Terms and conditions: Our impact on Earth; its impact on us – Part 1: It’s a jungle out there

Projections are that by 2050, 9 billion people will inhabit the Earth. Such is reflective of improving conditions or at least conditions not getting worse. Such would have to be case, right, i.e., if the case is to be made that a population that big can be adequately provided for? In recent times population has been growing at the healthy clip of approximately half a billion every 10 years and we are about 7.5 billion people strong right now.

Through my reading I have learned that, by this century’s half-way mark, two-thirds of the world’s population will be city dwellers. This is up from about 50 percent today. Being it is clear the path that growth is taking is one more toward urban living and less a one of rural inhabitation, there will be tremendous pressure on cities to perform, that is, to handle the expected increase.

So how do we get from here to there without undue burden overwhelming cities’ ability to function, to maintain? The key is to start preparing now.

So, what are some of the types of things that should be considered? Agriculture, climate, economy, education, energy, environment, health/healthcare, infrastructure, land use, mobility and waste, a list that represents a good complement of items to consider when it comes to city functionality. A metro region’s ability to sustain or not and/or flourish or not has mostly to do with the above-mentioned considerations. It’s time to look at each item on the list in much more detail.

Environment – air, soil, water

Air: air – the breath of life. We can’t survive without it. So, why would we want to risk compromising it? For that matter, why should we be satisfied breathing air that’s compromised? and by compromised, I mean polluted. We shouldn’t. Conversely, collectively we should be insisting on anything but. Sadly, collectively we are not.

So, I turn now to cities, the mainstream of world air pollution production contribution. In fact, nine in 10 in the world are regularly exposed to compromised air quality, compromised air quality that often has deadly consequences; deadly consequences that can be immediate or long-term. In the interim, long-term deadly pollution in air can result in missed days of work and/or school which translates into a loss of productivity; hospitalizations; sickness in the form of headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, asthma attacks, respiratory symptoms, and heart and lung and even brain disorders, ailments, conditions and has been shown to affect unborn fetuses – an alphabet soup of related problems. Healthcare costs can be an astronomical burden on cities, citizens and the medical community – more on health and healthcare to follow.

Burney Falls

Water: like air, water is also necessary to sustain life.

There really isn’t much to say about water other than that it needs to be protected (and by protected I mean taken care of) and conserved and when possible, reused. Fresh water is becoming scarcer because of population rise which results in greater usage for drinking, washing, rinsing, bathing, etc. The precious liquid is likewise in greater demand due to both droughts and warming temperatures, which makes conservation of water all the more important. And, connected to this, because of rising sea levels, there is increased incidence of salt water intrusion into fresh water sources, such as in rivers and streams.

Soil: soil is like the glue that holds plants, trees, grass and the like in place as much as grass, trees, plants and the like allow soil to stay put. And, it’s both what’s in and what’s not in soil that matters most.

A lot of what’s added and applied to grass to keep it lush and green can work its way down into the earth below. If the topical chemicals are toxic, application of such can affect soils in a negative way. If it poses a health hazard, extensive remediation measures have to be undertaken to rid affected soils of such toxic substances. Vernon, California and its residents know about what I’m referring to all too well, I’m sure. Related story here.

Keeping soils healthy is essential for plant survival/population perpetuation. Landfill waste, meanwhile, if it is organic can be turned into compost and the compost therefore serves as a soil enhancer or amendment.


Climate in the context of cities is a matter of utmost importance. As we are witnessing in many parts of the world, climate is what’s impacting glacial change. The Earth’s many glaciers are retreating; they are shrinking. In some South American cities, for instance, that use glacial melt for water sources or supplies, as long as such supplies remain intact, a sustainable supply of water is guaranteed. In the absence of a glacial supply other H2O sources must be identified. One is desalinization processes. Often thought of as a “last-resort” measure, in some instances, this may be the only practical solution. It’s a solution whose foundation is rooted in science – applied scientific practices and principles.

Contemplative point 1: Is there an air pollution-climate change or global warming connection?

Mobility – human-propelled (walking, cycling), animal-propelled, self-propelled travel/transportation

Human-propelled: walking is the most basic of all mobility methods. It’s simple, straightforward and reliable and provides exercise benefit. Walking is the rawest, purest form of mobility there is – and it is also the oldest. And, lest I forget, the cleanest, too. Everything else isn’t necessarily inferior to walking or a step down as it were, it’s just that all other mobility methods are different, is all.

Human-propelled: cycling is one of those things that have withstood the test of time. From its earliest days refinement in cycling has been ongoing. In the bicycling realm, bicycles come in all configurations and sizes and there are those that have been designed and constructed keeping gender considerations in mind. Bicycles are very popular in Amsterdam, Holland (the Netherlands) as they were for years in China. Their use is quite harmless on the environment. Fossil-fuel-driven motorbikes, not as much.

Animal-propelled: Humans have relied on animals to help us meet an assortment of mobility needs. Horses, donkeys, mules, oxen, camels, you name it have provided to humans a method for traveling (on their backs), but dogs too have served in this same regard, as well as assisting in the movement of not only our personal possessions but in the transport of goods also.

In the early times and even today, to a limited extent, animals perform farm-related chores and they serve the law-enforcement community; an example of which is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Service dogs, for example, guide those who are without sight helping them to better navigate their environment. Animals have been part of the mobility equation for a long, long time.

Self-propelled travel: where the rubber meets the road. Depending upon what we’re talking about here, from an environmental-friendliness standpoint, automation in the travel sphere got off to a rocky start. But, the innovators are not to be faulted.

Steam generation to power locomotives and ships predominantly, was what these inventors were familiar with at the time. Call it the best available technology for its time and let’s leave it at that. But, it was dirty and polluted the air so. Later, motor vehicles came along and it was more of the same.

Electricity in the late 19th century made its mark. The first non-animal-pulled streetcars (also known as trolleys) arrived on scene in the late 1880s (1888 in Richmond, Virginia’s case – the first known electrified system in America). Interestingly, examples of these early systems can still be found in use today.

The automated travel field in this day and age is wide open. Autonomous vehicles seem right now to be all the rage, perhaps more than anything else. Whether this idea really gains traction and gets anywhere is really anyone’s guess. In this area, internal combustion as a means of propulsion rules the day and will probably do so for years to come.

Zero-emissions mobile devices, meanwhile, have been relatively slow to catch on. Had the electric car really gained favor from the get-go in the 1830s (the concept became much more popular some 50 years later), today’s automated travel scene would no doubt look markedly different.

Self-propelled transportation, on the other hand, differs from self-propelled travel in the sense of what is being moved. Travel is a reference to people or animal moving or both (think circus trains), whereas transportation has to do with moving or transporting goods.

To be continued.

Images: Siskiyou County Visitors Bureau (middle); Wikimedia Commons (top and bottom)

This post was last revised on Jun. 11, 2020 @ 6:37 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel

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