Thursday, November 30, 2017

How we fund a sustainable future

The Sustainable Development Goals are targets set by the international community to get to a sustainable society. They include things like zero hunger, and clean energy. But the nations of the world that agreed to these goals have underfunded them. How do we fill the gap?

According to this article, we need smart government policies and a growth in new funding mechanisms like green bonds and green banks.

Cities and states: Ignore climate change and pay more for bonds

Moody's is factoring in climate-related risks into their bond ratings for communities. If communities that are at great risk for sea level rise or weather disasters do nothing, they will start having to pay a lot more interest on municipal bonds.

How to get to a clean energy future fast enough to matter

The International Energy Agency has just released different roadmaps to get to a clean energy future while also solving air pollution and lack of access to electricity in developing countries. One of the scenarios involves going carbon negative (rather than simply reducing rates of emissions).

We can no longer claim we don’t know how to do this. We just have to want to.

Here’s a road map for solving 3 of the world’s biggest problems - Vox

Monday, November 27, 2017

What to do with coal fired power plants that aren't due for shutdown?

Sweden's answer to this question is to convert them to waste-to-energy plants. See the link below.

When I went on a study tour to Sweden and Denmark, I was fascinated to see how they were using waste-to-energy not only to deal with waste that couldn't be recycled but also to create heat for nearby households as well as using this thermal system as a way to store excess energy from wind power at night. These are amazingly clean plants, not like the horrid incinerators the US built decades ago. 

It helps that they didn't build these plants in the middle of no-where so they can get the heat where it's needed. In Copenhagen there's a powerplant that doubles as a ski slope! But in the US we could at least keep coal-fired power-station jobs and reduce landfill waste while the waste heat can keep the plant going.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Creative housing solutions

Perhaps you’ve noticed we don’t live like the old TV show, Leave It to Beaver, anymore. Our society has changed but not so much our housing. Baby Boomers are living longer but their kids can’t afford a home. Workforce housing, especially for those on the low end of the salary scale, if it exists at all is miles away from work, necessitating cars or long bus commutes. The trend toward bigger spaces is now being challenged by interest in tiny homes. And then we have communities destroyed by climate-fueled weather disasters.

This short video series shows some creative responses including multi-generational housing in Los Angeles and half-houses in Chile where poor people can over time build the other half and increase their wealth. This link will take you to the first video. At the bottom are links to the others in the series.

One roof, three homes: America catches on to multigenerational living – video | Cities | The Guardian -

Measuring sustainability: Making sense of terms

The old maxim, "What gets measured gets managed," tends to be true for sustainability as well. But there is common confusion about 'goals,' 'metrics,' etc. Public figures or CEOs may be reluctant to set sustainability goals that get to full sustainability because it may look unrealistic or like they're not making much progress. Here's a hierarchy of terms that may help you develop a system to measure progress toward sustainability in your organization or community.

Sustainable Target should represent the sustainable end-point, what we are shooting for, what state we need to achieve to be sustainable. If you don’t describe a fully sustainable state, claims of intentions to be a sustainable community or company aren’t credible. These are often expressed as zero ___ or 100% ___: zero hunger, climate neutral, 100% renewable energy, zero waste, etc. These targets should be based on credible sustainability frameworks that define full sustainability like The Natural Step principles or the UN Sustainability Goals. These targets are critical because they clarify what we're shooting for and open up alternative paths to get there. (For example, while energy efficiency is important toward reducing greenhouse gases, you can't just keep chasing that goal to zero. We will always need some energy. What matters is where we get it and what else is disrupting the climate.)

Indicators are those things we will look at to see if we are making progress toward the targets: people below the poverty line, climate change, river flows, Endangered Species.

Metrics are the precise way we will measure the indicators. Eg, SNAP (food stamps) as a percent of households, community greenhouse gas emissions per capita and also the absolute/total per year.

Goals for those metrics can describe something less than full sustainable performance bounded by time. Eg, By 2025 the community will get 25% of its power from renewable energy. Near-term goals should be realistic, based on what can be done and available technologies. Longer-term goals will also be driven by Nature’s needs, science and the sustainable target. If scientists say we need to have 80% reduction of GHGs by 2050, we best not have only a goal of a 10% reduction by 2045! Logically, the goal that far out better be closer to 75%.

ISIS uses climate change as recruiting tool

New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman was the first I saw to connect climate change to conflict in the Middle East:

climate change—>drought—>social upheaval—>ham-handed government response = Syrian war.

But now evidence is building that ISIS is deliberately using climate change and droughts as a recruiting tool.

Climate Change and Water Woes Drove ISIS Recruiting in Iraq - National Geographic

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Car charging stations that generate their own power

This is a slick system for charging cars because it could be plunked down anywhere, even where there is no power. It doesn’t even require concrete. It can go up in minutes.

Changing how we talk about climate

How climate change advocates communicate climate change can be part of the problem. This TEDTalk illuminates the mental barriers that prevent people from acting and provides 5 strategies for being more effective.

Image: screen capture from TEDTalk, Espen Stoknes

How to transform apocalypse fatigue into action on global warming

Friday, November 24, 2017

Sustainability and the long view

In part because we move around a lot in our society, we are all affected by “ecological amnesia.” When we move to a new place, we assume what we see is the baseline, that it was always like that, and then get huffy when we see things change (like a new housing development.) But we tend to be blind to how that ecosystem has already been disrupted. For example, before I interviewed Forest Service employees, I didn’t realize that the Verde Valley used to have far more grasslands and that the rivers spread over a much larger territory. But grazing led to more trees (that the cattle couldn’t eat) and rivers have gotten channelized through development and erosion.

So it can be helpful at times to look back in time and see how things have changed. This scientific paper was just updated after 25 years. We try to avoid doom and gloom in this blog because it tends to drive people to despair. But we don’t believe in putting our heads in the sand either. Periodically we need to take a clear-eyed look at where we are.

Fortunately on page three, column one, this article also lists things we can do to turn things around, things like:

  • Creating protected reserves
  • Restoring native plants
  • Eating a plant-based diet and reducing food waste
  • Increasing nature-based education
  • Making family planning services available to all

You can make a difference in your own personal life for all these actions. You can donate to organizations that are establishing reserves or offering family planning, you can plant native plants in your yard, you can eat your fruits and veggies, you can take kids into nature. You are not a helpless witness to humanity’s mistakes. You are a part of the solution.

NASA: watch the earth breathe and climate change

You can now watch life expand and contract with the seasons and see long-term changes over time. Watch this short video. Mesmerizing!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Why science says we need to get out in nature

Biophilia is the term for humans’ need for nature. In this article, I learned that we react differently to forests than parks or green space. But in any case, after your Thanksgiving meal, get outside and thank Nature for all she brings us.

Here's even more evidence that you need to spend time enjoying nature - Popular Science

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Just in time for Black Friday: Giving gifts that give back

I don’t know about you, but I detest how our culture elevates consumption during the holidays. The media hypes it as if they’re town criers: Buy! Buy! Get the greatest deals! Limited supply!

It’s no wonder people get crushed rushing into the stores.

But if you do have people on your shopping list, you can reduce income inequality by simply shifting about 5% of your purchasing to poor neighborhoods. Try out a coffee shop, eat lunch at a hole-in-the-wall ethnic bistro, check out the arts and crafts place. Buy your groceries once in a while in that neighborhood.

Researchers were shocked to find that if as few as 5 percent of commercial transactions were changed—so that capital flowed from richer to poorer neighborhoods—income inequality in those cities was drastically reduced, up to 80 percent.

Want an alternative to the Holi-daze? Give charities. You’ll find a bunch of charities you never heard of if you start searching for ones tied to interests of your family members.

When my neice was a tweener, she was in love with snow leopards. So I adopted one in her name for a year. My godchild was an avid soccer player so I found a charity that gives soccer balls to kids in war-torn areas to give them a sense of normalcy. When my neice grew up, I once asked her about my practice of giving charities: did she think it was weird, a cop out or did she like it? She said it was really cool; she got to brag about adopting an animal, supporting it for a year. And what about my soccer godchild? When I gave him a graduation check, he decided to give half of it away to charity.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dying in childbirth: going up in US when it’s going down virtually everywhere else

Childbirth can be a scary time. It’s worse in the US because we have a higher rate of maternal mortality than many other countries and it’s getting worse, not better. And heaven help you if you’re African American. Those women die at 4 times the rate of White women. Some believe it’s the lack of access to health care. Others think it could be tied to obesity. Both are affected by income inequality.

Just in time: how to reduce Thanksgiving food waste

Whether you’re planning turkey or tofurkey, Thanksgiving tends to be a time we relish in gluttony. But it’s not just our waistlines we should worry about. Often some of that excess food also ends up in the trash. Here are some practical tips for reducing food waste this holiday.

Your guide to a Thanksgiving dinner without food waste - Popular Science

Monday, November 20, 2017

What do you get when you cross a bike with a treadmill?

Answer: a Lopifit. You walk on this contraption but can go 25 kilometers an hour (about 15 mph) versus a brisk walk at 3 mph. It has an electric motor. Looks like fun.

Why did these farmers voluntarily pay a lot more for water?

Agriculture uses about 70% of our water, but we gotta eat, right? These Colorado farmers realized that their aquifer was rapidly depleting, so they decided they should pay more for water, a lot more, 3-4 times as much.

What happened? They reduced their water use by about 30% and are still thriving as businesses. The aquifer is recharging. There’s a lesson here for the West.

As for farmer Messick, he says the payoff is worth the added costs.
"It seems stupid to actually tax yourselves and cost yourself more money," Messick says. "But the big picture is you stay in business, you keep your community whole and everybody gives a little."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What would happen if everyone went vegan in the US

Agriculture greats a lot of greenhouse gases, uses a lot of water, and most uses a lot of synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. So what would the effects be if all Americans became vegan. This scientific study indicates it might be somewhat less than previously thought.

According to a new study, a nation of 320 million vegans would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by some 28%, far less than the amount now produced by the livestock industry. The authors claim the switch could also lead to deficiencies in key nutrients—including calcium and several vitamins.

That said, 28% reduction in greenhouse gases would still be something to savor. Take a look at their assumptions to see if you agree with their findings.

Going out in eco-style

Even your last act can make a difference to your family and the earth. Instead of paying a fortune to the funeral industry, more and more people are exploring greener, cheaper alternatives.

When I was on a volunteer vacation to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, I was shocked to find that the cemetary and the lake below was a polluted ‘brownfield site,’ thanks to formaldehyde in the embalming fluid.

This method (of burial) also consumes a great deal of natural resources. Each year, we bury800,000 gallons of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, 115 million tons of steel, 2.3 billion tons of concrete, and enough wood to build 4.6 million single-family homes.
I don’t want to lock the atoms I’ve borrowed at the time of my death in a hermetically sealed box. They aren’t my atoms anyway; you don’t die with the same atoms you were born with. Your body is constantly trading atoms with Nature.  I want my last atoms to go back into circulation. That’s my version of reincarnation. I’ll come back as a tree, a grub and maybe a butterfly.

What do you want?

If you’re curious about options, here’s a recent article.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Here’s a way coal country could participate in renewables

Of course the flattened mountains left by “mountain top removal” could sport solar panels. But Germany is looking into using the mines as a water-battery. Usually these “pumped storage hydropower” systems involve pumping water up to a lake during periods of excess power (eg, wind at night) and then flowing the water downhill through turbines when we need a bit more. But that requires pretty good hills and land for reservoirs.

But what about the mines? They are verticle storage too.
The upper reservoir was set to be built on existing infrastructure, while the lower reservoir would be located more than 500 meters deep in the rock.
I just hope the engineers create a closed system because any water that goes down in the mine will come back seriously polluted if it touches rock.

Here's why coal mines could be crucial cogs in the transition to renewables - CNBC

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Why sustainability should be part of STEM/STEAM

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (add art) are popular trends in education right now. They are certainly important skills to be teaching our youth but we must be careful to prepare them to address the problems of the 21st century, not make them worse.

In our view, STEAM is a means (how) and sustainability should be the end-in-mind (why).

We see at least four benefits in embedding sustainability principles into STEM/STEAM programs:

Innovation should be directed toward solving the world's problems.  Teaching kids to build robots is fine, but what about having them build robots that can clean up an oil spill, plant trees, or open doors for amputees? Sustainability, writ large, encompasses all the big problems of the world. Linking STEAM and sustainability can increase student engagement. They want to be part of the solution, not a helpless recipient of previous generations' mishaps.

Systems thinking reduces unintended consequences. Too often we have solved one problem only to create a bigger one. Think of DDT or the pesticide/food production/bee problem. Since sustainability involves looking at the interconnections between the environment, economy and community, it reduces the chance that innovations will have serious unintended consequences. At a minimum sustainable thinking will help identify potential consequences so they can be managed.

Sustainability already has a robust toolbox. The typical engineering approach has been called Heat-Beat-Treat. The industrial society has been Take-Make-Waste. Both are unsustainable. We certinaly don't want to be reinforcing that thinking with our youth. Instead sustainability practitioners have developed a large suite of tools that might inspire or inform STEAM projects. For example, biomimicry uses nature as inspiration. Already companies are making paints inspired by the cleaning process of lotus leaves or bullet-proof vests based on the strength of spider filament. Here's a short list of techniques that students could draw upon:
Employers are looking for people with sustainability knowledge. This region is trying to brand itself as a sustainable destination, so we will need people who understand these concepts to help bring our institutions and businesses up to expectations. More and more careers have a sustainability component and new careers are being born. Countries around the world are working toward 17 Sustainable Development Goals (like zero hunger, clean energy, sustainable communities).

Why is it hard for some to embrace a plant-based diet?

For me, becoming a vegetarian was a relief. It’s so tricky to cook beef or fish just right. You have to worry about salmonella from chicken. I felt bad about how animals were treated. Groceries were cheaper without the meat and fish, and it was suddenly easy to keep off the weight. The only seriously over-weight vegetarian I ever knew preferred Mac-and-cheese and cheesecake to more normal vegetarian fare.

I still feel a little guilty about the dairy and eggs, but I tried the vegan yogurt-equivalent and just couldn’t get into it. And then there’s cheese. I try to comfort myself that we don’t eat a lot of either and I try to buy from responsible producers. At least nothing had to die to feed me (well, other than the carrots, and if I’m honest calves so I could have a little milk.)

With fears of climate change, some are calling for everyone to become vegetarian or vegan. But this Popular Science article asserts that it’s unrealistic. According to the article, five times more people lapse than stick with it. One of the barriers is that it can make people feel awkward in the dominate meat-eating society. That might change if plant based diets were the norm. But this article suggests we should give up the hope of this happening. What do you think?

Stop pretending that all Americans could ever go vegan - Popular Science

The advice I give people who are interested is to switch gradually and don’t make it your identity. Why do we say, ‘I’m a vegetarian,’ instead of, ‘I prefer eating vegetarian.’ Meatless Mondays can be matched with Meatless Wednesdays and Saturdays as you learn how to make delicious meals. Every time you choose vegetarian, you’re doing something good for the Earth and likely your body.

But you don’t have to be ‘religious’ about it. If you can’t imagine Thanksgiving without turkey, buy a free range bird that at least had a happy life and isn’t filled with artificial hormones. If you almost never eat meat, then it can become an amazing treat when you do. Confession: on the few times during the year when we have breakfast out, I really enjoy the bacon! And when my friend cooks a salmon on a cedar plank, it’s a gift from nature. Rather than scarfing down dead animals in every sandwich without thinking, honor their lives if and when you do eat them.

Why insurance companies are divesting fossil fuels

Insurance companies have been worrying about climate change for decades. They end up footing the bill for a lot of weather damage and the expansion of disease throws off their actuarial tables.

But until recently, their fears hadn’t affected their investments. But that is changing. The largest insurance companies are based in Europe and they are starting to dump fossil fuel stocks. There’s a nice diagram showing why this matters to them, how their investments had been fueling the same problems they had been trying to avoid.

Growing number of global insurance firms divesting from fossil fuels - the guardian

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Want to know what a corporation’s sustainability goals are? is a database of corporate goals related to corporate responsibility or sustainability. You can search by category (what are people measuring regarding climate change?) or by organization (what is Royal Dutch Shell shooting for?)

My first searches turned up nothing so it’s not comprehensive but it’s a useful resource.

We need a regional composting system

Here’s a startling factoid:

The impact of diverting the entirety of food waste in the United States from landfills is equivalent to removing 7.8 million passenger cars from the nation’s streets, according to the U.S. Composting Council.
The reason we want to compost organic waste is not just to recover the nutrients; when you put this waste in the landfill where it has no oxygen, it generates methane, 25 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide generated in the compost piles.

Seattle makes it mandatory and convenient. What about Sedona? Not so much.  If you think we should have a composting facility for yard waste and food waste, along with curbside pick up, tell the City and County. Here’s an excerpt of my presentation to the Sedona City Council about a month ago.
Sustainability is now a household term. Increasingly our visitors and residents are coming from communities that have better sustainable practices than we. Just this weekend I was walking thru the parking lot of one of the timeshares and this woman, holding a bag of food scraps, asked “Don’t they compost here?” If you don’t act, there is a risk that we may disappoint our visitors who are increasingly savvy about sustainability, undermining our reputation as an enlightened community that cares about health and the environment. We don’t want our visitors to feel vaguely guilty that they came.
The opportunity, if we do this right, is to become a destination for people to learn about sustainability, sending home millions of visitors with inspiring examples to take back to their communities.
As a postscript, when I mentioned this to a friend who lives here half the year, she said, “It makes me crazy” that we don’t compost.

Here’s an article for those who may be squeamish about saving your food scraps.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Within 3 years, your electric car can drive from Norway to Italy

Europe initially chose the wrong vehicle platform, encouraging diesel.  Now they are building a network of around 10000 charging stations, including Norway, UK and all the way to Italy. They are building the system with plans for upgrades to 350 kW which will charge cars in a jiffy.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Splenda: why scientists track your artificial sweeteners

Those ubiquitous pink and yellow packets and zero calorie drinks. Splenda/Sucralose seemed like such a great idea. Take sugar, replace a couple hydrogen and oxygen elements with chlorine and it still tastes sweet, but your body can’t use it. Apparently neither can anything else.

Imagine you drink a can of “diet” soda and then, eventually, Nature calls. Virtually all the Sucralose goes right through the wastewater treatment system into rivers, aquifers or even seas. Norway has found measurable levels in the North Sea. It doesn’t appear to break down when exposed to sun and has roughly a two year half-life. It’s not clear what the long term effects will be. A study published by the American Chemical Society indicates:
Degradation only occurred to a limited extent during hydrolysis, ozonation, and microbial processes indicating that breakdown of sucralose will likely be slow and incomplete leading to accumulation in surface waters

It’s unclear what the environmental impact may be given that most organisms can’t recognize it. But if it goes into streams or lakes faster than it can break down, it definitely will build up.

Some scientist find this property of being persistent useful. They are using Sucralose as a tracer to see where wastewater ends up.

It’s not just in diet drinks. You’ll find these sweeteners in some brands of toothpaste,  kettle corn popcorn, power bars, chewing gums and even a Gerber product for babies’ teeth. Click here for one list of products containing Sucralose.

What’s in your fridge or cabinet?  Tell us if you find something you didn’t consider a diet product to contain it.

Sugar: C12H22O11

Sucralose: C12H19Cl3O8

Dogs are helping us fight invasive species

Dogs find victims after earthquakes, mines in war zones and drugs in suitcases. Now they are helping the fight against invasive species.

Meet the very good dogs who hunt down invasive species - Popular Science

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What really would change climate deniers’ minds?

This is a provocative piece on how to get the US to accept the science on climate change. The author asserts that trying to frame it in language conservatives like won’t work. He calls into question certain widely held assumptions (like politics works best through agreement and compromise.) Read this and let me know what you think of his analysis and suggested approach. The US stands alone on the world stage ignoring climate change and that is driven by political ...not so much ideology as interests.

Conservatives probably can’t be persuaded on climate change. So now what? - Vox

Friday, November 10, 2017

Acequias: a democratic way to keep SW water growing food

Western Water Rights have significant unintended side-effects. The Colorado River is committed to give up more water than it has, never mind the needs of the fish. People with water rights are faced with use-it-or-lose-it rules so some irrigate lovely lawns in a desert or grow crops ill-suited to the land.

In Oregon, the Deschutes Water Trust was developed so that people with water rights could donate their rights for a year, writing off the value as a charitable donation, leaving the water in the river.

Efforts in Camp Verde, AZ have taken a different approach, operating more like carbon offsets. The Verde River Exchange needs two parties: someone who wants to sell their water rights and a buyer.

Acequias are an ancient, democratic process for sharing precious water in the desert. This process is more likely to keep water growing food instead of being diverted to the highest bidder like cities or dirty industries.

Whatever method we use, we need to address water conservation. We are already over-drawing (see the graph of Verde River low-flow points for three different points in the river over 5 decades) and droughts will become more fierce with climate change.

Yuck, What's in our Rivers? (Dashboard report)

Recently, we explored the endangered and invasive species in our region. This article addresses water quality: the pollutants in our rivers, where the pollutants come from, and what can be done. Thank you to the Red Rock Ranger District for helping us compile this information.

Water Quality Quiz                                                                          

  1. What percentage of our rivers in the Verde Valley meet the standards for their intended uses?

  2. What is the most common pollutant and where does it come from?
3. On a scale from 1-5, how clean is Oak Creek and the Verde River?
    (1 = Clean enough for its intended uses to 5 = Significant long-term pollution issues)

See the answers at the bottom of this article.

What’s the situation?

In our desert landscape, our rivers are precious.  Each of the stream segments is rated on the degree to which it meets (“attains”) standards for its intended uses.  Obviously, if you have people swimming in a stream, you may have higher standards than if it’s used for farming.

The chart below shows what percentage of stream-miles from Oak Creek all the way down to Fossil Creek that are currently meeting water quality standards.  Unfortunately, only 20% are clean enough for all the uses we intend for them (the green pie slice).  Almost the same percentage have long-term violations of water quality standards (the red pie slice).  The rest of our streams are somewhere in between.

The map below uses the same categories so you can see where the most polluted areas are.

What are the causes of these problems?  E. coli is the most prevalent problem, which is responsible for almost 30 percent of the pollution in our streams and rivers.  A main source of this E. coli is from people: ‘going in the woods,’ not picking up after their dogs, or leaving dirty diapers.  It also comes from the feces of mammals attracted to garbage left near the streams. 

Diminished levels of dissolved oxygen (DO) account for nearly 20 percent of our streams’ problems. DO is the amount of oxygen dissolved in a body of water and is the most important indicator of the health of a body of water.  DO is vital for the survival of aquatic life and the water’s ecosystem. Wastewater containing organic (oxygen consuming) pollutants, such as fertilizers and animal manure, depletes the dissolved oxygen and harms aquatic life.  Water temperature also affects DO levels. Colder water can hold more oxygen than warmer water.  As our waters warm, levels of DO decrease.

Other pollutants include pollution from old mining practices, sediment from fire damage, and human activity including development, off-road vehicles and social trails.

What can be done?

Educate the public, locals and visitors alike: Since the most common pollutant is E. Coli, we need to make sure that locals and visitors clean up after themselves and their pets.  Teach “Leave No Trace” ethics.
Rethink recreation: We love our rivers - to death.  We need to better manage where people go, how many go there at a time, and where certain activities are allowed.  We need to create plans to reduce impacts at high-use recreation sites along perennial waters.  The registration system for Fossil Creek is a model that could be considered for Slide Rock State Park and other popular river access locations.  There are places where off-road vehicles (ORV) still drive in the river.  We need to create appropriate sites for ORV drivers to have fun without disturbing our rivers or neighbors.

Encourage farmers to better manage their lands.  Nitrogen and phosphorous pollution from fertilizers and manure are both tied to farming practices.  Farmers sometimes use more fertilizer than they need, figuring a bit too much is better than not enough.  When fertilizer runs off, it means it wasn’t taken up by the plants.  It was wasted, and now it’s a pollutant.  But timing when fertilizer is applied and better controlling when it’s needed can save farmers money and save the streams.  Likewise, keeping livestock and their waste out of our streams and rivers keeps nitrogen and phosphorous out of our water.  Resource: 

Reprocess mining pollution: If you’ve been to Jerome, you’ve seen the mountain of mine tailings (dump sites for solid waste byproducts of mining).  Many tailings are toxic and damage the environment.  In fact, mining and industrial pollution is all over the county.  According to, we have 26 superfund sites in Yavapai County.  Resource: 

When it rains, these toxic materials leach into the soil, groundwater and surface water.  In some situations, however, these trace minerals and metals can be extracted without making the situation worse.  Novel reprocessing technologies to extract valuable metals and minerals from the waste are being developed using mechanical and natural processes, such as bioremediation.  Bioremediation uses microorganisms or plants to consume environmental pollutants.  Some of these plants can then be harvested and burned to collect the metal left in the ash.  Arizona State University has a bioremediation lab working on this innovative technology. 

Answers to the quiz
1.     About 20%
2.     E. coli from people (when they don’t use the toilets or when they leave diapers behind), their pets (when their masters don’t pick up), and feces from wildlife attracted to garbage left near streams.
3.     The majority of Oak Creek rates a 4, not clean enough for its intended uses.  The Verde River ranges from 1-5 depending on which sections you’re referring to.  The longest sections rate a 3 and a 5.

Major investment firm using climate data to assess risk

Long-term trends can help you invest wisely, espeically if you identify the trends earlier than competitors. Deutsche Bank is using climate date to identify facilities that are most at risk to climate disruption.

A cool source for carbon offsets

Cool Effect is a website where you can invest in projects around the world that reduce greenhouse gases. They don’t have a place on the site to calculate your GHGs (see our earlier post, “Your business can be climate neutral”) but just perusing the projects is delightful. Even if you don’t calculate your GHGs now you might find projects you’d like to support through crowdfunding donations: rainforest restoration, clean cookstoves, methane recapture on Native American land, etc.

Cool Effect’s website:

Article about Cool Effect:

7 Trends that show we can beat climate change

At the Sustainability Alliance, we avoid the doom and gloom because it paralyzes people. It sends them into denial or despair. We want to empower people, energizing everyone to be part of the solution.

Here’s an article on 7 megatrends, including charts, that show we may be able to reverse climate change faster than we thought. There’s a role for everyone in these trends; the choices you make can make a difference.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Plan for renewable power cheaper than business-as-usual

How would you like to eliminate greenhouse gases from electricity, make electricity cheaper and create 36 million jobs. Here’s how. Note the huge percentage of solar power in the mix.

The real value of urban trees

Increasing tree canopy in cities has a number of beneficial effects. They hold soil, reduce flooding and clean the air. Here are a few interesting factoids:

  • Denver saves an average of $6.7 million every year on energy costs alone because of the city’s urban forest. 
  • Roadside trees can reduce nearby indoor pollution by more than 50 percent
  • In Baltimore, a 10 percent increase in tree canopy corresponded to a 12 percent decrease in crime.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Australia's renewable power driving prices below zero at times

The utility industry is complicated. One challenge is when they make electricity it must be used. So if they make too much at one point during the day, they sell it to other communities that need it. Those prices are very volatile.

This article about Australia's penetration of renewable power caught my eye because it's driven these spot prices into negative territory, having to pay other utilities to take your power.

(Thanks, Marty Landa, for sharing this!)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Why most “biodegradeable” plastics aren’t a good idea

Trying to have our cake and eat it too, it seemed plastic bags that are biodegradeable might be the perfect solution. But research is showing it’s causing more harm to our oceans. A number of countries are banning them. Here’s why.

Don’t forget your canvas bag.

Assessment of the City of Sedona

The Sustainability Alliance recently conducted an internal sustainability assessment for the City of Sedona using the Sustainable Business Certification as the basis. Through this assessment, Sedona qualified for Bronze/Conservationist.

Some of Sedona's noteworthy practices include using local contractors when they can, demonstrating positive employment practices, and conserving/recycling water. Paints are all no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) and the paint comes in a pouch that can be recycled—no paint cans to dispose of!

"I would recommend the assessment to anyone interested in advancing sustainable practices. The process is easy and simple to complete. The best part is we are left with good practical information on where we are already strong and tips on how we can improve our commitment to sustainability." —Justin Clifton, Sedona City Manager

Why is this greenhouse pink?

This greenhouse can gro food but it also produces electricity and saves water.

Monday, November 6, 2017

SURVEY: What should our social/economic/environmental priorities be?


There's an old saying: What gets measured gets managed. Right now some agencies track metrics related to sustainability: APS tracks renewable energy production; ADEQ tracks water quality; has employment data. But these are scattered and don't always reflect the intersection of sustainable values. (For example, we don't want any jobs; we want living wage jobs that don't hurt the environment and add value to our community.)

We need your input. Take this short 6-question survey to help set priorities for the region. Should we be working toward zero waste, zero hunger, or climate neutrality. What about water conservation, transportation options, living wage jobs or workforce housing? Don't worry that the goals may not be economically or technologically feasible now. Tell us what you think are the most important goals to pursue. Click here to take the survey.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Would veganism save or hurt the planet?

Pushing people to change their diets on behalf of the planet is twitchy stuff. People take what they eat very personally. Culture, habit and family traditions can feel under assault.

While it’s true that a significant amount of greenhouse gases come from animal ag (eg, from manure slurry ponds , cow farts/burps and forests turned into grassland), it matters how the animals are raised, where they are raised and most of all, what happens to the land and the communities if the ranches go under.

If we all stopped eating beef, what would happen to the land? - Popular Science

Saturday, November 4, 2017

How to choose a good carbon credit

More and more people are voluntarily paying to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. You’d be surprised how little it can cost. I used to buy carbon offsets for my consulting firm and it generally ran about $50 per person per year. For a household that likes to travel a bit, you’re probably looking at a couple hundred dollars a year, maybe $20-40 a month. Think of it like your donation to PBS or your church.

You can buy green Power but if you use natural gas to cook or heat your home, there arent equivalent programs. When you fly, some carriers and websites let you buy carbon offsets but how good are they? This article mentions a number of reputable certified offset providers.

Here’s a link to our post on how to measure and offset your emissions.

Costs and benefits of development: green strategies

It’s no wonder municipalities are usually in favor of development, even when their residents many not be.
According to a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) study, the construction 100 single-family houses typically generates $28,670,800 in wages, taxes and income for local businesses. It also supports 394 jobs. After construction is finished, 100 occupied new homes add around $4 million and 69 jobs each year to the local economy.
But of course there are big environmental costs.
Building a typical two-bedroom house produces around 80 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which is equal to the emissions of about five new cars.
Not to mention, all those materials came from someplace in nature.

This article offers a few green building strategies to reduce these impacts, but I would add:

Redevelop. Rather than sprawling over more and more habitat, upgrade old (non-historic), inefficient properties, increasing density where appropriate.

Reuse. Don’t demolish old structures; deconstruct them. And then reuse or recycle components. One building in Portland claimed to have reused or recycled over 90% of the materials.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Good news: 47 countries already have falling greenhouse gas emissions

Peak emissions is the term for when greenhouse gases stop going up and start going down. According to the recent study by the World Resources Institute,

WRI found that 49 countries have already reached their peak, which represents just over one-third of the globe’s total emissions. By 2030, that number is targeted to increase to 57 countries. That may not seem much of a jump, but these nations are the heavy emitters including the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and Brazil. When included in WRI’s assessment, that total will represent 60 percent of the world’s emissions.
All we have to do is speed it up.

How one corporation is trying to make the world better

Some corporate responsibility/sustainability efforts are nothing more than public relations, little feel-good actions that they hope will attract customers. But what happens when a corporation examines the world’s Sustainable Development Goals and asks, What can we do? Here’s what Walgreen’s parent company has done.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Three phases in climate response and what we need now

This article talks about the 30 year war to reverse climate change. First there was the science proving it was happening and we were to blame. Second was the public information phase, letting the world know. Now it’s time to invest in infrastructure. Fortunately it’s happening but it needs to quadruple.

What’s in your IRA? Many people have divested the worst greenhouse gas producers. But it would be nice to say a hearty yes to other investments without taking on extraordinary risk. Soon there may be more ways to invest in green infrastructure.

How we can win 'the crucial third phase' of the climate war - CNBC