Our Climate Is Headed Toward 'Extremely Dangerous' or 'Catastrophic:' Here's Our Best Off Plan For Staving Off Total Disaster
Continued from previous page
Our urban future
Humanity is already an urban species, with more people living in cities than in the countryside. By the middle of the century, we will likely have as many as 9.5 billion people living on the planet, with 70-75 percent of us (around 7 billion people), demographers estimate, living in cities themselves, and 95 percent or more of humanity living within a day’s travel of a city. By the 2050s, the overwhelming majority of humanity will be participating in urban systems of health care, education, communication, commerce, and government that only a few decades ago were limited to the “developed” world.
Growth is transforming the very nature of cities. Every day, at least 200,000 people move to cities or are born in them. That’s like building a city the size of San Francisco every four days. Then doing it again, four days later. Then doing it again — and repeating the process several thousand times in the next 40 years. By 2050, we will have an estimated 3.5 billion more urbanites, and to house them we will have built a constellation of thousands of large cities, including a scattering of extremely large megacities, each home to tens of millions of people. The largest city-building boom in human history will happen in the next four decades, with each decade experiencing more change than the one before.
This urban boom won’t be wonderful for everyone; for many, it may be tragic. Unless we change our priorities quickly, as many as a billion people — climate refugees, the rural and destitute, victims of conflict and deep structural poverty — will live on the very edge of existence. Perhaps as many as 3 billion people will live in informal settlements — in the huge slums springing up around many developing world cities. Hundreds of millions of these slum-dwellers will live in abject poverty. Inequalities will strain our societies. In the midst of widespread poverty, 3 or 4 billion others may rise out of poverty to enter the global middle class, living what we today would consider a “modern” — if modest — life. A billion may well live in even greater affluence than we experience today. And the one thing the vast majority of these people will have in common is their cities, and the ways in which those cities are linked together.
How we build this coming wave of cities will largely decide not only the quality of life of the people living in them, but also the future of our planet. Because how we build our cities will decide, more than any other factor, how much we heat the planet.
Our urban opportunity
Climate emissions are a byproduct of the global economy; but the links that connect that economy together are forged in our great cities. In this book, we’ll see how the choices cities make about how they grow will largely determine whether their economies will be clean or dirty; and the choices these cities make, in aggregate, will largely determine whether the global economy as a whole will be catastrophic or full of possibilities.
In 40 years, humanity will live in thousands of these major cities, each stamping the global economy with its own character — and burdening the planet with its consumption and pollution, to greater or lesser degrees. But right now, the economies of only about 200 cities define the global economy. These cities and the regions surrounding them are responsible for the vast majority of their countries’ prosperity, and also of their countries’ greenhouse gases.
￼Most of these cities are still in the wealthier nations. If our cities reinvent themselves, finding pathways to low-to-no-carbon futures, our nations can rapidly cut climate pollution, even if most of our compatriots lag behind in reducing emissions. Building cities that produce no net emissions — that reduce emissions to the extent that the greenhouse gases generated can be balanced through other actions that draw CO2 out of the atmosphere (what I call “carbon zero” cities) — may in fact be the smartest, quickest pathway to lowering national emissions.