Saturday, April 21, 2007

50 Ways to Help Save the Planet

We've all been seeing so much in the media these days about global warming that few of us, except for certain key members of our current administration, remain in the pool of denial. But with all the fear and uncertainty, it can be hard to find a place between resolution and despair. Writer Henry Porter assures us that global warming is a small problem of our wasteful actions, put on a large scale the size of our population. This list reminds us that if everyone acts individually to reduce their carbon and curb their waste, together we can make a big difference.
see article in Vanity Fair

Hellish Beauty

I listen to audio casts whenever I have to be in my internal combustion, gas-consuming beastie.
Lately I've been downloading Air America's Ecotalk. Last week they featured photographer Chris Jordan. The pictures tell the story best, but his work focuses on bringing to light the environmental destruction of our consumerism. He visits sites where the debris of planned obsolescence piles up: the mountains of cell phones, cars, circuit boards and such. Often the number of objects mirrors the number of these items that are thrown away every day. His images are wonderously shocking, and point the finger back at us for the responsibility.

for the audiocast at EcoTalk

Sunday is Earth Day

Wondering how you can make a difference? Check out Earth Day's official website for tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint, create life in your neighborhood, and send a message to our government that environment is your biggest concern.
Want to see music and celebrate? Check out Green Apple Music festival, with shows in Chicago, NYC and SAN Francisco.
Whatever you decide to do, get out there and have fun making a difference!

Friday, April 20, 2007

No bees, No fruit

Bee colonies around the country have suffered huge losses this spring, according to beekeepers and farmers. Keepers have been opening hive boxes this spring to find all of their bees have mysteriously dissappeared, and no one is quite sure as to why. In some reports, and many as 50-90% losses have been experienced, leading experts to name this occurance Colony Collapse Syndrome (CCS). It's baffling scientists, due to the fact that the adult members of the hives are just missing, leaving juveniles and full food reserves behind.
Bees have suffered huge losses in the last decade due to the introduction of tracheal mites and varroa mites. As a result, farmers have been spraying miticides on their hives to keep off these pests. But mites can become resistant to chemicals in time. Scientists are finding unususal levels of toxicity and mites in the few carcasses found at empty boxes. Some believe what we're seeing is a toxic tipping point when sources such as spraying, chemicals in fields and in water are all added up. One support to this theory is that organic hives seem to be less effected by the phenomenon.
We can expect the price of fruits and nuts to reach an all time high this year, as farmers scramble to find pollinatiors for their crops, and answers to what has happened.
for the original feed at Market Farming
for audiocast at Air America

Restoring the Redwoods

A few years back I had the pleasure of working at an estate nestled against open space on Mount Tamalpais, where the main focus was to create natural gardens for the children of the family and support the local wildlife. One of our big projects was to restore the habitat of a redwood forest along a creek and to invite native species back, including the Giant Pacific Salamander and the endangered California Newt.
The work had been in progress before I joined the team, where they had connected up several sections of the creek that had been disrupted by a fire road. At the stage where I joined the project, we freed the trees and tall shrubs along the creek from the grip of algerian ivy and planted native plant species such as Oregon Oxalis, Huckleberry, and Western Sword Fern. The plants started to establish themselves and in time the forest became lush and green, but there were no amphibians. We would see them just on the other side of the fence, but they never ventured over to our side. We wondered why.
We practiced only organic methods here at the property, and taught seminars in the community and the Greenwood School about gardening and design working with nature. One big push was for the use of compost to improve soil quality and drainage, eliminating the need for inorganic fertilizers and improving the overall health of a garden. Every spring I joined the crew with the wheelbarrow, and we would clear the leaves from the previous year and mulch every inch of the property, including the forest.
Then one year I took an Integrated Pest Management course at College of Marin. I learned about soil pathogens and their transmission, and that unfinished compost could spread disease. Up at the property I began to clearly identify that what we'd previously thought were gophers killing all our maples was not an animal, but a soil-born fungal infection from family of diseases collectively known as wilt. More investigation revealed that our practice of mulching with unfinished compost in combination with pruning had allowed these fungi to infect our trees through the wounds. It was everywhere we looked, and each time we cut into a dead branch the blue streaks of diseased tissue revealed wilt in another precious tree.
We promptly haulted our mulching practice until we could find a more reliable source for our compost. Remarkably, many of the trees recovered. During that time we let the forest cover itself in the rust colored duff of fallen redwood leaves. We debated if the duff would smother the young seedlings of the trilliums and other tender plants. Instead, the forest seemed to flourish. And by this accident, one day we discovered salamanders in the largest pool of the creek, basking in the sun that filtered down through the trees.
The one thing our forest had lacked was fallen leaves.

Integrated Pest Management website for California UC Extension

New study reveals link between population crash and leaf litter

A recent study published in the National Academy of Sciences reveals new evidence about the cause of declining amphibian populations in Centeral and South America. Scientists have been studying these regions for decades, pointing to such factors as fungal infections and human impact as a cause for declines. But recently, it was noted that reptiles have also suffered, though they are not susceptible to the same range of disease that amphibians carry. Scientists began to investigate areas where humans are not a factor, and discovered that leaf litter levels have also deceased as climate change alters the health of the forests that these animals inhabit.

full article in BBC News

Gaia's Garden

I had the pleasure of sitting next to the author of 'Gaia's Garden' Toby Hemenway at a Biomimickry lecture in SF in February. Of course I told him how his book on permaculture was a smash him amongst my local community of gardeners and designers. I revisited his book this week and couldn't help but be impressed all over again.
I have a design project at a residence in GreenBrae where the creek and tides have a soggy effect on the lawn, especially in the winter, when the rain puddles up and defies an old french drainage system. Did the client use the lawn? No. In fact, she wants to grow food. Perfect! I looked to Hemenway's book for some quick sketch ideas, and was gratified by his chapter on "Catching, Conserving, and Using Water". Have a lot of water on the site? Then it's your biggest asset, so use it to your advantage. I sketched up a rain garden, where water collects in the winter, and in the summer the low spot is filled with deciduous perennials and edibles. Now for the presentation. Thanks Toby Hemenway!
visit his website

Animal drama in your own backyard

Ever watch those nature shows where the lion is eating the dead carcass of a wildebeast? Ever root for the leopard when she chases down the antelope on the dry plains of Africa? Well then you'd understand when I get excited about the struggle for life in my own garden world. Check it out this season- the predation of aphids by ferocious creatures.
In the spring, aphids come out of dormancy and seek the growing tips of new leaves and flower buds to suck out nutrients. They reproduce very quickly, are asexual, and can reproduce before reaching adulthood, where their plump globular bodies become sleek and they grow gossamer wings. They can decimate your garden with their voraciousness, so get out the bugspray.
That's what most folks do, is reach for the spray. But before you do, know that these tiny sucking creatures are the cows, the antelopes, and the rabbits of the insect world, and everybody else out there loves to eat them. Their predators are a group known as the beneficial insects- the ladybugs, lacewings, soldier beetles, syrphid flies, and parasitic wasps. These beneficials reproduce slowly and need a food source to be attracted to the plants, so if you kill everyone by spraying a pesticide, you give the aphids an unfair advantage, and create a lot of followup spraying time for yourself.
So next time you're out there in the garden and you see the tips of your roses covered in aphids, look a little closer for the predators, and let them do all the work!
Check out the Best Pest site I know- UC Extension IPM

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Green Cities: The 2010 Imperative/ 2030 Challenge

The American Institute of Architecture has joined with the USGBC in the effort to reduce carbon emissions. Who causes the most pollution- Did you know that buildings account for 48% of carbon emissions in the United States? It's power to heat, light, and cool our homes that accounts for most of the carbon we release into the air. Now architects have stepped up to change this, by setting out the 2010 Imperative.
The imperative states that many of the measures we need to make our buildings greener already exist in common sense practice, and reduction in green house gasses can be achived by intentional design. We have the technology, now let's use it.

for the 2030 website and webcast

for a slide show on the Current Situation

Building a Green Structure from the Ground Up

An old friend of mine who has also been in the environmental movement for years just told me this week he's going to study straw bale house construction up north this summer. He reminded me about the Solar Living Institute in Mendicino County.
The Institute was started in Hopland by Real Goods founder John Schaeffer, when their original offices in San Francisco became too small for their growing company. The main building was designed by a favorite architect of mine Sim Van der Ryn, and David Arkin. The SLI has continued to develop its visions of living close to the earth, and their mission is to promote a healthy environment through education. They have programs that teach ecologically friendly design and landscape.
Looks like I'll have to take a trip up north soon to check the place out!

Tree Hugger: Green Foundations

Perfect timing! The TreeHugger blog has a feed this week regarding green foundations, with a couple of how-to diagrams. There seems to be a debate going about how long a foundation should last and just how you should build to minimize the impact on the land.

for full feed at TreeHugger

Designing Green Buildings from the Ground Up

Which brings me to today's book review. I mention that Sim Van der Ryn is a favorite architect of mine. I happened to stumble on his book 'Design For Life' at the library recently. I'd call it a personal essay on the design process, and the story follows the journey of his life and how it influenced his creations. He was at the forefront of the green design revolution back in the 60's, and taught provocative ideas in his classes at UC Berkeley for decades.
As I flipped through the pictures before delving into the story, I kept gasping as I recognized more and more of his firm's projects: The Life Expression Chiropractic Center; the Zen Center; the Kirsch Center at De Anza College. They're all award winning projects, and I'd studied them in classes or heard about them but had never put them together as the work from one firm, Van der Ryn Architects.
Van der Ryn Architects use nature as a model for designing their buildings. They create places with no need for artificial heating and cooling, places that fit in the landscape. There is a lot of talk these days about reducing carbon and creating sustainable buildings, and I see a lot of green washing out there. But these guys have never built anything but green buildings, and it shows. Bravo.

Revisiting the Works of Antonio Gaudi

Ever use the term 'gaudi' to describe the outfit of someone who has gone over the top with ornamentation? As all catch phrases have a history so does this one, but times have changed and the once-ridiculed works of Barcelona's famous architect Antonio Gaudi are now hailed as magnificent works of beauty.
Gaudi's buildings are hard to catergorize, borrowing from the Art Noveau fashion of the time and from the previous Gothic era, but remaining wholly different from anything before or after. What seperates them from the norm is Gaudi's attempts to model after his favorite designs found in nature.
Fellow blogger Megan Prusynski takes us on a journey through the world of Barcelona's most famous (and Green) architects in her article at Green Options.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

States seek permits to kill sea lions off Pacific coast

It seems the struggle over depleted salmon has some people pointing their fingers at other animals who enjoy this ocean treat. Three states, Washington, Oregon and Idaho are asking Congress for permission to kill 80 sea lions a year. Since sea lions have been protected starting the 1970's their population has gone up, and they now inhabit the mouth of the Columbia river where they threaten the salmon populations there. Efforts to keep them away with non-lethal rubber bullets and such have not kept the sea lions away, and at their peak popluation they can number as many as 85 adults. The battle is on for who has the most claim to the salmon- humans or wildlife.
My question is: What were the estimated sea lion population levels before human impact?

original story at the News Tribune

Warming in Arctic displaces some, brings in others

Here's one for note- the melting of polar ice is displacing some species like walrus and polar bears, and encouraging new species that the the native american Inuit people have no names for- robins, dolphins, and finches to name a few.

for the whole story at EEN

The Argument Against Killing Non-Natives

I've been working on thesis that flies in the face of all the native plant advocates out in Marin county. We have a battle brewing here over the use of chemicals to maintain the native forests in Marin County, and I think they are throwing their money in the wrong place when they support removing invasive species such as Scotch broom from Mt. Tamalpais.
My argument is a work in progress, and if the mere suggestion of letting the invasives stay makes you question my credibility, check out this link to audio casts at Science Friday from scientists that predict novel and dissappearing climates by the year 2100.
According to ecologist Stephen Jackson at University of Wyoming, Laramie, we can expect that as temperatures rise, entire plant communities will dissappear and new ones will emerge in their places, ones we've never seen before. He uses an example that the tropical rainforests are the hottest, wettest places on Earth, but may increase in intensity as things heat up. Until new communities emerge, there may be wholesale die-off of native species, with nothing taking their place for centuries.
When I think of this, I can only picture our beautiful Redwoods, (Sequioa sempervirens) and how their range has shrunk over millenia, until all that reamins of this majestic habitat is their little stronghold on the Pacific North Coast. Will they make it into the next century with temperatures rising? If not, will there be anyone to take their place?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Nature of Order

"Life and beauty in the built world arise only from the processes which allow living structure to unfold. The secret lies in knowing, as nature does, what must happen in what order: what sequence of events allows a living form to unfold successfully..."
These are the words that grace the dust jacket of a thought-provoking, 4 book series called 'The Process of Creating Life' by acclaimed architect and writer Christopher Alexander.
Alexander's argument is that in nature there is a process in which structures and communities are dynamically laid out, changing as the needs of its occupants change, to unfold as a living structure. In the built environment of humans since the last century, our structures are static, and do not evolve as our needs change. He lays out the guidelines to merge three essential perspectives: Scientific; Beauty and Grace; and Commonsense, to create a future we can all live in.
I picked up this gem at my local library after an architect I work with recommended it. A must for designers who seek references to building living structures.

The Ultimate Guide to Invasive Species

I've been working on a restoration project in El Cerrito, East Bay of California. The site is a boyscout camp covered in the dread invader species of broom, called Genista monspessulanus. I searched for hours before finally finding this invaluable resource, the Invasive Species Database, listing thousands of invasive species from all over the world.

Precious resource: The Fight over Water

WASHINGTON -- As the world warms, water - either too little or too much of it - is going to be the major problem for the United States, scientists and military experts said Monday. It will be a domestic problem, with states clashing over controls of rivers, and a national security problem as water shortages and floods worsen conflicts and terrorism elsewhere in the world, they said.

for full story

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hey California-What's all the Fuss About?

Ever wonder just why it is the state of California puts up such a huge fight over Global Warming and Carbon Reductions? Check out the Climate Change Report 2006 for insight as to why we Californians are up in arms about the environment.

Database of California Maps

Finally! I'm too poor as of yet to be able to afford ArchGIS or any other GIS related software, not to mention the new dual Mac platfrom to run Windows software. I was delighted to find this site with interdepartmental maps of California- for free! There are county maps and state maps covering everything from biohabitats to city lights to areas of predicted growth.
Check it out at

The Long View: Climate Change over 650,000,000 Years

A clock to run ten thousand years? A single disk that contains all the known languages of the world? Science fiction as an indicator of future technologies?
For those of you who love science, policy, and predicting the future, have I got a group for you! Check these guys out at The Long Now Foundation. Board members include Paul Hawkens, Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalogue, the music producer Brian Eno, engineering genius Danny Hillis, Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine, Peter Schwartz of the Global Business network, and a whole cast of brilliant minds. Their goal is to promote long term thinking and policy making.
Part of their program is a lecture series once a month, at the Fort Mason Center in SF. All of their lectures are available to download, so check them out.
I Heart Long Now.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

California to lead the way on carbon reduction

I just found a great website called The Environmental News Network. Here's the first article I found:
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California can move forward with its efforts to set the nation's first standards to cut tailpipe emissions from cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency said...
California has special authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set its own vehicle emissions standards because it began regulating air pollution before the federal government did in the 1970s. Ten other states have adopted California's standards, and Maryland is considering doing so, but they have to wait to implement them until the EPA grants California a waiver.

see full article