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Archive for the ‘Resource depletion/exhaustion’ Category

It is increasingly obvious that American suburbs – as well as the suburbs of other nations – are environmentally and socially unsustainable on many levels.  As such, an immediate mass-retrofitting and greening of American suburbs must begin in the coming years due to the increasingly unsustainable American transportation system, food production system, and so on; this retrofitting must begin to transform suburbs again in to centers of production instead of solely centers of consumption.

Each suburban neighborhood must begin to think of itself as a village of sorts, as a semi-self-contained town within a town.  Suburban neighborhoods should immediately begin to incorporate a certain amount of walkable retail space as opposed to solely residential space — a few houses from each neighborhood could be removed to build a few shops or a neighborhood mall of sorts which carry the basics and essential goods and services needed for each neighborhood, i.e. food, tools, childcare, local shops and places of employment, etc.  Each house ought to plant to a garden – or the neighborhood as a whole should have a well-kept community garden or gardens – to supply a steady amount of fresh local produce.  Land surrounding the neighborhood, if available, could be used to raise a certain amount of livestock, thus supplying fresh local meat.  Additionally, as solar panels and wind turbines come down in price due to increased production in the coming years each house ought to also become as self-sufficient as possible in terms of energy production, producing a certain amount of energy on-site via solar panels, windmills, water wheels, and so forth.  The cars found in suburban driveways in coming years ought be filled with electric cars, electric-gas hybrids, 2-seater smart-cars, and other fuel efficient automobiles.  All of this would serve to create jobs and also stimulate lagging local and regional economies.

It is especially essential that suburban retrofitting occurs in the USA in the coming years due to the possibility of shortages of gasoline and fuel as well as the unsustainability of shipping essential foodstuffs thousands of miles for consumption.  Again, it is imperative that each suburban (and urban) neighborhood begin to think of itself as a village of sorts, with consumption at least equaling production as much as possible therein.  This would not only help to revive local and regional economies by producing many millions of local green-collar jobs which are unable to be outsourced but would also increase community cohesion.

The concept known as agriburbia (written about here numerous times before) is beginning to take steps in this direction, though it is not nearly enough in a rapid enough time frame.  The founders of the agriburban movement ought to also focus on retrofitting and greening existing neighborhoods instead of solely building new developments.  Overall it is clear that suburban retrofitting and greening must begin as soon as possible to provide jobs and increase local/regional socio-environmental sustainability.

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From Lester Brown, an important movie: Journey to Planet Earth — Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization —  http://video.pbs.org/video/1864227276

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In many respects America is falling behind certain European nations and increasingly various Asian countries when it comes to the physical condition of its cities.  In order to continue being economically and socially competitive the USA must embark upon a major social, political, and economic campaign to clean up and modernize its cities, to bring them up to 21st Century standards.

Due to the current recession there are large number of unemployed/underemployed people in America who could be employed in a multitude of projects to clean up and modernize American cities.  Doing so would ensure a stable supply of jobs for millions of Americans for decades to come, including tearing out the old and building the new, installing solar panels and solar hot water heaters in homes and businesses, setting up more sustainable agriburban communities in appropriate areas, intelligently revamping cities and suburbs to in order to build better public transportation networks, building high speed train lines linking up major cities, and dozens of other green-collar jobs.

Due to neglect or mismanagement over the last few decades many American cities are not as functional or aesthetically pleasing as they ought to be when compared to cities in other countries.  Many of America’s cities are sprawling, auto-dependent, and more suburban in nature than truly urban, and this could be gradually and intelligently modified to help concentrate more people in true urban areas that are cleaner and more efficient than endlessly sprawling suburbs.

Overall it is clear that the USA must embark upon a major 21st Century campaign to clean up and modernize its cities in order to provide a better quality of life for many of its citizens.

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A temporary fix to buy time with the precarious gasoline-fueled auto system in the USA and elsewhere: all – and I mean ALL – of the auto companies in the world need to immediately start mass-producing 2-seater cars (sometimes called ‘smart cars’) because they are much more fuel efficient than other types of autos.

People can still own and use full sized autos, but they can use the 2-seater cars when going back and forth to work, for running simple errands, and in all other situations where only one or two people are in the car. Look around every day at rush hour and nearly every car only contains one person; that is a huge waste of fuel to transport one person back and forth to work daily, hauling all of that extra auto weight around for no reason. But if nearly everyone used a 2-seater smart car for trips where only one or two people were in the car (especially for going to work every day) it would save huge amounts of gasoline daily. The 2-seaters are just a step above motorcycles or mopeds in terms of fuel usage, and if large numbers of people used them it would make the roads safer and also majorly cut air pollution.

We need to mandate this in the USA and elsewhere, despite its implications as being ‘fascistic’ since it would save massive amount of fuel daily. People could still own regular sized autos for when they are needed to transport multiple people, but for all those trips where only one person is in the car (i.e., the daily drive back and forth from work) the 2-seater should be used.

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If the current American government, the Obama Administration, is serious about increasing the number of people with ‘green-collar’ jobs, they ought to start by initiating a massive reforestation/afforestation plan which is organized on a local/county basis.  More Americans also ought to be trained in forestry and related environmental fields instead of ones which are mostly useless or even harmful to society such as banking/usury, paper-pushing, unnecessary legal jobs, etc.

A nationwide reforestation/afforestation plan would be rather simple to do, and it would also employ very many Americans who are currently unemployed and/or underemployed.  Trees ought to be replanted everywhere possible in an organized and methodical way.

Trees help to control the loss of vital topsoil to erosion, and they also preserve water/moisture in soils.  Additionally, trees absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and use it to produce oxygen (which is of course a necessity for human existence).

Deforestation causes droughts — believe it or not, the trees and other natural vegetation of a region often ‘interacts’ with the localized atmosphere to produce rain, humidity, and other beneficial weather patterns. Thus, when you cut down most of the trees in an area and clear the land for houses, parking lots, shopping centers, skyscrapers, factories, etc, the land will eventually become a desert or semi-desert if trees are not eventually re-established in to the habitat.

Did you know that much of Italy, Spain, and North Africa used to be heavily forested back a few thousand years ago in ancient Greek/Roman times and of course long before that? Now widespread desertification has occurred in many areas of those countries since the ancient inhabitants of those areas often cleared the land of trees (to make room for farmland, pastureland, and towns/cities) and thus a lot of the rain eventually left those areas as a result of the loss of vegetation.  Over time, incessant winds (which were once mostly blocked by trees or other vegetation) have loosened or blown away the topsoil which also became increasingly dried out from the sunlight beating down on it constantly due to the lack of a forest canopy to protect it from getting sun-baked on a daily basis during the hotter months.  Whenever it rained heavily a lot of topsoil was washed away due to the lack of trees and associated vegetation, the roots of which once served to hold that precious topsoil in place.  Thus, over a period of centuries after an area had been deforested, entirely new deserts or semi-deserts were formed where once lush forests thrived.

The USA and other nations ought to learn from the catastrophic mistakes of past civilizations instead of repeating them.  I propose that a nationwide program of reforestation/afforestation is needed in order to make sure that we do not slowly turn large swathes of North America in to a desert-like environment in the coming centuries due to irresponsible and unsustainable levels of deforestation.

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A few recent links about the possible future course of humankind on Earth if we do not begin to change our unsustainable ways:

+ “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?” by Lester Brown (in Scientific American – May 2009) – this article posits that the increasing fragility of the world’s food supply could lead to shortages that would further destabilize many developing (as well as developed) countries
– Also see: “RETHINKING FOOD PRODUCTION FOR A WORLD OF EIGHT BILLION” by Brown (July 2009)

+ “What the future looks like” by Martin Rees (in The Guardian – May 2009) – a rather gloomy assessment of the socio-environmental situation that could lead to major problems by 2050.  In relation to the burgeoning world population and the impact that this is having on the environment, the article states:

“But there are some trends that we can predict with confidence. There will, barring a global catastrophe, be far more people on Earth than today. Fifty years ago the world population was below 3 billion. It has more than doubled since then, to 6.7 billion. The percentage growth rate has slowed, but it is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The excess will almost all be in the developing world where the young hugely outnumber the old.

If population growth were to continue beyond 2050, one can’t be other than exceedingly gloomy about the prospects. And the challenge of feeding such a rapidly growing population will be aggravated by climate change.

The world will be warmer than today in 2050; the patterns of rainfall and drought across the world will be different. If we pursue “business as usual”,

CO2 concentration levels will reach twice the pre-industrial level by around 2050. The higher its concentration, the greater the warming – and, more important still, the greater the chance of triggering something grave and irreversible: rising sea levels due to the melting of Greenland’s icecap; runaway release of methane in the tundra.”

+ ABC News ran the TV special “Earth 2100” back in early June 2009 – it also paints a grim portrait of Earth overwhelmed by major economic, political, and socio-environmental problems by the year 2100 if humanity does not soon change course and begin upon a more ecologically/environmentally sustainable path. I didn’t hear about or get to watch the program when it first aired, but I hope to watch a rerun of it on the internet sometime soon when I find the time.
– Also see the following related links:
“Earth 2100: the Final Century of Civilization? – Planet At Risk: Experts Warn Population Growth, Resource Depletion, Climate Change Could Bring Catastrophe in Next Century”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_2100

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While a rather bleak picture of a decaying humanity barely clinging to a near-permanently wrecked Earth has been described in many of the preceding pages, it certainly doesn’t have to turn out that way. We still yet have some time in which to begin on a better and more stable/sustainable course. We are going to have to harness and accurately direct all of the ingenuity, willpower, idealism, and intelligence we can muster in order to make it through the coming socio-environmental storm, but the Earth’s eventual environmental recovery is nearly assured if we stay focused on and keep working to solve the immense problems that now plague us.

This is no time for admissions of defeat, resignation, hopelessness, pessimism, or negativism – it is a time for positivity, perseverance, optimism, hope, and joy at performing the necessary work which is currently confronting our species. So let us all begin to look ahead and start to do the intense thinking, the difficult planning, the passionate debating, and the undeniably vital work which will serve to carry our species as well as our precious home planet in to a newer and brighter epoch of advanced life in our small corner of the vast universe.

+ NOTE: check out the book Ecological Utopias: Envisioning the Sustainable Society for a good overview of a few historical as well as modern “ecological utopias” as imagined by various Western thinkers, writers, scientists, activists, etc.

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