From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Healing Earth (Through the Waters)

John Todd, author of Healing Earth:  An Ecologist’s Journey of Innovation and Environmental Stewardship (Berkeley, CA:  North Atlantic Books, 2019  ISBN 9781623172985) (, has spent his professional life building living technologies, eco-machines and eco-restorers, biological systems which "contain representative species from all the kingdoms of life ranging from bacteria and viruses at the lower end of the size scale to fungi, animals, and woody plants at the macro scale.  Working together as a biological team, these assemblages of organisms help us transform polluted water into clean water.  In return, we provide them with extra air and water circulation as well as appropriate substrates to live on or in.” He works on the basis of “that which has been damaged can be healed” and “do good things in bad places,” showing that the field of applied ecology is practical and can solve problems, exploring the myriad ways that informed stewardship can help heal and transform the Earth.

He started with a greenhouse full of transparent water tanks for the treatment of septage in Harwich, MA in the 1980s and, “more by accident than design,” included representative species of all the kingdoms of life in the system. Over years of experimentation, he learned "that a diversity of organisms from a variety of parent ecosystems could produce systems with a meta-intelligence that had a highly specific ability to self-organize, self-design, and self-replicate.  They were capable, in fact, of surviving through long periods of times, possibly centuries, with minimal human support.”

His installations are ecologically engineered, "they are designed with the attributes of natural ecosystems like marshes, ponds, and streams,” borrowing their designs, life forms, and progressions from natural ecosystems.  For John Todd "natural history is not an old-fashioned form of knowing;  it comprises the narratives of living entities that provide the alphabet of the design vocabulary.”

In this book, he provides a pattern language, the human grammar for that design vocabulary, a baker’s dozen of design principles for constructing living technologies and eco-machines based upon his decades of experience with projects that treat sewage, septage, petroleum wastes and other toxics, producing improved water quality at both household and community scales.

Todd considers such individual projects as First Order Ecological Design, techniques and technologies applied to the landscape.  Second Order Design is the linking together of processes and practices into new associations and entities, industrial ecologies and agricultural eco-parks for example.  Third Order Ecological Design addresses larger economic and social structures and their evolution over time.  He writes, "It is my belief that durable and sustainable economies, in an age of resource limits and information richness, can replace the extractive and environmentally destructive technologies and infrastructures of today.”  For an example of a Third Order Ecological Design see John Todd’s ecological plan for Appalachia, the winner of the first Buckminster Fuller Challenge Award at

In Healing Earth, John Todd has given us practical, working examples of how to think like nature itself, in ever expanding systems which repair the damage we homo sap sap (the sap) have already done.  We must learn to live in our ecological niche or risk extinction.  John Todd’s report of his lifetime of observation and experimentation teaches us not only how to live within that niche but expand it.

Projects from Todd Ecological

Providence, RI living machine treating sewage and septage with ecological systems design and without chemicals (1990)

Canal Restorer to River Restorer (2013)

Gaian Design of Ecological Alchemy:  notes from A Safe, Sustainable World (2005)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Just Transition to Zero on Climate Change

Here are my notes on two of the best talks on energy that I’ve listened to in some time.  They both get the scale and the tactical outline correct, according to everything else I’ve seen and my own gut instinct.

An Energy Plan the Earth Can Live With
Daniel Kammen (, Director of Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (

[Part of a Radcliffe symposium on climate and data]

A just transition is a more apt title
RAEL began working on PACE financing in 2009
SWITCH model to define utility energy storage needs
Morocco is the only country which has met its climate goals so far
Demonstrate climate change in a model free way to speak with doubters - NASA's Arctic ice animation over time, the loss of 50% ice cover displays the reality of climate change better than numbers
US-China climate agreement in 2014 was the tipping point.  China will reach peak emissions and then decline around 2025
We have already warmed the planet by 1 degree C [since 19th century, 280 ppm CO2e]
Getting to 1.5 degrees requires carbon negative policies as well as zero emissions [Ray Anderson’s Interface now making 80-100 year carbon negative products and on track for zero environment impact according to their metrics]
CA has had the same energy per capita since about 1978, energy sector has increased only as population has increased [USA annual energy production has been 100 quads or less since 2000]
Carbon and time are more useful in sustainability than money measures
CA does not count large hydro or nuclear as renewables
60% renewables by 2030 and 100% by 2045 now law in CA
All new homes [low rise residential] zero net energy by 2020 in CA
All commercial buildings net zero by 2030 [he is still trying to figure out high rises [July 12, 2013 edition Zero Net Energy links list:  Pearl River Tower, Guangzhou, China 71 floor zero net energy skyscraper, whether it performs to specs is an open question -]

Carbon budget of 600 gigatons in 2017, according to Christiana Figueres
20% (?) drop in price for every doubling of production (in solar) - Moore's Law
Nuclear costs have been rising in the USA in the last few decades [Vogtle seems to be pushing back their completion date on two reactors under construction in USA]
Energy storage is declining in cost as quickly as solar ever did
Kenya is the Silicon Valley of East India
Pay as you go solar is growing quickly - 50 cents a day for small solar - now TVs, [computers,] and DC refrigerators are available [the future is high efficiency, low energy, I build from Solar IS Civil Defense/entry level electricity - light, phone, small batteries - to household, neighborhood, and town systems, different scales of islanding microgrids]
Solar is 30% more prevalent in white neighborhoods even when you control for income
Cool CA carbon footprint calculator which also gives recommendations about how to reduce - also for Germany and Japan: [We need a World Game for the benefit of all who will allow the benefit of all to work out how to provide bare minimums (and bare maximums) without destroying more than homo sap sap (the sap) already has]
Clean energy creates many more jobs than fossil fuels [and fastest growing jobs in most places are solar and wind, at least as a thought experiment]
40% of all USA renewables venture capital is in CA
Brazil's bagasse biofuel is now extending into the Amazon with disastrous results, food and forest production is being turned over to biofuels [too much of a good thing isn’t, balance portfolio of options within zero emissions framework - zero as an approachable goal as in TQM]
Carbon price should put back some money for research [and revolving loans]

Getting to Zero on Climate Change
Hal Harvey @hal_harvey, author of Designing Climate Solutions, founder of Energy Foundation, Energy Innovation Policy & Technology LLC

By changing the averages moderately we've changed the extremes a lot
Electric grid, transportation, buildings, and industry - four sectors [he did not talk about agriculture but it’s in the book]
75% of all ghgs come from 20 countries [about 100 companies responsible for 71% of ghgs by one count - Pareto rules!! -] 
$5 trillion per year on energy and $6 trillion on infrastructure that establishes consumption patterns 
Converting brown $ to green $ is key [no mention of stranded assets or carbon bubble]
A few key policies for each sector are available [in the book]
Offshore wind smooths load when combined with land-based wind as onshore/offshore winds are different in time of day and speed [see bagasse comment above]
Demand response can make 100 million buildings into thermal batteries [electric vehicles are rolling batteries too]
RPS and grid flexibility are two proposals that work here [microgrids for resilience and disaster preparedness, which we will definitely need in the near term]
A green grid plus an electric car solves transportation [rolling batteries] but internal combustion engines will still be out there
50 mpg is probably the most effective standard, 60 mpg doesn’t buy you much more
ZEV mandates and fuel efficiency standards are the policies here, continuous improvement in standards; don't set a number set a rate of change
Building codes and appliance standards are effective levers [CA and EU net zero building standards, mass retrofit of existing building to net zero standards from EnergieSprong, pilot in NY state, other net zero energy resources I know of are available from Switzerland and Belgium]
Agriculture, iron and steel, chemicals and plastics, cement, and waste management are the most ghg intensive industries
Carbon pricing, carbon standards for products, device efficiency standards [no mention of removal of subsidies for fossil foolishness]
Concentrate on the USA public utility commissions which means you need to talk to a little over 100 people
NRDC, Advanced Energy Economy, CLF, UCS know about working with PUCs

These are the information resources I publish: - Energy (and Other) Events around Cambridge, MA - notes on lectures and books - renewable energy and efficiency - zero net energy links list - city agriculture links list - geometry links list - articles, ideas, and screeds

Please let me know if you are interested in any of them and I’ll put you on the relevant listserv.  They are all free.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Zero Net Energy - January 13, 2019

Building Off the Grid - DIY Network TV show with 34 episodes as of December 2018

Trondheim, Norway’s net energy positive building, Powerhouse Brattørkaia, "will generate more energy in its operational phase than it consumes through the production of buiding materials, construction, operation, and disposal of the building” or Snøhetta strikes again

Rocky Mountain Institute’s Carbon-Free City Handbook

Rocky Mountain Institute’s Carbon-Free Region Handbook

Nearly zero-energy buildings
Zero net energy Project Guide

Santa Monica City Residential Zero Net Energy Guide for New Construction
Green Building Energy Code Overview

UN17 Village, a sustainable residential development of 400 new homes to Copenhagen, Denmark, “the first building project in the world that translates all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into tangible action.”

Dutch microgrid communities with up to 90% renewables

Zero Energy House - CleanTech Sundsvall

Pax Futura - Seattle 35 unit apartment building built to Passivhaus standards at 5% more per square foot than Seattle code with 50% less annual energy use (and costs)

Short video on the Netherland's Energiesprong, a program for ongoing deep energy retrofit of existing housing to approach net zero energy
Mass Production of Net Zero Energy Retrofits for Single Family Homes

Japan plans to develop 2020 Olympics Village into 'hydrogen town’

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Mass Production of Net Zero Energy Retrofits for Single Family Homes

Energiesprong ( is doing deep energy retrofits for existing single family homes using mass produced modular systems and installing solar panels to make old buildings net zero energy, meaning they produce as much energy as they consume.  They have completed 5000 houses since 2012 and plan over 14,000 with associated programs in France, Germany, the UK, Italy, and New York State.  

 and associated programs have done about 6000 houses in France, while they are just beginning in Germany, the UK, Italy, and New York state.
E=0: Transforming Homes into the Future, is a documentary film project, funded by Interreg North West, that chronicles the efforts being made in the past 3 years, to establish a net zero energy housing ecosystem across Europe.

More at
Looks like a Green New Deal to me.  I’ll have to see if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and my Governor, Charlie Baker, know about this.

After the second Energy Crisis in 1979, Jimmy Carter wanted to insulate 90% of our homes by 1985 and get 20% of our energy from renewables by the year 2000.  Too bad the Reagan Administration stopped that idea dead in its tracks.  It’s one reason why I say “Reagan killed us.”
That energy policy wasn't about climate change.  It was about energy independence because of the two in a decade Energy Crises (1973 & 1979) under Nixon, Ford, and Carter and included much shale oil fossil foolishness as well.

In 1980, the goal was 20% from renewables by 2000.  Renewable energy today, in 2019,  two decades later than that, is at about 18% (source: .

Saturday, December 15, 2018

My Approach to Climate Change

My approach to climate change is
100% renewables ASAP
zero emissions economy ASAP
carbon drawdown ASAP
geotherapy (not geoengineering) ASAP


At least as a thought experiment.

I start from Solar IS Civil Defense, which is necessary NOW
in case of weather or other natural disaster, whatever you believe about Climate Change or Sanity Clause.

10 bucks buys a solar light and charger today, just go Internet shopping. That's a personal electric solar civil defense, the basics of light, communications, and extra batteries. 10 bucks is also the price of a hand-crank light and charger. Add a bicycle charger (or electric bike) and you have "free" electricity for as long as the batteries hold a charge and the chargers work.

Simple solar and energy efficiency can be taught, to those who want to know, fairly easily and can be quite effective
A South-Facing Window Is Already a Solar Collector
Solar windowbox air heater
Insulating Roller Shade

Six pack of solar
Recycled solar

I used to do workshops on simple solar and broke one down into a series of short videos:
the others are available at

Simple solar can become an economic lever and non-violent economic practice, a technological adaptation of Gandhi's concept of swadeshi, local production, what he called the heart of satyagraha. I imagine a solar swadeshi ( that becomes a solar walkaway or an electrical grid boycott to add a little impetus to the growing tide of Extinction Rebellion (anybody else see a resemblance to the Trainites of John Brunner's Sheep Look Up?) and the Sunrise Movement.

5.  Since scientists tell us that we have about a decade to do something to reduce climate calamity, somebody should be scheduling out the next 10 years, 3,650 days, for climate action, month by month, week by week, day by day to do what is ecologically necessary to restore the atmosphere to preindustrial levels of CO2 (270 parts per million) ASAP.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Zero Net Energy - December 8, 2018

PROJECT HOPE - Biophilic Carbon Negative Residential Design

Technova College opens a nearly net zero energy building

Glass house working towards net zero in the Spanish desert

Canadian Green Building Council’s Zero Carbon Building Initiative

Calgary’s MacKimmie Tower to be rebuilt as a zero carbon building

Carbon neutral house in Australia using recycled materials

Carbon neutral home on the Isle of Man

Proposed “Tulip” zero combustion, solar-powered high-rise for London

Harvard’s House Zero - net zero energy living laboratory

Near net zero ecocity planned for the Maldives

"French multinational electric utility ENGIE announced on Thursday that it had signed a 50-year strategic alliance with the city of Greater Springfield in Queensland, Australia, to help transition it to being a zero net energy city by 2038.”

"Medford, Massachusetts partnered with Solect Energy to install a 235 kilowatt (kW) rooftop solar system on the roof of its new Department of Public Works (DPW) building. The new system is comprised of 588 LG solar modules and is expected to cover 100% of the electricity usage over an average year, producing about 300,000 kilowatt-hours per year.”

Friday, October 19, 2018

Zero Net Energy - October 19, 2018

Zero Carbon Race - The first STATE to achieve a NET ZERO CARBON ECONOMY with the BEST QUALITY OF LIFE WINS.

ECO360 - energy positive house in Tel Aviv

One DeLisle - Toronto tower with interesting structure that may (I’m not quite sure) offset all its energy through local district heating system

Online building carbon footprint tools
Editorial Comment:  “[USA] GSA Carbon Footprint Tool  Decommissioned Spring 2017”  

Teenagers from Romania, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Norway design a building of the future combining energy and resource efficiency with vertical gardens

Ask This Old House visits a net zero community, Whisper Valley near Austin, TX - some units available for below market rates

19 cities commit to net zero carbon buildings by 2030

Sustainable City Dubai - "a working model of what the future could look like"
Editorial Comment:  We need to think a little more about what the future could look like

Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment - 38 signatories made up of 12 businesses, 22 cities, and four states and regions from around the world at the Global Climate Action Summit in SF:  "All buildings within direct control of the organisation to operate at net zero carbon by 2030, and all buildings by 2050"

Chinese concept net zero house

This Old House building a net zero house in Jamestown, RI

ZNE Living in Mid-Coast Maine in Falmouth, ME - NESEA tour on Friday, November 9, 2018