Category Archives: Environmental Science

Cities for the People


Today’s cities are designed for vehicles, not for people. Modern cities have an overwhelming presence of cars, and parking lots, and contain very few parks. Some cities don’t even have adequate sidewalks, or bike lanes, and lack the basics of public transportation. Modern cities are also a lot larger and have more people than they’ve ever had in the past. More than half of all people live in cities, some of which are living in megacities, with over 10 million residents. Many of these cities contain air that isn’t safe to breathe. Living in these overpopulated areas can pose serious health risks, and the constant congestion of streets cause frustration levels to skyrocket (Brown, 2009).

Cities and Global Warming

Does the current design of our cities contribute to excess CO2, and global warming? The simple answer is, yes, albeit indirectly. Cities are designed for vehicles, not for people. They are inlaid with concrete highways, ramps, bridges, and lanes, making it impractical to get around using any other means of transportation. They are congested with vehicles, and, in megacities, bumper-to-bumper traffic, raising stress levels of people living, or commuting, within their borders. The constant flow of traffic and congestion causes havoc on the environment by releasing massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, helping to increase the rate in which global warming progresses. The null hypothesis is that: If cities were designed for people, instead of cars, then there would be a decline (or at least stabilization) in the current global warming rate.

Current internal combustion engines (ICE) are one of the leading causes of pollution. Some companies, such as Toyota, and Honda, are industry leaders in creating safer, and more fuel-efficient vehicles (Laszlo, 2008). Over the next 20 years, an additional 600 million vehicles are projected to enter the market, bringing the total number of vehicles to an estimated 1.5 billion. These vehicles not only release excess CO2 into the atmosphere, but they also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, and smog, which can result in health conditions such as asthma (Laszlo, 2008).

Current vehicles also cause a lot of solid waste, and water contamination, which is generated during the manufacturing process of steel, batteries, paints, plastics, and lubricants. Toyota is a leader, in not only creating more fuel-efficient cars, but also in the percentage of junk automobile parts that can be recycled (Laszlo, 2008).

Cities for the People

The first thing that needs to be done to combat global warming is to design, or redesign, cities for the people, and reduce the number of vehicles used in everyday operations. More parks and sidewalks should be created to help expedite pedestrian traffic. However, the creation of sidewalks isn’t always a straightforward solution, as many cities still struggle to provide adequate sidewalks, mainly because of budget limitations (Sustainable Cities Institute).

The second thing that needs to be implemented, is a focus on moving away from non-renewable fossil fuels that are used in vehicles. It’s estimated that there is only about two billion barrels of oil on the planet, of which, over one billion barrels have already been used (Brown, 2009). Not only do fossil fuels contribute to global warming, but they are also quickly disappearing. The reduction of fossil fuel use will help stabilize the pace of global warming, as the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere is reduced.

Public transportation methods such as busses and trains should be more abundant. This will help reduce the congestion of vehicles in cities, and, therefore, will help reduce the amount of CO2 given off by the abundance of passenger vehicles currently in use. Passenger vehicle usage could be limited to long trips or transporting heavy loads. In New York City, a MetroCard can be purchased for unlimited rides during a 30-day period, for only $104 (MTA). Public transportation, such as busses, and trains, will also help reduce the amount of congestion on the streets. Trains can even be built underground to further reduce street-level congestion.

The next thing that can be done is the development of additional bike lanes, and trails, throughout the cities, to encourage bike usage, and make it safer for bikers to travel alongside motor vehicles. Riding bicycles, or walking, opposed to driving, gives people the chance to meet in person, and strike up a conversation during their commute, as well as reducing the risks for many serious health issues (“It’s easy being green” 2008). Some colleges in Wisconsin have even implemented a program which provides bicycles, helmets, and locks, to freshmen students who agree to leave their vehicles at home. These bikes are free to keep, and help encourage students to be healthier, by riding bikes, and, also, to push students to “go green” (“Ripon college gives,” 2008). Many cities, such as Des Moines, in Iowa, have also implemented bike rental programs. They allow patrons and their children to rent bicycles for various periods of times, and also to explore the city while using these bikes. Benefits are gained for both the city, and patrons using this program (“Gray’s lake park,” 2009).

Some city governments have started attacking the problem by charging a pollution tax on vehicles that enter the city during the day. In Britain, motorists are charged a pollution tax of £25 per day, to enter the city centers. Small vehicles, as well as electric or hybrid vehicles will be omitted from paying this tax. These new laws are forcing people to “pay” for their environmental damage (Chapman, 2007).

Cities should also take advantage of unused space, or replace abandoned buildings with trees, or plants, that can help improve the air quality, as well as many other social aspects of the city. More recreational areas could be created for children, and community gardens can be developed, to help encourage community involvement in regard to the protection of the environment, and to reduce frustration levels, as well as increase social activity between city residents.

More high-rise buildings could be developed to help reduce the amount of real estate taken up by non-naturalistic structures and increase that for which these parks and community gardens could be built. The rooftops of these high-rise buildings would be great places to add additional gardens, or plants, which could further help reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (Brown, 2009).

Lastly, city police departments could implement more programs to have police officers use bicycles during their patrols, instead of squad cars. This will not only help ensure the health, and athletic ability of the police officers, but could also create a better relationship between the officers, and the local residents, as there will be more opportunity to socialize with the officers as they make their patrols. Studies have also shown that police officers on bikes, are more productive than those in squad cars. On average, they are able to arrive on scene faster and more quietly than officers in squad cars, and they make 50% more arrests per day (Brown, 2009).

Stabilizes Global Warming

Taking the steps above will help reduce the number of vehicles on the streets, and encourage other methods of transportation, whether it’s in the form of public transportation, walking, or riding bicycles, it will help stabilize global warming. As the number of vehicles on the street is reduced, there will be a reduction in the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. This reduction in vehicles will help stabilize global warming in two ways: The manufacturing of these vehicles would be reduced, as the demand goes down, which would reduce the amount of pollution created during the manufacturing process, and there would be a reduction of CO2 released during the operation of these vehicles.

Eliminating, or reducing, the number of vehicles used, will reduce the amount of heat in the atmosphere, through the prevention of the Positive Feedback Loop. The Positive Feedback Loop is a “catch 22” effect, that happens when CO2 is released into the atmosphere. The Earth needs to release excess heat back into space to help cool the planet. However, when CO2 enters the atmosphere, it traps this excess heat inside. Since the planet is unable to release this heat back into space properly, the temperature of the planet will start to rise. This increase in temperature will cause glaciers to start to melt (Brown, 2009).

The loss of glaciers can be devastating to the planet, in several ways. As additional heat from the sun enters the planet’s atmosphere; excess heat, (about 70%) is reflected back into space, helping to cool the planet. However, if the atmosphere is loaded with CO2 this excess heat will become trapped, instead of being released back into space. As the planet’s temperature starts to rise from the excess heat, the glaciers will start to melt faster. As the glaciers continue to melt, at an alarming rate, more dark, open water is exposed. This dark, open water only reflects about 6% of the heat from the sun, back into space. The rest of the heat is absorbed by the water, heating the water, and, in turn, further increasing the rate in which the glaciers will melt (Brown, 2009).

This endless process will continue as long as there is an excess amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, preventing the planet from cooling properly. The design, or redesign, of cities to support other methods of transportation, therefore reducing the number of vehicles required to navigate the city, will help reduce this excess amount of CO2, and, therefore, help stabilize the rate at which the planet is warming.

The planting of trees, gardens, and more naturalistic landscapes, throughout the city will also help further reduce the amount of CO2 contained within the atmosphere. Trees of all shapes and sizes help absorb CO2; however, younger, fast-growing trees, seem to be the favorite, as they tend to absorb more CO2 than older trees. The exact type of tree to be planted will depend on the area in which the tree is located. Some tree species may perform better, in specific areas (C).

The Economics

While all of the solutions talked about throughout this essay are great alternatives, some of them are not realistically viable. The fact is, that rebuilding cities actually costs a lot more than building them correctly in the first place, and, while these might be great solutions, they do, however, cost a considerable amount of money to implement (Brown, 2009). While implementing more public transportation such as busses (or trains), might seem like a wise idea, buses are incredibly expensive. The exact cost of the busses will vary, depending on the required features. Some may have LED signs on the front, or back, that help patrons know what route the bus is taking; some may have front, and back entrances, and, others, may be handicap accessible, or have racks on the front of the bus to store patrons’ bicycles.

Diesel busses can typically cost anywhere from $300,000, to $600,000, brand new, depending on what features are installed on the bus. Natural gas busses can also be purchased, but they generally cost about $30,000 more than a diesel bus. There are also hybrid busses being released onto the market, but they can cost as much as $714,000, per bus (MacKechnie). Other costs will also have to be taken into consideration, such as developing routes for the busses to follow, panting curbs, or lanes, for busses to follow, installing bus stop signage around the city, and paying employees to drive the busses. With a rough estimate, it’s clear that adding additional busses, won’t bring any short-term profits for the city.

The costs to build and operate public trains can cost several million dollars per mile, and in some areas, it may cost as much as $2.1 billion dollars per mile (MacKechnie). Also, take into consideration the costs of operating the trains. Some trains require at least two employees to drive the train (MacKechnie). There would probably be additional need for employees to coordinate, and schedule all of the train routes, and monitor the trains as they operate to ensure that there are no accidents.

The development of trains, and busses, while being an excellent idea, is probably not viable for many of today’s cities. Not only are the costs to purchase, and develop, the new services, outrageously high, but there are also the costs of operating the services over longer periods of time, and, as with any other type of machine, the busses and trains will probably require regular maintenance in order to keep them functioning properly and safely.

Adding additional public sidewalks is, generally, a more viable solution, as the costs are dramatically less, than the development of public transportation systems. Some cities, like New York, have laws in place that require property owners to take care of, and repair, out of their own pockets, any public sidewalks adjacent to their property, or houses (DOT). The cost of a concrete sidewalk may vary greatly, but an average cost of about $23-$27 per square foot (with proper sealant applied) can be expected (Leone, 2012). While these costs might add up to a few hundred dollars per resident to replace or repair the sidewalks adjacent to their property, the cost for the city to create new sidewalks would probably be much higher. This would depend on whether the city decides to foot the bill for new sidewalks or if that bill would be broken down and divided up between the residents living where the new sidewalks were placed.

While the installation of additional sidewalks is considerably less than that of the public transportation solutions, some small cities still might find their selves unable to endure the additional costs, especially, in areas that are not heavily populated. The city of New York focuses most of its work in areas that have one-, two-, or three-family homes (DOT). The installation of these new sidewalks does prove to be a viable solution, but not across the board. Some larger cities might easily be able to endure these additional costs, while some smaller cities are left behind.

The costs of planting new trees and adding a more natural landscaping to cities isn’t something that can be easily estimated. These costs are going to vary depending on the number of trees that need to be planted, and the type of trees purchased. While some trees might survive well in one area, they may not do so well in another area (C). As an example, a Red Oak tree might cost as much as $275-$895, to purchase, depending on the size, height, and width of the tree, among other factors. However, this price also includes the cost of delivery, and planting of the tree, and an 18-month guarantee (“Tree land nursery,”). The exact costs and guarantees are, again, going to vary greatly.

The option to plant new trees is a small step but is probably viable to most cities. If more residents donate money, or help plant these trees, it may take some of the stress off of the city’s budget. Residents owning property within the city limits may also choose to purchase and plant trees, on their own accord (within their property).

By now, it should be clear that designing, or redesigning cities, can have an impact on the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere, and will, therefore, at the very least, stabilize the global warming rate. However, not all of these options are viable solutions at the current time, because they are limited to the economies of each individual city, and in some cases, the residents living within the city. It’s important that, in time, these options be implemented; however, it will probably have to be done at a rather slow pace, starting with smaller, more viable options, such as planting more trees, or creating more sidewalks.

Vehicle manufacturers also need to continue to improve the vehicles that they design, improving the gas mileage, and reducing the amount of pollution created during the manufacturing process in order to help accelerate these efforts. While it’s (probably) not possible to redesign all of the cities in any reasonable amount of time, a little effort put forth by cities, residents, and vehicle manufactures, can certainly add up, and help achieve a higher goal.

References – Cities for the People

Economic Analysis of Sustainability


Oil is the world’s leading source of energy. In 1900, the world produced 150 million barrels of oil, a number that jumped dramatically to 28 billion barrels by the year 2000. In the twentieth century, oil was readily available, and therefore very cheap. This expanding supply of cheap oil caused an explosion in the growth of food production, population, urbanization, and human mobility (Brown, 2009). Today, we live in an oil-based civilization, and are completely reliant on an energy source that will not be around forever. There is an estimated 2 billion barrels of oil on the planet, of which, 1 billion barrels have already been used (Brown, 2009). Aside from the dramatically decreasing oil quantities, the burning of oil also contributes to global warming. According to Brown, 2009, the burning of oil contributes to 38% of all carbon emissions; succeeded only by coal, which is currently responsible for 43% of all carbon emissions.

Economic Analysis of Sustainability

The Earth’s temperature has been increasing over recent years. 25 of the world’s warmest years since records have been kept have happened since 1980 (Brown, 2009). This warming happens because of greenhouse gasses, like carbon, which trap heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon is currently responsible for 63% of the global warming trend (Brown, 2009). One of the main causes of carbon emissions comes from transportation. In 2010, there was an estimated 250.2 million registered passenger cars on the road, in the United States alone (RITA, 2012). In 2011, the number of vehicles worldwide surpassed 1 billion (Tencer, 2011), with the United States being the worst culprit. Even though the number of vehicles in China has been dramatically increasing, they would need to increase their vehicle numbers another 16-fold, just to meet the number of vehicles currently on U.S. roads (Tencer, 2011).

The release of carbon from vehicles contributes to the effects of global warming. The carbon prevents the Earth from cooling down, by trapping heat inside the atmosphere. When sunlight hits glaciers, about 70% of that heat is directed back into space, but because of the carbon build up, this heat can be trapped in the atmosphere, which causes the glaciers to melt even faster. As the glaciers start to melt, more open ocean is exposed. Only about 6% of light that hits the dark-colored, open ocean, is reflected back into space, leaving the rest of the heat from the light to be absorbed by the ocean, heating the water. As the ocean waters warm, they also contribute to the melting of the glaciers. This creates what scientists call a Positive Feedback Loop. In order to make any progress in the fight against global warming, we need to find ways to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Some vehicle manufactures have tried to combat this problem by generating more fuel-efficient vehicles, while others have continued to manufacture large gas-guzzling SUVs. Other companies such as Think, have succeeded in building vehicles that can be powered by electricity. Electricity can be generated from many different sources, some of which are far cleaner than burning fossil fuels. One example of this is wind farms. Wind farms are groups of wind turbines that can be placed in fields, or even directly in the ocean [Offshore Wind Farms]. They can use the energy created from wind, to generate electricity (US Department of Energy, 2011).


Some companies might question the rationale behind upgrading their fleet of vehicles to newer, electric vehicles. You would have the cost of purchasing the vehicle, and then you would need to pay for the electricity that the vehicle uses. To demonstrate this, a factious company, called Semplici, can be used. Semplici is a locally owned Italian pizza company. Their owner has been becoming more concerned with current environmental issues and has been contemplating what his business can do to help combat the growing problems, such as global warming. He has been considering going with an electric vehicle. Currently his delivery employees are using their personal vehicles to make deliveries. He’s concerned that while attempting to help the environment, he may bring down his own business, with the added costs of purchasing company owned vehicles. Also, he’s noticed that the electric vehicles cost a good deal more than a standard gas-powered vehicle, which he could purchase for around $18,000 (Ford). A new electric vehicle, such as the Think, starts at $22,000 after about $10,000 in government incentives. Currently, not all states offer government incentives to purchase electric vehicles.

Semplici currently pays their delivery drivers a starting wage of $9.00 an hour. The drivers also receive a 0.75¢ reimbursement for each delivery made. This reimbursement helps combat the wear and tear on their vehicles, as well as any gas used during the delivery. On average, Semplici delivers two pizzas per hour, during a 12-hour workday. They are open seven days a week. This works out to be about $18.00 per day, which is spent in delivery driver reimbursements, or about $540.00 per month (Gregster, 2008). With an average delivery distance of about 4.5 miles; over a period of one month, this would use 162 gallons of gas, on a vehicle that receives 20 MPG-or a total of $539.46, based off of an average of $3.33 per gallon. For example, a Ford Taurus with an estimated 18 MPG city, and 25 MPG highway, will drive an average of 39,420 miles delivering pizzas over a period of one year. This would produce a footprint of 36,990 pounds of CO2 per year, or an average of 1,905 gallons of fuel per year.

After doing some research, Semplici’s owner determines that he can purchase a new electric vehicle from Think, for a total of $22,990 after a federal incentive of $7,500.00, and a tax credit of $2,500.00. The monthly payment on the vehicle would be around $420.03 per month. The Think uses the same amount of power as a 60-watt light bulb. 1 kilowatt-hour produces a carbon footprint of 1.6 pounds per hour. 0.06 Kilowatts an hour gives an average of 0.096 pounds of CO2 per hour, or 2.304 pounds of CO2 per day, giving a total of 840.96 pounds of CO2 per year, which is a reduction of 36,149.04 pounds of CO2 per year, over the Ford Taurus.

It will cost an average of $2.00 to $4.00 to charge the electric vehicle per day, increasing his electric bill by a maximum of $120.00 per month (plug in america, 2012). The total cost of owning the car, including payments and electricity usage would be about $540.03 per month. This is only a 0.03¢ increase over the $540.00 that he already pays his delivery drivers in reimbursements.

With this information, he realizes that this new investment isn’t going to cost him any more money than he is currently spending, but it’s not going to bring in any additional short-term savings either. Doing a little more research, he learns that he could pay off his new investment in about 4.5 to 5 years. Using information from the Department of Motor Vehicles Web site, he also learns that the average age of vehicles in the United States is about 10.8 years. If he could manage to pay off his new electric vehicle in the allotted 4.5 years, he could probably get an additional 6.3 years of service out of the vehicle, during which time, no payments would need to be made. At which point he would only need to pay the additional $120.00 of electric usage per month, saving him a total of $420.03 per month, over what he is currently paying drivers in reimbursements.

Over the next 6.3 years, he would save a total of $31,754.27 in reimbursement fees. This would not only completely reimburse him for the investment he made, but also bring in an additional $8,764.27, in long-term savings, that he could use to reinvest in another electric car. Although his electric bill would be considerably higher, he would also completely remove the need to purchase fuel for his delivery vehicles. He realizes that, not only could he gain some long-term savings by switching to an electric vehicle, but he could also make a huge profit by doing so. He also gets the idea of placing “Eco-Friendly Delivery” stickers on his new vehicles, which might help him snag some of the customers from competing pizza restaurants. If this happens, it’s possible he could use the extra income to pay off his new electric vehicle even faster, allowing him to make even more money in the long-term. It’s also possible that his “me-too” competitors will also try to follow suit, purchasing their own electric delivery vehicles, further reducing the amount of damage to the environment.

Costs and Savings

As with most rental car companies, he has decided that the delivery employees will need to provide their own driver’s license, and proof of insurance, before they will be allowed to drive one of the company vehicles. The employees will also have the option of purchasing insurance from Semplici, if they do not currently have their own. This cost will be deducted from their biweekly paychecks. As long as the vehicles remain on Semplici’s property, they will be covered under the existing commercial insurance, therefore, there won’t be any additional insurance costs for using company owned vehicles.

The Think comes with a 3 year, or 36,000-mile warranty, for the battery, and drive train. Think City makes the claim that the battery life is 10 years, or 100,000 miles. The overall maintenance on the Think will be minimal, as the electric motor has very few moving parts (Think City, 2012).

The initial down payment for the new electric vehicle will require $2,000, which will increase the expenses during the first year. After the first year, the total payments for the electric car will be slightly lower than the current expenses from employee reimbursement. During the fifth year, an additional $600 would be required to purchase new tires for the electric vehicle, however, at this point, only 6 months of payments will be left on the vehicle, so the total expenses will be further decreased. Moving forward from the sixth year, the savings will be dramatically increased. The ten-year cost of operating with employee vehicles will cost about $64,799 compared with the $40,313 it would cost to operate for ten years using the new company-owned electric vehicle; bringing in a total savings of $24,486 over a ten-year period.

Long- and short-term savings.

In conclusion, we can see that although Semplici’s isn’t going to see any short-term profits for making this change, they will start to notice significant profits over the long-term. They also have the opportunity to bring in more business, and help the environment, by providing a more environmentally friendly operation.

Global warming has been an issue for many years, and is becoming increasingly important, as glaciers are disappearing at record speed, and the Earth starts to suffer other environmental changes. The weather has been changing dramatically, storms have been more violent, the summers (and even the winters) have been considerably hotter. In January 2012, the state of Wisconsin saw temperatures in the range of 80° F, and, in December 2011, temperatures rose to 60° F, or more. Some parts of southern Wisconsin didn’t even see snow fall. During June and July 2012, southern Wisconsin experienced several days over 100°+ F, some days reaching 111° F. It’s hard not to trace all of these changes back to global warming.

The use of electric vehicles, instead of gasoline powered vehicles, can decrease carbon emissions, and, probably, help slow down the speed at which the Earth is warming. Semplici’s is just a starting point, if more companies are willing to make such an environmental change, we can make a huge impact in the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere. More individuals also need to step up, and start making a change for the better, by buying more environmentally friendly vehicles.

However, before any of this can happen on a large scale, several changes will need to be made. First and foremost, more states need to start providing incentives for purchasing electric vehicles. Currently, only a few states offer incentives, and tax credits for buying the Think electric vehicle. Secondly, the price of electric vehicles needs to come down considerably, not only to match the current price level of gas-powered vehicles, but also to beat those prices. Today, many people are still driving older, and/or improperly functioning vehicles, which don’t receive the same gas mileage as newer vehicles, because they are economically unable to purchase newer vehicles. Even current gas-powered vehicles fall far outside of the price range for a lot of people.

If we want to see more people adopting this newer technology, the price will have to come down to a point where it’s economically feasible for someone to purchase them. These price changes should ultimately be made at the manufacturing level, and not at the governmental level, to avoid major increases in taxes.

There also needs to be major improvements in the convenience of owning electrically powered vehicles. While some larger cities have started to implement parking meters, or parking garages, that make it possible for someone to recharge their electric vehicle, these services are far and few between. It most places, owning an electric vehicle may still pose a challenge. More cities need to provide charging stations. These charging stations should also be placed at rest stops along the interstates. There can also be involvement by other types of businesses. Hotels, or recreational parks, could start installing more charging stations. The charging stations could even be installed at bus stations, airports, or any other place where a vehicle might be left for a period of time.

If we can make the purchase and use of electric vehicles more economical, and owner-friendly, more people will start to adopt the technology, and our environment will be much better off.


Nicholas Malmin, et al. (Upper Iowa University)

References – Economic Analysis of Sustainability