Happy Earth Day!

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Nepal Environment Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


This concludes our series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network for Earth Day 2014.

Today is Earth Day! Over a billion people in 192 countries around the world are taking action on behalf of the environment—planting trees, cleaning up their communities, biking to work, starting recycling programs, teaching young people about environmental issues, buying locally-grown foods, and much more.

While today is certainly a monumental day, we must build off this momentum. The environmental challenges of our time are urgent, and solving them will require the sustained, coordinated efforts of people all around the globe.

Over the last several days, we’ve shared some of the world’s most innovative green city success stories. But our work is not done yet. Through the Green Cities campaign, Earth Day Network will continue to educate and mobilize cities and communities around the world to become more sustainable. Learn more about how you can participate.

There are lots of other ways you can get involved throughout the year.

A Billion Acts of Green® is an ongoing campaign that inspires and aggregates individual acts of environmental service around the world. We reached our goal of one billion actions, and we’re now shooting for two billion! Pledge your Act of Green here.

Also, check out our Green Schools campaign. We provide educational materials to help build awareness about environmental issues.

Through The Canopy Project, Earth Day Network also plants millions of trees around the world – in the places that need them most. Trees are important in fighting climate change, providing soil stability, restoring wildlife habitat, stabilizing local economies and more. Learn how you can contribute here.

Most importantly, we must all continue our efforts to share the green message with as many people as we can. Our children’s future depends on it. Remember: a lot of little actions add up to something big.

Earth Day 2015 will be here before you know it. It’s never too early to start planning how you’re going to make a difference!

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Reykjavik & London: Leading the Way in Europe

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This is the sixth in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

The green city movement is off and running in Europe. All across the continent, cities are taking steps to green their buildings, energy systems, and transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps no other European city embodies this trend quite like Reykjavik, Iceland. Reykjavik acquires only 19% of its primary energy, used in transportation and heating, from fossil fuel sources. The rest of the energy comes from geothermal and hydrogen power – both renewable sources. What’s even more impressive, however, is that Reykjavik gets 100% of its electricity from geothermal and hydrogen power.

Reykjavik_Iceland_Wikimedia_Andreas-Tille

By switching from fossil fuel energy to geothermal energy, it is estimated that Iceland has saved more than $8 billion over the last three decades. What’s even more amazing is that Iceland’s Natural Energy Authority estimates that Iceland is using only 20-25% of its hydropower capacity and only 20% of its geothermal capacity. Reykjavik provides the world with a glowing example of how cities around the world can be powered in the future.

Blackfriars_solar_geograph.uk

Meanwhile, on another European island, the world’s largest solar bridge recently opened in London. The bridge runs across the Thames River at the London Blackfriars railway station. The roof of the bridge is covered in 4,400 photovoltaic solar panels that are expected to generate 900,000 kilowatts of energy every year, which amount to half of the railway station’s energy needs. This new installation is expected to cut carbon emissions by 511 tons per year.

BlackFriars_Flickr

From geothermal energy to solar-powered infrastructure, Europe is striving to turn its cities green, and the world is taking notice. Hopefully, the trend will continue.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Reclaiming Time By Going Green

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Bogota_carfree_AP

This is fifth in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

In South America, major cities are taking steps to become more sustainable and improve quality of life for their citizens.

Bogota, Colombia is at the forefront of this movement. In February 2000, Mayor Enrique Peñalosa enacted the city’s first car-free day. Legitimized by a public referendum, the car-free day has become an annual occasion. Beginning in 2014, Bogotá expanded the day to an entire week of no car usage. In the city of 7 million people, roughly 600,000 cars were left idle each day during car-free week.

Quality of life in Bogotá has undeniably improved during the first car-free week. The air is cleaner, the streets are quieter, more people are engaging in physical exercise, and more time is being reclaimed due to not experiencing traffic.

Bogota_Flickr

Buenos Aires, Argentina has a different strategy for going green. Just a few months ago, the city broke ground on its project to retrofit 91,000 of its streetlights with LED bulbs that will cut energy use by 50% and significantly reduce carbon emissions. The new bulbs will also last nearly five times longer than conventional lighting. Already, over 10,000 streetlights have been retrofitted, with the rest to be completed over the course of roughly three years.

Buenos_Aires_Cityline_at_Night_Irargerich

Diego Santilli, Minister of the Environment and Public Space, lists the advantages of the LED lights, “they’re more efficient: longer life-span, less consumption, lower maintenance cost, more visibility. This project will help us reach our goal of reducing greenhouses gases while also cutting operational costs.”

Bogota and Buenos Aires set a great example for other cities to follow. With their leadership, South America’s cities are well on their way to becoming better and more sustainable places to live.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Green Cities on the Rise in Africa and the Middle East

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This is the fourth in series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

Across the Middle East and Africa, cities are doing their part to become more sustainable. From green transportation to renewable energy, these cities are taking innovative strides toward a greener future.

Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates, is in the process of designing an entire city to be completely carbon neutral.  Masdar City, as it will be called, will be a two-square-mile, zero waste to landfill, car-free city with its own highly efficient “personal rapid transport” system that will also be emission-free.  The city will also be designed to encourage walking whenever possible, and will eventually be home to 1,500 businesses, 40,000 residents, and 50,000 commuters.

Masdar City

According to Masdar City’s website, “It is a community where cutting-edge clean tech research and development, pilot projects, technology testing, and construction on some of the world’s most sustainable buildings are all ongoing.”

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

Also making strides toward a greener future is Johannesburg, South Africa.  Johannesburg recently introduced a new fleet of 134 biofuel powered city buses, drastically reducing emissions and offering a way to recycle much of the city’s waste through the production of the biofuel.  Johannesburg is also working on changing its transportation infrastructure by adding walking and biking lanes along certain busy corridors in the city.

Meanwhile, cities in Ethiopia are turning to renewable energy. The Ashegoda Wind Farm — located 18 kilometers outside the city of Mekelle — is officially open for business. The 120-megawatt wind farm contains 84 turbines and is expected to contribute 400 million kilowatt hours of energy to the grid each year. Ashegoda is the continent’s largest wind farm.

As Abu Dhabi, Johannesburg, and Mekelle have shown, green cities are on the rise in Africa and the Middle East.  Hopefully, more cities in the region will follow their lead.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Songdo, Bhubaneswar & Adelaide: Taking Steps Towards Sustainability

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Songdo_South Korea_Flickr_by elTrekero

Songdo in the Republic of Korea. (CC) Flickr

This is the third in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

Throughout Asia and Australia, cities are taking steps to make their buildings, transportation, and energy infrastructure more sustainable.

The city of Songdo in the Republic of Korea is at the forefront of this movement. What used to be a vast wasteland of mudflats is now being built up as a completely green city, with 100% of its buildings set to meet LEED certification requirements and 40% of its land space to be reserved for parks and green space. It is being designed as a completely walkable city, so that cars will be almost completely unnecessary.  Songdo has also designed a revolutionary waste management system that will recycle most trash and 40% of wastewater.

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A park in Songdo

Another prime example is Bhubaneswar, India.  Bhubaneswar recently put into place several initiatives to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and encourage its residents to save energy.  Not only did they install 20 kilometers of a bike path through the city, but city officials also facilitated the move of street vendors to areas near the path to encourage more people to use it, and convinced many street vendors to install more efficient lighting systems.  On top of that, Bhubaneswar passed a mandate requiring all buildings with water heating systems to install solar-assisted water heating systems, and set up an information center in the city to inform people about climate change and environmental issues.

Bhubaneswar_AP

Bhubaneswar, India

Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, is also joining the effort against climate change by introducing the world’s first completely electric, solar-powered bus.  The bus – named the Tindo after an aboriginal word for “sun” – transports residents of Adelaide completely free of charge and is expected to save 70,000 kilograms of carbon from being released into the atmosphere and 14,000 liters of diesel fuel from being used.

Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide, Australia

Whether it’s through redesigned public transit systems, energy efficiency measures in buildings, or more walkable streets, cities in Asia and Australia are doing their part to not only fight climate change, but also to propel the world into a more energy efficient and healthy future.  The examples they’ve set should be widely replicated.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.

 

Heart of the City: Green Buildings

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The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington

The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington

This is the second in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network.

Cities all around the world are striving to become greener and more sustainable. In North America, a few major cities are leading the way in green buildings.

Seattle’s Bullitt Center — considered the greenest commercial building in the world — is a testament to this trend. The Bullitt Center is brainchild of Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day and board chair of Earth Day Network. It seeks to meet the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most rigorous rating system for sustainability.

The building’s roof is adorned with solar panels, helping it to achieve net-zero energy. All rainwater is collected in a large cistern, and all wastewater is treated onsite. In fact, the building operates independently from municipal water and waste systems. The building is also able to effectively gauge exterior conditions – including temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, and wind – and adjust accordingly, opening and closing windows, turning the heat up or down, etc.

A view from a floor inside the Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Ben Benschneider)

A view from a floor inside the Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Ben Benschneider)

Don’t plan to park there – it’s close to public transportation and has bike racks, but no parking spaces. Heating is partially accomplished with geothermal power, and all of the building’s wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

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People walk on the Vancouver Convention Centre West roof, one of the largest green roofs in North America: a six-acre behemoth bigger than four football fields. (C) AP Images

People walk on the roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre, one of the largest green roofs in North America — a six-acre living roof bigger than four football fields. (C) AP Images

Meanwhile, 150 miles north in Vancouver stands the Vancouver Convention Center. Opened in 2009, the facility achieved LEED Canada Platinum Certification—the first time a convention center has done so—and received a COTE 2011 Top Ten Green Project Award.

What makes the building so green? For one, it’s home to a six-acre living roof — the largest of its kind in Canada. The roof houses 400,000 native plants grasses and 240,000 bees. It serves many functions, including acting as an insulator to maintain indoor temperatures, and helping to effectively utilize stormwater.

The building also makes use of low-volume flush and flow fixtures to reduce potable water consumption by 73 percent, and 100 percent of the building’s greywater and blackwater is treated through a wastewater treatment plant that provides all the building’s irrigation needs.

As for heating and cooling, the building uses a sea water pump to cool the building during the summer and heat the building during the winter. The building is almost entirely covered in glass, minimizing the need for artificial lighting. Radiant flooring is used wherever possible, allowing for superior air circulation.

The Vancouver Convention Center at night. (CC) Wikimedia Commons/by Bobak Ha'Eri

The Vancouver Convention Center at night. (CC) Wikimedia Commons/Bobak Ha’Eri

Seattle and Vancouver are proving that more energy-efficient and sustainable buildings are at the heart of green cities. Here’s hoping other cities follow their lead.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State. 

Earth Day & Green Cities

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Green-Cities-cover-image

This is the first in a series of guest blogs by the Earth Day Network in honor of Earth Day 2014.

The first Earth Day – on April 22, 1970 – was the birth of the modern environmental movement. Twenty million Americans took to the streets in cities all over the country to demand that something be done about the destruction of the environment. The events of that day led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Since then, Earth Day and the global environmental movement have grown exponentially. Today, more than a billion people in 192 countries participate in Earth Day-related activities. It is the largest civic observance in the world.

The theme of Earth Day 2014 is “Green Cities.” Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the urban population grows and the effects of climate change worsen, our cities have to evolve.

It’s time for us to invest in efficiency and renewable energy, rebuild our cities and towns, and begin to solve the climate crisis. With a focus on transportation, green buildings, and clean energy, the Green Cities campaign will mobilize a global movement to accelerate this transition.

How will we do this? First, we will work to find and highlight best practices from green cities all around the globe. These success stories — from energy-efficient buildings to public transportation infrastructure to microgrids — will make up a catalog of replicable policies and initiatives for other cities to emulate. Over the course of the next week, in the lead-up to Earth Day, we’ll share some of our favorite green city success stories from every corner of the globe.

We’ll also work closely with a handful of spotlight cities, including Jackson, Mississippi and Santa Fe, New Mexico, to help them become more sustainable. Specifically, we’ll work with them to transition to LED streetlights, improve the solar permitting process, and implement a green buildings plan.

And finally, as always, we’ll work with cities and partners around the world to plan and execute events on Earth Day — everything from trash clean-ups to rallies to tree-plantings.

To learn more about how you can get involved, visit www.earthday.org/greencities.

This entry reflects the views of the Earth Day Network and does not necessarily represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.   

 

Take a Walk

 

Myanmar Walking for Water

(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

What would you do to raise awareness on an issue?

Around the world, millions of people have to travel far to find fresh water. Women and girls in developing countries, in particular, walk an average of six kilometers every day to collect water for their families.

The task of collecting water keeps children out of school and prevents women from engaging in other, more productive economic activities. Growing water scarcity also has widespread implications for global health, food security, economic prosperity, and eco-systems.

WalkForWater_1_2014

Raising awareness on water issues is one reason why volunteers from the U.S. Department of State, the World Wildlife Fund, WASH Advocates, The Nature Conservancy, and others chose to do the State Department’s fourth annual 6K Walk for Water on a sunny, but cold and very windy day in Washington, D.C.

Why else do people walk? Check out what some of the experts from the State Department, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Nature Conservancy, and WASH Advocates had to say.

WalkForWater_2_2014

With thanks to our colleagues at the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and WASH Advocates for working with us on this event. 

Designing Inclusive, Resilient Cities

By Cynthia E. Smith, Curator of Socially Responsible Design, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

The El Mirandor footbridge connects the La Francia neighborhood to the Andalucia MetroCable Station, Medellín, Colombia. Medellín MetroCable and Northeast Integral Urban Project: © Steven Dale (Urban Development Corporation EDU Medellín, City of Medellín, Empresa de Transporta-Metro de Medellín Ltda and the Center for Urban and Environmental Studies, University Urbamar EAFIT. (Fig 2))

The El Mirandor footbridge connects the La Francia neighborhood to the Andalucia MetroCable Station, Medellín, Colombia. (Medellín MetroCable and Northeast Integral Urban Project: © Steven Dale. Urban Development Corporation EDU Medellín, City of Medellín, Empresa de Transporta-Metro de Medellín Ltda and the Center for Urban and Environmental Studies, University Urbamar EAFIT. (Fig 2))

In the world today, there are over 400 cities with one million people, more than 20 cities with ten million people, and three cities with at least twenty million people.[i]

Of those living in cities, there are close to one billion living in informal settlements, commonly called slums, favelas or squatter communities.[ii] That number is projected to double by 2030. Most of the growth will take place in Africa and Asia, in an increasingly climate-challenged world.[iii]

Current slum populations are represented as orange squares over black squares, which show overall population. Future population projections are in light orange for slum growth and gray for overall population. (Informal Settlement World Map -  Designers: Christian Werthmann, with Elizabeth Randall and Fiona Luhrmann, Harvard Graduate School of Design: © Christian Werthmann (Fig 1))

Current slum populations are represented as orange squares over black squares, which show overall population. Future population projections are in light orange for slum growth and gray for overall population. (Informal Settlement World Map – Designers: Christian Werthmann, with Elizabeth Randall and Fiona Luhrmann, Harvard Graduate School of Design: © Christian Werthmann (Fig 1))

This massive urban migration signals a historic shift in our civilization. It led, in part, to the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, exhibition - Design with the Other 90%: CITIES in 2011, which explored a range of design solutions and strategies for this massive urban migration – a leading challenge for this century. Over 60 projects, products and proposals were included at the initial display at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. They ranged in scale from the entire city of Medellín, Colombia (Fig 2) to a mHealth initiative developed in Uganda to fight the spread of HIV (Fig 3).

Text to Change quiz on a mobile phone, part of an incentive-based mHealth (or mobile health) education program, focused on AIDs awareness, Uganda. (Text to Change SMS Behavior Change Campaign; Designers: Bas Hoefman, Hajo van Beijma. Partners: Aids Information Center, Airtel Uganda. Mbarara, Uganda: © Text to Change. (Fig 3))

Text to Change quiz on a mobile phone, part of an incentive-based mHealth (or mobile health) education program, focused on AIDs awareness, Uganda. (Text to Change SMS Behavior Change Campaign; Designers: Bas Hoefman, Hajo van Beijma. Partners: Aids Information Center, Airtel Uganda. Mbarara, Uganda: © Text to Change. (Fig 3))

In preparation for the exhibition, I travelled to 16 cities in Africa, Asia and South American to meet with people living and working in the settlements. I found that some of the more innovative solutions are a “hybrid” that engage both the formal and informal parts of the cities – increasingly required because local and regional authorities cannot keep up with the rapid growth. For example, one private utility in Manila designed a solution that provides an underground water pipe right to the edge of the settlement and connects it to a cluster of meters (Fig 5). The residents are provided materials to make their own connections direct to their households. The result was improved public health due to a decrease in contaminated drinking water – at one-fifth the cost!

A young resident showers with water from an individual house pipe after upgrading, Baybay Sapa informal settlement, Anitpolo City, Rizal province, Philippines. Water for Low Income Communities (Tubig Para sa Baranagay) Program; Designers: Manila Water Company, with Manila-area informal settlement community. Metro East Zone, Manila, Philippines.

A young resident showers with water from an individual house pipe after upgrading, at the Baybay Sapa informal settlement, Anitpolo City, Rizal province, Philippines. (Water for Low Income Communities (Tubig Para sa Baranagay) Program Designers: Manila Water Company, with Manila-area informal settlement community. Metro East Zone, Manila, Philippines. (Fig. 5))

Millions around the world, especially in rural Africa, live miles from a reliable source of clean water, leaving them vulnerable to water-borne diseases. A simple design solution from South Africa – the Q Drum, a durable container designed to roll easily – can transport 75 liters of clean and potable water (Fig 4).

The Q Drum is a durable container designed to roll easily and transport 75 liters of clean potable water. Q Drum; Designers: P.J. and P.S. Hendrikse, South Africa

The Q Drum is a durable container designed to roll easily and transport 75 liters of clean potable water. (Q Drum Designers: P.J. and P.S. Hendrikse, South Africa: © 2006 P.J. Hendrikse (Fig 4))

The projects included in Design with the Other 90%: Cities showed how we can create new social, spatial, and economic structures in response to rapid urbanization. Traditionally, professional designers have only focused on 10 percent of the world’s population, but that is changing as designers, architects, engineers and entrepreneurs work directly with communities who have limited resources, collaborating across sectors to provide solutions and improved access.

It is critical we find ways to share this information — the urban success stories, ways to implement and sustain these efforts, and their impact over time. This will require a more inclusive urban design; responsible economic and environmental policies; establishing new institutions; transparent governance; improved equity and security; and land reform for a more just and humane urban world.

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This guest blog contains excerpts from Design with the Other 90%: CITIES, Designing Inclusive Cities essay by Cynthia E. Smith, © Smithsonian Institution.

You can learn more about the Design with the Other 90% exhibition series – and the innovative design approaches and solutions included – on the Design Other 90 Network (and upload your own design work there too!). 

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Footnotes:

[i] 2009 statistics: 376 cities between 1– 5 million; 32 cities 5–10 million; 21 cities with at least 10 million; 3 cities with at least 20 million (Tokyo, Delhi, São Paulo). “Urban Agglomerations 2009,” in United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

[ii] . Pietro Garau, Elliott D. Sclar, and Gabriella Y. Carolina, A Home in the City: UN Millennium Project, Task Force on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers (London: Earthscan, 2005): 12.

[iii]Slum Dwellers to Double by 2030: Millennium Development Goal Could Fall Short,” in UN-HABITAT: Twenty-first Session of the Governing Council, April 16–20, 2007.

[iv] “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision,” in United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division 9, 9–10.

[v] Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (London: Verso, 2006): 26.

Green Cities, Green People

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As we get ready for Earth Day on April 22nd (just three weeks away!), we’ll be exploring the topic of “Green Cities” – from the viewpoint of how local governments and individual activists are making a greener difference in their city, country, and around the world.

From being the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary (“An Inconvenient Truth”) to winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “for sounding the alarm over global warming and spreading awareness on how to counteract it,” environmental activist and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is one of those people.

Even as he celebrates his 66th birthday this week, Mr. Gore continues to talk about the risks posed by climate change and how recent extreme weather events, like Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan, have been a “game changer” for public awareness.

Al_gore_presentation_Wiki_Flicr_Alex de Carvalho

At the same time, he’s aware that people might be tired with his warnings or may feel “powerlessness as to what any one individual can do to affect what appear to be vast, unchangeable trends,” reports the Kansas City Star.

“Do we really have to do this and — if the answer is yes — can we do it?” Gore said, repeating two questions he routinely hears.

“The answer to both of those questions — spoiler alert — is ‘yes.’ ”

As Secretary Kerry, commenting on the IPCC’s new report, stated: “The more we delay, the greater the threat. Let’s make our political system wake up and let’s make the world respond.”

How will you urge your leaders to respond?