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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aggragated april

Rodrigo Cruz for The New York Times

A bunch of articles have piled up in my browser over the past few weeks that I found interesting enough to share (and lack the time to write about each of them separately): Environmentalists feeling burned by rush to build solar projects | Why Trees Matter | Lush Walls Rise to Fight a Blanket of Pollution | A Vision of an Oasis Beneath the SprawlClimate Change Has Nothing to Do With Al Gore | Course Correction: L.A.’s Water Future Lies in Its Past | and just to be really, really geeky: Joint modelling of obstacle induced and mesoscale changes—Current limits and challenges

Beyond environmental trade-offs

Several articles have been gnawing at my subconscious this winter that illustrate the environmental trade-offs needed to move beyond carbon. First up, the NYTimes reported on the failure of IPCC conference in Durban to result in a new green house gas treaty after 17 such annual conferences.

But maybe the task is too tall. The issues on the table are far broader than atmospheric carbon levels or forestry practices or how to devise a fund to compensate those most affected by global warming.

Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for those who have gathered for these talks under the 1992 United Nations treaty that began this grinding process.

So a different approach is needed then a top-down political process. The solution perhaps is a mix of market driven solutions, local governmental action, and grass-roots individual actions such as those promoted by the Transition Town movement. The market based solutions are the next round of articles that I want to share.

The LATimes has an on going series about trade-offs of the solar energy projects and how we may need to sacrifice large swaths of the mojave deserts for solar. Next up was this article about the the latest snag in the construction of Genesis Solar Energy Project – a new archeological find and stubborn desert kit foxes that won’t relocate after months of ‘passive hazing’. Continue reading

infographic of the day – water change

Perhaps the most devastating impact of climate change to most American cities are water related. Yes, there is likely to be both increased flooding and droughts as precipitation events become more intense and sporadic. Without water (and with too much) our cities will wither.

Interview with Peter Newman

One of the books that I’m using this semester is Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change by Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, and Heather Boyer. The ASLA interview with Peter Newman is has few excerpts worth sharing as I develop the syllabus for LA 4002 Implementation of Sustainable Landscape Design and Planning Practices. The two paragraphs worth citing are:

A resilient city is sustainable in its economy, environment, and community, but it has a deeper quality which enables it to quickly adapt to challenges and rebuild itself for any challenge it faces. This is a spiritual quality, which we can see in individuals, families, communities, and businesses, when they are able to face their problems honestly and reinvent themselves rather than live in denial. The reality of the peak oil and climate change crises is that most cities are in denial and not prepared for the big changes that are required.

Green infrastructure has moved from being “the bits left over in urban design” to being “sensitive to the underlying ecology,” and a concept that needs to be respected. Now we need green infrastructure to go to a third level — to help facilitate the Resilient City. This will require green infrastructure to have an integrated function in recreational activity, regenerative activity (carbon sinks and biodiversity), and regional agricultural activity.

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Towards climate resilience

As the UN Climate Change Conference attempts to negotiate a new climate  treaty in Copenhagen, their goal of cutting emissions ignores the imperative of addressing the global impacts that we are already experiencing. What the delegates need to create is a framework to prevent future wars over limited resources, provide basic necessities for the bottom billion, and to address the role of humanity on this planet. It’s not about ‘sustainable development‘ anymore, but climate resilience.

In the process of teaching this semester, I’ve come to understand the magnitude of climate change and how far past the point-of-no-return we’ve gone. Much of this evidence has been known for a while, but now the pieces are falling into place and penetrating into our collective awareness. The time is now to start adjusting for the impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, eutrophication, sea level rise, melting glacier/snowpack, drought, invasive species, and more intense storms/flood events,  along with the parallel crisis of peak copper, oil, and other resources.

IPCC Synthesis Report 2001 Figure 5-2: long term impacts of CO2 emissions

That said, we must not give up in our fight to reduce our carbon emissions and all our other environmental impacts. We must also start an all out effort towards creating a resilient landscape and civilization that can adapt to the new Anthropocene climate.