Truth be told, anyone with their eyes open is overwhelmed by the wealth of interesting, insightful, and high quality material out there -- in soft (blogosphere) and hard (books, etc) copy. This drives us, all too often, into stovepiping our focus, gaining ever more knowledge about an ever narrower focus area.
Our challenges -- as individuals, communities, nation -- are, however, multifaceted, systems-of-systems issues that demand a more holisticlook, with a willingness to explore linkages and to gain some insight as to (un)intended consequences.
From Lagos to Los Angeles; Malmo to Mumbai; Acra to Washington, DC; State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future examines the "fantastic array of challenges and possibilities" for sustainable urbanism across the globe for the coming century. And, it sets the basis for insight as to paths forward, and windows on the complexity of interactions between issues and options.
Too many reinforce this stovepiping, this delving into ever greater detail, specialization over synthesis.
Some institutions and organizations strive to provide the basis for taking the step from specialization to synthesis, to provide a window on complex interactions and opportunities for confronting (and surmounting) the challenges we face.
Worldwatch Institute, in my experience, is one such institution. Their annual State of the World series tackles major issue areas, from multipe (and quite high-quality) perspectives to inform about challenges, options for dealing with them, and insights from real experience ("lessons identified") about alternative paths. And, this year's effort is most definitely a valued addition to this series.
The Worldwatch Institute offers a unique blend of interdisciplinary research, global focus, and accessible writing that has made it a leading source of information on the interactions among key environmental, social, and economic trends.
In other words, that interdisciplinary that is so critical to steering a positive course forward through the sea of challenges we face.
Returning to State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, the book has nine chapters (short chapter summary via links), each written by experts in the field:
- An Urbanizing World
- Providing Clean Water and Sanitation
- Farming the Cities
- Greening Urban Transportation
- Energizing Cities
- Reducing Natural Disaster Risk in Cities
- Charting a New Course for Urban Public Health
- Strengthening Local Economies
- Fighting Poverty and Injustice in Cities
And sprinkled through the book are "CityScape" mini-case studies of the realities of problems and solution paths from cities around the globe including Timbuktu, Lagos, Jakarta, and Melbourne.
Energy and Cities
Well, not surprisingly, this is the section I will focus on ...
When it comes to energy, cities are critical -- with the majority of the world's population urbanized and that percentage growing, literally, every day. Cities represented huge embodied energy (infrastructure) sunk investment, required energy to operate, and the cities/residents can have hugely varying energy footprints dependent on how their goods are provided. Energizing Cities speaks to how "cities have an unprecedented opportunity to change the way they supply and use energy."
As with the other chapters, there is tremendously interesting material within the discussion.
For example, when it comes to a systems-of-systems challenge/impact, let's consider air conditioning for a moment. For China's cities, "air conditioning accounts for 40 percent of the public's summer energy demand and is the primary cause of power shortages ... in Tokyo, waste heat emissions from air conditioning are responsible for 1 degree Celcius of warming during the summer, exacerbating the heat-island effect ..." [pp 94-95] The section then goes on to talk about alternatives to forced-air air conditioning and paths for reducing the heat island impact so as to reduce air conditioning requirements.
Or, well, how about the potential to turn pet waste into power. There is the case of San Francisco, where "almost 4 percent of all the garbage picked up [was] from animal waste destined for the city's landfill". Dog poop power, anyone?  Trash to energy is a hot concept, not just for pet poop. Consider, again, system of system implications. "New York City produces 12,000 tons of garbage per day. The waste must be shipped ... and disposal costs the city more than $1 billion annually."  That hints at the sort of system benefits of figuring out more productive uses for the trash other than trucking to Ohio and Virginia landfills.
Some CityScaping ... Green Power ...
Rizhao City's [108-109] central districts have 99 percent of households using solar hot water with many uses of solar electricity. There are 60,000 solar panel heated greenhouses. As opposed to the $4000-$8000 for a solar hot water system in the US (perhaps 10 times the cost of installing a gas/electric water heater), "the cost of solar water heater was brought down to the same level as an electric one: about $190 ... Solar heating, hot water, and electric panels are all heavily favored by local code, tax policy, and subsidies. "The city mandates all new building incorporate solar panels", works to promote public awareness, and led by example (wtih government buildings and city leaders' homes among the first to go solar). In addition, and perhaps most importantly, through investment in the industry itself to drive down costs. In any event, a truly holistic approach that has made Rizhao a "Solar-Powered City". Should we be surprised that "Rizhao has consistently been listed in the top 10 cities for air quality in China"?
Malmo, Sweden, [110-111] is "Building a Green Future" with the Turning Torso the towering symbol of this move from industrial shipyard town to a 'sustainable' future. The area is getting 100 percent of its energy "from local renewable sources: wind, sun, water, and gas from garbage and sewage." As with Rizhao, the approach is holistic -- with educatiocating citizens a critical element. As well, "Malmo seeks to learn from setbacks" as "the first homes that were built did not achieve the targets set for energy efficiency." Learning and improving is critical.
Los Angeles is working on the "End of Sprawl". There was, to be honest, much that I learned and even much that surprised. LA's CityScape [86-87] provides a good example. America's poster child for sprawl has found that "sprawl has hit the wall" and infill is growing. Now, infill and increasing density is generally good news on the energy front, but while "some of this infill in improving the quality of life ... in certain areas the results are a looming disaster", driving residents out through "skyrocketing" real-estate prices. Again, lessons ...
The lessons the citiy of nearly 4 million holds for metropolitan futures may stem the tide of exporting the tired U.S. suburban model to the rest of the world and may simultaneously cultivate a new, more compact Los Angeles.
As a side note, this CityScape provided an interesting perspective on housing policy and federal support for home ownership.
Federal housing policy had several political uses:
*it was an employment program for the vast constructio industry;
*it provided housing to the middle class;
- it served conservative national interest (based on the belief that no homeowner with so much work to do would have enough spare time to be a revolutionary).
Never conceived before of "Honey Do" lists as a critical path to inhibit revolutionary action but, in the end, it does make sense.
As with "cityscapes", the many sidebars add great value. For example, a few paragraphs  highlight the energy intensiveness of construction and its wastefulness.
The construction industry accoutns for more than 1/3rd of global CO2 emissions and produces nearly 40 percent of all human-generated waste.
And, there are options forward, like reusing construction waste, as did a VP of one contractor with the 4,300 square foot Big Dig House. That that is a recycled product most of us could live with.
Obstacles to renewable energy
There are real obstacles that inhibit making the right choice. For example, re renewable energy in urban areas, here are a few constraints.[104-105]
- Limited resources -- there isn't enough to do everything.
- Subsidies to conventional fuels:
As of "2002 ... the $300 billion of energy subsidies spet every year on nuclear power and fossil fuels is four times as much as has been spent promoting renewable energies in the last two decades."
- Market pressures that ignore environmental and social costs (the free ride given to pollutors)
- Electric utility priorities to increase generation inhibiting investment in efficiency.
- Common skepticism about renewable power and energy efficiency, denegrating its effectiveness.
the typical new US home still remains highly energy-inefficient ... This gap points to the need for larger awareness of the long-term gains, both ecological an deocnomic, that can be achieved through more ambitious mandates for sustainable practices. In effect, a paradigm shift is needed ..."
Absolutely true ... a paradigm shift to move us (US) on the path to Energize America toward a prosperous and sustainable energy future.
Contrary to many people's perceptions, many sustainablity goals can be pursued through policies that do not increase tax-payer costs, as in Chicago, where green buildings receive expedited permitting.
Oh, yes, Chicago, which has much to say about its green. Note, as per below, we're striving to create a Green Chicago Energize America tour at the tail end of Yearly Kos ...
In addition to education and public awareness campaigns, political pressure must be brought to bear against powerful forces that favor the status quo.
Now, that speaks directly to Kossacks and calls on us all to call to demand strong action on renewable energy and energy efficiency in the energy bill.
This collection is holistic, with innovative and quality looks at a myriad of issues for sustainable urbanism. The horrific is mixed with the hopeful in this open-eyed look at quite serious issues and opportunities to transcend them -- whether in the "Developed" or "Developing" worlds.
As a sign of the value of State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, some of its pages are among the most marked-up and commented on of 1000s of books on my shelves. There was much that I knew, yet much new within its pages. And, well, there are easily a hundred references that I hope to track down and explore further amid all my spare time.
Anyone interested in urbanism ... in global warming ... in considering moving theory to practice ... in developing a path toward a sustainable future should carve out the time to explore Our Urban Future.
Ask yourself: Are you doing your part to ENERGIZE AMERICA?
- Consider joining the new, improved Daily Kos Environmentalists community / listserve.
- Are you coming to Yearly Kos? There will be an EA2020 panel Saturday morning along with a session on using the blogsphere for policy development. And, an Energize America tour of Green Chicago Sunday afternoon (we hope)
- And ... of course, ENERGIZE AMERICA