Friday, March 14, 2008

Green Cities and the Limits to Growth

If you need some excitement in your life, take a look at tomorrow's Wall Street Journal Online's Econoblog. Hopefully, Jim Brander and I had an engaging enough debate on the "limits to growth" to merit publication. Would Julian Simon be proud of me? I doubt it but you judge. I do crack some funny jokes.

Switching gears, what does the President of Harvard have to say about Green Cities? Let's listen.

Remarks at ‘Green Cities: Lessons from Boston and Beyond’

Boston Public Library

Boston, Mass.
March 5, 2008

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Mayor Menino, for that very generous introduction. The Mayor is a tough act to follow as he describes the things that he and Boston are doing in the area of sustainability. I often look to the environmental initiatives that have been enacted under the Mayor’s leadership and those that are planned as well because Boston’s progress in this area, as you know, has won the City many accolades including, of course, the recently announced naming of the city as the third most green in the nation.

I want to say thank you also to the Rappaport Institute and to Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport who are here with us today for their support of this event and for the part the Institute plays in strengthening Harvard’s connections with its surrounding communities.

This conference represents a great opportunity for scholars, practitioners, and policy makers to share information and exchange ideas about sustainability, but it’s also an affirmation of the very important partnership between cities and universities as we explore together how to address these very critical issues. Harvard is proud of its collaborations with the City of Boston, working to develop sustainability strategies both on Harvard’s campuses and on regional and global scales.

Sustainability and climate change are two of the most challenging scientific and political issues of our time. The scientific evidence is clear. Many of the things on which our health, our prosperity, and our future depend – clean air, drinkable water, a dependable food supply – are in jeopardy because of our own impact on the environment.

Harvard has an important responsibility to help control these challenges. Last week, I announced the formation of a new University-wide task force charged with examining Harvard’s greenhouse gas emissions, and recommending a University-wide strategy and goal for reduction. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is an important next step in our effort to create a sustainable campus and will have broad implications for our campuses in the Longwood and Allston sections of Boston as well as in Cambridge. I hope that the work of the task force will yield information and strategies that other organizations and institutions will find useful as they look at their environmental impact.

Given the rapid urbanization of developing countries and the growing consumption in urban areas in developed countries like our own, cities provide a critical arena from which to approach the issues of sustainability and climate change.

First, urban areas are responsible for approximately 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. So reducing energy use and emissions in cities is fundamental to any effort to slow the pace of global warming.

Second, local policies can be effective where broader policies might not be feasible. For example, more than 700 mayors, including Mayor Menino, have signed a pledge – “The Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement” – to reduce their cities’ emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gasses to levels aspired to in the Kyoto protocol, a treaty that was signed by the United States, but never ratified by the U.S. Senate.

And third, cities, like universities, are learning laboratories. They provide arenas in which to test new policies, new ideas, and new initiatives. The scale is small enough to make adjustments, and large enough to measure real impact. In fact, with the Green Roof Demonstration Project, Boston has turned City Hall into a literal living laboratory. The 8th and 9th floor terraces are now showcases for plants where students can study the effects of greening city rooftops.

Working with Boston, Harvard has done much to promote and encourage environmental stewardship over the last decade. The Greater Boston Breathes Better Program, a collaborative initiative among local governments and private entities, including our community, focuses on promoting strategies and implementing projects to reduce air pollution from transportation and construction sources. It’s a great example of linking research to policy. And the mayor’s Green Building Task Force has led to several green policies that influence the way Harvard develops its campuses.

At Harvard, our Center for the Environment hosts faculty from a variety of fields who are researching and teaching on environmental issues. The Center also serves as an interdisciplinary hub for environmental education by connecting faculty, compiling an environmental course catalog, sponsoring research by faculty and students, and hosting events across the University on environmental issues.

The Harvard Environmental Economics Program at the Kennedy School is researching political and economic strategies for global environmentalism, including global climate change, the use of incentive-based instruments for pollution control, the relationship between globalization and the environment, and the intersection of economic development and environmental protection.

Taking a page from Boston’s playbook on community engagement, Harvard is looking into ways in which we can mobilize our different constituencies in both their working and their home lives.

Recently, more than 8,000 Harvard staff, students, and faculty made a sustainability pledge declaring their personal commitments to undertake a wide range of campus sustainability activities, ranging from biking to the University, to making double-sided copies to save paper, to purchasing Energy Star equipment, to switching off computers and lights every day at the end of the day. Harvard has recently achieved a recycling rate of more than 50 percent, and it has reduced single-occupancy travel to Harvard by more than 18 percent.

Harvard College students have reduced their energy consumption by more than 12 percent over the last four years thanks to a peer-to peer engagement program. I have this image of them all running around the dorm telling each other to turn off the lights. And in large part, due to student lobbying, more than 40 percent of the produce used by Harvard’s Dining Services now comes from local farms. But we need to continue to do better.

When we develop and operate our built environment – our campuses – what lessons are we teaching our constituents and our students? What messages are we sending? We are an educational institution. We must recognize that all we do has an educational dimension.

This question really drives our partnership with the City, especially as Harvard plans and develops its new campus in Allston. Under the proposed master plan, Harvard intends to develop a comprehensive sustainability framework for buildings, transportation systems, utilities, and water management. It intends to take measures to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and storm water runoff. It intends to create more than 30 acres of new open space on land currently covered by asphalt. It intends to aspire to meet LEED Gold certification for all future buildings in Allston and it intends to improve city streets with new pedestrian walkways, bike lanes, and plantings.

As we think about the effects of the changing environment on the world, and how we must best respond, we cannot underestimate the significance of the partnership between cities and universities.

Thank you for helping us realize that we are stronger when we are united on this front. And thank you, Boston, and thank you, Mayor Menino, for being both an inspiration and a partner in this important work. Thank you all.

Cities can help turn the world green

By Corydon Ireland

Harvard News Office

Can green cities save a blue planet?

That question was posed last week by Harvard climatologist Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard’s Center for the Environment. The professor of Earth and planetary sciences and professor of environmental science and engineering was one of three technical experts who spoke at a conference March 5 — co-sponsored by Harvard and the city of Boston — on the regional impacts of global warming.

The short answer: Cities can help. For one, the experts say, they generate 75 percent of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. And cities are the teeming brains of the world — “incredible focal points for innovation,” said Schrag.

Regionally, two cities are doing what they can to save the planet.

Boston is one. This month, Beantown was named the third-greenest city by Popular Science magazine — in part for a 2007 green building requirement for all new construction. And last week Boston released its climate action plan, calling for increased bike traffic, more open space, and expanded requirements for green building standards.

“Urban areas are the economic engines of America,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who opened the conference with remarks to a capacity crowd at the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Lecture Hall. “While climate change is a global issue, we can do our part.”

The other “city” going for the green is Harvard, with its thousands of students and its many laboratories and teaching facilities. The centuries-old University, like its host communities, is focused on its environmental footprint. Harvard consumes energy, treats waste, and expands its building stock according to sustainability principles adopted in 2004.

And more dashes of green are being added to crimson. Last month (Feb. 27), Harvard President Drew Faust, who is also Lincoln Professor of History, appointed a task force to identify a goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will report its findings to her by June.

“Harvard has an important responsibility to confront these challenges,” said Faust of regional changes that impact global warming. “Local policies may be effective, where broader policies may not be viable.”

Centers of higher education bear a special responsibility in dealing with environmental issues, she said. First, there is the capacity for scholarship. (Faust praised the Center for the Environment as an “interdisciplinary hub for environmental education.”)

Then there is the capacity for direct action. Faust outlined a few of Harvard’s contributions, including a 50 percent-plus recycling rate, a low incidence of single-occupancy commuter car travel (18 percent), and Harvard Dining Services, which purchases 40 percent of its food from regional producers.

Faust also praised the Boston-Harvard collaboration in planning for the University’s campus in Allston. “Cities, like universities, are learning laboratories,” she said. “We are stronger when we are united on this front.”

Menino and Faust “want real progress, right away,” said moderator David T. Ellwood, dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The two leaders traded praise. Menino called the two-year Allston planning process “an exceptional experience.”

Faust called the town-gown cooperation “an affirmation of the very important partnership between cities and universities.”

The initial phase of the Allston project, she said, will transform 30 acres of paved surfaces into new open space, construct sustainable buildings, and require reduced energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and storm water runoff.

Schrag led off the technical part of the program by imparting a sense of the scale of the global warming problem. In a word: huge.

Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere — the chief culprit of climate change — are higher than they have been in 650,000 years, and are likely higher than in the past 35 million years.

Preindustrial levels of the compound hovered around 280 parts per million (ppm), are 385 ppm today — and will be around 500 ppm in as little as 40 years. “This is not a debate,” said Schrag. “We will see huge climate change this century,” including a summertime Artic Ocean that is ice-free within a decade.

He said atmospheric change is driven by fossil fuels, where humans get 85 percent of their energy, and it’s also “a profound geological experiment.” Likely impacts include droughts, heat waves, more violent storms and floods, and rises in sea level.

Schrag showed a bird’s-eye projection of Boston in the event of a 0.6-meter rise in sea level. It looked like Venice.

There are three categories of solutions, said Schrag, “and we need them all”: reduced energy use, new sources of non-carbon energy, and a way to sequester excess CO2 in geological formations.

There are some reasons to be optimistic, he said. Fixing only 1,000 power plants worldwide, for one, would address the source of nearly a third of greenhouse gases. And rebuilding energy infrastructure worldwide would cost only 1 to 2 percent of global revenues. That’s as much as $200 billion in U.S. GDP, said Schrag — a huge investment, but a business opportunity too.

Presenter and urban economist Edward Glaeser, Harvard’s Glimp Professor of Economics and director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, likes the idea of “emissions accounting” as a way of knocking down energy use, especially in fast-growing urban centers. Glaeser, who is also director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, is in favor of a carbon tax, too, and steeper taxes for roadways.

“Car-heavy places have grown more quickly” in the past 20 years, he said, pushing roadways deeper into areas of low-density population. Suburbs, in turn, consume more per capita energy, gasoline included, than their urban counterparts.

Land use planning counts, said Glaeser. Living in Boston is a relatively green experience, he said, but “once you hit Waltham, you’re in full suburban-energy use.”

Presenter James W. Hunt III is all in favor of the urban experience as a green experience, but acknowledges a steady flight to the suburbs too. “City living is green,” said Hunt, chief of Boston’s environmental and energy services, and a lifetime Dorchester resident. “But we have to encourage our residents to stay here.”

That means keeping the urban core more livable and inviting, he said, in part through forward-thinking environmental planning. That includes a Boston plan to add 100,000 new trees by 2020, scrubbing the air and reducing the urban “heat island” effect that spikes temperatures by 10 degrees or more.

The city already has an impressive 29 percent of tree cover, said Hunt, but “it’s a tale of two cities.” Most of the trees are in wealthier areas.

Hunt enumerated other ways Boston is planning for a future that will help ward off sea level rise, devastating storms, and a sun-cooked urban core: Boston initiatives that reduce greenhouse gases by 2050 to 80 percent of 1990 levels; a Boston green jobs industry already growing by 20 percent a year; plans for more energy conservation and solar power; and green building requirements “hardwired into the zoning” for new construction, said Hunt — 6 million square feet of new buildings in 2007, and 4 million more square feet in the pipeline.

Ellwood summed up the challenge of making cities an engine for change in global warming: “The really inconvenient truth,” he said, “is that it is hard and not easy — expensive and not cheap.”