After the Flood

Robert Polidori (Canadian, b. 1951), one of the world’s premier architectural photographers, has recorded the disasters of our time as well as the failures of contemporary society. Amid the scenes of destruction and chaos in New Orleans, as in his past projects in Havana, Versailles, and Chernobyl, Polidori finds a formal beauty that radiates stillness and compassion and invites contemplation.

Polidori, Orleans Street

2732 Orleans Avenue, New Orleans

The wrecked rooms, collapsed houses, and ravaged neighborhoods on view in “After the Flood” become metaphors for human fragility. Using a large-format camera, natural light, and unusually long exposures, Polidori records the destruction with a mastery of color, light, shadow, and texture that brings to life discarded mementos and mud-caked belongings. In each image, the artist seems to have captured the very air of New Orleans, weighted heavily with mold, humidity, and history.

Polidori, 5417 Marigny Street

5417 Marigny Street, New Orleans

Polidori, Wuerpel Street

6525 Wuerpel Street, New Orleans

Text and Images from the 2006 Metropolitan Museum exhibition in New York. For more information, click here.

Global Storm

The findings of the IPCC include:

The amount of carbon in the atmosphere is now increasing at a faster rate even than before.

Temperature increases would be considerably higher than they have been so far were it not for the blanket of soot and other pollution that is temporarily helping to cool the planet.

Rembrandt, Stormy Landscape

Rembrandt, Stormy Landscape

Alternative explanations for some of the warming (for example, sunspot activity and the “urban heat island effect,” the raising of temperatures in cities caused by high building densities and the use of heat-retaining materials such as concrete and asphalt) are now known to be relatively negligible.

Almost everything frozen on earth is melting. Heavy rainfalls are becoming more common since the air is warmer and therefore holds more water than cold air, and “cold days, cold nights and frost have become less frequent, while hot days, hot nights, and heat waves have become more frequent.”

Peeters, Great Flood

Peeters, The Great Flood

These facts serve as the prelude to the most important part of the new document, its predictions for what is to come. Here, too, the news essentially confirms the previous report, and indeed most of the predictions about climate change dating back to the start of research: if we don’t take the most aggressive possible measures to curb fossil fuel emissions immediately, then we will see temperature increases of — at the best estimate — roughly 5 degrees Fahrenheit during this century. Technically speaking, that’s enormous, enough to produce what James Hansen has called a “totally different planet,” one much warmer than that known by any of our human ancestors.

Martin, The Eve of the Deluge

Martin, The Eve of the Deluge

Read entire article here.

Ruins …

Is the Deadly Crash of Our Civilization Inevitable?

By Terrence McNally, AlterNet. Posted February 13, 2007.

An interview with author Thomas Homer-Dixon about the social, political, economic and technological crises we face and how long we can sustain the lifestyle that brought them about.

Zais, Ancient Ruins 1735

Zais, Ancient Ruins 1735

Humankind is doing more things, faster, across a greater space than ever before, producing changes of a size and speed never seen before.

Thomas Homer-Dixon compares our current situation to driving too fast along a country road in a dense fog. Some ignore the fog and keep their foot pressed on the accelerator, but most of us feel like fairly helpless passengers on this wild ride.

In 1870, the average income in the world’s richest country was about nine times greater than that in the world’s poorest country. By 1990 it was forty-five times greater.

Canaletto, Ruins 1742

Canaletto, Ruins 1742

In 2006, the world’s 793 billionaires held combined wealth of $2.6 trillion. (If liquidated in 2006), this wealth could have hired the poorest half of the world’s workers — the 1.4 billion workers who earn a few dollars a day — for almost two years.

Between 1977 and 1996, the weight of the average American cheeseburger grew over 25 percent, and the volume of the average soft drink grew more than 50 percent. About 40 percent of the world’s population now lacks sufficient water for basic sanitation and hygiene, and nearly one out of every five people does not have enough to drink.

Between 2000 and the beginning of 2005, China’s daily oil imports soared 140 percent. Saudi Arabia, has pumped a total of 46 billion barrels of oil in the past 17 years, without admitting to any decrease in its stated reserve figure of about 260 billion barrels.

Since 1950, industrialized fishing has reduced the total mass of large fish in the world’s oceans by 90 percent. The atmosphere’s level of carbon dioxide is the highest in 650,000 years.

Hubert, Imaginary view of Louvre in Ruins 1796

Hubert, Imaginary View of the Louvre in Ruins 1796

Is a deadly crash inevitable?

Thomas Homer-Dixon is director of the Trudeau Centre for the Study of Peace and Conflict at the University of Toronto. He is the author of “The Ingenuity Gap” and his newest book “The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization.”

Ozymandias 1

Terrence McNally: What are the biggest questions driving you right now?

Thomas Homer-Dixon: I have a 20-month-old son, and I’m concerned about the future for him. I’m trying to figure out what might happen and how we can make it better.

It’s unlikely that the future is going to be a linear extrapolation of the present, but I’ve pretty well arrived at the conclusion that the diversity and power of the stresses that we’re encountering are going to cause some major volatility. I expect social, political, economic and technological crises and breakdowns. It’s hard to say what they’re going to look like, but the probability of some major problems developing is rising.

Ozymandias 2

Ozymandias (

So how are we going to respond in times of crisis?

In the book I introduce the metaphor of earthquakes. I talk about tectonic stresses building up under the surface of our societies and of global society. Now this is something that Californians are very familiar with. Everybody in the state knows that there are mighty tectonic plates pressing together along the San Andreas Fault, among others. Potential energy builds up, and at some point it’s released in earthquakes that can have devastating consequences.

And I think the same is at least metaphorically true for our world. Stresses are building, and at some point I expect there will be a release of pressure because our institutions and our adaptive capability will be overloaded. We just won’t be able to cope.

Read the rest here.

Ozymandias 3

Ozymandias (

The Last Americans
Environmental Collapse and the End of Civilization
JARED DIAMOND / Harper’s Magazine Jun03

One of the disturbing facts of history is that so many civilizations collapse. Few people, however, least of all our politicians, realize that a primary cause of the collapse of those societies has been the destruction of the environmental resources on which they depended. Fewer still appreciate that many of those civilizations share a sharp curve of decline. Indeed, a society’s demise may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth, and power.

Recent archaeological discoveries have revealed similar courses of collapse in such otherwise dissimilar ancient societies as the Maya in the Yucatán, the Anasazi in the American Southwest, the Cahokia mound builders outside St. Louis, the Greenland Norse, the statue builders of Easter Island, ancient Mesopotamia in the Fertile Crescent, Great Zimbabwe in Africa, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. These civilizations, and many others, succumbed to various combinations of environmental degradation and climate change, aggression from enemies taking advantage of their resulting weakness, and declining trade with neighbors who faced their own environmental problems. Because peak population, wealth, resource consumption, and waste production are accompanied by peak environmental impact—approaching the limit at which impact outstrips resources—we can now understand why declines of societies tend to follow swiftly on their peaks.

Read the rest here.

Exploit the workers and pollute the seas

Burtynsky, Tailings 30

Burtynsky, Tailings 33 Sudbury, Ont

By Andrew Leonard

Source: Salon Magazine

“Waste dumping is not carried out by nations: it is carried out by corporations,” declares Tang Hao, a Guangzhou-based academic writing in ChinaDialogue.

Tang is referring to the practice in which Western nations export their waste to the developing world, a variety of “trade” that is coming under increasing attack. The easy reaction is to see the waste trade as evidence of a double standard reeking of colonial legacies: The West doesn’t want its own garbage but has no qualms about sending it to China. Tang makes a useful distinction in his interesting article, pinning the blame on independent corporations operating in an unregulated global environment, rather than on the historical power relations between developed and developing nations.

But the picture gets murkier when you start looking more closely at China’s own behavior.

Last week’s trip to Africa by China’s President, Hu Jintao, generated blanket coverage — a favorite media touchpoint was China’s mining adventures in Zambia, where China appears to be doing its best to live up to the example set by its colonial forebears. A similar, less publicized story is playing out in Papua New Guinea, where there is a growing political storm over the working conditions at Ramu, a huge nickel mine operated by the Chinese mining conglomerate Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC).

Burtynsky, Tailings 31

Burtynsky, Tailings 31 Sudbury, Ont

“Toilet facilities are so poor that PNG workers are using the nearby forest rather than suffer the indignity of squatting on logs over open latrines, Government officials claimed last week.

After paying the site a surprise visit, PNG’s Labour and Industrial Relations Secretary, David Tibu, said local workers were being paid for overtime with tinned fish rather than money and that the canteen provided for employees was “not fit for pigs or dogs”.”

But the labor conditions aren’t the only problem for MCC. The plan is to pump the mine waste — the “tailings” — via pipeline into the heart of Astrolabe Bay. Submarine tailings disposal is frowned upon by environmentalists and generally forbidden in the West. Some Papua New Guineans fear that a local tuna fishery will be harmed.

China’s demand for nickel is extraordinary. Most of its nickel imports are used for making stainless steel, which in turn feeds China’s automotive and petroleum sectors. You could argue, therefore, that China is exporting the waste associated with its own industrial development to the ocean surrounding Papua New Guinea, even if that waste did not actually originate in China. To further complicate matters, MCC is owned by the Chinese government, which means that this is all occuring with the tacit approval of the Chinese state.

Does this invalidate Tang Hao’s analysis?:

“Globalization benefits both developed and developing nations, but environmental laws and their enforcement are weaker in poorer countries. This gives richer nations a chance to export their waste and pollution. The economic and environmental differences are, in essence, the result of underdeveloped systems.

Burtynsky, Tailings 33

Burtynsky, Tailings 30 Sudbury, Ont

Globalization increases the interaction between different systems, and exposes the gaps between them. In the same way that less-developed systems attract unregulated and risky investments, they also attract waste.”

Not at all. It just requires that the same analysis be applied to China, as it takes advantage of globalization to commit upon others the same sins as have been committed upon itself. Except that given the strong coupling between the state and the corporate sector in China, one is tempted to claim that Chinese culpability in these matters is greater than the West’s.

Computer age brings sun to Italian village in shadow of the Alps

Mountainside mirror ends centuries of winter gloom
By Elisabetta Povoledo
Published: February 6, 2007

VIGANELLA, Italy: From mid-November to early February, Viganella lives in the dark shadow of a steep mountain that blocks the sun from casting direct rays on the village, a stone’s throw from the Swiss border.

For centuries, its citizens have celebrated the sun’s return Feb. 2 with a solemn religious procession and a lively auction of local delicacies.

But this year the guest of honor never really left: Since December, a 40- square-meter, or 430-square-foot, mirror placed on a mountainside above Viganella has been deflecting the sun’s rays into the town square, bringing sunlight, of a sort, in winter.

“That had never happened since the time the world began,” said Giannino Broggio, Viganella’s deputy mayor, who deemed the occasion “historic.”

There has not exactly been a run on sunglasses, and pale complexions still predominate here, but the locals seemed pleased with their artificial sun.

“It’s not like it generated much heat,” said Paola Ghensi, a housewife. “But it did make you want to stop and chat in the square for five minutes longer, instead of bolting straight home.”

Though they profess interest in the technical details of the project, what many residents really seem to marvel at has been the intensity of the media spotlight generated by the mirror.

Viganella Mirror

“We didn’t set it up because we thought it would bring people,” said Mayor Pierfranco Midali. But the mirror became an unexpected attraction, he said, adding: “More persons have passed though Viganella in the last two years than in the past two centuries.”

There is not all that much to see. The mirror — 870 meters, or 2,900 feet, above Viganella and measuring 8 meters wide by 5 meters high — is motorized and constantly tracks the sun. Computer software tilts and turns the panels throughout the daylight hours to deflect the rays downward. But from the main square, bathed in reflected sunlight, all that is visible of the false sun is a bright glare from the slope above.

“At first no one believed it could be possible, but I was certain. I have faith in physics,” said Giacomo Bonzani, an architect and sundial designer who came up with the idea of reflecting sunlight onto the square and made the necessary astronomical calculations. The project languished for a few years until funding — about €100,000, or $130,000 — came through last year from private and public sponsors.

The mirror was designed by Emilio Barlocco, an engineer whose company specializes in using reflected sunlight to light the entrances to highway tunnels. He read about Viganella’s plight in the Turin daily La Stampa and offered his expertise and services.

Solar Mirror

Solar mirror on the hill

“Whenever you do something for the first time, you’re either a pioneer or stupid,” he said. “We hope we’re the former.”

Read complete story here.

Global Balding


The hedgehog with ‘global balding’

A nice, soft fluffy coat is of little use to a hedgehog.

But poor old Glen is having to make do without any prickles – apparently thanks to global warming.

Vets believe his freak appearance was caused by the stress of missing out on his winter hibernation.

He was found in Peebles in the Scottish Borders long after he should have nodded off into a deep sleep until spring. He had a few prickles but now even they have fallen out.

Read more here.