Friday, October 23, 2009

RESILIENT CITIES for Transition Times #1

THIS WEEK: The latest speeches from the "Gaining Ground/Resilient Cities" conference in Vancouver, Canada October 20-23.

You'll hear Post Carbon Institute fellow, and green city guide author Warren Karlenzig - plus former Shell Oil executive (now turned anti-corporate activist) Anita Burke. Much more in the coming weeks, as we hear from Paul Hawken, Richard Register, Bill Rees and more. This is the latest on the latest, from people struggling to plan for the "long emergency" facing our cities and our society.

Here is how I started off the show, before out two main speeches:

Don't you sense the artificial calm?

Every financial loss and boon-doggle is translated into the language of recovery. A monster company losses 27 percent of it's business, but that's "up" from 30 percent lass month.

Wells Fargo bank, sitting on a pile of mortgages you could smell from the Moon, reports a billion dollar profit from, quote, "hedging mortgage servicing costs". Which sound to me like betting on your own bad assets.

While we enjoyed our Summer holidays, during the slow news cycle, over 900,000 more homes were foreclosed in America. That's a lot of kids and old folks with broken lives and broken bank accounts, with lots more to come.

It's always the slow news cycle now, in the mainstream media. The real reporters have been sent home, as advertising revenue crashes. Magazines and magazine stands are closing. Even major TV networks are slashing and teetering on the edge.

The fog machines are rolling. Everything, even the worst, is just part of "the recovery". Everyone admits government advertising, stories planted by the CIA, and Wall Street bull is messaging us, pleading with the masses, to keep on shopping. It's propaganda.

I'm not buying it. I'll bet you aren't either.

One spooky side effect: as government tax revenues fall off a cliff, and corporations slash their good will community lending - countless non-profit organizations are also struggling, or quietly closing up. A ballet company folds, after-school volunteer programs can't get bus money, personal assistants for the severely disabled can't get paid.

I don't know about you - but I've received dozens of desperate appeals from well-known bulwarks of social change - threatening to disappear without my immediate financial donation. The fabric and richness of our society is coming apart.

What's left is an eerie silence. We know something is going on, but we don't know what it is.

Just one example: part of my mission is to record the brightest minds for Radio Ecoshock listeners. A couple of years ago, we had a regular parade of authors and lecturers rolling through town, many funded by book publishers. This Fall, there was a drought of speeches. The last of the struggling book publishers slashed speaker tours in favor of Web promotion. That's good for the atmosphere - less flying around - but bad for all that personal interaction, when people educate themselves with events that enrich their brains and hearts.

This past week, a whole crowd of climate, sustainability and green city folks descended upon Vancouver. Three conferences, plus added shoulder events, gathered around the 6th annual "Gaining Ground: Resilient Cities" conference, offering "Urban Strategies for Transition Times".

Finally, a forum for answers. How are we going to live in cities, with dwindling energy supplies, an economy in need of serious remodeling, and a food system in dangerous disrepair? Can we plan for rising seas, storms and heat events - now that 4 degree global warming seems almost inevitable?

Some of the great names, people who have labored at these questions all their lives, showed up, pouring out their hearts and brains. People like Paul Hawken, Richard Register, and Bill Rees. Plus the new crowd, break-through women, two green mayors, and authors galore. They spoke, I recorded, and you get the green gold for the next few weeks of Radio Ecoshock.

In one week, this meeting of the minds tried to plot out a survivable direction for world cities, the place where more than half of all humans now live. "Sustainable" is out. They called it "Resilient Cities" now - because everyone knows we are coming in for some hard knocks. Nobody knows how to stop the financial hurricane or the rising seas. We just hope to organize for the long emergency, to develop our ability to bounce back. To be resilient.

In the same October week in Vancouver, The Canadian Society for Ecological Economics held their 8th Biennial Conference. Plus another meeting, dubbed "Resilient People Plus Climate Change". Did I mention the panel held by the Vancouver Peak Oil group, or the evening presentation by the Post Carbon Institute?

It was a flood of enviro's, would-be green politico's, iconic authors, scientists and energy specialists, in three crazy days and nights.

Maybe this is the new paradigm, as green conscious activists organize to hold several conferences at once, exchanging speakers, saving carbon spewing air flights. One thing for sure: it felt like a movement, a gathering of the wise heads, a mixture of panic and determination, to steer a different course.

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith.

My hard drive is sagging with super audio for you. Later in the show we'll hear a former Shell executive demand an end to the fossil fuel regime. But our first guest speaker will set the stage.
That's Warren Karlenzig.

The buzz these days is greening big cities. New York rediscovers EcoDensity, while West Coast mayors vie for title of most green.

But most North Americans don't live in big cities. The vast majority live in suburbs, or just beyond in the exurbs, the land of mini-estates and 3 bay garages.

I learned that, and much more about the real struggle of car-dependency in America - from Warren Karlenzig. He's the author of "How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings" - the book used by citizens and planners alike to measure real livability.

Karlenzig is a recognized figure in the California sustainability movement, an advisor to governments and big corporations, a media spokesman. I'd characterize him as ubiquitous, a specialist in facts, often reporting on green success in many parts of the world. He's the President of Common Current, and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute - which hosted the speech we're about to hear.

In October 2009, Vancouver Canada hosted the conference "Gaining Ground, Resilient Cities". The Post Carbon Institute organized an evening with Warren Karlenzig, along with authors Daniel Lerch and Bill Rees. From "Urban Resilience in a Post Carbon World," here is Warren Karlenzig, recorded October 20th by Radio Ecoshock.

We also heard an impassioned speech from Anita Burke, a former Shell Oil exec, now an activist for change. Anita rocked the room by calling for an end to our current economic system, and most of our social models - all leading to catastrophe.

Not everyone agreed with her solutions - maybe not the mayors for rebuilding green cities. The nice Nike woman talking climate safe running shoes didn't say that either.

Bill Rees would have cheered on Anita Burke. Bill is the professor who invented the "eco-footprint" concept - and he's on a rampage. Apparently, the business-as-usual world is headed for breakdown - as we'll hear from our Bill Rees special, next week on Radio Ecoshock.

Don't forget our web site: The Resilient City speeches will be appearing on our "Cities" page over the next few weeks.

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