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

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Mr Franklin's Folks

Preface: I originally wrote this a couple of decades ago, based upon my experiences working with a traveling energy show in the 1970s and 1980s and my own experiments with public displays of renewable energy at farmers’ markets ( I rewrote it for a new venture, Flourish Fiction which is trying to fill the need for “more hopeful stories to awaken imagination and help inspire the next generation of climate solutions.” It is also published there at


Mister Franklin's Folks began when a small group of people decided to bring a solar fountain to the local farmers market. A solar electric panel pumped water up from a tub into a little fountain that would splash and spray. The brighter the sunshine, the higher the water would go. Children loved to turn it on and off with their shadows, jumping into and out of the sunlight, making the water dance and themselves laugh. Older kids asked questions, and so did some of the adults. "What's it for? How does it work? Why are you doing this? So what?"

The exhibit was labeled "Solar Fountain/Wishing Well" and some coins lay at the bottom of the tub. Nearby, there was a table under the shade of an umbrella where one of Franklin's Folk sat with a collection of books, pamphlets, leaflets, cards, and stickers, along with a big can labeled “Donations.” The van parked behind them was full of working models and public experiments, product demos, and testing equipment. They shared guides with anyone who wanted them. For a small donation.

Each week, from Memorial Day to the week before Thanksgiving, throughout the farmers’ market season, they'd be there. Each week, they'd set up a little solar fountain and present a different example of solar ingenuity and practical power. When they said power to the people, they meant it.

They said, "A south-facing window is already a solar collector and we can show you how to use it. A south-facing porch is even better. It can become a sunspace or greenhouse and you can grow food all year long."

They provided designs and projects that began by caulking and sealing a window and ended with a complete one-room HVAC and electrical system for daily and/or emergency use.

"A few inches of solar panel, a hand or foot powered generator, and a set of rechargeable batteries is a perpetual source of personal electrical power. You can have power as long as the sun keeps shining and can turn the handle or push the pedal when it isn't. You can have power as long as the batteries hold a charge. And when the batteries die, recycle the old ones and buy some new. That is, unless we've changed to capacitors, flywheels, or fuel cells by then."

They had plans for many DIY solar projects and organized a bulk buying club so that people could save money on parts and supplies.

"Let your kids make their own battery power from sunlight and a little exercise. Power your electrical devices with a walk on the treadmill."

They called themselves Mister Franklin's Folks because, like Benjamin Franklin, they believed in ingenuity and thrift. They quoted from Poor Richard’s Almanac:
“A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a year. Save and have.”
“Every little makes a mickle.”
“A wise Man will desire no more than what he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully and leave contentedly.”
“Spare and have is better than spend and crave.”

They updated these home truths by putting them into an ecologically regenerative context. Each week they offered practical lessons in real thrift or "how to save money while saving the environment, the community, and the world."

Like Mr Franklin, they were experimenting with electricity but instead of kites and lightning, they were looking at the sun for energy independence and building the idea of a renewable economy use by use, appliance by appliance, socket by socket, room by room.

“What would Mister Franklin do these days?" they asked. "Benjamin Franklin was one of the early researchers into the Gulf Stream. How would he deal with global warming?”

These were some of the things that Mr. Franklin’s Folks did at their table at the farmer's market, week after week, all that year.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Planning for Extreme Heat: NY, Phoenix, California, and Beyond

Boston University organized a talk on how Phoenix, New York, and the State of California are planning for extreme heat the other day.

As NOAA Weather Service reports, "More Americans die from heat every year than from all other extreme weather events combined."

Daphne Lundi, Deputy Director for Social Resiliency of NYC Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, spoke.  Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call for the city and thus it has developed a long-term heat resiliency plan as part of their overall sustainability efforts. The city’s approach is "If we're in the 2080s and we're going to have triple the amount of extreme heat days, what are we doing now in terms of our buildings, in terms of our land use policy to get us to a better place decades from now."

NYC has been developing Cool Neighborhoods since 2017 including ideas like

Shading and tree canopies

White rooms or reflective surfaces like "cool roofs"

Cooling centers

Report available at [pdf alert]

They are constantly leading building preparedness and understanding of heat risk so that people know the tools available before a heat wave happens.

NYC also has building energy standards and the Office of Resiliency works on necessary legislation and regulation.  For instance, they are now looking at the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP] in relation to cooling as well as heating, which is where the bulk of funding goes.

David Hondula, Chief Heat Officer, City of Phoenix; Associate Professor, Arizona State University is in the new Office for Heat Response and Mitigation, started in just the last six months.  Phoenix's first heat response plan passed recently but no long-term cooling plan yet even though they set records for heat associated deaths in the last few years, up 450% since 2014.  65% of "heat associated deaths were among unsheltered" in Phoenix.  An unsheltered person is 200-300% more likely to suffer a heat associated death than a sheltered person.

Karen Smith, Partner at Healthy Community Ventures; former Director, California Department of Public Health provided a larger perspective and addressed how academia can help the public health community gather data during heat emergencies;  advocated more research into prolonged exposure to heat as a health risk, below the threshold of heat emergency, especially for outdoor workers,  and on what actually works in saving lives among the general public.

In most heat events, Karen Smith said, "The major distinguisher of people who died versus people who didn't had nothing to do with their diseases, had nothing to do with whether they had air conditioners or fans, it was social isolation."

It's getting hotter.  We have to learn how to deal with it.

The Environmental Resilience Institute at University of Indiana has a case study of how Chicago, which had a devastating heat emergency in 1995, has worked to reduce the dangers of extreme heat as well as a comparison to what NYC and Minnesota are doing:

The American Planning Association has just published a report entitled Planning for Urban Heat Resilience, available as a free download at

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Pattern Language of Work

 I just learned that Christopher Alexander, the principal writer and force behind A Pattern Language, died on March 17.  This is to remember him, someone who made me see with a new focus.

A Pattern Language of Work
earlier version written in October 1997

There are 253 patterns Christopher Alexander et alia's _A Pattern Language_. There are over 30 that I identify as the patterns that make for human and humane work:

9 Scattered Work 19 Web of Shopping 32 Shopping Streets 41 Work Community 42 Industrial Ribbon 43 University as a Marketplace 46 Market of Many Shops 47 Health Center 61 Small Public Squares 80 Self-Governing Workshops and Offices 81 Small Services Without Red Tape 82 Office Connections 83 Master and Apprentices 85 Shopfront Schools 86 Children's Home 87 Individually Owned Shops 88 Street Cafe 89 Corner Groceries 90 Beer Hall 91 Traveler's Inn 92 Bus Stop 93 Food Stands 101 Building Thoroughfare 146 Flexible Office Space 148 Small Work Groups 149 Reception Welcomes You 150 A Place to Wait 151 Small Meeting Rooms 152 Half-Private Office 156 Settled Work 157 Home Workshop

These patterns can be roughly assembled into four groups - work, shopping, learning, and structure:

9 Scattered Work 41 Work Community 42 Industrial Ribbon 80 Self-Governing Workshops and Offices 81 Small Services Without Red Tape 148 Small Work Groups 156 Settled Work 157 Home Workshop

19 Web of Shopping 32 Shopping Streets 46 Market of Many Shops 47 Health Center 87 Individually Owned Shops 88 Street Cafe 89 Corner Groceries 90 Beer Hall 91 Traveler's Inn 92 Bus Stop 93 Food Stands

43 University as a Marketplace 83 Master and Apprentices 85 Shopfront Schools 86 Children's Home

61 Small Public Squares 82 Office Connections 101 Building Thoroughfare 146 Flexible Office Space 149 Reception Welcomes You 150 A Place to Wait 151 Small Meeting Rooms 152 Half-Private Office

Finally, these patterns and their underlying rules can be developed into sentences and paragraphs to tell something like a story:

A community should be built on walking distance so that all the basic needs can be met within a comfortable walk. Scatter work throughout the community so that there is less of a separation between living and working. No bedroom communities, no 5 pm deserted office blocks, no commutes. Build work communities, groups of a dozen or so businesses with common areas, throughout the whole community. Those activities that are noisy, dangerous, dirty should be concentrated in industrial ribbons at the edge of communities and serve as their boundaries. Work should be organized in small work groups, self-governing workshops and offices, providing small services without red tape and opportunities for home workshops and settled work.

Build a web of shopping which decentralizes services throughout the community into short, pedestrian shopping streets that are perpendicular to vehicular traffic. The shops should be individually owned rather than franchises or chains and concentrated in a market of many shops, like farmers' markets and flea markets, with push carts and kiosks, peddlers and street performers. There are opportunities for many businesses: cafes, restaurants, food stands, and bars with entertainment, health centers, corner groceries, inns and bed and breakfasts...

Education should also be decentralized with the university organized as a marketplace where anybody can give or take a course (the January Independent Activities Period [IAP] at MIT, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, any "open university" are models already in existence). Another model is that of master and apprentice, practical mentoring, where the community becomes part of the curriculum with shopfront schools and intergenerational learning from birth to death so that teaching and learning is perpetual and integral within the life of the community. 

Now, how do we make that work economically, here and now in the cities and towns we already have?

Pattern Language for Urban Agriculture

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Climate Deadlines

 According to this carbon countdown clock (, at the current rate (1,337 tonnes per second or 42.2 gigatonnes [Gt] per year), the most CO2 we can emit to stay below 1.5ºC rise (global average surface temperature is 1.2ºC above what it was in 1880 and the annual rate of change has doubled in the last 40 years) is 400 Gt, starting from 2020, and that carbon budget will be used up by about July/August  2029.  

We are at 311 Gts left as I write (3/8/22).

To stay below the 2°C threshold, the carbon budget deadline is April/May 2047.  No more than 1061 Gt of CO2 emitted between now and then if we want to stay below that temperature limit. 

I'd like to think there are a whole bunch of wise, dedicated people backcasting from those dates and figuring out what we can do daily, weekly, monthly in the next 7 years and a few months, 25 years and a month or two so that we don't exceed those limits.  If there is, I wish there'd be a more public conversation about it.

Maybe even an even an online all the time, open source simulation/conversation, a World Game ( where those of us all who are for the benefit of all, as my friend the ethicist Milt Raymond would say, could play out the next 7-25 years repairing the climate damage our species has done and is doing, envisioning how "To make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone," as R. Buckminster Fuller, the originator of the game, said.

Fuller also wrote, "Quite clearly, our task is predominantly metaphysical, for it is how to get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous behaviors that will avoid extinction."

How about a global online design workshop on a climate successful 2029 or 2047?  Just as a thought experiment.

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

the war that matters is the war against the imagination
all other wars are subsumed in it.
Diane di Prima

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Interface: From Living Zero to Climate Take Back

I met Ray Anderson in 1996 at a conference about The Natural Step (, an environmental action framework from Sweden.  He had founded Interface (, a carpet tile manufacturer, in 1973 and built it into one "of the world's largest manufacturers of modular carpet for commercial and residential applications and a leading producer of commercial broadloom and commercial fabrics."

In 1994 he started the company on Mission Zero (, zero environmental impact by 2020 because, he said, his grandchildren started getting on him about environment, pollution, ecology.  He listened, took a good, long look at what he was doing, and realized he was a pirate, robbing resources and giving nothing back but waste and indigestible detritus.  

So he started the company on Mission Zero, the promise to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by the year 2020.  They did by 2019.

At that meeting in 1996, Anderson said that Interface was working on seven aspects: eliminating waste; eliminating emissions; renewable energy; closed loop recycling; resource efficient transportation (which may he thought might be the most difficult); and sensitivity - teaching sustainability (using the example of hiring a family therapist at the Interface factory to help keep workers from bringing problems at home to work [and vice versa?] and citing the resulting growth in production and morale); and finally, redesigning commerce. For Ray Anderson, the "prototypical company of the 21st century will take nothing from the Earth, do no harm, be just, and do well by doing good." It is interesting to note that the Hippocratic Oath is "First do no harm" and that the first precept of Buddhism, according to Gary Snyder, is "Do no unnecessary harm.”

Now that Interface is living with zero negative impact it has launched its next mission, Climate Take Back, a net positive mission:

They intend to do it by
Live zero
Love carbon
Lead the industrial re-revolution
Let nature cool

Ray Anderson told us back in 1996, "I think the Earth needs a miracle. We can be that miracle.”

He certainly was.

Ray Anderson wrote Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model (1998) and Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose: Doing Business by Respecting the Earth (2009) which was released as Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist (2011).

Saturday, February 19, 2022

How to Counter Putin and Reduce Climate Change or Reversing the Energy Weapon

 The impending (2/18/22) invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s Russia is, at least in part, an energy war.  Certainly, he is using the methane Russia sells to the EU and neighboring countries as a weapon.  Russia supplies a third to a half of the gas the EU burns and this is a strategic and economic fact that has to be taken into consideration by all sides.  Thus, reducing Russian energy dependence (and increasing energy independence)  would reduce Putin’s leverage and could also reduce greenhouse gases, increase energy efficiency, save money on the costs of fuel while benefitting local, national economies as well.  If done wisely.

If the worst case scenario plays out and EU and neighboring countries lose up to half their gas supply, we should remember that, for example, USAmerica produced about 92.9 quadrillion btu’s in 2020 (and has been bouncing between 90-100 quads since the year 2000) but about two thirds of that energy, about 62.3 quads, is “rejected energy,” does no useful work, it lost in transmission, distribution, friction, and systems inefficiencies.  That’s quite a lot of slack, even with Carnot efficiencies.

There is also at least one example of a country which  lost half of its energy supply almost  overnight, a few decades ago, Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Empire.  Their situation was made worse because they also lost 85% of their foreign trade economy and about one third of their GDP in one year, all at the same time.  The people of Cuba had to endure near starvation conditions before transforming their energy situation with a robust local and urban agriculture movement and much more bicycle and public transport.  Despite the differences in energy use, supply, and circumstances, there are still some lessons we can learn from what they did then and continue to do now.

How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
2007 diary:


The EU and neighboring countries could go further.  In the face of another imminent war, the constant threat of oil-funded terrorism, and increasingly expensive natural disasters and emergencies, a solar insurgency (  could upgrade energy and resource systems to reduce waste and improve efficiency while increasing resiliency and preparedness for the next heatwave, flood, fire, hurricane....  A Civilian Conservation Corps doing deep energy retrofits and training people for two of the fastest growing jobs these days, wind technician and solar installer could help us live up to our climate commitments as well as eliminate  the cost of fuel (   

Cutting Putin off at the wallet is powerful and, incidentally, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he is playing the oil and gas spot and futures markets, making $$$$ hand over fist.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Old Solar: Edison and Pre-WWI Energy Independence

In 2007 I was reading Internal Combustion:  How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives by Edwin Black (NY:  St Martin's Press, 2006  ISBN-13: 978-0-312-35907-2) after seeing Black on CSPAN.  

One of the informative stories he tells is of the partnership between Thomas Edison and Henry Ford to build an electric vehicle system together before WWI.

(136)  In the fall of 1912, the promise of Edison's new battery rose to the next level.  His latest wizardry would allow every home, automobile, and industrial source to function as a freestanding generating station.

In mid-September 1912, Edison announced the result of some fifty thousand experiments conducted during seven painstaking years - a radical new energy-self-sufficient home.  He called it the Twentieth Century Suburban Residence.  ostentatiously overstuffed with every modern gadget and appliance from a coffee percolator to a washing machine, to room heaters and coolers, to phonographs and tiny movie projectors - the mansion was an electric marvel.  Every device and system, basement to roof, was powered by batteries replenished continuously by a small-scale household electrical generator.

(128)  In May 1901, Edison formed the Edison Storage Battery Company and in August 1903 began churning out the cells composed of nine iron and nickel plates.  Twenty such cells were packed under a Baker run-about and other vehicles and road tested for as many as five thousand rough and bumpy miles to demonstrate durability.  Edison's batteries could be recharged in about three and a half hours, or about half the overnight duration required for lead competitors.  Most exciting, he planned a handy supportive infrastructure to recharge the batteries.  He wanted to create a widespread recharging network at trolley lines and central electrical stations, with such a network extending into the countryside.  Where such facilities did not exist, he suggested erecting small windmills attached to electrical generators that would light the home at night and recharge the batteries while occupants slept, thereby creating energy independence for the average home and vehicle.  Windmills or electrical siphoning from other facilities, he said, would be cheaper than the growing reliance on gasoline.

(137)  The system's secret was an array of three simple tanks:  one for water, a second for oil, and a third for gasoline - all connected to an on-site mini-generator itself regulated by an automatic voltage adjuster and a series of circuit breakers.  The resident was to "start his engine and forget it" for days at a time.  The system worked this way:  Edison's Type A nickel-iron batteries would run the house and all its gizmos.  Every two to three days, the batteries would become discharged.  The system would detect the drained batteries. When cued by the system, the on-site generator would automatically replenish the nickel-iron batteries in a seven-hour recharging session, often even as the homeowner slept.  A staged and redundant array of batteries ensured that energy levels throughout the abode remained constant even as some units were being recharged.  The same generator would recharge the new Type A-powered vehicle soon to be mass-produced by Ford, thus completing the circle of individual energy independence.

The first fully operational house was Edison's grand mansion at Llewelyn Park, New Jersey.  For its coverage, the New York Times photographed the home inside and out, toured all the rooms, and verified demonstrations of endless electrically driven devices, from toothbrush sanitizers to foot warmers.  The pocket generating plant was a narrow and compact machine, designed to be situated either in the yard, in a shed, or in the basement.  Its cost:  as little as $500, although it came in larger and more expensive sizes capable of supplying greater-scale housing.  Edison's Twentieth Century Suburban Residence would provide cheap, independent power to any suburban abode with a lot or the needed building space as well as the rural home beyond the lines of city power plants.  Self-sufficiency was no longer a vision for tomorrow, but a reality.

Initially, the generators would operate off a small tank of gasoline that periodically needed to be refilled.  Clearly, this temporarily retained the tether to petroleum.  But plans were to switch from dependence on a modicum of weekly gasoline to small residential windmills - that is, as soon as one could be perfected.

Perhaps if they had continued their work, Edison and Ford would have come up with something like the windmills Marcellus Jacobs made in the 1920s and 1930s.  I wonder if Buster Keaton's "Electric House" silent comedy was based upon Edison's vision.

This wasn't even the first attempt at thinking through an electric vehicle infrastructure.  Originally, it was electric cars and trucks which seemed to be the winning ticket in the automotive race.

Salom and Morris and their Electric Carriage and Wagon Company had  a 14 cab taxi fleet garaged on 39th St in NYC by 1897 and  

(67) ....worked to laminate economies of scale and sense to good electromotive mechanics.  A central garage crew of only six, and that included a washer, was all the staff needed to keep the dozen or so cabs humming seven days each week.  Using specially constructed garage cranes, slightly elevated auto rails, and removable vehicle trays, batteries could be swapped out by a single mechanic in just seventy-five seconds.  Spent batteries were then mechanically shuttled to the recharging room for the overnight refresh.  Cruising at speeds of 10 to 20 mph, each taxicab covered some eleven city miles per day.  In constant use, the small fleet transported approximately a thousand passengers monthly over a rough average of about one thousand miles per week.  Accidents and mishaps occurred only once every 360 miles, but this number diminished as drivers gained more experience with the new machines.

By 1899 some major manufacturers were designing the delivery infrastructure with electrical recharging stations, electrical hydrants to be installed on the streets like fire hydrants.

(74) General Electric produced a commercial version, dubbed the Electrant, to cheaply dispense charges of 2.5 kilowatt hours of electricity for a mere twenty-five cents.  Resembling a parking meter, a chest-high box contained wires and a connection to the same electrical grid that powered the rest of the city. GE was merely waiting to install them in every city.

In my storeroom, I have a copy of the poster which was a winning entry in a nation-wide contest to envison the electric vehicle future.  I think it was sponsored by GM.  It showed Cambridge, MA in 2008 with electrical vehicles everywhere and charging bollards, Electrants, on the streets.  That contest was in the early 1990s.  I thought they did a great job, which is why I asked for a copy of their poster presentation.  Little did I know that it was at least the third time these plans had been drawn up.

Here's their version of a charging station for electric vehicles: 

Earlier entries in the Old Solar series:
Old Solar:  Eames Solar Do-Nothing Machine

Old Solar:  Keck and Keck Twentieth Century Modern
Old Solar:  1881

Old Solar:  Venetian Vernacular

Old Solar: 1980 Barnraised Solar Air Heater

Old Solar:  JImmy Carter’s Green Deal

Originally published February7, 2007