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Half the world’s seven billion people are city dwellers who account for more than 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Now, as urbanization continues to grow rapidly, the challenge is how to achieve it more sustainably.

By 2050 the number of people living in urban areas is forecast to reach 6.3 billion. What’s remarkable about this figure is that it’s roughly equal to the total world population for 2002. This means that, if the planet’s human inhabitants reach the predicted nine billion mark, urban dwellers will make up two-thirds of the population, compared with around half today.

Yet, while the new and expanding cities may be good news for future economic prosperity and offer millions of people a better quality of life, unless the urbanization process changes the environmental wound will get wider.

According to the WWF, if we continue to consume resources at the current rate, we will need the equivalent of two planet Earths by 2030. In its ‘Living Planet Report 2012’ the WWF warns that the one-way traffic approach of taking what we need and when to satisfy demand for food, energy, housing, transport and other goods and services, is putting a severe strain on the ecosystem.

Alarmingly, the report states: “In 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, our Ecological Footprint exceeded the Earth’s bio-capacity – the area of land and productive oceans available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 emissions – by more than 50 per cent.” It describes how each person’s Ecological Footprint depends on a number of factors, including where they live, the amount of goods, services and resources they use plus the waste they generate. To put this in perspective, the report says that if, for example, we all lived like the average Indonesian we would use up just two-thirds of the Earth’s bio-capacity.

But if everyone adopted the lifestyle of the average American, four Earths would be required to regenerate our annual demand on nature’s bounty.

Encouragingly, while the inexorable rise in urbanization is a given, the way it will develop now and in the future is under serious debate. “The question isn’t whether to urbanize but how,” said Dr. Michail Fragkias of Arizona State University. “Unfortunately, today’s ongoing pattern of urban sprawl puts humanity at severe risk due to environmental problems.” Dr. Fragkias was among 3,000 scientists and environmental experts who took part in the ‘Planet Under Pressure’ conference.

Held over four days in London during March 2012, the conference reviewed the latest research findings on the state of the planet and recommended a series of practical solutions. These included: a set of sustainability goals for all nations; creating a UN Sustainable Development Council to integrate social, economic and environmental policy globally; an international research program and providing regular global sustainability analyses.

“In the last decade we have become a highly interconnected society and are beginning to realize this new state of humanity can be harnessed for rapid innovation,” said conference co-chair Dr. Mark Stafford Smith. “But we need to provide more open access to knowledge, we need to move away from GDP as the only measure of progress, and we need a new way of working internationally that is fit for the 21st century.”

The proposals were incorporated into a ‘State of the Planet Declaration’, which set out how current international arrangements were failing to deal with long-term challenges such as climate change and loss of biodiversity in an interconnected way. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the publication of the document was timely, coming just two months before the UN Conference on Sustainable Development: Rio+20, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. There heads of state and high-level representatives renewed their commitment to sustainable development and to promoting “an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations”.

Then, in September, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Solutions Network which brings together scientists, technical experts and business leaders to tackle the most pressing environmental, social and economic problems. They set up ten global expert groups to support problemsolving in numerous critical areas, including economic growth, reducing poverty, access to healthcare and transferring to low carbon energy.

Permanent settlements

New technology has always been an essential part of the urbanization story. The first towns were the direct result of improvements in agriculture and transport. Previous settlements tended to be temporary, lasting only as long as the soil produced good crops. The community would then up sticks and move to a new site.

As farming methods became more sophisticated, farmers were able to produce surplus food. This, together with the invention of the wheel, made it practical to transport the surplus from the countryside to the towns.

Because early cities and towns were often under threat of attack they were usually surrounded by walls and towers. The rich and powerful lived in the center, while the poor lived further away, sometimes even beyond the city walls. Many of the ancient cities, such as those in Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, are thought to have been built to a plan. However, the credit for inventing urban planning lies with the Greek architect Hippodamus. In around 407 BC he designed the city of Miletus, in what is now Turkey, using a grid layout. The style was copied for other Greek and also Roman cities.

As cities developed and grew into mercantile hubs people flocked to them, attracted by the promise of jobs and a better quality of life. Urban centers drew people from a wide area and from all walks of life, creating a diverse population.

But the biggest upswing in urbanization was sparked by the Industrial Revolution as people migrated from the countryside on an unprecedented scale to work in the new factories. Unfortunately, employment opportunities were not necessarily matched by better living standards. By the 19th century many of these new industrial workers found themselves living in crowded slums, breathing air polluted by the smoke from their employment activities.

Gradually, governments and city authorities recognized that urban growth and development needed to be better controlled and healthier environments provided for the workers. An early example of modern urban planning is Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s remodeling of Paris in the 1850s. His solution was to demolish parts of the old city and build wide boulevards. He also set regulations for all building facades, public parks, monuments, sewerage systems and water works. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, engineer Ildefons Cerdà devised an extension to the city consisting of a series of 550 uniform blocks built around central gardens. Early in the 20th century the UK tried to improve urban life by building so called garden cities. These were specially designed towns that incorporated green spaces.

As urbanization continued to increase rapidly during the 20th century, it gave rise to a new phenomenon – suburbia. The new suburbs tended to provide homes for the poorest while the wealthy enjoyed all the advantages of living in the vibrant city centers. However, this demographic was reversed in the US in the 1950s and 60s as the moneyed classes sought bigger and better properties outside the city. And, of course, they could afford the travel. This trend has since been repeated in other countries.

Farm of the future

Feeding the world when it reaches the expected nine billion in 2050 will require extra land the size of Brazil to grow enough crops.

And, with most of the population living in cities, experts have recognized the need to change current farming practices. A potential solution is the vertical farm where food is grown in and on top of buildings in cities.

Once considered science fiction, vertical farms are becoming a reality, such as the one in a converted meat
packing plant in Chicago. So far it has five tenants whose products are sold to local markets and restaurants.

But this won’t solve the problem of how to accommodate dairy herds and other large livestock. GEA Farm Technologies, a leading provider of solutions and systems for milk production and livestock farming, could have the answer to making dairy farming more sustainable.

The company has developed a holistic vision of the ‘Farm of the Future’ that encompasses all the key operations of a dairy farm from animal feeding, milk production, automation and waste collection to training, maintenance and consumption of energy and water.

Norm Schuring at GEA Farm Technologies in the US is VP for the Farm of the Future concept. He says the big challenge for farmers is producing enough highquality milk profitably against a background of rising animal feed, energy and land costs.

“Farmers are looking for system solutions that will improve their profitability and sustainability,” Schuring explains. “Reducing the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions and achieving higher yields though better animal nutrition and milk handling practices is only possible with sophisticated systems. GEA Farm Technologies’ focus is to research and develop new and creative multi-functional processes, adding revenues to the operation. Energy production, fertilizer value from waste and manure, water recycling and reuse are processes that can add revenues while reducing costs.”

GEA Farm Technologies can provide the expertise and technology that will enable farms to adapt to meet the increasing demand for dairy products in a sustainable and future-oriented way. Farm of the Future was launched at EuroTier 2012, the global agricultural show.

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