NOLAmotion Blog

April 17, 2010

Climatology vs. Meteorology: Why Do So Many Weather Personalities Deny Climate Change?

OK, time to address a seriously Big Issue: Climate Change. I’ll try to keep this one simple.

For some reason, meteorologists have quite a few prominent deniers in their ranks. They purport to be experts because they are involved in reporting on weather. But, weather is not climate. And for TV weather “forecasters” to make claims that humans cannot and do not impact climate is a logical fallacy; because, they are not climate scientists. Meteorologists typically have a bachelors degree. Scientists, well, they not only are bound by rigid, peer-review methodologies; but, they have years of education above and beyond that of a typical TV weather personality. And research trumps opinion.

So here’s my take: Climate is to weather what the digestive system is to feces and urine. Climatologists are like medical doctors analyzing a system. Meteorologists are like commentators observing the process and predicting the arrival and general composition of an end product.

To put it crudely, when it comes to climate science, TV weather personalities barely know shit. And if it wasn’t for government investment in weather and climate resources—socialized science!—TV weather personalities wouldn’t be able to smile at us daily and make their predictions.

We live in a tiny bubble of life for which we can find no comparison in the known Universe. And on the scale of the Universe, our blue sphere is but an atom.

The biosphere is a relatively small part of Earth. The zone of life-giving atmosphere and land for humans is only a couple of miles thick. We undeniably have–and continue to–profoundly affect systems in the biosphere that normally span tens of thousands, even millions, of years. Whether it be the coastline of Louisiana; the expanding mats of plastic and petrochemical waste in the oceans; the prevalence of 20th century man-made chemical compounds in the tissues of humans, mammals and other species; or the ongoing and massive extinction of species at a rate 1000 times what should be normal–we ARE affecting Life on Earth.

Our short time in this realm of the living can be many things. The impact of one human’s brief life and work can linger for thousands of years. We see that in the wisdom and examples of religious figures, philosophers, scientists and inventors, and those who sacrificed themselves on the altar of basic human rights. If we can have such a positive impact, it is only logical to assume that we can have a long term negative impact.

We are messy and selfish creatures; but, we have the intelligence and imagination to reach the stars, and to live compassionate and productive lives. We know that many of the things we do are harmful to our future both individually and collectively. Climate scientists have clearly shown us that we must take bold steps now to reduce the chances of catastrophic harm to ourselves. This is not about saving the planet. This is about saving us.

The next time you see or hear a media weather personality dismissing the human realities of climate change, contact that media company and express your frustration. Tell them you’re tuning them out for another channel. Media companies understand that language. Vote with your voice and with the remote control.

We live in the most compassionate time in the history of the human race. We instantly communicate tragedies and elicit immediate response from an increasingly aware and generous international population. This is potentially the most transformative era in human history. But naysayers and deniers, many of whom are profiting handsomely from their contrariness, are undermining our response to this global emergency. And transformation can go either way, good or bad. We have no time to waste.

It’s the ultimate “lead, follow or get out of the way” moment. What are you going to do?

NOTE: The Age of Stupid is currently airing on Planet Green. Even if you don’t have cable, you can watch this powerful and compelling movie online. Do it today. If we don’t take immediate action to reduce our impact both individually and collectively, the next generations face catastrophic change.

January 27, 2010

Thoughts on the LSU hospital plans

Now that the issue (fill in the blank based on your views/knowledge: is, appears to be, might be, might never be) settled, it’s time to discuss what will happen next. We need to focus on better building techniques, sustainability and resource management. The demolition of buildings needs to be well managed. We must recycle as much of the irreplaceable old-growth lumber and components as possible. There should be a consortium of all the city’s materials recycling entities to handle this. NOLARecycles and the Green Collaborative represent collective efforts and can be tapped for expertise.

There will be lead paint issues, asbestos issues. But we have an enormous opportunity to set new examples of Best Practices in recycling and re-use, and that means economic development. Now is the time for leaders of the Biosciences District to seek assistance from area green organizations and leadership. I can see several sites processing these materials and the possibility of reinvigorating our rebuilding resource organizations with this effort.

A huge concern of this project is water management. Stormwater runoff from this site will be copious. There are many in this area who are well-versed in sustainable development techniques. We must make this site a shining example that exceeds anything ever built in New Orleans when it comes to water systems and ecological footprint. The development team needs to delve deeply into Low Impact Development principles, Regenerative Design techniques and Biomimicry concepts. These should be Living Buildings where healing takes place with the assistance of Nature. And they need to be leading examples of resilience and mitigation. We can make the hospitals state of the art in more than just medicine, but also in how to build in our hot, humid, windy environment and for our soil types.

There’s no doubt this project can be measured in both dollars and lives. There’s no doubt Charity Hospital was prevented from opening in the months after the flood by those seeking to build the new hospital. We can (and probably will) debate this issue for decades; because, for too many, the cost was measured in the loss of loved ones like Cayne Miceli. And there is no doubt that far too many of those lives were lost due to a plethora of failures that reach their nadir in the mismanagement and brutality of the operations of Orleans Parish Prison. Unfortunately for us, today’s funding decision changes nothing about life in New Orleans in that regard until both the hospital and new jail are completed, years from now.

So I say it’s time for us to come together and make these entities the best they can be. There will be opportunities for involvement, for cooperation and compromise in the coming days. I intend to do my part, and hope that everyone who worked so hard on both sides will do theirs, to ensure that these projects make New Orleans stronger and become the kind of assets that will improve our lives and economy.

Let’s not settle for the same kind of management, design and construction practices of the past. As yesterday’s Green Collaborative Platform for Candidates proposes, we know how to grow the economy of New Orleans. These hospitals need to be catalysts for green/sustainable development. It’s time to step up, demand the best and build our future.

November 5, 2009

City Park: Green Fills the Holes in The Great Concrete and Roosevelt Mall Smells Like Money

Non-native plants ready to plugged into the waiting holes of the hand laid brick and concrete holes in the nearly finished Great Lawn.

Non-native plants ready to be plugged into the hand-laid brick and concrete holes in the nearly finished Great Lawn.

This week an 18 wheeler delivered a truckload of plants for the final stages of The Great Concrete Lawn in City Park. This multi-million dollar project sure provided a lot of money and work. That’s economic development. And that truckload of plants sure helped keep people employed—in Florida!

As the photo shows, a truckload of non-native species plants was delivered from a company with locations in Wisconsin and Florida. Cashio Cochran LLC, whose designs have disguised, smothered and killed the native landscape of City Park for the past couple of decades, ensured their role in history as perhaps the most un-enlightened park designers of the past half century with this last implantation of imported plant life.

Economic development in City Park for an out of state plant provider.

Economic development in City Park...for an out of state plant provider.

But all is not lost…..yet. After this past week’s debacle of destruction, the Voodoo Music Experience (VME), tore up the soil under some of the most beautiful and fragile oaks in the park, we at least can look forward to when these non-native palms, ginger and other decorative plants blossom and bloom and hide those ugly old oaks that obviously were in the way of Cashio Cochran’s Eisenhower Era vision of tidy design.

IMG_1284

City Park brings friends together for the production of the Voodoo Music Experience. Rehage and Torres treat the park like, well, like what goes in that portabe potty.

What a year it’s been in City Park! Though I’ve only been blogging about it since March, we’ve seen bad decisions multiply like invasive species. The ironies pile up, too. The post-VME smell on Roosevelt Mall, despite the preponderance of familiar bull horns on the portable toilets, isn’t the aroma of the past couple of years in the French Quarter, but that of Bourbon Street of years gone by–a sour, sickly smell that this week’s blooming Sweet Olives can’t disguise. The damage, the smell, the bad design, the out of state plants, the heavy equipment crushing soil and roots, I guess it all smells like money to somebody. Or else we’d be hearing more than just me moaning and griping.

That copper roof will turn a nice shade of green. You  think the designers planned for that to match the tree?

That copper roof will turn a nice shade of green. You think the designers planned for that to match the tree?

But, I guess I’m lucky. Unlike the those ever-more scraggly old oaks, I get to go home and put those smells and sights out of my mind whenever I want. And I have to assume that the folks who work there find all this quite normal since it keeps happening again and again and again and again and again…………..

Cashio Cochran's big flourish--a palm in front of a pyramid hat building in front of an ancient live oak. Bam!

Cashio Cochran's big flourish--a palm in front of a pyramid hat building in front of an ancient live oak. BAM!

September 16, 2009

Killing the Green with Green Building, Part 2: Lafitte Redevelopment

One of the more than 30 mature oaks destroyed by the redevelopment of the Lafitte Projects on Orleans Ave.

One of the more than 30 mature oaks destroyed by the redevelopment of the Lafitte Projects on Orleans Ave.

I really like the people behind the rebuilding of the Lafitte Projects. They’re nice. They said the new development will have many green and innovative features. But evidently everything must fit in nice square spaces and these trees are just not part of their vision for what the neighborhood should be.

30+ mature trees cut, 7 retained. And the beat goes on.

See all the pics and story here: http://dyingoaks.posterous.com

August 17, 2009

City Park of N.O.: Live Oak Destruction Area

Sign placed after damage already done to old live oak in City Park.

Sign placed after damage already done to old live oak in City Park.

After sending  a still-unanswered correspondence about how the new Great Lawn project was damaging one of the older trees in the park, I noticed that these signs went up. Doesn’t that make you feel better? No? I thought not.

I did learn that the park’s primary contractor for tree “care” has now written a prescription for the tree. So, after the destructive acts committed against this beautiful and iconic oak by the design team, management and the construction company, the park is suddenly looking after the health of the tree. Ah, irony is a bitter and repulsive dinner sometimes.

Easily two thirds of the canopy of this large tree has been impacted by unenlightened design and construction.

Easily two thirds of the canopy of this large tree has been impacted by destructive design and construction.

Deeply trenched across the delicate roots, this construction likely will be a sign or monument for the Great Lawn. The tree canopy will surely die-off in the zone over the damage.

Deeply trenched across the delicate roots, this work likely will be a sign or monument for the Great Lawn. Damage to the delicate root system will be revealed as parts of the canopy die-off in the future.

Trees damaged by buildling of the Sculpture Garden and Pavilion of the Two Sisters. This kind of die-off is the result of failure to properly protect and care for these live oaks. This is the future if development continues without stronger protections and procedures.

Trees damaged by buildling of the Sculpture Garden and Pavilion of the Two Sisters. This kind of die-off is the result of failure to properly protect and care for these live oaks. This is the future if development continues without stronger protections and procedures.

August 4, 2009

Damage Continues at City Park

Stately City Park Oak damaged by construction to build concrete forms.

Stately City Park Oak damaged by construction to build concrete forms.

Special note: I want to apologize if this post ruffles feathers. I admit that I am frustrated. I feel like I’m watching a loved one being assaulted and I’m supposed to be diplomatic and say, “please stop hitting her.” I pray that I find the inner-peace, wisdom and tact to evolve into a more effective and less-pointed advocate for a better world. For  now, however, this is what I’ve thrown out there to try to find “light in the darkness of insanity” to quote Nick Lowe. I only want the best for City Park and our precious Louisiana. SP

Here are the gory details:

Well paid City Park designers, contractors and staffers continue to abuse and kill the precious live oaks under their stewardship. The Great Lawn project, part of the park’s Master Plan, is currently under construction. Just as with the Pavillion of the Two Sisters, a project that killed nearly a half dozen trees with at least one still barely holding on; and, with the loss of trees in the Sculpture Garden ongoing, all due to bad planning and implementation that failed to properly protect the soil and delicate root systems of the trees, the park is in trouble.

As I said in a previous post, City Park is being paved over. Already, an acre has been slathered with a suffocating coat of toxic asphalt. The Master Plan calls for many more acres to be encased in life-starving, impermeable concrete and asphalt because too many people in charge don’t know readily available procedures for Best Management Practices for a public park.

As I’ve noted, New Orleans City Park should be the green heart of the area. It should be the leader in sustainability and green principles to which we all turn to learn about and witness how humans properly manage the natural spaces our parks represent. After witnessing the construction of the Big Lake project and it’s poor choice in materials, tree selection and placement, and water management strategies–which connect to all these issues–I believe the park is in the hands of people who are reshaping it in ways that reflect the mindset of a bygone and downright ignorant time.

Here’s a letter I sent today to several people involved in the operations and oversight of City Park:

Hello:

I am writing to urge you to act swiftly to prevent further damage to live oaks in the park; and, to add appropriate arborists and local green/sustainable design experts to the paid teams developing and implementing the park’s Master Plan.

Apparently, the overall planner for the Great Lawn project designed it to include concrete structures around the base of the large live oak across from the Peristyle. The design does not take into account the needs of the tree. Damage is happening now, with large areas deep under the canopy dug-out, lined with gravel and framed for concrete. Additionally, there is a trenched square nearly a foot deep under the canopy, cut across the roots.

As a lifelong advocate for live oaks, a recently trained Parkway Partners/Louisiana Urban Forestry Council Certified Citizen Forester; and, having learned Best Management Practices at Jefferson Tree School, a continuing education program for arborists, I know that the top 18 inches of soil are the most critical to the health of live oaks. The photos show the “improvements” underway have removed the top layer of soil and deeply trenched a section, cutting vital roots.

This is clearly a case of destructive design and construction that should have been stopped at several stages of the process.

With the heat, drought and now root damage,  this tree will suffer significant die-off from which it will never fully recover. I believe you should immediately bring in a local live oak expert such as Scott Courtright or Tom Campbell to evaluate and try to remediate the damage already done.

It is time for City Park to stop using impermeable hardscapes that suffocate the soil, kill the trees, increase flooding and erosion, and speed pollutants into our precious waterways. No more impermeable concrete or toxic asphalt!

In researching this situation I learned an important fact regarding landscape architects: their degree does not require them to be arborists.

To me, this explains many things regarding how and why trees have been damaged in City Park.

Trees seem to be chosen by the park’s go-to landscape architect with appearance superseding appropriateness. Paving systems are designed and built without an arborist’s understanding of their impact. This is not in line with Best Management Practices for native flora, water management, enhancement of the flyway and wildlife, or Low Impact Design. Any number of people in our area are experts on these matters. Some of them are cc’d in this email.

This is not a job for volunteers. Well paid contractors–using taxpayer funding and donations of people who assume we’re using BMPs–are currently creating these destructive actions. It’s past time to include paid local experts who can help the park become the green leader we all need and deserve.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

City Park oak damaged by trenching under canopy for concrete form.

City Park oak damaged by trenching under canopy for concrete form.

City Park oak being damaged by construction of concrete forms for Great Lawn project.

City Park oak being damaged by construction of concrete forms for Great Lawn project.

Update on concrete form as of Thursday, August 6. Probably going to be some kind of iconic Great Lawn fixture or sign. So this oak is going to end up looking like an amputee as it dies-off thanks to this unbelievably stupid implementation of the design.

Update on concrete form as of Thursday, August 6. Probably going to be some kind of iconic Great Lawn fixture or sign. So this oak is going to end up looking like an amputee as it dies-off thanks to this unbelievably stupid implementation of the design.

March 17, 2009

Paving N.O. City Park

As I write this, N.O. City Park (NOCP) is laying 4800 linear feet of 8 foot wide impermeable asphalt pathways in its Big Lake construction project. Also, construction crews are demolishing old parking and tennis courts between the Peristyle and Botanical Gardens to install yet more, polluting, impermeable, heat-inducing asphalt.

With all that we know about permeable paving and better stormwater management, this old fashioned, 20th century, car-oriented thinking is mind boggling. And to watch all this happen in one of the most precious places in the world, utilizing money donated from people who surely hoped we’d do the best we could to build with a strong sense of ecological awareness, is an abuse which I can find no diplomatic words to describe. I leave it to you to express, exclaim and accuse. As with so many things in the public realm–and NOCP is a public park whose staff is on the state payroll–we all share some of the blame.

I sent the following letter to Sally Perry, VP of the board of the New Orleans City Park Improvement Association (NOCPIA). I encourage readers to contact the NOCPIA and elected officials and demand that NOCP be the most innovative, sustainable park it can be.

Hi Sally:

So glad to reconnect and also happy that you were at the hearing. I’m not a golfer; but I don’t want to turn City Park into a feral landscape, either. There is a balance. A win-win can be achieved. However, I believe the plans as they now stand reflect outmoded thinking; an almost Eisenhower era-style of planning where development is done the way it always has been with cars and “drainage” as primary considerations.

Regarding NOCP drainage, the question starts with “to where?” And the dominoes of watershed realities expand outward for many, many miles. These realities must be understood and built-into all design considerations for our region, not just NOCP. David Waggoner knows so much about this thanks to his personal mission to interact with and learn from the Dutch. Is he part of the design team?

The current attitude seems to be the old “it’s too expensive” brush-off based on little research. We know so much more about ecological management, watersheds, and how to make design regenerative rather than just durable. What the park team needs is a change of thinking. And impervious asphalt and concrete need to be perceived as counterproductive.

We desperately need sustainability/green leadership to help redesign all plans to maximize innovation. City Park would then become a center for excellence in sustainable park design and implementation, something I believe would not only make the park more economically feasible and attractive to the world; but, something I also believe the world expects us to do with their contributions of time and money. And such a turn of thinking would open many more doors of support from myriad foundations and organizations.

The park has no green leader. It apparently has no strong green connections to the rapidly growing body of local professionals available to research, develop and implement best practices for sustainable, low impact design. And with nobody on the staff or board demanding innovation, how can anyone be expected to innovate?

Imagine if NOCP were to become a world leader in sustainable park design and operations, a true community partner in the education, health and well-being of the region. A place where people gathered not only for peaceful beauty but to learn how to live better, how to grow food, how to implement landscaping principles that healthily interact with the surrounding watershed, how to make a park thrive while maintaining its ecological balance and reducing the negative impact of parking, buildings, recreational facilities and golf courses. Now that would be an economic driver that could lead to sustaining the fiscal future of NOCP!

And sustainable is as much about the green of money as it is the green of the landscape. NOCP could be the best municipal park on the planet.

Mistakes we make now will not be ours to live with, they will be faced by our children and theirs. But, when we kill an ancient oak because we added too much impervious asphalt and concrete, or kill a cypress because we failed to maintain fresh water systems by assuming high saline water from the bayou was good, we commit two crimes: we assault our history and we steal from the future. Adding more heat-inducing, polluting, impermeable asphalt and concrete is a crime against the future. The cost must be measured in more than just today’s dollars.

It’s time to stop and look at what we’re doing. It’s time to make sustainable, low impact design the highest priority of planning.

Look at the makeup of the board and staff. Where is the diversity of thought, age and race that reflects New Orleans? Where are the young innovators who will lead us tomorrow? It will be their park, sooner than you or I want to admit.

I would be thrilled to be of assistance in any and every way possible in helping make NOCP the greenest park on earth. However it will take the leadership of the NOCPIA board to make anything happen. Feel free to call upon me at any time, and to share my thoughts with the rest of the board.

Respectfully yours,
Steve Picou

Additional Links:

N.O. City Park Master Plan

Board of Commissioners of N.O. City Park Improvement Assn (a state agency, list needs updating)

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