Friday, November 16, 2018

Too big to fail to fight climate change?

A lot of efforts around climate change focus on reducing fossil fuel use. But another critical component is to retain forests to keep gobbling up carbon. The largest, most important tracts are in Brazil, Russia and Canada.

While many worry about the concentration of wealth into a small number of hands (and rightly so), the fact that a handful of investment firms own major chunks of stock in ag/beef/wood products companies operating in those areas presents an additional way to fight climate change. Use shareholder activism as a way to put pressure on the companies doing business in those critical regions.

The study, published in the latest issue of Global Environmental Change, determined that a relatively small number of financial institutions — from American investment firms to Norwegian sovereign wealth funds to Swiss banks — can help build the resilience of some of the main geographic areas key to stabilizing the Earth’s climate: the Brazilian Amazon and boreal forests in Russia and Canada.

 Here are the key financial institutions that can help prevent climate 'tipping point,' per new study -

Thursday, November 15, 2018

5 stages of organizational sustainability—how far along is your organization

Organizations wanting to pursue sustainability get confused about what they should be doing. Having zero impacts on the planet seems a step too far but just doing token gestures doesn't seem enough.

This article presents 5 stages of sustainability in business. You can use these phases to assess where you are and what your next step might be. Here are the stages, with minor edits. Please see the article for more context.

Stage 1: One-off projects
Stage 2: It's integrated into organizational practices
Stage 3: It drives innovation
Stage 4: It's part of organizational culture
Stage 5: The org is now purpose-driven, where social and/or environmental change is at the core

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

UK renewables surpass fossil fuel capacity!

Wow, UK renewables have tripled and fossil fuels have dropped by 1/3 in the last 5 years. The net result is the UK now has more renewable capacity (solar, wind, biomass and hydro) between July and September.

The power industry has some confusing terms. Note that ‘capacity’ is different from power ‘generation.’ Capacity is the equivalent of turning your tub faucet wide open, the total amount of water that could be delivered; generation takes into account whether the faucet was turned off for part of the time, or throttled down while water was gotten from other sources.

When you factor in nuclear power, which they count separately. 28% was renewable power, 54% was low carbon, including nukes.

Coal capacity has dropped by 1/4 in the past year as old, inefficient, uneconomic plants are closed. The UK, which built its economy on coal, now only has 6 coal plants left.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Can you have your meat and eat it too?

The ranks of vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians is growing, over concerns for the environment, animal welfare and personal health. But there are still a lot of people who can’t imagine giving up their burgers and dairy. This author predicts that animal farming will be a thing of the past by the end of the century; half of it might be gone by 2050 in richer countries. Entrepreneurs and even ag-giants like Cargill and Tyson are pouring money into engineering these foods, from plants or animal cells.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Big trend in Britain toward plant-based diet, plastic free

British food used to be the butt of jokes, tasteless and unhealthy. But that is changing fast.

Most profoundly, one in eight Britons (nearly 13 percent of the population) is now vegetarian or vegan, with an additional 21 percent calling themselves 'flexitarian,' consciously reducing the amount of meat they eat. This amounts to nearly one-third of Britons, which is an enormous increase over years gone by; 60 percent of vegans and 40 percent of vegetarians say they've made the change in the past five years.

They’re also foregoing plastic.
A second hopeful change noted by Waitrose is a reduction in plastic use. Ever since the BBC aired its final shocking episode of Blue Planet II in December 2017, 44 percent of Britons say they have "drastically changed" their plastic use habits. (Another 44 percent say they've "somewhat changed.")

NOTE: I was curious how this compares to the US. It’s possible this study might be overstating the situation based on their methodology. According to this country by country comparison, the US has 5-8% vegetarians/vegans. This same source shows the UK as a whole at 7%. Sweden is at 10%; Switzerland and Taiwan are 14%. Mexico is 19%; India tops the list at 31-42%.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Hydro + solar

Floatovoltaics, floating photovoltaics, are being deployed at hydroelectric dams. They add to the electricity generation, of course, but they also cut down on algae and evaporation.

I can’t see people wanting to cover recreation Mecca’s like Lake Powell from shore to shore. Maybe the place to start are toxic bodies of water like Butte’s Berkeley Pit (a Superfund site legacy from mining) or coal slurry ponds to keep wildlife out, if the wiring wouldn’t dissolve in the chemical concoction.

Floating solar is more than panels on a platform—it’s hydroelectric’s symbiont - Ars Technica

Friday, November 9, 2018

What makes an urban space walkable?

Walkability is about more than sidewalks. Why are some places buzzing with activity and a joy to walk through and others feel like a dystopian movie set? This article explains what architects call form based codes.  Do our land use development codes focus on the wrong things?

Supreme Court allows kids to sue country over climate change

By doing nothing, the Supreme Court has allowed the lawsuit put forward by children in Oregon to sue the USA for climate change.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Market forces driving renewables

In the US, the percentage of renewable energy has doubled in the last decade. It’s still only 17% but there are a number of market forces driving the shift to clean energy. Some like the Federal tax credit will phase out in a few years. But coal is becoming unaffordable by comparison, a deregulation is making it easier for people to get power from different utilities. Corporations are also driving demand:

Currently, 71 of Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy targets, with 22 of those committing to procure 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

Science, climate and the elections: the big silver lining

I remember seeing a presentation, it might have been Richard Heinburg, where a slide showed an exponential graph of yeast in wine making doubling and doubling, gobbling up all its resources, until in an instant it all died. His next slide asked this:

So, are humans smarter than yeast?

The day after the midterms, I was thinking the answer might be No. I could feel myself sinking into despair: our inability as a species to take the long view, to not foul our own nest, to be willing to expend a little self-control now for the benefit of future generations. Washington’s carbon fee didn’t pass. Colorado voted not to extend a safe zone for natural gas drilling to 1/4 mile from houses. Arizona’s renewable energy standard went down to defeat.

In case you’re feeling a little glum too, let me share with you some possible good news.

The Washington ballot measure has increased interest in carbon taxes.
Still, you could choose to look at your glass of petrochemicals as being half full. “Ballot measures are often susceptible to misinformation and lots of out-of-state money pouring in, and there are limitations on what a ballot measure can cover,” says Dylan McDowell, deputy director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a group that helps state legislators enact climate laws. “State legislation is more able to deal with something as complex as carbon pricing.”
Thanks to Democratic takeovers of governorships and state houses in 2018, that’s now more likely. New York, Colorado, New Hampshire, Maine, and Minnesota now have pro-environment majorities. Massachusetts is moving toward carbon pricing; Oregon legislators will probably vote on a cap-and-trade law next year. The governors-elect of Illinois, Colorado, and New Mexico all campaigned on renewables. And California still has its cap-and-trade system for carbon, and a new governor fired up to head into combat with the president. So the state level may still be a place for climate legislation.

A Carbon Tax Is Pretty Much Inevitable, Even if Voters Said No - WIRED

Arizona’s energy standard didn’t pass but right next door, Nevada did pass a renewable energy standard to increase renewables  to 50% by 2030, which is in alignment with the recent IPCC advice.

Florida passed a constitutional amendment banning offshore oil drilling.

And maybe the beat news of all, among the people elected to Congress are 8 new people with a STEM/scientific background.
The members of the 115th Congress include one physicist, one microbiologist, and one chemist, as well as eight engineers and one mathematician. The medical professions are slightly better represented, with three nurses and 15 doctors.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Which climate solutions will save the most money

Here’s an interesting analysis for policy makers in government. Which strategies to reduce greenhouse gases will save society the most money. Check out the graph.

Surprise, you’re governor! How will you fix climate change? - Grist

Monday, November 5, 2018

Chickadee study reveals importance of native plants in your yard

I love the chubby chickadee-dee-dees. They seem so perky. If you want to attract them to your yard, here’s something you should know.

This research study showed how important native plants are to their ability to raise young. This study likely relates to other songbirds as well. They depend on the insects that munch on native plants. The goal should be 70% or more native plants in your landscape.

The results showed that, as the proportion of a habitat’s nonnative plant biomass increases, chickadees are forced to change their diet and are less able to successfully reproduce. If more than 30 percent of total biomass in a given area is nonnative, chickadees are not able to maintain a stable local population.

Ecologists Have this Simple Request to Homeowners—Plant Native - Smithsonian

Washington State has interesting climate ballot initiative

“Polluter pays” has been the mantra, an accepted global principle, for decades. If you (a corporation) make a mess, you pay to clean it up. Washington State is going to test whether the public accepts it in regards to climate change.

If the measure passes, Washington would immediately have one of the most aggressive climate policies in the country. The proposal—known as Ballot Initiative 1631—takes something of a “Green New Deal” approach, using the money raised by the new fee to build new infrastructure to prepare the state for climate change. It would generate millions to fund new public transit, solar and wind farms, and forest-conservation projects in the state; it would also direct money to a working-class coal community and a coastal indigenous tribe.

The New Deal, Climate Change Edition - The Atlantic

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Danone packaging will be part of Circular Economy by 2025

We all know that being ‘recyclable’ doesn’t mean it’s going to be recycled. Markets have collapsed for all but a couple numbered plastics and not all communities have convenient ways to recycle.

That’s why it’s so important that Danone’s recent commitment to Circular Economy packaging includes ways to get the materials back so they can be recycled.

Friday, November 2, 2018

4 questions to explain climate change

I was tempted to title this Climate Change for Dummies but I always found that book series titling offensive. But if you have people in your life who don't quite get climate change. Here are three questions to help them understand how it works.

Q1: Is there a greenhouse effect? 

A: Yes.

All you have to do is sit in your car with the windows up on a sunny day to know this is true.

Q2: Does the greenhouse effect have an impact on planets? 

A. Yes.

If we didn't have certain gases in the atmosphere trapping infrared energy, our planet would be as cold as Mars. Too much and you get Venus, so hot it can melt lead. Interestingly, any gas with three or more atoms creates a greenhouse effect. (Source: American Chemical Society). So greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6, that was for a time in Nike Air Jordans). Even water vapor (H2O) can act as a greenhouse gas.

Roughly 98% of our atmosphere is nitrogen and oxygen with only two atoms each so they're not greenhouse gases (N2 at 78% and O2 at 21%) which leaves only about 1% for all the other gases, mostly argon. So it's a teeny, tiny percentage of the gases that keep our climate stable. It doesn't take a lot to throw that out of balance. It's not like adding another cup of tomato sauce to your chili; it's more like adding an extra cup of jalapeƱo chili powder to the recipe. Concentrations matter.

Q3: Have humans been increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? 

A: Yes.

Scientists have been monitoring the rise in CO2 at the Mauna Loa Observatory since 1958. Since pre-industrial levels, we have increased the CO2 in the atmosphere by over 40% (from about 280 ppm to over 400 now.) This trend follows the same path as the use of fossil fuels. It's really quite simple. If we take hydrocarbons from their ancient burial place in the earth and burn them, releasing them to the atmosphere at a much greater rate than Nature can put them back, they build up.

A lot of the CO2 has been absorbed by the oceans, which is making the ocean measurably more acidic. But methane represents about 40 percent to the heat-trapping effect of all human-produced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Methane comes from natural gas (much of it leaking out of pipes) and also from rotting organic matter (like food in landfills and thawing permafrost.)

Think of our planet as a box with a pipe of greenhouse gases coming in and a pipe going out. For most of the last 10,000 years, the size of the two pipes were balanced, the same amount of greenhouse gases coming in and going out. Humans have not only increased the amount coming into the box with fossil fuels and other chemicals. We've also reduced the size of the pipe going out. For example, deforestation has reduced Nature's ability to take CO2 out of the air. Sometimes cycles make things progressively worse. For example, the oceans have absorbed a lot of human-made CO2 but as the ocean warms, it can't hold as much gas. (Think of your soda going flat on a warm day.) Or as sea ice melts, it reveals a darker ocean that absorbs more heat than the ice did, speeding up the rate of warming.

Q4: Will this have an effect? 

A: Yes.

We know from ice cores that CO2 levels map precisely against ancient temperature swings; more CO2 leads to a warmer global climate every time.

Any system is going to have a reaction to significantly different concentrations. Imagine increasing your fat intake by 40 percent or your body temperature. Exactly what will change where, by how much, by when are very complicated questions to answer. But continuing to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere will clearly change the climate. According to the world's scientists, it already is. But you don't have to ask them. You can see spring coming sooner, glaciers retreating, and sea level rising.

What people typically don't understand

  • Scientists only disagree about the details. My brother was trained as a scientist and I'll tell you, they love to argue and poke holes in one another's theories. The disagreements around climate science tend to be about how the impacts will play out. But 97 percent of the world's climate scientists agree the climate is changing and that humans are the primary cause.

    Imagine you take your child to a doctor because you've noticed some worrisome symptoms. The doctor tells you the treatment may cost some money and be inconvenient but without treatment, the disease is likely life-threatening. You go for a second opinion and a third. Eventually you see 100 doctors, 97 of them saying the same thing. But a couple doctors say, "Hey, she might grow out of it, take some Vitamin C and hope for the best." What do you do? Most people listen to the 97 doctors. That's where we are regarding the climate.
  • Climate change (what many call global warming) can make some places colder at times. It's doing some odd things to weather patterns, bringing cold arctic air into the US at times. It's better to think of it as destabilizing the climate. Some people in cold climates welcome spring coming sooner. But we depend on a predictable climate: when to plant crops, when the rains will come, what weather we need to construct buildings to withstand, etc.
  • The change may not be gradual. Think of your annoying little brother rocking the canoe. Most of the time, the canoe rights itself. But if he goes too far, you're suddenly in a different place. The difference is with the climate, there may be no easy way to get back to the previous state, to get back in the canoe.

What cities must do to protect the climate

I've seen a lot of people with Deer-in-Headlights expressions regarding the recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change); if you haven’t seen it, I’ve included a quotation from the press release below and a link.

The good news is we still have time to act and there are more and more good research reports on what to do. Municipalities have a critical role to play. Here is a report that lists 7 actions for them to take.  Rather than getting pulled down by fear, we need to get moving.

And here’s a summary of the IPCC findings:

The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Circular Economy is coming after plastics

Lots of people are working on ways to recover plastic from the ocean, but that’s an end-of-pipe solution, dealing with problem after it’s a problem. Instead we need to prevent the problem.

Finally, there is an international agreement called the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment based on the Circular Economy concept. It already has over 250 signatories including major brands and manufacturers. Recognizing that Refuse/Reduce is the first step in Reduce/Reuse/Recycle mantra, they focus first on eliminating single use, unnecessary plastics like straws. Signatories commit to targets and are expected to report on progress.

Six key points define the Global Commitment:
  • Elimination of problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign, innovation and new delivery models is a priority.
  • Reuse models are applied where relevant, reducing the need for single-use packaging.
  • All plastic packaging is 100 percent reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
  • All plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or composted in practice.
  • The use of plastic is fully decoupled from the consumption of finite resources.
  • All plastic packaging is free of hazardous chemicals and the health, safety and rights of all people involved are respected.