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I know, I know, that might sound like it rolls off the tongue a bit too easily. Prank...Joke...ha ha. But if you look more closely at our targets, something is obviously out of step.
In a hoax press release, political tricksters "The Yes Men" hoodwinked a number of politicians and publications into believing that Canada had revealed a much more ambitious climate change plan. The faux-plan included 40% cuts to 1990 emissions by 2020.
Canada's actual emissions targets (3% of 1990 by 2020) are the lowest in the G8, lower than the EU (25% by 2020) and even lower than the US if you take 2050 targets into account (83% of 2005 by 2020). They are also orders of magnitude below what our best science is telling us we need to be doing. It's worth asking, why are we falling so far behind our peers? (You can track national targets here, or the climate scoreboard below)
The three answers that come up most often are: a fear of negative economic impacts, the fact that developing nations (read: "India and China") need to do their fair share, and that before doing anything we have to wait to see what American policy will look like. But none of those really stand up if you poke them a bit.
Avoiding Economic Impacts
Climate Change, and climate change policy is going to affect our economy one way of the other. Setting low targets doesn't solve that problem. Actually, it makes us more vulnerable. Take Forestry for example. Forest fires and infestations like those that have decimated Canada's western forests, for example, are only predicted to grow worse as temperatures rise. Similar trends will hit agriculture and fisheries. Blocking a commitment to strong international emissions reductions backs a big part of our economy into very stormy waters.
Take a look at last year's Globe and Mail list of Canada's top companies and you'll notice something else. Appart from the banks and a few insurance companies, all the other companies in the top 20 are in the fossil fuel sector. That's hardly a picture of a balanced economy.
Strong emissions reductions targets create a climate where Canada's innovative hi-tech, engineering and manufacturing sectors can expand into areas of alternative energy and green infrastructure – the fastest growing sectors of the global economy. Without targets to encourage that diversification, the climatic vulnerability and carbon liability on our economy will just keep on growing.
Rapid Growth in India & China
Now, on the surface of it, worries about rapidly industrializing countries like China and India make sense. What good would it do anyone if our reductions were simply swallowed up by growth elsewhere? But both India and China are reported to be at the top end of the targets recommended by the United Nations IPCC.
China has pledged to educe carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 in 2020. India has pledged a 20% to 25% reduction in emission intensity (both based on 2005). Will they live up to those targets? A good question. Do we hope for better in the future? Yes. But foot dragging from a wealthy country like Canada doesn't help any. Not the mention the fact that we are missing a prime opportunity to sell renewable energy technology into one of the hottest markets in the world.
Waiting for the Giant
When it comes to the U.S., we've got a long history of conflict and collaboration over economic and environmental issues. The treaties that govern the shared waters of the Great Lakes are held up as a model on international environmental policy. Our confrontations over softwood lumber have attracted different kinds of attention. But in both cases, Canada has been effective in defining and defending its own interests.
We need to do the same thing for Climate Change. Take Tar Sands emissions, for example. Who should be responsible for them? We make the stuff, but the Americans buy it. It took our former P.M., Paul Martin, to argue that the U.S. should assume responsibility for some of those emissions before the current Environment Minster stepped in. The U.S. disagrees, and has considered imposing carbon-based taxes on oil like the kind coming from Alberta.
Interesting. But where is the current Federal government on this or other similar issues? What's their plan? These are details we need to figure out before, not after the US, or the UN, decide on climate change policy. And while I think Paul Martin has a point, it certainly seems strange that serving politicians need to take their cues from former Prime Ministers.
Leaderless in Copenhagen
So why then are our targets so low? Partly, it is because of the incorrect Federal argument that aiming low and waiting for others to call the shots puts the Canadian economy in a better position. But more than that, it is because within the party currently in power (and some of the parties not in power), we lack any real leadership on climate change. In fact, many of the best leaders in the country are among our provinces and cities.
Leadership is about recognizing that there are multiple possible futures, having a vision of where you want to go, and then building the strategy to get there. Leadership is about understanding that current economic and political realities don't determine the future. Yes, they are the foundationfor tomorrow -- but how we build on that foundation is something we have a say over. That, after all, is what politics are all about -- otherwise we'd just get experts and bureaucrats to run everything.
Canada is in an enviable position to lead on these issues. We are a rich country, a smart country, and a secure country. We have a legacy of savvy diplomacy that has meant that (until recently) we have punched well above our weight in international negotiations. As a signatory of the Kyoto convention we also have the ability to negotiate more broadly in Copenhagen than non-signatories (like our neighbours to the south).
It's a shame to see that go to waste. We have an opportunity now to help build an international climate change agreement that would be good both for our country, and for the whole world. It's time we get serious about this. Spending time defending our uniquely low targets isn't the way to go about it. Much more is possible.
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This is a response to the 1000 or so people detained at the climate demonstrations in Copenhagen over the weekend. Despite the often sensational headlines, it's worth remembering that the rallies both in Copenhagen and around the world were almost entirely peaceful. They were more rallies FOR ambitious changes rather than demonstrations against any one country, company, or economic system. I've got a bit more on that in an earlier post. Read more...
The rally was critical of the Canadian government's current position (no surprise there), but it was also humourous, happy and up-beat. It wrapped up with hundreds of people dancing in the snow in the heart of the downtown.
What Canadians Want
Speeches, signs and songs all echoed sentiments that a recent poll shows spread across the whole of the country: Canadians want to see our government contribute to creating a strong deal in Copenhagen. But if that fails, people are ready to look for other ways to address the problem, regardless of national or international commitments.
Like earlier rallies held in the Fall, the feeling of these rallies is distinct from the other major protests of our era. Unlike the WTO protests, for example, there is a real sense at the climate change rallies that people are there to demonstrate FOR something not against it.
Whether in Copenhagen, Sydney, or Montreal, participants are coming together to show that we are ready to help make positive change possible. These events are as much about showing that support, as about calling laggards to account.
[One the topic of calling laggards to account: at one light hearted moment in Montreal a speaker encouraged everyone there to whip our their cellphones and leave our Prime Minister a message. If you'd like to call yourself, you can reach his office at: 613-992-4211.]
Hope, Hapiness & The Largest Global Demonstrations in History
This year we have seen the largest civil society demonstrations in human history. Crowds from all walks of life have come together in a support of a common cause. We are all worried about climate change, but that is not all we share. We share the hope that a better world is possible, and the happiness of having so many others with whome we share that commitment to change.
Hope and happiness are powerful feelings. The commitment that they cement has created a powerful constituency for change, both here in Canada and around the world. And while we can all do our part, in our homes and communities, there are limits to the power of individuals – no matter how optimistic and motivated we appear in opinion polls. What we need now are politicians who are ready to run with the ball we are throwing them and make large scale change possible. Here's hoping we'll see democracy in action.
If you want to talk to your MP about Canada's position on climate change, you can find them here.
Great Raw Footage of the Copenhagen Event:
translations here. Click for larger clearer image.]
This morning, financial wizard George Soros announced a climate financing plan that to most of us was akin to lifting up the cushions of the couch and finding a billion dollars.
Soros' plan relies on a form of financing called special drawing rights (SDRs) that, I think it's safe to say, most people still don't know exists. SDRs are in a sense a virtual pool of capital that can be exchanged for the currency of any IMF member state. They have been around since 1969, when they were created by the IMF to add liquidity to international currency exchanges. Most recently they were used to inject $283 billion into the world economy following financial crisis.
Soros' plan (summed up over at green.inc) is to place $100 billion worth of these SDRs in a "green fund" that would be invested " in the most vulnerable developing countries to protect rain forests, plant new forests, expand farming methods that store carbon, and help with adaptation and energy programs." It sound like a brilliant way to kick-start the proposed (but still unfunded) $10 billion annual climate adaptation fund.
Another overlooked pool of capital is the equity controlled by the world's insurance and reinsurance companies. Anxious to limit their potential liabilities, insurers and reinsurers have long been some of the most eloquent quantifiers of the need to respond to climate change.
Munich RE, the world's largest reinsurerfor example, has been charting the increased incidence in natural disaster related losses since the 1970s. As Matt Huddleston, Principal Climate Change Consultant at the UK's Met Office points out in an excellent feature on the BBC (text & video), they have a real business interest in pushing for ambitous emissions reductions: "
"They're terrified that they might have a year where they have a lot of damage from winter windstorms in Europe, a lot of land-falling hurricanes in America and hail damage in the Midwest - all in the same year."
The idea of getting caught holding the bag for those kinds of losses has pushed Munich RE to begin investing in a variety of renewable energy projects, including the ambitious DESERTEC solar aray in North Africa. Nikolaus von Bomhard, CEO of MunichRE, says that from a strictly business point of view it makes sense for insurers to invest 1%-2% of their equity into mitigation measures. For his firm that amounts to $2billion, but of the several trillion dollars managed by the insurance sector globally it would add up to tens of billions of dollars a year.
Now if only New York had found a similarly creative financial partner for their building retrofit program.
[The BBC feature is well worth the watch, if only for a glimpse of the trippy Alice-In-Wonderland inspired series of tunnels that link Munich RE's various buildings.] Read more...
Great combination of Venice and polar bears, two icons of rising waters. (No translation needed for this one.) Read more...
My favourites have to be the Indiana Jones-esque Museum Station in Toronto, and the colourful cave-like spaces of Stockholm's Tunnelbana.
Frank Pick, Commercial Manager of the London Undergroung in the early 20th C., was one of the first people to talk about the role that public transportation plays in creating the identity of a city. Used by thousands everyday, public transit is more than just a way of getting around town. The experience of taking transit and the design of the space and it's iconography profoundly shapes how you see a city.
Pick focused on creating a uniform look for the Tube through the design of signs, maps and promotional posters (the icons of the London tube that most of us are familiar with). Designboom's pics show the next stage in that pursuit when that attention to creating an identity for the transit system influences the design of the infrastructure itself. It's beautiful stuff - and who knows what is waiting for us around the corner! Read more...
Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.
Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.
• How the Copenhagen global leader came about
• Write your own editorial
• Bryony Worthington: How to make an impact
• In pictures: How newspapers around the world ran the editorial
Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.
The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.
Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.
But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."
At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.
Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.
Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.
Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.
The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.
Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.
But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.
Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.
Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".
It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.
The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.
This editorial will be published tomorrow by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like the Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.. Read more...
[Click on the image for a clearer larger version]
Talking about "adaptation" used to be taboo -- it implied defeat (that we need to adapt to a problem we hadn't solved), and ran the risk of taking attention away from efforts to reduce emissions. Looking back, that all seems pretty naive.
If you ask me, talking about adaptation means that we are finally taking the problem seriously. If you look at most of what passes for sustainability initiatives, the film of"green" is so thin that you've got to wonder what exactly they're meant to accomplish. LED traffic signals (or Canada's emissions reductions targets for that matter) , only really count as an emissions reduction measure in the fluffiest and most optimistic vision of the challenges we are facing. If talking about adaptation means that we are getting too wise to settle for such low targets and ambitions, than I'm glad to see it.
It's also through adaptation that the ethical side of climate change becomes unavoidable: of the between $US100 billion to $US300 billion a year that will need to be spent on adaptation, close to 75% of that will need to be spent in the developing world. That's money that they do not have, for a threat to their survival that they had next to no role in creating. Maybe, as Oxfam is hoping, taking adaptation funding seriously will even unlock commitments to more serious emissions reductions at Copenhagen.
In 2008, Nature ran a very readable (and recommended) Comment piece by three IPCC scientists on adaptation. I'll let them have the last word:
"We have lost ten years talking about climate change but not acting on it. Meanwhile, evidence from the IPCC indicates that the problem is bigger than we thought. A curious optimism — the belief that we can find a way to fully avoid all the serious threats illustrated above — pervades the political arenas of the G8 summit and UN climate meetings. This is false optimism, and it is obscuring reality. The sooner we recognize this delusion, confront the challenge and implement both stringent emissions cuts and major adaptation efforts, the less will be the damage that we and our children will have to live with."
But there has never been a time when the challenges and opportunities of sustainability have been so clearly on display. On the one hand, billions of stimulus dollars around the world are being channelled into the green economy. On the other, we find ourselves at the tail end of a year where report after report have made clear that things are much worse that we realized; when did we start talking about 1.4m sea level rise and a 40% reduction in grain yields by the end of the century?
Somehow, old classics like putting energy efficient lights on city hall and installing some LED traffic signals just aren't that exciting anymore.
Toolkit for Change
That makes ICLEI's new Sustainability Planning Toolkit a well timed resource for municipalities who want to go beyond on-off projects and build a true sustainability strategy for their city. The core of the kit is a step-by-step planning guide that takes you from how to hire a sustainability coordinator to how to design, implement and monitor a local sustainability plan. Accompanying the guide, the Toolkit includes a collection of model documents, inventorying software, and even sample job descriptions for municipalities just beginning their push toward sustainability.
ICLEI is the world's largest urban sustainability association with 1,100 members worldwide and 600 in the U.S. alone. Drawing on the experience of their members, particularly New York city's PlaNYC team, stories of how other cities have implemented their own plans are woven in throughout the guide. Think of it as the sustainability planning boxed-set. And just in time for the Holidays! (or is that Copenhagen?)
Anyone already familiar with the Cities for Climate Protection program will recognize the hallmark ICLEI approach of dividing up complex problems into a series of manageable milestones. While Climate Change is still a key focus, the toolkit shows how to couple emissions reductions with wins in other areas like reducing poverty, preventing sprawl, or diversifying the local economy.
Everyone's Problem, But Nobody's Responsibility
But as many cities have already realized, the trouble with sustainability, or climate change more specifically, is that are everybody's problem, but nobody's responsibility. They don't fit nicely into the division of labour that has kept our cities running in the past. They also ask departments that don't talk much (and may not get along all that well) to work together to get things done. It may seem unlikely, but often those dynamics (more than a lack of political will, or money, or knowledge) are why cities don't green-up more quickly.
Given that, it's great to see at the core of ICLEI's new toolkit, a detailed section on team-building, overcoming divisions between departments, and engaging the public. Their key points are strong: manage sustainability centrally (preferably from the mayor's office), bring representatives from all departments on-board, and open up the process to the community. No city has the resources to address sustainability and climate change on their own. If it is going to happen it has to be a shared project that makes the most of the expertise and skills of the local community.
Getting the Lead Out
There has been a lot of talk about the place of cities in a transition to a greener world (or at least one that won't fall apart at the seams). Somewhere between 50% and 70% of global greenhouse gases come from cities – we've all heard that statistic so often we probably know it by heart. But despite all that – even among ICLEI members – there are only a select few examples of cities making real progress of sustainability issues. We need to get the lead out, as the saying goes.
This toolkit doesn't provide one-size fits all solutions, motivational talking points or snazzy charts and graphs. What is does provide is much more substantial: a collection of organizational resources for cities who want to move past eating the low-hanging fruit, and design a locally relevant plan that addresses sustainability at a more ambitious, and rewarding level. Read more...
A few weeks ago, world leaders emerged from the APEC summit with a very Canadian message: “It's impossible. We will not reach a strong agreement in Copenhagen. Better luck next year." Since then, Canada has been internationally condemned for our role in blocking climate action at APEC, the Commonwealth...and pretty much whenever else we get a chance. The criticism is so sharp that there is even talk of booting us from the Commonwealth. But our tune hasn't changed.
“It's impossible,” what a soothingly familiar phrase. It could almost be our federal climate change motto: we heard it first from then Environment Minister Rona Ambrose in 2006, and our Prime Minister and current Environment Minister Jim Prentice have been repeating it ever since. In 2006 the problem was that the Kyoto targets were too high, now the problem is that we don't know what the American targets and policies will be...what is a government to do?!
There's Green under the Grey
Thankfully, not everyone has been so stumped: Canadian cities, provinces and private companies are miles ahead of the Feds. Canada is filled with examples that prove that what's “possible” is much bigger than it appears through the foggy windows on Parliament Hill. There are projects up and running across the country that are both good for the environment, and that put us on a more competitive footing against countries (like the US) that are rapidly developing their green technology sectors.
North America's power grid is the biggest single machine in the world. It is also amazingly inefficient, and losses up to 10% of the electricity that it carries. But that's changing. Ontario's ambitious smart grid program has pushed the province to the forefront of grid modernization. Higher efficiency, reduced consumption, and an increased ability to integrate renewable energy have all made Ontario into an international example. BC and Quebec are set to follow suit.
Canadian cities have also distinguished themselves as leaders in sustainability. Household energy use can account for up to third of a city's emissions, and many households rent. But how do you get landlords to make efficiency improvements to their buildings, when it will be their tenants who reap the benefits of lower bills? Toronto has used well designed low-interest loans provided by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund to resolved that Catch-22. On the Pacific coast, Vancouver's eco-density program is spearheading efforts to add housing to existing residential neighbourhoods while preserving their homey qualities. Olympic athletes there will also be staying in one of the most sustainable communities in the world.
Commercially, we have an impressive list of innovative companies: Bombardier, one of the worlds foremost manufacturers of high-speed trains; alternative energy companies like AAER or Canadian Hydro; and ZENN electric cars, to name a few. All of these would be able to play an increased roll in the Canadian economy if conditions were right. But here, as with all the successes noted above, there is no strong federal support.
High-speed rail (which is 20 times more efficient that driving a car) has been repeatedly shelved despite being economically viable in the Quebec City -Windsor corridor and between Calgary and Edmonton. There is also little in the way of incentives or support for residential efficiency or encouraging the growth of a cutting edge alternative energy sector. Public transportation continues to struggle to get the federal dollars that it needs.
One Challenge, Many Opportunities
The challenge of climate change is also filled with opportunities. Cities, provinces and companies have begun to respond to that challenge in serious and innovative ways. In and of themselves, their successes so far aren't nearly enough to make the urgent emissions cuts that we need. But their efforts point us in the right direction. They also sink the argument that the environment and the economy are at odds with each other. In Ontario, grid modernization alone will create an estimated 20,000 jobs. Housing retrofits, and green infrastructure projects could generate similar figures across the country.
In the weeks left before the climate negotiations in Copenhagen we are going to see more debate over what is "possible.” The answers will often seem to be strangely out of touch with what we can see going on around us. It's high time for federal politics to catch up with what is happening in the rest of the country. When playing the tricky political game of defining what is “possible” we need to keep our eye on what leaders are already doing right here at home. Then we need to ask: “What we can do to take those successes to another level?" Read more...
This one seemed particularly appropriate after reading a new study on sea level rise reported on in The Times yesterday. Their conclusions point to 1.4m of sea level rise by 2100 if current temperature increases continue un-checked.
From The Times coverage of the Report:
"SCAR, a partnership of 35 of the world’s leading climate research institutions, made the prediction in the report Antarctic Climate Change and Climate. It far exceeds the 0.59 metre rise by the end of the century quoted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007. This was based on a “business as usual” approach by governments that allowed temperatures to rise by 4 degrees. It will underpin the negotiations in Copenhagen.
SCAR scientists said that the IPCC underestimated grossly how much the melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets would contribute to total sea-level rises." Read more...
This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.
You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.
You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.
Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.
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- Hoax? Canada's Actual Targets The Real Joke
- Climate Scoreboard
- Climate Comix: Preventative Detention
- Climate Protests: Worldwide and in Montreal
- Climate Comix: Fresh Paint
- Finding the Money: The Wizardry of Financing Clim...
- Climate Comix: A Polar Bear in Venice
- Underground Jewels: Subway Star-chitecture
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- Stilts & Dams in Your Future? : Ethics, Optimism, ...
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