Replacing grass with climate appropriate plants (and irrigating those plants properly) can reduce a landscape’s water needs by 70-80 percent. During the last California drought, we saw homes across the state doing this, a trend significant enough to be clear on Google Maps. This was a big part of why California’s urban communities were able to meet, in fact exceed, the emergency drought mandate of reducing water use by 20 percent.
Municipal governments and local partner organizations are the primary governing bodies responsible for improving greenspaces in cities. But unlike other public lands, they do not have formal oversight, protection, research or guidance for their care. In comparison to rural forests, urban conservation strategies are developing — often with limited data and resources to understand basic information like where they are, their condition, and how they are changing. In cities, this responsibility has been left up to local institutions and governing bodies.
As our world becomes more urban, local forests will play a primary role in conservation education and nature connection for millions of people nationwide. Ensuring healthy forests in cities is not just an important mandate for individual cities but should be considered a national priority.
By addressing a variety of factors that add to pollution, cities can take a more comprehensive approach to mitigating the effects of climate change. For example, Earthjustice worked with the Los Angeles Electric Truck and Bus Coalition to convince Mayor Garcetti and the regional transit authority to commit to 100% zero-emission buses by 2030. The campaign brought together environmentalists, bus riders, and good job advocates who see the potential of an electrified future to clean the air, create high-quality jobs, and combat the threat of climate change.
Fortifying the urban wood economy in Baltimore and replicating success in other cities becomes easier with a national partner who is willing to buy wood from multiple locations and has a national level impact. One of the ways that we have begun scaling is through a partnership with Room & Board, a modern furniture and home decor retailer committed to sustainable practices and American craftsmanship. The company was intrigued by the story of the deconstructed wood and the social and environmental good it was enabling.
Access to capital is another critical component to scaling and replicating the urban wood economy. Our work has explored social impact investing through a partnership with Quantified Ventures. A popular form of social impact investing is called pay-for-success financing.
A large group of stakeholders in Austin worked together to make their city forest carbon program a reality. The City Office of Sustainability, the urban forest staff, the Department of Watersheds, the Climate Program Manager, and the local non-profit tree organization, TreeFolks, have begun a multi-year program to plant hundreds of miles of streams and rivers in the central Texas area. Their focus is on water quality, storm water reductions, flood control, carbon storage, and climate mitigation.
Post-industrial cities face a suite of interconnected problems. Reusing urban wood can be viewed as a systems solution to a complex problem – a means by which to begin to renew and revitalize lives and communities as well.
We are on the path to obtain all of California’s electricity from carbon-free resources by 2045. This transition makes it possible for the built environment to achieve carbon neutrality by converting systems that are currently powered by fossil fuels to already available technologies powered by electricity.Decarbonizing other fuel sources is much more complicated and costly. There is a concerted effort to replace natural gas with renewable biogas and captured methane from landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, and dairies, but these sources cannot fully serve our current and future needs. As a result, we must pursue all-electric buildings to achieve meaningful decarbonization of the built environment.
Disaster resilience is frequently pursued separately by the public and private sectors in the US. Federal, state, and local governments take it as their role to execute disaster preparedness and emergency response for their populations; however, economic recovery is often not addressed. The public sector does not necessarily engage businesses, nor does it seem to plan for the economic “reboot” required after a disaster, resulting in business disruption continuing for much longer.
The clout of local governments should never be underestimated. When Xcel Energy recently made the monumental decision to pursue a 100% carbon reduction goal by 2050, Chairman and CEO Ben Fowke noted that local communities are already leading the charge.
In order to get the estimated tens of trillions of dollars in investment into low-carbon solutions across electricity, energy, buildings, agriculture, transportation, and industrial practices needed in the coming decades to prevent runaway climate change, we must focus on economic opportunities that enable people to invest without having to be convinced of the ideology behind such solutions.