Resilience on my mind

There are days that I feel like a rubber band – being stretched in so many different directions. Then I snap back. That is resilience.

Climate resilience is such a seductive concept like regeneration that it is one of the primary topics I teach. But not sure if we actually have the political and economic means to pull it off (nor does Andrew Revkin). Check out the video [which refuses to be embeded] of Revkin’s recent appearance at Zócalo Public Square that focused on the topic.

So what am I doing to shift the status quo? Getting stretched in all sorts of ways organizing a symposium for the LA Aqueduct Centennial with folks from UCLA (including Alex Hall and Jon Christensen who are in the video), Woodbury’s Arid Lands Institute, and my mentor Lance Neckar at Pitzer. Target date winter 2014 if we line up the funding. Stay tuned!

A quick shout out to Dan Hill for a fascinating read about the ‘Urban Intelligence Industrial Complex’ aka the ‘Smart City’ movement…

Tree Torture Labs

Two visually striking experiments are attempting to find out how trees will respond to climate change:  Sevilleta LTER, and Aspen FACE at Michigan Technological University. These science experiments invoke several recent landscape architecture projects, but are purely functional.

Sevilleta LTER

But we have to kill the trees to understand how they die. Not a lot of them, just a few.”  “We need to understand the mechanistic side if we’re going to model the effects of climate on a large scale, we need to understand why and where trees die. When we can do that accurately, we’ll have a shot at knowing the broader effects.– Nate McDowell

The experiments at Sevilleta focus on Pinon-Juniper woodlands of New Mexico and are subject to several experiments by researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science’s Program for Ecosystem Research).

To observe the impact of higher temperatures, 18 trees are wrapped in 15′ tall plastic cylinders with heaters that keeps the temperature about 7 degrees warmer than ambient conditions to simulate the predicted climate of 2100.

more images at

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The dark side of solar

The math isn’t adding up for the local economics of solar farms as reported by the LAtimes.

BrightSource Energy’s $2.7-billion Hidden Hills solar power plant in Inyo County was  first estimated to boost the County;s general fund 17%. But this didn’t factor in the federal solar tax exclusion on property. Fewer than 10 local workers get permanent jobs — just 5% of the construction jobs would be filled by county residents, who are likely to spend their money in Nevada – not Inyo County’s population center in Owens Valley. Improvements to public infrastructure like roads would cost the county $11 million to $12 million. Then in perpetuity would be  nearly $2 million a year in additional public safety and other services paid by tax payers. This reality contrasts with the rosy picture painted by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, who promised 1,000 construction jobs and 100 permanent positions, generating wages of nearly $550 million over the life of the project contributing more than $300 million in local and state tax revenues. Not much discussion of the ecological side in the article beyond the expected higher property values and decreased public access to land as habitat mitigation areas are cordoned off.

“We’ve got county residents living in cargo containers near the solar site, seniors living in trailer parks on fixed incomes — they all manage to pay their 1% property tax fee,” said Kevin Carunchio, the county’s administrative official. “Nobody is outright against these projects on ideological grounds or land-use principles. We don’t think we should have to bear the cost for energy that is being exported to metropolitan areas.”

Then there is the visual impacts:

“Residents will live as close as 600 feet from a heliostat field replete with approximately 170,000 mirrors encircling two 750-foot towers as their neighbor.”

BrightSource maintained that the power plant would not create a significant visual impact. Instead the project has been pitched as a potential tourist attraction, with its twin 70-story towers envisioned as a magnet drawing sightseers to the Pahrump Valley.

Carunchio — who is open to most plans to bring attention to the region — is skeptical.

“I can’t believe that people will drive the long way to Death Valley just to look at the Eye of Mordor,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Mojave:

“Southern California is going to become the home to the state’s ability to meet its solar goals,” said Gerry Newcombe, public works director for San Bernardino County. “That’s great, but where are the benefits to the county?”

in San Bernadino County, the $2.2-billion Ivanpah solar project will be proving a $377,000 annual payment to the county in lieu of taxes. This doesn’t cover the public safety costs.

Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to “crush” opponents of solar projects. At the launch of a solar farm near Sacramento, the governor pledged: “It’s not easy. There are gonna be screw-ups. There are gonna be bankruptcies. There’ll be indictments and there’ll be deaths. But we’re gonna keep going — and nothing’s gonna stop me.” …

“The solar companies are the beneficiaries of huge government loans, tax credits and, most critically for me, property tax exemptions, at the expense of taxpayers,” said [Riverside] county Supervisor John Benoit, referring to a variety of taxpayer-supported loans and grants available to large solar projects as part of the Obama administration’s renewable energy initiative. “I came to the conclusion that my taxpayers need to get something back.”

Solar development isn’t looking as bright as it was – but just contrast this with permanent destruction of groundwater, nearby resident’s health, and green house gas emissions of fracking and the negative impacts of solar still make it the best energy source (other than conservation) we have.  The best place for solar is on roofs and disturbed lands – not intact desert habitat There is a place for large utility scale solar energy development, but it needs to be done wisely, not quickly.

Solar power plants burden counties that host them –

Water-default swap crisis

Worse than the credit-default swap great recession that we are slowly recovering from, America is depleting our future by squandering our water resources. Once our fossil water is all flushed down the drain, it will not be coming back.

Julie Jacobson/AP

The American illusion of water abundance –

Sustainable Energy Landscapes


I’m really excited to announce the publication on October 19th of Sustainable Energy Landscapes: Designing, Planning, and Development, (edited by Sven Stremke and Andy van den Dobbelsteen) that includes my Chapter 21, written with the help of my Zero+ Campus Project’s colleagues at the University of Minnesota.

In the near future the appearance and spatial organization of urban and rural landscapes will be strongly influenced by the generation of renewable energy. One of the critical tasks will be the re-integration of these sustainable energy landscapes into the existing environment—which people value and want to preserve—in a socially fair, environmentally sound, and economically feasible manner. Accordingly, Sustainable Energy Landscapes: Designing, Planning, and Development focuses on the municipal and regional scale, where energy-conscious interventions are effective, and stakeholders can participate actively in the transition process.

This book presents state-of-the-art knowledge in the exciting new field of sustainable energy landscapes. It bridges the gap between theory and fundamental research on the one hand, and practice and education on the other. The chapters—written by experts in their fields—present a selection of interdisciplinary, cutting-edge projects from across the world, illustrating the inspiring challenge of developing sustainable energy landscapes. They include unique case studies from Germany, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Austria, Italy, and the United States.

The editors and team of contributing authors aim to inspire readers, providing a comprehensive overview of sustainable energy landscapes, including principles, concepts, theories, and examples. The book describes various methods, such as energy potential mapping and heat mapping, multicriteria decision analysis, energy landscape visualization, and employing exergy and carbon models. It addresses how to quantify the impact of energy transition both on landscape quality and energy economy, issues of growing importance. The text infuses readers with enthusiasm to promote further research and action toward the important goal of building energy landscapes for a sustainable future.

The full marketing announcement: K14201_NTI FL [pdf]