Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Climate Change and the Flooding in Houston: A Relational Summary

Climate Adaptation and Mitigation
Professor Thomas H. Culhane
Climate Change and the Flooding in Houston: A Relational Summary
By Thomas H. Culhane
(picture from http://www.globalchange.gov/browse/multimedia/early-scientists-who-established-scientific-basis-climate-change)
Houston.  We have a problem!
9 trillion gallons of water dumped on the city within two days, averaging about 5 feet of water,  with no end in sight… people are literally dying in the streets. Yes Houston, we have a problem. And it is the result of climate change, so this is one current event we need to discuss it in this course in real time!
Scientist MATTHEW CAPPUCCI on NPR tried to help the public visualize such a quantity of water, called “epic” by our president, and “of biblical proportions” by the media,  flooding a modern city.  He said  “ If you took the Empire State Building, more than a hundred stories tall, you could fill that entire volume 33,000 times with the water that fell on Houston and the surrounding areas. That shows you how much there was.”
When NPR interviewed Cappucci they reported , “(He)  has yet another way of picturing this. He says that if you took that amount of water, 9 trillion gallons, and spread it equally over the 48 contiguous states, it would equal .17 inches of rain covering the entire country.
Cappuci said, “ If we took three pennies, put them on top of each other, that's how high it would stack up. It'd be a rainy day everywhere. And picture that crammed in just one small county area.”
NPR reporter Shapiro said this week, “ And it's not over yet. The forecast shows more rain in Texas through Friday. One more note - the colors that the National Weather Service uses to show rainfall on its maps, shades of yellow, red and orange - they couldn't represent the amounts seen in southeastern Texas. So it added two new shades of purple.”
This is unprecedented in American history.  
I listened to this interview about the “biblical proportions” of the damage wrought by this year’s hurricane Harvey while driving to USF through our own rain storm here in Tampa, and each day, as the news gets worse,  we finally hear more and more reporters and government officials and rescue personnel and flood insurance specialists bring up the issue of climate change. Sometimes recognizing the problem is the first step in finding serious and lasting solutions.
Insurers, of course, have been concerned about climate change for decades. They don’t want to give insurance guarantees in situations where the unknowns could dramatically  affect their profits. Conservative by nature, insurance companies don’t like situations where a so-called “black swan event” could wipe them out, and according to Fox Business News, (http://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/2017/08/29/key-flood-insurance-underwriter-sinks-further-into-debt-as-harvey-slams-texas.html)  “The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the singular source of flood insurance for most Americans, is already $23 billion in debt after servicing prior natural disasters, including Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.”

NPR reported that  the premiums for houses between 250 and 300 thousand dollars could be as much as 40,000 dollars a year, way beyond the reach of the families who own such properties, and some insurance companies  are saying they won’t insure at all, igniting an even larger debate about whether we should be building in flood prone areas at all, even when the area hasn’t experienced any damaging floods not just in the last 100 years, but in the last 500 years.
The extent and ferocity of storms that climate change models predict  makes previous predictions and risk assessments moot.  Climate change doesn’t just make storms worse, it makes them much less predictable.
And so even the headline of a conservative midwestern newspaper, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, reads,
“When water recedes in Houston, debate over climate change and flooding must rise”.  

The author notes that his own city, 777 miles away in Missouri, is still recovering from two major flooding events in the past 16 months, and criticizes the current president for just last week “erasing a 2015 executive order signed by President Barack Obama that had a simple goal: When building such projects, particularly federal ones, officials were directed to take climate change into consideration.”

The author uses his editorial power to pummel someone he shows to be an  arrogant, greedy and short sighted real estate developer turned president even  as the rain continues to pummel  Houston, explaining that
“Trump won’t tweet about climate change because he believes — or says he believes, anyway — that it’s a Chinese conspiracy.
So as people drown and die in Houston and Galveston and Corpus Christi, I’ll write about climate change and America’s love affair with bad flooding policy, because if not now, when?...
The author, who spent time working with the army corps of engineers during his city’s floods, is rightly skeptical about the intentions of real estate developers in the era of climate change, and says,
“In two to four years, Houston will still be recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
The president — or our next one — will still be talking about the need to improve America’s infrastructure. St. Louis will still be talking about building in flood plains, whether it’s a city project on the banks of the Mississippi River, or a massive entertainment complex in the levy-protected flood plains of the Chesterfield Valley or Maryland Heights, or even still, the current debate over building an ice arena in federally protected Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, by raising land so it is allegedly out of the 100-year flood plain.”
But, he says soberly,
“We will throw out those phrases — 100-year-flood and 500-year-flood — as though in the era of climate change they still have meaning.
And we will spend billions upon billions of tax dollars repeating the same old mistakes because we continue to believe the fallacy that it’s easier and cheaper to rebuild in the flood plain than it is to plan for — and around — the next flood.”
We increasingly see similar editorials and headlines facing up to the bad legacy we have created throughout our history of ignoring warnings about climate change effects.  A recent one from the Atlantic is titled,
“Houston's Flood Is a Design Problem”.  The subheading gives a clue to a solution. It says,
“It’s not because the water comes in. It’s because it is forced to leave again.”
There are calls for what is touted as a “new” climate mitigation and adaptation strategy: “permeable paving”.  Those of us who study history know it is nothing new:  Frederick Law Olmstead and his son were proposing the exact same measures even before the LA River flooded that city in 1938, but the powerful railroad and industrial lobbies ignored it and compelled the US Army Corps of Engineers to instead encase the river in concrete to try to move the water to the ocean as quickly as possible.  For some reason the idea of keeping the water in place never seems to… ahem… “sink in”!.
The article points out,

“the impact of flooding, particularly in densely developed areas like cities, is far more constant than a massive, natural disaster like Harvey exposes. The reason cities flood isn’t because the water comes in, not exactly. It’s because the pavement of civilization forces the water to get back out again.
There are different kinds of floods. There’s the storm surge from hurricanes, the runoff from snowmelt, the inundation of riverbanks. But all these examples cast flooding as an occasional foe out to damage human civilization. In truth, flooding happens constantly, in small and large quantities, every time precipitation falls to earth. People just don’t tend to notice it until it reaches the proportions of disaster.

Under normal circumstances, rain or snowfall soaks back into the earth after falling. It gets absorbed by grasslands, by parks, by residential lawns, by anywhere the soil is exposed. Two factors can impede that absorption. One is large quantities of rain in a short period of time. The ground becomes inundated, and the water spreads out in accordance with the topography. The second is covering over the ground so it cannot soak up water in the first place. And that’s exactly what cities do—they transform the land into developed civilization.

Roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and other pavements, along with asphalt, concrete, brick, stone, and other building materials, combine to create impervious surfaces that resist the natural absorption of water. In most of the United States, about 75 percent of its land area, less than 1 percent of the land is hardscape. In cities, up to 40 percent is impervious.

The natural system is very good at accepting rainfall. But when water hits pavement, it creates runoff immediately. That water has to go somewhere. So it flows wherever the grade takes it. To account for that runoff, people engineer systems to move the water away from where it is originally deposited, or to house it in situ, or even to reuse it. This process—the policy, planning, engineering, implementation, and maintenance of urban water systems—is called stormwater management.

The combination of climate change and aggressive development made an event like this almost inevitable.”
The article continues with best practice advice, worth quoting here in full:

“Accounting for a 100-year, 500-year, or “million-year” flood, as some are calling Harvey’s aftermath, is difficult and costly… it’s almost impossible to design for these “maximal probable flood events,” as planners call them. Instead, the hope is to design communities such that when they flood, they can withstand the ill effects and support effective evacuations to keep people safe. “Many planners contend that impervious surface itself is the problem. The more of it there is, the less absorption takes place and the more runoff has to be managed. Reducing development, then, is one of the best ways to manage urban flooding. The problem is, urban development hasn’t slowed in the last half-century. Cities have only become more desirable, spreading outward over the plentiful land available in the United States.”
The Olmsteads developed a brilliant plan for Los Angeles in the early part of the 20th century  to ensure that dramatic 100 year floods caused no damage, designing a series of flood plain wildlife parks and elevated bike paths and recreation areas robust to inundation while increasing the value of the land to the city.  But they were ignored.  It isn’t as if the arguments are new.
The article goes on to explain how the federal government ended up dealing with the issue in the later part of the 20th century but with no true concern for downstream environmental and social injustices. It says:
“The National Flood Insurance Program, established in 1968, offered one attempt at a compromise. It was meant to protect and indemnify people without creating economic catastrophe. Instead of avoiding the floodplain, insurance allowed people to build within it, within management constraints recommended by FEMA. In theory, flood-hazard mitigation hoped to direct development away from flood-prone areas through the disincentives of risk insurance and regulatory complexity.”
Of course, students of political ecology and political economy know that disincentives don’t really work for the majority of people:  As population grows and people weigh the unknown and unpredictable risks of living in a disaster area with the well known and quite predictable advantages of being close to the few jobs and opportunities that urban centers make available their own quite rational cost-benefit analyses lead them inevitably to take dangerous chances.  Just ask any of the literally billions of people living in dangerous slums and shantytowns and favelas around megacities like Rio and Cairo and Dhaka; just ask the millions and millions who have died in typhoons, monsoon floods, landslides, earthquakes and building collapses.  Life for most people is a kind of Russian roulette, a deadly gamble, a horrible game that leaves most people vulnerable, hoping that at least some family members can dodge the bullet while struggling to get into a better position before disaster falls, one way or another.
That is why on NPR this morning the commentators were saying that the system of disincentives is so perverse - because even while governments supposedly on the side of “the people” think of disincentives for them to live in a vulnerable or risky area,  insurance companies and developers actually have a direct incentive to keep “those people” -- the ones with little political power, the one’s who can’t easily sue, the ones desperate enough to accept any bad deal -- paying.
Says the article about our current policies,
“It’s more about living with water than it is about discouraging development in areas prone to risk… Sometimes “living with water” means sidestepping the consequences. Developers working in flood zones might not care what happens after they sell a property. That’s where governmental oversight is supposed to take over.”
But when the government is dominated with profit-oriented businessmen, particularly those who directly profit from real estate development, and whose cronies make their riches from the same schemes, especially in a time when there is resistance to regulation among the general public, that oversight is often deliberately overlooked.  Who is really going to look after “the little guy”?
In fact, the Koch brothers, who are funding so much of the current politics of climate change denial, are well known to espouse the philosophy of Charles Koch’s mentor James McGill Buchanan and his successor at George Mason University, Tyler Cowen,  who champion  the idea that :
with the "rewriting of the social contract" underway, people will be "expected to fend for themselves much more than they do now." While some will flourish, he admits, "others will fall by the wayside." Since "worthy individuals" will manage to climb their way out of poverty, "that will make it easier to ignore those who are left behind."
And the Koch brothers perverse pseudo libertarian philosophies, based on the logic of Cowen, didn't stop there, according to economist Nancy McLean’s new book “ Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America.”
"We will cut Medicaid for the poor," Cowen  predicted. Further, "the fiscal shortfall will come out of real wages as various cost burdens are shifted to workers" from employers and a government that does less. To "compensate," this chaired professor in the nation's second-wealthiest county advises, "people who have had their government benefits cut or pared back" should pack up and move to lower-cost, poor public service states like Texas."
Indeed, Cowen forecasted, "the United States as a whole will end up looking more like Texas." says McLean.
“ His tone is matter-of-fact, as though he is reporting the inevitable. Yet when one reads his remarks with the knowledge that he has been the academic leader of a team working in earnest with Koch for two decades now to bring about the society he is describing, the words sound more like premeditation. For example, Cowen prophesies lower-income parts of America "recreating a Mexico-like or Brazil-like environment" complete with "favelas" like those in Rio de Janeiro. The "quality of water" might not be what US citizens are used to, he admits, but "partial shantytowns" would satisfy the need for cheaper housing as "wage polarization" grows and government shrinks. Cowen says that "some version of Texas -- and then some -- is the future for a lot of us" and advises, "Get ready."
Well, if the agenda of the radical right wing, lead by the real estate developer president, is to make the  whole country look like Texas, and that Texas increasingly  looks like Houston at the moment, then we have a lot getting ready to do.

But it isn’t like we haven’t had the warning signs all along.
And I’m not just talking about violent hurricanes, which are just the most obvious consequences of climate change,  but we can start there.
Exactly 12 years ago, on August 29 of 2005, while on a research trip  visiting cities that were preparing for climate change in Germany and Austria, like the solar energy capital of Freiburg, and the EPFL research university in Lausanne, Switzerland, with its building integrated photovoltaics and solar electric tourist boats, and the renewable energy research labs in northern Italy, I heard the news of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina flooding New Orleans. All the Europeans said, of course, “those crazy Americans…while we in Europe are investing and getting ready, and even as  the effects of climate change stare them in the face, they remain in denial.”
 Nearly 1500 people died in New Orleans as 80% of the city was buried under 20 feet of water,  that caused  $81 billion in property damages, with a total economic impact in Louisiana and Mississippi estimated at over $150 billion. The tragic irony is that the previous year,
in their 2004-OCT edition, National Geographic magazine had looked at how we were developing our landscapes and predicted the whole thing.  National Geographic  published an article by Joel K. Bourne titled: "Gone With the Water” that decried the  loss of wetlands that have historically protected New Orleans. As illustrated on the website, “http://www.religioustolerance.org/tsunami04n.htm” “The article started with a very accurate prediction of the events which occurred during Katrina's devastation of the city one year later. The author was in error in their estimate of the number of deaths. But many other points raised in this prefix to the article were deadly accurate”.

The website notes other articles predicting and warning us of the same consequences. Of note were a Scientific American article in 2001 and even, ironically, a Houston Chronicle article from that same year.  Houston’s science writer Eric Berger, wrote that New Orleans was facing a “doomsday scenario”, saying,
“It's been 36 years since Hurricane Betsy buried New Orleans 8 feet deep. Since then a deteriorating ecosystem and increased development have left the city in an ever more precarious position. Yet the problem went unaddressed for decades by a laissez-faire government, experts said.”
“Economically, he said, “the toll would be shattering. Southern Louisiana produces one-third of the country's seafood, one-fifth of its oil and one-quarter of its natural gas. The city's tourism, lifeblood of the French Quarter, would cease to exist. The Big Easy might never recover. And, given New Orleans' precarious perch, some academics wonder if it should be rebuilt at all.”
He concluded,
“In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.”
Well here we are, 16 years later, and now the refugees are coming from Houston, and the same questions are being asked all over -- “should we rebuild at all?”.
Yet, history shows us that we almost always do.  As long as somebody can make money off of risky investments and sales of risk-prone buildings and infrastructure, some people will continue to develop, no matter how bad things might become.  It seems to be in human nature… at least, that is, in the nature of those who think it is okay to profit off the misfortune of others, as East German playwright Bertold Brecht pointed out  in his 1941 theatrical exposition of petty war profiteers posing as philanthropists called “Mother Courage and her Children”.
And we must be very clear… debates about climate change, and attempts to IGNORE its consequences when planning ways to benefit the haves and punish the have nots  are nothing new AT ALL. The question always revolves around the ancient Latin maxim “Cui bono” -- who profits? “Who stands, or stood, to gain (from a crime, and so might have been responsible for it)”?

Many  current so called “conservatives” who stand to gain  actually claim that today’s climate change is nothing to fear because climate change is “natural” and has been occurring since the earth began. And that may be true if you have access to a private helicopter and a second or third home on dry land.  Others have trepidation about the consequences of climate changes but still deny human agency, attributing it to everything from sunspots, to volcanic activity to the terraforming tendencies of space aliens, all while denying the contributions of  burning fossil fuels, clearing forest land and engaging in industrial agriculture, something  that is certainly convenient if you are making your money through those very activities.  Follow the money, right?
The irony is that the creators of the capitalist economy, who benefitted from deforestation and mining and drilling and agricultural expansion at one time in our history actually believed very very strongly in “anthropogenic” or “human induced” climate change back in the day.  It is just that they saw it as an overwhelmingly positive thing, dreaming for example, as many capital holders today do, of the beach resorts they could open in the north when the ice floes were all gone, and of all the wine grapes they could grow in previously frigid landscapes.
Much of this is  documented in the book “Historical Perspectives on Climate Change” by James Rodger Fleming, which is available from our USF library and summarized online  in the article “The first American settlers cut down millions of trees to deliberately engineer climate change”.  The subtitle is
“Long term, it worked, but not how they intended”. (https://timeline.com/american-settlers-climate-change-5b7b68bd9064)
The book points out that the second president of the United States, John Adams, was a climate change proponent.  The differences between him and our current president are actually superficial at best, when you think about it, based on whether, in the current political climate a politician is better off  assigning credit or blame for the changes. John Adams  was a believer that anthropogenic climate change  was possible and  real but he thought it was  desirable.  He thought it was good for reasons the allegedly white-supremacist-supporting 45th president would probably agree with :  “When the first colonists arrived, wrote John Adams, “the whole continent was one dismal wilderness, the haunt of wolves and bears and more savage men. Now the forests are removed, the land covered with fields of corn, orchards bending with fruit, and the magnificent habitations of rational and civilized people.”
Other presidents and wealthy, politically powerful (mostly white)  men were in favor of human-induced climate change.  The historical documents show how  early presidents presiding over  American colonist created  global warming trends were celebrating  and endorsing the changes they thought they were witnessing as America seemed to get hotter and hotter, allegedly as a result of their deliberate deforestation.  The book Historical Perspectives on Climate Change notes,
“Even our most famous forefathers chimed in with benevolent compliments for the deforestation agenda. In his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “A change in our climate…is taking place very sensibly….The elderly inform me, the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year. The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the winter, scarcely ever do now.” In a 1763 letter, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Cleared land absorbs more heat and melts snow quicker.” He added one caveat, however: More study was necessary to confirm these findings.
By 1811, Harvard-educated Hugh Williamson reported that New England snows had been more than halved over a fifty-year period. He argued that once future generations had “cultivated the interior part of the country, we shall seldom be visited by frosts or snows.” Period. “It follows, that a country, in a state of nature, covered with trees, must be much colder than the same country when cleared.”
Ironically, however, as the book points out, science did NOT confirm the findings.  There were plenty of voices contesting the views of the nation’s presidents:

“Contrarians reported the absolute opposite, and their voices helped fuel a 19th-century conservation movement and more rigorous climate science. It was an uphill battle, however, with prominent voices continuing to extol the merits of a utopian civilization based primarily around commercialized agriculture.
Climate hadn’t been “improving,” argued Massachusetts doctor Job Wilson, who studied meteorological records spanning 16 years. Deforestation had made the country’s heat and cold even more extreme. One William Dunbar wrote to the American Philosophical Society, “It is with us a general remark, that of late years the summers have become hotter and the winters colder than formerly.” Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, agreed that clearing trees could certainly exaggerate extremes.
But attacking deforestation science often came with its own political motivations. America wanted to attract more people to the Western frontier, where the air was dry and hot. Desert loomed for hundreds of miles. Expansionists decried deforestation, promising to plant new wooded expanses for a more pleasant and habitable West. The country’s relationship with climate was a veritable Goldilocks tale — nothing was ever just right for everyone. And the reasons had less to do with science and more to do with motivations.”
The same is true today.
Scientists have been observing and predicting  dire consequences from climate change, most of it human-induced or exacerbated by anthropogenic activities,  mostly  driving natural oscillations to unprecedented extremes, for well over a century.  Time magazine had an article called “Scientists Have Known About Climate Change for a Lot Longer Than You May Think” in 2015 (http://time.com/4122485/climate-change-history/) and it is now common knowledge that Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius “had made the connection that the carbon dioxide caused by that coal could affect the climate” back  in the late 19th century.
Arrhenius wrote
“That the atmospheric envelopes limit the heat losses from the planets had been suggested about 1800 by the great French physicist Fourier. His ideas were further developed afterwards by Pouillet and Tyndall. Their theory has been styled the hot-house theory, because they thought that the atmosphere acted after the manner of the glass panes of hot-houses." (p51)
"If the quantity of carbonic acid [ CO2 + H2O → H2CO3 (carbonic acid) ] in the air should sink to one-half its present percentage, the temperature would fall by about 4°; a diminution to one-quarter would reduce the temperature by 8°. On the other hand, any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth's surface by 4°; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8°." (p53)
"Although the sea, by absorbing carbonic acid, acts as a regulator of huge capacity, which takes up about five-sixths of the produced carbonic acid, we yet recognize that the slight percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere may by the advances of industry be changed to a noticeable degree in the course of a few centuries." (p54)
"Since, now, warm ages have alternated with glacial periods, even after man appeared on the earth, we have to ask ourselves: Is it probable that we shall in the coming geological ages be visited by a new ice period that will drive us from our temperate countries into the hotter climates of Africa? There does not appear to be much ground for such an apprehension. The enormous combustion of coal by our industrial establishments suffices to increase the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air to a perceptible degree." (p61)
"We often hear lamentations that the coal stored up in the earth is wasted by the present generation without any thought of the future, and we are terrified by the awful destruction of life and property which has followed the volcanic eruptions of our days. We may find a kind of consolation in the consideration that here, as in every other case, there is good mixed with the evil. By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind." (p63)

And so here is the rub:
As usual when it comes to the utopian experiment we call “civilization”, there is good and bad, winners and losers.  In order to maximize their own success, some groups will try to change the environments that surround them and sustain them.  When the changes benefit them, when the cost-benefit analysis yields a positive result for THEM and when nobody else gets hurt or complains in a way that can threaten their profits,  they will naturally take credit.  When voices of dissent grow large enough to threaten their well being, they will deny there is a problem or they will find someone or something else to blame so long as the Cost Benefit equation still yields profits. People are opportunistic, and most of those who wield power seize every opportunity they can, because they can.  Only when the changes that are happening  hurt them, will they try to change course.
So let those of us who stand to be harmed by climate changes, however they are caused,  take a page from the playbook of the Koch brothers and their climate change denying cronies and gurus.   “We the people” can actually use the same logic and tactics that they use for a more inclusive democracy (and more Sustainable one!) and still benefit the wealthy and powerful at the same time. Recognizing that possibility -- that a win-win scenario is still possible --  is my principal goal in this course -- to find ways of mitigating and adapting to climate change that also mitigate and adapt to the changes in our political climate so we don’t plunge into war or strife as we navigate the uncertainties in our food/energy/water nexus and life support system.
Nancy McLean’s “Democracy in Chains” tells us how the current regime, who we should actually call “climate change responsibility deniers” are driving their agenda, and we can learn from them:
"Buchanan offered strategic advice to corporations on how to fight the kind of reforms and taxation that came with more inclusive democracy. In the 1990s, for example, as Koch was getting more involved at George Mason, Buchanan convened corporate and rightwing leaders to teach them how to use what he called the "spectrum of secession" to undercut hard-won reforms through measures that have now become core to Republican practice: decentralization, devolution, federalism, privatization, and deregulation."

Ironically, these same threats to democracy wielded by those who believe in Buchanan’s “Marginal Revolution” , in the hands of we the people, in the hands of democracy advocates,  especially those of us marginalized by the wealthy oligarchs and robber barons and elites, could be our most powerful antidote in the quest for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Decentralization is the key here. Decentralization for energy, food production, for waste and water management. Devolution of power to the local level, particularly as concerns food production systems.  Federalism could let us work together at the state level to ignore government rulings that would force us back into the fossil fuel age, creating our own local green economies as California is doing. Deregulation could help us so that we can get away from stodgy bureaucratic rules that were intended or inadvertantly keep us dependent on fossil fuels and fertilizers, rules that keep us  from producing our own electricity and fuels and that keep us from turning our front lawns into permaculture plots, and that keep us from treating the organic residuals from our toilets and kitchens on-site and turning them into sources of local wealth.  As for privatization ,we could be saying, on our private property, with our shotgun legally in our hands  "hey, you don't get my shit. Literally. You don't get my banana peel, or the parts of the banana that passed through me. That shit is MINE. "
And regarding flooding, we can say “you don’t get my water. You don’t even get my pee, the water that passed through me, and you don’t get the water that falls on my roof or my parking lot or any of my land. That water stays on MY land, in my community, in OUR neighborhood.”  
We can build our homes the way the coastal people of Belize and Nigeria  have traditionally done -- on stilts, well above the highest flood waters. We can build our houses on wheels, build our houses like boats. We can win the right to capture and use our rainwater like they do in Bermuda,  to drink, shower and bathe, wash our clothes and water our lawns and gardens. We can set up tidal surge and wave generators and stream generators and wind generators to capture high velocity waves and winds and waterfalls --even off our roofs and rain gutters.  We can insist on permeable paving that recharges our aquifers, or we can insist on no paving at all, populating our landscapes with water loving, water hungry lush plants -- preferably ones that can make us food independent too. With all so called “wastes” safely in biodigesters and recycling industrial ecology systems, so that nothing can wash into our streets and drains and rivers and oceans when the storms come, and our houses and businesses and communities built to take advantage of and be comfortable with the consequences of climate change we can say, hopefully sooner rather than later, when it comes to big rains, “bring it on”.
Let’s get ready.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Visualizing the Nexus: Do you Speak 5D

Section from Yellow Submarine


Do you speak 3D?

 Can you talk in "animated object"?  Can you communicate in "graphic novel"? Do you speak in pictures?

Moving pictures?

Pictures that move people?

Today's children are growing up in a world where those may soon be legitimate questions.

We often say that "a picture is worth a thousand words" but we still assume that only a small percentage of humanity will ever really develop the skills to be considered a true "artist".  Speaking in pictures, moving or static, 2d or 3d, is still considered the domain of "experts".
But it needn't always be.

On January 8, 2011 in the German newspaper, "Stellen" (nrw.stellenanzeigen.de) the front page article was
"Experten fur 3D-Welten: Qualifikation -- Neue Technologie wird in vielen Branchen gebraucht."
The English translation: "Experts for 3D Worlds: (Get) qualified -- these new technologies will be needed in many fields".

The accompanying picture shows a worker wearing a special three dimensional visualization technology that allows him to manipulate virtual objects in thin air. The caption reads, "Das Arbeiten mit virtuellen und 3D Welten ist gefragt -- mit Qualifikationen kann man sich fit dafur machen." (My loose translation: "Working with virtual and 3D worlds is in demand -- with the right qualifications one can make oneself fit for the new jobs").

The article goes on to inform the readers in this historical working class area of Germany that many of the new jobs -- in the auto industry, in medicine, in architecture and planning, to say nothing of film and games -- demand facility with 3D visualization. But they point out that getting qualified can take more than 6 months of intense study, and that the education system is not yet equipped to equip students (much less retrain the rest of us) for this sudden demand. In addition, training courses can cost as much as 400 Euros a day and the software is very expensive.   However, they conclude, for those who are truly motivated, there are tutorials on-line and there is open source software available.

An interesting state of affairs.  There is a tacit assumption that the ability to translate an idea into three dimensions requires special training and that certain barriers to entry for this heretefore domain of experts will (should?) always exist.  But is this so?

Whenever I think of 3D worlds my imagination takes me to a place I've only ever seen in a two dimensional landscape -- the Sea of Monsters in the Peter Max designed Beatles cartoon "Yellow Submarine".  There, amidst a host of marvelous beings, a quadrupedal winged clown walks around "speaking" three dimensional objects into existence.  When we first see him he opens his mouth and we see him produce an ice cream cone.  The vacuum monster ambles over and sucks it up. With consternation he then speaks a gas station, an Egyptian pyramid and a colorful tie into existence. Then the marvelous 3D talking clown gets sucked into oblivion ("or even further" as John Lennon quips...).


But while this incredible talent for reifying thought gets annihilated and lost to the sea monster gene pool in Yellow Submarine, that great two dimensional representation of the way the Beatles made people feel in the late 1960s , it may in fact be evolving right here in our own three dimensional world here on Earth in the early two-thousand-teens.

I envision a day not long from now when technology and our facility with it allows us to answer questions by conjuring objects and animated processes into audio-visual existence in real time. We would describe a building or a motor or even an emotion by instantly placing the object or representational graphic in front of the people with whom we are conversing.

On the road to that version of reality we still have a lot of work to do, but in my mind it starts with teaching our children (and ourselves) that it is normal to "speak 3D".  Rather than continuing to operate in linear 2d spaces, painstakingly training ourselves and our youth to put letters together into words and words into sentences and then paragraphs and then pages, all from left-to-right (if you are in the Western tradition) with the proper punctuation and all just for the purpose of describing a room, setting up a scene or describing a vector of motion and emotion, we can start now training them to operate in what my post-modern urban planning professor Ed Soja calls "third-space" -- a non linear environment where the medium truly is McCluhan's massage and our message.

The problem with descriptions of third space (also the title of one of Ed's highly stimulating books) is that they normally are only ever done in second space.  Ed writes about this brave new world using normal textual conventions. In lectures he speaks about it from "left to right", from "beginning to end", following the normal prepared-speech-for-the-lecture-hall format.  "Speech" is still two dimensional. And we need people who can think, and act, in 3D.

So what do we do?

One of my first stabs at training myself to think and speak 3D was to read and study Scott McCloud's mind-opening "Understanding Comics -- The Invisible Art" (and moving on to his equally riveting sequels "Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form" and "Making Comics").

Now I am toying with writing reports using the software program "Comic Life" rather than Microsoft Word, and trying to think not only about how to use pictures and graphs to illustrate points better, but how to use layout and space, size and color, and other design principles like gradation, repitition, unity, contrast, and harmony (what my father, animation historian John Culhane, used to call "GRUCH" so I would remember them!).

My next steps are doing all the tutorials I can find and find time for to better my skills in the Gimp, Sketchup, Blender, Unity 3D, Celtx, CamStudio, Suicidator City Generator, MakeHuman, Scribus, Elder Scrolls Construction Set, Sims3 and other animation, game engine, 3d visualization audio and video production software (like many in the NGO/Philanthropy world I can't afford Maya, 3D Studio Max or Cinema 4D so I use what I can find).
And then of course there are the “traditional” (if decidedly post-modern and cutting edge) software programs for data visualization like GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and SSPS (a Statistics package) and Mathematica and a host of GPS oriented programs (Google Maps and Google Earths are the easiest to use).  There are commercial versions of Geographical Information programs  that are industry standards like ArcView GIS, and there are open-source versions like QGIS; all enable human beings to add space and place and dimensionality to our conversations in meaningful ways. And to add an emotional and hence motivational element and enriched context to my speech, audio and music production software abounds (Audacity is a great open source package).  The use of green screens and video editing software that permits chroma-key effects  makes creating a tapestry of landscapes and illustrations  in which to embed our lectures and speeches almost effortless.

Now when I answer questions about our work on solar hot water systems and biogas systems in the real world, I try more and more to answer them using these software resources and the techniques of audio-visual production and graphic representation I'm learning from book's like McClouds.

In effect I am trying to learn to speak 3D. And to carry on a conversation or give an explanation using hypertext, illustrative hyperlinks and some good 2D and moving representations of the three dimensional (really n-dimensional) reality we inhabit.

In my line of work it is actually very important to develop these skills now, not in the future, because so many of the people we are trying to reach (in our sustainable development efforts) are separated from us by language barriers and cultural barriers and class barriers and lots and lots of real three dimensional space.

The use of multi-media, of  music and video and gaming and -- let's face it -- FUN -- are paramount in importance if we want to share real solutions for empowering people and preserving or creating healthy environments.  This is a point His Excellency former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo made both publically, when we presented together at the melody-dialouge for civilization conference in Geneva, and privately when I stayed at his home last summer building biogas digestors with his family and community. We are both on the board of the UNESCO sponsored Melody Dialouge organization because we and many others (like Melody Dialouge founder Mehri Madarshahi and 5D founder Tali Krakowsky and I think all of us who participated in the FMX conference) believe that we must act now to use all available channels of communication for the necessary dialogue about real things that humanity must come together on to preserve (and better) civilization.

And so this was the intent of creating this forum on Blending Realities here on facebook -- to create multiplier effects and accelerators, share insights and skills so that we can be part of that evolving generation of human beings who not only thinks, but who eventually, inevitably will speak, in surround sound, melodic and musically intoned, audio-visually enhanced, animated 3D.

Or should we say 5D?

Can you speak 5D?

This module is about training us to do exactly that and discussing what such a skill set would do for Systems Thinking and helping foster Nexus Perspectives?

On Wednesday Dr. Robert Domaingue, who was a foreign affairs officer for the US State Department, spoke to the faculty of Patel College about the importance of this form of digital literacy, combined with hands-on-learning and appropriate technology.

He championed the integration of augmented reality and embedded QR codes for “Quick Response” learning and information sharing.  Here is a clip of him speaking about it:


This module is about training us to do exactly that and discussing what such a skill set would do for Systems Thinking and helping foster Nexus Perspectives?

On Wednesday Dr. Robert Domaingue, who was a foreign affairs officer for the US State Department, spoke to the faculty of Patel College about the importance of this form of digital literacy, combined with hands-on-learning and appropriate technology.

He championed the integration of augmented reality and embedded QR codes for “Quick Response” learning and information sharing.  Here is a clip of him speaking about it:

Dr. Domaingue on digital tools for sustainability education

We live in an era unlike anything humanity has ever experienced outside of fantasy and science fiction, giving us the power of wizards and sorcerers.  Our computers are as oracles were to the Greek gods, giving us instant access to more knowledge than we can even process must less understand.  Algorithms are searching for patterns that make sense of enormous amounts of interconnected data and helping put it in forms that our brains can at least make some sense of.  But we all need to retrain our selves to use the unique properties of the human mind to render our ever changing world meaningful.

The Nexus DEMANDS 5D visualization skills.

All the software I mentioned above is of course rife with possibilities, and the USF Digital Media Library offers most of the programs you need, as well as free training, to get started and go far.  I highly recommend you start teaching yourself how to be a fluent 5D speaker.  But I also recognize that for many of us, once we graduate, gaining access to these powerful tools for systems thinking and self-expression may become difficult or impossible if the career you end up working in doesn’t provide what the University does.  Most of these programs are very expensive and require constant upgrades and retrainings as they evolve.

This is why I champion the use of Blender 3D, which is free and open source and yet amazingly complex and powerful, and which will run on any operating system and will even run off of a thumb drive on computers you don’t have administrative privileges for.

Blender 3D is a paragon of Nexus technologies.  It is a 3D object mesh modeler, an animation program, a game creation tool with a powerful physics engine for modeling reality, a compostior, a video and audio editing program, a text/title generator, a layout program and a rendering software package all in one.  It lets you create your own worlds and play God and show several different alternative realities. This is why it is called ‘Blender’ -- because it blends so many functionalities into a single package and lets you blend realities.  In fact, I am so enthusiastic about Blender 3D that I have created a facebook group called, “Blending Realities: Creating  Eutopia by Blending the Virtual and the Real” which I welcome and encourage you to join.

When you invest your time in learning Blender 3D, which I will argue should be as central to STEAMM education as the real life biodigester technology project is, you not only come away able to translate your ideas into compelling, exciting, dynamic, interactive, colorful presentations, but you increase your capabilities for system thinking because navigating through its diverse menus and node and curve functions literally trains your mind and body (through hand eye coordination) in a hands on minds on way to think deeper more interconnected ways.

Much as I claim biodigesters are the Nexus of real world  Sustainable Development technologies, I claim that Blender 3D can be  the Nexus of virtual world sustainable development technologies.

There are thousands of great free online tutorials, both written, illustrated and video; I recommend those by Andrew Price in his Nature Academy  as the most useful for those of us in Global Sustainability because he has techniques for using Blender to create the most realistic natural environments possible.

So… how would you use Blender 3D in a class like this?
I encourage each student to basically do the equivalent of a Permaculture Design Certiicate final project landscape, but to do it in interactive 3D/5D space rather than as a static birds eye view document.


Above is a typical final project document from a student in the class of  my Permaculture Instructor, the famed Andrew Faust of the Bioregional Living Center in New York.  The students are asked to take a real place of significance to them -- it can be their home or yard or community or a place they cherish, and transform it using permaculture principles into the place they would like it to be.
Remember, Gandhi said, "Be the change you would like to see in the world".
In Permaculture we want the places we live in to be the change we would like to see in the world, and with a good plan we can transform them.

Blender 3D, of course, lets you transform that landscape into one you can walk through, fly over, look around, experience from different angles, just as if you were in a video game.  And if something you did doesn't feel right experientially, you can then go ahead and change it, at very low transaction costs (your time, reworking objects on the computer.).
It allows alternative realities to be tried out.

What I encourage all of my students to do is, as with a Permaculture design, start with a static map of the landscape you want to see transformed with Nexus Thinking and bring it into Blender and start populating it with 3D objects, first with the existing objects, and then bit by bit with the ones you would like to see, transforming the landscape into your vision for a better reality.
Want to know how to do it?

While getting the hang of Blender does take some time and commitment, you can follow along with my cookbook tutorial showing how I transformed the Rosebud Continuum landscape at Land O Lakes spoken of as one of our case studies last lecture and follow along with me.

Step 1:
Go to Google Maps, find and zoom in on the landscape you want to transform, turn on satellite view and take a screenshot of the area you are going to work with.
For example, this is where we have our student volunteer research site at the Rosebud Continuum in Land O Lakes. 
Step 2: Create a folder for your Nexus project in a designated Blender Folder (I use my Blender Tutorials folder and name my project folder "RosebudContinuum") and save the screenshot in it, then launch Blender and save a project in the same folder.

By keeping your Blender project and your screenshots and all your assets in the same folder you will be able not only to work with them without getting lost but if you choose to work on another computer you can save the whole folder on a flash drive and not worry about losing some media.
Step 3: Add a mesh plane, size it to the scale of your image and texture map the image on to the plain.
The first thing to do is to launch Blender and you will see the default screen with the camera and the cube.  To get started you need to eliminate the cube. You do this by selecting it (right click until an orange line appears around it) and hitting "x". The screen will ask you if you want to delete the object and you click ok.


Your are left with a grid in empty space.  The next thing you want to do is put a plane in that space that will act like your "Flatland" planet (the way some crazy Europeans used to believe the world was, ignoring the mathematical proofs of the ancient Greeks that the earth was round, allegedly until Columbus came back from the Caribbean -- though any sailor could have told you about the curvature of the earth through simple observations of ships' masts receding over the horizon... but that is a different story!)
You add your plane by going to the menu on the bottom left that says "Add" and selecting from the pop up menus "Add:Mesh: Plane".
Once you've added your plane, you will want to make it larger by using the "s" key (for "scale) and dragging the plane out to the size of the grid (you can make it bigger or smaller but this works for me).

The trick to being able to project an image on the plane is to "UV UNWRAP" the mesh of the plane (meaning you are preparing it to be able to work with the dimensions U and V, which are ways of twisting space so that you can work in X, Y and Z dimensions but also map flat images onto curved surfaces.  In this case the plane is not curved but the technique is what let's modelers put "skins" on objects, for example, if you made a cylinder mesh for a coke can and wanted to wrap the coca cola can logo on it.  You would "unwrap" the cylinder mesh in UV and apply a flat image of the coke logo and then wrap it back into a cylinder.  Another example is a  2D map projection of the earth  on a spherical globe. )

To unwrap a mesh object you first should split the screen so you can have two different views simultaneously -- a view of the plane as you or the camera sees it, and the unwrapped plane.  We do our UV unwrapping on the left by convention.

To split the screen grab the 3 faint "grab bars" in the upper right corner of the screen and pull back to reveal a new screen.

 On the left screen, go to the toggle button menu on the bottom left and switch from 3D view to UV Editor view and you should see a grid.
You can now load the Google Map you took the screenshot of by opening the file using the drop down menu below the image of the grid (use the folder button to open a folder and select the image). It should appear on the screen.
Now you have to "unwrap" your Plane.  To do that, select the plane, go into Edit mode (either use the mouse to click on the toggle where it says object and that brings up the menu to select edit, or simply hit the TAB key. The Tab key switches you between edit and object mode.  Object mode lets you move objects, Edit lets you edit the mesh. Once you have selected the plane mesh use the drop down menu for "Mesh" and select "UV Unwrap" (or hit "U").  

 You will see the highlighted mesh appear on top of the image as an orange square or rectangle.  You can now manipulate the size and shape and location of that rectangle using "s" for scale, and scale it in the x, y, or z directions, or move it with the "g" key and drag it.  You will want to position it over the region of the image that you want to be mapped onto the plane.  To see how it moves when viewed on the plane, toggle the view button from "solid" or whatever it was on to "texture". The arrow in this picture on the menu below the plane shows where the view button is.


As you will be able to see, as you move the orange box on the UV map of the image on the left, you will see the parts of the map move on the plane on the right.

  Once you have the map where you want it, in order to make it visible to the camera (for rendering later, for example, so you can take pictures or make movies of your landscape) you need to give the plane a material and a texture (in that order.)
The material can be any material of any color, so all you do is select the plane and go to the materials button on the right, click on it and add a new material.

Then you add a texture, using the image of the map you created.

Once you have toggled "New" for texture, you open the folder of the image of your map and select it.

It will appear now on the plane not only when you have "texture" view chosen but also "material" and "render".  

You are almost done placing your map of the place you want to "make green" in Blender so that you can then place objects like solar panels and aquaponics systems and biodigesters in it.   But you will notice that if you render the image the camera sees (by hitting F12 button) there is an awful bright spot glowing on the land (you can see it in the above image in the render view port without rendering).

That is the effect of the default light that you have in your scene.  It is like the sun, but it is too bright.  So you will want to adjust it.  

To do that you need to get out of edit mode and go into object mode and  select (right click) the lamp ball that is in the scene (there should be three objects in the scene, the plane you created, the camera and the lamp object which looks like a ball. 
 Once you have selected it (so that it turns orange) you can look to the menu options on the right and select lamp. Change the "point" light to "sun" and reduce its brightness to around 1.5. You will notice that there is still quite a shine on the map.  To elimate it, turn off the toggle that says "specular".
Now save your file and you are ready to start placing objects on the map.

Step 4: Go into bird’s eye view orthogonal (hit the 5 key and then the 7 key) and start placing objects onto the plane.
You can get most of the objects from 3D warehouse.

These models, which are available for free and cover almost every object known to man (down to the level of pipes and valves and bolts and screws) are made for the Google Sketchup community, but you can download the collada files for use in Blender.

Step 5:  Create a folder of the objects you want in YOUR world (solar panels, windmills, biodigesters, aquaponics systems, IBC tanks, solar heaters etc, animals, trees etc.)



(Note: the files usually come zipped so you will generally find the zipped folder in your downloads folder which you can then extract to your working project folder).


Inside the folder you usually find a file called "model.dae" which is the actual model mesh, and a folder called "model" that has the materials and textures.  You don't technically need these, but then you would have to put your own materials and image textures on the model.  So it helps to have them.  To avoid confusion I rename my "model.dae" file to whatever the object is, like "solarpanel.dae", but keep the model folder called "model" or the files in it won't associate with the mesh.

Once you have downloaded your collada (.dae) model and unzipped it and put the folder in your working directory and changed the name of the .dae file, you are ready to import into Blender.

When you go back into Blender you may need to join the two screens that you had made.  To do this you click on the three light drag bars at the top of the split screen you want to keep and drag the mouse toward the split screen you want to get rid of.  A ghostly arrow appears on the screen you want to keep, pointing to the screen you are going to eliminate.  When you let go you should be left with just the 3D screen. There are beginners tutorial on youtube teaching you how to navigate the screens if you have difficulty.

join screens.JPG

To import the collada file go to File: Import: Collada (.dae) file.

Save it in your project folder.
When it comes in it will usually be giant and very complex, depending on the person who created it. This can be the only tough part of importing models from Google 3D Warehouse. It also will come in on the layer of your map and this can make it hard to work with, so you are best off moving it immediately to a temporary layer to make your modifications.


To move the object select it (in this case it comes in selected so don't touch anything) and hit "m". This brings up the move grid button. The buttons will be dark grey where this an object and light grey where there are no objects.  

You click on the box where you want the object that has been selected to go and it will appear there.

Since this layer has no other objects, no camera, no lights, it is easy to focus on just the object you imported.  One of the first things you may have to do is join all the pieces of the model because many mesh artists create objects made of multiple complex pieces and they will be tough to move around.  To join all the mesh pieces you use the keyboard ctl-J to join.  Most of the time it works, sometimes it doesn't. If it works the object will change from dark orange to light orange.  If it doesn't work you may have to select different parts of the model two or three or four at a time and try to join them and keep joining until you have them all joined.  Sometimes, if a model is very complex and I want to be able to animate different parts later, I make a duplicate of the object while it is all selected, using Shift-D, and then work on the duplicate copy. You can even hit "m" again and move the duplicate to another layer.


Often when you join the meshes in a complex model the object suddenly becomes HUGE. That is usually because by joining you eliminated many control points that affected the model's scale. In any event you will have to scale the model to fit into your landscape, but sometimes it is so huge that it helps first to hit the plus sign on the top right of your 3d window to open the object parameters window and play with numbers in the scale area.  I found that I had to bring this model down to about .004 in order to even begin finer scaling for the landscape -- it had gotten so huge that it made the grid almost invisibly tiny.

Once I've scaled it down so it once again fits somewhere on the grid, I move it with the "M" key back to my map and camera and light layer (where I do my animations and renderings). You could, of course, simply keep it in another layer (here it is in layer 2) and toggle both layers on (by shift clicking them in the bottom layer selector under the screen ) 


Now you can start fitting the object into your landscape, using R to rotate, S to scale and G to move around.  You may find it useful to split the screen into several 3D views if you aren't good at navigating objects around the screen.

Rotate and Scale.JPG

When you have the object where you want it, you may want to lock it in place using the little lock symbols that appear in the parameters window to the right where it gives the x, y and z locations. Then you won't accidentally move your painstakingly placed object once you start working with the camera positions. It is a good idea to lock down the plane too.

Once you have things in position you can set camera angles and then hit "0" to see what the camera sees. From here you can hit F12 and render your first shot of the new improved landscape.

Step 6: Start populating your world with the objects you would like to have there.

It may take a while to massage all the objects you import from 3D warehouse into Blender so they can be placed, but once you have them you can move them anywhere.  Spend some time working on importing objects.  Or build your own meshes in Blender.  Anything is possible. The idea is to start creating a landscape that has the components of sustainability built in for Food Energy and Water.

Here are some of the images I rendered from my work on Rosebud Continuum's site:




You can put in fences and roads and trees and  animals and raised beds and greenhouses, ibc tanks and even Puxin biodigesters which you can see here in three different configurations. 
 The possibilities are endless as you learn to "speak 5D" and Blender is a great program to gain fluency in.
This is the simplest way to get started.  Later on you can start making your own mesh models, you can tranform the terrain, you can animate possible futures, add layers of data and other information… You can even do physical modeling of fluids (water) and gases (smoke and particle effects) and collisions and add gravity and friction etc.    but this is the easiest way into this exciting way of visualizing the nexus.  
Now I don’t want to mislead you… getting objects off of 3d warehouse and into your Blender project sometimes isn’t so straightforward, and some models simply don’t work,  but once you get the hang of the procedures you should be able to do it fairly reliably. And when we all share our discoveries in this new way of visualizing the Nexus the learning curve should be climbable by everybody because no matter how steep it seems, we will all be there to give a helping hand up and we all work together to express ourselves in 5D!

There are many many video tutorials on Blender use on the internet, so don't get discouraged.
Here is a video tutorial I have created to get you going:
 Video tutorial on placing a solar panel (or other object) into a landscape made from a Google map in Blender.

As you work I encourage you to make your own video tutorials to share with the class so we can all progress in sophisitication together. Speaking 5D is an ever evolving process and as new tools and technologies and techniques are discovered or created we can all gain in fluency by sharing. That interactivity is part of the 5D process!

Onward and upward!