Cities Return To Nature To Save The Planet

Toronto suffers from poor air qualitySource: Berkay Gumustekin/Unsplash

Betting on the green 0 in roulette is a long shot…but betting on green for the planet is a winner. We know that it’s good for the planet to recycle, waste less, and use cleaner energy. We bring our reusable bags to the grocery and play our favorite games at an online casino instead of on land to reduce our carbon footprint. But each individual person can only make so much of a difference. That’s why some forward-thinking cities are stepping in to lead the fight against climate change.

Lots of cities have taken on sustainability initiatives like incentivizing cleaner energy, banning some single-use plastics, or implementing carpool lanes to reduce traffic. Some cities are taking it a step further by trying to connect urban spaces back to their natural roots with city-wide projects. Find out how making cities a bit more natural can help offset some of their harmful effects.

Are cities bad for the planet?

The Earth existed for a very long time before people started living in cities just 7,000 years ago. And when the Industrial Revolution began in the early 1800s, large numbers of people started to migrate to those cities to work. By 1950, 30% of the global population lived in a city, and that number’s up to 54% today. In North America, we’re even more concentrated: today, 82% of North Americans live in urban areas.

The shift toward cities isn’t an entirely bad thing, but it has its faults. In today’s world, living in the city is actually better for the environment in some ways. For example, city-style dwellings tend to be smaller and more compact, making them easier to heat. Each person tends to occupy less space. And since cities put people closer to work, school, and entertainment, they can cut down on some commuting and allow people to use public transit or walk.

The flip side of cities is that they create much more concentrated pollution. The exhaust from vehicles and industry can affect air quality and produce harmful emissions. Look at Toronto, for example. Commuters into the city produce lots of emissions, and the concentrated population has led to contaminants in the surrounding areas and Lake Ontario. The city has suffered from smog and vehicle exhaust—the Nitrogen oxide in exhaust can cause respiratory issues and even cancer or birth defects.

However, Toronto is also a good example of how cities can take action to reverse their environmental impact. By closing coal-powered power plants and sponsoring projects like the Toronto Environmental Alliance and Greening Greater Toronto, they’ve been able to reduce emissions, protect resources, and make policy changes that favor sustainability.

Deforestation can contribute to climate changeSource: Ales Krivec/Unsplash

Why does it matter?

Besides just affecting the health of people who live in cities, the environmental impact that cities have on the world can be devastating. Carbon emissions from industry and vehicles are leading causes of global warming, since these gases get trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere and retain heat, causing the greenhouse effect.

Climate change has also been responsible for many extreme weather events that we’ve seen in the news lately. The rising temperatures mean longer heat waves, devastating droughts, and wildfires. And as the ocean heats up, tropical storms like hurricanes can become more dangerous, and polar ice caps can melt, causing higher water levels overall.

But these events don’t just affect humans. Flooding, snow melt, and drought have serious effects on animals and plants, too. When conditions change, habitats get disturbed, which has led to an alarming number of new endangered species. Climate change combined with urbanization has pushed many plants and animals out of their natural homes.

A lot of climate change is linked back to using non-renewable energy sources, like coal and fossil fuels, or depleting and damaging renewable resources, like timber and water. Even though some cleaner sources of energy are available, they’re not widespread enough yet, which could cause huge resource shortages in the near future.

For all of these reasons, people around the world have been taking action to help combat climate change and try to rejuvenate our planet. In order to make a big change, cities and industries will have to get on board. Fortunately, many cities are already leading the way by implementing planet-friendly initiatives.

Paris’s urban rooftop farm

Paris may be one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but its large population has an undeniable impact on the environment. That’s why a company called Agripolis decided to take action. Agripolis is an urban farming company, and they’re currently in the middle of constructing Europe’s largest urban farm, measuring around 14,000 square meters.

The farm is built on a rooftop to take advantage of traditionally unused space. It also uses the latest in sustainable agriculture methods, opting for organic practices that don’t use pesticides and using a closed watering system.

Urban farms are a great idea for several reasons. First of all, plants are often scarce in urban areas. Planting greenery can help clean the air and reduce the amount of carbon and pollutants in it. Plants also provide pollination sources for bees. But, most of all, the plants in this rooftop farm are meant to be eaten, making it good for people and the environment.

Transporting food is a huge contributor to pollution, since a lot of food travels around the world before it comes to your table, particularly if you live far from the equator. The Paris project aims to reduce “food miles” by bringing produce sources closer to home. The farm is large enough to produce around 1,000 kg of produce during the peak growing season. The rooftop garden will also have a restaurant that serves their produce and offer classes and workshops, as well as garden space for rent.

The success of projects like this one could change the face of agriculture, painting gardening as more accessible and making us rethink where our food comes from. And, choosing to eat more produce and less meat can help reduce greenhouse gases in and of itself—animal products generate up to 78% of agricultural emissions. Choosing plant protein over animal protein, whether you do it once a week or all the time, can be good for both the environment and your long-term health.

Singapore’s green walls

Singapore is also putting stock in the power of plants. The LUSH project (Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-rises) aims to make construction projects greener by including more plants in designs. The government is involved too, and subsidizes a chunk of the cost of putting in rooftop gardens and green walls.

Besides just being beautiful, green walls take advantage of traditionally unused vertical space and provide other environmental benefits. Plants help fight pollution, but they also have practical uses for cooling buildings. Traditional building materials soak up heat during the day, driving up the cost of air conditioning on hot Singapore days. By covering these walls with plants, businesses are able to fight the “heat island” effect.

You can find green walls on all sorts of buildings in Singapore now, from office buildings in high rises to hospitals and airports. That’s not all that Singapore is doing to make their city greener, though. Their impressive Green Mark program is part of a government initiative to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have more eco-friendly and sustainable buildings. Through government incentives, they plan for 80% of Singapore’s buildings to be Green Mark certified by 2030.

Green walls don’t just go on the outside of buildings though—they’re also a growing trend in indoor designs. Just like outdoor walls, they can take advantage of unused space like columns and help to purify the inside air. Many cleaning products and home textiles contain harmful chemicals like ammonia and formaldehyde, which plants can help reduce.

urban gardens can help reduce city air pollutionSource: chuttersnap/Unsplash

Utrecht bus stops

In the Netherlands, the city of Utrecht has launched a creative project to help out some of the world’s tiniest workers—bees. Bees are essential to our ecosystem because they pollinate plants, allowing them to produce fruit. And lately, they’ve been suffering. Parasites, viruses, and diseases are partially to blame, but damage caused by humans is also a big factor.

Industrialized farming relies heavily on pesticides and mono-cropping to increase yields. While this helps farms grow more produce and sell it for lower prices, the chemicals involved can be very harmful to the environment and to pollinators. Pesticides are meant to kill weeds and insects that hurt crops, but the same chemicals can kill bees, or alter their behavior and shorten their lifespan.

Large farms also tend to grow just one kind of crop, reducing the amount of diversity and affecting bees’ nutrition. And, destroying native crops that bees have pollinated in the past can take away valuable sources of nutrients. With fewer bees, we don’t just miss out on honey—but the declining number of bees also affects plants’ yields, leading to weaker crops. And according to Metro, it would cost almost 2 billion pounds a year to pay people to do the work bees do in the UK alone.

That’s why back in the Netherlands, Utrecht’s bus stops have gotten a makeover to help the bees. Hundreds of bus stops have been modified to include green roofs, which include grasses and wildflowers that provide the bees with nutrients. They also collect rainwater so there’s a clean water source. Plus, the bus stops look cuter than ever, which could even encourage people to take public transit and further cut down on their environmental impact.

How you can get involved

The road to reversing climate change definitely requires big changes in infrastructure, policy, and corporate practices. Still, there’s a lot that individuals can do to help reduce emissions and help create a more eco-friendly future. Here are some ways that you can do your part.

  • Take a look at what you eat. You might not be able to grow all of your own vegetables in your backyard, but you can still do your part to reduce food miles. Try shopping at the local farmer’s market and get to know what’s in season at each point in the year. Eating seasonally and locally can reduce the amount of emissions due to food transportation. Try to buy from smaller-scale farmers who follow sustainable practices. Also consider reducing the amount of meat in your diet. The meat industry is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases and destructive land use—see if a plant-based diet is right for you.
  • Work on your green thumb. Clean the air around your home with houseplants, and brighten up your patio with plants. Not only can you enjoy the sights and smells of flowers, but you can even grow food for yourself…and for your local bees. A lot of common produce, like tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, is easy to grow in containers, which can help you fit in a little garden on even the tiniest windowsill or balcony.
  • Travel less. Transportation is one of the biggest contributors to emissions. The car industry is developing new technology all the time—not just self-driving cars but efficient vehicles and cars that use alternative forms of energy like electricity. For example, a plane ticket to Vegas isn’t just expensive…air travel has more carbon emissions than other types of travel, so finding your favorite casino games online is a much greener way to play.
  • Travel smart: When you have to travel, try to choose an eco-friendly way to get where you’re going. Take the train when you can: trains are the most environmentally friendly way to travel. Or, if you live in the city, try riding a bike or walking if the weather’s nice. It’s not only a great way to cut back on emissions, but it’s a fun way to sneak in some exercise.
  • Create less waste. We’ve all heard about reduce, reuse, recycle. But there’s a reason they’re named in that order: reducing your consumption and reusing items when you can are much more effective than recycling, which uses a lot of energy in the process. One big contributor to waste is packaging. Try buying in bulk, filling up your own containers with pantry staples like flour, oil, and rice. You can also find products that come in reusable containers—save glass jars for leftovers or taking drinks to go. This concept doesn’t just apply to food, though. Try skipping plastic bags at the store, or ordering things from Amazon in “frustration-free packaging” to reduce the amount of trash you throw out as soon as you unpack your new stuff.
  • Try composting. Rather than filling up landfills with food scraps, look into composting, a process that breaks down organic waste into nutrient-rich compost. You can buy a composting kit, but many cities are introducing compost programs that take food scraps and yard waste and turn them into compost, which can later be used to nourish plants. This natural process gives your coffee grounds and fruit peels new life.
  • Stay informed. With a little research, you can find out how sustainable your favorite companies are. Many clothing and housewares companies use recycled materials and eco-friendly practices. Vote with your wallet and give your money to businesses that have environmentally sustainable practices.
  • Spend more time in nature. When’s the last time you took a long walk in the woods? Many of us spend the whole day inside and have gotten disconnected from the natural world. Going out and getting some fresh air not only helps you relax and enjoy a free moment, but can give you a better appreciation for the planet. When you see what’s out there, you see what’s worth fighting to save.

Look for local seasonal produce at the marketSource: ja ma/Unsplash

If you want to do more than make changes on a personal level, do a little research to find a green organization in your area. Whether it’s a group that cleans up natural areas, builds community gardens, or holds rallies to advocate for climate change, local organizations are a great way to help get the word out about environmentalism. Check out groups like Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, or Nature Conservancy, which advocate for environmental causes and give supporters various ways to help the cause.

The world is starting to wake up to the threats of resource depletion and climate change, but there’s still a long way left to go. The truth is, we all win when we bet on the environment, helping the Earth support us for many more years to come.

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