Monday, June 06, 2022

The cheap, green, low-tech solution for the world’s megacities

Like most "easy" solutions, particularly Green ones, this idea has hairs on it. Making China of 1991 the model is in fact rather hilarious. To state the obvious: Commuting via bicycle (as distinct from recreational riding) is only for the young and fit -- a minority in any population. Electrically assisted bikes could expand the feasible age-range up a bit but even they will impose a time penalty: Most commutes will be time-limited. They will be slow and will be limited to ones short enough to take only an acceptable time in traffic. And I have't even mentioned the weather yet.

Yes. It is true that traffic jams are a problem almost everywhere but modern governments can and do provide enough infrastructure to keep jams to peak hours -- as they have done in my city of Brisbane, where roadworks never cease, with a particular emphasis on tunnels. And the Brisbane conurbation is home to around 2 million people. Yes. I know about Boston's "big dig" but Brisbane's tunnelers have had nothing like the problems there. Most tunnels have in fact have been completed on time. And you can fly along in them at significant speed. And a new tunnel was provisionally opened just a few days ago

And a major solution to traffic jams is already in place in most Western cities -- decentralization. There are large shopping and business centres well outside the CBD. A modern city is in fact a collection of mini-cities, with little need for most people to travel into the central area. And that is a continuing trend.

And there is a big solution that lies within the power of the individual: Move to a smaller city. I have family who live in Invercargill in New Zealand, where the rush hour lasts 10 minutes. Yet with few exceptions they have there all the facilities they would get in a big city. And my home state of Queensland has a long string of pleasant regional cities from Cairns to Gladstone. I myself once contemplated moving to Mackay. Some of the cities concerned are in fact significant tourist destinations so are pretty pleasant. The big limitation of small cities is of course the lack of some specialized jobs but in the new era of working from home that looks set to become less of a problem

In a stunning photograph from Shanghai in 1991, clusters of cycling commuters stream across a bridge. The only motorised vehicles to be seen are two buses. That was China in the 1990s: a “Bicycle Kingdom” where 670 million people owned pushbikes. Chinese rulers were then still following the lead of Deng Xiaoping, who defined prosperity as a “Flying Pigeon bicycle in every household”.

Today China is the kingdom of eight-lane highways. Most lower- and middle-income megacities around the world have ditched the bike. But they now need to reclaim it. Modern “megacities” (defined as places with at least 10 million inhabitants) are the biggest human settlements in history, and growing every day.

The world had ten megacities in 1990, 33 in 2018 and will have 43 by 2030, says the United Nations. Over a third of their population growth will be in India, China and Nigeria. More cars will mean more traffic jams and more damage to people, the planet and city life. Happily, it’s perfectly feasible for these places to become bicycle kingdoms again.

For now, poorer megacities tend to be designed for rich people who can afford cars — which in India means one household in 12. Often mayors can find money for highways, but not for bike lanes or even pavements. In lower-income countries, bikes tend to be stigmatised as poor people’s vehicles, whereas in rich cities they get stigmatised as hipster toys. Many people in poorer megacities dream of living in Los Angeles and owning an SUV. For now, though, they can spend hours a day stuck in motionless status symbols that sometimes cost a third of their income, especially with soaring petrol prices.

In lower-income countries, bikes tend to be stigmatised as poor people’s vehicles. In rich cities they get stigmatised as hipster toys

The more cars, the less mobility. In Istanbul, the world’s most congested city according to satnav provider TomTom, the average person lost 142 hours a year in traffic, while Moscow, Bogotá, Mumbai and Delhi all topped 100 hours. The Mombasa-Nairobi highway in Kenya once hosted a three-day traffic jam.

Then there are the carbon emissions, the 1.3 million people killed each year in traffic accidents and the estimated 4.2 million who die prematurely from outdoor air pollution, most of them in poor countries. For comparison, the combined global annual death toll from homicides and armed conflicts is about half a million. Add on the terrifying numbers of people in car-bound cities who will die early because they hardly get any exercise: an estimated 77 million Indians are diabetics, and most don’t know it. Cars are serial killers.

Poorer megacities seeking to push out cars can seldom afford metro trains. London’s Crossrail, first mooted in 1974 and approved in 1990, a mere bolt-on to the existing Tube, has finally opened at a cost of £19bn. Paris is splashing out even more on its expanded metro. It would be cheaper to give every commuter a free electric bicycle.

Many poor cities, inspired by the bike boom in high-status western capitals, have recently drawn up cycling plans. But they are too scared of drivers to implement them, says Gil Peñalosa, an urbanist who helped bring bikes to Bogotá. Still, Nairobi, Jakarta, Addis Ababa and Beijing are among those cities that are now expanding cycle paths. The electric bicycle is a game-changer, much more significant than the overhyped, expensive and insufficiently green e-car: global sales of e-bikes are projected to reach 40 million next year, compared to 9 million for electric vehicles. Globally, most trips are less than 10 kilometres, which e-bikes can cover within half an hour, says the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy.

Many megacities are early enough in their development to avoid the wrong turn towards cars that European cities made after the war. Mayors should be building charging infrastructure for e-bikes, not more arterial roads.

In some cities, the heat discourages cycling, though the problem can be overstated: steamy Dhaka has long been the world’s rickshaw capital, most Indian households still own bikes, and Shanghai’s sweltering summers didn’t deter cyclists in 1991. Possible heatproof solutions could be to organise carpools, extra buses, or earlier working times in summer.

In crime-ridden cities such as Johannesburg, some people don’t dare cycle for fear of cycle-jackings. But many elsewhere yearn to get on their bikes. Just under half of Chinese people say they would like to use bikes for their daily commute, while another 37 per cent want to go by moped or electric scooter, according to a survey by McKinsey. The next step — as in high-income cities — is to replace delivery trucks with cargo bikes.

How often does a knot of problems have one cheap, green, healthy, low-tech solution? Smart cities will actually implement it.


Inflation has the potential to drive welcome change for the planet

Inflation welcome? This puffed up fool fails to mention that inflation destroys people's savings. Failing to look at the big picture is typical Greenie thinking

The foods that go into Americans’ bag lunches and onto dinner plates cost 10.8 percent more today than they did this time last year. But inflation has not struck every section of the grocery store at the same rate: The price of animal products is surging.

Meat, poultry, fish and eggs now cost 14.3 percent more than they did a year ago. For a country that consumes about 274 pounds of meat per person per year, that has been a particularly bruising economic reality. If the current rate of food inflation holds and Americans don’t change their meat consumption habits, they will spend roughly $20 billion more on meat, poultry, fish and eggs over the next year than they did in 2020.

Inflation has the potential to drive welcome change for the planet if Americans think differently about the way they eat. While hunger and food insecurity are a very real problem in the United States and globally, middle- and upper-class Americans still have more choices at the grocery store than perhaps any food shoppers in history. Climate change has motivated some to eat less resource-intensive meat and more vegetables, grains and legumes, but this movement has not reached the scale necessary to bring needed change — yet.

The price of fruits and vegetables has increased by 7.8 percent over the last year, roughly half that of meat and poultry and a bit behind dairy, which has increased by 9.1 percent. A 2021 study in Nature found that animal products produce greenhouse gases at twice the rate of foods from plants. We should be paying attention to every ton of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere — the same way shoppers are watching the cost of every addition to their grocery carts.

What we eat is often cast in moral terms, whether that is diet culture erroneously claiming that willpower is the primary factor that influences body size or vegetarians arguing that eating animals is murder. Americans’ actual diets, though, tend to be dictated by financial rather than ethical considerations. One recent survey of 3,500 consumers found that while environmental concerns and animal rights would not persuade many shoppers to purchase meat substitutes more often, lower prices could.

Inflation resulting from the cost of fuel and feed, coupled with supply chain slowdowns, may make meat substitutes more affordable relative to traditional, factory-farmed meats. Locally raised, more sustainably farmed meat could also come closer to price parity with factory-farmed protein. While fresh fruits and vegetables have long been more expensive, calorie for calorie, compared with meat, the prices of peaches, kale and cucumbers are rising more slowly than those of chicken breasts and hanger steaks. Beans, legumes and grains like rice and farro are comparatively cheap to start with, are highly nutritious and are seeing fewer inflationary effects than meat (although wheat prices are rising astronomically).

But poorer people and those in “food deserts” may not have reliable access to fruit, vegetables and other fresh foods and so may not be able to change their diets as readily as those with greater access to fresh food options. That means the responsibility for change falls upon those with the widest set of choices.

Historically, cost has been a powerful force that has changed Americans’ diets. Yes, people in most cultures tend to eat more meat as they grow richer. But tighter budgets have also driven reductions in meat consumption. Wartime cutbacks in the early 20th century and the inflation of the 1970s amounted to money-conscious nudges from government officials and cookbook authors that pushed diets toward plant-based eating. In 2022, it could happen again.

Until the 1970s, the number of American vegetarians was negligible. With the spread of new attitudes toward food, that figure rose to 6 percent by 1999 but then stayed there, with a 2018 Gallup survey finding that 5 percent of American adults were vegetarian. With the rise of feel-good labels like “organic” and “natural” and farmers’ markets that promise locally grown, humanely raised meat — as well as a new, more sophisticated generation of meat substitutes — the message now is less about abstaining entirely than reducing our overall intake.

There is an inherent conflict in asking people to change their most personal habits because of climate change when government policy puts few restraints on polluting industries like oil, gas, coal and automobiles. Still, the answer isn’t either-or; it’s both-and. Rising prices for all kinds of consumer goods are exerting pressure on Americans, but our food spending can be modified more easily than what we pay at the gas pump. We do not have to become, overnight, a nation of vegetarians and vegans, but we could adjust what we eat to save both our pocketbooks and our planet.

While poor and food-insecure households are already stretching their grocery budgets as far as they will go, shoppers with more choices have the relative luxury to see inflation as the nudge they need to go meatless at lunch or twice a week — or to simply break out of the slab-of-meat-with-two-sides mold that has composed the American plate for decades.

The inflation of the period between the Gilded Age and World War I gave Americans a taste for peanut butter, pasta and stews and casseroles graced with but not dependent on meat. The 1970s brought us brown rice, granola, exciting vegetables like eggplant and zucchini, and every conceivable way to prepare a lentil. Freed from having meat in every meal and with a world of recipes at our fingertips, what will the delicious culinary legacy of this inflationary period be?


Climate change could see clouds disappear from the earth forever -- or not

They think of everything. Global warming causes more extreme precipitation which apparently will occur without clouds.

Scientists have issued one of their starkest warnings yet over climate change, suggesting that clouds could be wiped away from our skies, potentially forever.

Using global models based on computer algorithms, the researchers appeared to be concluding that the earth may shortly become bereft of clouds, although they also appeared to suggest that they could also go the other way and become thicker and more reflective. Pinpointing which is the likelier scenario has been difficult to predict, until now.

Using models to make forecasts have been difficult to produce in the past, but this latest research utilising the Frontera super-computer is establishing a way of coming up with far more accurate indications.

Michael Pritchard, professor of Earth System Science at UC Irvine, told The Express : "Low clouds could dry up and shrink like the ice sheets – or they could thicken and become more reflective. If you ask two different climate models what the future will be like when we add a lot more CO2, you get two very different answers – and the key reason for this is the way clouds are included in climate models."

He said the world's most advanced global climate models struggled to approach what he termed "four-kilometre global resolution" so far. To get more accurate forecasts, a resolution of at least 100 metres is needed to capture the fine-scale turbulent eddies that form shallow cloud systems.

While this could take decades, Prof Pritchard's team is developing a model broken into two parts – a coarse, low-resolution model and another consisting of many small patches with 100 to 200-metre resolutions. Run together, they exchange data every half hour. This can then capture the processes of cloud formation without producing unwanted side-effects.

Prof Pritchard told The Express: "The model does an end-run around the hardest problem – whole planet modelling. It has thousands of little micromodels that capture things like realistic shallow cloud formation that only emerge in very high resolution."

The results were reported in the Journal of Advances in Modelling Earth Systems.


Australia: New minister in Leftist government says coal may remain King for decades under Labor’s watch

Resources Minister Madeleine King has vowed never to put a limit on how much coal Australia will export, saying it is possible Australia could be sending the resource to Asian trading partners past 2050.

The West Australian cabinet minister said the Albanese government would not negotiate with the Greens over the minor party’s push to end coal and gas development, saying every Labor MP understood the importance of the industry.

Ms King said she was not concerned her role of championing the coal and gas sectors had become more difficult internally, despite the growing threat to inner city seats from the Greens and an election result which showed climate change action had become a more pressing concern for voters.

“Not at all because the party acknowledges the role of these industries,” Ms King told The Weekend Australian.

“There is not a (Labor) member that doesn’t understand that it is the resources industry that is the backbone of the economy.

“It is always a contested place, and I get that, but the main thing is we are committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, most of the country is, the community is, the mining and resources industry certainly is.”

With the Coalition accusing Labor of pretending to back the coal sector before the election to prevent losing seats in the NSW Hunter Valley, Ms King used her first week in as a minister to declare her support for the industry would never waver.

“Absolutely, 100 per cent, I support the coal industry,” she said.

“NSW was built on coalmining. It is a deep tradition and it is really good, high quality coal compared to coal from other countries. So that is important to recognise.

“It supports lots of jobs and lots of communities. That is really important for people to acknowledge. But the industry itself knows there are challenges around net-zero emissions needs and they are seeking to address that themselves.”

Ms King took over the resources portfolio last year from former Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who used the portfolio to wage a high-profile campaign to improve the party’s standing among blue-collar workers.

Former Labor Minister Stephen Conroy says the Labor Party is giving workers in the coal industry a “very positive… sign” by reaffirming the importance of coal. Labor has recently voiced support for the coal industry, with resources spokeswoman Madeleine King announcing the party will not stand in the More
She maintained Mr Fitzgibbon’s supportive rhetoric of the sector but was less antagonistic towards the party’s environmentalists who were pushing for ambitious climate change goals.

In April last year, Ms King controversially predicted Australia would export thermal coal past 2050. “I think we go beyond the ­middle of the century, I really do,” Ms King said told The Australian last year.

Since then, the election of US President Joe Biden has turbocharged global climate change action, with most of the developed world dramatically increasing emissions reduction targets.

While not as bullish, Ms King said she believed it was still possible Australia would be exporting the resource beyond 2050. “It is a difficult question because it is international markets that change. It will be international markets that decide these things, in boardrooms elsewhere, as to what they will purchase,” she said.

“I do think it is possible and I actually wouldn’t want to put any kind of timeline on how long we export coal for.”




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