Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Strategies for the greenest buildings

The most sustainable cities focus in part on building practices. This article highlights three cities' approaches.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bizarre bacteria creates its own solar panels

Photosynthesis isn't all that efficient. But scientists have found a bacterium that excretes toxic substances like mercury and cadmium by making little semiconductors on its surface. It then creates acetic acid (Vitamin C) which can be used to create fuel. The process is 80% efficient. Maybe these little guys can clean up toxic waste pools left over from mining coal and make fuel.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hotels are going green

Hotels are paying more attention to their environmental footprint and in many cases it's saving them money.

(Note, so far we have one certified sustainable lodging establishment in Sedona, Wyndham Sedona. Hopefully we will have more.)

Lessons from Harvey: plan for climate change and reverse it

As we watch in horror while Hurricane Harvey swamps the fourth largest city in the US and surrounding regions, this is a time to reflect on the need to harden infrastructure against climate impacts and double-down on efforts to reinvent our energy system to combat climate change.

Climate experts have long warned about our infrastructure's exposure to climate effects. Major highways are at risk of floods and storm surges, rail lines too. The oil refineries in Texas may be able to reopen soon except that workers won't be able to get to them or have a place to live near them.

It's going to take years to rebuild what Harvey wrought. So let's make these commitments:

...Build renewable energy systems, not rebuild 20th century ones. It will be healthier for the communities and the environment.
...Harden infrastructure against extreme weather events. (Unfortunately, the Federal government is weakening those requirements when they should be strengthened.
...Rebuild communities using Smart Growth principles, making them walkable, with robust alternative transportation options, fit for people, not cars.

Architects Speak Out Against Trump’s Latest Executive Order - Fast Company

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cap and trade helps the economy in NE

There is a regional cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gases in the NE of the US. Known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI (pronounced Reggie), it's been quite effective in reducing greenhouse gases.
"RGGI is credited with reducing average utility bills by 3.4 percent across the region, driving $2.7 billion in revenues to be reinvested into public projects and creating at least 30,200 new jobs over the past eight years."

 Recently they set tougher standards which will reduce greenhouse gases 65% by 2030 from their baseline.

Northeast States Just Delivered A ‘Major Victory’ Against Climate Change - HuffPost

The world on 100% renewable energy by 2050

According to this recent study, virtually every nation on earth has the resources to be 80% renewable by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Could this be a path to peace on earth? Imagine no more wars about oil.

One key step needed to make this work: electric vehicles.

Almost every country in the world can power themselves with renewable energy - Popular Science

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The power of pulp

Researchers dumped orange peels on a section of depleted rain forest. It's proof of the power of compost. Take a look at the photo. Nature heals if we give it nutrients and time.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

An alternative to plastic wrap: beeswax

These innovators have found a way to make a Saranwrap alternative from beeswax, which in addition to being biodegradeable, has antimicrobial properties.

Did you know that stretchy film plastic can be recycled along with plastic grocery bags? In Sedona both Safeway and Basha's send their bags to Trex to become decking (according to Sedona Recycles). Here's the test: Can you can stretch the film with your thumb? This includes shrink wrap, toilet paper over wrap and cereal bags.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What is life like for the working poor

Tough. Really tough. When companies don't pay enough for people to survive, they push costs onto society.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Is there a hate group near you?

Many people equate sustainability with environmentalism, but this is a common mistake. Sustainability is understanding tech interconnections between social, economic and environmental systems, working to make all three better. If communities are undermined or feel threatened, it often results in conflict, in extreme cases, war; and there's nothing sustainable about war....lots of fossil fuels, lots of destruction of resources, lots of environmental destruction, lots of human misery.

Right now, in the news, we have a face off between White supremacists and the groups they hate. Both feel threatened. So which group's needs should take precedence? The group that upholds values that promote the well-being of society and the environment. Based on important research by Manfred Max-Neef, we can see that hate threatens several basic human needs. 
Max-Neef classifies the fundamental human needs as:
  • subsistence
  • protection
  • affection
  • understanding
  • participation
  • leisure
  • creation
  • identity
  • freedom

So hate is antithetical to sustainability, to the well-being of society. It undermines subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation and freedom, at a minimum.

And ironically hate groups are driven by some of those same needs. White nationalists seem to feel like they are losing ground to other groups (subsistence) and getting together feeds their sense of identity. Maybe that insight is a path toward reducing hate.

How do you know if there's a hate group near you? Here's an interactive map.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Renewable energy has already saved 12700 American lives

We talk about fossil fuels as being dirty. Burning coal and oil release not just CO2 but other contaminants; much of the mercury we worry about in fish is from coal plants. Even so-called cleaner gas contributes to air pollution (NOx is a precursor to smog, an inevitable result of combustion). This makes us sick, literally. Especially people who live near where these fuels are burned (near power plants, near highways).

According to this report, renewable energy has already saved around 13000 lives in the US alone, between 2008 and 2015. That's four times the number of people killed on 9-11.

In 8 years, Renewable Energy Has Saved 12,700 American Lives, Report Finds - Global Citizen

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Could this device really remove most of the plastics in the ocean?

Our oceans have become a cesspool of plastics. Here's a device that claims it can capture half of the plastic in 5 years. What do you think? Could it work?

Of course, we should also stop dumping plastic into the ocean ...

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dashboard: How healthy is nature in Sedona and the Verde Valley?

By Darcy Hitchcock

The Sustainability Alliance has been developing a Dashboard of Community Indicators to help us all understand how well our region is progressing toward a sustainable society (where we provide a high quality of life while living off the ‘interest’ from nature). This Dashboard is a work in progress but we wanted to release what we are learning over time.

Sustainability involves social, economic and environmental factors. One way to tell if our region is environmentally sustainable is to track how many of our species are listed as Endangered or Threatened, as well as how many invasive species we have. The Alliance worked with the Forest Service and also the local Audubon to produce this information.

Test your knowledge of our ecosystem

Which taxa group (ie, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles/amphibians, or plants) in the Red Rock Ranger District/Verde Valley…

A: …has no endangered or threatened species?

B: … reduced the number of endangered/threatened species over the last 3 decades?

C: …has the largest number of invasive species?

D: … is in so much trouble that approximately 84 percent are either invasive/non-native or endangered/threatened species?

(Answers are at the bottom of this article.)

What species are at risk?

We depend on nature for so many things including cleaning air/water, pollinating crops and providing spiritual inspiration. So when a species goes extinct, we lose the services associated with it and at the same time, we may destabilize the food web dependent upon that species. It’s like a game of Pick Up Sticks. You can’t be sure what the impact will be when you pull out one of the species.

In the chart below, you can see the number of species listed as threatened or endangered (an U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designation) by decade.
  •  No mammals are listed as endangered or threatened in these time periods; that doesn’t mean they are in great shape. Obviously we have displaced a lot of them with development but populations haven’t been so impacted that listing is warranted.  One exception is the  the southwestern river otter, which went extinct by the mid-20th century.  Later  an Louisiana subspecies was introduced.
  • Bird species have actually improved. The peregrine falcon and bald eagle were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999 and 2007, respectively but then the southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo were added to the list in 1995 and 2014, respectively.
  • Fish and reptiles/amphibians are worse off. A few native fish species have been reintroduced after disappearing from our area: the Gila Trout and Gila Topminnow were reintroduced back into our rivers.

In addition to losing species that should be here, we have gained species that should not. Invasive species (non-native species which are out-competing our native plants and animals) are a significant problem in our region.

This next chart shows both currently endangered/threatened species (in red) and Non-native/Invasive species (in blue). It’s immediately apparent that we have a lot of invasive plants!

Note also the scale on the right along with the purple line represent the percentage of all species in that classification that are endangered/threatened or invasive. See the spike over Fish? That means that about 84 percent of the fish in our streams either are native and in serious trouble or non-native/invasive (typically introduced by Game and Fish for sport fishing). While we may have a lot of invasive plant species, they are a relatively small percentage of overall plant species.

What should be done?

In a nutshell, our most threatened habitat is along rivers and the biggest impact is recreation.

Residents can:
1.     Get educated about invasive and native plants. Note, not all non-native species go rogue. Your prized rosebush isn’t going to take over the forest. But plants that spread easily by seed can quickly get out of control. Here are some resources:

  • Yavapai Weed Management webpage reveals the Dirty Dozen, the 12 most noxious and invasive weeds in our area.
  • Attend Keep Sedona Beautiful’s annual Native Plant workshop.
  • Choose drought-tolerant, native plants for landscaping. If your nursery is selling invasive plants, ask them not to. If their selection of native, drought-tolerant plants is sparse, ask them to increase sales in that category.

2. Protect the river.
  • Pick up after yourselves, your dogs and when needed, other people’s messes. Volunteer with the Oak Creek Watershed Council or the Friends of the Verde Greenway during river clean ups and educate visitors.
  • Don’t go off-roading near or in the rivers. Work with the Forest Service to develop trails for off-road vehicles that are fun but that won’t hurt the river and all the species that depend on it.

Major land owners including ranchers and state/Federal agencies (especially the Forest Service, State Parks, Department of Transportation and Bureau of Reclamation) need to:

  • Better manage access to the rivers. Have designated areas for recreation but where use is high, provide a registration system like that used successfully at Fossil Creek.  In our view, Red Rock State Park could benefit from doing this at least at Slide Rock during peak periods. Eliminate off-road vehicle use along and in rivers, finding more appropriate areas for that use.

  • Manage all riparian areas to move them toward a “functional condition.” Approximately ⅓ of our rivers do not meet this designation. Most endangered species rely on the riparian areas to live or reproduce. Yet only 1% of the Coconino Forest is riparian (the lush vegetation associated with a stream, wetland, or spring) so efforts in a little area will yield major benefits. 

  • Create more refuges for native fish, placing fish barriers to protect native from non-native fish. According to a fisheries biologist in Flagstaff, the Department of Reclamation has funding for one or maybe two fish barriers. The Upper Verde is under consideration and would be, in his view, an ideal spot. Work with fishing groups to advocate for native fish and limit non-native fish stocking to infertile rainbow trout, a game fish found by scientists to have minimal impact on native species. Anglers, please be ethical and do not move fish among water bodies.  Even fish in upland  tanks can be carried by floodwaters into perennial streams where native fish occur.  
  • Build catchment basins and swales to slow and purify stormwater.  When water floods off buildings and driveways, it quickly flushes into the drainage areas, eroding river banks. Flooding can also carry pollutants.

Answers: By reading this article, you should know the answers to the quiz questions, but here are the correct answers:
A: Mammals;  B: Birds;  C: Plants;  D: Fish

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Green beer for everyday, not just St Patty's

Not green as in color, green as in environmental. Craft breweries have been pursuing sustainable strategies to conserve water and protect the planet. Check out some of the best.

America’s craft breweries are on an environmental crusade - Popular Science

What can be done about food deserts

It can be hard to change people's food habits, but some places are having success getting food deserts to turn green. And there is a hunger for it. When Jean Turocy (Sedona Recycles former outreach coordinator) taught classes at West Beaver Creek, she suggested starting a garden where they could grow salad greens. It's heartrending but the kids were so excited about the opportunity to eat fresh greens.

Here's an article about transforming food deserts.

Is there a food desert near you?

What do you do if you're one of the many working poor, maybe a single mom, working two low paying jobs. You need to feed your family but there isn't a grocery in miles. But Circle K and McDonalds have graciously plunked themselves down in your poor neighborhood. Of course, you and your kids eat junk food. That's life in a food desert.

Is there a food desert near you? Find your area on this food desert locator map.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Climate denial is really fear of consequences

Humans are not completely rational. Our brains filter out information, sometimes consciously but often unconsciously. If the information doesn't fit our worldview, it often doesn't get in.

In the case of climate change, deniers may be unconsciously affected by their fear of consequences. Many conservatives fear that climate change will require global oversight or threaten their business/political interests.

This article reveals how people in Louisiana, while they see land the size of Delaware disappear to the ocean, resist admitting climate change because it threatens their livelihood. Oil and gas is perceived to have a huge impact on their economy. Their way of life is threatened. Who wants to be the first to speak out and be at odds with your friends? It's easier for the brain to say, LA LA LA LA, not listening.

But the implications for those of us hoping to change their minds is profound. Talking more loudly about scientific consensus is ineffective. We have to show them a positive path forward out of their personal box of denial. We must figure out what the walls of their box represent and open a door to a better life that they want more than what they have now.

Climate deniers in the Deep South aren't ignorant – they reject the truth to save themselves - International Business Times, UK Edition

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How sustainable is your city?

We now have a comparison of major US cities/regions based on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. This report not only gives an overall score. It also gives us the best performers for each goal (like zero hunger). That makes it easy to find best practices. And it includes the indicators used for each of the goals and the range of performance measured, so cities can easily adopt the metrics and see where they fall in the range.

For Arizona, it only includes two cities but this framework could be adopted by all our cities. The Alliance has been working on a Dashboard of Community Indicators so we can compare performance of Verde Valley communities against the SDGs (although our Indicators might be different based on data we can find.) We will post results as we have good data and strong recommendations. The first, species of concern, will be released in September.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Your airplane may not honk like a goose but it may soon fly like one

Biomimicry is the field of using nature as inspiration for how we design things. It's long been known that geese fly faster in their V formation because they are drafting the goose in front. They take turns leading to share the burden of being in front. Boeing and NASA are working on making planes fly in formation.

Sustainable investing finally going mainstream

It's not clear if this is a scientific study or just based on a poll, but Morgan Stanley says,
Three-quarters of active individual investors and 86% of Millennial active individual investors describe themselves as interested in sustainable investing.
Countless studies show that companies pursuing sustainability (or ESG--environment, social, governance--as the investment community often refers to it)  actually perform better on average than their more backward peers.  In part, this seems to be because they do a better job of managing risks since they are scanning a broader horizon than just short term profits. It's also because sustainability (as compared to the older socially responsible investing) gives you insight into the future and engages employees at a deep level. Go to our Business page to see a slideshow on the business benefits to sustainability. Here's a link to the Morgan Stanley article.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Making blacktop white to cool the world

The Heat Island Effect is the tendency for hard surfaces to retain heat, releasing it at night. So cities don't cool down at night. Any school child knows that dark, black surfaces absorb more of the sun's rays. Our asphalt roads are one huge heat-battery snaking around town.

Now there is a solution. Paint the roads a light color.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Delaying action on climate change will cost our kids a fortune

NASA scientist Jim Hansen has just dropped another bombshell.
By continuing to delay significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, we risk handing young people alive today a bill of up to $535 trillion. This would be the cost of the "negative emissions" technologies required to remove CO2 from the air in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

 By comparison,
If global emissions are reduced by 6 percent each year, then bringing CO2 concentrations back to 350ppm would cost $8 trillion to $18.5 trillion.
When did sacrificing for our children become unfashionable?

 Climate change is running a $535 trillion-dollar debt -

Proof that climate change affect diseases/pathogens

Up to now, scientists have been saying that climate change will spread disease but the breadth of the problem wasn't well-known. Here's a Big Data study that explores how it will affect diseases in Europe but the results are applicable to the US. In a nutshell,

"The impact of climate change on the emergence and spread of infectious diseases could be greater than previously thought, according to new research by the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health."
Diseases spread by insects and ticks (vector-borne diseases) were found to be the most climate sensitive, followed by those transmitted in soil, water and food. The diseases with the largest number of different climate drivers were Vibrio cholerae(cause of cholera), Fasciola hepatica (cause of liver fluke), Bacillus anthracis (cause of anthrax) and Borrelia burgdorferi (cause of tick-borne Lyme disease).
 Climate change risk to Europe’s most dangerous pathogens revealed - Biotech in Asia

Monday, August 7, 2017

How climate change is affecting air travel

In my novella, Dragonfly's Question, the characters talk briefly about how air travel is disrupted by climate change. Fiction is becoming reality. Storms ground flights and hot temperatures make it harder to take off. Since planes may last for 40-50 years and airports for a century, wwe better be planning for flying the hot skies.

How Hot Weather and Climate Change Are Affecting Airline Flights - Popular Mechanics

Now everyone everywhere can convert plastic trash into products

This website has all the instructions for how to build little machines to recycle plastic into useful products. Watch the video and then download the instructions for free. Share this!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Prejudice contributes to radicalization

It makes sense. Humans are a social species so if a society isolates some groups (because of religion, skin color, etc.), those individuals may feel marginalized, provoking a radical backlash. It's basically bullying at a community scale. Here's what recent research found:
"In what has also been referred to as a vicious cycle of prejudice, we find that lower levels of openness to diversity are associated with lower levels of cultural integration," she said. "Difficulty integrating, in turn, shapes support for extremism. Our findings therefore suggest that radicalization is not merely a process that takes place within individuals, but that the larger context of reception plays a crucial role."

Store CO2 in your carpet?

You probably know that soil sequesters (stores) CO2, a greenhouse gas. But what if the carpet you buy could do the same. Innovative Interface Carpet, one of the early adopters of sustainability, have figured out how make carpet that is a carbon 'sink.'

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Cool infographic reveals hotter planet

Data can make people's eyes glaze over. So finding ways to make the data interesting and compelling is key. Here's an interesting infographic on climate change trends.

See How Much Hotter The Planet Has Gotten In The Past 100 Years - Fast Company

Friday, August 4, 2017

If everyone skipped beef, we could get close to climate goals

Apparently we can still eat pork and poultry but if we just gave up the beef habit, we would be close to meeting our climate goals, according to this study.

"Even if nothing about our energy infrastructure or transportation system changed—and even if people kept eating chicken and pork and eggs and cheese—this one dietary change could achieve somewhere between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to meet the target."

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Why are we subsidizing fossil fuels when they kill us

The subsidies for fossil fuels are shocking enough but they are dwarfed by the cost to human health. One in 8 people in the world die from air pollution. Many more are hurt by climate change.

US is 11th in food security among nations

There is now a national rating system for food security. The measurement system takes into account sustainable agricultural systems, nutrition, and food waste.

France came out on top in part because their great efforts and reducing food waste, followed by Japan, Canada and Germany. The United States was #11 after Colombia. We may be the breadbasket of the world, but we have a long way to go to having a sustainable food system.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Listen to town hall interview with Al Gore on climate change

Al Gore responds to questions from people hurting in Louisiana and Wyoming, among others. Listen online.

Al Gore Held A Town Hall On Climate Change & His One Message Will Give You Hope - Bustle

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Navajo Nation switching to solar

The Navajos (Dine) will be closing down their coal power plant in 2019 but this doesn't mean they're going to hurt their economy. They are switching to sun.

Starving for nature

Access to nature is important for our well-being. It can be a week in the wilderness or 10 minutes watching bugs in an empty lot. It makes us feel better and heal faster. But in our increasingly urbanized civilizations, we may have to work to make time for it. Most of us have Nature Deficit Disorder.