The Moral Equivalent of War: Joining with our Chinese Neighbors to Stop the Spread of Deserts in Northeast Asia

November 1, 2012

By Ambassador Kwon Byung Hyun
former South Korean ambassador to China
Founder & President Future Forest

The Green Wall of China: an attempt to slow Gobi desert encroachment, China

It seems as if we are constantly preparing to fight the last war and completely unprepared for new challenges. But one needs only travel to the edge of the Kubuchi Desert in Inner Mongolia to see that mankind faces threats on an unprecedented scale that call our for our united action. We must use the full extent of our imagination to come up with solutions to this crisis through new global alliances that require us to completely rethink terms like “security” as we create a new civilization that can lead humans from the dark night of endless consumption to a hopeful future.

My engagement in the long-term effort to stop the spread of deserts in China started from a very distinct personal experience. When I arrived in Beijing in 1998 to serve as ambassador to China, I was greeted by the yellow dust storms. The gales that brought in the sand and dust were very powerful and it was no small shock to see Beijing’s skies preternaturally darkened. I received a phone call from my daughter the next day and she told that the Seoul sky had been covered by the same sandstorm that had blown over from China. I realized that she was talking about same storm I had just witnessed. That phone call awakened me to the crisis. I saw for the first time that we all confronted a common problem that transcends national boundaries. I saw clearly that the problem of the yellow dust I saw in Beijing was my problem, and my family’s problem. It was not just a problem for the Chinese to solve.

When I had established myself at the Beijing Embassy, I asked my staff to conduct a survey about the origins and implications of the yellow dust, and how it arose from the rapid desertification of land in China. They came back to me with a report that explained that the problem was ongoing, already quite serious and worsening rapidly. Here was a threat that I had not even imagined before and it was rapidly becoming as great a challenge as any we face. The threat was increasing and it impacted both China and Korea. As the deserts move from West to East, we can expect the situation to grow even graver in the years to come.

I learned from that report my staff gave me that the amount of desert in China was increasing at a rate of 2400 square kilometers a year and that nothing had yet been successful in slowing down that alarming rate of environmental transformation. I was alarmed. I felt we needed to do something, and to do something together with China. So I proposed to our Chinese counterparts that we should start some collaboration between China and Korea to combat desertification by planting trees. The initial response I received was lukewarm. The Chinese I spoke with explained to me that deserts are a regional problem, and a minor issue among the challenges facing China. They felt that China already has too many problems to address just to support its own people and assure their basic welfare. So desertification was not so urgent a matter. The sort of an issue, they felt, that one can worry about after one’s economic power is established.

Making the Desert Visible

Many of the Koreans I spoke with also did not see how this desertification problem had anything to do with them. From the Korean perspective China’s deserts were China’s problem. But I had made up my mind that the spread of deserts in Northeast Asia was the issue of our age and I promised that I would bring the resources, and the know-how, from Korea needed to address desertification.

President Kim Dae Jung visited China in November of 1998 and I proposed to him that we should include the combating of desertification as one issue for the “common agenda” of Korea-China cooperation to be discussed. President Kim agreed and we started in earnest a dialog on the desertification between Korea and China for the very first time. For my part, I made the rounds on the Korean side to persuade stakeholders of the importance of the issue of desertification not only as an opportunity for overseas volunteer work, but also as a critical topic for Korea itself. One of the first breakthroughs we had was persuading KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency) to provide funding for combating desertification in China. But persuading both the Koreans and the Chinese of the importance of the issue, and the need to work together, was a long process. Although the environment links China and Korea together closely, and we share an ecological continuum, both sides tend to think that responsibility ends at the political border. There were many Koreans who responded to our approach by saying that the Chinese are rich enough to pay for everything themselves now. We had to explain to them that this issue was not just about China and this was not a simple foreign aid project.

The challenges were daunting at the time. To start with, there was no clear funding mechanism to support a response to the spread of deserts on a global scale. We had to persuade the Chinese of the seriousness of this issue first and to encourage a more international perspective on the significance of deserts and the importance of a global response to the threat within China, and globally. Although the dangers of the spread of deserts were obvious to us, they were not obvious to anyone else. All in all, it took two years to persuade the stakeholders that this topic was critical.

When I started planting trees back in 1999, when serving as ambassador to China, I made frequent trips to arid regions of China and saw the situation on the ground. I approached the Korean community in China, and Koreans at home, to help in this project. I wanted them to come with me to see the deserts firsthand. But many Chinese reporters and Chinese friends asked me, “Why do you want to plant trees there?” They could not understand why an ambassador would travel to rural China when he should be meeting with important people in Beijing. The seriousness of the situation did not seem to be common knowledge.

When I started to lobby for this issue in both China and Korea, I managed to meet with Premier Zhu Rongji in 2000. I recommended to Zhu Rongji that he pay attention to environmental issues as part of economic development strategy. I drew attention to the need for a balanced development that takes into account economic and environmental issues. Premier Zhu is a thoughtful man and I think he listened with great care to what I said. I personally think that we can see meaningful change in Chinese policy on the environment since that time, much of that change, including the turn to wind power and sustainable development, was very much influenced by Zhu Rongji. So I am encouraged what has happened and I think real change is possible.

I like to think of China as the “lurching giant” of the world economy, going alternating between different approaches to the economy and making rapid changes in policy with global impact. China is the key to the environment for all of us globally. We cannot dismiss these issues as local problems for China. We are all impacted. We all have a moral responsibility to work with China to find solutions.

Desertification is seriously neglected by most everyone in the world. Most people would not include it in the top hundred threats if asked to make a list. I often felt as if I was speaking to deaf ears as I made my rounds. At the same time I had to encourage those who were engaged in the battle to stop the spread of deserts, working with people at the local, national and international level. The spread of deserts in Northeastern China is no ordinary problem. It is an overwhelming crisis that threatens to discourage even those who are deeply engaged in looking for a solution. So many times we have seen those who are working the hardest are the very ones who despair of making an impact. We must bring a sense of hope to those who are already committed and a sense of crisis to those who have not grasped the enormity of the problem.

As soon as I returned to Seoul in August of 2000 I started making the rounds in government and business circles. I asked my friends and associates, explaining in detail how important this project was for Korea. And among a group of opinion leaders, I received strong backing. At the first stage, we received support from the Korea Federation of Industry, the Chamber of Commerce, KITA (Korea International Trade Association) and Mr. Park Sung-Hyung, Chairman of the Kumho Group. We organized the first Green Corps in the Spring of 2002 and sent one hundred Korean university students, together with fifty Koreans from supporting groups, to areas severely impacted by desertification in China. We spent most of our time visiting arid regions of Shanxi Province so our students could see the source of the sandstorms in Korea.

Future Forest and The Great Green Wall

I founded Future Forest in 2001 as an NGO focused on combating desertification through close cooperation with China. Future Forest annually dispatches its Green Corps volunteers, a group of more than 100 young students, to Northwest China to plant trees in arid regions in danger of desertification.

We focused our work on the Kubuchi Desert. The Kubuqi Desert, one of seven great deserts in China, has expanded to 450 kilometers west of Beijing and, as the desert closest to Korea, is one of the sources of yellow dust that has caused environmental damage in Korea. The Kubuqi Desert continues to expand eastwards and stopping this process of desertification is absolutely critical to the future of Northeast Asia and as the eastern frontier of the Kubuqi Desert is strategically the lynchpin of any attempt to stop desertification, this effort takes on special significance.  

Our greatest achievement was the building of a strip of trees to stop the spread of the desert known as the Great Green Wall. The Great Green Wall has revolutionized land management in the moving-dune desert region by introducing a unique sustainable planting that fixes permanently the moving sands and providing the know-how for sustainable farming at the local level so as to stop the spread of the desert through an alliance of local people, local government, Korean and Chinese NGOs, Korean and Chinese government agencies, Korean businesses and Korean local governments. For the first time, both those affected by desertification in Korea through DSS and those at the local level engaged in farming are brought together to work on the project that is so critical for both. This cooperation between those who are subject to the results of unsustainable land management and farming and the affected residents and farmers themselves offers tremendous promise as a model for global cooperation involving multiple sectors and stakeholders.

GGW runs 16 kilometers, North-South. It consists of trees and criss-cross strips of organic material for sand fixation. GGW was launched as a five-year plan ending in 2011. So far GGW has planted about 5.2 million trees and about 1,800 hectares of moving sand dunes has been fixed and reforested. GGW serves as a critical buffer abutting the moving dunes of the desert that are currently entirely barren.

The “Great Green Wall(GGW)” is run by Future Forest, the All-China Youth Federation (ACYF), and the Dalateqi Local Government (DLG) of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. These three entities forged an international partnership involving local, national and global stakeholders to construct the “Great Green Wall” and to build the “Save the Earth Eco-Village” in the Kubuqi Desert, Dalateqi, Inner Mongolia as part of a larger effort to combat desertification and reduce the frequency of dust and sand storms (DSS), thereby mitigating their impact on adjacent regions, including Korea.

This collaborative partnership is a unique innovation in that it spans sectors as an alliance of NGOs, local governments, government agencies and businesses in both Korea and China. It also embraces local peoples, youth volunteers and the UNCCD in raising awareness of sustainable land management at the local, national and international levels, and strives to give hope to directly affected local people.

When the project was first launched, there was deep pessimism about the prospects for stopping the eastward creep of the moving sands in Dalateqi. Most experts and local residents assumed that tree-plantings or sand fixation techniques would not be sufficient to halt the sands. The project has achieved remarkable success over the last few years, however, demonstrating that the local ecosystem can be revitalized and that substantial international cooperation with real impact at the local level is possible. The project is unique in that young people play a central role.

The Great Green Wall is of ultimate significance because of its impact on Chinese perceptions and resulting changes in policy. Since China is the “lurching giant” in the global ecosystem, we must encourage the most populous country with second largest deserts, to perceive desertification as a phenomenon that is both a vital threat and at the same time one that can be stopped through policy and action. Through the ACTF, we have worked to have impact at social, political and policy levels in China. Our project is relatively small in scale, but serves as a critical example of how both concrete solutions and a sense of hope can be conveyed to both stakeholders and policy makers and local residents in China. By demonstrating that the spread of deserts can be stopped by concerted efforts, the Great Green Wall has a profound symbolic meaning. Consequently, the Great Green Wall was presented as a best practice for combating desertification at UNCCD COP 10.

The Importance of Youth

I proposed more involved collaboration to the Beijing Youth league, stressing that we need the youth of China and Korea to work together in addressing this crisis so that we will produce future leaders who know each other from their work together on desertification. Such relations from a young age will build a link between the two nations at a far deeper level.

As I like to say, “It takes ten years raise to grow trees and one hundred years to develop a new culture for people.” We are doing both together through our Green Corps and our Great Green Wall. This next generation of leaders will see the environment as the essential issue of our age and they will see international collaboration as the key.  At the start of the Green Corps and the Great Green Wall, almost everyone thought that the effort would be just one time thing and not last.

The task of keeping people working together is difficult, especially when there are physically separated and work in different organizations.  Many friends called me aside and told me that such an approach would fail because of the lack of support in civil society for this effort. But we were lucky, and we found some who had the imagination to understand what we were trying to do.

For the first several years we focused our work on raising awareness of the seriousness of desertification. That alone was a challenge. For many, desertification is a rather remote agenda, but in fact it impacts everyone in the community and in the region. It is one issue that transcends national boundaries and impacts everyone. In 2006 I proposed to the All China Youth Federation and the Chinese Communist Youth League that we could start the “Great Green Wall” at the Eastern edge of the Kubuchi Desert. The goal was clear and the approach in a technical and administrative sense was clear. We started our Great Green Wall then, to raise awareness of the spread of deserts, to ring an alarm bell for all stake-holders.

 

Our Responsibility

The reality of desertification is quite difficult for many to grasp, and we must be patient. At the same time, we need to focus in on a very specific problem and one that we can solve. We worked hard to move beyond our own personal limitations, and also to overcome prevalent defeatism we encountered among the Chinese working on the front line. The process is a delicate dance. We must both inspire optimism so we can move forward and rally our troops but we must also raise awareness about the seriousness of this issue.

“We are responsible,” I tell everyone I met, “and we can make a difference. The problem is not about any one person, but every single person can make a real contribution.” Whether working with leaders in the business community or high school students, we demonstrate that the problem of desertification is directly related to us here and now. But we do not stop there. We demonstrate how local people can build ecovillages and have a direct impact on the environment. There is hope if we engage at the local level. But we cannot leave responsibility for deserts to China. They are the world’s problem.


Superstorm Sandy to America: “You should have paid attention to those climate change people.”

November 1, 2012

by Richard Register, President, Ecocity Builders

But even more so “you should have paid attention to those ecocity people.”

Here’s the scoop, our very own “news analysis,” that is, what did the press say about causes and solutions to storms like Sandy, the quick-change artist?

The New York Times is usually better than most of the competition. Let’s see how it was on connecting Sandy the Hurricane, aka Superstorm Sandy, when it hit New York town and took on “extratropical characteristics,” as the weather wonks say.

Let’s do a little “news analysis,” that is, a look at the coverage itself in those pages.

Signs of the Times

In the New York Times October 31, 2012 front page News Section, we find 17 articles totaling 11,200 words approximately. In those 17 articles two mentioned climate change, but not very thoroughly, totaling 171 words. That’s 1/65th of the copy or about 1.3%. Infinitely better than our Presidential candidates anyway.

There was a lot to cover, after all:

  • Worst flooding in 108 history of the New York subway system, some sections flooded from tracks to ceiling.
  • Highest storm surge in New York History at the Battery (southern tip of Manhattan): 13.88 feet.
  • College testing interrupted; bad for students.
  • Electric service out for 8 million people.
  • Problems and opportunities for the candidates for President caused by the storm.
  • The many unfortunate ways about 40 people (about 70 by now!) died in the storm from the Atlantic City boardwalk (destroyed) to deep inland.
  • Thousands told to take refuge in shelters – but trick-or-treat OK Wednesday night (as I write this).
  • Obama pledges speedy clean up.
  • Detailed clean up actions you and the government, but mostly the government, can take.
  • The city’s founders never thought about high floods and rising seas.
  • Fire in Queens burns 110 houses to their ironically soggy foundations. In the aptly named area called Breezy Point the inferno is fanned by wind that fire department trucks couldn’t get to due to street flooding. Oddly, no speculation as to cause. This is a close as it gets: “When it began Monday evening, local fire engines were responding to other fires, or helping to rescue stranded residents…” And no more; a little incurious for the New York Times.
  • An editorial on how, when he saw the President pop into resolute action on Storm Sandy condolences and clean up, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey suspended his Romney-friendly election campaign attacks on Mr. Obama. Then, groveling in admiration of Obama, he quickly invited him to tour New Jersey’s share of the disaster with him the next day, managing to share the national presidential spotlight with him.

Here’s the best of what the Times had to report on climate change, in an article headlined: “For Years, Warnings That It Could Happen Here.”

“After rising roughly an inch per decade in the last century, coastal waters in New York are expected to climb as fast as six inches per decade, or two feet by mid century according to a city-appointed scientific panel. That much more water means the city’s flood risk zones could expand in size.” (“Could”?!)

“‘Look, the city is extremely vulnerable to storm surges just for its geography, and climate change is increasing that risk,’ said Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, N.J. ‘Three of the top ten highest floods at the Battery since 1900 happened in the last two and a half years. If that’s not a wake up call to take action, I don’t know what is.’”

What action? The article suggested about all that could be done was to raise storm barriers across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and the bridge there is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. 4,260 feet. Very, even very, very expensive!

In the other place in the news section to mention climate change, Governor Como of New York complained as follows: “I told President Obama we have a hundred year flood every two years… I don’t call it global warming because you trigger a whole political debate.” So is he not a politician used to all sorts of debates? Why’s he a wet noodle on this issue? Actually maybe in his context, courageous to be the only one to bring it up at all.

The New York Times did have the unavoidable editorial on the Sandy hurricane/super storm, but what it dwelt on was how the regional governors and Mayor Blumberg did a good job of warning people and are proceeding admirably with first clean up efforts. Nothing on causes and strategic solutions to such storms. Tactical “solutions”? Good evacuation information and quick clean up response: call in the mops. And that’s all folks! as Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig signed off in the old Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoons.

What Can We Learn From History?

We all know fossil fuel burning is the lion’s share of the climate problem, with contribution also from cutting down forests. Eating lots of meat is part of the problem too since cattle emit methane from both ends and their grazing and lot feeding require ten times the acreage for feeding us than us just eating fruits, beans, vegetables, etc. But as to the biggest solutions?

There is always solar and wind energy to replace much, maybe eventually all fossil fuels. Not mentioned in any of the New York Times articles and editorials. Also, not even mentioned in an Amy Goodman interview aired on Democracy Now, October 31 (apparently recorded yesterday), of Bill McKibben, prominent climate change wake up activist. I’ll have more on their show momentarily.

There were some pretty strong hints going way back for solutions to the problem of dealing directly with floods, not mentioned – of course – in my cited sources of the day, or other ones not cited too, I’m 99.9% certain.

A da Vinci city – illustration by Leonardo da Vinci, 1488

Leonardo da Vinci around the year 1488, about the time Christopher Columbus was trying to outfit a boat trip to the Orient, came up with a notion that amounted to a very broad and insightful hint for a city design solutions. He suggested that cities be organized so that people could move about without having to compete with heavy traffic of carts, chariots and big work animals. Those would be relegated to ground level transport linking mainly crafts and light (the only kind of…) industry (they had in those days) and storage (aka warehousing). On a second level above, there would be the pedestrian city, much quieter, no manure and pee to smell, flies to swat, no wood and iron rimmed wheels to crush your toes. Upstairs the streets would be designed specifically for human habitation and social/economic exchanges face to face. He imagined building up, rather than digging down like we do now in subway systems. In many cases parts of the city on that second level, one up, would be linked by bridges as in many of my drawings of ecocities. Low lying cities since then might have noticed this version of three-dimensional development, but didn’t. Instead in many areas prone to flooding, the city gentry and decision makers dug down to make the floods much worse, as we saw in the drowning the subway system of New York just yesterday.

Approximately 4,000 years before Leonardo’s yet one more amazing insight (he had so many) the citizens of the Sumerian Civilization of the Mesopotamia Valley figured out another angle on best uses of three-dimensional design: They simply built on elevated fill, rising up over farm and field. When floods came, as the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers often did flood, their cities, from Ur on into history, rode them out like big ships sliding upstream. It must have been pretty exciting, if safe, to be there 15 to 25 feet above the plain with a whole ocean of light brown water moving massively by.

A city built on elevated fill – illustration by Richard Register

Of course it is too late to elevate existing big cities en mass, but it is definitely possible to strategically withdraw from the most damaging and low lying areas, that is, the car dependent low density areas of coastal and many inland river areas prone to flooding and tsunamis and responsible for most of our CO2 producation. That’s also where approximately 1/3rd of all humanity live. The new development could concentrate the city of the future on higher ground or build the ground up for new development, call it “artificial mounds” or “artificial fill.” Many “new town” cities are going up in low-lying areas in Asia as I write – if only they were going up literally too, on elevated mounds of earth. If it could be done 45 centuries ago in the area that is now Iraq, all by muscle power and hand tools alone, it could certainly be done with today’s machinery. This method works for storm surge, river flood and sea rise all (if the sea rise doesn’t get way out of hand). Even in areas were larger buildings are torn down and replace the new buildings, the new buildings could, along with the streets immediately facing, be built up a few feet. But mainly for high density areas, it is either simply and crudely conceived and executed big dikes, or somewhat more sophisticated, moveable barriers often called barrages like the one recently built on the Themes downstream from downtown London.

“A lesson from 4,500 years ago in the Sumerian Civilization: build on
elevated artificial mounds of earth.” Fits the compact pedestrian town and
city perfectly. Can’t be done of suburbia – would require impossible amount
of earthen material.

More from the Media

Speaking of news analysis, how has the climate change sympathetic media done? One paragon of virtue in waking people up to social and environmental problems, and sometimes to solutions too is, Amy Goodman and her program “Democracy Now.” Today’s show featured an interview with climate change Paul Revere, Bill McKibben. They were both shocked as well they should be with the absolute silence of both presidential candidates – well almost silence… Mitt Romney did his best to make light of the subject and poke a friendly jab at the Old Obama. (The candidate New Obama has verily boycotted the climate change topic.) Here’s what Romney had to say in the Republican Nominating Convention with sly furtive glances around the room as if he were a ten year old boy who had just gotten away with tricking his mean fifth grade teacher:

“President Obama promises to begin to slow the rise of the oceans…” Pause for laughter, which he gets along with cheers for his victorious put down – loud cheers. Then he continues, “…and to heal the planet.” More and louder laughter from the good Republicans assembled. “My promise is to help you and your family.” Big cheers all around. I recommend you watch the clip yourself from the middle of Goodman’s interview. Here’s where:

http://www.nationofchange.org/bill-mckibben-sandy-and-climate-change-if-there-was-ever-wake-call-it-1351611521

I did notice, though, the camera scanning the Republican Convention audience seemed to reveal a fair number of people who looked at first uncomfortable with Romney’s sarcasm on the subject. But they fell in line pretty quickly and joined in the smiling and clapping like good sheep anywhere.

The problem isn’t just that the candidates are silent or fearful of speaking something more like the truth on this issue, it’s worse that the assumption is so broad throughout the populace of hundreds of millions of people, most of them addicted to their cars and their oil companies, that they have to ape retrograde knuckle draggers en mass. Our democratic country just can’t handle that? We are so cowed or stupid we’d freak out against any Presidential candidate willing to talk about it and vote against said candidate? Amazing and deeply discouraging. Have we turned into a nation of wimps?

But Goodman and Bill McKibben didn’t go beyond demonizing the oil companies (so far so good), while letting the public off the hook (not so good) and, as said already, didn’t even mention the main renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels (verging into the bad). Of course they didn’t notice that cities are the largest creations of our species and the largest contributor to CO2 build up in several ways: transportation fuels, including fuels for generating electricity for electric vehicles, heat and cooling fuels, and manufacture of certain infrastructure we need not build at all — freeway interchanges and parking structures for example — if we switch from cities designed around cars to cities designed around human beings. That last omission is the worst yet, but since so few people have thought about it I suppose they could be excused.

They could be excused except for the reason that I talked to Bill McKibben personally twice about that in the last year and a half and met Amy Goodman just two weeks ago after she gave a talk at the First Congregational Church in Oakland, California. Bill on those occasions did mention solar and wind energy alternatives but when I said why not mention city impacts and the associated relationship scattered urban form has with cars and oil, he said, no, he had to focus on the subject at hand and if we could beat the oil companies, the ecocity “would ensue.” I said I agreed we have to get off oil but we solved the smog problem in Los Angeles while avoiding the design and layout of the city for cars. We fixed the local air pollution problems by inventing and affixing the smog device – and got climate change by way of thousands of cities following the Los Angeles car-city model which was made to look much healthier because we “solved” the local air pollution problem in exchange – 45 years later – for global heating.

As to Amy Goodman, if I were among the 100 approximately that stood in line for her that night, why remember me? Maybe she would because I gave her my inscribed book, “Ecocities – Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature,” with an inserted half page – readably short – of printed out notes hitting a few important points for ecocities and inviting her to scan my drawings first. She’d said in her talk earlier in the evening that she liked to be a voice for those not heard from, so I mentioned I was heard from very little, in the US anyway, and never on her show – why not try out the subject? – very interesting! She’d said she admired the somewhat nature oriented architecture of the “Earthships” of New Mexico, built of recycled rubber tires and adobe mud and passive solar in design. I suggested the next step up from there would be designing architecture for whole communities, what ecocity design is all about. Plus I wrote her follow up e-mail notes twice. Silence. Well, what can you say? She’s busy and dealing with a lot of very squeaky wheels, all of them deserving their issues be heard – though of course some of their topics are heard literally many dozens of times on her shows. But not to complain too much about our partial allies.

And the Real Climate Solution Is…

Several things at once. We all do that all the time. We are a multi-tasking species by nature, (like the others) or we get swept aside by evolution, if a little more slowly than the slower of us might get swept away by a hurricane turned superstorm: we eat, exercise, sleep, work, socialize, produce, consume,  recreate and procreate or the species dies. That’s a lot to juggle in two complex environments, one natural and one we create ourselves.

So Sandy has come through the coastal states and is whirling around in southeastern Canada and the extremes of northeastern US as it dissipates as I’m writing. We should not only be helping as we can to repair damage already done but doing the best we can to avoid the climate catastrophes of the future. How?

Dikes? OK, for where all else has failed, they are useful for sure.

Alternatives to coal, oil and gas? Definitely.

Conservation in all sorts of ways? Definitely again – all that is very important.

Better cities, in fact ones that are conceived from the start to solve ecological – and even climate problems? In fact cities that can be net contributors to social and ecological health on the planet (Republican Convention delegates, this is not a cue for laugher and self-congratulatory clapping). There is no reason we can’t design cities to build soil recycling their organic wastes and to restore natural biodiversity, like they do in minor ways now with, relatively speaking, miniscule efforts.

And how to do that with the cities? As mentioned earlier build them for people not cars. In relation to storms there is avoiding flooding in the way I mentioned above, going back 4,500 years. (Yes we can learn some very important things for our distant ancestors.) If we build cities – and we can if we can imagine them – simply to shift from cars to the ecocity transportation hierarchy of feet first, then bicycles, then rails and elevators, then busses, and lastly for external application only, and rental at that, cars. Then we are half way there already.

And as we are bold enough to imagine cities actually positive for humans and nature, we can look to nature as Alan Savory has in an earlier article of mine in these electronic pages. He imagines strongly reversing global heating by techniques both ancient and new for massive carbon sequestration in the vast grasslands of the planet through techniques he noticed predators like lions accomplishing in compacting and steering the vast fertilizing herds of African herbivores mixing their manure, seeds and soil like enormous solar-powered agricultural machines. Then there are similar techniques for the forests, peat bogs and who knows where else if we put our minds to it, CO2 sequestering all. But as long as our media is so weak on the subject, our people afraid to think and our politicians dumb in one or the other or both meanings…

If we get the trick of building ecocities, we’ll reap the treat of a healthy, sweet future, for us and nature both. Trick or treat and happy Halloween after all.

Richard Register can be reached at ecocity@igc.org


Sustainable Cities: 178 mayors elected in the first round joined the program

November 1, 2012

Candidates who have been to the second round and now even the elected can still sign the letter of engagement platform, which offers a full agenda for sustainable development
Airton Goes airton@isps.org.br

Balance of the Sustainable Cities Programme on accession candidates for mayor until the first round of municipal elections reveals that 178 of those elected are signatories to the commitment letter from the platform. By signing the document, these future municipal executives pledged to put into practice in their management proposals to promote sustainable development of cities.
Among the cities that already in the first round, elected mayors committed to the program are five state capitals: Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Porto Alegre, Goiânia and Maceio.
The survey records that, in total, 548 candidates for mayor of 330 cities have signed the commitment letter. Among the municipalities where there is runoff to choose the mayor, 30 candidates have committed to the program. In 14 of them – including eight state capitals – the two rivals signed the commitment letter.

 
The organizations Sustainable Cities – Our Network São Paulo, Instituto Ethos and Brazilian Social Network for Fair and Sustainable Cities – estimate that the number of accessions and elected mayors committed to the program has surpassed initial expectations. Even so, report that the engagement letter can still be signed by candidates who passed the second round and also by the mayors elected on October 7 that have an interest in promoting the sustainable development of their communities.
Sustainable Cities Programme
Totally nonpartisan, the Sustainable Cities Programme aims to raise awareness, mobilize and provide tools for Brazilian cities to develop economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. For this, it offers candidates a full schedule of urban sustainability, a set of indicators associated with this agenda, and a bank of best practices with national and international examples as references to be pursued by municipal administrators. The program is complemented by a campaign to sensitize voters to choose sustainability as a criterion for voting and candidates to embrace the sustainability agenda.


Bolivia Enacts New Law for Mother Earth

November 1, 2012

By Sara Shahriari October 26, 2012, Indian Country Today Media Network

“Mother Earth is the living dynamic system made up of the indivisible community of all living systems and living beings, interrelated, interdependent and complementary, which share a common destiny. Mother Earth is considered sacred; it feeds and is a home that contains, sustains and reproduces all living things, ecosystems, biodiversity, societies and the individuals that compose them.” -Bolivia’s Framework Law for Mother Earth and Holistic Development to Live Well, October 2012

President Evo Morales issues Law of Mother Earth at an emotional ceremony at the Palacio Quemado Tawantinsuyu, Bolivia

Can the Earth have legal rights? Is a radical change in the way governments and people interact with the planet possible? A new Bolivian law says yes, defining Mother Earth as a living system with rights instead of an object open to unlimited exploitation.

Legislation rethinking human relationships with the planet was drafted by some of Bolivia’s strongest social movements, including indigenous groups and small-scale farmers, in 2010. That same year President Morales signed an abbreviated version of the document, called the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth. Now, after years of discussions, a much wider reaching text named the Framework Law for Mother Earth and Integrated Development to Live Well is also law.

The wide-ranging document addresses topics including the environment, land distribution, access to employment, healthcare and education, using the concept of “living well” as its core theme. Seen as a return the indigenous values, “living well” is a way of life that values the collective over the individual, and having enough over having a lot. In Bolivia “living well” is also presented as a turn away from capitalism, which regards the planet as a commodity, in favor of sustainability and a harmonious relationship with Mother Earth.

In addition to defining the planet as a living system with rights, the law generally calls for an end to practices that damage the environment-a large undertaking for a country where existing environmental norms frequently go unenforced.

So how would a new relationship of living well with the Earth take shape? One example of the human-Earth balance the law sets out is an approach to food security requiring that the state take action to avoid privatization of water and the participation of monopolies in the production of seeds and foods, along with promoting sustainable agriculture that doesn’t exhaust soil. The law also calls for Bolivia to gradually eliminate the use of genetically modified seeds.

Some critics question exactly how dramatic a change to the current relationship with the planet the law really proposes. Bolivia’s economy is heavily dependent on extractive industries such as oil and mining, which often have large-scale negative environmental impacts. The law lays out the government’s duty to develop those industries while affecting the environment as little as possible. However, some critics say this is a watered-down version of the original call for radical change, and that it is incompatible with “living well” because it allows Bolivia to continue relying on the Earth’s non-renewable resources as commodities.

President Morales, on the other hand, holds that it is possible to extract non-renewable natural resources, such as minerals, while respecting the environment-and that when a country carefully invests gains from those industries in the population it leads toward “living well.”

Bolivia must now begin forming the government positions and oversight committees necessary to make the ideas set out in the new law a reality, and only time will prove what role it plays in redefining human relationships with the Earth in Bolivia and, perhaps, beyond.

Read more:http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/10/26/bolivia-enacts-new-law-for-mother-earth-141899 http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/10/26/bolivia-enacts-new-law-for-mother-earth-141899#ixzz2AvJdTldL


Car Free Journey, November 2012, continued

November 1, 2012

Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown LA

Why stay in Downtown LA? Historic Downtown LA is re-emerging as the heart of Los Angeles, with many restaurants, bars, art galleries, sports teams, and more. Once avoided like the plague by LA’s cool folk, they now flock to it (and live in it). If visual arts or pro sports are your focus, stay in Downtown. The renowned live theatres of the Center Theatre Group—the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theatre—are among LA’s finest.

Downtown LA is a big area, roughly defined by the 110 Harbor Freeway on the west, the Los Angeles River on the east, the 101 freeway on the north, and the 10 freeway on the south, but the core area is much smaller.

Downtown is the center of LA’s transit network—especially its rail network—so it’s easy to get almost anywhere from here.  There are dozens of bus lines too. If you’ve got time, staying a few days in Downtown LA and a few days in Santa Monica can give you a better picture of the city, and make it quicker to get places. Downtown is sprinkled with hotels, ranging from moderate cost accommodations to five star hostelries.

How to get to Downtown LA from transportation terminals

LAX—Take the express Flyway bus from any terminal at LAX to Union Station. Then take the Red Line subway one stop to Civic Center for the Omni, three stops to 7th St. Metrocenter  for the LA Athletic Club. Take the Gold Line one stop  from Union Station to Little Tokyo for the Miyako

Union Station—See the directions for LAX

Greyhound—Take bus 60 to 7th & Olive for the LA Athletic Club, for the Omni take bus 62 to 5th & Hill, for the Miyako take bus 18 from 6th & Alameda to 5th & Los Angeles, then bus 92 to Main & 2nd.

Where to Stay in Downtown Los Angeles Choose from a  sprinkling  of business and boutique hotels.

Los Angeles Athletic Club—A historic hotel on top of a terrific athletic club (open to hotel guests) in the very core of Downtown Los Angeles. Not retro, seasoned.  Roughly $160-250. http://www.laac.com/

Omni—The best of modern business hotels in a Bunker Hill location adjacent to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Usually over $200, but quieter weekends may have bargains. http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/LosAngelesCaliforniaPlaza.aspx

Miyako—Moderately  priced (roughly $125-175) mid-rise hotel  in the lively Little Tokyo section of downtown, catering to Japanese tourists and others.

http://www.miyakoinn.com/default.aspx?pg=home&hid=131&vl=04b321d3-8646-4e52-85ac-4870cf268cc6

Outings from Downtown

Rose Garden, Exposition Park—Exposition Park’s Rose Garden is right in the middle of the city. It’s  7 acres with over 200 varieties of roses.  Get there by taking the Expo Line light rail from 7th St/ Metrocenter to the Expo Park/USC station, you’ll see the roses.  The park also houses numerous museums.  http://www.laparks.org/exporosegarden/rosegarden.htm

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)—With 100,000+ art objects, LACMA is the only art museum in the Western United States that rivals the scale of the great Eastern comprehensive art museums. LACMA is particularly strong in California art, Latin American art, and Japanese art, which has a whole building devoted to it. There are always intriguing temporary exhibits.  LACMA has a repertory movie series too. Take the fast, frequent 720 Wilshire rapid bus on 5th St. at Main, Broadway, or Grand to Wilshire & Fairfax, about a 30 minute ride. There are also direct buses from Hollywood. http://www.lacma.org/

Walking Tour of Downtown Los AngelesThe excellent  Angels Walk Bunker Hill/Historic Core walking

tour covers the new and the old in Downtown.  http://www.angelswalkla.org/walks_bunkerhill.html

Hollywood

Why Stay in Hollywood? Hollywood, the neighborhood, is the most geographically central of LA’s leading visitor areas (Downtown is toward the eastern end of the city). Hollywood is full of fun places to eat, drink, watch movies, see plays, and hear concerts. The American Cinematheque shows classic American movies in the classic Egyptian Theatre—but you can also see Disney’s offerings in the historic El Capitan Theatre.  Theatre Row at Santa Monica & Vine is a top locale for small live theatres. On weekends crowds come to Hollywood from all over the city. And of course there’s the Walk of Fame along and near Hollywood Boulevard, with its “stars you never even heard of.” The core of visitors’ Hollywood is along and around Hollywood Blvd. between  Vine St. and  La Brea Blvd.

Hollywood is on the Red Line subway, giving you a quick ride to Koreatown, Downtown LA, and Union Station. There’s also frequent bus service along Sunset Blvd., Hollywood Blvd., and Fairfax Ave. Hollywood has a wide range of lodgings, from budget motels to high gloss, high cost establishments.

Getting to Hollywood from transportation terminals

LAX—Take the Flyway bus from any airport terminal to Union Station. Then take the Red Line to Hollywood/Highland station

Union Station—See the directions to LAX above.

Greyhound—Take the  60 or 760 bus to 7th St./Metrocenter Red Line station, then the Red Line subway to Hollywood/Highland station. (Note: Some local Greyhound trips from the north also stop at North Hollywood, adjacent to the Red Line, but faster express trips do not).

Where to Stay in Hollywood—Stay budget, stay trendy, stay retro

Hollywood Orchid—This moderately priced (generally $119-$179) small hotel directly behind the Hollywood/Highland shopping center has clean, comfortable rooms, many of them with kitchens. http://www.orchidsuites.com/

Loew’s  Hollywood—Until recently the Renaissance Hollywood, the Loew’s, a block from Hollywood/Highland, is one of only two luxury high-rise hotels in Hollywood, with a pool and views.

http://www.loewshotels.com/Hollywood-Hotel

An outing from Hollywood

Universal Studios—The massively popular Universal Studios theme park is one subway stop north of Hollywood/Highland. Take the Red Line to Universal City station, then take the tram or walk uphill to the park itself.  A basic ticket now costs $80, $72 for children less than four feet tall. http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/

Walking Tour of Hollywood—The Angels Walk Hollywood walking tour is a great guide to this historic neighborhood. http://www.angelswalkla.org/walks_hollywood.html

Santa Monica

Santa Monica

Why Stay in Santa Monica? The independent (and independent-minded) city of Santa Monica, by the beach, at the western end of Los Angeles, is one of the region’s finest areas. The ocean breeze cools and cleans the air. Besides the beach itself, and the palisade (cliff) above it, there are streets to stroll with window shopping galore, especially the pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade. If you’re a shopping center fan, upscale, largely open air Santa Monica Place is one of the most pleasant.

Downtown Santa Monica is roughly bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, Lincoln Blvd. on the east, Wilshire Blvd. on the north and Pico Blvd. on the south.  Many of LA’s major bus lines end  in Santa Monica, so it’s easy to get to Venice, Westwood (UCLA), Beverly Hills, and Downtown LA (via freeway express bus). Santa Monica has a large cluster of hotels, though they do tend to cost more than elsewhere. If you’ve got the time, think about staying in both Santa Monica and Downtown LA.

Getting to Santa Monica from transportation terminals

LAX—First, take the airport’s free “Lot C” shuttle to the City Transit Center. From there take Big Blue Bus 3 (or Rapid 3) north to Pico & Lincoln (for the Bayside) or 4th & Santa Monica (for the Georgian)

Union Station—Take Big Blue Bus express bus 10 to 2nd & Broadway in Santa Monica.

Greyhound—Take the 60 bus to 7th & Grand, then Big Blue Bus 10 to 2nd & Broadway in Santa Monica.

Where to Stay in Santa Monica—A dozen lovely downtown Santa Monica hotels, many north of $300.

Georgian Hotel—A beautiful art deco hotel  (once a nursing home) overlooking the ocean in the heart

of downtown Santa Monica.  Rates in the $250-300 range, sometimes less.  http://www.georgianhotel.com/

Bayside Hotel—A low cost property (roughly $150-250) by Santa Monica standards, a pleasant motel near the beach a short walk south of downtown Santa Monica, http://baysidehotel.com/

An Outing from Santa Monica

Venice

Venice—Venice is the funky, gentrifying but still countercultural neighborhood just south of the city of Santa Monica—about 2 miles south of downtown Santa Monica.  Venice’s Ocean Front Walk is a fun fair of outdoor kiosks selling clothing, jewelry, art items, not to mention (the relocated) Muscle Beach. A few blocks east, Abbott Kinney Blvd. is a street of highly trendy restaurants and flossy boutiques. South of Venice Blvd. (east of Main St.) the famed canals create a lovely, tranquil residential environment.  From Santa Monica, walk, bike, skateboard (a common transport mode in these parts) or take Big Blue Bus 1 to Pacific St. & Rose Ave.

Where Not to Stay—the LAX area—Car-free travelers are sometimes tempted to stay near the airport, near LAX. They figure that rates are cheaper there, so why not stay there and take the bus to various attractions? This is a bad idea for several reasons. The environment around the airport is unpleasant, and the huge, noisy streets there are poor places to walk. Transit isn’t that good to the hotels, because airport transit doesn’t  go to the hotels. You’ll spend a long time getting places, don’t do it.

For More Information

Transit—Metro–www.metro.net

Santa Monica transit—Big Blue Bus–http://bigbluebus.com/

Arts and entertainment—LA Weekly–http://www.laweekly.com/

Arts, entertainment, news—Los Angeles Times–http://www.latimes.com/

For more details about Los Angeles attractions, visit www.discoverlosangeles.com, or call (323) 467-6412

About me and my book—I’m Nathan Landau: a transit planner in Northern California who has traveled to Los Angeles car-free (and car-burdened) for decades.  I’ve published a travel book for car-free travelers called Car Free Los Angeles and Southern California (Wilderness  Press, 2011). It’s over 400 pages of strategies and details about seeing these LA areas, as well as Pasadena, Long Beach, San Diego, and even Disneyland (and many more).  Ask your favorite bookstore to order it for you. Or order it through Powells.com, the on-line service of the

famous Portland bookstore: http://www.powells.com/s?kw=Car+Free+Los+Angeles&class=

Get it for yourself, get it for your LA friends who just “Know” that you have to drive everywhere in LA.


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