Climate change

Biblio (95) Rebuild by Design

Rebuild by Design is an initiative of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Even if sometimes from Europe such a ministry seems unlikely for the US, it has existed for decades, with influential policies, although not always on the good sense… as everywhere. HUD is looking for a way to tackle the urban resilience challenge posed by climate change, taking into account the Sandy lessons. These lessons can benefit other rebuilding efforts or risk prevention schemes. The initiative has formalized as a competition whose results were published in April, with 10 winners proposing alternatives for damaged coastal cities. There are big names from the architectural world, as OMA, but the projects are not just drawings, as they benefit from public participation; according to the available information, what is really chosen is not a team of architects, but local coalitions that have built consensus and will receive grants to develop proposals that have been formalized by specialists.

Back of the envelope calculations (4) An hour, six months, food and cars


Sometimes I’ve heard girls complaining that sweets are like “ a minute in your mouth and a lifetime in your waist”. CO2 is a bit like that, but on the other side.
Some years ago we produced a technical paper for the Basque Government on climate change and urban planning. A fast calculation showed that in the current climate context of the Basque Country a hybrid car’s worth in CO2 emissions running at 110 km/h was equivalent to six months of carbon capture by a mature European beech. This back of the envelope figure was in fact more sophisticated, and based on several science documents including specific studies on the growth behaviour of different species and other factors. On the whole of the Basque Country (both a well forested and highly developed area by Spanish standards) forests were worth 2,9 million tonnes of CO2 capture by year, while the global regional emissions were some 20 million.
Back of the envelope calculations must be handled with care in climate change terms, as there are many confuse data, not always based on good will. Concisely, trees absorb CO2 to grow, and this CO2 goes to wood mass and in part to the soil; the metabolism of the plant defines how fast that plant grows, so a given species could have quite different behaviours as CO2 sink in Maine compared to Madrid or to Manila, as climate and soil qualities matter. In the end, buying car enticed by the fact that a tree will be planted to absorb that CO2 seems quite untrue; you could choose to drive just a few minutes a year, but I’m not sure this is the case. In the end, we are not that far from the kind of ad strategy also used for… cakes.

Maps 2014 (9) Renewable energy in the UK

Renewable energy production systems installed in Europe during recent years mean that often areas that for most of the XXth century have just been energy consumers have become producers. This has meant revenues, but also negative externalities of many kinds.

As one more element in an increasingly growing trend all over Europe, the UK, up until now among the forefront states in terms of climate policy and mitigation, shows signs of a shift. And economic reasons are there, which requires at least a thought as in a democracy a government is elected to choose between opposed options. A recent report (November 2013) by Stephen Gibbons, from the London School of Economics, studied the impact of wind turbines on real estate values in neighbouring areas, with reductions averaging 11%. In June 2013 there were news about the study by the UK government of a compensation scheme for neighbouring communities. has published an interactive map showing the extent of the renewable energy systems across the UK, each with a potential impact; and the Highland Council map reveals the degree to which northern Scotland is receiving wind farms. On the other side, the opposition to wind farms in Europe is organizing initiatives as EPAW; its real capacity to push for alternatives  depends on how they will reconcile potentially contradictory demands of their members. Those willing to defend the real estate value of their land, often to build more, can disagree with those opposing wind farms just for the sake of environmental and landscape conservation.

Highland Council map

This can lead, in a context as the European one, with an aging population and a severe depopulation of the countryside, to a division between “franchised areas” in which almost everything is allowed, and “protected areas” in which these impacts are prevented. These protected areas would be rather different from what nowadays we know as such, as these (low or zero human presence, but environmental values) could eventually be “franchised”. After all, the European Landscape Convention says that a landscape exists by virtue of the presence of an observer…

But there may also be here a cultural issue. A 2009 report by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, based on US cases, showed just a minimal impact on real estate values. This would not mean Americans love their windmills, but rather that they have a different relative perception of their impact (and a different method in the reports).

Biblio (72) TERM 2013

The TERM 2013 report by the European Environmental Agency (which can be downloaded at analyses the effects on environment of the transport policies, considering the targets, the EU has established to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

These targets are linked to policies set to promote public transportation and non-motorised mobility. It seems that emissions linked to mobility are smaller than the targets established for each year, a positive outcome; but overall emissions are still 25% over the 1990 levels used for targets. Urban pollution problems caused by nitrogen dioxide are relevant and growing due to the expansion of the share of diesel vehicles in the overall fleet.

The report confirms that the cities in which public transportation and non-motorised modes are strong have less pollution and produce less greenhouse gases.

Under the rug (5) As the rug roars

Male is the capital of the Maldives. Slightly over 100.000 people on a very restricted space in the middle of the Indian ocean. A substantial part of the city has been recently built, and land reclamation is still active, as the images from show. A race between urban and demographic growth on one side, and sea level rise on the other side due to climate change.

But this is not the Netherlands, or New Orleans. There is no hinterland to reach in case of flood. And anything thrown to the sea could be nearby, and brought back by the tide.

Hypothesis 200 m (1)


Planning is somehow a narrative thing: you have to create a story that can be of interest to your audience, as to make sure they can become involved in a project that, finally, is theirs as they are the ones living there. But it can become a narrative on its own, or just a way to rediscover a space you have known for a long time, just by getting conscious of features are not aparent every day. And this is clear when you talk about large scale planning.

I once read “The stone raft”, by the portuguese Nobel writer José Saramago, a book in which the Iberian Penninsula gets cut from Europe following precisely the political borders to go for walk around the Atlantic: the Pyrennées get sharply cut along the border line, and in a given moment Andalusians flock to Malaga to see Gibraltar Rock pass along, as it keeps in its original place (well, that also happened somehow in “Hector Servadac” by Jules Verne). So I decided to think about a less violent cut (sort of…). I downloaded SRTM elevation data for the Iberian Penninsula and Europe-wide data from the European Environmental Agency. If the whole world was to see a rise in the sea level of 200 m (for whatever reason, be it climate change -whose forecasts are way inferior to this figure- or any other you can think of), the whole of Iberia would be an island… albeit a quite different in outline from what we know now.


Being coherent, this hypethesis means most of Europe would get under the sea. The Netherlands and Denmark would be mere memories, Paris, London, Berlin and Rome would also be under water, the Ruhr valley would be a great lake and most of Hungary would be a large bay.

Eur-postSpain, Switzerland and Austria would be the countries in the least bad situation, as most of their territory would be untouched. What is under the 200 m contour?

Biblio (60) IPCC report on climate change 2013

 biblio 60 ipcc

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is being released in four parts between September 2013 and November 2014. What has become available is the summary for policy makers, a 36 pages pdf. It does not include detailed predictions for different world regions, but it is an interesting reading (albeit a very technical one)

Big in Paris (2)

paris-den-2Here we have most of the iconic Paris elements. The Louvre, at the center, is a large museum that has indeed a sizeable energy use as it receives thousands of visitors a year and requires strict conservation measures for its art treasures. On the central- nothern part the Opera Garnier is another big energy user, also surrounded by massive buildings. The Musée d’Orsay or the Centre Pompidou are also visible, but the biggest spot is the Grand Palais, at the begining of the Champs Elysees, to the west. A giant greenhouse, it is a relevant building in the urban landscape, and also potentially a big energy and ressources user. In this dense area, in which streets seem carved out of a giant block, the river Seine and the Tuileries gardens are the biggest open spaces, linked to the begining of the Champs Elysées and the Esplanade des Invalides.