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The Galapagos Islands and Climate Change (Small Actions Matter)

Have you ever heard the phrase, “every little bit helps?” It is a shame there are things we want to accomplish but we get discouraged because some of these goals may seem insurmountable. We may not realize that some of the things we already do may help reach that goal.  For instance, I got back from a trip to Galapagos Islands a few months ago. And as I was thinking about the trip, it occurred to me that the Galapagos Islands are like a naturalist paradise. As we make commitments to address climate change (big or small), we are moving closer to the goal of reaching a naturalist paradise of our own.

It’s always a good idea to break a goal down to various phases or parts and work toward intermediate steps of success. Even if establishing a naturalist paradise, or solving climate change if you will, seems to be unrealistic, the various steps one can take to help reach that goal are not.

One good example of this in the transportation world is  the “Vision Zero” campaign. I remember when it was called “Toward Zero Death” way back when. The idea is to set a goal of achieving no traffic fatalities or serious injuries from car crashes over a certain number of years. One’s first reaction is that it is an unattainable goal. OK, but then can you tell me if there is a group of people whose lives we can accept losing on the highway or local streets, since this goal is so “unattainable?” Could that be your wife/husband or significant other, child, parent, sibling, good friend, or a casual acquaintance? The answer is no. So we set about working with key partners and stakeholders to redesign dangerous intersections, install traffic calming devices such as roundabouts, install pedestrian road crossings, implement retroreflective signage, etc. We may not reach the ultimate goal but we will may see success along the way, in reducing the number of traffic fatalities.

My trip to the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador in South America, was in the early part of May, 2019. We visited the islands of North Seymour, Bartolome, Rabida, Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, and Santa Crua. I was excited to see many species of plants and animals and had various opportunities to see them both on land and in the water. Some of the islands had very little transportation infrastructure, if any at all. In other words, I didn’t experience any rush hour unless you count the group of Orcas we saw one morning as we crossed the equator on the fourth day.  

20190512_175543I went on this trip with my sisters Virginia and Karen and my brother-in-law Stephen. I had no idea what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised with the sights and the activities of this trip, and will always remember it. We were able to witness nature, whether from a shoreline tour on a zodiac boat, snorkeling along some of the inlets, doing a short hike along some of the natural trails and beaches or kayaking along the shores. One thing I like about traveling is being able to share my experiences with friends and colleagues. And boy did I take many pictures!

I won’t kid you, Galapagos has had its own issues in the past in which humans have introduced invasive species that have threatened the islands. But many foresighted naturalists and scientists have been able to mitigate some of those impacts, preserve the Islands and closely manage human interaction through limited tours. The wildlife is so used to visitors they don’t view humans as a threat and rarely scatter when you approach them. Nothing like being up-close and personal with a Blue Footed Boobie or a Frigatebird.

20190512_183340In fact, when we arrived at the hotel in Guayaquill, Ecuador and as we were about to take the trip from Ecuador to the islands, we were issued a transit control card. This card was given to all of us and was issued by the Government Council for Galapagos as a measure towards “sustainable human development and conservation of the Galapagos Islands.” The card was a way to limit the number of people on the tour so we could enjoy this natural paradise while at the same time maintaining its integrity and natural beauty.


What can this trip teach us about the importance of climate change? Whether you believe in the impacts of human behavior on climate or not, any action you take or day-to-day practice you follow that helps reduce the carbon footprint, is a good thing. It surely doesn’t hurt.

I am not pushing major policies, such as Cap and Trade, that are being hotly debated right now. It20190512_184609 is clear to me we will have to make critical decisions in the future in regards to climate and we need to understand the ramifications of action and inaction in addressing climate change.For the sake of this blog, I just want to point out that you yourself may already be doing your part in addressing climate change. Whether you choose carpooling to work over driving alone, or compost food scraps instead of throwing it out into a landfill, recycle cans and bottles or walk to the store instead of driving; we are all doing our share to maintain natural integrity of our own environment as best we can. Can we reach the ultimate goal of a Galapagos Islands in your neighborhood? Of course not, but in these actions, we are doing our small part in making the world a little more sustainable and a little more pleasant place in which to live. We are helping to preserve our environment for future generations.

Again, the Galapagos Islands are a place where humans and animals live mostly in perfect harmony in the natural environment. If that is the ultimate goal of completely addressing the impacts of climate change, any steps toward doing that are well worth it.

20190517_084847By the way, my favorite part of the trip was the last day when we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, located near Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, to see the giant tortoises.

We went to the center not only for the big turtles, but to see how the station raises young giant tortoises and then releases them into the wild. We saw some of the small turtles in their pens. This program is run in conjunction with the Galapagos Park Service. Since 1970, more than 2,000 tortoises have been hatched, raised and released. Later we went to a national park in the highlands of Santa Cruz and were able to see the large turtles in their natural habitat. Again, we were able to be with the turtles, up-close and personal.

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James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.

Traffic

What does it cost to drive?

In a previous blog I asked, “what will it take for you to change your commute?”. In reading that question, you may have responded “NOTHING.” Nothing will prompt you to change your ways. That is your “driving solo in a car” ways.

I admit, being able to get in your car and drive anywhere you want to go, whenever you want to go,  is quite an advantage and difficult to argue against. You are not tied to anyone else’s schedule. You don’t have to wait for anyone. If you are running late, who cares. No one is waiting for you. If you feel sick, you can leave whenever you want. This is especially true for your commute to work. How can one top the convenience of driving alone? Why would I want to participate in a shared car or shared van arrangement?

Well, you should know that the convenience does come at a cost. The cost may not be so obvious at first, but you are paying for that convenience. How much?

 

smart-car-1Well in 2017, Americans paid, on average, $3,037 to cover the indirect/hidden costs of driving which included sitting in traffic and searching for parking. Also in that year, the average total cost of driving was $10,288. This is a staggering figure.  Are you beginning to see how driving alone to work may not be as advantageous as you once thought?

How do I know this? I came across an article in the March/April edition of  “@Livemore” a publication of the Dulles Area Transportation Association (DATA). The research was drawn from the  first ever published report on the “Cost of Driving” by INRIX, an analytics company that researches the connection between technology and transportation.

Sometimes I don’t like to drive, especially to areas that are dense and built-up. The reason for this is the hassle of finding available parking. I don’t know about you, but I hate driving around and around in the search for parking, and often over paying on a street meter or paying the inflated cost in a parking garage. According to the INRIX research, drivers spend on average $3,000 per year on parking. The type of costs that are integrated into this estimate include:

  • Waste of time,
  • Carbon emissions,
  • Parking fines,

This may be the reason many drivers are excited about the idea of having fully autonomous vehicles in the future. The car will take you to your destination, then disappear. When you are ready to leave, you can snap your fingers and voila, there is your car. Not going to happen folks, at least not in the near future.  Parking will continue to be a drawback to driving for a long time.

Your next argument could be, I work in the suburbs. I have unlimited parking in the suburban office park where I work. True enough, but you must understand there are other costs to car ownership and driving everywhere you go. These include:

  • Purchasing or leasing a vehicle, including finance costs
  • Depreciation of a vehicle
  • Maintenance and service (I can vouch for that having paid over $2,000 in recent car repair)
  • Insurance
  • Fuel
  • Tolls
  • Taxes
  • Lost productive time sitting in traffic
  • (fill in the blank)_____________

And remember, with the rising cost of property and real estate, some companies, or their property managers/owners, may not find it as lucrative to continue setting aside valuable space just for parking. Don’t be surprised if your employer starts considering charging for parking, especially as congestion in suburban areas becomes more problematic to commuters. An increase in traffic congestion may prompt employers to look for ways to encourage shared driving in order to help reduce congestion and better assure their employees arrive to work on time.

van

Recent trends show employees are increasingly leaving their job due to commuting challenges, and that employees are beginning to look to their employers to help them address their commuting challenges. As a result, a number of companies are beginning to cover employee commuting costs if they use alternative modes of commuting (carpooling, vanpooling, transit, biking)  while increasingly charging solo drivers for their “parking privileges.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you if that happens to you at your company.

So what can you do? No, I am not suggesting you sell your car, though kudos to you if you do. It’s basic economics, the less you drive, the less wear and tear on your car. Consider a carpool or vanpool if your schedule allows it. Look to telework, and potential transit opportunities. The bus may not be so inconvenient. If you do consider these options and cut back on your driving alone to work, your wallet will thank you.

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.

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Feeding a Thirsty World

About two weeks ago, I attended the Feeding a Thirsty World: Harnessing the Connections Between Food and Water Security event at the Wilson Center. Speakers from Winrock International, Water Global Practice of the World Bank, Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center, Sustainable Water Partnership, and Corteva Agriscience led discussions on the linkage and the overlap between water security and food security. I learned that the relationship between water and food security is a complex because you can’t have food security without water security. If we are only providing water solely for drinking purposes than we are only solving half of the problem. We are not developing self-reliance or empowering communities to take care of their water or agriculture systems.

More than 70 percent of global water use is for agriculture while more than 25 percent of the global population lives in areas facing severe water scarcity and more than 820 million people are food insecure. Water consumption for food production will need to increase by 70 percent before the year 2050 in order to meet the demand for a growing population. In addition, we have to consider the environmental stressors that also affect food and water availability, like the increase in floods and droughts due to changes in climate patterns. Many countries are lacking in safe access to drinking water. 3 out of 10 countries lack safe drinking water in their home globally. There are serious consequences such as political instability, economic decline, and increase in conflict and insecurity. So how can we feed a thirsty world?

There were three takeaways from the discussions: Nutrition Is More Important than Calorie Intake, The Development of Child’s Brain in Relation to Human Capital and From Relief and Recovery to Growth and Resilience. I go into greater detail on each topic below.

Nutrition Is More Important than Calorie Intake

Water scarcity has long term effects on food access which leads to poor nutrition and poor health. Total agriculture productivity needs will have to increase by 50% to meet the current demand for nutrition. We can produce enough food and calories but the water demand is very massive. The demand for water and food don’t always overlap with each other. We have the capacity to produce calories but nutrition is different than calories met. Nutrition requires a more complex diet. For a nutritional diet you need access to foods like nuts, animal sourced protein, fruits, and vegetables, but the production for these food sources tend to be more localized. Both water security and food security are contextual issues therefore a universal solution cannot be applied.

Water is important for nutrition but it hasn’t been a major topic in the food security development community. Neither has food security in relation to the water security development community. One of the reasons is that these development communities have been isolated from one another both financially and administratively, and as a result there can be a hesitancy to combine them perhaps out of the fear of less funding. Some of the greatest needs are in governance and management improvements where there can be a lack of policy coordination.

Possible Solutions

There are two basic trends linking water and nutrition security in policy development: building policy and funding linkage between food security and water security efforts are very important but still an evolving discussion about how they can relate in the future. Another is increasing the focus on supporting small-holder farmers specifically their ability to irrigate and to manage their water effectively. They are largely responsible for food security in many parts around the globe because they dominate the food production system. In some places in Africa, small-holder farmers produce up to 90 percent of the food. Irrigation is a strategy that can be used as a solution, but small-holder farmers need a different set of irrigation tools than larger scale systems.  Small scale irrigation farmers are a part of a broader development program. We should encourage the support and improvement of existing practices of small-scale irrigation farmers by focusing on their potentials rather than building centralized systems that are managed by national governments.

The Development of Child’s Brain in Relation to Human Capital.

Water security is an underlying driver of healthy child growth. Malnutrition can stunt the growth of a child’s brain. Stunting is a red flag for physical and cognitive challenges faced later in life. Early investments in children brain growth lay the groundwork for the development of human capital. The World Bank started the Human Capital project last October which includes a human capital index that measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by the age of 18 given the risks of poor health and education in the country where he or she lives. The distribution of human capital across the world is imbalanced and many countries are projected to have a lower index. If we fail to invest in solutions that unlock food security and nutritional gains today, these future generations may fall short of their potential.

Possible Solutions

The World Bank has developed a framework for demonstrating linkages between water security, food security, and nutrition which is an important determinant of human capital outcomes. There are four basic pathways: production, income, water supply, and women’s empowerment.

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The World Bank developed six nutrition sensitive enhancements to the types of irrigation investments that the World Bank supports as seen below. Two examples of countries, Uganda and Somalia, were mentioned where they have begun to incorporate these nutrition sensitive enhancements. Both countries face chronic food shortages and water insecurity.

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From Relief and Recovery to Growth and Resilience.

We need to move beyond relief and recovery to growth and resilience. Not only making sure that farmers have enough food for survival but moving towards a surplus to assist in livelihood.

Possible Solutions

There are ways to provide stability and opportunities to increase livelihood: empowering more young men and women to have a platform to create innovative solutions, increasing access to data and information and providing an understanding of the data, and pushing for more responsibilities at the community level enabling households, local leaders, and organizations to take charge. Improving water use by making it more sustainable and productive and improving disaster risk management are efficient objectives to these approaches.

I hope these summarized points will cause you to reflect on the current inefficiencies of our global food and water systems and the ways that can support us in to moving towards a more sustainable and equitable future. For more information visit https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/feeding-thirsty-world-harnessing-the-connections-between-food-and-water-security where you can have access to view the full footage of the event.

Jazmin Kimble is an Urban Planner and Urban Designer  from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Architectural Design, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.





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