Blog » sustainable development
- October 26, 2009BY JULIE KIM
SPUR is thrilled to welcome Ken Caldeira, head of the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, to the Urban Center for a lunchtime forum.
Wednesday, October 28, 12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Free for SPUR members. General admission is $5.
Location: SPUR Urban Center, 654 Mission St. (between New Montgomery & Third).
Renowned for his groundbreaking research on ocean acidifcation, Caldeira's been in the news this month for publicly chiding Superfreakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner for misrepresenting his research on geo-engineering as a substitute for agressive mitigation strategies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (In fact, while Caldeira knows a lot about weather manipulation--perhaps more than any other climate scientist working right now--he views it as a last resort, only to be employed once we are certain about its many risks.)
Here's a bio of Caldeira from an Oct. 22 post on the Guardian Environment Network (which republished a great interview conducted by Yale 360):Atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira first became known for his groundbreaking work on ocean acidification, a phrase originally coined as a headline for one of his papers. Of late, however, Caldeira's research has led him into the controversial area of geo-engineering — the large-scale, deliberate manipulation of the Earth's climate system.
Many scientists have shied away from the subject because they feel it is a wrongheaded and dangerous path to pursue. But Caldeira — who heads a research lab at the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University — has not been so dismissive, in part because his climate modeling has demonstrated that some geo-engineering schemes may indeed help reduce the risk of climate change. In fact, few scientists have thought harder about the moral, political, and environmental implications of geo-engineering.
Caldeira has become a focal point recently in the controversy surrounding the publication of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's SuperFreakonomics, the follow-up to their previous best-seller, Freakonomics. A chapter of the book that deals with geo-engineering and quoted Caldeira was circulated on the Internet prior to the book's publication and was widely criticized for its poor understanding of climate science and its cynical, contrarian perspective.
- October 14, 2009BY MARY
Want to know the person behind all of SPUR's good sustainability work? Check out planetshifter.com's interview with Laura Tam, SPUR's Sustainable Devepment Policy Director and hear Laura's thoughts on the necessary relationship between environmentally responsible practices and making good cities, how SPUR moves beyond important research to implement policy and how she works on reducing her ecological footprint at home.
- October 8, 2009BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
A climate conference in Oxford concluded last week that whatever we can do to slow carbon emissions, it won't be enough to stop accelerated sea level rise. In fact, a German scientist who's widely regarded as one of the world's foremost experts on sea level rise, said his best guess was 1 meter this century (a lowball figure compared to the latest projections for California), and 5 meters in 300 years. Expect a lot of bleak climate news to be revealed over the next few months, as the world prepares for the U.N. climate change conference taking place in Copenhagen in December. The conference's web site is a great source of daily climate news from around the globe. And if you don't like what you see coming out of Copenhagen, try visiting Hopenhagen instead.
- October 1, 2009BY MARY
Some of the first calculations of the benefits of green roofs are coming back and they're even better than expected: replacing typical roofing materials with plants across a city the size of Detroit would be the equivalent of removing the pollution of 10,000 SUVs in a year. This study is the first to measure the amount of carbon that could be captured by the extensive use of green roofs.
Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting the trend in real estate to use green roofs to lure potential tenants. More than the environmental benefits--including catching water run-off, absorbing carbon and providing excellent insulation--that people have become to expect in newer buildings, providing green space for workers is seen as an investment in the well being and health of their workers.
- September 28, 2009BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
This summer, somewhere in California, the state Energy Commission denied an application for a new urban natural gas-burning power plant, citing that urban solar (PV) might be a better alternative. The CEC said that new "peakers" were not obviously the most cost-effective or environmentally preferable option to close that city's energy reliability gap. For years, SPUR and a loose coalition of environmental advocates, led by the Brightline Defense Project, have suggested that our own City consider more environmentally-friendly alternatives to closing the Potrero Power Plant than siting new gas-fired peakers. Although we are on the brink of success here, the CEC's decision sets a precedent that other cities will be required to analyze rooftop PV as a feasible alternative to new gas-fired generation. Read Brightline's brief legal analysis of the decision here.
A little backstory illustrates why this is so important. In the wake of the 2001 energy crisis, to help bolster the state's grid reliability, many cities built new natural gas-burning 'peaker' power plants that could be fired up to meet local energy needs on days of unusually high demand. More often than not, low income communities, or communities of color, were the recipient locations for these peakers - increasing emissions in places that were many times already shouldering disproportionate environmental burdens. The new CEC decision means that this could be reversed, and in a way that brings green jobs and environmental justice along with a more sustainable energy supply. Let San Francisco (er, Chula Vista), lead the way!
- August 13, 2009BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
Transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the fastest growing source of emissions in the U.S., and are currently responsible for almost 30% of the nation's total GHG output. A new ULI report, Moving Cooler, presents different strategies for making our transportation systems more sustainable. It proposes nine categories for improvement, including pricing/taxes, land use and smart growth, transit improvements, ridesharing, intelligent systems, and more. Going beyond other reports of its kind, it not only looks at the costs and effectiveness of different strategies, but considers them in various combinations. Although you have to buy the book, you can get an overview of its findings here.
- July 1, 2009BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
NRDC has just released a guide to SB 375, the nation's first legislation to link transportation and land use planning with global warming. The goal of this legislation is to foster development patterns that reduce the need to drive. Household transportation is the single largest and fastest-growing source of global warming pollution in California. SB 375 will also help save money for households and taxpayers (through reduced infrastructure costs), reduce air pollution, conserve water, and protect farmland and open space.
- June 30, 2009BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
Our friends at the Sightline Institute in Cascadia have put together a primer on the federal climate bill, aka the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), aka Waxman-Markey, that passed the U.S. House of Representatives late last week. Cap and Trade 101 features what you need to know about cap and trade, pollution auctioning, offsets, and why national climate legislation is good for families. For one slightly technical analysis of the bill, also check out Sightline's blog post, "14 Things I Love - and 6 I Hate - About Waxman-Markey". Get ready for a showdown as this groundbreaking legislation is debated in the Senate in the fall.
- June 17, 2009- posted by Laura
We spend much of our days with a roof over our heads, but rarely think of how roof exteriors could be so much more than just a weather shield. The growing urban rooftop farming movement just may change that. An article in today's New York Times describes how the green roof movement and the healthy food movement are converging. City policies can play a role in acclerating plantings - Chicago and New York provide tax incentives - though the urban farmers surveyed in the article admit rooftop gardening is more a labor of love. Although they can be expensive (even if subsidized) and not suitable for every type of roof, green roofs also provide public benefits through reducing urban heat island effects, cleaning air, and producing local food. For a vertical spin on growing food and plants in an urban setting, check out the blog Veg.itecture.
- May 20, 2009BY JULIE KIM
Just wanted to point your attention to the Bay Conservation Development Commission's upcoming design competition. The jury is seeking ideas inspired by "the common characteristics of estuaries" to prepare and adapt shoreline cities to the challenges of sea level rise. Entries will be displayed in the Ferry Building on July 14-19. Designers: still time to enter your proposal! Here's an excerpt from the competition brief:
Some techniques for dealing with sea level rise are fairly obvious. Other ideas, however, are less tested and still other concepts may not yet have been conceived. The best ideas will be products of innovation and creativity, be it by expanding upon traditional design solutions, such as seawalls and levees, or by offering an entirely new perspective. Proposals may involve any type of project within the built and natural environments, at any scale relative to an estuary like the San Francisco Bay. Your idea may address sea level rise for a particular shoreline element or structure, or it may address the larger issues related to a site, a neighborhood, commercial districts, public infrastructure, transportation systems or an entire watershed.
SPUR is currently outlining an upcoming issue of the Urbanist on cities and rising tides. Stay tuned for details...