What It Takes to Turn Cities Into Bulwarks Against Climate Change
Grownups look straight past the nuts and bolts of the city. Power lines and drainage grates go unseen. But my 8-year-old notices, even those up above the row houses. “Look at that,” Felix says, “there’s one with solar panels.” It’s a forerunner of the next city that he sees—the resilient cities we’re going to have to figure out how to make before a third grader is old enough to vote. “One day, son,” it’s tempting to reply, arm sweeping over the residential blocks, “all of this will be solar panels!” And it will, too, because what’s the alternative?
Give the rooftops over to clean electricity and heat-absorbing shrubs. Let the lampposts double as charging points for cars, buses, and bikes. Supplant the paved paradise with something that doesn’t flood quite so fast. (There’s more in Kim Stanley Robinson’s essay on cities as survival mechanisms.)
The solar paneling of everything is so unstoppable that a pandemic couldn’t deter businesses, whether in Baltimore or Abuja, from selling more. After another record year for installations, the world will carry on with an even bigger buildout in 2021. Jenny Chase, head of solar for clean-energy researcher BloombergNEF, has forecast that as much as 194 gigawatts will be added—more than enough to power a whole Brazil. By 2022, new solar might equal a Germany.
But anything moving at breakneck speed—even one of the best hopes against climate change—can also cause damage. This boom has its own predatory capitalists, marketing subprime solar to low-income homeowners. Then there’s the reality that China wants no one to see: The essential raw material for solar panels, polysilicon, is inextricably bound to alleged repression of the Uyghur population in the northwest region of Xinjiang. This solar surge could be a human-rights nightmare.
That’s the trick with resilient futures. Building back better has to start with seeing all the ways people can get hurt.
Welcome to the fourth issue of Bloomberg Green’s magazine.
Stories from the latest issue will continue rolling out until April 21, with everything we’ve published available on this collection page. The only magazine focused on climate and the energy transition is sent to our all-access subscribers, so sign up today to receive a print edition along with full digital access to Bloomberg Green. Here are some of the highlights so far…
- What happens when oil giants walk away from fossil fuel assets? It’s supposed to be a big win for the planet. But that’s not the case—at all—with BP’s deal to ditch its vast Alaskan oil complex. This exclusive investigation shows how BP’s multibillion-dollar deals last year lowered its own emissions even while generating more greenhouse gas. Only now those emissions are largely hidden from scrutiny.
- This bendy sheet? It might be the future of batteries. It took a startup called QuantumScape a decade of secretive lab work to make this material, and it could soon deliver a breakthrough capable of dramatically extending the range of electric cars. This is the inside story of battery science.
- Only three startups currently have technology that sucks carbon-dioxide from the air—and one is a mess. Read our exclusive investigation into Global Thermostat and the long list of alleged problems caused by its brilliant co-founder and chief executive.
- To meet President Biden’s climate goals, public transit has to be better than ever. That starts with convincing New Yorkers to brave rush hour on the subway once again.
- Want to spot runaway methane leaks? Check out this gear guide to the satellites, sensors and sniffer dogs that are about to redefine what’s possible in climate surveillance.
- A metropolis can be too wet and too dry—at the same time. This is the story of Chennai, a city in India that's facing drought and floods.
- Now hiring hundreds of government scientists. An interview with the new leader of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Does the European Union’s carbon border adjustment mechanism sound unbelievably dull? That’s why we explained it with cartoons.
- The billions of jeans sold each year don’t have to be a sustainability nightmare. Here’s how to make them without as much water and toxic chemicals.
- What does a chief resilience officer do? We asked someone doing the job that many cities will soon need.
- Mexico’s tree-planting program has a problem. It’s been destroying forests.
- Brian Eno has climate worries. We asked the legendary musician to talk about what keeps him up at night.
- Should you get an induction stove? How to curb your kitchen’s dependence on fossil fuel.
- Getting to net zero isn’t easy. Don’t miss this series on carbon benchmarks for tracking national progress around the world.
- Mega-investors start taking their own temperatures. Portfolio warming is the newest anxiety in finance.
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