Earth is made up of many ecosystems existing in balance with one another. Enter man, especially man in large numbers, and imbalances occur. Green communities are planned, designed and created in order to reestablish that balance. Although it originally referred to restoring balance in nature's ecosystems, the term "permaculture" has come to mean any system, natural, political or cultural that can be structured to be more self-sustaining, cooperative and resilient. Permaculture as applied to sustainable, human living systems, is what green communities are all about. [Source: Permaculture Net]
In the 1970s, Bill Mollison, an Australian wildlife biologist, coined the term permaculture when he realized that the way diverse elements in nature worked together to supply their collective needs could be adopted to create agricultural systems. In nature, everything has a job to do, often many jobs, and those jobs benefit the whole. Trees provide shade and protection, decaying plants enrich the soil, both trees and plants feed birds and other wildlife, and birds eat insects that are a threat to the plants and trees. It's an old idea updated to meet today's challenges.
When lots of people live together, they need energy, reliable food sources, abundant water, transportation, waste recycling and a cooperative government to regulate and monitor everything. Creating a plan that allows these complicated human systems to coexist in a way that's in balance with the environment is one of the goals of the green movement. Some green communities are ambitious, trying to integrate a number of systems at once, while others try to take one or two elements at a time, like energy or food production, and adopt more features of green living according to long-term planning strategies.
In the next section, we'll take a look at how green communities are finding eco-friendly energy sources.
Green Community Energy
About 80 percent of the energy generated in the world today comes from fossil fuels. The resulting pollution has led to huge problems for the environment, like an increase in greenhouse gasses, and the ecological disasters associated with oil spills and strip mining. The world needs energy, but there are resources other than fossil fuels that can generate power [source: 4EcoTips].
Renewable energy resources can be employed to generate power, and they're everywhere. Communities across the world are looking at different, greener methods for generating and conserving energy. These are just a few:
The advantage of these methods, beyond being self-renewing, is that they're relatively clean. One of the disadvantages is that producing consistent output can be tricky. On a still day, the propeller of a wind turbine doesn't turn, so no energy is generated. The same goes for solar power when it's overcast. Another problem is that some of these methods rely on the presence of geological features, like the ocean or a windy spot, to work.
Renewable energy resources like the ones listed above can work with alternative power backups to provide reliable energy. This preference for renewable energy, coupled with aggressive energy conservation, smart building and eco-conscious city planning helps green communities reduce their carbon footprint and brings them closer to the goal of removing themselves from the grid, the traditional energy supply network that provides power to consumers.
Follow us to the next section where we'll talk about some of the ways green communities are managing water resources.
Green Community Water Management - Doing the Math
Green communities recognize that water is a precious resource and we have to share. Water looks abundant, but it's really not. Only about three percent of the Earth's water is fresh water. Without maintaining a delicate balance in which unpolluted water is available to people and the surrounding environment, unexpected problems arise, often with disastrous results [source: USGS].
Community water management involves supplying water to your home or business, removing and treating wastewater and returning it to the environment. This can be a challenging set of tasks. If a town grows too quickly and water resources are overtaxed, the water you and others use can lower the water level in nearby rivers or lakes, harming wildlife. High water use can also lower the water table that nurtures neighboring ecosystems.
There are potential problems with improperly handling waste water, too. Polluted water going back into natural ecosystems can poison animals and plants. This can happen when aging or undersized water treatment plants can't keep up with the demand. Even rainwater runoff going into storm drains can carry oil, antifreeze and other pollutants into rivers that feed wildlife and support nearby parks and wetlands. In nature, much of this runoff is absorbed into and filtered by the soil.
Some of the ways green communities manage water effectively is by using water efficient products, like dual flush and high-efficiency toilets. They also plant water-friendly landscaping that uses water-efficient plants instead of traditional lawn grasses. Green neighborhoods are designed to help reduce rainwater runoff, either by using materials that help absorb some of the water or by employing catchment systems that harvest rainwater. Other water smart strategies are used, too, like recycling grey water. Grey water is wastewater from sinks and tubs that's then used again in toilets or for irrigation.
From managing water, lets move on to finding greener ways of living and getting around.
Green Community Building, Transportation and Waste Management
In green communities, ideas overlap and work together to achieve balance. This is a key feature in any sustainable system. Each part contributes to the whole, and the whole is made up of many parts that work in harmony. We can see this in the way green communities address the challenges of transportation and building. Traveling from place to place takes resources, like energy and a vehicle . . . or does it? If you lived a block from where you worked and shopped, you could walk or ride a bike. Green communities encourage building practices that consolidate resources, like business parks and shopping centers, to bring everything closer together.
It turns out that bringing things closer together is a good thing in a number of ways. Smaller buildings need less energy to heat and cool, and they can even be made with more eco-friendly materials, like straw, bamboo and compressed Earth. Smaller, more efficient building design results in smaller neighborhoods; smaller neighborhoods help make smaller towns; and smaller towns require fewer resources.
The benefits don't stop there. Having smaller buildings encourages less consumption. The less room you have, the less stuff you have. The less stuff you have, the more important each thing becomes. This discourages conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence, both of which create waste. It encourages buying quality items and then holding on to them longer. In 1997, 3.2 pounds (51.2 ounces) of solid waste was generated for each person in the United States. Thinking smaller and creating communities that make living and getting around less resource intensive are ways green communities encourage Earth-friendly practices [source: EPA].
Bringing the pieces together to create a functioning system is the goal of green community development, but it doesn't all have to happen at once. In the next section, we'll look at green principles at work and how the government is helping us make a greener America.
Green Community Principles at Work
Your community may not be green yet, but that doesn't mean that it isn't moving in the right direction. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a program in place that helps communities implement more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. Through publications, grants and technical assistance, the EPA's Smart Growth program encourages communities to preserve open spaces, protect farmland, create walkable areas, offer multiple transportation options and cultivate compact building design [source: EPA].
The EPA encourages local and regional action plans that anticipate and prevent environmental problems, conserve natural resources, like water and wildlife, and encourage quality over quantity. Under their guidelines, good community planning treats natural ecosystems and open land as precious resources and takes the potential environmental consequences of community projects into account before acting.
A greener approach to community planning will help protect the wealth and diversity of our environment so it will be around for future generations to enjoy.
Related How Stuff Works Articles
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