Design

A Generational Challenge to Repower America

July 23, 2008 - 06:34:23 PM


Al Gore speaks at DAR Constitution Hall on 7/17/08

Ladies and Gentleman:

There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon dispelling illusions and awakening to the challenge of a present danger. In such moments, we are called upon to move quickly and boldly to shake off complacency, throw aside old habits and rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of big changes. Those who, for whatever reason, refuse to do their part must either be persuaded to join the effort or asked to step aside. This is such a moment. The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk. And even more - if more should be required - the future of human civilization is at stake.

I don't remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going so wrong simultaneously. Our economy is in terrible shape and getting worse, gasoline prices are increasing dramatically, and so are electricity rates. Jobs are being outsourced. Home mortgages are in trouble. Banks, automobile companies and other institutions we depend upon are under growing pressure. Distinguished senior business leaders are telling us that this is just the beginning unless we find the courage to make some major changes quickly.

The climate crisis, in particular, is getting a lot worse - much more quickly than predicted. Scientists with access to data from Navy submarines traversing underneath the North polar ice cap have warned that there is now a 75 percent chance that within five years the entire ice cap will completely disappear during the summer months. This will further increase the melting pressure on Greenland. According to experts, the Jakobshavn glacier, one of Greenland's largest, is moving at a faster rate than ever before, losing 20 million tons of ice every day, equivalent to the amount of water used every year by the residents of New York City.

Two major studies from military intelligence experts have warned our leaders about the dangerous national security implications of the climate crisis, including the possibility of hundreds of millions of climate refugees destabilizing nations around the world.

Just two days ago, 27 senior statesmen and retired military leaders warned of the national security threat from an "energy tsunami" that would be triggered by a loss of our access to foreign oil. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq continues, and now the war in Afghanistan appears to be getting worse.

And by the way, our weather sure is getting strange, isn't it? There seem to be more tornadoes than in living memory, longer droughts, bigger downpours and record floods. Unprecedented fires are burning in California and elsewhere in the American West. Higher temperatures lead to drier vegetation that makes kindling for mega-fires of the kind that have been raging in Canada, Greece, Russia, China, South America, Australia and Africa. Scientists in the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Science at Tel Aviv University tell us that for every one degree increase in temperature, lightning strikes will go up another 10 percent. And it is lightning, after all, that is principally responsible for igniting the conflagration in California today.

Like a lot of people, it seems to me that all these problems are bigger than any of the solutions that have thus far been proposed for them, and that's been worrying me.

I'm convinced that one reason we've seemed paralyzed in the face of these crises is our tendency to offer old solutions to each crisis separately - without taking the others into account. And these outdated proposals have not only been ineffective - they almost always make the other crises even worse.

Yet when we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges - the economic, environmental and national security crises.

We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change.

But if we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we're holding the answer to all of them right in our hand.
The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.

In my search for genuinely effective answers to the climate crisis, I have held a series of "solutions summits" with engineers, scientists, and CEOs. In those discussions, one thing has become abundantly clear: when you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices. Moreover, they are also the very same solutions we need to guarantee our national security without having to go to war in the Persian Gulf.

What if we could use fuels that are not expensive, don't cause pollution and are abundantly available right here at home?

We have such fuels. Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world's energy needs for a full year. Tapping just a small portion of this solar energy could provide all of the electricity America uses.

And enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand. Geothermal energy, similarly, is capable of providing enormous supplies of electricity for America.

The quickest, cheapest and best way to start using all this renewable energy is in the production of electricity. In fact, we can start right now using solar power, wind power and geothermal power to make electricity for our homes and businesses.

But to make this exciting potential a reality, and truly solve our nation's problems, we need a new start.

That's why I'm proposing today a strategic initiative designed to free us from the crises that are holding us down and to regain control of our own destiny. It's not the only thing we need to do. But this strategic challenge is the lynchpin of a bold new strategy needed to re-power America.

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans - in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.

A few years ago, it would not have been possible to issue such a challenge.  READ MORE »


Agro Housing -- To Dwell is to Garden

May 31, 2008 - 01:59:59 PM

Agro HousingAgro Housing

Knafo Klimor Architects of Israel - Winners of the 2nd International Architecture Competition for Sustainable Housing. China 2007

Conceptual Approach
According to a UN report, in 2010 about 50% of the Chinese population will reside in cities. This huge migration from rural regions to new urban megalopolises will create a dramatic cultural and social crisis, a loss of existing traditions and considerable unemployment. Massive urbanization will form random communities, severely deplete natural resources, exhaust urban infrastructures and transportation systems, and will increase air and soil pollution.
The concept of Agro-Housing is a new urban and social vision that will address problems of chaotic urbanization by creating a new order in the city and more specifically, in the housing environment.
Agro-Housing is a program that combines a high-rise apartment complex with a vertical greenhouse within the same building.
The idea behind Agro-Housing is to create a close to home space where families can produce their own food supply according to their abilities and choices. This will allow the citizens more independence, freedom, and additional income.  READ MORE »


Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia

May 09, 2008 - 10:31:59 PM


May 2, 2008: The Buckminster Fuller Institute is pleased to announce that “Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia”, submitted by Dr. John Todd, has been selected as the winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

Buckminster Fuller often pointed out that, “one of the most important facts about spaceship earth is that it didn’t come with an operating manual”. Dr. Todd’s pioneering work and vision represents an essential chapter of the operating manual Humans must urgently complete. His profound understanding of biological systems will revolutionize the way we think about our place on the planet and our connection to the land and its resources.  READ MORE »


IMAGINE A WORLD by Amory Lovins (presented at RMI's 25th Aniversary Gala August 2007)

May 09, 2008 - 11:37:42 AM

RMI25 Gala ALovins SpeechLet me tell you a story...

In the early 1950s, the Dayak people in Borneo had malaria. The World Health Organization had a solution: spray DDT. They did; mosquitoes died; malaria declined; so far, so good. But there were side effects. House roofs started falling down on people's heads, because the DDT also killed tiny parasitic wasps that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. The colonial government gave people sheet-metal roofs, but the noise of the tropical rain on the tin roofs kept people awake. Meanwhile, the DDT-poisoned bugs were eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The DDT built up in the food chain and killed the cats. Without the cats, the rats flourished and multiplied. Soon the World Health Organization was threatened with potential outbreaks of typhus and plague, and had to call in RAF Singapore to conduct Operation Cat Drop — parachuting a great many live cats into Borneo. (See: "How Not to Parachute More Cats")

This story — our guiding parable at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) — shows that if you don't understand how things are connected, often the cause of problems is solutions. Most of today's problems are like that. But at RMI we harness hidden connections so the cause of solutions is solutions: we solve, or better still avoid, not just one problem but many, without making new ones, before someone has to go parachuting more cats. So, join me in envisioning where these linked, multiplying solutions can lead if we take responsibility for creating the world we want.  READ MORE »


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Practical, Actionable Innovation Swarms MIT Design Gathering

March 16, 2008 - 11:07:37 PM


August 8, 2007

By —Jerry Beilinson Popular Mechanics Magazine

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Every student in America should visit Amy Smith’s D-Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, though, to be honest, the perfect time to come was probably during the past month, while the first International Development Design Summit (IDDS) was being held. (It ends today.) The lab is cluttered with power tools and bicycle parts, orange plastic buckets, vices, lengths of 2x4 and PVC pipe, a beaten down old blue sofa and a concrete coffee table.

In many ways, it resembles an African machine shop more than the pristine glass-and-steel MIT lab of the imagination. Smith rules here, or rather operates as a smiling, quietly charismatic center of gravity around which projects and smart people revolve. She is an MIT senior lecturer in mechanical engineering who focuses on creating and disseminating cheap, easy-to-fix technology for solving problems in poor, often rural environments: ways to purify and transport water, grind grain, generate power and so on. She’s also a member of Popular Mechanics editorial advisory board.  READ MORE »


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Whale Inspired Wind Mills

March 07, 2008 - 09:27:13 AM


"WhalePower, based in Toronto, Ontario, is testing this wind-turbine blade at a wind-testing facility in Prince Edward Island. The bumps, or "tubercles," on the blade's leading edge reduce noise, increase its stability, and enable it to capture more energy from the wind."
Credit: WhalePower


Mimicking the bumps on humpback-whale fins could lead to more efficient wind turbines. By Tyler Hamilton

via:MIT Technology Review

Marine scientists have long suspected that humpback whales' incredible agility comes from the bumps on the leading edges of their flippers. Now Harvard University researchers have come up with a mathematical model that helps explain this hydrodynamic edge. The work gives theoretical weight to a growing body of empirical evidence that similar bumps could lead to more-stable airplane designs, submarines with greater agility, and turbine blades that can capture more energy from the wind and water.  READ MORE »