557 results for “Manufactured Landscapes”

Three ways farms of the future can feed the planet and heal it too

Karen Rial-Lovera
December 30th 2019

Intensive agriculture may be nourishing most of the Earth’s inhabitants, but it’s doing the opposite to earth itself. Its dependence on singular crops, heavy ploughing machinery, fossil-fuel based fertilisers and pesticides is degrading our soils wildlife and nutrient cycles, and contributing a quarter of the planet’s unwanted extra heat.

But we’re not powerless to change the future of food. Nature and technological innovation are tackling these problems head on – and if the solutions they’re offering are incorporated on a …

Why electric cars should be allowed to drive faster

Van Mensvoort
December 4th 2019

In response to the nitrogen crisis, the Dutch cabinet is planning to reduce the speed limit during the day to 100 kph. In itself a sensible decision. But it is strange that this measure also affects motorists who cause no nitrogen emissions whatsoever. A missed opportunity to reward sustainable actions. That's why we started a petition. We want a separate lane for electric cars where 130 km/h is allowed. Sign if you agree with us.

Before I explain why we …

Next Generation: Unleashing nature’s untapped potential with Amelie Unger

Freya Hutchings
November 17th 2019

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Continuing our Next Generation series is Amelie Unger, a recent design graduate who draws design solutions from nature's untapped potential. Unger is a recent MA Interior Architecture graduate from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam. Her fascinating perspective calls for a new approach …

Four visions for the future of public transport

Marcus Enoch
November 7th 2019

The way people get around is starting to change, and as a professor of transport strategy I do rather wonder if the modes of transport we use today will still be around by the turn of the next century.

Growing up, my favourite book was a children’s encyclopaedia first published in 1953. One double page spread featured an annotated cityscape, showing all aspects of the built environment – most of which we would still be familiar with now. The various …

Green roofs improve the urban environment – so why don’t all buildings have them?

Michael Hardman and Nick Davies
October 29th 2019

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at …

These are the ‘meltwater lakes’ of Antartica

Jennifer Arthur
October 2nd 2019

During the Antarctic summer, thousands of mesmerising blue lakes form around the edges of the continent’s ice sheet, as warmer temperatures cause snow and ice to melt and collect into depressions on the surface. Colleagues of mine at Durham University have recently used satellites to record more than 65,000 of these lakes.

Though seasonal meltwater lakes have formed on the continent for decades, lakes had not been recorded before in such great numbers across coastal areas of East Antarctica. This …

Driverless and electric, or car-free? How cities are cutting out cars, and why

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
September 26th 2019

It’s common consensus in the tech industry that the days of cars as we know them—powered by gas, driven by humans, and individually owned by all who want and can afford one—are numbered. Imminent is the age of autonomous, electric, and shared transportation, and we’re continuously taking small steps towards making it a reality. Self-driving software is getting better at avoiding accidents. Battery storage capacity is climbing. Solar energy is getting cheaper. This all points to a bright automotive future.…

Microbiocene: A microbiological archeology of the future

Linda Valenta
July 11th 2019

In configuring our next nature, artists and scientists explore new languages that move beyond the Anthropocene - the era of human beings. These semantics would bridge the gap between mankind and technology, but also between humans and other species, establishing a cosmological understanding of life. Within this endeavour, bio-artists Amanda Baum and Rose Leahy delved into more-than-human narratives by creating a monument for the Microbiocene: the age of the microbial.

The Microbiocene is an epoch we’ve always lived in and …

The new Next Nature book is here!

NextNature.net
May 28th 2019

? For pictures of the book launch, head to this page.

We live in a world in which we control the biology of a tomato at such precision, you could think of it as a product of technology, instead of a product of nature. Think about it, from genetics to breeding; a simple tomato isn’t remotely as simple as you might think. Technological advances allow our daily ingredients to be grown bigger, faster and better than ever before.

Conversely, in …

The Coming World: Ecology as the new politics

NextNature.net
May 16th 2019

In science fiction and popular science, 2030 is often suggested as the year in which our planet will run out of oil. Similarly, 2100 will be the year that, according to predictions made by Arthur C. Clarke (in the 1960s), human life will be able expand to other planets and even entirely new solar systems. As 2030 is nearing, will we be able to trust our predictions? Or do we have to deal with the reality that there is no …

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Intensive agriculture may be nourishing most of the Earth’s inhabitants, but it’s doing the opposite to earth itself. Its dependence on singular crops, heavy ploughing machinery, fossil-fuel based fertilisers and pesticides is degrading our soils wildlife and nutrient cycles, and contributing a quarter of the planet’s unwanted extra heat.

But we’re not powerless to change the future of food. Nature and technological innovation are tackling these problems head on – and if the solutions they’re offering are incorporated on a large scale and used together, a new agricultural revolution could be on its way. Here are three of the most exciting developments that can help farms not just feed the planet, but heal it too.

Crops, trees and livestock in harmony

Several UN reports have highlighted agroecology – farming that mimics the interactions and cycles of plants, animals and nutrients in the natural world – as a path to sustainable food.

The approach uses a wide variety of practices. For example, instead of artificial fertilisers, it improves soil quality by planting nutrient-fixing “cover crops” in between harvest crops, rotating crops across fields each season and composting organic waste. It supports wildlife, stores carbon, and conserves water through the planting of trees and wildflower banks.

It also integrates livestock with crops. This may seem counter-intuitive given their inefficient land use and high emissions. But having a small number of animals grazing land doesn’t have to accelerate global heating.

Grassland captures carbon dioxide. Animals eat the grass, and then return that carbon to the soil as excrement. The nutrients in the excrement and the continuous grazing of grass both help new grass roots to grow, increasing the capacity of the land to capture carbon.

Carefully managed grazing can help the environment, not harm it. Via Millie Olsen/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Keep too many grazing animals in one place for too long and they eat too much grass and produce too much excrement for the soil to take on, meaning carbon is lost to the atmosphere. But if small numbers are constantly rotated into different fields, the soil can store enough extra carbon to counterbalance the extra methane emitted by livestock’s digestive rumblings.

While this doesn’t make them a carbon sink, livestock bring other benefits to the land. They keep soil naturally fertilised, and can also improve biodiversity by eating more aggressive plants, allowing others to grow. And if local breeds are adopted, they generally don’t require expensive feed and veterinary care, as they’re adapted to local conditions.

Pesticides no more

Pests, diseases and weeds cause almost 40% of crop losses globally – and without care, the figure could rise dramatically. Climate change is shifting where pests and diseases thrive, making it harder for farmers to stay resilient.

Many commonly used herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are now also under pressure to be banned because of their negative effects on the health of humans and wildlife. Even if they’re not, growing resistance to their action is making controlling weeds, pests and diseases increasingly challenging.

Nature is again providing answers here. Farmers are starting to use pesticides derived from plants, which tend to be much less toxic to the surrounding environment.

They’re also using natural enemies to keep threats at bay. Some may act as repellents, “pushing” pests away. For example, peppermint disgusts the flea beetle, a scourge to oilseed rape farmers. Others are “pulls”, attracting pests away from valuable crops. Plants that are attractive for egg-laying but that don’t support the survival of insect larvae are commonly used for this purpose.

Nasturtiums are pest magnets – and they’re edible too. Via Shutova Elena/Shutterstock

Technology is also offering solutions on this front. Some farmers are already using apps to monitor, warn and predict when pest and diseases will attack crops. Driverless tractors and intelligent sprayers that can target specific weeds or nutritional needs have recently entered the market. Agritech companies are now also developing robots that can scan fields, identify specific plants, and decide whether to use pesticide or to remove a plant mechanically.

In combination, these methods can dramatically reduce agriculture’s reliance on herbicides and pesticides without lowering crop yields. This is important, since the world’s population is set to rise by a quarter in the next three decades.

Small tech, big difference

Soon, technology at an almost impossibly small scale could make a big difference to the way we grow our food. Companies have designed nanoparticles 100,000 times smaller then the width of a human hair that release fertiliser and pesticides slowly but steadily, to minimise their use and maximise crop yields.

New gene-editing techniques will also increasingly use nanomaterials to transfer DNA to plants. These techniques can be used to detect the presence of pests and nutrient deficiencies, or simply improve their resistance to extreme weather and pests. Given that increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events due to global heating are putting the very functioning of the global food system at risk, these advancements could be vital for preventing agricultural collapse.

Nanotechnologies aren’t cheap yet and researchers have yet to conduct rigorous tests of how toxic nanomaterials are to humans and plants, and how durable they are. But should they pass these tests, agriculture will surely follow the path of other industries in adopting the technology on a large scale.

Save for nanotechnology and advanced robots, the above solutions are already in use in many small-scale and commercial farms – just not in combination. Imagine them working in synchrony and suddenly a vision of sustainable agriculture doesn’t seem so far away anymore.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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In response to the nitrogen crisis, the Dutch cabinet is planning to reduce the speed limit during the day to 100 kph. In itself a sensible decision. But it is strange that this measure also affects motorists who cause no nitrogen emissions whatsoever. A missed opportunity to reward sustainable actions. That's why we started a petition. We want a separate lane for electric cars where 130 km/h is allowed. Sign if you agree with us.

Before I explain why we should keep the speed limit at 130 kph for drivers of electric cars, a confession: I don’t own an electric car myself.

I pretty much always take the train. It’s a comfortable option and you can spend the journey reading or working. I do still own (blush) an old-fashioned gas-powered car. I’ve had it for six years, and I still regret not opting for an electric car at the time. You know the arguments: too expensive, too small a radius of action, the car I liked only came in a gas variant. The consumer in me defeated the citizen. So it often goes.

As citizens we have high-minded ideas about a better society. Then we walk into a shop and buy things totally at odds with our ideals. Unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with this particular human flaw.

What the government can do

This is where the government can give the citizen a push in the right direction. How? By inviting the consumer to behave in a way that contributes to a better society. This is already happening. When I want to park my gas car, there’s never a convenient spot besides the charging stations reserved for electric cars.

Good for them, I think. These people have made a more sustainable choice than I have, and they should be rewarded. If I’m soon to be sped past at 130 kph, I can feel bitter towards the rich showoffs in the fast lane. Or I can bear in mind that these investors in the energy transition have earned their fun.

A positive step in the energy transition

When a new technology is introduced, it’s always more expensive than the existing options at first. The first flat-screen televisions were only affordable for millionaires, because the investments made into new factories had to be earned back.

That lasts a few years, and then the price falls and the product becomes affordable for everyone. I see rich people prefer a Tesla to a Ferrari. Let’s encourage that. Besides, a fully electric second-hand Nissan Leaf costs €8500. I could afford that, and when I look around me on the highway, I suspect that plenty of other motorists could too.

Granted, electric cars are not perfect. Wear and tear on the tires still produces fine dust. Driving fast consumes more energy. If that energy is supplied by coal-fired power stations, CO2 emissions are still involved. And that’s without going into the conditions in the lithium mines—plus the energy costs of producing the batteries. You could lose hope thinking about it all. Staying in bed is more sustainable.

But the question remains: is the glass half empty or half full?

Answer: half full.

Electric cars are a positive step in the energy transition, which must be encouraged. Elsewhere that’s already happening. In Austria, electric cars adhere to a speed limit of 130 kph, while 100 kph is the norm for others. In Norway, electric cars can drive in bus lanes. Even Uber encourages its drivers to go electric. Why wouldn’t the Dutch government do the same? Maybe it’s something to do with our Calvinist mentality?

Sustainability should be rewarded

Sustainability is often equated with cutting down, austerity, stringency. That is an error. We think about it one-sidedly, in terms of crime and punishment, when we should be thinking in terms of possibilities, smart solutions and circularity.

There is an unbelievable amount of energy available on Earth, and right now we only harvest and utilize a tiny proportion of it. How absurd is it that humanity continues to generate most of its energy from the burning of coal, which releases CO2 that contributes to climate change, while a gigantic power plant floats in space at a safe distance?

I hope that future generations can laugh about it and do better.

The sun is a nuclear fusion reactor with an output of 380 million million million million watts. That’s equal to 10 million oil barrels per second, per world citizen. Even though only a small proportion of this energy reaches the Earth, this proportion is still 9000 times the current energy requirements of all 7.7 billion people on Earth combined.

If we’re smart enough to put more of the available energy to work for us in a sustainable way, a bright beautiful world full of abundance awaits us. That costs time, that costs money, we’re still a long way off, and the journey will be full of ups and downs. The nitrogen crisis is not called a crisis for nothing. Policy has to be made at lightning speed. That policy can be refined by rewarding positive sustainable actions.

There are plenty of places where this can be done safely. Think of five-lane highways. In the right-hand lane, a diesel-powered truck chugs along at 80 kph. In the middle three lanes, gas-powered cars go 100 kph. In the left-hand lane, an electric car zooms into the future at 130 kph.

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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Continuing our Next Generation series is Amelie Unger, a recent design graduate who draws design solutions from nature's untapped potential. Unger is a recent MA Interior Architecture graduate from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam. Her fascinating perspective calls for a new approach to building in landscapes affected by desertification: living architecture that transforms with the climate.

Unger's No Solid Ground  is a speculative research project that responds to an urgent need for sustainable, habitable structures in desolate and constantly shifting desert regions. Unger moves beyond anthropocentric architectural methods that attempt to override or contain nature. Instead, she incorporates the adaptive capabilities of animals and plants to create architecture that responds to nature without trying to resist it.

Her research is visualized as a series of cell-like pods that would provide for the needs of humans whilst supporting the surrounding ecosystem. Unger’s ecologically inspired concepts represent a promising shift in approach to climate change: self-adaptive, non-static structures that bring technology and nature together in mutually beneficial ways.

We caught up with Amelie to find out more about No Solid Ground.

What Inspired this project and why did you choose to focus on the problem of desertification?

The project was inspired by a trip to the German North Sea island, Sylt. This island is one of many great examples of how nature has been adjusting and reshaping the environment over time. Through erosion, Sylt went from being part of the mainland to becoming an independent island.

Lately, the human impact on Earth is transforming landscapes through desertification and rising sea water so drastically that we will have to rethink the way we are building. The current architecture is based on the belief that buildings will stay in the same place for 50-70 years, but it will not function on a ground which is slowly turning into a desert or sea.

I believe that we can solve this problem if we use nature’s design and start to understand and embrace a flexible kind of architecture which is able to shift with its surroundings.

Since there is already great development when it comes to building with rising sea levels, I decided to focus on flexible living structures in arid regions to start a conversation about how we can continue offering livable space in times of desertification.

What adaptive possibilities does your project draw on?

We are not the only ones that have to adapt to changing environments. Plants and animals had millions of years of experience in this field. Compared to this, the human experience in adaption is just a spec of dust.

Drawing from this thought, I designed all of the pods with different functions in mind which came from animals and plants’ abilities to adapt to their surroundings. I used the skills of algae plants to purify the air and turn CO2 molecules into reusable biomass. The colorful sea slug, Chromodoris roboi, became the inspiration to create a hide-away which scares away predators while the ability of the so-called ‘glass frog’ - which can change its appearance from transparent to solid - inspired the exterior membrane of my project. All of these designs draw from nature to create weird looking living organisms, able to stay alive in the hostile environment of the desert.

"I see these spaces as an opportunity to start a conversation about how we can provide safe living spaces in arid regions in the future. "

How do you imagine these spaces being used, and what problems would they solve?

By building flexible housing structures in the desert, we could break the cycle of climate refugees: right now, most people living in bigger cities close to the coast. These are already endangered by rising sea levels. In arid regions, desertification will force people out of their homes and on the move to find a new place in these already in these already overcrowded and endangered cities by the sea.

I see these spaces as an opportunity to start a conversation about how we can provide safe living spaces in arid regions in the future. I also imagine them as actual living spaces that would allow people to remain in these regions instead of displacing whole populations.

The design of the pods could also be adapted to house public buildings and indoor crop farms, creating whole villages

Do you see your work as a form of biomimicry?

I definitely see my work as a form of biomimicry. I look at nature as the first designer on this earth, and I believe that we need to adjust to it instead of nature adjusting to us. Nature’s ability to move sand dunes is so complex that we still can’t completely grasp the way it works. How are we supposed to to build something that would stand against this sheer force we don’t understand? I am suggesting that we need to adapt if we want to continue living in these areas. The exterior of my project is supposed to become one with nature by moving within the architecture of the sand dune while the interior mimics the behavior of organisms which have successfully adapted to their hostile environment.

"I look at nature as the first designer on this earth, and I believe that we need to adjust to it instead of nature adjusting to us. "

How do you think biomimicry can transform our relationship with the environment?

Maybe biomimicry is our chance to finally make peace with nature, we would not fight against it anymore, but instead work with it. I can imagine that there lies a lot of untapped potential within this approach to building and designing.

Do you see your work as a Utopian project or a science fiction-fueled geoengineering nightmare?

I hope that people see my project as a Utopian project, but I think right now it is more of a a fiction-fueled geoengineering nightmare to them. The design is supposed to not resemble the way we are building today to create a clear departure from contemporary architecture, but it is designed to offer all of the necessities we know from our current homes. So I imagine it as a quite comfortable Utopian living scenario.

"Today’s designers play a huge role in finding creative solutions to complex problems. "

Why is it important to create speculative designs and visualizations that address wider issues?

I think it is good to let your imagination run free before putting boundaries on what you can and can not do as a designer. How to make a project work should not hinder you from making the project. Today’s designers play a huge role in finding creative solutions to complex problems. Speculative design and visualization are great ways to approach wider issues from a more playful and free point of view.

"Maybe biomimicry is our chance to finally make peace with nature, we would not fight against it anymore, but instead work with it. "

How did you present your project? How did audiences engage with it? 

To make this project tangible for the audience during the exhibition, I built a table with all of the information printed on it. Instead of just reading and looking at the images, people were able to engage with the table by moving magnifying domes over the tabletop. They looked at my project the same way I used to look at all of the organisms which inspired my design. For me, this was a great way to start conversations with people from a range of backgrounds. The most memorable visitor was a biologist who understood all of the inspiration, but said he had never thought of nature’s designs as being useful for humans too.

Is speculative design a field you hope to continue in? What’s next for you?

I definitely hope to continue in this field. I see my living cell as my entry into the field, and will continue working on the topic of building in times of climate change since it is very important to me. Currently, I am working on different essays regarding this topic, and I will continue to follow this direction. 

And one for the road: what other projects or designers inspire you right now?

The works of photographer Tom Hegen inspire me a lot right now, especially his ‘Greenhouse’ series, which shine a light on the practice of growing crops with the use of LED light in the Netherlands. Also the works of my friends Gill Baldwin and Carlijn Olde Beverborg are very inspiring to me; they question how we are living in times where machines take a constant place in our homes and everyday lives.

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The way people get around is starting to change, and as a professor of transport strategy I do rather wonder if the modes of transport we use today will still be around by the turn of the next century.

Growing up, my favourite book was a children’s encyclopaedia first published in 1953. One double page spread featured an annotated cityscape, showing all aspects of the built environment – most of which we would still be familiar with now. The various modes of transport illustrated – trains, buses, lorries, taxis, motorcycles, bikes, pedestrians and private cars – still work together as a system in fundamentally the same ways.

But a whole range of possible (though not inevitable) societal and technological changes could revolutionise how we travel in the coming decades. These include large-scale responses to the climate change agenda and energy sourcing and security; shifting demographic trends (such as growing numbers of elderly people); the development of the collaborative economy; the growing use of big data; and the apparent inevitability of driverless cars.

To examine what future urban transport systems might look like, I recently directed a future-gazing project for New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport exploring how people might be travelling in the year 2045. I helped develop four scenarios, along two axes of change.

The first axis considered automation – at one end, vehicles are still be driven much like today (partial automation). At the other, they’re driverless (full automation). The second axis related to how dense cities could become – one future where the population is more dispersed (like Los Angeles) and another where it is concentrated at a higher density (more like Hong Kong). With these axes in mind, I generated four possible futures for public transport, which could play out in cities across the world.

Choose your fighter. By Marcus Enoch, Author provided

1. Shared shuttles

In the “shared shuttle” city, demand responsive minibuses, Uber-style taxis and micro-modes – such as shared bicycles, electric bikes and hoverboards – to cover the “last mile” to your destination are widespread. Hiring these different forms of transport is simple, thanks to seamless booking and payment systems and a thriving entrepreneurial spirit among a range of commercial, social and government transport providers. Meanwhile, new environmental regulations mean that owning a car is more expensive than it used to be, and private vehicles are restricted to the suburbs.

Flexibility is a core feature of this scenario, with vehicles and services that adjust to the needs of individuals, and with how the space continually adapts to meet the needs of the city as a whole. There’s also a collaborative ethos, reinforced by the development of a more compact and high-density city, while progress toward full automation has been slow because of safety and privacy concerns.

2. Mobility market

Private cars still dominate urban transport in the mobility market scenario. Many citizens live and often work in dispersed, low-density suburban areas, since city-centre housing became too expensive for most to afford. Fewer people walk and cycle, because of the long distances involved. And the use of public transport has declined, since less dense transport networks mean there are fewer viable routes, though a limited network of automated trains and buses is still used for trips to the city centre.

Car use has fallen somewhat since the 2010s, because “active management” measures – such as pre-bookable fast lanes and tolls – are now necessary to control congestion, despite the completion of a sizeable road building programme in the recent past.

Instead, commercially provided pre-paid personalised “mobility packages” are helping to stimulate the use of a whole range of shared mobility options, such as car-pooling, bike hire and air taxi schemes. These now account for around a quarter of all journeys.

3. Connected corridors

Society in this high-tech, highly urbanised world of connected corridors is characterised by perceptive but obedient citizens who trade access to their personal data in return for being able to use an extremely efficient transport system. Physically switching between different services or even different modes of travel is hassle free, thanks to well designed interchange points, and fully integrated timetabling, ticketing and information systems.

For instance, travellers might walk, e-cycle or take a demand-responsive minibus to a main route interchange, then board a high frequency rail service to get across town and finally take a shared autonomous taxi to their destination. Each will be guided by a personalised, all-knowing “travel ambassador” app on their smartphone or embedded chip, which will minimise overall travel times or maybe maximise sightseeing opportunities, according to their preferences.

Private cars are not really needed. People trust technology to deliver inexpensive and secure transport services and appreciate living close to work, family and friends.

4. Plentiful pods

In this future, fleets of variously-sized driverless pods now provide around three-quarters of those journeys that still need to be taken across the low-density, high-tech city. These pods having largely replaced most existing public transport services, and the vast majority of privately-owned cars.

People do still walk or cycle for some shorter trips. But pods are so convenient, providing affordable point-to-point journeys for those not satisfied by virtual interactions. Passengers can pay even less, if they agree to share with others. Pods are also fully connected to the internet, and are priced and tailored to meet customer needs. Ultimately, pods give people the freedom to work, learn or live where the weather is best or the houses are cheapest.

My research did not pass judgement as to which scenario should be pursued. But it did conclude that public transport will need to evolve to meet future challenges, and that the role of government will still be of key importance going forward, no matter which path is chosen. Personally though, if forced to choose, I think I’d favour a shared shuttle future more than the others - it just seems more sociable.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover image: Renault's float autonomous car

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Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17% each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Via Michael Hardman, Author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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During the Antarctic summer, thousands of mesmerising blue lakes form around the edges of the continent’s ice sheet, as warmer temperatures cause snow and ice to melt and collect into depressions on the surface. Colleagues of mine at Durham University have recently used satellites to record more than 65,000 of these lakes.

Though seasonal meltwater lakes have formed on the continent for decades, lakes had not been recorded before in such great numbers across coastal areas of East Antarctica. This means parts of the world’s largest ice sheet may be more vulnerable to a warming climate than previously thought.

Lakes affect ice shelves

Much of Antarctica is surrounded by floating platforms of ice, often as tall as a skyscraper. These are “ice shelves”. And when some of these ice shelves have collapsed in the past, satellites have recorded networks of lakes growing and then abruptly disappearing shortly beforehand. For instance, several hundred lakes disappeared in the weeks before the the catastrophic disintegration of the Larsen B Ice Shelf – when 3,250 km² of ice broke up in just two months in 2002.

Blue meltwater ponds cover the surface of Larsen B Ice Shelf in January 2002 (left) before its abrupt collapse two months later (right). Open ocean appears as black in both images. Via NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

The collapse may have depended on water from these lakes filling crevasses and then acting like a wedge as the weight of the water expanded the crevasses, triggering a network of fractures. The weight of lakes can also cause the ice shelf surface to flex, leading to further fracturing, which is thought to have helped the shelf become unstable and collapse.

Ice shelves act as door stops, supporting the huge mass of ice further inland. Their removal means the glaciers feeding the ice shelf are no longer held back and flow faster into the ocean, contributing to sea-level rise.

Melting the ice sheet surface

Scientists already knew that lakes form on the Antarctic ice sheet. But the latest study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that many more lakes are forming than previously thought, including in new parts of the ice sheet and much further inland and at higher elevations.

Since the cold and remoteness makes it logistically challenging to measure and monitor Antarctica’s lakes in the field, we largely know all this thanks to satellite imagery. In this case, one of the satellites used was the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 which provides global coverage of the Earth’s surface every five days and can detect features as small as ten metres.

Meltwater lakes on Sørsdal Glacier, Antarctica (red dot on larger map). Via Google Maps

My colleagues analysed satellite images of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet taken in January 2017. In total, the images covered 5,000,000 km² (that’s more than 20 times the area of the United Kingdom).

Because water reflects certain wavelengths very strongly compared to ice, lakes can be detected in these images by classifying pixels in the image as “water” or “non-water”. From these images we can pinpoint when lakes form, their growth and drainage, and how their extent and depth change over time. The largest lake detected so far was nearly 30 km long and estimated to hold enough water to fill 40,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Cause for concern?

In a warming world, scientists are particularly interested in these lakes because they may contribute to destabilising the ice shelves and ice sheet in future.

Like a sponge, the more that ice shelves become saturated with meltwater, the less they are able to absorb, meaning more water pools on their surfaces as lakes. More surface lakes mean a greater likelihood that water will drain out, fill crevasses and potentially trigger flexing and fracturing. If this were to occur, other ice shelves around Antarctica may start to disintegrate like Larsen B. Glaciers with floating ice tongues protruding into the ocean may also be vulnerable.

Meltwater drains away. Via Sanne Bosteels

Meanwhile in Greenland, scientists have observed entire lakes draining away within a matter of days, as meltwater plunges through vertical shafts in the ice sheet known as “moulins”. A warm, wet base lubricated by meltwater allows the ice to slide quicker and flow faster into the ocean.

Could something similar be happening in Antarctica? Lakes disappearing in satellite imagery suggests they could be draining in this way, but scientists have yet to observe this directly. If we are to understand how much ice the continent could lose, and how much it could contribute to global sea-level rise, we must understand how these surface meltwater lakes behave. Though captivating, they are potentially a warning sign of future instability in Antarctica.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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It’s common consensus in the tech industry that the days of cars as we know them—powered by gas, driven by humans, and individually owned by all who want and can afford one—are numbered. Imminent is the age of autonomous, electric, and shared transportation, and we’re continuously taking small steps towards making it a reality. Self-driving software is getting better at avoiding accidents. Battery storage capacity is climbing. Solar energy is getting cheaper. This all points to a bright automotive future.

But not everyone is on board—in fact, some cities are taking the opposite approach, phasing out gas-powered cars altogether, limiting use of hybrid and electric cars, and making urban centers car-free. Will they be left in the dust as the rest of us are autonomously driven into the (energy-producing) sunset? Or do the anti-car folks have it right—is the brighter future one that forgoes cars in favor of even more sustainable and healthy modes of transportation?

Too much of a good thing

What might Henry Ford think if he saw what’s become of his invention? Highways clogged with traffic, accidents a leading cause of death, commuters sealed alone and sedentary in their vehicles for hours.

Ford may have never expected cars to become cheap and accessible enough for us to use them to the extent we do today. And as the global middle class grows, cars are likely to proliferate even more; as people make more money, they want cars not just for transportation and convenience, but as status symbols.

The countries where the middle class has the most potential to grow—that is, countries where poverty rates are still relatively high—are also seeing people flock to cities in search of work and security. The UN predicts that 90 percent of the global shift to urban areas will take place in Asia and Africa, with Delhi, Dhaka, Bombay, and Kinshasa among the top 10 most populated future mega-cities.

It would be messy enough to add millions more cars to cities that have an existing infrastructure for them—and far messier to add them to cities like these that don’t. Plus, even if the cars are electric, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and even the world’s wealthiest countries aren’t likely to get to 100 percent renewables until 2050 at the soonest. And you can only have so much congestion before a city’s quality of life and economy are impacted.

Mexico City was the first in the world to take serious action against traffic congestion, implementing daily “no drive restrictions” based on license plate numbers. London, Singapore, and Stockholm all use congestion pricing, where drivers have to pay to enter city centers or crowded streets.

These are minor measures compared to the steps other cities are taking to discourage people from driving.

Auf Wiedersehen, don’t drive

Ready? Here are some rapid-fire stats on cities taking steps to limit cars.

Madrid made its city center a designated low-emission zone, restricting access by older diesel and gas cars and planning to ban these vehicles from the zone completely by 2020. Hybrid cars can get an “eco label” and circulate freely.

The whole of Denmark is planning to ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars starting in 2030, and the sale of hybrid cars starting in 2035. Copenhagen already has one of the lowest rates of car ownership and highest rates of bike commuting in Europe.

In Paris, no cars are allowed in the city center between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m on the first Sunday of every month. Cars made before 1997 aren’t allowed in the city on weekdays, and the city is doubling its number of bike lanes.

Athens will ban diesel cars by 2025 and already restricts the days of the week they can drive in the city center, based on license plate numbers.

Oslo has set a target to become carbon neutral by 2030, and doing away with non-electric cars will be key to its success. The city has restricted access for private vehicles, turned road space into pedestrian space, and eliminated almost all of the parking spots in the city center.

While Hamburg will still allow cars in its city center, it’s laying down plans that will make it far easier for people not to have to drive, including a “green network” that will connect parks and cover 40 percent of the city’s space.

Brussels will ban all diesel vehicles by 2030 and is heavily promoting public and shared transportation. It’s even making its trains, buses, and shared bikes free to use on days with excessively high air pollution.

The Netherlands will only allow emissions-free vehicles by 2030, and is pumping €345 million into its already robust bicycle infrastructure.

Helsinki is redesigning its suburbs, which people primarily reach by driving, into walkable communities linked to the city by public transit, in hopes that Finns won’t need to own cars at all within 10 years.

Why all the goodbyes?

Cutting out cars has the obvious benefit of reducing pollution—again, even if the cars are electric, we’re not yet to the point of 100 percent clean energy. And in fact, higher temperatures and less rain in many parts of the world mean pollution from cars is even more potent, and gets washed away less frequently.

Going auto-free is good for people, too; it encourages more exercise (by walking and biking more), less isolation (by taking public or shared transportation), more time saved (no sitting still in clogged traffic) with less stress (I repeat—no sitting still in clogged traffic), and improved safety (car accidents definitely kill more people than bike or train accidents do). Greening city centers will also make those cities more pleasant to live in and visit.

It’s worth noting that the cities reducing car usage are almost all in Europe, where such measures are far more feasible than, say, the US, where outside of major urban areas, it’s hard to go anywhere without a car. American cities expanded into now-sprawling suburbs largely thanks to the invention of the car, and have a degree of dependence on driving that will be hard to scale back from.

European cities, in contrast, were further developed by the time cars proliferated; they’d already largely been built around public transportation, and continued to expand train systems even as cars became more popular. Plus, European countries’ comparatively small size makes it much more practical to rely on public transit than in the US; many US states are larger than European countries.

The cities in developing countries that are set for population booms in the next two to three decades would be wise to follow Europe’s example rather than that of the US.

A habit we’ll never fully kick

Cars will, of course, continue to be widely used, including right at the edges of the cities that are banning them. The measures to discourage car usage and ownership are a start, but major shifts in urban planning and in peoples’ behavior aren’t as straightforward, and will take much longer to change.

If big tech’s vision plays out, though, people will be able to use cars and reduce the danger, time, and stress associated with them; autonomous cars will pick us up, deftly navigate city streets, drop us at our destinations, then go pick up their next passenger.

It does seem, then, that the days of cars as we know them are numbered, whether they’re replaced by high-tech versions of their former selves or switched out for bikes and trains.

But fear not—the transition will happen slowly. There’s plenty of time left to sing at the top of your lungs (in between honking at bad drivers and checking a maps app to see how traffic looks) while sealed inside your good old reliable, private, gas-powered, human-driven chariot.

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University. Image Credit: Joshua Bolton / Unsplash

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In configuring our next nature, artists and scientists explore new languages that move beyond the Anthropocene - the era of human beings. These semantics would bridge the gap between mankind and technology, but also between humans and other species, establishing a cosmological understanding of life. Within this endeavour, bio-artists Amanda Baum and Rose Leahy delved into more-than-human narratives by creating a monument for the Microbiocene: the age of the microbial.

The Microbiocene is an epoch we’ve always lived in and will continue to live in, as the vibrant matter on planet earth emerged and thrives through microbial life, e.g. bacteria. In collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Baum & Leahy dove into the deep time of the microfossil molecules Emiliania huxleyi, which are found in ancient sea sediment. The result is an award winning symbiosis between art and science, as well as an artefact for the ecologies that are yet to be embraced by the human species.

We caught up with the duo and spoke about the philosophical matter pushing their piece to emerge, and the microbial matter it is made of.

"The installation envisions a future archaeological site, thousands of years from now."

You created the ‘Microbiocene’ piece for the Bio Art and Design Award last year. Tell us about the creative process of the project; did you already have in mind this result or did it evolve from something completely different?

The Microbiocene as an overarching concept is something we’d been thinking about for awhile - over the past couple of years almost all our projects have become about mapping out the Microbiocene - the ancient, ongoing, and future era of microorganisms. We’ve explored this through various lenses; spiritual, material, ritualistic, ancestral.

When applying to the BAD Awards, we were immediately inspired by the research from the Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry at The Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ). The scientists at NIOZ work with sea sediment containing microbial fossil molecules, which hold information about past environmental conditions, both recent and ancient.

NIOZ’s research combined with this cultural, philosophical framework gave birth to the idea of creating a form of ‘biological Rosetta Stone’ - a relic being found, and a language translated, to discover information about an ancient (invisible) civilisation.

Baum & Leahy, Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths, 2018, Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann, MU ArtSpace

Inspired by the aspect of deep time, the installation envisions a future archaeological site, thousands of years into the future, where the Microbiocene monument is being found. It is inscribed with myths of the Microbiocene, a (re)telling of history and future on Earth as microbe-centric. These stories were based on information we unearthed from microbial fossils in sea sediment dating from the present to nearly 10,000 years ago. We then developed this data into narratives with our collaborating scientists, projecting different future scenarios.

The idea was to create a narration that was informed both by microbe and mammal.

You used ‘microglyphs’ in your piece —a microbe-centric language system co-created by the artists and scientists— how did you develop this language? Are the shapes imprinted on your works also literally found under the microscope?

The microglyphs were created with input from both scientific, cultural associations as well as free associations between us and the scientists. Some of the symbols are more literal —like a double bond in a molecule meaning cold, or Ehux being a graphic representation of how it looks, whilst some are more complex like the Microbiocene microglyph, which refers to life beginning on earth.

Whilst creating the microglyphs we discussed the multitude of forms that language takes,and the inherent human desire to traverse their boundaries – across cultures, disciplines and species. From the Rosetta Stone to art-sci collaborations to alien communication attempts, the wish to understand, and to translate is constant: we all dream of babel fish.

Baum & Leahy, Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths, 2018, Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann, MU ArtSpace

By creating a visual language for the Microbiocene, we attempted to move towards a more multimodal form of communication with the potential to be interpreted in various ways by anyone encountering it. Each of the microglyphs has multiple meanings, which change responsively with the surrounding microglyphs. Different compositions of the microglyphs explore movements within the meaning of the sentences.

The microglyphs are an initial iteration into working with the materiality of language, which we continue to explore in workshops, and our other projects. By consciously molding language, or sign making, into new biologically informed structures, we begin to weave our mammalian minds into the Microbiocene.

What kind of scientists did you collaborate with?

We collaborated with biogeochemists from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research – Julie Lattaud, Gabriella Weiss and Laura Schreuder. They study the alkenone biomarkers, especially sturdy molecules, left by microorganisms in sea sediment. This sediment is collected in long cores, which have a cross section of earth from the seabed and below, with the top layer being the most recent, and the bottom being from the mostpast.

"We like to work with scientists as partners on an equal basis of passion for understanding."

Their lab work is wonderfully intimate with the sediment that is collected. The coresare opened from a long tube and these incredibly distinct lines are revealed along the earth core, indicating thousands of years of life being lived before turning to matter.

Do you think you could have created this piece without this collaboration? What role does and should science play in art? Where does science stop and art begin?

The idea of the piece itself grew out of and was continuously informed by the scientific research, so it would have been another piece without the scientific collaboration. Like any other relationship, the symbiosis between art and science can and should take many forms, from the abstract and experimental to the more systematic.

At this point in time, we see not only creative potential but also a certain urgency, in the point between ecological transformation, emerging technologies and increased sensitivity and awareness towards the planetary web of life.

We like to work with scientists as partners on an equal basis of passion for understanding, working with and caring for living systems - although with very different means of research and expression. Before restricting ourselves within established epistemological systems, we try and create a nurturing space of shared curiosity, where ideas and visions aren’t limited to our individual areas of expertise.

Baum & Leahy, Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths, 2018, Photo by Max Kneefel, MU ArtSpace

Do you think that art is stuck in the anthropocene? Is art too much focused on human experience?

We think it’s important that art happens across many ‘cenes’- and that it’s also urgently important to reflect on our lives in the Anthropocene. Yet we are interested in exploring an alternative - one that is generative, slimey and messy, and optimistic about the adaptable forces of life. Microbiocene is just one. We continuously draw on inspiration from Donna Haraway’s ‘chthulucene’. Nurturing the diversity and moving away from dominant narratives of the Anthropocene is what we find urgently needed - within all fields, not just artistic.

Whilst creating Microbiocene we were thinking a lot about the magnitude of microbial experience that has come before us, and how this has had slow yet defining atmospheric and evolutionary impacts on the Earth, setting out the conditions for terran life to thrive. In contrast, human’s time on Earth is becoming very much defined by rapid changes, caused by a few, and resulting in wider impacts for all, and some much more than others. We believe a more microbial approach could trigger the emergence of new systems of adaptation and cohabitation.

"The monument is raised to mark and celebrate how humans learn to become more microbial in their planetary impact."

By looking at the history of time on Earth through the perspective of the Microbiocene, we hoped to condense this microbial evolutionary perspective into a material and sensorial experience able to inspire new ideas and trajectories challenging current anthropocentric worldviews. The Microbiocene monument is raised to mark and celebrate how humans learn to become more microbial in their planetary impact. Focusing on more-than-human adaptive strategies and experience as a worthy alternative. For us, drawing the narrative out of information in the material remains of microbial experience was a way to do this.

Baum & Leahy i.c.w. Sofie Birch and Pernille Kjær, Interterrestrials, 2019
Baum & Leahy i.c.w. Sofie Birch and Pernille Kjær, Interterrestrials, 2019

What role does materiality play in your piece and how do you elevate a materiality from human to more-than-human?

It was an incredible opportunity for us to use the sea sediment from our studies as part of the material in the sculpture.

The particular sediment we were working with is called calcareous ooze, meaning it contains a large proportion of skeletal remains of coccolithophores. This included Emiliania Huxleyi (Ehux) - the microorganism we were studying within the sediment - which has an incredible, vibrant materiality to it.

It is a single celled alga covered in calcium carbonate-rich platelets, which – with the help of deep time –transmutates into materials such as chalk and lime. The build up of these microscopic organisms on the seabed over long periods has an immense, macroscopic effect, as expressed in the White Cliffs of Dover and Møns Klint.

When understood as the material result of numerous coccolithophore bodies and existence, this coastal landscape becomes a more-than-human monument in itself. We wished to translate the immensity of this deep time within this lively material we had in the lab.

"Microbes are in a way a ‘gateway’ to the unknowns of the universe."

Part of what we find fascinating about the microbial world is the (to us) mysterious material liminality - microbes are in a way a ‘gateway’ to the unknowns of the universe, which we know makes up more than 90% of our perceived reality.

We can’t see the microbes with our naked eye, yet with electron microscopy technologies etc it’s revealed how alive, vibrant and ‘material’ they are. We see them as active, reproductive, communicative, busy organisms, just like ourselves.

This many faceted relationship between the microbes’ ubiquitous, ghostly presence and the very material reality of their lives, which resonates with our human experience, continues to puzzle and inspire us.

Even more incomprehensible invisible organic elements like bacteriophages, proteins, DNA, molecules, atoms, dark matter, down to the strange world of quantum mechanics, seems more ‘approachable’ when we think of them through the universal, microbial gateway.

Baum & Leahy i.c.w. Naja Ankarfeldt, The Red Nature of Mammalga, 2018
Baum & Leahy i.c.w. Naja Ankarfeldt, The Red Nature of Mammalga (detail), 2018

Philosopher Timothy Morton wrote that we have to think in terms of durations, meaning we have to create a ‘deep time’ to ‘think ecologically’. Are you perceiving the world differently in terms of temporality since you made this work? Do you experience a more cosmological time as opposed to a human history?

When working with material such as the sediment cores that have such an evident history, it’s impossible not to become incredibly aware of and sensitive to the vast periods of time on Earth that have preceded us.

Our collaborating scientists work with these kind of time scales everyday, and so are used to thinking about time on Earth in terms of epochs, rather than through the length of their own human experience.

This was intriguing for us, and something we were trying to approach in Microbiocene not only as an installation, but also as a framework. Indeed, we believe that if humans could enter a mindset of deep time, we would see a big shift in our ways of producing and distributing materials. If humans could think in terms of the length of time that that plastic bottle will be on Earth, rather than the length of time it was experienced it in our lives, we surely wouldn’t be producing and distributing them in this way.

Yet, whilst the Microbiocene entails this very cosmological way of thinking – we’re not sure we can claim to have transcended into everyday cosmological experience of time from this. Despite our best efforts, we’re still just too darn human for that.

Baum & Leahy, Cellular Sanctum, 2018
Baum & Leahy, Cellalur Sanctum, 2018

You both have a background in design - do you think different aesthetics in our everyday surroundings will amount to different environmental awareness? And if so, what’s the potential role of aesthetics in environment awareness?

In our work, we combine tactile, sensorial materiality with collective, ceremonial practicessuch as meditation, ritual and writing to practice and nurture a symbiosis between matter (microbial, mammalien, etc) and mind. We aim to bring focus to how internal and external realities are interrelational and constantly shaping each other. By materialising a speculative scenario, ongoing tendencies can be harnessed and the actual long term realisations can emerge.

We have both been inspired by biophilic design principles, how biomorphic form, aesthetic,and material can be used to strengthen, encourage, and practice our connection with other species and ecologies.

Recently we’ve been thinking about ‘microbiophilia’, and how to stir emotions for organisms we can’t see, yet live all around, on, and within us. In previous pieces such as Cellular Sanctum (2018), and The Red Nature of Mammalga (in collaboration with Naja Ankarfeldt, 2018), we created tactile biomorphic, microbial forms, microbial drinks, and written participatory chants, to create a tactile and sensual experience.

Through these aesthetic experiences we aim to seed a heightened awareness to the parallel microscopic world, within those who experience them.

More microbiocene ?

https://vimeo.com/322794918

Cover photo by Max Kneefel.

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? For pictures of the book launch, head to this page.

We live in a world in which we control the biology of a tomato at such precision, you could think of it as a product of technology, instead of a product of nature. Think about it, from genetics to breeding; a simple tomato isn’t remotely as simple as you might think. Technological advances allow our daily ingredients to be grown bigger, faster and better than ever before.

Conversely, in our world, technology (such as the internet or the financial markets) has grown so complex and omnipresent, though, that it’s developed a natural dynamism of its own, and we need to understand it better.

How natural is nature, really?

We seem to have entered a magical garden that may either take us by surprise and astonish us, or knock us down.

At Next Nature Network, it is our goal to share a richer understanding of nature, and strengthen the connections between the biosphere and the technosphere. We believe that our image of nature as static, balanced and harmonic is naive and up for reconsideration. Where technology and nature are traditionally seen as opposed, they now appear to merge or even trade places.

Nature, in the sense of trees, plants, animals, atoms, or climate, is getting increasingly controlled and governed by man. It has turned into some sort of cultural category. At the same time, products of culture, which we used to be in control of, tend to outgrow us more and more. These ‘natural powers’ shift to another field.

We must therefore aim to make sense of this world and invent a fitting vocabulary by which we can grasp the meaning of things, in order to ensure a liveable existence for the people who come after us by charting a path for the future that’s desirable for both humanity and for the planet as a whole.

We apply the term 'next nature' for this culturally emerged nature.

Forward to nature!

In Next Nature: How Technology Becomes Nature Koert van Mensvoort takes you on an epic exploration through the wonderful world of culturally emerged nature. It shows how the problematic disbalance between nature and technology not only obscures our current view on society, but simultanously hinders the future. The book offers a detailed read on the Next Nature philosophy, alongside timely examples and scientific insights.

Gradually, you'll find an entirely new worldview unfolding that is not only more realistic, but also infinitely creative, optimistic and humane. From wild software to genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers: Nature changes along with us!

Join us for the Dutch book launch on Tuesday 4 June at De Rode Hoed in Amsterdam. Pre-order your Dutch copy here. Note: We are currently working hard on the English translation of the book. Subscribe to our newsletter and we'll keep you in the know!

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In science fiction and popular science, 2030 is often suggested as the year in which our planet will run out of oil. Similarly, 2100 will be the year that, according to predictions made by Arthur C. Clarke (in the 1960s), human life will be able expand to other planets and even entirely new solar systems. As 2030 is nearing, will we be able to trust our predictions? Or do we have to deal with the reality that there is no planet B?

The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100 is an upcoming exhibition at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow you should know about. The expo zooms in on the future that we are already living – where we are forced to deal with the environmental challenges of our time. The exhibition highlights the uncertainty of our knowledge about events to come, while suggesting a performative understanding of the future as it is being constructed and shaped by our present activities.

The Garage museum brings together historical and new works by over 50 international artists. Historical works, such as seventeenth century Dutch landscape painting and the invention of land art in 1969, show humanity’s ever changing relationship with nature.

Contemporary artists, including Next Nature fellows Driessens & Verstappen and Studio Drift, reflect on the current state of environmental politics and invite the audience to renew our initial predictions.

Materialism by Studio Drift is an ongoing research project in which we explore the everyday ‘made objects’ that surround us. By deproducing the produced, Materialism makes the essential nature of the world visible again.

The Coming World brings out a more lived and felt experience of the world in relation to new notions of the “natural.” The concepts of environmentalism and ecology are used to consider nature as an expanded field with interlinking biological, technological, social and political ecologies. It’s time to to imagine a new future where nature, humanity and other-than-human entities co-perform.

The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030-2100 will be on show from 28 June to 1 December at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow. The exhibition is curated by Snejana Krasteva and Ekaterina Lazareva.

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Intensive agriculture may be nourishing most of the Earth’s inhabitants, but it’s doing the opposite to earth itself. Its dependence on singular crops, heavy ploughing machinery, fossil-fuel based fertilisers and pesticides is degrading our soils wildlife and nutrient cycles, and contributing a quarter of the planet’s unwanted extra heat.

But we’re not powerless to change the future of food. Nature and technological innovation are tackling these problems head on – and if the solutions they’re offering are incorporated on a large scale and used together, a new agricultural revolution could be on its way. Here are three of the most exciting developments that can help farms not just feed the planet, but heal it too.

Crops, trees and livestock in harmony

Several UN reports have highlighted agroecology – farming that mimics the interactions and cycles of plants, animals and nutrients in the natural world – as a path to sustainable food.

The approach uses a wide variety of practices. For example, instead of artificial fertilisers, it improves soil quality by planting nutrient-fixing “cover crops” in between harvest crops, rotating crops across fields each season and composting organic waste. It supports wildlife, stores carbon, and conserves water through the planting of trees and wildflower banks.

It also integrates livestock with crops. This may seem counter-intuitive given their inefficient land use and high emissions. But having a small number of animals grazing land doesn’t have to accelerate global heating.

Grassland captures carbon dioxide. Animals eat the grass, and then return that carbon to the soil as excrement. The nutrients in the excrement and the continuous grazing of grass both help new grass roots to grow, increasing the capacity of the land to capture carbon.

Carefully managed grazing can help the environment, not harm it. Via Millie Olsen/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Keep too many grazing animals in one place for too long and they eat too much grass and produce too much excrement for the soil to take on, meaning carbon is lost to the atmosphere. But if small numbers are constantly rotated into different fields, the soil can store enough extra carbon to counterbalance the extra methane emitted by livestock’s digestive rumblings.

While this doesn’t make them a carbon sink, livestock bring other benefits to the land. They keep soil naturally fertilised, and can also improve biodiversity by eating more aggressive plants, allowing others to grow. And if local breeds are adopted, they generally don’t require expensive feed and veterinary care, as they’re adapted to local conditions.

Pesticides no more

Pests, diseases and weeds cause almost 40% of crop losses globally – and without care, the figure could rise dramatically. Climate change is shifting where pests and diseases thrive, making it harder for farmers to stay resilient.

Many commonly used herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are now also under pressure to be banned because of their negative effects on the health of humans and wildlife. Even if they’re not, growing resistance to their action is making controlling weeds, pests and diseases increasingly challenging.

Nature is again providing answers here. Farmers are starting to use pesticides derived from plants, which tend to be much less toxic to the surrounding environment.

They’re also using natural enemies to keep threats at bay. Some may act as repellents, “pushing” pests away. For example, peppermint disgusts the flea beetle, a scourge to oilseed rape farmers. Others are “pulls”, attracting pests away from valuable crops. Plants that are attractive for egg-laying but that don’t support the survival of insect larvae are commonly used for this purpose.

Nasturtiums are pest magnets – and they’re edible too. Via Shutova Elena/Shutterstock

Technology is also offering solutions on this front. Some farmers are already using apps to monitor, warn and predict when pest and diseases will attack crops. Driverless tractors and intelligent sprayers that can target specific weeds or nutritional needs have recently entered the market. Agritech companies are now also developing robots that can scan fields, identify specific plants, and decide whether to use pesticide or to remove a plant mechanically.

In combination, these methods can dramatically reduce agriculture’s reliance on herbicides and pesticides without lowering crop yields. This is important, since the world’s population is set to rise by a quarter in the next three decades.

Small tech, big difference

Soon, technology at an almost impossibly small scale could make a big difference to the way we grow our food. Companies have designed nanoparticles 100,000 times smaller then the width of a human hair that release fertiliser and pesticides slowly but steadily, to minimise their use and maximise crop yields.

New gene-editing techniques will also increasingly use nanomaterials to transfer DNA to plants. These techniques can be used to detect the presence of pests and nutrient deficiencies, or simply improve their resistance to extreme weather and pests. Given that increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events due to global heating are putting the very functioning of the global food system at risk, these advancements could be vital for preventing agricultural collapse.

Nanotechnologies aren’t cheap yet and researchers have yet to conduct rigorous tests of how toxic nanomaterials are to humans and plants, and how durable they are. But should they pass these tests, agriculture will surely follow the path of other industries in adopting the technology on a large scale.

Save for nanotechnology and advanced robots, the above solutions are already in use in many small-scale and commercial farms – just not in combination. Imagine them working in synchrony and suddenly a vision of sustainable agriculture doesn’t seem so far away anymore.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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