As we say good bye to 2016, it is safe to say that the environment has experienced a turbulent year. From having record-breaking global surface temperatures to experiencing the most drastic Arctic melting in history, and suffering multiple severe storms, it is pretty easy to look at 2016 as a breaking point for our planet.
However - although this year has been full of challenging situations - there is still reason to stay optimistic in our environmental efforts. For instance, 74% of American adults believe that “the country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment,” and the vast majority of Americans reported that they “recycle or reduce waste to protect the environment whenever possible.” Additionally, cities like Austin and Boston have increased cross-collaborations within their governments to promote advanced healthy communities for both their residents and ecosystems.
To my surprise, five cities - Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco and San Diego - topped the list in both the healthiest city and the greenest city categories. This data does perhaps reveal a correlation between the two - that healthy environments promote healthy communities and vice versa.
Based on these statistics, I also chose to look at similarities that the cities share to promote an environmentally sound and healthful community.
One of the most frequently seen factors was having vast green spaces and parks for residents to walk, bike and relax. City parks also work to combat the negative effects of climate change by providing powerful ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration - a process where trees, grass, and other plant species consume atmospheric carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Many public park spaces have also banned smoking, which is instrumental in providing a city with clean air.
These cities actively promote efficient forms of transportation such as public transport, riding a bike and walking, encouraging daily exercise while also limiting carbon dioxide levels that are emitted into the atmosphere through car use. And finally, these cities are also notorious for providing fresh and local produce through organizing frequent farmers markets, allowing residents to eat nutritious meals while minimizing the transportation associated with acquiring food in far-ranging regions.
So, as 2017 gears up, it is immensely important to continue our environmental efforts for the sake of our health and the health of the planet. If possible, walk or ride a bike to work, spend a relaxing weekend in a park or purchase groceries from your local farmer’s market.
- Stacia Sheputa