Category Archives: sustainability

Pearl River Delta Sea Level Rise Animation

Pearl River Delta Flood Animation from Luca Zoid on Vimeo.

Summary:
This short animation shows possible flooding caused by sea level rise in the Pearl River Delta region of China. Sea level rise here goes from 1 metre (likely by 2100) to 60m (projected maximum assuming the melting of all polar ice).

Video Credits:
Graphic Design and animation by John Causley from Big Fag Press.

Produced as part of Lucas Ihlein’s Guangzhou Delta Haiku project, exhibited at Observation Society in Guangzhou, June-July 2016.

Guangzhou’s watery future

Yesterday at Observation Society, I was describing the Waterways of the Illawarra project to Anthony, Trevor and Hanting. At home, the seepage from the escarpment is a major part of the “character” of the region. It’s what creates the more than 50 creeks which make their way through the landscape into the sea.

It wasn’t something I had considered before I arrived, but a major part of the “character” of Guangzhou and the Guangdong region is the Pearl River Delta. In the delta, waterways flow in a crisscrossing matrix wherever you find yourself. Maps of the delta are beautiful and confounding – they don’t look like “normal” rivers which have a clear directionality:

pearl river delta

This map also shows the massive urban development in the Pearl River Delta over the last 30 years.

So – one thing that’s been haunting me recently is the future rise of sea levels. In the Illawarra, it seems clear that sea level rises will immediately affect the areas surrounding creeks, since these are the lowest parts of the landscape. Like in the big floods of 1998 (when the extra water came from the sky), houses with creeks running through their yards will have to think about how to protect themselves from serious land erosion and property damage.

Here’s a map I saw of Brisbane a few years ago, where the future sea level rise totally transforms the city’s useable spaces:

brisbane sea level rise
This is the first image I saw which showed future projections of the impact of sea level rises on low-lying cities, and I imagine we’ll be seeing these maps with ever more frequency now.

So what about Guangzhou?

Anthony, Trevor and Hanting didn’t know what the future prospects of the city will be. So I googled it.

Uh oh. Of all the cities in the entire world, Guangzhou is listed at number one. The most likely to be caused massive damage due to sea level rises:

In terms of the overall cost of damage, the cities at the greatest risk are: 1) Guangzhou, 2) Miami, 3) New York, 4) New Orleans, 5) Mumbai, 6) Nagoya, 7) Tampa, 8) Boston, 9) Shenzen, and 10) Osaka. The top four cities alone account for 43% of the forecast total global losses.

OK. So, what can be done about this?

In a rudimentary search, I couldn’t find much specific about Guangzhou’s plan for the future of sea level rises, but hopefully something will turn up. Meantime, here’s some research from 13 years ago: a paper called “Coastal Inundation due to Sea Level Rise in the Pearl River Delta, China” in a journal called Natural Hazards, by geographers ZHENGUO HUANG, YONGQIANG ZONG, and WEIQIANG ZHANG, from 2003. The authors mention 193 flooding events in the last 40 years (that’s about 5 per year!) and make some calculations based on the idea of a 30cm rise by 2030. Their conclusion:

The potential rise in sea level during the 21st century will pose a severe threat to the communities in the deltaic area. In order for the current and future investments and communities to be protected from potential threat of marine inundation, preventive policies need to be formulated and implemented as soon as possible.

And here’s something from 2005, where plans were mooted to upgrade the Pearl River Delta’s flood defences (no mention of climate change though in that article).

Here’s a more recent article which describes the threat to GZ from Climate Change, but without any mention of what measures could be taken to mitigate it.

This article seems to tackle the heart of the matter, and it’s more recent (2013): “A Review of Assessment and Adaptation Strategy to Climate Change Impacts on the Coastal Areas in South China“. The strategies discussed include:

  • improving the monitoring and early warning systems;
  • fortifying coastal protection engineering;
  • working on ecological restoration to buffer the effects of climate change on biodiversity;
  • and strengthening salt tide prevention to ensure the water resource security.

This last factor was one I hadn’t considered. With rising sea levels, salty water will start to infiltrate areas where fresh water had been drawn for drinking.

This jaunty piece discusses the threat to Guangzhou in connection with China’s apparent turnabout on Climate Change policy.

Even though these articles present some practical ideas, they still seems to be operating at the level of generalised recommendations.

Surely work is already underway? Surely?

It seems to me that the options for adapting to the future for GZ are the following:

  • build defenses against flood events (sea walls? dykes? will these work in the future??);
  • smarten up evacuation plans (how do you evacuate a city with more than 15 million people?);
  • begin radically re-designing the city with higher water levels in mind (what, like lift it up on stilts? what other ideas are there?);
  • start relocating the city to higher ground based on future sea level projections (abandon current Guangzhou and move it inland??);
  • Stop burning coal and oil.

Similar ideas (and some nice maps) are generated in this project which was presented in the 2011 Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.

What have I not considered here?

Knowing Your Shit

permaculture flow chart

Last Saturday and Sunday, I was a student in the Milkwood Intro to Permaculture Course, run by the excellent Kirsten and Nick (aka Cicada). The above picture is of a flow chart a few of us knocked up during the course, as part of an exercise to hammer home how inter-connected everything is.

Since the course, I haven’t been able to stop talking shit. Literally. My girlfriend is bored shitless. Etc etc. What I mean is, the thing from the course which made the deepest impression on me, is the idea of shit as a resource.

Nick:

The crazy thing is, that we take one of our most precious resources – our own shit – and we mix it with another of our most precious resources – clean drinking water, and we flush them both away into the ocean.

Shit as a precious resource? Yeah man, human shit. You can compost it and put it back in the garden to grow next year’s vegies.

Ignorantly, I had thought this was a sort of taboo in human societies. We dump chook poo, horse poo, cow poo etc (not really dog and cat poo though?) on our vegie gardens, and they really help things grow better. But up to now, I believed human poo was a bit too close to home – doesn’t that shit cause diseases?

Not so, according to Nick and Kirsten, who described the process of composting their own for one year, before putting it around their fruit trees.

The whole concept of permaculture (at least, the bit that made a strong impression on me) is about “energy cycling”. Energy tends to move from a useful to a non-useful state. If we harness the energy released from one process, and use it again, we can keep it cycling round a bit longer before it leaves us for good.

When you think about vegie gardens as a “sustainable” thing, you gotta consider “inputs” and “outputs”. (Or “imports” and “exports”, as Nick put it). Ideally, you want to keep both imports and exports to a minimum. The sun, luckily, and rain when it comes, are “free” imports!

So you might be harnessing the energy of the sun – the plants transform it through photosynthesis, and draw nutrients from the soil, the air, and water. But as soon as you eat those vegies, and subsequently shit down the loo, you are exporting a whole lot of valuable nutrients from your system, which could have been kept local and re-used next time around.

This thought has been haunting me all week, with grim regularity…

Now, this is all very well when you live out near Mudgee. But how could you harvest human poo (and wee) in the city? Especially when you’re living in a rental place, and the landlord won’t even install a double-flush, let alone a composting shitter?

Sustaining Practices in Melbourne

speed dating at the sustaining practices workshop

On Saturday I went to Melbourne to facilitate the running of a participatory workshop organised by Clubs Project Space , called Sustaining Practices.

The first activity was a speed dating session, in which 2 minutes was allowed for blah-blah-ing about what your particular concerns were. I used a dinger to shift them along to the next date. I made a 9 minute mp3 recording of the dating. It’s loud and fun! You can listen to it here [9 min, 4mb, mp3].

The Clubs crew sent out the following info before the event, to encourage participants to bring along ideas which would shape the course of the day: Continue reading

Thomas Street Permaculture

It's a bit late in the day to throw to this project, but there's a fascinating story of an experiment by tenants in Melbourne to turn their backyard into a permaculture environment over here:
http://permaculturesolutions.com.au/thomasstreet/
Even the battle they've been having with their landlord is interesting, a great story.