Tag Archives: urbanization

Looking at Climate from All the Angles

Earth’s cloud cover. Photo: NASA

(First published on Dec. 16, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

After record-setting warmth this year, winter is upon us. That means it’s summer in Antarctica, and the Earth Institute has scientists camped there working on two projects that will help us understand what’s going on in this climate-changing world.

Margie Turrin of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is filing dispatches and stunning photos from the IceBridge project. Researchers are studying polar ice (a similar program operates in northern summers in Greenland). Flying back and forth across the Antarctic Peninsula, they’re using sensitive instruments to measure the stability of the ice sheets and the tongues of ice shelves that stretch out over the ocean. A second team working on the ROSETTA project is looking at sea temperature and its effects on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Meanwhile, back in the northern hemisphere, the Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the global average, with impacts that will reach far beyond the far north. The melting season in some areas of Greenland is 30 to 40 days longer than in recent decades, said Lamont scientist Marco Tedesco, who helped write the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2016 Arctic Report Card. The report was presented this week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. (For more on that key meeting of scientists and the Earth Institute’s role, look here.)

“In other places, going from 75 F to 80 F might not make such a great difference,” Tedesco told NPR. “But if you cross the melting point, you are basically stepping into a completely new world.”

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How to Rethink Urban Transit, and Pay for It, Too

New York subway construction in the beginning of the 20th century. Aging infrastructure hampers the system’s efficiency. Photo: NY Public Library Digital Collections

(First published on April 19, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Cities around the world are growing, creating pressure to provide adequate transportation systems to get people to and from their work and homes. In New York City, the population is growing again after decades of suburban flight, which focused much of public and private transportation spending on accommodating people traveling in cars.

Public transit systems around New York face increasing pressure from both an aging infrastructure and the need to carry more and more people. According to PlaNYC, subway ridership is the highest it’s been in over 60 years; 43 percent of New Yorkers travel to work by subway and commuter rail; more than 4,000 public buses carry more than 650 million riders throughout New York City each year.

A key question is how will we pay for these systems—both to fix the deteriorating infrastructure, and to pay for ongoing operations. This is a familiar topic for Elliott Sclar, professor of urban planning at the Columbia School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Earth Institute.

In a new book, Improving Urban Access: New Approaches to Funding Transport Investment,” Sclar and other researchers lay out the issues facing cities and offer new ways to think about who pays for public transportation, and how and why this can be changed. The new book continues lines of thinking from an earlier volume, Urban Access for the 21st Century.

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Cities Are Where the Action Is, Post-Rio

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Aug. 16, 2012

Rio, sustainable development

Rio has undertaken a major renovation of its port to create a sustainable development, encompassing residential, commercial and industrial uses, along with improved public transportation, green spaces and other public services. Photo: City of Rio

Two months after the UN’s landmark conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, has anything changed?

For many, the official document that was a principal outcome of “Rio+20” is an extreme disappointment – little more than a reaffirmation of the problems and desires stated at the first Earth Summit in Rio 20 years ago, with no firm commitments, no tangible goals and no timetables.

Its defenders note that the document, titled The Future We Want,” sets the stage for further deliberations on a set of sustainable development goals, and that it makes important statements about protecting oceans, providing people access to energy, and establishing human rights to food, safe drinking water and sanitation. In the midst of financial crisis, they say, it’s too much to expect 190 nations with often diverging economic interests to agree on what to do – but at least, those nations are still talking.

And indeed, the UN secretary general has appointed a special panel to begin the debate over sustainable development goals, and launched a new project, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, to focus research worldwide on solutions to some of the daunting social, environmental and economic problems we face. Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs will lead that effort.

The real bright spots in Rio, however, had more to with what happened outside the formal UN conference June 20-22, in meetings of ordinary citizens, corporations, non-governmental organizations and local government groups. There, the sense of urgency about the world’s social and environmental problems resolved into action, including a long list of voluntary commitments.

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One Planet, Too Many People?

Mumbai, India. (Photo: Deepak Gupta)

Mumbai, India. (Photo: Deepak Gupta)

This was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on March 7, 2012

Professor Joel E. Cohen stood at the lectern, looked out over the crowd with his round, mischievous eyes and, with a click, posted a slide on the large screen to his right that brought a world of problems down to a more human scale.

There appeared two photos of door handles: one, a simple round knob, the second, a lever. This commonplace device, he explained, set the scale of the engineering challenge for a society whose population grows increasingly older: For the elderly who may have lost the hand-power of their youth, these two designs illustrate the difference between getting out and staying put.

The solution is a simple engineering fix, but on a daunting scale, when you think of all the doorknobs in all the cities of the world. But it’s possible. And that theme drove an Earth Institute-led discussion at Columbia Monday about the challenges faced in a world projected to reach 9.5 billion people by the year 2100.

Three-quarters of these people will be crowded into increasingly unmanageable cities. In some regions, such as North America and Europe, they will be older; in others, such as Africa, predominately under 30; many will be desperately poor. They will have different, and rising needs. Continue reading

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