Helwan Felappi and Estelle Tromeur, photos by Emilie Lapillonne
Global cities are the very symbols of global economic growth and international connections. They bring together millions of people in restricted zones of the globe and concentrate massive amounts of technologies, industries and other various facilities. Consequently, however, they require immoderate amounts of natural resources and have become major polluting factors that cause substantial deterioration. As concern for environmental issues progressively grows, it has become a necessity to adapt world cities as to preserve our home planet and ensure the population’s well-being on the long run.
Devastation on an unprecedented scale, dozens of victims, and billions of dollars of damage resulted from Hurricane Harvey, which recently wrecked havoc on the Gulf coast of the United States, flooding cities such as Houston. It isn’t the first environmental catastrophe to have hit the country in the past few years. Experts have suggested this could be due in part to global warming. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy terrorised the eastern Coast for over a week, grinding the economy to a near complete halt. Even a Global City as large as New York City was greatly affected. All commuter services, the Stock exchange, and public schools were closed, and, over the entire country, 75 billion dollars of damages, equal to the total wealth of the richest man in the world at the time, were deplored.
Cities are not just the victims of environmental hazards, but are also a major factor behind environmental issues. This began with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th Century. The rise of manufacturing and factory production lead to an exodus of rural population to urban centers, whose population then skyrocketed over the next few centuries. Today, roughly half of the world’s population lives in cities, and a large fraction of that in global cities. This, of course, also lead to an exponential increase in the resources needed to sustain those who live there, and what they produce. Together with an increased number of transports such as cars, trains and planes, this dramatically increased pollution levels, with a devastating impact on the environment.
Advances in the quality of human life have caused a significant increase in consumption per capita, gross national product, and fuel consumption, all of which have negatively impacted the environment, in a variety of ways. For one part, air quality has been substantially affected by the mass production and consumption linked to global cities. “Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, humanity has caused a 40% augmentation in CO2 concentration”, cites The Washington Post. What is more, car traffic and residential energy consumptions have lead to a dramatic rise in particle pollution, which, added to CO2 emissions, often results in thick pollution clouds hovering over cities worldwide . This phenomenon has been particularly noticeable in China, the world’s number one polluting nation. Indeed, Beijing or even Shanghai have often had their sky completely clouded by pollution, an issue which the government has only begun to address in recent years. Another environmental sector impacted by global cities is water quality and climate. The combustion of fossil fuels has resulted in a heating of the atmosphere, which in turn increased evaporation levels and led to more rainfall, something epitomised by the recent wave of hurricanes in the Caribbean. Waste lands, industries and air impurities linked to global cities are sources of pollution that have caused rains to gain in acidity and water sources to become non consumable, thus endangering the surrounding fauna and flora and jeopardising humanity’s future access to water and crops. This destruction of our natural resources is also accompanied by their overuse : In this era of mass advertising and consumption, the average person now consumes twice as much as they did fifty years ago. Due to such consumption, should it be in water, manufactured goods, or even energy, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been used up in the past three decades. In the United States alone, only 4% of the original forests still remain, and 40% of the waterways have become undrinkable. Conscious consuming and recycling to avoid excess waste and destruction of natural resources are thus key points yet to be taken into account in city lifestyles.
There are some positive notes, however. In recent years, authorities have taken steps to limit the ecological “footprint’’ of our society. In 1997, the Kyoto protocol to limit polluting emissions not only cleaned up the fouled air and water of Japan’s rust belt but also strengthened Japan’s economy, establishing its reputation as the premier manufacturer of pollution control equipment. More importantly, in 2015, representatives from 195 countries, including the two largest CO2 emitters China and USA, met together at the COP21 in Paris, and signed an historic climate deal. Although the current American president has recently pledged not to honour the agreement, its impact is predicted to be considerable, along with its ambitious aims. “I bet Donald Trump’s successor, should he be democrat or republican, will cancel his inconsiderate and counter-productive decision to withdraw from the Paris deal,” states a journalist from The Washington Post. As for now, the signatories of the Paris Deal are aiming to contain temperature increases compared to “pre industrial times’’ at below 2 degrees Celsius. In addition, they also commit to fostering low greenhouse gas emissions development, through, for example, an increased use of renewable energy. Renewable energy is considered to be one of the best solutions to the world’s environmental problems. Unlike more traditional energy sources such as coal and gas, they have a much lower impact on the environment and, most importantly, they are an infinite source of energy that will never deplete. Such sources include wind, solar, and hydraulic energies. In 2014, Denmark set a new world record for wind production, providing 39.1 percent of its overall electricity from wind energy. To top it off, the country seems well on track to meet its 2020 goal of making it 50% of its overall power. The popularization of electric vehicles and solar panels are also an important step forward when it comes to ecological progress.
As global population rapidly escalates, and particularly in global cities, it should seem inconceivable to maintain the destructive linear system of production currently in place. It is vital to think on the long run, and to set a sustainable lifestyle, without which mankind will rapidly be wiped off the surface of the planet. Mankind must adapt to its environment instead of attempting to subdue it. As Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”