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Future of cities: we need more living and work spaces

We need fewer cars


Cars are to cities what cows are to the Irish countryside: engines of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  Since over a number of years we have covered the intractable problem of GHGs, especially methane, from cows and other animals in the Irish countryside, we thought it was only fair to focus on the intractable problem of cars in cities.  Currently across the globe over 50% of people live in urban areas (about 62% in Ireland), and 70% are expected by 2050.  And most insist on bringing their car(s) along.

In Ireland, by 2040 there will be more people, many of them older, living in more houses, but with fewer people per house, and with more jobs, mostly high-skilled ones.  Importantly, the growth in houses and jobs will be concentrated in cities or urban areas.  And Ireland remains a car-dependent society with over 2/3 of commuters driving to work and 1/10 spending one hour or more commuting.  That requires a lot of parking facilities and leads to more urban sprawl.  And those cars in congested urban areas will generate tons of toxic fumes, increasing the health risks to urban dwellers.  So planning for the protection of the air quality in such congested areas is paramount for 2040.  See the Report on The Space We Have: Planning for Ireland in 2040 in the May issue of

For city planning, how do we balance the needs for more living and work spaces for more people in Dublin and other urban areas in Ireland with the need for fewer cars to get from home to work to shop to cultural and recreational activities, and elsewhere.

In Ireland much, if not most, of the talk about city planning is dominated by how high should residential and commercial buildings be: 6 stories, or 8, or 12, or more?   Of course density does not necessarily mean high-rise residential buildings.  It can mean spreading the density out over a horizontal grid with more, lower buildings.  Frank McDonald has suggested that if residential buildings were raised to five or six stories, Ireland could reach European-styled densities of 160-200 housing units per hectare.  See Comiskey in The Irish Times.


Density and “high” rise are relative terms.  In Manhattan New York, the newer residential up-market towers are 65 to 95 floors high; in Dublin a high rise might entail 7 – 10 stories.   While such NY high rises would suggest increased density for Manhattan, that’s not a simple equation.  For the up-market high-rises are quite large, with several thousand square feet of living space for perhaps 2 – 4 people, so not many people are cramming into these spaces.  Moreover, these residences also are not the primary residence for many occupants but often serve as a simple pied-a-terre (at cost of $25 to $90 million, with as high as $5,000 per square foot!), visited occasionally throughout the year.

But density may not be the critical condition that defines whether cities are livable or not; it may be how cars are treated.   There are numerous local and national governments  around the world planning or implementing ways of reducing the concentration of cars in their cities by restricting their access, or banning them outright, or by taxing or charging them for using the city, or limiting their parking spaces.  These are so-called “car-limiting strategies.” But trying to just hide or ban cars may not be enough as people still have to get from place to place within the city.  So before banning or restricting cars, it will be necessary to provide the infrastructure and facilities that lessen or eliminate the need for cars.

In a recent blog post in grist, Henry Grabar explores the unavoidable challenge of fighting cars if cities want to honor the Paris Accord and reduce GHGs.  As he bluntly states: “Want to fight climate change?  You have to fight cars.”  In large cities cars account for about a third of GHGs.  And an imperative within this fight is to reduce vehicle miles traveled.  Which in turn suggests that we have to build residences and businesses close to public transport, and to each other.  And to do that, you cannot escape confronting the need for more density in cities.  If we ignore these connected dots, we end up with Apple building a new Green headquarters in California powered by renewable energy but with 11,000 parking spaces.

Laura Bliss, also in grist, reinforces the need to concentrate on cutting vehicle miles travelled (VMT) and how that means that we will have to walk, bike or take public transit to work and play, and that in turn means building more dense residences near jobs, shops and shared transportation options.  Shared transportation, or shared mobility, can include shared cars or small, sometimes automatic driven shuttle services providing transport for that last mile between home and job or public transportation or recreational and cultural facilities.  It does not mean relying on Uber and similar services for a selected population.








Recently, David Roberts in vox has published a series of posts covering a conversation on urbanism he had with Brent Toderian, former Chief Planner for Vancouver.  The first post is titled, “Making cities more dense always sparks resistance. Here’s how to overcome it.”

Vancouver has learned that density can include greater height in existing urban areas or multi-family units in formerly single-family areas or units along back lanes and alleys.  Importantly it can mean extending public transit to new areas.  Or all of the above.






Laneway house in Vancouver

Toderian argues that change in land use is often troubling and there will always be some who oppose change, the Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) argument, just like there will always be developers who want to get rid of government regulation and build as much as they can, the build-baby-build cadre.  See Interview with Oisín Coghlan in the current issue of

Both arguments can be countered by density that has a very high design quality, what Toderian calls QIMBY, “quality in my back yard,” with a diversity of housing types.  Such development must, at the beginning, be multimodal with emphasis on walking, biking, and transit.  It cannot be centered on use of cars.   And the dense development must include amenities that make living in such neighborhoods enjoyable and even exciting.  Amenities include parks and green spaces, public and people spaces, heritage preservation and community and cultural facilities, and places for teenagers to hang out.

To support many of the amenities, Toderian has used “density bonusing” whereby regulations set a base density for areas and a developer can increase to a higher density in exchange for building amenities that the community wants and needs, not basic services.

And when you have done all you can to accommodate as many as possible, Toderian argues that you just have to stand up to the anger of the few.








car free Oslo

Or perhaps adjust your plans.  In Oslo, Norway, the car-limiting strategy was first to ban cars downtown, where about 88% of people did not own a car.  But the automobile lobby fought vehemently against the ban.  So Oslo has decided to limit vehicle movement through the city center by removing all parking spots and converting these spaces into installations and public spaces, for playgrounds, cultural events, benches, bike parking , a beer garden, and an e-bench with wi-fi and charging capabilities.  Then the city will close some streets to vehicle traffic and build 40 miles of bike lanes.  If these efforts fail to slash carbon emissions, then the city will go back to the original plan for an all-out car ban.

So regardless of how high the buildings get, don’t forget about those pesky GHG-vehicles on street level.



Henry Grabar, “If cities really want to fight climate change, they have to fight cars,” grist (16 June 2017).

Laura Bliss, “5 ways cities can fight climate change – with or without the Paris deal,” grist (1 June 2017).

David Roberts, “Lessons on urbanism from a Vancouver veteran: A conversation with city-maker Brent Toderian,” vox (20 June 2017).

Here are the conversations between Roberts and Toderian:

David Roberts, “Making cities more dense always sparks resistance. Here’s how to overcome it,” vox (20 June 2017).

David Roberts, “Young families typically leave cities for the suburbs. Here’s how to keep them downtown,” vox (21 June 2017).

David Roberts, “Dense urbanism is great for downtowns. But what about suburbs?”, vox (23 June 2017).

Justin Comiskey, “Dublin’s development plan short on density,” The Irish Times (17 Nov 2016).

Henry Grabar, “Apple Says Its New Headquarters Could Be the Greenest Building in the World. Not With 11,000 Parking Spaces!”, Slate (12 April 2017).

Eillie Anzilotti, “If You Can’t Ban Cars Downtown, Just Take Away The Parking Spaces,” FastCompany (23 June 2017).


Trump was going to ignore or undermine the Paris Climate Accord, whether he stayed or left

Why it will be best for everyone else now that he is leaving


The climate deal, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was reached in Paris in December 2015.  The Paris Accord took effect on 4 November 2016 and all 195 countries that participated in the talks, including the US under Obama, have signed it and made commitments to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs).
While there are no legally binding targets set by the terms of the Accord, as there were in the Kyoto Protocol, it was recognized that the “commitments” are real and countries intended to abide by them.  They are promises.  Moreover, the process included a provision that every five years there is a mandatory review process with the expectations that each country will attempt to increase its commitment since climate change increasingly presents significant risks and the original commitments in 2016 will not suffice to keep climate temperatures from rising beyond any reasonable limit.  More is needed, not less, as time goes by.







Despite the fact that the Paris Accord commitments are voluntary, David Roberts acknowledges: “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Public pledges are a powerful driver. They can spur and organize domestic policy. Failure to live up to them can bring reputational damage.”
Unfortunately, the legal and political implications of the Accord are meaningless to Trump.  It is clear that Trump had no intention of doing anything to help reduce GHGs, whether he stayed with the Accord or rejected it.  Everybody knows that.   So today, June 1, 2017, he announced he is withdrawing from the Paris Accord.
Even before he withdrew, any questions about the US commitment to the Paris Accord was met with the mantra:  “The administration is reviewing existing policies and regulations in the context of a focus on strengthening U.S. economic growth and promoting jobs for American workers, and will not support policies or regulations that have adverse effects on energy independence and U.S. competitiveness.”   David Roberts’ assessment is: “In other words, ‘bugger off’.”
If Trump stayed with the Accord, it is most likely he would have done so only under the pretext that he was going to re-negotiate a BETTER DEAL for AMERICA.  Or he would have stayed and simply spit in the face of the Accord by openly ignoring the US commitment.
In any case, it is clear that Trump does not and will not accept the premises on which the Accord is founded.   Haven’t we had enough of him?








If he chose to stay, the options for retaliation for his essential rejection of the Accord’s purpose and goal were limited.  If some countries, despite their best on-going efforts to comply with their commitments were unable to do so, the other signatories would be reluctant to take any punitive action, even name-and-shame, against them.  At that point the US could have argued it could not be singled out for not meeting its commitment.
A clean break by Trump, or with Trump, offers some advantages for global climate change progress.  It will be more honest and a clearer battle line now that he has exited the Accord.  At least the other signatories to the Accord, including the EU, China and India and developing countries, can consider counter-actions against the Trump-led US.  These might include trade sanctions, including a carbon tax on US exports, always a risky business, but it might also free the others to imagine and implement other punitive sanctions.  
And it is likely that the remaining signatories to the Accord will proceed with their commitments, as technologic developments, especially with renewable energy sources and distribution systems, will have a major impact on the extent to which the Paris Accord commitments become realized.  It would seem to be in the self-interest of China and India, regardless of what the US does not do, to move to renewable energy just to save its citizens from the toxic air impacts of burning fossil fuels.
So let Trump suffer whatever consequences the remaining signatories can devise for his withdrawal.  As for any demand for a renegotiation of the Paris DEAL, that demand should be immediately rejected out of hand.
The EU is quickly learning how to do without Britain.  Time for the international community to learn how to deal without Donald Trump. 
David Roberts, “ Bannon is pulling one over on Trump. There is zero reason to exit the Paris climate accord,” Vox (8 May 2017).
Natasha Geiling, “America’s tragic fall from international climate leader to global embarrassment,” Think Progress (12 May 2017).

Rebecca Leber, “What the Hell Is Going on With Trump’s Delay on the All-Important Paris Decision?  Ivanka saves the world? Hah,” Mother Jones (10 May 2017).

Brad Plumer, “Can the Paris Climate Deal Survive a Trump-Style Renegotiation?” The New York Times (26 May 2017).

Michael D. Shear and Coral Davenport, “World Leaders Increase Pressure on Trump to Stay in the Paris Accord,” The New York Times (26 May 2017).

Marianne Lavelle, “China, India to Reach Climate Goals Years Early, as U.S. Likely to Fall Far Short,” inside climate news (16 May 2017).

Chandra Bhushan, “Why the US should quit the Paris Agreement,” Down to Earth (India) (15 Dec 2016).


EDITOR’S NOTE:  An earlier version of this ieBLOG appeared on the morning of June 1st before Trump made his announcement of withdrawing from the Paris Accord.  This version reflects that decision made at 3pm June 1st, NY time.


An example of and model for an enforcement operation against polluting diesel trucks

ClientEarth has aggressively fought to force the UK government to comply with its legal obligations under EU air laws.  Those breaches of EU law are putting the people of London and many other UK cities at risk from the toxic pollutants discharged in the emissions of diesel vehicles, as well as from other sources.  A recent study reveals that nearly 40 million people living in UK towns and villages are being exposed to unlawful levels of toxic air pollution from diesel vehicles.

Besides the kind of litigation being brought by ClientEarth against the recalcitrant UK government, we need to figure out what other enforcement measures can be brought to bear against this risk.  Here is an example, perhaps a model, for aggressive enforcement action against polluting diesel trucks that can lessen the loadings of diesel exhausts threatening people in cities.  While the example is from New York, some of the elements of the enforcement can be adapted to cities across the EU and beyond.

The Stop Smoking Trucks Initiative

Outdoor air pollution, from local sources as well as from distant, regional sources, causes or aggravates a host of health effects including heart and respiratory conditions, especially asthma.  One of the major sources of air pollution, and a significant contributor to health risks in urban areas, is the emission from diesel trucks.

Asthma is widely recognized as one of America’s fastest growing chronic diseases, affecting more than 20 million people.  Exposure to particulate matter and ozone in outdoor air can trigger or contribute to asthma attacks, as can exposure to organophosphate pesticides and other pollutants in indoor air. Note 1.  In New York City, asthma, as measured by hospitalization rates, presents serious risks especially to children under the age of 14 in low-income areas.  Hardest hit are areas of northern Manhattan and southern Bronx, where in some neighborhoods hospitalization rates for asthma reach 167 per 10,000 people, over five times the national average of 31 per 10,000.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) developed an enforcement plan to address the environmental risks associated with smoking diesel trucks throughout the city, especially in low-income communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution.  Note 2.

Studies conducted by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) of travel to and from the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) indicated that there are approximately 10,000 truck trips through the East Harlem community each work day.

Under New York State law — Smoke Opacity Standards For Heavy Duty Diesel-Fueled Vehicles (HDDV) — it is illegal for diesel trucks of certain sizes to emit black smoke above certain levels. Note 3. Smoke opacity instruments measure optical properties of diesel smoke, providing an indirect way of measuring of diesel particulate emissions.  The smoke meters are easy to use in the field.  If the truck emits levels higher than permitted, a ticket is issued with fines.  Note 4.

To reduce the pollution from diesel trucks in low-income communities, DEC created a pilot project for an initiative in East Harlem in New York City.  DEC has its own police department that enforces environmental laws and one of the duties of the officers was to look for smoking diesel trucks, pull them over, test for violations of the opacity rules and issue tickets, when appropriate.  Thus, DEC officers already had responsibility for pulling over trucks, they had the training to spot and test for smoking trucks, and they had the equipment and training for testing.

The initiative involved converting the pullover operations from random acts of enforcement to scheduled and concentrated pullovers.  About 12 DEC police cars were assigned pullover operations on the four streets in East Harlem that carry truck traffic, and where the asthma rates were elevated.  They deployed each morning for several hours for several days a week for a month at locations which were identified as heavy in truck traffic and had sufficient space to pull trucks over, inspect and ticket.

The pullover was operated for several hours each day over several days, at different times of the day because soon after these pullovers are initiated, truck drivers communicate with each other and issue warnings about the police action.

In this initiative, DEC invited New York Mayor Bloomberg’s Office on Long-Term Sustainability (and the City’s Department of Environmental Protection-DEP) to collaborate by patrolling the same areas where a pullover operation was implemented and issue tickets to any trucks violating the City’s truck idling law.  At the same time the DEC officers issued tickets to idling trucks under the state law.  Idling trucks are another significant source of air pollution in these asthma-high neighborhoods. Note 5.

DEC also invited several environmental groups, WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the Go Green East Harlem Initiative, as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to help design and assess the project and provide connections to the local communities.

DEC officers pulled over every 3rd or 4th truck for inspection, as well as any trucks that were obviously emitting black, polluting smoke.  The attempt was to gather sufficient data from a random field test to estimate the percentage of trucks that were in violation of the law.

In this pilot project, DEC law-enforcement officers pulled over and inspected 361 diesel trucks and issued 163 tickets for various violations of state air and safety regulations. The officers also issued 10 tickets for excessive idling. New York City DEP issued 33 tickets for idling trucks.

Based on that operation, DEC estimated that close to 20 percent of the trucks traveling the area are out of compliance with state air regulations. With transportation studies showing there are approximately 10,000 trucks travelling daily through this corridor, that means that there could be nearly 2,000 trucks emitting illegal levels of pollutants every workday in East Harlem.

Following the pilot project, DEC implemented the Stop Smoking Trucks pullover operation in environmental justice communities in every borough of New York City as well as every one of the DEC nine regions state-wide.


The question now is whether any such enforcement action like the Stop Smoking Trucks initiative could be replicated in European cities.  The simple answer is: You’ll never know until you try.

What made the project quite successful was that:

there was an existing statutory prohibition against emitting black smoke above certain levels for diesel trucks of a certain size;

the DEC officers were already trained in pullover operations and use of smoke meters;

issuing tickets for violation of smoke rules was already part of the officers normal activities, and the initiative merely concentrated that activity in one spot at one time;

there was no need for new staff or equipment;

the biggest burden was for the DEC police managers to schedule the staff and equipment for each pullover operation.

Most EU Member States, or regional or local governments, have car stops to check for drivers’ license, insurance, car taxes, or drinking.  So a precedent already exists for pulling over vehicles and conceptually all that is needed is another layer of the inspection for health and environment considerations.

There may be existing rules and laws setting standards for levels of pollution from diesel trucks.  If there are not, isn’t it time for some.  All that is needed is a simple law prohibiting diesel trucks from emitting levels of black smoke, and then enforcement through some training and simple equipment.

A recent study has shown that in London a significant source of air pollution is from construction sites, and in particular the diesel diggers, generators and other machines operating at such sites.  While waiting for green technology to replace some of the polluting equipment, London’s mayor is planning on introducing a fine, like the congestion charge, to be paid by firms using polluting machines.

Should such a fine be enacted, it does not take a lot of imagination to envision an enforcement program that uses existing building inspectors to monitor and enforce such a rule as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Similar possibilities exist for taking action against polluting diesel trucks on the streets of the European cities.



Note 1. A Study of Ambient Air Contaminants and Asthma in New York City (NYS DOH  for NYSERDA and ATSDR, May 2006) found a positive correlation between certain contaminants (PM2.5, SO2, O3 and NO2) and acute asthma visits to emergency rooms in the Bronx.

Note 2. The initiative took place in 2007-09 and all rules and regulations apply to that period

Note 3.  Roadside emissions inspections and heavy duty diesel emission (opacity) standards are provided for in 6 New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) Subpart 217, at §§217-5.2(c) and 217-5.3

Note 4.  Enforcement and penalties.

Note 5. New York City and New York State have restrictions on the length of time that a vehicle engine may lawfully idle.  Under the New York City Air Code, applicable throughout New York City, motor vehicle engines may lawfully idle for no more than 3 minutes.  N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 24-163.  The New York State Air Code, applicable throughout the State (including New York City), limits the lawful idling of heavy duty vehicle engines to 5 minutes.  6 N.Y.C.R.R. § 217-3.2.



“Nearly 40 million people live in UK areas with illegal air pollution,” The Guardian (22 Apr 2017).

Mel Evans, “10 Things You Need to Know about SMMT’s 10 ‘Facts’ about Diesel,” Greenpeace UK (19 April 2017).

“German court orders diesel ban as UK court case looms,” Client Earth (18 Sept 2016).

Joey Gardiner, “How to stop the construction industry choking our cities,” The Guardian (20 April 2017).


It’s Time to Scare the Bejesus Out of People about Climate Change

Part 2 – More Bejesus Needed, But for Whom?


Over the past few years we have explored the challenge of talking about climate change in ways that might influence or move readers to accept the reality of or believe more deeply in the risks from climate change, and even to take some action to fight these risks.  Often we are working off a post by David Roberts of Vox and now we have a recent post from Roberts that has triggered some follow up thoughts to previous posts of our own.

Roberts looks at “alternative framings” on getting people’s attention on climate change in contrast to the most frequent frame which is: climate change is dangerous and we should do what we can to avoid it. Recent research from Switzerland examined some “alternative framings”, including: global warming as an economic opportunity, a way to spur technological innovation, a national security threat, a way of reducing local pollutants, a religious or moral imperative.  The result of the study was that alternative ways of speaking about climate change did not increase support for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation.

Like most of us, Roberts is a bit frustrated that, seemingly, no matter what “framing” we use, it does not affect people.  It seems that we all are trapped in existing frames reinforced by trusted sources and repetition, and breaking through these spaces is not easy.   The old adage seems to prevail:  know your audience and speak to them in ways they are familiar with.

Another dimension is suggested by recent politicking.  We hear much about energizing the base.  That is, politicians, and Trump is a prime example, can and do say the most frightful (with Trump also the most outrageous) things to motivate their already committed supporters to stay committed, to give money and, above all else, to get out and vote.  Other spokespersons are delegated the task of speaking to undecided or independent voters to persuade them of the legitimacy of the party’s positions. 




Isaac Cordal, Politicians talking about climate change




Perhaps we have a parallel universe with regard to climate change.  There are the people who fully understand the reality and risks of climate change and are committed to doing something about it.  They are responsive to the most frightful things we can say about the impacts from climate change, because they “know” them likely to be true, and getting reinforced can keep them engaged, active and contributing. We can scare the bejesus out of them, to good effect.   See, It’s Time to Scare the Bejesus Out of People about Climate Change (1 April 2014).  We should not forget this “base” of support for climate change, as the Democrats forgot much of their base in the 2016 election.

For the others — the undecided, the skeptics and deniers —we need to continue to rely on hard evidence, clear thinking and exposition.  We need to continue to expose the nefarious doings of the fossil fuel industry undermining our efforts, end subsidies for fossil fuels, promote the environmental and economic benefits of renewable energies, and remind people that the extreme weather events they are experiencing are unlike what they have witnessed in their lives and are due, in large part, to climate change. 

We should not forget that these messages have developed only over the past several decades.  When people first began to address climate change in the 1980s, the risks were largely theoretical, and therefore unpersuasive, and large-scale reliance on sun and wind was a dream.  Just several decades later these are both actualities.

And remember the struggle to overcome the tobacco industry in its denial of the health risks from smoking and, importantly, second-hand smoking.  This struggle has taken 40-50 years and is not yet over because of continuing well-funded industry opposition.

Finally, don’t forget to reach out to the next generations on climate change, as they grow up.  It’s their fight as much as anyone’s.

When all else fails, we will have to rely on fire and brimstones, or a series of catastrophes, to persuade the uncommitted.




David Roberts, “Is it worth trying to “reframe” climate change? Probably not.” Vox (27 Feb 2017).

“It’s Time to Scare the Bejesus Out of People about Climate Change,” in ieBLOG section of irish environment (1 April 2014).

“Talk, Talk, Talk About Climate Change – It’s Driving Some Well-Intentioned People (like Jonathan Franzen) Crazy,” in ieBLOG section of irish environment (1 May 2015).

“It’s time to label sacks of coal like we do packs of cigarettes: SMOKING KILLS” in ieBLOG section of irish environment (1 July 2014).


Everybody Seems to Be Moving to Cities. Why?

Looking for jobs and excitement, escaping war zones, and, soon, getting away from climate change impacts


In 1950 the world’s population was about 2.5 billion, with 746 million living in urban areas (about 30%); by 2014 the world population stood at 7.2 billion, with 3.9 billion (or 54%) in urban areas.  By 2050, the world’s population will more than double to about 9.7 billion, with over 6 billion or close to 70% of the population living in urban areas globally.  Much of that growth over the past several decades, and continuing into 2050, and beyond, is in Asia and Africa. 

The growth in size and density of cities often comes from people moving from small towns, villages or the countryside in search of jobs or economic opportunities, and perhaps some of the intensity offered by city life.  These are typically people from the same country, with similar languages and culture.  People from the Irish countryside moving to Dublin, and people from across India moving to Mumbai are examples.

Of course the economic opportunities of the cities are relative to what the migrating people left behind: the poorer the farm or service jobs back home, the more attractive the cities become.  But the life encountered in the big cities can be harsh, with very low paying, menial jobs.  And living accommodations in the cities can range from very crowded living spaces to squalid slums. Density often varies according to income, and those with higher education seeking professional jobs fare better.

More recently there has been the influx to large cities in troubled countries of immigrants trying to escape horrible, raging war zones across the countryside.  Or the at-risk populations flee to big cities in other countries seeking a safe haven and a chance to survive. They are often people from social-cultural-religious backgrounds that are very different from those in the “host” country.  The on-going, intense conflict within European Union countries over immigration from the Middle East and Africa exemplifies this development.

Soon there will be yet another category of people moving to big cities across the globe.  These will be the environmental refugees who will be trying to escape the disastrous impacts from climate change, including massive and frequent flooding, killing heat waves, drought, and other extreme weather events, as well as shortages of food resulting from the effects of climate change.

In some cases, the people at risk will be from small low-lying island communities and countries and, presumably, they will try to relocate in nearby countries.

In some countries citizens will suffer from extreme droughts in the countryside and head for large cities.  In Brazil in 1915, and again in 1932-33, the government forced mass internment of peasants trying to reach a capital city, Fortaleza, because drought had destroyed their farms.  The peasants were locked into camps with little food and unhealthy living conditions.  Many died.

In other cases, however, mega-cities themselves will be threatened with survival, especially those along water bodies. To the extent those cities do not have the economic resources and/or political will to prepare for or defend against the climate changes, then part or all of the multi-million populations of those cities will have to migrate to safer lands, away from the risks from climate change.  Some may seek shelter inland of their country, but how would they survive there.  What jobs would there be?  What economy would even exist?  What food would be available?

Eco Watch

Those who could not escape inland, or were prevented by authorities, would migrate elsewhere, somewhere not subject to the risks from climate change.  Certainly large cities in the same country or in other countries would be attractive because of the economic and other resources available in cities.

There are large, pressing questions about which cities will be at greatest risk from climate change, how many people from these at-risk places will have to move from what threats, and where else they will be able or allowed to go.  Then the issues facing the current crisis with immigrants from Middle East and Africa war zones trying to flee to culturally, nationally and religiously distinct areas will be replayed on a global scale.

National and international plans to adapt to climate change need to consider these pressing problems.



“Urban Density” in iePEDIA section of irish environment magazine (March 2017).

World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas, United Nations, Development (10 July 2014).

Demographia: World Urban Areas – 12th Annual Edition (April 2016).    The report applies a generally consistent definition to “built-up urban areas”.

City Mayors Statistics, The largest cities in the world by land area, population and density: Ranked by population density: 1 to 125 (6 Jan 2007).

“Brazil’s forgotten history of imprisoning citizens fleeing drought in concentration camps: extreme droughts in the South American country in the early 20th century saw the government interning rural peasants fleeing the disaster,” (Feb. 2017).


Editor’s Update (13 March 2017):

Florence Williams, “Warning: living in a city could seriously damage your health,” The Guardian (13 March 2017).



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