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Archive for December, 2010

  • by Kara Santos (Manila)
  • Saturday, January 15, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

As the impact of climate change worsens around the globe, a disaster-resilient village is poised to be a solution for urban poor battling the constant floods and typhoons that hit the Philippines.

The concept village, submitted by Johanna Ferrer Guldager of Denmark, is designed around elevated housing clusters. Each house employs green building technologies, such as the use of sustainable materials like bamboo for the floors, walls and roof. Roofs are used as a rainwater collection system leading to a water conservation tank, while small gardens between houses ensure food production even in times of disaster.

The concept won the global architectural design competition dubbed Design Against the Elements (DAtE), which aims to build the first green, liveable, affordable and disaster-resilient village in the country.

A panel of international and local jurors picked the winning architectural design from among 119 entries submitted by professionals and students from 30 countries.

‘We were very impressed with the different ideas from all over the world,’ architect Eleena Jamil of Malaysia, who served as one of the jurors, told IPS.

Jamil, who designed a school made of bamboo that won the Millennium School Design Competition for disaster-resilient schools organised in 2008, said that the winner was chosen because of its sustainability and practicality.

‘The ideas in the winning design are very easy to implement but it considers a holistic approach. It considers the way people interact within the community and how they could grow their own food,’ she said.

Criteria for the judging of entries factored in disaster-resiliency, innovative construction technology, socio-economic sustainability, cost-effectiveness and adaptability to other sites. Since the village will actually be a resettlement site for marginalised families, the design also needed to be practical to build.

Another design that allows houses to float by Dao Thanh Hai of Vietnam won in the student category of the competition. The design envisions a two- layered house, the core made of bamboo and wood set on floats and enclosed inside a wind and storm-proof frame made of ecobags, ecobeams and concrete frames. This ensures that the house inside floats up as floods rise while preventing the structure from being swept away.

‘There were some very exciting ideas in the student category especially the idea of a floating house and the use of sandbags. It’s actually a house that you can repeat everywhere, so that’s very good,’ Jamil told IPS.

According to DAtE, approximately 44 percent of the country’s population lives in informal squatter settlements which offer no shelter from possible climate disasters. In Quezon City alone, the largest city in Metro Manila, as many as 26,974 families live in what are considered danger zones, according to the Urban Poor Affairs Office.

Houses of informal settlers hang precariously along the backs of creeks and waterways, near or under power transmission lines, along sidewalks and on dumpsites, making them the hardest hit when disaster strikes.

‘Sustainable housing and environmentally safe villages should not only be the privilege of the well-to-do, but should be accessible also to the poor who are physically the most vulnerable to disasters,’ said Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista.

The local government has promised to build the pilot village to be called the House of San Miguel, after corporate sponsor San Miguel Corporation – which co-funded the competition – to accommodate roughly 500 families. ‘We hope to build this as soon as possible. We will be prioritising the poor who are most vulnerable to climate change,’ the mayor told media on the sidelines of the opening ceremonies.

Bautista stressed the importance of preparing for disasters especially with the ill effects of climate change being seen around the world.

This week, the strongest La Niña weather system in 50 years brought devastating rains and flash floods and is battering Australia and mountain towns near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Meanwhile, a drought in Argentina is putting agricultural production at risk.

Illac Diaz, the founder and executive director of non-profit group My Shelter Foundation, which spearheaded the competition, says that the goal of the contest was to plan homes and communities that could survive for weeks in the severely restricted conditions of a post-disaster situation.

‘Rather than spend millions on expendable handouts after disaster strikes, we wanted to work on something concrete ahead of time,’ said Diaz during the opening ceremonies ahead of the announcement of winners.

‘We don’t want to just keep on implementing whatever design that has been used before,’ Diaz told IPS. ‘Now through this contest, we have designs that hopefully will change the concept of low-income housing.’

The Philippines ranks as one of the ten most afflicted countries in the world in terms of lives and property lost due to climate change. In September 2009, Typhoon Ketsana dumped an average rainfall of an entire month in only six hours and cost 240 million dollars in damages.

On average, the country is battered by 20 typhoons every year, and stronger typhoons as well as droughts are on the rise. As part of the Pacific typhoon belt, more than 7,000 islands that make up the country are susceptible to sea level rise and storm surges with extreme changes in temperature.

Green building trends seen in the exhibited designs include roof and pocket areas for urban farming, use of solar panels, maximising natural light sources, rainwater filtration systems, and gray water recycling.

All the entries will be compiled in an encyclopaedia of architectural and planning solutions to address climate change and will be made available to designers and researchers worldwide.

‘The future of the Philippines will be climate-challenged and we need change to happen now,’ says Diaz.

(Prepared at COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico). Mickey Glantz. 8 December 2010

This is a quick note (that is, I wrote it as if I were speaking to someone) that was first sent to the group of students who participated in the First International Graduate Conference on Climate Change and People” held 15-19 November in Kathmandu, Nepal. I have been learning a lot (see, old people can still learn!) being at the COP16 side event, though I was not there as an active negotiator. Negotiations that have occurred in the first week may end up having little to do with what will happen in the second week (now in progress) when the Ministers’ level gets involved in negotiations. They are likely less familiar with the details and nuances of climate change science and its impacts that the negotiators have been dealing with and they are more political I believe than most of their national negotiators.

Anything can happen, as the COP 16 comes to a close in a few days. One thing is sure: The USA Congress will continue to be an obstacle. The Congress will be hindered by several members so conservative (anti-science and into religious fundamentalism {the earth was created 6000 years ago, so they believe!} and that means that, for the USA, the local communities will carry the burden of addressing climate change causes and consequences on their own time, energy and money.

As you know, the core problem of global warming (that is, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation) is one involving a creeping phenomenon where today’s co2 levels are like yesterday’s and tomorrow’s levels will be like today’s. Like the frog in the boiling water analogy there is no indicator when a dangerous threshold of major change has been reached and is crossed and major troubles become visible and attributable to a warming atmosphere. NO GOVERNMENT DEALS WELL IN ADVANCE OF A CREEPING ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE, TILL IT IS LATE IN THE GAME. though scientists tell us there will be more extremes, it is hard to see that from day to day. Climate and weather records are being set somewhere every year.

Governments, the big ones especially, are backing into the future. How to turn them around to look into the future is the challenge that has faced older generations alive today and trying to get them to figure out how to cope with slow onset, incremental but accumulating adverse changes we are making to the Planet. As i proposed at the Nepal Small Earth Network-CCB conference, we need to come up with a “Plot to Save the Planet”… and soon. It seems that the plot will be up to the youth to develop, not the negotiators mired in detail.

I have come to realize, following the conference in Nepal and the firstfew days at COP16 that we have to re-think the concept of “youth”. It has different connotations to different people. Teens are youth to other people. People still in a university are considered youth by still others. To many, the young are small, child-like and harmless humans who are seldom listened to until they become adults: but, is that how young people want to be viewed regardless of age?


Definition of youth

noun plural: youths

1. the quality or condition of being young, immature, or inexperienced his youth told against him in the contest

2. the period between childhood and maturity, esp adolescence and early adulthood

3. the freshness, vigour, or vitality characteristic of young people youth shone out from her face

4. any period of early development the project was in its youth


I suggest that there be a decade-wise view of humans where youth are up to the teens (high school and early college years) and succeeding categories are to be branded as “twenty something”, the “thirty something”, the “forty something”, and so forth. One could argue that each of these age groups (age cohorts) are generally speaking more like each other in terms of knowledge, goals, enthusiasms, shared lived history, etc. than they are with their neighboring age groups. the lines separating the adjacent age groups are not sharply defined so there is some flexible overlap.

www.20somethinguniversity.com/ a social networking site

The above suggestion means that i am … gasp … among the ‘seventy somethings’, the age group with lots of information and experience but little to no power! The twenty somethings (with a degree of overlap with “youth”) are in the process of gaining knowledge, training and experience. They hold the keys to the safeguarding the future. They are young adults (i do not like this term as it labels them with a junior status) preparing to take on the world. They are no longer youth, playing in a sand box or youth in middle school, ignored for their thoughts. They are out in the real world. They are increasingly demanding to be listened to, still unencumbered by bureaucratic rules and regulations. So, youth, twenty something, thirty something, and so on, of the world unite and challenge those professing to want to save the planet’s atmosphere. Hold those age groups in front of you accountable.

Finally, I would also argue that the twenty somethings and the seventy somethings make the best allies: the former are gaining the tools that they need to bargain in life, while the latter have the experiences that can be used to mentor and guide them without expectation of personal gain.

The plight of polar bears continues as the climate gradually becomes warmer in the Arctic. Warmer temperatures cause the melting of sea ice, which is essential for polar bears to reach their prey, primarily seals. However, according to a recent study published in the journal, Nature, polar bears have a good chance at survival if humans significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
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There are universities filled with academic departments of all kinds: physics, math, sociology, music, political science, philosophy, oceanography, education, and so forth. You get the picture. We have these academic discipline-based divisions in America. Yet, statistical records that compare American education of kindergarten through the university level show that American kids today are less knowledgeable than their parents! How can that be? Don’t we have a National Science Foundation pumping billions into research and educational activities? Don’t we have associations like the AAAS, the AMS and the AGU to foster education in the technical disciplines?

The answer to all the above is yes; billions and billions of dollars spent over the decades since the end of WWII have gone into educating Americans. To what avail? Our national ranking nears the bottom of the other industrialized countries according to some objective set of metrics. There was an initiative a few years ago at the NSF called CDI (Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation). To my mind this was a great concept, an initiative to foster innovation backed by money (funding). However, I think that the NSF bureaucracy got in the way of its stated desire to seek out innovation and discovery by having uncreative people in charge of determining what was a creative concept and what was not.
[NB: the review committee is made up of heads of departments within NSF, tethered to the protection of their specialized areas of concern]. It did not seem that the NSF sought to leapfrog into the future for new out-of-the-box creative thinking but sought to infuse (or tweek) with a bit more cash what is already done in the way of research, relabeling new activities as CDI.

How can America improve the education of the next generation so that it is smarter and more creative than the present generation? The idea was suggested to me by the title of a book written in Europe about 20 years ago: “The Discipline of Creativity.” Maybe we need to think about how to create academic disciplines (or departments) along non-traditional lines: the Department of Innovation, the Department of Creativity, the Department of Discovery, and the Department of Improvization.

Students and their teachers and professors can earn certificates in, innovation, creativity, discovery or improvisation, along with their tradition BA, MA or PhD from a traditional, societally accepted discipline.

Personally, I think Sparetime University (STU) is one of those undisciplined non-traditional approaches to fostering out-of the-box thinking. It is not rocket science but is a way to share as well as create knowledge, free to the recipients, and taken in at will, independent of time, place and level of education. So, STU will foster the non-traditional academic disciplines of creativity, innovation, discovery and improvisation. Maybe this can help America (and other countries as well) climb back toward single digit rankings in various categories of levels of knowledge, including but clearly not limited to science and math.