Category Archives: revolution

Project Drawdown, Part 1

Tonight I will have the great good fortune to see Paul Hawken speak about Project Drawdown (and especially the newly-released book Drawdown) at one of my favorite places in the world: Bookshop Santa Cruz.  drawdown_book_cover

Project Drawdown is an amazing effort, documenting over 80 solutions for reducing carbon emissions or sequestering atmospheric carbon to mitigate climate change and reduce global warming. Each solution is meticulously researched, with extensive references on the website. The Drawdown team provides an estimate of the potential greenhouse gas reduction, the likely net cost of implementation for said reduction, and the likely net savings from other benefits of implementation.

The book itself is reminiscent of last-decade’s beautiful WorldChanging – more like a magazine than a complete narrative, brimming with inspirations for making a positive change in the world, illuminated by compelling photos that bring delight with every turn of the page.

One thing I would have liked to see in the book, and one thing I hope to see in the future from Project Drawdown, is a connection to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. There are already efforts underway by academics to articulate the linkages and intersections of the different SDGs. Global Goals SDGsProject Drawdown clearly is focused on lucky 13 (Climate Action), but almost all of the solutions proposed have intersections with one or more other goals. It would be amazing to begin articulating the trade-offs and synergies of these in a rigorous, evidence-based way.

SingaporeAlleyDrawdown is a book that is meant to be flipped-through rather than read sequentially. In one of those moments of odd serendipity, the first page I flipped to had a picture of air conditioners in Singapore, similar to this one that my husband had taken in an alley between Circular Road and Boat Quay. The solution in question was actually the one they rated #1 for its potential to reduce global warming: Refrigerant Management. Air conditioning is ubiquitous in burgeoning tropical cities like Singapore, a symbol of prosperity.

When I was there at conferences earlier this month (Education for Sustainability in Asia and the Singapore Sustainability Symposium), someone joked that Singapore has two seasons: outdoors and indoors. Outdoors is always steamy and usually approaching 30°C (86°F). Indoors is very chilly, requiring jackets and therefore comfortable for men in business suits. When I first arrived in Singapore, I noted that a big part of their energy cost is the culture of business attire. Part of refrigerant management may in fact be a change in that aspect of culture – completely inappropriate for equatorial climates. 2015-02-02 14.03.57Of course, places like NTU generally prioritize technological fixes over social ones, but at least they were making some progress on that path. The Hive at NTU features passive cooling and a silent, fan-less, convection-based chiller for the classrooms. Such engineering-oriented solutions have the benefit of providing locked-in infrastructure for reliable savings, but they are more expensive and potentially much slower to implement than changing behavior.

I’m sure I will have more to say about  Project Drawdown soon after tonight’s event – stay tuned…

[minor updates May 26th: “Only” 80 solutions are fully researched and documented, plus there are descriptions of many “coming attractions.” I was able to ask Paul Hawken about the connection to the SDGs – his reply was mainly that there wasn’t sufficient room in the book to get into those. More to come…]

Earth Day & March for Science

I’m heading to the lovely Santa Cruz March for Scienceonlinesquare and Earth Day celebration, and wanted to share a song to celebrate that:

(You can also see the lyrics to IFLS hereHank Green has lots of other nerdy science songs, plus SciShow and Crash Course, and I guess I’m a fangirl.)

Happy Earth Day!

How do living systems ‘prepare, leverage and bounce back’ from times of crisis?

Rachel Hahs posted some amazing biomimetic analogies and questions for understanding how we respond to our current time of crisis and transformation through a contemplation of how nature expresses resilience after catastrophes like fire — such nutritious food for thought in this solstice season!

…[H]ow do the prairie grasses, giant sequoias and aspens of the world actually do it – what is the nitty gritty of the biology? And then what are the very specific and clear parallel and divergent metaphors we can draw from these examples? What is our fire, sunlight and ash? What parts of our community do we protect above all else? What are our necessary resources, signals for exchange, sacrificial parts, triggers for growth? What packets of information do we disseminate far and wide in the hopes that we can take advantage of this disruption and the disruptions to come, and how do we learn from our natural models on how methods for improving our chances?


Here are some preliminary responses I had to her article:Seedlings and old cone after fire, Yellowstone NP, USA; Wikimedia Commons

For the weedy, pioneer species strategy, I suspect that one of the most important things to think about as ‘seeds’ are small packets of information that are inexpensive and easy to broadcast (e.g. blogs and other social media). The trick is to produce seeds/memes that can easily reach and germinate in the disturbed ground, then grow and reproduce successfully from there. If the disturbed ground in question is the disrupted and uncomfortable mental spaces that many of us find ourselves in, we need to consider what structure is most likely to reach such a target. What resources are likely to be available when the seed reaches that ground, to nourish and support its growth and reproduction?

Espengruppe (Populus tremula) in der Nähe der Lahnquelle, Gemeinde Netphen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutschland; Wikimedia Commons - selbst fotografiert von Nikanos CC BY-SA 2.5In terms of the prairie’s and aspen’s strategies, thinking deeply (pun mostly intended) about what safe, underground networks we already have in place is an important strategy.
We can be grounded (ooh, there’s another) in the community connections we already have; strengthening this existing network, sharing resources, signaling one another about dangers and opportunities we have detected, we do the same work as the rhizosphere in many thriving ecosystems to preserve the resilience and diversity of the community. The idea that this rhizosphere must be protected from the devastating changes at the surface might be an argument in favor of finding ‘underground’ ways to keep these communities strong (be they old-fashioned face-to-face meetings or A. One end of a trench used in excavating root systems. B. Distichlis spicata, showing the long rhizomes and shallow roots. J. Weaver (1919) The ecological relations of roots.conscientious privacy measures and enhanced encryption of key electronic communications for more extended communities). I also really appreciate Rachel’s question about ‘sacrificial parts’ – what can we safely give up to survive the time of crisis, without risking the roots? My inclination here is to think about the parts of our lives that we have normalized, but that on deeper consideration we could get by without (perhaps even do better without).

There is much deeper that this biomimicry work can go, seeking even more analogies based on the biology of resilient species and ecosystems. What ideas arise for you? What ways for responding to catastrophe can we learn by engaging nature as model, measure and mentor?

Cultivating Ecosystem Gardens of Health and Hope

This is a talk I gave last week at the conference “Spontaneous Beauties?” World Gardens and Gardens in the World at NTU (YouTube video of practice talk, and SlideShare of PowerPoints).



Three different approaches are transforming humanity’s relationship to the wider biosphere through innovative ecosystem stewardship, informed by our deepening understandings of ecology and complexity.  Microbiome management promotes human health by cultivating the ecologies of microorganisms in, on and around our bodies, seeking to encourage beneficial symbionts and discourage invasive microbes that can trigger illness. Permaculture is a philosophy of gardening, food production and homestead management that fosters beneficial ecological interactions to cultivate healthy habitats for humans and other species.  Rewilding is a strategy of landscape management that seeks to restore the balance and diversity of historic or prehistoric ecosystems by introducing species to fill trophic niches emptied by local extinctions.  These approaches represent a radical shift of the post‐industrial human role in nature, from one of dominance, produce maximization and pest eradication to one of regenerative alliance and collaborative cultivation.

Keywords: microbiome, permaculture, rewilding, ecosystem, biodiversity, complexity



We’ve got goals: the 17 SDGs

Global Goals SDGs

The UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals took effect the first day of 2016.  I’ll be leading a discussion of these goals at the upcoming NTU Sustainability Salon.  As I see it, the most promising thing about this renewed effort is the intention to interlink these challenges, recognizing interconnections and building bridges between disciplinary silos.

Learn more:



Goodbye and good riddance to coal

Two fascinating and promising new articles regarding this fossil of a fuel (both from German Energiewende perspectives):

Is renewable electricity now driving coal prices?

 at Energy Transition makes the argument that, particularly in light of COP21 and the divestment movement, coal’s dropping price may not lead to more demand (as traditional economics would predict), but instead may be a consequence of the fact that no one really likes coal anymore.  Even China’s coal use is down 5%, and their coal imports are down 35%. Is “The Invisible Hand” actually getting it right for a change, or is this really just demonstrating the efficacy of national policies in places like China and Germany?coal_and_renewables

Coal prices are at rock bottom, and coal companies have been hurt badly. (Photo by Marcel Oosterwijk, modified, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Can Germany engineer a coal exit?

This Science Climate Policy editorial notes that, although cheap coal is still Germany’s top energy source (43% in 2015) and top GHG emissions source (40% of carbon emissions), renewables are rapidly overtaking coal there.  They are particularly heavy users of some of the least-efficient, dirtiest coal: lignite.  Germany has pledged to go to 80% renewables by 2050 (and they’re committed to giving up nuclear power, and it’s not exactly the sunshine state up there, so it’s not as if they’re just doing it because it’s easy). Weaning themselves off coal is the only way they will get there.  Agora Energiewende proposes halting all construction of new plants and lignite mines now, and closing down the older lignite plants beginning in 2018.


“The Stone Age did not end because people ran out of stones.”

Fritjof Capra (from Z. Yamani)

Coal is the fuel that opened the way to the Industrial Revolution, for both good and ill. That was a long time ago, at the beginning of the Anthropocene.  It really is time to move on to something better. Germany is one major industrial nation who’s getting serious about doing it, and China appears to be on her way as well. This is a most welcome reflection of the Great Work of our time.


Creating a New Kind of University

If you know me or have been following my blog, you may have surmised that I’m interested in creating new forms of higher education that are more conducive to sustainable human futures. This is an idea I’ve been ruminating upon for quite some time, so I’d like to share a little of the history of my thinking on the topic. I was especially inspired by a recent conversation with Arshad Rab, who noted in his welcoming talk at the International Greening Education Event last October:
“The university of the future doesn’t exist yet.  We will build it in the next five years.”

Arts, Design and Media building, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.  Photo by Erik S. Peterson.

I have often wondered what it would take to create a university that could provide real education for a sustainable future. Can such a thing be built by a small group of thoughtful, committed people, in a way that promotes institutional resilience and sustainability?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead (attiribution disputed)
In 2000-2001, I worked at New College of California, a higher educational institution that was consciously designed by a small group of scholars in the 1970s with the intention of providing holistic education for social activists.  I participated in the meetings where the motto of “Education for a Just, Sacred, and Sustainable World” was proposed and thoughtfully debated.  New College of California established one of the earliest “Green MBA” programs. Sadly, financial and organizational mismanagement hampered the institution’s viability, leading to eventual loss of accreditation and closure by 2008.  But, despite its shortcomings, I was most inspired by the stories of how it started at the beginning of the 1970s: just a couple professors and a few dozen students gathered in someone’s living room, deciding they should create a higher education institution for people who wanted to change the world.
Of course, financial crises were widespread in higher education institutions in 2008.  At about that time, I started a new blog to share my thinking about trying to form a new institution to offer Bachelor of Arts degrees, as a way to make use of the relative abundance of qualified-but-underemployed instructors in my hometown.  That never took off, but the notion of building a new institution of higher education has lingered in the back of my mind.  Last month, there was a piece in Nature on the overabundance of science PhDs relative to academic jobs.  Wouldn’t it be great to be making better use of all that potential talent, in service of building a sustainable and resilient future?
And I believe that talent is best harnessed using approaches to teaching (really, facilitating learning) that are more appropriate for today’s and tomorrow’s world. Since July, I’ve been working on a paper with Rodrigo Lozano on linking sustainability competences (skills, abilities, attitudes) to pedagogies (methods for teaching or otherwise guiding learners), to better inform higher education for sustainability (this is what I presented at the Global Cleaner Production and Sustainable Consumption conference in Barcelona last November).  The take-home message from that work is that there are many pedagogies in use in a few places that would serve the goals of helping students develop sustainability competences, and that most of the best are very different from what are still the most widespread pedagogies at our universities (didactic lectures and summative exams).
I have a suspicion that the structure of established universities may inhibit (perhaps even prohibit) the development of of better approaches to education for a sustainable future.  I believe that it is time to start talking about how to create a higher education system that can support the evolution or revolution of adult learning that can improve our prospects for sustainability.
At a workshop by Lauralee Alben in 2006, participants were tasked to articulate a guiding question.  Mine was “How can I connect with, learn from and teach people so that we can co-create a sustainable, resilient culture?”  This question is still what guides my work, and I believe it is essential that I have conversations with people around this question.
 What can and should we do?  Where do we start?  What are our visions for the university that has yet to sprout?  If you want to join this conversation, I encourage you to leave a comment below, or join the “International Andragogy for Sustainability” group I initiated on LinkedIn.