The Turkish Taksim Gezi Park Protests: Not Just a Green or Political Protest!

Taksim Gezi Park (www.showdiscontent.com)

Taksim Gezi Park (www.showdiscontent.com)


The recent and ongoing protests in Turkey related to the Taksim Gezi Park redevelopment are not only an example of a lack of participatory and community decision making that serves to make cities and urban spaces less sustainable and /or equitable. The protests also serve to highlight the importance of Public Open Space (POS), and specifically soft and green POS in the creation of sustainable cities.

We all know that sustainable cities need effective public transportation systems and high density mixed land uses. However, often during the planning process; public transportation, density, efficiency and the need for mixed use urban environments as well as politics and economics tend to overshadow the need for soft and green POS. This ultimately results in urban environments which are lacking in softer spaces.

In order to create sustainable and equitable urban environments it is essential that we are able to balance the needs of public transportation, density, the need for mixed use urban environments, politics and economics with the societal, cultural and environmental needs. We need to always bear in mind that there is a great deal of value in soft green public open spaces that is often overlooked in the search for the creation of sustainable cities and a focus on energy efficiency and density. This has resulted in the undervaluing of soft, green public open spaces.

If we increase the value we place on soft and green public open spaces we will be able to move towards ensuring that such open spaces are able to compete with and balance out the need for harder public open spaces such as service roads, malls and parking lots during the planning process. In so doing we may be able to prevent protests and political unrest such as we are experiencing in Turkey.

The Park after site clearing prior to construction (www.showdiscontent.com)

The Park after site clearing prior to construction (www.showdiscontent.com)

Some of the key and important services provided by soft or green public open spaces are;
•As spaces for cultural and social interaction
•As breathing spaces from the urban activities
•In the provision of essential ecosystem and climate change mitigation and adaptation services offered by such as;
oClimate regulation
oReducing air pollution and acting as carbon sinks though the provision of ecosystem services provided
by trees and vegetation.
oActing as wetlands and sponges to facilitate a more effective and less expensive way to manage storm
water runoff (than building systems of concrete sewers and drainage ditches etc).
oActing as biodiversity islands

The Turkish government’s proposal to redevelop the existing Taksim Gezi square and park reveals the need for not only participatory planning, transparency of government and accountability but also a need to ensure that a balance is found between social, political, economic and environmental needs.

Protesters (www.showdiscontent.com)

Protesters (www.showdiscontent.com)

Additional reading on the Turkish Taksim Gezi Park Protests;
on usatoday
on wikipedia
on Taksim Platformu
on showdiscontent

Earth Hour 2013: Try And Make Your Earth Hour Action Really Sustainable ….

It’s been a year since Earth Hour 2012 and I really hope that whatever it was that you did for Earth Hour last year has made a meaningful difference to the Earth and to your Ecocred.

My view on Earth Hour hasn’t changed in the last year, click here for my 2012 post on the subject.

There have been quite a few similar blog and news articles with similar thoughts on the Earth Hour debate. This is positive and I guess points to the fact that people are beginning to understand that we should be making sustainable and longterm Earth Saving commitments and not commitments that comprise primarily of greenwash, feel good, short term actions. So …. if you do decide to do something for Earth Hour try and commit to making your Earth Hour action something long term sustainable and not greenwash! That in my opinion would be the best thing to do to make Earth Hour really make a difference!

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Joining the Climate Change Dots and an Awesome How To Win Any Climate Change Argument Flow Chart!

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At least once or twice a week I end up having to explain, discuss, or argue my view on climate change. Often the discussion, (civilised or not so civilised) results in a stand-off. Leaving me thinking that; either some people are just not able to join the climate change dots or I am terrible explaining simple concepts.

Fortunatetly, a friend of mine (thanks, you know who you are) came across an awesome “How To Win Any Climate Change Argument Flow Chart” and sent it through to me. Because we all know that it is all about winning and helping others I thought I would share the awesome flow chart with your guys! So… below you will find the flow chart that was created as part of the Climate Desk collaboration by James West.

Water Scarcity And Your Virtual Water Consumption ?!

A renewable resource is a natural resource with the ability to reproduce through biological or natural processes and replenished with the passage of time. Renewable resources are part of our natural environment and form our eco-system. One such resource is water. Water is able to regenerate and is part of our natural environment. However water may only be considered a renewable resource when carefully controlled usage, treatment, and release are followed.  (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012)

UN research indicates that we are facing a serious water scarcity problem.

  • Approximately 700 million people in 43 countries suffer as a result of water scarcity.
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.
  • With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region

(www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml)

So if water is meant to be renewable why are we in this problem?

The reality is that water in our current societal context is not really renewable because we have compromised the ability of the water resources to regenerate.  Water affects all of us all the time and in every way possible. For the purposes of readers (assuming that most readers/ people with access to the internet of this post have easy and regular access to potable and piped water); water scarcity doesn’t just impact on how many baths or showers we take or how often we flush the toilet or whether we drink bottled or tap water or if you have a low flow shower head etc

Water is an integral and critical component of the environment and is therefore fundamentally important for the survival of humankind and society as we know it (not meaning to be alarmist…. but it is true).

“Water is one of the primary barometers of climate change: A rise in sea-levels, flooding, and extreme storms combined with general water stress and more severe and frequent droughts will escalate crises in municipal infrastructure, requiring continual upgrades for water purification, stormwater drainage, and sewage treatment, all of which will dramatically raise the price of water at the retail level. ( Bond, 2011) 

It has been predicted by the Water Resources Group that the global demand for water will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030 (CDP, 2011), this indicates that something is very wrong with the way that we are using our water resource considering the fact that water, despite being a finite resource is a renewable resource.  Water use has increased exponentially and has been driven by increasing water demand from industrialization, economic development and population growth. This has resulted in increasing competition for our water resources, which has resulted in increased tensions and challenges around the management, allocation and sustainable use of water resources.

In many instances the water needs of large-scale agriculture and industry end up competing for the water that essential for the sustaining local communities and ecosystems. Ecosystems are an essential component of the hydrological cycle as they are not only reliant on water for survival but also provide a key role in water purification and provision, thus ecosystems maybe seen as nature’s natural “green” infrastructure and service providers.  In addition ecosystems also provide us with the very important ability to adapt to climate change impacts and environmental degradation. It is therefore obvious that we need healthy and functioning ecosystems in order to ensure that we have a sustainable water source.

We all know that we need water to survive however the fact that water contributes in some way to the production and use of everything we consume and use is often overlooked. Everything that forms part of our lifestyle and society has a virtual water value. Virtual water refers, in the context of trade, to the water used in the production of a good or service (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012). It should however be noted that specific measure of virtual water can be more or less depending on regional context, climatic conditions and agricultural practice. The virtual-water content of a product, commodity, good or service may be defined as the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually produced”. (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012). This definition is important as many of the goods and service produced in water poor areas are consumed in water rich areas, resulting in the true water value not being fully considered or accounted for by the consumers.

For example, a liter of potable water in “water-rich” Scandinavia is unlikely to be as precious/valuable as a liter of potable water in water-scarce Namibia (CDP 2011). Consequently the 70 liters of water it takes to make 100 grams of apple may have more value in Namibia than it does in Scandinavia. This combined with the fact that a large proportion of the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the goods and services that you consume often not produced locally increased the virtual water value of the product.

An example of this would be 100% organic cotton t-shirt has a virtual water value 2700 liters! The 2700 liters mean a great deal more to someone living in an arid environment and having to draw water from a communal well than it does for someone living an a water rich area who has access to piped potable water.

Examples of virtual water values are:

  • 2400 liters of water to make 100 grams of chocolate.
  • 70 liters of water to make 100 grams of apple
  • 5000 liters of water to make 500 grams of paper
  • 2499 liters of water to make 150 grams of burger
  • 4650 liters of water to make 300 grams of beef (about one steak)

(www.virtualwater.eu)

Our economy and society are dependent on water and the virtual water associated with the production of goods and services. If the cost of water went up so would the cost of all our goods and services. How we use and pollute our water is therefore a critical issue especially since the amount of water that is clean and drinkable is steadily decreasing due to pollution (UNEP WHO 2012) arising from our unsustainable use of water and the inability of ecosystems to effectively purify water due to environmental degradation.

In the UK, for example, “it has been estimated that two-thirds of all the water that its population of 60 million people consume actually comes embedded within the imported food they eat, the clothes they wear and industrial or chemical goods they purchase. The result is that local water management issues affecting disadvantaged communities around the world may be significantly exacerbated and influenced by consumption patterns in more affluent countries.(CDP 2011)

How are we, a society that is entirely dependent on water, who’s wasteful and inefficient use is the reason we are in this problem meant to respond to the water resource challenges? Especially as the water problem will undoubtedly result in associated environmental, economic, political and social problems?

Simply stated we need to change the manner in which we consume and produce goods and services. As consumers we need to question and refuse to consume products and services with high virtual water values. Also we need to recognize that not everything is a necessity and we can do without some/ a great many of the extras and luxuries that we consume.

We can’t change our habits overnight (though it would be great if we did….), instead we need to make a difference where we can and build up to making the big changes that we need to make in our consumption and production patterns.

A few pointers to help you reduce your water and virtual water consumption:

Water reduction tips for dummies:

  • Shorter bath and shower time
  • Close tap while brushing teeth
  • Recycle water in the home.
  • Plant indigenous plants in your garden
  • Check and fix any leaks in your home

 Virtual water reduction tips for dummies:

  • Buy local and seasonal produce grow your own veggies
  • Eat less meat: become vegetarian, meatless Mondays etc
  • Eat less chocolate …(difficult I know….)
  • Waste less
  • Reuse and recycle organic products like paper, cotton etc
  • Don’t be a slave to fashion: Buy good quality and timeless clothing that can take you from season to season reducing the need to keep replacing your clothes etc
  • Download a virtual water application to help you make smarter choices.

Patrick B (2011) Durban’s Water Wars, Sewage Spills, Fish Kills and Blue Flag Beaches.

UNEP WHO 2012 Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012

 CARBON DISCLOSURE PROJECT (2011):CDP Water Disclosure South Africa Report 2011: Assessing the value of water

UN Water For Life Decade http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/

Infrastructure vs Appropriate/ Effective/ Sustainable Infrastrucutre ?

The Three Gorges Dam in China

“There can be no prosperity without infrastructure, but infrastructure projects don’t necessarily benefit the poor. Past energy, water and transport strategies have neglected the poorest population groups, and taken a heavy toll on affected people and the environment. Will the new infrastructure strategies of the World Bank and the Group of 20 address the needs of the poor, or will they entrench the power of privileged groups?” (IRN, 2012)

Infrastructure is perceived as being a key driver behind economic growth, development and job creation. It is argued that the development of infrastructure projects, particularly large infrastructure projects and dams, will act as a catalyst to:

  • Open up areas that are not currently developed to development
  • Enable service provision to those who lack basic services
  • Create jobs
  • Facilitate economic development.

With this in mind many governments, development finance institutions and business development agencies are backing the Group of 20, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) new strategies for infrastructure development. “In November 2011, the Group of 20, the World Bank proposed to focus public support on strategic regional infrastructure projects such as large dams and transport corridors, and to make them attractive for private investment through public guarantees and other incentives (International Rivers Network, 2012). The group argue that centralized infrastructure projects which include private participation in public sector projects will lower the costs of services and service provision particularly in rural areas.  In so doing the public sector will be able to meet its infrastructure and service provision mandates with private sector seen to be assisting in this basic service delivery while also ensuring that the private sector is able to ensure economic development and growth. In other words a win-win solution to the world’s (sustainable) development problems that makes both the public and private sector look good.

It is however interesting to note that despite many such “win-win” public private large-scale and mega infrastructure projects being implemented we are still quite far from either sustainable service delivery or sustainable development. This is primarily because in most instances it is the private sector that benefits to the detriment of the public sector and local communities that are associated and usually impacted by such large infrastructure projects.

The development landscape is littered with failed and costly infrastructure projects that have promised but not always delivered services, growth and (sustainable) development. This is reiterated by the MDG and other development targets which are consistently not being met despite funding being directed specifically at meeting the targets. Especially considering the fact that “Economic infrastructure – essentially, transport, energy, information and communications technology, water, sanitation and irrigation – is specifically identified in the MDGs”(UN Habitat 2011).

Some interesting points related to development projects not realizing the proposed development impact;

  • The World Bank Group (2011) has also stated that its bias towards “infrastructure investments that promote growth, with expected ‘trickle-down effects have yielded very little “trickle down”.
  • Evidence available indicates that the poor are often the last to benefit from increased access (from road infrastructure). In most countries, the rural poor tend to be overlooked because private operators are reluctant to serve low-income clients given that these markets are not financially viable on a freestanding basis. (World Bank Group, 2009)
  • Despite the issues surrounding the Bujagali Dam the Ugandan government began building the Bujagali dam on the River Nile in 2007. The project had previously been delayed for over ten years for many reasons, including exorbitant project costs and its predicted economic and environmental impacts. Impacts associated with the dam included the destruction of the Bujagali Falls on the Nile, livelihoods impacts to about 6,800 people. In addition the dam will affect the performance of other dams on the river Nile, and increase Uganda’s carbon footprint. (FOEI, 2009). The project is financed by the World Bank the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) and it has been suggested that both the banks and the Ugandan government have overlooked and even ignored their own safeguard policies. (IRN, 2002).
  • Dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and the benefits derived from them have been considerable. In too many cases, an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits, especially in social and environmental terms, by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers and by the natural environment.” (World Commission on Dams, 2000)
  • The President of the Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People (PNRDP), said in a statement that “it had been proved that the project executing agencies lacked capacity to deliver in terms of time and cost and had failed in resettling hundreds of thousands of people displaced due to these projects”.

 So why the continued focus/ bias on large infrastructure projects? especially as there is more and more evidence that smaller contextualized infrastructure solutions are more sustainable, cost-effective and appropriate. It should also be noted that the need for infrastructure, development and service provision that is sustainable, cost-effective and appropriate is made even more pressing by the climate change, environmental degradation and economic crises that we are currently experiencing.

The above graphic clearly highlights and contrasts the development impact of a large infrastructure solution for energy provision against a cheaper smaller infrastructure solution for energy provision. It is evident that smaller context specific infrastructure provision is not only cheaper but more appropriate and less environmentally damaging.

References and further reading etc:

Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam Disaster

Friends of the Earth International

International Rivers Network

News of Africa Article

Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People

World Bank Group, Directions in Hydropower, 2009

World Bank Group, Transformation Through Infrastructure: World Bank Group Infrastructure Strategy Update, FY12-15, November 2011.

International Rivers, Infrastructure for Whom? A Critique of the Infrastructure Strategies of the Group of 20 and the World Bank, May 2012.

http://wbln0018.worldbank.org/IPN/ipnweb.nsf/(webnews)/0D7F7939F52C824985256BDB00687310 .

Climate Change, COP17 & Champagne Environmentalists

Pop the Champers for COP17!

Days away from COP 17 and the media is abuzz with which celebs will be making an appearance in support of COP17. Apparently  Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger and probably a score of others are scheduled to attend COP 17 in Durban.  This got me thinking…

  1. Is the celeb support helping fight climate change
  2. Is the support worth the GHG emissions
  3. Do the celebs make a difference to the people most affected by climate change and environmental degradation?
  4. Is celeb support of climate and environmental issues simply perpetuating the consumerist model (the you can have it all mentality) that has helped to get us to this position of ecological debt, climate change and environmental degradation that we are tying to solve…. think greenwash, the eco-fashion bandwagon, environment as advertising and publicity stunts, inequality in resource use etc….
  5. Will the celebs be flying economy class (first class=more emissions)? will they (and their entourage) be using public transport? will they walk to all their public appearances? or maybe they will offset their emissions by planting a tree or two… or three (hopefully indigenous to the environment that they plant it in….)

Please do not for a minute think that am totally against celebrities helping out with a “good cause”. I do however believe that quite a few celebs are rather involved with greenwash and publicity as opposed to actually making a difference…… they need to really look at the impact of their lifestyles, the cause that they are promoting and the actual message that they are communicating. Some reading about the contradictions in celeb champagne lifestyles and their environmental messages….

Hypocrisy of champagne environmentalists is deceitful and distracting

Enviro-celebs attending COP17

Luxury brands must wake up to ethical and environmental responsibilities

This also brings us back to the question of whether COP17 is worth all the carbon miles?… could we not have the same or a better result through just agreeing on what needs to be done and doing it instead to flying around the world year after year and going through the same arguments again and again….

Water and Ecosystem Infrastructure

(After the previos post about Waterless Jeans I though it a good idea to provide some context of the issue of water and water as a resource etc.. so here goes!)

Demand on Water Resources (Undited Nations Population Division)

A few facts related to Water and Ecosystem Infrastructure.

  • 75% of our natural resources are over utilized. This has far reaching impacts for our ecosystems and economies. An example is the Aral Sea. Aral Sea was 4thlargest fresh water system.
    • It is 10% of its original size.
    • Pollution and over utilization of the water yield of the lake has resulted in the Aral Sea no longer being able to provide Ecosystem Services such as water and fish and resulting in economic hardship and unemployment
    • Approximately 60 000 fishermen have lost their jobs.  
    • 50% of South Africa’s water extractions come from surface water resources such as lakes, rivers and dams. This has significant implications for the development of the country, the health of water resources as well as water users.

Aral Sea: not much water left.

Ecosystem Infrastructure refers to the services that are provided by natural ecosystems. These ecosystem services include servicessuch as water purification; flood control, recreational amenities, and climate stabilization. Ecosystem services may be considered as “free” services provided by nature and are particularly important when looked at within the context of services that support economic and social development.

Linkages between ecosystem services and human well being (www.maps.grida.no)

I recently attended a presentation on the importance of ensuring integrated planning the provision of water services. The presentation linked water as a natural resource critical for economic and social development with the importance of ecosystem infrastructure such as watersheds. An example of ecosystem infrastructure in water service provision would be the financial cost savings that are possible through the effective development and management of dams and watersheds in relation to dam siltation.

  • The siltation of a dam involves the gradual build up of silt behind the dam wall. Siltation often negatively affects the health and usefulness of a dam and results in a reduction of water yield from the dam.
  • The average cost of building a dam is (approximately) R20 per cubic meter of water stored.
  • The average cost of de-silitation is (approximately) R8 per cubic meter
  • If a watershed is managed in a sustainable manner the risks and costs posed by siltation of dams are preventable.
  • Thus it makes financial sense to prevent siltation through the management of the ecosystem infrastructure associated with water and dams. This can be done through watershed management and the management of land uses within watersheds.
  • Some examples of watershed management initiatives that increase water yielded and prevent erosion and therefore siltation are: alien clearing, sustainable land use practices, erosion prevention etc

The concluding message from the presentation was; it is essential to ensure that the integrity and health of our water resources and associated ecosystem infrastructure are maintained in order to enable sustainable development and a transition to a green economy. It is therefore fundamental to recognise ecosystem services and infrastructure as strategic and fundamental element of infrastructure development and service provision.

This also stresses that recognition that a key step towards incorporating ecosystem infrastructure into the infrastructure planning and development processes is required to facilitate and support sustained and healthy economic growth and a transition to a greener economy. In addition, the recognition of the strategic importance of ecosystem infrastructure in infrastructure provision and development planning is central to the debate surrounding the value of ecosystem services and elements. The value of such services and resources need to be looked at from an integrated point of view as opposed to merely being considered as resources to be exploited.

We need to change the manner in which we value and use our natural resources.

For more informtaion on the above topics:

Aral Sea on Wikipedia

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

WHO fact file

 

Integrated Urban Design, Densification and Sustainability

A real "Green Building"

Resource scarcity, urbanization, environmental degradation and climate change all combine to make the provision of housing, resources, infrastructure and services to the world’s population increasingly costly and difficult. The issue is further compounded the unsustainable urban environments in which most urban dwellers live. Most urban environments are characterized by sprawling urban environments that require high levels of energy inputs to live and work in.  Examples of this include the dormitory suburb’s from which many city workers travel to and from everyday and the car dependant cities that are planned for the car as opposed to the pedestrian or cyclist. Dormitory suburbs and cities planned for cars facilitate the wasteful use of energy and time (spent commuting) and contribute to high levels of emissions. Add this to the increasing rates of urbanization and we have quite a large problem.

According to UN Habitat (2010) approximately 51% of the world population lives in urban areas. Resource scarcity, environmental degradation and climate change all combine to increase the rates of urbanization being experienced around the world and specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to approximately 62% of the world’s slum population.  

We therefore need to find a sustainable way to be able to accommodate the increasing urban population. The densification and integration of urban environments has and is being recognized as an efficient, effective and sustainable way to provide resources, housing, services and infrastructure to urban dwellers.  The concept is broadly based on the following:

  • Lowered infrastructure provision costs. It is cheaper and easier to provide services within a smaller area. E.g: providing water and energy reticulation across a smaller area with a higher density of inhabitants serviced as opposed to a larger area with fewer inhabitants.
  • Mixed-use environments where people have to travel shorter distances to and from work, shopping and entertainment.  This would reduce travel costs as well as carbon emissions etc.
  • Reducing urban sprawl and the maintenance of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are basically services that nature/ ecosystems provide.(Wetlands – water purification, Biodiversity-food, plants resources, trees and forest that clean the air etc)

The Verticle Forest or Bosco Vertical in Milan, Italy, is a great example of innovation, design and urban densification.

“Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) is a project for metropolitan reforestation that contributes to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without the implication of expanding the city upon the territory. Bosco Verticale is a model of vertical densification of nature within the city. It is a model that operates correlated to the policies for reforestation and naturalization of the large urban and metropolitan borders (Metrosbosco). Metrobosco and Bosco Verticale are devices for the environmental survival of contemporary European cities. Together they create two modes of building links between nature and city within the territory and within the cities of contemporary Europe.
The first example of a Bosco Verticale composed of two residential towers of 110 and 76 meters height, will be realized in the centre of Milan, on the edge of the Isola neighbourhood, and will host 900 trees (each measuring 3, 6 or 9 m tall) apart from a wide range of shrubs and floral plants.
On flat land, each Bosco Verticale equals, in amount of trees, an area equal to 10.000 sqm of forest. In terms of urban densification the equivalent of an area of single family dwellings of nearly 50.000 sqm.
The Bosco Verticale is a system that optimizes, recuperates and produces energy. The Bosco Verticale aids in the creation of a microclimate and in filtering the dust particles contained in the urban environment. The diversity of the plants and their characteristics produce humidity, absorb CO2 and dust particles, producing oxygen and protect from radiation and acoustic pollution, improving the quality of living spaces and saving energy. Plant irrigation will be produced to great extent through the filtering and reuse of the grey waters produced by the building. Additionally Aeolian and photovoltaic energy systems will contribute, together with the aforementioned microclimate to increase the degree of energetic self sufficiency of the two towers. The management and maintenance of the Bosco Verticale’s vegetation will be centralised and entrusted to an agency with an office counter open to the public.”  (http://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/)