Let's look at some cities that take environmentalism seriously, courtesy of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids.
GREEN POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Cities put an enormous strain on the environment: They use more than 75 percent of the world’s energy and release more than 75 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the environment. More than half the people on earth (over 3.5 billion) live in cities, and by 2050, that number is expected to reach 70 percent. The future could be bleak: more lung disease from more pollution, increased global warming, mountains of waste, and concrete everywhere. But the people who live in the world’s greenest cities are pioneering a future that’s very different.
Population: 1.2 million
How green is it? Copenhagen has been addressing environmental issues for decades. The result is that the water in its harbors and canals is so clean that people actually swim in them. There are also more than 186 miles of bike paths in the metro area, and there are places where residents and tourists can borrow bikes for free. (Really.) Some major streets even have a “green wave” system so bike riders can speed through intersections without stopping— they hit timed green lights the entire way. The result is that nearly 55 percent of Copenhageners bike to work or school.
The city is already filled with parks, but plans are in the works to guarantee that by 2015 at least 90 percent of Copenhagen’s population will be within walking distance of a park or beach. About 20 percent of the city’s electric power comes from wind turbines, hydroelectric power, and biomass (energy from organic matter like wood, straw, and organic waste), but the goal is to stop using coal altogether. The city is encouraging residents to buy electric-and hydrogen-powered cars and is investing more than $ 900 billion so that, by 2025, Copenhagen will have reduced its coal and oil pollution to zero.
(Image credit: Zotium)
How green is it? Often called the greenest city in Canada, Vancouver has more than 200 parks in a region that’s surrounded by spectacular beaches, forests, and mountains. The city leads the world in the production of hydropower, which supplies 90 percent of its electricity. And one of Vancouver’s most famous innovations is the use of solar-powered trash-compactor bins on public sidewalks: The bins can hold five times the amount of conventional trash cans, so they need to be emptied only once a week instead of every night, which saves on the need to use the city’s gas-powered fleet of garbage trucks.
Vancouver has also been adding new streetcar lines and bike lanes, and it has constructed nearly 250 miles of “greenways,” special corridors for pedestrians and cyclists that connect parks, nature reserves, historic sites, neighborhoods, and shopping areas. And 40 percent of commuter and tourist day trips in Vancouver involve walking, biking, or using public transportation.
(Image credit: Flickr user hapsci)
How green is it? In the 1970s Iceland relied on imported coal for 75 percent of its energy. Today all of its electricity is produced from hydroelectric and geothermal power. The hydropower source is flowing water from melting ice that turns turbines to make electricity. The geothermal power uses the heat and steam of Iceland’s volcanoes to do the same. The only fossil fuel the city uses is for its cars and fishing fleets.
But Icelanders even consider that to be too much: To get down to zero use of fossil fuels, Reykjavik is working on a changeover to cars and ships fueled mainly by electricity and hydrogen. In 2003 Shell opened its first hydrogen filling station in Reykjavik to service hydrogen-powered public buses. By the mid-21st century, Iceland plans to have most of its fishing fleet running on hydrogen and all of its cars and buses powered by alternative fuels.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
(Image credit: Intel Free Press)
How green is it? San Francisco was the first city in the United States to pass a mandatory recycling law, and the first to ban the use of plastic bags. Meant to lessen the amount of garbage that goes into landfills, those 2009 edicts have worked so well that San Franciscans now recycle 77 percent of their waste. (All that recycled garbage weighs about twice as much as the Golden Gate Bridge!) New laws also mean cleaner air: Public transportation runs on 20 percent biodiesel fuel (made from used cooking oil), and a green taxi law has resulted in 92 percent of the city’s cabs running on alternative fuels.
Even though it’s famous for its fog, San Francisco has proved that solar can work in overcast locales: The 60,000-square-foot solar system on the city’s convention center generates enough electricity to power the entire center during events, and 24,000 solar panels atop a reservoir provide electricity for city buildings, including a hospital, the airport, and police and fire stations.
(Image credit: Flickr user Paulo)
Population: 3.5 million
How green is it? Curitiba is the capital of the Paraná state in Brazil, and despite facing severe poverty and overcrowding, it consistently wins recognition as one of the most beautiful, livable, and green cities in the world. In 1968 the city had less than 10 square feet of greenery per person, but careful urban planning— minimizing urban sprawl, planting trees, and protecting local forests— has turned that into 500 square feet for each inhabitant. Curitiba now boasts 16 parks, 14 forests, and more than 1,000 green public spaces.
Curitiba is also internationally famous for its Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system. Reliable and cheap, the BRT vehicles run as often as every 90 seconds in dedicated bus lanes. Eighty percent of the residents use the buses— that’s more than two million riders a day. Also famous for its garbage disposal system, the city provides an alternative for low-income families who don’t have garbage pickup: They can bring in bags of trash or recycling, and exchange them for bus tickets, food, school supplies, or toys. The result: A clean city where the poor live better and more than 70 percent of the waste is recycled.
(Image credit: Eric Ascalon)
How green is it? It’s not a big city, but the small town of Greensburg embodies the spirit of environmentalism. In May 2007 a tornado demolished 95 percent of the town. When the residents rebuilt, they decided that their new buildings would meet internationally recognized standards that would make their town as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. The winds that once almost destroyed the town now power a wind farm that provides electricity to all of Greensburg’s homes and businesses. This incredible comeback has made the town a center for environmental businesses and ecotourism, and young residents who once vowed to go away to college and never come back now say there’s no place like home. In 2011 Budget Travel magazine put Greensburg on its top 10 list of the “Coolest Small Towns in America.” And we think that’s pretty cool.
The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids. Weighing in at over 400 pages, it's a fact-a-palooza of obscure information.
Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!