Sustainable resources are important, urgent in face of big issues

There are many things that amplify the need for what we do and a push for sustainable resources. California Native Garden Foundation has big issues on the mind when we are planting gardens–even in the smallest of places.

Contributed by

Deeksha Chopra, Environmental Consultant

Climate Change: The Disappearing of the Arctic Ice

With the shrinkage of the ice that covers the Arctic Ocean, the effects of climate change are undeniable. In the last 30 years, the arctic ice minimum coverage has decreased by half, and its volume fallen by as much as three quarters. If these trends continue, It is estimated that the Arctic will be ice-free by summer 2040 (The Artic, 2017).

These projections bring shivers as the humans have proved their power to change the Earth’s climate. This global warming is primarily caused by certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, that trap sun rays within air, land and water causing the heating effect. The current trends of these heat trapping gases (greenhouse gases(GHG)) has already been discussed in my previous articles .

The warming of the Arctic will have serious impact on the climatic condition around the world. The temperature difference between the poles and the tropics is responsible for the wind movements. Melting of the Arctic ice will disrupt this temperature difference causing changes in the wind patterns – leading to unexpected heatwaves and blizzards. In addition, with the melting of arctic ice, the ocean currents will slow down, moving north ( poles) from the tropics.

This ocean current behavior will pull the currents around world effecting everything from the Indian monsoons to the El Nino in the pacific ocean. What is even more serious is the melting of the Greenland ice caps which include 10% of worlds fresh water. Even though the possibility of this happening is not established yet but this could have devastating effects on the sea level rise, far more than the projection of 74 cm by the end of the century (The Artic, 2017).

 

Urban Sprawl: Population trends and projections, 1950-2050

Today, half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and this number is expected to increase up to 66 percent by 2050 (Survey W. E., 2013). This means, according to a 2017 United Nations’ report , that our urban areas have to support more than 2.5 billion additional human beings by 2050. We can see the trend of global rural and urban population from 1950 projected up to 2030 and observe that for the next 10-15 years the global rural population is expected to decline. This has never happened before. With such rapid pace of urbanization the changing landscape of human settlement will have serious implications for the environment, and the habitability of the planet.

Figure 1 : Population trends and projections, 1950-2030

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Urbanization Prospects:2005 Revision http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WUP2005/2005wup.htm

 

Ensuring food and nutrition security

Emphasizing the urgent need to end hunger ( as part of Sustainable Development Goals), the recently launched Zero Hunger Challenge by United Nations, talks about providing access to enough nutritious food be as a vanguard for any new developmental project in the world.

The issue of malnutrition is broader than hunger or undernourishment (the United Nations Millennium Declaration) in both developing and developed nations, with 30 percent of the world’s population affected by the problem. Rapid urbanization is exerting pressure on the food security FAO estimates a need of 70 per cent increase in food production globally to feed the additional 2.3 billion people by 2050. Thus to meet the need of the rapidly increasing population there will be an intended shift in the agriculture practices to more resource -intensive production eventually leading to land degradation, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity.

This additional pressure on the land will not only affect fertility and reduced agricultural production opportunities but will also affect climate, natural cycles and other ecosystem services negatively. Each year 12 million hectares of agricultural land is lost as degraded land , in addition to the million hectares that has already being lost (Survey W. E., 2013)

Changing the way we use land today is an important step towards achieving sustainable development goals. Healthy and sustainable land-use can help mitigate the effects of the climate changes and adapt us to the already changed climate in a sustained manner.

We at CNGF are undertaking multiple projects for establishing healthy sustainable land-use methods that would ensure sustained food systems in both developed and developing nations, increased carbon sequestration , water conservation, waste reduction and increased biodiversity.

Some of these projects include the Agrihood project at Santa Clara, the Regenerative Farm Model, the Sustainable Urban Land Use Research Institute, and the ​S​ustainable ​​Organic ​F​arm ​T​raining (​SOFT​) program. CNGF’s vision statement talks about the ten points of connection[1] that are crucial in developing an environmentally and socially sustainable model of urban land-use. I am providing a few illustrative examples of how some of these points can reduce environmental impact by comparative analysis of a hypothetical sustainable housing project development and a conventional housing development.

Let us consider a housing development with 650 people living in that area along with 30,000 square feet of a working regenerative[2] farm, various community gardens, green open areas and permeable surfaces. We call this project as sustained development housing project. The comparable conventional development housing project also has 650 people, same size , but with asphalt, concrete surface and no working farm inside it.

  • Surface water runoff: The sustained development housing project can save around 30.3% of the water falling on surface as compared to only 1.7% by a conventional development. This 30 per cent saving can be further increased to 90 per cent (considering 10% loss due to evapotranspiration and other losses) with additional water saving measures like drip irrigation that use 20 to 50 percent less water than conventional pop-up sprinkler systems, water- reuse for landscaping and washing etc.
  • Rooftop Harvest: Green Infrastructure (rooftop rainwater harvest system) will divert the captured rainwater for irrigating the farmland, landscape areas (free source of water). Around 992,149 gallons of rainwater can be harvested from the roof of the sustained development housing per year with an average rainfall of 14 inches. For a conventional housing project with mostly impervious surfaces all the rainwater goes down the drain including the rooftop impervious surfaces-a major factor in excessive stormwater runoff.
  • Reduced Waste: Growing locally can also substantially help reduce food wastage. An average American per day generates 4.34 pounds of waste per day out of which 1.09 pounds can be recovered for recycling and 0.37 pounds for composting (EPA, Municipal soil waste generation, recycling and disposal: Facts and Figures, 2014). This means that we can divert around 34.5 % of waste from landfills and incinerators. The sustained development housing project with an urban regenerative farm, can compost around 87,783 pound of the waste (composting of yard trimmings, food scraps and other MSW organic material) per year. Also, we can consider recycling corrugated boxes, newspapers, small appliances, furniture and aluminum beverage cans. A similar conventional development housing will be transporting around 1,029,665 pounds of waste per year to the landfills( According to a UN report, “Global Food Losses and Food Waste in Western Countries”, approximately 95-115 kg/year per capita is lost in food waste.)
  • Soil Quality: Adding compost/vermicomposting teas keep the soils in gardens, landscaped corridors porous with the growth of plant roots and movement of organisms such as earthworms in the soil. The regenerative farm model that CNGF is working on and is considered in this hypothetical project will not only increase the food productivity but will also restore soil ecology, with increased biodiversity and linked ecosystem services. On the contrary in a conventional housing project, decreased porosity in urban soils leads to poor penetrability and decreased saturated hydraulic conductivity, thus, compacted soil layers prevent water from penetrating into the ground.
  • Air Quality: In addition to providing cooling benefits, green spaces such as rooftop gardens can help reduce levels of air contaminants through their dry deposition and microclimate effects (Unhealthy Air Quality, 2006-2009). In dry deposition, vegetation filters the air by capturing particulate matter. Leaf surfaces on these greened areas act as natural sinks for common contaminants. Trees are very effective at reducing urban air pollution, studies have shown that approximately 711,000 metric tons of air pollution is removed annually by urban trees. Asphalt streets, buildings and their dark rooftops, and other hard surfaces in a conventional housing development conduct heat more efficiently than vegetation, promoting warmer air temperatures (NASA). Evaporative cooling in a conventional housing development is very less and is further reduced by increased runoff.
  • Biodiversity: Landscaped corridors aid in preventing the extinction of local species and maintaining biodiversity by reducing habitat fragmentation (Fordham Notes:More Green, More Birds, More Diversity, 2011). Landscaping with native plants enhances biodiversity and improves soil, air, and water quality (EPA, Green Landscaping; Greenacres, landscaping with native plants, 2009). On the other hand, land and soil degradation, ecosystem disruption increases vulnerability to invasive species, putting native species at risk.
  • Food production: On this urban regenerative farm, if 2 crops are grown per year on 30,000 sq. ft, the yield will be around 430 cwt/48160 lbs per year (USDA, 2012). With a revenue of around $13,760 per year. This can be a small model farm and replicating the similar techniques to other farms can be a step towards a sustained food system across the globe. The estimated figures of our proposed regenerative farm at the Agrihood project are far more. There will be around 50-60 food plants grown, throughout the entire complex including a food forest and native edibles. Our anticipated income once production is underway is $95,000 for 32,000sqft.

These are some of the examples that illustrate how we can use resources efficiently with minimum loss to the environment. Recently, I have been educating school kids on how to manage waste and water here in New Delhi, India and have seen some positive behavioral changes towards environment. In my upcoming articles, I will discuss some of these changes, the community participation towards environmental sustainability with some examples from New Delhi, India on how people are working as a team to build models similar to the Agrihood.

 

References

The EPA, U. (2009). Green Landscaping; Greenacres, landscaping with native plants. United States.

EPA, U. (2014). Municipal soil waste generation, recycling and disposal: Facts and Figures. United States.

Fordham Notes:More Green, More Birds, More Diversity. (2011, December). Retrieved from http://fordhamnotes.blogspot.in/2011/12/more-green-more-birds-more-diversity.html

NASA. (n.d.). The Making (and Breaking) of an Urban Heat Island. Retrieved from NASA Earth Observatory: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/GreenRoof/greenroof2.php

Survey, W. E. (2013). Ensuring food and nutrition security. In U. N. Affairs.

Survey, W. E. (2013). Towards Sustainable Cities.

The Artic. (2017, April 29). The Economist, 423(9038), pp. 14-16.

Unhealthy Air Quality. (2006-2009). Atlanta, United States.

USDA. (2012). National Agricultural Statistics. Pacific region, California.

 

[1] 10 interconnected categories that comprise the fundamental needs of humanity: soil; air; water; waste; energy; food; terrestrial and marine ecosystems; transportation; environmental education; and human health and well-being.

[2] The Regenerative farm about which we are talking here will include incorporates lessons taken from many practices; local ecology, soil microbiology, regional organic farming models; indigenous cultures food systems; conservation agriculture; controlled environment agriculture; permaculture; data from successful regional farms and consultations with successful organic farmers. Some of the key components will include No till, Polyculture , Continual planting and harvesting Improved seeds and plant selections, Composting and vermicomposting teas and foliar feeding, Human waste composting systems, and biogas converters, Over planting, reduced spacing, and planting configurations, Mulching, continuously, so that soil is never left exposed to the light or high temperatures, Drip irrigation, including subterranean irrigation, Native plant ​hedgerows for insect management, pathogen reduction, and the restoration of soil microbiology, Introduction of native grasses for improved hydrology and water management and selection of food and medicinal plants

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