Cities

A quick partial overview of green building techniques

(Part of the No Sweat Solutions series.) What follows is a table with a (very) incomplete list of means of reducing material intensity in building. These means alone could reduce the impact of constructing buildings by about 75 percent or more, and thus greenhouse-gas emissions from construction and destruction of buildings by about half. Since we have green builders on this site, I invite additions to the list, especially if you can cite sources for impact reduction. I also invite comments on whether any of these are not as green as they appear at first blush. Note that operations account for a great deal more of the impact of building than construction. So these are green only to the extent they do not compromise operating efficiency. Table below the fold.

Urbanism and the environment

Can we live with skyscraper farms?

I find ideas like this stimulating, if only because it shows some creativity: skyscraper farms. Basically, the idea is to build multi-story enclosed greenhouses near the cities where most food is consumed, thus reducing the acreage required to grow the crops and the energy needed to transport them. Some of the work done by Columbia University suggests the "vertical farm" could produce at least twice as much energy as it consumes from burning the biomass wastes.

The Gothman Prophecies

New York City mayor unveils ambitious sustainability plans New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used Earth Day to announce plans to make his burg bloom. The comprehensive “PlaNYC” outlines 127 green dreams, including a congestion charge for lower Manhattan that would — like programs in London and Singapore — see drivers cough up a fee for entering the city at peak traffic hours. Bloomie also wants to improve public transportation, plant more than 1 million trees, and clean up 7,600 acres of polluted brownfields. The plan would make the Big Apple “the first environmentally sustainable 21st-century city,” he said. British …

Meeting notes

The lost art of conversation

I passed a big rabble of bikers on my way to downtown Seattle yesterday evening. Several complimented my bike as I passed. There were a couple of talls in the mix. I assumed it was another Critical Mass ride, but maybe not. Sure looked like fun. I need to participate in one of those someday. I periodically attend a monthly gathering of Seattle atheists. There are always new faces, and they pick a different restaurant every month for variety's sake. We chatted about things like global warming, the recent shootings in Virginia, diesel verses hybrid cars and, of course, the American propensity for religiosity.

Super-adobe

Using earth to save the earth

(Part of the No Sweat Solutions series.) In my last post on material intensity, I mentioned green building as an example of how to indirectly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, before building one wind turbine or making one factory more efficient. Because green building is more familiar than most types of material intensity reduction, I'll use it for my first examples. After all, building construction worldwide uses about 40% of mineral and metal products, and 25% of forest products*. And we have experts in green building on this blog who can comment on the examples that follow. Let's start with "super-block" or "super-adobe" construction, invented by Nader Khalili, California architect/author and founder of the Hesperia, California-based Cal Earth Institute. It is similar to rammed earth: Wet soil under pressure (mixed with a little cement) turns into a sturdy and long-lasting building material. Khalili's innovation is to pump the soil into bags that are continuous coils and bind them with barbed wire.

Bullets flying in Brazil?

A bullet train, that is

According to this article, Brazil's transport ministry is considering whether to tender bids for a high-speed train linking São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Once (OK, if) the bullet train goes into operation, travel time would be just under an hour and a half, compared with the five hours it currently takes to drive between the two cities.

Tunnels everywhere!

First a train tunnel between Africa and Europe, now the Russians want to build the long-dreamt-of tunnel between Russia and Alaska. The tunnel would theoretically carry natural gas, oil, electricity, and fiber-optic wires. The more and better tunnels we have for rail, the more competitive rail will be with less efficient transport systems like air travel. This is better for energy efficiency and therefore the environment. This project still has a lot of problems -- it's not like there's a lot of spare rail up above the Arctic Circle, necessitating lots of construction -- but I'm sure Ted Stevens is already salivating.

Material intensity

Indirect greenhouse-gas savings

(Part of the No Sweat Solutions series.) Previously I pointed out that efficiency, doing more with less, is a key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (A lot of people on Gristmill are fans of conservation, doing less with less. I have nothing against this, so long as it is a voluntary choice, but I won't be spending a lot of time on it.) Normally, when people think of efficiency they think of direct savings -- insulating homes, electric cars, and so on. That is: make the same sort of goods we make now, but more cleverly, so they require fewer inputs to operate. And that is an extremely important kind of efficiency. But Amory Lovins and Wolfgang Feist pointed out long ago that there is another kind of efficiency. Instead of looking at how to provide the same goods, look at what those goods do for us, and see if there is another way to provide the same service. For example, it remains essential to start making steel, cement, and mill timber more efficiently.

We Just Ran This Story So We Could Say “Chunnel”

Eurostar will reduce emissions, offset the rest Of trains, planes, and automobiles, locomotives already have the best rep for carbon emissions — but one operator is on track to boost the bar higher. Eurostar, which shuttles commuters under the English Channel, plans to reduce CO2 emissions 25 percent per traveler by 2012. Without raising prices, the company will choo-choose lower-emission electrical generators, electronic tickets, recycled uniforms, local food, and efficient lighting, heating, and air conditioning. It also hopes to fill more empty seats, which probably won’t require blow-up dolls; passenger numbers are up 5.4 percent from a year ago. Starting …

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