Patricia de Martelaere

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The incredibly sad news has reached us today that Patricia de Martelaere has died.
Many readers of this blog may recall her presentation at Doors of Perception 7 on flow: “A philosophical tale about our time.” Patricia was already a rising star of European philosophy at the time, but our eagerness to hear her speak at Doors was prompted especially by her book What Remains, in which she asks what we can and should sustain in a world of processes of perpetual change and becoming; and by her collection of essays, Wereldvreemdheid (Unworldliness).
Patricia studied philosophy at the University of Louvain where her doctoral thesis was on the scepticism of the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Since then, in addition to becoming a much-loved professor at the universities of Brussels and Louvain, Patricia also published two award-winning novels, and four collections of essays on philosophical, literary and psychological subjects; these works also received major prizes. She also made an impressive début as a poet, in the Belgian literary magazine De Gids; and in 2002 she published a poetry collection entitled Niets dat zegt (Nothing that says).
Her prodigious and original talent as a writer and philosopher is only one aspect of the loss we all feel today. Kristi and I were fortunate to know Patricia as a friend, and Patricia and her husband Tom were our guests here in Ganges several times. We have fond memories of her learning Chinese on the terrace in the sun, surrounded by books and papers – in between inspiring, but light and joyful, dinner conversations when ideas, and the inner life of dogs, competed for our attention.
She was only 51, and Patricia’s own words are especially poignant today: “The universe is perpetual change. Things are ephemeral and ungraspable. We want to get hold of them, but they escape through our fingers like grains of sand or running water. Living reality seems to be utterly beyond our control. Reasons enough to cry”.

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Confused? Anxious? Need a place to think?

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Some close friends of Doors have just completed 20 months work doing up Café de Tannay. It’s an authentic 16C town house two-and-a-bit hours south of Paris. It’s in the ancient center of the Middle Ages wine village of Tannay, whose name is derived from Celtic ‘tann’, oak. Tannay is in the western part of the Burgundy region 20 kilometers from UNESCO World-heritage site Vézelay on its ‘eternal hill’ dominating the Morvan National Park. If you are one of these poor souls or just feel you need a break from too much input – then we warmly recommend a sojourn in this beautful place.

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Re-imagining Metropolis

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An interesting event for our London readers: “No understanding between the brain and the hands” is a collaboration between Pocko photographers and illustrators. Inspired by Metropolis, the 1927 silent science fiction film, created by the famed director Fritz Lang, five photographers have collaborated with nine different designers to create interpretations of the film. From strange creatures taking over the concrete jungle, to our understanding of the city as a living organism, the images reinterpret Lang’s urban dystopia and create new versions of the city as we know it today. This Thursday, 5 March, 6 till 9 pm. Kemistry Gallery, 43 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, London EC2.

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The innovator next door

McKinsey&co has published a book called What Matters. It contains “answers to ten big questions, whose answers will shape our collective future”. I conributed a short text called “The innovator next door” . I know the title sounds rather like A Little House On The Prairie – especially compared to some of the grand ideas espoused by other contributors – but I’m trying to carve out a market as an expert in the re-localisation space. If you want to help me in this quest – or would relish an opportunity to put the boot in to my parochialism – please post a comment on their blog: it will demonstrate that I am not alone in McKinseyland.

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The internet can be *so* useful sometimes

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I often use pictures like this one, in my talks, to denote the crisis. But the crisis seems to be perpetual, and it becomes boring to repeat the same image. I therefore thank Matthew Ray Robison, a public-spirited person who has helpfully started The brokers with hands on their faces blog.

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Could ‘green’ energy kill the desert?

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One of the more remarkale sights on my recent trip was this vast wind farm outside Palm Springs. Located on the San Gorgonio Mountain Pass in the San Bernadino Mountains, it contains more than 4000 separate wind turbines and provides enough electricity to power Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley.
But for critics, large scale wind power used to generate electricity is not inherently clean at all, but only somewhat less dirty than the fossil fuels they are purported to replace. Bruce Pavlik, in a piece for the LA Times warned that, if we’re not careful, a rush to produce green energy could do irrevocable damage to some fragile California ecosystems. “California’s desert lands are in some ways a perfect fit with the renewable energy industries necessary to combat climate change” Pavlik writes; “There’s sun. There’s wind. There’s space. But the biologically rich but arid desert ecosystems are remarkably fragile”.
Once topsoil and plant life have been disrupted for the placement of solar arrays, wind farms, power plants, transmission lines and CO2 scrubbers, restoration would be cost-prohibitive, if not technically impossible – and in any case can take 100 years or more. Pavlik cautions that widespread desert construction, even of projects aimed at environmental mitigation, “would devastate the very organisms and ecosystems best able to adjust to a warming world”.
As physical equipment, wind farms also use an awful lot of physical resources. The compartments at the top of each tower, that contain the generator, hub and gearbox, each weigh 15,000 kilos upwards (30,000 to 45,000 pounds). Other components of a utility-scale wind farm include underground power transmission systems, control and maintenance facilities, and substations that connect farms with the utility power grid. That’s a lot of embodied energy.
At the moment, more vast projects are moving ahead. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is processing more than 180 permit applications from private companies to build solar and wind projects in California deserts. One such venture, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, scheduled to begin construction in a beautiful valley near the California-Nevada border in San Bernardino County, will occupy 3,400 acres – and that doesn’t include the land needed for transmission lines. Most projects are even larger, averaging 8,000 acres; some exceed 20,000 acres. According to the LA Times, the total public land under consideration for alternative energy production exceeds 1.45 million acres in California alone.
“We need to acknowledge the true costs of any energy development” Pavlik concludes. “When a dam is built, a river is lost. But people who turn on their tap and draw that water rarely think about the river that was destroyed to produce it. Similarly, if we choose to place our “ugly” industrial technologies in the wilderness, there will be less awareness of the damage, less incentive to conserve”.

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Playing chicken

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On a visit to this week to Z33, an amazing art centre in Belgium, I learned about the Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen and his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (TCCP). It’s wide-ranging investigation of what it would take to create and manipulate scores of chicken breeds from whole over the world into a new species, a universal chicken or Superbastard. The site is full of reflections on genetic manipulation, cloning, globalisation and multiculturalness are found throughout his work. Vanmechelen likes to describe his work in Hegelian terms: thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Or, the chicken and the egg as a metaphor for the human race and art. Me, I think this photo is fab.

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Off-Grid Water (Service design clinic, Stanford University, 2009)

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Together with Banny Banerjee, the new Director of Stanford University’s ’Design For Change programme, we ran a professional design clinic on the theme of “off-grid water”. Our Stanford clinic focused on entrepreneurs in the Palo Alto region who were developing tools to help citizens manage water sustainably.
Rainwater Hog has won lots of prizes, but its designer and producer, Sally Dominguez, wanted our advice on the best way to translate celebrity into sales.
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Our worldly design experts concluded that people will pay better money to save their house, than to save the planet., and advised Sally to re-brand the system as an on-site emergency water supply.
Seven per cent of all US energy use is to process waste – thereby causing 30m million of tons of emissions. Charles Zhou mesmerised us with his story about the use of smart micro-organisms to optimize sludge digestion, and of microbial fuel cells to recover clean energy from wastewater. Ninety-nine percent of current wastewater treatment facilities do not recover any energy from wastewater. Zhou seems set to become the Bill Gates of sewage.
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Professor Banerjee reflecting on the event, told me that the three criteria by which their projects are selected are: beneficial impact, scalablility, and urgency. Our clinic scored well against those criteria. President Obama’s new energy secretary, Steven Chu, stated on the day we arrived that “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California”. Immediately following our clinic, a state-wide water state of emergency was declared.

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Are you, or do you know, a wind catcher expert?

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A friend in Colombia has sent me this picture of the model of their proposed new house. She asks my advice on its wind-catching performance, how wide these have to be…etc.
Now I’m flattered to be thought to be an expert on such an incredibly sustainable thing as zero energy airco – but my practical knowledge is, well, zero. But I’m confident that among you, dear Readers, there is someone who really knows about this stuff?
So I’m going to quote the letter – and you can tell me who can help my friend.
“As you can see there is a bottom room which is partly embedded in the mountain (for coolness) and has a small window, this room will also have another window and a 2 doors one internal / one external but still will be quiet hot because its facing southwest (and we are a bit north of the equator) + its roof is a flat cement slab (of course with air space+ coconut filling between “plafond” and actual roof ///// This room is a recording studio this is why its square + has flat roof…we cant change this because of acoustics + also because we dont want to stick out of the mountain too much, so the idea is that this roof will be used as a terrace and have its own live roof of local vines to create shade …(we cant do grass directly on the roof because we need to colect water)…..Sooooo we are going to inject cool air into the studio – on the one hand we have air that will be passing through the water tank and coming into the studio and 2. we have this “wind catcher” we read about in internet – iranian very old system for injecting cool air and at diferent moments sucking out hot air….You can see it on the model on the right, looks like a chimney…Well it probably will be square and not round and taller too, made of red low fired brick covered with adobe plaster.and on the bootom there will be a small pool of water so air will come in over this pool and enter the room cool…………..But really we are kind of inventing some of it because we don’t have much info on how these “wind catchers ” work, – we found very little info online, so it would be great if we could talk to someone or if someone could send us some additional info”.

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