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Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

ecosystem-services

ASLA 2011 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Making a Wild Place in Milwaukee’s Urban Menomonee Valley, Milwaukee by Landscapes of Place / Nancy Aten

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an international organization committed to strengthening the role of science in public decision-making on biodiversity and ecosystem services, seeks expert landscape architects, ecologists, and others with policy experience to assess its latest research. The call for more engagement was made at a recent presentation at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Washington, D.C.

IPBES explains the reason for its existence on its web site: “Biodiversity from terrestrial, marine, coastal, and inland water ecosystems provides the basis for ecosystems and the services they provide that underpin human well-being. However, biodiversity and ecosystem services are declining at an unprecedented rate, and in order to address this challenge, adequate local, national and international policies need to be adopted and implemented. To achieve this, decision makers need scientifically credible and independent information that takes into account the complex relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem services, and people. They also need effective methods to interpret this scientific information in order to make informed decisions. The scientific community also needs to understand the needs of decision makers better in order to provide them with the relevant information. In essence, the dialogue between the scientific community, governments, and other stakeholders on biodiversity and ecosystem services needs to be strengthened.”

To reiterate, Douglas Beard Jr., National Climate Change and Wildlife Center, U.S. Geological Survey, and a co-lead for the science component of IPBES for the U.S. Delegation, said: “It’s always better to hear from a diverse group of people.”

Established in 2012, IPBES has convened multi-disciplinary groups of experts to conduct public assessments around the globe. With 114 member countries, IPBES is dedicated to becoming the leading international organization on ecosystem services.

Assessors will help make progress on the status of pollinators, pollination, and food production; scoping for a set of global and regional assessments of the status of biodiversity and ecosystem services; and scoping for a thematic assessment of land degradation and restoration.

If you are interested in nominating someone or being nominated for an upcoming call, please contact Clifford Duke at ESA, which coordinates the U.S. stakeholders.

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Empty lot next to mowed lot, New Orleans / Jared Green

At the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in New Orleans, the focus was on change — and how change will impact cities’ search for social equality. Much of urban infrastructure will need to be bolstered to survive a range of shifts: population booms or busts, economic growth or stagnation, and climate change and increasingly frequent natural disasters. But as cities adapt to these changing social, economic and climatic circumstances, are the most vulnerable being heard? When cities bounce back from all kinds of disasters, are all communities in the city, both rich and poor, equally as resilient?

Jeff Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), said, at its peak in 1960, New Orleans had a population of 630,000. After Hurricane Katrina, the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history,” the population fell to 220,000. Now, it’s up to 369,000, still way off its peak. “We’ve been losing population for decades. Pre-existing patterns just tend to reinforce themselves in the aftermath of a disaster.” Since 1960, the population has grown in the suburbs while the core has lost density. By 2004, the number of vacant parcels was around 20-30,000. Detroit or Cleveland have a similar amount.

New Orleans is found along the banks of the Mississippi River. Land at the edges of the river is actually highest, as it has slowly accumulated there over thousands of years. Beyond these high points along the river, the city’s geography dips, forming a bowl. The French Quarter and other historic settlements are all found on high ground, meaning they are really just a few feet above sea level. Many low-Income communities like the lower 9th ward are under sea level. These neighborhoods were made possible by a pump system invented by the city. “We started building in swamps, exacerbating other environmental issues. Maybe our ancestors had it right building just on high ground.”

After Katrina struck, some 34 affected coastal parishes and New Orleans began to receive assistance through the federal Road Home Homeowner Assistance Program. As “there was no comprehensive plan, the feds took a piecemeal, local approach.” On a one-by-one basis, people could either come back to their old houses and received funds to rebuild, or got funds to rebuild somewhere else. Some 130,000 people got $8.9 billion in grants through this program. The result: “They left us with a patchwork of land.”

NORA was handed all the leftover, empty lots. They have gotten the inventory down from 5,000 to around half that. “Most of the remaining inventory is on lower ground. Some of those neighborhoods came back and others didn’t.”

So NORA initiated an innovative adaptation program for many low-income areas, with “green infrastructure, lot stabilization, alternative maintenance, and two technical assistance programs: growing green and growing home.” Hebert said these programs are about “connecting with the community about local stormwater and beautifying neighborhoods through great landscape design.”

Getting many locals in the poorer parts of the city to buy into empty lots as stormwater management systems has been tricky. “We have to change what is seen as a black eye into something beautiful that increases the quality of life and property values.” A big part of the campaign is educating many who have been there for generations about hydrology and geology. At least New Orleans is focusing on how everyone must adapt.

Roberta Feldman, an architectural activist and founder of the UIC City Design Center, then discussed how “urban redevelopment screws people,” particularly in cities like Chicago. Cities must be more sensitive to existing populations as they make way for new ones. She said Chicago’s latest housing plan will create “high-density, high-price public housing that is not socially just or cost effective.” Instead of redeveloping existing public housing complexes, the city often just tears them down and asks the poor living there to move into apartments somewhere else in the city or join in a public mixed use development. The problem is their existing community has been dismantled, “and these residents don’t want to move.” These efforts are also not cost-effective, Feldman argued, because creating new housing invariably costs much more per square foot than simply revamping older buildings. If the city had used the money more wisely, more public housing could have been developed. “The housing authority could have renovated 25,000 units for the same price as 9,000 new units.”

Cecilia Martinez, recently head of the UN-Habitat in New York, said “we must blame architects for much of the mess” we face trying to adapt cities to change. “They assume a lot. By World War II, they had initiated the Modern City movement and assumed the car would re-organize the city. Because of the car, we had super-blocks, so no one walks anymore. They said ‘let’s do low density. Let’s put towers in the middle of gardens.’” Graphed on top of this car-based system is a developer-led system, which marginalizes the poor. As a result, “Latin America is either super-highways and super-blocks or slums.” Martinez said this urban model is clearly broken because some 800 million people live in slums without access to public spaces. “While New York City, one of the world’s wealthiest cities, is comprised of some 60 percent public space — when you add in streets, parks, and plazas — the slums in Kenya have maybe 1 percent public space.” To enable everyone to adapt, “we need to focus on walking and biking, public spaces, and mixed social structures.”

“In all of the world’s deltas, large changes are taking place,” said Han Meyer, a professor at Delft University in the Netherlands who offered a broader framework for adaptation. The problem is these deltas and other coastal areas are the site of much of the world’s urbanization. There are multiple dynamics happening at once. “There are the dynamics of the natural environment. One thousand years of land-water relations change. The way deltas carry sediment changes over time. These changes have been caused by climate change since the Ice Age, and the process has been ongoing for a long time. Then, there’s the societal use of the delta. Dynamic land-uses plus nature means a very complex system that will continue to change. We need to be able to adapt both types of environments. They are at different frequencies, rhythms. The problem is nature has a different time scale for change than societies.” So his answer for how to adapt to change: “There can be no final plans. We can only build different scenarios. “

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coalplant

Coal power plant / Wikipedia

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced historic new rules that will cut carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal power plants by 30 percent by 2030. Amazingly, the country’s 1,600 power plants together account for nearly 40 percent of total U.S. emissions. Of these, there are still some 600 coal-powered plants running. And aging coal plants (their average age is 42) account for a disproportionate share of total emissions from the power sector. The EPA, which is acting through its authority under the Clean Air Act, will now open the rules for public comment. Once that process is complete, they intend to give states flexibility to act. The New York Times says President Obama’s new rules are one of the “strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change.”

States will be given some leeway to design their own programs to cut emissions. “Rather than immediately shutting down coal plants, states would be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional ‘cap and trade’ programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.” This is a sensible approach as the energy mix varies widely state by state, with some states naturals for some types of renewable energy, but others not.

Environmental groups cheer the new regulations, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report stating the rules could lower the gross domestic product by $50 billion annually. Nobel Prize winning-economist Paul Krugman took apart that report in a recent op-ed. Krugman writes: “So what the Chamber of Commerce is actually saying is that we can take dramatic steps on climate — steps that would transform international negotiations, setting the stage for global action — while reducing our incomes by only one-fifth of 1 percent. That’s cheap!”

While the debate over economic costs and benefits — particularly for coal-producing states — will continue, it’s becoming clear the regulations may boost the health of Americans. In fact, President Obama made a point of calling the American Lung Association while new EPA administrator Gina McCarthy announced the new effort. The Obama administration argues that in its first year the new limits will cut the number of asthma attacks by 100,000 and heart attacks by 2,100. According to The Washington Post, the EPA also estimates “the new rules will cut traditional air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot by 25 percent…yielding a public health benefit of between $55 billion to $93 billion when it is fully implemented, with 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths avoided and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks a year avoided.”

Carbon dioxide doesn’t cause lung or heart issues by itself, but when it spews out of coal-powered plants, it comes with soot, chemicals, and particulate matter. Targeting carbon dioxide from coal is then a smart way to tackle these other pollutants as well. A study by researchers in New York City found that during days with “high levels of ozone and air pollution, hospital admissions for respiratory problems rose about 20 percent.” Already some 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, including 6.5 million children.

This is not President Obama’s first effort to reduce emissions. New vehicle emission standards for cars and light trucks produced between 2012 and 2025 will cut 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The new rules for coal power plants will remove another 500 million metric tons annually, says The Washington Post.

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U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced six projects will receive $920 million through HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. HUD will give the funds to New York, New Jersey, and New York City to further develop these projects, which are designed to make the Hurricane Sandy-affected region more resilient.

The competition was created out of President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy rebuilding taskforce as a way to dramatically improve the “physical, ecological, and economic resilience of coastal areas.” According to HUD, the design competition “created coalitions with local and regional stakeholders to develop locally-responsive proposals.”

The funds will finance additional planning, the design of innovative flood protection systems made of berms and wetlands, as well as a built reef.

The winning projects are led by multidisciplinary teams comprised of landscape architects, architects, engineers, ecologists, artists, and others. The projects are diverse, spread throughout the region. Funding looks evenly split between New York and New Jersey:

  • The BIG U (East River Park), Manhattan — The BIG Team ($335 million)
  • Living with the Bay (Slow Streams), Nassau County, Long Island — The Interboro Team ($125 million)
  • New Meadowlands, Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro — MIT CAU+ZUS+URBANISTEN ($150 million)
  • Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City — OMA ($230 million)
  • Lifelines, Hunts Point, South Bronx — PennDesign/OLIN ($20 million)
  • Living Breakwaters, Tottenville, Staten Island – SCAPE/Landscape Architecture ($60 million)

HUD writes: “The winning proposals come from teams representing some of the best planning, design, and engineering talent in the world. These inventive proposals are a blueprint for how communities can maximize resilience as they rebuild and recover from major disasters. These ideas will serve as a model for how we can mitigate the effects of climate change and natural disasters in communities throughout the Sandy region, the United States, and the world.”

Secretary Donovan, said Rebuild by Design could have a powerful ripple effect: “It’s my hope that Rebuild by Design will inspire other public-private partnerships to spur innovation and resilience.”

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, New York, said, “Are there going to be other storms like Sandy? Yes. Will we be better prepared for them because of Rebuild by Design? Absolutely.”

And Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who helped finance the design competition and has been a major force behind the new push for resilience, said the competition harnesses “creative minds of every stripe to break the models and construct innovative and creative ways to build for our future.” Indeed, HUD is spending $60 million for the first large-scale experiments with creating reefs that can act as tide-surge mitigators.

More details on the winning proposals:

The BIG U (East River Park), Manhattan – The BIG Team

The BIG team, which includes landscape architecture firm Starr Whitehouse, aims to protect ten continuous miles of low-lying Manhattan, “an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area.” Funds will be used to used to create a “bridging berm” at the East River Park along the Lower East Side. “The bridging berm provides robust vertical protection for the Lower East Side from future storm surge and rising sea levels. The berm also offers pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river. Both the berms and bridges will be wide and planted with a diverse selection of salt tolerant trees, shrubs, and perennials to create a resilient urban habitat.”

Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City – OMA

The OMA team, which includes landscape architecture firm Balmori Associates, will protect all of the Hoboken waterfront and parts of Weehawken and Jersey City. The project “deploys programmed hard infrastructure and soft landscape for coastal defense (resist); policy recommendations, guidelines, and urban infrastructure to slow rainwater runoff (delay); a circuit of interconnected green infrastructure to store and direct excess rainwater (store); and water pumps and alternative routes to support drainage (discharge). The objectives are to manage water for both severe storms and long-term growth; enable reasonable flood insurance premiums through the potential redrawing of the FEMA flood zone following completion; and deliver co-benefits that enhance the cities and the region.”

Living with the Bay (Slow Streams), Nassau County, Long Island – The Interboro Team

The Interboro team, which includes H+N+S Landscape Architects, will develop a comprehensive resiliency plan for Nassau County’s South Shore. “The areas around Southern Nassau’s north-south tributaries are threatened both by surge water flooding and storm water inundation. The proposal will address these threats through a set of interconnected interventions, transforming the Mill River into a green-blue corridor that stores and filters water, provides public space, and creates room for new urban development. These river corridor improvements will also address other challenges such water quality, ecological recovery, and aquifer recharge.”

New Meadowlands, Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro – MIT CAU+ZUS+URBANISTEN

The first phase of the New Meadowlands proposal will focus on Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, and Teterboro. “By integrating transportation, ecology, and development, the project transforms the Meadowlands basin to address a wide spectrum of risks, while providing civic amenities, and creating opportunities for new redevelopment. The project includes the creation of additional wetlands and a multi-purpose berm that will provide flood protection to the many residents of the community damaged by Sandy flooding.”

Living Breakwaters, Tottenville, Staten Island – SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

The SCAPE team aims to “reduce risk, revive ecologies, and connect educators and local students to the shoreline, inspiring a new generation of harbor stewards and a more resilient region over time.” One fascinating component of the project: an “in-water solution will reduce wave action and erosion, lowering risk from heavy storms by designing ‘reef street’ micropockets of habitat complexity to host finfish, shellfish, and lobsters.”

Lifelines, Hunts Point, South Bronx – PennDesign/OLIN

PennDesign/OLIN is taking a multi-faceted approach to protecting Hunts Point, the hub of the region’s food supply chain and one of the poorest communities in the country. “The PennDesign/OLIN proposal sets out four strategies: integrated and adaptable flood protection systems to safeguard the whole neighborhood and create public amenities along the Hunts Point waterfront; leadership efforts to build capacity for social resilience; a marine emergency supply chain to enhance the waterways as critical infrastructure; and cleanways to improve air quality.”

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National Climate Assessment / Globalchange.gov

The White House has released a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change on the United States. Congress mandates these reports are to be created every four years, but no reports were issued during the presidency of George W. Bush. President Obama has made up for that, with a 1,300 page report written by 300 leading scientists and experts, the third such report created. The assessment is expected to shape the environmental strategy for the last two years of the administration. Already, President Obama has signaled he will work to reduce carbon emissions from coal power plants, as the Supreme Court has just given the administration clearance to use the Clean Air Act to limit emissions because they cross state boundaries.

The report states the effects of climate change are already being felt across the country. According to The Guardian, the assessment indicates average temperatures have risen by about 1.5 F (0.8 C) since 1895. Some 80 percent of the rise has occurred since 1980, with the last decade the hottest on record. Furthermore, temperatures are expected to rise another 2 F in the coming decades. “In northern latitudes such as Alaska, temperatures are rising even faster.”

Impacts will be felt differently across the U.S. As can be seen in this map from The New York Times, the change is not evenly distributed. Virginia Burkett, chief scientist for global change at the U.S. Geological Survey, said: “Parts of the country are getting wetter, parts are getting drier. All areas are getting hotter.”

Higher temperatures in the southwest are expected to create more droughts and lead to larger and more frequent wildfires. Meanwhile, “the north-east, midwest and Great Plains states will see an increase in heavy downpours and a greater risk of flooding.” Along the coasts, the threat of flooding will be particularly severe: “Residents of coastal cities, especially in Florida where there is already frequent flooding during rainstorms, can expect to see more. So can people living in inland cities sited on rivers.” Beyond flooding, sea levels will be inching up.

The report covers impacts for each region in detail. For the mid-atlantic, which covers the District of Colombia, Maryland, and Virginia, there are potentially scary impacts. “As sea levels rise, the Chesapeake Bay region is expected to experience an increase in coastal flooding and drowning of . . . wetlands.” The Washington Post writes these wetlands are crucial for protecting against storm surges, so this development would be “especially bad because the lower bay region is at higher risk as a result of sinking land. Water quality would decline and low-oxygen ‘dead zones’ would increase.” And if there are even higher greenhouse gas emissions, much of the area is expected to get an additional 60 days of weather topping 90 degrees, starting around 2050.

Extreme weather will test the country’s collective resilience in ways never seen before. The agricultural sector will need to adapt to hotter temperatures and more limited access to water. Higher temperatures will tax energy systems in the summer, as people crank up air conditioning. Health system will be tested, as more cases for asthma and other respiratory disorders increase with higher street-level temperatures, which exacerbate the worst effects of air pollution. Stormwater management systems will need to be redesigned to account for heavier and more frequent downpours. And natural coastal systems will need to be bolstered against sea level rise.

The goal of the report is to no doubt raise awareness of climate change as a real problem. According to a Pew survey conducted last year, Americans continue to be an outlier in how they rank climate change as a threat. Only 40 percent of Americans see climate change as a danger, while a majority of every region of the world does (except for the Middle East).

Read the report, and check out the innovative and positive adaptation efforts cities and communities are already undertaking. Philadelphia is highlighted for its game-changing green infrastructure program.

Also, explore ASLA’s comprehensive resource center on climate change.

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Dry river bed. Darcha, India / Wikipedia

In the second in a series of new reports, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the impacts of climate change are already being felt in every continent and every ocean, and the effects will only worsen as greenhouse gas emissions enter the atmosphere at an accelerated rate. Also, while some countries have started adaptation planning in earnest, the world, according to a global coalition of scientists, is largely “ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate.” The 300 scientists from 70 countries who wrote the report were assisted by 430-plus contributing authors and another 1,700 expert reviewers.

The report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, outlines the impacts of climate change thus far, the future risks, and opportunities to reduce those risks. The report focuses in on the “vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world.”

According to The New York Times, the report itemizes immense environmental change: “ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.” And it emphasizes that these changes are happening now. For example, in the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening drinking water supplies. And coastal erosion due is increasingly widespread.

Environmental changes will have a certain impact on people. Communities everywhere are vulnerable but often for different reasons. “Climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk.”

According to the report’s scientists, climate change is now affecting “agriculture and people’s livelihoods.” For example, a coastal community may not only face sea level rise but their fishing-based economy will see dramatically decreased yields with ocean acidification. Inland tropical communities not only face increased heat and reduced water supplies, but food production will become more challenging.

Across the board, the report states that in the coming decades, “climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.”

But it may not be all doom and gloom, at least for those communities with enough money to adapt. Chris Field, Carnegie Institute for Science and co-chair of the report, said: “We definitely face challenges, but understanding those challenges and tackling them creatively can make climate-change adaptation an important way to help build a more vibrant world in the near-term and beyond.”

The report found that an increasing number of governments and major corporations are initiating far-reaching adaptation adaptation plans. As an example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will spend $2 billion on its Rebuild by Design program. And coastal cities like New York are taking a hard look at their infrastructure. The New York Times reports that Consolidated Edison, the power utility in NY, will spend $1 billion to storm-proof its systems.

While wealthier countries have opportunities to adapt, poorer ones may not. The World Bank estimates that developing countries need $100 billion in assistance from wealthier ones to better bear the brunt of the effects. Climate change could create massive food insecurity, increasing hunger in places already vulnerable to food shortages.

Further explore the key findings through these useful infographics. The third in the series of reports will be released in April, with the final synthesis report in October 2014.

Also, see new web-based resources recently released by the Obama administration, including a set of apps to help U.S. communities adapt, as well as new tools from the World Bank for developing countries.

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Climate change will have an impact on our urban forests. The change in temperature and precipitation will shift the suitable habitat for virtually all tree species. Using West Philadelphia as a lens to examine these changes, this video not only explores the impacts of climate change but also how we can adapt the urban forest to the coming challenges.

During my three years studying landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, hardly anyone was interested in discussing climate change. Most people tuned out when I brought it up. I think it’s the issue of our time. In fact, it’s a big part of the reason I decided to study landscape architecture after the bottom fell out of professional photography market in 2008.

Someone I talked to recently compared being a landscape architect now to being an engineer at NASA in the ’60′s. And I agree, it’s the chance to work to solve one of the great challenges of our time. There is an unprecedented opportunity to have a real impact on cities of the 21st century and beyond.

Hurricane Sandy, sadly, changed the game. I lived in NYC for eight years before graduate school and when I told acquaintances that I was going to study landscape architecture, no one cared. I stopped in New York after the ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston last November and when I mentioned that my degree was in landscape architecture, everyone was all of sudden interested. Literally, some of the same people three years before who couldn’t be bothered, visibly showed interest and asked questions. Hurricane Sandy shattered New Yorkers’ comprehension of reality.

Unfortunately, most landscape architects have failed to realize the sheer potential of the situation. But that does not excuse us from being leaders and bringing our talents and skill sets to bear on the problem. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away, as much as I have wanted that at different points in my life.

One of my goals for this video was to bring climate change action down to a much more localized and manageable level. Part of the problem is the issues are so large and beyond human comprehension that it’s almost impossible to think about how one person can do anything. I intentionally avoid grand solutions and instead proffer ideas, like planting adapted trees today. These are things any concerned citizen can do.

We need to start connecting the ideas and possible solutions of climate change from the stratosphere to the ground of everyday existence.

This guest post op-ed is by Barrett Doherty, a recent Master’s of landscape architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania, and professional photographer.

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Indian woman cooks with efficient cook stove / Global Education

Terry Tamminen, CEO of 7th Generation advisors, polled about two thousand climate scientists at the National Council on Science and the Environment (NCSE) in Washington, D.C., asking them to raise their hands if they were optimistic or negative about the prospects of our ability to halt climate change. The optimists won, but only very slightly. In a session that explored the reasons for optimism, experts from the government, non-profit, and private sectors discussed some positive developments in the global fight against climate change.

Clay Nesler, Johnson Controls International, said one lesson learned from the recent meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was that all the world’s business leaders “want to do something about climate change.” They are looking for “new innovations in business models, financing. It’s not just about technology.”

Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. federal government is “beginning to up its game,” said Nesler, but city governments are further out ahead still. The positive involvement of the government at all levels is critical because they “set the standards and create demand.” Nesler gave a shout-out to Boston’s government for its ground-breaking building performance disclosure program. Now, Boston’s large and medium buildings must make annual reports of their water and energy usage. He said it’s crazy that people “buy buildings without knowing whether they are efficient or not.” This is a prime example of an “innovative policy” needed to move the private sector to action.

“In the early 2000s, I was almost fired for talking about climate change,” said Dr. Richard Jackson, speaking of his days as director of environmental health at the Centers for Disease Control. Jackson, who is now a professor at University of California Los Angeles, said things have changed since then, given health advocates are increasingly leading the charge on climate action.

As an example, he pointed to California’s climate legislation (AB 32), and how the efforts to overturn it (Prop 23) were in turn defeated in part through the involvement of the medical and public health communities. “There was a huge shift in public opinion against Prop 23 as the health community pointed out the negative air impacts of climate change. CO2 is really another form of air pollution.” He said, everyone, including poor voters, were more “worried about their future health,” than any of the supposed negative economic impacts of the bill. Now that the climate legislation is law in California, Jackson said some 25 percent of the revenue earned from its cap and trade system is going to poor communities. “They bear the biggest burden of climate impacts.” The lesson: in the broader debate about climate change, “we really need health people stepping up.”

Boston is successfully acting on climate change because its better communicating the dangers, said Brian Swett, chief environment officer, City of Boston. “We are translating science speak into sidewalk speak to drive behavioral change.” For example, he said “natural hazard preparedness” works much better when communicating with the lay person than “climate change adaptation.”

The city is starting to measure how much carbon it puts out through its innovative building performance disclosure program. “We’re making the system competitive. People keep score.” The city is taking all this performance data and doing something about it, too. It’s now partnering with private sector developers to implement measures that will cut emissions by 25 percent by 2020. He said this first 25 percent cut in emissions is relatively easy to achieve in a “top-down” fashion, but the next leg, reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050, will only be achieved through “bottom-up behavioral change.” The city plans a new awareness campaign to seed the ground-up efforts.

Lastly, a perspective from the developing world: “South Asia is a recipient of climate change created elsewhere,” said Priya Shyamsundar, South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics, but, increasingly, the area is also a contributor. She said there are solutions to climate change in place like India, but they are complex — and must integrate adaptation with mitigation. She said studying the behavior of locals is important when examining global efforts to limit climate change. For example, while the United Nations’s REDD program, which pays money to developing countries to leave trees standing, is a global mechanism, its success is dependent on how it interacts with local communities. We are now studying “what communities will give up to keep their forests. We are piloting, learning by doing.”

She also pointed to global efforts to reduce the use of wood-burning cook stoves, which create black carbon and kill millions of women and children each year by dirtying indoor air. Her organization is challenging ingrained local behavior that prevents the uptake of healthier filters and more efficient stoves. “Why are these filters not accepted?” She said one has to look at a woman’s power in a family. If it’s low, she is less likely to get a filter. She said studies of behavior can lead to more effective messaging, and perhaps lead to broader societal change, like the amazing growth of cell phone use by poor farmers, who can now get text updates of weather data.

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Darmstadt – Kranichstein Passive House, Germany / International Passivehaustagung

At a conference organized by the National Council on Science and the Environment (NCSE) in Washington, D.C., Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at Central European University, said “spreading today’s best building practices could hold energy costs steady,” but the big question is “how to get the public and private sectors to work together to make transformational change.” That was one of the key takeaways in a session moderated by The New York TimesAndrew Revkin.

Here are some more problems limiting action on climate change, and the transformational solutions needed to solve them:

The problems

David Hales, president of Second Nature, thought “higher education should be leveraged to promote the transition to a sustainable society.” However, “all educational institutions think they are eternal and plan to be around forever.” Hales noted that “we’re not prepared to deal with the gap between aspiring for eternal existence and living in our future climate.” Plus, most university endowments don’t take materials’ effect on the environment into consideration. About “seven percent of endowments are invested in fossil fuels.”

Robert Dixon, vice president at Siemens Infrastructure and Cities, worried that “our decision-making methodology is broken.” Thinking about the life of a building tends to be short term rather than long-term, considering the building’s entire life cycle.

Jennifer Jurado, director of the Natural Resources Planning and Management Division, Broward County, Florida, noted that in southeast Florida, “water is recognized as a vulnerability, impacting now just coastal communities but inward ones as well.” Measures are not in place within the water system to deal with the massive flooding associated with storm events.

Also, boosting renewable energy is challenging, with “very few incentives for anyone to do anything.” She said “our energy prices are already very low.” Accordingly, the risk in renewable energy is transferred to the individual.

According to Ürge-Vorsatz, “there is a way to get more energy wisdom.” She provided a European perspective, with “systemic approaches to energy waste.” A “transformational change in the building sector gives us tremendous opportunities. It’s good for everyone.” She noted that “we know how to build and retrofit buildings that use one tenth of energy, get rid of allergens, and are more comfortable, but a lot of people don’t believe this.” Incremental change, for instance replacing a roof or light bulbs, is “doing more harm than good,” given “systemic deep retrofits are more cost effective.”

Anthony Michaels, co-founder and managing director of Proteus Environmental Technologies and chief scientist at Pegasus Capital Advisors, said “you can make money reducing emissions. Why aren’t companies doing this?” He asked us to think about material waste. We “haul oil out of the ground, pour our ingenuity to turn it into products that end up in the dump and don’t commingle.”

Some solutions

Is the academic side too slow? “Yes and no,” said Hales. “What colleges and universities have done well is to grab the low-hanging fruit, but they haven’t looked systemically at how to produce change.” He urged “starting with research and refocusing the mission of higher education on this critical issue of the twenty-first century.”

Dixon called for a push to build awareness of the environmental return on investment. “Building owners have a choice, and there’s no imperative to do anything.” The “real challenge is economics—a new roof will take 50 years to pay back.”

“Europe has a very different approach to regulations,” said Ürge-Vorsatz, who cited their quite strong legislation and strict building performance standards. “I do see tremendous behavioral changes in Europe”—for instance, “one third of people commute by bicycle”—but “there is still a tremendous educational need.” She saw a need to be “more innovative with business models,” really educating business leaders to use economic models that capture long-term interest.

Finally, Jurado saw “the consequences of elected officials always dealing with post-event effects rather than the long term.” She observed that “local communities have a greater understanding of sea level rise, but this conversation isn’t happening at the state level.” She described a 2009 partnership between several counties in southeast Florida, including Broward, that resulted in “uniform planning tools and sea level planning projections being formally integrated” into local government.

This guest post is by Karen Grajales, ASLA Public Relations Manager.

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drought

Drought in American farmlands / News3 New Zealand

In the past year, the world has seen more heat waves, droughts, and sea level rise than before — and conditions are expected to further worsen in the near future. In a session at a conference by the National Council on Science and the Environment (NCSE) in Washington, D.C., experts debated the types — and extent — of major challenges that will test the global community in coming decades.

For Molly Brown, research scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the big issue will be food security. She is examining satellite imagery, connecting climatic change to food prices. Through this analysis, NASA has found “the relationship is very complex,” but it’s clear that weather is “very important in agricultural areas.” She cautioned that “food security can become a problem in places you can’t see.” For example, a community may import produce from 50-100 miles away, so any impacts in adjacent agricultural areas will be felt in the community as well.

Edward Maibach, director, center for climate communications, George Mason University, worries that “people see climate change as a threat to the environment — penguins and polar bears — as opposed to a threat to themselves.” His group conducts annual interviews with thousands of Americans. These have shown that “people don’t understand the implications for humanity; they don’t see the coming food issues.” Among the 18,000 people last interviewed, Maibach said no one talked about the “human health implications of climate change either.” He said this was a function of people’s “mental models, our innate internal frames.”

How can scientists get through to people? “What we have learned from the public health community is that a single, clear message repeated often by trusted authorities works,” said Maibach. To date, climate change has been portrayed in the media as a “complex issue with lots of moving parts. We are not good at telling a simple story about what we know. Simplification is important.”

Maibach also voiced concern about the “culture of science,” which is to constantly “move onto the next thing.” But he also believes there is hope: “The public has learned over time that the hole in the ozone layer is bad.”

“We’re especially concerned about the connections between climate change and air quality,” said Bryan Bloomer, applied science division, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bloomer said a study by a professor at Harvard University concluded that “climate change makes air pollution worse, which means it has health impacts.” He pointed to the three billion people around the world who still use wood cook stoves every day, burning branches to make dinner. Those stoves not only increase the amount of potent black carbon in the air, but kill about 4 million people a year. These are the types of “linkages we need to quantify.”

What about the challenges for the poorest countries? Maggie Opondo, Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Nairobi, and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said “disadvantaged people will be disproportionately hit by climate change.” Foremost include the one billion people who live on less than $2 per day.

Poor urban dwellers will be especially hard-hit, given “when there are environmental disasters in cities, they can’t contain the problems themselves.” As an example, she pointed to the Kibera slum in Kenya where more than one million people live without any infrastructure. In 2011, there was a heavy downpour that submerged the community. “People’s life savings, which were sometimes found in a sack, floated away. After the flood, the diseases came because there was no sanitation system.” Opondo argued that “climate change in Africa is real.” She said just look at the climate change-fueled outbreak of malaria and cholera in the late 90s in eastern Africa.

More thoughts from their discussion, which was moderated by Peter Thompson, Public Radio International:

Why Is Satellite Data So Important?

Brown said satellites can show “when the extreme events will occur,” but, equally as important, can measure the “subtle shifts over time.” She said as base temperatures rise, the maximum temperatures may not increase in a given area. If livelihoods are based on what’s happening 5-10 years ago, people will then be unprepared 5-10 years in the future, as conditions will only change ever so slightly each year. “All of the sudden people can no longer make a living; they can no longer adapt.” Brown said a whole sale shift in livelihoods will then be needed, requiring considerable support by governments.

NASA now has 30 years of data to examine. “We can look at changes in agriculture over that time, changes in the start and end of growing seasons, places where there is crop stress.” She added that ground-based observational data is needed to correlate broader shifts with cultural change on the ground. “We need 100,000 data points” based in ground observations.

She made the case for open data policies, too. While NASA makes its images freely available, some African countries actually have satellites but don’t make the data available. “In Nigeria, no one can get access to the data, not even the scientists.”

What about Communicating with the Disadvantaged?

Opondo said it’s also important to tap “indigenous knowledge,” like that of Kenya’s famed “rain makers.” Traditional agriculture communities are going to be hard-hit and they need messages tailored for them. “Farmers want to know how much rain they can expect and when they can plant.” She said not all farmers have “access to the radio or Internet,” even though more and more have mobile phones.

How Can We Combat Food Insecurity?

Brown said “we need to boost the food supply globally.” One way to do this is through new agricultural technology. Brazil, which harvests “half of the world’s soybeans,” is running their farms on U.S. technology. “We need to further boost production in Africa by introducing new information and irrigation technologies, and new seeds.” The world will need “twice as much food in 2050 as it does now,” with population growth and changing diets in developing world. Opondo thought adding all this new technology in Sub-Saharan Africa would be a challenge, given “one size doesn’t fit all.”

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