Archive for January, 2013

‘Building External Lighting Design’ – An SDI Professional Service

2013-01-30:  The Energy Efficiency of Electrical Light Fittings continues to improve dramatically … and it’s about time too.  So much energy was needlessly wasted before !

Prior to the commencement of the External Lighting Design Project below … this prominent religious building in Dublin City was ‘pitch’ dark at night, almost a black hole in the local urban landscape, a depressing non-entity … people waiting at bus stops on each of the roads beside the building were nervous … muggings occasionally took place … litter was always being thrown into the grounds surrounding the building … evidence screaming out loud that nobody cared !

External Lighting Design Project - Prominent Religious Building, Dublin City, Ireland

Colour photograph showing the finished External Lighting Project for a prominent religious building in Dublin City, Ireland. Project Design and Supervision of Installation by CJ Walsh. Electrician: W. Fleming, Electrical Services. Click to enlarge.

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After Project Completion … the ‘presence’ of this building within the local community was enhanced to an extraordinary extent … it was at once seen to be at its centre … security issues at night were immediately resolved … the building looked as if people cared about it … and a special bonus … architectural features which usually went unnoticed by the public during the day were beautifully highlighted at night.

The Client Organization … in this case, a religious order … was so pleased with the finished work that they commissioned a professional photographer … and then used the image above on the Parish Christmas Cards to be distributed to parishioners.

The Moral of The Story for Clients/Client Organizations is … give serious consideration to how your building (whether it is a church, mosque, or synagogue) looks during daylight … and most importantly, during the long hours of darkness !

External Building Lighting is much more than mere decoration … it is an essential component in the sustainable design of any important / iconic building type !!

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SDI Contact Information

E-Mail:  cjwalsh@sustainable-design.ie

International Phone:  +353 1 8386078   /   National Phone:  (01) 8386078

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Driving Harder & Deeper Into Sustainable Development !?!

2013-01-13:   The 13th … a lucky day !

As we drive harder and deeper (at least some of us anyway ?) towards a future of Sustainable Human & Social Developmentor are forcefully driven by the anthropogenic (man-made) pressures of Resource Shortages (e.g. water – food – energy) and Climate Change, in the case of millions of people living in poverty throughout the world … or are dragged screaming, which I fear will have to be the solution with the privileged classes in every society who are addicted to lavish and wasteful lifestyles and who show absolutely no interest in either Climate Change or Resource Shortages until they rear up and bite them in the ass (!!) … there is a desperate need for a more complex and precise language of Sustainability, which will give shape to the innovative trans-sectoral concepts and trans-disciplinary policy and decision-making support tools required for Tangible/’Real’ Sustainability & Climate Resilience Implementation.

At the time of writing, the Principal Challenge before us is …

Transforming Social Organization … the Ultimate Goal being to arrive quickly at a dynamic and harmonious balance between a Sustainable Human Environment and a flourishing, not just a surviving, Natural Environment … with the Overall Aim of achieving Social Wellbeing for All.

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Climate Change did not directly cause Hurricane Sandy, a severe weather event which hit the Caribbean and the East Coast of the USA during October 2012 … but it was a significant contributing factor.  Scenes like those in the photograph below will be experienced far more frequently in the future.

This is not Manhattan, in New York City … so, is the development shown below to be removed altogether … or renewed with the necessary and very costly construction of a massive system of flood protection measures ?   Not an easy choice.  Which choice would be more sustainable ?

However … WHEN, not IF … Average Global Temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius, many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) will suffer a similar fate … permanently …

North-Eastern USA After Hurricane Sandy (October 2012)

Colour photograph showing a flooded/inundated coastal community, in north-eastern USA, after Hurricane Sandy. Click to enlarge.

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The Type of Lightweight Development in the foreground of the photograph below … damaged beyond repair or re-construction during Hurricane Sandy, is not Resilient … which is a different concept to Robust, or Robustness.

Notice the building in the background, on the left, which appears to have survived fully intact … why ??

North-Eastern USA After Hurricane Sandy (October 2012)

Colour photograph showing the destruction of beachfront buildings, in north-eastern USA, caused by Hurricane Sandy. It will be ridiculous, and the height of stupidity, to repair/replace buildings and infrastructure using similar methods of construction. Will Insurance Companies and Federal/State Authorities understand this ?? Click to enlarge.

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In complete contrast … the Type of Development, below, is more Resilient.  Furthermore, however, as a normal human reaction to decades of aggressive, but ultimately unsuccessful, political bullying and economic assault by the USA, the Social Fabric of Cuba is very strong … making this a Resilient Human Environment

Santiago de Cuba After Hurricane Sandy (October 2012)

Colour photograph showing the damage caused to a local community in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, by Hurricane Sandy. Click to enlarge.

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So … what is a Resilient Human Environment … particularly in the context of Sustainable Climate Change Adaptation ?

What do we mean by Transforming Social Organization ??

And … as we drive forward, harder and deeper … why is it critical that we practice a balanced, synchronous approach … across ALL Aspects of Sustainability … to Tangible Sustainability & Climate Resilience Implementation ???

Let us confront some more interesting new words and thought-provoking concepts …

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European Sustainable Development Network

2012 – ESDN Quarterly Report Number 26 – Umberto Pisano, Author

ESDN Quarterly Report Number 26, 2012

ESDN – ‘Resilience and Sustainable Development: Theory of Resilience, Systems Thinking & Adaptive Governance’

Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (2.17 Mb)

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Abridged Executive Summary

The term resilience originated in the 1970’s in the field of ecology from the research of C.S.Holling, who defined resilience as ‘a measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables’.  In short, resilience is defined as ‘the ability of a system to absorb disturbances and still retain its basic function and structure’, and as ‘the capacity to change in order to maintain the same identity’.

Resilience can best be described by three crucial characteristics: (1) the amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain within the same state or domain of attraction; (2) the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization; and (3) the ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation.

In the need for persistence, we can find a first connection with sustainable development.  Sustainable development has the objective of creating and maintaining prosperous social, economic, and ecological systems.  Humanity has a need for persistence.  And since humanity depends on services of ecosystems for its wealth and security, humanity and ecosystems are deeply linked.  As a result, humanity has the imperative of striving for resilient socio-ecological systems in light of sustainable development.

Resilience thinking is inevitably systems thinking at least as much as sustainable development is.  In fact, ‘when considering systems of humans and nature (socio-ecological systems) it is important to consider the system as a whole.  The human domain and the biophysical domain are interdependent’.  In this framework where resilience is aligned with systems thinking, three concepts are crucial to grasp: (1) humans live and operate in social systems that are inextricably linked with the ecological systems in which they are embedded; (2) socio-ecological systems are complex adaptive systems that do not change in a predictable, linear, incremental fashion; and (3) resilience thinking provides a framework for viewing a socio-ecological system as one system operating over many linked scales of time and space.  Its focus is on how the system changes and copes with disturbance.

To fully understand resilience theory, the report focuses therefore on the explanation of a number of crucial concepts: thresholds, the adaptive cycle, panarchy, resilience, adaptability, and transformability.

As shown, humanity and ecosystems are deeply linked.  This is also the fundamental reason why to adopt the resilience-thinking framework is a necessity for governance.  The resilience perspective shifts policies from those that aspire to control change in systems assumed to be stable, to managing the capacity of socio–ecological systems to cope with, adapt to, and shape change.  It is argued that managing for resilience enhances the likelihood of sustaining desirable pathways for development, particularly in changing environments where the future is unpredictable and surprise is likely.

This exposes the strong need for Sustainable Development Governance to embrace resilience thinking.  It is not only about being trans-disciplinary and avoiding partial and one-viewpoint solutions; what is needed to solve today’s problems – and especially those linked to sustainable development – is a new approach that considers humans as a part of Earth’s ecosystems, and one in which policies can more effectively cope with, adapt to, and shape change.

In this scenario, the concept and key characteristics of so-called adaptive governance seem to be a practical means for societies to deal with the complex issues that socio-ecological systems are confronted with.  Therefore, adaptive governance is best understood as an approach that unites those environmental and natural resource management approaches that share some or all of the following principles: polycentric and multi-layered institutions, participation and collaboration, self-organization and networks, and learning and innovation.  Additionally, four interactive crucial aspects for adaptive governance are suggested: (1) to build knowledge and understanding of resource and ecosystem dynamics; (2) to feed ecological knowledge into adaptive management practices; (3) to support flexible institutions and multilevel governance systems; and,(4) to deal with external disturbances, uncertainty, and surprise.  Therefore, nine values toward a resilient world are also suggested: diversity, ecological variability, modularity, acknowledging slow variables, tight feedbacks, social capital, innovation, overlap in governance, and ecosystem services.

Finally, three examples analyse practical instances in terms of resilience: (1) the approach taken by the so-called climate change adaptation discourse; (2) the Kristianstad Water Vattenrike, a wetland in southern Sweden that showed problems with loss of wet meadows, decline of water quality, and a disappearing wildlife habitat; and 3) the Goulburn-Broken Catchment from the State of Victoria (Australia).  Some lessons can be drawn from these three cases.  From the first case, governance structures have direct implications for the level of flexibility in responding to future change as well as variation in local contexts.  Sensitivity to feedbacks relates both to the timing as well as where these feedbacks occur.  Therefore, learning is more likely if feedbacks occur soon relative to action, and if those most affected by feedbacks are those responsible for the action.  Additionally, the way in which a problem is conceptually framed determines the way in which responses are identified and evaluated and therefore influences the range of response characteristics.  Second, the example from Sweden revealed that (a) the imposition of a set of rules to protect an ecosystem from the outside will not ensure the natural qualities of a region will be preserved over time.  One size never fits all, and an understanding of local history and culture needs to be integrated into the management if local values are to be looked after; (b) for an organization to meaningfully deal with complexity at many scales, it needs to include representatives from each of these levels in the social network; (c) several organizations need to be prepared to contribute to a shared vision and build consensus and leadership – crucial components in adaptability and transformability.  Third, the Goulburn-Broken story demonstrates the critical importance of understanding the underlying variables that drive a socio-ecological system, knowing where thresholds lie along these variables, and knowing how much disturbance it will take to push the system across these thresholds.

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Climate Change Adaptation – Swallowing Our Own Medicine ?!?

 2013-01-07:   The Dawn of a New Year …

Colour image of a Japanese Print: 'Sunrise on New Year's Day at Susaki', dating from the mid-1830's, by the artist Hiroshige. Click to enlarge.

Colour image of a Japanese Print: ‘Sunrise on New Year’s Day at Susaki’, dating from the mid-1830’s, by the artist Hiroshige. Click to enlarge.

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High Noon for a Festering Planetary Issue … Our Little Planet …

Based on ‘real’ measurements around the world during 2011, the state of Greenhouse Gases (GHG’s) in the Atmosphere is steadily becoming worse … and, following the latest shindig in Doha (UNFCCC – COP 18), the prospect of an effective global agreement on Climate Change Mitigation entering into legal force, anytime soon, is even more remote than ever !

UN WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin No.8 – 19 November 2012

Colour image of Figure 1, from the U.N. World Meteorological Organization's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin No.8 (2012-11-19), showing ... Atmospheric Radiative Forcing, relative to 1750, of Long-Lived Greenhouse Gases (LLGHG's), and the 2011 Update of the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI). Click to enlarge.

Colour image of Figure 1, from the U.N. World Meteorological Organization’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin No.8 (2012-11-19), showing … Atmospheric Radiative Forcing, relative to 1750, of Long-Lived Greenhouse Gases (LLGHG’s), and the 2011 Update of the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI). Click to enlarge.

WMO GHG Bulletin No.8 – Executive Summary:

The latest analysis of observations from the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) Programme shows that the globally averaged mole fractions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) reached new highs in 2011, with CO2 at 390.9±0.1 parts per million, CH4 at 1813±2 parts per billion, and N2O at 324.2±0.1 parts per billion.  These values constitute 140%, 259% and 120% of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels, respectively.  The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2010 to 2011 is similar to the average growth rate over the past 10 years.  However, for N2O the increase from 2010 to 2011 is greater than both the one observed from 2009 to 2010 and the average growth rate over the past 10 years.  Atmospheric CH4 continued to increase at a similar rate as observed over the last 3 years.  The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index shows that from 1990 to 2011 radiative forcing by Long-Lived Greenhouse Gases (LLGHG’s) increased by 30%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase.

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Climate Change Adaptation

Encompasses urgent and immediate actions at local, national, regional and international levels … to reduce the vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of the Human Environment, including ecological and social systems, institutions and economic sectors … to present and future adverse effects of climate change, including variability and extremes, and the impacts of response measure implementation … in order to minimize the local threats to life, human health, livelihoods, food security, assets, amenities, ecosystems and sustainable development.

Climate Change Adaptation is also the most important driving force for Sustainable Human & Social Development.

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A few weeks ago, The World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, based in Washington D.C.) … an Institution which is not at all shy about dishing out harsh medicine to the Developing World … published a report on Climate Change Adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa/ Arab Region.

What I immediately wondered was … how would we, in the Developed World, like a taste of this same medicine … our own medicine … and would we swallow ?!?

The European Commission has still not produced an E.U. Climate Change Adaptation Strategy or Plan.

In Ireland … our National Climate Change Strategy (2007-2012) has just lapsed, with no replacement in sight … and, confirming a lack of both political leadership and institutional capacity … any mention of the word ‘Adaptation’ creates either panic or apathy … depending on the individual, and his/her responsibilities.

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So … as appropriate, just substitute your own country wherever there is a reference to ‘Arab Region’ or ‘Arab Countries’ in the text below … and see how you feel …

World Bank (IBRD) Report 73482 – 1 December 2012

World Bank Report 73482 (2012): 'Adaptation to a Changing Climate in Arab Countries - A Case for Adaptation Governance & Leadership in Building Climate Resilience'.

Adaptation to a Changing Climate in Arab Countries – A Case for Adaptation Governance & Leadership in Building Climate Resilience

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Selected Extracts from World Bank MENA Report’s OVERVIEW:

Climate change is happening now in the Arab Countries.  The year 2010 was the warmest since the late 1800’s, when this data began to be collected, with 19 countries setting new national temperature highs.  Five of these were Arab Countries, including Kuwait, which set a record high of 52.6 °C in 2010, only to be followed by 53.5 °C in 2011.  Extreme climate events are widely reported in local media, and a 2009 Arab Region Survey showed that over 90% of the people sampled agree that climate change is occurring and is largely due to human activities; 84% believe it is a serious challenge for their countries; and respondents were evenly split on whether their governments were acting appropriately to address climate change issues.  The sample came mostly from the better-educated population, but it shows that there is a firm base and desire for action regarding climate change across the Arab Region.

Colour image showing a Map of the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) / Arab Region. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing a Map of the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) / Arab Region. Click to enlarge.

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Arab Countries can take action to reduce their vulnerability to climate change.  For example, this report proposes an Adaptation Pyramid Framework that assists stakeholders in Arab Countries in integrating climate risks and opportunities into development activities.  It is based on an adaptive management approach, but it also highlights the importance of leadership, without which adaptation efforts are unlikely to achieve the necessary commitment to be successful.  The Framework begins by assessing climate risks and opportunities and identifying options within the context of other development planning.  The next step is to identify and prioritize adaptation options within the context of national, regional, and local priorities.  Finally, adaptation responses will be implemented and outcomes monitored over time.  It is important to take into account the long-term consequences of these decisions, because short-term responses may not be efficient or could lead to maladaptive outcomes.  Other important measures for Arab Region policy makers to implement are discussed below …

Colour image showing the World Bank's Climate Change Adaptation Pyramid - a Framework for Action on Adaptation - which assists stakeholders in integrating climate risks and opportunities into development activities. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing the World Bank’s Climate Change Adaptation Pyramid – a Framework for Action on Adaptation – which assists stakeholders in integrating climate risks and opportunities into development activities. Click to enlarge.

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  1. Facilitate the development of publicly accessible and reliable information related to climate change.  Access to quality weather and climate data is essential for policy-making.  Without reliable data on temperature and precipitation levels, it is difficult to assess the current climate and make reliable weather forecasts and climate predictions.  For example, information on river flows, groundwater levels, and water quality and salinity is critical for assessing current and future water availability.  However, climate stations across most of the Arab Region are very limited compared to most other parts of the world and what data exists is often not digitized or publicly available.  Conflict in parts of the region disrupts both the collection and sharing of data.  Information on food production and the main food supply chains (such as changes in agricultural yields and production for important crops, forage, and livestock) needs to be linked with weather and water data to better monitor and understand the effects of a changing climate.  In addition, socio-economic data (including household and census data) and other economic data related to the labour market and production should be collected and made available. 
  2. Build climate resilience through social protection and other measures.  Resilience is determined by factors such as an individual’s age, gender, and health status, or a household’s asset base and degree of integration with the market economy.  Underinvestment in social safety nets – public services such as water supply and wastewater treatment, and housing and infrastructure – make people more vulnerable to a changing climate.  Further, there should be measures in place to ensure equitable access to health care and a quality education.  Such social protection measures include insurance schemes, pensions, access to credit, cash transfer programs, relocation programs, and other forms of social assistance.  These investments and instruments facilitate economic and social inclusion, which creates co-benefits between adaptation and development goals. 
  3. Develop a supportive policy and institutional framework for adaptation.  Basic conditions for effective development, such as the rule of law, transparency and accountability, participatory decision-making structures, and reliable public service delivery that meets international quality standards are conducive to effective development and adaptation action.  In addition, climate change adaptation requires new or revised climate-smart policies and structures at all levels.

Sound adaptation planning, strong governmental/non-governmental co-operation, and plentiful financial resources are all important for building resilience to climate change.  Developing national adaptation strategies are important for prioritizing adaptation activities that respond to urgent and immediate needs, and for setting forth guiding principals in the effort to cope with climate change.  National governments have a key role in developing these strategies and as a result play an important role in promoting collaboration and co-operation.  This co-operation should include the government, civil society, the private sector, and international institutions.  Within governments, inter-ministerial co-ordination is especially critical, because adaptation responses often require activities involving multiple ministries and sectors.  Finally, to do any of the activities above it is important to secure the necessary financial resources.  There are many sources for adaptation funding, but first the Arab Countries will need to build their capacity to analyze their financial needs and generate and manage these resources.

By nature, adaptation to climate change is a dynamic process, and so is the governance of adaptation.  Political change, including those changes originating from the Arab Spring, can provide an opportunity to increase civil society participation in adaptation governance and a move toward a more inclusive approach to addressing climate change issues and building climate resilience.

This report is about climate change, its impacts on people, the systems upon which we depend, and how we might adapt to climate change.  It highlights a number of issues and areas that are being affected by climate change.  One important message of this report is that climate change should be taken into account in all activities – however, this report cannot provide solutions or options for all issues.  For example, the transboundary water issues are already being addressed by international task forces; this report can deal only with how climate change might affect their decisions.  Anticipation of climate change can be the stimulus for improving interventions and accelerating action, which has been seen in countries such as Australia, where water laws and management were extensively changed in response to a prolonged drought and the anticipation of further climate change issues.

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