The following report aims to explore the concept of sustainable futures in three core areas of urban living. The first core concept will be that of sustainable homes, followed by ground heat pumps, and finally sustainable urban living. Each core area will be explored for its meaning, development, and real-life application. A conclusion and reflective statement will provide topic synthesis and evaluation of the combined conceptual analysis of these three core areas of sustainable futures.
Overview of Problem
Sustainability as a concept of its own, refers to the reasonable use of the current resource base to support modern standards of living and growth, while also leaving needed foundational resources for future generations to also tap into and use for their own sustainable living. This is a closed loop cycle, whereby people recognize that inputs and outputs must balance and that the economic principle of sustainable yield is followed to allow for reasonable harvesting of resources. These resources may include but are not limited to clean air, clean water, arable crop land, and harvesting of ocean resources such as fish and other marine animals. The over-use of such resources would ultimately lead to resource wars, where people and institutions such as governments would hoard and vie for the use and ownership of scarce resources. The potential for resource wars is real and dire; thus, it makes sense to explore how people can live sustainably within the current mix of available resources. This includes examining how we live at the local level, in our own households and communities.
The concept of sustainable homes may be captured by realizing that such homes would not utilize modern utilities such as electric or gas. Instead, these homes would instead utilize the environment to provide the needs of modern household living. According to the World Health Organization, measuring a society’s health is a way to indicate how we as such are doing at advancing sustainability. For example, if we were improving our living standards toward sustainable living, we would see decreased cardiac and respiratory ailments. However, the opposite it true.
Furthermore, the WHO reported that greater than half of the present world population is living in cities and that number is set to increase to 70% by year 2050. Cities allow for market centers and the opening up of social and economic opportunities. Yet this cannot happen with cities and homes are also contributing to the concentration of health hazards via unsustainable development and poor planning for sustainable food systems, sustainable building of homes, and sustainable use of resources for home living.
According the Department of Communities and Local Government, United Kingdom, the move toward a zero carbon footprint for homes requires a 70% reduction in carbon emissions from homes. The would require a low carbon use plan for the home in terms of a combination of increased energy efficiency, home-based low carbon energy supply, access to low carbon heat compliance networks, and other allowable solutions to run household appliances on a low carbon energy plan.
There are roadblocks to implementing sustainable home living. One problem is changing the social mindset of conventional house building and home living. While people and local communities can attempt to implement changes at the home-owner level, the move toward sustainable home living requires a champion, such as national government, to socialize the value and importance of creating a sustainable mindset overall amongst the populace. Leadership is required to instill a sense of importance around the idea of sustainable homes. Currently, even major developed countries like the United States do not socialize this in a broad economic way to its citizens. This must happen nationally and globally to become the next milieu of how people live in and treat their world for the good of the future.
Yet, what does a sustainable home truly require aside from broad concepts of low carbon use and using community measures of health as a way to measure the success of sustainability? According to the Queensland Government of Australia, Department of Public Works, sustainable homes may be realized through instituting a checklist of design objectives consistent with sustainable home building and home living. Some of these design objectives include the following (not exhaustive):
1. Site and Landscape:
a. Good Solar Exposure and Access
b. Access to Cooling Breezes
c. Minimal Noise Instrusion
d. Minimizing Loss of Biodiversity
e. Reduced Use of Fertilizers and Reduced Soil Degradation and Runoff
f. Minimal Change to Housing Site to Build Home
2. Building Materials
a. Optimize Dwelling Size to Accommodate Owner Needs
b. Minimize On-Site Construction Waste
c. Use of Safe Materials for Insulation
d. Environmental Impact of Building Materials Over Life Cycle is Minimized
e. Non-Treated or Minimally Treated Flooring and Wall Products Contributes to Good Indoor Air Quality
a. Energy Efficient Hot Water System
b. Supply of Hot Water is Sufficient and Efficient
c. Reduced Consumption of Main Water Supply
d. Reduced Water Waste Going to Sewer
4. Electric Use
a. Long Life of Appliances and Fixtures with Easy Maintenance
b. Electrical Design Maximizes Overall Use by Appliances
c. Energy Efficient Appliances
d. On-Site Production of Electricity via Sustainable Methods (solar, wind, hydro).
These are just some examples of what sustainable homes ‘look like’ and offer a view into how people can achieve them in real world terms. The next section explores an important factor of sustainable living; this refers heat and how to generate efficient heat for home use with minimal environmental impact.
Ground Heat Pumps
According to the Nature Conservancy, a United States-based non-profit environmental awareness and education agency, a family of four living in a single family detached house with three bedrooms in a colder area of the U.S. (New York) and not using any energy-efficient or sustainable household uses will contribute 30 tons of CO2 per year to the environment. The cost of environmental damage resulting from just one ton of CO2 to the atmosphere is approximated at $893/year, significantly above governmental costs of such damage. That would mean that for that family of four living in a cold climate in the United States and not using any energy efficient means of heating their home or powering their appliances, would contribute $26,790 USD worth of environmental damage to the atmosphere each year. Of the 193 member nations of the United Nations, only the top 35 make more than that amount in per capita income each year to support their living needs and needs of their families. Thus, most of the cost of environmental damage from carbon use such as heating comes from more developed countries of the world, though the cost is shared by all.
Ground source heat pumps have significant potential to reduce the carbon footprint of a household and support sustainable living. The way these work is to basically use the ambient temperature of the upper crust of the earth to both heat and cool a home. Benefits of such a system would reduce carbon output, they are low maintenance and have long life expectancies, they require no other carbon input such as gas or electricity, and operating costs are limited to the cost of the electrical system used to run the heat exchange pump and possibly well pump. Overall, there is a net loss of carbon used to heat and cool the home.
Cooper et al. examined the thermodynamic performance of ground source heat pumps as carbon domestic energy systems in the United Kingdom. The researchers looked at a range of available operating systems, and reported that heat and power units have the potential to increase the energy efficiency and hence sustainability of heating household dwellings. The actual benefit and cost savings in monetary and carbon terms is related to the electrical characteristics of powering the system. Overall, heat pumps using geothermal energy provided for greater efficiency. This research is important in demonstrating the factors going into the sustainability equation (power to heat ratio, electrical system, type of environmental power used, etc). Further research in this area should focus on how to provide electrical power to ground source heat pumps via solar energy.
Ground source heat pumps do not only provide heat, they also provide cooling to the home. The overall design of a typical unit would look like the following diagram:
Figure 1: Geothermal Heat Pump
As this diagram shows, there is a underground grid of pipes laid underground. An electrical pump is above ground. Water is moved through the pipes via the pump. Heat exchange occurs from the ambient crust temperature to the water, which is moved to the home where hot water is saved is storage units (tanks). Cooling happens in the same way, with a reverse in the heat-exchange. With the installation of solar panels on the roof of the house, it is possible to power the electric pump with solar energy, and use earth’s ambient crust temperature to both cool and heat the home. Solar power could also supply the power needs of other appliances in the house, which segues in the next section on sustainable urban living.
Sustainable Urban Living
Sustainable urban living can encompass many aspects of sustainability. This report has thus far covered the topics of sustainable homes, and using environmental sources as low carbon energy uses for powering the sustainable homes, such as ground source heat pumps. Translating these concepts to sustainable urban living means combining the idea of the sustainable home (design, efficiency, life expectancy of technologies used) with current existing sustainable technologies to power the home. However, there is more to sustainable urban living than building design and power sources. With the WHO’s recognition that cities are going to account for 70% of the living centers for earth’s inhabitants by 2050, it is important to understand how this translates to a broader concept of sustainable urban living.
Urbanization and Biodiversity
Humanity’s ability to progress is analogous to the weakest link theory; a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The eco-web of life on earth is real and has been demonstrated that ecosystems are intertwined and part of both smaller and larger ecosystems. Humans depend on crops and plant items as major sources of food. With an expected 70% of humans living in urban centers by 2050, measures toward sustainable living must also include protecting and improving the biodiversity of urban living with a focus on using urban landscapes as promoters of ecosystem health. The example of honeybees in urban settings is used here to demonstrate ecosystem biodiversity.
City-building and concentration of populations in urban settings has significantly contributed to the reduction in biodiversity of an area’s natural animal and plant life. Insects are particularly affected, notably the honeybee. The loss in the overall biodiversity of an ecosystem in an urban setting places that particular setting at a greater risk of future threat from other stressors, as the overall strength of the ecosystem to withstand such stressors has been reduced by urbanization.
Honeybees are the basic foundation for pollination of the world’s plants, and thus human’s supply of food. This it is critically important to understand how the effects of unsustainable urbanization lead to reduction of the numbers of honeybee populations. Honeybees have undergone more rigorous scientific study than other insects; they are a model sentinel organism for measuring the biodiversity of an ecosystem. It is incumbent upon people to have an understanding of how honey bees react to urban settings. This can aid in our overall understanding of the negative effects of unsustainable urban living and urbanization on honeybee diversity. Honeybees are negatively affected by urban building, leading to territory fragmentation. Moreover, honeybees are in turn affecting the ecosystem services they provide, key of which is the act of plant pollination. Both uncultivated flora and cultivated crops rely on honeybee ecosystem services of pollination. Arne et al found that the decline human-cultivated crop diversity is directly related to the degradation and destruction of honeybee territory due to urbanization.
The example of the honey bee in the urban setting is directly related to sustainable urban living. Houses can be designed that allow for rooftop gardens; this provides an insulation benefit to the household to improve cooling and heating efficiency, and also allows for the cultivation of urban gardens to provide beauty and food to the household, as well as provide a sanctuary to urban honey bees, thus creating a landscape for promoting biodiversity at the household level in the urban setting.
Sustainable development and sustainable futures are more than just ecological models; they are an economic growth model meant to sustain future generations around the world. This type of model requires both international and national/local support. The examples provided in this report referred to local level cost-effectiveness and ease of access through building sustainable homes, using the earths energy to provide power to those homes, and to support sustainable urban living by designing these low carbon use homes to also be havens of biodiversity within the urban landscape. Sustainable futures development is a recognition that the resources of the natural world are not infinite, and scientific documentation shows that humankind has had deleterious impacts upon the natural world. It is the concern and ongoing duty of people, governments, and institutions around the world to realize and understand that providing a framework that supports the earth that supports all life is the only feasible long-term option available to current and future generations. Short-term implementation costs do not outweigh the need for strongly enforced sustainable development policies toward sustainable home design, energy use, and biodiversity protection.
This is the only part of this report relying on first-person analysis. The concepts offered here in this report are supported in the current governmental realm in different countries to different degrees and with varying levels of support. I find that the ideas outlined in this report sound amazing and they should be adopted by economic institutions who truly will have the power to socialize these ideas as necessary for our future. However, I am not entirely optimistic that these ideas will be put in place on a population-wide type of mandatory regulation level until there is some sort of crisis. While we here and see the crisis of environmental destruction on the news media each day, the reality of such will only be recognized when there are resource wars, in my opinion.
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