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

Monday, August 28, 2023

Seeing Three Circles: A Fundamental Failure of Environmental Vision

Seeing Three Circles

3 circle image:
Usually seen as equal overlapping circles with a 
sweet spot
in the middle

3 circle reality:
smallest circle economy inside
smaller circle society inside
largest circle environment

Once upon a time,

some MIT enviro scientists
were in Nepal & commissioned
a mandala
It was the usual 3 circles 
all the same size
overlapping in the middle

I asked them why they didn't use
the 3 circle reality

The speaker said they considered it
but liked the usual Venn diagram better


Seems to me this confusion between the image where two human concerns, society and economy, are equivalent to all the rest of entire world and the reality where human economy is smaller than human society and human society is merely a subset of the entire world is the central difficulty in understanding the biosphere and our human place within it.  

The three equal circles overlapping in the center is a design known as the Borromean Rings and is the logo for Ballantine Beer.

Friday, August 11, 2023

BBC Gets Real About Climate

 I stumbled on a BBC documentary called "South Africa: On the edge of darkness" ( a week or so ago.

It was a hard look at the South African energy and climate situation where coal provides 85% of the electricity while the customers endure frequent load shedding (power failures, brownouts, blackouts) and rooftop solar is taking off* as the country attempts to meet its climate pledges, against vehement and entrenched opposition.  The stakes are so high that André De Ruyter, the anti-corruption CEO who took over ESKOM, the South African utility, in 2019, was poisoned the day after he announced his resignation in December 2022.

*  South Africa rooftop solar installations increased from 1MW to 4.4MW in 14 months 
as the unreliability of the energy sector seems to be driving a transition to independent power.

After that program, BBC showed "Life at 50ºC" which is about how people around the world, particularly in the developing world which is feeling the brunt of the damage, are reacting to the changes in the weather, the climate, their lives

What impressed me about the stories presented is the resourcefulness and determination of the people.  It is life and death and they realize that clearly so the purity of their purpose shows through, no matter what they do.

Thanks BBC for presenting the stories of these remarkable people.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

An Ecological Vision from Gary Snyder

 From Gary Snyder's essay "Four Changes" [1969]

recast as a found poem,

still a fertile vision:

A technology of communication, education,

and quiet transportation,

land-use being

sensitive to the properties of each region... 

Careful but intensive agriculture

in the great alluvial valleys,

deserts left wild for those

who would live there by skill. 

Computer technicians who run

the plant part of the year

and walk

along with the Elk

in their migrations

during the rest.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

How Many Ways Did He Change the World?: Mel King and the Chain of Change

 My friend and mentor Mel King died at the age of 94 on March 28, 2023. 

I first met Mel when he was a MA State Representative in the mid-1970s.  It was in a State House hallway after a hearing on food and agriculture issues.  He was a big man, 6 foot 5 inches, and, in those days, he was wearing overalls to work.  He was also bald, bearded, and Black.  As I recall, he walked down the hall away from the hearing room still gently lobbying a fellow Representative on the issues.  He was working hard for an urban/rural coalition, building community gardens in the South End and other neighborhoods of Boston while rebuilding the Commonwealth’s agriculture infrastructure with farmers, foresters, and others from far beyond Route 128 and Boston’s South End, his district. 

Over the next few years, he was the focus of a lot of work around these issues as Boston became a hub of urban gardening and the Commonwealth became a model for new methods of supporting local agriculture.  To a great extent, the efforts of those days when there were, at most, 18 farmers’ markets in the state has led to now when there are hundreds, with indoor winter markets and a local agriculture showcase near Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market in downtown Boston.  Mel King was instrumental in the early stages of these changes and a brilliant advisor and advocate all along the way.  In many ways, the rebirth of local agriculture, in part pioneered in Massachusetts, has changed the world.

In 1983, Mel ran as a candidate for Mayor of Boston.  He was the first Black candidate to make it to Election Day.  For that campaign, he wore a straw boater hat, blazers, and bowties.  He cut a very dapper figure as he talked about a Rainbow Coalition made up of all classes, creeds, and ethnicities.  He ran against Ray Flynn from South Boston.  They’d been on opposite sides of the contentious busing issue which integrated the Boston schools but they knew and respected each other.  The racially charged electioneering some feared never materialized.  Flynn won handily but Mel’s Rainbow Coalition was a bridge between Fred Hampton’s original Rainbow Coalition and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition campaign for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency in 1984.  In 1997 Mel founded the Rainbow Coalition Party in MA, later turning into the Green-Rainbow Party of MA which still exists.  King told The Boston Globe a decade after his mayoral run: “What I believe people want more than anything else is a sense of a vision that’s inclusive and respectful and appreciative of who they are. What the Rainbow Coalition did was to put that right up front, because everybody could be a member.”

As Mel practiced electoral politics he also worked as an Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT and created the Community Fellows Program (CFP) there in 1970.  The nine month program brings together "community organizers and leaders from across America to reflect, research, and study urban community politics, economics, social life, education, housing, and media.”  He was a director of the program until 1996 and the Mel King Community Fellows program continues today.  The Fellows organized a conference on healthcare this year which happened a few days after his death.

With his equally formidable partner, Joyce, Mel had a practice of Sunday open houses where people would cook and eat and talk and organize.  I went to a couple, once to help Mel think through solar possibilities for his South End row house on Yarmouth Street and another time with a friend who was working on prisoners’ rights issues.  Hundreds if not thousands of people passed through his home learning how to make good trouble from a past master.

Before all of this, in 1968, Mel King led a demonstration of more than 1000 people against a parking garage the city planned to build as part of an urban renewal project,  replacing housing that had been demolished.  It took until 1988 but a 269 unit mixed income apartment complex opened at the site as Tent City, in honor of the protest where the demonstrators occupied the site and slept there in tents.  As Lewis Finfer, a longtime community organizer in Boston and director of Massachusetts Action for Justice, said, “He’s the father of affordable housing in Boston.”  

In 1997, after retiring from MIT, Mel created the South End Technology Center at Tent City, offering community residents free or low-cost training in computers and technology.  It is also one of the inspirations and early sites for a FabLab.  In fact, at a festschrift for Mel King at MIT in 2018, I learned that Mel had been instrumental in making FabLabs happen.  According to Neil Gershenfeld, Mel was the person who told the folks at MIT Media Lab to take the 3D printers, CNC machines, and other equipment and put them in schools and community centers.  Now there are over 1200 FabLabs in over 100 countries.  Mel helped set up some of the first ones in Ghana and Norway and proposed midnight computer programs to complement midnight basketball.

Once I heard someone ask him what was the piece of legislation he was most proud of and he said it was passing the Fruition Project, a bill that provided funding for perennial food plantings on public access lands.  I had distributed a short note to friends in the local agriculture movement about a public access planting project in Santa Cruz, CA back in the 1970s and someone had passed it on to Mel who made it into law.  I was surprised and gratified that the idea sparked Mel’s action and happy that I had, in small way, been one of his collaborators.

Mel King was a quiet but forceful person who never quit.  He changed his neighborhood, his city, his state, his country, and the whole world in many different ways without claiming credit and without stopping.  He was a friend and a mentor whom I will continue to learn from for the rest of my life.  

More on Mel King

Books by Mel King:
Chain of Change:  Struggles for Black Community Development 
Streets:  Poem Book

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Carbon War and Energy Transition in Germany and Poland

Sales of heat pumps in Poland experienced a 120% rise in demand in 2022, as interest in the renewable heating technology booms across Europe.

Poland saw sales grow to over 200,000 units in 2022, accelerated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and plans to move away from natural gas in heating buildings.

In terms of equipment designed for central water heating, the increase reached 130%, representing almost one in three of all space heating units sold in 2022.


German heat pump sales were also up 53%


and German "Roof-mounted [solar] installations for family homes increased by 40 percent to nearly 3 GW"


Meanwhile, Poland installed the third most solar in the EU after Germany and Spain


More from  SolarPower Europe

EU Market Outlook for Solar Power 2022 - 2026

People, individual homeowners are responding to the carbon war by getting off fossil fuels and installing renewables.  This is a response to the current war between Russia and Ukraine as well as to climate change.  It's a connection I don't see made often enough.

As with climate change, perhaps this trend will only accelerate.

See Mandatory Solar for more

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Mandatory Solar


"The installation of solar panels on the roofs of buildings is already mandatory in Baden-Wuerttemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, while Berlin, Hamburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Bavaria, Schleswig-Holstein, and Lower Saxony have adopted laws introducing the obligation as of January 1, 2023.”

"The French parliament has approved a new measure to make it mandatory for parking lots to include solar if their surface area is more than 1,500 square meters."

Tokyo, Japan

"Tokyo is mandating that all new homes in the city be built with rooftop solar panels starting in 2025."

"Three in four houseowners in Germany wish to put a solar PV array on their roofs, according to a survey commissioned by the country’s solar industry lobby group BSW Solar. One in five houseowners aims to install solar PV arrays within the next twelve months, the survey by pollster YouGov also revealed, making the solar industry confident that a 'persistent solar power boom' lies ahead for Germany. Two thirds gave rising energy prices as a their main motivation, while 40 said they were driven by climate action. About 80 percent of the over 1,000 houseowners surveyed said they could imagine simultaneously installing a power storage unit to maximise the effectiveness of their roof-mounted solar power installations.”

I doubt if the survey asked anyone whether they were going solar to parry the energy weapon Putin, for one, is now using but it does.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Have a Solar Civil Defense Christmas

 I ordered some of these as Christmas presents this year.  I tested them.  They work.  

"Solar Battery Charger AA AAA C and D

Our solar battery charger is a simple way to keep your Ni-MH or Ni-CAD batteries charged. Compatible with all sizes (AAA,AA,C and D). Simply insert the batteries and put the solar charger into the sunlight.
Batteries not included (but I’m adding them to the gifts).

At these (retail) prices, $5 or 6 billion buys entry level electricity for the poorest billion people in the world - solar energy for light, communications, and battery charging.  This is also survival solar, what we are supposed to have on hand in case of emergency or disaster.

Combining even this miniscule amount of solar with bicycles as both small generators and batteries, from AAs on down and on up through 6 volts, 12 volts all the way to the grid, an individual could conceivably have access to bare minimum electricity almost all the time in almost any situation.  Looked at from this direction, bicycles, e-bikes, and the varieties of other new personal mobility devices as well as electric vehicles could be seen as a floating network of power producers and consumers* at the same time, mobile energy storage and generation.

This is one reason why I say Solar IS Civil Defense.

We would do well to prepare for the next weather event in ways that mitigate as well as adapt to the already occurring climate changes.  We may need it quicker than we think.  

*  This energy consumer/producer concept is also happening in our buildings as net zero energy building codes are adopted.
Years of links to net zero energy examples and developments at (also available as a free quarterly links list)

We remain alert so as not to get run down, but it turns out you only have to hop a few feet to one side and the whole huge machinery rolls by, not seeing you at all.
Lew Welch