How Cities Can Lead the Charge Against Climate Change

The encroaching issue of climate change is one that’s far too massive for one group to handle alone. It’s up to multiple corridors of power to enact the changes that will ensure a safe future for our planet–which is precisely why it’s become such a complicated state of affairs. With two-thirds of Earth’s population expected to be clustered into cities by 2050, it looks to be urban planners who hold the keys to our survival. It’s also a matter of accounting for the damage cities have done on their own: as it stands now, urban centers are responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse emissions.

As a citizen of New York City, I was proud when our mayor announced the city would divest money from fossil fuels. This move was part of a larger movement aimed at hitting the largest producers of greenhouse gases where it hurts and is certainly an important part of the prevention process. But failing to design sustainable lifestyles for all city-dwellers will result in certain ecological disaster, a situation which no amount of money can correct. Creating these lifestyles starts with tackling the two most ripe areas for change: our construction and transportation practices. With the right plans and initiatives, these will be the conduits through which our cities lead the country into a cleaner and more assured future.

Construction

The largest visible representation of urban life, our tall buildings must use energy sustainably and responsibly if we’re to address the climate crisis adequately. This can take several forms, including efficient design that maximizes sunlight, green roofs and outdoor spaces which support the oxygen cycle, reusing water and recycled construction materials. So-called “green buildings” are more than a trendy movement: they’re the frontlines of the fight against rising temperatures.

Efficiency can even work in supertall buildings: Taipei 101 in Taiwan, built in 2011, boasts LEED Platinum certification, the tallest structure in the world to be given this stamp of sustainability. In the midst of a skyscraper boom, cities like New York must take a leadership position in ensuring that while we build to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, we don’t forget about the ground we’re situated on. Earth-friendly building materials like recycled steel and precast concrete can eliminate much of the energy usage that goes into creating these massive structures in the first place, starting their lives off on a sustainable footing.

Transportation

While environmentally conscious building practices are pivotal, an even bigger aspect of taking on climate change is the necessary paradigm shift in the way we get around our cities. Even with a majority of us living in these population clusters, our dependence on pollution-causing automobiles has played a major part in bringing this climate crisis into being. Even electric cars won’t completely save us, as CO2 emissions will stay high regardless thanks to large-scale shipping and aviation transport that can’t run on electricity for the foreseeable future.

For maximum efficiency in sustainable travel, robust public transportation is an absolute necessity. Even zero-emissions cars only carry fewer than a half-dozen people at once, requiring more energy to be expended on transporting fewer people on a daily basis. By designing cities where public transport is a more attractive option, we create communities that aren’t only cleaner, but happier places to live.

It’s an unfortunate reality that many forward-thinking projects will require state and federal approval before cities can get them to the implementation stage. In these and many other areas, it’s our nation’s metropolitan centers where the front lines of the battle against climate change will be staged, but by taking control of the narrative, city planners, local leaders and advocates can spearhead the changes that need to happen. Yes, they’ll need political support in due time, but building and transportation plans in the works are the roadmap for a safe, continued existence.

By |2019-05-30T19:11:47+00:00February 15th, 2019|Technology, Urban Planning|

Tech’s Growing Role in the Wake of Natural Disasters

Technology has brought us countless conveniences. Order an Uber with a few clicks. Tell Alexa you want a pizza. Let Google Assistant direct you to the nearest coffee shop.

All that’s nice, isn’t it? But tech can (and is) doing much more important things.

One crucial achievement technological tools have given us is the ability to respond to natural disasters more quickly and effectively. Indeed, tech has the potential to save countless lives and greatly reduce the damage when nature strikes.

Social media and mobile improve preparedness and response

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina claimed 1,833 victims and caused $108 billion in damages. Many experts argue social media and mobile technology could have saved lives, only if Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms were available like they are today.

Jason Samenow, a meteorologist and weather journalist, attests that, with social media, “messages about how severe the storm was and the importance of preparedness would have permeated society.” Decision-makers, politicians, celebrities and others would’ve been motivated to spread information across their networks and call others to do the same.

Additionally, responders could have accurately identified where help was needed. Timo Luege, a humanitarian communications and innovation consultant, wrote in a personal blog post about how FEMA director Michael Brown hadn’t known evacuees were stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center without food and water until news reporters got there. Surely this information could’ve reached FEMA much more quickly with social media — and folks could’ve been saved.

Now, compare this to 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit. More than 3.2 million Tweets using the hashtag #Sandy were published on the first day. During the height of the storm, people posted 10 pictures of what was happening on Instagram every second. This enabled anyone with a mobile device or internet access to see the latest information, and helped responders work more effectively. Mobile and social media undoubtedly saved lives.

Big data and IoT create predictions and accurate real-time info

Big — and open — data and the internet of things (IoT) showed its power to be used for good during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Thanks to gauges that had been installed inside Harris County’s intricate bayou system, which is used to collect and drain water, residents and rescuers could see in real time where flooding was most severe. FEMA and other responders were then able to quickly mobilize resources to help areas in danger.

Even before a natural disaster hits, technology can save lives by pinpointing what areas will be hit hardest and identifying the best evacuation routes. This data gives rescuers actionable insights about how to best allocate and deploy resources as well.

For instance, NASA and NOAA, along with municipalities, are now utilizing sensor data, satellite imagery, and other surveillance to give first responders and volunteers valuable information into potential problems — before they happen. As more data is collected and mined, machine learning algorithms will continually improve. And that will improve the effectiveness of all rescue operations during natural disasters.

This is truly a noteworthy development. Everyone must be aware of how technology can aid us during natural disasters. As Chris Wilder, an IoT expert, says, “Although the severity of the disasters might increase, the loss of life has been greatly reduced by improvements in communications and the distribution of information.”

Autonomous technology delivers supplies, finds survivors, and assesses damage

Victims in the midst of natural disasters require food, water, clothes, medical equipment, life jackets, and other supplies to survive. In both rural and urban areas, it can be difficult to reach everyone. New technologies not only help us locate where people in need are, but also actually deliver life-saving supplies.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (that is, drones) can serve an especially important role during natural disasters, specifically when survivors are cut off from evacuation routes. For example, in China, the National Earthquake Response Support Service is using drones to find survivors, deliver food and supplies, and coordinate rescue attempts.

In the aftermath of disasters, drones provide assistance as well. Once Hurricane Irma in 2017 had passed, drones flew over areas in Florida, assessing the damage to buildings, roads, tunnels, bridges, and more. This has made relief efforts more effective, rebuilding more efficient, and insurance claims less time-consuming.

Beyond autonomous vehicles, boats, and aircraft, even autonomous balloons are proving to be very helpful when natural disasters strike. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico so hard in late 2017, Google’s Project Loon sent balloons to the island, and beamed internet connectivity to more than 100,000 people.

Technology: The Key to Drastically Improving Disaster Response

I’ve been amazed by how we’ve come together during natural disasters. Major advancements in technology, especially social media, mobile, and AI, have equipped us with tools to do an even better job. We must be sure to use these tools to the fullest extent when a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or other disaster hits. It’s the key to saving lives.

By |2018-01-02T20:36:18+00:00January 2nd, 2018|Culture, Current Events, Technology, Urban Planning|

Donald Trump’s Plan For Energy Independence, and What it Means for Climate Change

We are all aboard for a new and potentially challenging journey for America and the planet. With Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, it seems like all that can be agreed upon is that things are going to be very different for the next four years.

After the White House’s first busy months, we are all waiting with bated breath to see his policy changes and their results. Will Trump “make America great again,” or will his changes come with dire consequences, intended or not? As an NYC-based real estate entrepreneur myself, it will certainly be interesting to see how things unfold.

One of the big issues in America—though not necessarily for the Trump administration—is climate change, and for New York, this could ultimately be the difference between dry, sturdy coastal developments and severe flood damage. For others, like Trump, energy independence takes priority for its ability to provide jobs and reduce dependence on foreign resources.

It’s no surprise, then, that everyone from oil executives to environmentalists will have a stake in Donald Trump’s plan for energy independence. So I’ve taken it upon myself to boil down what exactly what the plan is, and what it could mean for climate change.

The Energy Plan

On March 28, Donald Trump signed an executive order that, among other things, initiated a review of the Clean Power Plan, rescinded a moratorium on coal mining on US federal lands, urged federal agencies to identify “identify all regulations, all rules, all policies … that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence,” and rescinded at least six Obama-era executive orders aimed at curbing climate change.

As new details and initiatives emerge, one thing is certain: The Trump Administration is committed to unleashing the potential of American energy. For Trump, American energy dominance is a “strategic economic and foreign policy goal.”

Here’s what else we know at the moment about what the Trump administration aims to do:

According to the White House, better energy policies will stimulate the economy and bring vast new wealth to the people. They will ensure our national security and protect our health. Only time will tell if this goal can be achieved in reality.

What the Trump administration thinks about climate change

Donald Trump has stepped back from his previous assertion that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese (he claimed it was a joke), and some do think that Trump believes more about climate change than he says. Still, the Trump administration’s energy has many worried about long-term negative implications to the environment.

Perhaps most important to consider is the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as leader of the EPA. This could be taken as a sign that the administration is out of step with what mainstream science is saying about the issue.

Scott Pruitt, considered by many scientists to be a skeptic of climate change, has admitted that science tells us that the climate is changing. But he says the level to which humans are impacting that change is not clear.

As Pruitt says, “The ability to measure and pursue the degree and the extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

This doesn’t really provide a clear answer of what Pruitt—or the administration that nominated him—will do specifically. But this line of thinking is out of step with what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asserts about 2016 being the hottest year on record: human activity is to blame for the heat.  

What Donald Trump’s plan means for climate change

Since Trump has made clear he will get rid of certain regulations, it’s probably best to start by looking at what impact that will have. As his March executive order made clear, the dismantling of Obama-era policies has begun. Other climate policies Trump plans to end include:

  • Waters of the United States
  • Climate Action Plan
    • What it does: The Climate Action Plan establishes a comprehensive strategy to guide efforts for climate change mitigation. Main goals are to cut carbon dioxide emissions, prepare the US for climate change impacts, and lead international initiatives to address climate change.
    • Why the Trump Administration will repeal it: Again, those that don’t agree with this rule see it as overly burdensome, unnecessary, and/or making Americans poorer. To the Trump administration, repealing it can stimulate business in all sorts of sectors, from energy and agriculture to manufacturing.
    • Dangers of a repeal: Too much carbon dioxide in the air is mainly what’s driving global warming. Lifting restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gasses could lead to severe environmental consequences. The United States is the second largest contributor of heat-trapping gasses, and not making efforts to reduce CO2 emissions could greatly (and negatively) impact the entire earth.

In addition to repealing these two environmental regulations, Donald Trump plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a comprehensive global climate deal that aims at climate change mitigation and mobilizing the world’s leading nations to find ways to solve the challenges we’ll face tomorrow. The Paris Agreement was signed by both the United States and China (the world’s greatest contributor of heat-trapping gasses), and was hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against climate change.

If Trump withdraws America from the Paris Agreement, much momentum in that fight to save the environment will be lost. Since the United States is a leader in the global arena, there is also risk that other countries will follow—which would greatly hinder worldwide efforts to solve key climate change concerns of today and tomorrow.

Climate change initiatives under Donald Trump

The Trump administration is focused on lifting regulations so that the economic benefits of energy can be fully realized. Exactly how Donald Trump will address climate change hasn’t been covered extensively, but the administration does say it is committed to “protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources.”

But many don’t believe the administration is committed to protecting the environment, as we’ve only really gotten details about how deregulation will unleash the potential of American energy. If lifting restrictions remains the top focus going forward (and no substantial efforts to address climate change challenges are made), the issues we face concerning the environment will at best be put to the side and at worst be greatly exacerbated during the Trump administration.

By |2020-05-07T19:49:06+00:00June 18th, 2017|Current Events|