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Climate-driven urban regeneration - a conversation with Jerzy Hausner

22 of June '22

Interview from A&B | 06/2022 issue

"Let's start talking not only about what we don't want, but also about what we do want. And let's create it, because no one will give it to us." Professor Jerzy Hausner, chairman of the Open Eyes Economy Program Council, is interviewed by Malgorzata Tomczak.

Malgorzata Tomczak
: Where should we start with the climate regeneration of cities? What, in your opinion, is the most urgent?

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: We know today how to understand the city in the context of climate change. We are discussing it. But the concept of regeneration is relatively new. To understand what regeneration is, you have to refer to what its opposite is. It is degeneration.

Malgorzata: So what specifically?

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: Degeneration is when an organism stops working, enters some kind of disease state, deteriorates, decomposition occurs. But it is also a decline in efficiency. We are talking about technical degradation. We can still use the word "dysfunctionalization." Depending on whether we are talking about a social system, a technical system or a biological organism, we will use the terms "dysfunctionalization", "degradation" or "degeneration" as the opposite of regeneration. It is always about deterioration of functioning, spoiling. Regeneration is about renewal, improvement, revival. For various reasons, but inevitably degenerative processes take place. All systems wear out. Of course, there are biological systems in which regenerative abilities occur naturally. But this is not the case with technical or social systems. Nor is this the case with cities, which are a very complex conglomerate of technical, social, but also biological systems. After all, we are talking about blue-green infrastructure, water, air, space. One of the components of regeneration is revitalization. We refer to revitalization to a given urban area whose functions have become exhausted and is subject to economic and social degradation. In order for it to be revitalized, it must gain new functions, new material and social energy.

Malgorzata: What does it look like for the climate regeneration of cities?

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: In the case of climatic regeneration, we will focus our attention on those measures that will allow cities to adapt to climate change, but not in order to just protect against it, but so that the city can develop despite these changes. Of course, not all climate change has to be adverse. Some may be neutral, and some may even be beneficial. Whatever they are, and unfavorable ones prevail, adaptation is necessary. Technical systems, too, will have to be switched when average temperatures change.

A good example is the torrential rains and flash floods that have become a threat to our city of Krakow, among others. This calls for a fundamental change in the city's approach to water management. We no longer try to capture every water into pipes. On the contrary, we are trying to create naturalized solutions ( natural based solutions). We are no longer concreting natural watercourses. On the contrary, we are reinventing them. Naturalizing water management is one of the most important regeneration tools.

Malgorzata: And the pandemic? What impact could it have had on all these processes?

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: I don't want to discuss here to what extent the pandemic from which we have not yet emerged (the Chinese example shows this) is caused by climate change. Many people find such a connection, and perhaps it exists. But what is undeniable is that we are dealing with climate change. This is causing more and more invasive species to appear in a given territory, including in cities. And this creates additional health risks.

The main problem we face with climate change is the impact of the process on quality of life. There are statistics that show an increase in mortality when there are extreme temperatures or air pollution. It is impossible to discuss healthy cities ( Healthy Cities) without reference to the climatic regeneration of the city.

Margaret: Are we able to identify which regeneration potentials are priorities in the context of climate change?

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: The most frequently mentioned area is blue-green infrastructure. Cities are becoming heat islands, especially areas of concentrated and high development. That's why we are thinking more and more strongly about so-called smart building, which performs many different kinds of climate-related functions. We are trying to make use of roof surfaces, design natural ventilation so that the water cycle is closed in such a way that water consumption is as low as possible, and at the same time there is no shortage of water. We also try to make the plot of land on which the building is located a kind of sponge at the same time, that is, an area of natural retention. This gradually carries over to the planning of entire urban layouts.

Margaret: Let's also take a moment to talk about the energy transition, which is also necessary to prevent further climate change. In the context of energy efficiency, are RES a climate saver? And can they protect us from a major crisis involving, for example, a supply cut? (Anyway, this has already happened, Russia turned off our gas tap at the end of April). Should we take a step back at this point and go back to talking about fossil fuels, or should we push forward and bet primarily on renewables? In this context, we probably won't avoid the topic of the war in Ukraine either.

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: Let's do this kind of thought exercise: let's assume that there is no such thing as a war, nor is there a pandemic. Does this mean that we should not make an energy transition?

Margaret: Of course it doesn't mean it. But it could mean that we can do it at the pace that is indicated in the Paris Agreement or the Glasgow Climate Summit, or other European Union strategy documents. War and pandemic are forcing us to take much more radical steps and make changes much faster.

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: Agreed. But let's remember, if there were no war, we would still have to make an energy transition. There is not enough energy, given how much we consume and the rate at which demand for it is growing. Theoretically, we are able to increase the available energy pool. But what are the climate consequences?

The energy transition has to be implemented for environmental, economic and thermodynamic reasons, in order to contain the entropy build-up. Even if we were able to solve the problem from the economic side or reduce the environmental consequences by moving to other types of energy, the scale of consumption will still result in a physical barrier to energy availability. That is, the more energy we consume, the more in the process of transformation it dissipates. It does not disappear, but dissipates precisely, giving rise to negative consequences. Transformation is a necessity. And it's not just a matter of which energy carriers we use, but first of all to use as little energy as possible in relation to the goods produced.

Margaret: Today it also seems important how quickly we can carry it out.

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: The pace is important, but the method is more important. So let's stop seeing the transformation through the energy mix, that is, in the way that we replace one type of energy with another or combine them in other proportions. Wind energy, but also solar energy, is very dependent on the weather. No wind, no energy. An energy strategy cannot be based on these types of energy in our case. They can only be important additions. The more important, the stronger you have to have alternative power sources for them. The Germans have understood that the more renewable energy they have, the more conventional energy sources they must have. They have not given up on lignite, which of course has negative environmental consequences.

But is nuclear power completely clean? Of course, the energy production itself can probably be developed in such a way that it does not involve such dangers as in Fukushima [the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 2011 as a result of a tsunami caused by an earthquake - ed. note]. Note that the problem occurred in Japan - a country with a very high technical culture. A catastrophe at a nuclear power plant cannot be completely ruled out. That's why now one tends to think of small reactors. There also remains the problem of nuclear waste and its storage.

And energy windmills? Let's consider, what do we make them out of? How many propellers have to be made for these windmills, how many tons of metal is it that has to be produced first? So you can clearly see that the problem is not just about the energy mix itself, although of course it must be properly diversified. It is fundamentally about using less energy: to produce an adequate pool of products and services without sacrificing important needs, while consuming less energy. So we need to start by asking ourselves, is everything we consume really necessary? How much food do we waste, how many things do we buy senselessly? How unreasonably excessive is our consumption? And now we are trapped.

Margaret: The trap?

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: Well, yes! On the one hand, we declare to give up Russian gas, potentially Russian oil and Russian coal. We don't want, by buying energy resources from Russia, to finance its military power and aggressive policies, which are a great threat to us. This is the same dilemma that developed countries face when they buy oil and gas from Middle Eastern countries and maintain regimes such as in Saudi Arabia, which in turn have generated terrorist threats. What is the alternative? We can choose not to buy from Russia, we can buy from the Middle East, Iran, maybe even Venezuela. But is that really what we want? Is that the alternative? The paradox is that today we buy Russian gas through Germany, through a technical reversal that allows it to be pumped from the West to the East. But we will pay more for it. Buying from others, let's buy more expensive, still causing the same threat.

Malgorzata: Then what should we do?

Prof. Jerzy Hausner: The solution to this dilemma is this: instead of wondering who to buy from, let's use less! Let's change our technologies, let's make a real change that follows the logic of the energy transition and the green deal. Let's base our energy economy on local resources. Let's build distributed energy generation systems. Let' s think about how cities should develop smart buildings. All this is to serve the purpose of less demand for energy resources. A policy of green governance, naturalizing and localizing the economy is appropriate. Only this can give us development and security. Not development or security, but security through development.

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