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Blog Number 100: (Should we all move to the city?)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 1:30 AM GMT on January 11, 2009

Blog Number 100: (Should we all move to the city?)

So this is blog number 100 since I started with wunderground. I’ve spent part of the day wandering around the blogosphere and thinking about climate change and where to go next. What are useful and interesting and unique items to write about? Towards that end, I would be happy to receive input on what you think would be interesting subjects. Also, as I know several experts read this blog, this semester I am especially interested in references that cross disciplines. For instance, if you run across a paper or report in your profession that is an excellent paper on climate change and how it will impact or be addressed by your profession, I would love to hear about it. For example, a year ago one of my students brought my attention to an entire special issue of the U Penn Law Review. Since my class is on breaking down stovepipes to facilitate problem solving, I, often, find new references for my class this way.

One of my goals in the next few months is to start to learn a lot more about the “solution space.” With the new administration we are seeing a lot of positioning about policy and, in particular, people taking positions on cap and trade versus taxes and fees. (I, of course, don’t think that these are two alternatives, but that one (taxes and fees) is a path to the other (cap and trade). See Rood and Thoumi over at Mongabay.com). Just in the last couple of days, the fact that the Exxon CEO has called for a carbon tax has initiated all sorts of accusatory rhetoric. Link to Sayanything.com and Story in the Independent. Once this rhetoric gets spun up, it’s fundamentally useless and uninteresting. I am ultimately interested in what people are really starting to do. I want to be able to bring those ideas to the front.

Over the past year or so it has occurred to me that one of the greatest levers that we might have on addressing climate change is through urban planning. There has been a lot of discussion about “megacities” and the fact that more than half of the people in the world will soon live in cities and that many of these cities are very close to sea level. (See Megacities Projects ). Much of the discussion is about how these cities, these people, are most vulnerable to climate change because of sea level rise. True.

But the cities also concentrate people and, therefore, offer great opportunities of mass efficiency because of improved transportation systems and the ability to use zoning laws and building codes to specify practices and materials that improve efficiency and improve the environment. There are concentrations of transportation, residential buildings, and industries – the primary users of energy. It makes sense that if we are going to support nine billion people, that concentration of people with modern planned infrastructure offers an important strategy for addressing climate change.

Since I have learned, but often forget, that the probability of me having both an original and good thought is very small, of course, there are many others that have already thought about the importance of cities in addressing climate change. Here is the site of the C40 Group - large cities and their efforts to tackle climate change. In fact, throughout the U.S. there have been many efforts to address climate change, both large and small scale. The advantage that cities offer is that through local policy they can magnify, tremendously, the efforts of efficiency that are often associated with individuals. Historically, U.S. federal policy has followed local and regional policy, often as a cry for uniform policy.

Policy: The real issue with policy in the next year will be how to keep climate change initiatives alive and how to evolve effective policy in the face of the economic challenges we face. Already with the fall of oil prices we see the dismissal of alternative fuel efforts which were, six months ago, our future. Perhaps in the spirit of dark humor, as I say in my class, we have only one proven method of significant carbon dioxide reduction - Economic collapse. The examples I use are the Soviet Union and the State of Michigan. I am sure that there are those out there who can bring forward examples that are more in the spirit of optimistic.


Figure 1: My trip to Chicago, 2007. Does every one take this picture?

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.