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Imagining Cities That Can Save The Planet: Alex Steffen Talks About Carbon Zero
Sami Grover, Treehugger
From writing about the interrelationship between urban density and affordability to reinventing prosperity, esteemed futurist and author Alex Steffen has always been a source of ideas and inspiration—and occasionally discord—for many of the writers at TreeHugger. I suspect that most of us have the Worldchanging Book on our shelves and refer to it regularly. So while it was a sad day when Worldchanging shut up shop, it was pretty clear we’d be hearing more from Mr. Steffen. And we were not disappointed.
Steffen’s latest project, Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet, redefines what being a successful city means in a rapidly warming and increasingly urbanized world. It goes on sale this week as an e-book. We sat down with the author to find out more.
In the opening to Carbon Zero, you describe our future according to the current state of climate models as ranging from the “very dangerous” to “catastrophic”. Clearly there is no sugar coating our situation any more. But how do we avoid alienating or demoralizing people?
We face a planetary crisis and there is no point in denying it. Research is now showing us that levels of warming we thought were safe just ten years ago, are actually not really safe at all. Even our best realistic climate outcomes now involve consequences.
Of course, if we don’t act we have ahead of us the worrying possibility of setting in motion a magnitude of climate change that would simply be beyond adaptation for human civilization as we have come to know it. So, our choices are dangerous consequences or nearly unimaginable catastrophe.
That said, it’s important that we remember two things.
The first is that we still have an enormous amount of agency. We do still have a choice. We can keep climate change a crisis that’s enormous, but manageable, or continue to burn fossil fuels until it upends everything we know.
There’s no really rosy scenario ahead, where climate change just doesn’t happen, but I believe we don’t have the ethical right to throw our hands up in the air and say “game over”. Whatever pathway we choose, our descendants will be dealing with that reality for centuries to come. Though we may feel discouraged, outraged or depressed about the options open to us, we have a duty to future generations to persevere and create the best future we can.
The second thing to remember is that acting boldly to meet the climate challenge gives us a giant opportunity to make things better. The future we create can in many ways be brighter than what we have now, even with all the consequences we’ve already set in motion.
There’s a lot of evidence that shows that if we push as hard as we need to for net-zero emissions, we’ll find ourselves with cities that are more secure, healthier, and have more economic opportunity—are frankly better cities to live in—than if we settle for the status quo. The surprising fact about the future we’re moving into may not be how bad have things gotten, but how good they can get.
When we need to act, and act boldly—and when acting boldly may bring incredible benefits—there’s really no reason not to do it, except that most of us have not yet been able to imagine what that better future might look like.
Carbon Zero offers and explains one possible vision for how that future might work.
(29 November 2012)
Wean transport off fossil fuels, or grind to a halt
Nicholas low, The Conversation
Over the next 50 years the world will increasingly confront a dilemma. On the one hand, the global economy and local lifestyles depend on the mobility of people and goods. On the other, that mobility depends on a diminishing supply of cheap oil and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.
Reducing Australian carbon emissions to near zero over 50 years will require a transformation in the way we think about urban transport.
City transport – traffic congestion, motorways, rail services and timetables, bus routes – are local issues aren’t they? Don’t they mostly have to do with cars, trains, buses and commuting? Well, no.
Urban transport confronts a global dilemma which will not be resolved by patching up the transport systems of our cities with a new motorway link here, a new rail service there, and a few new bike paths and footpaths. The global problem is not mainly one of passenger traffic, but of goods traffic.
The mobility of people and goods worldwide is still at present almost completely (98%) dependent on cheap oil, and the economies of cities are connected seamlessly with the global economy.
(21 November 2012)
This article owes a debt to the work of the many authors published in ‘Transforming Urban Transport’, Routledge, 2012, particularly Kevin O’Connor, Patrick Moriarty and Damon Honnery. See related website.
Build inter-city cooperation to stave off resource fights – experts
Jon Christianson, Alertnet
More urban areas will be built in the next 30 years than have been built in all of human history – and building cooperation between them, rather than growing competition, will be key to their success and sustainability, a report says. By 2050, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. That raises some questions about where resources will come from to support ever-growing cities, particularly as fewer people live in rural areas that are traditional sources of food and other needed goods. “Where is the food going to come from? Where is the water going to come from? Where are the minerals, the fiber, the wood?” asked Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), which published the report calling for increased sustainability-based cooperation between cities. Globally, many cities are developing sustainability plans to reduce pollution, manage carbon footprints, and improve standards of living. What the researchers fear, however, is that the focus is too limited, and too focused on individual cities. “So many people are still thinking of a sustainable city as being a city basically in isolation,” said Seitzinger, a lead author of the report. “The thought around sustainable cities is locked into much too narrow a context.”
(8 November 2012)
Link to report
Sustainable cities will be more resilient in extreme weather
Peter Lacey, The Guardian
A year ago, we saw pictures of Bangkok under flood waters. More than 800 people died and more than 3 million were affected in what was, for insurers, the most costly fresh water flood in history. More recently, an extreme storm in Beijing took 79 lives. And then hurricane Sandy showed us that even the most advanced cities cannot always protect themselves from the elements.
According to reinsurance company Swiss Re, flooding affects 500 million people a year and the financial losses have risen from less than $2bn (£1.3bn) to $15bn (£9.4bn) per year in less than four decades. I’ve previously written that sustainable cities’ principal goal is their long term economic competitiveness. Livability, good environmental stewardship and efficiency can help attract talent and investment. That talent and investment may not be deterred by vulnerable cities but it can be repelled by cities that fail to make themselves resilient…
(29 November 2012)