Posts Tagged ‘Carbon-neutral’

Chinese Wheelbarrows: Low-carbon, low-infrastructure vehicles

Posted in Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on February 16th, 2012

Source: Low-Tech Magazine

Image from Kris de Decker

From “How to downsize a transport network: the Chinese wheelbarrow” by Kris de Decker:

For being such a seemingly ordinary vehicle, the wheelbarrow has a surprisingly exciting history. This is especially true in the East, where it became a universal means of transportation for both passengers and goods, even over long distances.

The Chinese wheelbarrow – which was driven by human labour, beasts of burden and wind power – was of a different design than its European counterpart. By placing a large wheel in the middle of the vehicle instead of a smaller wheel in front, one could easily carry three to six times as much weight than if using a European wheelbarrow.

The one-wheeled vehicle appeared around the time the extensive Ancient Chinese road infrastructure began to disintegrate. Instead of holding on to carts, wagons and wide paved roads, the Chinese turned their focus to a much more easily maintainable network of narrow paths designed for wheelbarrows. The Europeans, faced with similar problems at the time, did not adapt and subsequently lost the option of smooth land transportation for almost one thousand years.

Transport options over land

Before the arrival of the steam engine, people have always preferred to move cargo over water instead of over land, because it takes much less effort to do so. But whenever this was not possible, there remained essentially three options for transporting goods: carrying them (using aids like a yoke, or none at all), tying them to pack animals (donkeys, mules, horses, camels, goats), or loading them onto a wheeled cart or wagon (which could be pulled by humans or animals).

Carrying stuff was the easiest way to go; there was no need to build roads or vehicles, nor to feed animals. But humans can carry no more than 25 to 40 kg over long distances, which made this a labour-intensive method if many goods had to be transported. Pack animals can take about 50 to 150 kg, but they have to be fed, are slightly more demanding than people in terms of terrain, and they can be stubborn. Pack animals also require one or more people to guide them.

When carrying goods – whether by person or by pack animals – the load is not only moved in the desired direction but it also undergoes an up and down movement with every step. This is a significant waste of energy, especially when transporting heavy goods over long distances. Dragging stuff does not have this drawback, but in that case you have friction to fight. Pulling a wheeled vehicle is therefore the most energy-efficient choice, because the cargo only undergoes a horizontal motion and friction is largely overcome by the wheels. Wheeled carts and wagons, whether powered by animals or people, can take more weight for the same energy input, but this advantage comes at a price; you need to build fairly smooth and level roads, and you need to build a vehicle. If the vehicle is drawn by an animal, the animal needs to be fed.

When all these factors are taken into consideration, the wheelbarrow could be considered the most efficient transport option over land, prior to the Industrial Revolution. It could take a load similar to that of a pack animal, yet it was powered by human labour and not prone to disobedience.

Compared to a two-wheeled cart or a four-wheeled wagon, a wheelbarrow was much cheaper to build because wheel construction was a labour-intensive job. Although the wheelbarrow required a road, a very narrow path (about as wide as the wheel) sufficed, and it could be bumpy. The two handles gave an intimacy of control that made the wheelbarrow very manoeuvrable.


When the wheelbarrow finally caught on in Europe, it was used for short distance cargo transport only, notably in construction, mining and agriculture. It was not a road vehicle. In the East, however, the wheelbarrow was also applied to medium and long distance travel, carrying both cargo and passengers. This use – which had no Western counterpart – was only possible because of a difference in the design of the Chinese vehicle. The Western wheelbarrow was very ill-adapted to carry heavy weights over longer distances, whereas the Chinese design excelled at it.

On the European wheelbarrow the wheel was (and is) invariably placed at the furthest forward end of the barrow, so that the weight of the burden is equally distributed between the wheel and the man pushing it. In fact, the wheel substitutes for the front man of the handbarrow or stretcher, the carrying tool that was replaced by the wheelbarrow.

Superior Chinese design

In the characteristic Chinese design a much larger wheel was (and is) placed in the middle of the wheelbarrow, so that it takes the full weight of the burden with the human operator only guiding the vehicle. In fact, in this design the wheel substitutes for a pack animal. In other words, when the load is 100 kg, the operator of a European wheelbarrow carries a load of 50 kg while the operator of a Chinese wheelbarrow carries nothing. He (or she) only has to push or pull, and steer.


The decay of the Chinese road infrastructure

The importance of the Chinese wheelbarrow can only be understood in the context of the Chinese transportation network. Prior to the third century AD, China had an extensive and well-maintained road network suited for animal powered carts and wagons. It was only surpassed in length by the Ancient Roman road network. The Chinese road infrastructure attained a total length of about 25,000 miles (40,000 km), compared to almost 50,000 miles (80,000 km) for the Roman system.

The Chinese and Roman road systems were built (independently) over the course of five centuries during the same period in history. Curiously, due to (unrelated) political reasons, both systems also started to disintegrate side by side from the third century AD onwards, and herein lies the explanation for the success of the Chinese wheelbarrow. As we have seen, the one-wheeled vehicle appeared during this period, and this is no coincidence. Increasingly, it was the only vehicle that could be operated on the deteriorating road network.


Lessons for the future

Of course, it was not only the wheelbarrow that kept Chinese communication running after the second century AD. At least as important was the impressive network of artificial canals that complemented it. This infrastructure became ever more important after the detoriation of the road network. For example, the Grand Canal, which ran from Hangzhou to Bejing over a distance of 1800 km, was completed in 1327 after 700 years of digging.

In Europe, the first (relatively modest) canals were only built during the 16th century, and most of them only appeared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Chinese wheelbarrow alone could not have given Europe an equally effective transport infrastructure as the Chinese, but there is no doubt that it could have made life in medieval Europe a great deal easier.

The story of the Chinese wheelbarrow also teaches us an obvious lesson for the future. While many of us today are not even prepared to change their limousine for a small car, let alone their automobile for a bicycle, we forget that neither one of these vehicles can function without suited roads. Building and maintaining roads is very hard work, and history shows that it is far from evident to keep up with it.

In this regard, it is important to keep in mind that we won’t be as lucky as the medieval Europeans who inherited one of the best and most durable road networks in the world. Our road infrastructure – mostly based on asphalt – is more similar to that of the Ancient Chinese and will disintegrate at a much faster rate if we lose our ability to maintain it. The Chinese wheelbarrow – and with it many other forgotten low-tech transportation options – might one day come in very handy again.

Read the full article (there’s a lot more, with pictures too) by Kris de Decker on Low-Tech Magazine.

Cities With People In Mind: ICTC Conference

Posted in Events, Movements by Rob Henshaw on August 8th, 2011

The International Cities, Town Centres & Communities Society Inc (ICTC), is an independent, not for profit association based in Queensland whose main aim is to assist cities, towns and communities to be as environmentally, socially & economically sustainable as possible.  Since incorporating in 2002, the Society has conducted annual conferences attracting 300-450 delegates in cities and towns from as far north as Yeppoon in Queensland to Fremantle in Western Australia.

The 2011 conference, “Cities with People in Mind“, is hosted by Hobart City Council and is being held in Hobart from 25-28 October and includes dedicated sessions on the following:-

  • “Sustainable Cities & Towns”
  • “Carbon Neutral Cities”
  • “Green Building & Healthy Cities”
  • “Transport & Urban Communities”
  • “Housing Affordability”
  • “Infrastructure Planning & Development”
  • “Community Building & Consultation”
  • “Managing Growth”
  • “Regional Strategic Planning”
  • “Place Making & Place Management”
  • “Business Improvement Districts” as well as others.
25-28 October 2011

Hotel Grand Chancellor
Constitution Dock
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

For more information visit

Low-Income Nations: Becoming Climate Resilient

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on August 3rd, 2010

Source: Worldchanging

From “Leapfrogging into a Carbon-Light Future: The End of High-Carbon Prosperity and How Low-Income Nations Are Becoming Climate Resilient” by Martin Wright:

The idea that Africa could somehow leap to a boom economy will strike some as hopelessly wishful thinking. But the seeds of this possible future already exist.  The combination of solar power, mobile phones and IT, for example, is already transforming the economic prospects for villagers across the continent. A simple piece of software enabling the transfer of small amounts of money instantly and cheaply by mobile is plugging remote rural backwaters into the global economy as never before. Millions are saving money, time and their health by switching to clean, efficient sources of energy – from solar to biogas, biomass to hydro. Agricultural innovations, too, are mushrooming, from water harvesting and hydroponics to the precise application of fertilizer and irrigation via GPS.

All such breakthroughs have one common characteristic: they are low-carbon technologies. The phrase has a rather worthy feel – especially when applied to developing countries. But it masks an intriguing possibility: that low-income nations could outflank the industrialized world, skipping the heavyweight, fossil fuel-dependent economic model and leapfrogging into a carbon-light future.

Read the rest of this entry »

Carbon-Offset Kiosks at San Francisco Airport

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on September 22nd, 2009

Source: World Environment News

Image: 3degreesinc

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is launching the Climate Passport program allowing travelers to offset the impact of their air travel through an airport kiosk. This will be the world’s first airport kiosk-giving people the opportunity to calculate the environmental impact of their flights and purchase carbon offsets to address that impact while at the airport.

Where does the money go? The City has conducted extensive research on each project supported by the program to ensure that all carbon offsets are sourced from a specific project that results in real, quantifiable, permanent greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Read the rest of this entry »

FarmGAS Calculator Launched

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on September 4th, 2009

Source: Cleanfood, the Future Climate newsletter

Image: Hannam Vale

The Australian Farm Institute has launched its FarmGAS Calculator.

The Calculator is an online application which enables farmers to model both the financial and greenhouse gas outputs of farm activities and the implications of changes in enterprises. The FarmGAS Calculator is available free online for anyone to access. The FarmGAS Calculator includes individual calculators for the major livestock and cropping enterprises, and any combination of these enterprises can be added to create an individual farm business. Farmers can come back to the calculator at any time to update or change their production data, or complete the process in stages.  The Calculator applies the same methodology that is used by the Department of Climate Change in the estimation of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Accounts; and provides reports on the annual amount of methane and nitrous oxide emitted by each enterprise expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e).

Farmers enter details of their enterprises (both financial and production) to calculate enterprise gross margins. The following enterprise types can be analysed using FarmGAS: beef production (both breeding of progeny and fattening), sheep production, broadacre cropping, irrigated cropping, intensive livestock systems (beef feedlot and piggery), perennial horticulture crops and environmental tree plantings.

FarmGAS is the result of an Australian Farm Institute research project on greenhouse gas mitigation options for Australian farmers. Funding for the project was provided by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry under the National Agriculture and Climate Change Action Plan: Implementation Program

Italy aims for carbon-neutral farm

Posted in Models by Devin Maeztri on November 14th, 2008

Italy aims for carbon-neutral farm
By Duncan Kennedy BBC News, Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio, Italy An attempt to create a pioneering carbon-neutral farm is starting in Italy. The farm’s management say want to “go further than anyone else” A range of new technologies is being installed at the farm in the central region of Umbria as part of an experiment to cut its CO2 emissions to zero over the course of the next year. They include everything from electric farm vehicles to sun-reflecting paint on storage buildings. It is all taking place at the Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio olive oil farm, north of Rome. With its vineyards and olive trees, this beautiful corner of Italy might look like it has escaped the intrusions of climate change, but the farm’s owners say they, too, have to play their part in making the world greener. “We want to go further than anyone else,” says Lorenzo Fasola Bologna, Monte Vibiano’s chief executive. Storing solar energy One of the key investments is in a unique solar powered battery re-charging centre. Built by the Austrian company Cellstrom, the centre is a shed-sized box with 24 solar panels on it that houses a revolutionary liquid-based battery. The battery can, for the first time, store solar energy. Until now, electricity generated by the sun has generally had to be used immediately. It is one reason why opponents say solar power is limited. No longer. “We think that we will start getting our investment back after five years or so. From then on, our fossil fuel bills will disappear” Lorenzo Fasola Bologna Vibiano Vecchio boss Depending on the amount of usage, the battery centre can store solar-sourced electricity for up to three days. They are working to extend that to 10 days and more, enabling the farm to continue operating through foggy days when the sun does not shine. It means that golf carts and electric bikes will become the key means of transport for farm workers and that they can all charge up at the battery centre. ‘360º solution’ Cellstrom estimates the farm can save 4,500 litres of petrol every year and reduce CO2 emissions by 10 tons. “Yes, it is an expensive initial investment,” says Lorenzo, without revealing the actual cost. “But we think that we will start getting our investment back after five years or so. From then on, our fossil fuel bills will disappear.” Solar power is just one of the ground-breaking technologies being applied to this farm. They call it a multiple layered 360º solution to global pollution. They have bought a fleet of special miniature tractors that use a new generation of bio fuels. The farm says the new fuels will not be coming from food chain products like corn and therefore will not diminish world food supplies. Then there are the farm’s boilers which are used to create heat in the olive oil production process. They will use wood chips instead of methane gas, as in the past. The wood is a renewable source of energy found from supplies already on the farm. Even storage tanks on the farm are being painted white to reflect sunlight away from earth, in an effort to cut the effects of global warming. And, just to make sure they have not left anything else out, they have also planted 10,000 trees to soak up and offset any unforeseen CO2 emissions. ‘No choice’ By the end of next year they hope to be the first farm, anywhere, to reduce their inherent net carbon footprint to zero – ie without using off-site offsetting projects. “It will be great,” says Lorenzo, “to pass on this great, green enterprise to my children and their children.” And when asked if it makes economic sense for a business to attempt all this, he replies: “Absolutely. We are not a charity.” This whole region is responding to new climate pressures. At the nearby Lungarotti winery in Torgiano, recycled grape vines now power the process, not oil. Mini-weather stations provide data for planting and watering and organic fertilisers enrich the soil. Chiara Lungarotti, whose family owns the company, is just as committed as her neighbour Lorenzo. “We have no choice but to get agriculture to adapt to climate change,” she says. “It is our interest for the sake of our crops to be friendly to the planet.” So, agriculture is now doing its bit on climate change. Whether small olive oil producers or wine makers have lessons for bigger operations will be known when these experiments are over. But they will be toasting Umbria if they have. Story from BBC NEWS: Published: 2008/10/18 00:11:54 GMT © BBC MMVIII

Resource – Technology in Society journal tackles the topic of Sustainable Cities

Posted in Models, Research by fedwards on August 1st, 2008

The Technology in Society journal addresses some of the varied issues experienced by the world’s cities in a climate of change. Edited by George Bugliarello and A. George Schillinger, this special issue of Technology in Society addresses important issues of urban sustainability from multidisciplinary perspectives. The collection covers urban sustainability in both industrialized and developing countries, and includes such topics as land use, transportation, and high performance buildings, containing epidemics, and safety and security. To find out more information about this visit:

Provocation – Towards zero carbon in building design

Posted in Models by fedwards on July 1st, 2008

Please find an abstract below from an interesting article which discusses some of the issues involved in going for zero carbon emissions in building design. The full article can be viewed at

Abstract: “Whole-house thinking”, Dr. David Strong, The Ecologist, 20/06/2008
“What’s the point of zero-carbon homes that aren’t fit for habitation? There is more to sustainable building than meeting Government targets, argues Dr David Strong

The UK Government has declared a laudable and ambitious plan to ensure all our new homes are zero carbon by 2016 and new non-domestic buildings zero carbon by 2019. The impact of this plan has been felt throughout the property and construction industry, and the drive towards zero-carbon has already had a powerful effect in galvanising the house-building and property development community, and in stimulating innovation. I am not sure that would have happened without such a strong legislative and policy initiative.

Of course the huge surge in interest in sustainable building is good news. After 35 years working in the industry, it is highly gratifying to see sustainability finally reaching the top of the political, planning and construction agenda. The emphasis being put by the Government on more energy-efficient buildings, and greener communities generally, is a truly welcome and encouraging sign.

However, those of us who are passionate about delivering a genuinely sustainable built environment currently face a real dilemma.

Here’s our problem: there is so much more to delivering exemplary built environments than zero carbon. In fact, there is even a danger that a fixation on zero carbon may result in highly perverse outcomes and deliver seriously damaging and unintended consequences in terms of sustainability – with the pursuit of the ‘best’ becoming the enemy of the good.”

The full article can be viewed at

Networks – “” promotes worldwide cooperation for sustainable mobility

Posted in Uncategorized by Cities-for-Mobility on July 1st, 2008

Cities for Mobility is a worldwide network of local actors engaged in promoting sustainable urban mobility: It comprises almost 500 local autorities, public transport companies and partners from private business, science, education and civil society from over 60 countries from all world regions. The network has been created by the German Municipality of Stuttgart (Mayor Dr. Wolfgang Schuster) in 1999.

If you are interested in joining the network free of charge, please visit the “Documents” section of (“membership forms”) or write to

You are kindly invited to join existing project initiatives and to bring in new ones.

Currently the network members put special emphasis on the crucial issue of rising energy prices in the ending oil age. How will local authorities be able/enabled to guarantee in the future sufficient mobility services to their citizens at affordable prices? The rational use of energy, energy-efficient vehicles as e.g. bicycles or electric mobility (above all Light Electric Vehicles – LEV; and the use of renewable energy sources in transport are among the most urgently needed and most promising solutions that are already available at present.

C4M members are invited to gather in Stuttgart at the yearly World Congress at the beginning of June (next event: 15-16 June 2009) or at Regional Congresses in other parts of the world.

Models & Resources – Carpooling, Carsharing and Walking School Buses with plenty of international online resources

Posted in Models, Visions by fedwards on May 27th, 2008

The section below is from the Relocalise Newsletter May 2008 available at

Carpooling, Carsharing and Walking School Buses
Transportation is a major focus for planners in cities and municipalities, and while increasing gas prices are being felt across the board, they are much more evident at the pump. Nationwide spending on gas in the US has increased by 26% to 5.2% on average overall. How can one curb spending on gas and all the related costs of car ownership while still getting around? Shelby Tay offers some examples of community activities that can help us make the transition away from our gas guzzling ways. Read more here.

Online Resources
This time of year also brings the start of awareness campaigns around the world, including Bike-to-Work week and car-free festivals that encourage us to be smarter with our travel. May is national bike month across the United States. Check out 50 ways (large PDF) to celebrate Bike Month and browse bike advocacy groups by state to find one near you, courtesy of the League of American Cyclists.

Here are some more resources to give you some ideas:

To read more about The Relocalisation Networks’ work visit