Monthly Archives: January 2017

Cultivating Regenerative Food System in the Cities

As part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy project, “A New Dynamic 2: Effective Systems In a Circular Economy” report looks at regenerative solutions for our food systems in the cities. The authors declare: “That is why it is time to move away from what has become a “linear food system”: a take, make, dispose system in which, too often, synthetic inputs go into the land; the land gets overused, and a huge proportion of the food produced is wasted and ends up in landfill. In addition, many nutrients never make it back to the field, stacking up in contaminated sludge. The goal should be to move toward a regenerative model in which land is restored as it is used and in which nutrient and material loops provide much-needed inputs, resulting in a healthier food supply.”

Here’s a clip:

Promote peri-urban and urban food production

The demand for local, fresh and relatively unprocessed food is growing. American greenhouse operator Bright Farms has signed a contract with supermarket chain Giant Foods to supply 450 tons of produce annually to 30 Washington, D.C.-area stores from a 100,000-plus square foot greenhouse located in the metro area. This is expected to be the largest urban greenhouse operation anywhere in the world.

In Europe, Barcelona has announced a goal of producing half its food in the metropolitan region. Establishing shorter supply chains between farms and retailers or consumers reduces the waste associated with transport. Doing so can also help to create local jobs and strengthen rural-urban links.

On a smaller scale, urban farming is also emerging, in the form of vertical, hydroponic and aquaponic farms. Vertical farms grow produce inside or on top of buildings. Typically, these farms use 70 to 90 percent less water and fertilizer than conventional ones because they keep unabsorbed water and nutrients in the system.

It needs hardly be said that cities are not going to supplant traditional farms. But given that more than half the world’s population lives in urban areas (a percentage that is growing), the idea that cities have a role to play in food production makes sense.
Create digital supply chains to reduce food waste

20 percent of food gets wasted on its way from the farm to the store in developed economies. Big data and IT can help to improve inventory management and thus shrink that figure.

SAP, the German software giant, offers retailers a dynamic consumer-pricing system that changes item prices in real time, based on availability and expiration date of the product. COOP, a European food retailer, has automated its fresh-food replenishment system to manage one of the largest sources of waste. Digital solutions, such as smart refrigerators, on-demand e-commerce delivery and wearable monitors can help consumers to buy the right quantity and quality of food at the right times. This will help to cut down the amount of food that people throw away.
The $346 billion opportunity

A circular food system would combine all these approaches, while also incorporating the best of traditional agriculture, to improve both the quality of the food produced and the health of the land that produces it.

In terms of production, a circular system would use significantly less synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, energy, land, and water, while emitting fewer GHGs.

The circular scenario might also produce more jobs than otherwise because organic farming and waste management are relatively labor-intensive activities. All told, we estimate that if Europe implemented the four approaches described above, the direct and indirect economic benefits could reach $346 billion (compared to the current development path).

Nowhere else is the link between long-term economic viability of our model use and the health of the underlying assets as evident as in agriculture and soil. And nowhere have we departed so visibly from the concept of regeneration, replenishment, and circularity. Building a new food system that puts the long-term productivity of our biological systems at the center won’t be easy and it will require new policies and priorities, but the time is right to start.

C40 Mayors Summit – Highlights

Mexico City hosted the sixth biennial C40 Mayors Summit, November 30 – December 2, 2016. The Summit brought together C40 mayors from all over the world and hundreds of urban and sustainability leaders to advance urban solutions to climate change and highlight the leadership role of cities in addressing climate change.

Interview with Herbert Girardet on Regenerative Cities

Author of Creating Regenerative Cities, Herbert Girardet has a nice interview in London Essays on the challenges of transitioning cities off fossil fuels, and the differences between regenerative cities, resilient cities and sustainable cities.

Here’s a clip:

“I argue that nowadays we are struggling to make the transition from Petropolis to Ecopolis, where urban consumption supports and regenerates rather than despoils the ecosystems that nature and humanity need to survive. These days, some people argue for creating the ‘intelligent city’ or ‘creative city.’ Others talk about the ‘liveable city’, meaning a city that offers residents and visitors a good quality of life, with nice parks and safe streets and so on. And of course this agenda is very popular with city people and city governments. Then there’s the ‘smart city’ – the city that exploits all the potential of new IT technology. This is very popular with companies like IBM or Siemens, for obvious reasons, and there’s a lot of money being spent on this by city authorities and companies.

And then of course there is lot of talk about the ‘resilient city’ – although I have criticised this concept because to my mind it is rather like the medieval city that surrounds itself with a defensive wall: in the past it would have been to resist marauding tribes; increasingly today it would be walls to shut out rising sea levels.

And then finally there is the concept of the sustainable city, which dates back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 where the concept of sustainable urbanism was first defined. A sustainable city is a city where people live in ways that don’t damage the chances of future generations to lead good lives.

I argue in Creating Regenerative Cities that we need to think beyond sustainability because we have not done much to protect and sustain living nature in recent years, particularly in the period since these ideas were first formulated, 20–25 years ago. We have run down the resources of the planet to an extraordinary degree. The idea of the regenerative city draws attention to the need to replenish and make good the damage we have done and to understand the city in all its complex relations to the natural environment.”

Cli-Fi? Novels on Climate Change

The Guardian looks at five novels that focus on climate change themes. Here’s a clip on Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood:

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

The Year of the Flood is the middle book in Atwood’s dystopian MaddAddam trilogy, published between 2003 and 2013. As with The Handmaid’s Tale and the rise of the misogynist right in the US, the passing of time has made her work seem ever more eerily prophetic. But then, as Atwood has always said, everything she writes about is possible and much of it has already happened. The environmental ravages caused by oil and the terrifying consequences of it running out; corporate empire-building, scarcening resources and increasing inequality; genetic experimentation and the badlands of the internet: all are followed to their (un)natural conclusions.

The flood in this novel is not a watery one, but a global pandemic triggered as part of the same hubristic rapaciousness that is causing sea levels to rise. Comparing it with its predecessor Oryx and Crake, Ursula Le Guin found “less of Hogarth and more of Goya” in a post-apocalyptic scenario that combines horrors with glimmers of hope. Her treatment of her main two characters, survivors Toby and Ren, and of God’s Gardeners, a sect dedicated to preserving the besieged natural world, is Atwood at her best: cool-headed, warm-hearted, funny, smart and undeceived.

Backed up by wide research, Atwood’s speculative fictions are complex and layered enough to consider the global nexus of science, capitalism and politics, along with individual stories of brutality and resilience. The questions she poses are urgent and essential. “What if we continue down the road we’re already on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving graces? Who’s got the will to stop us?” JJ

Sundance Film Fest Features Climate Change

The New York Times had a nice feature on the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, which will showcase films on climate change and the environment.

In a special section, The New Climate, 14 films will be featured, including:

Chasing Coral / U.S.A. (Director: Jeff Orlowski) — Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world. World Premiere. (U.S. Documentary)

Chasing Coral: The VR Experience / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Jeff Orlowski) — Zackary Rago, a passionate scuba diver and researcher, documented the unprecedented 2016 coral bleaching event at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef with this exclusive underwater VR experience. (New Frontier: Virtual Reality)

The Diver / Mexico (Director: Esteban Arrangoiz) — Julio César Cu Cámara is the chief diver in the Mexico City sewer system. His job is to repair pumps and dislodge garbage that flows into the gutters to maintain the circulation of sewage waters. (Short Films)

Hot Winter: A film by Dick Pierre / U.S.A. (Director: Jack Henry Robbins, Screenwriters: Jack Henry Robbins, Nunzio Randazzo) — One of the first films in American cinema to address climate change, Hot Winter: A film by Dick Pierre, was also a hardcore porno. All sex scenes have been removed as to not distract from the conscious message. (Short Films)

Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry / U.S.A. (Directors: Laura Dunn, Jef Sewell) — This cinematic portrait of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture is seen through the mind’s eye of farmer and writer Wendell Berry. (Spotlight)

Melting Ice / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Danfung Dennis) — We take viewers on a transcendent exploration into the devastating consequences of climate change on Greenland’s ice sheet. Stand under collapsing glaciers, next to raging rivers of ice melt and witness rising sea levels—all visceral warnings of our planet’s future. (New Frontier: Virtual Reality)

Plastic China / China (Director: Jiu-liang Wang) — Yi-Jie, an 11-year-old girl, works alongside her parents in a recycling facility while dreaming of attending school. Kun, the facility’s ambitious foreman, dreams of a better life. Through the eyes and hands of those who handle its refuse, comes an examination of global consumption and culture. International Premiere. (World Documentary)

Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman / U.S.A. (Directors: Susan Froemke, John Hoffman, Beth Aala) — From the Montana Rockies to the wheat fields of Kansas and the Gulf of Mexico, families who work the land and sea are crossing political divides to find unexpected ways to protect the natural resources vital to their livelihoods. These are the new heroes of conservation, deep in America’s heartland. World Premiere. (Documentary Premieres)

RISE / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Michelle Latimer) — This vibrant and immersive documentary series explores the front lines of indigenous resistance. Episodes Apache Stronghold, Sacred Water and Red Power examine factors that threaten indigenous liberation in the 21st century. A series of contrasts, this series is both a condemnation of colonialism and a celebration of indigenous peoples. Continuing Sundance Institute’s ongoing commitment to presenting bold stories from within the Native American and Indigenous communities, we are proud to debut three episodes: Apache Stronghold, Sacred Water and Red Power, followed by an extended Q&A. World Premiere. (Special Events)

Tree / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Milica Zec, Winslow Porter, Key Collaborators: Aleksandar Protic, Jacob Kudsk Steensen) — This virtual experience transforms you into a rainforest tree. With your arms as the branches and body as the trunk, you experience the tree’s growth from a seedling to its fullest form and witness its fate firsthand. (New Frontier: Virtual Reality)

Trophy / U.S.A. (Director: Shaul Schwarz, Co-Director: Christina Clusiau) — This in-depth look into the powerhouse industries of big-game hunting, breeding and wildlife conservation in the U.S. and Africa unravels the complex consequences of treating animals as commodities. World Premiere. (U.S. Documentary)

Visions of an Island / U.S.A. (Director: Sky Hopinka) — Indigenous and foreign presences coexist on an Alaskan island in the center of the Bering Sea. (Short Films)

Water & Power: A California Heist / U.S.A. (Director: Marina Zenovich) — In California’s convoluted water system, notorious water barons find ways to structure a state-engineered system to their own advantage. This examination into their centers of power shows small farmers and everyday citizens facing drought and a new, debilitating groundwater crisis. World Premiere. (U.S. Documentary)