In the last five years, China has built 20,000 miles of expressways, finishing the construction of 12 national highways a whopping 13 years ahead of schedule and at a pace four times faster than the United States built its interstate highway system. Over the last decade, Shanghai alone has built some 1,500 miles of road, the equivalent of three Manhattans. China’s urban population is projected to grow by 350 million people by 2020, effectively adding today’s entire U.S. population to its cities in less than a decade. China has already passed the United States as the world’s largest car market, and by 2025, the country will need to pave up to an estimated 5 billion square meters of road just to keep moving.
China’s love affair with the car has blossomed into a torrid romance. In April, nearly a million people poured into the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition to coo over the latest Audis, BMWs, and Toyotas. But China is in danger of making the same mistakes the United States made on its way to superpower status — mistakes that have left Americans reliant on foreign oil from unstable parts of the world, staggering under the cost of unhealthy patterns of living, and struggling to overcome the urban legacy of decades of inner-city decay.
The choices China makes in the years ahead will have an immense impact not only on the long-term viability, livability, and energy efficiency of its cities, but also on the health of the entire planet. Unfortunately, much of what China is building is based on outdated Western planning ideas that put its cars at the center of urban life, rather than its people. And the bill will be paid in the form of larger waistlines, reduced quality of life, and choking pollution and congestion.
The first three paragraphs of Peter Calthorpe’s recent article for Foreign Policy magazine, 'Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction'. Calthorpe is a renowned San Francisco based urban planner and architect and a founding member of the Congress of New Urbanism. You can check out the rest of the article here.
(Photo source: Inhabitat)
In a week where Arctic ice has reached a new low and food prices have spiked due to severe droughts in Europe and the United States it feels strange to think that progress is being made in the fight against global climate change. However, over the last couple of weeks four big initiatives have been announced that have potential to make a significant dent in our collective carbon footprint.
Seven Chinese cities and provinces will launch CO2 emissions trading schemes over the next two years ahead of a national scheme later in the decade. (Reuters)
The country is currently the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.
On Tuesday, Australia and the European Union announced a partnership to create the world’s largest carbon market, which will begin trading by 2015. Harvard environmental economist Robert Stavins encouragingly described the move in an interview:
Given the relatively primitive state of climate change policy around the world, especially considering the scope of the problem, this is a very significant step forward. (Atlantic Cities)
For those keeping score at home, when California’s carbon trading system opens in November it will be the world’s second largest.
Finally, this week the United States stepped up and delivered a big one-two punch:
President Barack Obama issued an executive order on Thursday that would increase the number of cogeneration plants in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2020, a move that would boost U.S. industrial energy efficiency and slash carbon emissions by 150 million tons per year.
Thursday’s executive order came just two days after the White House finalized a rule - developed with U.S. automakers - that would double fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and light trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The EPA said the car efficiency standards will be the most effective domestic policy in place to curb greenhouse gas emissions, cutting as much as 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025.” (Reuters)
Canada has indicated it will copy Obama’s fuel efficiency rules.
Together these initiatives are significant because they include the countries with the largest carbon footprints, which must be in leadership roles if we are to get a handle on this predicament. We definitely have a long, long way to go and have some epic challenges before us. But, more and more people seem to be waking up, learning about where we are at, talking with others about it, and then making changes. Positive changes.
In essence, what I’m trying to get across is that it’s important to celebrate the positives. Dwelling on the bad news about our climate and the health of our planet and society can be counterproductive and self-defeating. Instead of feeling stuck, now more than ever I think we need to be awake and aware. Ready to adapt to what’s already in the pipe while finding new, old, and otherwise ways of remaking our homes, our food, our transportation, our cities, our economies, our institutions, and even our thinking that allow us to use energy, ecosystems, and other resources more creatively and wisely over the long term. As Charles Darwin is quoted, but apparently misattributed as saying,
"It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."
Those are my two bits for now. Have a good long weekend!
(Photo source: Clean Technica)