Sunday, July 30, 2017

Electric utilities have known of climate change for almost 50 years

Ooops. It wasn't just Big Oil that knew about their role in climate change and fought a misinformation campaign against doing anything about it. The trade association for US electric ulilities did too. They got a heads up in 1968, just shy of 50 years ago, and then did research on it. So all their members knew.

What is particularly sad about this is that the average life for a thermal power plant (i.e., one burning coal or natural gas) is 40 years. Had they taken this seriously and pushed for innovation instead of obfuscation, we could have had a renewable power grid by now.

Utilities Knew About Climate Change Back In 1968 And Still Battled The Science - HuffPost

Friday, July 28, 2017

Surprising strategies to save the climate--in priority order

Paul Hawken is a well-respected face in the sustainability world, ever since he wrote the Ecology of Commerce in 1993. His latest book, Project Drawdown, provides 80 strategies using technologies we already have. And he puts them in priority order. You'll never guess the first.

Here's an interview that gives you a sneak-peak at some of his research findings:

Love to travel but worry about the climate?

For many Americans, air travel is their largest source of greenhouse gases. One international trip can be the equivalent of a year's worth of driving. So what is a responsible climate-citizen to do? Of course, you could stay home, but what's the fun in that? Sustainability doesn't have to be about not having what you want; it should be about finding sustainable ways to get what you want.  This article has several suggestions and mentions which airlines offer carbon offsets and use biofuels.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Shell strategy is moving away from oil

For many who studied Peak Oil, we feared a spike in prices and perhaps even shortages and chaos.  Of course, oil did spike over $100 a barrel, helping to precipitate the 2008 financial crisis. (Oil spikes are often followed by recessions.) But few expected oil, so enmeshed in our economy, to go out with a fizzle. But it appears that demand for oil is waning at least as fast as reserves.

Shell is planning for oil to continue in the $40-50 a barrel range and is already switching toward natural gas. (Note natural gas is mostly used for heating and electricity generation, not so much for vehicles. So it doesn't replace oil, at least not directly.) But Shell sees the switch to electric cars inevitable and is developing strategies to be a player in the renewable energy field.
"Shell plans to spend $1bn (£760m) a year on its ‘New Energies’ division, which was set up last year to develop hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels that could be used by the aviation and shipping industries to cut their reliance on oil.

Shell is already the largest trader of renewable power in the US and said it would look at the role it could play as a system integrator or aggregator of renewable power in addition to its existing solar and wind power assets."

Towns can switch to renewables and save citizens money

San Diego is planning an end-run around their electric utility and they figure they can save their citizens quite a lot of money in the process.
Because of separate state mandates, 50 percent of SDG&E’s power needs to be renewable by 2030. The city said it can hit that 50 percent target faster and cheaper: The city’s rates would be 2 percent higher than SDG&E’s in the first year of its government-run program but then less and less expensive until 2026, when the city’s rates could be 11 percent lower.
Unfortunately we can't do this in AZ yet because our legislature hasn't allowed us to have Community Choice Aggregation System. Why not?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Home-schooled kids are saving the ocean

Heirs to Our Oceans is a group formed by some enterprising home-schooled kids in the Bay Area. They are passionate about the seas and climate change. They, with the help of stem grown-ups, created this podcast about their program...

...and kids/parents from all over the world can join their efforts here ...

Their main message is that kids are angry they are inheriting such a mess but together they can solve the problems of the world. You don't have to be an adult to make change happen.

How to tell if your tap water is safe

The Environmental Working Group has a database of contaminants in drinking water. In addition to telling you What's in your Water, it shows you where it comes from and how to filter it out. It includes contaminates that aren't regulated. Simply plug in your zip code and choose your water company.

Here's an article about it:

Here's a link to the database:

But please don't react by buying rafts of bottled water. Instead put pressure on your water utility and get a good tap filter.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Does it annoy you when stores leave doors open?

In Sedona, stores want to be welcoming. But when it's 100 degrees outside, leaving their doors open wastes energy. Apparently we aren't the first to mull this. (This practice is apparently illegal in places like New York.) Here's an app for your smart phone that lets you send a friendly reminder to the store. It also lets you reward stores that are not wasting their AC this way.

Canada promotes plant-based diet

Canada has been a major beef producer but they are promoting a healthy, plant-based, light-on-the-environment diet. They even go as far as reminding people to enjoy the food and family/friends together.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Struggling to lose weight? Dust your house.

Dusting will give you a little bit of exercise, of course, but that's not the point. It's to remove chemicals that mess with your body. According to this study, two-thirds of the chemicals researchers suspected and tested increased the growth of fat cells.

These chemicals are often referred to as endocrine-disrupters, human-made chemicals that your body thinks are hormones. Hormones regulate a lot more than women's periods. They regulate a lot of your body's functions including metabolism. These endocrine-disrupters like to hang out in fat cells, so they concentrate there. And what's really scary is this concentrates them in breast milk. They also end up in household dust.

Where do they come from? Does your shampoo have parabens? Has your sofa been treated with fire retardants? Do you use a plastic water bottle or heat up food in plastic storage containers?

So mop with a damp mop and dust with a damp rag (so you don't just move the dust back into the air.) Check the ingredients in your personal care products. Avoid products with "fragrance" like laundry soap. Store and heat your left-overs in glass.

Chemicals lurking in household dust may prime cells to store fat - Popular Science

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Gerrymandering out + open primaries = climate wins

In this clip, Arnold Swartzenegger explains how non-partisan redistricting and open primaries have helped to fix their political system, bringing majority views back into focus, creating continuity from one administration to the next, getting things done. In particular, this helped California get support on both sides of the aisle for climate change action.

Schwarzenegger on terminating climate change - CNN

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DC's Climate Ready Plan is a model for others

I just watched a webinar through the International Society of Sustainability Professionals on the process that Washington DC went through to develop a climate action plan. Their plan and website should be a good tool for any community wanting to figure out what problems climate change may bring and what to do about it.

They also referred to the Rockefeller's 100 Resilient Cities workshop as a good process to use.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Case study: Sustainable fashion

The textile and fashion industry has a horrid reputation, both socially (sweatshops) and environmental (over-consumption, pollution.) So here's an amazing story of an entrepreneur who sources recycled fabric remnants and creates garments with zero waste (save a few threads), all while providing employment for poor women in Cambodia.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Is fear the underlying reason for climate denial?

This author thinks he's got an insight behind climate denial: people fear what they can't control (e.g., Ebola more than heart disease) and we avoid bad news (e.g., don't go to the doctor when we suspect something might be wrong.) If he's right, the solutions should be easy: show what we can do to control this and share success stories.

He might be onto something but there have been a lot of examples of positive stories and how-to advice. So I suspect the reality is more complicated. Those strategies are still important to pursue to help sway people for whom that is the main barrier.

But I think identity is also embedded in this. When Al Gore became the face of climate change, people who identified with the other political party went running in the opposite direction. Deeply religious Tea Party members may be more concerned with God than God's creation, viewing this as the predicted disruption before they will be called to heaven. Lower and middle class White males have lost ground, both relatively and in real terms, so they are focused on making ends meet. Long term concerns about climate change seem distant indeed. And if you are surrounded by a community that doesn't believe in climate change, do you have the fortitude to be the outlier and speak out?

What do you think?

For a fascinating perspective, read Strangers in their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild. This Berkeley sociologist went to Louisiana to try to understand the Tea Party, and why people whose lives have been disrupted by environmental disasters just suck it up and continue to support polluting businesses and lax regulation. If you don't have time to read the book, at least listen to this podcast on Inquiring Minds. 

Surrendering to fear brought us climate change denial and President Trump | John Abraham - the guardian

Friday, July 14, 2017

Infographic: How to reduce your climate impact

This infographic will raise eyebrows, in part because it addresses an "undiscussable." The size of the bubbles in the chart indicate the relative benefit to the climate of taking different actions. The results are startling.

Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children - the guardian

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Doomsday climate posts are part of the problem

Studying climate change can be truly frightening, but telling everyone about it doesn't help them act. Instead it drives them into denial or despair. So what do we do instead? We should make heros of climate warriors, those who are doing something to make a difference. Share stories about people reducing their greenhouse gases or protecting their community from it and you'll inspire others to do the same.

Doomsday narratives about climate change don't work. But here's what does | Victoria Herrmann - the guardian

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Poll: 51% Millennials in US don't support capitalism

Do you know what an "undiscussable" is? It's a topic that so threatens the prevailing view that you bring it up at your own social risk. At least that's my definition. But if we can't examine the assumptions on which our society is based, then aren't we denying the brain and vocal cords evolution gave us?

So here's a doozie: Is capitalism consistent with a sustainable society?

According to this article, just over half US Millennials don't think so.  In the U.K. 2/3 of young adults don't think so.

This question was the basis of a think tank Marsha Willard and I hosted in 1997 when we pivoted to do this work in sustainability. Back then, the prevailing view was that doing right by the environment was bad for business. Thankfully after 25 years of research, early adopters and corporate fiascos, we know that's not the case (although not all CEOs have gotten the memo.)

The decision we made then was not to challenge capitalism but instead to show businesses and governments how sustainability (social and environmental) was in their self-interest. Together they are responsible for most of the material throughputs in our society and employ most of our citizens. That effort has largely been successful, with virtually all major corporations producing sustainability or corporate responsibility reports. (That means it's on their radar; not that the work is complete.) Research proves that sustainability even improves stock prices.

It feels like we applied the breaks to the train hurtling toward the abyss, but we haven't questioned where the tracks are leading.

The challenge with raising questions like this is it can result in a defensive reaction. In the US we mush concepts like capitalism, competition and democracy into The American Way. Suddenly you may be viewed as a 'commie' if you even start to ask the questions.

I think it may be helpful to unpack the assumptions of capitalism to see if there are elements we want to preserve.

Is the root problem...

CONSUMERISM: Amazon Prime Day is in the news, retailers' attempt to expand the Christmas season buying compulsion into summer. Certainly we know that filling our lives with stuff instead of joy doesn't make us happier. But if we develop a Circular Economy, will it matter? If everything comes from a sustainable source and goes back safely to nature, can we keep consuming? Or as we hurtle toward 8-9 billion people on the planet, will this still be unsustainable?

WALL STREET: It seems unfair that the people who spend the least amount of effort to make a company successful are at the top of the financial totem pole. With computerized trading, some investors don't even care what the company does. But investors are increasingly rewarding companies that pursue sustainability. And most growth in employment is in small businesses anyway. Some communities have been developing ways for local people to invest in local companies. And don't forget, worker owned cooperatives can change the focus from maintaining profit margins to maintaining employment, sharing most of the wealth created with those who work 40+ hours a week there. And the growing list of certified B-Corporations vow to take into account the needs of their community and the environment, not just shareholders. The idea that corporations have to maximize shareholder value is a myth.

"FREE" MARKETS & PERVERSE SUBSIDIES: Part of the problem is that all the social costs associated with products are not included in the price of those products. Economists call these externalities. Agribusiness chopping down the rain forest for palm oil doesn't have to pay the fishermen whose stocks are depleted by erosion, the indigenous people who were displaced or the cost to relocate species to a spiffy new location.

I'm going to use fishing as an example but there are many more. Fishermen don't have to pay for the fish; only the cost to get them. And in a society of extreme haves and have-nots, typical supply and demand forces don't work. When the Japanese are willing to pay $600,000 for a single blue fin tuna, the economics are in place to destroy that resource. Maybe we just need to account for the true cost (or some semblance of true cost.). Robert F Kennedy, Jr. said,
"What is the best thing we could have? True free market capitalism. Free markets are a very good thing, we should try it sometime. What we have in this country is crony capitalism. There is nothing more important than innovation. The other forces are ignorance and greed. If you release innovation with true free market we would be able to address these issues. Nature is the infrastructure of our communities. Start by protecting our environmental infrastructure. All the public trust assets, by their nature are not owned by anyone person but by everyone. What you hear from the big polluters is you have to choose between protecting the environment and economic prosperity, and that is a lie. The polluters treat our world as if it is on sale, then we can make some money but our children are going to pay for it."
Former World Bank economist Herman Daly might disagree. Free markets are great at distributing resources to the highest use (or highest bidder) efficiently. But they do not ensure the protection of stocks of those resources or the equitable distribution of them in service of social justice.

To make matters worse, governments often subsidize actions that undermine society in the long-run. These are called perverse subsidies. In a paper by Norman Mayer on this topic, he says,

One might suppose that the fisheries decline would send a clear message to governments that they should reduce their excessive fishing. But on the contrary, they tend to put off the day of reckoning by stepping up their subsidies to the fishing industry. Once fishermen's livelihoods are in danger, governments provide plentiful incentives for them to catch more rather than fewer fish – thus exacerbating the problem from top to bottom. The solution is a severe reduction if not eventual phasing out of subsidies, paralleled by a collective decision to protect remaining fish stocks through collective action, properly enforced.  
Meantime, governments have been inclined to engage in ever-heavier subsidies. State supports help to pay for more and larger boats, longer nets and more sophisticated equipment all round, even extending to radar and remote-sensing devices. Given the advanced technology of the 1990s fishing industry, just one fifth of the world's fishing fleet could catch the maximum sustainable yield of fish.

GROWTH: Economic growth is embedded in our psyche. Businesses must grow, our communities must grow. Underlying this is both population growth (which creates increasing demand) and our system of credit (which requires growth to pay the interest.) In Believing Cassandra, Alan AtKisson said, 
“Growth must cease. If human beings do not stop their growth willingly, Nature will stop it forcefully. Paradoxically, however, for Growth to cease, Development must accelerate.” 

Can we have more urban farmers, teachers, artists and massage therapists? Maybe we can grow light-on-the-earth industries. 

My view is that we have to work all angles. We need to hone capitalism in the near term to make it work better while exploring better models for the long-term. Fortunately there are people working at all these levels. Unfortunately vested interests still slow the transformation.

What do you think? 


Want to learn more? Read my 2010 article, Homo Economicus Interruptus.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Infrastructure spending with climate change in mind

Eventually Congress might decide to fund infrastructure investment, rebuilding our roads and bridges. But what should we build or rebuild? What infrastructure will we need to lead a climate-lite lifestyle? And how will climate change affect our infrastructure (via flooding, sea level changes, fires, etc.)? The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published a set of principles to help us.

Infrastructure Spending Is Coming. Climate Change Tells Us to Spend Wisely - Union of Concerned Scientists

The report, “Towards Climate Resilience: A Framework and Principles for Science-Based Adaption,”outlines fifteen key principles for science-based adaptation.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Games to learn about climate change

The Sustainability Alliance built the Save the Climate Game to teach kids what makes the climate worse and better and what they each can do to make a difference. (It's free for download off our Education page; click link to Educational Resources.) But ours is not the only one. This article references a few more.

Climate Challenge,; EduCycle,;
Save Ohno,;
World Climate Simulation,

These are described in this article:
What are some ways people are using games to help reduce their carbon footprints? - Augusta Free Press.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Is that graph lying to you?

Scientific literacy is key to understanding sustainability. Concepts like concentrations, thresholds and feedback loops are probably the most important concepts we can get across to our kids, and frankly, much of the adult US population!

Data literacy and media literacy are also critical. People can manipulate data to try to prove their own perspective. This 4 min animated Ted video shows you what to look for in a graph to see if it is (or someone is being) misleading.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Interactive map: where is all the ocean plastic?

This interactive map shows you where the plastic is in the ocean. Pretty cool tool.

Sailing Seas of Plastic - Interactive Data Visualisation -

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Your old cellphone can protect rainforests and jaguars

This engineer has set up cellphones in the jungle to listen for chainsaws of illegal loggers. When the phone hears that sound, it sends an email to authorities.
White now heads Rainforest Connection, a nonprofit that turns donated Android smartphones into forest sentries. Americans toss out hundreds of millions of cell phones each year. White is repurposing phones that might otherwise end up in a landfill.
 This engineer is using old cell phones to stop illegal logging - Popular Science