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In this 7th installment of our deep dive into Paul Hawken’s New York Times Bestseller – Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis in One Generation, we invite you to walk earth’s biggest cities with us as we explore the real impact of cities – one which contributes 70% of greenhouse gasses the world over, while housing over 4.3 Billion people.
01:49 Walk The Streets of Cities
04:30 Living Building Challenge
06:00 New York City, Leading The Way With BlocPower
08:00 Urban Farms, Rooftop Farms, Vertical Farms
10:00 The Beauty Of Historic Cities And Creating A New Normal with Less Hardscaping and More Green Life
11:50 Bosco Verticale – Vertical Forests As City Homes
14:40 Fifteen Minute Cities, Walking Cities
16:00 Carbon Architecture and Green Building
16:44 Podcast Feature: Katharine MacPhail, Talking House Renovations with the House Maven https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/talking-home-renovations-with-the-house-maven/id1481716218
Introduction to Regeneration: One Billion Climate Activists Strong: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/one-billion-climate-activists-strong/
Regeneration Interview with Paul Hawken: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-ending-the-climate-crisis-in-one-generation/
Regeneration Part 1 Oceans: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-1-oceans/
Regeneration Part 2 Forests: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-2-forests/
Regeneration Part 3 Wilding: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-3-wilding/
Regeneration Part 4 Nexus: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-4-nexus-climate-activism-tool/
Regeneration Part 5 Regenerative Agriculture: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-5-land-regenerative-agriculture-and-soil-restoration-to-reverse-global-warming/
Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation was published on September 21, 2021 and is available at all your favorite booksellers. Visit the Regeneration website for details, resources, and valuable tools for anyone interested in becoming a climate activist.
Regeneration + Nexus: https://www.regeneration.org
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Welcome regenerators! This is the 7th installment in my coverage of Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation by Paul Hawken – and we’ve been on quite the journey thus far. Those of you who have been with me since the beginning already know this – but I’ve been on this topic each Friday since the week before my interview with Paul.
We’re past the halfway point of this journey now – and there are yet a few to come before we conclude this book. For those that are new to this series, I encourage you to go back to the introduction. Links to each are included in chronological order in the show notes for each Regeneration episode. And if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to visit Caremorebebetter.com and join our newsletter today. As your welcome gift you’ll receive a 5-page guide to help unleash your inner activist and organize any effort you are inspired to take on. It could be focused on climate activism, or a social impact initiative – or even a project you could use some help organizing. Once you join our mailing list, you’ll receive a single weekly email which includes notes about our weekly shows, any upcoming events, and from time to time, suggestions for actions you can take to make a difference.
OK let’s get right to it.
Today, we are going to walk the streets of cities as we uncover the secrets of reaching carbon neutrality, zero waste, and even a carbon negative imprint through living buildings and more.
For those of you that are following along in the book, we commence this journey with an opening by Paul on page 149. He commences this chapter as follows:
“Cities are tapestries of culture, science, art, cuisine, music, scholarship, theater, diversity and innovation. And they are also depleting the world’s resources at break-neck speed. The needs, wants and demands of cities ultimately degrade life in all its forms, on all continents and oceans, largely unseen by tis inhabitants. What becomes of civilization in this century will be determined by what happens in urban and suburban environments.”
– Paul Hawken, Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 149)
Our Current City Predicament
It may be no surprise to you that 70% of our global greenhouse gasses are created for consumption within cities – including electricity, manufacturing, heating and cooling, transportation and waste. 4.3 billion people live in cities and in order to meet the goals of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% or more by 2030. What’s more, cities concentrate pollution with 92% of cities having air quality below their standards.
So, what can we achieve in cities by 2030? Can we really cut greenhouse gas emissions in half? Can we shift to green energy exclusively? Move to all electric cars? Make new buildings that are actual living ecosystems? Convert old buildings to carbon negative dwellings and office parks? Can we do all of this in 8 years and change? Probably not – but we can certainly make a lot of progress.
Half of the world population lives in cities and 1.5 million new residents move into cities each week. It’s predicted that by 2050, 6.7 billion will live in our cities. This means we will need to virtually double the capacity of cities to accommodate this unprecedented growth. With such fast growth, reaching carbon neutrality becomes even more complicated, as with growth, more carbon will need to be offset.
Denmark is well on its way to going carbon neutral by 2050, perhaps a later date but progress nonetheless, especially considering the growth of cities.
Living Building Challenge
Living Buildings are what we’ll need to help us get there. They take us one step beyond net neutrality to net positivity. The Living Building Challenge was conceived in 2006 by Jason McLennan who envisioned a building that could produce more water and energy than it consumed. This living building would be an ecosystem in and of itself. So far, 100 buildings have been certified through the Living Building Challenge and 500 more are currently in process. Leading examples include: the Bullitt Center, a 6-story office building in Seattle; Etsy’s 200,000 square foot headquarters in Brooklyn, NY; and Google’s 7-story office in Chicago.
This may all seem like a massive undertaking but building living buildings like these will create energy jobs of the future. Those that participate in living building challenges will likewise take their learnings with them and capably produce new innovations that may make it easier to modernize existing structures. We need all hands on deck, after all, and more builders, electricians, gardeners, and architects who know how to build in an ecologically responsible manner will shift a tide in our global favor.
Let’s take a walk through New York City. Did you know that 70% of New York City’s emissions come from its buildings? Donnel Baird, a New Yorker whose two passions are climate change and civil rights seeks to change that statistic. He created a company called BlocPower (B-L-O-C-Power) that aims to turn older energy hogs that burn large amounts of natural gas to heat home and water into energy efficient buildings where heat pumps replace the old gas boilers we’ve all heard stories about.
Modernizing and Retrofitting Buildings for Energy Efficiency and Carbon Neutrality
The cool thing about this method of heating and cooling – okay – one of the cool things – is that it uses 50% less energy for the same effect. It’s more energy efficient and long-term it costs as much as 40% less. Another point of note is that converting all of these old systems to a new more efficient model employs skilled laborers – those same “energy workers” that may have worked for Big Oil or Big Coal can now go to work retrofitting and converting old buildings to make them more efficient and habitable. They can replace old single paned windows with double paned efficient windows, insulate walls and roofing, fix leaks, and shift lighting systems to LED lights. When we address all buildings in such a fashion, we will eliminate 1/7 of the world’s greenhouse gasses altogether.
One of the primary challenges faced by cities is a lack of sufficient open areas to produce food. Everything is trucked in… But what if we could change that. On page 156 Paul Hawken poses a question:
“Will urban farming make a dent in climate change? Yes, but not much. However, it does something that can make a difference. It reawakens people’s understanding of food and its total impact on human health, happiness, and well-being. People living in food apartheid are surrounded by ultra-processed food laden with fat, starch, and sugar. Farmers’ markets, community gardens, and urban farms help people literally walk back their obesity and ill health to vitality and a sense of well-being. People begin to vote with their forks; they purchase better food and avoid the junk. Ultimately, this is the way the larger food system will change, a system that has the greatest impact on global warming, with its attendant and accelerating influence on fires, floods and storms.”
– Paul Hawken, Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 156)
There are some amazing examples of organizations doing great work within cities to produce good food and reconnect people to where their food comes from. Rooftop Roots in Washington D.C., Lufa Farms in Quebec and Rooftop Republic in Hong Kong are all called out as incredible examples. In fact, Lufa Farms in Montreal has expanded during COVID due toa surge in demand and is now producing 25,000 pounds of food each week. Add to efforts by companies like these the vertical farming efforts of companies like “Square Roots” who convert shipping containers into aquaponic gardens that are completely modular, and that can even be stacked, and you start to see how we might be able to attack the vegetative needs of cities around the globe. As we solve transportation concerns and replace cars with green transit within cities, parking lots can be replaced with fields of growing Square Roots containers and expansive outdoor gardens.
The Nature of Cities
What cities do you dream of visiting? I’ll bet one thing for certain, if you think of France, you imagine Paris, not Brest. If you think of England, you’ll dream of London not Milton Keynes. What do Paris and London have in common? They integrate parks, trees, and open spaces. They have rivers and expansive views. They are old. Brest, in Bretagne was obliterated in WWII and was rebuilt, mostly of cement, in a hurry without much attention to the spaces they were creating. Milton Keynes looks more like Cupertino, in California than a city in Europe. The entire town is a shopping mall with asphalt and concrete, an indoor ski slope and not much greenery. Planned communities of the future can integrate nature. We can move from the hardscaped metropolis of yesterday, to a green, lush environment.
“Cities are regretting their hardscapes. In 2012, Beijing suffered devastating flooding as storm water overwhelmed drains and coursed through city streets with no way to soak into the ground. It was a similar story across the nation and only getting worse under climate change. In response, China is creating “sponge cities” full of green, natural places where rain and flood water can be absorbed, including rooftop gardens, restored wetlands and lakes, new parks, and additional trees and other vegetation. Porous materials are being used in sidewalks and streets. The captured water is stored in underground tanks where it is available for use. By 2030 China plans to have 80% of its cities absorb two-thirds of the rainwater that falls on them. Cities in India, Russia, and the United States are implementing “sponge” projects as well.”
– Paul Hawken, Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 160-161)
And even as communities around the globe awaken to what it will mean to integrate more green spaces, some builders are taking it a step further. Take for example Stefano Boeri, an Itialian architect who designed the first vertical forest in the Porto Nuovo district of Milan. This building, “Bosco Verticale” is two residential towers of 19 and 27 floors. They include eight hundred trees, five thousand shrubs and fifteen thousand vines and perennials rooted within 8,900 square feet of terraces, providing a distinct feel of a forest city.
“The trees and plants buffer city noise, and in the quieter spaces of the terraces, twenty varieties of nesting birds can be seen and heard. A mature tree can release a hundred gallons of mist per day into the atmosphere, lowering surrounding air temperature for residents and the neighborhood. Instead of the classic urban heat island, wherein cities experience hotter temperature than nearby rural areas, Bosco Verticale is an island of cool. It is projected to convert 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into oxygen annually.”
– Paul Hawken, Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 161)
As Paul closes this chapter he reminds us that he defines Regeneration as putting life at the center of all decisions and choices. As he points out, “that seed can be planted within every child in every garden, riverbank, and parkland”.
And as we think about city living, we almost can’t escape without thinking about the beeping of large trucks backing up, or the taxis racing by, or of the honking horns of commuters and sirens of police cars in pursuit. But what if that traffic quieted to a whisper? What if all the cars were electric, and what if we lived in spaces that were more manageable to reach by public transport?
As we learned earlier, 70% of global greenhouse gasses come from cities – and a full one-third of that comes from transport. Everything we do to limit greenhouse-gas emitting transportation within cities will be helpful. We can walk. We can bike. We can use electric scooters, busses, trains and subways.
Did you know that given its population density and available public transport, New York City has the smallest carbon footprint per person of any city in the United States? They are followed closely by San Francisco – but I bet you would have placed San Francisco first. I will tell you something though. You can walk 50 blocks in New York City and if you blow your nose at the end of that 50 blocks, your tissue will be full of black residue. Do the same in San Francisco – and it will be clear. I know – because I’ve done exactly that in both cities.
My point is this. Improvements can still be made, and New York City is nowhere near a carbon neutral footprint – nor is San Francisco — and we need to move in that direction.
The Fifteen Minute City
Part of the way we can get there is simply this. We can live, work, and play within walking distance of our homes. As cities prepare to catapult forward, nearly doubling in their populous over the next decade, there is a movement in many cities to provide everything you would need within a 15 minute walk of your front door. Les Allees Pietonnes – literally “the walking alleys” – in Paris’ 2nd Arrondissement (sorry, District) is one example of a vibrant, and thriving walking district near Les Halles – a shopping mall – and Le Louvre museum. Furthermore, in 2019 alone Paris successfully reduced traffic by 9% by shutting certain sections of the city to car traffic in favor of pedestrians. France and their love of walking, long lunches and slow-living can set the stage for success with this 15-Minute Model. From Portland, Oregon to Melbourne, Australia, more urbanized tests are well on their way to becoming reality. We can build a better, more resilient, and healthier future – all we have to do is imagine it and begin the hard work of building that reality. We have great examples to pick from. It’s time to GO for it!
As we build new buildings, retrofit old ones, and commence serious remodels, we need to think deeply about the materials we use. Wood, clay, bamboo, straw and hemp are all resources we can use, along with spongey replacements for traditional concrete and ecologically minded designs that integrate green spaces within and about them. Progress is being made one step at a time, and it will take architects and builders with guts to change the tide from using simply steel and concrete to building with natural materials that store carbon without degrading ecosystems.
Bio based materials should be at the center of our building solutions – and this is something we’ll dig into more deeply in upcoming episodes as I connect with another podcaster, Katharine MacPhail. She is an architect on the East Coast who seeks greener building solutions for her clients. We’ll soon begin a cross-collaboration as I offer my thoughts on her show which is called “Talking Home Renovations” with the House Maven – and she on mine. I’ll be sure to include a link to her show in show notes.
Next week we will feed your soul with our coverage of the next section of Paul Hawken’s book as we discuss FOOD. I hope you’ll join us. It’s that time isn’t it?
As we wrap up…
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