Our effect on our world…

Sep 8th 2010 at 4:13 PM



The wealthiest cities and urban areas on Earth consume a disproportionate amount of the world’s energy supply. An urban dweller in New York consumes approximately three times more water, and generates eight times more trash, than does a resident in Mumbai, India. The massive demand for energy in wealthy cities contributes a major share of the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming. The number of urban dwellers around the world rose from 600 million in 1950, to 2 billion in 1986, and another 700 million migrated to urban development in the last decade of the 20th century. If these trends continue, more than half of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2010. In the U.S., approximately 90% of the population is now considered urban dwellers.

Another effect on energy consumption in the U.S. is the increase of space requirements per person in our homes. Between the 1950 and 1990, the floor space requirement per person doubled. With the increase in space requirements, comes an increase in energy consumption per person. More heating and cooling is required per person as a result, which, again, adds to the environmental urban effect causing urban areas to be hotter in the summer and more polluted in the winter than in surrounding rural areas.

Increased urbanization and industrialization have caused the urban environment to deteriorate. The size of housing plots has been reduced, thus increasing both living and traffic densities. By increasing the number of buildings, we also crowd out vegetation and trees. It has been reported that New York City has lost 175,000 trees or 20% of its urban forest in the last ten years alone.

Building density and loss of vegetation creates a heat imbalance. Air temperatures in densely-built urban areas are higher than surrounding rural areas. This phenomenon is known as the ‘Heat Island’ effect and is caused by many factors related to the increased and concentrated use of energy The effect of buildings on airflow patterns is called the canyon effect. It is a concentration of greenhouse gases, plus the thermal properties of materials used in construction, and many more


factors that add to this growing concern. Extensive studies of the heat-island intensity have shown that the temperatures are between 5° to 12°F higher worldwide than in surrounding rural areas. Peak electricity load will increase 1.5% to 2.0% for every 1° F increase in temperature. The heat-island effect alone can account for more than $1 billion a year in increased power consumption, and as urban areas grow in density and footprint (size), the effect will also increase.

Buildings in U.S. cities consume close to 700 Million Tons of Oil Equivalent (MTOE) per year. One MTOE represents 7.4 million barrels of oil, or 42 gigajoules of electrical energy, and represents a cost of approximately $400 trillion dollars per year. Buildings account for approximately 40% of energy consumption in the U.S. and for 18% of all CO


emissions, as well as 7.5% of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs – another compound implicated in the accelerated depletion of the ozone layer).

Most of the energy spent in the U.S. is for space heating: 46% of the total energy consumption for residential buildings and 55% for commercial and office buildings. Water heating represents 17% of all energy consumption within the U.S.; and cooling represents approximately 6% of all energy consumed in the U.S.

According to the department of Energy, by averaging domestic and commercial consumption; heating, cooling, and heating water consumes 74% of total energy used in the U.S. each year. The vast majority of this energy is produced by burning fossil fuels (oil and coal), production of electricity through nuclear power plants, and the burning of gas reserves – all of which either add to the greenhouse effect or create other environmental concerns.

Another major factor, and widely unknown outside the energy sector, is that we lose 7 to 10% of electrical power produced in the transportation of electric through grid loss. This does not take into account power lost during production and other inefficiencies throughout the system. It has been estimated that only 35% to 45% of electricity that is created in a power plant actually reaches the customer. Our dependency on foreign oil has created a national security threat and also threatens our economy as energy prices eat into the production and transportation cost of virtually every product and service we use or consume.

inston Churchill once said, "We shape our dwellings and afterwards our dwellings shape our lives." As humans, we tend to stay within a conduit, constructing, extending, and continuing the same practices that history has dealt us until something gives us reason to change. It can’t just be a reason of convenience or a simple distraction, but something that threatens the very path beneath our feet. The trend toward urban development has been increasing steadily throughout history, and this trend is affecting the climate around the world. As the climate is affected, the need to cool or heat our dwellings and buildings is also affected. This has caused a vicious cycle that must be altered if we are to control our energy future.

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