The United States has reached an historic moment. The exurban development explosion that defined national growth during the past two decades has come to a screeching halt, according to the latest US Census figures. Only 1 of the 100 highest-growth US communities of 2006—all of them in sprawled areas—reported a significant population gain in 2011, prompting Yale economist Robert Shiller to predict suburbs overall may not see growth “during our lifetimes.”
We are simultaneously witnessing the decline of the economic sectors enabled by hypergrowth development: strip malls and massive shopping centers, SUVs and McMansions. The end of exurban population growth has been accompanied by steep economic decline in real estate value, triggering a loss of spending not only in construction, but also home improvement (Home Depot, Best Buy) and numerous associated retail sectors that were banking on the long-term rising fortunes of “Boomburbs.”
The “Death of Sprawl” chapter that I wrote, published by the Post Carbon Institute in 2009, (and in abridged form in the Post Carbon Reader in 2010), provided a case study on Victorville, California. Located 75 miles outside Los Angeles, Victorville’s rise and crash epitomized the hangover of the go-go sprawl era.
During the financial system’s Derivative Daze, Victorville grew from 64,000 in 2000 to more than 108,000 by 2005: no-money-down-housing developments and “liar loans” fueled speculative investments that pumped up the desert city’s average home value to almost $350,000. The large numbers of workers that moved to Victorville had to commute long hours before dawn and after dark to get to work in Los Angeles, without the benefit of local public transit. There are still few options for those who wish to walk or bicycle to stores, jobs, schools or local amenities, and the average near 100 degree summer temperatures make such endeavors foolhardy.
When gas prices began to go up in 2006, real estate sales in the region began to dry up as people ran for the exits. As the doors slammed shut, foreclosures in California’s Inland Empire (Victorville and other parts of California’s sprawling San Bernardino and Riverside counties), Las Vegas and Florida began to trigger a nationwide real estate meltdown. To stick with our illustration, Victorville houses plummeted from an average of nearly $350,000 in 2006 to $125,000 by late 2009. Likewise, new home permits in Victorville went from 7964 in 2004-06 down to 739 in 2008-10: a drop of more than tenfold! The average home sale now brings around $110,000, less than a third of 2005-2006 prices.
Institutional investors and homebuyers alike have avoided for the past five years the nation’s scores of Victorvilles; the new data and pronouncements by experts such as Shiller, author of The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, likely put the last nails in the coffin of speculative, auto-dependant sprawl.
Recent US Census data confirms that the future of the United States is no longer about an economy based on the false and dangerous pretenses of unfettered greenfield development, with its unhealthy and climate-destructive sprawl-scape of fast food, big box retail and freeway-bred exurbs. National policies and investments should strengthen and improve existing cities and suburbs, including transit infrastructure, building retrofitting, clean energy, walkability, bicycle networks and neighborhood redesign–all areas where quality local job and community engagement opportunities can flourish.
Chart Courtesy Brookings Institution
We’ve known for some time that planning for more sustainable metros, both cities and suburbs, makes better sense in terms of protecting local food, water and land resources, as well as in reducing pollution and carbon emissions. Now we know that such actions have been proven to make much better short-term economic sense, while acting as tangible investments for the long term.
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, a global consultancy for sustainable urban planning and development.
We all need to reinvent urban planning for the 21st
Never has the need been greater for integration across urban management,
systems, experts, policies and technologies.The world is rapidly becoming more urban,
especially in Asia, where hundreds of millions have begun moving to cities.This massive migration, largest
in human history, will produce colossal impacts–including innovation–in energy use, transportation,
housing, water and resource use. Economies will be impacted at every scale, especially beyond burgeoning metro areas in national and global markets.
Add climate change and adaptation issues to the development
of Asian cities, where more than 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emission
increases are expected to occur over the next 15 years, and we are faced with the urgency–and opportunity–to reinvent urban planning. Planning for the
future of cities needs to now embody a process combining sustainability
strategies with information and communications technologies (ICT), supported by the
sciences (natural + social) in concert with engaged participation: from the
slum to the boardroom to the ivory tower.
national 2011-2015 economic plan–essentially also its green blueprint–is
now starting to be unveiled, then will be finalized by the People’s Congress in
March. China is aiming at reforming the world’s second largest
economy by optimizing it for low-carbon, resource efficient and urban
climate change-adapted performance, as it takes on 400 to 700 million more
people in its teeming cities as part of the world’s most ambitious
the earliest developing country in the world to map out its plan for ecological
growth,” said Wang Ronghua, President of the Shanghai Academy of Social
Sciences, at the Fourth World Forum on China Studies, held earlier in November. “It will be a daunting task to restructure. There is a huge amount of
funding available for this effort. This is being done because in the next three
decades China will not be able to support 1.3 billion or more people.” (China currently has more than 1.33 billion people.)
national “12th Five-Year Plan” (twelfth, that is, since formation as
the People’s Republic in 1949), covers its industrial, economic and social
development. The gist of the new plan:a
new focus on quality of development rather than on quantity only. China wants to strengthen
the nation’s low-carbon economy while trying to repair the extensive
environmental and human health damage it has sustained during its 30-year race
to lead global industrial production.
The 11th Five-Year Plan
(2006-2010) included goals of lowering energy consumption per unit of GDP. For
China’s provincial and city governments that means energy consumption per unit
of GDP must decrease by 20 percent in 2010 compared to 2005.
With its new
national plan, China is now building on the goal of energy efficiency with a
more full-scale sustainability agenda, featuring reduced carbon intensity (cutting
carbon emissions per every unit of economic output, or GDP) combined with
overall environmental restoration and management practices. This focus will
increase investments in renewables, information and communications
technologies,advanced transportation and
materials, water supply and treatment technologies (including using plants for
bioremediation), and air and water quality. In other words, China is trying to
improve its quality of life, which would benefit investment, tourism, and
ecosystem services, not to mention the health of humans, along with animal and marine
Part of this
strategy rests upon moving the nation from being “factory to the world” to
becoming a provider of services such as information and communications
technologies, financial services, and other less-polluting business sectors,
while also maintaining a global lead in manufacturing clean energy and other
“value-added” technologies for export.
language from the new Plan that was read to my Institute for Strategic Resilience (ISR) colleagues and me during my recent visit to China
includes the directive for government officials to comprehensively, “Use
technology and administration to transform mode of development to an eco-friendly
and low-carbon lifestyle. Ensure that economic development confirms with environmental
It was announced last week that the nation is also
preparing to comprehensively monitor chemical and organic pollutants in both the
air and water: currently only 200 pollutants are monitored versus 1,200 in the
United States. Ambitious goals, yes, but China appears
to be willing to attempt to back them on the ground.
began this summer a national low-carbon pilot program focused on five provinces
and eight cities. Through the pilot programs, it is
attempting to leverage best-of-breed strategies and tactics from localized
sustainability plans, projects and methods. This simultaneous top-down (12th
Five Year Plan) and regional approach (pilots) will likely make China even more
competitive in the development of new clean energy technologies and services.
already surpassed all other nations in the production of PV solar and wind
technologies: one showcase city is the renewable production center of Baoding,
a city of one million near Beijing with more than 20,000 new clean energy jobs
in three years. Baoding is the smallest of China’s eight pilot low carbon
cities. The largest pilot is almost-megacity Shenzhen, with a population of
nine million. In all, the pilot provinces and cities comprise 27 percent of the
nation’s population and 36 percent of China’s national Gross Domestic Product.
China is providing incentives for its cleantech companies through subsidies
to manufacturers of solar film, wind turbines, and electric vehicles, and it is
offering subsidies to consumers to purchase electric cars.
China announced December 4 that it is bolstering its renewables to get 500 Gigawatts (GW) of renewable power by 2020, which will be about one third of its total national power production by that year. This includes adding 125 GW (from 25 GW now) of wind power, and adding almost 20 GW of solar, from half a Gigawatt now. Other areas that will be boosted under the plan include ethanol, biodiesel, biomass and biogas production.
observations and findings are fresh from a visit during October-November. I was a UN delegate to a one-day summit on “Urban Innovation and Sustainable
Development,” which was held as part of the closing ceremonies of the 2010
World Expo in Shanghai (“Better City, Better Life”), the largest world expo
ever in terms of size, attendance, global participation and investment. The development
of low carbon and green technologies, along with public education on moving
toward more sustainable behaviors, was the key theme in the four pavilions
sponsored by China and visited by tens of millions of Chinese citizens.
At the headquarters
of its all-powerful State Council
in Beijing, my ISR colleagues and I met with national government and academic sector experts about
development of China’s green economic research and planning. We were briefed at the State Council by economic, eco-city and low-carbon
experts from the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a top
national think tank affiliated with the State Council. Our itinerary included a
visit with government officials in a medium-sized city for a glimpse of how
local governments in China are already attempting to balance
sustainability management with economic development. More about the local angle
in my next post.
excellent Fourth World Forum on China Studies in Shanghai, we were invited to
present along with 20 academic, corporate and government experts on “Green
Development.” (More than 300 China experts participated in the overall forum,
most of them from China.)
opening of the Green Development Sub Forum, Professor Wang Ronghua, former President of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and a
well-known editor on Deng Xiaoping’s theories, ticked down a list of the
nation’s current state, making it obvious why China is moving toward
comprehensive sustainability planning, measurement and management:
Wastewater: “Fresh water supply is in danger because of rapid depletion–heavy
industrial growth has caused the consumption of too much water.” Wang Ronghua said. “China is one
the most water scarce countries in the world. Lakes and rivers are viewed as
sinks in which to discharge wastewater. Hebei province’s lakes were once
beautiful. Now they are highly lethal, the same with the Yellow and other
rivers. Fresh water will become more scarce than oil in China, which is an
Energy Use: “The consumption of mineral resources is occurring faster than
production because of crude modes of production rather than making better uses
of natural resources. China uses 17 percent of the world’s total energy supply:
it used 2.8 billion tons of coal in 2009, which will rise to 10 billion tons by
2030, which means China will rely on imported energy as it only produces four
tons per year.” (From 2007 to 2009, China’s moved to being a net coal importer
for the first time in its history. Oil imports also reached 52 percent in 2009, while its new car sales surpassed
those of the US for the first time the same year. National car ownership will
multiply by a factor of three or more between now and 2020.)
Land Use and
Planning: “There are dilemmas about how to protect and make better use of land
resources. Too much land is consigned for development and conceded, especially
in coastal and eastern China. In Shanghai, five years’ supply of land planned
for new development has been used up in one year.”
“Ninety percent of urban waste is landfilled. Garbage is increasing at 10
percent annually–out of six hundred big cities, one third are besieged by
garbage and waste.”
urgent challenge will be getting changes made at local levels. Ronghua said
that the “costs of breaking the law are too low, there is not enough
enforcement or enforcement is uneven with the same violation receiving
State Council and its operational arm, the National Development Reform
Commission (NDRC), China is actively considering how it can develop models and
indicators that will guide ecological restoration and green economic
development in conjunction with traditional economic measures such as Gross
Domestic Product (GDP).As part of its
low carbon pilot province and city programs, regional and local governments are
pledging to reduce carbon intensity, or carbon emissions per unit of GDP economic
output, by up to 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. (See today’s advertising supplement
from China Daily, which also appeared on p. A12 of the New York Times).
There is a growing
acknowledgment in China that economic growth cannot be an all-consuming goal. For
30 years, with an average annual national growth rate of 10 percent, China’s GDP has for many years
surpassed growth of other nations, but at what cost?
Director of the Center for Eco-Economy and Sustainable Development at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, spoke of the need for systemic change in China: “China needs to change from the consumption
of products to consumption of services.”
Exactly how China
will achieve its ambitious goals for a greener national economy will now emerge
from numerous releases and announcements surrounding the new 12th
Five Year Plan. Key to its success will be how systemically national leadership
can help develop objective measures for provincial and city leaders that
provide clear and consistent goals for industries, business and citizens.
for China to look at its cities, communities and centers of expertise for
leadership and scalable solutions to help reverse the degradation of nature and
quality of human life–along with the damage to its economy–that has occurred (or will occur) because of air, water
and soil pollution, and global climate change.While many restorative activities will help bring new economic growth
opportunities, they will also ensure that China has a base of natural resources
for its cities that can sustain a viable quality of life.
must now decouple its economic growth from manufacturing while incorporating a more diversified
(and less material intensive) base, in order to remain economically viable in
the future. Said Wang Ronghua, “Instead of only focusing on GDP measurements,
the government needs to provide more parameters on ecology and living
standards, including improvement of culture.”
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 ofa forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.
SHANGHAI–The Shanghai Expo officially closed yesterday with pomp, circumstance, and a confirmation of the city as the planet’s primary hope for a low-carbon future.
“Eco-friendly development and dissemination of renewable energy sources and new materials will influence the way we live and will lead the course of industrial development in the future,” said China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to the closing Expo Summit contingent of domestic and foreign dignitaries (eight heads of state), Nobel Prize winners and business leaders.
The World Expo, the world’s largest in history with 73 million attending, for the first time in 159 years focused on cities, sustainable ones that is. China’s plans for 350-600 million more urban residents by 2050 threatens to tip the earth’s scales in terms of climate change and the economy so much that China is now focused on a fifth global industrial wave: the low-carbon or green economy.
“The low-carbon economy is a new industrial revolution,” said Sir Nicholas Stern, Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. “Low-carbon growth is cleaner, safer, far more attractive while high-carbon growth will kill itself. China is well placed for this industrial revolution.”
One of the low-carbon cities, Baoding, for instance, within the last three years added 20,000 new jobs in wind, PV solar ( the city of one million is home to Yingli Solar, among other renewable start-ups), and other renewable energy technologies. It’s also the site of large-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy installations in everything from building-integrated solar to streetlights. The new national pilot programs are expected to pick up the pace and provide a template for the rest of the nation’s provincial and city low-carbon transformations.
Throughout its six-month run, the Shanghai Expo featured numerous forums on urban sustainability. Meanwhile, its pavilions employed many new green technologies in design and architecture. More than 500 new technologies in solar, heat pumps, energy efficiency, transportation and advanced material were developed as part of the Expo, according to ShiFang Tang, Technical Office Vice Director for the Shanghai Expo Bureau.
The massive China Pavilion and the country’s “theme” pavilions on sustainable cities and urban best practices repeatedly and effectively emphasized how the challenges of climate change, pollution and growing consumer consumption can be met with more advanced urban planning, green technology innovation and citizen education.
The displays and creativity were the best I’ve experienced, anywhere, in terms of sustainability information, education and multi-media. For instance, one entire building was devoted to four real families living in the cities of four different contenents, Australia, North America, Africa and China. The exhibit demonstrated through video, waxed figures (the mostly Chinese crowds especially loved these) and other physical displays demonstrating how each family lived and what they did for work, fun, school. At the same time it taught people experiencing the multi-level walk-through how much each family consumed in terms of resources, even land, and how that impacted climate change: carbon or ecological footprinting education for the masses.
The takeaway is that China is serious about climate change as a threat to the world and itself, and it intends to capitalize on this inevitability with all its might. China’s National Development Reform Commission’s low carbon pilot projects comprise 27 percent of the nation’s population, and about one-third of its total economic output. The new low-carbon pilot projects span not only provincial and city planning and operations, but also industrial, economic and social planning, including education. In short, the whole ball of wax: “China will accelerate the model of sustainable development where nature, the planet and people can survive and thrive,” said China’s Premier Wen Jiabao at the Expo Summit’s closing ceremonies.
It will be a tough path, indeed. Only one day after industrial controls were lifted that were in place for six months during the Expo in order to reduce regional air pollution, the air quality in Shanghai has already gone from crystal clear to disturbingly smoggy. As Stern pointed out to a rapt audience at the Shanghai Expo Summit, China will need to reduce its projected total greenhouse gas emissions from 35 billion tons in 2030 to 20 billion tons by 2050 if the world will have any chance of realizing the 2 degree Celsius maximum global temperature increase agreed to with the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.
China, if it continues on its current trajectory of yearly greenhouse gas emission increases, will by 2030, according to Stern, account for 50 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas “budget” under Copenhagen while being home to only 17-18 percent of the world’s population.
“New green investments will help China continue its lead in the green race that has already begun,” Stern predicted. “Green policies are at the heart of the 12th Five-year Plan (the nation’s economic master plan for the near future, a new version which was recently drafted), showing the world what is possible.”
Meanwhile, Shanghai, China’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, is deconstructing many of its Expo buildings for reuse in other parts of the nation, and also for other bidders outside China so that its Expo theme of “Better City, Better Life” gets a second and maybe even more lives.
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 ofa forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.
Is India trying to turn a corner toward more sustainable economic development with its recent reduction in fossil fuel subsidies?
India’s decision to completely cut gasoline subsidies last month has created national protests, as new unsubsidized gas prices rose to about $4.60 a gallon. The country has also reduced subsidies to natural gas, diesel and kerosene, all to balance a budget and reportedly redistribute money for economic development, including the planning of cities with more sustainable energy and transportation.
Gasoline will no longer be sold below cost by producers and retailers in India, as it had been until the late June announcement was made to end the subsidies, which have been cut $5.2 billion. That leaves the remaining government and state owned fuel companies subsidy spending at about $11.5 billion this fiscal year.
The nation is moving from its agrarian roots to a service-based economy that has been boosted by the rise of the companies in information technology, health care and other professional services.
Clean technology areas being investigated for large-scale implementation with urban development include infrastructure investments in PV solar, geothermal energy, and advanced wastewater treatment. A new metro rail system in Delhi that opened a major line earlier this year is now one of the world’s largest.
Indeed, India–like China–may be on a course to reinvent itself for the 21st century.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
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,
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:
5. Implementation of Carbon Taxes
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
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
A major effort at climate change
adaptation is underway in Californiaas 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.
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
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 effortsto 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
7. End of Cheap Oil/ Onset of Fossil Fuel Shortages
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
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
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
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.SustainabilityMovie/ Novel /Art/ Song
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 Syrianawith 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.
Yesterday a special all-day confab in San Francisco hashed over the state and local impacts of California SB 375, the first statewide anti-sprawl measure in America, which was signed into law in September.
The law will be historic if it can hold its center.
Sprawl causes greater greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution than more compact urban or suburban development that is served by transit, walking and biking.
Current research now points to sprawl as helping set the 2007 real estate meltdown into motion. The first foreclosure crisis occured when rapidly rising gas prices began to make long commutes more than people could afford in torid Sun Belt locations such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and California’s San Bernardino County.
A study released this week by my firm Common Current provides data that demonstrates how car-dependent mainly post ’50s suburbs have been hemmhoraging value, whereas central cities and suburbs served by good transit, walkability, bikeability and high telecommuting rates have held their value.
Senate Bill 375 will use carrots (permit expediting, special funding) and sticks (withholding federal transit funding) to make sure local government and developers build closer to existing or planned transit and take into account how much people will have to drive as a result of proposed projects.
“Now we can do regional planning with teeth,” said Peter Calthorpe, the long-time Smart Growth planner and head of Calthorpe Associates. “We have to determine just how sharp those teeth are.”
The anti-sprawl bill provides regional land use and transportation guidance for the state’s expansive and historic AB 32. Passed in 2006, AB 32 aims to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 70 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2050. The California Air Resources Board is guiding the AB 32 policy body and enforcement with Goverernor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office, the CalTrans highway agency, and regional policy agencies.
SB 375 provides the state a new trowel for shaping the developed footprint of the Golden State’s 163,000 square miles so it can limit carbon-hungry car-centric planning and construction. Besides encouraging infill, the intent is to stymie easy development of exurban agricultural land, wildlife habitat and natural resources.
“SB 375 demonstrates we can get big complicated things done…in transportation, land use and environmental protection,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, California Senate President Darrell Steinberg in a video. “Together we have provided the template for Congress and other states.”
Senator-elect Mark Leno was present in the flesh, and he laid out how sprawl–non-dense, unconnected, auto-dependent exurban or suburban development–was a form of development that has seen its day. “How we plan and construct the community of tomorrow will literally determine our future.
Backed by the California Building Industry, The California Alliance for Jobs, many regional governmental and transit organizations, SB 375 contains designations for market-rate and affordable housing near transit, but not jobs near transit. This was a concern for some, as was how to garner basic program funding with decreased federal highway funding and a state budget meltdown.
Joked Steinberg, “I have 28 billion good reasons why I’m not in San Francisco,” his video image said, referring to budget deficit meetings with the Governor.
Meanwhile, one member of the California Legislature called 375 not a great leap but instead “baby steps.”