Youth Lead the Way – Lobby for Climate Change

On February 19th, we drove down to Olympia to participate in the Climate Lobby Day event held by 350 Seattle and Youth Lead the Way. There I got the chance to join the youth from across the Washington state for their speech, march and the meeting with Miss Cindy Chen, the Executive Legislative Assistant to Speaker Frank Chopp, to express our thoughts and concerns related to the climate issues.

Although that was on President’s Day, there were still many other lobbyists groups there on Washington State Capitol Campus. When we arrived in the morning, other participants, mostly youths and their parents had already gathered on the big stairs in front of the Legislative Building, holding different posters and slogans crafted by themselves, and were listening to the inspiring speeches from several youth leaders. They talked about their own understandings of the urgent climate change problem, their former experiences of “fighting” for environmental justice and even recomposed a song for this. Later, we joined the march around the building, calling for shutting down the fossil fuels and keeping the carbon underground. And then we gathered on a lawn, sharing everyone’s insights, and held a ceremony of redwood tree gifting to the Capitol Campus. The weather that day was frizzing, but never was our passion. I was literally shocked by this series of events, not only because this type of activity is almost impossible in my country, but also youths’ self-awareness of their responsibility and legislation engagements in policy, which is super inspiring for me.

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After lunch was the lobbying time. Before the meeting, two youth leaders gave us a short orientation about the lobbying tips, which was informative for me. Then we were divided into two teams to meet with different legislators separately. In our meeting with Executive Legislative Assistant Miss Cindy Chen, firstly we had the children stated their own concerns and proposed the Act for Our Future Pledge, which is the purpose of this event. In the pledge that we wanted the legislators to sign for the sake of the environment, we came up with these three: (1) Immediately halt all new fossil fuel infrastructure in our state; (2) Commit Washington state to an economy running on 100% renewables by 2028; (3) Address the need to plant 1 billion trees in WA to sequester CO2. Then each of us talked about our own thoughts based on the understanding of the pledge and the related bills. For the first part, I expressed my feelings about climate change from the perspective of landscape architecture students, that for now, more and more focus in our profession has been laid on the design for climate change adaptation which addresses the resiliency of the natural system, such as stormwater management. However, with the actions above, instead of fixing the problems, we could actually prevent these problems from occurring. And from a broader view, these actions could bring other benefits for the regional economy and social development. For example in order to shift to 100% renewable energy, building wind power stations along the Washington coast could be a solution, and at the same time, creating more job opportunities for the market. And for the latter part, I expressed my support for the carbon tax bills, which related to cutting down the CO2 emissions in an economical way, acting as an addition to halting fossil fuel infrastructure and planting trees. I suggested the tax rate could depend on the carbon tax contents in each energy and therefore providing diverse alternatives, as I stated in the former posts. Due to the limited time for the group talk, Miss. Chen took notes of our ideas and said they would be conveyed to Speaker Chopp.

The journey of fighting for environmental rights never ends. I received continuous emails from Youth Lead the Way to follow up the event.  In the email that I got on March 9th, it is said that due to the lasting efforts of the 350 Seattle organization and the youth activists around the state, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. Rep. Gael Tarleton, and Rep. Nicole Macri had sent signed copies of the pledge. I was so excited to see the results from the voices and advocacy of youth, and I hope and believe there will be more support from other legislators and representatives!

This was an amazing and new experience for me that I have never thought I would kind of take part in a social progress like this. Thanks to Youth Lead the Way which showed me the power of our new generation, that we have to be brave and bold to fight for our rights and for the environments. They create great opportunities for youth to foster the sense of responsibility and participate in the policy-making process. One suggestion is that if they could get more support from some professionals such as cooperating with other organizations such as CarbonWashington, their voices could be even more powerful. And also thanks to the event that although the legislative and economic system here is totally different from my country, this event made me realize the bottom-up power and the role of American democracy during the political process. We should be actively engaged in the system, and by expressing our concerns and thoughts to the legislators, we could make the changes happen and push the system forward and benefit all as much as possible.

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Harvest, Store, ​and Reuse

Fostering the on-site life circles for water is a great approach towards a carbon-efficient city, and the key point I think as well as being stated in the book is to reduce water use, creating a virtuous circle conserving the energy for a more sustainable city. By saying reducing the water use, it doesn’t mean that we literally should use less water, but through techniques to make the most of the natural water resources such as rainfalls, as well as reusing the water after some kinds of treatment. Based on the book and the research that I did for last quarter’s studio which aimed to solve the CSO problems in Belltown, some ideas could be useful to foster the on-site water life circles.

Combined sewer systems are sewers that are designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. During periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, however, the wastewater volume in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or treatment plant. For this reason, combined sewer systems are designed to overflow occasionally and discharge excess wastewater directly to nearby streams, rivers, or other water bodies, for Belltown, it goes into the Puget Sound. These overflows, called combined sewer overflows (CSOs), contain not only stormwater but also untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris. So together with the idea of on-site life circles, collecting and using the rainwater, reusing the grey water, and separating the black/grey water could happen both in the building scale and the neighborhood scale.Harvesting

 

  • For the building itself, creating a  system of rainwater harvesting and water reusing is super beneficial to reduce the water use. The biggest difference between here and China is the directing offers of potable water, so how to reduce the amount of potable water for non-portable use is the key issue. And that is where the rainwater harvesting system comes in. As it is shown in the graphic, I tried to illustrate how the collected rainwater is used for different functions through the different process. It could be directly used for flushing, laundry with the gravity delivery, or being stored in the cistern before being pumped up if it collects so fast. It can also be used for the cooling tower on the rooftop, which saves a lot amount of potable water. As for the “output” of the building itself, which is not shown here, the grey water from the shower, kitchen sink could be collected and treated by Membrane Bioreactors (MBR) within the building, after which process be pumped up again for flushing and laundry. The black water from the toilet would go into Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) for biomass, another form of energy reuse. Another thought is that we could have billboard showing the information of water usage, water treated, water stored and water reused in the building, in order to give inhabitants direct figure stimulus of how the system works and how to do a greater job.
  • For the neighborhood scale, instead of letting the street runoff goes directly into the sewer to the watershed, which may cause the CSO problems if exceeds the capacity, I want to propose that we could collect the runoff from the ground level, have it be treated through simple purification process and then be stored for irrigation or other use during the dry seasons. This kind of new infrastructure network could consist of different green spaces as we call green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), or even some degraded urban areas such as abandoned basements or underground parking lots. Those are the place of no practical value for now so why don’t we revitalize them to serve as the temporarily stormwater storage which will relieve the stress of the existing sewage system and prevent CSO. For example, after the Battery Tunnel been shut down and closed, it could be transformed into a big stormwater cistern that filters the pollutants first and stores the water for future reuse. I did a little diagram for this. IMG_3941.jpgWhat is more interesting about this is that we could even create limited public access down to the storage area, with separation of course, to be a place of educational interaction, to compare the historical record of different water volumes during different seasons, years, to get the public involved and raise the awareness.

By doing these, the delivery costs are lowered, the relative amount of water usage is smaller due to the water reusing, and hopefully tie the public up to contribute to the sustainability with joint efforts.

Carbon Taxing in China: Carrot and Stick

Inspired by Initiative-732 in Washington State and the successful case in British Columbia, I started to think about is there any carbon tax policy in developing countries such as China and how will it be implemented due to the total different energy using structure and market system?

I talked about it lately with one of my uncle, who owns a small manufactory in the suburb of Shanghai. According to him, Shanghai was a pilot city experienced carbon emissions trading during 2013-2015 but the total amount of carbon trading at that time did not meet market expectations.

Hard to admit but indeed China is a developing country which based largely on coal for energy structure. Therefore, the implementation of China’s carbon tax is never easy. China has started carbon-tax-thematic studies since 2010 in order to seek a path of sustainable development, However, the question lies in at it is unrealistic for the country to completely replace its carbon emission credits with new technology, because it takes time and costs which will bring a big impact to the economic development. For example, my uncle is definitely not willing to pay the carbon tax which will increase business costs, affecting the competitiveness of enterprises, and at the same time he will not able to change to clean energy in a short-term, so his choice would be moving to another remote city that does not need to pay carbon tax, but this will not reduce the emission at all, even bring other influences on the natural environment.

So instead of having them overwhelmed by shifting to clean energy completely, why don’t we find a solution to walk them through step by step? This new idea could be like “carrot and stick”, in which the “stick” is the carbon tax while carrots are different incentives, and for now I want to focus on the monetary incentive of having different tax rates based on the carbon contents in each fuel.

The standardized and quantifiable measurement based on Btu heat units, gives people open and transparent guidance or alternatives towards a cleaner energy structure. Take my uncle’s factory as the case again, when I asked him about this, he said this is a more acceptable way and give them time to allow the transition and adjust the structure both inside the factory as well as in the market. When he knows the tax rate may be coal 21rmb (about $3)/ton, diesel oil 17rmb (about $2.5)/ton and natural gas 11rmb (about $1.7)/m3, for example, he is not despaired by the limitation that the solar/wind energy, which he has no access to, is the only choice, but actually has the options to switch to natural gas which is the perfect choice for now. And at the same time, the distinct tax rate between different fuel keeps pushing him to seek possibilities for cleaner/lower tax energy without a great rise of business costs as well as loss of the profit.

For the short term, the rates for different fuels are different so there is the boundary between each fuel and the factory could decide which fits them the most, both for the budget and for the technical support. But for the long term, all the tax rate could be raised with the enhanced access to cleaner energy so there will be a boundary between the clean energy and the fuels, which will ultimately contribute to the final goal of shifting to cleaner energy completely.

This soft method of advocating different tax rates give them time to allow changes, and most importantly grasp the most distinct driven force in business – monetary incentives. We are aware of the power of one simple nudge from the change of my uncle’s attitude. For most of the business owners in China like my uncle, they don’t know much about the different carbon contents for each fuel and to what degree it will harm the climate, but with the open tax rates, they could easily tell the differences and could build the carbon-reduction transformation plan, for their one business’s sake, and also for the world.

Carbon Taxing: Subsystems and Alternatives are Needed

Based on the economic principle of negative externalities, a carbon tax is a way — maybe the only way — to make users of carbon fuels pay for the climate damage caused by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The carbon tax is it’s a pure price signal because it makes using dirty fuels more­ expensive, it encourages utilities, businesses, and individuals to reduce consumption and increase energy efficiency. Washington state is already on the way with Initiative-732, which is gaining more and more support. However, it’s never easy to establish a policy especially when it involves different aspects and groups. So how to make it better and contribute to its implementation? Although I don’t know everything about it, I have some thoughts that may be helpful.

  • How to decide the tax rate? The most common explanation of carbon tax is that “The government sets a price per ton on carbon”. It seems that there is a standard measurement of the carbon, however, we know that the carbon content of oil, coal, and gas varies, and here come the Btu heat units, something standardized and quantifiable — instead of unrelated units like weight or volume. There has been some research done about it and based on Btu heat units, the different tax rates reflect carbon content in each fuel, even could be categorized into multiple subsystems, which should be open and transparent to the public. These subsystems give consumers, especially households and individuals, direct monetary incentive and more alternatives if they need more time to shift their energy resources from fossil fuels to cleaner energy.

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    Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. Coal releases the most CO2, natural gas the least.

  • The compensation measures of the carbon tax is another powerful nudge. There are different ways to return the money back to the productive and innovating parts of the economy as tax breaks, and there should be a healthy system to manage that. The method can be determined by their conditions and to their best profit. For example, for individuals and households, it could be achieved through personal income tax system including tax credits, or provide cash transfers for low-income individuals. And for high-rise office, it could go toward clean energy subsidies and investment in public transportation. Or there could be a portion to support the non-profit organizations that are devoting to fight the climate change by educational programs.
  •  The carbon tax should be combined with other measures to create the best outcome. The aim is to replace fuels with renewable energies, so something has to be done about those clean energies. For example, by reducing the price of clean energies and improve the access to them would be super helpful in a state or even nationwide. For most of the consumers especially households and individuals, the biggest reason using fuels is that they are cheap and easy to get. So by cutting down the price and improving the infrastructure of cleaner energy resources, their competitiveness would be enhanced greatly. And it would also bring extra benefits such as providing more job opportunities if wind energy stations are built along the coast of Washington.

Most fundamentally, an overall framework is needed, and at the same time, several subsystems and alternatives are also needed, in order to make the carbon tax more sound and to increase the environmental effectiveness and economy efficiency.

“Container Hotel” to “Container City”

“I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.” –Mother Teresa

I felt super resonate with this starting quote this chapter when I was printing out our group poster for the midterm review that afternoon at Arch Hall, and saw someone tossed a large piece of blank poster paper cut off from his printing and threw it to the large can in which lies great quantities of paper with the same condition. Even though I know they will be recycled, as design students who need sketches paper all the time, and obviously the quality is much high than the normal paper, isn’t reusing and then recycling a better choice for saving the energy and resources by taking this step? So I cut my leftover into appropriate pieces, brought them to my studio and added them to my “potential sketching papers” stack.

As stated in the book The Carbon-Efficient City, the awareness of recycling has been raised through the past decades, however, we seem to underestimate the intensive energy and labor consumption during the process, and the value of another choice of reusing. This is the case of daily commodities, as well as our built environment, which involves the recycling/reusing of expensive and historical meaningful building materials. The concept of Container City reminds me of the trend of reusing shipping containers also in China these recent years. Due to the large population and density in cities, the containers are not prevalent being designed into residential buildings, but are super popular in landscape architecture design such as parks, plazas, cultural towns or industrial site revitalization, serving as the entertainment facilities, café, art galleries and etc. Artful and appealing, these designs not only reduce the construction materials consumption but also attract tourists which brings in profits.

 
There is another pilot project by Homeinn, a hotel chains company, that named “Homeinn Town” with the combination of shipping containers, camps, caravans, and wood cabin, of which are all “non-mainstream” hotel room types. It is said that a container room could be constructed in about 45 days, with the budge of 23,000 dollars including the decoration and furniture, which is a lot lower than the cost of one hotel room, and the doesn’t need to pay for the rental of the land. The initial idea is just to build a mobile hotel product, so as to reduce the cost and meet the different needs of hotel rooms in different seasons and periods. But in the process of research and development, they found that the “town” can become a complex with more functions, and even become a tourist destination. The “town” is now located in semi-rural tourist spots to attract tourists and provide seasonal hotel rooms for them with flexibility in reconfiguration. And I think if the technical and regulatory challenges could be conquered, this hotel mode can be introduced into the high-density city, maybe within a neighborhood level. The complex can serve as the hub to support multifunctions, such as community services, affordable housing, hotel rooms, and event spaces during different timings, with the reused shipping containers instead of new materials, which would contribute greatly to the city and the environment.

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Inner Decoration of Container Hotel by Homeinn (http://www.souhdf.com/news/1/4252.html)

Carbon-Efficient Packaging

When I was little and often saw the milk packaging in a small plastic bags in a normal Chinese supermarket, I always thought this kind of packaging was not reasonable compared with other milk boxes or bottles: they couldn’t stand in the refrigerator, the brands are not attractive when they were lying on the shelves,and it was unhygienic when biting on the plastic bags and drinking. However, everything exists for a reason and I finally started to find its advantages until I was given one bag from my friend. Since it was in a small bag, I didn’t need it to be sealed again or to stand in the refrigerator because I just sniped one corner with the scissors, poured it out and drank it at one time. And the garbage bag didn’t take up many spaces which was really convenient for household, which now I realize could be called as carbon-efficient, with a cheap cost to produce, efficient transportation, less garbage and less energy in production.

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Milk in plastic bags ( baidu.com )

The world evolves all the time and later I found another squeezable plastic packaging that almost had all the advantages of the plastic bag, and at the same time overcame its problem. They were able to stand when infilled and could be compressed like a piece of paper when empty, and with resealable caps if in large scale. This packaging prevails in China now and is widely used for milk, yogurt, condiment, and even commodities like detergent. But after I came to the U.S, I seldom saw its application, at least for drinks. They could vary in sizes, satisfy the needs of everyone. They are profitable for producers and most importantly reduce the greenhouse gas through several stages, which I think could be a good choice to be introduced to the American market.

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Yogurt in squeezable plastic packaging ( baidu.com )

The example makes me regard packaging as a large part of the market economy and how it could potentially lower the carbon emission. And I think there could be categorized broadly into two approaches, through materials or structures.

  • Lower the carbon emission through packaging materials.
  1. Using the multifunctional materials including edible materials. The Brazilian fast food joint Bob’s once launched edible burger packaging. Although its initial goal may be improving competitiveness in the market, it does contribute to carbon efficiency by reducing waste.

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    Edible burger packaging from the Bob’s, Brazile ( printmediacentr.com)

  2. Using materials with low loss and lightweight. High reliability and high strength of product packaging could be achieved through scientific improvement and reasonable structural design. Ice Dew’s low carbon drinking water packaging, developed by Coca-Cola China packaging design, made high-tech environmental protection lightweight materials, the bottle weighs only 9.8 grams, the weight is reduced by 35%, decreased the carbon emissions of 35%, in addition, a bottle of drinking water after drinking, the bottle can also easily twist extrusion, save space recovery more than 70%.
  3. Using natural materials instead of industrial materials. Natural materials reduce the energy cost in the raw production, and also could be easily recycled with good design. I usually recycled one packaging made out of the bamboo rattan for planters or pencil containers.

 

  • Lower the carbon emission through packaging structures.
  1. Designing product packaging structure with reduced quantity. Reasonable design allows the right ratio of product content and the package shape structure. For example, the octagonal packing box package of pizza saves 15% of the packaging raw materials than the traditional square boxes, that is to say, it reduces the carbon emissions by 15%. So the reduction of the packaging design lowers the carbon emissions and have it reasonably controlled.
  2. Designing multifunctional packaging structures. The packaging should be designed to meet its basic function, but at the same time seeking the possibilities of reutilization, which could avoid the carbon emissions caused by discarding. One interesting example could be the child’s beverage packaging shell designed by Yves Behar, of which the bottle can become a brand new intellectual toy after a child’s drink is finished in a bottle. This innovation in packaging design not only brings social and economic profits but also acts as a pilot case of building a carbon-efficient city.

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    Beverage packaging shell designed by Yves Behar, reused as toys ( inhabitat.com

The Comprehensive Carbon Policy

As the climate change is posing more and severe impacts on human life, countries all over the world are struggling with the issue of how to reduce greenhouse gas (CO2 mainly) emission in an efficient way.

As one of the biggest CO2 emitters, the United States used to use “command and control” regulatory approaches which involve the best available technology for reduction of carbon emissions. However, it turned out not only with no reduction, but also raised issues of sectoral inefficiency.

Two market-based approaches then emerged as a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system. Either of these two approaches has already been examined to be helpful, but when combined together as a whole. The comprehensive carbon policy could be more efficient and innovative. The carbon tax aims to create an economic disincentive to carbon emitting. One question that is worth thinking is at what stage should the tax be imposed, be it a downstream system which is imposed on fossil fuel users, or an upstream system which is imposed on producers. Relatively, it is easy to administer with an upstream approach because it reduces the number of sectors that should be included in the pricing system, and it should be combined with a crediting mechanism to provide a rebate of taxes paid on emissions that are sequestered at a downstream location. While a carbon tax fixes the price of emissions and leaves the market to determine the equilibrium quantity, the cap-and-trade program, by setting an aggregate limit on emissions and creates permits for this amount fixes the quantity of emissions and leaves the market to determine the price. 

The market-based cap and trade is hard to implement because of the infinite group and type of emitters, which lead to the problem of measurement and monitoring. However, it does provide a big picture and serves as a results-oriented framework for greenhouse gas reduction. When combined with a carbon tax, once the permits are set on the major monitoring points such as industrial plants that the government can easily monitor, the rest of the individual emitters including registered vehicles and families could be regulated by the simple tax efficiently. The influences and results of the two approaches are interdependent and would ascribe the best outcome when led on the right path.

 

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Beijing National Stadium in the smoggy and sunny day, Dec 26, 2015. [Photo/ifeng.com]

The other big CO2 emitter, China, has also been seeking ways to make a change. Although it is hard to have a brand-new framework out of the existing one, some ideas could be adopted to make the progress. Since some global collaborations such as Paris Agreement, The Chinese government takes climate change seriously and has taken practical actions to fight it. It started with carbon trading pilot programs in seven provinces, setting permits of carbon emission, and exploring ways to reduce the cost of controlling greenhouse gas emissions via the market. Also, China is gaining lessons from other countries and programs, for example, California’s successful emission trading system (ETS). California’s experience suggests the ETS will help China achieve sustainable growth in three ways.

First, imposing a price on carbon emissions to achieve the goal of more efficient economic allocation through market signals.

Second, reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide will improve the quality of air, which means better performances from both blue-collar and white-collar workers.

Third, helping domestic enterprises to develop the expertise in clean technologies to become more competitive in the global markets.

California has shown that carbon pricing can coexist with strong economic growth, and has unleashed innovation, attracted new investment, and created new job opportunities. Hopefully, with appropriate carbon tax, and refined cap-and-trade system, China is heading to a more sustainable growth and is better prepared for the global climate change issues.