Weekly News Roundup: New Plans and Programs Announced
Washington: President Obama announces Climate Action Plan
On Tuesday at Georgetown University President Barack Obama gave a speech outlining his vision for the country’s response to climate change. In his well-crafted call for action, Obama tactfully dismissed skeptics and the question of whether or not to act at all, asking instead ‘whether we have the courage to act before it’s too late’. He also made sure to address the question of economic growth, asserting that ‘a low-carbon clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come’. Read the full transcript of his speech here.
The primary components the executive vision are reducing carbon pollution, preparing for the impacts of climate change, and being an international leader in cutting carbon emissions. As part of the strategy to reduce carbon pollution, one of Obama’s main directives was for the EPA to complete new carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, which are responsible for 40% of America’s carbon pollution. He also asserted that his plan would help America double its clean energy and set important standards for wasting less energy. If you are curious for the specifics and want an idea about the range of policies in the plan, take a look at the entire Climate Action Plan here.
Across the U.S.: More than 50 elected officials sign campaign for resilience
The Resilient Communities for America Agreement is a call for action for the local leaders of America to help America’s cities, towns, and counties to overcome the challenges of extreme weather caused by climate change, unreliable and costly energy, and economic uncertainty. This agreement, signed by mayors of more than 50 cities, includes commitments to reduce the community’s carbon footprint, to transition to a renewable energy future, to implement energy efficiency programs, and to harness innovations in information technology and green infrastructure.
New York: Bloomberg plans to launch composting program
The New York Times has reported that the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg will soon announce that it is hiring a composting plant to handle up to 100,000 tons of food waste a year. Food waste represents the single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching landfills, and is responsible for generating methane- a greenhouse gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide in causing climate change. Working initially on a volunteer basis in homes, schools, and high-rises, the program is expected to become mandatory and expand to the entire city by 2015 or 2016. Ron Gonen, Deputy Sanitation Commissioner for Recycling and Sustainability, was quoted to say that diverting food waste and other organic materials could save the city about $100 million a year.
Shenzhen, China: China’s first carbon market
In the first of 7 city-based carbon trading pilot projects, Shenzhen established a platform allowing businesses to trade permits to emit carbon. Companies are assigned emissions quotas and can sell excess permits to other firms if they emit below their quota. Trading began last week. The plan to open similar projects in other areas of China by the end of this year includes the nation’s capital Beijing, major commercial center Shanghai, and the port city of Tianjin. Although the project won’t necessarily produce significant emissions reductions and China has no overall targets to reduce absolute carbon emissions, some believe this could be a step to a nationwide carbon market.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
I see the outcomes of Duke Pond as a representation of the importance of the profession of landscape architecture in today’s world. Once obscured by the glaring light and booming voice long-generated by building architects, landscape architects are steadily emerging as the designers needed to tackle complex 21st century problems. As both leaders and collaborators, their work is addressing the effects of rising sea level on coastal cities, creating multi-modal pedestrian and vehicular transportation systems to reduce carbon emissions, reimagining outdated infrastructure as great urban places, and as with the case of Duke Pond, mitigating the impacts of worsening drought.
AI has enormous potential to improve the lives of billions of people living in cities and facing a multitude of challenges. However, a blind focus on the technological issues is not sufficient. We are already starting to see a moderation of the technocentric view of algorithmic salvation in New York City, which is the first city in the world to appoint a chief algorithm officer.
There are 7 primary forces determining the success of AI, of which technology is just one. Cities must realize that AI is not the quick technological fix that vendors sell. Not everything will be improved by creating more algorithms and technical prowess. We need to develop a more holistic approach to implementing AI in cities in order to harness the immense potential. We need to create a way to consider each of the seven forces when cities plan for the use of AI.
In New Zealand, persistent, concentrated advocacy and legal cases advanced by Māori people are inspiring biocentric policies; that is, those which recognize that people and nature, including living and non-living elements, are part of an interconnected whole. Along the way, tribal leaders and advocates are successfully making the case that nature; whole systems of rivers, lakes, forests, mountains, and more, deserves legal standing to ensure its protection. An early legislative “win” granted personhood status to the Te Urewera forest in 2014, which codified into law these moving lines:
“Te Urewera is ancient and enduring, a fortress of nature, alive with history; its scenery is abundant with mystery, adventure, and remote beauty … Te Urewera has an identity in and of itself, inspiring people to commit to its care.”
The Te Urewera Act of 2014 did more than redefine how a forest would be managed, it pushed forward the practical expression of a new policy paradigm.