Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A tour of the world we need

As an antidote to the depressing reading in the national newspapers where Our Glorious Leader can be seen flexing his muscles on the international scene refusing to take any action on climate change until India does (so nyah!), I have been reading Chris Turner’s “The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need”.
In his easy-going and refreshing style, Turner tries to focus on the positive (a focus in very short supply) by looking at renewable energy and sustainability projects around the world in an attempt to show that we have the technology to combat global warming right here and now, we just need the will, the vision and the leadership (also in very sort supply).
Among many other inspiring developments (and his trademark digressions into world economics, local politics and popular culture) he visits:
  • the Danish islands of Samsø and Aerø, where the local council and activists have developed an almost completely grid-free, sustainable energy regime based mainly on wind turbines;

  • forward-thinking public transit systems in Portland, Oregon and Copenhagen;

  • Rolf Disch’s remarkable Plusenergiehaus (which uses almost every energy-generating device known) and the surrounding solar powered district of Vauban in Freiberg, Germany (not a location normally associated with a surfeit of sunshine);

  • Dr. Soontorn’s net energy-generating Bio-Solar Home in Bangkok, Thailand;

  • Mike Reynolds’ hobbit-like but incredibly efficient and energy-saving Greater World Earthship Community in New Mexico;

  • Sohrabji Godrej’s LEED-certified Green Business Centre in Hyderabad, India;

  • John Bradford’s Interface Flooring Systems, a huge industrial carpet tile business which goes as close as is humanly possible to reusing and recycling everything without the usual degradation and “downcycling”;

  • the industrial city of Kalundborg in Denmark, which has linked together its massive coal-burning power plant, Denmark’s largest oil refinery, a giant pharmaceutical plant and a plasterboard factory in a very complex but very efficient network of symbiotic relationships, resulting in a much reduced carbon footstep and very little pollution of any kind;

  • Amory Lovins’ venerable Rocky Mountains Institute, after thirty years still at the cutting edge of sustainability;

  • a community-built sustainable energy project in the jungles of northern Vietnam.
He also has lots of interesting things to say about the legacy of Le Corbusier and the ubiquitous square-box, brutalist architecture he heralded; mixed use developments, New Urbanism and community-supported agriculture; the concept of natural capital, “Small is Beautiful” and “Small is Profitable”; the Lorax and the Once-ler and what we can learn from Dr. Seuss; green advertising; and much more.
It is a well-researched, thought-provoking and at times surprising read, and a highly recommended Christmas present.

No comments: