About 3.5 billion people live in an urban environment out of a world total of 7 billion. Not only is this total rising fast but the consumption of resources and production of waste per person is rising, thereby putting a dangerous stress on our biosphere. So it is good to know that we do not have to rely wholly on governments to deal with this problem - two worldwide initiatives at local community and city level have been under way for several years.
These are led from the bottom up, and range from villages to cities.
Transition towns started about 8 years ago when Kinsale Town Council (Ireland) adopted a plan to integrate human activity with natural surroundings. A couple of years later Totnes in Devon, UK, developed the idea further. Since then the movement has taken off worldwide. There are now over 300 officially recognised Transition Towns in the USA, UK, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Chile.
The idea of sustainable communities grew out of the permaculture concept in which high yielding fruit and vegetable plots are cultivated in cities, so that whole urban communities can avoid depending on the energy-intensive import of food. The plots can be, for example, in window boxes, on waste ground, in gardens or on the roofs of offices. Low energy high tech life styles, recyling and efficent waste disposal together form part of the concept.
There is no fixed way to run a TT but one of the intentions is to bring more cohesion across the social spectrum during dislocation when oil production peaks and starts to decline while demand continues to rise.
This approach to living should have an even wider appeal if food, energy and waste disposal costs escalate worldwide.
These adopt a variety of measures, each suited to a particular urban situation and are led from the top by mayors and urban managers.
in 2006 some 40 cities in various countries, having a combined population of over 300 million, signed to join the C40, known as the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group. 18 additional cities have joined the scheme. The USA, e.g., has ten C40 cities: Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Austin, Houston and New Orleans. With most of the projected growth in world population concentrated in cities the need for more sustainable ways of living in them is particularly pressing.
Examples: switching from private cars to greener, more efficient public transport or cycling, roof gardens, retrofitting of homes and offfices for energy efficiency, composting, recycling, and energy generation from waste.
As with transition towns the fact that adopting green measures means lowering the cost of living is a great incentive. In the C40 case much of the cost saving will show up in local tax reductions – or at least the increases in taxes will be less than they would have been.
So overall we can be grateful that these two worldwide movements are equipping us to withstand not only food shortages, energy shortfalls and climate change but are in a sense improving the fabric of society and setting up new community structures for solving a whole range of problems that could arise in future.
Author, 2077 AD