Category Archives: Politics

Towards an Animistic World

Hello again folks!

This is going to be the last post in my most recent series. We have come to the end, at least for the time being. It is time for me to move on to other projects, which you will certainly get to read about here!

This has been a big project, but the question becomes what does it leave us with? In no small words, we are definiately now in a time of transition, where all of our choices matter. We are up against the existential challenge of climate change, and up against a system that seems hell bent on making things so much worse for the sake of a buck. Not only do things need to change, but they have to. We have a few choices open to us, but it is vital we make the right ones, right now.

I have heard some call this a bottleneck, a transition, even an evolutionary precipice. The planet is warming, and a big part of that is our creation of a global energy intensive civilization. That part wasn’t entirely our fault, and might be a bottleneck any energy intensive civilization has to go through. However, doing nothing about it is our choice, and that choice may well be between decline, sustainability, and extinction. Without serious work on our part right now, we could go the way of the Dodo. That is truly an evolutionary precipice, and we are now finding out if we, as Homo sapiens, have what it takes to navigate this crucial time.

But that’s been the point of this whole series. What tools do we have at our disposal? What would it take to create a more sustainable, networked, democraticand planetary civilization?

Well, after all my explorations throughout this series, I can start to shape for you a vision of what that future might look like. The work I have done here is a synthesis of a lot of different sources, in order to create a vision, a speculation, of what our future could be. I can create a time line now, as a kind of road map. I probably will get it wrong in the long run, but it’s a start. After all, civilization is hardly the work of one man.

Near Future; 2020-2030’s

I think that the next couple of decades are going to be vital to mitigation. We have a lot of work to do across the board. This includes heavy deployment of renewable energy, creating sustainable cities, and creating democratic networks to share resources and work together. We also need to work towards the elimination of fossil fuels in our transportation and energy mix.

One of the big tools at our disposal are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are expansive goals that allow us to reduce global carbon emissions, as well as create a more just and sustainable world. They cover everything from universal contraception coverage to universal healthcare, to renewable energy, and conservation of land and water resources.

But in a way, the SDGs are not enough, and do not go far enough. Those targets should definitely be met by the 2030s, but there is an aspect of the SDGs that is very “business as usual”. In that the SDGs do not tackle one of the biggest obstacles to creating a sustainable world; capitalism.

We will have to undermine and rebuild our current way of doing business. I don’t think this means we have to get rid of markets, trade, or industry. However, we definitely need to redistribute resources and wealth, and move towards more democratic and cooperative forms of economics. The Nordic Model of social democracy would be a good start for sure, but that’s still capitalism. We can go even further, and build networks of worker and community owned cooperatives. Over a billion people already belong to at least one co-op, so we are off to good start.

Our future could look more like this

The fact is, we are going to have to work together to face the challenges ahead. Competition might have some perks, sure, but if we have to build wind turbines, community resilience, and shelter climate refugees… It is better that we do these things together.

Mid Century; 2030-2050’s

While the SDGs have the 2030’s as their timeline, Drawdown bases it predictions on mid century. Drawdown gives us 100 solutions to combat climate change. Those solutions are everything from renewable energy, to forest conservation, to food systems, to women’s and indigenous peoples rights. We should deploy them to the greatest extent we can by 2050. Drawdown gives us three major trajectories;

Plausible Scenario: the case in which solutions on the Drawdown list are adopted at a realistically vigorous rate over the time period under investigation, adjusting for estimated economic and population growth.

Drawdown Scenario: the case in which the adoption of solutions is optimized to achieve drawdown by 2050.

Optimum Scenario: the case in which solutions achieve their maximum potential, fully replacing conventional technologies and practices within a limited, competitive market.

Drawdown is the point where our carbon emissions actually start to decrease. Being the optimist, I say shoot for the Optimum scenario. But even if we don’t make that, plausible solutions are better than none at all.

Aside from Drawdown, we also need to recreate our political, social, and economic systems. Technology alone will never be enough without other changes. Also, individual actions are necessary, but not sufficient without systemic and cultural change as well. A change in spirit, of who we are as a species.

Because the truth of the matter is, that our current systems cannot do what we need them to do. There is a good possibility that Nations will become less relevant. Our system of Nations is likely one of the least efficient ways to manage a planet, and that networks of cities, regions, and other organizations might be able to do this better.

The US system especially is ungovernable, and hierarchy overall is likely to breakdown and give rise to more networked and distributed means of governance. Ideally, these are cooperative and democratic networks, that give us the flexibility we need to adapt to a changing climate and world.

Renewable energy, Drawdown, SDGs, all give us means to create a less hierarchical, distributed and cooperative world. Local and regional powers can take the lead, and eventually build a new global system and planetary civilization.

Late Century; 2050’s – 2100

Alright, at this point I have to state that I will be in my mid 60’s by 2050, so anything too much beyond that is in all likelihood beyond my lifetime. But it will be in the lifetime of the next generation, and the one after that. It is definitely important to think beyond ourselves, and at least a couple of generations down the road.

Provided we have done what we must, and lain the foundations for a sustainable future, mitigated climate change as best we are able, and not blown ourselves up, the coming century could be really exciting for the future of our species.

It bears repeating that we are in a very crucial time right now. How that future looks depends on what we do right now. We don’t know the future. Whether we succeed or fail through the coming transition all hinges on what we do (and don’t do) in the next decade or two. But provided we manage to get through all that, we could be looking at a fully networked, democratic, and planetary civilization.

A world where there is fusion power, space elevators, and our growth as a space faring civilization. I find that really exciting, even if I won’t see it. To me, that is the foundation of a a truly animistic world.

An Animistic Vision

Because in all honesty, that is what we are facing right now. Not only an ecological crisis, but a spiritual one as well. My vision, my ideas for the future, are animistic at the core. As I’ve said so many times, my animism is a worldview as much a spiritual practice. It is how I relate to the world, to other humans, to nature, to civilization, and the planet.

The world I envision takes on the aspects of mutually beneficial relationships, of sharing, cooperation, and reciprocity. Democratic and cooperative economics are the outflow of this, as well as renewable energy and sustainability. We need to do the best we can for all peoples on Earth, human or non-human.

My vision is a world powered by wind turbines and solar panels; with little shrines to the Sun and winds at their base. Tiny little spirit houses at the entrances to great forests and mighty trees. Cities that look and function more like real jungles, not concrete ones. A world where worker-owned shops build our star ships. Small little altars could sit on those control panels, while astronauts pray that the Void doesn’t eat them.

The interaction of Science and Story, Matter and Meaning. That is my animistic world.

Thanks for reading!

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Towards a Democratic World

*Not talking about the political party here, but actual democracy.

“Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?…

Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their workplace? In politics, we fight like tigers for freedom, for the right to elect our leaders, for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. ” -Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hello again folks!

This is another post in my ongoing series, as there is certainly more that needs exploring. It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I am a leftist. Yup, I am well to the left of the political center, as I think cooperative and ecological economic and social systems would probably be a lot better than what we have now.

More specifically, in terms of the political spectrum, I am probably best described as a democratic ecosocialist, with strong left-libertarian tendencies. I’m not quite an anarchist, but there is a great deal of overlap there. In terms of US politics, I am some sort of a combination between the Democratic Socialist of America, and the Green Party.

(Probably, Mostly, Me)

Overall, I’m probably a center-leftist (give or take), which makes me pretty boring as far as leftists go. Still, I think it is important that we break that all down a little bit more. My political views are reinforced and informed by how I understand animism. As I’ve said so many time before, my animism is the basic worldview that the world is full of people (human and non-human), and that life is lived in relation to others.

This comes with a strong commitment to human and ecological rights, and the inherent worth and dignity of all beings on this planet. It follows that any civilization and its social, political, cultural, and economic systems should be as equitable, sustainable, democratic, and just as possible. Humanity civilizations should be ecologically sustainable, and be self-regulated and self-organized. In short, civilization should look more like an ecosystem, and be integrated seamlessly into the environment.

In other words, I have red (socialist), green (ecological), and blue (democratic, labor) in the mix. That is why I want to talk about Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy today. I saw a lot of the world I want to build in those pages. But first, let’s explore some of the components in this world.

Democratic Socialism (Red/Blue)

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production with an emphasis on self-management and democratic management of economic institutions within a market socialist, participatory or decentralized planned economy. Democratic socialists hold that capitalism is inherently incompatible with what they hold to be the democratic values of liberty, equality and solidarity; and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realization of a socialist society.” (Wikipedia, Democratic Socialism)

This is a good part of my basic philosophy. I think capitalism as a economic system is exploitative of workers and the environment, and mostly just concentrates wealth (and political power) in fewer and fewer hands. Capitalism is one big factor in the rise of oligarchy and plutocracy in the US.

I have made no secret of my like of Nordic Model. It goes a long ways towards what a democratic socialism might look like, but it falls short. That is because the Nordic Model is social democracy, not democratic socialism. Social democracy is still capitalism. Suffice to say, I think it is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough. Another point along the transition, but not the end of the journey.

I would like to see it go farther, with greater democratic control given over to workplaces and community owned organizations. I would like to see much less State power, and a greater number of worker and community owned cooperatives. The Nordic Model has a lot of good points with egalitarianism, and ecological sustainability. But more needs to be done.

Ecosocialism (Green/Red)

Eco-socialism is an ideology merging aspects of socialism with that of green politics, ecology and alter-globalization… Eco-socialists generally believe that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty, war and environmental degradation through globalization and imperialism, under the supervision of repressive states and transnational structures.

Eco-socialists advocate dismantling capitalism, focusing on common ownership of the means of production by freely associated producers, and restoring the commons.” (Wikipedia, Ecosocialism)

I think that capitalism is as exploitative of environments. It extracts natural resources for profit, and leaves barren and polluted wastelands in its wake. We can do better than that, and while there will still be a need for resources, there are far better ways to manage those resources in a sustainable way.

Alter-globalization is an important aspect here. I’m not opposed to global economic integration, but it MUST be done with a respect to human dignity, labor rights, environmental protection, and indigenous cultures. It is quite contrary to the neoliberal globalization we see in the world right now. It’s capitalism, stupid.

Along the lines of democratic socialism, I support the creation of worker and community owned spaces, and a more sustainable economic system.

Green Politics (Green/Blue)

Green politics is a political ideology that aims to create an ecologically sustainable society rooted in environmentalism, nonviolence, social justice and grassroots democracy.” (Wikipedia, Green Politics)

Democracy, sustainability, equality, solidarity. There is not much I can harp on here except the “non-violent” part. On the whole, I’m no warrior. Violent or militant actions aren’t really my cup of tea. I’m more of a builder than anything. That said, I think these things may have limited strategic uses.

However, that doesn’t mean being passive in the face of oppressive systems. Protest, direct action, and civil disobedience are all tactics for fighting unjust and exploitative systems.

Libertarian-socialism/Libertarian-Municipalism (Red/Green/Blue)

Libertarian socialists advocate for decentralized structures based on direct democracy and federal or confederal associations such as libertarian municipalism, citizens’ assemblies, trade unions, and workers’ councils.” (Wikipedia, Libertarian-Socialism)

Okay, so I don’t really like using the word “libertarian” anything due to how this idea has taken form in US political circles. To explain briefly, there are two versions of this idea, left-libertarianism, and right-libertarianism. While there is some amount of overlap between both schools of thought, as both of don’t really like centralized regulation/the State. The difference of course is one argues for cooperative economic systems, the other for unregulated and non-State capitalism.

With my general disdain for capitalism, I am a left-libertarian, in that I don’t think the Nation-State is necessary, especially versions that are far away and centralized. I like bottom up, democratic and decentralized solutions to problems. Not only is the Nation-State, and I’ve discussed in my End of Nations post, it’s probably not the best way to govern a planet. 

Short version, on the whole, I prefer distributed, networked, and democratic systems over centralized ones. Cities are the real heart of our civilizations, and I think a global network of cities might be a better global system than the Nation-State.

Mars Trilogy

You are probably wondering how all of this relates to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. You would be right to ask that question, as I have spent a lot more time talking about political ideology than I have about the fiction books in question. Robinson is generally considered to be and ecosocialist, and many of the ideas I have discussed translate directly into his books.

The short version being, that the fiction can serve as a vision of what the reality might look like. The Mars Trilogy, as it’s name implies, follows the stories of colonists and terraformers of Mars as they build a new society over about a century.

As the society of Mars develops, they run into all kinds of social and political problems. There are the nativist Reds, that want to keep the planet as natural as possible. They are in many ways opposed by the Greens, that want to terraform the planet. The first couple of books cover this struggle, and even result in the first aspects of a democratic and decentralized Martian society.

There is even multiple attempts at a global constitution, which finally culminates in the final book. By the time we reach Blue Mars, a kind of libertarian ecosocialism has taken root, and is embodied in the constitution of Mars. The entire organization of the planet is a kind of global-localism, in which there is both a global government, as well as the rights of individual cities. In short, there are no Nation-States. Mars is an experiment in Democratic Ecosocialism.

Because, on top of democratic structures of government (based on the constitutions of Earth, especially the Swiss), there are the rights of nature and the ecocourts. Here is an excerpt from KSR’s own site on the structure of the Martian government;

The Martian government was created following the Second Martian Revolution which insured Mars’s independence from Terra’s rule. Its form was established in the Martian constitution created in the Pavonis Mons Congress in 2128.

The global government was a confederation led by a seven-member executive council (inspired by the Swiss system), which was elected by two legislative branches:

  • the duma, consisting of drafted citizens
  • the senate, consisting of elected representatives from every town

Legislature was mostly left to towns. The judicial branch presented three courts:

  • a criminal court
  • a constitutional court (including an economic commission for eco-economics)
  • an environmental court (including a land commission for no private property), the Global Environmental Court (GEC):”

I could go on and on of course, as this has become one of my favorite book series. But for the sake of brevity, I want to leave this topic to talk even more broadly. When this is considered along with my first Synthesis of my recent work, a vision of the future starts to form.

It is a vision only, a speculation if you want to frame it that way. All the same, it gives me something to work towards. It gives us something to work towards, if you are of a similar mind as me. We could build an animistic, democratic, and ecosocialistic world.

The Mars trilogy gives us an idea of what that could look like, though of course such a world would vary in the details. Still, I think it is possible. We could build a world that is ecological and sustainable. We could build a world that is democratic, and not built on capitalism. Nation-States may not be the best way to govern a planet, and they will be less relevant in the future. Whether through collapse or deliberate integration, I think the future will be post-national.

We are already seeing what that might look like, and it is up to all of us to work towards a common vision of a global-localism. Think globally, act locally; in a very real way.

Our future awaits.

Thanks for reading!


We’re Not Doomed, Yet

Or at very least, why I think we still have other alternatives open to us, as a species, and as a planet.

There has been no shortage of bad news recently, and some of it certainly has a “the sky is falling” dystopian feel to it. One recent example in the pagan sphere is this article over at Gods & Radicals. I’m not saying that articles such as this one are wrong in whole, but that they are part of a trend.

A trend towards pessimism, nihilism, and fatalism when facing the future challenges that are before us. Not just in some future, but also in the here and now. We are already facing the onset of climate change, and it is an open question whether or not we can do enough to mitigate that.

It’s true, we need to be realistic. We can’t be naive about the challenges we face. They may be catastrophic, or even existential in scope. Still, I think there are reasons to hope, and on the whole I don’t think this the end of the world as we know it. It might be the end of this current system, sure, but it also the birthing of another. I think we are in a time of transition, and whether we succeed or fail is up to us.

I’ve written more about this recently, especially here and here

Multiple Options

“We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

The point is, I don’t think the future is set in stone. We won’t know the future until it has become the present, and that means that multiple possible futures are still open to us. Not just dystopian apocashitstorms, but some that could be a little more optimistic. We are at a unique bottleneck in our history, where our actions right now are determine whether we navigate towards ruin or towards something sustainable.

(From Adam Frank’s The Light of the Stars)

All our choices matter right now. Will we fall into a long descent scenario like scenario A, or something more sustainable like scenario B? Or, are extinction events like C and D what await us, whether we switch to renewable sources or not? We are figuring that out right now.

End of an Era, but probably not civilization

 “Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values.”  – Source

I write about these topics a lot; from renewable energy, to the social, economic, cultural, and political actions we need to change in order to have any chance of navigating the future. That’s the point though, we can still mitigate the worst of this. Our window is closing, and fast. We are certainly on a deadline.

That said, I think a whole lot of people are aware of that, and working towards something better. Billions of people, in many countries across the world. I point to a lot of ideas in my writing, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Project Drawdown, or The Solutions Project. None of these solutions are perfect, and we need to throw that idea right out the window. There is no such thing as a perfect solution, and there is no free lunch. There are “lower impact” ideas, but each has its own advantages and drawbacks. It is possible we will make compromises all along the way.

Renewable energy can be intermittent, and is less efficient than fossil fuels. I’d still rather deploy it as much as we can than go without. It means we might have to work with less energy, or at least work harder for the same amount. I’d rather not have to rely on nuclear to keep the lights on, but it’s probably still a lower carbon (and expensive) option than coal plants.

Most of the sources cited above run on 2030 or 2050 timelines, and that is generally what I think of as our “window.” The question is “how bad”, and the sooner we act, the “less” bad the future looks. If we can’t get our shit together as a species by 2050, I’d say we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. There are a lot of ways to do that, and in many ways that work is already being done.

There are a lot of ways that we could mitigate the worst of what the future has to offer, but it’s huge Work. It means everything from rebuilding our energy infrastructures to changing our cultural values, methods of governance, and economic systems. Can we accomplish this work in the next couple of decades? That remains to be seen.

While I do think the American Empire is on the downslide, I don’t think our civilization (as a global system) is on the extinction curve. I’ve talked more about what that looks like here.

The cities of Athens and Argos have been continually inhabited for almost 7000 years. That said, they didn’t have capitalism, and it’s drive to burn up the planet for the sake of profit.

It’s capitalism, stupid 

“Yet embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system.” – Source

Capitalism and neoliberalism are one of the big factors in our current unsustainable world. As the article sourced above points out, we can trace inequality, climate change, and mass extinctions to our economic systems and our reliance on fossils fuels. If we are going to have any chance of building a sustainable civilization, capitalism and fossil fuels have to go. We need a new energy and economic system. You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. Period

There is a great post on that here and the associated paper here.

In a way, I’m talking about a revolution in values, relationships, and the structure of our entire civilization. This is the end of an era, and one type of civilization is giving way to another. The old capitalistic world built on fossil fuels is on it’s way out.

That’s where I think the real risk comes in. We could just get stuck with a dying type of civilization, and never transition to another. We could succumb to the same habits that brought us here, and as Einstein said, that is a special kind of insanity. We can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results.

We may well be at an evolutionary precipice, with the survival of our species on the line. Our future depends on transitioning to new forms of energy, economics, and society as a whole. A revolution, of sorts.

A Transition

That sounds pretty good. In just a couple of centuries, we are going to become a true Type 1 cosmic civilization. The problem, of course, is that we may never get there. Our project of civilization has a bottleneck to navigate right now, and our progress through it is anything but assured.” – Michio Kaku

What does that all look like? Well, like I have already said, this is already happening in a multitude of ways. 193 countries signed onto the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and more work is certainly needed there. The Paris Climate Accords has 195 signatories (maybe without the US thanks to current government). China is well ahead of it’s 2020 climate goals. Sweden is ahead of the curve too.

California, the fifth largest economy in the world, is ready to commit to 100% renewable energy. Over 70 cities and the state of Hawaii have committed to 100% renewable energy too.  The Dutch are working towards banning gasoline and diesel cars, as well as building a renewably powered train system. Norway and France are phasing out oil fueled transport too.

The long and short of it is, we are already in that transition. There are reasons to hope, to be sure. There is also still a lot of work to be done, and also a real chance of failure. In a way, the technical solutions are the easy part. Building alternatives to capitalism, changing our values and culture, ending the grip of oil on our societies, those are the hard parts. Still, I think we have to continue the work. It will take more than my lifetime, and I won’t see the end of this. That will be my children, and their children…

But I think it still has to happen, and that is is happening. I for one, and not ready to give up on that work just yet.

It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

— Fredric Jameson

Thanks for reading!


Towards a Sustainable World

As children of the Earth, we are also children of the stars…. Through the light of the stars, through what they teach us about other worlds and the possibilities of other civilizations, we can learn what path through adolescence we must take. And in that way, we can reach our maturity. We can reach our full promise and possibility.

We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

I have had the book The Light of the Stars on preorder for months, authored by astrophysicist Adam Frank. I tore through this book in less than three days, and it has left my head spinning. I wanted to discuss my impressions. I really enjoyed this book!

More than that, it has been really relevant to the work I have been doing right now. I know it might not seem like it just yet, but I am working towards a synthesis of a lot of different ideas right now. These ideas cut across huge categories, and spin out from my understanding of animism. What I am working on now cuts across cosmology, ecology, science generally, as well as anthropology and animism. I am exploring many questions that cover our place in the Cosmos, the future of our civilization, and how science and animism are two complimentary ways to understand these topics.

Adam Frank’s book lands solidly across all of these ideas. If the quote at the top of this page is any indication, the scientific and animistic aspects of this book are very present. Even though this book is about science and not animism, there are plenty of implications for the latter. As I have written about many times before, my animism is scientific, and has implications for almost every discipline. While science tell me about the world, animism is how I relate to that world.

Which is why I was so struck by Frank’s book. I would recommend you pick up a copy, because I will not be able to cover even a portion of it here for length reasons. If you want a short version, there is a great Youtube video that outlines the basic ideas, and plenty of news articles are at the bottom of this post. Yet, in brief, the bulk of the book is about astrobiology, exo-civilizations (alien civilizations), and what we can learn from the fate of other worlds, and the possible civilizations that might dwell there.

A good portion of the book is about how an high-tech, high energy civilization would change the climate of the planet. In short, this book is about the Anthropocene, and the fate of our civilization when faced with realities such as Climate Change, and what, if anything, we can do about that?

Different Scenarios

But we should recognize that creating climate change wasn’t done with malevolence. We are not a plague on the planet. Instead, we are the planet. We are, at least, what the planet is doing right now. But that is no guarantee that we’ll still be what the planet is doing one thousand or ten thousand years from now.

…that Carl Sagan already understood, is that humanity and its project of civilization represents a kind of “cosmic teenager.”.. But like a teenager, we lack the maturity to take full responsibility for ourselves and our future.” – Light of the Stars

(Graphic from Here)

One of the great parts about this book, is that Frank and others have just started modeling the various trajectories our civilization could take. I have included a graphic that plots out each of these trajectories pretty clearly.

The first is the die off, which is in many ways similar to Greer’s Long Descent. It means that climate change starts to take a serious toll on our populations, and basically humans start dying off. It’s disturbing that Frank identified this as one of the most common scenarios. But that is not a pleasant future, nor one to be hoped for. It is hard for me to imagine 7 out of 10 people I know and love have perished. That I think is a future that is best avoided, if we have any control over the matter. Which, of course, I think we do in some measure.

The second scenario is my preferred trajectory, the sustainability curve. It means we have acted with enough forethought and wisdom to prevent either slow, or catastrophic collapse. I think we as a civilization and as a species still have the ability to carve out this future for ourselves. We have the technology today, what we need is the will, and as Frank points out, a better narrative on what we want that future to look like.

The last two scenarios are the full extinction scenarios. That means we so overshoot the capacities of the planet, that regardless if we change to renewables or not, that the collapse of our civilization and probably the extinction of our species is our fate. That is a grim future indeed, and one that also serves best as a warning.

Kardashev Scale

If we take the astrobiological view and start thinking like a planet, we see there’s no such thing as “no impact.” Civilizations are built by harvesting energy and using that energy to do work. That work can be anything from building buildings to transporting materials to harvesting more energy.” – Light of the Stars

I have talked a lot about the Kardashev Scale quite a bit on this blog before, and something Michio Kaku has explored in some depth. I’m not going to go into any real depth about that here, but Frank certainly uses it to build his central themes. For example, a Type 1 civilization can access all the energy resources of their home planet. Civilization as a project turns energy into the capacity to work, whether that work is building, farming, or exploring space.

Our civilization is not yet a Type 1, as we are about a type 0.7, with 100-200 years to go until we are Type 1. That means we have a fair bit of energy at the disposal of our civilization, but Frank makes a very important point about the Kardashev Scale. Energy use of a civilization must obey the second law of thermodynamics. There is no such thing as a free lunch, as the use of energy creates feedback, primarily in the form of waste, and especially heat.

As we know from the science of climate change, that waste heat can be trapped in the atmosphere by carbon and other greenhouse gases. Obviously, the carbon and the heat are both products of our fossil fuel driven civilization. As Frank points out, the greater the energy use of a civilization, the greater its entropy; mostly in the form of waste heat.

This does not mean we cannot, or should not, chart out a course towards a Type 1 Civilization. Only that, as Kaku and Frank seem to agree upon, is that we are navigating a very crucial bottleneck right now. How we chart that course has massive implications for our future.

That sounds pretty good. In just a couple of centuries, we are going to become a true Type 1 cosmic civilization. The problem, of course, is that we may never get there. Our project of civilization has a bottleneck to navigate right now, and our progress through it is anything but assured.” – Michio Kaku

There are nor guarantees about our future, but if we are to have a future at all, we must look a little beyond the Kardashev Scale. As Frank rightly points out, we need to consider our civilization against the capacities and limits of the planet. As such, Frank proposes another way of looking at our planet.

Planet Classifications

Sustainable Civilizations don’t “rise above” the biosphere, but must, in some way, enter into a long, cooperative relationship with their coupled planetary systems. But what does that look like?”

What Frank proposes, is another way to classify our civilization as part of the whole planetary system. We need to consider more than just the energy usage, but also how the feedback of energy use on our planetary system. We need another kind of map to a Type 1 civilization, a more long-term and sustainable vision.

Frank proposes a different means to classify planets and their energy use. He uses five Classes of planets, 1 through 5.

A Class 1 planet is similar in many ways to Mercury. The energy systems of the planet are fairly simple, so the planet as a whole limits work (energy use) and system complexity. It’s pretty much a dead planet. A Class 2 is a world with an atmosphere, but no life. Venus and Mars are great examples of a Class 2 planet. Sunlight and atmosphere allows for gas and water flows, and more work to be done in the energy system.

Class 3 planets have a thin biosphere. Life has gotten a start on these worlds, and life has an effect on the planetary systems of energy flow. But life does not dominate the planet. Earth during the early Archean was approximately a Class 3 planet. Frank also points out if life was present on early Mars, that too would be an example of a Class 3.

Frank describes a Class 4 planet as a planet that has been “hijacked by life”, with a thick biosphere. These are deep ecological networks that all feed into one another, and feedback into one another. Earth, up until the appearance of human civilization, has long been a Class 4 planet.

Across the first four classes, we see an increase in complexity and energy flow as Frank rightly points out. A Class 1 planet doesn’t do much work with the energy it received from the sun. By contrast, a Class 4 takes all that solar energy and puts it to use in the networks of life; growing, eating, dying, and back again. This relationship between complexity, work, and energy flows granted Frank and his collaborators the vision to speculate on what a Class 5 planet might look like.

Just as a Class 4 world channels more energy into work and complexity than a Class 3, a Class 5 would go beyond the energy capacities of a Class 4. A Class 5 planet is a world with a planetary civilization, that not only has more energy at its disposal, but also has the agency of a complex civilization. Frank calls a Class 5 world an “agency dominated” planet, a planet that has intelligence. A Class 5 is where the biosphere has become part a noosphere, an area of networked intelligence. It is the where a world starts to “wake up”, and becomes more like a single organism.

Class 5 Planets might be seen as worlds that have evolved a noosphere. The pervasive wireless mesh of connections that constitute today’s internet has already been held up as an initial version of a noosphere for Earth. Thus, we might already make out the contours of what a sustainable world will look like.”

An Awakened Planet, Towards a Class 5

So, we cannot bring the world to heel. Instead, we must bring it a plan. Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….

Science has given us a new perspective, a new vision, and a new story to help us find a way forward as we face the challenge of the Anthropocene. But this can only happen if we listen carefully and truly make this new story our own.

It is time to grow up.”

If a Class 5 is an “awakened planet” Frank goes on to ask the question, where do we stand right now? Well, just like on the Kardashev scale, we are between a Type 0 and a Type 1 (Type 0.7), on Frank’s on classification system, we are between a Class 4 and a Class 5, a hybrid planet.

The planet has not fully “awoken” just yet, and that it contains a civilization that is not yet sustainable. We are a hybrid planet, clearly leaving a Class 4 as we move into the Anthropocene, but our civilization is not yet a fully integrated and sustainable part of the planetary system. It might never be, as failure is certainly an option. We not ever make it to a Class 5 Planet, just as Kaku said there is no guarantees of ever seeing a Type 1 civilization.

Our cybernetic (of life and machine) Gaia is stirring, but it is not yet out of the birth canal. The transition from Type 0 to Type 1, and from Class 4 to Class 5, is not yet assured, and we are still in the weeds as a species. Energy flow, complexity, and the work we do as part of the planet must be sustainable. A Type 1 civilization must be sustainable, a integrated, networked, extension of the planetary system. As Frank so eloquently puts it;

To truly come into a cooperative coevolution with a biosphere, a technological civilization must make technology – the fruit of its collective mind – serve as a web of awareness for the flourishing of both itself and the planet as a whole.”

It is time for our species to mature, as part of our planet. We are still in our adolescence, but we can see young adulthood in the distance. That is the next step in our planetary evolution, if we have the wisdom to make it through this transition.

In my next post for this series, I want to start filling in the details. I want to synthesize the ideas of Kaku, Bar-Yam, and Frank in a more unified way. From there, I want to continue refining this vision down to more specifics…

What does a cooperative, sustainable relationship with Earth actually look like?

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank. 2018.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/opinion/earth-will-survive-we-may-not.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/how-do-aliens-solve-climate-change/561479/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoISn18qP_E

http://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/astrobiology-alien-apocalypse-can-any-civilization-make-it-through-climate-change-322232/


Towards a Networked World

We, each of us, are parts of a greater whole. Still, this relationship is shaping and will continue to shape much of our existence. It has implications for our lives as individuals and those of our children…

On a global scale, human civilization is a single organism capable of remarkable complex collective actions in response to environmental challenges.”

– Y. Bar-Yam

In the last part of this series, I left off with a quote by Harding that suggested that while science and technology has made us quite clever, these things alone have not made us wise. He went on to suggest that the fusion of animism with science would ask us to replace mechanistic understandings of the world, with more animate ones. In short, Harding asks of us to consider the planet as one whole being, a planetary organism.

This is an important place to start our discussion, as it will have huge implications to explore in the rest of this piece. More importantly, this is the point where animism (as I understand it), is going to be central to our understanding of the future of ourselves and the planet. It means, our civilization is in fact an extension of nature, and of the evolution of our planet. Civilization is the next step, an emergence out of cosmic physics and evolutionary biology. It emerges from our own nature, as social human beings enmeshed in the planetary systems of Earth.

Yet, just like evolutionary process, so too is our own unguided. Whether we succeed or fail as a civilization, and as a species, will be influenced by how well we are adapted to our environment. In other words, our fitness to be part of the planetary systems. If we are unfit to our environment, unable to find a balance, unable to adapt, we will perhaps go the way of countless extinct species.

One way to understand this is to look at Kaku’s planetary civilization, a Type 1 civilization that is truly global. By necessity, I think this would have to be a sustainable civilization, that has become well adapted to the planet as a whole. A Type 1 civilization, as I envision it, would have to adapt to to the planet, and become an integrated part of the whole. We are not there are the moment, and we may have a century or more before we get there.

So the question becomes, what might be some of the steps we need to take to be a more integrated and harmonic part of the planetary organism?

If you ask me, part of the answer will be to take our place as a kind of planetary “nervous system.” Our human civilization might become the “thinking” part of the planet, that integrates all the parts, and keeps them regulated. Just like our own bodies, the health of any individual system is vital to the health of the whole. The nervous system cannot survive without support of the bone and blood (geology), the respiratory system (forests, ecologies, weather), or the circulatory (oceans, waters) systems.

Going a step farther, this also includes our own selves, and the sociopolitical makeup of our societies. In short, how we organize ourselves matters. More importantly, there are likely better ways to manage a planet. Some time ago, I wrote about the End of Nations, in three parts. The gist of this all is, that Nation-States are the result of specific historical processes, but they may not be the best way to regulate a planet. There are plenty of thinkers, scholars, and scientists trying to come up with other ideas.

Which brings us to the article I want to discuss today. Our civilization, when compared with any other time in history, is much more complex. The article that highlight this fact is called Complexity Rising, by Y Bar-Yam. The quote at the top of this piece comes from the same article.

The article itself is very dense, and I will not have the space here to cover it all. Yet, if the quote at the top of this piece is any indication, what I want to explore today is the complexity of our current civilization, and what this might mean for our future.

In order to move this this conversation forward, I want to draw your attention to the above graphic. This image from the article speaks volumes about what I want to talk about, and in a way that allows me brevity. Bar-Yam lays out the case for the historical changes of our social structures. Moving from left to right, we can see the steady rise in complexity, from hunter-gatherers up to the Industrial Revolution. By the time we get to the last panel on the right, we see something very integrated, networked, and dare I say… organic.

Right in the middle there is a spike in hierarchy. This is the Industrial Revolution. During the industrial revolution, as I talked about in more depth in my End of Nations series, hierarchical and bureaucratic structures exploded. Part of the reason is because industrial economies are more complex, and need more actual governing. The rise of the Nation-State was connected to the rise of industrialization, as the graphic clearly shows.

We are still in the industrial mindset, somewhere around the peak of hierarchy on the graphic. (It could be we are going down the slope.) We are still living in the social and political structures that were created in the Industrial Revolution. But we are also moving towards a planetary civilization, a Type 1 civilization, and I think that is represented by the far right on the graphic. A truly networked civilization.

Also, I think that the graphic is very consistent with Kaku’s “birth pangs” of planetary civilization. Do you see the drop on the far right of the graphic? That indicates a breakdown of hierarchies, as we transition to more lateral and networked world. Those hierarchies are present in our governments and social institutions. That is the world as we know it, and I think it is already breaking down. But overall, I think that breakdown is a good thing in the long run, because the other side is a more equal, egalitarian, and networked world.

(The Transition, breakdown of hierarchy and rise of the more networked connections.)

There is a lot of talk in pagandom about long descents, storms a’ coming, late stage capitalism, rise of hierarchy, fascism, oligarchy, ect. I think there is some truth to these things. For instance, I think we are in a time of birth pangs, a new world awaits at the end of a messy process. It’s not going to be easy, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world either.

The drop after is the transition. That’s the storm. That’s late stage capitalism. That’s the birth pangs of transition. Like a cocoon of metamorphosis. We can already see some evidence of that transition. The EU is at least a prototype of a what a more networked world might look like. A post-nation kind of integration. .

Even so, the EU may point the way to what a post-nation-state world will look like.

.., further integration of Europe’s governing systems is needed as economies become more interdependent. But… Europe’s often-paralysed hierarchy cannot achieve this. Instead… the replacement of hierarchy by networks of cities, regions and even non-governmental organisations.” (From End of Nations)

I prefer ideas that are more democratic, more autonomous, but also deliberately networked. Networks of cities and regions could be all these things, as well as more flexible and adaptable to complex problems such as climate change. Nation-states have a real structural problem dealing with many of these challenges. They are centralized, and inflexible. They were not designed to handle these kind of challenges, and are often paralyzed in dealing with them. Nation-states, and even international institutions are often too hierarchical to deal with problems that require complex and nuanced solutions.

Type 0 Civ = Industrial Revolution

Type 1 Civ = Networked World

Blue Line = Approx current location

Kaku estimates 100 – 200 years to Type 1

But there is another thing that is important to point out here. As you can see from the graphic above, there is a long gap from the decline of hierarchy, to the rise of replacement hybrid lateral structures. I will be talking a lot more about what that looks like in a future post, but for now I can say that that transition will not be fun. The decline of hierarchy may well mean the decline of Nations, which on the whole may not be a bad thing in the long term, but it will be chaotic in the short term. This breakdown could also affect other massive hierarchies aside from governments; but also large corporations and international institutions. That could be bad news for a lot of people.

As such, I think it is important, while hierarchy declines, that we focus on building alternative hybrid and lateral structures. Things like cooperative workplaces, and community organizations that can help mitigate the gap. More on that in the future too.

The short version, is that I agree with aspects of both Kaku and Bam-Yam. A planetary civilization would be more networked, and less hierarchical. But how can we start the synthesize these two ideas?

Towards Synthesis

“Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries (States). But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.” End of Nations

It certainly is time that we start imagine what the future might look like, and this is a theme I will revisit in future posts. We need to imagine big, so that we can then use that big vision to create small, manageable goals. That way we can create a better tomorrow, after a bit of a slog through the transition.

With that all in mind, what does that vision look like? Well, at least for me, we can start bringing together all the various threads I’ve lain out in this post and the previous one.

From Kaku’s work, we can run with the idea that we are on the path towards a Type 1 Planetary Civilization. This civilization will be more integrated, more multicultural, more scientific, and more tolerant. The transition to a Type 1 civilization will take the next century or two, and we are already seeing the first aspects of that in things like the internet and the EU.

But Bar-Yam in this post, adds more onto this vision. The EU may be an early prototype for a Type 1 civilization, but it is also the prototype for a post-national world. A world that is more networked, more integrated, less hierarchical, as well as egalitarian and democratic. Bar-Yam also points out, that we are already undergoing this transition. The old world is breaking down, and the new one is on the way. But it is a not guaranteed and we are at a crucial juncture.

I think on top of all this, the new world will have to ecological and sustainable as well as democratic. With integrated and flexible networks of power, our civilization would be more adaptable and able to respond to climate change. As was pointed out by Bar-Yam in the very first quote at the top, our civilization, and our planet, function together like one large organism.

Any civilization that we build on a planetary scale must include human as well as non-human concerns, and this is at the heart of my animism. A future planetary civilization would be networked, democratic, egalitarian, multicultural, and sustainable. That is what a planetary civilization would truly look like to me.

In short, we need to “think like a planet”, and this is our bridge towards the next big author I want to discuss in tandem with this one. In a future post, I will talk about Adam Frank’s new book, The Light of the Stars.

It is my hope that it will help to pull all these assorted threads together, so that we can move towards a synthesized vision of the future.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://necsi.edu/projects/yaneer/Civilization.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_civilization

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/end-of-nations-part-1/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/end-of-nations-part-2/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/02/01/end-of-nations-part-3/


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.


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