Posts Tagged ‘Cities’

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on 10 Ways to Become More Eco-Friendly While Living in the City

By: Jane Marsh

Living in urban regions presents various challenges to the eco-conscious citizen. When renting an apartment in a ten-story building, it is nearly impossible to influence the consumption patterns of every resident. Though managing utilities and choosing appliances is a distant dream, you can alter your lifestyle to shrink your carbon footprint.

1. Skip the Straw

Our local baristas may stick a straw in our iced coffees without a second thought. The thin plastic tubes allow us to drink with ease and cause environmental degradation. These single-use items are non recyclable, spending hundreds of years in landfills.

Most straws are non-biodegradable and break up into microplastics over time. Storm surges and heavy rain carry microplastics into rivers and the ocean. They disrupt the natural composition of the ocean floor, poisoning aquatic life and the marine ecosystem. Urban residents can limit plastic pollution by asking the barista to hold the straw.

2. Take the Bus

In the city, taking public transportation is ten times safer than driving a car. Taking the bus both limits your likelihood of getting in an accident and shrinks your carbon footprint, as the transportation sector generates 30% of American greenhouse gas emissions.

Nearly 82% of all transportation emissions derive from personal cars and trucks. Buses only account for 6% of the carbon released, making it the greener transportation option. Eco-friendly individuals can leave their car keys at home and hop on the public bus.

3. Practice Sustainable Pet Care

Dogs are lovely city companions, making apartment living feel more like home. Many owners bathe their furry friends too frequently, wasting water and harming their coats. Overbathing can cause hot spots, sores, flaking and itchy welts.

You can decrease your water use and improve your pet’s health by bathing them less often. Biodegradable dog bags also offer a sustainable solution to plastic pollution. Individuals can locate compost bins in their neighborhood to dispose of their used baggies, providing nourishment for the earth.

4. Shop at Thrift Stores

Fast fashion companies generate synthetic textiles out of plastic. When we throw away old clothes composed of this material, they pollute the ocean with microplastics. Rather than placing these articles in the trash or financially supporting their production, you can buy secondhand clothing.

5. Adopt a Flexitarian Diet

Beef production emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The air pollutant contributes to adverse human health effects and climate change. Adopting a flexitarian diet can significantly shrink one’s carbon footprint.

A flexitarian diet consists of fruit, vegetable and grain consumption, with the occasional mean containing meal. Urban residents can limit their meat intake to increase the sustainability of their lifestyle.

6. Bring Your Own To-Go Container

To-go containers made of recyclable materials may end up in the blue bin without food remnants. For example, if an individual can thoroughly cleanse a pizza box of grease, cheese and crumble, they can place it in the recycling bin.

You can limit this challenge by bringing your own to-go container. Individuals can reuse glass and hard plastic containers for many years, decreasing their production of waste.   

7. Get a Reusable Cup

Single-use plastic coffee cups end up in landfills, contaminating soil, water and harming wildlife. The toxins that leak from plastic containers also cause adverse human health effects, like cancer. City residents can reduce environmental and human harm by investing in a reusable cup.

8. Grow Indoor Plants

Indoor plants may increase the aesthetic appeal of an apartment while filtering air pollution. Plants absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and release clean oxygen. They improve your indoor air quality, helping you breathe easily, and offset your carbon emissions.

9. Transport by Bike

If you live far from a train or bus stop, you can invest in a bike to travel sustainably. You can reduce your carbon emissions by 0.5 tons annually by completing one trip a day by bike. When you travel solely by cycling, your footprint shrinks even further.

You can generate an eco-friendlier transportation method when using a thrifted bike. Rubber production has adverse effects on the environment and patching up tires can reduce negative impacts. Riding a vintage bike can also enhance your style, making you the trendiest cyclist on the road.

10. Make Green Cleaning Products

Conventional, store-bought cleaning products contain harsh chemicals that pollute the air and contaminate the soil. You can make your own eco-friendly cleaning products to reduce your environmental impact.

An all-purpose cleaner that is environmentally safe contains vinegar, water, soap and essential oils. Individuals may fill a reusable spray bottle with a ¼ cup of vinegar, two cups of water and a drop of soap and oil. Shake up the solution, spray and wipe down all surfaces and watch your apartment shine like the top of the Chrysler building.

Small Changes, Big Impacts

Though the eco-friendly methods presented above may seem small, their environmental impacts add up over time. If you are looking to enhance the sustainability of your lifestyle, you can start by adopting a small change, like skipping the straw. When you are ready to make a larger impact, you can hop on a vintage bike for your workday commute. 

***

Jane Marsh is an environmental writer. You can keep up with her work on her site Environment.co.

posted by | on , , , , | 1 comment

By: Lindsay Hollingsworth

We’ve all seen them. The mosses creeping up foundations, the tiny leaves poking out from in between bricks, the young trees swaying merrily from their perches within gutters. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably taken secret joy in these tiny spots of green scattered throughout the city, even as those around you talk of untidiness and power washing.

While pursuing my master’s degree in Ireland, I had the opportunity to study these plants, hidden in plain sight in centuries-old stone walls. As I pursued my research, I learned that the scientific community has often overlooked wall plants as a point of potential ecological interest. Even as our understanding of cities as unique ecosystems has grown, wall plants and other urban botanicals remain a relatively underexplored topic. But there’s been just enough research done to give us tantalizing hints at a secret world of plants unfolding, like the frond of a fern, right under our noses – in the cracks and margins of our megastructures, and in the places that have become too ordinary to notice.

Wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) growing on an ancient stone wall (Photo by Lindsay Hollingsworth)

Some research has suggested that, like forests, wall vegetation has successional stages. As city dirt accumulates and concrete and mortar weathered, walls are first colonized by lichens, then by mosses, and then by vascular plants. And as these tiny microhabitats form, wall plants provide shelter for insects and small animals, who in turn may carry seeds to new crannies and crevices. And in some cases, the unique environmental conditions of walls may provide a sanctuary for important local plant species, especially those that might normally make their homes in cliffs and rocky terrain.

It is unfortunate that we know so little about these plants, especially when we could learn so much from them. With so many of us living in cities, and more predicted to migrate to them in the near future, the question of how to make our cities more verdant and sustainable becomes increasingly crucial. 

And this question is perhaps especially pertinent to sprawling cities like Washington, D.C., where urban development covers so much of the surrounding landscape, and where there is an increasing push to incorporate green walls and roofs into our city infrastructure. Understanding the circumstances which allow plants to grow on walls without human aid may help us to more efficiently cultivate vegetation on our buildings. Currently, one of the biggest drawbacks to green walls is the expense and labor required to maintain them. However, better knowledge of what plants are naturally suited to wall colonization in a particular climate, and under what conditions they will do so, could help us better select plants that require little intervention to thrive. 

Green walls on an urban apartment building (WikiMedia Commons)

Moreover, an understanding of wall plants as not just a nuisance or a curiosity, but as an important part of urban ecosystems, may allow us to see and develop our green walls and roofs to support plants and animals beyond our cities. Green walls and roofs have already been deservedly celebrated for their ability to reduce air pollution, but the way in which animals seem to use naturally occurring wall plants for shelter raises some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps if we can explore the potential of green walls and roofs as refuges and habitat corridors, we could create fundamental changes to the types of animals that can use urban spaces. Perhaps instead of being obstacles for migrating songbirds and butterflies, they could be waystations. 

 The next time you see a cranesbill or hart’s tongue poking out from in between the stones of a garden wall or the bricks of the building, I encourage you to stop and take notice. Admire its fortitude, to grow in a place where so few can. Try and see what circumstances, what characteristics of this particular wall have made its small life possible. And remember that even in a city with no forests or fields, we live, always, side-by-side with nature.

***

Lindsay Hollingsworth holds a master’s degree in Biodiversity and Conservation from Trinity College, Dublin, where she researched novel ecosystems, agroecology, and wall flora. She completed her undergraduate studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She currently works at an environmental consulting company, and volunteers with the local Potomac Conservancy.

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sustainable Cities are Paving the Way at COP21

By Lindsay Parker

This week, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 has begun. This conference is a very. big. deal. If successful, it could be a decisive moment in the fight against climate change.

Leaders from 150 countries along with 40,000 delegates from 195 countries are meeting to reach an agreement on how to address our biggest environmental challenge. Without international action, our climate is on track to warm up to 5C (9F) above pre-industrial levels, causing weather extremes and devastating our natural resources. The results of these negotiations are critical.

Leading up to the conference, political leaders and activists have responded to the call to address climate change. Countries across the world are setting sustainability goals, federally and locally. In particular, cities are enacting policies that reduce emissions and support mitigation and adaptation to global warming.

Source: Ben Johnson

Source: Ben Johnson

Today, half of humanity – 3.5 billion people – lives in cities , and roughly 5.2 billion people are projected to live in urban communities by 2050.

Cities are hubs for economic and social advancement, commerce, and culture; however, they are also the source of many energy-intensive processes and emissions: building energy consumption, vehicles and transportation, solid waste water treatment, industry, and more.

To ensure a slowdown of global warming, urban areas face a challenge: remaining hubs for jobs  and prosperity, while limiting environmental impacts.


Fun facts about cities:


While cities face a sustainability challenge, they have an opportunity to enact influential climate policy much quicker than federal governments. In the U.S., Congressional inaction towards cohesive climate policy has pushed local leaders to take matters into their own hands. Currently, cities around the world are working to cut emissions, support public transportation, and increase efficiency. They are proving that they can fight climate change while growing economically.

The move toward sustainable and efficient infrastructure will not be cheap. Luckily, cities can benefit from international funding, particularly those in developing countries.  Mexico City, for example, has pledged to commit 10% of the city’s budget to resilience goals. UNFCCC financing mechanisms, such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), provide grants up to $10 million for urban transport projects and low-emission urban systems to all non-Annex I members of the UN. Likewise, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), also instituted by the COP, finances low emission cities using $10 billion from country pledges.

Today, during a special Summit at the COP21, over 1,000 mayors will join President Obama and Secretary Kerry for the Climate Summit for Local LeadersThe event is co-hosted by Mike Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The event will bring a collection of local actors together to urge action and build upon the efforts of the Compact of Mayors.

The Compact of Mayors is a global coalition of city officials who pledge to create ambitious climate action plans, increase resilience to global warming, reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions, and publicly track progress toward each goal. Currently, 382 cities, representing 345,853,881 people worldwide and 4.7% of the total global population have committed to the Compact of Mayors. Major cities involved include:

Cities are leading as an example for national governments that is it possible to set and achieve more ambitious goals for emissions reductions. These officials will present their ambitious climate action plans at the COP21.

President Obama addresses attendees at COP21 in Paris Source: : https://blogs.state.gov/stories/2015/11/30/follow-along-global-agreement-act-climate

President Obama addresses attendees at COP21 in Paris
Source: US State Department

Earlier this year, President Obama announced his goal for 100 US cities join the Compact by the start of COP21. That goal has been met and exceeded. Across the country and the world, cities are taking action by retrofitting buildings, upgrading transportation, and building efficient infrastructure.

In the U.S., cities are already making great headway:

Internationally, megacities in the C40 network are leading the way with low carbon goals and sustainable urban growth. This group represents half a billion people and 25% of global GDP, and they have promised to shift towards sustainable policies. Below are actions taken by leading cities:

  • London plans to install 6,000 charging points and 3,000 battery-powered cars by 2018
  • Gothenburg and Johannesburg have issued $489 million worth of green bonds
  • Shanghai will invest $16.3 billion over the next 3 years on 220 anti-pollution projects

In sum, the COP21 is on track to have some significant outcomes. If you live in a city, you’re likely to see evidence of these first hand. You can contribute to reducing global warming by taking public transportation, turning off lights, and supporting your local sustainability leader.

Lindsay Parker is a Texas native with a Masters of Public Policy focused on energy and climate policy from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany. She is currently working at the U.S. Department of Energy on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. When she’s not hiking, she enjoys choir, running, swing dancing, and yoga.