30 Apr 2009:
Dubai’s Urban Sprawl
In these photographs, NASA satellites capture the explosive growth of Dubai on the Persian Gulf between 2002 and 2008
. These false-color thermal images of Dubai — one of the 7 United Arab
Emirates — depict vegetated areas in red, buildings in gray, and the desert in beige. The image at left, taken in October 2002, shows the early stages of construction of Palm Jumeirah, a vast commercial development built by dredging 3.9 billion cubic feet of sand from the gulf and depositing it in the shape of a giant palm tree. The finished look of Palm Jumeirah — which contains shops, hotels, and apartments and is protected from the gulf by 7 miles of rocky breakwater — can be seen in the image at right, taken in November 2008. That recent image also shows the exponential growth of Dubai, a city-state of 1.2 million and a major commercial hub in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region. Just to the east of Palm Jumeirah, the fairways of an irrigated golf course, pictured in red, can be seen.
17 Apr 2009:
Obama Unveils Major Spending
For High-Speed Rail Network in the U.S.
President Obama has proposed spending $13 billion as a “first step” toward building a series of high-speed rail lines connecting major metropolitan areas in the United States
. Among other places, the proposed lines — which would ultimately cost hundreds of billions to construct — would run from Washington to Boston; San Diego to San Francisco; Chicago to Minneapolis; Kansas City to Louisville, Ky.; Eugene, Ore. to Seattle, Wash.; Miami to Tampa, Fla.; and San Antonio, Texas to Tulsa, Okla. Obama said that $8 billion for the rail lines will come from his economic stimulus plan with another $5 billion to be allocated in the next several years. “High-speed rail is long overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways,” Obama said. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said his state hoped to receive a “significant portion” of the federal funds to help build a proposed $30 billion “bullet train” that would whisk travelers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours.
10 Apr 2009:
First Solar-Powered City in U.S.
Florida Power & Light and a real estate developer have announced that they will build the first solar-powered city in the U.S., a community of 19,500 homes, offices, retail shops, and light industry whose electricity will come from the world’s largest solar photovoltaic plant.
The $300 million, 75-megawatt plant will provide enough electricity to power the proposed community — Babcock Ranch — and to export electricity to other parts of Florida, according to Florida Power & Light. The community, located near Ft. Myers, is being developed by a former National Football League player-turned-developer, Syd Kitson, who says half of the 91,000-acre town will remain undeveloped green space. Kitson said the community will be a model of sustainability that features a smart power grid, recharging stations for electric vehicles, and homes built with the latest in energy-efficient technologies. Construction on the power plant and development is scheduled to begin next year; utility company officials say their solar plant will be built regardless of the status of the planned city.
23 Mar 2009:
Urban Residents Generate
Lower CO2 Emissions Than Suburbanites
People who live in large cities generate significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions
than those who live in rural and suburban areas, according to a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development. While the high concentration of population and businesses found in cities are often seen as a pollution “problem,” researchers found that “high densities and large population concentrations can also bring a variety of advantages for … environmental management.” For instance, while New York City emitted 58.3 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2005, the per capita average of 7.1 tons was about a third of the U.S. average of 23.92 tons per capita in 2004, according to the study. The density of buildings and high use of public transportation in New York contributes to the lower individual emissions, the report stated. Likewise, the 2006 per capita emissions average in London was about 6.18 tons – about 55 percent of the UK’s 2004 average of 11.19 tons. The report examined emissions data from cities worldwide. “The real climate change culprits are not the cities themselves but the high consumption lifestyles of people living across these wealthy countries,” said report author David Dodman.
16 Mar 2009:
Amsterdam Makes a Bid
To Become Leader in Energy Efficiency
Amsterdam will invest more than $1 billion over the next three years to become one of Europe’s leading “smart cities”
by installing sophisticated energy monitoring technology in households and funding other energy efficiency programs. BusinessWeek
magazine reports that city officials aim to install “smart grid” technology — which allows consumers to monitor energy usage in real-time and carefully control the operations of heating systems and appliances — in 200,000 homes and apartments. Such technology has enabled consumers to slash energy usage by as much as 50 percent, and Amsterdam officials plan to eventually install it in the city’s more than 600,000 households. The “smart city” program also will provide financing for roof insulation and energy-efficient lighting, will underwrite the purchase of electric garbage trucks, and will power electronic displays at bus stops with solar panels, among other measures. Accenture Consulting, which is working on the Amsterdam energy plan, is also collaborating with utilities around the world, including a program to install smart-grid technology in 60,000 Denver households this year.
29 Dec 2008:
Germany Builds Houses
That Use Almost No Energy to Heat
Architects in Germany and other countries are designing “passive houses” that have extra-thick insulation and special windows and doors
so almost no heat escapes and almost no cold seeps in.
A "passive house"
in Darmstadt, Germany
This design allows the homes to be warmed not just by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and from residents’ bodies. So far, the New York Times
reports, an estimated 15,000 passive houses have been built worldwide, most of them in Germany and Scandinavia. Earlier attempts at building sealed solar-heated homes failed because of stagnant air and mold. But passive houses use a central ventilation system that allows warm air going out to pass alongside clean, cold air coming in, allowing heat to be exchanged with 90 percent efficiency. “The myth before was that to be warm you had to have heating,” says Wolfgang Hasper, an engineer at the Passivhaus Institut near Frankfurt. “Our goal is to create a warm house without energy demand.”
21 Nov 2008:
Bay Area Unveils $1 Billion Plan to Become "Electric Car Capital"
San Francisco Bay Area officials have introduced a $1 billion public-private partnership to install electric car recharging stations and battery swapping centers
across the area’s highway system, an investment they hope will transform the region into the U.S.'s electric car capital. By 2012, the Palo
A charging station
Alto-based company Better Place – with support from local governments leaders – plans to begin installing stations in homes, businesses, government buildings and parking lots. In addition, the company will create mechanized battery swapping centers that would allow drivers to travel longer distances without having to recharge. While it would be the first such electric car
network in the United States, Better Place has already built similar infrastructure in Israel, Denmark and Australia. During an unveiling in San Francisco, local officials vowed to help streamline the permitting process and create incentives for businesses that use the system. “Our goal is to make the Bay Area – and eventually California – the electric vehicle capital of the world,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
10 Nov 2008:
Bicycle Sharing Programs Enjoying Widespread Success in Europe
Bicycle-sharing programs that allow riders to pick up a bike in one city location and ride it to another are growing rapidly in Europe t
hanks to new technology to keep track of the bikes and increasing environmental awareness. The New York Times
reports that cities such as Barcelona, Paris, Lyon, Pamplona, Rome, Dusseldorf, and Rennes, France have all become sites of successful bike-sharing programs. In Barcelona, a program called “Bicing” offers riders 6,000 bicycles at 375 stands throughout the city. Technology is key, as riders use electronic cards to rent bikes parked at mechanized docks, with the cost of the ride — often as cheap as 30 cents per hour — being deducted from their bank accounts. The bikes in Barcelona are often being rented 10 times a day and demand cannot keep pace with supply. Paris’ Velib’ program, with 20,000 bikes, has been an enormous success. The bike-sharing boom in Europe is prompting other cities, including Shanghai, to launch their own pilot programs.
07 Nov 2008:
New York Mayor Calls for Six-Cent Fee on All Plastic Bags
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a six-cent fee for all plastic shopping bags used in the city’s shops, delis and grocery stores, a so-called plastic bag tax
that could make the city greener and generate about $16 million a year, according to city officials. It would also make New York the first U.S. city to assess such a fee on plastic, although similar fees are common in Europe. A stiff 33-cent tax in Ireland, for example, prompted a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use within one year, according to the New York Times
. In New York, consumers would be charged 6 cents per plastic bag at the point of sale, with a penny going to the store owner as incentive for compliance, according to the Bloomberg administration. The proposal was praised by environmentalists. “It’s simple, it’s streamlined, it advances environmental objectives and it generates some funds,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a senior lawyer with the National Resources Defense Council. A similar tax will go before voters in Seattle next year.
20 Oct 2008:
Mexico Eyes Rooftop Revolution
Mexico City officials want to install a carpet of green gardens on rooftops across the city, a plan they hope will reduce air pollution in a city with a notorious smog problem and little room for new ground-level gardens. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard hopes to add more than 500,000 square feet
of green roofs by 2012, starting with city buildings. Leaders say the green roofs, which are part of the city’s larger $5.5 billion Green Plan, would reduce energy use for heating the buildings and also help absorb and filter the city’s air pollution. “It’s hard to increase green spaces in a city like this because there’s really no more green space,” said Tanya Muller, the city’s director of urban reforestation. “But almost all of the buildings in this city can support green roofs.” Mexico City hopes to match the success of Chicago, where more than 517,000 square feet of green roofs had been installed through 2007, according to the industry group Green Roofs.
16 Oct 2008:
Shanghai Curbs State Cars
China’s biggest city will clear its air a bit next month, adopting a weaker version of Beijing’s driving restrictions. Vehicles owned by the government or state-owned entities will be banned from the streets one day a week
, with drivers of private cars “encouraged” to follow the same rules, an official said. In Beijing, strict temporary driving bans helped dramatically cut the capital’s notorious air pollution during the August Olympics. This month, Beijing enacted a less stringent permanent plan
to reduce the number of vehicles on the road; unlike Shanghai’s, it applies to private as well as publicly owned vehicles.
10 Sep 2008:
San Antonio Is First U.S. City
To Convert Human Waste to Methane Gas
San Antonio has signed a contract with a Massachusetts company to collect the methane produced by processing the Texas city’s human waste
and sell it to utility companies to burn and produce electricity. Although some U.S. communities have collected smaller amounts of methane from sewage to power waste treatment plants, this is the first time that an American city will be collecting gases from human waste on a large scale to sell to utilities. Under the new plan, more than 90 percent of the human waste flushed down San Antonio’s toilets will be recycled. The city will use the liquid for irrigation, the solids to produce compost, and the gases for energy generation. Sewage gases are similar to natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane.
29 Aug 2008:
London Mayor Proposes
Plan for Dealing with Global Warming
London needs to plant more trees, use less water, slash carbon emissions, and improve drainage to prevent and cope with climate change, Mayor Boris Johnson said. With 15 percent of the city at high risk of flooding, Johnson announced a climate-crisis plan
that includes planting trees to soak up carbon and excess rainwater while also cooling the overheated city. Overhauling the Victorian drainage system is also a priority. Even as warmer, wetter winters pose a flood risk, London — which has less water per capita than Morocco — is facing more summer heat waves and droughts. Johnson's plan, claimed as a first for a major world city, calls for reducing water consumption through metering, efficient building construction, and more harvesting of rainwater. His plan furthers ex-Mayor Ken Livingstone’s goal of cutting carbon by 60 percent by 2025.
17 Jul 2008:
New York City
Rapidly Switching to Hybrid Taxis
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would start adding 300 new hybrid vehicles to its taxi fleet every month
, with three automakers guaranteeing to supply the cars.
Ten percent of New York’s 13,150-vehicle taxi fleet already consists of hybrid cars, and the city is on schedule to meet its goal of converting the entire fleet to hybrid technology by 2012. Bloomberg said the Nissan Motor Co. has agreed to sell 200 hybrid Altimas to taxi operators every month, and Ford and Chevrolet will each supply 50 hybrid vehicles. Hybrid taxis get 25 to 30 miles per gallon in the city, twice the mileage of non-hybrid taxis. The chairman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission said that switching to hybrids will save the average taxi driver about $6,500 a year in fuel costs. Bloomberg, whose hybrid taxi project is just one of 127 green initiatives he is proposing, has touted the reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
01 Jul 2008:
Plans for British “Eco-towns”
Are Far From Green, Protesters Say
Demonstrators in England protested against government plans to build 15 new “eco-towns,” contending that the new towns were “the least sustainable way” of building new housing
. According to the critics, the eco-town sites, chosen by developers, risk becoming car-dependent because of their distance from town centers and are in areas currently given over to green space. Most proposals also go against local agreements about development, say representatives of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. According to CPRE, one or two of the planned eco-towns are “truly exemplary” in terms of placement and should be used as templates for the rest. Ten of the sites will be finalized this year, with five eco-towns to be built by 2016 and the rest by 2020.
25 Jun 2008:
Back To The Bicycle:
Britain Launches Cycling Program
Britain is investing £100 million in bicycling infrastructure
in 11 new Cycling Demonstration Towns and its new Cycling City, Bristol, to encourage people to leave their cars at home. A quarter of all daily car trips are less than two miles, said the nation’s transport secretary, and switching to bicycles for such outings will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, relieve congestion, and improve fitness. To encourage such a shift, the program will support proposals to build new bike lanes, improve bike education, provide showers and lockers for commuters, create an on-street bike-rental system, and launch a bike “re-cycling” program where residents of low-income neighborhoods receive free bikes. The program’s goal is to persuade 2.5 million Britons to begin regularly riding bikes.
13 Jun 2008:
California Utility Prepares
for Widespread Use of Plug-In Cars
Pacific Gas and Electric, which provides electric power to 5.1 million California households and businesses, is investing billions of dollars in infrastructure for plug-in hybrid cars.
PG&E has developed the technology to distribute 10 million so-called “smart meters” to customers, with the aim of encouraging them to recharge their cars during off-peak hours at lower rates and with less strain on the electric grid. Officials at PG&E are working on technology that would allow cars to communicate automatically with the grid to determine the most cost-effective time to charge. The advent of plug-in technology is one of several important factors — including the need to accommodate electricity generated by solar and wind power — driving the need to restructure and rebuild the U.S. electric grid.
11 Jun 2008:
Facing Record Gas Prices,
More Americans are Taking the Train
Amtrak, which runs America’s passenger railroad, reports that ridership increased sharply in May as high gasoline prices prompt more Americans to forsake their cars
and ride the rails. Ridership on the inter-city rail network rose 12.3 percent in May compared to May 2007, and ticket sales were up 15.6 percent, Amtrak reported. Amtrak president Alex Kummant said soaring gas prices were responsible for much of that increase, and rail advocates said a 15 percent jump in travel on long-distance routes in May showed that trains can compete with planes as fuel prices lead to higher airline ticket prices. Passenger railways account for less than 1 percent of total annual travel miles in the U.S., as compared to 6 to 8 percent in Europe and 18 percent in Japan.
09 Jun 2008:
Naples Garbage Exported
as Europe Grapples with Mounds of Refuse
For nearly three months, Naples — where garbage piles up on the streets because the city has run out of landfill space — has been shipping much of its refuse to Hamburg by train.
The International Herald Tribune
reports that this mass transfer of rotting trash is symptomatic of a larger problem as Europe — where opposition to landfills is growing and space is limited — prepares to meet strict targets that would greatly reduce the trash stream through recycling and high-tech incineration.
The trash train, with 56 cars bearing 700 tons of garbage a day, hauls refuse to a city symbolic of Europe’s future. Hamburg, governed by the German Green Party, has one of Europe’s most advanced recycling programs and state-of-the-art incinerators. City officials said they will accept Naples trash for several more months as an emergency measure. Meanwhile, the member states of the European Union are working to meet a goal of slashing the amount of trash sent to landfills to 35 percent of 1995 levels.