Well-off city dwellers need to say ‘enough.’
In the 2007 United Nations report on climate change, the overall assessment was “unequivocal” confidence that global warming is underway and 90 percent certainty that human activities are the cause. However, recent updates of the 2007 report spell out a more daunting scenario. The worst-case projections are being realized, leading to an increasing risk for abrupt and irreversible climatic shifts. In other words, the dreaded tipping point is now a realistic possibility. In December 2009, the world leaders gathered in Copenhagen to devise an international treaty that must surely be one of the most complicated and difficult ever attempted.
The twin of climate change—the economic meltdown—also faces us. These two are the product of the same insatiable desire for more: more money, more energy. Uncontrolled greed underlies both of these planetary disasters. Thomas Friedman, writing in The New York Times last spring, put it this way:
What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall—when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.” What if we face up to the fact that unlike the U.S. government, Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts?1
There are many needed responses to such news, but here I will attempt just one—an exercise in “thinking differently” about nature, our place in it, and particularly urbanized nature. Most human beings of the twenty-first century will live in cities, and cities are where half of the world’s greenhouse gases are generated. What is the relationship between cities and nature, and how can we achieve sustainable cities?