Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sweden’s oil commission “knows what needs to be done” to break dependency

The commission entrusted with the job of ensuring Sweden’s oil independency by 2020, has its main functional guidelines drawn up and members appointed.

The commission is to act in advisory capacity to assist the Prime Minister's office in identifying and prioritizing measures to reach the 2020 goal.

Says the commission’s General Secretary, Stefan Edman: ”the role of the commission is to coordinate and hasten, acting as a catalyst”
“No more investigations are needed; we know what needs to be done to break oil dependency.”

In the middle of next month they will be presented with an updated analysis of how long oil is expected to last and consequences for price. Climate issues will be taken into consideration as well.

Three main sectors they are to address include home heating, transport and industry.

A document is due to be released by the summer 2006.

Here is a list of the commission members:
Leif Johansson, Managing Director Volvo Trucks
Birgitta Johansson Hedberg, Managing Director the Swedish Farmers Supply and Crop Marketing Association
Lisa Sennerby Forsse, Professor, Formas
Christian Azar, Professor, Chalmers University of Engineering
Lotta Bångens, Chairman of the Energy Advice Association, Energirådgivarna
Lars Andersson, former chairman of the Utility Eskilstuna energi och miljö
Christer Segersten, Chairman of Södra Skogsägarna, a co-operative of over 35,000 private forest owners in southern Sweden.
Göran Johnsson, former chairman of the Swedish Metalworkers' Union

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Return to PORENA and start-up meeting at town hall

This section is the transcript of my second visualised visit to an area about to embark on sustainable development. Click on the link to go to the start.
Streamed by Max Wahlter transcribed 2005 - 11-23

The last visit was to a place starting to go through the PORENA process to become more sustainable. I was invited there by the PORENA manager, Aaron Heathcliffe. The Process started with an inventory of the basics of life support in the area.

My quest is to return to follow the process and understand the next stages.

I arrive at the departure hall and meet Aaron immediately. He guides me to a lift which opens onto a walkway over to an entrance into an area I have not been before.

We get onto a train heading for some …ville.

At our destination we go over to the town hall and meet a few people who are standing in front of a large display with various models of what appears to be a radial city. They are exploring the possibilities of re-planning their main centre on the lines of what has been learned at PORENA. They also display soil types on a topographical map. They have grouped these in a growing zone analysis. They are also displaying land use types: forest, roads, rivers, built up areas. etc

Another part of the display shows an analysis of input and outputs from the area: transport, waste produced etc. Physical analysis, city location, a map of soils map and food production, flows in and out – it all seems to be here.

Aaron starts to debrief them: “How did you complete the analysis? How did you enjoy working together..”

He seems to be drawing out of them that they can work together like this in future. He is asking them about how they felt about doing this work. It has actually got people from different areas of local government and industry working together.

Everything is now in the database and it can be flown through. Everyone is drinking tea and chatting.

Heathcliffe asks everyone to sit down. The data underlying the displays is all in the database. Some presentation in visual form has already been prepared. He goes over to the computer and starts to fly through the data from different angles. He checks the application of the radial city calculations. Shortfall or excess? He looks at the following:

1) What is grown in the area to identify shortfalls in terms of volume of food, number of fields supporting a number of people.

2) Clean water shortfall or excess.

3) Vehicles park size, status.

4) Oil and other fossil fuel use, plan for powerdown.

Heathcliffe asks further questions. The computer operator provides answers using the software. I hear the phrase “comp stat”. They go through number of cars, owners, roads driven, fuel consumptions, age of population, pop dynamics. All the data is there as a fantastic resource.

Next question from Heathcliffe: “What you think the next step would be?”

Someone from the audience raises their hand: “ I think we need to start to evaluate this data: Like what, in terms of the ability to provide a standard of living for the inhabitants here, are assets and what are liabilities.”

They agree to inventory assets and liabilities to make a value judgment. The software will present an overview of their analysis in the form of a “playing board”. In the middle, an overview map of the area. Along the top, stakeholders. Along the bottom, resource organizations. To the left, assets, to the right, concerns.

The discussion moves to assets – a good deal of land is available to grow food on - and the to concerns – a large vehicle park and a lot of transported goods.

One other concern is the lack of a centre, built on a radial pattern.

They then suggest all stakeholder organizations need to be identified. Resource organizations will be listed at the bottom.

Next is to put a value on the data using some scoring mechanism. Heathcliffe suggests they widen up their sphere of influence and open up the data to other groups. They could share the discussion on concerns and assets.

He will send a facilitator to do that.

Heathcliffe calls me over and tells me to let them get on with it themselves. They need to go through and evaluate data themselves.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can we have SUSTAINABLE growth

We get into this debate every time. A population of people can grow in any given geographical area as long as the carrying capacity of that area (eg food producing) is not damaged. It is sustainable if this growth does not endanger carrying capacity for future generations.

Then you have economic growth. This is often translated as Gross national product and the sum of all services bought. If a population is growing, GNP could be increasing whilst GNP per capita is falling. Then you could have a situation where a few rich are gettng richer and the rest are getting poorer and you still have high economic growth.

If we could give each other services without involving the eco system we could probably have economic growth in a sustainable way. Like playing monopoly. the more we played, the more we would turn over in services (hotel charges, rent) the higher GNP per capita.

Unfortunately that is not the case. For every kg of stuff you buy 30 kg of waste and effluent are produced. All that oil burnt up for ever! THAT is not sustainable.

Monday, November 21, 2005

VERIFICATIONS, Computer simulations as public participation tool

This post follows up visualisation of a transformation process toward a sustainable community. Read the visualisation here or click on the link. LINK

Sense of urgency. No problem there, the Swedish Prime Minister announced Sweden will be oil independent by 2020. An American group, “Set America Free” is already calling for a new Manhattan project to get America off oil before the peak of production will cause economic destruction.

Map Software. This took a bit of surfing, but it seems this kind of software is quite common. You have a GIS - geographic information system LINK
Here you can have a database of information connected to positioning information and can display the information over the map, creating coured areas or symbols on the map.

Organizations: I found one US organization. The Local Government Commission (LGC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization that provides inspiration, technical assistance, and networking to local elected officials and other dedicated community leaders who are working to create healthy, walkable, and resource-efficient communities. LINK

It makes sense that by visualising information, like in a 3D fly though, you can more easily get people to understand complex relationships and concepts. LGC talks about Computer Simulation as a Public Participation Tool. One company that does this is Environmental Simulation Center.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Back to the beginning. Transcript.

Transcript of taped Image Stream: back to the beginning.
Streamed by Max Wahlter, transcribed 2005 11 17

This quest is to find out how the society now living sustainably in PORENA ever managed to develop from a technology – industrial growth community to where I found them on my last visits. Where did they start? (If you have not read about PORENA before visit this link)

If you would like to know we are publishing this read

I depart in a double-decker bus from the centre as usual. Arriving at the walled city of PORENA (if you are unfamiliar with it, the city is built in a circle with a rotating indoor walkway on the first floor.) I go up the stairs onto walkway and start to look around.
The manager I met last time, Aaron Heathcliffe, meets up with me and heads off towards the train station.
“Come on I’ve got your ticket,” he says.
He runs sprightly down the steps and onto the train, with me trailing after.
“Where are we going?” I ask slightly taken aback.
“Away from PORENA to a rural area.”
“Fine with me.”
As the train leaves I ask for a briefing.
“No, no you don’t need it - hang in there.”
I sink down into the soft and luxurious seats, and the train speeds off, reminding me of trains on the continent like Germany or Denmark.

We get off at some provincial station and walk over to what looks like a town hall. Many people are milling around, having tea and being welcomed and exchanging introductions. Aaron seems to know these people and introduces me as “someone who is learning the ropes”.

It feels like we are meeting representatives of something or other, like a city council.
I stand behind my host as he chats and mills around. I have a cup of tea - very nice-, and start to get into that amenable, open conference mode.

Tea time over, we pass though a reception area for the “Offices of Sustainable Development” and into a large meeting room. A podium dominates the room at the front, with lines of chairs facing it. At the rear they have arranged tables for group work.

“A big welcome, everybody, to Aaron Heathcliffe, city manager of PORENA,” the meeting chairman expresses heartily. Aaron talks about how is he going to help us, and share his experience, a knowledge transfer session seems promised. After a few Powerpoint slides he switches into demonstrating a 3D map application. You can see land use, water supply, population etc.

He points out that the place to start is with mapping out the status of conditions for creating a standard of living. This includes the amount of food grown in the area and ability to transport the food, taking it simply. He suggests a jurisdictional area is the easiest to start with, as they often have a lot of data related to an area in that form. Local authorities can cooperate with the community better, lines of communication are simpler.

“When PORENA did this exercise we looked at what it could be like if we simply removed all cars and jobs.”

He is showing how you can “fly through” the map and data in 3D: it shows, water, land etc the current conditions to be able to support a standard of living for the community. It is a simple approach: the amount of food grown in the area, the ability to transport that food, the distance from the city, number of people, the ability to take care of waste etc. Water supplies: what can be gravity driven, the number of inhabitants for the area’s ability to produce food, manufacturing ability and transport to the outside.

If you take cars away, all fossil fuel transport, and look at how things would work. With the right database this approach will work. Especially if you choose a jurisdictional area as official statistics are usually collected at that level.

He clicks us through the animations: “Stuff coming in, stuff coming out, security, food, waste, water, transport etc. In this exercise you identify the basic conditions for a standard of living and what is a possible for the areas and what isn’t. Wind power, local supply of oil, current trading patterns.”

Time for questions “Where did you start in the PORENA development”
“We started with the mapping process. It can be done by anyone, but it does have to be done for each region.”
“Is that your suggestion to us?”

“Absolutely.” Aaron looks serious: “And make sure the information is spread widely. In this way you will bring everyone with you.

For as many as possible to understand the situation is vital. As many as possible need to get a handle on what is happening in the area. For example, what is the lack of fuel situation? Or fuel price impacts. Maybe there are CO2 restrictions. People need to see what the assets of the area are and the concerns the community faces, This kind of investigation can be done by city officials.

“The local paper, what is their involvement,” I ask.
“The local paper is a good asset if you can get them on board. They can spread information.”
“And Corporations?” I try and sound matter of fact.
“Our experience shows that without the availability of cheap fossil fuel a corporation as an organizational unit does not make a lot of sense at all. Look for corporate ownership in PORENA and you’ll draw a blank. That kind of organizational form is not well recognized here, they do not see the point of it. They just do not have any corporations, only “come along” activities! (See earlier*)

Next item on the program is talking about next steps and where to go from here.

The officials need to set up a group to find the information and start walking people through it. Making sure everyone understands it and then drawing conclusions from the data.

Aaron will not return until that is completed:
“I’ll come back when you have done that. The process of collecting information is very important and it must be publicized so it is clear for everyone what the possibilities and consequences are. If you do this right it will create a sense of urgency. And this sense will move developments further”

So my guide has done his job. He hands over the software for them to complete the information.
He comes over to me and asks if he can do anything. I borrow his genius. (That is, use his eyes to see things the way he does.)

I experience him looking at everyone packing up and getting ready to go away – they have a lot of work in front of them. Seeing things the way they are is a good way to start change happening. Possibilities of becoming self supporting will show themselves. This includes the amount of food needed and in which aspects they can be self-supporting.

In terms of social change he sees the seeds are there but there is a way to go yet. I thank him for letting me borrow his genius and ask for a debriefing on the train. We leave the town hall and get into the Pullman train and grab a coffee.

I check with Aaron: “So this place has not yet gone through the process that PORENA went through, and they are just getting ready to kick of their transformation?
“Correct. They are using me to help them”
“So the local mapping is shared by everyone and they can “walk through” it in 3D in different ways so they can consider it from many different angles like population, what they are living on, what is possible and what isn’t. Likely changes are animated and nicely presented.

At this stage they may not be aware of how much information they lack, but as they complete the mapping their awareness will increase. So it is good place to start, they WILL get it.

I ask him about the political aspects of this: like who invited him to speak.
“In times of emergency all political parties come together. There is a state of emergency. And that is the best way to get change to happen, it is hard otherwise. Emergency and urgency.

We have to show the light at the end of the tunnel is a train! When people see that they can’t have a political disagreement about it. Maybe the disagreement is what to do about it but we will see how to handle that further on. The best thing is to have a broad coalition and sense of urgency.

They have a long journey to take.
“Any other advice?” I ask.
“You might want to think about what to look for as the basics of a sustainable standard of living. And you can look into what you can do with the maps of a juridical area - all the kinds of ways of illustrating it from different angles so it becomes clear.”
As the train stops and he asks; “Now you see where the facilitation teams come in?”
I nod my head, “I certainly do, they are quite a useful if wild bunch!”
It suddenly hits me we have not talked about a transport system.
“You never mentioned the transport system”
“No, getting the basics right is the first priority. They have to realize all this themselves.”

The insights are coming thick and fast, I do not want to part from Aaron so I ask:
“The software: can you show me the details of it?”
“Sure.” He invites me up to his office.
He pulls out a large sheet of paper, looking like a playing board from a board game.
In the middle, a map of the area. Around the outside are squares representing each aspect to be analysed. Inhabitants’ health, capability of the environment to produce services, social cohesiveness and organisational stability. Then, the management of the five stresses: nutrition, shelter, mechanical, social security, toxic burden. The software assists analysis from these aspects, both in terms of what is current and what is possible given reduction in energy intensity.

I take my leave.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Return to PORENA. Max is back!

You probably remember our colleague Max Wahlter, who took part in our visualizing sessions earlier.

Worried about losing his job, while his journal was downsizing Max had tried to find a new source of income, sustainable inventions.

He had come across the technique of Image Streaming, invented by Dr. Win Wenger. With Image Streaming you “see” the invention immediately, no “brain storming” needed. You then work backwards to verify your insight and work out what it was you actually saw.

The techniques worked fantastically well for Max, so much so he had been able to publish the transcripts of his imaging sessions as well as follow up notes as the book “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”. Trouble was, he hadn’t really found one good commercial sustainable invention. Every visit he “made” to places with sustainable technology showed him technology already in use. What was different was the social organization of the community around him.

The community had abolished work, money and cars and that was just the start. Anyway, he got a lot of criticism for the book as well.

  • Reads like a manual.
  • You should not write in the first person, you should write in the third.
  • The whole thing is a lulu. Abolish work, live in harmony with nature, everyone wants to do that. The real challenge is how you convince people to let go of all their jobs and cars and stuff and start working with their hands more.

The last one had got Max thinking. Having nothing better to do he decided to take up the challenge:

We have received for publication a series of Image Streams addressing just that issue: how did it all happen in the beginning.

Watch this space.

Advanced visualisation methods to promote sustainable change

Suppose you could pull together a visualization session in your community: what could be done in our local area to become more sustainable? What possibilities do we have for re-localisation of food and manufacturing. Well, it might be more possible than many think. Apart from a lot of data being available on the local geographic situation, there are many tools and techniques around that help this visualization.

One of the major bodies involved in the area of simulation and mapping as a form of community development is the Local Government Commission. LGC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization that provides inspiration, technical assistance, and networking to local elected officials and other dedicated community leaders who are working to create healthy, walkable, and resource-efficient communities.

The site is packed with resources, I especially like their advocacy of public participation in community planning. Read more: here

For a quick look at what visualization tools can do check out the site of the ENVIRONMENTAL SIMULATION CENTER, LTD. Try their demo pages and fly through Manhattan or experience
real time simulation

Sunday, November 13, 2005

British Design Council Team launches home energy intensity reduction campaign

The British Design Council’s RED team project, called Future Currents, has recently completed its work to identify ways to save energy in the home. Their Future Currents website asks for feedback from Brits and gives both practical and policy suggestions. Energy use in the home in Britain is up by a staggering 70 percent just from the 1970s and Britain’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is spiralling upwards accordingly. Several of their suggestions look similar to POST CARBON INSTITUTE’S recommendations on re-localization. Visit the website at http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/futurecurrents to make your opinions heard.

We reproduce an article about the RED TEAM here under fair use:

Do you know how much energy your house uses? Do you know what it costs you and how you could cut your bills? Do you even read your bills?

Most people answer ‘no’ to those questions. And it’s easy to see why. Let’s face it, when it’s not being mysterious, domestic energy is a bit of a snooze and with many of us paying obediently by Direct Debit, that’s just the way the utility companies like it. But with energy use rising fast and homes generating a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, things need to change.
The Design Council’s RED team has been looking into how design can help to make that change happen. A team of designers and policymakers has lived in a Lewisham flat to get a look at the subject from the householder’s point of view, a process aided by working with 16 London householders.

The result is a string of concepts aimed at getting householders more interested in the energy they’re using and putting them in control of the process. The ideas have now been launched online (use the link on the right to access them) in an effort to spark debate on energy use and what designers can do to turn it into an issue that doesn’t exit our minds the moment we close the meter cupboard or file a bill.

The ideas include new ways to make it easier for people to monitor their energy use, such as an energy statement tracking their energy use and comparing it to the national average, and a ‘home dashboard’ making it clear which appliances use most energy and revealing the cost of leaving them on ‘stand-by’.

Incentives for saving energy are also proposed. They include a Power Pension which turns credits for energy-saving home improvements into post-retirement cuts on bills, and an ‘energy rating’ for houses similar to that used for domestic appliances. And there are suggested schemes for getting householders together to cut the cost of energy saving measures, install wind turbines and trade energy. The project has used these ideas as the springboard for policy recommendations, with visitors to the website invited to vote for the ones they think are the best.

The project comes against a background of spiralling energy use – and so a growing contribution to global warming – by the UK. Total energy use has gone up by a third in 30 years and today we use 70 per cent more electricity per home than we did in 1970. In the 1920s, the RED team’s temporary home, a Victorian terrace, would have been wired for half a dozen central ceiling lights and a couple of sockets, while the average house now has 35 appliances, with multiple lights in every room.

The level of energy ‘leakage’ makes matters worse, explains project manager Nick Morton: ‘Tests at the flat showed that its single-glazed windows, uninsulated loft and redundant chimneys meant air in its rooms changed a staggering 40 times per hour. Had the air been water, the flat would have sunk in two minutes.’

Much energy policy is currently focused on helping to provide energy to people on low incomes. But almost all the 150million tonnes of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere from houses is coming from households which could easily pay to take action on energy use. That’s why the project’s ideas are targeted at people in the ‘able-to-pay’ sector.

‘Although the energy rating of fridges and the like is having an effect, we’re buying bigger fridges than we used to, so the positive impact of the rating is reduced,’ says Morton. ‘We’re trying to show that the key to reversing the rise in energy use is people’s behaviour. As consumers, we’ve got used to a system where we play a passive role, so our work starts by making energy tangible and visible, and tries to find ways to make people feel more motivated to take control of it. ’

The website part of RED - Future Currents, presents results so far. The ten week project has developed concepts for ways to help owner occupiers reduce their domestic energy consumption and C02 emissions.

To look at energy saving from a homeowner’s point of view. Our team of designers and policy makers lived in a draughty Victorian terrace in Lewisham. We worked with 12 householders across London to get insight and generate ideas, backed up with input from leading energy experts.

The proposals and policy recommendations are work in progress. We want them to provoke thought and open up discussion on the role a design-led approach could play in making energy saving desirable and user-friendly.

Visit the website at http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/futurecurrents to make your opinions heard.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Join the Climate Change discussion

Although we can’t attend personally, we can still make a difference at the coming Climate Conference in Montreal Dec 1-3. IBM is hosting a massive on-line collaboration event bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. They’re calling it HABITAT JAM.

Just sign up on the JAM homepage. Or watch the video here.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Swedish Tenant Owner Cooperative starts oil break with geothemal heating

High oil prices, and the Prime Minister’s announced intention to break oil dependency make Sweden something of an interesting study in Post-Carbon transition. The Swedish Daily, DN, today reports on a tenant owner cooperative which is starting its break with oil by transferring to a renewable energy source of heat - from the ground underneath the building.

The tenant owners of the apartment building Tallen 12, in Solna, just outside Stockholm are fed up with rising oil prices - 140 percent over the last ten years. The cooperative hopes the move will save them five million kronor (about $417,000) over 15 years.

Heating costs have been worrying house owners for a long time. Now, apartment building owners like Tallen are waking up to the fact that today’s prices bring the break-even point for investments in renewable energy within easy reach.

Tenant cooperatives are a common form of apartment ownership in Sweden. When you buy an apartment you become a member of the cooperative with the tenancy rights for the apartment. These cooperatives are run by the tenants themselves, the apartment often being their main investment. Keeping all costs down is in the interest of all as low service charges increase the attractiveness and thereby the market value of the apartments. Costs are distributed among members through a monthly service charge.

In Tallen, heating oil takes up half the monthly charge. They had already looked in to one alternative, district heating. This however is predominately gas-fired and costs have risen astronomically over the last few years. And when you choose district heating you enter into dependence on a monopoly.

In 2002, the city of Stockholm sold 50 percent of its district heating system to the Finnish energy company, Fortum. Since then, prices have risen 40 percent and dissatisfaction is widespread.

The cooperative consumes 40 m3 of oil for its 30 apartments. Annual costs for oil are at today’s prices $30,000. The new system would cost a mere $10,500 per annum.

The cooperative owns the plot of land around the building, enough to accommodate the six boreholes needed. The holes will be drilled around the house and sloped under the building to avoid conflicts about “stealing heat” when neighbouring cooperatives start to use the system.

This is how the system works: heat energy is drawn from a drilled hole in the bedrock. The hole contains a collector pipe filled with liquid (70 percent water, 30 percent ethanol). The liquid is circulated via a heat pump and down the hole. The heat is then transferred into the water borne central heating and hot water system.

Some commentators point out that the heat pumps themselves are electricity driven, and in that way the cooperative is still dependent on the grid. But others argue the move is a good start: for every unit of electricity used, five units of equivalent heat can be extracted from the ground.

In any case, the story of Tallen is probably illustrative of how the break with oil could happen: as prices rise, building owners turn to renewable solutions as they become more and more financially viable. Here an energy farm owned by several tenant owner cooperatives would be viable, especially in conjunction with a local food system. And Tallen is also a good example of the kind of organisation that depends on voluntary work - the more tenants do for themselves, the lower their living costs – so they would do well to introduce a complementary currency like COGS (http://avbp.net/ocp) for energy and food-related transactions.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Boycott a company today!

Dave Pollard has complied a list of companies and products to boycott. Either because of their environmental performance or their fair trade practices.

He also suggests a few to support.

Put your money where your attitudes are today!

Click on the title link or the link below.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Swedish Prime Minister to lead oil independency commission

Yesterday in conjunction with his speech at the annual Congress of the Social Democrat Party the Swedish Prime Minister, Göran Persson underlined the importance of breaking oil dependency before 2020 by announcing his intention to personally lead a commission to initiate activities towards this goal.

The purpose is to create a holistic view of regional policy, industrial and agricultural policy. The commission will initiate activities, coordinate and possibly run pilot projects.

Says Göran Persson” Our energy production shall not produce waste that needs storing for thousands of years or emissions that damage our climate.”

“We must transport ourselves and our goods in a way that does not damage nature,” he continues.

The Prime Minister emphasised the need for solidarity with the aged and coming generations and did not want a society that left people to their own devices when Hurricane Katrina swept over them. He also warned against the conservative view that problems can be solved by attacking those with the problems: “It is not the unemployed who are responsible for all the unemployment,” he said.
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