Northern cities: visibly unsustainable

Winter shows us something.

Photo credit Jeremy Shields, Flickr

Photo credit Jeremy Shields, Flickr

There is much talk, in recent years, about the sustainability of our society, our lifestyles, our cities.

This has been a long, cold, snowy winter for much of North America. Weather has a way of humbling us, if only briefly.

Our biggest SUVs won’t navigate snow clogged or icy roadways, planes can’t take off on snowed-in runways. When the power lines come down, we shiver in poorly insulated homes that don’t have a hope of keeping us warm.

I am also struck, when the temperatures really drop, by the clouds of ice fog in our cities. Car exhaust, bus exhaust, steam shooting from office buildings and industrial sites – we pour heat and moisture into the air, where it instantly becomes crystal.

On a cold day in northern climes, we are given a very visible indication of our society – and how unsustainable it is.

At times, it’s almost impossible to see through the swirling clouds of exhaust.

The simple reminder that these scenes provide is that we can’t do this forever. That’s my definition of sustainability – can you do this forever? We can’t burn fossil fuels like this forever – they will at some point be depleted. Even if you are an optimist and think that we will replace all these fossil fuels with new energy sources, for how long can we continue to pour these levels of heat into the atmosphere?

Will we rebuild all these leaky, poorly insulated, ignorant buildings within a few years, when petroleum supplies suddenly decline? Our northern cities seem largely oblivious to this reality. Millions of us live in climates that can not, in the long term, sustain this level of human activity.

Our weather reminds us, regularly, that it is more powerful than us. For the most part, we choose not to listen.

Photo credit Jeremy Shields, Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/73798791@N00/2218273

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