It’s time for the United States and the Obama Administration to take a stand. Either this country will become a leader in sustainability technology, services and implementation, or it will languish forever behind the European Union, China, the Middle East, South Korea and other nations.
After a promising start by the Obama administration recognizing the importance of clean technologies, particularly clean energy and transportation, we are one year later paralyzed: Copenhagen was a qualified failure, Congress has abdicated passing climate change-related regulations, and the backdoor plan for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases is being challenged in Congress.
Part of the blame has to go to the White House. During President Obama’s first 30 days, a raft of new programs under the Stimulus, about 11 percent of the $787 billion dollars, were announced that would benefit clean technology research and implementation.
By April the administration moved on to health care, leaving the green economy and climate change measures twisting in the wind. Instead of bolstering the effort with statistics, stories and demonstrations of why the world is already moving toward green as the biggest next-generation economic opportunity, the US green D-Day troops landed on the beach without air cover, supplies or a mission objective.
During late spring and summer last year, I spoke with numerous administration and Congressional officials. I proposed that the administration develop and release detailed figures on where green job growth was occurring. I also advised projecting those figures into a future of guaranteed clean technology dominance, with specific stories about where record numbers of new jobs were already being created:
Toledo, Ohio has 4 percent of its metro workforce (6,000 jobs!) engaged in clean technology production, at all levels including executive, research, marketing and labor. That’s equivalent on the regional level to major industries that have picked up and left the Midwest and moved overseas.
California’s green economy grew almost three times faster than the rest of its economy during 1995-2008. That job growth was in geographic regions all over the state, including wealthy urban coastal areas as well as in less prosperous and recession-ravaged inland regions.
The greater Boston metro area has become a hotbed for clean energy research and production through state programs and private sector collaboration, with MIT and Cambridge acting as important science and policy advancement centers.
Austin, Texas is a leading center for incubating renewable research, production and deployment, demonstrating public-private partnerships and academic collaboration, with the University of Texas.
Obviously, the officials did not understand that supporting “green jobs” means more than talking up the merits of each technology, which was their tact.
They told me, “We can gather and promote those statistics after the stimulus jobs are created.” Or, “The White House staff is taking up every day with health care discussions–there is only one day per month for environmental discussions, so it’s not enough time.” (I couldn’t believe at this day and age, they failed to frame the issues as “economic development” not “environmental” issues!)
The urgency of demonstrating how the clean technology economy is taking root in many Congressional districts and media markets is evident: people just need to see what these new opportunities are without having to understand the complex technologies themselves.
Only through such visceral stories, demonstrations and a few choice statistics will the American public public and media recognize that taking on the challenges of climate change and foreign oil dependency present untold opportunities for domestic jobs and market leadership.
New green cities are being either planned, designed and built in China, South Korea, The Middle East and even India, based on new clean tech ecosystems combining renewable energy, with water and material conservation processes, along with information technologies. It’s ironic that a US-based company like General Electric needs to base one of its largest clean technology research investment in Abu Dhabi, but that’s the reality of our new economic era.
President Obama and Congress need to illustrate that we are falling behind in this race for the future of our national economy, planet and local livelihoods. They need to shine a solar spotlight on this new world that is emerging all around us, in our factories, universities and research laboratories to make them a recognized engine of our regional economies.
The president can look to a US city for inspiration. Seattle has set a goal of making itself North America’s first carbon neutral city by 2030, which will require a Manhattan Project-type approach among local government, businesses, civic organizations and local experts. Only through well-researched shout-outs from the bully pulpit of the Presidency will such efforts capture and sustain the national imagination.
Our past has proven that once our nation is inspired, we all can move collectively toward a common goal: Let’s use our existing and expected progress in sustainability to define a future of hope and economic regeneration.
What will we do post growth, post cheap energy, post resource abundance and post climate change? The Post Carbon Institute (PCI) convened its first meeting of Fellows this weekend in Berkeley to address these concerns. Many there and elsewhere have argued that these transformational changes are already becoming evident.
PCI Fellow Bill Rees, the co-originator of the Ecological Footprint, captured the mood of the group best when he said, “We have to adapt to the change rather then repress the change.”
The Institute’s Fellows were gathered by PCI from a wide variety of fields: energy, transportation, population, food/ agriculture, building and development, economics, social justice, education, urban issues, health, climate, biodiversity and water. The event marked a maiden face-to-face (and virtual) voyage to examine the brave new waters of the 21st century. About 25 of PCI’s 29 Fellows participated.
PCI Fellows Retreat, David Brower Center, Berkeley (Post Carbon Institute photo)
Asher Miller, PCI’s executive director set the table for the three-day event. “Facing such daunting issues, we can either: 1) pack up and go home; 2) be a witness to history; 3) save what we can, which I call the Noah’s Ark approach; or 4) work as hard as we can, and go as big as can go. Collectively we can come up with one thing, or do lots of things–we don’t know which one will bring the best results.”
The group of Fellows up until this point has been focused on producing a book (cover pictured above) of essays and case studies that will be released by University of California Press with Watershed Media in July, The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises.
The Berkeley retreat focused on developing connective tissue among Fellows through facilitated exercises, planning and presentations. Some highlights–or lowlights–as many of the participants (myself included) could be accused of being bearers of bad news:
Richard Heinberg, the Senior Fellow whose extensive work (The Party’s Over, Blackout, Peak Everything) has provided a nexus for PCI while helping define “Peak Oil” thinking, has spoken to world leaders from Congress to European Parliament.
“I have nothing to show for all my presentation to political leaders,” Heinberg said. “Anyone who questions the concept of growth is shunted off.”
Erika Allen, Chicago manager for Growing Power, a national land trust that provides access to healthy local food in disadvantaged communities, explored a scenario where food supplies are cut off because of an energy supply disruption or other crisis. “We’ve been preparing around the principles of providing seven days of food for Chicago–what systems are in place to respond? We need to be able to grow food on concrete and on the tops of buildings.”
The issue of sustainable agriculture, both urban and rural, was an overall emergent issue of the weekend, with talismanic Wes Jackson, founder and director of The Land Institute, providing an urgent view into a survival system that has been taken for granted.
“In the long run, soil is more important than oil,” Jackson said, citing research that soil carbon concentrations in US have been halved since non-indigenous settlement, from 6 percent to 3 percent, because of poor conservation and industrial practices.
Grave consequences for climate-change influenced mass migrations were forecast by Brian Schwartz, a Johns Hopkins professor in public health. “Moving populations (because of climate change) will be very bad for society, the environment and health in every aspect.”
Chris Martenson’s The Crash Course presentation examined unsustainable levels of US debt, uncovering shocking new snapshots on the historic level of government and personal debt after a decade with zero job growth.
Martenson, a former corporate executive, later confessed that there are emerging opportunities in certain investments, job sectors and geographic areas. He was also optimistic about the can-do nature of Americans: “Give people something to do, and they’ll put it together with joy and creativity, such as the Burning Man village.”
Similarly, Rob Hopkins, the originator of the Transition Town movement, reported from the UK via Skype video (he gave up flying three years ago) that the effort to form locally organized community resilience around food, energy, construction and culture is rapidly multiplying in global locations. “It’s spreading very, very fast, with new Transition Towns in Chile, Sweden, Canada, Italy and Australia.”
“With resilience, we see an opportunity to take a shock and then make a step by the community in the right direction so it can advance itself,” Hopkins said of the 300-plus transition initiatives. “Our role isn’t to manage a lot of projects, but to support projects as they emerge.”
Other Fellows presenting included author Bill McKibben (The End of Nature and 350.org), Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, and Rees, a professor at the University of British Columbia. Joe Brewer, founder and director of communications strategy consultancy Cognitive Policy Works, also led sessions on communications and messaging.
The results of the event included a forthcoming mission statement that was co-authored by nine different groups. My group on cities also consisted of Johns Hopkins professor Schwartz, City University of New York professor (and former New York City green building standard originator) Hillary Brown, and transportation expert Anthony Perl, author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.
We contributed concepts around “bioregionally grounded human communities” based on non-automotive transportation options, human-scaled neighborhoods and regionally produced sustainable food and energy.
Groups also prepared proposals for collaboration and post-event project action, including a Resiliency Preparedness Kit; a communications strategy and roll-out plan; a regional sustainable agriculture investment model for production, processing and urban distribution; and a PCI-informed community development prototype approach for both domestic (Oberlin, Ohio) and international (most likely India or China) communities.
“We need to foster experimentation, re-localization,and differentiation in our redundancies and behavior,” said PCI executive director Miller. “Simple living can make us happier and can tap into the long history of humans as a species.”
Chevron’s Nigerian oil pipeline has been overtaken by the Movement for the Emancipation of Nigeria in the Niger Delta (above: AFP/File Photo). The group is obviously well-armed and trained. See the lead machine gunner supplied by ammunition/communications (left), and flanked by AK-47s and rocket launcher holders (left rear, right rear) scanning the horizon of Niger River, which has pipeline, production and transport facilities (Niger River Delta and Nigerian offshore oil areas are in yellow below).
The Niger Delta has been the source of about 2.5 to 3% of world oil supply and reserves, with Shell, Exxon, BP and others holding major delta and offshore concessions.
Multi-national oil companies have been open flaring oil wells 24 hours a day into the air, and causing extensive water pollution in the area once home to rich fishing and agriculture.
Thus the region is growing infamous for impacted civilian uprisings, peaceful and not so.
Said the governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan: “…the
oil companies have polluted the air, the waters and soil….So, with this kind of situation, our people can no longer
fish or farm and so they can no longer feed themselves, the capacity to
do this is no longer there and when you cannot feed yourself, you are
hungry and when you are hungry, you get angry and when you are angry,
you get violent. So, it is a vicious cycle…We want to create a Delta
State without oil…We should be able to create a Nigerian economy
without oil, bring our youth up and train them to become farmers and
Before the news of the Chevron pipeline takeover, oil markets were already heating up Friday to almost $83 a barrel, the highest range since October 2008, after hitting their historic peak of $147 a barrel in July 2008. Based on Nigeria and increased demand from China, this week could be be a harbinger for 2010 oil price trends.
It’s the end of the decade 2000-2009, and there has been
progress as well as potential disaster for sustainability. In chronological
order, I’ve chosen these ten stories to show a range of relevant global and national
issues and events on climate, business, government, media, design, technology,
language and demographics. Some of the entries are pegged to an exact date, while
others cover a time period.
The first entry, climate change is impacting all aspects of
sustainability thought, planning and action.
of the Decade: Global Climate Change Confirmed by…Climate, IPCC, Heads of State
Time Period: 2000-2009
The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that we humans are
changing the earth’s climate in ways in which millions are beginning to regret.
Ten of the hottest years on record globally have been recorded in the ten years
1997. Some of the impacts: rising overall sea levels from melting polar ice are
already damaging low-lying areas in Bangladesh, India, Egypt and China, and
threatening the very existence of island nations. More intense hurricanes (Katrina
killed more than 1,300 in 2006 and helped shut down the oil and gas refining sector in the Gulf Coast);
droughts, heat (the Europe heat event of 2003 caused more than 35,000 deaths) and wildfires (Australia’s Melbourne-area deadly firestorm of 2009 exploded
during one of the hottest periods ever recorded Down under, dramatizing the
ravishes of an ongoing 8-year drought).
So what if these are chance events, unrelated to man’s
impact on the globe’s climate? That’s a fair question and an outside
possibility, but odds are that these extreme events were at least partially due
to the rising global concentration of CO2, which is now at about 390 parts per
million (ppm), up from 315 ppm in the late 1950s.The real threat is that things will get much
worse (heat waves, droughts, floods, depletion of glaciers and water supplies,
agriculture and fisheries disruption) if our global greenhouse gases continue
to increase. Human-based greenhouse gas emissions increased 70% between 1970
and 2004, according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, also known
as the IPCC). The watershed IPCC Fourth Assessment Report of 2007 developed by 2,500 of the world’s leading climate
scientists, put the likelihood at more than 90 percent that the global
temperature increase of .74 Celsius between 1906 and 2005 has been caused by
human greenhouse gas emissions. How often have 2,500 scientists agreed on
anything? The landmark 2007 “Stern Review on the Economic of Climate Change,” by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern,
estimates that global climate change could negatively impact the world
economy annually at 5-20 percent Gross Domestic Product, while Stern estimated
that the annual costs of reducing the risks of global climate
change are estimated to be about 1 percent of world GDP.
Unfortunately, the UN COP-15 conference in Copenhagen ended with a whimper, producing only a non-binding agreement
to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above
pre-industrialized temperature levels. Follow-up actions, including a potential binding
treaty, will set the agenda for the next decade and beyond.
2. Word: Sustainability
The use of the term
“sustainability” itself has been a major surprise this past decade. In 2000,
only a few policy wonks and academics used the word, traditionally defined as “meeting
present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet
their needs.”Now the
public (maybe even more than the media) is gleaning that “sustainability”
differs considerably from “environmentalism” as it is based on planning for an
uncertain future based on economics, culture, resources and technology.
As the current decade closes many are searching for a
term that could replace “sustainability,” claimed to be almost meaningless now
because it has been hijacked by greenwashing corporate marketing campaigns (I
bet some such ads pop up next to this post somewhere in future digital
ether!).“Resilience” is currently gaining traction, but we’ll perhaps need another decade to see if the “s-word” gets dethroned.
LEED Green Buildings
Date: March 2000
The US Green Building Council
formally released its Leadership in Energy and Environment Design building standards
full Green Building Rating system 2.0 in March 2000. The impact on the nation’s
building and construction industry over the next ten years has been wildly
popular and transformational on numerous levels. The number of LEED-certified
or registered buildings increased from 10,000 in 2007 to 20,000 by the
beginning of 2009.Providing a system-based measurable standard of what “green” means is useful
for policy, benchmarking and new market development. The LEED ratings, for instance, were
integral to my ability to develop an overall sustainability benchmarking of US
cities starting in 2005 (which can found in my book How Green is Your City?). Critics
have assailed LEED for providing standards in certification that do not reflect
actual performance in energy efficiency. Nevertheless, LEED standards, are now being positioned for international
markets (in competition with Europe’s BREE-AM and China’s
emerging Three Star standard),and they continue to be a powerful
teaching tool, not to mention an industry onto themselves. Today’s savvy urban
planner, construction manager or architect must possess the LEED-AP,
“Accredited Professional” tagline on their business card. In addition to new
commercial building construction, LEED is now being applied to homes, existing
buildings, schools, neighborhoods and may even extend to cities, under the LEED for
Neighborhood Development standard
that was launched in 2009.
The next challenges for green building standards will be
rating life-cycle impacts (carbon, water, scarce resources) of construction processes and material, while integrating measures of building performance–how much buildings actually save energy or water once they are occupied.
The Toyota Prius
Date: July 2000
Back in the 1990s, Toyota
Motor Corporation CEO Katsuaki Watanbe helped birth the “G-21,” later known as
the Prius, when he decided that middle-class consumers wanted a car that used
new motor innovations to be fuel-efficient. The Prius hybrid gas-electric car
was introduced in the United States in July 2000. It quickly became a Hollywood status symbol after Leonardo DiCaprio bought one
in 2001, and he and other stars such as Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart
(remember her?) began showing up at the 2003 Oscar ceremonies not in
chauffeured limos, but behind the wheel or driven in their own Priuses. By the
decade’s peak sales year of 2007, the Toyota Prius had sold 180,000 units in the
United States.These cars get 40-50 miles per gallon but
perhaps even more importantly provide a meter showing real-time and historic
fuel efficiency; self-monitoring feedback is one of the greatest ways of changing behavior to reduce energy use.
Plug-in electric models of the Prius will begin to be released on test basis in
2010, in a challenge to the introduction of GM’s Chevy Volt. Plug-ins may
create fuel efficiencies that can truly reduce carbon emissions and oil
dependency, getting from 51 to 100+ miles per gallon. One problem with electric
cars or plug-in hybrid electrics is that their true sustainability impact depends on exactly
how the electricity they use is produced at the power plant: renewables or
dirty coal? In parts of the United States that continue to burn large amounts
of coal to generate electricity (Southeast, lower Midwest and Plains states),
driving an electric car does little or nothing to reduce a person’s overall
carbon footprint when compared to gas-burning cars. When you consider cars and
health, social, land use and material life-cycle impacts, driving less is better for people’s
environment and the planet.
Story. Wal-Mart Embarks on a “Green” Path
I must admit, I was a skeptic when I first heard of
Wal-Mart’s plan to go green in 2004 from Jib Ellison, founder of Blue Skye
of the major collaborative forces behind Wal-Mart’s transformation. Wal-Mart,
at that point the largest company in the world (it’s now number 3), had
been known for its ruthless management style, questionable labor practices, and
for helping put locally owned stores in towns across the country out of
business. Ellison had met with Wal-Mart’s then-CEO Lee Scott at the behest of
Conservation International’s CEO Peter Seligman, and
Scott decided upon a serious campaign to make the company more resource and
energy efficient. Since that meeting, the company has been streamlining its
transportation fleet, buildings and some products to be less environmentally
destructive. The company is now targeting its supply chain, which is primarily
in China, in a loosely defined, greening protocol.
The impact of Wal-Mart going green helped awaken the
nation’s business leaders to the potential of making their own operations and
supply chains energy and resource efficient, (just sounds like good business to me). Wal-Mart announced earlier in 2009 that it would require
manufacturers to calculate and disclose the full environmental costs of
ingredients and processes on product labels sometime in the next five years.
Suppliers, formerly isolated or little regulated, are now assessing their
operations in a way they never would have without the threat of greater
scrutiny from their biggest customer.
6. Regulations: California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006
When California Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger made the declaration in June 2005 that, “I say the debate is
over (on climate change),”
many were still heatedly arguing that climate change needed more studies before
action was taken. The Governor and the California Legislature pressed ahead in
2006 to sign the nation’s first major climate change mitigation legislation,
known as AB 32 . Now AB 32 will soon be implemented across industries and even in local
communities through follow-up legislation such as the regulation known
as SB 375, the nation’s first statewide
regulatory attempt to limit suburban and exurban sprawl. Meanwhile, opponents
of AB 32, are gearing up for 2010 gubernatorial elections, claiming AB 32 will cost the state $143 billion in auction taxes alone. Whatever happens
next, California is being looked on by the Obama Administration and world
leaders as the pace setter in climate change mitigation with its aggressive automotive
fuel standards, green building standards and AB 32’s goal of reducing
greenhouse gases 80% over 1990 levels by 2050.
7.Film: An Inconvenient Truth
Released in Summer 2006 at the Sundance Film Festival, An Inconvenient Truth made the debate on
climate change public. The documentary, which was actually just a series of
lectures and slideshows that former Vice President Al Gore was giving around
the world, hit a nerve. Despite “action scenes” that consisted of Gore either
1.) riding up elevators or 2.) riding down escalators, the film created a major
public buzz and introduced the subject of climate change to popular culture. An
Inconvenient Truth received an Academy Award in 2007 for Best Documentary
and went on to set records for box office revenues in its category. An Inconvenient Truth offered very few
solutions, suggesting compact fluorescent bulbs and little more. This critical
learning opportunity was finally addressed when Gore released a follow-up book
in 2009, A Plan to Solve the Climate
8.Book: The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Michael Pollan’s 2006 book TheOmnivore’s Dilemma made clear the benefits of sustainable
agriculture and food production, and even foraging or killing your own food:
it’s healthier for people, animals, farmers, the land and nature. The ongoing
popularity of this book has helped create a demand for sustainably raised food
that has out-paced supply. The Omnivore’s
Dilemma patiently outlined what is wrong with industrial agriculture and
livestock production, where highly subsidized ingredients such as high fructose
corn syrup have become a surplus commodity to be forced upon products or
animals in order to reduce the price of ingredients, without regard to health
(diabetes, reduced nutrition). I had the good fortune of meeting Angelo Garro,
the Italian forager, now based in Northern California who was profiled in the
last half of the book. As we traded notes on wild huckleberry picking one
afternoon at a friend’s orchard party, he was pulling off some strips of meat from a boiled
carcass. When the sun went down most were unknowingly eating a jack rabbit that
Angelo had shot in the orchard a few hours before–it had made its way into a
delicious bolognese pasta sauce.
Masdar City, First Planned Net-Zero Carbon City
Time Period: 2006-2017
Masdar will be a 50,000-person city based on applied sustainability
research and technology that is being developed in Abu Dhabi, United
Arab Emirates. While other cities have been planned to be net-zero carbon
(Dongtan, China, which is not being developed because of local corruption and
other issues), Masdar
has been one of the few net-zeros that appear to be proceeding as planned. With
financial partners Credit Suisse, Siemens and General Electric, Masdar is also
backed by the city-state of Abu Dhabi, as well as technology partners from the
UK and Spain. The complex is being used for cutting-edge research in: renewable
energy (including dozens of active and passive solar and wind technologies), water
conservation technologies that can distill drinking water from ambient moisture
both indoors (sweat) and outdoors (dew), as well as local urban food production
schemes. In fall 2009, the Masdar Institute of Technology opened, in conjunction with
MIT, where students get degrees in engineering,material sciences, IT, water and the
environment, all with a relationship to the real world demonstration projects
taking root in the city that in Arabic means “the source.”
Trend: Mega-growth of Unregulated Asian Cities + Mega Drought
Between now and 2027 Asian Cities will account for more
than half of the world’s greenhouse gas increases,
according to a study by the Asian Development Bank.
From Mumbai to Beijing, cities will add a projected 1.8 billion people over the next two
decades; they are almost entirely unregulated in their growth, carbon
management and environmental impacts, despite some new siloed attempts to
manage their industries, power production and energy efficiency. The daunting
challenge is that no regulatory structure exists to monitor this collection of Asian mega-cities,
despite the fact that many of these cities has or will have populations of 10-20 million individuals. This megagrowth began
around the beginning of the 00’s, when Asian urban population was at 1.4
billion. Asia is projected to have about 3 billion urbanites by 2030.
Water is the first epic Asian city resource
crisis. The Tibetan Plateau, source of most of the region’s major
sources of fresh water (including the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, Ganges,
Irrawaddy and the Indus rivers) has been experiencing a seven percent loss of
glaciers on an annual basis, according to a report released last week (pdf) at the
Copenhagen climate conference.
Beijing has been hit especially
hard by a ten-year drought (pdf): the city of 17 million has enough water for only 14
million. Beijing has been forced to procure
water from surrounding agricultural regions and rapidly diminishing groundwater, while some cities in India have
completely run out of water during periods of drought over the past decade.
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common
Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy
consultancy. He is a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.
Next10, a research organization in San Francisco, released last week an analysis of green job growth rates in California by sector and region, “Many Shades of Green”. Looks like Golden State green job growth has outpaced other job growth since the mid-1990s into 2008 and the great recession.
Overall job growth in California’s continuously expanding green sectors was 36% between 1995 and 2008, with traditional job growth at 13% over the same period. When the recession hit California in 2007, green jobs continued to grow into 2008 at a 5% pace while the rest of the job market actually decreased 1% in the state.
The statewide region for green job growth was the Sacramento area, with an 87% percent growth rate.
Sacramento experienced the highest-level employment growth (157%) in air and
environment jobs (2.5 x 1995 levels). Energy generation employment grew by 141%.
California’s total green job growth leader is the San Francisco Bay Area with 41,674 green jobs. Bay Area trends include the largest number of energy generation jobs
(roughly 7,000). Energy generation grew by 20%, with the high concentration in
In the San Joaquin Valley, total green job growth was 48% with the highest
concentration of jobs in wind energy. Concentration in alternative fuels represent
three times the state average. The number of jobs in green transportation grew 211%.
In the Los Angeles area, energy generation jobs
grew by 35% and energy efficiency jobs grew by 77%. In Orange County green
transportation jobs grew 1,875% including alternative fuels and motor vehicles
and equipment. Energy generation jobs grew by 176%
According to Next 10, The Inland Empire’s energy generation jobs grew by 85% with the highest
concentration in solar and wind. Energy efficiency jobs grew by 91%.
Next10 is focused on innovation arising from the intersection of environmental, economic and quality of life interests. The non-profit was founded by venture capitalist F. Noel Perry.
What will the impacts be of the Dubai credit crisis on Masdar City, the famous living sustainability lab being built in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the goal of being a zero-net carbon city?
So far the UAE capital city-state of Abu Dhabi, backed by significant revenues from oil production and collateral from reserves, has escaped the financial panic that has gripped neighboring Dubai. This bodes well for Masdar City, to which Abu Dhabi pledged $15 billion in investments; some are predicting the Dubai domino effect will not stir up dust in Masdar.
Abu Dhabi is looking at Masdar as being an international crucible for renewable energy and other sustainability technologies so that the UAE can make the transition from relying exclusively on fossil fuels to exporting technologies for future low-carbon/ low-water global energy and resource needs.
Masdar, which will have about 55,000 residents when complete before 2020, is notable in that it is serving as a large-scale test bed for new technologies in renewable energy, passive wind cooling, advanced materials design, innovative car-free transportation, water conservation and local food production.
The Masdar Institute, which started classes this fall, is backed in a cooperative agreement with MIT (The MIT Technology Review is the source above that predicted things will be hunky dory in Masdar despite Dubai’s situation).
In terms of financing, The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, which is the government entity behind Masdar, announced in late September that it was seeking $600 million over seven years to fund construction of Masdar, where ground was first broken earlier this year. The government reported that it was not seeking an estimated $18 billion to finance the project, a figure that was published in other media reports.
With GE, the city is testing smart-grid technologies, including smart appliances, for home energy monitoring and energy conservation, among other technologies.
It seems that Masdar represents a completely different mindset than the ‘build it and they will come” approach taken in Dubai.
Instead of Dubai’s living-for-today mentality with giant indoor ski slopes and man-made islands built in the desert for jet-setting tourists, Masdar is more about channeling global innovation for both the future of its own nation’s economy and the growing demands of the world.
Still, many interested in clean technologies and sustainable cities will be watching Masdar closely during the next few months to look for signs of how a critical sustainability innovation ecosystem will survive the stress tests of a volatile global financial ecosystem.
The unchecked trend of US exurbanization was one of the major factors setting off the beginning of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, according to a new research paper published by the Post Carbon Institute investigating the relationship of sprawled, completely car-dependent communities to real estate risk as well as to climate change and ecosystems.
Besides the inherent threats to climate change and dwindling resources, exurban development during the past decades put the United States in a vulnerable economic position when steadily rising gas prices in 2004-2005 began their march toward $4-5 a gallon in mid 2008.
The research paper argues that many suburbs and most exurbs, which constitute the vast majority of urbanized areas in the United States, have been building up an infrastructure of complete auto dependence, which threatens the climate through multiple forms of inefficient energy, food and resource use.
Despite the emerging “green” urbanism trend, which can be found in a number of North American cities, unplanned exurban growth must be addressed and managed more efficiently, or the economy will face further severe national real estate shocks as oil prices rise again.
California’s Senate Bill 375 is the first statewide anti-sprawl measure, and similar regulation and related regional planning processes will need to occur on a national basis to systemically reduce the combined risks of exurban development and financial speculation.
In April 2009–just when people thought things
couldn’t get worse in San Bernardino County, California–bulldozers demolished
four perfectly good new houses and a dozen others still under construction in
Victorville, 100 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.
granite countertops and Jacuzzis were removed first. Then the walls came down
and the remains were unceremoniously scrapped. A woman named Candy Sweet came
by the site looking for wood and bartered a six-pack of cold Coronas for some
of the splintered two-by-fours. For a boomtown in one of the fastest-growing
counties in the United States, things were suddenly looking pretty bleak…
The recent decline of Victorville and other
“boomburbs” may well prove to be the last gasp of the United States’
decades-long suburban/exurban development frenzy. We will be absorbing or
trying to erase the unwanted surplus of this end-of-the-twentieth-century
building spree for years, if not decades. In the meantime, exurban communities
in general–and Victorville in particular–will face a daunting set of short term
and long term challenges as the 21st century shapes up to be very
different than the world they were built for…
Within the United States, existing metropolitan
areas can be retrofitted to take advantage of breakthroughs in sustainability
and efficiency technologies, as well as new financial incentives.
Recovery and Re-investment Act of 2009 has provided some funding for the
energy-efficient redesign of our buildings and our means of transportation. But
much more ambitious projects need to be undertaken to retrofit our communities
not only for energy efficiency, but to build their overall resilience.
Fortunately, a foundation for this work already
exists. Barely ten years ago, “green buildings,” downtown streetcars, urban
farms, car-sharing companies, high-quality bicycle infrastructure and other
physical features now associated with urban sustainability were found only in a
handful of North American cities. Today, they are popping up everywhere.
cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are actively trying to
“out-green” each other, while smaller cities like Boulder, Colorado, and Alexandria, Virginia are rolling out their own localized sustainability solutions.
Some communities have taken early steps toward protecting their surrounding
agricultural lands, or “foodsheds,” from well-established regional plans and
policies in Portland, Oregon to San Francisco’s 2009 comprehensive local food
policy. Cities are starting to realize that they can’t just “grow smarter”–they
have to fundamentally remake themselves to be resilient for the unprecedented
economic, social, and environmental challenges of the 21st century.
If the “Great Recession” of 2008-2009 taught us
anything, it was that allowing the unrestrained sprawl of energy-inefficient
communities and infrastructure is not a sustainable economic development
strategy; rather, it is a recipe for continued disaster on every level.
Twentieth century-style sprawl has destroyed valuable farmland, sensitive
wildlife habitat, and irreplaceable natural water supply systems at great environmental,
economic, and social cost. We can no longer manage and develop our communities
with no regard for the natural resources and ecological systems that provide
our most basic needs.
What lessons emerge from metropolitan areas that
have begun to plan for the future by building their resilience with economic,
energy, and environmental uncertainty in mind?
and re-build denser and smarter. Suburban and urban population
densities need to increase so that energy-efficient transportation choices
like public transit, bicycling and walking can flourish. Multi-modal
mobility cannot succeed at the densities found in most American suburban
and urban communities today. Increasing density doesn’t have to mean
building massive high-rises: adding just a few more stories on existing or
new mixed-use buildings can double population density–and well-designed,
increased density can also improve community quality of life and economic
vitality. Resource-efficient building technologies, as certified by the US
Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environment and Energy (LEED) or
the US EPA’s Energy Star rating, can be retrofitted for existing building
stock and mandated for all new construction.
on food. Gardens
(whether in backyards, community parks, or in and on top of buildings) may
supplement people’s diets with fresh local produce–but urban areas need to
think big and plan systemically for significantly increased food
production. In many Asian cities and towns–even big cities like Seoul,
South Korea, the size of New York–there are thriving small farms
interspersed within metro areas. Growing and processing more food for
local consumption bolsters regional food security and provides jobs while
reducing the energy, packaging and storage needed to transport food to
on water. Our
freshwater supply is one of our the most vulnerable resources in the
United States. Water vulnerability is no longer just a problem for
Southwestern desert cities–communities in places like Texas, Georgia and
even New Jersey have recently had to contend with water shortages. As
precipitation patterns become less reliable and underground aquifers and mountain snowpack dry
up, more and more communities will need to significantly reduce water
demand through conservation, restrictions and “tiered pricing.”
in terms of systems.If we think of our
urban areas as living, breathing entities–each with a set of basic and
more specialized requirements–we can better understand how to transform
our communities from random configurations into dynamic, high-performance
systems of resilience. The “metabolism” of urban systems depends largely on
how energy, water, food, materials, labor and knowledge are used (and
reused, where possible), or metabolized. From these ingredients and
processes come products, services, and–if the system is efficient–minimal
waste and pollution…