Recently in Food / Agriculture Category

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From Singapore's high tech congestion management system to New York's PlaNYC 2030 to Yokohama's zero-carbon emissions goal, the future greening of cities is becoming our global "Plan A" for survival--economic and species--and will be the topic of the "Global Green Cities" conference in San Francisco, Feb. 23-25. The invitation-only event will mash up top planners, designers, strategists, technologists, mayors and financiers on how design, technology and behavior can facilitate the cross-fertilization of critical ideas and perspectives.

By now most have heard that cities will be the century's Rosetta Stone to mitigating the resource depletion and carbon emissions of humanity. China alone will add 400-700 million people to its cities by 2050. Developing nation urban growth is set to double by 2030 the urban footprint that existed way back in 2000.

If you are old enough to read these words, you will be living in a whole new world than the one in which you grew up.

The global cities of 2030 will be created with ten times the speed it took to cobble together the global cities of 2000, which has acute sustainability implications. That's why international organizations ranging from the United Nations to Natural Resources Defense Council are feverishly creating strategic plans and training for green city innovation including energy supply and energy efficiency, land use and planning, green building, water supply and use, food supply and production, green infrastructure, and enabling information and communications technologies.

The financial sector is well aware that 90 percent of urban economic growth will come in developing nations, so the leaders of The World Bank, the IMF and private banks and investment firms are scrambling to integrate financing in a dizzying array of new life-cycle costing instruments, revenue sharing agreements and public-private partnerships.

Consider Guangzhou's new bus rapid transit system (photo above, Karl Fjelstrom), now the largest in Asia, or Mexico City's Metrobus system. Both were supported by private foundations, while Mexico City's Metrobus also garnered support from an international and Mexican non-governmental organization. Green economic innovation is not just occurring in developing nation cities. San Francisco was able to achieve a leadership role in solar energy projects through a voter-supported bond measure, while Berkeley created its groundbreaking residential PV solar financing program through a mortgage-like approach that cuts costs and financial risks for homeowners.

Global Green Cities will host breakout sessions on the:

  • design of livable, compact, transit oriented cities;
  • technologies of digital, efficient and low-carbon urban systems;
  • behaviors and lifestyles of the urbanite

A "Breakout Synthesis" will focus on how planning, technology and behavior can provide a specific vision for the future.

In a wrap-up discussion of the Global Green Cities plenary session, I will address the issue "Enabling the Green City of the Future," which will look at best practices and driving change in finance, policy and business. On Friday Feb. 25, the conference goes off-site to study planning for sea level rises caused by climate change. It will also analyze California's planning for its landmark state climate change bill of 2006, AB 32, and its companion, SB 375, a historic land use planning law trying to prevent further exurban sprawl while enabling denser, transit-oriented development in existing communities. 

Here's a preview of who will address the invitation-only gathering of "Global Green Cities," which is sponsored by Deutsche Bank, Cisco, AT&T and the Bay Area Economic Institute and is advised by the London School of Economics:

Top confirmed speakers include Bruce Katz, of the Brookings Institute's Metropolitan Policy Program  (recent Time magazine essay and video); Peter Calthorpe--he created the term "transit-oriented development"--of Calthorpe Associates; Khoo Teng Chye of the Singapore Public Utilities Board; Kent Larsen, of MIT's Smart Cities Changing Places Research Group; Siegfried Zhiqiang Wu, of Shanghai'sTongji University College of Architect and Planning; James Sweeney, Director of Stanford University's Precourt Energy Efficiency Center; Jeffrey Heller of Heller-Manus Architects; John Kriken of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Incheon, South Korea Mayor Young-gil Song; San Jose, USA Mayor Check Reed and Dmitri Zenghelis, of the London School of Economics.

Many others are invited, and I will provide another post reviewing this seminal symposium.

One last sober observation. By all appearances, there appears to be no "Plan B."

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.  

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.

 

 


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"Cool Globe" by Terri Spath

A San Francisco non-profit, The Carbon Collaborative, has been running a ten-day series of informative events, briefings and panels called Cafe Copenhagen in conjunction with the UN COP-15 climate negotiations.

"Glocalization" efforts such as Cafe Copenhagen plug into and also amplify international issues impacting the global climate, environment and economy. These type of approaches help local leaders to contextualize their own initiatives; by doing so they are also more likely to influence and benefit from national and international policy outcomes.

The San Francisco Carbon Collective is a partnership of government, business, and environmental organizations tying to accelerate development of effective policy and market-based responses to climate change.

For the Copenhagen Cafe series of events, the organization put together everything from panel discussions, "Ask the Expert" briefings, lunchtime coffee discussions and participant surveys on expected COP 15 results and impacts.

"A lot of this about capacity building: so much is changing so fast, and it's such a broad area. People working on these issues can never get enough," said David Pascal, president of the San Francisco Carbon Collaborative. "And then there are people new to these issues. Some have even been holiday shopping and just wanted to stop in and see what we were doing."

Copenhagen Cafe is being held in the Crocker Galleria's Green Zebra Center in San Francisco's Financial District. Tonight's program (Dec. 10) at 6-8 p.m., for instance, will center on Sustainable Food Systems in conjunction with a farmers market, while a panel discussion on Monday night Dec. 14, 6-8 p.m., that I am on is focused on Sustainable Cities. Clean technology is topic of a panel on Tuesday, December 15.

Other themed events of the Copenhagen Cafe series focus on forestry, indigenous rights and oceans.

Copenhagen Cafe also features more casual "Coffee Talks" on topics such as "Negotiating Justice" (today, December 10, at 11:30 a.m.) and "What Can I Do? How to Work Your Changespheres" (Friday, Dec. 11 at 11:30 a.m.).

Guests on the Monday, December 14 Sustainable Cities panel that I am moderating will include Jean Rogers, lead sustainability consultant for Arup Engineering, Gordon Feller, CEO of Urban Age and executive editor of Urban Age Magazine, and UC Berkeley transportation researcher Laura Schewel, formerly of the Rocky Mountain Institute.  

According to Pascal, the almost-year old organization is fostering multi-stakeholder collaboration; building sector capacity; and supporting the development public policies, while catalyzing development and deployment of environmentally friendly technologies.

The collaborative has a permanent downtown office space, separate from the Copenhagen Cafe, in which shared tenants can informally work together, including DNV (Det Norske Veritas), the world's largest Clean Development Mechanism verifier, The International Emissions Trading Association and CSRware a cloud-computing carbon footprinting software firm. These companies and the collaborative are able to bring shared expertise and opportunities to the table for clean tech and related business planning, financing and operational strategies.

An early area of focus for the collaborative in capacity building and strategy development is carbon emissions trading, according to Pascal. California is set to begin trading in 2012, with the United States and other new markets outside Europe expected to launch markets by a later date, depending on the outcomes in Copenhagen and in Congress.

"Instead of waiting for these markets to unfold and be revealed, we are going to be trying to influence their early outcomes through our networks and events," Pascal said.

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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A sustainability ranking of 30 major European cities was released today in Copenhagen, the Scandinavian city that besides hosting the UN COP15 climate talks, has been chosen as top scorer in the new European Green City Index.

The study, sponsored by Siemens AG and developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked 30 major cities across Europe relative to one another in eight categories with 30 underlying qualitative and quantitative indicators.

The top cities, in ranked order:

1. Copenhagen, Denmark
2. Stockholm, Sweden
3. Oslo, Norway
4. Vienna, Austria
5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Don't think that this ranking is of the "Greenest Cities" in Europe, even though it's called The Europe Green City Index. Such an assumption is made by many about city sustainability indices. The cities at the bottom of this list are the poorest overall performers out of the study universe of 30. (Many thought the sustainability ranking for 50 US cities that I created in 2004 was a list of "America's greenest cities," even though we called it the SustainLane US City Rankings; the study is also featured in the 2007 book, How Green is Your City?)

The lowest-ranking cities in the European study, out of the total of 30 cities:

26. Zagreb, Croatia
27. Belgrade, Serbia
28. Bucharest, Romania
29. Sophia, Bulgaria
30. Kiev, Ukraine

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Interestingly, all the laggard cities are located in either the former Soviet Union, or in former Soviet-controlled Eastern European nations. The difference between the overall highest ranking city, Copenhagen, at 87, and the lowest-scoring city, Kiev at 33 is substantial.

The new European city ranking analyzed cities by the following eight categories:

  • CO2
  • Buildings
  • Energy
  • Transport
  • Water
  • Waste and Land Use
  • Air Quality
  • Environmental Governance
These categories leave out food, the only large oversight. Food accounts for a significant amount of greenhouse gas and other environmental impacts in its production, processing, transportation, storage, retailing and disposal. Siemens does not have a direct interest in the food business, so such an omission is not surprising.

When I added "food" as an indicator category for the 15 SustainLane US City Rankings categories--as measured in community gardens and farmer markets per capita--many, even in the "environmental community," were baffled. It's amazing to think that just five years ago there was so little connection seen between food to sustainability, especially in urban areas.

Fortunately, times have changed and the emphasis on local food and on sustainable agriculture and food production has been significant, especially in certain US urban areas (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle).  

Back to the Europe Green City Index, Copenhagen ranked high in energy use--number 2--as measured in percentage of renewable energy, and also in environmental governance, in which it tied for first with Helsinki, Stockholm and Brussels, all scoring a perfect 10 points.

Copenhagen also ranked third in transportation; it has the highest rate of commute cycling of any major European city, with 36 percent of all trips taken by bicycle. Portland, the leading US city for cycling, by comparison, has an overall bike rate of 6 percent.

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City cycling in Copenhagen

There is an obvious correlation in overall scores between the more wealthy--and higher-scoring--northern European cities and their poorer Eastern European counterparts, but the study did not include criteria for any direct economic or social factors. Housing affordability was one ranking criteria I added to the SustainLane US City Rankings after teachers that couldn't afford living in pricey San Francisco asked, "How sustainable is that?"

Some of the specific underlying indicators for the European Green City Index, included quantitative data points such as recycling rate, and use of public transportation along with other qualitative indicators (e.g. CO2 reduction targets, efficiency standards for buildings).

Besides these tidbits of indicator information and the chart provided at the beginning of this post showing overall scores, the study has not yet provided adequate methodological factors such as weighting of indicator categories and a better explanation of exact scoring within the eight individual indicators for qualitative categories.

The index would also benefit by breaking out categories of analysis that are artificially grouped in a single category, such as "Water and Land Use." Water itself can and should be broken into separate categories such as "Water Supply" and "Water Quality." Land Use is also significant enough to merit a separate category of analysis, since planning and zoning can create large-scale urban sustainability impacts for many decades

Still, the results of the Europe Green City Index should be very useful, and will hopefully have the impact on European cities that other city sustainability rankings have achieved elsewhere with citizens, business, media and politicians: making urban sustainability performance more transparent, understandable within a class of peers, and subject to competition in "a race to the top."

Some of our biggest challenges in cutting carbon to reduce global climate change will be in understanding the system dynamics that cities and other complex entities such as corporations, neighborhoods or even our households comprise. We no longer have the luxury of viewing our energy sources, food, water, buildings and land as separate, unrelated systems, even if business, government and academic institutions have been formulated according to these silos.

Nor can we view our cities as separate systems from nature, the global climate and our social fabric.

Keeping score matters, or else we wouldn't know the score.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute

 








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There's carbon in them thar roots!

Just as San Francisco has made commercial and residential composting mandatory and other cities are considering doing so, a worldchanging application for using compost to dramatically increase carbon sequestration in suburban grasslands has been confirmed by the Marin Carbon Project.

Soil carbon sequestration is the process of moving greenhouse-gas causing CO2 from the atmosphere into the soil. After the ocean, soil is the second largest pool of carbon on the planet, with twice the amount of carbon that is in the atmosphere, according to Whendee Silver, a biogeochemist and professor at University of California at Berkeley.

"Healthy grasslands, which make up 30% of global land and 50% of land in California, put a lot of carbon into roots to lock in nutrients," Silver said. The Marin Carbon Project's research is focused on how to increase that natural carbon sequestering process, or restore it, in the case of damaged rangelands.

Silver and others presented the results of research last night that the Marin Carbon Project has been conducting at about two dozen sites in rural West Marin County, about 45 miles north of San Francisco.

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The Marin Carbon Project is a collaborative research effort between the University of California, the USDA, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and Marin Organic (the nation's first county-wide organic label) and The Nicasio Native Grass Ranch.

The project, which is about a year into a three to five-year process, has determined that an increase of 1 metric ton of carbon sequestration per hectare on 50% of California's managed rangelands could sequester 42 million additional metric tons (MMT) of carbon. This is slightly more than 41 MMT of carbon emissions from the California commercial and residential sector's energy use. This increase in carbon sequestration would also offset the 14 MMT of greenhouse gasses produced by livestock.

In order to make our grasslands and grazing lands better carbon sinks, Silver said, "we need to add compost and manure to the soils to help it sequester."

The Marin Carbon project has tested both manure and compost applications throughout dairy ranches, and while are both are effective at soil carbon enrichment, compost is preferred because it is less likely to contaminate land or watersheds, as improperly applied manure can.

Silver said researcher found that the ability of grassland soil to sequester carbon is not correlated with climate or soil type, but rather is directly related to how grasslands and rangelands are maintained. When trees and shrubs are left in grassland areas, for instance, there is 30% extra carbon sequestration.

Adding compost or manure also greatly increases soil carbon sequestration. "The test plots we added compost to retained over 90% of carbon that was added with no significant increase of methane or nitrogen oxides (two other potent greenhouse gases)." Tilling soil, on the other hand, has a negative impact on carbon sequestration, which doesn't bode well for industrial agriculture (which also uses petroleum-based fertilizers as soils inputs) and corn-fed feedlot operations.

The test data from the Marin Carbon Project can now be applied to a more extensive life-cycle and economic analyses. This means that other factors will have to be analyzed such as the total carbon and methane produced by livestock, combined with calculating the greenhouse gases that would have been produced if compost were sent to the landfill.

Other locations performing extensive soil carbon sequestration agricultural and rangeland research include New South Wales in Australia and Barritskov, Denmark.

Despite the lack of discussion in Copenhagen on agriculture and food production in relationship to climate change, the results are encouraging for combatting global change through specific actions in organic agriculture and sustainable food production that benefit regional economies.

San Francisco and other urban areas can use their food scraps to not only enrich their region's agriculture, grazing and dairy production--which strengthens the link between urban and rural food systems--but they can directly offset their carbon footprints. 

The early results from the Marin Carbon Project show that metro-area greenbelts and farming lands now have even greater intrinsic value.

This makes the case even more compelling for containing exurban sprawl around our cities and building smarter and denser communities. By all accounts, increasing protection and stewardship of regional natural resources has benefits that are far greater than most ever knew.

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.
      
 



Lucky for me I was able to be in town for Labor Day weekend, and immersed myself in Slow Food Nation as well as San Francisco's Sunday Streets event.

It's so inspiring that wholistic urban sustainability is becoming a reality, and that is making carbon-reduction fun, profitable, innovative and, yes, delicious. 

My family and I took our bikes to the ferry to the sunny city and pedeled around the car-free city streets, with roller skaters, tricyclists, runners, walkers and pogo-stickers.

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The Sunday Streets events was the first if its kind for San Francisco. This year Portland, Oregon, and New York City have already done the same, in the mold of Bogota, Columbia's Ciclovia. It was a big hit, stressing physical fitness at different stations along the waterfront with activities for the kids and hula hoops for everyone else. Kudos to Mayor Newsom, the department of parking and traffic that blocked off auto traffic and all the volunteers.  

Our destination was the Victory Garden in front of San Francisco City Hall, the community centerpiece of the Slow Food Nation festival.  Slow Food Nation celebrated local, organic, tasty, fair and humane American food, the largest celebration of its kind, with 60,000 attending the three-day proceedings. 

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Besides the gorgeous 1/3-acre victory garden, where children and adults visibily delighted in experiencing a working food plot (200 pounds going to food banks this week alone), we went to a tasting of some of the best food purveyors in the nation Saturday evening.

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Some food highlights: a truly white (clear) old vine Fume Blanc from Oregon, Rubicon's 2004 estate red, chocolate from Madgasgar, pickled vegetables, acme bread pizza, wild coffee beans from Eritrea.

I also chatted with many luminaries: Vandana Shiva, who is saving thousands of species of rice from extinction in India; John Knox, co-founder of the Earth Island Institute and Michael Dimock, of the Roots of Change fund, which helped Slow Food organize the event.

Sue Conley co-founder of the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, CA, told me that higher energy prices have made her legendary cheese business take off even more recently.  

She opined that we are at a watershed moment, when locally produced food starts to lose its "gourmet" connotations and starts to be known as the healthy, high quality way to put our money where our mouths are, which will help local economies while preserving our valuable farm and pastureland from getting paved over forever.

mangoatcivic.jpg

myanmar-hurricane-damage.jpgThe tropical storm that kicked off the Pacific monsoon season Saturday has now officially killed 22,000 (expect a much larger death toll, perhaps more than 100,000) and left an estimated 1 million homeless.

How much of the event's intensity was caused by global climate change can be debated, but I was struck by the "before" and "after" satellite view of the region.

This is what future climate-change caused sea-level rise projections look like in low-lying regions all over, not just in the Irrawaddy Delta--The Mississippi Delta, Chesapeake Bay, throughout earth.

Look at the difference between the photo on the right, after Cyclone Nargis, and on the left before the cyclone. On the right, hundreds of square miles are now under water as can be seen by the expanded blue at the bottom of the photo.

The frightening part is that this photo is not a projection. It's real, and it's what one million or more people are struggling to survive in at this very moment. Tens of millions more will be impacted by the resulting famine that results from the loss of not only farmers and their rice crops, but the permanently impacted center of the nation's agriculture.

With climate change there will be slow changes to some coastlines and low lying areas.

Climate change may also literally submerge overnight coastlines and river deltas, such as these densely populated areas just outside Burma's largest city, Yangon, which are now more part of the Indian Ocean than mainland Asia.


Photo: AP/Yahoo
 

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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