Thursday, September 03, 2015

How To Meet The Challenges Of Rapid Urbanization

The following is a guest post by Ray McNeal, Real Estate and Environment Blogger:

The number of people living in cities worldwide is expected to nearly double by the year 2050, increasing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to more than 6 billion. This rapid growth will surely present challenges, but it will also provide huge opportunities for the public and private sectors to work together to develop more connected and efficient cities. In addition to environmental sustainability, well-planned urban areas could mean improved public health, job growth, a reduction in excess spending, and an increased economic appeal for investors.

The issue is that resources – limited land, water, electricity, and transportation – must increase dramatically in order to support population growth, putting serious additional strain on the environment. To ensure success, public sector urban planners and private sector developers are already working to get ahead of some of the challenges that come with supporting a mass migration to cities, finding ways to stretch resources and make more efficient use of limited space.

Plan Bay Area 2040 is a prime example of a forward-thinking initiative created to prepare for expected growth in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area as a whole is expected to see significant growth in jobs and housing over the next 25 years, with the majority concentrated within its three central cities – San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland. As part of the initiative, officials from each central city meet regularly with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to discuss progress in developing a transportation and housing plan that reduces dependence on cars and makes efficient use of land. MTC Commissioner Mark Luce considers it an historic step forward in serving future generations. Advocates of Plan Bay Area acknowledge that decisions regarding land use are ultimately local, but that the creation of a joint initiative will lead to smarter, more eco-friendly cities able to reach the common goals of each region.

The private sector is also making efforts to be more environmentally responsible in urban development. At the Urban Land Institute’s 2014 fall conference, real estate developer and Tishman Speyer President and co-CEO Rob Speyer addressed the need to look beyond the obvious solution of LEED Certification, focusing instead on how individuals make use of structures within cities. “Buildings don't exist in a vacuum, and the behavior, and the lifestyles of the people that live and work in our buildings? That's what's really going to determine the future of the environment,” said Speyer.

Tishman Speyer is the owner of Rockefeller Center in New York City, and Speyer often cites the structure as an example of a “happy building” – one that makes the best possible use of space in a crowded city. Aside from a green rooftop, it also provides the opportunity for shopping, entertainment, and office space in one central location and cuts down on the need for transportation that can drain the environment.

Multi-city transit systems and buildings designed to serve more than one purpose are two pieces to the solution in supporting rapid urbanization. Developers and urban planners are headed in the right direction, but must continue their focus on developing well-connected and efficient cities.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Green Bronx Machine

Here's an amazing and inspiring video, showing how all that theory about 'win-win-win' sustainability strategies can look in action. Green Bronx Machine:

One Great Idea: Planting Seeds of Social Innovation for 21st Century Leaders and Learners- Stephen Ritz

Stay going.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Power Dialog

See below for an announcement about an exciting new project aimed at getting students civically engaged around the Clean Power Plan, and share with teachers and students who might be interested:

Dear Colleagues,

Over the next two years, students have a unique and critically important learning and civic engagement opportunity.  Student voices can impact the scope and direction of state implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, mandating global warming pollution cuts in the electric power sector.

We are circulating this call to help organize a Power Dialog in March of 2016: hundreds of college, graduate, and high school level classes in states across the country taking field trips to meet with their Department of Environmental Conservation heads to discuss state implementation of the EPA’s new rules.

State agency leaders are already seeing their calendars fill up with meetings with utility executives and coal industry lobbyists. Why not our students?

By 2017, each state is required to come up with a plan to meet the targets set by the EPA. New York, for example, has to cut the emission rate from the power sector by at least 44% by 2030; in Ohio the required target is 28%; in Texas, 38%. These are big numbers. They could be bigger. State level plans can be more ambitious then the EPA requires. Yet the states and EPA are being pressured to relax the targets.

According to Dr. Dallas Burtraw, Senior Researcher at Resources for the Future, the climate policy dialogue has moved “outside the Washington beltway to 50 state capitals where stakeholders have long-term relationships and a long-term stake in the outcome. Citizen input is a critical part of the process-- whether it is technical, or simply provides the decisionmakers with information that the public cares about the issue.”  

Typically, it is the state DEC or DEQ that is the lead agency in drafting these plans. With the action now beyond the partisan wrangling of Washington and the state legislatures, students can gain both a powerful learning opportunity and a real voice in the policy process.

DEC officials will welcome visits from unusual suspects. Hearing the voice of students—young people who will live to see the late 21st century first-hand-- will provide a fresh perspective, focused on the long-term impacts of today’s policy decisions.    

This is not a lobbying effort. We have no collective policy agenda for which we are advocating. Rather it is a learning opportunity for students, and also a chance for students to share their own individual thoughts and policy insights with state officials.

If you are interested in helping organize a class field trip, along with colleagues in your state, to visit your state capitol for a meeting with the relevant state officials, please sign up here. As we move forward with an organizing plan, we will connect you with other interested professors and university staff in your state, and will develop and circulate learning materials to prep your students for the conversation.

The Power Dialog will take place in March 2016, so there is lead-time for planning. The Bard Center for Environmental Policy will be hosting a dial-in conversation on February 18 at noon eastern to brainstorm how to help build a power dialog in your state over the coming year.

Learn more about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan here, or listen to a podcast by RFF’s Burtraw about the EPA’s program and the importance of state level engagement. As a group, we will start scheduling our trips to Phoenix, Nashville, Salem, Tallahassee, Boston and Peoria. 
Sign up here to learn more, and thank you for the work you are doing.

Eban Goodstein, Ph.D.
Director, Bard Center for Environmental Policy
Director, Bard MBA in Sustainability

David Blockstein, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
National Council for Science and the Environment


Stay going. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fossil Fuel Divestment Day

Fossil Fuel Divestment Day is tomorrow (and Saturday) -- it's a big global push to keep building the fossil fuel divestment movement's momentum.  This video tells the story:

The really interesting part of this is the coordinated counter attack from the fossil fuel industry. Earlier this week, a report commissioned and funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America was released. It was highlighted in the NY Times, and the report's author penned an opinion piece in the WSJ. It makes a dubious case that divestment could hurt college endowments.  And then this amazing video from the 'Environmental Policy Alliance' (a PR group) that suggests the alternative to fossil fuels is going back to the time of Adam and Eve (only without food): 

We all know fossil fuels have brought us tremendous benefit and advances that have immeasurably improved the lives of countless people. They've also set the stage for us to take the next step, especially now that we know the incredibly dangerous unintended impacts of our burning them.

We have what we need to maintain, even improve, quality of life while getting off fossil fuels. It won't be easy, and our future won't look the same, but it doesn't have to be worse.  Dramatic increases in energy efficiency and reduced need for transport from smart building and community design can reduce our overall demand for energy. An LED bulb doesn't decrease quality of life; and it uses 90% less electricity, saving money over the life of the bulb. Passive House design can eliminate the need for heating and cooling systems altogether. People in walkable communities don't need cars. And with that reduced demand, and the rapidly decreasing costs of renewables, it's entirely possible to get off fossil fuels

Here's a compelling vision for getting there:

As the Guardian piece evaluating the oil industry divestment report notes, this scenario is playing out like a text book Ghandian change movement: "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Feels like we're just moving into the 'laughing at you' phase. The 'fight you' phase could get really ugly. But, a clean, healthy, sustainable future will win. For all the talk of how the divestment movement is ineffective, it seems to be having quite an effect.  #Divest.

Stay going.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The New Climate Economy

A recent report from The New Climate Economy highlights (again) the need for action on climate change; and emphasizes (again) how delays will increase costs:

The New Climate Economy Report comes from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate -- a group of high-level representatives from various sectors in countries around the world.

The report includes a pretty good list of 10 things we know we need to do avoid to minimize the damage of climate change:

  1. Accelerate low-carbon transformation by integrating climate into core economic decision-making processes. 
  2. Enter into a strong, lasting and equitable international climate agreement
  3. Phase out subsidies for fossil fuels and agricultural inputs, and incentives for urban sprawl
  4. Introduce strong, predictable carbon prices
  5. Substantially reduce capital costs for low-carbon infrastructure investments
  6. Scale up innovation in key low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies, tripling public investment in clean energy R&D
  7. Make connected and compact cities the preferred form of urban development
  8. Stop deforestation of natural forests by 2030
  9. Restore at least 500 million hectares of lost or degraded forests and agricultural lands by 2030
  10. Accelerate the shift away from polluting coal-fired power generation
The core take-away is that all countries will be able to sustain lasting growth while addressing climate change, but that the next 15 years will be crucial.

This brings up the whole concept of economic growth -- what we mean by that and if unlimited growth in possible on a finite planet. If you're talking about crude, raw, physical growth of stuff -- increasing economic throughput, as measured by GDP -- the answer is clearly "no."  But if you're talking about a more nuanced "growth of value" -- ways of increasing well-being while at the same time dematerializing and reducing throughput, then I think there are no limits.

Clearly, in some areas, in some economies, physical growth is still necessary to increase well-being (Exxon's recent blog post arguing against fossil fuel divestment skews this point to make a case for continued reliance on oil). But at a certain point -- long-since crossed by many developed economies, more stuff doesn't necessarily equate with more well-being.

Coupled with the recent Risky Business report, this report is another big step in making the economic case for climate action, and more broadly for integrating sustainability principles into all we do.

Stay going.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Recent news from the Intentional Endowments Network

We have a great news feed on the Intentional Endowments Network website, which has been seeing a lot of new additions recently.  The fossil fuel divestment campaigns are generating a lot of conversation on college and university campuses, and while the number of institutions committing to divestment is still relatively low, the number that are evaluating their investment policies and practices in light of the climate change threat, and other critical sustainability issues, is growing rapidly. 

Here's a run down of some of the latest exciting news: 

RI procures Swensen letter to Yale fund managers obliging climate evaluation and company engagement | Responsible Investor

by Vibeka Mair, September 11th, 2014
(subscription required) 

BU Faculty Petition Urges Divestment from Fossil Fuel Companies | BU Today

by Rich Barlow, September 10, 2014

Faculty for Divestment Renew Call for Open Forum | Harvard Crimson

by Dev A. Patel and Steven R. Watros, September 10, 2014

Fossil Fuels Stir Debate at Endowments | Wall Street Journal

by Dan Fitzpatrick, September 9, 2014
(subscription required) 

Ranking US Fund Managers on Climate Change | About Money

by Cary Krosinsky

Green Ratings Questioned | Inside Higher Ed

by Ry Rivard, September 3, 2014

College Endowment Investment Trends and Best Practices: An Analysis of STARS Data | Sustainable Endowments Institute

by Aaron Karp, Mark Orlowski, and Jaime Silverstein, September 3, 2014

Yale approves environmentally conscious investment guidance | Pensions & Investments

by James Comtois, August 28, 2014

Check the news feed regularly - - and enter your email address on the site to receive periodic updates. 

Stay going.