Our Climate Is Headed Toward 'Extremely Dangerous' or 'Catastrophic:' Here's Our Best Off Plan For Staving Off Total Disaster
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Americans, Canadians, and Australians, in particular, sail now on a collision course with planetary realities. Our sprawling suburbs and low-density cities depend on abundant resources, cheap oil, and low costs for pollution, none of which the future holds. No amount of political grandstanding will change that fact. Sprawling, auto-dependent suburbs are unsustainable, and that which cannot be sustained does not long continue. For the size of their populations, our cities are the most climate-damaging in the world.
Even Northern European cities, with their older, more compact urban forms, better transit, and reputations for climate leadership, are far from sustainable — they, too, need a lot of change — but I have chosen to focus on North American cities precisely because that is where we need the biggest change in the shortest time. (Readers from the rest of the world should find a few ideas worth mulling over — much of what applies to North America applies without too much translation to Australia and New Zealand, as well as in parts to much of Europe and the prosperous parts of Asia, especially Japan and Korea. Around the world, leadership will take different forms: the imperative to lead will be the same.)
I’m writing most directly to my fellow Americans, though. That’s because I care deeply about my country, as do most Americans. I believe that if we truly love our country, we must care about its future; and we can’t care about its future without taking into account the ways our nation’s actions today are shaping that future; without attempting to steer a course that will leave our countrymen better off in the future. To love our country today is also to wish to see it secure and prosperous tomorrow. So to be patriots, we have to want to be good ancestors to those who are coming after us. And being good ancestors today means, perhaps above all else, fighting climate change. No greater threat faces America in the coming years than climate chaos. We learned that with Katrina; we’ve learned that with droughts and floods and wildfires; and now we’re learning it afresh as our nation recovers from the assault of a superstorm of unprecedented size. And the biggest storms are still ahead.
Building carbon zero cities means not only greater prosperity, but more security. Almost everything we need to do to drop our climate emissions also leaves us more rugged and resilient to disasters and global instability. Carbon zero cities mean future-proof cities, or as close as we’re likely to get.
Our choice could not be clearer, to my mind: Remake our cities into central hubs in the global climate-neutral economy we’re moving towards (and ready ourselves for the tough times to come), or shirk our responsibilities and leave ourselves even more vulnerable to the onrushing chaos. As a patriot, the right choice for America is plain to me.
Imagining carbon zero cities
How do we get to work? Well, we can’t build what we can’t imagine, so the first task in building carbon zero cities is to reimagine the cities we have.
Reimagining is hard work. It requires both a robust conversation about what carbon zero cities might be like, and a far more creative approach to envisioning the kinds of innovations and solutions that could get us there. This little book is my attempt to outline one version of a carbon-neutral city; to get a conversation going about what kind of change a 90 percent cut in emissions might entail; and to point out some of the main areas of possible innovation.