My friend Alex Steffen, founder of www. worldchanging.com, has a vision of “bright green cities” where denizens use high tech, low energy consumption ways to work, play and get around, where cultural life is vibrant, where citizens are engaged, where life is dynamic and interesting and civilization continues to flourish. Nice vision, butwill this future be able to happen, given how unsustainable cities really are? That’s what Rex Weyler questions in his article here http://rexweyler.com/category/ecology/. He cites the work of Bill Rees, who developed the now very widely respected measure of eco-health, the ecological footprint. According to Bill, only small rural cities in mostly poorer places in the world are sustainable – able to sustain themselves within their borders. “He points out that most cities require the environmental services from a land base 300 to 1000 times the city area.”
I’ve talked before on this blog about “overshoot” – using more than is sustainable. Cities drive overshoot. They suffer from overshoot (they are very vulnerable, depending on the generosity of nature and people far from their centers).
Here are some things we need to do to make cities less destructive and more sustainable. Many modest, small rural communities already do these things, which is why they are already more sustainable:
- Reduce per capita demand for land and water resources (consume less stuff).
- Reduce fossil energy consumption, and all energy consumption.
- Preserve farmland and grow local food for local consumption.
- Share: create co-housing, public transport, and food cooperatives.
- Be satisfied with second hand clothes and furniture, and make simplicity, modesty, justice, and ecology your fashion statement.
- Improve urban infrastructure, water, sewage systems, and recycling.
- Gain efficiencies with neighbourhood scale technologies, such as heat pumps, electricity co-generation, district heating/cooling, using industrial waste heat systems.
- Create low throughput and closed loop industries, in which waste energy is captured and waste materials become feedstocks for other uses.
- Eliminate planned obsolescence in product design; build things that last.
Sounds a bit like what happens when people take a YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE approach.