The square is located in the western part of the Ben-Gurion University campus in the city of Beer-Sheva, Israel. The existing buildings encompassing the square (the Faculty of Art, social activities and the Administration building) and the art gallery to be built there in the future are all designed to offer services and to constitute [...] → Continue Reading University Square – Ben-Gurion University
In its annual “environmental stories to watch” briefing, Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute (WRI) says 2010 was a tough year for the environment. Not only was 2010 the hottest year on record, but it was marked by “an enormous range of damages and disasters,” including floods in Pakistan, an unprecedented heatwave in Russia, a coal mine explosion and the BP oil spill in the U.S., and the failure of the U.S. Congress to act on climate change. In addition, Lash said it’s most likely that the U.S. Congress won’t act on climate change or even more basic energy efficiency legislation this year or next.
The U.S. is now making critical energy and climate decisions in a “policy vacuum” because there’s no framework. To remedy this, the E.P.A. is looking to “address uncertainties” in the market by stepping up its regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) for a variety of sectors and is expected to enact new regulations aimed at limiting those from electrical utilities first. Key members of the new Congress have said they will tie the E.P.A.’s hands, limiting its power to regulate GHGs, which they argue will negatively impact economic growth. Lash said “if in six months, we see no significant change in the E.P.A’s authority, we should watch what initiatives utilities make to reach a settlement with the E.P.A.”
In the U.S., Lash also pointed to the rise of the Tea Party as a worrying development, but perhaps isolated to the political realm. He also sees the rapid growth of green marketing campaigns from the private sector: GE, Caterpillar, and Nike were just a few companies listed as doing good by going green. “It seems like business is going one way and politics is going the other way.” He believes U.S. businesses may have to do something dramatic on their own, but wonders what form this will take without regulatory pressures or a price on carbon.
Worldwide, there will be a renewed focus on the connection between biofuels and food prices. The latest data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says global food prices are rising again and nearing levels that sparked food riots globally three years ago. Total liquid biofuel production is also up and expected to increase. Coupled with increased population growth, this could mean higher food prices, more water pollution, and conflicts over water availability. “There will also be increased pressure at the agriculture and forest frontier. In Brazil, soy and cattle are creating demand for more forest destruction. In Indonesia, palm oil production is also increasing pressure on forests.” Perhaps one bright spot amongst all the clouds is a new agreement among multinational food producers to steer away from purchasing food grown in land just cut. Lash also sees a new focus on “food efficiency,” arguing that “40 percent of U.S. food goes to waste.”
As for positive stories, there’s the rise of electric or hybrid vehicles. Some 20-25 new EV / hybrid will enter the market this year, and, importantly, major car fleet buyers, like Hertz rental cars, General Electric, and the Government Services Administration (GSA), have already signed up to make large-scale purchases. With more hybrids and EVs on the road will come increased demand for easy-access high-speed charging stations. There also needs to be a strategy for moving the market from hybrids to purely electric vehicles. In addition, Lash argues the key question for the hybrid / EV market is: Are the economic and environmental benefits enough to off-set the higher costs of these cars?
Positive transportation stories include the rise of high speed rail in China, the result of its 120 billion investment in new trains and infrastructure. “China will soon have more high speed rail line than all other countries combined.” These new trains are expected to reach up to 300 mph, putting the Acela Express to shame. (In addition, despite some early recovery fund investments in U.S. high speed rail, “the U.S. is mostly cancelling its plans.”) Another transportation innovation has the potential for widespread positive impact: bus rapid transit (BRT). Worldwide, there’s now 129 kilometers of BRT, serving 1.1 billion people. In comparison with subways, BRT is relatively cheap, and can be “implemented by a mayor in one term.” He pointed to Bogota’s BRT, which serves 1.6 million people daily, more than the D.C. metro’s daily load. Also, a new Mexico City BRT line now has 150,000 daily passengers, and New York City is now experimenting with “BRT-lite.”
In terms of climate policy at a global level, there were also some wins, but perhaps not enough. At Cancun, many key developing countries, including China, India, and Brazil, played enabling roles and helped push forward a set of agreements (see earlier post). India has a new coal tax, which will be used to finance new clean energy investments (see earlier post), and China’s new five-year plan calls for major investments in smart grids, building-sector energy efficiency, high speed rail, and clear, powerful targets for reducing emissions. “China’s commercial drive will help it keep its commitments. We don’t have to worry about them backtracking.” Lastly, Brazil is the only major developing countries with a formal 2.1 billion ton GHG cap on emissions.
Strangely, Lash largely left almost any mention of changes in the built environment in his review of top upcoming stories. The use of sustainable planning approaches, including denser smart growth-based redevelopment combined with sustainable transportation, is helping move communities to a more energy and water-efficient and low-carbon path over the long-term. More communities are also thinking strategically about how to link livability with climate mitigation and adaptation (see earlier post). The explosive growth of high-performing green buildings and landscapes as well as the number of designers and developers now using rating systems like LEED, LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND), and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), and their counterparts worldwide, should also be considered a major story. Importantly, all these built environment innovations are also no longer seen as untested by many local policymakers (see earlier post).
Watch an animation from ASLA’s online exhibition, “Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes,” that explains how to turn a toxic industrial wasteland into a vibrant local park. See how damaged landscapes are restored through bioremediation and redesign:
Brownfields are abandoned, environmentally-contaminated industrial or commercial sites. People who come into frequent contact with the leftover solvents, cleaners, and oil found on these sites often develop major health issues. In addition, the chemicals found in brownfields contaminate soils and often leak directly into underground water resources. Degraded parts of some major U.S. cities contain up to 1,000 brownfields per square mile.
Bioremediation involves using plants, fungi, or soil microbes to clean up toxic brownfields. Some types of deep-rooted plants can even be used to remove toxic metals from the soil. One example is Thlaspi Caerulescens, commonly known as Alpine Pennycress. According to Cornell University researchers, a normal plant can only store about 100 parts per million (ppm) zinc and 1 ppm cadmium. Thlaspi can store up to 30,000 ppm zinc and 1,500 ppm cadmium in its shoots without being negatively affected. In fact, these types of plants thrive while restoring the brownfield to its natural state.
Cleaning up these sites is not only good for the environment, but also helps create economically-strong, healthy communities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) says brownfield clean-ups can increase nearby residential property values by 2 to 3 percent. Healthy buildings, schools, and parks have taken shape on redeveloped brownfields. Formerly poisonous sites can even turn into valuable community green space: the new Olympic Park in London, Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, and Toronto’s new park network are coming in over hectares of previously bombed-out, toxic sites.
Sources: Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, U.S. Department of Agrilculture, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.