Tag Archives: footprint

Study predicts deserts in Spain if global warming continues

Southern Spain will become desert and deciduous forests will vanish from much of the Mediterranean basin unless global warming is reined in sharply, according to a new study.

Researchers used historical data and computer models to forecast the likely impact of climate change on the Mediterranean region, based on the targets for limiting global warming 195 countries agreed to during a summit in France last year.

“The Paris Agreement says it’s necessary to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), if possible 1.5 degrees,” Joel Guiot, a researcher at the National Center of Scientific Research in France who co-wrote the study, said. “That doesn’t seem much to people, but we wanted to see what the difference would be on a sensitive region like the Mediterranean.”

The authors examined the environmental changes the Mediterranean has undergone during the last 10,000 years, using pollen records to gauge the effect that temperatures had on plant life.

They came up with four scenarios pegged to different concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Three of the scenarios are already widely used by scientists to model future climate change, while the fourth was designed to predict what would happen if global warming remains at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.

The fourth scenario is particularly ambitious because average global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. It is, however, the only one under which Mediterranean basin ecosystems would remain within the range of changes seen in the past 10,000 years, the researchers found.

At the other extreme — the scenario in which global warming hits 2 degrees — deserts would expand in Spain, North Africa and the Near East, while vegetation in the region would undergo a significant change from the coasts right up to the mountains, the study states.

The region is considered a hotspot for biodiversity and its landscape also has long been cultivated by humans, making it a particularly interesting case study for the researchers, whose work was published online in the journal Science.

“Climate has always been important there,” said Guiot, noting that several civilizations — from the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks and the Romans — emerged around the Mediterranean over the past millennia.

While their demise probably resulted from social and political changes, climate conditions may have played a role in the past and could do so again in the future, he said.

Current flows of migrants are being driven largely by political unrest, but prolonged periods of drought could spark mass migrations of people due to climate change, Guiot said.

The researchers acknowledged that their study did not factor in the environmental impact of human activity in the Mediterranean basin. Some areas already are experiencing severe water shortages made worse by intensive agriculture and tree clearance.

“If anything, human action will exacerbate what the study projects, and it could turn out to be too optimistic,” Guiot said.

The Paris climate agreement comes into effect next week.


Apple cleaning up act in China with more renewable energy

Apple is cleaning up its manufacturing operations in China to reduce the air pollution caused by the factories that have assembled hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads during the past eight years.

The world’s most valuable company is working with its Chinese suppliers to eventually produce 2.2 gigawatts of solar power and other renewable energy.

The commitment announced this week represents Apple’s latest attempt to prevent the popularity of its devices and digital services from increasing the carbon emissions that are widely believed to changing the Earth’s climate.

Apple Inc. estimates 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution will be avoided as more of its suppliers rely on renewable energy between now and 2020. That’s like having four million fewer cars on the road for a year.

Panels capable of generating about 200 megawatts of solar power will be financed by Apple in the northern, southern and eastern regions of China, where many of its suppliers are located. The Cupertino, California, company is teaming up with its Chinese suppliers to build the capacity for the remaining 2 gigawatts of renewable energy, which will be a mix of solar, wind and hydroelectric power.

Foxconn, which runs the factory where the most iPhones are assembled, is pledging to contribute 400 megawatts of solar power as part of the 2-gigabyte commitment. The solar panels to be built by 2018 in China’s Henan Province are supposed to produce as much renewable energy as Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory consumes while making iPhones.

Apple has made protecting the environment a higher priority since Tim Cook replaced the late Steve Jobs as the company’s CEO four years ago.

“Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time, and the time for action is now,” Cook said in a statement. “The transition to a new green economy requires innovation, ambition and purpose.”

Apple just completed projects in China that generate 40 megawatts of solar energy to offset the power required by its 24 stores and 19 offices in the country. All of Apple’s data centers, offices and stores in the U.S. already have been running on renewable energy.

“When you look at all the air pollution in China, all the manufacturing that is done there has a lot to do with it, so this is a significant step in the right direction,” said Gary Cook, a senior analyst for Greenpeace, a group devoted to protecting the environment.

Apple also has a financial incentive to help make China a better place to live. The greater China region is Apple’s second biggest market behind the U.S. Tim Cook has made it clear that he wants the company to make even more inroads as rising incomes enable more of China’s population to buy smartphones and other gadgets.

Google, Facebook and other technology companies also have been investing heavily in renewable energy in an effort to cut the pollution caused by power needed to run the data centers that process and store information for the users of the digital services.

By some estimates, technology products and services account for as much of the world’s carbon emissions as the airline industry.

Apple can easily afford to go green. The company had $203 billion in cash at the end of June.

Tiny homes, big solutions …

The activists who’ve rallied behind “We are the 99 percent” are swinging hammers and raising money to build homes for the homeless in Madison — 99-square-foot homes.

Volunteers with Occupy Madison’s OM Build program are helping to take the tiny house movement — a trend in living that has seized the dreams of individuals seeking to simplify their lives by downsizing their dwellings — in a new direction.

“There’s so many people out there that are struggling quite a bit and it’s just hard to get housing at this point,” Occupy Madison board member Brenda Konkel said during a Madison Common Council meeting on May 6. “This is one tiny, tiny answer to that problem.”

At the council meeting, the nonprofit won unanimous support from the alders for an experimental tiny house village. The village, to be established on the site of an auto repair shop, will consist of nine tiny houses, a workshop, kitchen-lounge, retail store and bathhouse, as well as garden beds and landscaping.

“I would be happy to live across the street from this development,” said resident and former Alder Satya Rhodes-Conway during the hearing. Nearly 50 people stepped to the podium to speak on the issue, most of them in favor of the project.

“I kind of wish there was an empty lot across the street from my house so I could say, ‘Come here,’” she added, noting the sweat equity requirement of the future tiny house dwellers, the respect Occupy has shown neighbors and the sustainable elements of the plan.

Occupy’s rezoning request for one-third of an acre in the Emerson East neighborhood reached the council with a recommendation from the plan commission, but there was some opposition at the council meeting from people who raised concerns that the “portable shelters” don’t meet code, potentially creating safety issues and negatively impacting property values.

Occupy Madison treasurer and house designer Bruce Wallbaum sought to ease concerns: “We’re going to invest in this property financially and with volunteers.”

Ald. Larry Palm, who represents the district where the village will be located, also sought to reduce worries, noting revisions to the plan, including some stipulations that he added at the council meeting. Palm is convinced Occupy is committed to the cause. He said he’s inspired by the volunteers’ vision for affordable housing, sustainable development and communal living.

Their vision is shared by advocates for the homeless in cities where other tiny house communities are being established. Dozens of organizations have stated interest in founding tiny house villages and several communities are in various states of development. In Austin, Texas, there’s Community First. In Oregon, there’s Dignity Village in Portland and Opportunity Village in Eugene. And in Olympia, Washington, Quixote Village opened on Christmas Eve in 2013.

Quixote began several years ago as a camp for the homeless protesting a local ordinance prohibiting people from lying or sitting on a sidewalk. Last December, the camp’s occupants left their tents for the 2.17-acre village, which consists of 30 cottages, each about 144 square feet.

A full-time manager and a part-time resident advocate work in Quixote, which is supported by the nonprofit Panza, named for Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s servant in Miguel de Cervantes’ magnum opus.

A tiny house “can be very cozy,” said project spokesman Raul Salazar. “It is whatever the resident makes it. Some people have really settled in. Others have used it as a home base and a place to sleep at night, but do not spend tons of time in the home during the day.”

He added, “Our situation is not about someone who has chosen to downsize. Our residents were homeless, living in tents prior to being a resident in our village. The appeal here is actually having a roof over your head, no matter how big it is.”

But downsizing is the appeal for many who have opted to leave large homes, condominiums, apartments or lofts to reside in a tiny house — which is not a new way to live but rather a very old way.


Tiny housers are fond of reminding people that Henry David Thoreau, for his 2-year, 2-month and 2-day experiment on Walden Pond, took shelter in a “tightly shingled and plastered” English-style cottage about 10-by-15-feet.

“Some try (tiny house living) for a few months and others really make it a way of life,” said Mikey Browning, who’s lived in a humble home of 140 square feet in southern Minnesota for three years. “I wanted to reduce my footprint. The best way to do that was to reduce the footprint of my home.”

Tiny house advocate Dee Williams, after a health crisis and an awakening, decided about 10 years ago to sell a three-bedroom house in the Pacific Northwest and build an 84-square-foot home.

She wrote about the experience in the recently released The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir from Blue Rider Press: “Admitting that I’m ‘happy enough’ makes me wonder if I’m falling short of my potential as a middle-class American; like I should want more out of life than this tiny house and the backyard, and the way it feels to sit on the porch and watch the sun come up.

“But the facts are the facts: I found a certain bigness in my little house — a sense of largeness, freedom and happiness that comes when you see there’s no place else you’d rather be.”

Williams founded Portland Alternative Dwellings to teach others about the simple life, and she has opened her tiny house to many of the curious.

New Mexican Pedra Mitchell decided this winter that her home sweet home should be a house-to-go; one of her few new possessions in her downsized life is Williams’ memoir.

Relatives and friends tease Mitchell about the size of her living space — 110 square feet. “My brother says his doghouse is bigger, but you should see my brother’s mortgage,” said Mitchell, who doesn’t have a mortgage.

The housing crisis has helped convince many of the newest tiny housers to go small. One in 10 Americans live in the 100 hardest-hit cities, where the number of underwater homeowners range from 22 percent to 56 percent, according to a report released on May 8 by the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. The study ranks Milwaukee as the third hardest-hit large city, with widespread underwater mortgages.

Meanwhile, a survey at TheTinyLife website shows that about 68 percent of tiny house people have no mortgage.

That’s the type of information that helped persuade Breeze Skinner to settle into her tiny house, currently parked on a farm outside Springfield, Illinois. She’d been renting an apartment but had the itch to own. “I was not seeing anything I could afford. I didn’t want to get into a situation where I couldn’t afford my mortgage and might lose my house,” Breeze said. 

Last fall, she visited a friend living in a tiny house and experienced the “small house swoon.”

These tiny house people connect at meet-ups and even a new annual conference held this spring in Charlotte, North Carolina. But mostly they click online, through Facebook and Tumblr, as well as websites that:

• Show where they live (tinyhousemap.com).

• Offer construction advice (tinyhousebuild.com).

• Promote resources (tinyhouseparking.com).

• Sell houses and plans (tumbleweedhouses.com).

• Post listings for really small real estate (tinyhouselistings.com).

More than 150,000 people follow TinyHouseListings on Facebook and others receive the daily emails of new homes to build, buy, rent or simply occupy. For instance:

FOR SALE: Cabin, land, solar panels, wind turbines, water tank, deep well, chicken coop with chickens, even a chain saw. Complete turnkey off-grid living setup.

FOR SALE: A lofted tiny house on wheels — 200 square feet — that comes with 1.66 acres of land. Plenty of trees, walking trail, gravel drive up to tiny home, wildflowers and lots of sunshine.

Tiny houses, bold cause

Occupy Madison’s OM Build is working to establish a cooperative eco-village of tiny houses at 2046 E. Johnson St., Madison — currently the site of Sanchez Motors.

The houses would be 99 square feet — 14-by-7-feet with a porch — and include a bed, loft, trailer, wheels, solar panel, propane heater, compostable toilet and a water system with a sink.

The effort to create housing for the homeless or formerly homeless, as well as a workshop, kitchen-lounge, gardens and retail store, involves thousands of volunteer hours, more than $80,000 in property improvements and a fundraising drive to purchase the property.

Source: Occupy Madison/OM Build

— L.N.

10 U.S. mayors unite to address climate change

Mayors from 10 major cities this week unveiled a united effort to boost energy efficiency in buildings to cut as much climate change pollution as generated by 1 million to 1.5 million passenger vehicles every year and lower energy bills by nearly $1 billion annually.

The cities participating in the City Energy Project are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City.

The project is an initiative from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation and gets inspiration from New York City’s sustainability efforts, as well as funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, along with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a news release, said, “New York City’s sustainability efforts are a major reason our greenhouse gas emissions are down 19 percent since 2007 and our air is cleaner than it has been in more than 50 years. They have also substantially driven down energy costs for consumers. “The City Energy Project will bring the significant economic and environmental benefits that energy efficiency has to offer to other cities — and accelerate progress by helping them learn from each other’s successes.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the project a promising opportunity. He said, “More energy efficiency means new jobs and continued economic growth, and a more sustainable City, which will lead to a further increase in the quality of life for the people of Chicago.”

Largely due to their electricity consumption, buildings are the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions, representing 40 percent nationwide — more than either the transportation or industrial sectors. That number is even more dramatic at the city level, with more than half of carbon emissions in most U.S. cities coming from buildings — and in some cities as much as 75 percent. Much of the energy these buildings use, however, is wasted.

But there is technology and there are best practices that can make buildings vastly more efficient.

“City skylines have long been symbols of aspiration and innovation — this project takes that to a new level,” said Laurie Kerr, director of the project for the NRDC. “These mayors are showing there is the political will to put people to work to build a healthier, more prosperous future for America’s cities. In the face of a changing climate and increasingly extreme weather, they know they must act now to make their cities more resilient and sustainable.”

The project is projected to save ratepayers a combined total of nearly $1 billion annually on energy bills (at current prices).