Hope for a Change


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Part One - The Geography of Hope


When Canadian journalist Chris Turner set out on a journey around the world last year, he wanted to see what people were doing to save the planet. He visited communities on each of the settled continents, looking for examples of ecologically-friendly living. He put his finding together in a book, The Geography of Hope. And in this full-length Quirks special, he joined Bob to introduce some green communities that really stood out.

Samsø, Denmark

ecosamso.JPG Wind Turbines in Samso, courtesy Samso Energy Academy

In the middle of Denmark is the island of Samsø. About a decade ago, the island won a competition being run by the Danish government. They agreed to find ways to make the whole community carbon neutral by 2007. The island encouraged local and foreign investment and built a series of wind turbines both on, and off, the island. Now, the island doesn't just produce its own electricity, but is a net exporter of power. At the same time, the island installed a series of district heating plants. Basically, instead of heating houses individually, these district heating plants provide central heating for all the houses in the neighbourhood, dramatically cutting down on energy waste. Jesper Kjems is a member of the Energy Management Agency in Samsø, and part of the team that's helped the island become carbon neutral. He gave Bob a guided tour of the island.

The EcoVillage at Ithaca, New York

ecovillage.jpg The EcoVillage at Ithaca, courtesy Jim Bosjolie

Just outside the city of Ithaca, in upstate New York, there's a small community of about one hundred people. They share some common meals, participate in running two organic farms, and live as low a carbon lifestyle as possible. It's called an EcoVillage, and it's a model of an "intentional community." In intentional communities, all the residents agree to certain principles; in this case, it's a commitment to carbon neutrality. Everyone pitches in to run the community, but it's not a low-tech affair. They are all allowed one car per family, and high-speed internet is the norm. Liz Walker is the co-founder and Executive Director of the EcoVillage at Ithaca.

Freiburg, Germany

ecofreiburg.JPG Ecofriendly Homes in Freiburg, picture courtesy the GNU Free Documentation License

Chris Turner was also impressed by the commitment of Freiburg, and other cities in Germany, to reducing fossil fuel use. There's an area of redevelopment in Freiburg where the houses are so energy efficient that they actually produce power that can feed back into the grid. And importantly, the residents of these houses don't find themselves living frugally to achieve this. High quality insulation, solar panels on the roofs and other technological innovations have meant the houses can meet all the owners' needs and more.

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Part 2 - The Future of Hope

ecodongtan.jpg Artists Impression of Dongtan, courtesy ARUP

There's still plenty of work to be done if we want to create greener communities. Luckily, there are plenty of projects on the horizon that will allow many more people to live in carbon neutral environments.

Paul Murrain is an Urban Design Consultant in the UK. He's part of a movement called Traditional Urbanization. This approach plans to take the best of traditional urban planning, (people living close to a main street, with shops, schools and businesses all within walking distance of home), and the best of new construction techniques, to build a community. Right now, he's working with the Prince's Foundation, an initiative of the Prince of Wales, on a proposal for a community called Sherford. Located near the port city of Plymouth, Sherford will be a carbon neutral town for several thousand people.

Sometimes, it takes a natural disaster to create interest in going green. The town of Greensburg, Kansas, is a perfect example. In 2007, a tornado ripped through town, killing 12 people and destroying 95 % of the buildings. Daniel Wallach, a local resident, is working with the town council to rebuild the town as a model of environmentally conscious design. There's been an interesting side effect of all this redevelopment: it's attracting new businesses to the area, and is leading to a revitalization of the economy.

Small developments are fine, but if we're really going to make a difference, then we need to look at large cities. Gary Lawrence is a principal with the British design firm, Arup, and he's working on creating the city of Dongtan in China. This settlement for 500,000 residents is being completely planned. From the types of vehicles used, to how waste will be used to heat the city, it's an example of how careful design can allow large populations to reduce their impact on the planet.

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