Archives for posts with tag: sustainability

In a very provocative final lecture by Cameron Tonkinwise in his course Rethinking Sustainable Design, Cameron summarized the course and then led us into a new discussion on sustainability as presented by Allan Stoekl in his book “Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion and Postsustainability” .

In many ways this was also Camerons answer to the question he posed earlier of “How do we want to live?” because if Sustainability is a question, and not a simple one then we know that every question has many potential answers. Likewise, one of the biggest problems with sustainability are the various ways in which it plays out to be a survivalist rhetoric. Sustainability is presented as an end point, a type of Cosmopolitan Utopia, where humans are pleasantly different together. But the biggest flaw with this line of thought is that it strips from humans all of their messiness, emotion, desire and eroticism. It is not the answer to Cosmopolitanism as a challenge that Kwame Appiah sought, because in this dialogue it was not a choice. It is a reactionary move on humans in response to the environment. Its a homeostasis that takes from us our ability to innovate and create and make decisions and to live with emotion and reduces us simply to animals that co-inhabit and survive.

In this Cosmopolitan sustainable future, it is a boring “Utopia”. I put Utopia in quotations because it is a false Utopia, a Utopia stripped of movement and motion.

If the question is “How do we want to live?” then the follow up question is do we want to live in stasis, do we want to end up in a perpetuated pattern of living in accordance with the environment, playing out the same story again and again?

Or do we want to imagine something different, we know that currently the imagination that has culminated in the neo-liberal capitalist state has left us “de-futured” in Clive Dilnots words; So how can we proceed?

Can we have our future imagine a future? What is sustainability in motion?

Because learning and education are things that I think about a lot.

Because I am now 1 month away from being graduated.

Because of many other reasons as well, I have started to think about this question.

Being in a university, is a very safe experience. It is a lot like being spoon-fed, you have a traditional learning environment and teachers, and courses and majors and disciplines, and if you manage to get a very good advisor it is entirely possible to go through college without ever making any serious decisions about what you are learning.

This is not at all to say that decisions aren’t being made at all, but many times, we don’t questions certain things about our education. A graphic designer doesn’t ask why he has to take color theory, its already been decided. But a graphic designer also doesn’t ask why they aren’t taking calculus classes.

So essentially where I am headed is this idea that we get a spoon-fed education but in the end we don’t come out like gingerbread men out of a cookie cutter, we all have different skills and different competencies, even if we took the same classes.

Thats because we teach ourselves, somehow, somewhere. Some of us read, some of us write, some of us surf the web, etc. Theres more in depth discussion on how we learn here and here @ whataretheseideas. The second link discusses the differences between active learning and passive learning.

Now that I will no longer be a student, I will have to become way more active in my education, I won’t have the luxury of being spoon-fed anymore.

And so I have been thinking recently, that there are so many new innovative things happening related to education. MIT Open CourseWare, Khan Academy, Ted, Skillshare, Brooklyn Free School, etc.

The resources exist to teach yourself, how do we do it?

How does one remain an active learner after college?

Are there systems in place that can help one navigate new tools?

How do you learn?

What is value? Economics seems to be collapsing in on itself because it does not know what it is actually representing. The basic units of economics, ‘capital and supply and demand and profit’, have gradually evolved into additional ideas of ‘labour’ and ‘productivity/health’ and ‘knowledge/technology’, among other things. These are measurable, but not complete in describing what the ‘value’ of something is.

Because, ‘value’ is more than that– value is of course, all the objective capital elements of production, but value is also very subjective: ‘reusability’ and ‘ideals’ and ’emotional responces’ and ‘usefulness’ and ‘branding’ etc. A stainless steel water bottle will cost you $20 not because that is how much it costs to produce (factoring in distribution costs), but because there is also a profit markup, and because it is long lasting and you will not be buying 5 water bottles a day, just one that will last you for a good period of time.

Moreover, value is not measure completely in costs anymore; it is also measuring in savings: a florescent lightbulb will not only cost you $2, it will also save you $20 in energy costs over the course of a year.

So here are the questions:

1. How do we factor in other implicit costs? Should we start having labels that require companies to show what the ‘cost of damage to the environment’ was in creating the product?

2. How do you quantify the subjective? Can we be honest about the value of selling water as opposed to installing water fountains? How do you effectively communicate the ‘value’ of public goods such as light-posts on street, not just in terms of dollars, but in terms of security and beauty?

3. What is the cost versus value, of say, education? What is the price of copyright, aka, what is the cost to society of not letting ideas propagate?

4. How are our current business models of profit failing in a ‘knowledge/information economy’? — and how is the NYTimes paywall reflect this failing mentality? And then, what are the alternatives?

Are you getting “your money’s worth”? What is “money” even mean/worth nowadays?       RK

What do we do with the obsolete? Outdated technologies, old magazines, unrevised drafts, older editions? I mean, sure, in terms of archivist’s terms, all this is important to catalog and have off-hand to know exactly how history worked (Footnote 1).

On the other hand, what do I do with all my old CDs and DVDs? Or, my floppy disks? Digital files and programs can be updated, but the tangible artifacts can’t be.  What do I do with old cellphones? With things that no longer serve thier purpose, but are fully functioning. A typewriter can continue, however outdated it may be, in it’s function, but a 1990s computer, however well it works, is useless.

So then, 1. How do we re-appropriate old and outdated and obsolete technologies and various other artifacts?

and 2. Is this very different from the notion of ‘trash’?  These are things that are functionable, but are no longer useful. Or can we find other uses? Or rather, what do you do with trash that isn’t garbage?

RK

Footnote 1 – (Errol Morris @ NYT has an interesting essay touching on the interpretation of history, http://nyti.ms/fOc6ng  , in responce this idea of ‘not imparting on the past the views of the present’ aka the important of cataloging and seeing the past in terms of the past).

I was talking to a friend today and he went on a rant about a conference at Columbia about business in china. The talk he was angry about was the talk on green tech and alternative energy.

He was angry about the fact that the extent of the problem solving going on was technological i.e. replace polluting cars with electric cars.

They gave no consideration to service design and tackling the problem non linearly. i.e don’t rethink the car, rethink moving.

Why do our corporations and businesses have such a hard time thinking non linearly?

How do you think laterally?

How do you think multi-dimensionally/(circumferentially)?/(circularly)?

This is in essence, a counterpoint to my last point on the inherent ugliness of sustainability.

It should probably have been a comment, but I wanted a separate discussion on this point, forgive me.

I think it was around december 2010, when Elaine Scarry came to the New School to be the Keynote speaker for a design conference called “The critical gift in design.” She gave a talk, mostly on her book “On Beauty and Being Just” and a little bit on her book “The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World

It is about her comments on beauty that I dwell.

Scarry says that there are qualities of beauty that are important enough for us to see it as a goal.

The one that came to me was the aspect of beauty as being “unselfing”. When we encounter beautiful things, we step outside ourselves and perceive the world.

Indeed she says “beauty raises the bar for what counts as perception.”

It is a strong argument in that we normally can only see ourselves, and when we encounter beautiful things we step outside of ourselves and perceive the world.

Scarry went on to say “Beautiful things make us want to protect – to care for those things”

This is my counterpoint to the last post on the inherent ugliness of sustainability. If beauty allows us to perceive the world through a process of unselfing and then ignites within us the cause to protect those beautiful things. Is it not fair to say, that sustainability is not beautiful enough? We should make more and more beautiful things, to allow for people to perceive the world.

This is followed, by Scarrys third site of beauty which is creation. Beautiful things make us want to create.

So we go from encounter to unselfing to perception to creation. It is a really beautiful path.

There are 2 questions that I have here.

The first: So should we just make more beautiful things?”

The second: How can we capitalize on perception?

If we are in a race against time with the planet, can we capitalize on beauty?

Can we use beauty and its unselfing as a design goal?

Or will that subvert beauty and make it ugly?

Ok sorry, that was more than 2 questions.

I was walking through the West Village with a friend yesterday and she commented on a the decor of a restaurant. Its windows were covered in very beautiful lights. I agreed with the notion that it was pretty but then all of a sudden i thought, but its a waste of energy, they aren’t leds.

The fact of the matter was that you couldnt get that kind of lighting unless you were using incandescents. But thats besides the point. I started thinking about this larger notion and thought to myself that sustainability is inherently ugly. As Adolf Loos would say, ornament is crime.

The aesthetics of sustainability rely solely on its function, it is through function that we find beauty, any ornamentation is excessive, it is unsustainable, it is wasteful. It is crime.

Is there a beautiful sustainability?

Everyday I go to my twitter feed and I read the latest developments in environmental politics. I follow the talks about sustainability and climate change, I read about the republicans denying rules of gravity and about CO2 related asthma. And I think to myself the simple question of why are we just not allowed to believe in a different future?

Earlier I made a post on this blog that asked the question posed by Cameron Tonkinwise in a lecture: “how do you want to live?”

And I think to myself, I do not care about your political schemes and i do not care to question or doubt. You can have your science, you can make your lies, but sustainability to me is an imagination. Its a belief that I can live differently. It doesnt matter to me that you will spend hours upon hours fighting over scientific formula or breaking into email accounts to attempt to find some sort of conspiracy. I simply choose to believe in it because it also lets me imagine an alternative future.

It gives me the chance to believe that people can create change, that communities are not dead, that I can knock on my neighbors door and ask for a hammer, that cities can become more walkable, that air can become more breathable. That I will never have to worry that my children will never see trees, that I can spend my summer without an airconditioner, that I can someday swim in the Gowanus, that 30 years from now Polar bears wont be the equivalent of a Dodo.

Don’t take from me my imagination, its not a fantasy, its a possibility. You had the chance to mold the world to fit your life, now give me the right to believe in mine.

Am I not allowed to imagine a world like this?

At a guest lecture today at the New School by Peder Anker who is currently curating Global Design NYU (an exhibit that is meant to rethink the view of the global from the perspective of the individual), Peder talked briefly about the history of the environmental movement and the concept of spaceship earth.

In short, the environmental movement started in part when we saw the fragility of the earth when viewed from space. We adopted the perspective of a single astronaut, looking down on the earth as a small entity floating in space. This was the major vision driving environmental politics. For the first time, the earth was so small. And although this spawned a lot of biocentric thinking, it was still from an individual perspective, we still saw the earth through the lens of a single astronaut.

At around the 90’s with the increased technological advancement of personal computers we began to look at the world and perceive it through the lens of the computer (simcity, simearth, GIS, etc).

This shift, was one of moving from the viewpoint of the astronaut, to each of us individually becoming the astronaut.

Were we ever capable of non-individual perception of the environment or the world?

What would that look like?

Really excellent post I read about a city in brazil that ended hunger  http://bit.ly/gQ6VZl

give the post a read and think about what exactly they did systematically

For them the “free” in “free market” means the “freedom of all to participate.”

Thats a very powerful idea.

What does free mean to everyone else?