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Dan Hoornweg's blog

Peak Waste and Poverty – A Powerful Paradox

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Urbanization is the most powerful force shaping the planet today. This can be good news as urbanization is the best bet we have to meet our global poverty reduction targets. Cities generate our wealth, our culture, and our innovation. This is also bad news since cities generate the lion’s share of the world’s GHG emissions, and cities are responsible for most of the planet’s current decline in biodiversity. Cities also generate solid waste; lots of it and the amount is growing fast.

‘Peak waste’ – that point in time when all the waste from all the cities finally plateaus around the world, and then slowly starts to decline, is not on track to happen this century. Estimates are that it will peak at three-times today’s current waste generation rate. Peak waste is an excellent proxy for humanity’s cumulative global environmental impact; therefore we are on track to triple today’s overall global environmental impact. Our ‘assault on the planet’ will start to subside on the other side of peak waste. Therefore we must move peak waste forward and reduce its intensity when it finally does arrive.

What Does the Fox Say? Top Ten Ideas From City Fox

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Chances are by now you’ve seen the video ‘What Does the Fox Say?’ The Ylvis brothers developed a catchy music video starting in Norway and spreading like a wild fire across the planet, jumping from city to city. In less than a week 15 million people watched the fox dance and try to make his case
 
Videos and other social media are emerging as one of the most powerful forces shaping countries and cities. For example, Oscar Morales and his Facebook campaign to ban FARC in Colombia, the Arab Spring, and Toronto’s recent police shootings and earlier G20 beatings (video taped and shared widely – police charged and convicted).
 
Many of us may think of the more urban mammals like a cow or two, raccoons, squirrels, rats, feral dogs and cats, but when it comes to cities, the fox has a lot to say. Here are a few of his likely comments on cities.

Why a City’s Not a Duck

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Ducks in a row


Up north on the lake, every year near our cabin, we see a pair of nesting ducks. We call her Mrs. Merganser as she leads her 8 to 16 ducklings around the lake. There’s a Mr. Merganser too, but truth be told, he seems a bit of a slacker in the childcare department.

The ducks make an annual migration of a few thousand kilometers, splitting their time between the northern lake, southern retreat, and a couple months on the road. The birds are transient.

The Old Man is Snoring

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Flooding in Bangkok‘It’s raining, it’s pouring. The old man is snoring.’ Truth be told, I apparently snore, and I suppose I’m not that young anymore. But hard to believe, I’m sure this nursery rhyme is not about me. And despite the recent Noah-like floods in Europe, Bangkok, Calgary, Dhaka, Jakarta, New York and Toronto, it’s not really about any one city, or any one country, or even any one continent. But, ‘went to bed and bumped his head. And won’t get up in the morning,’ aptly describes our current political paralysis.

Many children know this song. Soon they will learn how their grandfathers and fathers slept through the rain.

Here in troubled Toronto and gritty Calgary, there was the inevitable debate on whether or not the recent floods could be attributed to climate change. ‘If it’s this bad now, what’s the future hold?’ people wondered. ‘Sleepwalking into trouble,’ came to mind for many.

Why Running a City is Like Paddling a Canoe

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Canadians are supposed to be good in a few things: skating, painting trees and rocks, welcoming newcomers, writing engaging stories that surely must have a meaning in there somewhere, and paddling a canoe. The canoe—a bit like the moose—holds an almost mythic place in the Canadian psyche. Anything and everything can be compared to canoeing. This metaphor is apt when applied to city administration.

An experienced and comfortable pair of paddlers can take a canoe almost anywhere and through whatever waves, winds and rapids that might arise. Over any sort of distance, solo kayakers with their fancy paddles and cramped storage compartments are no match for a canoe with tandem paddlers. Canoeing is the most efficient and gracious way to travel on open water—the secret to good canoeing, as with city administration, is good communication and a ‘little-little, big-big’ approach.

Urban Careers and the Twenty-Ninth Day

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Lily pads on lakeA helpful way for young math students to grasp the concept of exponential growth is to look at water lilies growing on a pond. They grow exponentially and double in area each day. If they will fully cover the pond by the 30th day, on what day is the lake half covered? The twenty-ninth day[1].
 
This year I had the honor of teaching 4th year energy systems students who will graduate later this month (their blogs on energy issues will be presented on this site over the summer). These graduates are particularly essential. During their careers they will be part of the world’s largest ever city-building spree. Their task will be to again double the world’s cities.

The Buzz of Cities

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BeeFor bees, bigger hives are better. 

Last week researchers at the University of Arizona published their findings: bees of bigger hives have more information and forage better. With improved communications, bees from the bigger hives sent new foragers to known resources up to four hours earlier than bees from smaller hives.1

This better communications also seems to work in bigger cities. Geoffrey West and the Santé Fe Institute provide impressive modeling on the scaling of cities. Double the size of a city and you get 1.15 times the growth of economy, patents and innovation. And as long as you can keep congestion and pollution in check, you can get this economic growth at only 0.85 times the cost of additional infrastructure. In other words, larger cities have a disproportionate impact on a country’s communications, and therefore a bigger impact on economy and culture.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish*

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Blasty Fish, Dr. Seuss‘From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!’
That one blue fish cost a million plus,1 that one blue fish and all the fuss.

In cities here and cities there, you’d think by now we’d be aware.
That we’d take some care for what is rare. But here’s another to make you stare:

Soup can come with a shark’s fin; yes, so strange a fin that’s mixed right in.2
So much money is being spent, just how far can we go, and to what extent?

‘Say! What a lot of fish there are.’ Yet there they go near and far.
Tuna, sharks and even rhinos too; all sold in a city near you.

Save a fish, save a tiger, save an elephant or two. Here’s what a kid could do
Shout ‘Oh Mr. Mayor in that great big chair, is your city doing its fair share?’

Hey Cities, Slow Down

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‘Lord give me patience, but please hurry.’1 Everyone working with cities has probably felt this sentiment. We see the new buildings, read the reports, and know that the hurly burley rush to urbanize across the world is picking up speed – we are about to repeat the amount of city-building we did in the last 200 years, but this time we will do it in just 40 years. Surely we have no time to slow down.

Chaucer said it well in Canterbury Tales, ‘In wicked haste is not profit.’ Or as in the sage Chinese proverb, ‘A hasty man drinks his tea with a fork.’ Haste makes waste. In the rush to urbanize, we are in danger of wasting many opportunities within our cities, as we lock in little foibles and big mistakes.

Controversy Continues to Hound Groundhog Day Celebrations

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Punxsutawney Phil, Groundhog's DayPunxsutawney, Pennsylvania: Saturday around 7:00 am, Punxsutawney Phil (PA, USA) emerged from his burrow, did not see his shadow and predicted an early end to winter. A few minutes later and a few hundred miles north, Wiarton Willie (ON, Canada) surfaced, didn’t see his (or is it her) shadow and also predicted an early spring.

Once again, like last year, immediately after the groundhogs issued their prognostications, the Houston and Calgary based ‘Committee for Climate Certainty’ rebutted the groundhogs’ findings, claiming the science was uncertain. The Committee released several years of hacked emails between Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil – “What are we going to do about those climate doubter’s concerns? We are likely to have a repeat of last year.” Willie is purported to have written Phil in an email. “Let’s stick to the date, fudge the timing, and hope no one notices,” Phil is reported to have responded.

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