In Freiburg, southern Germany, the former Vauban army barracks were re-developed into one of Europe's 'greenest' urban quarters (Photo: Car-free part of the Quartier Vauban, Freiburg).

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Green policies are good for the
environment and public purses

By Dana Demange, VoA*

27 April 2008: Local governments around the world are working to protect the environment. These green cities are aiming to reduce energy use and pollution in new and creative ways. Such efforts by city governments not only help reverse the effects of climate change. They also help governments save large amounts of money on energy costs. And, cities that are leaders in this green movement set a good example to their citizens about the importance of environmental issues.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement aimed at reducing the release of harmful gases that contribute to climate change. The United States is not part of the agreement. But since 2005, over 800 American mayors across the country have agreed to sign their own version of the protocol. It is called the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Local leaders have agreed to follow the suggestions of the Kyoto Protocol in their communities. These mayors have come together to show how acting locally can help solve world problems and protect the environment. Going green generally includes saving energy and water, using natural and renewable materials and re-using materials. Here are some interesting ways in which several American communities are ‘going green’.

Eight years ago, officials in Chicago, Illinois, decided to replace the black tar roof on the city government building with a planted garden. The aim was to reduce energy costs, improve air quality and control the amount of rainwater entering the city’s waste system. Green roofs also help reduce a problem called urban heat islands. During hot weather, the building's tar roof could reach temperatures of up to seventy-six degrees Celsius. With the garden, the temperature of the roof area was reduced by at least thirty degrees Celsius. Workers planted over one hundred fifty kinds of plants that could survive severe weather. Now, the area is cooler, the building requires less energy to keep cool, and the roof looks nice. Chicago also offers money to help people pay for building their own green roof systems.

The city of Boston, Massachusetts has started developing a plan for a program to make compost fertilizer out of dead leaves, plants and food waste. The gases released from the plant waste would provide the electrical power needed to operate the compost center. After being processed in this environmentally safe center, the compost material could be sold locally. This plan would reduce pollution made by the current waste center and could produce enough electricity to power up to one thousand five hundred homes.

New York City is experimenting with using waves in the East River to create energy. And, in Oakland California, you can ride on one of several public hydrogen-powered buses. These buses release zero pollution into the air. However, they cost five times more than common buses.

Cost is also a major issue in creating green buildings and systems. These building materials usually cost more money than normal building materials. But, homeowners are increasingly willing to pay more money to have lower energy costs in the future. And, builders are increasingly offering green building methods as they become more and more important to buyers. Investors are also betting on this interest. The National Venture Capital Association says people invested more than two billion dollars in clean technologies last year.

Popular Science magazine recently published a list of the fifty greenest cities in the United States. Researchers combined information from United States population records as well as the Green Guide made by the National Geographic Society.

The list rates cities by looking at their renewable energy sources, transportation programs, recycling efforts and Green Living grade. The magazine defined Green Living as the number of buildings approved by the United States Green Building Council. This non-profit organization has a rating system for making environmentally safe buildings. It is called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). According to this list, the greenest city in the United States is Portland, Oregon. San Francisco, California came in second on the list, while Boston, Massachusetts was third. Fourth and fifth were Oakland, California and Eugene, Oregon.

Popular Science researchers used LEED’s rating system to define how green a building is. But there are other rating systems as well. For example, the National Association of Homebuilders has its own set of rules. And, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy joined to create the Energy Star program. Energy Star gives ratings to devices for the home based on how they use energy. And the program helps homeowners learn how to make changes to their houses in a way that uses energy effectively. Energy Star estimates that in two thousand six it helped Americans avoid the release of harmful gases equal to what twenty-five million cars would produce. And, it says Americans saved fourteen billion dollars on energy costs.

One small town is not yet on any list of the greenest cities. But it may soon be as green as its name. In May of last year, a tornado windstorm destroyed most of the town of Greensburg, Kansas. The city decided to rebuild in a better way, using green methods.

Greensburg officials have agreed that all public building projects will follow LEED top-level requirements. The actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the Discovery Channel television station are working together to make a show about Greensburg. The program will show how the people in Greensburg are working to rebuild their town into a green community.

Cities around the world are also taking action to protect the environment. For example, the mayor of London, England has made environmental planning an important part of his work. The city has created a Climate Change Action Plan to help cut pollution levels. London has also started a Green Grid program in the eastern part of the city. Its aim is to create and protect planted areas in which people can enjoy the outdoors.

In the Netherlands, a Dutch company has built a system that uses cold lake water to cool people’s homes in one area of Amsterdam. This use of a renewable natural resource helps reduce pollution and energy costs.

About five years ago, officials in Thane, India decided to reduce its dependency on power from coal. This city, near Mumbai, often experiences lack of power because of the large numbers of people using electricity. Officials decided to save energy by putting water heaters powered by the sun on top of the city's main hospital. The hospital saved thousands of dollars in energy costs each year. Officials then began building solar powered water heaters around the city. Thane later started requiring solar water heaters for all new buildings. And, the city offers a reduced property tax rate for people who place these water heaters in their homes.

China has announced plans to create an eco-city called Dongtan. The company designing the city says it will produce its energy from the wind, sun and reused waste. The aim is for the city to be an example to the rest of China. China is also working to make the Olympic games this year in Beijing as green as possible. For example, the Olympic Village where athletes and officials live during the games uses solar power technologies and other renewable energy sources.

The United Arab Emirates and the environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature have taken green building a step further with the Masdar City project. Its aim is to be the greenest city in the world. The city will meet environmental rules set by the WWF One Living Planet and the company BioRegional. The city is expected to produce no waste, no carbon pollution and contain no cars. The city will create renewable energy from the wind, sun and other technologies. And, buildings will be made using only recycled materials. Masdar City is expected to be finished by 2016.

The United Arab Emirates has given the company Masdar Initiative fifteen billion dollars to develop future energy sources. The country aims to become a world leader in renewable energy technologies. Experts say developments like this may lead to a greener future for all cities in the world.

*This article is based on a radio programme written and produced by Dana Demange and moderated by Barbara Klein and Steve Ember

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