maandag 28 december 2009

a vision on Copenhague summit

Looking back at the end of the year, after the Copenhague summit, I feel encouraged to pursuit my personal small scale initiatiave to develop a way to live in a sustainable way and choose for quality of rural living.

The poor result of The Copenhagen climate summit by the end of December showed that a multilateral treaty that worldwide aims at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, finding consensus on how to realise that, setting targets and sharing costs in doing so is not within our governments' reach. Altough we all are related, sharing the same global problems, our leaders act as if we were divided. Maybe a part of it is due to the fact that we are not used to direct investements while returns partly flow in on a longer term. A longer term than the re-election of our political leaders take. Of course there's more than that.

Prior to the Copenhague summit, "Climate gate" re-opened the discussion on the role of (the IPCC on unvealing information regarding the impact of) human CO2 emission in relation to global warming and climate change. During the summit it became clear that Clinton/Obama did not want to accept a treaty that they would find difficult to sell at home -history repeats itself- and that China did not want to be judged as a major contributor in absolute CO2 emissions but as small contributor in terms of CO2 emission per capita and as a consequence doesn't want to sacrifice economical growth to the extend needed to contribute keeping global warming under the 2 degrees Celsius. Europe, too divided to act as a solid and coherent player, asked the others to strive for more ambitious commitments but didn't succeed in it's plea nor can it solve this global problem by herself.

If my project was about reducing CO2 I would have learned from this summit that our governments on a global level fail to take substantial steps. Since there's no collective consensus all there is left is local or personal initiative that can speed up developments in the right direction. Even if there is no 100% scientific proof on the relation between human CO2 emission and climate change there is a lot a reasons to look for alternative ways of building, heating and living:

Suppose in the future we will have a 100% scientific insight on the impact of our behaviour on global warming -and we already have reason to think in that direction as CO2 is recognised as a green house gas and we do emit a rapidly growing vast amount of it every year- we might not be able to do anything anymore. How to repair climatical changes and life in oceans and earth, changed global amounts of warmth, rain and dryness and changed seasonality and changed ecosystems?

Secondly cost may be irreversibly high -building huge dams and dikes around the world to fight floods, offer shelter or even new life to hundreds of millions of people ? Probably it will be so expensive to adapt to climate changes that we will not be able to carry the burden by then, as is stated in the Stern report.

Thirdly if we globally support industries (for example agriculture, aircraft)with subsidisation or lowered taxes why not pay comparable attention to clean industries that may benefit from support while offering massive employement and economical and social benefits in return, and cheaper cleaner energy besides? The sooner, the less competetive disadvantages, the faster developments of the industry will lead to cheaper, better functioning alternatives. Economics of scale -(global) consensus- is key and can only but help.

Fourthly, despite the argument of CO2 emission we do face indisputable and limited amounts of natural resources that ask for adapted behaviour. Prices of energy are expexted to continue to increase for oil, gas as well as electricity. Using current pricing the Dutch governement expect grit pricing parity between solar and conventional electricity within just over a decay (senter Novem report December 2008). Bear in mind that prices are increasing and that solar panels are expected to deliver up to 80% of their initial power even after 25 years, having an amortisation of over 3 decays. Not one decay. If it is not for the environmental reasons only to adapt our behaviour, than be it for economical reasons.

Last but not least, pursuing alternatives for fossile energy will diminish dependancy of sometimes dictatorial regimes that worldwide supply oil and gas, reducing geo political tensions and coming from that: war and costs resulting from geo-policies that have a high price. Both in a finanicial way, as we all are paying for the consequences of those tensions, even tough we do not find it's cost in our energy bills, as well as in human capital. No one owns wind, nobody can own the sun, at the same time everybody can harvest energy from wind and sun and benefit from it. Those resources are free, eternally available, renewable by nature, clean, and we do not need to go drill for it, refine it, nor transport and distribute it over thousands of miles, nor protect it's way from the source to the customer. Most renewable energy flows freely, without intervention.

I think decentralised energy and water production both economically, socially, environmentally and geo politically is a smart path to pursuit. And by the end of 2009 I'm more convinced than before that we will have to do it ourselves. My project however is not (only) about that. Altough it touches it's subjects it is not about politics, nor is it about environmental preservation or economics. The Hohmes project is about quality, it offers a way to connect to the environment, to one's behaviiour, and from that point of view it adds to quality of life in numerous ways. It offers a higher standard of water management and aims at a higher quality of drinking water, and it offers to be more in control of primary resoucers and pursuits the possability of mobile living. Did I forget to mention that it also is about beauty and the fun I have in developping it and the hapiness I expect to find living in it? Well, it's mentionned now.

zaterdag 12 december 2009

first steps: team up

How will I make this adventure attend it's purpose? It feels like I'm building a mountain that nobody is asking for. And nobody knows how to built it as it wasn't done before. Nor is there any direction or path, let alone signage that mark the way to go. Yet I'm walking on it as you read this. I'm not an architect or engineer nor am I a building contractor or a construction worker. It did not prevent me to completely re-engineer, redesign and rebuilt our French house with my bare hands and I guess I like to travel this unknown road.

A close friend of mine used the notion of a one man army to characterise an energetic part of me. I don't consider that as a virtue nor very valuable but like to approach the metaphore in my attempts to give birth to the Hohmes project as if it was a fact.

If an army would get involved in a battle, I would say it's effectiveness also depends on it's allies. I will team up and look for professionals that add value, within their role and responsability, but also outside that. People that are willing to think outside their own field, eager to listen and understand the rest of the process they are part of. I will look for people that are specialists and that are attracted to the idea of interdisciplinarity as a way to strengthen their own.

Measured on the earthscale, in Holland we live with 16 million on a swampy stamp that for a part lays under sealevel. Available building sites there are as rare as mountains are. To go short: if you don't have a municipality on your side don't even dream to start a building project. No site, no building. Certainly not if it considers innovative building. A building that is unique in it's ability to be placed off grid and pursuits zero carbon emmitance and aims at energy neutrality, may have elements in it's concept that are not dealth with in Dutch building law (nor European law). Think about cleaning your own water. Think about not using the sewerage and producing clean wastewater. Or maybe a low voltage circuit is applied in the house whereas law only addresses 220/230V circuits. Or maybe the facades of the house will follow the sun: how will a civil servant judge a design or its facade if it doesn't have one, but several facades, changing over time besides?

There is no guide as there is no existing landscape I'm walking in, no path that can be known. The way is created per every step made. Best I can do is walk and look for fellow travellers which I will. Both in local authorities as well as in specialisation within the several disciplines.

dinsdag 8 december 2009

Start of the Hohmes blog

I'm not sure if this is a good idea. Starting a blog that will be some sort of diary of my purpose to realise a self sufficient, sustainable, zero energy, zero carbon emmiting affordable, moveable and well designed house for me my family and anyone attracted to it.

It will offer shelter, warmth, water and modern comfort yet minimise our CO2 footprint and only use renewable energy. The house could be developped as a stand alone unit or be developped as to be connected to a grid as well. Advantages of scale indeed are possible but I figure development starts with the smallest possible number, choosing the way of the least resistance: a single unit that just suites our needs contributing to collective needs as well. I tend to look at it as a lovely peace of furniture, an object with the ability to live in.

The desire and concept are clear. It maybe leads to a prefabricated, industrialised unit and forces to use the most straightforward and simple techniques and material. Pushes towards the elements that nature massively is offering so clearly every day for free and renewable untill the end of times: light, sun, water, earth -and from that: biomass- wind and fire.

It aims at deconnecting from centralised production to decentralised less polluting living reconnecting to the basics of life, living in close harmony with nature.

It all started in 2005 when I developped this idea into a concept with my pal Marc van Langen. We had plans drawn and a maquette made and looked for sponsors as to create a demo unit. We asked the Dutch Friends of the earth (Natuurmonumenten, de Kleine Aarde) to co-develop, sollicitated several builders (Landal Green Parcs) , a bank (Triodos) and Dutch green venture capitalists like Mr. Fentener Van Vlissingen and Eckart Wintzen. All willingly listened, none were able or willing to invest a penny back than. Some did not understand what we were up to, others simply thought 'what's in it for me in the short run' ? Returns in single, preferably double digits, had to be made within a year whereas sustainability in this case is about longer term investment and dito profitability. It's about innovative, new business, not about business as usual. Innovative in it's approach of developping, designing and building. Innovative into how to live and how to organise urban space as well. And innovative for it is not a governmental supply model that produces the housing here and it is innovative because it adds quality and future gains to it's benefits.

Why bother restarting now? Well, we still can use a place for us to stay and think Dutch housing -on the average costing more than 250.000 EURO for a shag- still isn't smart, is polluting, ugly, too expensive and does not meet our wish to connect with our basic needs. Our house simply does not exist yet. Secondly I now have some pennies myself and do not want to waiste them in somethin waisting. Thirdly I now took the time to try to make it happen. And fourthly sustainability is on everyone's agenda and it seems time for action has come more suitable with the mainstream than when I attempted previously.

Governmental organisations, building companies, architects, developpers, banks, show some good will and some reluctancy at the same time. Business as usual and individual restraints and interests have parties talking, waiting and pointing at each other in a circle of blame if it comes to find an aswer to the question why don't we built in a sustainable way now? Thereby ignoring the individual and collective interets to speed up the process now, as pollution progressively grows and costs of energy and water increase every year, and with that geo-political implications, all stressing the importance to focus on alternatives.

So here is some individual action even if it is not so smart. I hope you all enjoy the ride along with me.