Empty half the Earth of its humans. It’s the only way to save the planet | Kim Stanley Robinson

There are now twice as many people as 50 years ago. But, as EO Wilson has argued, they can all survive in cities

Discussing cities is like talking about the knots in a net: theyre crucial, but theyre only one part of the larger story of the net and what its supposed to do. It makes little sense to talk about knots in isolation when its the net that matters.

Cities are part of the system weve invented to keep people alive on Earth. People tend to like cities, and have been congregating in them ever since the invention of agriculture, 10,000 or so years ago. Thats why we call it civilisation. This origin story underlines how agriculture made cities possible, by providing enough food to feed a settled crowd on a regular basis. Cities cant work without farms, nor without watersheds that provide their water. So as central as cities are to modern civilisation, they are only one aspect of a system.

There are nearly eight billion humans alive on the planet now, and thats a big number: more than twice as many as were alive 50 years ago. Its an accidental experiment with enormous stakes, as it isnt clear that the Earths biosphere can supply that many peoples needs or absorb that many wastes and poisons on a renewable and sustainable basis over the long haul. Well only find out by trying it.

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Right now we are not succeeding an aerial view of houses in Florida. Photograph: Alamy

Right now we are not succeeding. The Global Footprint Network estimates that we use up our annual supply of renewable resources by August every year, after which we are cutting into non-renewable supplies in effect stealing from future generations. Eating the seed corn, they used to call it. At the same time were pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate that is changing the climate in dangerous ways and will certainly damage agriculture.

This situation cant endure for long years, perhaps, but not decades. The future is radically unknowable: it could hold anything from an age of peaceful prosperity to a horrific mass-extinction event. The sheer breadth of possibility is disorienting and even stunning. But one thing can be said for sure: what cant happen wont happen. Since the current situation is unsustainable, things are certain to change.

Cities emerge from the confusion of possibilities as beacons of hope. By definition they house a lot of people on small patches of land, which makes them hugely better than suburbia. In ecological terms, suburbs are disastrous, while cities can perhaps work.

The tendency of people to move to cities, either out of desire or perceived necessity, creates a great opportunity. If we managed urbanisation properly, we could nearly remove ourselves from a considerable percentage of the the planets surface. That would be good for many of the threatened species we share this planet with, which in turn would be good for us, because we are completely enmeshed in Earths web of life.

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A farmer at work near the village of Lok Ma Chau, outside Shenzhen, Hong Kong. Photograph: Jerome Favre/EPA

Here Im referring to the plan EO Wilson has named Half Earth. His book of the same title is provocative in all the best ways, and I think it has been under-discussed because the central idea seems so extreme. But since people are leaving the land anyway and streaming into cities, the Half Earth concept can help us to orient that process, and dodge the sixth great mass extinction event that we are now starting, and which will hammer humans too.

The idea is right there in the name: leave about half the Earths surface mostly free of humans, so wild plants and animals can live there unimpeded as they did for so long before humans arrived. Same with the oceans, by the way; about a third of our food comes from the sea, so the seas have to be healthy too.

At a time when there are far more people alive than ever before, this plan might sound strange, even impossible. But it isnt. With people already leaving countrysides all over the world to move to the cities, big regions are emptier of humans than they were a century ago, and getting emptier still. Many villages now have populations of under a thousand, and continue to shrink as most of the young people leave. If these places were redefined (and repriced) as becoming usefully empty, there would be caretaker work for some, gamekeeper work for others, and the rest could go to the cities and get into the main swing of things.

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The seas have to be healthy too vessels set sail after a four-month fishing ban on Chinas Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea. Photograph: Fang Yi/China News Service/VCG

So emptying half the Earth of its humans wouldnt have to be imposed: its happening anyway. It would be more a matter of managing how we made the move, and what kind of arrangement we left behind. One important factor here would be to avoid extremes and absolutes of definition and practice, and any sense of idealistic purity. We are mongrel creatures on a mongrel planet, and we have to be flexible to survive. So these emptied landscapes should not be called wilderness. Wilderness is a good idea in certain contexts, but these emptied lands would be working landscapes, commons perhaps, where pasturage and agriculture might still have a place. All those people in cities still need to eat, and food production requires land. Even if we start growing food in vats, the feedstocks for those vats will come from the land. These mostly depopulated landscapes would be given over to new kinds of agriculture and pasturage, kinds that include habitat corridors where our fellow creatures can get around without being stopped by fences or killed by trains.

This vision is one possible format for our survival on this planet. They will have to be green cities, sure. We will have to have decarbonised transport and energy production, white roofs, gardens in every empty lot, full-capture recycling, and all the rest of the technologies of sustainability we are already developing. That includes technologies we call law and justice the system software, so to speak. Yes, justice: robust womens rights stabilise families and population. Income adequacy and progressive taxation keep the poorest and richest from damaging the biosphere in the ways that extreme poverty or wealth do. Peace, justice, equality and the rule of law are all necessary survival strategies.

Homes
Homes in Palm Springs, where the average daily water usage per person is 201 gallons more than double the California average. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Meanwhile, cities will always rely on landscapes much vaster than their own footprints. Agriculture will have to be made carbon neutral; indeed, it will be important to create some carbon-negative flows, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and fixing it into the land, either permanently or temporarily; we cant afford to be too picky about that now, because we will be safest if we can get the CO2 level in the atmosphere back down to 350 parts per million. All these working landscapes should exist alongside that so-called empty land (though really its only almost empty empty of people most of the time). Those areas will be working for us in their own way, as part of the health-giving context of any sustainable civilisation. And all the land has to be surrounded by oceans that, similarly, are left partly unfished

All this can be done. All this needs to be done if we are to make it through the emergency centuries we face and create a civilised permaculture, something we can pass along to the future generations as a good home. There is no alternative way; there is no planet B. We have only this planet, and have to fit our species into the energy flows of its biosphere. Thats our project now. Thats the meaning of life, in case you were looking for a meaning.

This week, the Overstretched Cities series examines the impact of the rush to urbanisation, which has seen cities around the world explode in size. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/20/save-the-planet-half-earth-kim-stanley-robinson

For Chinas Wealthy, Singapore Is the New Hong Kong

When more than 80 of China’s wealth managers gathered recently at the Shangri-La hotel on Singapore’s resort island of Sentosa, the chatter during tea breaks kept returning to one theme: Hong Kong is starting to be eclipsed by Singapore as the favorite destination for the wealth of China’s rich.

At stake for banks in both cities is a huge pile of money. China’s high-net-worth individuals control an estimated $5.8 trillion—almost half of it already offshore, according to consulting firm Capgemini SE. For some, the city-state of Singapore is preferable because it’s at a safer distance from any potential scrutiny from authorities in Beijing, according to interviews with several wealth managers. Multiple private banking sources in Singapore, who would not comment on the record because of the sensitivity of the subject, report seeing increased flows at the expense of Hong Kong.

The rich may be feeling exposed by changing banking practices. Hong Kong has signed tax transparency agreements that for the first time last year required all banks to report their account holders’ information to Hong Kong tax officials, in preparation for giving that information to 75 jurisdictions, including mainland China. Singapore will have similar agreements with 61 jurisdictions. But they don’t include either Hong Kong or Beijing, meaning its accounts and account holders aren’t visible to the Chinese government. “Many rich people from the mainland believe Hong Kong is still a part of China, after all,” says Xia Chun, chief research officer at Noah Holdings Ltd. of Hong Kong, an asset management service provider. “They think there’s no difference in putting money in Hong Kong, compared to Beijing.”

At the same time, more Chinese banks in Hong Kong are “trying to synchronize their internal systems with those on the mainland to improve service efficiency,” says Eva Law, the Hong Kong-based founder of the Association of Private Bankers in Greater China Region. “This also means the clients’ information will become more transparent and the mainland can identify fund flows more easily, or will have fuller and faster access to your asset holdings, thus enabling easier investigation and tracing.”

Overall, Hong Kong remains the primary destination for China’s offshore money, according to a Capgemini survey, followed by Singapore and New York. Yet the number of Chinese high-net-worth individuals who view Hong Kong as their preferred overseas place of investment is down to 53 percent, from 71 percent two years ago, according to a survey in July by Bain & Co. More than 20 percent favor Singapore, up from 15 percent two years ago. “Singapore is the Zurich of the East,” says Xiao Xiao, the Beijing-based chief operating officer of Chinese wealth manager Fortunes Capital.

“We see Singapore, not Hong Kong, as the bridgehead of China’s investment overseas,” says Li Qinghao, co-founder of NewBanker Tech Consulting, which organized the Sentosa conference last year. About 78 percent of S$2.7 trillion ($1.9 trillion) in assets under management in Singapore comes from overseas sources. Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and other firms with big private banking operations are building up their teams of China relationship managers in Singapore.

China has been tightening its grip on Hong Kong. A year ago, Chinese financier Xiao Jianhua was reported by local media to have been seized from a Hong Kong hotel by Chinese authorities and taken to the mainland. The incident followed the disappearance of several Hong Kong booksellers who sold books critical of China’s Communist Party and were reported to have been taken involuntarily across the border.

Then there are the increased restrictions on Hong Kong’s financial practices, such as a 2016 crackdown on sales of certain types of insurance products to mainland Chinese. The products pay dividends over a number of years and are essentially viewed as investments—and potentially a way to send money out of China and evade capital controls. “The Hong Kong market is now heavily affected by mainland China,” says Guan Huanyu, president of Beijing-based wealth manager Zhenghe Holdings, who attended the Sentosa event.

While Hong Kong’s Securities & Futures Commission doesn’t break down the origin of funds, its data show that growth in the city’s private banking business has been slowing. Hong Kong logged 10.7 percent growth in private banking assets under management in 2016, down from 18 percent in 2015.

Singapore has additional attractions for the wealthy of China. Mandarin is one of its four official languages, and it has world-class health facilities and international schools. Not far from the Shangri-La Hotel, Sentosa’s casinos are a popular draw for Chinese tourists. Mainland Chinese were the largest foreign buyers of luxury properties in Singapore during the first half of last year, according to consultancy Cushman & Wakefield. Real estate is far cheaper than in Hong Kong.

But mainly, the rich like to diversify—not only among asset classes, but among political regimes. “Most of our clients have undergone a shift from poor to rich,” says Kou Quan, vice president at Tianjin-based Xinmao S&T Investment Group. “And they’re all worried about becoming poor again.”

    BOTTOM LINE – Hong Kong’s financial sector is becoming more entwined with the mainland, prompting more and more of China’s rich to turn to Singapore.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-06/for-china-s-wealthy-singapore-is-the-new-hong-kong

    Volkswagen Apologizes for Testing of Diesel Fumes on Monkeys

    The controversy over Volkswagen AG’s diesel-emissions cheating took another twist when the carmaker apologized for a test that exposed monkeys to engine fumes to study effects of the exhaust.

    The company said the study, conducted by a research and lobby group set up by VW, Daimler AG, BMW AG and Robert Bosch GmbH, was a mistake. The New York Times reported earlier about a 2014 trial in a U.S. laboratory in which 10 monkeys inhaled diesel emissions from a VW Beetle.

    “We apologize for the misconduct and the lack of judgment of individuals,” Wolfsburg, Germany-based VW said in a statement. “We’re convinced the scientific methods chosen then were wrong. It would have been better to do without such a study in the first place.”

    The revelations show the rocky road for Volkswagen as it emerges from its biggest crisis after the 2015 bombshell that the company installed emissions-cheating software in some 11 million diesel vehicles to dupe official tests. They also do little to help the poor public perception of the technology under scrutiny for high pollution levels in many European cities. In an additional twist, the Beetle model used in the test was among the vehicles that were rigged to conform to test limits, The New York Times reported.

    Daimler said separately it would start an investigation into the study ordered by the European Scientific Study Group for the Environment, Health and Transport Sector. BMW too distanced itself from the trial, saying it had taken no part in its design and methods. Bosch said it left the group in 2013. The study group, financed equally by the three carmakers, ceased activities last year and the project wasn’t completed, VW said.

    “We believe the animal tests in this study were unnecessary and repulsive,” Daimler said in a statement. “We explicitly distance ourselves from the study.”

      Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-28/volkswagen-apologizes-for-testing-of-diesel-fumes-on-monkeys

      How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

      The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

      How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

      How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

      The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/11/how-build-healthy-city-copenhagen-reveals-its-secrets-happiness

      Cape Town faces Day Zero: what happens when the city turns off the taps?

      In 10 weeks engineers will turn off water for a million homes as this South African city reacts to one-in-384-year drought. The rich are digging boreholes, more are panic-buying bottled water, and the army is on standby

      The head of Cape Towns disaster operations centre is drawing up a plan he hopes he never has to implement as this South African city on the frontline of climate change prepares to be the first in the world to turn off the water taps.

      Weve identified four risks: water shortages, sanitation failures, disease outbreaks and anarchy due to competition for scarce resources, says Greg Pillay. We had to go back to the drawing board. We were prepared for disruption of supply, but not a no-water scenario. In my 40 years in emergency services, this is the biggest crisis.

      The plan being drawn up with the emergency services, the military, epidemiologists and other health experts is geared towards Day Zero, the apocalyptically named point when water in the six-dam reservoir system falls to 13.5% of capacity.

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      Water crisis in Cape Town as ‘day zero’ approaches video report

      At this critical level currently forecast for 16 April piped supply will be deemed to have failed and the city will dispatch teams of engineers to close the valves to about a million homes 75% of the city.

      Its going to be terrifying for many people when they turn on the tap and nothing comes out, says Christine Colvin, freshwater manager for WWF and a member of the mayors advisory board.

      In place of piped water, the city will establish 200 water collection points, scattered around the city to ensure the legally guaranteed minimum of 25 litres per person per day within 200 metres of every citizens home.

      This will be a major burden on municipal coffers. The estimated cost of installing and running the new system for three months is 200m rand (12m). Instead of selling water, it will be given away for free, which will mean R1.4bn in lost revenue.

      Cape Town reservoir satellite

      The total city budget is R40bn, so this wont destroy us, but it will cause severe discomfort, says the deputy mayor, Ian Neilson, who adds that he has not had a bath at home for a year. A bigger concern is to ensure the economy doesnt collapse. We need to keep business and jobs going Clearly, there could be a severe impact. It depends on how long it continues.

      Neilson stresses that Day Zero can be avoided. A lowering of pipe pressure and a public information campaign to conserve water have cut the citys daily water consumption from 1,200 million litres to 540 million litres. If this can be pushed down another 25%, the taps should stay open to the start of the rainy season in May.

      But this is no guarantee. Three consecutive years of drought have made a mockery of normal seasonal patterns.

      Were in a critical transition period where the past is no longer an accurate guide to the future, says Colvin.

      She illustrates her point with two maps. One based on historical data shows the water risk of Cape Town is green, meaning it is among the lowest in South Africa. The other based on future climate projections is almost the complete opposite, with the city located in a middle of an alarming red heat zone.

      What we didnt know was when that future would arrive, says Colvin. Businesses and investors have heard the long-term projections but they havent heard the starting gun go off. If this drought can pull the trigger then that could be a good thing. If this is seen as a pressure test for the new normal, it will help us to adapt.

      The government has struggled to keep pace. Plans to make the city more resilient to climate change by diversifying the water supply with boreholes and desalination plants were not due to kick in until after 2020. But the climate has moved faster, bringing a drought so severe it would usually be expected only once every 384 years.

      Dam today, gone tomorrow

      Theewaterskloof
      Theewaterskloof Dam, the main water source for the city of Cape Town, is at a fraction of its water capacity. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images

      What was the biggest reservoir in the system Theewaterskloof Dam has mostly evaporated or been sucked dry.

      One side of the lake is now a desert. Devoid of life, this is a landscape of sand dunes, cracked earth and dead trees. It takes more than 30 minutes walk under a burning sun to reach the last pool of water, which is barely wide enough to skim a stone across. In what looks like a dark failure of evolution, it is ringed by the carcasses of stranded fish.

      On the other side, by the dam wall, the water is nearly 10 metres deep, but the shoreline is receding at the rate of the 1.2m a week, leaving the bed exposed to the sun. The afternoon winds once attracted sail boats; now they whip up white dust storms that envelop much of the valley.

      The change is visible by the week, said Paul Furstenburg, restaurant manager at Theewater sports club. When I arrived here four years ago, it was like a sea, he says, pointing to photographs on the walls of high waves crashing up to the car park during a storm and dozens of boats sailing in regattas. Now, the shoreline is more than 100m back and one of the three small vessels left in the water is stranded on a sandbank. The club which would normally be thronged with sailors, water-skiers, swimmers, campers and fishermen is almost empty. The revenue has dried up too, leaving the 20 staff worried about their futures. This has gone from a holiday resort to nothing, says Errol Nichols, the safety officer. It has become a desolate place.

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      A dead fish on the dry bed of Theewaterskloof dam. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

      In Cape Town itself, the population is jittery. Were scared, says Amirah Armien as she queues to fill a couple of bottles at the spring beside Newlands Brewery. Water is life. What are we going to do without water?

      After a run on bottled water last month, supermarkets introduced limits for each customer. Hardware shops have sold out of water tanks and pool covers. Borehole drillers are now so overwhelmed with requests that there is a year-long wait. Even dehumidifiers which are being marketed as water from air devices are out of stock.

      People are freaking out, said David Gwynne-Evans, a botanist. You go to the shops and see people buying 20 bottles of water. Its a ridiculous increase of disposable plastic.

      He believes Cape Towns vineyards bear a large share of blame because they are water-intensive yet they have continued to expand during the drought. Wine is a luxury. We shouldnt be using water for that, yet even now new vineyards are opening.

      Were scared water is life

      Residents
      Residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring collection point last month. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

      The crisis has exacerbated prejudice and division. One homophobic pastor blames the drought on gays and lesbians. There has also been sharp criticism of the government, and feuds between the national and provincial authorities over the handling of the crisis.

      Yet among the broader populace efforts to avert Day Zero have been successfully ramped up.

      Many hotels have removed the plugs from rooms so guests must have a shower rather than a bath. Blue droplet-shaped signs above office toilet sinks remind users Conserve H2O. Use sparingly. There are more signs in the cubicles, which are divided into No 1 and No 2 toilets to ensure maximum efficiency. Some shopping malls have turned off the taps and installed hand-sanitiser dispensers.

      At an individual level, the learning curve has been steep. Civic-minded Capetonians have become accustomed to showering or just ladling hot water in a baby bath that collects the run-off so that it can be used in first the washing machine and then the toilet.

      A major topic of conversation for Capetonians is how many litres they use and how long they can go without washing their hair or flushing.

      Ive never talked about toilets so much, says Fiona Kinsey, a young office worker. Last year, we were discussing whether it was OK to wee in a public toilet and not flush. Now we are way beyond that.

      Shame is used to maintain discipline. An online water consumption map allows neighbours to check on each others usage. Some sports clubs have installed buzzers on their showers that embarrass people who linger under the water for more than two minutes.

      There is a positive aspect to this sudden shock. Many people are happy to see a greater awareness of conservation and consumption inequality. Social activists say the rich are experiencing what life has always been like in poor townships, where many residents are used to lining up at standpipes.

      For
      For residents of informal Cape Town settlements such as Masiphumelele, collecting drinking and washing water from a communal tap has been a daily routine for many years. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

      Using washing water to flush the toilet is what people in townships do all the time, says Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa. So is washing with buckets and scuttles. I had my first shower when I was in my 20s.

      Dee Watson, a teacher, describes the situation as a euphoric stage in which most people are looking out for others in a positive way.

      Whats amazing is to mix and talk in the queue with every strata of society. We all need water so it brings people together, says Watson. For now at least, most people are laughing and joking. But its scary that some people are being greedy and panic-buying.

      There have been acts of benevolence. At the start of the drought, Newlands spring where water flows freely from underground was a site of mud, crowds and chaos as people jostled to get at the taps and informal labourers competed to carry water for tips.

      People were getting hurt, remembers Riyaz Rawoot, a local resident who says he spent R25,000 from his own pocket to organise the spring with the construction of multiple access points and provision of uniforms for the water carriers.

      Im not making any money. I just want to be of service. Until now it has been fun, but it is becoming more stressful as more people come, he says. Im worried about Day Zero. People are scared and they dont trust the government, so they might panic and try to get water any way they can.

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      A social leveller? Cape Town residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

      Neighbours are already unhappy that their previously quiet street is now a hive of activity, with people carrying water containers in squeaky shopping trolleys back and forth from the spring to cars parked along the main road. Its a nightmare, says one of the residents of the Cresswell House senior citizens community. They come all through the night. Its so noisy we cant sleep.

      It is also far from clear that drought is a social leveller. Wealthy homeowners have drilled boreholes and invested in water tanks so they have an independent supply. Joggers who go out at 5am say they can hear the phut phut of sprinklers being used to water lawns before most people are awake. Some residents have called environmental groups to complain their neighbours are filling swimming pools.

      At the other end of the income spectrum, there are worries. The government has promised that standpipes will continue to flow in informal settlements after Day Zero, but there is scepticism in the Kanini neighbourhood of the Langa township. The one pipe that serves 20 families tailed off here last Thursday without explanation. Some locals feel they are being punished because of a public outcry about the waste at a street car-washing centre at the neighbouring settlement of Joe Slovo.

      Im worried everyone is worried. It will be a crisis for us, says Nowest Nmoni, who makes a living by brewing Umqombothi beer in oil drums. If we lose water, we lose our income.

      Q&A

      Living in Cape Town? Share your experiences

      If you live in Cape Town we’d like to find out how the water shortage is affecting your daily life.Tell us what you think about the measures put in place and what steps you’re taking to save water using our encrypted form here.

      Your stories will help our journalists build a complete picture of the situation and we’ll use some of them in our reporting.

      Maintaining social programmes will also be a challenge. City officials say hospitals and prisons will run as normal because they have access to aquifers, but questions remain about 819 schools, half of which do not have boreholes. There would be sanitation risks if their toilets were unable to flush, but the authorities insist they will remain open.

      The objective is no school closures. We dont want kids on the street compounding issues, says deputy mayor Neilson.

      When the Brazilian city of So Paulo faced drought catastrophe in 2015 the army drew up secret plans to take control of reservoirs and water supplies fearing violent unrest, but officials in Cape Town play down such security fears. Though thousands of South African Defence Force and police personnel will be deployed after Day Zero to guard water distribution centres, reservoirs and other strategic areas, they say, the number of officers at each site will be determined by risk assessments of each locations past history of protest or gang activity.

      This isnt going to be martial law. It will be low profile, says JP Smith, an alderman responsible for safety and security. There might be some trouble about people cutting queues, but I dont foresee a big increase in crime. The bigger problem will be congestion.

      For him, it is a moot point. He believes Day Zero will be avoided. The premier of Western Cape, Helen Zille, however, believes there is a 60% chance that it will occur.

      While the debate rages about what will happen, who is to blame and whether the city will be drawn together or pulled apart, Pillay and his colleagues at the disaster risk management office are obliged to prepare for the worst something other cities may soon be obliged to do.

      We dont want to create panic. We can avert Day Zero, he says. We had hoped that rainfall would replenish the dams, but it hasnt happened. What this signalled to me what that climate change is reality. If you doubted it before, you cant now.

      Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/03/day-zero-cape-town-turns-off-taps

      Billionaire Bloomberg to fund $5m public health projects in 40 cities worldwide

      Exclusive: Melbourne, Accra and Ulaanbaatar among cities to benefit from funding pledged by former New York mayor to tackle issues from air pollution to obesity

      Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire bte noire of both the sugar industry and the tobacco industry, famously fought for a ban on the sale of large-sized colas and other sweet drinks when he was mayor of New York and lost. Although that is not how he sees it.

      We actually won that battle, he says. I have always thought if we had not been stopped by the court, it would have died as an issue. Nobody would have known about it. But the fact that it kept coming back to the newspapers was a gift in disguise because people started to think, Holy God, maybe full-sugar drinks are bad for me.

      So what happened was consumption of full-sugar drinks around the world has gone down dramatically. If we had won the thing, I think it would have been less.

      Bloomberg did plenty more for public health while mayor of New York, including imposing one of the first bans on smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003. Since then he has widened his sphere of influence, funding successful campaigns through his philanthropic foundation for sugar taxes in Mexico and Philadelphia and for curbs on smoking all over the world.

      Now, appointed last year as the World Health Organisations global ambassador for non-communicable diseases meaning anything that can harm or kill you that is not infectious the eighth richest person in the world, worth an estimated $47.5bn, is taking his philosophy and his cash to 40 cities around the globe.

      His offer, taken up by about 40 cities so far and officially launched on Tuesday, is $5m in assistance from Bloomberg Philanthropies as well as technical support for cities that choose to focus on one of 10 healthy lifestyle issues, including curbing sugary drink consumption, air pollution, promoting exercise and and bans on smoking. They range from affluent Melbourne in Australia to Cali and Medellin in Colombia, Accra in Ghana, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Khatmandu in Nepal and Kampala in Uganda.

      National and state governments collect taxes, but it is city governments that make things happen. 50% of people currently live in cities and that is projected to rise to 70% in the next decade or so. Cities are where the rubber meets the road, Bloomberg told the Guardian. The problems are in the cities and the solutions are in the cities.

      Bloomberg is upbeat, indomitable and an independent thinker. He made his money in global financial services and has been a Democrat, a Republican and an independent at various times. He says he believes the war on sugar and tobacco, of which his foundation must be seen as the main global financial backer, is being won.

      In parts of the world, clearly yes, and particularly on smoking, he said. In Europe nobody would have thought people wouldnt insist on smoking in an Irish bar or pub or an Italian restaurant, but the smoking campaign has really worked, reducing consumption in all of western Europe, north and south America and even in China.

      But there are places where poor people live and they are still smoking and really damaging their lungs and they are going to die young. It is up to us to keep the battle going. Sugar is a little bit less developed but still working.

      His attention is on non-communicable diseases more broadly now that includes air pollution and road traffic accidents as well as cigarettes, alcohol and bad food. Cities in poor countries may argue that they have too many other problems to spend time on sugary drinks, but, says Bloomberg, poverty, ill-health and poor education are all interlinked.

      It will be harder to get the public behind you because they less understand the damage being done to their own health. But thats the challenge. The cities where its easy have probably already addressed the issue, he said.

      Michael
      Michael Bloomberg and WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan Photograph: Bloomberg Phlilantropies

      Bloomberg would not suggest it is easy to make the sort of changes he has pushed for in all these years.

      I dont remember anybody objecting to the smoking ban when we put it in, although a lot of people wanted to take my picture and a lot of people gave me one finger waves, he said. If there was an easy solution to a complex problem, we wouldnt have the problem. If you want to make things better, youre going to be doing things that are tough.

      The cities that commit to the Partnership for Healthy Cities can choose between curbing sugary drink consumption, passing laws to make public places smoke-free or banning cigarette advertising, cutting salt in food, using cleaner fuels, encouraging cycling and walking, reducing speeding, increasing seatbelt and helmet use, curbing drink driving or carrying out a survey to collect data on the lifestyle risks the city population runs.

      Cape Town in South Africa was one of the earliest cities to commit and will focus on reducing the intake of sugary drinks. Its mayor, Patricia de Lille, says they are facing an epidemic of type 2 diabetes, caused by obesity. Diabetes is a silent killer, she said. We dont have the luxury to work by trial and error. Unfortunately we have to get it right first time.

      London has also said it wants to be involved, although which issue will be the focus has not yet been revealed. It is a city with which Bloomberg says he has a complex relationship his former wife is British and his daughters hold dual nationality. He has an honorary knighthood from the Queen. He also has an honour from the City of London that he intends one day to cash in.

      I do have the right to drive sheep across London Bridge and before I die, I want to do it one day at rush hour, just to see what happens, he said.

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/16/billionaire-bloomberg-to-fund-5m-public-health-projects-in-40-cities-worldwide