CLIMATE ADAPTATION

I want to punch climate change in the face. A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.


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Asker rareharvest Asks:
ha, just attempted to find the listing for my city's next budget meeting, and after five solid minutes of searching through their website, I found the budget&finance section which listed lots of PDF's of information, but nothing at all about meetings. Well done, Prescott.
climateadaptation climateadaptation Said:

Hi rareharvest,

You’re referring to my little challenge in this post to find your local government’s next budget meeting and agenda. Thanks for trying and writing me back!

Local government processes do not cater well to the residents they claim to serve. Some cities do, don’t get me wrong! But overall, most government websites bury and hide the most basic of services and local laws. You can take my challenge to find a meeting a bit further - try to find out how to slap a solar panel on to your roof (good luck).

Software developers repackaged their existing products and rebranded them as a tech-service called “Smart Cities.” Like I wrote earlier, IBM and others claim they have the ultimate solution - a magic bullet - that will help resolve the simplest of local government issues, such as finding your city’s calendar of events and streamlining the permitting process (they make bolder claims, but don’t get me started).

What strikes me most is that rareharvest’s experience is not uncommon.

In fact, I’d argue that government websites and bureaucracies are often times in direct contradiction to the community’s governing charter. A charter is a town or city’s “constitution.” It’s a document that lays out how your city will function and was probably written over a hundred years ago. It covers budgets, elections, growth, conservation, “health and welfare” of residents, etc. Your charter outlines how your government is formed and the services it will allow and provide. They’re surprisingly similar to the U.S. Constitution.

Anyway, Smart Cities overpromises and underdelivers. The upside is that cities, residents, and companies recognize that there needs to be a better way to manage our communities, and Smart Cities is a bridge to a more efficient, less frustrating bureaucracy. 

Cheers!

Michael

Adam Greenfield tactically eviscerates the “Smart Cities” fad. As he shows in the opening, Smart Cities is not only undefinable, no one agrees on what it is exactly. Indeed, check out IBM’s Smarter Cities page and try to formulate a definition. I certainly can’t define Smart Cities, despite my planning and law background.

It seems “Smart Cities” is a repackaging of existing software offered by IBM, Cisco, Siemens, and a few other gigantic tech companies. They’ve taken off-the-shelf, ready made software and reshaped and rebranded it as a miracle product for progressive cities. 

Greenfield says we can do better. And we can. Everyone agrees that city governments need to run more efficiently. That information should be easily accessible, and the rules for business, real estate, and land development be as clear and consistent as possible.

Anyone who has interacted with their local or county governments will tell you that cities are in dire need of more efficient processes.

Try this experiment: visit your city’s website and find the time, location, and agenda for the next budget meeting (good luck!). If you do this, hit me up and let me know how long it took and what issues you encountered.

And that’s just navigating a standard calendar of routine government business. Imagine what it’s like to get permission to build an addition to a home, or start a new business, or (god-forbid), plop solar panels onto your roof.

IBM and others make the promise that these issues can be resolved with their software and specialized consultants. But there is something about this approach to “Smart Cities” that smacks of a used-car salesman’s slimy sales pitch. The car-buying experience is bewildering - no one is happy going through the process, truth is obscured by need, and promises are buried under further, more far-reaching promises. The difference between IBM et al’s approach and the car salesman is that the salesman is aware of the deception…

Here on my climate adaptation tumblr, I try (my best) to post about environmental issues that are roughly related to the impacts from shifts in the climate. Sea-level rise is the most obvious impact. Melting glaciers and Arctic ice are raising the levels of the ocean. And cities around the world are scrambling to deal with the impacts, which are mind-blowingly huge, incredibly expensive, and often politically vexing. 

I have masters degrees in environmental law and city planning. The focus of my research was/is how land-use laws were able (or, rather, unable) to accommodate climate science. So, naturally, I’m interested in how climate will affect infrastructure, economies, demographics, ecosystems, etc.

For example, I’m quite interested how can coastal communities deal with a rising sea. Especially big cities like New York City or San Fransisco, which have thousands of buildings, roads, ports, and pipelines literally built inches from the ocean.

Cities are prepared for certain levels of disasters. There are sea walls and evacuation plans, flood pump stations and hurricane barriers. And buildings and infrastructure are generally built to high standards. But, cites are not prepared for higher oceans (why would they be?). Climate change changes the equations and calculations of managing disasters in cities. They’re forced to adapt, regardless of how many solar panels are slapped onto rooftops.

It’s a complicated issue. Greenhouse gasses trap in more heat in the atmosphere, causing a bunch of crazy environmental things to happen. So the obvious response is to stop pumping carbon into the air. That’s Al Gore’s primary message.

The problem with this is that storms and fires and diseases are increasing as a result from rising temperatures. Climate change is occurring regardless of mitigation. Thus, the impacts have to be dealt with. In fact, our troubles are only going to increase. I choose to be on the impacts side of this conundrum (eg, adaptation).

So, what’s my deal with oil leaks and spills? The short answer is that oil and gas infrastructure, such as pipelines and oil rigs, are very vulnerable to climate impacts. Oil - like it or not - makes the world go round. It’s in nearly everything we use - from plastics to medicine to soap. There is no stopping oil.

I wrote about this last year for GOOD Magazine. IBM and a climate consulting firm called Acclimatise did a study on the oil and gas industry’s vulnerability to climate change. I showed that oil pipelines in Alaska are more likely to break and leak oil than ever before, and that the oil industry is way under-prepared to deal with these new types of leaks:

In one of most ironic flip-flops in environmental history, the oil and gas industry is beginning to adapt to climate change. And it’s no wonder. The majority of industry’s infrastructure is located in some of the most climate vulnerable regions on the planet. Nearly 75 percent of the Alaskan pipeline, for example, is built over increasingly unstable permafrost, which is now thawing under warmer temperatures. The Mackenzie Valley in Canada alone has recorded over 2,000 sink holes, rock slides, and large depressions from thawing permafrost.

The pipeline’s famous elevated design was the result of a 20 year study (PDF) on the stability of climate and permafrost from 1950 to 1970. Based on the historic record, engineers designed the supports for the pipeline to withstand some fluctuation in permafrost, but not for the extensive melts now predicted. Indeed, that 20 year study was the one of the coldest periods in Alaskan history. Whoops.

The study I referred to, Global Oil & Gas - The Adaptation Challenge, showed that infrastructure was dangerously unprepared for climate impacts. Thousands of miles of oil pipelines are perched on permafrost in Canada, Russia, and Alaska.

Permafrost is permanently frozen soil - essentially the land is mixture of ice, rocks, and soil. Permafrost does move around a bit and any infrastructure built on it is (usually) engineered to handle a certain level of flex (the EPA has a decent primer on permafrost).

But, when the ice melts in substantial volumes, the soil shrinks and contracts. As a result, anything built on permafrost is in big trouble. Oil and gas pipelines could rupture, causing tremendous environmental damage, as well as incredible costs to economies in terms of clean up costs (who pays?), damage to fisheries and tourism, and lowered property values (and tax revenues). Not to mention health troubles for workers and residents.

So, that’s pretty much why I post so much on oil - infrastructure vulnerability. Oil spills are nasty, nasty creatures. Their economic and environmental impacts are super gnarly to deal with. And they’re expected, as IBM showed, to increase unless the infrastructure adapts to the “new normal”.

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No! You need to leave us alonnnneeeee… Tumblr is not a place to trick people into buy your crap through manipulation. Go. The. Eff. Awaaayyyy.

ibmsocialbiz:

Organizations are struggling to keep up with new consumer tools and behaviors. To collaborate effectively today they need to realize that the benefit to individuals is just as important as the overall corporate benefit, if not more so. 

Via Jacob MorganMaking Enterprise Collaboration Work 

Urban Renewal

These 10 global infrastructure and tech companies are among the early leaders in smart-city programs.

"Like Siemens and ABB, most of the beneficiaries of urbanization will be infrastructure and technology outfits that provide or utilize smartphones, sensors and software and services to track the use of a city’s assets and commit resources when and where they’re needed. Cloud technology, which can cut costs while boosting computing capacity, will play a big role. Even social media will participate, as cities multiply the ways a citizen can spot a problem–anything from a water-main break to a traffic snarl–and then alert others to avoid it or do something about it.

Technology researchers at IDC estimate the size of the smart-city information-technology market is now $34 billion annually and will gain 18%-plus a year to $57 billion by 2014. That’s not a huge amount to global giants, but certainly enough to help drive growth. (The companies don’t break out earnings related to these projects.) The market has broadened to include items like broadband connectivity, green belts, renewable energy, green buildings and other intelligent-city systems. “You are talking about smart water, smart transportation, better public safety,” says Jennifer Bélissent, a consultant at Forrester.”

Source: Barron’s “Dawn of the Smart City”

Imagine a gadget attached to the dash of your car that calculated the per-second costs of driving. The “meter,” similar to a taxi-cab ticker, would not only flash on the screen the cost of gas, emissions, and wear and tear, but also your impact on public roads. How would such a meter change your behavior? It would certainly change mine if I really knew how much my trusty ol’ Benz costs per mile. Now, take this fantasy one step further. Imagine paying a tax dedicated to mitigating your impacts. Collected by the government, the tax would funnel towards alleviating impacts of pollution, wear and tear on roads, and lower emissions. Neat idea?

Well, it’s happening in pilot form in the Netherlands, and Elisabeth Rosenthal covered it in today’s NYTimes, In Auto Test in Europe, Meter Ticks Off Miles, and Fee to Driver

"The car had been outfitted with the meter so that Mr. Van Dedem could take part in a trial of a controversial government tax proposal to charge drivers a fee for the miles they drive. The meter also factors in the cost to society in the form of pollution, traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and wear and tear on roads. Hooked up to the Internet wirelessly and to GPS, the system tabulates a charge for each car trip by using a mileage-based formula that also takes account of a car’s fuel efficiency, the time of day and the route. (Driving on busier thoroughfares costs more than driving on less-traveled roads.) At the end of each month, the vehicle’s owner would receive a bill detailing times and costs of usage, not unlike a cellphone bill, although participants in the trial did not have to pay the charges." Again, In Auto Test in Europe, Meter Ticks Off Miles, and Fee to Driver

Now, I can hear the scoffing through my screen, “That would never happen here!” Well, why the hell wouldn’t it? How do we know? If IBM sponsors a pilot and partners with a progressive city, it seems completely reasonable to do.

The process is democratic and the gadgets and tax would (at first) be voluntary. A handful of existing employees within a city’s government structure could dedicate a few hours per month on a special committee that would distribute the collected fees towards mitigating pollution and/or pooling the tax towards infrastructure. Piece of cake. Portland, OR seems ripe for this type of experiment.

In my state, Massachusetts, it doesn’t take much to draft your very own bill, file it, and get it into committee for review. In fact, I think that’s exactly what is missing from much of modern enviro-discourse: Just how can individual environmentalists draft bills, or get sponsors for bills, or even conduct basic lobbying? I’ve written my fair share of “Dear Senator Kerry, I oppose the GOP’s efforts to gut the EPA, you best do the same,” letters. But, with respect to creating solutions, I think getting a bill sponsored by a representative would have more impact because media is more apt to pick it up and bring it into the public square.

What do you think?

Update: The program displaces other fees, such as registration, excise, and gas taxes. It targets drivers who drive most, and would lower operating costs for low-income drivers.

Update II: It removes regulations (read the article), not increases them. It cuts government waste. It makes government more efficient by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative bureaucracies, such as registration and tax commissions. As far as government intrusion, vehicles are extremely regulated, from texting, to speed, to turning, to materials, to insurance, to annual inspections, to taxes. Why not remove some of these burdens, especially on those who drive less? 

Look at the below FAIL. To be sure, the notion of Smart Cities is (sort of) catching steam. But, as the below announcement demonstrates, promoters and sponsors have some serious PR issues to the point of cognitive dissonance. 

smartercities:

Open Source Cities

Citizen Urbanism. Ecological Design. Urban Planning.
Open Data and Collaboration for the Future of Cities.


Launching Q1, 2011. For more information:
info {at} opensourcecities.org

This is one example of an upstart launch FAIL by something called Open Source Cities. As a citizen, you should question everything and be empowered with knowledge before committing to this crap. Here’s how I questioned this project: 

The Open Source Cities website is “Launching Q1, 2011.” Click the link to see. Now, how many citizens know what “Q1” is? Not many. Nor, I assure you, do citizens give a spinning shit. Why do the proprietors of this website not know this? Because they didn’t bother to talk to any citizens

Also, the notion of “open source” is citizen driven. It’s by the people. It’s not sponsor driven. It’s not a for-profit endeavor. So why is this project edited by liberal elitists, and sponsored by some greenwashed server-hosting bs company, and NOT by actual citizens?? Again, click the link to see the sponsors. What gives?

(Note: I’m not criticizing liberal elites per se. I’m pointing out that you cannot have “open source” anything run by backslapping journalists and designers with no clue as to actual city planning. Nor can you run an “open source” project by a for-profit corporate sponsor who is obviously trolling to expand its customer base. To put in plainly, it’s not credible.).

Before I discuss property rights, let me rant about this this Q1 business. If, as these insiders assume, citizens care and even understand municipal fiscal clocks, by whose “Q1” clock are they referring to?? New York State’s fiscal year starts April 1st and ends March 31st. New York City’s starts and ends July 1-June 30. If you’re a regional planning agency, how do you square those two clocks with Brooklyn’s 2012-2015 fiscal planning clock? How do citizens interested in city planning understand and navigate these fiscal clocks? And why is this important? Open Source is silent.

There are 10,000 municipalities in the US, add thousands of counties operating under various state mandates, and all use different fiscal clocks. So, “by whose Q1?” is pretty solid question. There is a NYTimes reporter on this project, is this going by the NYTimes fiscal Q1 clock? Why? Why are they even using Q1? This shuts down conversation. Especially if you’re supposed to be ushering Joe and Jane citizens - who are hella busy - to get involved with city planning and economic development.

You cannot subsume knowledge on behalf of half-interested citizens. Not to mention there are hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of regional, quasi-public/private, private, not-for-profit, planning, housing and economic development agencies and organizations who also use different fiscal clocks. And on and on. You cannot use ‘Q1’ and escape being called out on weaselly designery elitism. 

Finally, where, of their sponsors, is Joe and Jane “citizen” in their “Citizen Urbanism” moniker? Architectural firms?! Pssssshh. I can’t even… I. I, I don’t… ARRGG!! 

This isn’t open source, nor is it citizen driven. It’s privatized, for-profit city consulting. Private organizations are grabbing tax payer dollars to ‘consult’ with cities for unproven economic development.

And don’t get me started on demographics - as in how are they going to represent my grandmother, who has no access to a computer? Or immigrants? Or the poor? Or expats? Or single moms? Or the creative class? Or 18 year old college freshman? These clowns have no demonstrable experience in city planning.

Why am I ranting? Because these crack pots are fucking with people’s property rights. These people are going to try to change zoning regulations and building codes and do so at tax payer expense and ride into the sunset with your money. It’s serious business. People’s property isn’t some fucking techie toy. Cities are not sand boxes to experiment in.

If they were, then these sponsoring organizations should take full responsibility for any economic failures they usher into fruition. They should contractually sign away liability, be immune to quasi-sovereign immunity claims, openly report under SEC rules, and be open to all causes of action. By taking responsibility for outcomes, their work becomes truly open and more carefully crafted. Importantly, they don’t leave citizens holding the short end of the stick, especially if a select few vote to change their neighbors’ vested property interests and investment-backed expectations based on something that comes out of this ill-conceived project. 

With such high stakes, to hide these things behind a mask of friendly assistance is pure bullshit to me.

What are they to you? 

(via envirolutionary)

1986 climate change documentary. Sponsored by Annenberg Foundation and none other than IBM. Focus is climate’s effects on humans and ecosystems, and how they’ve adapted over the years.

UPDATE: Regarding the below repost, I forwarded my comments to IBM’s Smart team. Maybe I’ll hear something. I’ll keep you in the loop. Either way, I’m about to throw them under the bus with an expose.

Meanwhile, check out my piece at GOOD magazine on IBM’s climate adaptation report.

A messy article by the Guardian and even sketchier report by Greenpeace. Glad to say I’m not a MAC guy - I refuse to join the immoral cult of obsolescence and waste. I built my own computer, and upgrade ad-hoc on the cheap. Anyway, I’m very disappointed IBM hit the bottom of this so-called list. Mostly because their SmarterCities and SmarterPlanet initiatives are so effective at making IBM trend green. Are IBM’s Smart projects just clever greenwashing or truly mission cognitive dissonance?

Apple has come bottom of the most comprehensive green league table of technology companies because of its heavy reliance on “dirty data” centres.

The list, which is compiled by Greenpeace and released in San Francisco on Thursday, shows that the company relies heavily on highly polluting coal power at the sites that house its banks of servers.

Greenpeace’s report, How Dirty is Your Data? reveals that the company’s investment in a new North Carolina facility will triple its electricity consumption, equivalent to the electricity demand of 80,000 average US homes. The facility’s power will be supplied by Duke Energy, with a mix of 62% coal and 32% nuclear. On Wednesday, Apple posted a large boost in quarterly earnings, which grew by 95% to $6bn (£3.65bn).

Gary Cook, Greenpeace’s IT policy analyst and lead author of the report, said: “Consumers want to know that when they upload a video or change their Facebook status that they are not contributing to global warming or future Fukushimas.”

Companies in the US are not required by law to disclose their energy use or carbon emissions. But Greenpeace drew on publicly available information on investments made in data centres, to estimate the maximum power these facilities will consume, and matched that information with data from the government or utilities.

The report estimated dependence on coal for Apple’s data centres at 54.5%, followed by Facebook at 53.2%, IBM at 51.6%, HP at 49.4%, and Twitter at 42.5%. Top marks in Greenpeace’s clean energy index went to Yahoo, followed by Google and Amazon. Greenpeace is also campaigning for Facebook to “unfriend coal” and use cleaner energy to power its servers.

(Read more)

(via csmonitor)

smarterplanet:

IBM has announced its collaboration with Cable & Wireless Worldwide to provide millions of smart energy meters to UK households. With this partnership the company is challenging its rivals including BT, Vodafone and Telefonica O2 UK, which have already planned to service Britain’s smart energy grid.

Smart energy meters will provide instant measurements of usage to energy companies with accurate bills and pricing plans.

Source: eMoney Daily

smartercities:

Maine Town Becomes First in US to Declare Food Sovereignty | Sustainable Cities Collective

The town of Sedgwick, Maine, population 1,012 (according to the 2000 census), has become the first town in the United States to pass a Food Sovereignty ordinance.  In doing so, the town declared their right to produce and sell local foods of their choosing, without the oversight of State or federal regulation.  

What does this mean?  In the debate over raw milk, for example, the law opens the gate for consumer and producer to enter a purchasing agreement without interference from state or federal health regulators.  According to the Mayo Clinic, a 1987 FDA regulation required that all milk be pasteurized to kill pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.  The Sedgwick ordinance declares that:

From IBM’s tumblr: 

smartercities:

IBM Unveils CityForward.org Data Site for Urban Planners

Source: Wall St. Journal

IBM on Wednesday introduced CityForward.org, a new free website intended to provide more complete data to city planners, as well as community groups and individuals. The site doesn’t actually create data, but aggregates data sets from various agencies in more than 50 cities around the world, with data from another 30 cities being added soon.

According to John Tolva, IBM’s director of citizenship and technology, city data such as traffic patterns, crime statistics, or consumer spending are already available to planners, but “fairly opaque” and difficult to access because it’s published in PDFs and spreadsheets, and often requires even government employees to navigate complex inter-agency bureaucracies. Tolva said that putting the data online makes it easier to read, chart, and correlate with data from other agencies or localities.

For example, he told Digits, a researcher in San Francisco was able to compare calls from a given neighborhood to the city’s 311 hot line with 911 calls from the same neighborhood, and then correlate vagrancy with a particular type of drug use. “It’s a more nuanced version of the broken window theory” (which posits that vandalism leads to additional criminal behavior), he said.

Tolva said he hopes that the site will contribute to a “renaissance in the profession of urban planning,” which has often had to rely more on anecdotes than data. He pointed to a chart evaluating the impact on traffic of increased tolls on bridges and tunnels in New York City as an example of how this kind of data could be used to influence public debate on topics like congestion pricing…

"China is building a city-sized cloud computing and office complex that will include a mega data center, one of the projects fueling that country’s double-digit growth in IT spending.

The entire complex will cover some 6.2 million square feet, with the initial data center space accounting for approximately 646,000 square feet, according to IBM, which is collaborating with a Chinese company to build it…”

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