Saturday, July 14, 2012

Corking Uglification

the genie in the wine bottle

Which genie in which bottle will cork uglification?

Assuming the truth of the ongoing rapid loss in quality of life, then we can expect that some of us will  not take this loss of quality lying down. This is programmed biologically. We resist loss of quality and strive for better and better. The emergent counter to this drive is that of shifting baselines.  As  our world degrades, we forget and identify new and lesser points of reference for what is good and beautiful. Over time, Beauty becomes a tad uglier as the result. A prime example might be the shift from wild salmon to farmed salmon and all the losses in quality, taste,salmon- life-style, nutrition, more fat, etc. When wild pink salmon is offered locally at $2.00 plus change at Albertson's, every shipment is sold out in a few hours. (July 14, 2012)

In general, most stakeholders in the quality of the earth's various environments assume that some combination of technology, change in consumer habits, and luck will be the main factors affecting a turn in the tide of degradation of local and global ecosystems. To these factors I add change in consumer values and beliefs, more audacious regulations, new environmental policies, an abandonment of models of behavior such as supply and demand, profit as bottom line, and other changes.

Avoiding a catastrophic effect on climate from the burning of fossil fuels would require political will, international cooperation and huge resources, said the team from a group of American universities. But "no amount of regulation" could solve the problem, they said.
Instead it would need dramatic leaps in technology, such as working fusion reactors, solar panels the size of Manhattan floating in space, and a "global grid" of superconducting power transmission lines to distribute electricity without loss around the world.
This post claims that the genie in the bottle is not technology, as many propose to save the vibrancy of earth's threatened ecosystems. The evolution of the genie, whose shadow alone has as yet only spottily appeared, is described below.

Local or global: the boundaries have blurred.

While most of my posts are contextualized in the  general area of Santa Barbara, both seaward and for our five wine appellations, the implications of what happens locally are frequently reflected globally. That is, investigating what happens in and around Santa Barbara is a proxy for the world that allows residents up-close and personal insights into global ecological change. We know that we are eating more squid and less salmon and abalone. This is the result of the process of eating down the food chain. We observe that the average size of the fish we catch is smaller than twenty years ago. Big game fish like barracuda are hard to find.  The most important commercial fishery is squid.

We are not only fishing down the food web, we are all, including sea animals, living down the food web.  The quality of life to which we are becoming accustomed is not as high as it once was, if quality is determined by pure air, pure water, healthy food. Our baseline is shifting downward.

The next few posts broaden the context to the global to explore innovation in wine and seafood industries that affect us locally as well as globally.

Our Ecological Crisis 

Few deny that we are full tilt boogie into meteorically changing, almost overwhelmingly challenging environments consisting of climate change, unprecedented quantities and kinds of ominous climate change/greenhouse gases affects such as  the Arctic ice disappearing, desertification in many areas, aquifers depleted, loss of species and apex predators worldwide, ocean acidification, climate change, rising sea levels, pollution, runaway consumption and population over seven billion,and overwhelming complexity, habitat degradation and losses, and economic, political, and social crises worldwide. Most of these rapid changes appear to reduce quality of life as we know it. If we accept the changes inherent in this crisis,  we accept the uglification of the planet earth.
"An ecological crisis occurs when the environment of a species or a population changes in a way that destabilizes its continued survival. There are many possible causes of such crises:
  • It may be that the environment quality degrades compared to the species' needs, after a change of abiotic ecological factor (for example, an increase of temperature, less significant rainfalls).
  • It may be that the environment becomes unfavourable for the survival of a species (or a population) due to an increased pressure of predation.
  • Lastly, it may be that the situation becomes unfavourable to the quality of life of the species (or the population) due to raise in the number of individuals (overpopulation).
The evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium sees infrequent ecological crises as a potential driver of rapid evolution. "                

Previous posts have focused on creative adaptations to these changes: Spicing up the descent down the food web is one example of a series in this blog devoted to creative adaptation to these changes.

Responses to Loss of Quality of Life: Denial, Anger; Bargaining; Depression; Acceptance; and/or: Adaptation, Revolution, or Transformation.

The genie in this bottle is creativity that is becoming innovation. Creativity is insightful blending of elements and links. But innovation changes radically some aspect of a culture. To abort uglification of the world as we know it, we need to change how we think, what we value, what we do, our metrics for success.

Notoriously, monkey see monkey do. We are descendants of apes, and as such, biologically programmed to learn by seeing what others do. The next few posts will help make visible models of creative transformation in the hope that we will do what we see is valuable. Leaders lead the way with ideas and embodiments.

Creativity is generative

Transformational responses to our global crisis by the wine industry fall into two major categories: 
  1. Transformation within the wine industry based on life cycle actions affecting supply, production and distribution of wine; and 
  2. Transformations in global stewardship engaging consumers as stewardship collaborators based on online reporting of  best ecological practices. through online reporting.

This post identifies world-class innovators in the wine industry in the first  category. The next post deals with innovators in online reporting, which I think is the category of innovators that will most rapidly and effectively change the world.Online reporting can go viral, meaning affecting a huge number of potential stewards.

.Innovations can be usefully classified as 
  • innovations in supply chain; 
  • innovations in production; and 
  • innovations in distribution. 

The list below is a departure from our usual gatekeeper of quality: that is, the wineries below may or may not have produced world-class wines. What they did do, however, was produce world-class innovations. Since we learn from the models that others develop, those who produce wold-class wines can learn from extant models to become the stewards of the best.

In the table below some wineries fall into both  of the two types of innovation. The list below excludes considerations of quality of wines and focuses only on innovations that are useful for the wine industry.

Some producers are actively engaged in becoming ecological producers and they are also actively engaged in becoming world stewards through online reporting. For the purposes of Reward in the Cognitive Niche, Innovators in Online reporting at the least have a sustainability link on their home page.As a reminder, online reporting allows consumers to choose products based on the best possible information about the ecological practices of the producer.

 Rodney Strong Sustainable Practices
Rodney Strong Vineyards solar array of 766 KW

All Wineries should be net solar-energy suppliers, fish and habitat-friendly, in control of supply and distribution sustainability aspects as well as production. Below are pioneering models of ecological sustainability for California Wineries:

  • Shafer is a pioneer in solar-powered vineyards; since 2004 this winery has produced more energy than used on site and sends the rest back to the grid. Over the lifetime of Shafer's solar system, reduction in emissions is the equivalent of planting 17,000 trees.
  • The semi-regulatory agency in the champagne district of France  the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), launched a new standard Champagne bottle that is 2 ounces lighter. After an environmental audit in 2002 the entire region of champagne producers set a regional target of cutting carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020. As a major means to realize this reduced emissions goal, the new bottle standard is lighter but able to withstand pressures place by the CO2 . The new bottle will reduce emissions from the region by 8,000 metric tons annually. Since about 300 million bottles of Champagne were produced last year and at least 20 million drunk in the US,( meaning high food miles) this is a significant distribution chain innovation.
  • Classified as on of the top thirty wineries in the US by volume of production, Rodney Strong Vineyards has installed one of the wold's largest solar arrays, producing 766 KW, the energy required to power 457 homes for an entire year.That said as an interesting comparison, this enterprise supplies most if not all the energy required for Rodney Strong operations.
  • Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma, sources all of the power for its water reclamation system from a 30kW Floatovoltaic system installed by SPG Solar, Novato. The solar array's 162 Sharp panels are mounted on pontoons in one of the ponds that recycle 70% of wastewater for vineyard use. A second ground-mounted photovoltaic array provides 80kW, 60% of the winery's energy needs. This winery is certified as aBay Area Green Business from Sonoma County. In 2012. It also received a Fish Friendly Farming certification.
  • Far Niente, a winery in California’s Napa Valley region, has installed a first-of-its-kind solar power array and the latest example of how Northern California’s wine industry is using solar power, reports 1,000 photovoltaic panels mounted on 130 pontoons floating in an irrigation pond, and another 306 panels mounted on a nearby acre of land. It can produce up to 477 kilowatts per hour at peak output and can provide more than 100 percent of the winery’s electrical needs: 100% Solar Powered Facility. SIP certified, all waste is recycled, composted, or otherwise recovered.

Domaine Carneros solar array

Foxen: local Winery partly solar powered, committed to sustainability

Rodney Strong: Committed online to using sustainable practices. Their solar energy system is one of the largest of any winery in the world, and RSV is the first carbon neutral winery in Sonoma County.
Carbon Neutral Winery & Vineyards
Solar Power-Producing Winery
Fish Friendly Farming
Sustainably Farmed Vineyards

  • Increasingly, all wineries need to adopt environmentally protective practices as outlined by organizations such as the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance with metrics to evaluate performance in assessment areas such as the following:
performance. The 14 assessment areas are:
1. Viticulture.
2. Soil management.
3. Vineyard water management.
4. Pest management.
5. Wine quality.
6. Ecosystem management.
7. Energy efficiency.
8. Winery water conservation and quality.
9. Material handling.
10. Solid waste reduction and management.
11. Environmentally preferred purchasing.
12. Human resources.
13. Neighbors and community.
14. Air quality

As indicated in previous posts, winemakers/producers in 2012 need to do more than produce world-class wines. They also have the stewardship responsibility of communicating to the concerned consumer sufficient data to enable that consumer to make informed choices among these world-class wines (as rated by quality) as to which is doing the best job of supporting a vibrant global ecosystem. Previous posts dealt with the alpha reporters for sustainable seafood, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As yet there is no equivalent in the wine industry, so each winery has that socio-ecological responsibility along with the drive to produce the best quality.

The above are offered as models for countering uglification. While none is perfect, each offers some plan specifics for the reversal of uglification. This post has featured solar powered wineries since energy is a key factor in climate change over which we each have significant control.That said, energy use is only one aspect of ecological sustainability.

Monday, July 2, 2012

How can we save the sweet life?

Canaries in a coal mine? Read about the threat to honeybees' sweet life.

Saving the Sweet Life.

The last few posts and in fact this entire blog is about saving the sweet life. This concept can be deconstructed  into a  questions and answers framework  following the usual set of what  why & where (who cares)  who is affected; who should fix it, and how should this problem be fixed, as follows:

1. What is the sweet life?
2. Is it really at risk? If so, what is the evidence?
3. Given the risk, Why should this entity (the sweet life) be saved? and Why should we care if it is at risk?
4. If the sweet life is actually threatened what are the major threats?
5. Are these threats relentless or can they be successfully countered?
6. If so, how?
7. Who should lead the way?
8. How should they lead?

This post addresses all of these questions

1. What is the Sweet Life?

The sweet life is a metaphor for the best that life can offer: infinite resources, great food and drink, health, safety, family and community, companionship, a beautiful living environment with clean air and water and healthy resources, respect, the possibility of satisfying and evolving aesthetics, meaningful work, the opportunities to self-realize as well as self-transcend; in short, a life-style we all strive for. The sweet life, aka the good life, is what we all want. The species Homo sapiens is biologically programmed to strive for the best imaginable. This is a no-brainer.

2. Is it at risk?

Clearly!  Previous posts have provided science-based evidence that we are already adapting to degraded resources and environments.

For the argumentative, here is evidence:
1. loss of biodiversity and extinctions. Biodiversity is used in this blog as an indicator of quality of life.
2. loss of apex predators and species
3. eating down the food chain
4. Desertification & Loss of habitat 
5. Pollution
6. The honey bee crisis

4. The major threats to the sweet life are the way we produce and consume.

First, we have produced too many people for the earth to support us all in all they ways to which we all wish to become accustomed. Insatiably, we want more and/or different and better. We shop till we drop, because we are insatiable. Remember, we are the dopamine species par excellence. Dopamine marks whatever is important to our survival however that may be conceptualized. It stimulates, motivate, and makes us feel the inimitable pleasure of being very much alive. Nothing compares to a dopamine high.

The point in runaway consumption is change:  anything new or different or better. Our production models incite new production willynilly, Our consumption models engender in us the desire for something other than what we have. 

Our hope is in the word anything: anything new or different or better. A good change may become as good a choice as one that leads to bad.

3. Why should the Sweet Life be saved?

The sweet life benchmarks the best of the best. Evolution has designed us to be driven by the desire for pleasure, which historically has been embodied in sweet fruits, meats, fish, and creatures.Homo sapiens is biologically driven to strive to achieve/acquire the best. What is in 2012 considered the sweet life or the good life is both a standard and a goal. From an evolutionary perspective, this standard iconizes the best that all cultures till now can imagine. Icons of the sweet life belong in the Smithsonian: the best wine, the best food, the best housing, the best environments, the best jobs, the best lifestyles, all belong in museums, along with  Da Vincis and Picassos.

4. What are the Major Threats to the Sweet Life?

The greatest threats are the way we consume/produce, with the results listed above and elsewhere. We want more and other, without discrimination. More and more and more and something different. Whatever are we thinking?!!!!

Not least, we keep on producing more. The population of the world at 7 billion is way beyond the capacity of the earth to sustain us given our present consumption and production trends.

Our old Industrial Revolution business models of supply and demand with triple bottom lines of profit, society and environment leave out two huge factors, the two that make life worth-while: aesthetics and ethics. The sense of what is right and the sense of what is good and beautiful.

5. Can we save the sweet life?

Perhaps. if every one of us who has an interest in the sweet life does everything he or she can to save the sweet life, maybe we can save it. Technology has been seen as the savior, but the loss of apex predators, mass extinctions, loss of habitat, ocean acidification & warming, and climate change present Technology with unprecedented challenges.

6. How should we do it?

Since the problem is in the way and rate we consume and produce, the solutions are most likely to lie in consumption and production.

7. Who should lead the way?

Those who know what is at stake should lead the way, using the best available knowledge of the way and the ways.

In the last post I suggested that here in Santa Barbara, which is iconic of the sweet life, wine producers of the wines rated the best in the world of their kind should lead the way. I also claimed that just doing one's own thing superbly, such as producing world-class wines, is no longer enough. The stewardship mantle has been placed on the shoulders of those who appreciate the best and will fight for that best and will lead the way for others.I have identified winemakers of the highest quality wines as aestheticians who know and understand the best and who will do almost anything to achieve it, and have actually already done it at least once. They know what is at stake.

Producers should not only increasingly adopt those wine-making practices considered most ecologically sustainable; simultaneously, they should fully involve consumers in their production processes. They should report with the highest transparency what they are doing in the most easily accessed channel, which is in 2012, the Internet. In 2012 the leading-edge model of ecological production is life cycle whole-systems thinking , manifested in a  life cycle analysis (LCA).


Pioneers are the first to settle a territory, whether physical or virtual. They venture forth into uncharted lands and chart and provide the data for charting. Facebook is charting virtual territory, while Columbus charted geographical domains. Their motivations may be conceptualized variously, as a drive towards profit, a drive towards conquering the unknown, and now, a drive towards saving the vibrancy of our global ecosystem.

Pioneers today include wineries such as the pioneering solar enterprises of Rodney Strong Winery, arguably with the largest solar array in the wine industry. Sonoma County's Rodney Strong Vineyards  owners installed a 766-kilowatt, 4,032-panel solar-electric system. This array can power  800 homes, reduces emissions of carbon dioxide by 89,700 tons, which is equal to planting 2,500 acres of trees or not driving 22 million miles on California's roadways. Metrics are important! This winery is also certified by Fish Friendly Farming. 
Foxen's pioneering (for the Central Coast) solar-powered vineyard
Other pioneering efforts designed to support a vibrant global ecosystem are wineries such as Yalumba that have adapted the LCA model as part of their commitment to ecological sustainability and provide comprehensive online- reports with sufficient data to create partners with engaged consumers. Metrics have proved to be useful indicators of ecologically sustainable activity.

"What pioneers do today often becomes mainstream tomorrow"

The conclusion of this post is that the local producers and consumers of premier wines need to select not only the right wine but the right winery, the right consumers and the right process. Both producer and consumer need to do the right thing by their environments, which are qualitatively irreplaceable.

One relatively uncharted territory for innovative pioneers is that of actively engaging consumers in the role of stewardship of earth's vibrant but threatened ecosystems. Producers need to proactively recruit their consumers as collaborative stewards.They need to regard their consumers as co-creators of an ecologically top quality future. Both producers and consumers need to hold each other responsible for the highest quality future imaginable.

As far as I can see, the best means of doing this is to publish online reports of current ecological practices. The ideal model in 2012 seems to be an LCA analysis. Short of that, an informal report directed to consumers of how ecologocially produced  a product is points the way towards assuming stewardship and sharing the privileges of stewardship with global consumers.

The following if a partial list of producers of premier wines who could lead the way should they decide that is what needs to be done.

"...As a business leader, the future of the world has become your business."

Appellations for Santa Barbara County Wines