Future Earth

Iceland’s low carbon future: can we do it too?

0 Comments 25 August 2011

I have previously blogged about the speed at which carbon emissions are rising and the need for a low carbon future. Essentially, emissions are on an upward growth curve that shows no signs of stopping. The evidence to support this increase is overwhelming, and whether or not you believe that the rise in emissions is the cause of global warming, the outcome is undeniable. I guess we’ll just have to get used to rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns! In fact, many people have begun to accept that global warming has arrived and is here to stay. And they are doing something about it. Not by reducing their emissions or implementing a low carbon strategy, but by adapting to this new reality.

In San Francisco they are planning to install devices to prevent rising sea water flooding the storm drainage and sewage system. In Chicago and New York, they are planting millions of trees to help manage stormwater runoff. Many cities are thinking of creating permeable pavements to allow heavy rainfall to drain away faster and some oceanfront towns are demanding that new builds take into account forecasts for a heavy rise in sea levels over the next forty years.

But while these changes are admirable and eminently practical, I still believe they are missing the point. More should be done now to introduce low carbon policies in our cities.

A low carbon winner

Perhaps the best example of a low carbon initiative is Masdar in Abu Dhabi. Showcased as the world’s first zero carbon city, Masdar will be powered entirely by renewable energy and despite the cutbacks, it intends to be a desert city of nearly 40,000 people by the end of 2012. Masdar will also have acceptable water consumption and virtually no waste. Now, that’s more like it!

But for some, Masdar is still a bit of a red herring as it is a new city, built from the ground up. The vast majority of our largest cities – London, New York, Shanghai and Delhi to name but a few – are where most people will be living over the next 40 years. And we cannot simply rebuild them: it would be impossible! Perhaps that is why we have been reduced to making cosmetic changes, instead of implementing low carbon policies.

If Iceland can do it…

However there is one “old” city that has succeeded in achieving the seemingly impossible, and I discovered it while researching my 2009 eco thriller, The Human Race. It is Reykjavík in Iceland. When the city started its geothermal programme back in the 1960s, Reykjavík’s CO2 emissions were 270,000 tonnes per annum. They currently stand at 12,000 tonnes, despite the fact that Reykjavík is supporting a population that has doubled in the intervening fifty years. To balance out the additional emissions, the local power stations plant trees and shrubs. This process builds up an annual rate of 10,000 tonnes of CO2, which almost equals the annual emissions of the entire city.

Okay, so Iceland has an inexhaustible supply of geothermal and hydroelectric power at its disposal, which has arguably made their job a lot easier. But I believe the real driver behind the energy successes of the city has been the strong political and community will to achieve that low carbon outcome. The residents of Reykjavík have never given up and have endured the disruption of hooking their hot water and power into these new energy sources.

This should tell us that while many cities do not have Iceland’s unique geology at their disposal, there is plenty that we could be getting on with. A lot of it involves boring efficiency techniques such as lagging lofts and reusing greywater. But these can save far more resources than can ever be generated by covering roofs in solar panels, sensible though that is.

So perhaps New York, Chicago and the others have got it right. They just need to direct some of their effort back into reduction as well as adaptation. All a low carbon future needs is the will of both the politicians and the people.

My concern is that at the time of writing, that combination is in very short supply.

This post was selected for Everything Home Blog Carnival, hosted by My DIY Home Tips.

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Unputdownable. Yes, I know it's not a word, but it definitely applies here, anyway. That's the word I'm going with, to describe The Human Race by O.C. Heaton. - Hira N. Hasnain

An outstanding first novel from O.C. Heaton that catapults him into the Best Seller league… - Justine Bond

"This is an exciting, fast-paced read. The Human Race is a book that is very easy to forget to put down. Bring on part two!" - L. H. Bowers

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Charles Heaton British thriller writer O.C. Heaton, author of The Human Race, is fascinated by the past, present and future of human evolution. (Image credit: Ross Parry Agency) Read More>>

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The BeachThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeLife of PiOuter DarkThe FirmAlexander 3: The Ends of the Earth: A Novel

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