Saturday, September 30, 2017

Global warming and colder winters

Many years ago, when the public was just learning about global warming, a colleague said we should be calling it "global weirding." The effects of climate change are varied and seemingly unpredictable, ironically leading to colder winters in some locations. This new study explains why and how it's happening.

The researchers found that ordinarily, the counter-clockwise flow of air that defines the polar vortex helps keep colder air near the Poles. But when sea-ice north of Scandinavia and Russia melts, the now ice-free ocean releases more warmth, which can rise as far as 18 miles into the stratosphere. It weakens that counter-clockwise circulation, allowing more cold air to escape further south. That leads to those unusually colder winters. The study authors found that they could attribute many of the coldest winters over the past 40 years to the weakening of the polar vortex. 

A warming Arctic can actually make our winters colder - Popular Science

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Electric aircraft?

EasyJet expects to have electric planes for short haul (less than 2 hr) flights within a decade. Short flights are responsible for more air pollution per mile than long flights because taking off uses so much fuel. We'll have to see if the batteries take up all the cargo space 😉 but it's an exciting development that could help the climate. (The tricky part is it would also reduce contrails which help block some of the sun, so we still need to get moving on reducing greenhouse gases from other sources.)

Climate change costs US $240 billion a year (before Harvey/Irma/Maria)

According to this recent study, just counting extreme weather events and health costs, the US is paying $240 billion each year over the last 10 years. And that was before the recent super-hurricane season. Since the US population is around 300 million, that means you personally paid on average $8000 over the last 10 years, and your spouse, each of your kids and grandkids.

Multiply $8000 times the number of people in your immediate family. Want to keep paying these bills or would it be cheaper to switch to renewables?

Before we got solar panels on our house, I signed my household up for green power with my local utility. It cost us about $3-5 extra each month (which, using the higher number, would have translated into $600 over the 10 year period.) Hmm, $600 vs $8000. You decide.

Hidden Costs of Climate Change Running Hundreds of Billions a Year - National Geographic

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A food bank that teaches people to grow their food

Certainly, feeding the hungry is a noble goal. But it doesn't solve the underlying problem. Why are they hungry in the first place? They don't make enough money to buy good food, they live in "food deserts" that don't have decent groceries, and can't grow their own food. In Pima County, the food bank is addressing the third problem, showing their customers how to grow and prepare healthy, fresh food.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Does sustainable tourism mean fewer tourists?

Hawaii is having a discussion about how many tourists are too many. They refer to Palau that has limited flights and tried to structure the packages to ensure their local community benefits and the environment doesn't suffer. Here's an NPR transcript. It may be a harbinger for tourist-based economies around the world.

Building flood-proof cities

This hurricane season has shown that our cities are poorly designed for heavy rainfall. Many cities are taking climate change seriously and are redesigning their cities to accommodate these extreme weather events.

Flooding is not just a hazard; it's also a waste. Typically all that fresh rainwater gets poured into storm drains instead of recharging aquifers or in the case of Chicago, Lake Michigan. When it rains there, less than 1% goes back to the lake. Instead it gets exported toward the Mississippi River, causing increasing flooding in other communities.

Here's an article about what creative solutions cities are pursuing to make them more like sponges and less like Saran Wrapped soil.

What would an entirely flood-proof city look like? - the guardian

Friday, September 22, 2017

US cities are leading the climate effort

Absent the Federal Government's support, US cities are moving ahead anyway on climate actions. Thank you, Steve Schliebs, for providing these examples:

Moab Ut, “Congratulations, Moab! Your City Council just voted to make you one of the first cities in the nation to run all of its domestic, commercial and government buildings on 100 percent renewable energy. With time, your resolution will help your community cut its total greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent.”

Santa Fe NM, “Mayor Javier Gonzales wants a study of whether Santa Fe can power all municipal facilities with renewable energy by 2025, a step toward sustainability that would build on previous city moves toward carbon-neutrality and reduced energy consumption in coming years."

Boulder Co, " Last night, the Boulder City Council approved a measure to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable electricity by 2030. The Council considered the move as a major step toward reaching the city’s longer-term goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050."

And here’s an article about Solar Ready Roof in the San Jose Mercury News:
“Home and building owners will not be required to install solar panels, but if they choose to do so, their roof will be ready.”

Bergen, NY
BERGEN – A commitment to cut costs and reduce energy consumption has earned the village of Bergen the designation as a Clean Energy Community by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
According to Mayor Anna Marie Barclay, the designation recognizes Bergen’s leadership in reducing energy use, cutting costs and driving clean energy locally.

Marshfield, Wi

Solar Central Wisconsin, a partnership between Mid-State Technical College, the city of Stevens Point, the city of Wisconsin Rapids, and the MREA, helps Wisconsin home and business owners take advantage of lowered prices for solar energy systems.

Kingston, NY
In addition to being a Climate Smart Community and having a climate commission, the city has a Climate Action Plan and was also named a “Clean Energy Community.”

“I think it’s very, very important in this day and time, with the way things are going in the country, that we show support for this because it’s part of the future,” Alderwoman Nina Dawson, D-Ward 4, said of the resolution. “We’re looking ahead.”

Glen Falls, NY
GLENS FALLS — A new electric car charging station scheduled to be installed on Saturday will allow the city to complete its $50,000 grant application for sustainability projects.

The six-bay electric-vehicle charging station is going in at the city’s Park Street parking garage according to Jeff Flagg, a resident who is a member of the special projects committee working on issues to reduce energy costs and help the environment.

Pleasanton, Ca

Pleasanton is one of two cities in Alameda County that has not signed up to participate in the East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) program.
EBCE, a joint powers agreement to operate a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program was established in December by Alameda County. A CCA allows local governments and some special districts to pool (or aggregate) their electricity load in order to purchase and/or develop power on behalf of residents, businesses, and municipal accounts.
Goals of the program are to promote renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide energy at a lower rate.

Traverse City, Mi

TRAVERSE CITY — Meeting a self-imposed goal of powering Traverse City's municipal operations with renewable energy by 2020 will require a yardstick of sorts to measure the city's progress.That's one of several tasks on which the city's "Green Team" is working, said team member and SEEDS Executive Director Sarna Salzman. The 14-member advisory board is also considering a strategy to meet that goal, and invited representatives from other Michigan cities that have pursued environmentally friendly approaches since its formation in December; city commissioners created the team at the same time they adopted the renewable energy goal.

Nederland, Co

On Tuesday, the Nederland, Colo., city council unanimously voted to power Nederland with 100% clean, renewable energy by 2025. The vote came shortly after the cities of Orlando, Fla., and Nevada City, Calif., established similar goals last week.

King City, Ca
By Steve Adams, City Manager, King City
The City Council recently took the first step in an effort that could potentially make King City a future leader of local clean energy production. A contract was approved with Pilot Power Group, Inc. to prepare the feasibility and technical analysis needed to determine the likelihood of success of forming the City’s own Congregated Choice Aggregation Program (CCA).

Salem, Or
With the national leadership denying climate science, and the state not moving on a carbon cap, our city council recently took local action to deal with the growing climate crisis. Thank you, Mayor Chuck Bennett and the Salem City Council for voting unanimously to add an Environmental Action Plan to the city goals.

Hanover, NH
Town Manager Julia Griffin on Tuesday said the board’s stance was a natural offshoot of its past support for ambitious renewable-energy goals for the town. The board and residents at this year’s Town Meeting voted to commit Hanover to attaining 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with all other energy sectors to follow by 2050.

How to make the US more equitable

The United States isn't the most unequal country. (That honor goes to South Africa.) We are #63, bracketed by Russia and Turkmenistan. In comparison, France is #113, Japan is #120, Denmark is #137 and Iceland is #146. While the goal should not be to make everyone have exactly the same amount of money, extreme inequality destabilizes societies. (Remember the French Revolution?) It also contributes to a host of social problems. In the book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better,

The [author] argues that there are "pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption".[5] It claims that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical healthmental healthdrug abuseeducationimprisonmentobesitysocial mobilitytrust and community life, violenceteenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal countries, whether rich or poor.[1] The book contains graphs that are available online.[6]

There are a number of reasons why our society has gotten more and more unequal. This link will take you to a report that discusses them and then explains what we must do to rewire our economic system for fairness. You can choose the 2-page overview, executive summary or whole report.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Climate change and the 2017 hurricane season

According to this article, most damage comes from extreme hurricanes (category 4-5) and those appear to be increasing in frequency, with 1/3 of them in the last 14 years.

There have been only 33 Category 5 storms in the Atlantic since hurricane records began in 1851. Twenty-three of them have formed since 1961; 11 in only the last 14 years. Part of that uptick comes from better weather monitoring equipment, like satellites that help us spot hurricanes before they make landfall. But even since we developed satellite technology, there’s been a measurable increase in major storms.

Amazing charts show greenhouse gas emissions by state

Want to know at a glance where your state's greenhouse gases are coming from, and whether they are growing or declining? These World Resources Institute interactive charts make it easy to find out.

Monday, September 18, 2017

How to be a zero waste city

"Zero waste" isn't exactly zero. Even in nature there is a little leakage (like carbon deposits that led to our fossil fuel bonanza). In industry, zero waste is defined as at least 90% diversion from the landfill. More and more cities are establishing zero waste goals. Check out this article that reveals the strategies they use.

Why would cities want to go for zero waste? We are burying millions of dollars of valuable materials. And some of those materials are a real problem for municipal landfills (like lead in old TV screens) which they then have to manage in perpetuity. And there are jobs in recycling. A Circular Economy is the future.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Climate change is giving carbon a bad rap

Carbon is an amazing element, critical to life. But increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are changing our planet. John Elkington suggests we need to change our relationship with carbon and make some distinctions.

But what is "carbon productivity"? It involves generating radically greater economic, social and environmental value from the carbon we use. Architect Bill McDonough nicely frames the new language of carbon, distinguishing between three types:
·         Living carbon: Organic, flowing in biological cycles, providing fresh food, healthy forests and fertile soil; something we want to cultivate and grow.
·         Durable carbon: Locked in stable solids such as coal and limestone or recyclable polymers that are used and reused; ranges from reusable fibres such as paper and cloth to building and infrastructure elements that can last for generations and then be reused
·         Fugitive carbon: Carbon that has ended up somewhere unwanted and can be toxic; includes carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, waste to energy plants, methane leaks, deforestation, much industrial agriculture and urban development

How cities and states are responding to the climate risk

Cities and states in the US aren't waiting for the Federal government to lead on climate change. They are taking matters into their own hands. Here's a quick summary.

A new survey of more than 100 American cities with at least 30,000 people, released exclusively Sunday to NBC News by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, found that nearly two-thirds of the cities are procuring green-fleet vehicles for city use and public transportation.
About two-thirds of the cities have also made commitments to require energy efficiency in all government buildings, and 63 percent have installed public charging stations for electric vehicles. Another 23 percent said they’re considering programs that would result in the installation.
The survey’s results "indicate the desire of cities of all sizes to do more to meet the challenges of clean energy and sustainable development," Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a joint statement.
 Forget Trump. The U.S. Storms Ahead on Climate Change Like Never Before - NBC News

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Your cleaning products may give you COPD

Chronic breathing problems don't just come from smoking or second hand smoke. Cleaning products can increase your risk. Have you ever sprayed a product on your shower and felt it in your lungs? It could be doing permanent damage. This is another reason to use green cleaning products. Vinegar and baking soda can clean almost anything.

Researchers say that weekly exposure to specific disinfectants was enough to raise the risk of having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by up to almost a third.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Climate battle in corporate boardrooms

Increasingly investors are demanding that companies reveal the risks of climate change to their shareholders. This year, shareholders are forcing the hand of companies like Exxon. Against the wishes of the board, they are voting to force companies to report climate risks. Here's why.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Building green after hurricanes

The horror of Hurricane Harvey and Irma should be a wake-up call for coastal communities. When devastated communities rebuild, the tendency is to recreate exactly what was there before. Instead, the devastation can be the ground from which a more sustainable community can be born: cleaner, safer, more efficient, with closer community relationships.

Do you know someone who lives in the region affected by Harvey or Irma? If so, make sure they know of this resource, Rebuilding After Disaster: Going Green from the Ground Up.

Would a universal basic income help or hurt our economy?

In the US we have the working poor, people sometimes with multiple jobs who still need public assistance to get by. As technology strips away jobs, it raises questions about how we will all earn a living. One answer being kicked around is the Universal Basic Income. In Alaska, everyone gets a payment from oil revenues which have been invested. It's a way to share the bounty nature provided but only few have to be employed to extract. According to this article,a UBI could actually improve the economy. Some think we could cut social programs to pay for it. What do you think?

A Universal Basic Income Would Do Wonders For The U.S. Economy - Fast Company

Monday, September 11, 2017

China planning to ban sales of internal combustion cars

China is a gigantic market for US automakers. So they certainly will sit up and take notice when China sets a full-stop deadline for internal combustion cars.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Ships cause storms and lightening

Ships are allowed to burn diesel that is many times more polluting that what people can put in trucks and cars. It's basically the bottom of the barrel crud. The thinking was, far out to sea, that pollution wouldn't do much harm. It would disburse. But take a look at this amazing map of lightening strikes over shipping lanes. Dirty diesel is creating its own storms.

Our pollution might actually be causing thunderstorms - Popular Science

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Using gravity to measure sea level changes

As snow and ice melt away from land,sea level rises. But not at the same rate everywhere on earth. NASA is using gravity to measure these changes. Not surprisingly, it bulges around the equator. Take a look at these cool (but disturbing) maps.

Sea level 'fingerprints' show how climate change is affecting Earth - Daily Mail

In a nutshell: 5 ways climate change has contributed to hurricane damage

You probably already understand how warmer temps make for warmer oceans which makes for more energetic storms and moisture in the atmosphere. But climate change may also be driving the storms toward land for longer periods. Here's a brief but clear explanation of how climate change changes these natural storm systems.

5 Ways Climate Change May Be Making Hurricanes Worse - TIME

Friday, September 8, 2017

7 principles for redesigning cities

These principles willl help us develop our cities in a way that makes room for increased population, reduces the cost of housing, improves our relationships and cuts carbon emissions. China, of all places, is taking these principles seriously to solve pressures of population growth, gridlock and air pollution.

7 principles for building better cities

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Albuqueque reduced homelessness by 40% with simple solutions

Albuqueque has become an innovator in solving homelessness. Listen to the mayor in this inspiring TEDTalk.

A practical way to help the homeless find work and safety

Sustainable Design: making diamonds from air pollution and a chair for naysayers

This TedTalk is of a designer from the Netherlands who, among other things, created a solar bike path inspired by Van Gogh, a contraption that cleans the air and then makes the waste into diamond rings, and a chair that zaps people when they say two creativity-destroying words.

I like the quote he shares, attributed to Canadian futurist, Marshall McLuhan

"There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Green infrastructure: letting Nature manage flooding

In the news, people have been blaming both climate change and development practices for the severity of Harvey in Houston. Of course 50 inches of rain would be a problem for any community. But when we "paved over paradise" as Joni Mitchell sang, it makes everything worse. Of course you can build higher walls along rivers, but that only shunts the water into someone else's town. Mechanical systems like pumps can fail. The best approach is to plan for much worse weather events and let Nature do the work.

In Curitiba, Brazil, they believed that, "Every river has the right to flood." So they built parks with dry ponds along the river. When it flooded, no one got hurt and the excess water filled the dry ponds, slowing its progress downstream.

Here's an article about green infrastructure in the context of Harvey. I noticed in particular this best practice:

Philadelphia has one of the most aggressive low-impact development strategies. Since 2006, it’s required all new construction over 15,000 square feet to have its own systems capable of handling 1.5 inches of rainfall to alleviate pressure on its aging stormwater infrastructure.
 The Cities Of The 21st Century Will Be Defined By Water - Fast Company

What's in your water? Plastic.

Most people are aware that the oceans are filled with plastic. Now this study shows our tap water is too. And the US has some of the worst concentrations. Don't react by buying plastic bottles of water. Instead, pass this onto your water department, health department, the EPA and congressional representatives.

Anyone know of a water filter that takes this out?

Bee smart

Did you know that most bees don't make honey, that a lot of our crops are pollinated by native bees. These solitary, usually sting-less creatures are also in trouble. What can you do? Replace lawns with native flowers. For more interesting factoids and pictures, go here...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why renewable energy and transportation will be here before you expect

This video is well worth watching because it will help you make better choices about energy and transportation, at home or at work. You'll learn why oil will likely drop to $25 a barrel but still people will get rid of their internal combustion engine. Most won't own a car at all.

If these trends happen anywhere near the predictions, this switch may happen within the next few years, in the timeframe when many choose another car. This video should also give you a sense of what to invest in and what to sell soon. Humans are not good at understanding exponential changes or disruptive technologies. This is an inoculation against our own ignorance and its uplifting. If you're bummed by Harvey or can't bring yourself to see Gore's latest movie, at least watch this. Then let us know what you think.

Lessons from Harvey apply to inland communities

In Arizona, we may not be at risk of storm surges but we certainly are at risk of flooding and other climate-fueled weather disasters. Here are 10 lessons all communities can adapt to their situation.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Life off the Rez

According to this article, the vast majority of Native Americans live off the reservations, in cities. They have more economic opportunities there but it tends to tear them away from their culture, a terrible trade-off. Read this to learn what life is like for them. What can be done?

A store for Zero-Waste, Zero Packaging products

Typically when you buy stuff, you also buy the packaging. And then you have to pay to dispose of the packaging or take it to the recycling center. Years ago, my former business partner noticed that she was buying cereal in a box, which then had a plastic liner. She'd put the box out with her curbside recycling and then buy another box. It was costing her about an extra $1 per box vs buying similar cereal in just a bag. "Why am I paying a dollar a week to trade a box back and forth with Kellogg?" she wondered. Now imagine the plastic bag disappears too.

Here's a store that is committed to zero waste and zero packaging. It's in the U.K. but you can buy a lot of  product in bulk in the US. And some companies are experimenting with selling personal care products like creams and shampoos like bars of soap. Here's a recipe for making your own solid bar of shampoo.

'Zero-waste' stores put consumers on frontline in fight against packaging - Engineering News

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Climate change is changing the coastal real estate market

Buyer beware. It's starting to dawn on people, especially investors, that ocean-front property might not be such a great purchase. In Florida, it seems investment is moving to higher ground and wealthy Floridians are buying second homes in inland states so they can have a place to flee to. What happens to markets and cities around the edge of our country as this trend picks up?

How Harvey – and climate change – could change American real estate - the guardian

Friday, September 1, 2017

Vegetarian fast food

You probably know that vegetarian and vegan meals have a much lighter footprint on the planet. This fast food restaurant serves vegetarian and gluten free meals. They hope to expand across the US. The article also mentions a drive-thru salad bar in AZ.