Redemption

I’m sorry, but if I hear one more “expert” on the box describe the financial crisis as “psychological” I’m going to barf. I also heard a French commentator today blame “the redemption factor” – which sounds biblical, but apparently refers to the price being put on that huge red chunk of the pyramid (see story above) which seems to represent eight hundred times global GDP.
Norrie C at The Guardian explains that what’s unwinding is “the mathematically flawed system of debt-based, fiat, Fractional Reserve Banking which is predicated on indefinite exponential growth. That is growth in debt, population, industrial activity, consumption of energy, consumption of raw materials, production of waste, production of pollution, destruction of the biosphere”.
Continuous, relentless exponential growth of the above list is simply not possible indefinitely – and the end of indefinitely is what seems to be happening now.
The fiscal model is fatally flawed, Norrie explains, because “you need a relentless, geometric increase in debt for there to be enough money in the money supply to pay back all the capital and interest when only the capital was ever created. The debt-based Fractional Reserve Banking system is killing itself, our savings and our planet”.
This is a disgrace, and somebody should do something about it.
But personally I’ve made a killing out of the crisis this week. On Monday, in Brighton, Andre Viljoen gave me my first Lewes Pound:
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This new complementary currency is designed to encourage demand for local goods and services and thereby to help build resilience to the rising costs of energy, transport and food.
It’s intended to be used alongside pounds Sterling – but I couldn’t help noticing that LPs are selling at a healthy premium on eBay: pound@ebay.png
In other words, my global holdings in complementary currencies (one Lewes Pound) have gone up fourteen times in a single week.
I’ve only got one Lewes Pound, and I’m hanging on to it. Or will someone out there will make me a good offer? What shall we say: a kilo of gold for it?

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The rain in Spain stays mainly in the Hog

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Harvesting rainwater is key for any town or city determined to use its water sustainably. Rainwater HOG is a rain rescue and storage tank designed as a water-filled building block. It was conceived and developed by an Australian architect, Sally Dominguez, who had been designing drought-ready buildings but was frustrated by a lack of options for domestic scale urban rainwater catchment. HOG’s flat walls, and use of through-holes as bracing, allow water to flow in any direction. This enables HOG to store water horizontally and vertically. Because HOG modules are deliberately slim and compact, they are easy to retrofit into the tightest spaces. As Dominguez explains,”the problem with a drought is that when it rains, it often gathers in the wrong areas for it to be of use. As an architect I wanted to fit in rainwater storage without giving up valuable real estate”. The product has taken off so fast in California that Dominguez has moved her family and the business to Marin County. Hog is on display at the Autodesk Design Gallery in San Francisco as one of the winners of the Spark design awards.
I can’t judge whether the system can be used as it stands in a European context, but the potential market in London must be 35 million units on its own. It never rains but it shines, at least for this designer.

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Feeling peaky

I have this image of the 19-strong Emergency Economy Committee sitting down in Number 10 Downing Street in London (as they did yesterday, for the first time) to discuss the money crisis. The economy war-room is lined with screens on which red graphs plunge downwards. The Prime Minister calls the meeting to order: “Any suggestions?” Before any of the 19 hand-picked experts, the finest financial minds in the land, can speak, a functionary bursts into the room bearing a clipboard. “Prime Minister, we really must deal with the peak oil crisis, right now”. The Prime Minister opens his mouth to reply, but before he can speak another functionary comes in waving another print-out: “Peak phosphorous, peak phosphorous, it’s going to run out and there’ll be no bread and we’re all going to starve” the functionary babbles. At this point the Prime MInister stands up and stamps his foot: “I don’t want to hear any more bad news. Someone give me some good news”. At this point a small nerdy guy comes in and says, “Prime Minister, we really need you to co-ordinate emergency international action on the peak indium crisis”. “Where the hell is Indium” cries Brown. “It’s not a place, Prime Minister, it’s a rare metal” stammers the nerd.”It’s essential to the production of liquid displays but it’s going to run out and when that happens the world will run out of computer displays”. “You mean, like the displays in this room?” asks Brown. “I’m afraid so, yes, Prime Minister”. “Excellent” cries Brown, and claps the nerd on the back. “I’m appointing you Minister for Clear Thinking. “I want you to buy up all the indium in the world and pour it down that hole where we keep all the nuclear waste”.

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Beyond the building: behind the website

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This is what it looked like when three of the best critics in the Netherlands set out to write an online book in five days at the Venice Architecture Biennial (which was two weeks ago),
Did I say concentrated?
Inspired by the recent burning-down of the Faculty of Architecture in Delft, the Dutch Pavilion (commissioned from Stealth by Ole Bouman) was turned into a project called ARCHIPHOENIX – a week long debate on “the capacities and capabilities of architecture – beyond building”. My own contribution, a talk on the theme
“What would radical ecology imply for architecture? is online: click on “keynote speaker marathon: Beyond the sustainable”.

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Design for social impact

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I was critical, at the time it was announced, of a plan by the Rockerfeller Foundation to convene a meeting about Design for Development. Their starting point was “to bring together the world’s best designers with people and organizations that work on the world’s most important and complex problems” – an objective that struck me as being too designer-centric, and too uncritical of the notion of “development”.
A report of the meeting (at the Foundation’s gorgeous-looking Bellagio Center) has now been published – and I have to say that my misgivings persist. The project has acquired a macho new title – “Design for Social Impact” – and there are repeated references to “the social sector” as if society, in all its complexity, is best understood as a market for design services. (The language used here reminds me of time I heard a senior person from Cisco talk about “the sustainability space”.) It is also assumed throughout the report that ‘the social sector’ contains only NGOs – whereas, for a lot of critics, NGOs are as much a part of the development problem as they will be part of any solution.
Most uncomfortable of all, for me, is that nowhere in the report can I find one single mention of the lessons design might learn from other cultures.
I’m going on about this because an eminent participant told me the meeting would “influence how hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money are spent.” It’s fine for designers to discuss these things, but candidly I don’t think a single dollar should be spent helping designers make a “social impact” on places and cultures they know very little about.

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London: burning, flooding, drying ….

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Fifteen per cent of London is at high risk from flooding due to global warming – an area that includes 1.25 million people, almost half a million properties, more than 400 schools, 75 underground and railway stations, 10 hospitals, and an airport (London City ). According to the draft of The London climate change adaptation strategy, an estimated £160bn worth of assets is at stake.
This fascinating document expressly does not deal with the causes of climate change; it focuses on effects. “Even if all global greenhouse gas emissions could be stopped today”, the report explains, “the immense inertia in Earth’s climate systems means that changes to our climate for the rest of this century are unavoidable. Preparing for these inevitable changes is not an alternative to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, but a parallel and complementary action.”.
This is fair enough. Scientists expect warmer, wetter winters and hotter drier summers, coupled with an increase in the frequency of extreme weather and rising sea levels. London has no choice but to prepare for an increased risk of flooding, drought and heatwaves. (The image above plots so-called “urban heat islands”).
This first draft Adaptation Strategy is measured and thorough; it’s easy for the various actors, such government, house builders and so on, to understand what they have to start doing.
That said, the section on vulnerability of water supply contains an eccentric passage. The text states that “as water companies have a responsibility to provide water to their customers, the main group of people vulnerable to drought are those who would be financially affected by “non-essential use bans.” These non-essential uses are helpfully listed: :
• manufacture and sale of hosepipes and related apparatus
• health and leisure clubs and hotels/clubs with private swimming pools
• car washing using hosepipes
• growing, sale, provision and maintenance of plants, including turf
• provision and maintenance of sport and recreation facilities dependent on
watering; manufacture, sale and maintenance of swimming pools owned by the
private sector
• manufacture and sale of ornamental ponds
• operation of mechanical vehicle washers
• washing of vehicles, boats, railway rolling stock and aircraft
• cleaning of building exteriors and industrial premises where a hosepipe is used
• manufacturers and sellers of paddling pools, hot tubs and water slides
• those who use hosepipes to clean patios, drives and hard standings
• those who depend on storage tanks for a mobile supply of water.
Tacked on at the end of this section are the words, “The environment is also vulnerable to drought”. (Extended drought periods will affect the ability of some species to survive, either through wetlands prematurely drying out, or through higher water temperatures and lower oxygen levels that are associated with low river flows. Low flows also reduce the dilution of any pollution entering the watercourse, so increasing the rate of eutrophication and stagnation).
Now call me a pedant, but is it not the case that “the environment” is the pre-condition for life on earth, including London? It might inconvenience John Travolta if washing aircraft on driveways were to be banned – but it’s surely a no-brainer that these non-essential uses should be phased out once and for all. Besides, the opportunities for an improved quality of life as London prepares for change are enormous. Urban greening figures prominently in the Adaptation Strategy’s proposals; so too does the need to deal with noise.
An immense amount of innovation will be needed to retrofit buildings and infrastructure with equipment to enable greater water and energy efficiency. Even more important than these hard actions will be soft ones – the design of services to help Londoners meet daily life needs in new ways.
I should declare an interest here: I’m drafting a response to this Adaptation Strategy draft for the UK Design Council. As soon as that’s ready, I’ll flag it up here.

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Tribal currencies

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[Source: http://www.complementarycurrency.org/ccDatabase/les_public.html ]

According to Illargi over at Automatic Earth, although today’s contested $700 billion+ plan will probably get the go-ahead, it does not even begin to address the true scale of the global problem.”Far more money than that will be needed to keep the present financial structure standing”, he writes, adding surreally – but plausibly – that “the global shadow banking system, the source of perhaps $800 trillion in outstanding derivatives, with $62 trillion in credit default swaps alone, is shaking on its foundations, and will inevitably tumble.”

(and, added today, 30/09: “$700 billion is just one tenth of one percent of the estimated $700 trillion in outstanding derivatives. It’s like owing $100, and offering a dime as full and final payment”.

Reading blogs like Automatic Earth is both necessary and enlightening. But it’s also a bit like watching one of those reality car chase programmes in which you wait, guiltily, for the felon – or in this case, the global financial system – to crash.
A healthier response, surely, is to get out of the house and look for positive things to do. As I’ve often mentioned here, there’s an awful lot of activity out there below the radar, and we would do well to check that out rather than spend out whole time watching disaster blogvision.

A good example is the speed with which a lot of people are deploying so-called complementary currencies. The rate of growth is well shown on the chart above, which I found at a fascinating database called ComplementaryCurrency.org .

For a concise analysis of why we need complementary currencies so badly, read the Open Money Manifesto. And whilst you’re at it, do re-read Margrit Kennedy’s paper to Doors of Perception 8 in Delhi. That one lecture (it was in Delhi in Spring 2005) was when most of the readers of this blog, including its writer, first realised that the money system was going to run off the rails in the major way that’s happening now.

For my part, I plan to become an active user of complementary currencies starting on 7 October. I’m giving a talk that day at the University of Brighton – and I hope to be paid my speaking fee in Lewes Pounds.

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The true size of the hole? $70,000,000,000,000?

As in: “The unregulated and poorly reported credit default swaps may have actually passed $70 trillion last year, or about $5 trillion more than the GDP of the entire world”. The story that includes this number is a really excellent analysis of why and how we got to this point: do read it.
By the way, if you are as confused as I am by the different ways the word “billion” is used in different contexts, you should find this explanation by Jim Loy helpful. I did.
Oh yes, and “there are fears that the West Nile virus could spread aggressively as mosquitoes breed in the stagnant water of swimming pools at bank-owned homes”. In San Diego, pest control officers have seen a surge in calls to deal with bees and wasps which are nesting undisturbed in vacant houses.

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Did this architect trigger global financial mayhem?

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We don’t know yet whether $85 billion dollars will be enough to save American International Group (AIG), the world’s biggest insurance firm (although some apparently insider commentators are not reassuring).
But could an architect have been responsible for starting the panic?
The Stern Review, when it was published two years ago, stated that failure to tackle climate change could cost the world – and by implication, its insurance companies, such as AIG – up to seven trillion dollars.
Many commentators at the time asked where this vast figure had come from. I think I know where from: The source is a slideshow that the architect Ed Mazria was showing at conferences around that time explaining what happens when climate change causes sea levels to rise.
While the rest of us were looking at Al Gore’s pictures of baby polar bears on melting lumps of ice, the money guys were staring at the Mazria’s maps: The red bits show where very very expensive sea-front real-estate is at risk of inundation.

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