Climate Crisis: Population Growth in Coming Years

trafficWhen it comes to populations and environmental problems, cities are at the very heart of the issue. Not only are they where the majority of humanity lives, a reality which will only get worse as time goes on, they are also the source of most of our pollution, waste, and land use. People require space to live and work, as well as food, water and

Last year, the world’s population increased to 7 billion, which represents a seven-fold increase in the space of the last two centuries. What’s more, the proportion of people living in urban centers (as opposed to rural) shot up from 3% to almost half of the world’s people. This rate of population growth and redistribution is unprecedented, and is not likely to slow down anytime soon.

urbanworld_50Consider the following series of infographics which were released by Unicef with the help of the design studio Periscopic. Titled “An Urban World”, they illustrate the issues of population growth and distribution. This interactive, HTML5 visualization of the world covers the years of 1950-2050. But rather than showing our geographic boundaries, every country* is depicted only by their population living in urban environments.

As you can see, each country is represented by a circle that depicts the number of people living in urban environments. As these populations grow, the circles get bigger. And as urban populations get more dense, the circles shift from green to blue to yellow to fuchsia. Immediately, a glaring fact is made clear: the problem is getting worse and at an alarming rate.

urbanworld_2000In addition, there are several nuggets of info which are staggering and particularly worrisome. For example, by 2050, both China and India will have about a billion people living in cities alone. In addition, since the 1990s, more than 75% of the U.S. population has lived in cities. At one time, the US was an outlier in this regard, but found ourselves joined over the next two decades by France, Spain, the U.K., Mexico, Korea, Australia, and Brazil.

But of course, this growth need not be a bad thing. When all is said and done, humanity has a choice. One the one hand, these megacities can take the form of smartly scaled communities of loosely populated expanses and efficient agriculture. On the other, they could easily take the form of urban slums and underdeveloped countrysides that are stricken by poverty and filthy.

urbanworld_2050It’s a complex issue, no doubt about it, especially when you consider the flip side to the whole equation. As the saying goes, every new life means a new mouth to feed, but also a pair of working hands. What’s more, studies have shown that people living in cities tend to be far more energy efficient, and that energy surplus is usually directed toward more and more technological growth and innovation.

Seen in this light, the massive cities of the future could be hubs for the ongoing development of new energies and creative living solutions. And with more people living in large, connected, interdependent environments, the more business startups, ideas, and contributions were likely to get. Part of the reason we have seen so much progress in solar, piezoelectric motors, and bio-electricity is because of this trend. More growth will conversely mean more clean energy.

overpopulation Quite the paradox, really. Who knew people could be both the cause and solution to the world’s worst problem! In the meantime, feel free to head on over to the Unicef site and watch this interactive infographic. Just press play, and watch the cities of the world swell at the edges, competing for room on the page as they compete for room on this planet.

Also, be sure to take a gander at this infographic from BBC Future that demonstrates the current population of the world’s major cities per square meter, the projected population per square meter by 2050, and the livability rating of the city in question. They even provide some context at the bottom by showing the size of relative spaces – from prison cells to Olympic swimming pools, and comparing that to the average space an urban dweller enjoys.


Towards a Cleaner Future: The Strawscaper and The Windstalk

strawscaperAs the world’s population continues to grow and climate change becomes a greater and greater problem, urban planners and engineers are forced to come up with increasingly creative solutions. On the one hand, the population is expected to rise to an estimated 8.25 billion people by 2030 and 9.25 by 2050, and they will need places to live. On the other, these people will require energy and basic services, and these must be provided in a way that is clean and sustainable.

One such solution is known as the Strawscaper. The brainchild of designer Rahel Belatchew Lerdel, this building would be able to provide its own electricity using only wind and a series of piezoelectric fronds that rustle in the wind. Thanks to this method, the building would get all the power it needs from wind passing through its exterior, and would therefore not need to be attached to the city grid.

strawscaper2In a press release by Belatchew labs, Rahel claimed that the inspiration “came from fields of wheat swaying in the wind”. He also described the building he envisions as one that would give “the impression of a body that is breathing”. Details as to how it would generate its own electricity were also described:

By using piezoelectric technology, a large number of thin straws can produce electricity merely through small movements generated by the wind. The result is a new kind of wind power plant that opens up possibilities of how buildings can produce energy.

strawscaper1The full plan calls for the completion of the Söder Torn, a building in Stockholm that began construction in 1997 but was forcibly scaled down after its architect, Henning Larsen, lost control of the project. Completing it at this point would involve adding an additional 14 stories, thus bringing it from 26 to 40, and adding the piezoelectric fronds to make it electrically self-sufficient.

Though piezoelectricity has never been used in this way, the concept is well understood and backed by a number of research reports. In addition, Belatchew is not the only one considering it as a possible means of generating clean energy. Over in Masdar City, a planned community in Abu Dhabi, something very similar is being proposed to suit their energy needs.

windstalkIt’s known as the Windstalk, another means of generating electricity from wind without the needs for turbines. Though wind farms have long been considered an effective means of generating sustainable energy, resident living near large-scale operations have voiced concerns about the aesthetics and low-frequency vibrations they claim are generated by them. Thus, the concept of the Windstalk, created by New York design firm Atelier DNA.

The concept consists of 1,203 carbon fiber reinforced resin poles which stand 55 meters (180 feet) high and are anchored to the ground in concrete bases. The poles measure 30cm (12 in.) in diameter at the base and taper up to a diameter of 5cm (2 in.) at the top. Each pole is packed with piezoelectric ceramic discs, between which are electrodes that are connected by cables that run the length of each pole.

windstalk-2Thus, instead of relying on turbines to move magnets and create electrical current, each pole merely sways in the wind, compressing the stack of piezoelectric discs and generating a current through the electrodes. And just to let people know how much – if any – power the poles are generating, the top 50cm (20 in.) of each pole is fitted with an LED lamp that glows and dims relative to the amount of electrical power being generated.

As a way to maximize the amount of electricity the Windstalk farm would generate, the concept also places a torque generator within the concrete base of each pole. As the poles sway, fluid is forced through the cylinders of an array of current generating shock absorbers to convert the kinetic energy of the swaying poles into additional electrical energy. But of course, storage is also an issue, since wind power (like solar) is dependent on weather conditions.

windstalk-3Luckily, the designers at Atelier DNA have that covered too. Beneath a field of poles, two large chambers are located, one on top of the other. When the wind is blowing, part of the electricity generated is used to power a set of pumps that moves water from the lower chamber to the upper one. Then, when the wind dies down, the water flows from the upper chamber down to the lower chamber, turning the pumps into generators.

At the moment, the Windstalk concept, much like the Strawscaper, is still in the design phase. However, the design team estimates that the overall electricity output of the concept would be comparable to that of a conventional wind turbine array because, even though a single wind turbine that is limited to the same height as the poles may produce more energy than a single Windstalk, the Windstalks can be packed in much denser arrays.

Though by all accounts, the situation with our environment is likely to get worse before it gets better, it is encouraging to know that the means exist to build a cleaner, more sustainable future. Between now and 2050, when the worst aspects of Climate Change are expected to hit, the implementation of a better and more sustainable means of living is absolutely crucial. Otherwise, the situation will continue to get worse indefinitely, and the prospects of our survival will become bleak indeed!