Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Biophilic Cities: What Are They?

Central Park in New York City, a world landmark of biophilia and nature preservation.
Biophilia is a term popularized by Harvard University myrmecologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson to describe the extent to which humans are hard-wired to need connection with nature and other forms of life. More specifically, Wilson describes it this way: “Biophilia…is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate means hereditary and hence part of ultimate human nature.” (Wilson, 1993, p.31). To Wilson biophia is really a “complex of learning rules” developed over thousands of years of evolution and human-environment interaction.
Evidence of the emotional and psychological benefits of nature is mounting and impressive (research shows its ability to reduce stress, to aid recovery from illness, to enhance cognitive skills and academic performance, to aid in moderating the effects of ADHD, autism and other child illnesses). Recent research suggests even that we are more generous in the presence of nature; all these values are in addition to the immense economic value of the ecological services provided by natural systems.

Support for the practice of biophilic design has been growing and there are now many exemplary examples of buildings that seek to integrate natural features and qualities. We recognize the need for biophilic workplaces, for healing gardens and spaces in hospitals, and for homes and apartments that provide abundant daylight, natural ventilation, plants and greenery. Less attention, however, has been focused on the city or urban scale, despite the fact that the planet continues an inexorable trend in the direction of urbanization. Urban residents need nature more than ever, and much work is needed to find creative and effective means for incorporating it into urban environments.

It is likely that the benefits of close contact with nature are deeper and even more profound, and the potential to make a difference by integrating nature directly into our lives, even greater than we realize. Nature ought not to be an afterthought, and ought not to only be viewed in terms of the (considerable to be sure) functional benefits typically provided (benefits of trees, green rooftops, wetlands for managing stormwater, for mediating air and water pollutants, for addressing urban heat island effects, and so on). The elements of a deeper concept of integrating nature into everyday living include a recognition of some of the following:
Important Ties to Place. There are considerable place-strengthening benefits and place-commitments that derive from knowledge of local nature; from direct personal contact; enhanced knowledge, and deeper connections = greater stewardship, and willingness to take personal actions on behalf of place and home;

Connections and Connectedness. Caring for place and environment, essential for human wellbeing and in turn essential ingredient in caring for each other;

A Need for Wonder and Awe in Our Lives. Nature has the potential to amaze us, stimulate us, propel us forward to want to learn more and understand more fully our world; Nature adds a kind of wonder value to our lives unlike almost anything else;

Meaningful Lives Require Nature. The qualities of wonder and fascination, the ability to nurture deep personal connection and involvement, visceral engagement in something larger than and outside oneself, offer the potential for meaning in life few other things can provide;
Urbanists and city planners have special opportunities and unique obligations to advance biophilic city design, utilizing a variety of strategies and tools, applied on a number of geographical and governmental scales. The agenda is one that must extend beyond conventional urban parks, and beyond building-centric green design. It is about redefining the very essence of cities as places of wild and restorative nature, from rooftops to roadways to riverfronts. It is about understanding cities as places that already harbor much nature and places that can become, through bold vision and persistent practice, even greener and richer in the nature they contain.
What a biophilic city is or could be is an open question, and it is hoped that this website will help to stimulate discussion of this. As a tentative starting point I offer some of the following as key qualities of biophilic cities:          

Biophilic cities are cities of abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of urbanites; biophilic cities are biodiverse cities, that value, protect and actively restore this biodiversity; biophilic cities are green and growing cities, organic and natureful;

In biophilic cities, residents feel a deep affinity with the unique flora, fauna and fungi found there, and with the climate, topography, and other special qualities of place and environment that serve to define the urban home; In biophilic cities citizens can easily recognize common species of trees, flowers, insects and birds (and in turn care deeply about them);

  • Biophilic cities are cities that provide abundant opportunities to be outside and to enjoy nature through strolling, hiking, bicycling, exploring; biophilic cities nudge us to spend more time amongst the trees, birds and sunlight.

  • Biophilic cities are rich multisensory environments, the where the sounds of nature (and other sensory experiences) are as appreciated as much as the visual or ocular experience; biophilic cities celebrate natural forms, shapes, and materials;

  • Biophilic cities place importance on education about nature and biodiversity, and on providing many and varied opportunities to learn about and directly experience nature; In biophilic cities there are many opportunities to join with others in learning about, enjoying, deeply connecting with, and helping to steward over nature, whether though a nature club, organized hikes, camping in city parks, or volunteering for nature restoration projects.

  • Biophilic cities invest in the social and physical infrastructure that helps to bring urbanites in closer connection and understanding of nature, whether through natural history museums, wildlife centers, school-based nature initiatives, or parks and recreation programs and projects, among many others;

  • Biophilic cities are globally responsible cities that recognize the importance of actions to limit the impact of resource use on nature and biodiversity beyond their urban borders; biophilic cities take steps to actively support the conservation global nature;

These are but a few of the ways a city might be seen as biophilic. What do you think? Are there other ways, and other important qualities or dimensions not listed above?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Arizona Stands Up for Solar Rights

 By Annie Lappe
In a  victory of David vs Goliath proportions, policymakers in Arizona stood up for its citizens by rejecting an attempt from the states largest utility to squash rooftop solar. Five months after Arizona Public Service (APS) sought approval to slap hefty new fees on its customers that go solar, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) voted yesterday to uphold Arizona solar savings and energy choice. While the vote was clearly a win for Arizonans, the ACCs approval of a small but troubling new fee makes it clear that there is a significant amount of education left to be done regarding distributed solars tremendous value.

Driving this proposal was that fact that solar is offering customers an affordable new energy option, and Arizonans are increasingly choosing to generate their own power from the sun. Rather than working with its customers and meeting this new market demand, APS attempted to dig in and regulate against competition to maintain its monopoly hold on electricity.

APS Proposal Denied

APS had proposed a new $50-100 monthly charge for solar customers, a discriminatory fee that would have wiped out any savings these customers would currently receive from their solar investment. APS justified the solar fee by saying that net metering a program that ensures solar customers receive full retail credit for power they deliver to the grid for their neighbors to use is a bad deal for Arizonans but thats just not true: private investment in reliable, local power generation benefits all ratepayers. Full retail net metering credit is a simple and proven way for customers and utilities to assign value to that power.

A study conducted this year for SEIA showed that these net metered systems actually deliver much more: $34 million in annual net grid benefits for APS customers alone. Thats before accounting for the social and environmental benefits: cleaner air and thousands of local jobs. APSs proposals were clearly not grounded in a fair accounting for DG solars real value, and our allies argued strongly in favor of undertaking that fair accounting in the appropriate venue: the next rate case.

Despite millions of dollars on spent on a misleading campaign by the utility and its proxies, public outcry against the APS proposal was overwhelming. A poll conducted last week found that, even after months of being blanketed by utility ads, a whopping 81% reject APSs solar fee and 77% would be less likely to vote for a candidate who ends solar savings. Over the course of this long campaign, more than 30,000 Arizonans emailed the ACC in support of rooftop solar.

Arizonans Show Up to Support Rooftop Solar

That support was demonstrated in person earlier this week when 1,000 Arizonans gathered in front of the ACC this week to protest APSs proposed fee. Inside a steady stream of about 100 citizens solar workers, solar customers, non-solar customers, environmental advocates, retirees, veterans, even one passionate 11-year old girl urged the Commissioners to stand up against the utility for the good of Arizonans. Yesterdays vote is a resounding demonstration that the peoples support of solar trumps corporate money. It showed just how out of step APSs anti-solar efforts are with the needs and demands of its own customers, and we were pleased to see Commission acting on behalf of the public they serve.

Interim Fixed Fee Adopted

Its important to note that while the most egregious aspects of APSs proposal were soundly rejected, the Commission did vote by a 3-2 vote to implement a relatively small but still unjustified new fixed fee of $0.70 per kilowatt as a monthly charge for all new residential solar customers (i.e. if you have a 5kW system on your house, you would pay $3.50 a month). The vote broke down as follows: Commissioners Stump, Bitter-Smith and Bob Burns voted yes, and Commissioners Pierce and Brenda Burns voted no, arguing that the fixed fee was too low.

The fee will be collected through the Lost Fixed Cost Recovery (LFCR) adjustor mechanism. APS is already using the LFCR to collect funds from customers to account for the fact that the Company is losing money when customers invest in energy efficiency or DG solar.

The new fixed charge will stay in place until APSs next general rate case, which must be filed in June 2015. However, the Commission did add a clause that allows the ACC to periodically adjust this charge in any APS LCFR reset proceeding, which happen on an annual basis. During the next rate case, net metering will be addressed in more detail.

Existing solar customers will not be assessed this charge, and will be grandfathered under their current rate structure arrangement, at least until the next rate case, though verbally several Commissioners expressed intent that they would be grandfathered from the charge in perpetuity. However, all rooftop solar customers, including existing customers, will soon need to sign a disclaimer that acknowledges that rates can change in the future.

Workshop Process Established

In the interim between now and the next rate case, the Commission has also decided to hold a series of workshops to determine the true costs and benefits, and any associated cost shift, of net metering.  Vote Solar looks forward to participating in this process and making sure that individual solar investment is properly valued.

We strongly disagree with the Commission that net metering represents a cost to non-solar ratepayers, and we hope through the workshop process facts can be brought to the table to dispel this myth once and for all. Rooftop solar is helping Arizona families, schools and businesses take charge of their power supply and their electricity bills like never before. This private investment is helping build a cleaner, safer and lower cost energy supply for all of us.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Invasive Plants Are More Likely to Be Replaced by Other 'Invasives'

This photo shows the African invader Melinis minutiflora in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park when first studied (left) and 20 years later. (Credit: UCSB)

Among the most impressive ecological findings of the past 25 years is the ability of invasive plants to radically change ecosystem function. Yet few if any studies have examined whether ecosystem impacts of invasions persist over time, and what that means for plant communities and ecosystem restoration.

UC Santa Barbara's Carla D'Antonio, Schuyler Professor of Environmental Studies, has conducted one of the only long-term studies of plant invader impacts that spans two decades. Returning to the same grass-invaded field sites in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that she used in her 1990-1995 studies, D'Antonio, along with postdoctoral scholar Stephanie Yelenik, gathered new data that shed light on mechanisms regulating exotic plant dominance and community change through invasion. The findings are published online today in Nature.

"We were able to take advantage of detailed studies I and others had conducted in the 1990s. We permanently marked sites we had set up and were able to go back and gain insight into how plant invasions changed over time without management," said D'Antonio, who also is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. "Such studies are important because managers have little money to control invasive species or to study how impacts might change without management."

"Non-native plants can have very large impacts on ecosystem functioning -- including altering groundwater, soil salinity or pH and pollination syndromes," said lead author Yelenik, who earned her doctorate from UCSB's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology and now works for the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center on the island of Hawaii.

When D'Antonio and Yelenik revisited the study sites, they noticed that the invasive exotic perennial grasses (primarily an African invader called Melinis minutiflora) were dying, so they decided to repeat measures of nutrient cycling and plant community change. They found that the grasses' self-reinforcing effects on soil nutrients had disappeared and the percentage of invader coverage had declined.

Data showed that in the past 17 years, nitrogen mineralization rates at the sites dominated by the exotic grasses declined by half, returning them to pre-invasion levels. Nitrogen mineralization is the process by which organic nitrogen is converted to plant-available inorganic forms.

"Measuring mineralization the way we do is extremely time-consuming and expensive, so we did it in snapshots of time (mid-1990s versus 2010-2012)," Yelenik explained. "This is less than ideal because differences between the two study periods could be due to differences in rainfall."

To eliminate rainfall as a factor, the researchers examined long-term rainfall data for the region to determine if a relationship exists between nitrogen mineralization and rainfall during the study years. The data showed that rainfall during the two study periods was similar. In addition, rainfall did not correlate with differences in mineralization between time points. A mineralization assay in the lab, where moisture was kept constant, showed similar patterns to the researchers' most recent field data, gathered in 2011 and 2012. Taken together, these results suggest that nitrogen mineralization variations between the 1990s and recent years were not due to differences in rainfall.

While the study demonstrates that ecosystem impacts and feedbacks shift over time, it also indicates that this may not necessarily help native species' recovery. Yelenik and D'Antonio conducted a large outplanting experiment to test how a suite of native and exotic woody species responded to shifting ecosystem impacts. They added nitrogen fertilizer to mimic earlier stages of Melinis invasion and reduced Melinis competition to mimic patches during late invasion.

Similar responses occurred in five of the seven outplanted species: Growth rates and survivorship increased due to reduced competition from the exotic grasses as well as nitrogen additions. This indicates that the changing impacts of the grass over time do not alter the seedlings' ability to grow in the ecosystem.

Two nitrogen-fixing trees were exceptions: the native Hawaiian tree Acacia koa and the exotic tree Morella faya (from the Canary Islands but invading Hawaii today). These species did much better in later Melinis invasion conditions, and Morella faya did particularly well.

"The non-native Morella faya did a lot better for various reasons, but primarily because it has a faster growth rate," Yelenik said. "Plus in our sites it is bird-dispersed, which means it gets around and is, in fact, moving into the sites at a frightening rate. By contrast, the native Acacia did reasonably well in the experiment, but it just does not have as robust a growth rate as Morella. It is a very slow disperser and sparse in the region so we are not seeing it entering the sites on its own."

An important lesson here is that even if plant invasions can slow down on their own given enough time, native species may need further assistance in order to make a comeback, the researchers said. Other invaders may be poised to take advantage of reduced competition from the original invader.

"Knowing the mechanisms of how and why invasions alter ecosystems is insightful for predicting what will happen, but without further management we may not get native species back," Yelenik said. "When we see non-native species dying back and getting patchy, that may be the time to plant native species. It might turn out to be the most cost-effective way to get an ecosystem back to a more desirable state."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Prairies Vanish in the US Push for Green Energy


1.2 million acres of prairies vanish, undermining Obama's green energy goal

ROSCOE, S.D. (AP) — Robert Malsam nearly went broke in the 1980s when corn was cheap. So now that prices are high and he can finally make a profit, he's not about to apologize for ripping up prairieland to plant corn.

Across the Dakotas and Nebraska, more than 1 million acres of the Great Plains are giving way to cornfields as farmers transform the wild expanse that once served as the backdrop for American pioneers.

This expansion of the Corn Belt is fueled in part by America's green energy policy, which requires oil companies to blend billions of gallons of corn ethanol into their gasoline. In 2010, fuel became the No. 1 use for corn in America, a title it held in 2011 and 2012 and narrowly lost this year. That helps keep prices high.

"It's not hard to do the math there as to what's profitable to have," Malsam said. "I think an ethanol plant is a farmer's friend." What the green-energy program has made profitable, however, is far from green. A policy intended to reduce global warming is encouraging a farming practice that actually could worsen it.

That's because plowing into untouched grassland releases carbon dioxide that has been naturally locked in the soil. It also increases erosion and requires farmers to use fertilizers and other industrial chemicals. In turn, that destroys native plants and wipes out wildlife habitats. It appeared so damaging that scientists warned that America's corn-for-ethanol policy would fail as an anti-global warming strategy if too many farmers plowed over virgin land. The Obama administration argued that would not happen. But the administration didn't set up a way to monitor whether it actually happened.

It did.
More than 1.2 million acres of grassland have been lost since the federal government required that gasoline be blended with increasing amounts of ethanol, an Associated Press analysis of satellite data found. Plots that were wild grass or pastureland seven years ago are now corn and soybean fields. That's in addition to the 5 million acres of farmland that had been aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — that have vanished since Obama took office.

In South Dakota, more than 370,000 acres of grassland have been uprooted and farmed from since 2006. In Edmunds County, a rural community about two hours north of the capital, Pierre, at least 42,000 acres of grassland have become cropland — one of the largest turnovers in the region. Malsam runs a 13-square-mile family farm there. He grows corn, soybeans and wheat, then rents out his grassland for grazing. Each year, the family converts another 160 acres from grass to cropland.
Chemicals kill the grass. Machines remove the rocks. Then tractors plow it three times to break up the sod and prepare it for planting.

Scattered among fields of 7-foot tall corn and thigh-high soybeans, some stretches of grassland still exist. Cattle munch on some grass. And "prairie potholes" — natural ponds ranging from small pools to larger lakes — support a smattering of ducks, geese, pelicans and herons. Yet within a mile of Malsam's farm, federal satellite data show, more than 300 acres of grassland have been converted to soybeans and corn since 2006.

Nebraska has lost at least 830,000 acres of grassland, a total larger than New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas combined. "It's great to see farmers making money. It hasn't always been that way," said Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group. He advocates for clean energy but opposes the ethanol mandate. "If we're going to push the land this hard, we really need to intensify conservation in lockstep with production, and that's just not happening," he said.

Jeff Lautt, CEO of Poet, which operates ethanol refineries across the country, including in South Dakota, said it's up to farmers how to use their land. "The last I checked, it is still an open market. And farmers that own land are free to farm their land to the extent they think they can make money on it or whatever purpose they need," he said. Yet Chris Wright, a professor at South Dakota State University who has studied land conversion, said: "The conversation about land preservation should start now before it becomes a serious problem." Wright reviewed the AP's methodology for determining land conversion.

The AP's analysis used government satellite data to count how much grassland existed in 2006 in each county, then compare each plot of land to corresponding satellite data from 2012. The data from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Agriculture identify corn and soybean fields. That allowed the AP to see which plots of grassland became cropland.

To reach its conservative estimate of 1.2 million acres lost, the AP excluded grassland that had been set aside under the government's Conservation Reserve Program, in which old farmland is allowed to return to a near-natural state. The AP used half-acre sections of earth and excluded tiny tracts that became corn, which experts said were most likely outliers. Corn prices more than doubled in the years after Congress passed the ethanol mandate in 2007. Now, Malsam said, farmers can make about $500 an acre planting corn. His farm has just become profitable in the past five years, allowing him and his wife, Theresa, to build a new house on the farmstead.

Four miles south, signs at each end of the town of Roscoe announce a population of only 324. But the town, which relies in part on incomes like Malsam's, supports a school, a restaurant, a bank, a grocery store and a large farm machinery store. The manager of the equipment dealership, Kaleb Rodgers, said the booming farm economy has helped the town and the dealership prosper. The business with 28 employees last year sold a dozen combines at about $300,000 apiece, plus more than 60 tractors worth between $100,000 and $300,000, he said.

"If we didn't have any farmers we wouldn't have a community here. We wouldn't have a business. I wouldn't be sitting here. I wouldn't be able to feed my family," Rodgers said. "I think ethanol is a very good thing." Jim Faulstich, president of the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition, said the nation's ethanol and crop insurance policies have encouraged the transformation of the land. Faulstich, who farms and ranches in central South Dakota near Highmore, said much of the land being converted is not suited to crop production, and South Dakota's strong winds and rains will erode the topsoil.

"I guess a good motto would be to farm the best and leave the rest," he said.

Gillum reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello and Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report from Washington.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Civilizations Rise and Fall On the Quality of Their Soil

Great civilisations have fallen because they failed to prevent the degradation of the soils on which they were founded. The modern world could suffer the same fate. (Credit: © philipus / Fotolia)

Great civilisations have fallen because they failed to prevent the degradation of the soils on which they were founded. The modern world could suffer the same fate.

This is according to Professor Mary Scholes and Dr Bob Scholes who have published a paper in the journal, Science, which describes how the productivity of many lands has been dramatically reduced as a result of soil erosion, accumulation of salinity, and nutrient depletion.

"Cultivating soil continuously for too long destroys the bacteria which convert the organic matter into nutrients," says Mary Scholes, who is a Professor in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits University.

Although improved technology -- including the unsustainably high use of fertilisers, irrigation, and ploughing -- provides a false sense of security, about 1% of global land area is degraded every year. In Africa, where much of the future growth in agriculture must take place, erosion has reduced yields by 8% and nutrient depletion is widespread.

"Soil fertility is both a biophysical property and a social property -- it is a social property because humankind depends heavily on it for food production," says Bob Scholes, who is a systems ecologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Soil fertility was a mystery to the ancients. Traditional farmers speak of soils becoming tired, sick, or cold; the solution was typically to move on until they recovered. By the mid-20th century, soils and plants could be routinely tested to diagnose deficiencies, and a global agrochemical industry set out to fix them. Soil came to be viewed as little more than an inert supportive matrix, to be flooded with a soup of nutrients.

This narrow approach led to an unprecedented increase in food production, but also contributed to global warming and the pollution of aquifers, rivers, lakes, and coastal ecosystems. Activities associated with agriculture are currently responsible for just under one third of greenhouse gas emissions; more than half of these originate from the soil.

Replacing the fertility-sustaining processes in the soil with a dependence on external inputs has also made the soil ecosystem, and humans, vulnerable to interruptions in the supply of those inputs, for instance due to price shocks.

However, it is not possible to feed the current and future world population with a dogmatically "organic" approach to global agriculture. Given the large additional area it would require, such an approach would also not avert climate change, spare biodiversity, or purify the rivers.

To achieve lasting food and environmental security, we need an agricultural soil ecosystem that more closely approximates the close and efficient cycling in natural ecosystems, and that also benefits from the yield increases made possible by biotechnology and inorganic fertilisers.

Journal Reference:
  1. M. C. Scholes, R. J. Scholes. Dust Unto Dust. Science, 2013; 342 (6158): 565 DOI: 10.1126/science.1244579

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jeffrey L. Bruce & Company Opens New Office in Iowa

NOAA Southwest Fisheries Green Roof, La Jolla, CA
We are pleased to announce that in order to better serve our rapidly expanding practice, JBC has opened an Iowa office. Des Moines has been a great location for us to grow and expand our business. There is an exceptional pool of local talent and a great network of businesses to work with and share ideas. We are looking forward to an exciting future and aim to continue growing our staff and services.

Light Ordinance in France has Benefits for Wildlife

Last month, France implemented one of the world's most comprehensive "lights out" ordinances. Conditions include turning off shop lights between 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., shutting off lights inside office buildings within an hour of workers leaving the premises, and waiting only until sunset before turning lights on, on building facades. Over the next two years, regulations restricting lighting on billboards will also go into effect.

These rules are designed to eventually cut carbon dioxide emissions by 250,000 tons per year, conserve energy consumption, and cut the country's overall energy bill by 200 million Euros ($266 million). But besides the economic and emissions benefits, France's Environment Ministry, emphasizes the need to "reduce the print of artificial lighting on the nocturnal environment."

Researchers are increasingly focusing on the impacts of so-called ecological light pollution, warning that disrupting these natural patterns of light and dark, and thus the structures and functions of ecosystems, is having profound impacts.

Some 30 percent of vertebrates and more than 60 percent of invertebrates are nocturnal, and many of the rest are crepuscular - active at dawn and dusk. All are potentially impacted by our burgeoning use of artificial light, scientists say. "We have levels of light hundreds and thousands of time higher than the natural level during the night," explains Italian astronomer Fabio Falchi, a creator of the World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness, the computer-generated maps that dramatically depict the extent of light pollution across the globe. "What would happen if we modified the day and lowered the light a hundred or a thousand times?" That would be much worse, he concedes. But his point? "You cannot modify [light] half the time without consequences," says Falchi.

Every flip of a light switch contributes to altering ancient patterns of mating, migration, feeding, and pollination, with no time for species to adapt. From leatherback turtles, to birds, bats, moths, and even salmon, many species are affected by man-made light which can change the composition of entire communities of insects and other invertebrates.

While the ordinance will face some backlash in terms of safety and security, if we are to use night-time light more effectively, we can not only conserve energy and save money, but prevent some of the negative outcomes that artificial night-time light may have on wildlife.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wasted Energy: Converting Discarded Food into Biofuels

Diverting just a portion of the world's food waste to waste-to-energy systems could free up large amounts of landfill space while powering vehicles and heating homes.

CHEW ON THIS: Diverting even just a portion of the world's food waste to energy could put a significant dent in our collective carbon footprint.

Food waste is indeed an untapped resource with great potential for generating energy. Some one third of all food produced around the world gets discarded uneaten, and environmentalists, energy analysts and entrepreneurs are beginning to take notice. Diverting even just a portion of this waste to so-called waste-to-energy (WTE) systems could free up large amounts of landfill space while powering our vehicles and heating our homes, and thus putting a significant dent in our collective carbon footprint. Perhaps that’s why WTE is one of the fastest growing segments of the world’s quickly diversifying energy sector.

Currently there are some 800 industrial-scale WTE plants in more than three dozen countries around the world, and likely thousands of smaller systems at individual sites. Most employ anaerobic digesters, which make use of microorganisms to break down and convert organic waste into a fuel such as biogas, biodiesel or ethanol. With some 70 percent of food waste around the world still going into landfills, there is a lot of potential feedstock to keep this environmentally friendly carbon neutral fuel source coming.

“Waste-to-energy doesn’t involve drilling, fracking, or mining, and it doesn’t rely on scarce and politically-charged resources like oil,” reports RWL Water Group, an international company that installs water, wastewater and waste-to-energy systems. The waste from small slaughterhouses, breweries, dairy farms and coffee shops can power hundreds of typical homes each day if the infrastructure is in place to sort, collect and process the flow of organic material.

Navigant Research, which produced the 2012 report “Waste-to-Energy Technology Markets, which analyzes the global market opportunity for WTE, expects waste-to-energy to grow from its current market size of $6.2 billion to $29.2 billion by 2022. “With many countries facing dramatic population growth, rapid urbanization, rising levels of affluence, and resource scarcity, waste-to-energy is re-establishing itself as an attractive technology option to promote low carbon growth in the crowded renewable energy landscape,” says Navigant’s Mackinnon Lawrence. “China is already in the midst of scaling up capacity, and growth there is expected to shift the center of the WTE universe away from Europe to Asia Pacific.”

The question is whether governments and individuals will make the effort to support diversion of waste into yet another separate stream. In areas where such systems are working, individuals are incentivized to separate out their organic and food waste because it saves them money on their trash pick-up bills. And bakeries, restaurants, farms, grocers and other big producers of organic or food waste provide an endless source of feedstock for WTE systems as well.

“We’re barely scratching the surface of this potential—dumping over 70 percent of the world’s food waste into landfills, rather than harnessing it for fuel and electricity,” reports RWL. “Over the next 25 years, global energy demand will grow by 50 percent, while global oil supply dwindles at a rapid pace. Waste-to-energy is an obvious solution to meet the world’s burgeoning energy demand.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Rich Biodiversity Can Exist in Cities

Biodiversity Hotspots The biodiversity hotspots hold especially high numbers of endemic species, yet their combined area of remaining habitat covers only 2.3 percent of the Earth's land surface. Each hotspot faces extreme threats and has already lost at least 70 percent of its original natural vegetation. Over 50 percent of the world's plant species and 42 percent of all terrestrial vertebrate species are endemic to the 34 biodiversity hotspots.

With proper planning and management, cities can retain substantial components of native biodiversity
Despite what is often commonly believed, fact is that many cities have high species richness. Several are even located within globally recognized "biodiversity hotspots"—areas with exceptionally high biodiversity (at least 1,500 endemic plant species) that have lost at least 70% of their original habitat area.

Some notable examples of cities with rich biodiversity are found on nearly all continents and latitudes - Berlin, Chicago, Curitiba, Kolkata, Mexico City, Montreal, Nagoya, New York City, São Paulo, and Singapore, to name but a few.

Many cities also contain protected areas within or just outside their borders that provide important contributions to biodiversity. In Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park, an iconic landmark extraordinarily rich in endemic plants and animals, is entirely surrounded by the municipality. In Mumbai, Sanjay Gandhi National Park—known for its dense semi-evergreen forests, 280-plus species of birds, 150 species of butterflies, and 40 species of mammals, including a small population of leopards—protects 104 square kilometers entirely within a megacity. In Stockholm, the National Urban Park comprises 2,700 hectares with high biodiversity, right in the city center.

 Global Species Richness Centers of richness for mammals, amphibians and birds listed with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Connecting fragmented ecosystems is also likely to increase ecological functionality as a whole and therefore to maximize the ecosystem services offered. There are diverse and innovative ways to connect natural ecosystems. Planting trees with overarching canopies can help small mammals, birds, and insects cross roads and highways. Roadside planting that mimics the multilayering of forests—for example, composite of tall trees, medium-sized trees, shrubs, and understory vegetation—can cater to a diversity of animal users. Ecolinks such as underground tunnels and vegetated overhead bridges can help connect natural areas. All of these efforts can complement the important roles played by protected areas in cities.

Many tools exist to help cities manage their biodiversity. One such tool is the City Biodiversity Index (or CBI, also known as the Singapore Index). This and many other initiatives can help cities conserve and manage their biodiversity.

AICHI TARGET 5: By 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.

Cities can help preserve forests and wetlands of critical biodiversity by ensuring the connectivity of existing and future protected areas. Managing footprints (best done at the provincial, state, or regional level) can also make a difference.

AICHI TARGET 12: By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.
Campaigns by scientific institutions, zoos, museums, and aquaria— where city and regional authorities often have a managing interest—can raise critical attention and funds and provide technical assistance for the conservation of threatened species, even across the globe.

 World Protected Areas Protected areas or natural parks are locations which receive protection because of their recognized natural, ecological and/or cultural values.
Cape Town
With a population of just under 3.7 million people and a land area of 2,500 square kilometers (0.2 percent of South Africa's total land area), Cape Town supports 50 percent of South Africa's critically endangered vegetation types and about 3,000 indigenous vascular plant species. Cape Town falls within the globally recognized biodiversity hotspot known as the Cape Floristic Region; of the 18 vegetation types in the city, 11 are critically endangered and 3 are endangered. Although this statistic in part reflects severe land-use pressure, it also disproves the common assumption that cities cannot have high levels of biodiversity. What's more, many of the plant species found in metropolitan Cape Town are endemic—found nowhere else on Earth.

São Paulo
São Paulo, Brazil, is the most populous city in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest city in the world, with more than 11 million inhabitants. This megacity contains biodiversity from the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest, a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot. Twenty-one percent of the city is covered by dense forest in various stages of ecological succession, but these remnants are under severe threat from the unrestrained occupation of both low-income housing and luxury condominiums. An impressive 1,909 plant species and 435 animal species have been recorded in the city, with 73 of the animal species endemic to the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest. The city's Green Belt Biosphere Reserve, part of UNESCO's Mata Atlantic Biosphere Reserve, protects remnants of this rainforest as well as associated ecosystems.

City Biodiversity Index
The City Biodiversity Index, or CBI, also known as the Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity, is a self-assessment tool that encourages cities to monitor and evaluate their progress in conserving and enhancing biodiversity. More than 50 cities around the world are in various stages of testing the CBI and providing data for it. It currently comprises 23 indicators in three components: native biodiversity, ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, and governance and management of biodiversity. Stakeholders such as universities and civil society can assist in providing data. A platform for cities to share their experiences in applying the index has been particularly useful to cities considering using the CBI.

Other applications for the CBI have also surfaced. For example, information from it can be used in the decision-making and master planning of cities; it can assist policy- and decision-makers in allocating resources and prioritizing projects; good practices can be made into case studies for sustainable development; and some of the indicators can form the basis for calculating the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The CBI is also a useful public communication tool for city authorities. With ongoing refinement and improvement, it is continually becoming more valuable.

By virtue of its geographical location, Singapore has a rich natural heritage. More than 10 ecosystems are found in this highly urbanized city— state of 5 million people. Although much of its biodiversity disappeared during the British colonization, Singapore still has a wealth of flora and fauna. Among the native species recorded are 2,145 vascular plants, 52 mammals, 364 birds, 301 butterflies, 127 dragonflies, 103 reptiles, 400 spiders, 66 freshwater fishes, and 255 hard corals. Between 2000 and 2010, intensive surveys found more than 500 species of plants and animals new to Singapore, of which more than 100 were new to science. Nestled in the heart of Singapore and not more than 15 kilometers from the busiest shopping areas are the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. A network of parks and park connectors permeate the island, allowing easy access to varied habitats rich in plant and animal life.