The Man Who Made a Forest

Hi Folks:

Sometimes you come across a story that leaves you (almost) speechless.  I am a writer, after all.  Although this story appeared in the April 1, 2012 edition of ‘The Indian Times‘, it’s no April Fool’s joke.  One man, two hands, two feet and thirty years created a 550 ha (~1360 acre) forest in rural India.  By himself.  Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng began by planting bamboo when he was 16, then when that had grown he began planting, watering and pruning tree seedlings.  He brought in red ants from his village to help the soil.  Nature built the rest.  The full story is in the Indian Times article.

I salute him.

He’s not alone in his work, though. Wangari Maathai began the ‘Green Belt Movement‘ in Kenya, and it’s now become an international organization.  Although Ms. Maathai is no longer with us, the GBM continues its goal of planting one billion trees internationally.  In Indonesia, Willie Smits and the Masarang Foundation are helping local communities, wildlife and the rainforest, and the people of Vakan’Ala (‘Pearls of the Forest) are doing similar work in Madagascar.  Amazing.

Hugs,
Mike.

P.S. You can read Jean Giono’s fictional story, ‘The Man Who Planted Trees‘ and a similar one, ‘Where the Sun Spilled Gold‘, by following the links.

Being Green: Body and Mind – The Olympics and TED

Hi Folks:

Well, another week has flown by!  The Vancouver 2010 Olympics begin today, and there’s been a lot of effort put into making this Olympics the ‘greenest’ one ever.  There are, of course, two opposing views on their efforts.  On one side, Daily Planet has created an extensive chronicle of the science and technology that has gone into the preparations for this event, and a part of their efforts include eight segments highlighting different ways in which this Olympics are ‘going for green‘.  The official Vancouver Olympics website also has a section of their site devoted to explaining their sustainability efforts.  Even the Olympic medals are made partially from metals recycled from electronic waste.  On the other side of the table, a recent article by Dr. David Suzuki serves to highlight the (many?) ways in which the 2010 Olympics has fallen  short, and the ways in which future games might be improved. As an example, one new structure at Whistler is a chalet designed to PassivHaus standards.  A PassivHaus consumes 90% less energy than one built to standard building code.  I think that’s wonderful, and ideas like this need to be incorporated into every new building.  At the same time, the building was created in a factory in Austria and then shipped around the world to BC where it was erected, so that process itself may negate the environmental benefits of having such a tight structure.  I can’t say for sure.  Can we do more?  Need we do more?  For my part I say yes, certainly, on both counts.  At the same time, I believe we advance ourselves further with compliments than criticisms, so I offer my congratulations to all involved with the Vancouver 2010 Olympics for their efforts in sustainability, and I trust that future events will greatly exceed the efforts made here.

Now the Olympics is primarily about the body.  Yes, there’s technology and development and mental acuity and more, but overall the Olympics is about physical excellence.  There’s another ‘Olympics’ of sorts that’s also going on right now, a little farther south, in Long Beach, CA – the 2010 TED ConferenceTED is an acronym for ‘Technology – Entertainment – Design’ and in some respects TED is a mental olympics.  But while the Olympics proper is about competition, striving to be the best, TED is about cooperation, perhaps coopetiton.  Some of the most important minds in the world gather every year at TED.  There’s also ‘William’.  He’s 11, and the youngest TED attendee to date.  At TED you’ll find doctors, engineers, business leaders, and also people like William Kamkwamba.  A native of Malawi, at 14 William had to leave school to support his family.  He went to the closest library and found a book on wind energy, and using some wonderful adaptive engineering he built a wind generator for his parent’s home.  Basically he built a wooden tower, formed blades out of melted PVC pipe, and connected these blades to the pedal arm of a bicycle.  When the wind turned the propeller blades, the rotating crank would ‘pedal’ the bicycle, spinning the rear wheel and generating electricity using a small generator designed to operate a bicycle headlight.  He generated enough power to provide for four lights in his parent’s home, and so he went beyond that, adding in a circuit breaker and four light switches.

To say a lot has been written about TED – some good, some less than flattering – would be a vast understatement.  There’s such a broad scope of topics covered at the main conference every year, and increasingly in independent ‘TEDx’ conferences (300 so far), that any attempt to cover them all would fall short.  But since these weekly posts are about green building and sustainability, I thought I’d highlight just a few to get you started.  Hundreds more can be seen and/or downloaded from the TED website.

Rachel Armstrong presented an idea to use ‘protocells’ to create building structures that sequester CO2 from the atmosphere or from water, creating carbonate ‘reefs’ that build and repair themselves.

Juan Enriquez talked about the tremendous advances in agriculture caused by shifting our thinking from using ‘force’ to grow food to using biology, and how this concept is our way forward to a sustainable energy future.

Norman Foster discussed how architects can design buildings that are “green, beautiful and basically pollution-free.”

Willie Smits spoke about recreating a clear-cut tropical rainforest in Borneo, providing habitat for local orangutans and providing food, homes, and a sustainable wage for communities of local people.

The winner of the 2010 TED Prize, Jamie Oliver outlined a plan on how to make children (and their parents, and everyone) food aware.  Malnutrition and obesity are linked if we’re eating foods that our bodies can’t effectively utilize.  How does this relate to green building and/or sustainability?  Americans invest $150 billion a year on healthcare issues related to preventable disease arising from obesity and food disorders.  As things are, this will only increase.  The production, transportation, marketing and distribution of ‘unhealthy food’ has costs that are staggering, and not just in an economic sense.  I’ve mentioned this before, and while I can’t remember the name of the original author, the ‘triple bottom line’ for businesses today involve environmental sensitivity, corporate sustainability and profit.  What the speaker said was to consider this as a three-legged stool.  He went on to say that what’s important to remember is not that if you remove one of the legs the stool will fall over.  What’s important to remember is that it doesn’t matter which one of the legs you remove, the stool still falls over.

Okay, the links this week are:

Okay, that’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to leave us a comment to say hi!

Mike.

P.S.
Something a little different – a touch screen you don’t need to touch.  Gesture Cube: No need to touch – just give it a wave!

Being Green – Good News?!?!?!

Hi Folks:  Well, Friday has come around once again and that means it’s ‘green day’ here for us.  Without question the biggest news in the world this week is the aftermath following the earthquake in Haiti.  If you’re interested you can find links to disaster relief sites here.  It’s events like this that bring the words ‘climate change’ into real focus.  It’s wonderful that so many millions of dollars and thousands of hours of effort have been offered in assisting the people of Haiti deal with what’s happened on their island; as Marcia said to me though, where were the funds to help them upgrade their infrastructure BEFORE this happened?

Ah well.  The title of this blog post is ‘Good News’ and all evidence to the contrary, there is good news to be found.  Last week’s post focused on what I see as the somewhat bewildering plethora of green building standards and certifications, but even that is good news in a way.  It wasn’t that many years ago that none of this existed.  One article I came across this week is titled ‘A Very Brief History of Sustainability‘.  These ideas continue to spread beyond building construction as well.  On the Sustainable Sites Initiative website you can find information on “The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009” (.pdf), which includes “all stages of the site development process from site selection to landscape maintenance”.  There’s also a companion guide called “The Case for Sustainable Landscapes” (.pdf)  It brings a different slant to the idea of being ‘green’.  Another site I came across talks about greening up building operations and maintenance.  In the US these guidelines fall under the USGBC LEED for Existing Buildings – Operations and Maintenance Guide.  The article I read is titled, “LEED Cleaning – Why Not?”  Consider for a moment the wide range of chemicals used in traditional cleaning products and their effects on both the people using them and everyone else occupying the building after their use.  I certainly applaud less toxic alternatives!  Continue Reading →