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Friday, February 24, 2017

Time for a holiday over New Year

Posted by steve on December 30, 2009

Link to cartoon from Folke 

Thanks to all my readers for 2009! And I look forward to more exciting developments towards sustainability in 2010. HAPPY NEW SUSTAINABLE YEAR!

Back around the 13th Jan.

Grey water imagestream #2

Posted by steve on December 26, 2009

What follows is the tapescript of an imagestreaming session aimed at furthering my understanding of grey water purification. This is session two. I have chosen to use the technique of imagestreaming rather than just searching the Internet as I find it provides me with deeper insights, and that it offers more innovative solutions.

Last time, I learned how to make a water cleaning installation using vegetable growing boxes stacked together to form an arrangement rather like a water feature. Although I can say the imagestream took me some way to understanding grey water purification, it also raised a whole string of questions. One major concern was that I saw no way to actually recycle the water once cleaned. Neither did I get an idea of how to collect grey water for redistribution through this feature.

The Quest; to visit a place that uses single-house grey water systems; they grow vegetables in the installation, in a climate like ours that freezes. I need to see how they collect the grey water and what happens to it. This place should have more water fall down as rain than they use. One of the reasons for doing this is to be able to make a proposal for the eco-unit. I feel it would be a good thing to be able to implement a one-dwelling solution as an experiment.

I close my eyes and am instantly in the waiting area I visited last time. The facilitator is beside me. He tells me I should write a book about facilitating. I nod without committing myself.

He says, “That last place was wishful thinking…a sales exhibition. The city of Porena solved grey water recycling, come back there with me.”

“OK,” I agree, and off we walk to the train station.
On the train, going through a tunnel I study his clothes and notice he has gardening boots on.
He reads my thoughts; “There’s always gardening to do!”

We leave the train at the relocalisation centre. This is an information center I met earlier, housing exhibitions and training centres to help individuals and communities relocalize their living arrangements to address climate change and fossil fuel depletion as well as to create sustainable communities. As we pass the reception the receptionist, dressed in Swedish national dress, curtsies.

The facilitator leans over and says in a low voice, “You need to go to a demo house – where they show every pipe and connection so you don’t need to rip floors up to understand the way it works.”

We walk over to the demo house and I see what he means. All the pipes are visible. I ponder that showing pipes and the way things are constructed might be part of sustainability, but can’t really explain why. I start at the sink and look under it, tracing the pipe to a three way valve located just inside the outer wall. The shower upstairs connects into it.
For demonstration purposes they have a village solution and an individual house solution.

Schematic view from above

Schematic view from above

In one position of three way valve, the grey water flows to the individual water cleaning solution, and in the other to the communal system. I follow the individual solution pipe to just outside the house.

The pipe leads into an underground storage tank, where the water first pours through a plastic net basket that collects the worst grunge. You need to empty it once a fortnight. The tank is concrete, far enough under ground to keep it away from frost. And if it froze it would overflow anyway and not cause too much damage.

The facilitator told me to work out the water consumption that would flow through this installation. He also pointed out you want the water to turn over in the pit and not to stay around. Anyway, keeping the water away from the house is important.

Close by is a small shed, where the water is pumped up into a plastic tank. A float valve arrangement keeps the water at a certain height and pressure.

“You need some central control point,” the facilitator points out.

This house feeds the whole garden. All grey water flows out from the back of the shed via pipes to where it is needed. One pipe goes to the stepped boxes, another branches off to other parts of the garden. These boxes form a three-sided pyramid. Grey water is pumped onto the top box; from there it slowly trickles through all boxes, being cleaned by the roots of the plants. At the bottom the water collects into a pond.

Side view of growing box solutions

Side view of growing box solution

The water in this pond overflows through a sand bed into the rest of the garden. Finally, any excess water ends up in a ditch that goes round the periphery of the property. As vegetables need a steady flow of water, the cleaned water is pumped back to mix with grey water. The collecting tank in the distribution shed has two compartments. The water trickles out from the tank. When it is empty the pumps start again to fill it. A sensor at the bottom of the tank senses it is empty and starts the pump. You could run the whole thing from solar cells that charge the battery and run the pump.

Side view of vegetable patch and tree and shrub solution

Side view of vegetable patch and tree and shrub solution

The other pipe takes the grey water going to the vegetable patch. It is discharged into a layer of gravel under about six inches of soil. The slope is designed to be 4 percent. The roots of the plants grow downwards onto the gravel and pick up all the nutrients they need form the grey water, cleaning it at the same time.

Water leaving the vegetable patches flows to the trees, shrubs and ornamental plants. The growing beds drain out on the highest point on a slope above the shrubs. It ends in a kind of French drain on contour, or rather like a half of a French drain. Water flows out into gravel in a trench, the side facing the upper slope beings covered with waterproof sheeting, This ensures the water diffuses down the slope.

I also note that the source of the water coming from the house is mostly rainwater. This puzzles me as I cannot see how enough rain falls on roofs to satisfy the needs of the average household. I need to calculate theoretical yields and come back with my questions. The sensible thing would be to collect rain water, and also send cleaned water from the garden feature back to the house. More of that for next time.

Things that surprised me.

I was surprised that a small shed was needed to distribute the water. I guess you could combine it with a garden tools shed. But I understand the importance of keeping it from freezing. The dispensing arrangement surprised me, I still have not worked out how it works. I was also pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of the arrangement.

Things to try immediately.

I could try to make a garden feature from cast concrete boxes with drainage holes.

Questions to research more.

How much water actually falls as rainwater, and can you use it without purifying it somehow? How to collect rainwater and recycle it back to the house. Maybe I need to understand a little better how to make concrete growing boxes. And I must work out how this plastic dispenser tank works, it seems to have two compartments and sensors and to be the control room of the whole set-up.

Free e-book: Get ahead of the curve

Posted by steve on December 24, 2009

Download now

Download now

I wrote this book, and am giving it away, because I am concerned that we citizens of Earth are heading for a crisis caused by the way we run things. Not just an economic crisis but a humanitarian crisis .

This e-book will explain the five major reasons I see why you need to start re-thinking your business and your way of life.
You might be thinking: “ Why haven’t I heard of this before?” Well, you have. It’s just that it has been a long time coming and you are probably like most people, bound up in daily life, with your own causes and issues and distractions. And the situation is complicated. That’s why I have tried to boil it all down to five aspects you can monitor and work out for yourself.

You might be thinking: “Why now?” Well, it’s been coming a long time. In 2005 the peak of oil production, or production of easy oil, was reached. Three years for the effects to work their way through supply chains and the World sees the first shocks – rapid rise of prices followed by economic instability.

Understanding these five simple things will get you started on rearranging and rethinking the way you do things in your work, in your business and in your daily life. Specifically you will need to think about where you are investing your time and money as an employee, investor, business owner and consumer.

Whatever you do, don’t just believe me, think about it and find out for yourself. Download here 5_guide

I was at Copenhagen but didn’t do anything

Posted by steve on December 22, 2009

Cycle powered Christmas Lights

Cycle powered Christmas Lights

Now, in the  wake of COP 15 at Copenhagen, as the waves of commentary die down to a gentle swell, I continue my uneasy reflections. I was there, not for COP15 but on other business for the Water and Food Award.  Copenhagen was a changed city – police and road blocks everywhere – but also temporary booths, exhibitions, spontaneous colourful demonstrations and not least the massive Klimaforum, buzzing with alternative activities.

Already, back in 1990, I imagine –

could a cold chill have passed unnoticed as a sudden acceleration of a car produced the carbon dioxide that was to exceed 350 parts per million and take the Earth into the climate warming danger zone?

I wonder, if somewhere in the world, returning from Copenhagen on an airplane or driving a car, if someone did not feel a cold chill pass by them.

The chill that might be felt as the deciliter of oil being used is the first deciliter of the remaining half of the world’s endowment of oil?

Or how about, back home, someone turns on their TV to watch the news,

as the coal-fired power station starts to burn the first kilo of the remaining half of the world’s coal endowment?

Because that time is about now. The first half has been used up. And now, developing countries want their share, regardless of the risks to the planet.  I felt, looking at the web TV of the proceedings as if the developing countries (not all of them, mind you) had caught some kind of meme, that they had adopted a paradigm, a thought, that they could not let go: to bring people out of poverty and into prosperity we need fossil fuels.

You can’t blame them, as the evidence of history says this. Just look at the material wealth and absence of poverty in Europe.

But the game has changed. Europe pulled itself out of poverty in a time when the supply of fossil fuels was expanding.  The proportion of fossil fuels demanded by developing countries was minimal. Europe’s development was in a time when carbon dioxide limits were not being broken. And the world population was hardly above three billion.

Today with 6.7 billion on the planet, into a period when we overshot the safe carbon dioxide levels twenty years ago. The demand for fossil fuels is now higher in the developing world, surpassing OECD around 2008. And availability is not growing, not for  coal and not for oil. So the chances of the miracle of fossil fuels bringing developing countries out of poverty are minimal. But how do we in OECD countries view the situation? What memes, paradigms, and dysfunctional thoughts have WE caught?

I can’t help thinking of the sheep farmer close to the site where we are building our Eco-village. She pushes young lambs against the electric fence, so they learn at an early age not to touch it. This has saved her flock many times from escaping, as even if the fence stops working they still remain inside it.

Is one of these memes not:  to stay out of poverty we need fossil fuels?

How about this for another?  To lead a comfortable life you need money.

And another: The best way to develop towards prosperity is to allow the rich to get richer. The rich will pull everyone upwards with them.

How do you feel reading these memes? Do you feel discomfort at the thought of them being challenged? Do you feel comfort in their acceptance?

Returning to cold, hard facts on OECD countries, one kilo of average product bought in your average store has caused about 30 kilos of waste to be produced. This legacy of waste has been increasing and accumulating since post second world war. Prosperity at a price. And behind these gigantic, global supply chains is a financial system that requires economic growth in order to function.  To grow, it requires increasing amounts of energy, to be used increasingly effectively.

OECDoil surpassed

Again, the game has changed. We are at the peak of oil and coal production per capita if not in absolute terms. Developing countries are demanding to use a higher share of fossil fuels and we are in carbon dioxide overshoot. It would have been good if the UN members had agreed to figures, hard figures of reductions in fossil fuel intensity in their economies. This would have heralded the need for new paradigms: that prosperity does not need fossil fuels, and that the world does not need its present monetary system.

Because this meme – this idea – was not launched, politicians have pushed us, the inhabitants of this Earth, into one more year of the dark end game. In this dark end game we continue – most of us through our work and consumption –  to build ourselves into fossil dependent infrastructure, to compete with each other, egged on by a monetary system we live in fear of getting on the wrong side of, to use the remaining half of the endowment of fossil fuel to eke out some kind of prosperity that will condemn future generations to a hardship on a scale never seen before in the history of man. Billions will find themselves living in areas that will not support them, will no fossil fuels to alleviate their situation.
There is of course a way out.

A way proposed by Rob Hopkins and others in the Transition movement. Just because the politicians failed it does not mean that we have failed. We after all, voted them in. They just haven’t got it yet. We, citizens of the world simply need to state that we are not having any of it. We need to stand firm in our resolve that the equitable, low-carbon society must be mainstreamed now. That we, citizens of the Earth start today to envision an Earth with fossil fuels still remaining in the ground, and with people living in peace and prosperity above it. That we citizens demand of governments they instruct the best minds available to design ways to promote prosperity without carbon.

No low carbon, no vote.

And we citizens need to be firm in our buying actions. The message to all firms around the world must be:

if you don’t go low carbon we won’t go buy your stuff.

And to the institutions who create money: we need to say,

if you do not reform the monetary system so it drives low carbon society, we are not going to use it.

If you would like some inspiration to envision the low carbon society, do visit the city of Porena, or read the tales of Max Wahlter the journalist who reported on it in the book “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”.

Local food can restart economic growth

Posted by steve on December 10, 2009

New report says consumers should view local food enterprises as profitable startups that are key to economic growth and recovery.More than a dozen studies have shown that every dollar spent at a locally owned business generates two to four times the income, wealth and jobs than at an equivalent nonlocal business.

Read the article from the Washington Post

Can this be right? Two simple factors solve emissions riddle?

Posted by steve on

Doing beta-testing of a business simulation game on pollution fee systems I discovered the answer to getting reductions and maintaining economic stability is easy: you just need two factors in place.

I’ve just completed the first step of an assignment for a Swedish Foundation to create a business simulation game that informs people about the potential of emissions tariffs (The polluter pays principle).  More information on this is in my white paper on the subject. This first step has involved creating a formula “engine” that will allow some limited simulation of emissions fees, investment in clean technology and the effects on profitability, economic growth and tax revenue. Having set the engine up I started testing with fictitious teams to create base scenarios. – starting points – where no-one makes any decisions and the simulation runs on its own.

Before I tell you the two “golden factors” I discovered I should mention that economists have been asking for someone to put a price on the environment, claiming that with out a price, market forces will not operate to solve the problem. Some economists, Bjorn Lombard among them, argue that the price of renewables should go down, not that the price of fossil fuel should be put up with fees.

Clean engine researcher Anders Höglund, who also researches into economic steering mechanisms and is the father of the “Hoglunds Mechanism”, makes a simpler claim: “The cost of pollution is the cost a market actor is prepared to bear to NOT Pollute”. To put it in another way, if government raised fees on emissions enough, a point would come where market actors would find it cheaper to invest in clean alternatives and not pollute.If clean alternatives were not forthcoming despite hikes in fees, the revenue from the emissions fees could be paid to someone to find a clean methodology.

To give you an idea of what the simulation software produces:


This is a base scenario. Business as usual gives a Government goal for reduction, quite high pollution fees, but not change in behaviour of the market, which produces a profit for participating actors.

This scenario shows a progressive rise in fees.

emission2In this scenario, as fees become higher,  with no other change in market behaviour, they erode profits to an extent where market actors make a loss. This of course would not be tolerated in a real life situation but it forms a base scenario from which to play the business game.

The overall aim of this is, of course, to create a game that is simple enough to play in a few hours, yet complex enough to generate discussion, interesting results and insights. Because of this, the whole game play will get tweaked and improved as different simulations are tried and a wider range of players are brought in,

The discovery that emissions fees are a no-brainer really took me by surprise, and I am still checking and double checking. However, I feel I have come far enough with the beta version to share it with the brave few who are regular readers of my blog.

To test the engine I entered the following scenario as a given: government announces 1) its intention to see to it that emissions are reduced by a certain % over a given period 2) that it will increase emissions fees (over 100% of fuel price if necessary) until the market obeys .

Emissions3This is what happened:
Companies invest heavily in clean–tech, and continue to pay the costs over eight time periods. Fuel bills fall rapidly and profits return. Government income from fees on fuel falls too, but this is not a problem as the targets for reduction get met early on the period. The darker red line represents actual sales of fossil fuel and the blue line the target. the green line, profits, shows a healthy trend, even without reinvestment of fee revenue.

Conclusions from the first round of testing:
this really is a no-brainer: if governments act serious about reducing emissions, clean-tech will be forthcoming and business stability will not be affected. The cost of emissions is simply the cost to remove them, something which it seems economists are ignoring, On the contrary, emissions fees revenues could be used to be re-invested in clean tech to stimulate economic growth even more.

I am looking forward to your comments and of course if your organisation would like to invite us to run the simulation with you we would be delighted.

Imagestreamed solutions starts to become a reality in London

Posted by steve on December 6, 2009

One of the deepest insights Imagestreaming has given me is that you can often be right without knowing why. Our mental powers combine with the creative side and the intuitive side to produce stunningly simple solutions. Another insight is that you can Imagestream a solution and find it, but not truly understand its significance. I just caught a glimpse of such an insight attending a presentation of the UK’s Capital Growth project, sponsored by the Lord Mayor of London , Boris Johnson. His project, to cover London with food gardens is spookily reminiscent of the first chapter of my Imagestreamed book, “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”.

Back in the late 90’s I started imagestreaming to find the answer to a simple question: what would a sustainable civilization look like? The first imagestream revealed a city where everyone grew food everywhere. The explanation they gave was that it was in their culture.

I never really understood at the time, but pressed on to finish and publish the book. To my delight, London of all places is coming to a stage in its development where small gardens, balcony gardens and community gardens are springing up, sponsored by the Lord Mayor himself. Read more on this admirable initiative here.

But to the next point … to truly understand its significance. Here is a list of reasons why a culture of growing food everywhere provides a sound cornerstone of the sustainable society.

It fosters a sense of control of your own destiny: if you can grow food and not be hungry, then you have the strength to address your situation. You are not at the mercy of a destructive counter sustainable consumerism.

  1. Food grown locally needs very little energy input, and with the right techniques, waste organic material produce locally makes fertilizers.
  2. It gives a feeling of security. Food security is one of the foundations of prosperity and peace. Peace costs so much less than war to run.
  3. For more insights from the book, see the collection of newsletters from the future.