Shifting towards a circular economy requires substantial shifts in the types and quantities of bioresources we use for food, fuel, and fibres. The implications of these shifts in cities are not well understood. This project advances methods to project future bioresource use in cities in the US-Canada Great Lakes Megalopolis for food and building materials. By mapping shifts in where resources are sourced from and embodied environmental impacts under various circular economy scenarios, this project will clarify potential environmental trade-offs and hotspots in a future bio-economy.
Funding: Generously supported by the National Science and Engineering Research Council's Discovery Grant Program
Residential energy use causes ~20% of US carbon emissions, yet data gaps limit analysis of emissions drivers and mitigation strategies. This project used ‘big data’ to estimate emissions from 93 million individual homes, finding that emissions by wealthy Americans are higher than those of low-income residents, driven primarily by larger homes. Scenarios showed that some states can meet the Paris Agreement through grid decarbonization, while others also need ‘deep energy retrofits’, distributed low-carbon energy systems, and smaller new homes. This work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2020), where it received media coverage from CNN, Associated Press, Scientific American, and was one of the Top 10 research outputs from the University of Michigan in the past decade. Analysis of energy use along lines of race and ethnicity revealed that per capita emission in Communities of Color are higher than in majority Caucasian neighborhoods, even though the latter live in more energy efficient homes. Although smaller homes in Communities of Color explain some of this difference, we showed that this “emissions paradox” is also a consequence of racist, mid-century housing policies that funnelled disadvantaged communities into sub-standard housing and forestalled retrofits. These results are in an accepted manuscript in Energy Research and Social Science (2021).
Collaborators: The Urban Sustainability Research Group and Urban Energy Justice Lab at the University of Michigan.
Funding: Generously supported by the National Science Foundation's Environmental Sustainability program.
Urban consumption impacts distant ‘elsewheres’ via opaque supply chains that cross borders and oceans. This work with Joshua Newell develops a method, TRACAST, to uncover the inner-workings of supply chains; the links between companies, the environmental and social hotpots, and the key nodes of governance. TRACAST empirically connects urban consumption to disruptive environmental and social change at specific, distal locations, with implications for how researchers measure and theorize urban sustainability. Focusing on the corporations that ‘move and shape’ the economy explores the complexity and challenges of sustainable production in a globalized world. Early case work has linked US transnationals to rubber from Sri Lankan biodiversity hotspots and illegally harvested Russian wood. This work has been published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology (2019), Ecological Economics (2019), Journal of Cleaner Production (2021), and Journal of Environmental Management (2021).
Large-scale urban agriculture has the potential to substantially disrupt the interconnected water, energy and food systems of cities (the ‘food-energy-water nexus’). This ongoing Belmont Forum project develops a comprehensive database of resource use by ~100 farms in five cities across Europe and North America and uses scenarios to clarify the effects of upscaling urban farming on the urban FEW nexus. Data on the impact of urban farms on diets, farmer livelihoods, and community development are also collected to appraise urban agriculture across environmental, social and economic dimensions. Preliminary findings suggest that urban agriculture can be a sustainable substitute for conventional agriculture, but that these benefits are only sustained if urban farming is not a transitory land use due to the significant embodied impacts in farm infrastructure.
Collaborators: University of Kent, The University of Michigan, the City University of New York, AgroTech Paris, ILS, and Poznan University of Life Sciences.
Funding: Generously supported by the Belmont Forum and the National Science Foundation.