Learning from Japan about Resilience


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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. 
    

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Preview: Shanghai Expo Summit Urban Sustainability Forum

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This weekend I’m attending the
Shanghai Expo Summit Forum as part of a United Nations delegation. The Oct. 31 event,
which will be on “Urban Innovation and Sustainable Development,” will mark the close
of the largest World’s Fair in history: more than 70 million have visited the
Expo (the Osaka, Japan, World Fair of 1970 attracted 64 million) where a record
two hundred countries are exhibiting through Sunday.

The Shanghai Expo has been targeting
sustainable cities throughout its six-month run. Developing nations such as
China and India will be the focus of not only emerging strategic sustainability
frameworks, but also of large-scale financial, technology system and cultural
innovation, all of which will constantly intersect with new ways of managing
resources and mitigating and adapting to climate change. 

About 2,000 are invited to the fair’s closing ceremonies, including heads of state, governors, mayors, Nobel Prize recipients and CEOs: China will be represented by Premier Wen Jiabao, while Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appear for the UN. The Obama Administration is sending Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, to present on “Green Development and Ecological Cities.” Former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern, author of the pivotal 2006, “Economics of Climate Change,” (The Stern Review) will also speak.

Stern asserted that with one-percent investment worldwide in climate change mitigating technologies and development, estimated climate change-related damage to the global economy in the 5 to 14 percent range will be avoided.

Other sessions at the Shanghai
Expo Summit Forum will include:

  • Knowledge Innovation and Cultural Cities
  • Science and Technology Innovation and
    Creative Cities
  • Economic Transformation and Sustainable
    Cities
  • Community Management and Livable Cities
  • Youth Creativity and Future Cities

This year I’ve
been collaborating with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social
Affairs
, which has been preparing for the Summit Forum with Premier Wen Jiabao
and the National Organizing Committee of Expo 2010 Shanghai China. Together,
with the input of other UN agencies and the World Bank, we have been writing the Shanghai Training Manual on
Sustainable Urban Development
. The publication will come out in May 2011 as
one of two “legacies of thematic substance” from the Shanghai Expo, the other
being “The Shanghai Declaration,” which will be released at the Summit.

The “Shanghai Manual” will be an
instrument for knowledge sharing and capacity building for cities around the
globe as they struggle to tackle the economic, social and environmental
challenges of the 21st century. The largest challenge will be the
result of China’s expected increase in urban population from nearly 50 percent
of its 1.3 billion citizens to about 75 percent of its total population by 2050:
that means 400-700 million people will settle into China’s cities in the next
four decades, mostly from rural areas of China.  

Such unprecedented growth in
developing-nation cities prompted the Shanghai Manual to analyze the
intersection of sustainability management and urban planning with the emerging green
economy, science and technology innovation,
management and governance approaches, as well as traditional environmental management
sectors, such as transportation and land use planning, solid waste management
and wastewater management.

The Shanghai Manual will address
topics covered by previous Shanghai Expo urban sustainability forums that have
been held in and around Shanghai since its opening in May (which has an
overarching theme of “Better City, Better Life,”):

·              
Information
and communication technologies and urban development

·              
Cultural
heritage, creative cities and urban regeneration

·              
Science
and technology innovation and urban futures

·              
Low
carbon cities: environmental protection and urban responsibilities

·              
Low
carbon economic transformation

·              
Better
campus; better living: learning for a sustainable future

·              
Economic
transformations and urban-rural relationships

·              
Environmental
change and city responsibility

·              
Good
urban governance and sustainable lifestyles

 

Mayors from North America appearing will
include Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson, who announced a year ago the goal of
attempting to make the Canadian city “the greenest in the world.”

By 2015, according to the UN,
Shanghai will be the seventh largest city in the world, after (in order):
Tokyo, Japan; Mumbai, India; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; New York,
New York; and Delhi, India. The Shanghai Energy and Environment Exchange, based
in the city’s Pudong District, has 300 companies involved in a market-based
trading system for pollution credits that may become the basis for a city-based
and even national carbon trading platform.

How fitting that China focuses an
international expo on sustainable urban planning in a city that is its largest,
most dynamic example of how climate change, financial markets and urban
planning are merging into an entirely new global socio-economic model.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current,
an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of
a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management. 
 

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Richard Branson Invites Select Cities to Carbon War Room

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With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games as the setting, Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson, has invited cities including Vancouver to join a public-private consortium against global climate change. The idea is to use Branson’s Carbon War Room to rally cities as a vehicle for financing and capacity building, maybe a Keiretsu among Vancouver, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Chicago, London and Portland with whoever else walks down the tarmac from a corporate jet.

Sir Richard lauded Vancouver for reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels, which it accomplished while increasing population 30 percent. According to the Vancouver Sun, Jose Maria Figueres, chairman of the Carbon War Room and former president of Costa Rica, the group is trying to, “create a new blueprint for the
creation of jobs, driving economies and greener cities around the
world.”

The Carbon War Room wants to harness the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change. The war, according to their website, operates on “seven fields of battle”: electricity, transport, built environment, industry, land use, emerging economies and carbon management.

Branson also mentioned the depletion of oil in a speech, and the need to switch to alternative fuels. A new report funded by Virgin Airlines predicted shortages of oil in the global market by 2015, a prediction made by a former Shell oil CEO and reported here previously.

It’s not clear how the Carbon War Room will work with governments, whether it’s cities or other government entities. An example of a project or even a potential project would make the whole thing more real.

Vancouver under Mayor Gregor Robertson vowed in October to become the world’s greenest city by reducing its environmental footprint by a factor of four. Thanks to oodles of regional small-scale hydroelectric power and admirable city and transit planning, Vancouver has the lowest per-capita carbon emissions of any North American city.

South of the border Seattle, has pledged carbon neutrality by 2030, but apparently Seattle did not get the invitation, nor did sustainability focused burgs such as New York, Amsterdam or Toronto attend. Also conspicuously absent were Asian city reps. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro did attend a panel with Branson and other mayors earlier in the week.

I couldn’t find an explanation about how the Carbon War Room differs from or complements such efforts as the Clinton Climate Initiative’s C40 group. The C40 approach is working on all inhabited continents with some of the world’s largest cities, in a very similar vein: financing a $5 billion deal in 2007 on energy retrofitting older city buildings of New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Berlin, and Tokyo, for instance.

Most recently C40 cities announced in Copenhagen the creation of a C40 electric vehicle network as part of one of the few COP-15 “wins,” the Climate Summit for Mayors

Anyone active in the green economy is already seeing many alliances taking shape, a few which have employed savvy marketing and visible leadership. Winning green city public-private partnerships, however, will also draw upon compelling business cases and urban performance analytics while clearly putting forth their value proposition.

Richard Branson versus Bill Clinton, now there’s a match that could rival the Olympics. Could a more effective approach besides individual competition be a relay or other team event, perhaps?

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
.   

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