Articles You Might Have Missed

Around the world people are taking the initiative to mitigate climate change. Here are some good news briefs compiled by the Climate Issue group of the LWV of Bellingham/Whatcom.

Everything Old Is New Again: Using ancient practices to mitigate Climate Change

The world is searching for new ideas and mechanical fixes to the problems of global warming, caused mostly by the burning of fossil fuels, itself a new idea at one time. Here are two good news stories about natural solutions that have been around for centuries and are helping to mitigate the ravages of climate change.

Saving Cities Naturally

Hainan, an oval-shaped island floating in the South China Sea, not only resembles a sponge, it actually is … an engineered sea sponge. Yu Kongjian, dean of Peking University’s College of Architecture and the founder of TURENSCAPE, one of China’s largest landscape firms, will tell you that trying to protect cities from flooding with hard concrete infrastructure is a losing proposition. His idea is to forgo installing artificial structures across urban areas, and, instead, create cities with natural spaces — parks, lakes and wetlands as well as using smaller tools — like bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavement and green roofs to absorb the extra water … in other words, to create … ”sponge cities.”

As cities grow, they tend to pave over their permeable surfaces; water doesn’t percolate anymore, increasing the risk of floods and causing the groundwater to disappear forever. Climate change has not only led to sea level rise, but also to more flooding. The “sponge city” idea is inspired by ancient Chinese agricultural approaches to water management. Think of the carved-out rice terraces in China’s southwest region — using basic cut-and-fill methods to cultivate mountainous terrain with water-filled paddies.

When floods ravaged Beijing in 2013, Kongjian proposed the holistic concept of the “sponge city.” Hainan, which suffers severe floods due to monsoons and global warming, was a perfect site for demonstrating the concept. In 2015, national and local governments kicked off a campaign to transform the island’s two major cities as part of the “Sponge City Program” — which began with 16 cities (more were added later.) After Kongjian and his team identified at-risk areas and gave multiple presentations on the concept and on ecological restoration, construction, and deconstruction began on Hainan.

Concrete flood walls along the 23- kilometer Meishe River were removed and replaced with a mangrove restoration area with floodable pedestrian paths. Terraced wetlands were added to help process 6,000 tons of the poorest quality wastewater; the water improved enough to swim in. An interlocking finger design of waterways was construed to buffer the force of the ocean’s tidal waves. Green terraces staggered from the 9-meter-high street level down to sea level, with channels known as bioswales used to capture stormwater runoff. “Inundation has virtually stopped,” says Kongjian. “This cultural heritage is built upon 5,000 years of water management experience.”

Not everyone is as excited about this concept as Kongjian who has designed 1,000 projects across 200 cities. Even Kongjian admits sponge cities can deal with a 2-meter rise in water, but not 5 meters … 19 of the 30 pilot cities have experienced some degree of flooding.

Retrofitting cities is expensive and lack of land availability can be a problem; but, the design firm Arup found that nature-based infrastructure is 50 percent more affordable and 28 percent more effective than man-made structures. Add to that the positive effects of the livability given to citizens. The green, nature-based spaces provide habitat for wildlife and areas for exercise and relaxation (which can boost the physical and mental health of residents), as well as likely increasing the value of surrounding property and the city more widely.

Now, at last, the sponge city model is also appearing globally. More than 100 rain gardens have been built in Cardiff, Wales. Philadelphia’s Green Water plan is keeping 2.7 billion gallons of stormwater run-off from local waterways. In Rotterdam, blue/green roofs have reduced costs by $75.000 annually and prevented 10,000 tons of CO2 emissions.   Peter Yeung 5/30/2023

Saving the Forest With Greedy Goats

We hear a lot about forest management, mostly after a huge fire burns down old growth and destroys many homes and sometimes lives. Prescribed fires to clear brush or just cutting trees for lumber are two ideas that are argued as solutions while we wait for the next one.

Most people want to preserve the legacy forests and controlled burns have gotten out of hand and turned into fiery furnaces, so what do we do? Get a herd of goats. Goats famously will eat almost anything, any time. What better way to clear the underbrush that is a prime fuel that often morphs into a raging fire?

Farmers used this technique long ago often using the forests that were adjacent to their smallish plots of land for free grazing for their animals — not just voracious goats, but cows, horses, pigs. The practice lost its attraction as populations increased. People grew crops, and, except for the family pets, commercial animals are raised on large tracts of land or (unfortunately) feed lots.

Efforts to then suppress all forest fires — even naturally occurring undergrowth burns — to protect these homes have led to “tinderbox” conditions ripe for those large destructive fires that spread for hundreds of miles, blown by the wind. Forest landowners vow to build back starting the cycle all over again.

But, wait you say: Haven’t goats caused a lot of devastation — destroying native plants? If you are going to use goats to forage, they need to be managed. Taking into account what is known about goat-created devastation, in order to mitigate ecological catastrophes, the goats need containment and close supervision. Team owners need to safeguard protected plants and areas with portable fences.

Enter the goat herder who brings in her goats — Goatapilia is a new foundation started by Lani Mahlberg who travels in her camper van with a truck full of goats to salvage land that is dry and possibly tinder for a fiery inferno. She contracts with landowners and arrives with a number of goats that she estimates it will take to clear the brush. She inspects the land to see that it will hold up to a herd of goats. Her team corrals the goats with temporary chicken wire fences and border collies. The eager goats jump out of their truck and immediately start munching away. Goats are perfect for this work as they are always hungry and can stretch their long legs to reach higher vegetation, which is often the culprit in spreading fires. Their manure is organically strengthening the grass. enabling it to hold water. The startup costs are high, but the technique is spreading even in the Eastern United States as raging fires are the new normal in a warming world.  



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