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Posts Tagged ‘climate’

Very interesting chart from the insurance giant, Munich Re, found on the blog of economist Barry Ritholtz.

Natural Disasters in the United States

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The Filipino people are taking notice. Central American countries also rank high on the list.

The report by the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security and the German Alliance Development Works said the top 10 countries facing the highest risk are: Vanuatu, Tonga, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Timor-Leste, Costa Rica, Cambodia and El Salvador.

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Is anyone excited about U.S. politics these days, excited in a positive sort of way? I have been ignoring the weekly ups and downs regarding legislation affecting the environment, preferring to take notice only when a proposal looks likely to pass. Given that nothing is passing both houses of Congress, I’ve had time on my hands! For some time now, it has been clear that climate change was not going to be on the agenda in Washington, D.C. Climate has, in fact, been considered the proverbial “third rail” in the nation’s capital ever since cap-and-trade legislation failed. This is a sorry state of affairs, in my opinion, but climate adaptation is still a growing need at the local level, with cities taking the lead in many cases, despite dysfunction at the national level.

Nevertheless, federal funding is still critical for local government planning, making it a necessity for local government planners to know which way the federal winds are blowing. This past week, members of the American Planning Association lobbied Washington in support of legislation that would support local communities, and NRDC blogger, Deron Lovaas reported on some of the planners’ interests.

In our current political climate, no one’s talking about climate. But people do want to hear about economics and energy, which means that it’s a great time to talk about transportation solutions.  …snip…  Planners should be pushing for bipartisan solutions like high-occupancy toll lanes, ITS technology and scenario planning in their communities.

Lovaas is urging planners to focus their attention on the infrastructure bills, like the American Jobs Act, as a possible means to climate action. He continues:

Yesterday planners spent the day lobbying on the Hill, pushing for the American Jobs Act and the clean energy opportunities it presents, such as investments in innovative transit projects through the TIGER and TIFIA programs, and Project Rebuild, which will invest $15 billion in rehabilitating properties in distressed communities.

It could happen.

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Charts of the Day – From the report, International Energy Outlook 2011  (IEO2011), released yesterday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Global energy use is projected to increase by 53% by 2035, with China and India accounting for half of the increase and with coal being the main source. Alternative energy is on the rise, everywhere, but its impact is fairly small in comparison with the projected increase in demand.

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Here’s an interesting synopsis of global initiatives by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from a speech delivered to Sydney University on September 8th. How/to what extent the aspirations are fulfilled, of course, is key, but the aims are impressive. The Secretary General was seeking to counter the common belief that countries around the world are hamstrung in their attempts to mitigate climate change. He pointed to some good news, while also being clear about the long road ahead. The entire speech can be found here.

China has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity by up to 45 per cent in the next decade. It now produces half of the world’s wind and solar equipment and is growing its capacity rapidly. It has already surpassed the United States to lead the world in installed clean-energy capacity. The European Union has committed to cut emissions by at least 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020, regardless of what actions other countries take. The European Union’s commitment has not wavered, even in the face of tough economic times.

Mexico has launched a plan to reduce 51 million tons of carbon dioxide next year alone. That’s equal to four-and-a-half years of pollution from all the vehicles in Mexico City. Korea devoted 80 per cent of its stimulus programme to green growth, an investment that stands to deliver major economic, as well as environmental, benefits. India is also in the race, planning to increase investment in the clean energy sector by more than 350 per cent in this decade.

Japan is aiming to create 1.4 million new green jobs. Denmark is moving to be free of fossil fuels by 2050. Brazil committed to reducing its deforestation rate by 80 per cent by the year 2020 and is years ahead of schedule – even as it also continues to prove renewable energy can power a major economy.

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Even for Texas, this is BIG. An interactive map created by ESRI, showing fire locations and links to social media accounts (like YouTube videos), can be found here.

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In reading through an interesting series of posts by Andrew Revkin (here, here, and here – all behind the NY Times subscription wall, I think), I was struck by several ideas that have direct implications for planners and designers. Revkin states that science is clear on greenhouse gas function (rising CO2 levels mean a warming world), but science is much less clear about the specific effects of climate change that matter to people at the local level, in their communities and daily lives. We do not know exactly how much sea level will rise by 2100, for example. There are also many uncertainties about the sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 levels. And on the regional climate models that planners would like to see, Revkin says:

I noted many climate modelers are convinced that regional climate forecasts — another top concern of officials and the public — are unlikely to improve much even with far more powerful computers and years of extra work on simulations. (Emphasis added.)

In reviewing these points, I noted, “That’s why this is what some complexity theorists call a ’super wicked problem.’”

So here we are – faced with a need to act (adaptation, rather than mitigation in this case), a need based on threats to health, safety, and welfare, and equipped with inadequate knowledge of exactly what will happen. Revkin’s larger point is that “while the basics of the science are clear, the science on questions that matter most to society is not.” In the two follow-up posts, Revkin publishes reader responses, one of which emphasizes the political argument that data may be less important to the public than the underlying values threatened by climate change – risks to life, property, and the economy.

The other follow-up is a response by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. Louv critiques the term sustainability, which he says connotes stasis, and instead offers up “thriveability.”  Louv suggests shifting the debate to the creative and hopeful, but still rooted in concerns that matter to people on an individual basis, like the welfare of their children. And designers should appreciate the attention Louv and Revkin give to creative acts of place making that include the green, “natural” areas in cities:

… for the sake of biodiversity and human happiness, conservation is no longer enough; now we must create nature — where we live, work, learn and play. Those actions not only serve our immediate needs, but might also have an impact on biodiversity and climate change, or at least attitudes about climate change. (Emphasis added.)

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I guess climate adaptation has arrived – featured yesterday in a USA Today column. The higher profile of adaptation planning in the U.S. owes much to a media blitz by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) over the last few weeks. It began in late July with the release of a report on water, Thirsty for Answers, summarizing previous research on water-related vulnerabilities in 12 cities. In early August, NRDC debuted its Climate Change Threatens Health website, designed to reveal climate change impacts “in your backyard.” Bringing climate change data down in scale to state and county levels is a significant need, and the work by NRDC is unique and valuable. Next up will be determining impacts at the LOCAL level, where change will be directly experienced and where (I predict) the most effective policies for human health and wellbeing will be enacted.

In the USA Today article, Brian Holland of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA is quoted as saying that adaptation is a new field. That cannot be emphasized enough. Adaptation planning is very new, and it is difficult to take the success stories of adaptation planning (cities mentioned in the USA Today article and this list of “climate-ready cities”) too seriously. Almost everything written about climate adaptation dates from 2010 or 2011! [Note: much more has been done by cities in the area of mitigation plan development.] There is a tremendous amount of work to do! But we are fortunate that some adaptation strategies piggyback on other issues that have been studied for a longer period of time, like green infrastructure-based stormwater management. Time to get on with walking the talk.

A good starting point for additional information on adaptation planning is the ICLEI site.

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It’s not your everyday, run of the mill design problem. But it is an everyday reality – cows produce significant amounts of the greenhouse gas (GHG), methane, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are therefore point sources of GHG pollution. There are arguments for ending the CAFO practice, but these controversial land uses appear to be with us for the foreseeable future anyway. Can the impacts be mitigated? Can agroforestry techniques be used to mitigate the emissions, and, if you plant a lot of trees, do you still have enough open land to maintain farm functionality? These are the questions asked by the ESF graduate student, Au Ta, in his capstone project, supervised by Dayton Reuter and me. His study produced some very interesting results.

Forested buffer alternatives were tested

Graduate students in landscape architecture programs sometimes produce studies that are worthy of peer-reviewed publication, but these projects often remain hidden in their respective departments. As a discipline, we need to move toward the expectation that this work will be published, either in traditional print media or through online journals. Our colleagues in other disciplines would not squander these resources! Like many LA graduate theses and capstones, Au’s project was not designed from the outset to be a carefully controlled study, but instead evolved over time into something interesting, thought-provoking, and not necessarily easy to publish in science journals because of the degree of intuitive design involved. But the project is well-crafted and reaches some surprising conclusions. Click continue reading to read the abstract and get a link to the entire paper. (more…)

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Susan Riya, Director of the New York State Water Resources Institute, shared the following map with the State of Upstate conference attendees in June. I have been thinking of this map ever since. The map was derived from the hydrologic landscape regions of the United States dataset published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2003. It depicts the ratio of potential evapotranspiration (PET) to precipitation (PPT).

Hydrologic Landscape Regions of the U.S.

What is striking to me is the blue swath that runs from the tip of Maine to Louisiana as well as the lighter blue area along the Eastern Seaboard. I have called many communities in these two regions home; I know the landscape well. The map depicts current conditions, and I am eager to see similar maps that depict projected change. I know that New York State is expected to remain water-rich, and I suspect that much of the darker blue region will as well. But the area along the seaboard, especially the Southeast (portions of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia), has already been experiencing droughts, and I fear that the region might be much drier in the future. Personally, I think it would be heartbreaking to see the steamy lushness replaced by crunchy dryness! The other effect is that the cool, water-rich places will be very attractive to people escaping the heat and dry conditions. New York State – get ready for a resurgence in population!

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