Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Qualitative Growth

coauthored with Hazel Henderson, posted September 2009

A conceptual framework for finding solutions to our current crisis
that are economically sound, ecologically sustainable, and socially just

© 2009 Fritjof Capra, © 2009 Hazel Henderson;
published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales
as part of its thought leadership series Outside Insights

The current global recession has been dominating the news since the beginning of the year. Every day we hear about people buying fewer cars, factories that produced sport-utility and recreational vehicles being closed, oil consumption (and thus the price of oil) decreasing dramatically, retailers complaining about consumers spending less money on luxury items, and so on. From an ecological point of view, all of this is good news, since continuing growth of such material consumption on a finite planet can only lead to catastrophe. Yet, it poses a contradictory "paradox of thrift." For example, President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan, including "cash for clunkers" to increase car sales, is designed to raise consumption levels in both the public and private sectors, while increased savings are also desirable to contain deficits.

At the same time, we hear day after day about companies that respond to the decrease in their sales by reducing their workforce, rather than reducing their profits or taking losses. Thus every decrease of material over-consumption, which is good news ecologically speaking, entails human hardship through increasing job losses. At the same time, over 2 billion people who do not over-consume are even further deprived by conventional economic growth, free trade, and globalization.

It seems that our key challenge is how to shift from an economic system based on the notion of unlimited growth to one that is both ecologically sustainable and socially just. "No growth" is not the answer. Growth is a central characteristic of all life; a society, or economy, that does not grow will die sooner or later. Growth in nature, however, is not linear and unlimited. While certain parts of organisms, or ecosystems, grow, others decline, releasing and recycling their components which become resources for new growth.

In this essay, we want to define and describe this kind of balanced, multi-faceted growth, well known to biologists and ecologists, and apply its principles to the economy, and in particular to the current economic crisis. We propose to use the term "qualitative growth" for this purpose in contrast to the concept of quantitative growth used by economists.

The economists' practice of equating growth with social "progress" has been critiqued by environmentalists, ecologists, and civic groups dedicated to social justice. It was first widely challenged at the second UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Over 170 governments agreed to correct the economists' quantitative view of growth. These challenges have been ignored until recently, since they included demands that companies and government agencies include on their balance sheets social and environmental costs, which they routinely "externalized" to taxpayers, the environment, and future generations. Concerns about global climate change and pollution are now focusing on "internalizing" such costs in accounting as well as in national accounts.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Most economists still measure a country's wealth in terms of its GDP (the metric enshrined in the United Nations System of National Accounts, UNSNA) in which all economic activities associated with monetary values are added up indiscriminately while all non-monetary aspects of the economy are ignored. Social costs, like those of accidents, wars, litigation, and health care, are added as positive contributions to the GDP, as are "defensive expenditures" on mitigating pollution and similar externalities, and the undifferentiated growth of this crude quantitative index is considered to be the sign of a "healthy" economy. Thus, GDP measures the quantity of money-based transactions recorded in a society while omitting "underground" cash payments, barter and exchange in the informal sectors and all voluntary services within communities and families. The UN's Human Development Index (HDI) first estimated this unpaid productive work in 1995 at $16 trillion ($11 trillion by women and $5 trillion by men) simply missing from 1995's global GDP of $24 trillion. The idea that growth can be obstructive, unhealthy, or pathological is rarely entertained by economists, even though they have been criticized for decades. Yet, Simon Kuznets, creator of GDP national accounts, warned in 1934 that such a limited, one-dimensional metric should not be used as an index of overall social progress. Alas, this error of misplaced concreteness was widely adopted by governments, mass media, and academia.

The goal of most national economies is to achieve unlimited growth of their GDP through the continuing accumulation of material goods and expansion of services. The over-expansion of financial services, in particular, is parasitic on the real economy and led to the current collapse. Since human needs are finite, but human greed is not, economic growth can usually be maintained through the artificial creation of needs through advertising. The goods that are produced and sold in this way are often unneeded, and therefore are essentially waste. Moreover, the pollution and depletion of natural resources generated by this enormous waste of unnecessary goods is exacerbated by the waste of energy and materials in inefficient production processes.

The recognition of the fallacy of the conventional concept of economic growth, which was pointed out by one of us as early as 1971, is the first essential step in overcoming the economic crisis.1 Social-change activist Frances Moore Lappé adds, "Since what we call 'growth' is largely waste, let's call it that! Let's call it an economics of waste and destruction. Let's define growth as that which enhances life — as generation and regeneration — and declare that what our planet most needs is more of it."2 This notion of "growth which enhances life" is what we mean by qualitative growth — growth that enhances the quality of life. In living organisms, ecosystems and societies, qualitative growth consists in an increase of complexity, sophistication, and maturity.

Thus, the GDP remained unchallenged for decades, since an entire paradigm shift was needed (Kuhn, 1962).  Why has the ubiquitous use of GDP persisted since Agenda 21 and its Article 40 calling for an overhaul was signed by all those 170 governments in Rio de Janeiro in 1992?  Institutional inertia and conflicting interests between powerful, private sector groups, government agencies and academia hampered and skewed research on correcting GDP, while economic ideologies contested for the new intellectual territory.  Corporations and other private-sector actors had the most to lose if all those "externalities" had to be internalized in all balance sheets and annual reports.  The economics profession, with huge intellectual investments in textbooks, grants, consulting fees, in the status quo, failed to address the issue.  The few outliers who heeded Simon Kuznets' warnings were marginalized and still are.  Research grants flowed to orthodox academic programs from the strong ministries in most governments: central banks, economic development and trade-promotion agencies.  Weak ministries, usually with social welfare, education, poverty, health and environmental concerns, offered a few grants in creating "satellite accounts" to collect the additional data – ensuring its obscurity.   Media played a huge role, since most editors and journalists simply reported GDP figures, with little time or incentive to question them.

In order to gain a full understanding of the concepts of quantitative and qualitative growth, it will be useful to briefly review the roles played by quantities and qualities in the history of Western science.                     

Quantities and Qualities in Western Science

At the dawn of modern science, in the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci declared that the painter, "with philosophic and subtle speculation considers all the qualities of forms."3 He insisted that the "art," or skill of painting must be supported by the painter's "science," or sound knowledge, of living forms, by his intellectual understanding of their intrinsic nature and underlying principles.

Leonardo's science, like Galileo's a hundred years later, was based on the systematic observation of nature, reasoning, and mathematics — the empirical approach known today as the scientific method — but its contents were quite different from the mechanistic science developed by Galileo, Descartes, and Newton. It was a science of organic forms, of qualities, of patterns of organization and processes of transformation.4

In the 17th century, Galileo postulated that, in order to be effective in describing nature mathematically, scientists should restrict themselves to studying those properties of material bodies — shapes, numbers, and movement — which could be measured and quantified. Other properties, like color, sound, taste, or smell, were merely subjective mental projections which should be excluded from the domain of science.

Galileo's strategy of directing the scientist's attention to the quantifiable properties of matter proved extremely successful in classical physics, but it also exacted a heavy toll. During the centuries after Galileo, the focus on quantities was extended from the study of matter to all natural and social phenomena within the framework of the mechanistic worldview of Cartesian-Newtonian science. By excluding colors, sound, taste, touch, and smell — let alone more complex qualities, such as beauty, health, or ethical sensibility — the emphasis on quantification prevented scientists for several centuries to understand many essential properties of life. In the 20th century, the narrow mechanistic and quantitative approach led to major stumbling blocks in biology, psychology, and the social sciences.5

The past three decades, however, have seen a renewed attention to quality. During these decades,  a new systemic conception of life emerged at the forefront of science, which, in fact, shows many striking similarities with the views held by Leonardo 500 years ago. Today, the universe is no longer seen as a machine  composed of elementary building blocks. We have discovered that the material world, ultimately, is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships; that the planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system. The view of the human body as a machine and of the mind as a separate entity is being replaced by one that sees not only the brain, but also the immune system, the bodily tissues, and even each cell as a living, cognitive system. Evolution is no longer seen as a competitive struggle for existence, but rather as a cooperative dance in which creativity and the constant emergence of novelty are the driving forces. And with the new emphasis on complexity, networks, and patterns of organization, a new science of qualities is slowly emerging.6

The Nature of Quality

The new systemic understanding of life makes it possible to formulate a scientific concept of quality. In fact, it seems that there are two different meanings of the term — one objective and the other subjective. In the objective sense, the qualities of a complex system refer to properties of the system that none of its parts exhibit. Quantities, like mass or energy, tell us about the properties of the parts, and their sum total is equal to the corresponding property of the whole, e.g. the total mass or energy. Qualities, like stress or health, by contrast, cannot be expressed as the sum of properties of the parts. Qualities arise from processes and patterns of relationships among the parts. Hence, we cannot understand the nature of complex systems such as organisms, ecosystems, societies, and economies if we try to describe them in purely quantitative terms. Quantities can be measured; qualities need to be mapped.

As the attention shifted from quantities to qualities in the life sciences, there has been a corresponding conceptual shift in mathematics. In fact, this began in physics during the 1960s with the strong emphasis on symmetry, which is a quality, and it intensified during the subsequent decades with the development of complexity theory, or nonlinear dynamics, which is a mathematics of patterns and relationships. The strange attractors of chaos theory and the fractals of fractal geometry are visual patterns representing the qualities of complex systems.7

In the human realm, the notion of quality always seems to include references to human experiences, which are subjective aspects. For example, the quality of a person's health can be assessed in terms of objective factors, but it includes a subjective experience of well-being as a significant element. Similarly, the quality of a human relationship derives largely from subjective mutual experiences. The aesthetic quality of a work of art, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder. Since all qualities arise from processes and patterns of relationships, they will necessarily include subjective elements if these processes and relationships involve human beings.

Accordingly, many of the new indicators of a country's progress use multi-disciplinary, systemic approaches with appropriate metrics for measuring the many aspects of quality of life. For example, the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators measure twelve such aspects and use monetary coefficients only where appropriate while rejecting the conventional macroeconomic tool of aggregating all these qualitatively different aspects into a single number, like GDP.8 Similarly, the UN's HDI, launched in 1990, which has become the principle contender in complementing GDP, brings in such qualitative measures of poverty, health, gender equity, education, social inclusion and environment – none of which can be reduced to money-coefficients or aggregated into a simple number.

Growth and Development

The previous considerations about qualities and quantities can be applied to the concept of qualitative growth and the phenomenon of development, which is related to growth. Like "growth," "development" is used today in two quite different senses — one qualitative and the other quantitative.

For biologists, development is a fundamental property of life. According to the new systemic understanding of life, every living system occasionally encounters points of instability where there is either a breakdown or, more frequently, a spontaneous emergence of new forms of order. This spontaneous emergence of novelty is one of the hallmarks of life. It has been recognized as the dynamic origin of development, learning, and evolution. In other words, creativity — the generation of new forms — is a key property of all living systems. This means that all living systems develop; life continually reaches out to create novelty.

The biological concept of development implies a sense of multi-faceted unfolding; of living organisms, ecosystems, or human communities reaching their potential. Most economists, by contrast, restrict the use of "development" to a single economic dimension, usually measured in terms of per capita GDP. The huge diversity of human existence is compressed into this linear, quantitative concept and then converted into monetary coefficients. The entire world is thus arbitrarily categorized into "developed," "developing," and “less developed" countries. Economists recognize only money and cash flows, ignoring all other forms of fundamental wealth — all ecological, social, and cultural assets.

It appears that this linear view of economic development, as used by most mainstream and corporate economists and politicians, corresponds to the narrow quantitative concept of economic growth, while the biological and ecological sense of development corresponds to the notion of qualitative growth. In fact, the biological concept of development includes both quantitative and qualitative growth.

A developing organism, or ecosystem, grows according to its stage of development. Typically, a young organism will go through periods of rapid physical growth. In ecosystems, this early phase of rapid growth is known as a pioneer ecosystem, characterized by rapid expansion and colonization of the territory. The rapid growth is always followed by slower growth, by maturation, and ultimately by decline and decay or, in ecosystems, by so-called succession. As living systems mature, their growth processes shift from quantitative to qualitative growth.

When we study nature, we can see quite clearly that unlimited quantitative growth, as promoted so vigorously by economists and politicians, is unsustainable. An instructive example is the rapid growth of cancer cells, which does not recognize boundaries and is not sustainable because the cancer cells die when the host organism dies. Similarly, unlimited quantitative economic growth on a finite planet cannot be sustainable.9 Qualitative economic growth, by contrast, can be sustainable if it involves a dynamic balance between growth, decline, and recycling, and if it also includes development in terms of learning and maturing.9a

The distinction between quantitative and qualitative economic growth also sheds some light on the widely used but problematic concept of "sustainable development." If "development" is used in the current narrow economic sense associated with the notion of unlimited quantitative growth, such economic development can never be sustainable, and the term "sustainable development" would be an oxymoron. If, however, the process of development is understood as more than a purely economic process, including social, ecological, and spiritual dimensions, and if it is associated with qualitative economic growth, then  such a multidimensional systemic process can indeed be sustainable. Many in business, government, and civic society now use the term "sustainability" to examine these issues, along with hundreds of new academic programs and consulting firms. Much work remains to be done in defining "sustainability" in all these contexts, and it must be multi-disciplinary.  Unfortunately, the economics profession is laying claim to this new field, as it has attempted to colonize other issues, including climate change and other disciplines, sociology, anthropology, psychology and most recently the neurosciences.

Qualitative Economic Growth and the Global Crisis

Let us now return to the central challenge of our economic and ecological crisis: How can we transform the global economy from a system striving for unlimited quantitative growth, which is manifestly unsustainable, to one that is ecologically sound without generating human hardship through more unemployment?

The concept of qualitative economic growth will be a crucial tool in this task. Instead of assessing the state of the economy in terms of the crude quantitative measure of GDP, we need to distinguish between "good" growth and "bad" growth and then increase the former at the expense of the latter, so that the natural and human resources tied up in wasteful and unsound production processes can be freed and recycled as resources for efficient and sustainable processes. A step forward in this direction was the "Beyond GDP" conference in the European Parliament in November 2007, spearheaded by the European Commission together with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the OECD, EUROSTAT (Europe's statistical agency), and the Club of Rome.10

From the ecological point of view, the distinction between "good" and "bad" economic growth is obvious. Bad growth is growth of production processes and services that externalize social and environmental costs, are based on fossil fuels, involve toxic substances, deplete our natural resources, and degrade the Earth's ecosystems. Good growth is growth of more efficient production processes and services that fully internalize costs, involve renewable energies, zero emissions, continual recycling of natural resources, and restoration of the Earth's ecosystems. Climate change and the other manifestations of our global environmental crisis make it imperative that we shift from our destructive production processes to sustainable "green," or "ecodesign" alternatives; and it so happens that these alternatives will also solve our economic crisis in ways that are socially just. We see corresponding systemic policies in the UN's Green Economy Initiative, launched in December 2008 in Geneva by the UN Environment Programme, the International Labor Organization, and the UN Development Program, and keynoted by one of us.11 Other similar initiatives are the UK-based Green New Deal and the Global Marshall Plan for a socially just green economy, based in Germany.12 In June 2009, the UN General Assembly adopted the financial reforms proposed by the Stiglitz Commission and endorsed the shift away from fossil fuels to low-carbon green growth.  Member countries of the UN also viewed this green re-industrialization as meshing with the UN Millennium Development Goals for alleviating poverty, investing in education while creating millions of new jobs.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in ecologically oriented design practices and projects, all of which are now well documented.13 They include a worldwide renaissance in organic farming; the organization of different industries into ecological clusters, in which the waste of any one organization is a resource for another; the shift from a product-oriented economy to a "service-and-flow" economy, in which industrial raw materials and technical components cycle continually between manufacturers and users; buildings that are designed to produce more energy than they use, emit no waste, and monitor their own performance; hybrid-electric cars achieving fuel efficiencies of 50 mpg and more; and a dramatic rise in wind-generated electricity beyond the most optimistic projections. In fact, with the development of plug-in hybrids and wind farms, the cars of the future could run primarily on wind energy.

These ecodesign technologies and projects all incorporate basic principles of ecology and therefore have some key characteristics in common. They tend to be small-scale projects with plenty of diversity, energy efficient, non-polluting, and community oriented. Most importantly, they tend to be labor intensive, creating plenty of jobs. Indeed, the potential of creating local jobs through investment in green technologies, restoration of ecosystems, and redesigning of our infrastructure is enormous — a fact that has been clearly recognized by President Obama who has begun, together with Congress, to turn these ideas into realities in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

A detailed roadmap for moving from quantitative to qualitative growth, and thus to find solutions to the global crisis that are ecologically sustainable and socially just, is beyond the scope of this essay. A few steps that seem to be critical are the following.

    • Models of qualitative growth need to be formulated by multi-disciplinary teams, compared, and promoted in business, government, and the media. Accordingly, these sets of broader social/environmental indicators now need to be adopted. This will require political will, public pressure, and education of media editors and reporters.

    • Tax systems need to be restructured by reducing taxes on work and raising them on various environmentally destructive activities, so as to "internalize" and incorporate all such costs into prices in the market place. Such "green taxes" are being adopted in many countries. They should include a carbon tax and a gasoline tax, which can be gradually phased in while offsetting them with reductions in income and payroll taxes. Shifting taxes from incomes and payrolls to waste, all pollution as well as  carbon and nonrenewable resources will gradually drive wasteful, harmful technologies and consumption patterns out of the market . This  will raise the shareholder value of companies producing green alternatives.

    • Beyond tax shifting, companies need to reassess their production processes and services to determine which ones are ecologically destructive and thus in need of being phased out. At the same time, they should diversify in the direction of green products and services. As new accounting protocols are adopted which fully account for social, environmental, and governance (ESG) factors, companies are being steered toward these more sustainable products, services, and practices by their investors, including socially-responsible mutual funds, pension funds, labor unions, civic groups, and individual investors.14

    • Reforming international finance and monetary systems is now urgent. The G-20 Summit in London, April 2nd, 2009, included debates about how to curb excessive leverage, risk-taking, pay and bonuses; and how to regulate speculation in currency markets ($3 trillion traded daily) and credit derivatives ($683 trillion now outstanding,15 as compared with global GDP of only $65 trillion). These new rules need to be global by agreements — the only way they can work in our globalized financial system. The UN members, the G-192, agreed with most of these reforms in their summit at the General Assembly in New York, June 2009.  The G-192 is now a more democratic group than the G-20, and both are rendering the G-8 obsolete.

    • All these reforms will often involve shifts of perception from a product orientation to a service orientation and "dematerializing" of our productive economies. For example, an automobile company should realize that it is not necessarily in the business of selling cars but rather in the business of providing mobility, which can also be achieved, among many other things, by producing more buses and trains and by redesigning our cities. Similarly, countries, and especially the United States, should realize that fighting climate change is today's most important and most urgent security issue. The Obama Administration should reduce the Pentagon's budget accordingly, while increasing funds for diplomacy mitigating climate-related threats to global security and building the new "green" economy.

    • At the individual level, a corresponding shift of perception will turn from finding satisfaction in material consumption to finding it in human relationships and community building. Such value shifts are now promoted by many civic groups as well as by some television series, such as "Ethical Markets."16 A proposal to alter the favored tax status for corporate advertising across the board aims at reducing advertising in a fair manner without jeopardizing the rights of free speech.17

Qualitative Growth Beyond Economics

The challenge of shifting from quantitative to qualitative economic growth will create new industries while downsizing others according to ecological and social criteria. As full-cost pricing, life-cycle costing, as well as social, environmental, and ethical auditing become the norm, we can see which production processes should be increased and which ones should be phased out. Any serious engagement in this endeavor will make it evident that the major problems of our time — energy, the environment, climate change, food security, and financial security — cannot be understood in isolation.  They are systemic problems, which means that they are all interconnected and interdependent.

To mention just a few of these interdependencies, demographic pressure and poverty form a vicious circle which, exacerbated by capital-intensive technologies, leads to the depletion of resources — fewer jobs, falling water tables, shrinking forests, collapsing fisheries, eroding soils, wider poverty gaps, and so on. Faulty GDP-growth economics exacerbates climate change and aggravates both resource depletion and poverty, even leading to failing states whose governments can no longer provide security for their citizens, some of whom in sheer desperation turn to terrorism.18 Even the fundamental issue of human population growth on a finite planet is now seen as crucially related to the education and empowerment of the world's women – a qualitative and ethical issue.

The fundamental interconnectedness of our major problems makes it clear that we need to go beyond economics to overcome the global economic crisis. On the other hand, such systemic understanding makes it possible to find systemic solutions — solutions that solve several problems at once. For example, changing from chemical, large-scale industrial agriculture to organic, community-oriented, sustainable farming would contribute significantly to solving three of our biggest problems: energy dependence, climate change, and the health care crisis.19

Numerous systemic solutions of this kind have recently been developed and tested around the world.20 They make it evident that the shift from quantitative to qualitative growth, using all the new quality-of-life and well-being indicators, can steer countries from environmental destruction to ecological sustainability, and from unemployment, poverty, and waste to the creation of meaningful and dignified work. This global transition to sustainability is no longer a conceptual, nor a technical problem. It is a problem of values and political will.

Source: http://www.fritjofcapra.net/blog.html

FRITJOF CAPRA, physicist and systems theorist, is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California. He is the author of The Web of Life (1996) and The Hidden Connections (2002). He co-authored EcoManagement (1993) and co-edited Steering Business Toward Sustainability (1995).

HAZEL HENDERSON, author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy (2006) and co-creator with the Calvert Group of the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, served on the Organizing Committee for the Beyond GDP conference in the European Parliament (2007).

1 Hazel Henderson, "Ecologists versus Economists," New York Times business section, October 24, 1971.

2 Frances Moore Lappé, "Liberation Ecology," Resurgence (UK), January/February 2009.

3 Quoted in Fritjof Capra, The Science of Leonardo, Doubleday, 2007.

4 See ibid.

5 See Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1982.

6 See Fritjof Capra, The Hidden Connections, Doubleday, New York, 2002.

7 See Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life, Anchor Books, New York, 1996.

8 Hazel Henderson, Jon Lickerman, and Patrice Flynn (eds.), Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, Calvert Group, Maryland, 2000; Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, updated regularly at www.calvert-henderson.com.

9 See, e.g., Herman Daly, Steady-State Economics, W.H. Freeman, New York, 1977; reprinted by Island Press, Washington, DC, 1991.

9a Hazel Henderson, "The Limits of Traditional Economics: New Models for Managing a Steady State Economy," Financial Analysts Journal, May-June, 1973.

10 See proceedings at www.beyond-gdp.eu.

11 Hazel Henderson, "Re-Designing Money Systems to Reduce Greeenhouse Gases and Grow the Green Economy," www.EthicalMarkets.com.

12 Towards a World in Balance, Global Marshall Plan Initiative, Hamburg, Germany, 2006; European Hope, Global Marshall Plan Initiative, Hamburg, Germany, 2006; see also Network of Spiritual Progressives (U.S.), "The Global Marshall Plan," www.spiritualprogressives.org.

13 See, e.g., Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism, Little  Brown, New York, 1999; see also Fritjof Capra, ref. 6.

14 See Hazel Henderson, Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vermont, 2006.

15 See Bank for International Settlements, Basel, Switzerland, December 2008.

16 Seen on PBS stations and at www.ethicalmarkets.tv.

17 See Hazel Henderson and Alan F. Kay, "The Truth in Advertising Assurance Set- Aside: A Proposal to Help Steer the U.S. Economy Toward Sustainability," United Nations Human Development Report, UNDP, New York, 1998.

18 See Lester Brown, Plan B 3.0, Norton, New York, 2008, for detailed documentation of the fundamental interconnectedness of world problems.

19 See Michael Pollan, "Farmer in Chief," New York Times Magazine, October 10, 2008; see also Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, Penguin, 2008.

20 See Lester Brown, ref. 18.

Children should be at the heart of future cities

by Duncan Jefferies

“Get these cars out of the way, we want to play!” a child chants through a loudhailer, as he and his young comrades march down a street in the Pijp area of Amsterdam. This remarkable scene comes from a 1972 documentary, which follows a group of inner-city Dutch children as they attempt to turn a busy through-road outside their homes into a play street. Adults in the area are both supportive and dismissive of the children’s plans. “All these cars are unbearable”, says one small boy, in an effort to explain their actions. “There is no space left. Thousands die in accidents and air pollution increases. Everything is devoted to parking. Why don’t we all ride bicycles?”

It’s a lament that many children could still voice today. Their need for space, for the freedom to play and socialise within their local environment, is often overlooked or ignored by city planners. Parental fears about their safety – both legitimate and exaggerated – can also lead to them spending the majority of their time indoors, unable to explore independently and develop the skills that will help them become healthy, well-adjusted members of society. Instead, many children are spending up to eight hours a day staring at a screen, according to some studies.

To prevent this from happening, and ensure that safe, healthy and well-educated children are a key part of urban governance, UNICEF launched its Child Friendly Cities Initiative in 1996. However, as its report ‘The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World’ highlights, almost 20 years on, city planning still doesn’t take enough account of children’s needs. A number of other projects, such as the EU’s Cities for Children, also aim to highlight best practice and guide local government towards child-friendly urban planning. The focus on cities makes sense: every year the world’s urban population increases by about 60 million, and by 2050 around 70% of people will live in cities and towns. Cities, in other words, are the frontline in the war against childhood poverty, disease and restricted opportunity.

Crucially, a child-friendly city doesn’t just benefit the youngest inhabitants. As Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, has said: “Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.” Consider, say, the benefits of Peñalosa’s own efforts to transform Bogotá: while in office he helped create over 186 miles of bikeways, 1,200 new parks and playgrounds and the Bus Rapid Transit system that carries half a million passengers a day. It’s now a safer, cleaner, greener city for children and adults alike. As UNICEF director Anthony Lake has rightly said, it’s also important to remember that “when society fails to extend to urban children the services and protection that would enable them to develop as productive and creative individuals, it loses the social, cultural and economic contributions they could have made”.

In the West, the development of child-friendly cities tends to focus on the creation of parks and green spaces, safe and easily navigable streets, well-proportioned family homes and improved child services. But in the developing world, where one-in-three city dwellers live in overcrowded, polluted and unhygienic slum conditions, children’s lives can be vastly improved by access to health, sanitation and education services. Nevertheless, Kerry Constabile, an urban planning specialist at UNICEF, makes the point that cities also have much in common, regardless of where they are in the world. “In terms of child survival rates, it’s usually not about what city you live in, but where in the city you live.”

In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, for example, 57% of children live in poverty – a greater proportion than in any other borough in England. The £7 million regeneration of the Borough’s Brownfield Estate is part of a wider plan to improve life for people in the area. It was recently commended in a survey by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and illustrates how both children and adults can benefit from child-friendly planning. The mostused routes on the estate have been turned into ‘green grids’, lined with grass and trees. The parking system has been revamped to make the streets easier for pedestrians of all ages to navigate. And several new play areas have been created, including a courtyard where children can play informally and mingle with other members of the community.

This last element – a traffic-free square or courtyard at the heart of a village-type neighbourhood – is a crucial part of any child-friendly environment, according to Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard, Founder and Director of the International Making Cities Livable Conferences, and a consultant to cities in the US and Europe on child-friendly communities and public space design. “There are three things that children need in their normal everyday world”, she says: “faceto- face social interaction with a community of all ages; direct interaction with nature; and the chance to develop independence at every age.”

Pedestrian-friendly streets, protected bike routes and good public transport links make it easier for children (and the elderly) to get around independently. Street trees, as well as neighbourhood parks and gardens within a ten-minute walk of where children live, are also vital for their development, and have the added benefit of improving urban air quality. Ideally, outdoor spaces should include a rich variety of natural features, such as streams, ponds and climbable trees. “Interaction with nature is important for physical exercise and health”, says Crowhurst Lennard, “but it also opens the senses, it sharpens them – hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch and so on. So it’s very important for developmental tasks, and also for cognitive development [for instance, through learning the names of trees, plants, animals, etc]”.

Opportunities to play safely outdoors with other children have never been more in need. The RIBA survey also found that in Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Birmingham and London more than one in five children are now obese. While in the US, around one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, greatly increasing their chances of developing diabetes and other medical conditions in later life. Without regular exercise and contact with nature, children are also more likely to suffer from metal health problems, as well as have trouble sleeping or concentrating at school.
In the past “we’ve done a better job of building [cities] for cars than people”, says David Driskell, Executive Director of Community Planning and Sustainability for Boulder, Colorado, and former chair of UNESCO’s ‘Growing Up In Cities’ project. But like the children of Pijp, many child-friendly schemes are reclaiming the streets for play. Playing Out Bristol, for example, is a community interest company that aims to promote after-school street play sessions – wheelie bins and road closure signs keep the traffic out for a few hours, with local residents acting as stewards. A community-led movement in the US known as Intersection Repair brings children and adults together to paint intersections, with the aim of making drivers more cautious; the bright, playful artwork on the surface of a road makes them question their ownership of the space, and whether children might be at play nearby. And in the Netherlands, special ‘woonerf’ (recreation) streets even give pedestrians and cyclists legal priority over motorists.

Such schemes run hand-in-hand with efforts to return inner-city neighbourhoods to more mixed functions, with low densities of family-friendly houses and flats situated alongside schools, child care centres, workplaces and leisure space. As well as making life easier for families by reducing the time it takes to transport children to good schools or care facilities, the hope is that this will prevent the ‘dead zones’ found in many urban centres outside of normal working hours. Driskell believes that there is “still a lot of work to do to recreate some of that family supportive infrastructure”, but says “some cities have really been at the forefront of trying to do that”, including his own hometown of Boulder, which has set up a project called Growing Up Boulder to ensure young people’s views on local transportation issues, child-friendly housing and even a youth-friendly farmer’s market are included in planning decisions.

Rotterdam is also worthy of a place on any child-friendly city list. Its own scheme saw housing corporations, project developers, district councils, parents and children collaborate to create more child-friendly housing (with a room for each child in the family), extended school activity programmes, and pavements with a minimum 10ft width on one side to encourage play. Containers full of roller skates, skipping ropes and go-karts were also placed in some neighbourhoods for children to borrow.
As with other child-friendly cities initiatives in Melbourne, Vancouver, Liverpool and Amman, children’s views were central to the development of the scheme. This ties in with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children should have the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, through any media they choose.

Children typically provide their opinions and ideas for improvements to their environment through drawings, walking interviews, photographs and by taking part in children’s councils. Like Boulder, Vancouver also operates an online site, vancouveryouth.ca, digitally engaging young residents in municipal decisions which affect their communities. By participating in this way, children don’t just benefit from an improved urban environment; they also grow as people and form strong bonds with their home city. As Driskell says: “It builds the kind of social capital and community that is part of a child-friendly city, and the feeling that they can make a change in the world they live in, be a steward of the environment, and work together with other people.”

In order to foster these kinds of opportunities in the developing world, UNICEF helped create Ureport, a social monitoring tool based on SMS messages, for young Ugandans. Uganda has the world’s youngest population, with more than half of its population under the age of 18. The tool aims to strengthen community-led development and citizen engagement by helping young people speak out on what’s happening in their communities, amplifying their voices through local and national media, and alerting local politicians about the issues their constituents face. Useful information is fed back to ‘Ureporters’, empowering them to improve their areas themselves.

In Kibera, Nairobi, where around two-thirds of the population live in crowded informal settlements, UNICEF is working with Map Kibera, by Open Street Map, on a youth-led digital mapping pilot program. A group of volunteers helped young people – particularly young women and girls – to create a digital map of their area, identifying vulnerabilities related to their health and protection. This kind of data is vitally important for bridging gaps in childhood equality, and ensuring no child is left behind.

“Really, the more desegregated data we are able to obtain on how children are living, in terms of the wide breadth of things such as respiratory health, water and sanitation access, but also play spaces and mental health, the better we’ll be able facilitate these things”, says Constabile.

The value of such projects is backed up by research from the UK Economic and Social Research Council, which has found that children are adept at driving sustainability projects, often contributing valuable insights and opinions that adults may overlook. Its 2009 study ‘Exploring the role of schools in developing sustainable communities’ claimed that children are keen to take on wider roles and responsibilities, helping to shape and improve their communities. “With their dynamism, energy and new ideas, children demonstrate considerable potential as agents of change”, says Dr Percy- Smith, a member of the research team at the time of the study’s release. “But as a society we neither encourage nor harness that energy and creativity. We have too little respect for the abilities of children and too many people feel that children either can’t or shouldn’t take a lead on change.”
Hopefully, in future, their opinions will be sought on an increasing range of subjects – not least the cities where many of them will one day raise their own children.

UNICEF says a child-friendly city guarantees the right of every young citizen to:
  • influence decisions about their city
  • express their opinions on the city they want
  • participate in family, community and social life
  • receive basic services such as health care, education, and shelter
  • drink safe water and have access to proper sanitation
  • be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse
  • walk safely in the streets on their own
  • meet friends and play
  • have green spaces for plants and animals
  • live in an unpolluted environment
  • participate in cultural and social events
  • be equal citizens of their city with access to every service, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, income, gender or ability

Source: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/greenfutures/articles/children-should-be-heart-future-cities

Planning sustainable cities for community food growing

A guide to using planning policy to meet strategic objectives through community food growing.

For the first time, this guide brings together in one place examples of planning policies around the UK that support community food growing.
It is aimed primarily at planning authorities to help them to use food growing as a way of creating healthy communities, itself a specific recommendation within the Planning Practice Guidance that goes with the National Planning Policy Framework for England, but a principle that is relevant across the UK.
The report sets the planning context in the four nations, and provides the background to community food growing. The bulk of the report is structured around the different issues that food growing helps to address, from sustainability to residential amenity via health and wellbeing, green infrastructure, regeneration and many other agendas. Within each section we document how food growing has been woven into planning policies to meet these priorities in local areas, and illustrate these with examples of growing projects that have also been set up to help meet that particular agenda. In some cases, such as in Brighton & Hove, the food growing spaces were set up as a direct result of planning policies, which have now led to over a third of new residential developments having integrated space for community food growing.
We end the report with recommendations, firstly to planners with practical steps, or top tips, on putting these ideas into policy and practice, then more broadly recommendations to local groups about their potential role. We then make recommendations for what national government in each of the four nations can do better to embed community food growing into local planning policies and processes.

Report contents

  • What is community food growing?   
  • The role of planning   
  • National planning policies and frameworks   
  • Local planning role   
How community food growing contributes to local strategic objectives
  • Sustainability   
  • Green infrastructure   
  • Health and wellbeing   
  • Education, skills and enterprise   
  • Regeneration and community development   
  • Design and residential amenity  
Writing planning policies to support community food growing
  • Local plan making   
  • Evidence gathering   
  • Leadership   
  • Ability to deliver  

Other resources  
download this report

Source: http://www.sustainweb.org/publications/?id=295

Monday, April 28, 2014

New booklet on building resilience in Social Ecological Systems

Applying resilience thinking - Seven principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems (SES) is a new booklet from the Stockholm Resilience Centre that describes how resilience can be practically applied. The booklet presents examples and case studies that illustrate seven principles for building resilience. Expanding on a previous review paper that emerged from a collaboration among Resilience Alliance Young Scholars (RAYS), this new publications is a summary of the upcoming book "Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems" soon to be published by Cambridge University Press. Editors: Oonsie Biggs, Maja Schlüter and Michael Schoon, will lead a panel discussion with some of the contributing authors at Resilience 2014, on Tuesday 6 May, 11:30-12:30.

New working group on collaborative governance and management 
RAYS members, Georgina Cundill and Michael Schoon, are leading a new working group on collaborative governance and management in support of resilience-based ecosystem stewardship. This working group (Christo Fabricius, Lisen Schultz, Chanda Meek and others) is part of a larger research initiative: the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) sponsored by ICSU and UNESCO. The project will carry out a multi-scale assessment of collaborative governance and management. Cundill and Schoon are optimistic that the international-level effort, under the PECS umbrella, will in turn support local efforts at understanding collaboration in environmental management.

Science and Practice of Ecology & Society Award
July 1, 2014 is the deadline for nominations for this year's Science and Practice of Ecology & Society Award. The award is given to the individual or organization that is the most effective in bringing transdisciplinary science of the interactions of ecology and society into practice. More information here.


Artic Resilience Report workshop
In preparation for the final Arctic Resilience Report a workshop and Project Steering Committee meeting were held in Helsinki, on April 8-9. The final report will be published next year May 2015. A session on The Arctic Resilience Report: Progress and Prospects will be held at Resilience 2014 on Tuesday 6 May, 15:40-16:40.

Assessing General Resilience
Brian Walker and colleagues have written a new discussion paper on General Resilience that was informed by a recent workshop in south-eastern Australia. In it they identify twelve components of general resilience and provide "a useful starting point for those considering undertaking this kind of assessment".  Read more here.

Select recent publications & writing  
Water resilience for human prosperity. 2014. Rockström, J., M. Falkenmark, C. Folke, M. Lannerstad, J. Barron, E. Enfors, L. Gordon, J. Heinke, H. Hoff and C. Pahl-Wostl. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Early warning signals of ecological transitions: methods for spatial patterns. 2014. Kéfi, S., V. Guttal, W.A. Brock, S.R. Carpenter, A.M. Ellison, V. N. Livina, D. A. Seekell, M. Scheffer, E.H. van Nes, and V. Dakos. PLoS ONE 9(3):e92097.
Water policy reform and innovation: A systematic review. 2014. Moore, M.L., S. von der Porten, R. Plummer, O. Brandes and J. Baird. Environmental Science & Policy 38:263-271.
Invasive plants as drivers of regime shifts: identifying high-priority invaders that alter feedback relationships. 2014. Gaertner, M., R. Biggs, M. Te Beest, C. Hui, J. Molofsky, and D. M. Richardson. Diversity and Distributions: in press.
Forest fragments modulate the provision of multiple ecosystem services. 2014. Mitchell, M.G.E., E.M. Bennett, and A. Gonzalez. Journal of Applied Ecology: in press.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A New Story for a New Economy

Photo by Shutterstock.

David Korten's new essay (available to read as a PDF) connects the work of finding a new sacred story with the effort to build a new economy.

Those who follow my work are aware that I believe a viable human future depends on navigating a deep cultural and institutional transformation grounded in a story of unrealized human possibility. For the past two years, I’ve been on a quest to frame a story that reflects the depth and breadth of human knowledge and points the way to an essential cultural and institutional transformation of our human relationships with one another and Earth.

The quest has led to a simple self-evident truth with deep roots in traditional wisdom cultures:
We humans are living beings birthed and nurtured by a living Earth in a living universe. To survive and thrive, we must learn to live as responsible contributing members of the whole of Earth’s community of life.

Obvious as this truth might be, we currently organize ourselves as if we are money-seeking robots inhabiting a dead Earth in a dead universe. This potentially fatal error explains why we are in deep trouble.

The wisdom of traditional peoples, the lessons of religious prophets, and current findings of science together confirm the true story that lives in each human heart and defines our authentic nature. To find our way to a vibrant future, we must acknowledge and share with one another that which we already know.

I elaborate the conclusions of my quest in “A New Story for a New Economy: To Find Our Human Place in a Living Universe.” This web essay connects three themes:

1. The theme of a Living Universe Cosmology that recognizes and celebrates all being as the manifestation of the spiritual ground of creation seeking to know itself through a creative, self-organizing unfolding toward ever-greater complexity, beauty, awareness, and possibility.

2. The theme of a Living Earth Community comprised of countless trillions of individual intelligent, choice making organisms that function as an adaptive, resilient, evolving community to maintain the conditions essential to the existence, health, and vitality of organic life.

3. The theme of a Living Earth Community Economy by which we humans organize to meet our own needs as responsible contributing members of the Living Earth Community that birthed and nurtures us.

I urge you to read the essay and reflect on the questions in the discussion guide on page 24. Then, extend an invitation to selected friends to read the essay and join you in your home or community gathering place to share reflections in search of a deeper understanding of your respective beliefs, stories, and possibilities.

Beginning on page 25, I share the personal story behind the essay. Some readers suggest that reading the personal story first provides a context that helps to bring the essay more fully alive.
You can download the complete essay as a pdf here.

My next project is to further revise and expand the essay into a short book for release by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. The working title is Change the Story, Change the Future: To Find Our Human Place of Service as Members of Earth’s Community of Life.

The book will further develop the framework of a Living Earth Community Economy. Watch for it in early 2015.

David Korten author picDavid Korten wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. David is the author of Agenda for a New EconomyThe Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, a founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, president of the Living Economies Forum, and a member of the Club of Rome. He holds MBA and PhD degrees from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and served on the faculty of the Harvard Business School.
Read more:

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Lessons From Leonardo da Vinci

This essay is adapted from a talk in which Fritjof Capra discusses some of the findings described in his latest book, Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius (2013: Berrett-Koehler Publishers).

Leonardo da Vinci, the great genius of the Renaissance, developed and practiced a unique synthesis of art, science, and technology, which is not only extremely interesting in its conception but also very relevant to our time.

As we recognize that our sciences and technologies have become increasingly narrow in their focus, unable to understand our multi-faceted problems from an interdisciplinary perspective, we urgently need a science and technology that honor and respect the unity of all life, recognize the fundamental interdependence of all natural phenomena, and reconnect us with the living Earth. What we need today is exactly the kind of synthesis Leonardo outlined 500 years ago.

A science of living forms

At the core of Leonardo's synthesis lies his life-long quest for understanding the nature of the living forms of nature. He asserts repeatedly that painting involves the study of natural forms, of qualities, and he emphasizes the intimate connection between the artistic representation of those forms and the intellectual understanding of their intrinsic nature and underlying principles. In order to paint nature's living forms, Leonardo felt that he needed a scientific understanding of their intrinsic nature and underlying principles, and in order to analyze the forms of nature, he needed the artistic ability to draw them. His science cannot be understood without his art, nor his art without the science.

The quest for the secret of life

I have been fascinated by the genius of Leonardo Lea Vinci and have spent the last ten years studying his scientific writings in facsimile editions of his famous notebooks. In my new book, I present an in-depth discussion of the main branches of Leonardo's scientific work — his fluid dynamics, geology, botany, mechanics, science of flight, and anatomy. Most of his astonishing discoveries and achievements in these fields are virtually unknown to the general public.

What emerged from my explorations of all the branches of Leonardo's science was the realization that, at the most fundamental level, Leonardo always sought to understand the nature of life. My main thesis is that the science of Leonardo da Vinci is a science of living forms, radically different from the mechanistic science of Galileo, Descartes, and Newton that emerged 200 years later.

This has often escaped earlier commentators, because until recently the nature of life was defined by biologists only in terms of cells and molecules, to which Leonardo, living two centuries before the invention of the microscope, had no access. But today, a new systemic understanding of life is emerging at the forefront of science — an understanding in terms of metabolic processes and their patterns of organization; and those are precisely the phenomena which Leonardo explored throughout his life, both in the macrocosm of the Earth and in the microcosm of the human body.

In the macrocosm, the main themes of Leonardo's science were the movements of water, the geological forms and transformations of the Earth, and the botanical diversity and growth patterns of plants. In the microcosm, his main focus was on the human body — its beauty and proportions, the mechanics of its movements, and the understanding of the nature and origin of life. Let me give you a very brief summary of his achievements in these diverse scientific fields.

The movements of water

Leonardo was fascinated by water in all its manifestations. He recognized its fundamental role as life's medium and vital fluid, as the matrix of all organic forms: "It is the expansion and humor of all living bodies," he wrote. "Without it nothing retains its original form." This view of the essential role of water in biological life is fully borne out by modern science. Today we know not only that all living organisms need water for transporting nutrients to their tissues, but also that life on Earth began in water, and that for billions of years, all the cells that compose living organisms have continued to flourish and evolve in watery environments. So, Leonardo was completely correct in viewing water as the carrier and matrix of life.

Throughout his life, Leonardo studied its movements and flows, drew and analyzed its waves and vortices. He experimented not only with water but also investigated the flows of blood, wine, oil, and even those of sand and grains. He was the first to formulate the basic principles of flow, and he recognized that they are the same for all fluids. These observations establish Leonardo da Vinci as a pioneer in the discipline known today as fluid dynamics.

Leonardo's manuscripts are full of exquisite drawings of spiraling vortices and other patterns of turbulence in water and air, which until now have never been analyzed in detail, because the physics of turbulent flows is notoriously difficult. In this book, I present an in-depth analysis of Leonardo's drawings of turbulent flows, based on extensive discussions with Ugo Piomelli, professor of fluid dynamics at Queen's University in Canada, who very generously helped me to analyze all of Leonardo's drawings and descriptions of turbulent flows.

The living Earth

Leonardo saw water as the chief agent in the formation of the Earth's surface. This awareness of the continual interaction of water and rocks impelled him to undertake extensive studies in geology, which informed the fantastic rock formations that appear so often in the shadowy backgrounds of his paintings. His geological observations are stunning not only by their great accuracy, but also because they led him to formulate general principles that were rediscovered only centuries later and are still used by geologists today.

Leonardo was the first to postulate that the forms of the Earth are the result of slow processes taking place over long epochs of what we now call geological time.

With this view, Leonardo was centuries ahead of his time. Geologists became aware of the great duration of geological time only in the early 19th century with the work of Charles Lyell, who is often considered the father of modern geology.

Leonardo was also the first to identify folds of rock strata. His descriptions of how rocks are formed over enormously long periods of time in layers of sedimentation and are subsequently shaped and folded by powerful geological forces come close to an evolutionary perspective. He arrived at this perspective 300 years before Charles Darwin, who also found inspiration for evolutionary thought in geology.

The growth of plants

Leonardo's notebookd contain numerous drawings of trees and flowering plants, many of them masterpieces of detailed botanical imagery. These drawings were at first made as studies for paintings, but soon turned into genuine scientific inquiries about the patterns of metabolism and growth that underlie all botanical forms. Leonardo paid special attention to the nourishment of plants by sunlight and water, and to the transport of the sap through the plants' tissues.

He correctly distinguished between the dead outer layer of a tree's bark and the living inner bark, known to botanists as the phloem, which he called very aptly "the shirt that lies between the bark and the wood." He was also the first to recognize that the age of a tree corresponds to the number of rings in the cross-section of its trunk, and — even more remarkably — that the width of a growth ring is an indication of the climate during the corresponding year. As in so many other fields, Leonardo carried his botanical thinking far beyond that of his peers, establishing himself as the first great theorist in botany.

The human body in motion

Whenever Leonardo explored the forms of nature in the macrocosm, he also looked for similarities of patterns and processes in the human body. In order to study the body's organic forms, he dissected numerous corpses of humans and animals, and examined their bones, joints, muscles, and nerves, drawing them with an accuracy and clarity never seen before. Leonardo demonstrated in countless elaborate and stunning drawings how nerves, muscles, tendons and bones work together to move the body.

Unlike Descartes, Leonardo never thought of the body as a machine, even though he was a brilliant engineer who designed countless machines and mechanical devices. He clearly recognized that the anatomies of animals and humans involve mechanical functions. "Nature cannot give movement to animals without mechanical instruments," he explained, but that did not imply for him that living organisms were machines. It only implied that, in order to understand the movements of the animal body, he needed to explore the principles of mechanics. Indeed, he saw this as the most "noble" role of this branch of science.

Elements of mechanics

To understand in detail how nature's "mechanical instruments" work together to move the body, Leonardo immersed himself in prolonged studies of problems involving weights, forces, and movements — the branches of mechanics known today as statics, dynamics, and kinematics. While he studied the elementary principles of mechanics in relation to the movements of the human body, he also applied them to the design of numerous new machines, and as his fascination with the science of mechanics grew, he explored ever more complex topics, anticipating abstract principles that were centuries ahead of his time.

These include his understanding of the relativity of motion, his discovery of the principle now known as Newton's third law of motion, his intuitive grasp of the conservation of energy, and — perhaps most remarkably — his anticipation of the law of energy dissipation, the second law of thermodynamics. Although there are many books on Leonardo's mechanical engineering, there is as yet none on his theoretical mechanics. In the longest chapter of this book, I provide an in-depth analysis of this important branch of Leonardo's science.

The science of flight

From the texts that accompany Leonardo's anatomical drawings we know that he considered the human body as an animal body, as biologists do today; and thus it is not surprising that he compared human movements with the movements of various animals. What fascinated him more than any other animal movement was the flight of birds. It was the inspiration for one of the great passions in his life — the dream of flying.

The dream of flying like a bird is as old as humanity itself. But nobody pursued it with more intensity, perseverance, and commitment to meticulous research than Leonardo da Vinci. His science of flight involved numerous disciplines — from aerodynamics to human anatomy, the anatomy of birds, and mechanical engineering.

In my chapter on Leonardo's science of flight, I analyze his drawings and writings on this subject in some detail, and I come to the conclusion that he had a clear understanding of the origin of aerodynamic lift, that he fully understood the essential features of both soaring and flapping flight, and that he was the first to recognize the principle of the wind tunnel — that a body moving through stationary air is equivalent to air flowing over a stationary body. This establishes Leonardo da Vinci as one of the great pioneers of aerodynamics.

In his numerous designs of flying machines, Leonardo attempted to imitate the complex flapping and gliding movements of birds. Many of these designs were based on sound aerodynamic principles, and it was only the weight of the materials available in the Renaissance that prevented him from building viable models.

The mystery of life

As I have mentioned, the grand unifying theme of Leonardo's explorations of the macro- and microcosm was his persistent quest to understand the nature of life. This quest reached its climax in the anatomical studies he carried out in Milan and Rome when he was over sixty, especially in his investigations of the heart — the bodily organ that has served as the foremost symbol of human existence and emotional life throughout the ages. He not only understood and pictured the heart in ways no one had before him; he also observed subtleties in its actions that would elude medical researchers for centuries.

During the last decade of his life, Leonardo became intensely interested in another aspect of the mystery of life — its origin in the processes of reproduction and embryonic development. In his embryological studies, he described the life processes of the fetus in the womb, including its nourishment through the umbilical cord, in astonishing detail. Leonardo's embryological drawings are graceful and touching revelations of the mysteries surrounding the origins of life.

Leonardo knew very well that, ultimately, the nature and origin of life would remain a mystery, no matter how brilliant his scientific mind. "Nature is full of infinite causes that have never occurred in experience," he declared in his late forties, and as he got older, his sense of mystery deepened. Nearly all the figures in his last paintings have that smile that expresses the ineffable, often combined with a pointing finger. "Mystery to Leonardo," wrote the famous art historian Kenneth Clark, "was a shadow, a smile, and a finger pointing into darkness."

Source: http://www.dailygood.org/story/703/new-lessons-from-leonardo-fritjof-capra/

Repubilshed with permission. This essay is adapted from a talk in which Fritjof Capra discusses some of the findings described in his latest book, Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius (2013: Berrett-Koehler Publishers).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Lesson Plans, Reading Lists, and Classroom Ideas


Earth Day 2014 is right around the corner, and this year the theme is "Green Cities." Are you planning on incorporating the annual event in your classroom?
There are many different learning opportunities on Earth Day, whether it's science-based investigations, thematic reading, or creative arts projects. To help teachers brainstorm some ways to incorporate Earth Day, we've compiled a list of resources that teachers can use to bring environmental education to students. There's a bit of everything, including lesson plans, tools and resources, and student reading lists.

Earth Day Lesson Plans:

  • K-5 Earth Day Curriculum Resources: The National Education Association produced this resource for teachers, which features seven in-depth lesson plans, Earth Day games, and a list of outside links for students in grades K-5. There are also three entire unit plans as well.
  • Environmental Education Resources from The Nature Conservancy: This resource created by scientists with The Nature Conservancy features lesson plans, reading materials, and interactive videos in a variety of environmental subject areas. For instance, students can browse lessons that look at soil science, food science, and energy, among others. The lessons are offered as part of the Conservancy's Nature Works Everywhere initiative.
  • Celebrate Earth Day! from ReadWriteThink: Here, teachers will find six lesson plans written by teachers for students in grades K-2, 6-8, and 7-9. Provided are resources for Earth Day-themed writing assignments, eco-reading activities, and environmental research projects. The page also features ideas for after-school and at-home learning.
  • Earth Day Lesson Collection from Science NetLinks: Although this collection was produced in 2012, it's still extremely useful for Earth Day 2014. Science NetLinks has produced a long list of lessons and learning tools on a variety of earth science subjects, and they're all easy to browse by grade-level.

Classroom Ideas for Earth Day Activities:

Earth Day Reading For Students:

  • 2014 Earth Day Recommended Reading: The Florida Department of Education produced this list of books and literature with options for every grade level.
  • Suggested Reading for Environmental Learning: Via the Environmental Education Foundation, this list highlights books for every grade. Note: The list is in no particular order, so elementary and high school books are intermixed.
  • Tips for Encouraging Readers on Earth Day: The Earth Day Network produced this list of ideas for encouraging students to read about environmental topics. In addition to the tips, though, you'll find PDF reading lists of environmental books for elementary, middle school, and high school students.

Source: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/earth-day-lesson-plans-matt-davis

Earth Day has deep roots in education. The first one was in 1970, held as a "national teach-in on the environment." It was groundbreaking in that it brought together people with different beliefs and backgrounds to fight for a single cause. We celebrate on April 22nd, but you can teach your students about sustainability and environmental stewardship all year round. It doesn't take much for kids to feel like they can make a difference for our planet, mobilizing them to be life-long environmentalists! Here's a playlist of videos to get started.

Video Playlist: Earth Day

Watch the player below to see the whole playlist, or view it on YouTube.
  1. Mobilize The Earth (01:02) This year's Earth Day theme is "Green Cities." Visit Earth Day Network's website to take the pledge towards 2 billion acts of green.
  2. Get 'em Outside! (05:35) This great video shows how every subject ties in to environmental ed, and asks educators and parents to get the kids outside!
  3. The Earth Day Network's Education Department (02:10) Learn about about the history of Earth Day and the Earth Day Network's work in education.
  4. Natural Growth: Connecting Urban Youth with Nature (04:07) This moving video follows a group of kids from Brooklyn as they re-connect with nature through the LEAF program.
  5. Change the World in 5 Minutes - Everyday at School (04:33) Love this spunky Australian video where a team of exuberant kids explain how to change the world in just five minutes every day.
  6. How To Plan Earth Day Classroom Projects (01:14) A few basic Earth Day activities to get your creative juices flowing. Perfect if you only have a few moments to brainstorm.
  7. GOOD: Use Less Plastic (01:49) Short but powerful message from GOOD Magazine about how plastic impacts the environment. Remember your re-usable grocery bags!
  8. Earth Hour 2014 Video (01:53) Did you know there's an "Earth Hour" in addition to Earth Day? In late March every year, people around the world turn off the power.
  9. Wetland Watchers: Kids Care for Their Environment (08:09) Service learning in action in a middle school classroom in Louisiana -- sixth graders learn to restore the wetlands near their school.
  10. The World Is Just Awesome (01:01) This fun viral ad became a user-generated meme as people made their own "Boom De Ah Dah" videos about what they loved about the earth.
  11. Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots (04:29) Celebrated conservationist Jane Goodall enables young people to save the planet with her organization's message of hope.
  12. Earth Day (Friday Parody) (01:53) YouTube is chock full of Earth Day / Friday parodies. This one is to promote a school's Earth Day Film Festival of student-produced videos. Sorry!

Teaching Environmental Education Through Service Learning

So here's the question: how do you get from crafty commemorative activities for Earth Day to meaningful projects that have lasting value? Start by reading former Edutopia blogger Gaetan Pappalardo's blog post, Elementary Art and Service Learning Projects for Earth Day and Beyond, where he tackles that very topic. Visit the Earth Day Network's Green Schools Leadership Center to find lesson plans, grant information, and an online community. You can also get teaching resources at the National Environmental Education Foundation and the Go Green Initiative. Join Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots service learning organization, or get involved with the Nature Conservancy's Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. Start in your own room by reading How to Go Green: Teachers from Discovery's Treehugger website, or pursue whole-school change with the National Wildlife Federation's Eco-Schools movement. From small personal actions to large-scale reform, it's always a great time to teach the next generation about taking care of the planet.

Source: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/film-festival-earth-day-environmental-education

During the first Earth Day in 1970, tens of thousands of Vietnam War protestors took to Central Park in New York and Fairmount Park in Philadelphia calling for peace on earth. Today, the movement has grown substantially and quietly, shifting attention toward the science documenting alarming global environmental degradation and offering young learners a platform for supporting the planet's physical health, ensuring a home for their future.
By definition, Earth Day is a global learning day. Earth, water, air quality, climate, chemistry, physics, physiology, plant life and animal habitats don't respect national boundaries, so they are inherently global in nature, inviting wider exploration and conversation. This fact in itself can serve as a launch for a global conversation. Vexing challenges that stump the best scientific minds are solved globally using collaborative teams located in different locales that experiment and study issues from diverse angles and approaches. The lives of environmental pioneers like Wangari Maathai can inspire learning throughout the curriculum.
Go ahead and wear flowers in your hair for Earth Day. Then, to engage in deeper learning, try some of these terrific resources.

Bucket Buddies

The Bucket Buddies Project calls for students around the world to collect water samples from local ponds to answer the question: "Are the organisms found in pond water the same all over the world?" The lesson plans allow students to identify microinvertebrates in their water sample, share their findings on the web site, and analyze the data.


The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program is NASA's hands-on science program that allows classrooms to connect with scientists and science students from around the world. Schools can join their Student Climate Research Campaign and connect with classrooms near and far. While conducting science investigations and sharing their climate science studies, students will be inspired to look at climate-related environmental issues and Earth as a system.

ProjectExplorer and STEM Learning

ProjectExplorer's library of two-to-four-minute videos was created to introduce students to the features that make diverse cultures and countries so fascinating. Start at the homepage by choosing your learning level (e.g., Upper Elementary), pick a spot on the globe that has a project marker, and take off. For example, in the Mauritius series, learn how the island was formed, about the science and the ancient origins of the helicopter, how mineral deposits created gorgeous multi-colored sand found only on that island, how fish breathe, and more. Supplement your "travels" in this series by tapping into National Geographic's new Geo-Educator Community.

The Daffodil and Tulip Project

The Daffodil and Tulip Project was started by iEARN, which works to connect schools and teachers across the planet, and has a bank of great collaborative project ideas. This project offers a science/math/writing/friendship experience that can be as simple or as complicated as a classroom is ready to take on. Classrooms around the world choose daffodil and/or tulip bulbs to plant during the same week in November. Students collect temperature data throughout the experiment, including when blooms appear, and report their results -- both to their classmates and to their partner classes in other locales. For Earth Day, you can compare the bulbs in your community to postings made by ongoing project participants.
This project's description page shows participation from Jamaica, Israel, Iran and the United States. iEARN reports:
Participants enjoy interacting together while "waiting" for the blooms. Students have opportunities to use math skills, such as graphing, converting metric to English or the reverse, temperature conversions F to C and the reverse. In addition, they strengthen and practice science skills, i.e. hypothesizing what effects bloom date, collecting data, comparing and analyzing data. Also, students learn the importance of establishing and following a scientific protocol. The ultimate goal of the project is to promote building connections between students and their teachers, considering what affects plant growth, and peace!

Incorporate Global Lessons

Challenge yourself to turn any elementary science unit you're studying into a vehicle for learning more about the wider world. For example, while teaching the water cycle and water conservation, see Teach UNICEF, Water.org or the Peace Corps' Passport blog for lesson plans.
Each of these examples offers one big lesson: start with a topic you love, and see where it might lead you. As the founders of Earth Day had hoped, it could even plant the seeds to peace.

Source: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/earth-day-global-learning-day-homa-tavangar