Written by  Alesha Allard

Connecting with Urban Nature Featured

 

Measure your eco footprints, if you dare!

As the rate of human expansion and consumption rises, we may soon find ourselves in a severe deficit of natural resources. Our planet provides a number of elements used in our everyday lives; water, air, food, energy, land, and more. Some of these resources are renewable and simply take time to replenish, while others are finite and unable to regenerate. Scientists have come up with a calculation method, called the ecological footprint, to determine the sustainability factor of supply and demand on our world.

Indicator of ecological footprint
Description of the measurement of our impact to the natural resources

Source:https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/

The complete formula for assessing the ecological footprint cuts the Earth into equal sections called hectares and involves many large scale factors like; the size of available green space, rate of fishing/crop harvesting, amount of carbon emissions, etc. While it is true that, along with the negative impacts of human advancement there have been many improvements made to enhance and preserve the natural world. Unfortunately, the numbers tell us that in the past 50 years the 27% increase of environmental productivity has been grossly outweighed by the 190% increase in natural resource consumption over the same period of time. This process is referred to as building ‘ecological debt’. Similar to spending money on a credit card, once the limit has been reached, the only action possible is to find a way to pay back the owed sum. In 2018 the World Wildlife Fund estimated that the annual value of natural resources consumed is close to $125 trillion. Paying back a sum of this size will require a change in resource management practices, finding a way to preserve what we have and creating more opportunities for the natural world flourish. 

Put simply, the amount of natural resources you require to continue living the way you do equates to your ecological footprint. Indicators come from one of two categories; the amount of resources being used and the amount of waste generated. Some of our consumption is tracked for us through things like monthly electric and water bills. What we dispose of and how we choose to dispose of it, can reveal our expectation for the Earth’s capacity to process or store garbage. Careful sorting of recycling and bio items is extremely important as well. When there is an excessive amount of a foreign item in a designated recycling bin, the entire contents of the bin are then sent directly to a landfill -- no portion of it will be recycledMany activities can be thought of as falling into both categories, like driving -- the amount of drive time and the tanks of gas used for transportation is a telling point for oil consumption as well as carbon emission output. 

How to improve the carbon footprint
Measures to reduce our impact on natural resources

Source: https://www.regenwaste.com/easy-ways-to-improve-your-carbon-footprint 

The current average annual ecological footprint is 2.2 hectares per person, about 20% over the sustainable capacity of 1.8 hectares per person, as estimated in a recent study by the Maropeng Center in South Africa. It is extremely important to think in these terms because each person’s life has an impact on the ecological footprint. If you think you are ready, environmental foundation websites like www.footprintcalculator.org are a useful tool for making us more conscious of our own lifestyle choices. 

With each flick of a light-switch and turn of the faucet handle, we are placing a demand on the resources of the planet. Every plastic or paper-wrapped package requires oil, trees, and energy for creation. The further our food needs to travel to rest on our plate, the more gasoline is used and emissions are created through the transportation process. There is also the question of efficiency of land use when it comes to the raising and harvesting of crops. Every activity completed by a human in some way is either creating waste or utilizing resources.


Transnational comparison of ecological footprint
The number of planets needed if all nations would have the same consumption levels

Source:https://www.wwf.ca/?21901/Earths-resources-depleted-for-2016 

Can you think of any ways to use and produce less in your daily life? 

Both of these lifestyle changes are valuable and accessible in the form of activities such as carpooling or the use of public transportation, repairing instead of replacing broken items, turning the faucet off while brushing your teeth, using refillable bottles, and selecting locally sourced produce and items with less packaging. Convenience and consideration for resources can join hands in our daily lives if we make the decision to pay attention to the details in our actions it becomes possible to form new, healthier habits.

Achieving a sustainable balance between environmental supply and demand will require a shift in actions and perceptions on a global scale. Though a change like this will undoubtedly take time, individual change can lay a pathway for change on a larger scale. That is to say, one step at a time, your personal responsibility toward consideration and change today, will make a positive change for our collective future.

Actions to reduce the ecological footprint
Actions to reduce our impact towards the planet

Source:https://www.arcticgardens.ca/blog/earth-day-tips-to-reduce-ecological-food-footprint/

 

[i] WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report - 2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A.(Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

[ii] Sameerow. (2014, January 12). Recycling Bin Contamination. Retrieved from http://sustainability.umich.edu/environ211/recycling-bin-contamination

[iii] Your ecological footprint – Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves: Official Visitor Centres for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.maropeng.co.za/content/page/your-ecological-footprint

[iv] http://data.footprintnetwork.org/#/?

 

 

Home Grown: Urban Agriculture

Look down at your plate. Call to mind the aisles of food available in the grocery stores. Is it easy to know which items have been imported and which have been locally sourced? The shocking fact is that most of these items have been imported from an estimated 2500 - 5000 km away. In opposition to this dependence upon mass importation, urban agriculture is springing up in major inter-city areas all over the world. Designed for local community commerce, items like; fruits, vegetables, meat, honey, and eggs are being grown and/or raised within the city setting in. The products are then sold to restaurants, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and even directly to consumers. The benefits of urban farming are not limited to providing their stock to restaurants, and markets. These farms are typically associated with organic farming practices and have been known to develop an awareness of both seasonal and regional fresh growth capabilities.

 

 

Though the words ‘urban farming’ may sound ultra-modern, it has been a major component of global life in both times of prosperity and insecurity since ancient times. Structure remnants, as well as historical texts, show evidence that as far back as 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon had complex irrigation systems joined to vertical gardening plots within the confines of the city. Just beyond the heart of the city provided a prime location for farming, allowing for quicker access to buying/selling locations. Though, over the centuries, as expansion began to take place, the majority of farms began to move to the outskirts into what we now call rural areas.

Ancient urban agriculture gardens in Babylon 

Representation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Source: https://www.ancient.eu/Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon/

While the majority of farming locations may have relocated beyond the perimeter of the city, this is not to say that inter-city farming vanished.  Currently, urban agriculture is responsible for producing 15-20% of the world’s food supply, with the number and size of farming locations growing as time moves forward. Earlier this year, nestled upon the rooftop of an exposition center and hotel in Paris, the Agripolis opened. At 14,000 square meters, Agripolis is the largest urban agriculture site in Europe. A surprising study in France by Générations Futures found that 72.6% of non-organic produce contained trace residue of illegal pesticides. This agro-community will not only allow the local market, within 500m of the site, access to chemical-free produce, but also has another goal in mind. In The Guardian’s interview of Pascal Hardy, the founder of Agripolis, he stated, “Our vision is a city in which flat roofs and abandoned surfaces are covered with these new growing systems.” The future allocation for green farming areas can have a multitude of important planetary benefits as well. A 2001 study by the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science & Technology projected that urban agriculture could also pose a solution to the two largest problems facing Third World cities - poverty and waste management. Though these issues have not been solved, the field of inter-city agriculture has been reaching new levels of exposure and community involvement since the writing of this study. The growth of sustainability at a higher level promises to have a higher fulfillment upon the goal of the inspiring study.

 

Agripolis, the biggest urban agriculture site in Europe

The Paris Agropolis

Source: https://www.borntoengineer.com/agripolis-largest-urban-farm-paris 

While the ease and speed of the importing process allow for more varied consumer selection, it may not be the most sustainable answer in these times of ever-expanding metropolitan areas. Urban agriculture is an effective platform for the productive use of open spaces, treating of urban waste, and generation of jobs that provide community access and knowledge to nature. The next time you look down at your plate and ask the question, just where does this food come from?

 

[i] Brady, S. (2020, February 6). Paris takes urban farming to new heights with the world's largest rooftop farm. Retrieved from https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/agripolis-urban-farm-paris

[ii] Smith, J. (2001). Urban agriculture: food, jobs, and sustainable cities. Published with permission from the United Nations Development Programme

[iii] MahiMahi. (2020, January 20). Un peu d'histoire. Retrieved from https://www.generations-futures.fr/qui-sommes-nous/un-peu-d-histoire/

[iv] Harrap, C. (2019, August 13). World's largest urban farm to open – on a Paris rooftop. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/aug/13/worlds-largest-urban-farm-to-open-on-a-paris-rooftop

[v] Belevi, H., & Baumgartner, B. (2003). A systematic overview of urban agriculture in developing countries from an environmental point of view. International Journal of Environmental Technology and Management, 3(2), 193. doi: 10.1504/ijetm.2003.003382

 

 

CONNECTING WITH URBAN NATURE 

 

We have all grown accustomed to the rapid pace of the 21st century, with everything in constant motion it can seem as though there is a disconnection being created between humans and nature. A looming question is; how do we share in a meaningful relationship with the natural world when it is so far removed from our daily lives? The beautiful truth is that nature is one of the main components of all of our lives. We pick berries, swim in the sea, listen to the call of the birds, bury our loved ones in the earth, and celebrate the harvest with our families and communities. It is possible that the key to a new relationship exists in the way we perceive and interact with nature.

For some communities this concept may come more naturally, the surrounding ecosystem is not a mere backdrop, but it is the cornerstone of society. A common thread in the ‘ancient wisdom’ for communities like the Potawatomi Tribe of Wisconsin, USA, and the Totanoca people of Puebla, Mexico is the driving concept to maintaining a lifestyle that encourages a balance between humans and all-natural elements. Young children are raised under these teachings, allowing them to grow to adulthood with a strong sense of unity and an intrinsic bond with the land. Robin Kimmerer, a member of the Potawatomi Tribe, wrote in her book Braiding Sweetgrass that anyone can “become indigenous to place ...[by choosing to] take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual depended on it”. There is a definite form of inspiration which can be taken from her words; that appreciation of the earth is available to people of any gender, age, culture -- a new perspective is available to anyone who chooses to pursue it.

Traditional Totonac dance "Voladores". By: Aneta Přibová

Even in the most unlikely of places, when we cannot venture into the wilderness, the wilderness is brought to us. Take for example the urban setting, which is predominantly void of patches of wild earth. However, interspersed between sheets of concrete are carefully selected trees, bushes, and flowers. This suggests that there is an innate understanding of mankind’s appreciation and need for exposure to nature. In a study conducted at the Universiti Teknologi MARA it was estimated that within 3 years, 73% of the population of Malaysia would live in an urban landscape by 2020. A centrally located Perdana Botanical Garden in Kuala Lumpur has become a key element in fostering interaction humans and nature, creating a community atmosphere by enabling contact from person to person and opening a gateway for conducting environmental studies. The garden is regarded as a healing place, due to the evidence that spending time within its many pathways has a positive effect on both the mental and physical health of frequent visitors.

Opportunities for exploration of the natural world come in all shapes and sizes -- parks, gardens, forests, wetlands, and desert landscapes. We make a connection to the earth every time we look up at the sky, notice the first flowers of spring, or choose to take our footsteps down an earthen trail. We can take part in our activities alone, or with the company of friends, family, and children -- sharing with others in the joys of what we find just beyond the reach of our front door.

Aerial view of an unknown city. By: Aleksejs Bergmanis

The benefits of incorporating a perspective of integration with the earth are not limited. This practice allows for the growth of our own well-being as well as that of the planet. While the list of ailments facing the planet seems to grow every day, it is becoming more important than ever for people to develop a sustainable bond with the natural world. We have a choice to seek our own experiences, share them with those around us, and to live in conscious contact with nature. Creating a sense of unity with nature can be the key to not only stopping the damage to the environment, but also potentially reversing its effects.

 

Aereal view of Cuetzalan, Puebla, Mexico. By: Aneta Přibová

  

[i] Russell, R., Guerry, A. D., Balvanera, P., Gould, R. K., Basurto, X., Chan, K. M., … Tam, J. (2013). Humans and Nature: How Knowing and Experiencing Nature Affect Well-Being. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 38(1), 473–502. doi: 10.1146/annurev-environ-012312-110838

[ii] Ruiz, M. (2008). The four agreements. Thorndike, Me.: Center Point Pub.

[iii] Kimmerer, R., 2020. Braiding Sweetgrass. [S.l.]: Penguin books.

[iv] Razak, Mohd & Othman, Noriah & mat nazir, Nurul. (2016). Connecting People with Nature: Urban Park and Human Well-being. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 222. 476-484. 10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.05.138.

[v] Burton, J. (2019). Mental Health and the Human-Nature Connection http://loatree.com/2016/05/23/mental-health-and-the-human-nature-connection

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2 comments

  • Comment Link Jane pátek, 08 květen 2020 13:49 posted by Jane

    I liked to know about the indigenous people's connection with nature

  • Comment Link Rene B. úterý, 28 duben 2020 08:59 posted by Rene B.

    Wonderful writing !

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