Are we truly sustainable?- From a sustainable city’s perspective

I recently visited Seattle and having heard that it’s one of the sustainability meccas of America; I was hoping to feel happy, pleasantly surprised and see sustainability in practice everywhere. I was a little more than disappointed.

Seattle is sort of the other silicon valley of the west. It is home to truly corporate giants such as Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Boeing as well as quite a few smaller but upcoming companies such as Zillow.com, thriftbooks.com etc.

I felt like writing and sharing this piece based on some observations I made during my recent 2 day visit there.

It’s known to be one of the few cities in US where food waste composting is compulsory. Therefore I was happy to see a food waste bin next to trash, and recycle bins at the local mall. But just because you put a bin there doesn’t mean people will automatically start knowing how to use it. That was something I realized as I watched people get confused and go ahead and put items in whichever bin they pleased. Even I coming from another state didn’t realize that colored thin paper trays could be added to the food waste bin. Lesson #1- Constant education, outreach, and reminders are just as important parts of implementations as the actual physical change in the process. This aspect is something NYC is also struggling with regarding their organics program.

This food waste disposal dilemma happened at the end of the day after I returned from an all-day bus trip to Mt. Rainier (considered by many people as one of the most beautiful national parks in the USA and I would agree!). Throughout our bus ride our very jovial driver kept pointing at acres and acres of deforestation that had taken place in the last few years. That’s probably the few times we got to see him not boisterous. J It made me think about how useless it is to practice certain aspects of sustainability in isolation. So although Seattle may be known countrywide for practicing better recycling habits, they still have swaths of forestry mindlessly deforested for new housing construction as well as fields of trash lying from public celebrations. So although recycling organics can help reduce substantial amounts of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, so can planting trees. According to this recent greenbiz article, “The fact is forests absorb much of the carbon that our cars, homes and power plants emit — about a third of it, actually. That means that if we had three times as much forest as we do today, we wouldn’t have that big of a problem.” That was my Lesson #2: Sustainability cannot be practiced in isolation.

Lastly, although we may feel complacent knowing we are changing policies for the better, we shouldn’t forget to broadcast them and ensure they are implemented. For example, the hotel I stayed at was very nice and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Redmond/Seattle area, despite having a ‘we are green’ card in each room, they didn’t have a recycling basket. I noticed the same thing in some gift shops I visited. Lesson #3- If you say you are green, be it a hotel or a city-make sure you practice all the principles of going green, not just cherry picked ones.

Ok. I think I have lectured enough for today. Happy Friday all and Happy summer J

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3 Responses to Are we truly sustainable?- From a sustainable city’s perspective

  1. I think you know about C3 and C4 plants. A general belief among the public is that planting trees is a great way to counteract against the rising air pollution. But that is actually not the case. Both the types of plants can only take in CO2 if it is present in a particular concentration in the environment. And that concentration is increasing, which means decrease in rate of photosynthesis. So we are in a deep trouble.
    Hope that helps.
    Regards
    Nickie

  2. Pamela says:

    Very informative Nani. I Will perhaps spend more time reading your posts. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. tamannam says:

    Hi Nickie,
    thanks for this information. I hadn’t heard about it till you mentioned it..but I did research it a bit after you commented on this. Here’s what I found

    Increased concentrations of CO2 may boost crop productivity. In principle, higher levels of CO2 should stimulate photosynthesis in certain plants; a doubling of CO2 may increase photosynthesis rates by as much as 30-100%. Laboratory experiments confirm that when plants absorb more carbon they grow bigger and more quickly. This is particularly true for C3 plants (so called because the product of their first biochemical reactions during photosynthesis has three carbon atoms). Increased C02 tends to suppress photo-respiration in these plants, making them more water-efficient. C3 plants include such major mid-latitude food staples as wheat, rice, and soybean. The response of C4 plants, on the other hand, would not be as dramatic (although at current CO2 levels these plants photosynthesize more efficiently than do C3 plants). C4 plants include such low-latitude crops as maize, sorghum, sugar-cane, and millet, plus many pasture and forage grasses.

    src: http://www.ciesin.org/docs/iucc101/fs101.html

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