Monthly Archives: December 2017

2017 In Review and Time for Hiatus

Hello there folks!

2017 has been a pretty insane year, on all kinds of levels. I have been really busy, but it often feels like I am not getting anywhere. Plus the political circus has been a constant source of stress and anxiety for me and my family. I am not going to lie to you, it has been a pretty rough year.

I also have a lot to do in the near future, so with this post this blog is on indefinate hiatus. It will probably be a few months at least. Just as a short list, these are the things I will be working on in the new year (and also why I can’t juggle this blog right now.)

  1. I will be working a new novel towards publication. I am hoping to start up a Gofundme or something in the new year to help cover some of the costs. I want to get cover art done, but also some character and setting art. I really want to round out the world I have created, but that has costs associated with it. I hope some of my readers here might be willing to contribute to that campaign.
  2. I will be writing a full manuscript on animism, using many of my posts here as the raw material. I have been writing on animism and related topics for 6 years now, and there is plenty of material I have compiled. Plus there is a lot of new stuff I am working on, so I will need time to compile and create new material.
  3. I will still be posted over at Pagan Bloggers in case you miss me that much
  4. I will also be cross-posting material from here to Pagan Bloggers, and vis versa. There will be a swapping of material to help fill the gaps while I am away.

There is a lot of blogs I want to work on here too, as I continue to develop my own work. I want to add to my “Shaping a Living World” project, as there is a more I want to write about there. I also want to continue to work on my “Walking with the Ancestors/Spirits” projects, as those unexpectedly moved to the back burner over the last year. I want to come back to those. There is a lot more ground to cover there.

With all that in mind, let’s see how what I did manage to get done this year. I have been doing classwork in shamanism with a mentor, and that is a 2 year commitment. That said, a lot of great material has come out of that. It has led to shifts in my cosmology, which I talked about here.

The shifts in cosmology have led me to explore questions on ethics,  and our relationships with our ancestors, and the natural world

It also culminated in a great experience with a Forest Spirit.

I’ve done a lot of work here too, in the process of my ever changing and deepening understanding of animism. My animism asks me to be engaged in the world, and question how and why I relate to other beings. It asks me to search for meaning, and build connections. It asks me about how I relate to the world, and my place in it.

It asks me about to wonder if Nations are the best way to run a planet facing global problems such as rising inequality and ecological crises.

Animism makes me look at the world and question the effects of our relationships to the environment.

But it also lets me explore how I relate to myself.

Afterall, animism is a worldview, and affects how I look at the world and my place in it. Animism makes me wonder about the nature of the “soul” and the relationships of animism and science.

I have explored some basic theoretical lenses in which to view animism as well as science, and have found the two to be very complimentary.

There has been a lot of new material I have been exposed to as well, such as Interanimism and Tracking as a way of knowing. It has opened me up to all kinds of new thinking on animism, and it has been great to ponder. Plus it has helped me to understand that animism is a worldview as well as a way of knowing the world. Just like science is a system of knowing, so too is animism.

By far my biggest projects this year has been my Shaping a Living World project. It has taken up a great deal of my time and energy, and alas has been met with mixed reviews. As a whole, it draws inspiration from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, social democracy, and Project Drawdown.

I think that a lot got lost in translation with that project. Several readers got caught up in the fact that it was based on UN ideology, which is apparently very “globalist” and “bad” somehow. I will be the first to admit that the UN is far from perfect, but I think what gets ignored is the fact that environmental and humanitarian issues are global issues.

These are things that need to be addressed at all level, local, national, and global. I think the UN has set out a good set of goals to address that; in both the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Paris Climate Accords (which the US has announced it planned to pull out of, much to my dismay.) Over 190 countries signed on to the SDG’s and the Climate Accords, and that gives me hope. The fact is that to address the problems that face us, we need everyone to do their part. Whether that is individuals, cities, private entities, nations, or entities like the UN; we need everybody. I don’t see any way around that, and thus we need practical and workable solutions. The UN has set out a decent roadmap, as have the Nordic countries, and Project Drawdown is one of the most comprehensive plans I have seen to fight climate change. We need more ideas like that.

I’m always open to other alternatives.

At the widest possible scale, that series is about how my animism relates to the world. Animism is the idea that the world is full of persons (some of which are not human) and that life is lived in relation to others.

As such, my animism intersects strongly with humanitarian as well as environmental rights. It says that people matter, that humans matter, that environments matter, that life matters, and that this spinning blue ball in space is our home and it all MATTERS.

I have come to the conclusion that an animistic worldview (however you frame that) has the power to change the world, and it is important that we consider that. Our current worldview could certainly use a change.

My animism asks me to do what I can for humanitarian issues, whether that is fighting poverty, combating hunger, or fighting bigotry and racismThese are all important components of my animism, as well as my personal code of values and morality. I think it is an insult to our dignity and common humanity that we fail to do more on these issues.

I believe in a world where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (thanks Spock), and that it is a tragedy that people go without decent healthcare (Looking at you United States), and a quality education. More than this, we need to be doing better in the realm of civil rights, especially in regards to gender equality for women as well as LGBT+ people.

On top of being humanistic, my animism comes with a concern for all life on this planet. It informs my environmentalism and my passion for conservation. The lives of non-human persons (plants, animals… ect) matter too, and humans are hardly the only species on this planet. We depend on healthy ecosystems for our very survival, and so we must do everything we can to create a sustainable and environmental world. That means increasing our investments and development of renewable energy, and creating sustainable cities that have less of an impact on the environment. There will certainly be a lot more to write about this in the new year.

These are all things we can do, and there is certainly much more work to be done. It starts with us as individuals, but individual actions alone are not enough. We will need every level of society involved, and with that I do think it is possible to see a better world. It may even be possible to see it in my lifetime.

I will return when I have gotten some of my projects off the table. Until then, you all behave yourselves alright?

Thanks for reading.

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Shaping a Living World: Part 11

Half of humanity—3.5 billion people—live in cities today, and this number will continue to grow. Because the future will be urban for a majority of people, the solutions to some of the greatest issues facing humans— poverty, climate change, healthcare, education— must be found in city life. “

(UN SDG 11

Hello again folks!

Today I want to talk about the UN Sustainable goal number 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. In many ways, cities are the real heart of our civilizations. Over half of all people live in cities, but cities are also responsible for a huge amount of energy, resource, and carbon emissions. As the facts and figures of this SDG point out;

The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions” (UN SDG 11

More than this, the percentage of people living is cities is estimated to increase over the course of the century. This poses significant challenges to building a sustainable and renewable world. Thankfully, there is a quite a bit that can be done to improve and retrofit our cities and create a civilization that is truly sustainable in the long run.

There are a lot of specific solutions that we will get into, but first I would like for you to use your imagination for a bit. I want you to picture a city with green roofs on every building, from the smallest structures up to massive skyscrapers. Imagine that some of these skyscrapers are not offices or hotels, but vertical food farms or urban forestry towers. These structures along with food forests and urban gardens throughout the city provide large amounts of fresh produce for local markets and restaurants. In addition, the greenery absorbs and sequesters carbon dioxide, and overall improves air and water quality.

Imagine too that these buildings have been built or retrofitted with sustainable materials, such as wood and alternative concretes. In addition, each building could have a net zero carbon impact, our could be a “living building” that creates more energy then it produces. Rooftops and carports could be lined with solar panels, or windows might actually create solar power.

The entire city would be powered by renewable energy. 

From high atop one of these towers, you see an endless sea of greenery, from trees to plenty of accessible parks. More than this, the vehicles on the streets are fully electric, powered by a complex sustainable grid system. Far off in the distance you can see wind turbines that help to power the city.

The entire project has been a reintergration of humanity and nature, in which the forests and the wilds have returned to the city. Moreso, the city has become an integral part of the landscape, a part of nature and not separate from it.

Does this sound like pie in the sky, something form science fiction? What if I told you this isn’t some pipe dream? What if I told you that truly sustainable cities was possible, and with the technology of today.

It is possible, but it will also take a lot of collective work by everyone. Individual actions are great, but they are not enough. It will take a change in spirit, in culture, in policy, and in the direction of our planet as a whole.

And it starts with you and your city. Each and every one

How you ask?

Let’s explore that a little deeper.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

It should be stated right off that there is no such thing as a perfect solution. Every single idea we propose is going to have flaws, or is going to be outside of the realm of the possible. That being said, 193 countries have agreed upon the SDG’s, and I think it represents some of the more realistic options available to humanity.

These goal represent a collective agreement to give it our best shot, and I believe we can do this.

By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”

Affordable housing is a big deal, especially with the rising costs of living in many cities. These kinds of costs displace people, or price people out of a given city. It also can increase homelessness, and contribute to the many problems associated with segregation. In my personal opinion, everyone should have the ability to have shelter. Now, there are a lot of different ways to do that, from low income housing options through ideas like Universal Basic Income. What each city will need to implement is the policies and practices best fit for their situation.

By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”

I think that this one speaks for itself. We need to be building more sustainable infrastructure for transportation; especially in the realm of public and mass transport. These solutions not only are necessary for sustainable communities, but also for the most vulnerable and marginalized. New electric vehicles do nothing for people who cannot afford them, but electric buses and trains might.

By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.”

To me, this one speaks for the need for democratic methods of government and planning. The ability for the people of each city to decide what is best practice for their communities, and for the plans for each community to be sustainable as possible. Sustainable urban planning needs to account for disaster resiliency, the needs of the masses, and the needs of the environment. Urban planning that ignores flood plains or wild fires is not sustainable.

By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.”

This is a big one, as we all need to be doing the best we can to lower our environmental impact per person. Air quality is very poor in many cities, and there is more we can do individually as well as collectively that can make our air cleaner and more breathable. Waste Engagement is also a big issue, as the growing number of plastics in our landfills and in our oceans is a serious concern. Recycling and circular economic production standards should be the rule, not the exception.

By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”

We need more parks, more urban forests, more community gardens, all of it. Public parks and forests are vital to reintegrating ecosystems into our city systems, and it is an important step in transition from “grey” to “green” cities. The impact of more trees alone would be substantial in creating healthier and cleaner environments.

By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels.”

As this target mostly speaks for itself, I am going to let it stand as is.

This gives us at least some ideas on how we may be able to push policies and implementation of crucial sustainability solutions. It is important to note that quite a bit of work towards sustainable cities is already being done.

As such, let’s look at a few examples from northern Europe.

Social Democracy

Take a look at the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index and notice that two Nordic cities, Stockholm and Copenhagen appear in the top twenty. There is a lot of data in that index, spread across three major pillars; People, Environmental, and Economic. I invite you to browse that information more thoroughly.

In addition, the Sieman’s Green City Index has Copenhagen at #1, Stockholm as #2, Oslo at #3 and Helsinki at #7 on it’s overall ranking of green cities. It should however be noted that this index is from 2009, so represents dated information.

I feel it is safe to conclude then that these cities are on the right track, and can serve as models for cities across the globe. So the question then becomes; what are they doing that justifies such a high ranking? There is a lot of information in the Green City Index, so just like the previous link, please look it over for yourself. But let’s look at a few points covered in the Green City Index, and then more specifically at the four Nordic cities at the top of the list.

– There is a strong correlation between cities and the wealth they have at hand. This should come as no surprise, as wealth translates to the ability to invest in expertise and sustainable infrastructure. It is true that many of the cities in the index have quite the GDP at their disposal. But it is also notable that cities like those in the North have strong redistribution and taxation programs instead of the US’s obsession with “trickle down”.

There is little correlation between city size and how well it does on the index. Though it is important to note that physically smaller cities make it easier for things such as biking or walking.

Cities with an active civil society tended to perform well. There is a strong connection between the voluntary participation of citizens in organizations and how well that city performed in the index.

Stemming from the last point, there is a decent correlation between citizen engagement and environmental performance. This is at the democratic governance level, as well as the local level. Sustainability is the result of collective action.

Cities can approach sustainable development through a diverse range of options, ranging from policy and environmental governance, to volunteering and other organizations.

Technology will be a factor in creating sustainable cities, implemented through all levels of government as well as individual actions of residents.

Education and public awareness are very important to the development of sustainable cities. When people are given the necessary information, they can make greener choices. This cascades through all levels of society.

With all that in mind, let’s look the top Nordic performers; Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen achieves the highest ranking in the European Green City Index, with a score of 87.31 out of 100. The city performs well in all eight categories of the index, and is ranked joint first in the environmental governance subcategory. Successive governments at both national and municipal level have strongly supported the promotion of sustainable development.

Copenhagen is at the top of the list as far as this index is concerned. Not only does support for sustainable development come from both national and local governments, Copenhagen also ranks real high for low C02 emissions, energy efficient buildings, and renewable energy.

This city also has an ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2025, and part of this initiative is carbon-neutral neighborhoods; a partnership between public as well as private agencies.

 

Stockholm

Stockholm is ranked second in the European Green City Index, with a score of 86.65 out of 100. The city does particularly well in the areas of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, buildings, transport, air quality and environmental governance. It shares a number of characteristics with its Nordic neighbours, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki (all of which rank highly in the index); these include a plentiful supply of water, a lack of heavy industry and a long tradition of policies aimed at protecting the environment.”

Stockholm is second only to Copenhagen as far as the index is concerned. As the quote above points out, this city does quote well for low CO2, and transportation. In fact 75% of the city’s public transport runs on renewable energy. Some of the buildings in Stockholm are some of the most energy efficient in the world.

Oslo

Oslo is ranked third overall in the European Green City Index, with a score of 83.98 out of 100. It is also the best-performing city in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, largely because of the use of hydroelectricity to power rail-based public transport.”

Olso takes the cake for having low CO2 emissions, in addition to the city getting nearly 70% if it’s energy from renewable sources. Strong environmental policies from the city council have noticeable affects on sustainability.

Helsinki

Helsinki ranks in seventh place in the European Green City Index, with a score of 79.29 out of 100. Helsinki is ranked fourth among the Nordic cities, largely because of its relatively high carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and energy consumption, even though the city is a leader in energy efficiency. “

Helsinki, while scoring lower than other Nordic cities, still rounds out the top ten. While it puts out more CO2 than the others and has more work to do in terms of energy, Helinski ranks real high in energy efficient as well as environmental governance.

As always, there is a lot more information to be found out there, but for now I want to move to the Drawdown section of this piece. I have talked a lot about renewables energy, and energy efficiency, and clean transportation. You might be wondering what exactly those kind of ideas look like.

Well, let’s explore that too.

Drawdown

Now comes the part where we get into the real nitty gritty of how to create sustainable cities. There are countless numbers of interconnected solutions presented by Drawdown, and as per usual I encourage you to visit the site yourself because there is no way I am going to be able to cover them all.

This is because cities are really complex, and the specifics on the ground will vary from city to city; based on needs and on environment. We also need to be honest about cities, in that in many ways they are resource pits. As was pointed out earlier in this article, cities use the bulk of energy on the planet. They also require constant supplies from concrete, to metals, to food, and countless others resources besides. Over half of our population lives in cities, and that requires constant inputs.

That means there are countless of different ways to create sustainable cities, and that this can and needs to happen on every scale of society. From individuals up to the international level, our cities are deeply interconnected with each other and with their environment. The only way to truly create sustainable cities is in a holistic and systemic fashion.

Materials

As has already been pointed out, cities are resource pits. You need wood, steel, glass, concrete, and other materials for building. You need (currently) fossil fuels to power transportation and industries, as well as to just keep the lights on. Plastics, electronics, and on and on and on. The resource requires are immense, and so sustainable cities starts with using sustainable materials.

Alternative Cement and Bioplastics  would be a great start. The current processes we use for both requires huge amounts of energy during processing as well as fossil fuels as raw materials. Long string polymers for biodegradable plastics are found in natures, such as cellulose and chitins. More than that, we should design productions for a circular lifecycle, instead of for the dump. If we build our products and buildings to last, and then to be recycled or bidegraded at the end of life, we would be off to a good start.

Recycling is an obvious step as well. At the individual , industrial, as well as materials such as paper, recycling is a vital part of the process. Comprehensive municipal recycling programs are an integral part of the sustainability equation, as well as designing products to be recycled in the first place.

One of the large factors in energy use and emission is heating and cooling, and the includes refrigerant management. In fact, managing refrigerants it the number one solution according to Drawdown, and will help to keep almost 90 gigatons of CO2 out of the air.

Buildings and Cities

Building scale solutions are vitally important to creating sustainable cities, and there is plenty of diverse ways to retrofit and redesign cities of the future. Some of the more impactful solutions include energy efficiency and heat management. This includes solutions such as insulation and LED lightings for both households and commercialentities.

Other solutions will go a long way including green roofs (which can grow food too), and solar water systems, and building automation too.

Much of the green construction applies to new buildings, but cities are not made of just new buildings. Many cities have been around for hundreds of years, and have many old buildings and historic districts. That is which retrofitting is so important for old buildings.

That said, imagine new construction being a mosaic of many of the different solutions present here. New buildings could be net-zero buildings, buildings that create as much energy as they use. An entire city could be constructed of buildings like this, and combined with urban farming and forestry, it is possible to envision a city that meets most of its energy and food requirements in a self-sufficient manner.

Some solutions are bigger than any one building, and need to be implemented across several buildings, communities and neighborhoods. These include things such as water and heating infrastructure, as well as transportation.

One of most impactful solutions is district heatingseveral buildings have their heating and cooling needs met by a central facility, cutting down on the need for distributed heating systems and the energy inefficiencies that result. Copenhagen is a global model for DHC’s sytems, as it now meets 98% of its heating requirements with the world’s largest system.

Water distribution is very energy intensive, and efficiency here can reduce not only the monetary costs, but the energy costs as well. Huge amounts of electricity are wasted pumping water through leaking systems or outdated infrastructure.

Our current economic system is incredibly wasteful, so inevitably a lot of what we use ends up in landfills. A sustainable city will have to get rid, to the best of its ability, such waste. A lot of reductions can be found in designing products to be durable, reusable, and easily recyclable at the end of life. Following all the solutions of Drawdown, landfill waste should reduce from the change in diets, waste reduction, and comprehensive recycling and composting programs. Some more waste can turned into energy from waste-to-energy plants (rememeber, this is a regrets solution), but some will still reach the landfill. Landfill methane extraction can help to recapture some lost energy, and turn it into energy for limited use.

Transportation

Cities require the movement of people and materials in an out of the city, and as such transportation is an important aspect to creating a sustainable city.

The most obvious solutions are those that reduce the demand for inner-city transportation in the first place, such as walkable and bikable infrastructure. It can help too if some of those bikes are electric, as it is one of the most environmental forms of motorized transport on the planet.

Yet, it has to be said that biking or walking isn’t always the ideal form of transporation. If greater distances are involved, sometimes cars and trains are a better option. If a lot of cargo is involved, trucks, trains and ships come into play. This implies a radical need to redesign our transportation systems. Shorter distances between extraction and production can go a long way, as can localizing everything we can, be it food or manufacturing. But not every city is built on a iron mine, or near a stone quarry, so sometimes that transportation has to happen.

Therefore, the most impact we can have is by implementing forms of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles now means I am mostly talking about passenger cars, but in the future it will need to include all vehicles from cars to ships, and charged on a renewable grid. All of these options are being developed.

Other important solutions for cities includes the electrification and expansion of mass transit, as this keeps unneeded vehicles off the road. This solutions includes both buses as well as subways and passenger trains.

For connecting cities together, especially in the US, one of our best options is high speed rail, as it is fully electric and can help connect cities together across long distances.

Most of our heavy shipping relies on trucks, trains, and ships. In the short term, we need to be doing everything we can to increase efficient fuel use on these vehicles, from greater fuel efficiency, to aerodynamics, to hybrid fuel systems. In the long term these methods would be fully electric as well, in some form or another. A lot of work is being done here, and several companies have already ordered Tesla electric trucks for their fleets. It’s a step in the right direction.

For long distance travel, planes obviously come into play. There are savings and efficiencies to be gained here, and in the long term we can only imagine what the next generation aircraft may well look like. It is possible that future aircraft may be fully electric as well.

Future Solutions

It would not be fair to end this post without some consideration of what is on the horizon. I want you to imagine, just for a second, a city created from living buildingsPicture a city build of buildings that create their own energy, their own food, and are built from sustainable materials such as wood. These are fully self-sufficient buildings that recycle water, collect rain water, create their own solar and renewable energy, and grow their own food. What would a city built of these kind of structures look like?

We don’t have to imagine, because some examples are already being built.

More than that, we could have cities built of sustainable materials, powered by renewable energy, and driven by electrified transportation. Our electric grid is considered to be one of the most complex and intergrated machine on the planet. Imagine for a second if it were a smart gridthat could help manage and balance demand and energy use across the network. Aside from the grid, electric (autonomous) transporation could also be running on smart highways.

Think about it.

Thanks for reading!

(From Plug In Magazine)

Sources/References;

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/transport

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/materials

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/cities/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/these-are-the-world-s-most-sustainable-cities/

https://www.arcadis.com/media/0/6/6/%7B06687980-3179-47AD-89FD-F6AFA76EBB73%7DSustainable%20Cities%20Index%202016%20Global%20Web.pdf

https://www.arcadis.com/en/global/our-perspectives/sustainable-cities-index-2016/

https://www.hel.fi/static/ymk/esitteet/nordic-catalogue-060612.pdf

https://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/report_en.pdf

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/shaping-a-living-world-part-7/

https://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/gci_report_summary.pdf


Shaping a Living World: Part 7

It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative. “ A Pagan Statement on the Environment

Hello again folks!

I have been very busy with the holidays, but I am trying my best to keep up regular blog posts. However, with other projects waiting in the wings I have had to prioritize the writing I am going to get done this year. Frankly, I’m just not going to be able to get to everything I want to before I go into “manuscript mode” towards the end of the year. There is a much larger project fighting me for mental space.

As such, I have decided that my next two posts will be about Renewable Energy and Sustainable Cities; which are UN Sustainable Development Goals number 7 and 11 respectively. These two goals are really close to my heart, and I want to get them out as soon as I can. I want to, and plan to, write about all the other SDG’s as well, but they will have to go onto the back burner around the end of the year. I will have to come back to them in the new year.

So let’s jump right in. Today I want to talk about renewable energy, and the role it will need to play in creating a sustainable world. The fact of the matter is that most of our energy generation technologies are dirty, and rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, as NASA points out, are one of the largest contributors to atmospheric carbon dioxide:

On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.” (NASA

The above quote highlights some of the many human causes of climate change, and yes climate change is the result of human activitiesAt this point, we don’t have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand (or up some unspecified orifice).

Fossil fuels are used in everything from our power systems to our transportation systems, to our materials such as plastics. Fossil fuels are ubiqitous throughout our entire society, and for the the sake of the planet as well as the future of our civilizations we need to be transitioning away from a fossil fuel economy. And we need to be doing it now.

More than that, it is is possible. We have the means and technology to make this transition today. What we lack is resources (public, private, and otherwise) and political will. These changes are waiting for us to embrace them, and time is of the essence.

In fact, as the World Economic Forum points out, world wide fossil fuel use could end as early as 2050. Not only could we end fossil fuel use, but we could transform the vast majority of our energy systems to renewable and sustainable sources.

As the WEF points out;

The study, by the Solutions Project, aims to completely remove reliance on fossil fuels by switching all energy use to renewable sources.

It claims doing so would deliver the Paris Climate Change Agreement target of keeping global warming to below 1.5C.

It could also help avert the 4.6 million deaths that are connected to air pollution each year.”

(Image from The Solutions Project)

2050 is 33 years away. At most a generation or two. I could live to see that world, and it will be the world our children and grandchildren will inherit. We must do our best to make sure that world is the best for them. Greener, cleaner, renewable, and more sustainable.

If you have the time, be sure to also check this video where Mark Jacobson explains how that transition could happen.

Now, I think the scale and benefits of the task ahead of us is pretty clear, so I don’t feel any need to harp on that further. As such, let’s turn to the see what the SDG’s point to as targets for this goal.

Sustainable Development Goals 

By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services”

This one is pretty straight forward, and basically involves further developing our energy infrastructure, especially in areas of the Global South that are often undeserved or don’t have access to reliable energy sources at all.

By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.”

I honestly wish this target had stronger verbiage. While I think it is important to ratchet up our efforts, it is pretty clear in many cases that we can and need to be doing a lot more. We need a better vision, more investment, and more boots on the ground doing the actual work. It is not enough to “increase substantially” the share of renewables, no. We need to be pushing for a full transition.

By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology

This target speaks most strongly to my last point about the need for increased investment. At every level we can, from the individual to the international, we need to be freeing up the resources to make the transition to renewables possible. That is everything from research and development of new technologies, as well as greater efficiency, and infrastructure. Science and engineering requires funding, labor and materials. We need to make that more available than we do now.

By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support”

If you build it, sustainability will come. This is pretty straight forward and blends nicely into the previous points I have already made.

All told, on top of investment and resources, we need to be creating a policy environment that allows renewables to thrive. As the quote at the beginning of this piece points out, all the technology in the world isn’t any use if we don’t have the policies to enable it. Rooftop solar and micro-wind doesn’t help us at all if cities don’t allow residents to put them up. The most efficient wind turbines and solar farms can never be built if we keep subsidizing fossil fuels and continue to make it difficult to invest in those projects.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the policies of social democracy that help to create a fertile culture for renewable energy.

Social Democracy

As Wikipedia points out, there are a lot of things that could impede our transition to renewable energy systems;

  • Climate change denial
  • Efforts to impede renewable energy by the fossil fuel industry
  • Political paralysis
  • Unsustainable consumption of energy and resources
  • Path dependencies and outdated infrastructure
  • Financial and governance constraints

This should sound real familiar to those of use living in the US. As such, we have to wonder what we can do better. As is the regular habit of this series, we look to Northern Europe for some guidance.

First off, let’s just take a peek at what the World Economic Forum had to say about the countries that are closest to 100% renewable energy:

“According to the Solutions Project study, published in the journal Joule, the countries closest to 100% renewable energy are: Tajikistan (76%), Paraguay (58.9%), Norway (35.8%), Sweden (20.7%), Costa Rica (19.1%), Switzerland (19%), Georgia (18.7%), Montenegro (18.4%), and Iceland (17.3%).” (WEF

I want you to notice that of nine countries listed, three of them are Nordic. Norway is by far the closest, but at under 40% still has a long way to go. The WEF also put Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the top ten (behind on Switzerland) on their Worlds Top Energy Peformer’s List.

The US by contrast was given a score of 52 out of the 127 countries surveyed. There is plenty of room for improvement there.

So what are some of the things the Nordic countries are doing right? For that we are going to look at the Nordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities;

You might be wondering why a focus on cities instead of the countries as a whole? First, because the cities represented are primarily capital cities, and so are quite representative of the countries as a whole. Second, because by focusing on specific cities, we can talk about specific solutions as opposed to generalities. These will become more important as we get to the Drawdown section of this article. Third, cities can serve as models to other cities across the globe. While policies and cultures vary quite a bit between nations and boundaries, most cities have the capacity to implement these solutions in their own way. More than nations, cities are the real heart of civilization. This will also serve as a good transition into my future piece on Sustainable Cities.

Some of the details here presented represent 8 different Nordic cities; Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, Manehamm, Nuuk, Torsavn, and Reykjavik. I will only be detailing small excerpts here, so I encourage you to look at the source yourself for more details.

I will be focusing my attention on just four of the cities, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Helsinki.

(From Nordic Solutions)

Copenhagen, Denmark

540,000 population. Targeting being carbon neutral by 2025.

Stockholm, Sweden

861,000 population. Targeting being fossil fuel free by 2050.

Olso, Norway

615,000 population. 50% reduction in C02 by 2030.

Helsinki, Finland

588,000 population. 20% carbon reduction by 2020.

But as the source points out; there are some very specific things each of these cities are doing, often in cooperation with one another and other levels of government.

Traditional, centralised generation of energy is often inefficient, wasting 60% or more of fuel – in particular, the generation of electrical power using fossil fuels or nuclear simultaneously produces large quantities of heat energy that, with nowhere to go, is discarded. “

How have the Nordic cities tackled this problem?

In response, over the last 100 years, the Nordic cities have championed decentralised, district energy networks; systems that can generate energy at fairly large scales, but close to where the demand is…”

There are so many different things that each of the cities are doing, so please I encourage you to peruse the source cited. It is full of case studies on many of the cities, and these are important models that US cities can certainly be replicating. But it goes well beyond technological solutions and even political well. As the Nordic Solutions points out;

City governments and technology are important when it comes to addressing the challenges facing cities in the 21st century. However, ultimately it is the way that individual people and companies act that dictates resource demands, consumption patterns and our impact on the natural surroundings. To truly address the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and population growth, human behaviour must change. Acting sustainably must become ‘normal’.”

But, don’t despair for the US. There are ideas out there on how to fully convert our power grid to a renewables. Be sure to check out the great infographics from National Geographic for the US here and even for the whole world here

I don’t want to belabor this point any more than I have too, because there is quite a bit more to say on specific solutions as presented by Drawdown, many of which are in place or in development in many in the Nordic cities.

So let’s explore those in more depth, shall we?

Drawdown

(Image From Drawdown)

Now, there is quite a bit in this section from Drawdown, so I absolutely encourage you to check out the website, or better yet buy the book. The image above does a great job showing how these solutions are all integrated, and how they interact with many other areas including city infrastructure and with the environment.

As a whole, the implementation costs for these solutions is $5 trillion dollars. That kind of price tag exceeds the capacities of any one city or even any one nation. It is only through cooperation and collaboration at all levels that we can hope to implement these solutions.

If we do so, Drawdown estimates that these solutions will remove 246 gigatons from the atmosphere, and we will save almost $21 trillion in operating costs in the long run. The point is, we need investment and political will. These solutions will help protect the environment, build a sustainable, as well as benefit the economy by more then paying for themselves in the long run.

Due to the fact that there are so many different ways we can build a sustainable and renewable energy future, I am going to be limiting myself the best I can. Mostly because of space reasons, but also because the website already exists for all of this, and it is easier for me to point you there.

Seriously, check out Drawdown’s Energy Solutions if you have not already!

Without further ado;

Electrical Generation

Wind Energy – I’m going to be talking about most of the solutions as blocs, for space reasons. This bloc is scalable; ranging from Micro-wind at the individual level to large scale facilities both Onshore and Offshore. 

Heck, it can even includes floating wind farms like those that just came online in Scotland. With all the open ocean and even lake space (looking at you Michigan), floating wind and solar projects could certainly open up many possibilities for a renewable future.

Onshore wind turbines alone have a huge mitigation impact, as they come in at the #2 solution for climate change according to Drawdown. For the energy sector as as while, onshore turbines will help avoid 35% of C02 emissions from 2020 – 2050.

Wind by far has the largest impact as a bloc of the energy sector, and it needs support, investment, and elbow grease from everyone.

Solar Energy

Solar energy is also a really diverse bloc of solutions that are immediately scaleable. On the individual level there is Rooftop Solar, which can be installed everywhere from households, to skyscrapers, to parking lot covers. At larger scales there is great potential with PV Solar Farms as well as Concentrated Solar Plants 

While not as impactful as wind energy, Solar Farms can help mitigate up to 15% of C02 emissions and also are the #8 solution according to Drawdown. Rooftop Solar adds another 10%, with Concentrated Solar adding another 5% mitigation to the mix.


Geothermal Energy

Geothermal is admittedly a small part of this mix, but for a truly renewable and sustainable future we will have to implement a diverse plurality of sources. Most certainly wind and solar, but also techniques such as geothermal as well. Drawdown ranks this as #18 out of 100 solutions, and Iceland can certainly be a model for how to do geothermal.

Water Energy

Nearly 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, and the energy available from this resource is immense, if we can learn to tap it in a way that is sustainable and economical. Obviously, water power brings to mind the big hydropower plants, which have certainly been a mixed blessing from an environmental standpoint. But it can also include much smaller scale operations such as In-Stream Hydropower as well as Wave and Tidal Energy.

Like geothermal these solutions will make up a smaller percentage of the mix. But they cannot be discounted, and Drawdown ranks Wave and Tidal as the #29 solution, and In Stream Hydro as #48.

Transitional Technologies

All of these solutions take time and resources to implement. Construction takes time, as does convincing politicians it is a good idea. As such, it is practical impossible to whole stop our fossil-fuel based energy system overnight and wake up in a renewable future tomorrow. That means we will need to transition away from fossil fuels by decommissioning older fossil fuel sources and building new renewable infrastructure simultaneously. The sooner and more aggressively we can do this the better in my opinion, and the better for a future as well.

That being said, there will be many “transition” solutions that we will need to bridge that gap without catastrophically interrupting energy systems. Some of these solutions include things like ethanol and other biofuels, as well as hybrid vehicles. However, it also includes things like Nuclear, Biomass Energy, and Waste To Energy Waste To Energy.

Many people push nuclear as the “best” method for the future, but that kind of reasoning has a lot of flaws. While nuclear fission plants can create a lot of energy, they are also very expensive and can create toxic wastes. While Drawdown ranks nuclear as the #20 solution, it also predicts its use will decline over time and considers nuclear to be a “regrets” solution. The more we rely on nuclear, the more we will come to regret doing so.

The same is true of waste to energy. In an ideal sustainable world, less waste would be produced to being with, and the rest would be recycled, composted or reused somehow. However, that is not our reality at the moment, and waste to energy is one way that is being utilized. It is a dirty process that relies on incineration, and Drawdown also considers this one a “regrets” solution. The less we use Waste-to-energy, the better.

Enabling Technologies

Now, electrical sources such as wind and solar are rightly criticized for their intermittent nature. This can certainly be partially mitigated by more localized construction, as well as a diversity of sources. However, those ideas can only go so far, and in order to truly implement renewable energy we will also have to reshape and rethink how we handle energy storage and transmission.

Part of this will involve decentralizing many energy storages system, not only on the individual or local level but also at utility scale. This will involve the creation of advanced battery storage systems at many different levels. That will allow us to mitigate the sometimes volatile nature of wind and solar sources.

It will also involve making our energy grid for more flexible, as our current grid is designed for utility scale centralized energy production. Renewables such as solar and wind have specific siting requirements (sunny or windy areas), and also benefit from being as local as possible to where the energy produced is consumed. More than this, our grids will need to be further localized and decentralized, such as is the case with Microgrids

Future Technologies

We have the technology we need to create a sustainable future right now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to research and develop new energy solutions. As Drawdown points out, there are some potentials on the horizon that may be worth our time exploring.

The first in regards to Drawdown is nuclear fusionwhich uses the same process as the sun to make energy out of light atoms. Unlike modern nuclear fission, which relies on breaking down of heavy elements (such as uranium) to create energy, fusion combines light elements such as hydrogen in order to create energy. However, it must be said that this has been an expensive technology to develop, and so far remains unproven. If humanity does figure out a process for fusion, it could revolutionize our energy future with abundant clean energy. Though for the time being, collecting the energy of the sun is probably more economical.

Another really promising technology is Solid State Wave EnergyOne of the big problems in utilizing wave and tidal energy has been cost efficiency and the fact that like wind turbines, water based systems require moving parts and need to be able to handle ocean and water stresses. This has proven to be very cost prohibitive in tapping the some 80,000 terawatt hours of energy that might be available to us in the ocean.

To get around the problem of moving parts, a company in Seattle is trying to develop Solid State Wave Energy, which does not rely on moving parts. Given the raw amount of energy capacity available, Solid State is may well help us unlock the untapped energy potential of the ocean.

Even without future prospects on the table, the fact of the matter is that we have the capacity and the technology to build a renewable and sustainable infrastructure for the planet TODAY. What we need is political will and financial resources made available. This has to be a collective effort, from individuals, to nations, to international partnerships.

I will be about 65 years old in 2050, and a great gift to the future would be a renewable powered world. I could see this world even…

The question is not CAN we, but WILL we?

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/energy/

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/electricity-generation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100%25_renewable_energy#Places_with_around_100.25_renewable_electricity

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/09/countries-100-renewable-energy-by-2050/

https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/renewables/100-percent-renewable-energy-for-139-countries-by-2050

https://www.hel.fi/static/ymk/esitteet/nordic-catalogue-060612.pdf

https://www.sierraclub.org/ready-for-100/commitments

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/03/these-are-the-worlds-top-10-energy-performers/

http://www.cell.com/joule/pdf/S2542-4351(17)30012-0.pdf

http://ecopagan.com/

https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

http://fortune.com/2017/07/10/climate-change-green-house-gases/

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10072017/fossil-fuel-companies-responsible-global-emissions-cdp-report

https://youtu.be/UiBMklgawDA

http://thesolutionsproject.org/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kUE0BZtTRc

https://www.iea.org/etp2017/summary/

https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/carbon-free-power-grid/index.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/carbon-free-world/index.html