January 2010 Archives

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What will we do post growth, post cheap energy, post resource abundance and post climate change? The Post Carbon Institute (PCI) convened its first meeting of Fellows this weekend in Berkeley to address these concerns. Many there and elsewhere have argued that these transformational changes are already becoming evident.

PCI Fellow Bill Rees, the co-originator of the Ecological Footprint, captured the mood of the group best when he said, "We have to adapt to the change rather then repress the change."

The Institute's Fellows were gathered by PCI from a wide variety of fields: energy, transportation, population, food/ agriculture, building and development, economics, social justice, education, urban issues, health, climate, biodiversity and water. The event marked a maiden face-to-face (and virtual) voyage to examine the brave new waters of the 21st century. About 25 of PCI's 29 Fellows participated.

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PCI Fellows Retreat, David Brower Center, Berkeley (Post Carbon Institute photo)

Asher Miller, PCI's executive director set the table for the three-day event. "Facing such daunting issues, we can either: 1) pack up and go home; 2) be a witness to history; 3) save what we can, which I call the Noah's Ark approach; or 4) work as hard as we can, and go as big as can go. Collectively we can come up with one thing, or do lots of things--we don't know which one will bring the best results."

The group of Fellows up until this point has been focused on producing a book (cover pictured above) of essays and case studies that will be released by University of California Press with Watershed Media in July, The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises.

The Berkeley retreat focused on developing connective tissue among Fellows through facilitated exercises, planning and presentations. Some highlights--or lowlights--as many of the participants (myself included)  could be accused of being bearers of bad news:

Richard Heinberg, the Senior Fellow whose extensive work (The Party's Over, Blackout, Peak Everything) has provided a nexus for PCI while helping define "Peak Oil" thinking, has spoken to world leaders from Congress to European Parliament.

"I have nothing to show for all my presentation to political leaders," Heinberg said. "Anyone who questions the concept of growth is shunted off."

Erika Allen, Chicago manager for Growing Power, a national land trust that provides access to healthy local food in disadvantaged communities, explored a scenario where food supplies are cut off because of an energy supply disruption or other crisis. "We've been preparing around the principles of providing seven days of food for Chicago--what systems are in place to respond? We need to be able to grow food on concrete and on the tops of buildings."

The issue of sustainable agriculture, both urban and rural, was an overall emergent issue of the weekend, with talismanic Wes Jackson, founder and director of The Land Institute, providing an urgent view into a survival system that has been taken for granted.

"In the long run, soil is more important than oil," Jackson said, citing research that soil carbon concentrations in US have been halved since non-indigenous settlement, from 6 percent to 3 percent, because of poor conservation and industrial practices.

Grave consequences for climate-change influenced mass migrations were forecast by Brian Schwartz, a Johns Hopkins professor in public health. "Moving populations (because of climate change) will be very bad for society, the environment and health in every aspect."

Chris Martenson's The Crash Course presentation examined unsustainable levels of US debt, uncovering shocking new snapshots on the historic level of government and personal debt after a decade with zero job growth.

Martenson, a former corporate executive, later confessed that there are emerging opportunities in certain investments, job sectors and geographic areas. He was also optimistic about the can-do nature of Americans: "Give people something to do, and they'll put it together with joy and creativity, such as the Burning Man village."

Similarly, Rob Hopkins, the originator of the Transition Town movement, reported from the UK via Skype video (he gave up flying three years ago) that the effort to form locally organized community resilience around food, energy, construction and culture is rapidly multiplying in global locations. "It's spreading very, very fast, with new Transition Towns in Chile, Sweden, Canada, Italy and Australia."

"With resilience, we see an opportunity to take a shock and then make a step by the community in the right direction so it can advance itself," Hopkins said of the 300-plus transition initiatives. "Our role isn't to manage a lot of projects, but to support projects as they emerge."

Other Fellows presenting included author Bill McKibben (The End of Nature and 350.org), Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, and Rees, a professor at the University of British Columbia. Joe Brewer, founder and director of communications strategy consultancy Cognitive Policy Works, also led sessions on communications and messaging.

The results of the event included a forthcoming mission statement that was co-authored by nine different groups. My group on cities also consisted of Johns Hopkins professor Schwartz, City University of New York professor (and former New York City green building standard originator) Hillary Brown, and transportation expert Anthony Perl, author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.

We contributed concepts around "bioregionally grounded human communities" based on non-automotive transportation options, human-scaled neighborhoods and regionally produced sustainable food and energy. 

Groups also prepared proposals for collaboration and post-event project action, including a Resiliency Preparedness Kit; a communications strategy and roll-out plan; a regional sustainable agriculture investment model for production, processing and urban distribution; and a PCI-informed community development prototype approach for both domestic (Oberlin, Ohio) and international (most likely India or China) communities.

"We need to foster experimentation, re-localization,and  differentiation in our redundancies and behavior," said PCI executive director Miller. "Simple living can make us happier and can tap into the long history of humans as a species."

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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Tonight the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), a California-based think tank addressing sustainability issues associated with climate change, peaking resources and community resiliency, kicks off a three-day gathering with its Fellows (of which I am one) in Berkeley.

The Institute was founded in 2003, largely around the issue of peaking oil and energy supplies. Author Richard Heinberg (The Party's Over, Peak Everything) was the group's first Senior Fellow. Heinberg has been now joined by 28 other Fellows, and this is their first gathering.

From an initial focus on peaking energy resources and their potential impacts, PCI now addresses multiple areas and issues including climate change, consumption/ waste, communities, economies, ecology, education, energy, food/ agriculture, government, health, social justice, population, water, transportation.

Eighteen of those who are coming to Berkeley (five will join in remotely) to address how our government, society, communities and different industry sectors can prepare better for the system-based or "wicked problems" that climate change, peaking energy supplies and global recession present.

Participants will include:

  • David Orr (author and professor Oberlin College)
  • David Fridley (energy efficiency and renewables expert, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs)
  • Chris Martenson ("Crash Course" economist)
  • Josh Kaufmann (US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest Labs)
  • Michael Bomford (food and energy scientist, Kentucky University)
  • Sandra Postel (author, director Global Water Policy Project)
  • Tom Whipple (energy expert, former CIA analyst)
  • Zenobia Barlow (author, director Center for Ecoliteracy)
  • Bill Sheehan (consumption and waste expert, Product and Policy Institute)
  • Gloria Flora (public lands expert, director Sustainable Obtainable Solutions)
  • Erika Allen (urban agriculture expert, manager Growing Power)
  • Anthony Perl (author, transportation expert and professor, Simon Frazier University)
  • Hillary Brown (partner, New Civic Works, founder NYC Office Sustainable Design)
  • Stephanie Mills (author, bio-regionalism expert)
  • Wes Jackson (author, founder/ president The Land Institute)
  • William Ryerson (director Population Media Center)
  • Brian Schwartz (public health expert, professor Johns Hopkins University)
  • Bill Rees (community resilience expert, author, University British Columbia)
  • David Hughes (energy expert, geoscientist for Canadian Geological Survey)
  • Warren Karlenzig (urban expert, author, president Common Current)
Other participants that will join in remotely include authors Michael Shuman, Josh Farley, Bill McKibben and Richard Douthwaite, Transition Town movement originator Rob Hopkins; Johns Hopkins' Cindy Parker.

Look for my report next week on the outcome of this historic gathering.





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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).



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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.

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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.

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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.

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Chevron's Nigerian oil pipeline has been overtaken by the Movement for the Emancipation of Nigeria in the Niger Delta (above: AFP/File Photo). The group is obviously well-armed and trained. See the lead machine gunner supplied by ammunition/communications (left), and flanked by AK-47s and rocket launcher holders (left rear, right rear) scanning the horizon of Niger River, which has pipeline, production and transport facilities (Niger River Delta and Nigerian offshore oil areas are in yellow below).

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The Niger Delta has been the source of about 2.5 to 3% of world oil supply and reserves, with Shell, Exxon, BP and others holding major delta and offshore concessions.

Multi-national oil companies have been open flaring oil wells 24 hours a day into the air, and causing extensive water pollution in the area once home to rich fishing and agriculture.
Thus the region is growing infamous for impacted civilian uprisings, peaceful and not so.

Said the governor of Nigeria's Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan: "...the oil companies have polluted the air, the waters and soil....So, with this kind of situation, our people can no longer fish or farm and so they can no longer feed themselves, the capacity to do this is no longer there and when you cannot feed yourself, you are hungry and when you are hungry, you get angry and when you are angry, you get violent. So, it is a vicious cycle...We want to create a Delta State without oil...We should be able to create a Nigerian economy without oil, bring our youth up and train them to become farmers and non-violent producers".

Nigerian novelist and television producer Ken Saro-Wiwa was hung after military trial in 1995, concerning demonstrations by the Ogoni group he founded, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).

Before the news of the Chevron pipeline takeover, oil markets were already heating up Friday to almost $83 a barrel, the highest range since October 2008, after hitting their historic peak of $147 a barrel in July 2008. Based on Nigeria and increased demand from China, this week could be be a harbinger for 2010 oil price trends.

Are rising oil prices and energy insecurity putting the issue of future global fossil fuel supply in play once more?  



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.

 


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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." 


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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

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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.


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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.

 

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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.


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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

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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

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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

 

 

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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.

 

 


 

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2009 is the previous archive.

February 2010 is the next archive.

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