To Limit Global Warming, We Must Transform the Planet

Permafrost thaw ponds on peatland in Hudson Bay, Canada / Flickr

To limit planetary warming to 1.5° Celsius (C), we need to undertake an immediate, multi-trillion-dollar transformation of global energy, land-use, food production, transportation, and urban systems, stated the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a new report that aggregates the findings of thousands of scientific studies. Humanity can only put a maximum of 420 more gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere if we want a good chance of only increasing temperatures by 1.5° C (2.7° Fahrenheit), instead of 2° C (3.6° Fahrenheit). At the current pace, our remaining carbon budget will be used up by 2030. The transformation that has already begun in many parts of the world must accelerate and scale across the globe.

To date, global temperatures have increased 1° C (1.8° F) above pre-industrial levels. The IPCC argues that limiting warming to just another half a degree Celsius will still have terrible global impacts, but stave off some of the worst effects and make a major difference for several hundred million people.

Achieving the 1.5° C limit can only happen in the very near term. IPCC states if the planet can achieve net-zero emissions in the coming decades that would essentially halt warming. But if emissions reductions instead occur at a much slower pace up until 2100, then planetary feedback loops — like defrosting permafrost perpetuating warming trends — would make halting warming at 1.5° C impossible.

There are significant differences between 1.5° C and 2° C increases. A 1.5° C temperature increase would mean about 4 inches less of sea level rise by 2100, and at a much slower rate of rise. This would buy time to help the hundreds of million of people who live on coasts and deltas to adapt their infrastructure with resilient natural systems that can also restore and bolster important coastal habitats.

With a 1.5° C increase, some 6 percent of insects, 8 percent of plants, and 4 percent of vertebrates are projected to “lose over half of the climatically-determined geographic range” — meaning their habitat will disappear. While this is awful, the scenario at 2° C increase is far worse: 18 percent of insects, 16 percent of plants, and 8 percent of vertebrates. Impacts from forest fires and invasive species would also be commensurably more at 2° C.

The chance of an ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer is far less with a 1.5° C scenario. But coral reefs face a dire future under both 1.5° C and 2° C scenarios: either a 70-90 percent loss with 1.5° C or near-total extinction with 2° C.

Climate change is also expected to have major impacts on food production, resulting in reduced yields and less nutritious crops. Limiting warming to just 1.5° C would result in “smaller reductions in yields of maize, rice, wheat, and other cereal crops, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Center and South America.” The report authors are also semi-confident that limiting warming to 1.5° C would also reduce the populations affected by water shortages by 50 percent. Still, millions of people would be impacted.

The IPCC report outlines potential pathways to zero carbon. Essentially, greenhouse gas emissions must drop by 45 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. This would require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.”

IPCC admit that the changes are unprecedented in terms of scale — but not speed. Previous economic and social transformations have occurred with a few years; think of the US economic transformation during World War II or the appearance of smartphone apps in 2007 and their widespread application today.

The report estimates the damage of a 1.5° C increase to the global economy to be tens of trillions a year as soon as 2040. To avoid this, major investments must be made. The report calls for investing $2.4 trillion a year on renewable energy through 2035, which would be about 2.5 percent of global GDP annually, while weaning off coal. The planet would also need another 10 million square kilometers in forests, taken back from agricultural land, and a dramatic reduction in emissions from buildings and transportation systems through energy efficiency and smart growth.

A recent analysis conducted as part of Drawdown, a publication that ranks the 80 most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yielded solutions where landscape architects and planners can help accelerate the transformation. These include: afforestation (#15); mass transit (#37); water savings at home (#46); restoring and protecting coastal wetlands (#52); walkable cities (#54); bike infrastructure (#59); and green roofs (#73). There are also some landscape architects involved in siting renewable energy infrastructure, restoring farm land, managing forests and peatlands, which all rank highly.

IPCC is confident this global transformation can occur. If a mix of adaptation and mitigation measures can be “implemented in a participatory and integrated manner,” they can enable a “rapid systemic transition.” Adaptation measures don’t have to be purely defensive — they can also help communities improve, ensuring “food and water security, reducing disaster risks, improving health conditions, maintaining ecosystem services, and reducing poverty and inequality.” Now, the political will is needed to act.

Read about the recommendations of the ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience, which span adaptation and mitigation, and explore ASLA’s guides to climate change mitigation and resilient design.

Parks Are a Critical Solution to Climate Change

PS 15 The Roberto Clemente School in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, a “state of the art green infrastructure playground” / Maddalena Polletta, The Trust for Public Land

Parks boost community resilience because they offer a place to develop deeper neighborhood connections. They improve community health by reducing stress, restoring cognition, and providing a place to exercise. Parks mitigate the urban heat island effect, improve air quality, and absorb carbon from the atmosphere. They support local biodiversity and can act as buffer zones for flooding or mudslides. Parks are both important social and environmental infrastructure.

To sum it up: “we need more parks if we want our cities to be more resilient to climate change,” said Joshua Alpert, director of special projects for C40, at an event organized by The Trust for Public Land and JBP Foundation during the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

“We need public space if we want to know our neighbors,” explained Joshua Stanbro, with the city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii. Parks are the “platform for social interaction,” but if designed and built with the community, they can also help forge stronger community connections.

Those connections are more likely to happen in parks that communities actually want. So it’s important that “we meet communities where they are,” said Diane Regas, president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land.

In New York alone, The Trust just built their 200th green schoolyard in an effort to build social networks so these communities can then better fight for climate equity.

Regas said some one-third of the population of the US doesn’t have a park within a 10-minute walk. Through their innovative 10-minute walk campaign, The Trust and its partners aim to undo that inequity.

Brady Walkinshaw, CEO of Grist, said the campaign is the kind of clear, simple communication that is needed because it successfully distilled complex urban planning ideas into an easy-to-understand message people can get behind, like the $15-an-hour minimum wage movement.

Urban parks are also important because they provide the foundation of urban forests, which help cities both mitigate carbon emissions and adapt to a changing climate. According to Jad Daley, CEO of American Forests, urban forests absorb some 100 million tons of carbon each year, about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Trees found in these green areas can reduce energy use up to 7 percent because they provide wind blocks for homes in the winter and cooling in the summer.

In an effort to achieve equity, American Forests is now working with vulnerable urban populations to plant millions of trees. Daley said this work is more critical than ever because deaths from extreme heat are expected to increase ten fold by 2050.

Arturo Garcia-Costas, program officer for the environment with the New York Community Trust, said a more connective approach needs to be taken with green spaces in cities. He pointed to the Ramblas in Barcelona and the High Line in New York City as examples. “We need to think of the broader system and greater connectivity, with green space as the priority.”

Ramblas, Barcelona / Wikipedia

Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), said ubiquitous “pave the planet” approach to development hasn’t been “healthy or climate-smart.” In fact, the approach make communities even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. To increase safety, communities must instead create built environment systems that work in concert with natural systems. This is because “we are never going to tame Mother Nature.”

As an example, she said there is a great opportunity to design parks — and cities more broadly — to act like natural sponges that absorb stormwater. The great additional benefit of this green infrastructural approach: “It’s a much healthier system.”

ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou, Houston, Texas, SWA Group / Bill Tatham

But Somerville also called for better science and data-based models in order to optimize design interventions in cities. With more accurate data-based geographic models and maps, policymakers can understand where the worst urban heat islands are, the most flooding is, the areas most impacted by mudslides, and then create the most effective parks that solve those challenges. “The lack of modelling remains a key gap.”

In comments on the session, landscape architect Mia Lehrer, FASLA, CEO of Studio-MLA, noted that in dense cities, the only remaining spaces that can be turned into parks are brownfields. Remaking those contaminated spaces is a “complicated and expensive process” that requires expert landscape architects.

Adrian Benepe, Hon. ASLA, senior vice president at The Trust for Public Land and former head of NYC Parks and Recreation, agreed, arguing that “landscape architects are system thinkers” who can help communities maximize park benefits.

Lehrer, Alpert, Somerville, and Walkinshaw saw further densification as a critical future challenge for cities. Walkinshaw said: “densification is the cause of most fights in cities, as it brings up racial, civil rights, public space, and climate issues.”

Alpert believes green public space in the ultra-dense mega-cities of the near-future may end up being dis-aggregated into networks of not only parks but also rooftops and terraces, wherever space is available.

Jane Goodall: To Protect Forests, We Must All Become Vegetarians

Jane Goodall and Alec Baldwin at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco / The Paper

At the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, actor and UN ambassador Alec Baldwin asked the iconic Jane Goodall straight-up: “Why should we protect the forests?”

“On a spiritual level, it’s about preserving the interconnectedness of all living things, the tapestry of life. Some small creatures may seem insignificant, but everything has a purpose.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where Goodall has spent her career researching chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, forests are rapidly disappearing. According to the World Wildlife Fund, some 91,000 square kilometers of forest, an area three times the size of Belgium, has been lost since 1990. Deforestation has been caused by population growth, which has led to the expansion of farms and cattle ranches, and international logging companies.

Goodall remembers cruising over Gombe National Park in Tanzania in a small plane in the early 90s and being shocked to discover the extent of the deforestation near a zone where she was researching chimps. Local farmers had been cutting down the forest to plant crops, but soon the soils became overworked and infertile, so they would cut down more forest, repeating the cycle.

Conservation organizations and European governments have been purchasing vast swathes of the tropical rainforest in South America in order to protect it. But Goodall said in Africa, “purchasing land is usually not a solution. Instead, partnerships with local communities are key.” Communities near forests must be educated on more sustainable and intensive farming techniques that enable them to grow more food while also restoring soil fertility. Communities must have enough food and income if we expect them to protect forests.

The ever-increasing demand for beef is also threatening the world’s remaining forests. There are now some 1.3-1.5 billion cows on Earth that need to be fed immense amounts of grain. Goodall said “more grain feeds animals than people.” All that grain requires unsustainable amounts of land and water. One analysis found just a single pound of beef requires some 1,800 gallons of water if the entire food production cycle is considered.

For Goodall, vegetarianism is then critical to saving the forests. We must stop eating beef, as “we need forests for our spiritual and psychological development.” And we must preserve forests as habitat for Goodall’s beloved chimps and all the other vitally-important tree and animal species.

Goodall travels some 300 days a year in an effort to create hope for a more sustainable future. She has witnessed amazing restoration projects, often including indigenous people. Indigenous people are key to forest conservation because “they understand forests and don’t overpopulate, anymore than chimps do.”

She added that planting trees through massive reforestation efforts is prohibitively expensive in most developing countries. “Leaving land fallow works best; the trees come back.”

Lastly, this global environmental phenonemon reiterated that people need to change their diets and eat less beef. Baldwin asked: “Are people ready for that?” Goodall believes so. “Even in Texas, you can now easily find a vegetarian restaurant. You aren’t looked at like you are some weird freak, some tree hugger.”

In reality, a recent Gallup report found just 5 percent of Americans are vegetarian and 3 percent are vegan. In contrast, some 29 percent of the population of India is vegetarian.

In a related session, Carole Saint Laurent, deputy director of global forests and climate change with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said her organization is helping countries achieve the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 160 million hectares of degraded or deforested land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. (For reference, 150 million hectares is about four times the size of California).

Today, some 7.6 million hectares are lost each year to cattle ranches and farms, and pressures on forests will only increase as the Earth’s population hurtles towards 10 billion. To protect forests for the long term, IUCN and other organizations have launched the 30 x 30 Challenge, which has brought together many important players across sectors. The goal is deeper economic, environmental, social, and cultural changes in land use.

Naoko Ishii, head of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which steers billions towards climate and environmental projects in developing countries each year, believes the 30 x 30 Challenge can “transform global food and agricultural systems.”

GEF will be putting a half billion dollars to this effort over coming years. “We need to produce 300 percent more food with population growth. This production expansion is a huge challenge for forests, and the problem is particularly acute in Africa.” Solutions will require more “science-based planning at the landscape level” in order to “get out of fragmented, small-scale actions.”

DesignIntelligence 2018 Landscape Architecture Program Rankings

Harvard Graduate School of Design studio / Harvard Graduate School of Design

DesignIntelligence recently announced its 2018 landscape architecture graduate and undergraduate program rankings. For the fourth year in a row, Louisiana State University (LSU) was deemed the “most admired” undergraduate landscape architecture program. And for the 14th consecutive year, Harvard University retained its dominance as the “most admired” graduate program, in the annual survey conducted by DesignIntelligence on behalf of the Design Futures Council.

Detailed rankings are available in the 18th listing of most admired schools, which assesses program rankings and education trends in architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design.

Respondents from 6,000 hiring professionals, 5,000 students, and 350 professors ranked the schools, a much broader survey than in previous editions.

DesignIntelligence now lists all 25 most admired undergraduate and graduate school rankings on their website for free.

Bachelor of Landscape Architecture Degree Rankings (top 10):

1) Louisiana State University
2) Cornell University
3) Pennsylvania State University
4) University of Georgia
5) Ohio State University
6) California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo
7) Purdue University
8) Iowa State University
9) Texas A&M University
10) Michigan State University

See the full list of 25 most admired undergraduate schools at DesignIntelligence.

Master of Landscape Architecture Degree Rankings (top 10):

1) Harvard University
2) University of Pennsylvania
3) Cornell University
4) Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
5) Louisiana State University
6) University of California, Berkeley
7) University of Virginia
8) University of Georgia
9) Rhode Island School of Design
10) Ohio State University

See the full list of 25 most admired graduate schools at DesignIntelligence.

In a major change from previous rankings, DesignIntelligence now lists rankings for twelve focus areas, including: communications and presentation skills; construction materials and methods; design technologies; design theory and practice; engineering fundamentals; healthy built environments; interdisciplinary studies; transdisciplinary collaboration across architecture, engineering, and construction; project planning and management; practice management; research; and sustainable built environments / adaptive design / resilient design.

In the sustainable built environments / adaptive design / resilient design, communications and presentation skills, design technologies, design theory and practice, and interdisciplinary studies focus areas, Louisiana State University is top of the list for undergraduate programs and Harvard University takes the lead in graduate programs.

Check out our archive of 2017-2009 rankings.

Charles-Joseph Minard: A Legacy of Beautiful Data-based Maps

The Minard System: The Complete Statistical Graphics of Charles-Joseph Minard / Princeton Architectural Press

Edward Tufte, the world’s best known information designer, said Charles-Joseph Minard’s statistical map of Napolean’s 1812 invasion and then retreat from Russia was the greatest information graphic ever made.

Hannibal’s March over the Alps and Napoleon’s Russian campaign / The Minard System, The collection of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Princeton Architectural Press

In a delightful new book, The Minard System: The Complete Statistical Graphics of Charles-Joseph Minard, author Sandra Rendgen uncovers the man who made the graphic as well as his many data visualization innovations.

Born in Dijon, France in 1871, Minard spent his career as a civil engineer, with much of it as an inspector of transportation infrastructure. It’s only in retirement that he was able to delve into his passion for the visual representations of statistics.

Minard’s engineering education and career deeply informed his approach to statistical maps. He had a “general appreciation of fact-based scientific practice, which tends to value empirical evidence over abstract reasoning and intuition.” His graphics were driven by the desire to best enable the “systematic gathering and evaluation of facts.”

But for a man so interested in scientific precision, there is also real beauty to his visualizations, with their “clean and minimalist aesthetics.” Rendgen argues that experts know a Minard visualization when they see one: “Not only are they refined in every detail of their rendering, including the lines, the dotting, the hachure, and the concise labeling, they also have a very ‘modern’ appeal to them.” He was then not only a engineer and statistician but also a designer.

Transport of mineral fuels in France, 1845-1860 / The Minard System, The collection of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Princeton Architectural Press

Before Facebook created the Like button, Minard perfected a number of essential and elegant infographic elements that are now core to our global visual vocabulary.

For example, starting in 1845, Minard perfected the use of proportional circles on maps to indicate the amount of certain goods or populations in any given place.

Maritime ports in France, 1857 by Charles-Joseph Minard / The Minard System, The collection of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Princeton Architectural Press

Minard is also know for his simplistic yet also precise “flow maps” that indicate overall traffic volumes of goods or people over territories. Minard expected his detail-minded viewers to carefully examine his maps, perhaps even with a ruler, so he drew the flow intervals or widths to be exact to the millimeter. For example, in the graphic below, Minard visualized the tremendous decline in cotton imports (the blue band) from the U.S. to Europe during the American Civil War to the tons.

European cotton imports, 1858 / The Minard System, The collection of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Princeton Architectural Press
European cotton imports, 1862 / The Minard System, The collection of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Princeton Architectural Press

The flow maps had to be both accurate and easy-to-understand: they were designed to help traffic engineers “predict demand on existing or projected routes,” or policymakers understand the bigger picture and make necessary policy, tax, or regulatory changes.

As Minard honed his craft over the years, Rendgen says his work only improved. “He gradually developed an understanding of the intricacies of integrating many different flows into one coherent representation and continually worked on avoiding clutter in his multi-flow representations.”

During his lifetime, Minard’s visual innovations were immediately and widely copied because they were so intuitive. His legacy is found in nearly every data visualization we see today. And the Minard system is perhaps needed more than ever before — to wade through the ever-growing sea of data and see clearly what it all means.

Glenstone Slows You Down

Glenstone / Jared Green

Emily and Mitchell Rales, the founders of Glenstone, one of the largest privately-owned museums in the U.S., want you to slow down.

As you get out of the car park at their expanded museum in Potomac, Maryland, you embark on a 10-minute journey along a gravel path, over a small creek, and between two large hills. Walking the path becomes an act of meditation, but also a journey of discovery as you come across surreal bits of hyper-nature.

Glenstone / Jared Green

After a few minutes the new pavilions designed by architect Thomas Phifer emerge into view.

Glenstone pavilions / Iwan Baan

The crunch of the pale grey gravel, the charismatic trees set in swaying meadow grasses — mostly little blue stem and purple top — are all designed to slow your heart rate and heighten your senses.

At the preview of the expanded museum, which is set within a 230-acre landscape, Emily Rales explained that it’s only when you are most attuned to your environment can you really take in the post-World War II artworks in their monumental new concrete pavilions.

Visitors descend stairs or an elevator to get to the main level of the pavilions where most of the modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures are found.

Pieces include a phrygian cap by African American sculptor Martin Puryear, a calendar of icons by Lygia Pape, an expansive Rothko painting, and epic site-specific installations by land artist Michael Heizer.

Phrygian cap by African American sculptor Martin Puryear / Ron Amstutz

Collapse, one of Heizer’s works, called for the special configuration of an entire wing. Only six people are allowed to experience the piece at the same time — a 16-feet-deep hole partially filled up with rusted steel beams, set in a small ocean of rust-colored gravel, which creates a Martian monochromatic landscape.

Michael Heizer installation / Jared Green

But the building is not only a portal to the art, it’s an entry into a whole other landscape: a water garden.

Glenstone / Iwan Baan

Adam Greenspan, ASLA, principal at PWP Landscape Architecture, who has been working on Glenstone for the past 15 years, said the “center pool is the culminating moment.”

The entire landscape has prepared you for this. “We designed the site as a holistic experience — from the region to the site. We knitted it all together.”

The landscape that leads you to the building was molded from the soils dug up to make way for the pavilions. Hundreds of tons of soil were sculpted into hills. Some 8,000 trees were planted. There are now 40 acres of meadows within the sweeping estate. The early agricultural landscape has been transformed.

Some of the 8,000 trees planted amid the 40-acre meadow at Glenstone / Jared Green

There is an underlying Japanese influence to the landscape and architectural design with the use of minimal gestures for maximum impact. Greenspan said the water garden is really “Ryoan-ji a couple of steps removed.” (Ryoan-Ji is one of the most famous Zen Buddhist gardens in Kyoto). The water garden itself is partially inspired by an Iris garden found in Hakone. “It’s similar in scale and size.”

Glenstone / Jared Green

However, the water courtyard at Glenstone also differs in some notable ways from its Japanese inspirations. PWP Landscape Architecture put the plants on a grid, which provides an underlying geometrical depth to the space. They did this for not only aesthetic reasons but also for practical ones.

The squares found within the grid enable the landscape architects to create areas of different soil depths, so they can contain and define the different plant life. “Irises need 4 inches of water or less; pickerelweed needs 8-10 inches; but water lilies need 8 feet of water.” Each get their own squares.

Glenstone / Jared Green

Within the modular approach, plants can also easily be re-arranged depending on how well they are doing in one micro-climate or another. “We have a living system that can move.”

Up and out amid the hills again, you may notice that meadow grasses seamlessly extend into a green roof that covers part of the buildings. And that the glass banisters purposefully minimize the difference between building and landscape.

Glenstone / Jared Green

Beyond these banisters, you come across an awing site-specific work by Heizer, called Compression Line, opposing ditches set in his rust-metal gravel.

Michael Heizer installation at Glenstone / Jared Green

Trails off the main building take you to large works by Richard Sierra, Jeff Koons, and Tony Smith, as well as the first part of Rales’ museum, which opened across a pond from their home in 2006.

Atop of a hill on one of those trails, an arching Sierra entitled Contour 290 looms and then storms into full view. A matted-grass and dirt path takes you to right up to the piece, creating a journey to a more elemental realm.

Richard Serra artwork at Glenstone / Jared Green

As you spend more time at Glenstone, you may think the art, building, and landscape must be explored again in a different season or sky. Emily Rales’ call for deeper awareness lingers: “we want you to notice the changing light.”

A Call for Prescribed Burns in Forests

Prescribed burn in Yosemite National Park / PBS

Across the United States, there has been a five-fold increase in wildfires over the past few decades. In 2017 alone, there were some 100,000 wildfires that burned some 10 million acres. With climate change, the zone in which trees burn has increased by two-thirds.

Unwise management of forests has only exacerbated the impacts of our changing climate. Instead of setting prescribed burns to manage fires, like Native Americans have done for centuries, natural resource policymakers suppressed all wildfires in an effort to protect communities. The result has been an explosion in difficult-to-control wildfires.

At Science to Action Day, an event associated with the Global Climate Action Summit, in San Francisco, Patrick Gonzalez, principal climate change scientist with the U.S. National Park Service, said “a century of suppressing wildfires has built up fuel in forests.”

When all fires are suppressed, smaller, more frequent fires can’t clear out dead trees and underbrush. The result is accumulated flammable biomass that eventually explodes into unmanageable conflagrations.

Many state-level forestry departments have suppressed fires because more and more communities are now living in — or close to — areas that once frequently burned.

It’s an inherently risky and short-sighted approach to development. And communities in these wildfire zones aren’t just risking their property but also their long-term health.

Kari Nadeau, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, argued that “there is no safe distance from a wildfire.” Inhaling smoke itself is hazardous. But blazes that consume homes and garages filled with household cleaners like Drano release other dangerous particles into the atmosphere.

“Even one part per million” of toxic wildfire smoke negatively impacts those highest at risk — children, the elderly, and those with asthma.

After five days of wildfires in California, the number of hospital visits for asthma attacks went up a whopping 400 percent. And the number of strokes increased by 42 percent. Being exposed to just one wildfire’s worth of smoke is equal to smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for a year. “That’s the real data.”

Nadeau said there is important research being conducted on prescribed burns, which are smaller, more contained fires that revitalize forest ecosystem function.

“We need to support the increased use of this practice. It can be done safely.” When small, fires give off smaller amounts of nasty pollutants. Burns can also be scheduled when air pollution levels are low and the wind is blowing away from neighboring communities.

Jonathan Jarvis, former director of the National Park Service and now head of the Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity at University of California at Berkeley, argued that national parks may be the best place to try out climate adaptation approaches like controlled burns. “We need to experiment at the landscape scale — at the scale of very large ecosystems.” Indeed, the National Park Service is now prescribing burns in Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks, as is the U.S. Forest Service in some of its forests, but the approach needs to become more widespread.

In the interim, there is a need for better early warning systems for communities at risk from fast-moving wildfires. Ben Lee Preston, director of infrastructure resilience at RAND, said remote sensing technologies can be installed in the landscape to give communities and firefighters more advance notice. We would add there is a need to use landscape design to fireproof homes and relocate homeowners in very high-risk areas to other locations.

Wildfires are responsible for the majority of the carbon natural systems released into the atmosphere. But forests that have undergone a prescribed burn are estimated to release less carbon over time, given the controlled burn improves their overall ecological health.

New Report: US Cities Already Feeling Impacts of Climate Change

Flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas / Wikipedia

According to a new report from the Alliance for a Sustainable Future, some 95 percent of 158 American cities surveyed have experienced a “change related to at least one climate impact in the past five years.” A vast majority of cities — some 76 percent — have seen more damage from heavy rain events or inland flooding. 65 percent saw greater impacts from heat waves; 51 percent noted changing drought conditions; and 18 percent stated that wildfires were growing more destructive. Some 5 percent of cities have relocated populations due to extreme weather.

The Alliance for a Sustainable Future, a joint effort of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), polled some 158 small, medium, and large U.S. cities in both red and blue states that represent some 50 million Americans. The group presented their findings at an event at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

To address changing impacts, the report stated that 60 percent of cities have “launched or significantly expanded a climate initiative or policy in the past year.”

Most common climate-smart policies and programs include:

  • Bus transit (94 percent)
  • Bike lanes (92 percent)
  • Promoting bicycle commuting (81 percent)
  • Greenhouse gas emission tracking (75 percent)
  • Energy efficiency policies for existing municipal buildings (72 percent)
  • Routine energy audits for municipal buildings / operations (71 percent)
  • Energy efficiency policies for new municipal buildings (70 percent)
  • Purchasing renewable electricity for city operations (65 percent)

Some 83 percent of cities also seek to increase their partnerships with businesses in order to achieve their goals for renewable energy, building energy efficiency, and sustainable transportation.

At the event hosted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and C2SE in San Francisco, C2SE president Bob Persciasepe, who was deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Obama administration, said cities must dramatically scale up their partnerships with the private sector, especially given the absence of any meaningful federal action on climate change.

“From 1850 to 1999, we put 1,000 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. From 2000 to 2018, we put in 500 gigatons. We can only put in 300 more gigatons before we start to see catastrophic effects. That means we can put in 30 tons a year for the next 10 years. We don’t have much time. We must increase our ambitions. We must build more partnerships so we can go faster.”

Mayors then highlighted a few partnerships between city governments and businesses that demonstrate how to achieve a carbon-neutral economy and society:

Mayor Jackie Biskupski from Salt Lake City, Utah, explained how her city partnered with Rocky Mountain Power to create a plan for achieving 100 percent clean energy for all municipal operations, including Salt Lake City airport, by 2032. As part of their agreement the city, Rocky Mountain Power expanded their WattSmart communities program, which offers incentives and discounts for energy upgrades in homes and businesses, and promised to spend $10 million on electric vehicle infrastructure, including a new e-bus charging complex.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said Iowan governments at all levels are partnering with MidAmerican Energy to achieve 100 percent renewable power for the entire state. The company has invested $7.5 billion in Iowan wind farms since 2004.

And Mayor John Mitchell from New Bedford, Massachusetts, said his old whaling city is now a port for the giant wind turbines that will soon be installed off the coasts of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Vineyard Wind, a company established by Danish off-shore wind firms, is already using New Bedford to launch a $2.2 billion wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard with turbines approximately double the size of ones found on land.

Mayor Mitchell said the US offshore wind market is on the “cusp of a rapid expansion” and could potentially overtake the capacity installed in Europe’s North Sea. “Millions of square miles of the east coast have already been leased by renewable energy companies.” He also sees opportunities for state and local governments to partner with offshore wind companies in California, Hawaii, and elsewhere.

A Romantic Kind of Resilient Design

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park Phase 2 / David Lloyd, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

The first part of Hunter’s Point South Watefront Park, which opened in August 2013, announced a new era of park-making in New York City. The first significant waterfront park in years, Hunter’s Point South in Long Island City, Queens, was not only an example of stunning landscape design but also a manufactured place that can withstand storms and sea level rise — and be fully resilient to a changing climate.

Now, five years later, the 5.5-acre phase two of Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park has opened, extending south, so the entire park now encompasses 11 acres in total. The new segment provide a green buffer for the 30-acre development that will eventually be home to 5,000 units of housing in multiple towers, 60 percent of which will be affordable.

In contrast to the first phase of the park, which includes a playground, sports field, and restaurant, phase two feels like more of a true escape from the city — a green oasis right on the East River.

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park Phase 2 / David Lloyd, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

According to SWA/Balsley, the landscape architects, and Weiss/Manfredi, the architects — who co-designed the park and partnered with engineers at Arup on the project — this section of the park is also a model of resilient design. But its approach is a bit different from the first phase. Instead of the muscular waterfront promenade designed to survive any onslaught, phase two takes a “soft” approach, using tidal marshes to protect the coast of Queens.

There is a meandering waterfront passage, with romantic lighting at night, that brings visitors right up to the very edge of the East River. Walking there one sunset, it was surreal to both commune with nature while taking in the breathtaking views of Manhattan across the river.

The path loops through the tidal marsh, where visitors can see all the plants growing in.

Hunters Point Park South, Phase 2 / Albert Vecerka, ESTO, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

Thomas Balsley, FASLA, principal at SWA/Balsley, told us: “The tidal marsh required an engineered rip-rap embankment, the top of which we transformed into a lush trail on which to stroll. The journey takes in shifting marsh habitat and skyline perspectives.”

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park, Phase 2 / David Lloyd, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

Both low and high marsh plants were used to stabilize the sediment and control shoreline bank erosion. A variety of plants also enhance the quality of the water and provided habitat for a range of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

Paths in the interior of the park and along the waterfront take you to a dramatic overlook, an elevated promenade that brings you up and immerses you in the skyline of New York City. Cantilevering 50 feet out over the landscape and some 20 feet up in the air, the overlook creates the sense you are in the bow of a great ship.

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park Phase 2 / David Lloyd, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

In contrast to the first phase, there are also many more nooks and crannies, areas the designers call “break-out lounges,” off the various pathways. These intimate spaces, often hidden in tall native bluestem grasses, enhance the sense of retreating into nature. Criss-crossing pathways through the grasses seem designed to invite further investigation and discovery.

Exploring the site, visitors will come across Luminescence, an art installation by New York-based artist Nobuho Nagasawa, which represents the phases of the moon through etched concrete discs that glow at night.

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park, Phase 2 / Bill Tatham, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

The second phase of Hunter’s Point South waterfront park and related infrastructure for the housing development cost some $100 million, which was financed by the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). The entire park was designed in partnership with NYC Parks and Recreation, which also manages and maintains it.

California Creates New Hope with Bold Climate Leadership

Governor Jerry Brown at Climate Action Summit / The Nation

We are at the half way point between the United Nations Paris climate accord in 2015 and the next round of commitments that will be made by the international community in 2020, the year in which greenhouse gas emissions must peak if we are going to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. To increase the pressure to reach even more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, California Governor Jerry Brown hosted the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco last week.

One take away from the summit is that reducing emissions by 25 or 50 percent simply no longer cuts it. The state of California, which is the fifth largest economy in the world, announced ambitious plans to convert to 100 percent renewable energy and become carbon neutral by 2045. The announcement showed great leadership and sent an undeniable message to other state governors and national leaders around the world: if a complex economy and society like California can do it, why can’t you? A slew of global cities have also made the same commitment.

According to the summit organizers, “over 70 big cities, home to some 425 million citizens, are now committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, including Accra, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Mexico City. These actions alone will lead to a 2.5 percent cut of annual global greenhouse gas emissions and the avoidance of 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.”

Through the two-day conference, cities were highlighted as critical to achieving targets, given they account for more than half of the world’s population and 70 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

While New York City, Washington, D.C. Stockholm, London, Sydney, and others have committed to achieving neutrality, many more cities are now starting their own low-carbon journey, potentially leading to even greater gains over coming decades.

Summit organizers write: “a further 9,100 cities representing 800 million citizens are now committed to city-wide climate action plans. This could lead to reductions of more than 60 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between now and 2050.” There are an estimated 50,000 cities worldwide, which shows that far more widespread action is needed though.

In addition to the states and cities that have ratcheted up their ambitions, hundreds of global companies announced their commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050. “This includes nearly 150 major global companies such as Tata Motors and Sony. Collective annual revenues of these companies total well over US $2.75 trillion, and their annual electricity demand is higher than that of Poland.”

The ZEV Challenge, an alliance organized by the Climate Group, also made major announcements around de-carbonizing transportation systems by moving to zero-carbon electric vehicles, buses, trams, etc. Transportation accounts for up to a third of global emissions.

Twelve governments, including Catalonia, Scotland, and Washington State, representing some 80 million people, announced they will have 100 percent zero emission public fleets by 2030. Furthermore, “26 cities with 140 million people are committed to buy only zero emission buses starting in 2025, but also creating zero emission areas in their cities starting in 2030.” And 23 multi-national companies such as IKEA have agreed to take their fleets zero emission. To achieve widespread EVs, these groups will also create 3.5 million zero emission vehicle charging stations by 2025.

Major efforts were launched to improve the sustainability of the built environment. The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) launched the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, with 38 signatories, including 12 businesses, 22 cities, and four states and regions. In addition to the commitments by state and regional governments, “businesses representing US$ 22.95 billion in revenue throughout the building and construction supply chain, have set ambitious targets to eliminate operational carbon emissions from their building portfolios of over 10.7 million square meters by 2030.”

There were also some actions to promote more sustainable land-use and greater protection of forests and oceans. As part of the 30×30 Challenge, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced $500 million in new funds for sustainable land use and forest conservation. A group of nine philanthropic organizations made a comparable commitment of $459 million for the protection and expansion of forests and lands through 2022, with the goal of bolstering indigenous peoples’ and traditional communities’ ability to govern their lands. Other big commitments: Ecuador, Norway, and Germany launched a Pro-Amazonia initiative, with $50 million dedicated to conserving 1.36 million hectares of rainforest. But while these steps were welcome, they are far from enough. Deforestation has reached new highs around the world, and the situation is now dire, with nearly 30 million hectares of forest lost in 2016 alone.

To improve access to green financing, the Investor Agenda was launched. Some 400 investors with US $32 trillion under management, an amount thirty percent larger than the US economy, are now focused on “accelerating and scaling-up financial flows into climate action and building a more sustainable, low-carbon, global economy.” As an example, NYC’s pension fund will invest $4 billion in green projects, and some of the largest pension funds in Denmark and Canada will dramatically ramp up their investment in renewable energy and climate-smart technologies. To spur more sustainable capital and infrastructure project financing, new cities and financial institutions joined the Green Bond Pledge, which aims to create US $1 trillion in green bonds by 2020.

Still, an incredible amount of work remains for the US to simply meet the Obama administration commitment at the Paris climate accord — 26 percent reduction in emissions by 2025. Current estimates have us on track to achieve about half the goal. Hopefully, the leadership and progress we saw at the summit will inspire a broader coalition to get there.