending our popular topics because that means people want a closer relationship with what they eat, but I worry a bit about this Green being the “new Black.” I fear we are not making real changes, only putting our lives in the hand of other careless capitalists. I won’t complaint because I want to believe there are better capitalists out there, and at least there is enough profit to drive the popularity of farmer’s markets and reduce industrialization and diversify our food base. Social entrepreneurship is taking off and these capitalists are keenly focused on locality and sustainability. Heck, I aspire to be one of them.

Green construction, on the other hand, is out of reach of the mainstream consumers for now. I recall a conversation with a developer at a business event. His professional life involves real estate and he flat out told me it’s just too expensive and too long of an investment return period for Green construction to take off in the private home sector. But he was happy to note there are at least some focus on sustainability design and construction for large scale office buildings and we are focusing more and more on wind and other alternative energy. Perhaps one day, solar energy will be more cost effective on a large scale, but I am sad to see there has been an increase in coal production.

We still have millions of highly inflated homes built to consume as much as possible at the highest environmental impact possible. The upfront sticker price of these homes does not include their overall impact to the health of our ecology and economy. We set the trend for the world to follow. When we bring our environmental concerns to the world stage, developing countries like China respond with “it’s our turn to live the good life and get rich by ripping off the poor.”

This is our first China Connection. Today in China, thousands of new buildings are popping up in the new real estate crusade. China does not enjoy the luxury of US’s expanse of land and low population density. China’s development cannot expand out so there is a smaller urban sprawl problem, but it is going up as much as it can. These buildings are huge energy suckers. They are also being developed at an alarming rate. Borrowing our “build it cheap and build it fast to flip, and let someone else worry about the problems down the road” mentality, China is now making the same mistake we have made at the dawn of our industrial revolution. In parts of China’s high development areas, condos are soaring to match and excel our housing bubble. Most of the office buildings in major Chinese cities are empty. Many buildings are constructed of low quality that is a risk to even young children’s lives. 

My once fond memories of Si He Yuan and Hutongs are replaced by ugly sites of massive energy suckers. 

But that is China, it has nothing to do with us right?

I fear for our deep financial connection with China will expose us to the danger of a Chinese housing bubble bust. We are also in danger of the huge environmental impacts of China’s irresponsible building and development frenzy.

All of this construction is demanding more raw material imports from all over the world. That means more fuels are spent and more CO2 and other pollutants emissions. If China is giving the chance to “live the good life and get rich” as the western world has done, I am afraid we may be on a fast track to the point of no return.

I cannot deny China must develop, but I hope China change its human sustainability practices and address the problems of inequity as well. I also hope for quick developments in sustainable construction technology to help mitigate the problems we may face.

There is hope. Sustainable construction is becoming more and more popular worldwide. LEED is taking roots in many countries. There are also innovative architects looking to bring Green construction to the poor and private homeowners, bringing equity to the equation for a truly sustainability project. New Orleans aims to remake its cityscape and bring low cost green homes to the lower 9th.

Within the still-recovering Lower Ninth Ward, a reconstructed "camelback"-style storefront at 5200 Dauphine Street will serve as the new home of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and the Lower 9 Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. The deteriorated condition of the building called for crews to completely dismantle all structural and interior components including doors and windows. Those salvaged materials are being reused, along with new thermal insulation, photovoltaics, solar water heating, onsite water collection and other environmentally-responsible systems to recreate this historic property as a LEED Platinum building.

Some architects also started to focus on how to build for the local environment to maximize its energy use and construction impact. Using local material lessens transportation cost and CO2 emission and often these local materials are best suited to deal with the local climate.

This is our Chinese Connection number 2:

China tends to look to the west for its sense of direction. Because the Chinese State censors everything, the Chinese people look to what we are doing in to achieve their own dreams; but what gets through the Chinese censorship are business practices and lifestyle matters. If we are eating McDonalds and driving SUVs, you better be sure they hope to do the same. But if we are building innovative sustainable homes and office buildings designed for the local ecology, then you better be certain that the Chinese people will want the same.

When I was growing up, I remember houses carved into the side of clay-mountains in the Gobi desert. I remember they were cooler in the summer and warm in the winter. I also remember parts of the Great Wall, made of blocks of dried mud and grass straws, lasting thousands of years. I think if the new sustainable design and construction trend reaches China in a popular way, then we may see some really creative ways of adopting the old way of building things with new sustainable technologies. I couldn't help myself but marvel at that kind of synergy and progress.

the 7 bubbles of LEED home
I should be an optimist; but I know we will have to change the way we do things here in the US first. We will have to somehow bring sustainable thinking into our homes and think how we can rebuild our landscape to meet a balance between ecology, economy, and equity.

There should be a LEED knowledge manual for your average consumers. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wild grass for each Spring.


That was a comment left on a Chinese site. Don’t bother Google translating it because the second part of the sentence comes from an old Chinese poem. I don’t think there is a language-bot out there that can appreciate the reflections of a poem. Luckily, my mother’s insistence and enforcing my memorizations of famous Chinese poems when I was young has its benefits. I can pontificate about sustainability and tell you a long-winded story about wild grass.

Caution: this may take a long and winding road. . .

According to some sustainability pros, the body of sustainability can be encompassed in three E’s – equality, ecology, and economy. Each independently important and correlates in our lives to bring us to our sustainability crisis. I had recently searched through my memories about what sustainability means to me. It started from my bicycle days in Beijing, advertised for Ai WeiWei’s cause, and came to a short break on the “dark side.”

Yeah, I dove into the deep end on that last one … but my excuse is that I was trained as a rambling fool, so you will have to excuse words like “metaphysical sustainability” from time to time.

But I do believe there is a deep connection, a philosophical connection, between our perception towards others and nature and how that manifests through concepts of human rights and environmental conservation, all waved by the fabrics of our economics.

But our economics also attributes power and special interests. In China, this is the State; here, it is . . . well, you know what those special interests are. By those special interests, we get a conglomerate of inequities: political rights, environmental rights, basic human rights and rule of law, right to information, etc. A few people are getting rich while we pay with our health and our freedom.

I would like to think we can change things for the better. But I remember the thousands of years of world-wide imperialisms, feudalisms, and all the other –isms; and I have a funny feeling that we haven’t got anything really right. We simply changed the target of our exploitation and understand survival a bit better. Face it, We never had utopia, but we are at least learning more and more about our three E's and our own very survival.

Perhaps that is where our hope lays, a better understanding of ourselves and our survival.

This is the part about the poem, and you have to put yourself in reverse: (cue punch line drum effect here)

“. . . miles and miles of grass on this field,
Year after year they come and go;
Even wildfires cannot subdue their will,
When spring winds come, they shall rise once more.”

The poem was meant to memorialize the will of life in wild grass; I will leave the expert literary interpretation to the experts.

When the reader quoted the last two lines of that poem as part of the comment, “中国的贪官是判不完的、、有点:野火烧不尽、春风吹又生、、” he used it in the reverse, mockingly expressing his despair for no meaningful changes in China. The comment was left on an online editorial listing all of the corrupt officials, (but complaining no one had been executed since 2007). I felt an eerie reminisce of the madness of the Cultural Revolution.

Leaving China and its troubles aside.

I often feel our own sustainability efforts in the US face the same kind of vicious cycle China experiences with its corruption. Because we are driven by economics, are we doomed to continuing special interests? only we will see new “green-washed” ones? I've heard Green is the new Black, and I really hates those black tie parties.

What I can say about the US is I can at least learn as much as possible to see for myself. In China, even that is controlled and only for the interests of the State.

So I exercised my new freedom today: I enrolled and was approved for LEED certification. I don’t care much about the certification itself, but I am excited for the body of knowledge I will learn.

Even though it seems I grip and complaint a lot, I do in fact enjoy what I do here and I do think the water is half full . . . and I want to help fill it to full just so we can all be optimists. Cheers