Smart Green Cities – Towards a Carbon Neutrality

By Smart City Insider

Smart Cities Insider met with Woodrow Clark II, the co-author of newly published book “Smart Green Cities – Towards a Carbon Neutral World”. We discussed some of the topics covered in his new book.

Woodrow Clark is an internationally recognized and respected expert, author, public speaker and consultant on global and local solutions to climate change. His core advocacy is in the economics for smart green communities. During the 1990s he was Manager of Strategic Planning for Technology Transfer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) with the University of California and the U.S. Department of Energy. While at LLNL he served as one of the contributing scientists and experts for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He chaired the first Research Team for the UN FCCC.

​His current work generates responses to climate change from governments and businesses, using public policy, science and technology, and their economics and finance methods. In 2004 he founded, and now manages, Clark Strategic Partners (CSP), a global environmental and renewable energy consulting firm using his political-economic expertise to guide, advise and implement public and private projects advancing sustainable, smart communities as well as colleges and universities, shopping malls, office buildings and film studios.

In your book “Smart Green Cities”, you speak of “Climate Neutral” cities. What does climate neutral mean? 


Woodrow Clark: Climate neutral has a lot of different definitions. One of the definitions comes from UN Climate Neutral Strategy in its application to reducing greenhouse gases to get global warming under control and below the dangerous 2°C level. Berlin, the German capital, set this strategy which is discussed in my book as a key case study for smart green cities. One of the key factors is that there are no emissions in the cities and its region. You have to remember that given the world is round, whatever happens in one city is going through the atmosphere or the water to other parts of the world.

The other definition for climate neutral is that you don’t have programs, products, services, or infrastructures that utilize fossil fuels or other non-renewable and polluting sources. Fossil fuels should not be used for cars, trucks, trains or energy generation in general. Keep in mind that charging an electric vehicle with energy generated by fossil fuels does not allow climate neutrality.

People need to walk more and ride their bikes safely, as well as use mass transportation that is powered by renewable energy. Buildings need to have solar panels, geothermal and “smart” systems for energy, water, and waste use.

Copenhagen (København) is one of the world’s greenest and most environmentally friendly cities. Which environmental programs and policies in Copenhagen did you like? 

Woodrow Clark: I used to live in Denmark and was very familiar with Copenhagen, which started a free of charge bike share program available to all of their citizens.

A few year ago Copenhagen introduced a new bike share program for a fee. It happened because the city and the country have had difficulties financing this infrastructure and, as a result, expected the citizens to contribute their part. Bike share programs gained in popularity, and now we see some of these programs in the United States.

Copenhagen introduced many other environmentally friendly programs. For example, already in the early 1990s, hotel guests were encouraged to reuse their towels after taking a shower.

The city encourages people to walk and has protected areas for bicyclists to ride, which we hardly have in the United States, particularly in Southern California. You want to see people reduce their carbon footprint as well as exercise.

Copenhagen encourages people to live, work, and enjoy their neighborhoods locally instead of using a car to get around.

What about renewable energy? What’s different between Denmark and the U.S.? 

Woodrow Clark: Copenhagen was one of the first cities in the world that began installing wind turbines nearby offshore. The wind industry started in Denmark with the company called Vestas. They saw the environmental value of wind energy, not just as wind farms, but also as individual wind turbines placed in different communities within the cities. Even today, we don’t have off-shore wind turbines in the United States. We have off-shore oil wells drilling for fossil fuels, but not wind turbines. Next to the Copenhagen Airport there are 12 wind turbines off-shore producing renewable energy for the region. This, we never see in America.

smart green city - wind energy

Today there is still a debate going on in the U.S. because some people say wind turbines obstruct their ocean views. The Dans went through this issue a long time ago. In Denmark, one of their solutions was to put the wind turbines further out in sea so that they were not as visible from the beach. However, their sea shores are less sloping than ours.

Many Danish cities have wind turbines inside the city. Even small towns have them. Where do you see that ever in America? You see some of it in other parts of Europe and China.

The total population of Denmark is roughly about 5.6 Million people, compared to the 28 Million in California. Denmark is much smaller, but that doesn’t mean that what they have done can’t be replicated and taken to other places. And that’s exactly what is happening around the world.

Do you believe the government needs to be more involved in stimulating change towards carbon neutral economy or should it be left to the free market?  

Woodrow Clark: In California, we have Governor Jerry Brown, and I think he is doing a lot of good things. The difference between what he is doing and his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger is that he sees the fact that government has to have a leading policy making and economic role in changing and protecting our environment. Schwarzenegger felt it was the “market” which would do the change. This theory was created by Adam Smith, over a hundred years ago. It became an economic ideology that has never been true anywhere. When you need change, you must have government involved one way or the other. The government has to provide policy, financial resources and not just tax incentives. Remember, tax incentives are beneficial to the very wealthy.

In your book, you mention Ebenezer Howard, the founder of garden cities movement. Howard had a holistic view of a new type of urban development. Which of his ideas are common in urban development today, and which of his radical ideas, perceived far in the past, would make lots of sense now? 

Woodrow Clark: When people talk about having green cities, they usually speak about energy efficiency. Ebenezer Howard said why don’t we do something with our roofs and make it a place where people can relax. Most roofs are empty and just sitting there. Rooftop gardens are great and needed, as well as using roofs for solar panels and small wind turbines. However, too many developers in America, take land to build massive structures and even entire communities without considering the environment and providing more green spaces.

smart green city - Ebenezer Howard - green roof

Oil prices are dropping. More alternative fuel vehicles are on the road. While this is great news, how does this trend affect the state of road infrastructure?   

Woodrow Clark: California is dependent on cars as its primary source of transportation. Here in California, even going to or from a subway, a train station or a bus stop, you have to use a car. It drives me crazy.

The freeway infrastructure here in California is funded through a carbon tax on oil and gas. The prices for oil and gas are dropping, and more people are driving electric cars. Due to the decline in oil prices and gas consumption, the amount of tax money cities collect is diminishing, leaving fewer funds for freeway maintenance and updates.

When I used to live in Denmark, 62% of my income was for taxes. In the United States it’s up to 31%, and then most people are trying to get tax breaks. The middle and working classes are paying for most of the freeway maintenance since the big companies and wealthy people take the largest tax breaks. The United States is facing an issue of how they are going to pay for their highways and freeways when they don’t have the amount of money they used to have.

The U.S. will have to do things differently. For example, using toll roads like they do in Florida, where everyone whether resident or tourist are required to pay for the use of the toll roads. Therefore, both contribute to funding for freeway upkeep.

How do you see freeways evolve in the future? 

Woodrow Clark: I share the view of a Japanese company which looks creatively at the future of transportation. In their vision, the highways and freeways have solar panels over the freeway median. Also, there are hydrogen fuel cell and electric charging stations along the freeway; wind farms onshore and offshore and driverless vehicles that move people around.

Do you think driverless cars will solve some of the transportation challenges in cities?

Woodrow Clark: I don’t know if the driverless cars are going to solve all problems. They make a lot of sense in some ways. It’s a great idea for longer transportation needs, but using driverless cars just in the community you live in, is going to be tough for many reasons. However, that was what many said about the internet and wi-fi. Look at them today. The future is coming sooner than we think and have seen in the past.

California is in its fifth year of severe drought. The state has introduced many water conservation programs and policies. Some were very successful and some less. What else do you think California, particularly Southern California, needs to do to improve water sustainability?  

Woodrow Clark: Water in the Middle East is almost as valuable as gold. Israel has been successful with conservation and recycling of water for decades. During the drought, California, particularly Southern California, started to look into the techniques and strategies of the Israelis. For example, in Israel, they have water systems where plants are not in the ground but dangling from roofs and poles where the water drips from one plant to another.

Another area is the greywater which is the water from showers, kitchen and bathroom sinks. In other parts of the world, they clean up greywater and reuse it for things such as irrigation.

What’s important to know is that the water in Southern California comes primarily from Northern California. When the water comes down the aqueducts, it has to go over a mountain range that is just north of Los Angeles. To get that water over the mountain range you need a lot of energy. In fact, one-third of the energy California uses is to pump the water up and down. What’s interesting is that there are no in-stream turbines to generate energy from the water running down the river. Also, why not put solar panels over the aqueducts? That would decrease evaporation of the water and would generate energy at the same time.

There are other ways to deal with the water shortage. For instance, desalination which is using ocean water to produce potable water, but that’s very expensive to do.

Even though we have been getting more rainfall in Southern California, drought is still a major issue for the region. Our objective must be to create ways of preserving, using, and recycling water.

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