Thinking Sustainability: ‘What if Can Do Can’t? The Vulnerability and Resilience of Cities’
Bill Rees, co-originator of the “ecological footprint” concept, explores how our green buildings, smart growth, hybrid cars, renewable energy, other hopeful techno-fixes alone won’t be enough to solve our climate and energy crises. He argues changes to our thinking and culture are fundamental to addressing them.
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 Unfortunately, much of what China is building is based on outdated Western planning ideas that put its cars at the center of urban life, rather than its people.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.
Today, August 22, is Earth Overshoot Day, marking the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. We are now operating in overdraft. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Throughout most of history, humanity has used nature’s resources to build cities and roads, to provide food and create products, and to absorb our carbon dioxide at a rate that was well within Earth’s budget. But in the mid-1970’s, we crossed a critical threshold: Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce.
The fact that we are using, or “spending,” our natural capital faster than it can replenish is similar to having expenditures that continuously exceed income. In planetary terms, the costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day. Climate change—a result of greenhouse gases being emitted faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans—is the most obvious and arguably pressing result. But there are others—shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse, higher commodity prices and civil unrest, to name a few. The environmental and financial crises we are experiencing are symptoms of looming catastrophe. Humanity is simply using more than what the planet can provide.
Earth Overshoot Day is an estimate, not an exact date. It’s not possible to determine with 100 percent accuracy the day we bust our ecological budget. Adjustments of the date that we go into overshoot are due to revised calculations, not ecological advances on the part of humanity. The when is less important than the what.
Canada’s natural resources, ecosystems and wildlife are indispensable to the sustainability of our planet and economy. Despite this, both the public and private sectors do not adequately consider the environmental consequences of production and consumption when calculating their bottom line. There is a growing need for full-cost pricing, a system that adjusts market prices to reflect not only the direct costs of goods and services, but also their impact on our country’s natural capital. Presenting the findings of a March 2012 paper, Dr. Olewiler argues that the onus is on the federal government to create the conditions for full-cost pricing to succeed.
Nancy Olewiler is the Director of the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University. Her areas of research include natural resource and environmental economics and policy. She has published extensively, written two widely used textbooks (The Economics of Natural Resource Use and Environmental Economics), and produced numerous reports for the Canadian federal and provincial governments, including studies on energy and climate policy, natural capital, and federal business tax policy. Nancy is the Chair of the TransLink Board of Directors, and has previously served on the boards of BC Hydro and several of its subsidiaries. She is also a member of advisory committees for Statistics Canada, WWF-Canada, Sustainable Prosperity and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.
The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions has lots of other great solutions oriented talkshere.
I bring my own bag to the store, carry a refillable water bottle and shun unnecessary packaging on everything I buy. Sure, it reduces the waste from my household. But even if we could get everyone to do the same, the impact would still be negligible, because household garbage is only 3 percent of the waste produced in the United States. Tackling the remaining 97 percent means reforming and reshaping a global system of production, distribution and disposal – a goal that can’t be achieved through individual consumer action, but only by coming together as citizens to work for change.
Our real source of power to make a difference is through changing the polices and structures in which production and consumption happen, and we do that through civic engagement, not better shopping. So shop responsibly. Just be sure that’s where you start, not where you stop.
This course introduces the academic approach of Sustainability and explores how today’s human societies can endure in the face of global change, ecosystem degradation and resource limitations. The course focuses on key knowledge areas of sustainability theory and practice, including population, ecosystems, global change, energy, agriculture, water, environmental economics and policy, ethics, and cultural history.
This subject is of vital importance, seeking as it does to uncover the principles of the long-term welfare of all the peoples of the planet. As sustainability is a cross-disciplinary field of study, this foundation requires intellectual breadth: as I describe it in the class text, understanding our motivations requires the humanities, measuring the challenges of sustainability requires knowledge of the sciences (both natural and social), and building solutions requires technical insight into systems (such as provided by engineering, planning, and management).
The ACEEE 2012 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard will rank 12 of the world’s largest economies representing over 78 percent of global gross domestic product, 63 percent of global energy consumption, and 62 percent of the global carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions.
The rankings will include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. Over 25 different energy efficiency indicators or “metrics” have been analyzed for each economy ranked in the report. The rankings are determined by a total score out of 100 possible points.
Points can be earned in four difference categories including buildings, industry, and transportation, as well as metrics that track cross-cutting aspects of energy use at the national level.
Surviving Progress is a stunning new feature documentary that connects the financial collapse, growing inequity, and the Wall Street oligarchy, with future technology, sustainability, and the fate of civilization. Inspired by Ronald Wright’s bestseller A Short History of Progress, filmmakers Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks dig deep into human nature and patterns of history to challenge and redefine the very idea of progress.