Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Green Cities-A New Take on Energy Efficiency

October 12, 2011

St. Pertersburg, Florida - Photo: Darcy Kiefel

Climate change experts always point to energy efficiency as a win-win strategy. Achieving the same ends with less energy reduces carbon emissions and puts money back into the hands of families and businesses. There is broad public agreement that America should develop more energy-efficient technologies and encourage their use.

But the development of new technologies is not the only way to increase energy efficiency. We can also do this by changing where and how we live and by creating greener cities.

Attracting more Americans to live in cities will save energy and reduce carbon emissions. One study found that residents of New York City generated 13,448 pounds less CO2 each year than residents of surrounding suburban areas.

These energy savings come from multiple sources. Most importantly, urban residents use less energy for transportation and live in smaller spaces that require less energy for heat and electricity.

A recent Bloomberg survey on the most attractive cities in the country included “green space per capita” among its criteria, and ranked leafy Raleigh, North Carolina at the top of its list. Restoring riverfronts, creating parks, and improving non-motorized trails will attract more people to the energy-efficient lifestyle in cities.

But that’s only half the picture. The same “green infrastructure” that increases livability also makes cities more energy efficient.

  • Creating paths and greenways for walking and biking reduces driving and other motorized transit
  • Increasing natural land lessens the wasteful “heat island effect” that elevates urban air temperatures by as much as 22 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Green spaces provide natural stormwater control, lessening energy needed for pumping and treatment

Green cities are like a living system-naturally regulating heat and precipitation.
Investing in urban green space is also good insurance against the impacts of climate change. As the nation witnessed with Hurricane Katrina, cities are vulnerable to the type of extreme weather that has been linked to climate change.

Conserving green spaces, especially wetlands, around low-lying cities makes them less vulnerable to flooding. An average acre of wetland can store a million gallons of water. The Trust for Public Land is helping New Orleans design new “water retention parks” to serve as urban green space in fair weather, and natural drainage during extreme weather events.

America’s cities are pushing forward on this win-win opportunity to mitigate climate change and ensure economic well being. Cities across America have included the conservation of green space as a major element in their climate action plans-New York did this as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC.

As public discourse continues over the need for new infrastructure in America, we should not overlook this “green infrastructure” in our cities as a priority investment that will benefit both the economy and the environment.

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Editor’s Note: Jad Daley is the director of The Trust for Public Land’s Climate Conservation Program.

It’s time to mount a personal climate response

July 13, 2010

Close-to-home produce, Santa Fe Farmers Market - Photo: William Poole

It has been a tough few months for Americans who love the land. Scenes of the oil spill in the Gulf have brought the consequences of our fossil fuel economy deep into our hearts. Congressional gridlock on comprehensive climate change legislation-despite evidence of mounting climate shifts-has frustrated our hopes for a new energy course that would protect our land and water and slow the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

It is easy to be discouraged in the face of environmental catastrophe and political stalemate.  But there are small steps each of us can take while we wait for government’s big strides.  Instead of meditating on this national moment of dismay, every American should refocus on the energy and climate solutions that we all have at hand, right now, and work to create the change that we seek.  

Ultimately, slowing climate change will require government-led solutions that shift our energy infrastructure to a new model.  But our energy use and related environmental impacts are also driven by individual daily choices.  For example, you can ride your bike to work instead of driving.  Or I can eat lettuce grown in my own backyard rather than on the other side of the country.  It is these kinds of small actions, repeated billions of times over, that will be needed to solve our energy and climate crisis.  

These personal actions also have political consequences.  As someone who works in Washington D.C. but travels the country regularly, I see how the political mood in the nation’s capital moves in a shadowy dance with what is happening in our cities, towns, and rural landscapes.  The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway right now is that America has given up on a comprehensive energy and climate change response as too confusing, uncertain, and expensive.  Each one of us can help change this political mood by showing through our actions that we understand the problem and are ready to do what it takes.  

So if you feel despair right now at our inability to tackle energy and climate, this is the time to become the change you seek through personal action.  Talk about it to your friends and neighbors and ask them to join you—start the toppling dominoes of personal action. 

While you’re putting up a clothesline or screwing in high-efficiency light bulbs, TPL will continue to advocate for a comprehensive energy and climate change response from Washington.  And we will also continue doing our part to make a difference right now by developing land conservation projects that expand biking and walking opportunities in America’s cities and towns, sequester millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in newly restored native forests, and help protect our drinking water supplies and coastal areas from scientifically identified climate threats.  

None of us need to wait for government action before getting to work on our own personal energy and climate solutions.  The tipping point for national and even international action is closer than you think, and now is the time to push.  See you on the bike path! 

Editor’s Note: Jad Daley is the director of TPL’s Climate Conservation Program. 

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New report highlights climate benefits of compact development

June 23, 2010

ULI report cover: Land Use and Driving

I sometimes imagine being confronted with this question in my old age: what have you done to help prevent climate change? Sadly, I am no paragon of the energy-efficient human. I goose the thermostat to 68 degrees when I am cold, and my wife and I launder our clothes in an electric washer and dryer. Our car, acquired many years ago, has more horsepower than is absolutely necessary to get me from one place to another.

But at least I will be able to make this claim: I have lived most of my adult life in cities, where I have been able to walk and take public transportation to shopping, work, movies, and museums. And my compact San Francisco condominium, with another unit above for insulation and buildings abutting on both sides to shield it from wintertime Pacific gales, requires much less energy to heat than if it was a freestanding suburban home.

I don’t maintain that city living is a sacrifice. I enjoy living in San Francisco, which with more than 16,600 people per square mile, is the second more densely populated large city in the U.S.  I welcome the convenience of walkability and the spirit and community of the city’s neighborhoods.  And I enjoy San Francisco’s  many parks and showcase public spaces (more on those in a moment), without which I would surely be afflicted with what writer Richard Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder.”  If living here is also good for the environment and helps to address the climate crisis—well, that’s frosting on the cake.

A new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) makes the case for compact development as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

When people have the opportunity to work, play, and shop closer to their homes, they drive less. This translates into reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and helps in the fight against climate change. ULI’s new report, Land Use and Driving: The Role Compact Development Can Play in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, shows that changing our land use patterns can be a meaningful component of broader strategies to address climate change.

The ULI report focuses on transportation amd summarizes the results of three recent research projects.

Three recent studies—-Moving Cooler, Growing Cooler, and Driving and the Built Environment—-have addressed this question. Examining the connection between land use and driving from different angles, analysis in all three of the reports suggests that compact development can reduce driving, and therefore energy consumption, when it makes up a significant portion of new development.

Moving Cooler and Growing Cooler, both published by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute, and Driving and the Built Environment, produced by the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board, are three very different studies. However, each of them examines the connection between land use and driving, and tests the effect that building in a more compact way can have on energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

The conclusion?  Increasing building density by between 25 percent and 75 percent would decrease vehicle miles traveled in these households by 12 percent and 25 percent respectively.

While the report briefly lists the characteristics of compact development and mentions the growing demand for living in city centers and urban environments, it does not detail completely what compact communities should offer to attract residents. Which brings us to parks, greenways, and open spaces like the ones that so attract me to San Francisco. TPL believes so strongly that parks are critical in creating climate-smart communities that we have made it a central component of our Climate Conservation program.

Somebody needs to write a report of how parks and greenways encourage denser, more climate-smart development. Wait a minute—maybe TPL should do that.

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What’s so new about climate-adaptation conservation?

January 14, 2010

Brook Trout - a species endangered by climate change - Source: American Fishes, 1903

I hear this often from policy makers as I make my rounds in Washington.  To them it sounds like climate adaptation conservation is just more of the same, like restoring wetlands and protecting habitat and watersheds.  Haven’t you conservationists been doing that for years?  Why do you need additional funding when the actions proposed sound like what you’ve been doing for decades?

It’s a fair question, and one that conservation advocates have not always answered well.  The actions we must take are familiar.  But we must apply these old actions in new and different ways if we are to seriously help animals and people adjust to climate change.  And the scale of activity must be unprecedented if we want to keep our major cities above water, trout in our streams, our forests intact, and our drinking water clean

The goal of climate adaptation conservation is to protect what scientists call “redundant and resilient natural systems.”  We must do this to sustain ecosystem services, which  include everything from collecting and filtering our drinking water to protecting us from storms and  providing habitat for wildlife. 

Achieving redundant natural systems means assuring sufficient distribution of protected lands —  enough watersheds to provide the water we need, enough habitat for species we treasure, enough wetlands to protect our cities from storms. 

And for them to remain resilient to climate change we must care for these places well, protecting them from climate-induced invasion by non-native species, fire, and extreme storms-any of which can comprise the land’s ability to provide the services we need. 

To gain maximum benefit, we must choose the right places to protect–the ones that offer the most climate adaptation advantages–and then we must make the most of them by restoring them to top condition and managing them to keep them that way.  Both of these elements-careful, scientifically-driven targeting of projects and integration of restoration and management strategies-are needed to create  redundant and resilient natural systems that can sustain us through climate change.

This scientifically based, integrated, and targeted approach with the specific goal of reducing the impacts of climate change sets current climate adaptation efforts apart from the conservation of the past.  The good news is that agencies and nonprofits are figuring it out, and I will be back next week with a few examples, including a project to protect habitat for the lovely trout species pictured above .

Editor’s Note: Jad Daley is director of TPL’s Climate Conservation Program.

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Compact cities for climate protection

December 15, 2009

Eastern Promenade greenway, Portland, ME - Photo Nan Cummings

Even as we were posting yesterday on the importance of cities and city parks in climate protection, Kaid Benfield was writing,  “Hey, Copenhagen: climate protection must include smart, walkable neighborhoods” over on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.  Benfield is a cogent writer on smart growth matters,  and he links through to a post from the Copenhagen summit that also deals with the climate benefits of compact cities.

Much of the focus in these posts is on energy saved from transportation and home use.  I would add that to secure these benefits and attract people to city living, we will need greenways to support non-motorized transportation and parks to serve as communal backyards for more densely settled communities.

As the planet’s environmental movers and shakers convene to hammer out some form of agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, however inadequate it is likely to be, at least they are lucky to be in one of the most walkable cities in the world.  Copenhagen is a veritable model of human-scaled urbanism, with incredibly pleasant streets and neighborhoods where, it seems, almost no one needs a car to get around.  If US metro regions, which as we know tend to be spread out and car-dependent, not to mention carbon-intensive, could pick up a few lessons from the Danish capital, we could forge a substantial reduction in our carbon footprint.

Read on at NRDC’s Switchboard

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How city parks help slow climate change

December 14, 2009

Corona Heights Park, San Francisco - Photo:William Poole

Over on  City Parks Blog, Ben Welle of  TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence is highlighting the role of city parks in addressing climate change.  Of the several ways conservation can help slow climate change, the creation of city parks is perhaps the least intuitive.  But it makes all kinds of sense once you understand that residents of compact cities produce fewer greenhouse gasses per capita than those living in outlying areas, and that close-to-home parks and greenways are essential in creating the kinds of cities where people really want to live. 

Several studies have shown that living in more compact settings can reduce emissions from transportation, with one indicating that vehicle miles traveled could be reduced per capita by up to 40 percent through better urban design.  Researchers have also found that if 60 percent of new development were compact rather than sprawling, the reduction in U.S. carbon production would be around 10 percent.

Assuming this smarter growth pattern, there will be more apartments and townhouses and fewer, smaller private yards. The desire for more trees in the public realm will rise. Residents of yardless dwellings will be anxious to have green spaces and public places to relax, recreate and socialize outdoors. Transit facilities and use will increase, and pedestrian and bikers will want safe routes.  For these and many other reasons there will be much more pressure for park systems that are beautiful, well-managed, nearby and accessible.

Read on at City Parks Blog

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Will Rogers promotes forests for a cooler climate

December 10, 2009

TPL President Will Rogers - Photo: Patrick Cone

Blogging at The Huffington Post, TPL president Will Rogers makes the case for the conservation of domestic forests to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. 

Much of the focus at this week’s climate summit in Copenhagen will be on capping the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. But another important focus will be on the protection of forests and other natural systems that absorb CO2 and keep it out of the atmosphere.

The need to prevent third-world deforestation is a well-established and vital global priority. Less well-known is the role our own domestic forests can play in absorbing and sequestering greenhouse gases.

Read on at The Huffington Post

More on TPL’s climate program

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California unveils climate adaptation strategy

December 3, 2009

Long in the lead among states in addressing climate change, California yesterday released what  is calling a “multi-sector strategy” for adapting to climate changes already underway.  

The 200 page document 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy–may be more than most people want to tackle, but a nine-page executive summary highlights key recommendations.  Of particular interest to conservationists will be this one:

Using existing research the state should identify key California land and aquatic habitats that could change significantly during this century due to climate change. Based on this identification, the state should develop a plan for expanding existing protected areas or altering land and water management practices to minimize adverse effects from climate change induced phenomena.

Other recommendations deal with water management, public health, planning, and regulation of development in areas that will be most impacted by climate changes.

As related on Bright Green blog of  The Christian Science Monitor, Governor Schwarzenegger’s release of the report in San Francisco coincided with the unveiling of Google’s new mapping tool that allows users to view where sea levels could rise and wildfires might worsen in California due to global warming. 

TPL’s own climate program includes adaptation conservation a key strategy.

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Tackling Climate Change in Louisiana

November 17, 2009

Tesas River National Wildlife Refuge - Photo:Chris Granger

There are three ways that conservation can help address the climate crisis.  Conserved natural lands can help mitigate climate change by absorbing greenhouse gasses from the air.  Conservation can help humans and wildlife adapt to climate changes that are already underway.  And parks and greenways can help shape more densely populated, energy-efficient communities.  This tripartite approach–mitigation, adaptation, and climate-smart communities–is at the heart of TPL’s own Climate Conservation Program.)

Natural lands conservation along the Gulf Coast offers a chance to use several of these approaches at once, according to Don Morrow, one of TPL’s most experienced project managers in the Southeast.  I had a chance to talk with Don this morning in connection with a story I am working on for the spring issue of TPL’s Land&People magazine.

Don Morrow - Photo: Anne Nelson

Several years ago, Don began working on a project at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Louisiana, where in the 1930s and 40s much of the native hardwood forests were stripped to grow cotton, soybeans, and other crops. The goal was to reforest this land for addition to the wildlife refuge.  And because rich, swampy bottomland is an ideal place for growing trees, a lot of carbon would be absorbed from the atmosphere and locked up in the forests as they grew–more than 3 million tons over seventy years.  Some of the money for the project came from electric utilities that purchased carbon credits to be used in any future carbon market.  An article in the fall 2007 issue of Land&People described this work in more detail.

Now Don is exploring similar work around Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge, near Franklin, Louisiana, which TPL helped to create in 2001.  The primary purpose of that refuge is to conserve habitat for the endangered Louisiana black bear.  TPL hopes to enlarge this habitat by replanting forests long ago cleared to grow sugar cane and adding them to the refuge.  Like the project at Tensas, this one will absorb significant carbon.  But because Bayou Teche is right on the coast, the work will also help reduce the effect of coastal storms associated with a warming climate.

“Trees grow relatively quickly in this climate, so we get good carbon numbers that make it financially viable to sell carbon credits,” Don says.

But at Bayou Teche, the work will also be about conserving the coast from wind and water.  “Open salt marsh doesn’t stop those,” Don says.  “But if you put trees into the equation, it all changes.  Trees slow the wind and soak up the storm surge.” 

Across coastal Louisiana, clearing of land and loss of forests has exposed natural and human communities to a kind of terror from the sea such as was experienced during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Replanting those forests will not only help mitigate for climate change by absorbing carbon, but will help protect the land from future storms made more powerful by a warming climate.

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USFWS releases a model climate change report

November 11, 2009

While Congress debates legislation to reduce global climate change, federal agencies are already examining how their own programs may need to change to meet that goal.  Within the Department of the Interior, the lead has been taken by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, which in September released, in draft, Rising to the Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change

This report outlines six goals in three categories — adaptation, mitigation, and engagement.  As the federal agency charged with fish and wildlife conservation, USFWS is focused of adaptation efforts that will “help reduce the impact of climate change on fish, wildlife, and their habitats.”  In the area of mitigation, the agency commits to reducing its own carbon footprint and to manage their refuges and conserved lands to encourage biological carbon sequestration (the absorption and storage of carbon by growing trees and other plants).  And the service proposes to engage partners by creating Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to further climate-reduction goals.

The USFS plan is well aligned with TPL’s own Climate Conservation Program

In releasing this comprehensive and coherent plan, the USFWS has established a model for climate planning both within and outside federal agencies.

Both a summary of the plan and the complete draft document are available.

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