Sustainability and Development – Defining Relationships between Humanity, Energy and the Natural World

A new ‘Zeitgeist’ is increasingly taking hold in growing pockets of society, politics and the business world. All indications point to one direction – towards the concept of ‘sustainability’ dominating human behavior and thinking in the twenty-first century.


>”As the urbanization wave around the globe rolls on, megacities are increasingly becoming the epicenter of human life and economic activity for billions of people. Inevitably, this trend will bring about new challenges and exacerbate looming, well-known challenges such as climate change. As the World Economic Forum notes in a newly-released report on “The Competitiveness of Cities”: “Cities are especially intensive users of energy, food and water, given their concentrations of people and economic activity, and are responsible for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions. Their challenge, particularly in the developing world, is to fuse technology and markets to become much more efficient in using available resources.” Climate Actions and Economic Significance of Cities Source: Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP); data in overview from various sources Thus, global needs for clean water, sanitation and food as well as demand for energy, mobility (transportation) and for an improved standard of living will increase and put tremendous strain on existing natural resources.

The growing awareness of environmental problems – especially that without a timely, coordinated, and ‘corrective’ intervention by governments the problem of climate change will eventually become irreversible – in addition to the perception of natural resources’ finite supply brings any debate back to the fundamental question of how to sustain life on earth. What is Sustainable Development about?  The first association that comes to mind has to do with energy needs in general – and the finite fossil fuel supply amid projected future demand growth – and carbon-emissions-free energy in particular.

Renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydro) have the potential to pick up the slack and supply a larger percentage of projected future energy demand globally. In this context, technological innovation represents one suitable solution to problems related to sustainability. However, a different angle to tackle these problems is a change in human behavior based on better information and awareness leading to energy savings by implementing simple energy efficiency measures. This point emphasizes the importance of public awareness and/or education, which can serve as a catalyst for action – i.e. a change of course. Apart from concerns about energy, the concept of sustainability includes all aspects of political, economic, and social life in so far as present actions may constrict future actions.

The so-called UN ‘Brundtland Report’ from 1987 is very instructive on this topic and defines sustainable development as follows: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development does imply limits – not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities. But technology and social organization can be both managed and improved to make way for a new era of economic growth. […]

To date, many companies have realized the merits of modifying their products and processes to become more sustainable. (…) But, these [incremental] innovations will only get us so far. What we need are not just better products and processes, but fundamentally different business models. We need companies and industries whose underlying structures are, at worst, zero negative impact, and at best, contributing to the regeneration and restoration of natural, human and social capital.” The US utility industry will have no other choice than taking steps along the path towards more ‘value creation from sustainability’ in order to remain a viable business model for future generations.”<

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Quantitative Analysis of Factors Contributing to Urban Heat Island Intensity

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Ryu, Young-Hee, Jong-Jin Baik, 2012: Quantitative Analysis of Factors Contributing to Urban Heat Island Intensity. J. Appl. Meteor. Climatol., 51, 842–854.

Duane Tilden‘s insight:

>This study identifies causative factors of the urban heat island (UHI) and quantifies their relative contributions to the daytime and nighttime UHI intensities using a mesoscale atmospheric model that includes a single-layer urban canopy model. A midlatitude city and summertime conditions are considered. Three main causative factors are identified: anthropogenic heat, impervious surfaces, and three-dimensional (3D) urban geometry. Furthermore, the 3D urban geometry factor is subdivided into three subfactors: additional heat stored in vertical walls, radiation trapping, and wind speed reduction. To separate the contributions of the factors and interactions between the factors, a factor separation analysis is performed. In the daytime, the impervious surfaces contribute most to the UHI intensity. The anthropogenic heat contributes positively to the UHI intensity, whereas the 3D urban geometry contributes negatively. In the nighttime, the anthropogenic heat itself contributes most to the UHI intensity, although it interacts strongly with other factors. The factor that contributes the second most is the impervious-surfaces factor. The 3D urban geometry contributes positively to the nighttime UHI intensity. Among the 3D urban geometry subfactors, the additional heat stored in vertical walls contributes most to both the daytime and nighttime UHI intensities. Extensive sensitivity experiments to anthropogenic heat intensity and urban surface parameters show that the relative importance and ranking order of the contributions are similar to those in the control experiment.

Keywords: Urban meteorology

Received: May 7, 2011;<

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NASA – Ecosystem, Vegetation Affect Intensity of Urban Heat Island Effect

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NASA researchers studying have found that the intensity of the “heat island” created by a city depends on the ecosystem it replaced and on the regional climate.

Duane Tilden‘s insight:

I have measured the heat island effect in the Greater Vancouver area, specifically Metrotown, Burnaby to be in the order of 6 deg C, during a late summer evening.

>”The placement and structure of cities — and what was there before — really does matter,” said Marc Imhoff, biologist and remote sensing specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “The amount of the heat differential between the city and the surrounding environment depends on how much of the ground is covered by trees and vegetation. Understanding urban heating will be important for building new cities and retrofitting existing ones.”

Goddard researchers including Imhoff, Lahouari Bounoua, Ping Zhang, and Robert Wolfe presented their findings on Dec. 16 in San Francisco at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Scientists first discovered the heat island effect in the 1800s when they observed cities growing warmer than surrounding rural areas, particularly in summer. Urban surfaces of asphalt, concrete, and other materials — also referred to as “impervious surfaces” — absorb more solar radiation by day. At night, much of that heat is given up to the urban air, creating a warm bubble over a city that can be as much as 1 to 3°C (2 to 5°F) higher than temperatures in surrounding rural areas.

The impervious surfaces of cities also lead to faster runoff from land, reducing the natural cooling effects of water on the landscape. More importantly, the lack of trees and other vegetation means less evapotranspiration — the process by which trees “exhale” water. Trees also provide shade, a secondary cooling effect in urban landscapes.

Using instruments from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, as well as the joint U.S. Geological Survey-NASA satellite Landsat, researchers created land-use maps distinguishing urban surfaces from vegetation. The team then used computer models to assess the impact of urbanized land on energy, water, and carbon balances at Earth’s surface. <

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