“Innovative thinking must solve our current and future climate and pollution problems as cities grow, and individuals must do their part in leaving a planet that future generations can comfortably occupy!”
By Linn Smith
January 26, 2019—I live part of the year in a city that is rapidly growing. Along with this growth comes air pollution, traffic congestion, increased construction and industrial businesses which spew toxins into the air as they burn fossil fuels. Gone are the days of vacant lots, laid back life styles and traveling anywhere in the city or suburbs in under 20 minutes. Now every hour of the day looks like rush hour!
Plans to combat this city’s growth include expanding the transit system, which has greatly fallen short, as many times it’s down or not functioning at full capacity. There is a great need for more innovative solutions!
Rapidly Expanding Cities
According to UN Habitat, cities consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, they account for less than 2 per cent of the Earth’s surface. It’s predicted that 2/3 of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.
Urban Heat Islands
As temperatures increase due to climate change, urban heat islands will be created by concrete and buildings holding in the heat. (See, https://planetearth5.com/?s=urban+hot+spots). As I wrote in this article, “If you live in a city you probably have noticed how much cooler it is in the summertime when you take a drive in the country. Drive back toward the city, with its concrete buildings, and you feel the great intensiveness of a hot summer day. There’s a name for this city heat….the Urban Heat Island Effect. An Urban Heat Island describes a large area of buildings and concrete (cities) that has temperatures which are higher than the countryside surrounding them. According to http://www.epa.gov, “ ‘The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22°F (12°C).’ ” With global warming the temperatures of the heat islands will continue to increase.”
Cities, Health and Pollution
Pollution, a by-product of urban living, is also linked with climate change. Both climate change and air pollution are a direct result of burning fossil fuels, which increase CO2 emissions causing the greenhouse effect in our planet’s atmosphere. The Energy Policy Institute in Chicago found life expectancy is reduced by almost 2 years from air pollution, driving up health care costs. In rapidly growing cities respiratory disease is on the rise causing many to wear facemasks as smog grows severe.
Cities and Smart Growth
The article, published by http://www.epa.gov titled, “Smart Growth and Climate Change,” outlines the following smart growth policies for managing city growth:
1. Reuse existing infrastructure and buildings to take advantage of previous investments and energy already used to build them.
2. Put homes, jobs, stores, parks, schools and public transportation near each other. This could reduce Co2 emissions by 7-10%.
3. Preserve green space and promote development in previously developed areas.
4. Discourage building in areas that are currently or projected to be vulnerable to climate change related disasters, such as fires, storms, flooding, ect.
5. Preserve areas that will mitigate the disasters of climate change, such as coastal areas which can absorb the water from floods and hurricanes.
6. Encourage water and energy efficient buildings and land use patterns which can better prepare communities for drought and disasters.
7. Use green infrastructure to reduce the amount of runoff from paved surfaces.
8. Encourage green roofs, parks and planting of trees and shrubbery.
9. Design buildings for passive survivability that will remain habitable even if they lose external power for extended periods, and save on energy bills as well during normal operations.
Researchers also have found that roadsides plantings of hedges and shrubs were effective at reducing pollution exposure, cutting black carbon by up to 63 percent.
China’s Skyscraper Air Purifier
Another recent invention to fight air pollution is taking place in China. NBCnews.com published an article in 2018, “This Skyscraper-sized Air Purifier is the World’s Tallest”, stating, “It may look like just another giant smokestack, but a 200-foot tower in the central Chinese city of Xi’an was built to pull deadly pollutants from the air rather than add more. And preliminary research shows the tower — which some are calling the world’s largest air purifier — has cut air pollution significantly across a broad swath of the surrounding area. Built in 2016, the $2 million Xi’an tower, dubbed the solar-assisted large-scale cleaning system, stands atop an enormous glass-roofed greenhouse. Sunlight heats the air within the greenhouse, causing it to rise through the tower, where a series of air filters trap soot and other noxious particles. Xu, who wasn’t involved in the tower project, added that it’s important to take into account the energy costs involved with building and operating the towers. If the structure requires electricity from the grid that is fueled by coal, then operating the purifying system will itself generate harmful emissions. “That will be not so clever,” Xu said.
Dr. Robert Harley, Professor of environmental engineering at University of California says, “Real progress in solving outdoor air pollution problems will require reductions in emissions from the major air pollution sources, such as heavy industry, coal-burning power plants, motor vehicles, and residential cooking and heating, especially if people are still using solid fuels such as wood or coal for those purposes.”
Innovative thinking must solve our current and future climate and pollution problems as cities grow, replacing rural life, and individuals must do their part in leaving a planet that future generations can comfortably occupy!