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Imagining a Carbon Neutral Seattle: A Collection of Ideas
Sarah Kuck, 23 Feb 10

Climate%20Action%20Now%20feature.jpg

Monday afternoon, the Seattle City Council announced that Seattle will aim to become carbon neutral, and explore whether it can realistically commit to hitting that target by 2030, which would make it the first carbon neutral city in the United States.

If Seattle can in fact lead the way toward North American climate neutral cities, it may well have an impact far greater than the size of its population would suggest. It may, for instance, help accelerate the race towards a bright green future already engaged by cities like Vancouver, Portland and San Francisco. It may even help spur further action in internationally leading cities like Copenhagen, Melbourne and Stockholm. Since much of the innovation needed to achieve ecologically low-impact prosperity is urban innovation, accelerating this race is in everyone’s interest.

Our own Alex Steffen first proposed Seattle’s goal just a few months ago during his Town Hall talks. Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin introduced Alex on the first night of the two-talk event, and has since used what he heard that night to embolden the local government to finally take action.

"Alex Steffen's talk last November inspired me to think about the next step," Conlin said. "Seattle has done a lot to reduce our climate footprint, but we need to do a lot more. This year, the Council will work with the Mayor and executive departments to map out specific goals and objectives on climate neutrality."

No doubt this is a cause for celebration and congratulations, but after the excitement fades, we here in Seattle will need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Becoming the first climate neutral city in the United States will be no small task, and the City will need all the help it can get, as well as pressure to take even bolder steps. For the goal of carbon neutrality to translate into Seattle emerging as a bright green city, we’ll need full citizen participation.

And that too should be cause for celebration in Seattle. This is a goal so hugely important and challenging that all the residents of this city will need to lend their skill and talent to make it work. Because carbon neutrality will involve reworking many fundamental systems (including transportation, energy, planning and food), we will have numerous opportunities to try new things, start new enterprises, create new customs and re-engage with our communities. Indeed, that chance to reimagine the way things work is one of the best benefits of a push to carbon neutrality because it means new businesses, a competitive advantage in the bright green economy, and green jobs.

It is our duty as responsible citizens to be informed. So we’ll need to know what carbon neutrality means, what it entails and how we will know when we are headed in the right direction. A good place to start is with these videos from Alex Steffen’s talks at Town Hall Seattle.

When I think about carbon neutrality, I think not only about the massive challenges it presents, but also about how different and better it could make our lives. From my vantage point I see that there are several areas that will change greatly once we start taking on this challenge. This will be a huge exploration, not all roads will lead to success, but it's important to keep imagining what the future of cities and the economy will look like.

Let’s imagine 10 moments of an average day that might be different in a carbon neutral city. The following are a collection of ideas, from my point of view. They are a thought explorations in how I think carbon neutrality will benefit cities and the people who live there. Even if your city has not announced carbon neutrality as a goal, you too can think about just how different your city would be in a bright green future.


Land Use

Right now, most cities are designed around cars. Streets, businesses and housing developments are built around the needs of the car. But in a carbon neutral city, cars are no longer king. Experts in this area say that land use policy and zoning laws could be designed with people in mind, to bring us nearer to the people we want to see, and the goods and services we need to live and work. Though these new plans, development would be more compact, people would walk where they need to go and green spaces would proliferate. Imagine living close by the grocery store, bus stop, and gym.

To explore this issue more, see the following articles:

Free Parking Isn’t Free
My Other Car is a Bright Green City
Deep Walkability


Transport

Right now, most people spend inordinate amounts of time in their cars (and in Seattle, cars are the major source of greenhouse gas emissions). But in a carbon neutral city, innovations in transportation help to shift the focus from moving the most cars the farthest distances in the least time, to getting the most people to the places they want to be most effectively. Transportation now focuses on efficiency, access and safety. Less driving can save our families a huge amount of money and we can read, play games, work or talk with a friends while we get there.

For more on this ideas, check out the following articles:

New Report: U.S. Road Funding From Non-Road Users Doubled in 25 Years
Commuter Rail vs. Population Density
Pioneer City 2030
Smart Grids, Grid Computing and the New World of Energy
Making the Grid “Smart”
Making Fuel Consumption Visible
New Energy Hubs


Water

Like energy, most people rarely think about where their water comes from, how it gets to our faucets or where it goes once it leaves the sink. Also, similar to energy, most people rarely think about how much water it takes to produce our food and consumer goods. But in a carbon neutral city, it’s something everyone will think about because they will have more information and access to the resource. Here, every raindrop that falls on a building is used, an each drop is recycled and used again onsite. Water use is clearly marked in our homes and on the things we buy. Innovators tell us that we will be able to capture all our water on site and reuse it before we send it away. Transparency specialist say we'll know what we need to to choose the best products.

For more on how this works, explore these articles:

Making Water Consumption Visible
Saving The World, Drip by Drip
Ecohouse Brazil


Food

Right now, most people get in their cars and drive to the grocery store. The food sold inside has traveled thousands of miles to end up on the shelves and we know little to nothing about the resources or labor it took to produce it. But in the carbon neutral city, we'll live so close to food sellers you can walk there. Farming innovators say that, with the exception of a few international products (coffee, chocolate, etc), most of the food available will come from nearby farms, if not from farms within the city itself. More people will grow their own food. Educated on the physical and climate affects of meat, most of us choose only to eat locally raised chicken on special occasions.

More on food:

Food of the Future, and the Future of Food
Local Food Plus: A Model for Food Citizenship in North America
Food Carbon, Corporate Farming and Transnational Community-Supported Ag
Will Allen and the Urban Farming Revolution
Growing More Farmers

Consumption

Right now, most products have a 30-minute to three-year lifespan. Most goods eventually end up in landfills -- here or in foreign countries with more lax environmental laws -- or even in the ocean. In a carbon neutral city, cradle-to-cradle designers create goods with their next use in mind. The time between its creation and death are no longer the most interesting parts are a products lifespan. What happens next and what it will become in its next life are the more juicy design tasks. Here, products are less toxic because they have to be used longer and over again, are not designed to break but to be fix and are meant to be shared and hacked.

For more ideas on how this will work and who’s already doing it, click on the articles below.

Strategic Consumption: How to Change the World with What You Buy
Bright Green Retail
Cradle to Cradle Design & Intelligent Materials Pooling
The Maker's Bill Of Rights

Justice

Right now, some people in our community are forgotten and neglected. Societal myths are deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life, and those without care and attention are there because they want to be, aren’t good enough or made serious mistakes. But in the carbon neutral city, it’s essential to include and support everyone. Bright Green City philosophy states that equality is an essential part of creating sustainability. Research shows that people who are taken care of and shown respect are able to think beyond their basic needs, and have the energy and motivation to take care of themselves and others. Carbon neutrality is only possible through equality.

For more on why justice is a critical part of the sustainability movement, see the articles below:

The Housing & Transportation Affordability Index
Food, Fairness and Foot Access
Making Social Equity an Issue of Public Health
Principle 17: Environmental Justice


Waste

Right now, waste is a thing most people throw Away. This Away is a place we don’t have to think about, nor are we affected by. Most people live their whole lives without ever thinking about the impacts of their waste. Empty packaging, uneaten food, dead batteries and out-of-date technology are tossed to the great Away. But in carbon neutral cities, we are all aware that there is no Away. Each item is design to be reborn as something new or is capable of decomposing. Compost masters work together at composting centers to create new organic material, reuse specialists collect and redistribute larger items and technology workers are trained to retool and upgrate technology and small items effortlessly at maker stations.

For more on how and where this is already happening, see the stories below

Designing a Zero Waste City
Eric Lombardi’s Zero Waste Park
Zero Waste, Perpetual Food
Recovery Parks, Free Geeks and Plasma: Vancouver Debates Zero Waste

Business

Right now, most business people are taught to let the bottom line trump all other concerns. Making money is the sole purpose of any venture and not much should get in a business’s way when trying to make as much money as possible. In a carbon neutral city, business people are taught to care about the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. Success here is not just measured by how much money that company can make, but also by how much good they can do for the people and places they operate in and for. Here, people reward companies that support carbon neutrality as a business goal.

For more on bright green business, see the stories below

The New Environmentalists: Bankers, Insurers and Accountants
Thinking about Sustainable Business
Corporations and Human Rights: How to Fill the Gap
How Can Bright Green Cities Thrive Without Capital?

Civics
Right now, my feeling is that most people feel disengaged from politics. We feel like our votes barely count, and even if we do we're merely choosing between which candidate is less evil. Everyday, more people grow more cynical about this process. But in the carbon neutral city, people must show up to make it work. We realize together that to be engaged and optimistic is a powerful political statement. We find ways to plug in locally, become more involved and make the system more transparent. More things feel possible because they are.

For more on Bright Green Civics, see the stories below:
Letter from Copenhagen - Cities and Citizenship
Special Innovation Zone: Imagination Without Regulation
Transition Towns or Bright Green Cities?
The Open Source Movement
The Politics of Optimism


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Comments

Thanks. That was a well put together summary of the issues that all cities need to be addressing, whether they're trying to become bright green, or just trying to develop. Lets hope that forward thinking prevails.


Posted by: Jim on 24 Feb 10

Steps must immediately be taken to increase sustainability throughout the globe. The numbers of national disasters and world-wide environmental crises are rapidly increasing. In May 2009, the Paraguan government declared a state of emergency after a severe drought left approximately 185,000 people without the basic necessities for life. Paraguay has partnered with IEDRO, the nonprofit International Environmental Data Rescue Organization, to rescue historic weather records from 31 Paraguan observation sites. The inventory represents tens of thousands of crucial observations researchers can study to help prevent and prepare for these kinds of environmental catastrophes, as well as contribute to sustainability studies for the country, from crop planning applications to calculations for potential water collection.


Posted by: Andrea Kobeszko on 27 Feb 10

Great ideas. majority of them need collective sustained effort, cohesive mind and approach to achieve the goal. Anyway a begining has been made. These ideas should gather momentum to become peoples movement and local authorities to work on mission mode to make the ideas a fact.


Posted by: kskarnic on 27 Feb 10

I think every commuter should be part of a carpool. Imagine... it would be so much easier to get into the city. It also help to reduce the GHG emissions dramatically. I tried the carbon dioxide and cost calculator on the carpooling network ( http://www.carpoolingnetwork.com ) and they suggest huge savings : up to 2000 $ and 1,5 tons of ghg per year.


Posted by: peter on 28 Feb 10


I am presently, and for many decades have been, a resident of the Seattle area. So, I remember what a truly "green" environment the Seattle area was before we were invaded by the "developers" who have ruined this area with their greed.

The "inconvenient reality" is the green jobs are going where all the other jobs have gone -- to third world countries where the labor is cheaper than it is here, especially to China (who is now the leader in all things green, just in case you didn't know).

If the green jobs aren't real, then who in the Seattle area is willing, or even able, to pay for the massive infrastructure changes required by your green insanity?

You also speak of green justice, which I think is ironic because Seattle and Washington State in particular are some of the most economically unjust areas of our country (i.e. if you don't have a lot of money, don't bother coming here, or you can spend your life watching other wealthier people living theirs -- right in your face, usually).

The net result of all these green ideas are simply going to increase the population pressure in Seattle (and, hence, economic pressure) on a very limited land area that cannot even support the population we have now.

Wait! I know what we can do to provide all the money for greening up Seattle! It's so simple that it is a wonder no one has thought of it before. We can change the tax laws to force the wealthy to actually pay their fair share for a change. Unfortunately, they would simply leave, sticking us with bill anyhow, so I guess it won't work after all. But then, neither will any of your ideas either.

By the way, lest you think I am simply some ill-educated "redneck," I am a retired CPA/MBA who used to work in senior management for several of the hi-tech and aerospace supply companies (for Boeing) that are no longer here, having been "outsourced" to Asia.

If you can't understand history, you are doomed to repeat it. I suggest you take a look at our history and try to understand how we got here, before handing out simplistic solutions to complex problems.

If you find this reply designed to "disrupt a conversation rather than contribute to it" or "insulting and abusive," I would be interested in being afforded the courtesy of hearing exactly why (you do, after all, have my email address).

Sometimes the truth can be a little painful and, apparently, you need a good strong dose of it.

Gordon


Posted by: Gordon on 10 Apr 10

If Seattle is going to get beyond "green"-talk and create a carbon neutral city, I would suggest we encourage City Hall get practical. Using a biochar strategy to help reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, while helping to rebuild our damaged urban soils, would be a cost effective way to start. Biochar is fixed carbon made from waste biomass, as a bi-product of clean energy production. It has been shown to safely store carbon , derived from atmospheric Co2, in the soil for millennia. Two existing mayoral and council initiatives: The Year of Urban Agriculture and the commitment to rid our urban forests of invasive species, offer examples of ways we could use biochar to manage the carbon cycle, improve the cities performance infrastructure and create jobs.


Posted by: Pariuri Sportive on 13 Apr 10

Reply by biletul zilei : Because we run our city on hydroelectricity and live in a mild climate, Seattle’s biggest problem is cars. Cars and trucks are the largest source of our greenhouse gas emissions. Our city’s auto-dependence is often treated as a fact of nature by older commentators, and when they acknowledge the problem of auto emissions at all, they tend to claim electric cars will fix the problem. Unfortunately, electric cars won’t solve auto emissions, and won’t even come close to solving the massive non-tailpipe auto-related emissions that come from road building and other auto infrastructure, air- and water-pollution, increased health care costs and so on.


Posted by: David C on 14 Apr 10

Those who were there know that big things are happening in the Emerald City. They have architects and game designers, political organizers and transportation planners, and many more coming together to ask the quintessential question of our time... will Seattle become THAT city?

Will they figure out how to take things to the next level and coordinate across the region?


Posted by: Pariuri Sportive on 24 Apr 10

Alex Steffen's talk last November inspired me to think about the next step ... Seattle has done a lot to reduce our climate footprint, but we need to do a lot more. This year, the Council will work with the Mayor and executive departments to map out specific goals and objectives on climate neutrality.


Posted by: Pariuri on 27 Apr 10

The worlds social, political, economic, environmental and global consciousness is coming together to build a sustainable future, based upon the Common-Unities of humanity and it's desire for creating Peaceful*Change...

In the knowledge that nature offers he'r very*best, and demands only the same in return... for...

One is neither part of the problem nor the solution one is merely a consequence of a situation, therefore to improve the situation simply change the consequence.


Posted by: Norbert Szabo on 14 May 10

Reply by Norbert Szabo: Sorry, I forgot to add some info, is there any chance I could edit my comment?


Posted by: Norbert Szabo on 14 May 10

Sarah,

I don't know why this is always missing from the picture but our thought leaders really need to start thinking and talking about integrating comprehensive finance programs into this sustainability equation. That part of the picture has traditionally been missing from these types of dialogues. This is not limited to the notion of large pension funds and supporting socially responsible investment but actually integrating revenue recycling into city plans, efficiency improvements, and economic development programs.

Examples of effective programs would Special Assessment Districts that install solar panels or provide lending for household efficiency improvements, spreading lending costs over low interest bonds. This would also include setting up sustainability funds that guiding returns from city efficiency savings into similar sustainable programs that have clear returns. Locally sponsored lending or venture programs for sustainable businesses also go a long way towards achieving our common goals. During a period when Harvard's endowment was bleeding money due to bad bets on complex derivative products their green fund was providing a 30% return. This not only ensures that public money is recycled through the local area rather than escaping to other regions but it prevents savings from efficiency to from being re-invested into a range of economic activities that may be detrimental to the environment.

We can pontificate as much as we want regarding programs, but if the money isn't where our mouth is then the results will never be in line with our expectations.

Jakub Olesiak


Posted by: Jakub Olesiak on 18 May 10

Seattle is updating our energy code currently, which is one great way to move towards carbon neutrality. Roughly 40% of energy use is for buildings nationally.


Posted by: Pariuri Online on 9 Jun 10

I live in Seattle, Wa. and I think a call-to-arms is wonderful!! I know as an individual I'm doing as much as I can - reusable bags, walking to work, public transit only, and organic local food to name a few. If only all of Seattle could ban together, we could really make a statement and an example of how the world could really change!
Posted by Pariuri Sportive on 09.06.2010


Posted by: david r on 9 Jun 10

Posted by free bets on 03.07.2010: Since somewhere around 80% of Seattle's energy needs are met with fossil fuels - there really is only one way. Nuke the city!!
Built four new Vogtle nukes right outside Everett, some time around 2020 when the Ap-1000 goes into mass production mode. By replacing fossils with the mass produced nukes the payback period would be less than three years.


Posted by: David J on 3 Jul 10

Wait! I know what we can do to provide all the money for greening up Seattle! It's so simple that it is a wonder no one has thought of it before. We can change the tax laws to force the wealthy to actually pay their fair share for a change. Unfortunately, they would simply leave, sticking us with bill anyhow, so I guess it won't work after all. But then, neither will any of your ideas either.
Posted by Link on 09.06.2010


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Posted by: jerseys on 29 Jul 10

met with fossil fuels - there really is only one way. Nuke the city!!
Built four new Vogtle nukes right outside Everett, some time around 2020 when the Ap-1000 goes into mass production mode. By replacing fossils with the mass produced nukes the payback period would be less than three years.


Posted by: dunk on 17 Aug 10

Hi, it nice to read this articles!
That was a well put together summary of the issues that all cities need to be addressing, whether they're trying to become bright green, or just trying to develop.
Posted by Debra on 03.09.2010


Posted by: Debra on 3 Sep 10

Structural article is a very good idea interested, but need to take into account the things that are not in any country at all today fel.Oricum think of as many solutions to overcome technology. thanks


Posted by: imobiliare on 10 Sep 10

This is a really interesting point of view, Those who were there know that big things are happening in the Emerald City. They have architects and game designers, political organizers and transportation planners, and many more coming together to ask the quintessential question of our time...


Posted by: belote gratuite on 21 Sep 10

Great list of ideas ! In France, we have developped the concept of "passive house", which is a house without any need of supply in energy. If you have great material, for example wood, and if you get a lot of sunlight energy, you don't even need any warming at all ! This concept first came from Germany, the Belgium and then came in France. A lot of people are working nowadays to get this the best way to work and to make it accessible. On our website (maison bbc) you can get ideas to apply it in other countries.


Posted by: Jack on 26 Sep 10

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Posted by: mac on 27 Sep 10

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Posted by: miles on 28 Sep 10

Nice to read that post! And I am totaly agree with Peter: "I think every commuter should be part of a carpool. Imagine... it would be so much easier to get into the city. It also help to reduce the GHG emissions dramatically. I tried the carbon dioxide and cost calculator on the carpooling network and they suggest huge savings : up to 2000 $ and 1,5 tons of ghg per year." no fax payday loans


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Posted by: Robert on 28 Sep 10

Hearing that the green spaces would proliferate because of the changes in the land use itself makes me all tingly.i mean,this is going to be good if the city makes a commitment help for single mothers


Posted by: Rick on 29 Sep 10

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Posted by: Lasse on 2 Oct 10

Excellent post with good ideas. Thanks for information.


Posted by: paris en ligne on 4 Oct 10

Because we run our city on hydroelectricity and live in a mild climate, Seattle’s biggest problem is cars. Cars and trucks are the largest source of our greenhouse gas emissions. Our city’s auto-dependence is often treated as a fact of nature by older commentators, and when they acknowledge the problem of auto emissions at all, they tend to claim electric cars will fix the problem.

Unfortunately, electric cars won’t solve auto emissions, and won’t even come close to solving the massive non-tailpipe auto-related emissions that come from road building and other auto infrastructure, air- and water-pollution, increased health care costs and so on.
Submitted by Liga 1 on October 05, 2010


Posted by: A. Jamie on 5 Oct 10

Very informative post to read. Seattle has done a lot to reduce our climate footprint, but we need to do a lot more. This year, the Council will work with the Mayor and executive departments to map out specific goals and objectives on climate neutrality. I love to attend every seminar on this great project. b2b lead generation


Posted by: tim on 10 Oct 10

I might be a challenge to be carbon neutral at first, but your great ideas allow me to believe it's possible. Can we still use fire pits?


Posted by: Allan Smith on 12 Oct 10

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Posted by: oriez on 14 Oct 10

They have architects and game designers, political organizers and transportation planners on eurosportbet. This year, the Council will work with the Mayor and executive departments to map out specific goals and objectives on climate neutrality.


Posted by: Marc on 17 Oct 10

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