Learning from Japan about Resilience


bike_earthquake_japan2.jpg

Hourly Japan ‘s tragedy grows almost beyond comprehension (3/16 Update: The head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this afternoon that releases of radiation at Fukushima have been “extremely high” and that “could impact the ability to take corrective measures.”). There is universal empathy over the pain and
suffering being experienced, fear about impacts on Japan’s and the world’s
economy, and anxiety about releases of radiation. For those of us living in seismically
active coastal earthquake zones (me), or anyone living in the airshed of an
active nuclear facility (most of us), or
living downwind (the West Coast of the US and Canada), concerns are multiplied.  

We must use this teachable moment to comprehensively
plan for climate change, energy availability and transformational natural
disasters. These multi-dimensional factors present non-linear problems bound up
together, a “wicked problem.”

The urban need for effective resilience planning has never
been more urgent or daunting. The Sendai Earthquake shattered existing risk models
with a 9.0 initial offshore earthquake, spawning a colossal tsunami from the
epicenter toward shore, resulting in a humanitarian crisis underpinned by now-uncontrolled
nuclear radiation releases.

Loss of life is rampant, and amongst survivors physical and
psychological suffering is acute. 

All grids are down, no transportation, communications or
energy are available in impact zones. Yet, the modest bicycle has emerged triumphant from the
chaos in Tokyo
and beyond

Infrastructure, communications, trains, subways, roads,
energy, soil, air, water, and food are all impacted in terms of delivery, quality
and supply. People are wisely cloistered indoors, but getting basic supplies
will become the next concern for survival even before the radiation leaks subside.

In terms of global economic fallout, supply chains are getting hit, (microcontrollers,
airplanes, and the automotive and electronics sectors,
impacting global trade at least for the year.

Trend: World supply of renewables are being recalculated and
redefined

Nuclear has lost its dubious “renewable” status
permanently. Anything that makes land and resources unusable and dangerous for
years should not qualify as a first solution. But with coal use likely peaking
as an energy source and because its threat to climate, we are forced to consider nuclear
as an energy option.

Trend: Need for New Nuclear Power Plant Criteria

Earthquake, and Cat 3 to 5 hurricane and typhoon zones
should be taken off the global list of available nuclear energy generation sites. Nuclear needs a complete re-examination in
terms of lifecycle energy costs (how much energy is used in mining uranium and
other material) as well as lifecycle radiation risks.

Trend: Nuclear won’t be Dismissed Outright

Considering the increase in the cities of the developing world
(China, India) and their need for energy–it will be almost impossible to
dismiss nuclear as an energy source, unless some very massive leapfrog
technology comes along. We’re stuck with most of the nuclear plants we have,
at least for now. Plants should be
scrutinized, even temporarily or permanently closed if they can’t be run with “Post-Fukushima” confidence. Germany is doing just
that
to its older nuclear plants. The EU is stress testing more than 100 of its nuclear plants, according to the American Public Media show Marketplace.

France, the world’s leading nuclear economy, doesn’t get major
temblors or tropical storms.  China, on the
other hand, has massive fault zones. Southeast China, like the southeast US,
also hosts its version of Hurricane Alley in its Pearl River Delta region.
China has 13 plants up and running with 20 in planning stages, many in severe
typhoon and earthquake risk areas (3/16 Update: China announced it was at least for now suspending the 37 nuclear plants it had in construction or planning stages.)

The challenge for urban planning agencies in the
Pacific Rim: cities are more likely to be coastal, putting them at heightened
risks for Pacific earthquake zones as well as climate change risks. The rising average
ocean levels resulting from melting polar ice caps will only make tsunamis
and flood events worse. The West Coast of the US dodged a bullet when the tsunami from Japan hit at
low tide: still, California alone had more than $30 million in tsunami damage
last week.

Sea level rises will exacerbate the damage caused by tsunamis, and will also increase
sea water intrusion into drinking water supplies and fresh water ecosystems. About 1.6 million households in Japan were without water as of 3/18.

Distributed Energy, Communications, Transportation and Radiation

Energy: Solar, biogas and fuel cell technologies will gain as
they can be used on or near where they generate energy, providing energy
supplies even after disasters take down the power grid. Distributed forms of
energy require only local transmission lines, which can be repaired quickly.
Wind energy relies more on national grid energy transmission networks (though as
the most affordable major renewable energy supply, wind demands a share of the energy pie). Because
of transmission risks, coal plants will decline, even if “clean coal” is
perfected, let alone invented. Electricity supply is spotty from Tokyo north. Tokyo faces six months of brownouts, or reduced power because of the nuclear crisis (nuclear provides the nation with 30% of its total electric power).

Communications: Cellular telephone service in Japan was severely disrupted,
not so for land lines and internet communications. The recommendation according
to the US Department of State:  “Where
possible, you may be able to contact family members using text messages or
social media such as Facebook or Twitter.” Of course that means email, chat,
Skype, Vonage, etc. work in Japan, too.

Mobility: Trains and subways are back up in the Tokyo Metro, after being mostly down for a few
days, as they are the lifeblood of urban Japanese life. The northeast region,
however, is physically cut off from the urban spine of Tokyo. My Japan
sources, Eric and Ken, tell me the regions should be able to be linked with
cycling, if the right bikes are used (mountain or cruiser tires). I got around
after the San Francisco earthquake of 1989
with an old Fisher (pre “Gary”), and was even regularly able to clamber with
that bike down a post-earthquake four-foot San Andreas Fault road drop on State
Highway One, on cliffs above the Pacific. Though Highway One north was not reopened to
cars for over a year, it still provided cyclists safe passage between West
Marin-San Francisco.

Radiation: When the French, the planet’s reigning nuclear
experts, tell their people to flee Tokyo and then the US warships evacuate,
you know things are critical. Tuesday nuclear plant overflights for aircraft were
banned and, more disturbingly, operators may have been forced by events to abandon nuclear plant control rooms

Besides the immediate risks to health, the big unknown risks
jeopardize land, infrastructure and food. How will Japan safely assess radiation
levels and then make a go/ no go decision for what’s inhabitable or edible? How
will that information be conveyed to the international community? Already the
US has made multiple requests that Japan release more data on its basic air radiation levels
(Update: in the first break of policy with Japan, the US today, 3/16, has set an evacuation zone of 50 miles for US citizens versus a Japanese zone of 12 miles.)

Imagine the complexity of trying to obtain,
analyze and effectively communicate radiation levels in soil, water, food and
products.

Overall, Japan has remained stoic, calm, and orderly for which its
leaders and people should be greatly commended. There have been no reports of looting or price gouging. Now may we all breathe carefully, take
stock of the lessons that emerge, and plan for a world of new forces and
constraints.

We should take heed from Japan. Its situation at present may
seem unbelievably hellish, but it could demonstrate for the world how to face
not only natural disasters that rightfully grab headlines, but also how to deal
with the forces that will always lurk in the background: climate change and
energy supply volatility.

Image: Associated Press via The CityFix

Warren
Karlenzig is president of Common
Current
. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to
the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author of
a
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and
management. 
    

Share

Before the Flood: Community Resilience Notebook


SA_downtown_flood.jpg

This weekend I volunteered to warn shopkeepers and
officials in my San Francisco suburb about dangerous urban flooding potential during
the next week.

Every Friday noon in San Anselmo the “flood siren”
(not disaster siren, mind) is tested. Within fifteen minutes of the last time
it blasted for real in 2005, at 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday, three to four
feet of water was soon gushing down the main street (see photo above) into
homes and businesses. People here are acutely sensitive to heavy rain and the level
of the town’s creek, since they are still trying to rise up from that cold watery blow
four years ago.

Up and down the California coast, metro areas
including Los Angeles and San Francisco, are experiencing a series of El
Nino-generated Pacific storms. Further inland, Phoenix will also take a big
hit. The forecasted 6-10 inches of rain over the next days will almost
certainly bring localized flooding and mudslides. Ocean storm swells will reach
20-30 feet
on some parts of the coast by Thursday, lashing roads,
infrastructure and housing. (Update Jan. 22: the storms this week luckily did not flood San Anselmo, but did cause heavy rains, some flooding and infrastructure damage throughout the state and Arizona, while also reducing the region’s drought).

1.16.10precip.gif

NOAA 5-day precipitation forecast from 1/16/10: small purple circles in California represent areas expected to receive 8+ inches.

How much of this weather and its impacts can be
directly attributed to global climate change, I will not venture. The coastal
and tidal flooding that is expected in California, however, will be one of the hallmarks of a changing climate. Another effect will be drought—which
California and the Southwest have been experiencing for three years–the flip
side of climate change’s growing precipitation impacts. Coastal
and desert urban areas in particular need to steel themselves for such a schizophrenic
future.

Leaving things up to “officials” to figure out disaster
plans is not recommended; true community resilience will require research, networking
and knowledge sharing within and outside one’s normal sphere. In my case, I think
I was able to plug a few vital holes that may have been missed.

Most store owners in San
Anselmo (pop. 12,000) that I spoke with were savvy about imminent flood danger.
Based on their experience with the New Year’s Eve flood of 2005, a few
shopkeepers had excellent information and resources: they referred me to online
creek-level readings (“anything over ten feet and I’m out of here,” one man said), and email alerts that can be sent to email or phones from Nixle.com, a national information mass customization service that localizes updates on disasters, road
closures and crime.

Nixle, for instance, has newly
updated postings
from the San Anselmo Police Department about potential hazards
for flooding and safeguards.
There’s even a local AM radio (1610) station dedicated to disaster updates for
the area.

But none of that seemed to be
enough to really prepare people. One friend, a council member from the
neighboring town that was also flooded in 2005, did not know about the severity
of the forecast weather when I chanced to run into him at a musical performance
over the weekend. He had me send him the forecast links from NOAA
showing him exactly how much precip is expected to fall.
He emailed back, “We’re trying to get our flood plain residents to batten down
the hatches. This should help.”

Other small business owners
that I spoke to were new to town, including immigrants. Unlike long-time
business owners who told me they were warned by the police (or that had vivid mud-damaged
inventory and moldy wallboard memories), the new shopkeepers knew almost nothing
about flooding dangers or where to get the free sandbags.

IMG_4487_2.jpg

Those who were around in
December 30, 2005, have learned that floodgates (above, white board) for each business offers the
best protection. In actuality, these are just rails installed on each side of entrance
door where a piece of plywood can be inserted as a barrier against the torrents
of water can come crashing against and under the front shop door (usually
glass). Gates work even better than sandbags, but sandbags will prevent the
glass doors from being smashed open.

The town and surrounding
communities, even the federal government, tried to take some larger-scale policy
actions after the 2005 flood, which caused almost $100 million in property damages
county-wide. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed a new local flood
risk map
based on the 2005 event, and insurers offered policies that residents within
the areas were urged to purchase.
An extensive engineering study of the region’s watershed is being made,
a $125-per-property flood fee narrowly passed a controversial vote, while creek debris clean-ups have become popular all-age volunteer events each fall before
the winter rainy season arrives.

Some houses have been rebuilt
and raised above the flood-prone region along San Anselmo/Corte Madera Creek. This
normally placid creek empties seven miles later into San Francisco Bay. High bay
tides back the creek up so that it can’t empty into the bay quickly.

cortemadercrk.jpg

San Anselmo/ Corte Madera Creek Watershed: San Anselmo is in center, San Francisco Bay, on right

Unfortunately, it doesn’t
take much time for San Anselmo/Corte Madera Creek (watershed in brown above) to back up from San Francisco
Bay and rise in the Marin communities lining its flood plain, since it is
surrounded by steep canyons that channel rainfall off nearby hills. Asphalt
parking lots, impermeable pavement and poorly planned development have also
increased the speed by which rainwater runs off into the creek. For instance,
when I checked creek levels online Sunday the 17th, the creek was 2.9 feet, but after heavy rains Sunday night
and Monday morning the creek was already over 6 feet. Flood stage is 11 feet (update 1/20/10: after heavy rain, the creek level went from 4 feet to 10 feet in matter of five hours, before receeding slightly) .

The irony of California’s
winter storms is that they bring needed water to reservoirs and mountain snowpack,
promising to reduce or temporarily end the region’s ongoing drought, which has
been costing the agriculture industry and some cities hundreds of millions in
lost revenue and in water purchases. Marin County last year was the first in
the Bay Area
to approve desalination from San Francisco Bay water, despite energy and marine environmental impacts along with a hefty $100
million-plus price tag
.

Not surprisingly, the state’s residents have a
love-hate relationship with their winter weather. To make the affair even more
volatile, climate change may be swinging the status from drought to flood in a
matter of a few weeks.

Indeed, California’s coastal
metros (along with the Gulf Coast, including Florida and New Orleans) may be
the first litmus test for how to adapt to the unpredictable excesses and
scarcities of a changing climate.

 Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally
active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of
How Green is Your City? The
SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

Share

The Next Decade’s Top Sustainability Trends

The top ten sustainability stories of the past
decade
was my last post.
What trends are likely the next ten years? One thing for sure, 2010 through
2019 will be one day be looked at as 1.) the turning point for addressing climate change
by using effective urban management strategies, or it will be remembered as 2.)
the time when we collectively fumbled the Big Blue Ball.

 

chinabikes.jpg

 

 

1.     
Bikes Culture 2.0

Time period: 2010-2019

 

Around the world, bicycles are becoming a
potent talisman of our urban post-carbon future. The city of
Copenhagen is making noise to replace the Little Mermaid of Hans Christian
Andersen fame
with something two-wheeled. Copenhagen residents use bikes for 37 percent of
all their transit. But
bikes in Europe represent more than utility; riding a bicycle with the Velib’
bikeshare program in Paris now easily competes (42 million registered users)
with taking a spring walk along the Seine. Bikesharing abounds in dozens of
European cities as well as in Rio de Janeiro and Santiago, Chile. Look for North American burgs to continue their proliferation of bicycles-as-transit use
and bike lane expansion (NYC bicycle use is up 61% in two years).
Bikesharing on a large scale should follow new programs in Montreal,
Washington DC, and
Minneapolis.
Note to China: time to reclaim your status as the world’s “bicycle kingdom.” 

gestaltsmall.jpg

Indoor bicycle parking will be
common in commercial garages and offices
even in businesses like cafes, bars (Gastalt Haus in Fairfax, California, is pictured above), stores and restaurants. On public
transportation bicycles will be allowed access at any time. In short, bicycles
and their riders will become legit, which will influence fashion, the economies
and the design of cities in particular. As musician-turned-bike-rack designer David
Byrne observed in his surprise 2009 bestseller Bicycle
Diaries,
US metro areas in particular might have to be re-engineered
completely in some cases to accommodate this massive social transformation: 

I try to explore some of these
towns–Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta–by bike and it’s frustrating. The
various parts of town are often “connected”–if one can call it that–mainly by
freeways, massive awe-inspiring concrete ribbons that usually kill the
neighborhoods they pass through, and often the ones they are supposed to
connect as well.

 

2.     
Mexico City, Climate Change, and the Future of Cities

Time Period: November-December
2010

mexico-city-mexico350.jpg

 

Because “Nopenhagen” was a semi
bust, the Mexico City United Nations Climate Change conference is taking on
much bigger proportions than initially envisioned.
The UN COP15 Copenhagen conference resulted in no binding treaty status among
any of the 128 nations that attended for them to reduce global
greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s late fall gathering in Mexico City is likely to set
national binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions. If enacted, these
targets will set the stage the coming entire decade’s greenhouse gas reduction
strategies, including sub-national efforts at the regional and city level.
After disappointment in Copenhagen, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon lost no time in
preparing for Mexico City, calling on world leaders to sign a
legally binding carbon-emission reduction treaty
and to contribute to a multi-national fund for developing nations that will be
opened this month. Let’s hope such a fund adequately addresses sustainable
urban development in Asian cities, whose currently unregulated hyper-growth is
expected to contribute more than half the world’s greenhouse gas increases
between now and 2027.

 

3.     
The Rise of Cellulosic Biofuels

Time Period 2014-2019

 

Creating conventional biofuels
from corn, soybeans and palm oil as an alternative to petroleum-based gasoline
hit numerous roadblocks in the past decade. Carbon-sequestering rainforests in
Indonesia continue to be burned down for palm oil plantations; this unforeseen
consequence of biofuel demand caused the European Union to back off on large
orders of palm oil
.
Another big unintended consequence emerged when crude oil prices rose to record
levels in 2007-2008. Biofuels, including corn-based ethanol created competition
for agricultural land, resulting in an increase in the cost of food staples.
Global corn prices, which biofuels caused to increase an estimated 15% to 27%
in 2007
alone, were especially impacted.

19tortillas.650.jpg

 

Cellulosic biofuels, in contrast,
offer the promise by the middle of the decade of creating a viable energy
source (one of many that will be needed) from waste products, such as wood waste, grasses, corn stalks, and other
non-food products. The trick will be to balance land use with energy production
http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0602-ucsc_rogers_biofuels.html
so that unintended consequences, particularly burning rainforests and urban
food price riots
(Mexico City in 2007 pictured above) will be a thing of the past. Backed by research funding from the Obama Administration’s
US Department of Energy (DOE), companies such as Mascoma Corporation
and Amyris Biotechnologies (with former Amyris founder Jay Keasling now at the helm of the DOE Joint Biosciences Energy Institute) are some
of the current leaders in the quest for a non-food biofuel.

 

telepresence.jpg

4.     
The marriage of ICT and Green Cities

Time Period: 2013-2019

Called “the great digital
underbelly” of new and retrofitted sustainable cities by Gordon Feller of Urban
Age
, green ICT (information and communications
technologies) holds promise for increasing the energy and resource efficiency of
most aspects of urban development. If these technologies can offset their
operating and production resource impacts (estimated to use 2-3 percent of
total industry energy used, but forecast to double by 2022),
the world could benefit from initial increased efficiencies in the 15-25
percent range
(pdf). A crowded field that includes IBM, Cisco,
General Electric, Siemens and others is positioning to implement new ICT for
sustainability in cities, demonstrating applications at the pilot project level.
Cities with pilot or operating projects in green ICT include Amsterdam, San
Francisco, Masdar City (United Arab Emirates), Seoul, London, Singapore,
Beijing, New Delhi, Mumbai,
Stockholm and Oslo. The following are Green Smart City applications and
examples of companies involved:

    • traffic congestion monitoring and pricing
      systems: IBM, Capita Group
    • water applications (leakage detection,
      purification): IBM, Siemens
    • building applications (sense-and-respond
      technologies to monitor temperature, light, humidity and occupancy): Johnson
      Controls, Siemens, IBM
    • intelligent public transportation and logistics:
      PwC, Samsung, Cisco
    • public shared offices with telepresence (pictured above): Cisco,
      Hewlett-Packard
    • home and office smart appliances that can tie in
      with smart grid energy applications: General Electric, AT&T, Whirlpool
    • smart grids: General Electric, Schneider
      Electric, SAP, Oracle, ABB
    • data centers for cities: Google, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco
    • carbon inventories and carbon accounting:
      Microsoft, Oracle

     

 

5.     
Implementation of Carbon Taxes

2010-2019

 

Exxon Mobil surprised many in
early 2009 when it called for a carbon tax as a way to address global climate
change. Whether the former denier of global climate change got religion remains
to be seen. Carbon taxes have been proposed for oil, natural gas and coal by
many as a way to adjust former so-called market “externalities,” or impacts
beyond classically defined air pollution, which now includes greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
A handful of nations have some form of carbon tax, mostly in Scandinavia. On
the sub-national level, British Columbia and the San Francisco Bay
Area

recently proposed some form of the tax. Costs for carbon taxes can be
passed on to consumers directly, or they could be levied on industry, which
would likely cause manufacturing and operating costs to be wholly or partially
passed onto consumers.

 

Currently, the costs of producing
and using fossil fuels do not take into account the vast damage these
activities do to the earth’s climate, which is gaining atmospheric carbon
dioxide concentrations at a rapid rate, endangering the stability of natural ecosystems, people’s health, and the economy.

 

6.     
The First Big Urban Climate Change Adaptation: Drought

2010-1019

 

A major effort at climate change
adaptation is underway in California as well as other urban areas that are
experiencing or are likely to feel the early effects from climate change.
Prolonged droughts consistent with the impacts of climate change are being seen
in Beijing, Southwestern North America (Mexico City/ LA, etc.) and urban areas in Southeast Australia.

maude barlow.jpg

 

As Maude Barlow (above) writes in her 2008
book Blue Covenant
,
cities are becoming hotspots not only for suffering from the effects of water
shortages, but in many cases urbanization may be actually creating or exacerbating the severity
of drought:

 

Massive urbanization causes the
hydrologic cycle to not function correctly because rain needs to fall back on
green stuff — vegetation and grass — so that the process can repeat itself.
Or we are sending huge amounts of water from large watersheds to megacities and
some of them are 10 to 20 million people, and if those cities are on the ocean,
some of that water gets dumped into the ocean. It is not returned to the cycle.

 

Adaptation strategies will focus
on preparing government, business and citizens for extreme heat events,
wildfires (including urban/suburban wildfires), disease, and large-scale
migration of populations from impacted areas. Some of the efforts will involve
education and community outreach, such as Chicago’s efforts to alert the elderly and handicapped to
imminent heat waves, or having people check on others that may be vulnerable
when conditions warrant. Other measures will require huge chunks of investments in
urban  public and private infrastructure
to prevent coastal flooding and to store dwindling seasonal water supplies,
while health care professionals are likely to be first responders to new climate
change-boosted disease outbreaks, such as dengue fever.
The military is also likely to be added to the mix of climate change adaptation
actors.

 

 

7.     
End of Cheap Oil/ Onset of Fossil Fuel Shortages

2012-2019

 

Besides fresh water, oil is the
most threatened increasingly imported resource in developed economies. Energy shortages
or supply disruptions are expected to continue to develop because of political
acts, terrorism, warfare and natural disasters. The issue is not that the
reserves are “running out,” but that getting at the remaining oil in a
cost-effective manner is becoming increasingly more difficult, as has been
outlined in multiple books by author Richard Heinberg (The Party’s Over, Peak Everything) and others. As former Shell Oil CEO Jeroen van der Veer said in a 2008 email to
employees
, “Shell estimates that after 2015, supplies of easy-to-access oil and
gas will no longer keep up with demand.” Add the coming impacts of global climate change regulations to the scarce oil
equation (see Trends numbers 2 and 5 in this post), and oil will continue to be
an unpredictable flashpoint for the world economy. In 2007-2008, rapidly rising oil
prices helped trigger
a deep world recession;
during the next decade oil may set off a chain of economic and civil events
that could be far more severe.

 

With market uncertainty for oil
prices and oil supplies, this new decade will witness the sunset of
exurban-style automotive dependant sprawl in the United States
and in many overseas copycat developments, particularly Asia. The overbuilt market
for large, totally car-dependent single family homes in outer suburbia is expected
by even some developers to not be viable for almost a decade, even if oil prices and supply stay relatively stable. A prolonged recurrence
of oil prices above $100-150 a barrel will drive a stake through the heart of
the exurban car-only model of real estate speculation, and will hit many other
elements (food, imported goods, oil-based products) of the Western economy.

 

8.     
Focus on Urban Agriculture and Foodsheds

Time Period: 2012-2019

cultivosorganoponicos.jpg

As fuel prices rise and unexpected energy shortages
occur, food prices will rise rapidly, especially for food that must be
transported long distances via airplanes, stored and processed. The alternative
is greater local and regional food production in and around cities. Existing
cities in Latin America (Havana, Cuba–pictured above–and Quito, Ecuador), Africa (Dar Es Salam, Tanzania; Kampala,
Uganda
) and Asia (Seoul, South Korea), have produced significant
quantities of produce or aquaculture within their city limits.
Cities in North America that have maintained or are building or rebuilding
strong regional food networks include Seattle, Honolulu, Boston, Philadelphia
and San Francisco. Some newly planned cities are being engineered to produce
significant amounts of food that can also be used as a potential energy source
or rich compost nutrient. Examples include Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (United
Arab Emirates) and a supposedly scalable community plan called NewVista that is expected to be prototyped in the
United States and in Asia: both are innovating the production of food from
algae and other low-energy input nutrient sources.

 

9.     
Resiliency planning: cities, towns, homes

Time Period: 2010-2019

Transition-Towns.jpg

 

Resiliency is about making a
system or one’s self stronger and more able to survive adversity. As the
previous items portend, there will no shortage of adversity during the coming
decade from climate change and energy supply instability. One of the major
social phenomena related to resiliency has been the emergence of the Transition
Town
movement,
which has grown from a few villages in the United Kingdom to Barcelona, Spain, Boulder,
Colorado, and Sydney, Australia. The founder
of the phenomena, Rob Hopkins, also a Post Carbon Institute Fellow,
has used his transition model of Totnes, United Kingdom, to devise a global organizational playbook. The purpose of transition thinking is to prepare people for potential
shortages in global energy supplies and food caused by peaking oil and climate
change. In contrast to earlier “off-the-grid” movements of the 1970s,
Transition Towns can be located in urban neighborhoods as well as in the distant
boonies, and they focus on community-scaled solutions in transportation,
health, economics and people’s livelihoods and personal skills. Tactics of
local groups vary widely, with events ranging from the familiar–clothing swaps
and art festivals to the seemingly more obscure–“unleashings,”–to
policy-laden activities, such as launching a long-term (15-20 years) “Energy Descent
Action Plan.” The emphasis is on understanding and using collective community
resources, including knowledge and skills, that people have in their own sphere
of influence, versus waiting for top-down government decrees.

 

10.  Sustainability Movie/ Novel /Art/ Song

       Time Period
2010-2019

 

 

marvingaye_whatsgoingon.jpg

There has yet to be a significant
work of popular art that I am aware of that captures the modern systemic
aspirations of sustainability. In terms of modern life, some works have focused
on environmental destruction, (Marvin Gaye’s song “Mercy Mercy Me”), the terror
of abrupt climate change (the unsuccessful 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow), the international political subterfuge behind
oil (2005’s Syriana with George Clooney, one of my personal favorite films), and the destruction of natural
systems (Dr. Seuss’s 1971 book The Lorax) or cultural/species depletion (James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar), but no novel, song, painting or movie has come
close to depicting a fictional world of what holistic sustainability solutions
might look like, even feel like. Any suggestions of existing or planned works
that would fit the bill?

Odds are that breakthrough art successfully depicting sustainability will feature or draw upon urban culture in some fashion. After all, cities have gone from being perceived as the opposite of what the “environmental movement” has been trying to save, to the epicenter of this new revolution that is launching in a city or neighborhood near you.

 

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
of
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon
Institute
.

 

 


Share

Top Ten Sustainability Stories of the Decade

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.

1.       Terror
of the Decade: Global Climate Change Confirmed by…Climate, IPCC, Heads of State

Time Period: 2000-2009

flood-in-mumbai.jpg

 

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
since
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

Time
Period: 2000-2009

 

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.

3.       Standards:
LEED Green Buildings

Date: March 2000

USGBC_logo.jpg

 

The US Green Building Council
formally released its Leadership in Energy and Environment Design building standards
(LEED)
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.

4.       Product:
The Toyota Prius

Date: July 2000

harrisonford.jpgharrisonford.jpg

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
fitness
, the
environment and the planet.

5.       Corporate
Story. Wal-Mart Embarks on a “Green” Path

Time
Period: 2004-2005

walmartlogo.jpg

 

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
Consulting
, one
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
(AB 32)

Time
Period: 2005-2006

Arnold_Schwarzenegger.jpg

 

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

Date: May, 2006

inconvenient.jpginconvenient.jpginconvenient.jpg

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
Crisis
.

8.       Book:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Date:
May, 2006

sum08_omnivores_dilemma.jpg

 

Michael Pollan’s 2006 book The Omnivore’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.

9.       Design:
Masdar City, First Planned Net-Zero Carbon City

Time Period: 2006-2017

Masdar-HQ-2.jpg

 

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.”

asiacities.jpg

10.   Future
Trend: Mega-growth of Unregulated Asian Cities + Mega Drought

Time
Period: 2009-2030

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

 

Share

Death of Sprawl

candysweet.jpg

Los Angeles Times photo

Sprawl is dead: That’s the takeaway of a new report analyzing how toxic exurban real estate started the US economy on its downward spiral. Metro regions and developers are picking up the pieces and are vowing, “never again.

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. 

The following is an excerpt from my complete paper, a publication pre-release of the “Roadmap for the Transition” series.

******

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.

The structures’
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.

The American
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.

Big
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.

Some metro areas rethinking themselves for resilience
have simultaneously become home to “clean tech” centers with significantly high
job growth rates. Clean tech clusters are emerging in the San Francisco Bay
Area, Boston, and Austin, as well as in some less-expected locations; in
Toledo, Ohio, for instance, more than 4% of all jobs are now in research,
development and manufacturing for solar energy
. Other key areas of future job
growth are in green building and landscaping, water conservation technologies,
low-carbon materials design and advanced transportation…

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?

  • Build
    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.
  • Focus
    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
    metro regions.
  • Focus
    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.”
  • Think
    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…

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, a consultancy based in San Anselmo, California with international projects on urban strategy and metrics. He is a Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and author of How Green is Your City?: The SustainLane US City Rankings.

Share

Vancouver Strives for the Gold as World’s Greenest City–can it become first Eco City-State?

Vancouver_Aerial.jpg

Vancouver, Canada’s new mayor Gregor Robinson is making good on his campaign promise to make Vancouver “The Greenest City on the Planet.” 

Forget trying to be Canada’s greenest city as Toronto has aspired to be, or North America’s greenest city as Portland, San Francisco and Chicago have vied for. If it succeeds beyond its plans, the Vancouver region will have the makings of the world’s first modern Eco City-State.

Mayor Robertson announced ambitious plans Tuesday at this week’s Resilient Cities conference.

Whatever the outcome, Vancouver will be transformed by the process in reputation and mindshare. This plan should provide the city of 615,000 with an opening to make significant sustainability improvements to its economic competitiveness, infrastructure and use of resources.

With the 2010 Winter Olympics coming to town next February, Vancouver will be able to use an international media platform that key sponsors such as Coca Cola and General Motors are targeting for launches of new “sustainability” products and messaging. Besides the release of GM’s forthcoming Chevy Volt, I’ve been told that Coca Cola is trying to completely reposition its brand in the face of climate change, bottled water rebellion and anti-soda obesity regulations.

As a result of such marketing, and with Olympic Village plans for operations under the Global Reporting Initiative on sustainability, the 2010 games might make history as the first international event associated with sustainability.

Corn syrupy water and automobiles aside, Vancouver is putting forward some serious plans and goals in its quest. Yesterday, I chatted with Melina Scholefield, Vancouver’s Sustainability Group manager, and learned that the city as part of its Greenest City Plan will:

  • Set up a low-carbon economic development zone to attract private equity investment in the green economy, with the goal of creating 20,000 new jobs.
  • Try to increase its walkability, bikability and public transit ridership to more than 50 percent. The city currently has a rate of about 20 percent combined walking and cycling for commuting, one of the highest such rates in North America. Boston, for example, has a combined walking/cycling commute rate of 16 percent, the highest in the US.
  • Develop its own green building standards, which are stricter and more thorough than existing standards such the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system or the US EPA’s Energy Star rating system. The goal is to have all construction in Vancouver be carbon neutral by 2020.
  • Reduce the amount of solid waste that goes to landfills or is incinerated by 40 percent.
  • Provide all city residents with easy access to green space, so that by 2020 everyone would be within a five-minute walk of a park, beach or greenway.
  • Reduce the per capita consumption of water by 33 percent.
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of food production by 33 percent.
  • The big one: reduce the ecological footprint of Vancouver by 33 percent. This means reducing the amount of arable land needed to support each citizen from 7 hectares to 5.7 hectares by 2020.

Eventually Vancouver wants to reduce its “four planet” Ecological Footprint down to “one planet.” (Tuesday night, I gave a talk on urban resilience at the conference with the co-founder of the Ecological Footprint, William Rees, a professor at the University of British Columbia: our Post Carbon Institute-sponsored talk will be broadcast on 15 radio stations and available here on an MP3 at the EcoShock radio site.)

Vancouver’s performance-based goals are impressive in that they are tangible and measureable. Having measured the sustainability performance, projects and capabilities of the largest 50 US cities in my book, How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings, I am looking forward to seeing how Vancouver will pull off developing transparent and verifiable results.

Already the city claims the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita of any city in North America, at just under 5 metric tons, with New York City being at about 7 metric tons and the US average being close to 25 metric tons. Vancouver claims 90 percent use of renewable energy, with much of it in hydropower, though I was unable to verify whether that hydropower is small-scale enough to qualify for accepted renewable energy standards, such as that used by the state of California.

Now comes the real test. How will Vancouver plan, manage, construct and fashion a more sustainable future so it can complement its already world-famous quality of life with new technology jobs and opportunities in urban agriculture and food production?

Vancouver will have to compete with clean tech clusters emerging in California, Boston, Austin and Toledo, Ohio, creating green job growth in renewables, green building and advanced materials, advanced transportation (beyond its already-leading fuel cell industry cluster), and water/ energy efficiency.

A final challenge surfaced yesterday afternoon during a panel discussion at the Resilient Cities conference with Scholefield and other members of the Greenest City Action Team (including Gordon Price, Robert Safrata, and Moura Quayle).

Vancouver’s Greenest City Plan has yet to provide details on the participation of its surrounding metropolitan area, though the leadership of West Vancouver, a suburb of 44,000 appeared to be on board when I discussed the plan with its mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones and councillor Trish Panz.

Regional collaboration will be vital to ensuring effective land use and transportation planning, not to mention scaling up regional food and regional energy production, particularly biomass, wind, biofuels and small-scale hydro power.

“We’ll start at the core with the hope that action in the core city will move the outer area along” said Price, Director of the SFU City program, in response to a question about the lack of sign-on from Metro Vancouver, a group of 22 communities in the region.

That strategy might work to kick things off. At some point soon, however, Vancouver will need to more fully enlist the metro area and the Cascadia bioregion to take on an active partnership and even select ownership of Greenest City plan elements. Mayor Robinson did meet with Portland, Oregon mayor Sam Adams, who came to Vancouver this week with a contingent to the Resilient Cities event–the two were said to hit it off well and spent much time together privately.

If Vancouver accomplishes its formidable goals, it would within ten years begin to more closely resembles the Eco City-State concept devised by William Rees.

The city would then be at the center of a regional economy capable of producing most of its own energy, along with a significant amount of its goods
, services and food, while protecting its water, wildlife, biodiversity and cultural resources. And this would be without contributing further to the acceleration of global climate change.

Call it resilience, sustainability, or just getting ready for what’s to come.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an international consultancy focused on  urban sustainability strategy and metrics.

 

Share

“Wicked Problems”: California’s Climate Change Challenges

The 5th Annual Conference on Climate Change in California wrapped up yesterday, and speakers took on the hard questions that follow on the heels of the scientific acknowledgement that at least some global man-made climate change is now occurring thorughout the world, and that includes California.

Greenhouse gases have “lifetimes of decades if not centuries,” according to Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s Dan Cayan, and there is likely to be ongoing impacts at every level of culture, society and the economy.

The so-called “wicked problems” the state faces–the term taken from Dan Cayan’s label of “problems that are all tangled up in different processes”–are rife.

  • Water allocation, with Sierra snowpack forecast to decrease 30-90 percent from 2020 through 2090, creating a scramble for water among users. UC Berkeley’s Michael Hanemann noted that the state was not measuring current diversions of water or groundwater use.
  • The costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation: How expensive will it be? Who will pay and will there be a way to allocate costs equitably? 
  • Communcation of both the nature and scale of the problem to the American populace, media and policy makers is a challenge since scientific data can be misinterpreted, misunderstood or downright ignored. “We’re not good entertainers,” Dr. Cayan ad-libbed to the amusement of the large audience of mainly scientists.
  • More and more data and information is needed, according to the California Department of Water Resources director Lester Snow, to better forecast and prepare for damage to human settlements and ecosystems through climate change induced flood, drought and wildfires.

So what were some of the best ideas that came forth during the Sacramento event once the caveats cleared?

Economics professor Hanemann suggested that the state come up with climate change adaptation plans similar to existing urban water management plans. Just as the water management plans do for extreme drought, climate change adaptation plans could scope what could be done by state, regional and local government to prepare for worst-case scenarios (drought, flood, heat stroms, wildfires) in land use, transportation and public health.

ICLEI’s Gary Cook outlined how that international member-based organization is leading assessments and actions plans for climate resilient communities in four US locations: Keene, NH; Homer, AK; Miami-Dade County, FL; and Ft. Collins, CO.

Art Rosenfeld, longtime commissioner of conference host the California Energy Commission, spoke on day one about how cool roofs–a very low cost or even no extra cost technology–reduces cooling use by 20 percent in homes and businesses, while reducing overall urban heat islands.

This one step taken in all new construction in the world’s largest 100 cities, which at the CEC’s behest California is mandating for all new and rebuilt homes next year, would save 400 billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is equivalent to more than the greenhouse gas emissions of all nations for an entire year.

And people would pay less on their energy bills, providing a net positive financial impact immediately for all homes that use air conditioning.

In addition to state policies like AB 32, which would reduce overall emissions by 70 percent come 2050 with myriad such policies to reduce building, transportation, government and industry carbon emissions, there is no one silver bullet. 

California is beginning to demonstrate that such wicked problems must be attacked with an almost endless arsenal of research, policy, programatic, product and management innovation. 

 

 

  

Share