Roadblocks to Sustainability
Resource depletion occurs when the supply of raw materials is being used up faster than nature can remake those materials. Resources are commonly divided between renewable resources and non-renewable resources. Use of either of these forms of resources beyond their rate of replacement is considered to be resource depletion. Some of the resources that are most commonly referred to when discussing resource depletion are: farming, fishing, mining, and timber industries.
Coal Mining in Kentucky, USA (photo by BenRad, from Flickr.com)
In Cambodia the forests and everglades were destroyed due to bombings during the Vietnam War and later on during their civil war. More than 2,000,000 acres of forest has been cut down in Cambodia since 1990. The government has passed laws that forbid the export of timber, but illegal timber exporting has lead to continued deforestation.
The most frequently noted direct causes of resource depletion of fossil fuels are caused by the high energy demands of the manufacturing and transportation industries. Fossil fuels like coal and oil are still the major way that we produce energy. Although it seems as though we have an never ending suppy of it, there will come a day when it will be all gone. Some predict that this will occur between 100 and 200 years from now if we continue with our current consumption levels. In statistics from World Resources in 1997 they state that 40% of the world’s energy is from petroleum, 24% from natural gas, 27 % from coal, and only 9% from nuclear plants, wind power , hydro/geothermal power. One way to save our resources is to place an increasing emphasis on the need to further develop alternative sources of energy such as: Hydroelectric energy, Nuclear energy, Wind power, Wave power and Geothermal energy. Some of these alternative energy sources are already in use and have cut down on pollution and consumption of the non-renewable resources, but they are still a very small part of the energy that is used today. However, on a hopeful note, most industrialized nations are actively seeking to increase the types and amouts of renewable energy that are produced it their countries.
Brush Park, Detroit, MI, USA (photo by Psychesc25, from Flickr.com)
Urban decay is gradual decline which happens when part of a city is neglected. The buildings are not properly cared for and people no longer want to live there. People move to other parts of the city or out of the city altogether. The buildings are not maintained, and they develop leaks in their roofs. Windows get broken and are not repaired. Soon the buildings begin to resemble those of a war zone. The electricity and water are turned off. Squatters, or people with no money, move in for free housing. These were once thriving neighborhoods with families, stores, theaters, small factories and, in short, everything we look for in a sustainable community.
Urban decay is not uniquely a North American problem. It is also found in cities in Europe and the rest of the world. Many neighborhoods near central cities have fallen into disrepair as the middle class has abandoned them for the lure of the suburbs. One way of fixing the problem has been to tear down the old buildings and build new high rise buildings in their place. This does not work well, as the sense of having a neighborhood is gone. People feel isolated, and extended families are broken up. A good example of a positive remedy was used in Glasgow, Scotland. Their approach was to renovate the buildings by replacing the roofs, rewiring them and adding new heating systems. The buildings were cleaned both inside and out, and trees were planted. Community and health centers were put in the neighborhoods, and businesses and industry were encouraged by economic grants. The result was that people we able to remain in the areas that they were happy in, and their needs were met by having the resources that they needed.
Another great example of means used to combat urban decay was implemented in New York City. When Rudy Giuliani became mayor of New York City, NY, there were many buildings with broken windows, trash covered the streets and the crime rate was very high. After he was elected, Giuliani passed severe laws that required the owners of commercially and privately owned buildings to repair the broken windows and keep the buildings looking presentable. The penalty of breaking this law was a stiff fine. Also whenever anyone was caught littering, they were also heavily fined. Later, a survey revealed that the crime rate had dramatically been reduced thanks to Rudy Giuliani and the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg. The following quote shows that the leaders of NYC understand that it is important to make their city a place where people want to live.
'Sustainability' is a word that's used a lot these days. But at its heart, it simply means striving to make our city greater, not just for ourselves, but for those generations to come.”
- Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, NY in a press conference 2006
Melbourne, Australia (photo by JoziBird, from Flickr.com)
Urban sprawl is the uncontrolled spread of an urban environment to the outskirts of a city. One cause of Urban Sprawl is when there is large scale building causing families to move from the congested cities to the open areas of the suburbs. The developers build more homes on previously undeveloped land and the middle class, perceiving a better standard of life there move out of the inner city. Some of the things you find in Urban sprawl are: strip malls, industrial parks and condominiums. The result is a life style where all the things you have to do are far apart, causing the people who live there to be dependent on automobiles. The typical family in the suburbs drives 200 to 300 miles a week, contributing to high use of gasoline and production of greenhouse gasses that cause air pollution. This type of housing does not support sustainability because when a community is spread out over a large area, the natural resources such as land, water, and heating fuels are being used up at a faster rate and this can lead to resource depletion. One way to solve Urban sprawl is to build strategically placed housing developments in previously unusable land. This is called Smart Growth. We discuss this later in this site.
A great example of Smart Growth being put into practice was in Rutland, VT. Wal-Mart had decided to build a huge store in the picturesque countryside surrounding Rutland, but many people thought this was a big mistake. But with some careful planning, the company found a creative way to design the store so it would be built in an abandoned building, right next to the city’s downtown. This way the store was available to serve the largest population concentration in the area and at the same time the community took a step towards containing Urban Sprawl.