Building Partnerships for a Low-Carbon Future

Creating a low-carbon society will require public-private collaboration related to buildings and cities

Tokyo Skyline (Credit - Sean Pavone)

[Note: This is my response to this year’s Masdar blogging contest which asks the following question:

“In your view, what are the policies that governments should adopt to encourage public-private partnership and enable the private sector to develop the goods and services necessary for a global transition to a low-carbon economy by 2030?”]

In 1800, only 10% of the world’s people lived in cities. By 1990, it jumped to 40%. Today, over half live in cities. It’s estimated that by the end of this decade, 60% people will live not only in cities, but in megacities (cities with population of 10 million or more). By 2030, a staggering 80% will live in cities. This has had — and will continue to have — huge environmental and social consequences.

Therefore, while the transition to a low-carbon society will require action by various sectors and at multiple scales, the most important actions — and most pragmatic — will be those related to cities, in general, and buildings, in particular. As the world is quickly becoming more urbanized, if we are to transition to a low-carbon society we must not merely make this the century of the city, but rather the century of the low-carbon city. Continue reading

A rocker’s roll

Re: Neil Young says political leadership ‘trashed’ Canada

I share Neil Young’s criticism of a political leadership that has been directly and indirectly responsible for diminishing our environment and neglecting good governance.

I also agree with David Suzuki’s comments about how absurd it is that the environment was not an integral part of the economic debate in the campaign.

The economy and ecology are intimately related, but it is the economy that is a subset of ecology – not the other way around.


Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in The Globe & Mail.

On value

Stepwell (Edward Burtynsky)

The president of the University of Windsor, Alan Wildeman, wrote an op-ed stating the case for a liberal arts education, sending a warning that we ignore the humanities at our peril. Even though I’m trained as an engineer, I fully agree with this sentiment. However, I found that unlike many prominent journalists who have also recently defended the liberal arts (for example, see Fareed Zakaria’s “In Defense of a Liberal Education”, Nicholas Kristof’s “Starving for Wisdom” and Frank Bruni’s “College’s Priceless Value”), Wildeman falls prey to the very type of reductionist mindset that a liberal arts education supposedly seeks to overcome: that of unfettered, neoliberal, free-market capitalism. This betrayal of the very values he seeks to defend is unfortunate and exasperating, particularly since he is by no means alone.  Continue reading

Green urbanism: Seeing the forest for the trees

Tree City Architecture

Globe & Mail journalist Doug Saunders recently penned an op-ed analyzing the the state of the world’s forests. The picture he paints is rather rosy. Saunders reports that they’re growing back, particularly in countries with their increasing urbanization, commercial agriculture and economic growth, such as Brazil and Indonesia.

The claims he makes about global forest growth, however, contradict those found the Inclusive Wealth Report 2014, a joint initiative of the United Na­tions University and United Nations Envi­ronment Programme. This report found that between 2000 and 2012, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Russia and the United States saw 117 million hectares of tree loss, representing about half of all tree loss this century. The report also found that the biggest single-country loss of tree cover was seen in Brazil,  though Indonesia is now losing forests at a faster rate due to illegal harvesting. “For every hectare of new growth in those same five countries, more than two hectares were lost”, the report claims.  Continue reading

The Roots of a Crisis


The Witness”, by Paul Kingsnorth, was sheer brilliance. Not because it provided good answers but because it asked deep and important questions: What is the nature of nature? Who decided that the planet should remain in a state that only humans find conducive? Is this not a form of clinging to something that is not fixed?

Once we remove illusions and see things as they are, we come to understand that the nature of reality is change. All “things” are actually just processes with no real ground to stand on. Nature is not only in flux, it is flux. Everything—from wind to cabbage to humans to dinosaurs to entire continents—is impermanent, interrelated, and empty.  Continue reading

Human ecology and the story of technology


The leaders of the G7 have all agreed to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century and our Prime Minister thinks that “technology, not economic sacrifice” will achieve it. This line of thinking is not only a false dichotomy, but it sends the wrong signal: it implies that humans can – no, should – continue blindly producing and consuming an ever-increasing mountain of junk because some techno-fix will magically solve the problem upstream. This kind of narrow worldview is not part of the solution, it’s the source of the problem.   Continue reading

The disproportion between what we lose and what we gain

It’s just been confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. A new paper in the journal Science has just reported that humans are “on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them”, something its authors are calling the “precipice of a major extinction event”. Coral reefs—one of the world’s most important ecosystems—have declined by 40 per cent as a result. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund announced that over half the world’s wildlife has been lost in the past 40 years alone.

This is the result of nothing less than a total indifference towards, and deliberate assault on, the living world—and it’s beyond depressing.

British environmental journalist George Monbiot summed it up best: “This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing.” To say the least. Monbiot goes on: Continue reading