More on women and climate change

Last month, the UN Secretary-General announced a new climate change financing group. Its purpose is to identify short- and long-term financial resources to aid developing countries in dealing with climate change, and is a result of the recent Copenhagen climate talks.

The article on the UN’s site quotes the Secretary-General as saying that, in the group, “There will be an even balance between developing and developed countries,” which is great, but as Elizabeth Becker and Suzanne Ehlers ask at Grist,  “Why are women being left out of climate decision-making?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced an important new climate change financing group last week, but out of the 19 people named, no women were included. . .

Leaving women out is unfortunate and reflects a persistent bias in climate change decision-making roles. It is also unwise given the ultimate objective of the advisory group. This elite club will frame and shape climate change financial flows to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. We know that women are disproportionately represented among both of these groups and are often on the front lines of climate change.   In developing countries, because of their role as primary providers of food, water, and fuel for their families, women are both the most affected by climate change and a pivotal force for building responses to direct climate impacts.   We also know that women are frequently the decision-makers about household consumption, and represent an increasing share of wealth around the world.

By leaving their voices out of the critical tasks before this advisory group, the secretary-general is closing out opportunities to explore the widest possible range of creative and innovative sources of revenue on the scale that is needed to address climate change.

The secretary-general himself has noted the need to include women in all aspects of decision-making on climate change.

Emphasis mine. That’s really quite remarkable. By which I mean appalling.

One of the commenters links to the Women’s Environment & Development Organization, which is collecting signatures on a letter to send to the Secretary-General asking him to appoint some women to the group. They have a list of names of women who are qualified to serve, as an example that there are plenty of good candidates who are women.

International Women's Day

This may not flow well, because I am sick, but if I wait until I am fully recovered, it will not be timely.

Via Twitter (how did I live so long without you!), I found an article pointing to this fine piece by Elaine Cohen, “One Day a Year is Not Enough,” on International Women’s Day from the Global Reporting Initiative:

This year’s theme is Equal Rights. Equal Opportunities. Progress for all. This is not just about human rights, morality and feeling righteous. It’s about survival, surthrival (did I invent that word, or did I retrieve it from my subliminal consciousness?), sustainability, and in a business context, sustainable business and accountability.

She is writing about the business aspects of equality, in particular, the Women’s Principles for Business, which provide guidance for creating gender-equal work environments. She believes that “If they are endorsed and assimilated by all the business leaders subscribing to the Global Compact, then 2010 will be a great year for women, and for men, and for business. As women take their well-deserved place on the corporate stage, they create more space for men, not less. As you may notice, transparency is a key principle. We must demand that businesses, in their CSR or Sustainability Reports, or in any other channel, account for the way they are enabling the inclusion and advancement of women. ”

There is a lot of other good reading in that post:  discussion of the founder of the Body Shop, Anita Roddick, who also pioneered sustainable business, how gender equality and diversity in general are related, and more information about women involved with sustainability.

Of course equality is a sustainability issue, and not simply from a birth control standpoint. Quoting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from a longer interview: “. . . so-called women’s issues are stability issues, security issues, equity issues.” “Equity” is already considered one of the three aspects of the triple bottom line, and we can’t have a fully sustainable world when stability and security are threatened. People need basic stability before they can fully focus on resource or global climate issues, which create some of those threats to stability. So things that can be done to improve basic social stability in those regions are necessary! There is another long article addressing this in the New York Times (I have some issues with some parts of that article, but it is a good overview).

And on the topic of controlling reproduction, it is one of the cheapest ways to reduce carbon emissions in the future. An article by Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice points out that a study (“Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost,” by Thomas Wire) found that

Each $7.00 spent on basic family planning over the next four decades will reduce CO2 emissions by more than a ton. To achieve the same results with low carbon technologies would cost a minimum of $32.00. If we just meet that need that women have already expressed for fewer children and access to contraception, we will save 34 gigatons between now and 2050, equivalent to nearly six times the annual emissions of the US.

Kissling also points out that, unfortunately, there is a certain amount of, shall we say, “resistance” to the idea of providing contraception from some religious organizations who are otherwise in favor of reducing the impact of climate change.

More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, a book published in 2008 points out that, “In countries that make effective personal control of reproduction possible for all, women invariably have two children or fewer on average, according to More. Such low fertility levels eventually lead to gradually declining populations in the absence of net immigration.” (Source) The author found, in 25 years of international study, that what women want is not “more children, but more for their children, and we can be thankful for that.”

So, while there is definitely plenty of bad history related to forcing population control on women (sterilization, forced abortions, etc., directed against the poor, the disabled, women in other countries, women of color in the US), it shouldn’t have to be a matter of force. Provide the tools, provide the option, provide education and allow us to support ourselves and our families, and many, many women will choose to have a small number of children, and as a result of the education and income, will have better lives and better be able to contribute to society.

For more, here is one part of a much longer debate about the relationship between women’s rights, population growth, capitalism, and climate change.

My simple understanding is that providing all women and girls in the world equal access to complete health care, education, and employment opportunities (whether self-employment or otherwise) is crucial to our long-term survival as a species. And it’s simply the right thing to do.

Building material reuse

I’ve built a number of small items (shelves, mostly) out of scrounged wood: Pieces of futon frames found in the dumpster; scrap wood in the woodshop trash bin; a battered desk abandoned in the alley next to the dumpster. Why not? It’s much cheaper than buying new lumber somewhere, which adds another level of satisfaction to the whole creation process. I’m saving this from the landfill! And getting something I need from it! With a bonus of justification for my collections of “But it might be useful someday.” And the process of taking something apart, carefully, non-destructively, is fun in its own right. (Which is why I have a pile of disassembled electronic things gathering dust on my bookshelves.)

So I love reading about projects where a lot of the materials came from a building that was torn down.  And knowing where I can go to find materials to reuse. And information about how to take things apart so that they can be reused. So, a collection of related links:

Locally, there is the Building Materials Resource Center and the Boston Building Materials Co-Op, which I have known about for years and never yet visited. Someday.

The Building Materials Reuse Association offers training, has an online library, including how-tos, a directory of people/organizations  (Mass. listings), and other useful things I have only begun to explore.

Sometime this year, Public Architecture will be launching the Design for Reuse Primer, an online resource, which I found out about via Recycling 2.0, an article in the current issue of Architecture Boston.

And a book! Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses, by Bob Falk and Brad Guy, which I think I will be putting in an order for soon, because there are some very inexpensive used copies out there.

Slightly less locally, Yestermorrow Design/Build school in Vermont offers a course called Design for Deconstruction and Reconstruction (Brad Guy, co-author of that book, is one of the instructors), which covers “the processes of harvesting building materials from existing structures, design to incorporate these materials into new constructions that are adaptable and deconstructable, and finally building one or more small scale structures using reclaimed materials.”

Maybe the "G" will mean "Green" in the future

I found this via Twitter; the exact link I forgot to note (sorry). The Green Workplace writes:

HOK, the General Services Administration and the University of Maryland recently partnered to write a comprehensive guide for sustainable development in the federal government. The work is being honored by the Federal Planning Division of the American Planning Association.

The guide won the award because it was a part of the GSA Sustainable Development Education Initiative, which was selected as the “Winner” in the Outstanding Sustainable Planning, Design and Development Initiative Category.

The GSA says:

This 40-page guide to sustainable development will help you move beyond existing “green” and “high-performance” strategies that provide incremental improvements, to ones that will sustain the Government’s operations within the scale of the Earth’s closed system. The “Guide” and its four-section “Appendix” include concepts, tools and strategies for operationalizing sustainability that will simplify every-day decision-making and provide guidance for achieving long-term goals.

I haven’t done anything more yet but skim the table of contents (and download the guide, and the appendix, which is an EVEN BIGGER document – they are available in .doc format, too!), but I like what I see in the Executive Summary TOC part alone:


Our world is a closed system.

Government operations must reflect closed system limitations.

The Government’s operations can be sustainable.

It’s time for a new paradigm.

Achieving sustainability depends upon crossing a new frontier in government operations.

This should be some good reading.

Evidence-based design

I'm sad that this – or at least the more rigorous application of it – is a relatively new practice. (emphasis added by me)

[James Timberlake, FAIA, of  KieranTimberlake, says,] “If we weren’t using evidence before, what the hell were we doing when we were designing? To me and Steve [Kieran], what’s new is the fact that architects are formalizing deep research methodologies to inform design and design practices.”

. . .

Transitioning a firm into an evidence-based design methodology presents a host of firm culture change issues. It’s essentially asking architects to acknowledge all the things they know they don’t know and to abandon their tried and true way of designing in exchange for taking on new and unfamiliar roles as informal researchers. Hamilton and Watkins present this way of practicing as the death of the romantic Fountainhead vision of the architect as an isolated savant whose ideas emerge from inherent wellsprings of raw creativity. . .

Through sustainable design or any other name, evidence-based design has changed (and is still changing) architecture in ways past generations did not foresee. . .

But on the other hand, I suppose with the need to prove that sustainable design practices really do work better than other ways of doing things (does more daylighting mean greater productivity? will that "green" heating system save you money? etc.), more architects have found it necessary to really get into proving that their design ideas are what will serve the client best, rather than going with the stereotypic, "I am Architect, I am a creative genius, and I know what the best solution is." I know that one of the criticisms of LEED has been that buildings get their certification before they prove that their energy efficiency measures actually work as promised, and there isn't sufficient evidence (yet) to prove that LEED buildings will perform well. The standards set by the Living Building Challenge require that buildings operate for a year before they can earn their certification, because that organization wants proof before they give their stamp of approval.

And I agree with another statement in the article – “In design school, I always thought that the hardest project was the one without parameters,” says Steve McDowell, FAIA – rather than limiting creativity, having these constraints (based in reality! and facts!) can be inspiring, because having all the freedom in the world can make it very challenging to come up with a good solution. I'd also rather have good evidence that my proposal will work, rather than make a guess based on what seems like it makes sense; I want my designs to work, and solve problems, and be even better than hoped, not just be aesthetic statements that also keep the rain off people's heads.

Green jeans

A post on GreenerDesign, an excerpt from a speech by the CEO of Levi Strauss, which describes how the company took a look at some of their products, to get a good look at the actual environmental impact of those products, what they found, and what they decided to do about it:

Our study found that a single pair of 501s, from growing the cotton to consumer care and disposal really does have an impact. A significant one. The lifecycle study of one pair of 501s generates 32.3 kilograms of carbon (78 miles of driving), 3480 liters of water (53 showers) and 400 megajoules of energy (running a plasma tv for 318 hours).

But the real lesson of the lifecycle study is that some of the biggest sustainability impacts have nothing to do with processing denim, sewing jeans or shipping clothes.

What we learned — to our surprise — was that some of the biggest environmental impacts we make fall outside our supply chain control: Namely, growing cotton (49 percent of water in the lifecycle) and consumers washing and drying our clothes (58 percent of the climate impact).

Since the products they were looking at are made primarily from cotton, I'm not particularly surprised that a huge percentage of the water impact is related to the production of the material itself.

The climate impact from washing and drying, though; that does seem a little surprising at first glance. On the other hand, if you wash your jeans once a week and keep them for several years, that's a LOT of washings, which means water and energy, especially if you use hot water and a dryer. (Skimming their life-cycle analysis, I did not see what the expected lifetime of the pants actually is.)

So here's what they decided to do about the cotton:

. . . we've joined forces with other brands and retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Adidas, and Ikea in an organization called the Better Cotton Initiative. You know about organic cotton, which addresses the use of chemicals in cotton agriculture. Better Cotton reduces chemical use and goes beyond that to try and address other environmental impacts, such as water use and soil health. It also includes labor standards and tries to improve financial profitability for farmers. So, it incorporates the three key aspects of sustainability — environmental, social and economic sustainability.

And the washing/drying:

We recently launched an exciting new partnership with Goodwill — A Care Tag for Our Planet — to spread the word with consumers that caring for their clothes can help care for the planet.

By changing our care tags, we were the first major apparel company to change our garment care labels to urge consumers to take action by "washing in cold water," "line drying" and "donating unwanted clothing. We're hoping this helps put a dent in the 68 billion pounds of clothing a year that end up in landfills in the US.

I'm really, really curious about how these efforts are going to play out in the real world, especially the care tag program. Because it would be really awesome if such simple steps could help lead to the overall cultural changes we need.

More bad design from Apple, but I kind of appreciate it anyway

Well, a little. In that schadenfreude, watching two disliked entities attack each other, way.

I'm not a big fan of Apple/Mac. Most of my years using a computer have been on a PC, so I'm most comfortable there. I've spent about 3 years using Macs at workplaces, but in many respects I'd rather be back on MS DOS or a Linux box than a Mac. I'm not going to get into all the reasons why I have a low opinion of Apple/Mac; for now, I'll just say there are many, like, for example, how controlling and anti-modification Apple is of their devices.

I also really, really, REALLY dislike Flash, at least the way it gets overused and abused on the Web. It's a fun program to use, and I can definitely see the appeal in designing an entire website in Flash, but I think it is a terrible method.

Now, since I'm not a raving Apple fan, I had no idea until the iPad came out that for years, Apple has been making devices that can't play Flash.

Suddenly, Apple devices and Flash are all over the news! OH NOES, you can't play Flash on the iPad! Doom! Woe!

I get it, to a point. I think the current version of Flash out there is what, 10? Well, I've been running 8 for a long time and haven't bothered to upgrade (a program I liked required Flash 8, so I actually downgraded from 9 to 8.) So there are a lot of design firms whose websites I cannot view. At. All. Unless I use someone else's computer and they are up to date.

So I know how really, really aggravating it is to be unable to get any information from a firm or artist or even a subsection of a site because they require not just Flash, but the Latest and Greatest Flash.

And I think it is crappy design on Apple's part to release devices that are supposed to give you all this great and wonderful access to the Internets, yes you MUST BUY APPLE because no one does it better! and it's such wonderful design! except with no easy way to view lots and lots and lots of popular content. (Maybe not "crappy design," because Apple intentionally does not give easy access to Flash, because Apple has no love for Adobe. And I think objects that are intentionally less functional than they could be, because of some sort of competitive/grudge thing between two companies, so you the consumer wind up with a device that lacks some important function, and the manufacturer can get away with it because of their hype, these are not good objects. Only mostly good, at best. So, I don't know? Bad design? Grudging design? Selfish design? Oh, that turned into an anti-Apple rant, and I was going to try to avoid it; I need to save some ideas for later writing.)

But back to Flash:

It blows my mind that companies will spend lots of time or money or both to get a really slick "oh look at us we're a Design Firm" Flash-based website built, and not provide any alternative for people who: can't get the Latest and Greatest; don't run it because they are concerned about security issues; or are unable to view content via Flash even if they have the Latest and Greatest, because of poor implementation of Flash's accessibility features.

I'm especially angry about architecture firms who fail in this regard. The Americans with Disabilities Act is law, and it has to be taken into consideration with thousands of projects, but as soon as the design isn't a building, accessibility for everyone goes out the window, all so the website can be carefully controlled and scripted?! I don't know how often it is a deliberate choice, another example of architectural arrogance and control issues, versus just plain thoughtlessness.

And there are other criticisms of Flash, too. Your normal browser functions don't work, you can't bookmark something inside the website, only the front page, and it's not open source. I question whether this kind of proprietary design is sustainable, and what the overuse of this kind of proprietary design does to a system like the Internet, which was built on openness.

So I am practically giddy with the thought that, now that it's not just the iPhone but also the iPad denying Flash, that all the Flash-only offenders may finally FINALLY get around to building their sites the right way, or having a no-Flash alternative, so that everyone can see what they have to say to the world.

And those that choose to limit their audience by short-sighted design decisions? I'm not going to weep for them losing the iPhone/iPad audience.

Living buildings

A friend sent me this link, to an article about a "living building" in Jerusalem.

The building is the Gutman Visitation Center, and – among other features – is designed to create habitat for non-humans.

From the Jerusalem Post, more details:

…Not only was it constructed with recycled materials for the most part, it is actually designed not to disrupt the natural flow of life at the site. There are holes in the stone walls, which are made from extra stone from a nearby building site, so animals and birds can make burrows. There's even a family of rare porcupines living behind the air conditioning vent, SPNI's Amir Balaban said on a tour of the building.

The building also has a "living" roof.

"The roof is a 'living roof,' and not a 'green roof.' What is a green roof? It is a roof of plants that require watering. A living roof is comprised of native Middle Eastern flora which bloom according to the seasons and do not require any watering," Balaban enthused.

Okay, so it's a xeriscaped green roof. But a very lush-looking one. Maybe the green roof makers in the States could learn some things from this project; even the supposedly hardy sedums and native grasses grown on some roofs don't do very well without irrigation! Granted, the struggling green roofs I'm familiar with were up quite a bit higher, and therefore much more exposed to sun and wind, and the surfaces of the Gutman Center don't appear to have that height disadvantage.

One of my favorite aspects of this project is that there is also a birdwatching hide, thanks to the nearby presence of the SPNI's (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel) bird research center.

In looks, the building reminds me a lot of many of Hundertwasser's creations, with trees and a variety of other plants incorporated throughout the structure, not just as a (more or less low and flat) green roof or green screens.

For further information on living buildings, see the International Living Building Institute, which has downloadable standards, and the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, which got the ILBI started.

Rapidly approaching Rainbows End

Rainbows End is a really awesome novel by Vernor Vinge, set in a near-future world "where almost every object is networked and mediated-reality technology is commonplace." Reading the first part of "The street as platform" felt a lot like being back in the fictional world of Rainbows End, but it is entirely realistic. It may also seem either really really really cool, or give you the creeping horrors. Or possibly a little of both, if, like me, you are both fascinated with information infrastructures and horrified by the vast volumes of data we send out about ourselves, often unknowingly.

Horrified because 1) privacy issues! What is actually happening with all this data indicating what we are up to? Is it only being picked up by the services we believe are getting it? How is it getting correlated with other information? And what is being done with it? How many spam emails will I get because Service A sold my info to Service B? What if I wind up, as so many other innocents have, on the TSA's watch list, and they run my name through their magic set of correlated data, and freak out because I read a book that they think means I'm a terrorist For Sure, and then the next time I go to the airport I find out what happens to the Presumed Guilty?

And also 2) HOLY SINGLE POINT OF FAILURE, BATMAN! Er, I mean: Look how dependent everything we do is on the wireless and the electricity! One good electromagnetic pulse (or one bad move with a backhoe), and we are in a world of hurt (this reminds me of another SF novel, encoded here in rot13 to prevent spoilers: Pelfgny Enva, ol Gbovnf Ohpxryy). And yet how easy it makes so many things; reverting to a less technological way of doing things is nearly unimaginable. But on the "really really really cool" side, there is one datastream in particular that I would really love to see more widely implemented:

At another building on the street, a new four-storey commercial office block inhabited by five different companies, the building information modelling systems, left running after construction, convey real-time performance data on the building’s heating, plumbing, lighting and electrical systems back to the facilities management database operated by the company responsible for running and servicing the building. It also triggers entries in the database of both the architect and engineering firms who designed and built the office block, and are running post-occupancy evaluations on the building in order to learn from its performance once inhabited.

This would be wonderful, to have loads of data on building performance! Lack of data on building performance is a major criticism of LEED in particular, and many aspects of sustainable design in general; how do you know it's worth it without sufficient evidence? And do we have enough baseline data of "traditional" ways of building?

The second part of the article is a really excellent overview and analysis of these aspects of our world, which rarely seem to get any attention until they go wrong. The author poses dozens of thoughtful, critical questions about these layers of informational infrastructure, raising issues that often go unexamined, but are very important, because:

. . . the patterns of data in the streets, the systems that enable and carry them, the quality of those connections, their various levels of openness or privacy, will all affect the way the street feels rather more than street furniture or road signs.

Deeper Green items

Ideas for future field trips:

Easy Care green walls (?). Mentioned in the meeting, but my searching is turning up nothing online.

Brockton Brightfields, the largest solar array in New England, turning a brownfield site into solar energy generation.

Konarka thin film organic PV. It does not use silicon, but a "photo-reactive polymer material invented by Konarka co-founder and Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Alan Heeger." It's flexible and recyclable, and the structure of the OPV material allows it to generate power from light coming in from angles other than 90 degrees. And it can generate power from artificial light sources. A friend who toured their site mentioned they are also looking into making PV fibers, so you could literally weave fabric from the stuff.

Other items:

Terraskin "paper" made from calcium carbonate and polyethylene resin. Can go into the normal paper recycling stream, because the components will be separated out and will not harm the end result (recycled paper); however, at this point in time, to actually recycle the product requires it to be shipped back to the manufacturer. It cannot be used in normal inkjet or laser printers. On the plus side: it's durable, uses significantly less ink than fiber paper, and the processing requires no water use. It will be interesting to see if this gets wider use.