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Archive for December, 2009

Farming Futures – A new green Revolution?

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on December 29th, 2009

Source: Cleanfood, the Future Climate newsletter

Report Source: Forum for the Future

It’s been a big year for agriculture and climate change, and the Forum’s Farming Futures project has been at the heart of the action.

The Low Carbon Transition Plan, launched by the UK Government in June, recognised that nitrous oxide and methane are the main greenhouse gas culprits in the sector, and challenged the agricultural industry with the first ever reduction target: an 11% cut in emissions by 2020.

Meanwhile, the new UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) data (UKCP09) showed farmers that hotter, drier summers, longer growing seasons, and new crops, pests and diseases are likely to be on their way; the Renewable Energy Strategy is demanding greater clean energy production; and a set of reports about food security are challenging us to think about how we can produce more food whilst simultaneously reducing our impact on the environment. The industry is responding with a Voluntary Action Plan to reduce emissions, and has put Farming Futures – the key communications project in the sector – at the heart of it. In its third year of delivery, Farming Futures is getting the message across to farmers that a low-carbon agricultural sector can be profitable and lower risk.

Evidence that it’s making a difference include a growing number of farmers signing up for on-farm events, on subjects from beef and sheep to renewable energy and irrigation; rising web hits on the dedicated site www.farmingfutures.org.uk; and rising profile for the project in farming media.

With an independent survey showing that 41% of farmers are now familiar with the project brand, we are now exploring new partnership opportunities for a fourth phase, and are keen to hear from anyone in the Forum’s networks who’d like to find out more or get involved


Vancouver on course to meet or exceed Kyoto targets

Posted in Models by Daria on December 22nd, 2009

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Image: vicfan via flickr CC

Vancouver, British Columbia, has the lowest per capita greenhouse gas emissions of any major city in North America and is on target to meet or exceed Kyoto Agreement targets, Mayor Gregor Robertson said. The announcement came December 10, 2009, as the Mayor prepared to leave for the Climate Summit for Mayors in Copenhagen, Denmark. New statistics show the development of energy efficient buildings, increased use of public transit, walking and cycling as well as innovative projects like creating heat and electricity from methane gas captured from the City’s landfill have all contributed to greenhouse gas (GHG) levels last seen in 1990.

“Vancouver continues to show leadership in Canada and North America on greenhouse gas reductions,” the Mayor said. “By making smart decisions for our future, whether it’s the many energy efficient features of the Olympic Village project, our approach to land-use planning, or the city’s transportation options, we are going to meet our Kyoto targets and in the process set the standard for major North American cities.”

Vancouver GHG emissions have been reduced by 11 per cent from their peak in 2000 to 2.7 million tonnes per year. The city is on track to meet Kyoto targets for 2012 of 2.5 million tonnes. Vancouver’s drop in GHG levels is concurrent with a 27 per cent population increase since 1990 and an 18 per cent growth in employment since 1991.

The conventional wisdom is you can’t reduce emissions with a growing population and economy.
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From Industrial Hub To Sustainable Neighbourhood

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on December 18th, 2009

Source: Daily Commercial News

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From “Vancouver industrial hub transformed into sustainable neighbourhood” by  Jean Sorensen

Southeast False Creek (SEFC), a City of Vancouver reclamation project, is being designed to set a new urban sustainability standard in community development. The 80-acre site housing 16,000 people will become a neighbourhood of parks, market and subsidised housing, marine areas, community garden, shops, schools, and a community centre, growing out of what was once the industrial hub of the city. Sawmills, manufacturers, metal shops and marine-related shops once rimmed False Creek.  Subsurface investigation was made into soil and groundwater quality at SEFC to complete human health and risk assessment as part of a remedial action plan. In areas where contamination was severe, soils were removed and in areas of lesser contamination, the material was covered over and the land designated recreational use.

“I am told that this is the largest residential development in North America,” said Robin Petri, Vancouver’s Manager of Engineering for the SEFC & Olympic Village.  One of the unique features of the development, Petri points out, is that the roads are sloped so that rainwater drains into natural bioswales on each side of the village, negating the need to treat runoff water, while providing habitat for birds, animals, and marine life.  Buildings also capture and use water, with approximately 50 per cent having green roofs and 50 per cent directing the water into irrigation and functions such as toilet flushing. A neighborhood energy utility is the first in North America to gather heat directly from a raw sewage line, consolidate the heat and use it in a thermal system that loops pipe to various buildings and back to the utility building.

One of the challenges of the cleanup was that False Creek had been filled in along the shoreline over the years.   Much of the earlier materials used for fill were poor quality and these had to be removed and replaced.  To compensate for shoreline that was removed, an island was created in an inter-tidal zone allowing children to wade to it at low tide to examine marine life that has been returning to a once-derelict area. In February a project manager noticed white frothy bubbles around the island. It turned out to be herring roe – the first time it has been seen there in 50 years.

Read the full article by Jean Sorensen.


The Nature of Cities: Film

Posted in Visions by Kate Archdeacon on December 9th, 2009

Source: How It Grows

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Image: Congress Avenue Bridge, by jessicareeder via flickr CC

University of Virgina professor Timothy Beatly premiered his new film, The Nature of Cities, at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Gillette Forum on October 29th. The film is an interesting overview of various ways in which nature and sustainable architecture are being incorporated into European and American cities. Geared towards people outside the design and science community, it’s a great introduction to the concept of urban nature.  The film has several interesting vignettes, like a car-free development that is so eerily quiet you can follow the sound of waves to find a nearby beach. Or a week-long bio-blitz of a canyon in San Diego that allows kids who were previously warned about the ‘danger’ of the local canyon to explore it and identify the native plants and insects.

The most striking story in the film features the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, famous for its bat colony. The city has gone from trying to torch the bats under the bridge to setting up a protected area where crowds of people assemble to watch 1.5 million bats emerge in the evenings. Now, new bridges in Texas are being specifically designed to house bat colonies. Imagine if more of our buidings and infrastructure were built this way! It’s fascinating to see the shift in construction from environmentally harmful, to environmentally neutral, to environmentaly positive.

Source: How It Grows


Climate change Guide: how to win hearts and minds

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on December 8th, 2009

Source: Environmental Research Web

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From “Climate change: how to win hearts and minds“, by Liz Kalaugher

Despite the fact that in 2007 the scientists compiling the IPCC report were 90% certain that human activities are causing climate change, climate scepticism amongst the public is on the rise. In the US there has been a sharp decline over the last year in the percentage of the population who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising, while in the UK the number of people believing that claims about the effects of climate change have been exaggerated rose from 15% to 29% between 2003 and 2008.

So how can a climate scientist best communicate their work to a sceptical audience?

With that in mind, the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University has issued a guide on the psychology of climate change communication that brings together the latest social science research in the field. Although it’s a serious topic, the guide is easy to read and contains many a cartoon and case study to illustrate its points.  “Gaining public support for climate change policies and encouraging environmentally responsible behaviour depends on a clear understanding of how people process information and make decisions,” says the report. “Social science research provides an essential part of this puzzle but there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the challenges of communicating about climate change. Rather, each of the many barriers presents a new opportunity to improve the way we present information.”


Searching for a Miracle: Report

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on December 7th, 2009

Source: PostCarbon Institute

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In November, the Post Carbon Institute and the International Forum on Globalization released their important and challenging new report Searching for a Miracle. The report, authored by Post Carbon Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg and edited by Jerry Mander, explores the question of whether any combination of known energy sources can successfully supply society’s energy needs at least up to the year 2100?

The report explores some of the presently proposed energy transition scenarios, showing why, up to this time, most are overly optimistic, as they do not address all of the relevant limiting factors to the expansion of alternative energy sources. Finally, it shows why energy conservation (using less energy, and also less resource materials) combined with humane, gradual population decline must become primary strategies for achieving sustainability.

The report makes the case that it is necessary to prepare societies for dramatic shifts in consumption and lifestyle expectations. It will also be necessary to promote a new ethic of conservation throughout the industrial world. A sharp reversal of today’s globalization of commercial activity—inherently wasteful for its transport energy needs—must be anticipated and facilitated, and government leaders must encourage a rapid evolution toward economies based on localism especially for essential needs such as food and energy.

The study remarks that this is not necessarily a negative prospect, as some research shows that, once basic human needs are met, high material consumption levels do not correlate with high quality of life.

The emphasis by policy makers on growth as the central goal and measure of modern economies is no longer practical or viable, as growth will be limited by both energy shortages and by society’s inability to continue venting energy production and consumption wastes (principally, carbon dioxide) into the environment without catastrophic consequences. Standards for economic success must shift from gross metrics of economic activity, to more direct assessments of human well-being, equity, and the health of the natural world.

Read the full article.


City Challenge 2010

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on December 4th, 2009

Source: Globe Forum

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Globe Forum has decided to challenge all European cities to share their sustainability projects to promote urban sustainable development. City Challenge arose with the goal of showcasing innovations and promoting collaboration between city, municipality and region.  The City Challenge database will give cities from all over Europe a tool for sharing best practices and together shape the cities of tomorrow.  The challenge launched at the EUROCITIES meeting in Stockholm 27th of November 2009 and will go on until Globe Forum 2010 in April.

The first phase of the challenge is all about data collection and finding the right projects. Starting in January, the database will open up and the participating cities will start to fill it with information.  The goal for the cities will be to get as many sustainable projects as possible registered and linked to the city. These projects will form the basis for a unique global database for projects, innovation and ideas about sustainable development.  This is an ongoing process of collaborative problem solving, and the vision is to gather all best practises, from all cities, all over the world.

The database will be used for collaboration and inspiration. The city with the most sustainable projects registered will be recognized at Globe Forum 2010 in Stockholm.

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Beyond Hope, to action

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on December 3rd, 2009

An unusual post for us, here at Sustainable Cities, but potentially relevant as Copenhagen takes centre stage.

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Image: greenpeace via flickr CC

From the article “Beyond Hope” by Derrick Jensen, Orion Magazine.

THE MOST COMMON WORDS I hear spoken by any environmentalists anywhere are, “We’re *%$#@*”. Most of these environmentalists are fighting desperately, using whatever tools they have—or rather whatever legal tools they have, which means whatever tools those in power grant them the right to use, which means whatever tools will be ultimately ineffective—to try to protect some piece of ground, to try to stop the manufacture or release of poisons, to try to stop civilized humans from tormenting some group of plants or animals. Sometimes they’re reduced to trying to protect just one tree.

Here’s how John Osborn, an extraordinary activist and friend, sums up his reasons for doing the work: “As things become increasingly chaotic, I want to make sure some doors remain open. If grizzly bears are still alive in twenty, thirty, and forty years, they may still be alive in fifty. If they’re gone in twenty, they’ll be gone forever.”

But no matter what environmentalists do, our best efforts are insufficient. We’re losing badly, on every front. Those in power are hell-bent on destroying the planet, and most people don’t care.

Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

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Small-scale wind farms

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on December 1st, 2009

Source: Environmental Research Web

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Image via physicsworld

From “Fish inspire wind farm configuration”, Edwin Cartlidge

Conventional wind turbines work best when located as far as possible from the destructive vortices of neighbouring turbines. However, a pair of scientists in the US have worked out that the performance of other kinds of turbine actually improves when they are placed close to one another, concluding that wind farms could therefore be made much smaller than they are today.  The familiar propeller-like turbine with a horizontal axis of rotation can convert 50% or more of the energy from the wind that it is exposed to. In a wind farm, however, the wake from one turbine will disturb the air reaching the blades of its neighbours meaning that turbines must be placed far apart.

A less familiar family of turbines have a vertical axis of rotation.  Individually, these vertical-axis turbines are less efficient than the horizontal-axis devices because only part of the turbine can be pushed by the wind at any one time, and they have therefore proven far less popular. However, these turbines have a significant advantage over the horizontal-axis variety – their power output can be increased when they are placed very close to one another.  Now, Robert Whittlesey and John Dabiri of the California Institute of Technology have worked out how best to arrange such closely spaced turbines by drawing on the work of aeronautical engineer Daniel Weihs, who showed in the 1970s how fish save on energy by swimming within schools. Such fish form a series of offset rows, and Weihs found that fish get carried forward by the vortices created by the swimming motion of their two closest companions in the row immediately in front of them. Whittlesey and Dabiri wondered whether the relative spacing of vortices produced by an individual fish might serve as a good template for the arrangement of vertical-axis turbines within a wind farm and set up a computer model to test this idea.

Read the full article by Edwin Cartlidge.