Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Three phases of climate science acceptance

Stop asking if people believe the climate science. Belief is for religion. This is science, this is observable fact. The question is, Do they accept it?

There are three phases to climate change acceptance.

DENIAL: Geez, it can’t possibly be this bad, can it? It’s hard to accept that we’ve all been party to a horrendous mistake, a system that feeds our needs at the expense of the planet and future generations. People who didn’t vote for Al Gore have another hurdle: identity. If he believes it, then I don’t. But more and more evidence chips away at denial: bizarre weather, conversations your kids bring home, even some of your favored politicians talking about it.

DESPAIR: Holy cow, this is way worse than I can process. It seems hopeless. There’s nothing I can do that would make a difference until They (whoever they are) do something. I know the science but it hurts too much to watch programs like Planet Earth because they drive me deeper into despair.

DOING: Dabnabbit, I’m going to pick myself up by my bootstraps and DO SOMETHING! I can’t be party to sitting by and just observe. I may not be able to stop it myself but I can be part of a worldwide movement to slow it and eventually reverse it. Since humans have caused this, we can fix it. We are the people to do this work; we can’t leave it for future generations. This gives me an entirely new purpose.

Doing is the antidote to despair.

There’s a parable about the three masons. A traveler comes upon them working and asks what they are doing. One says he’s cutting stone, another says he’s earning money to feed his family. The third says he’s building a cathedral. He knew he would not see the work completed but it gave him a deep sense of meaning to know he was part of a multi-generational project to honor his god.

We are laying the foundation for a sustainable society.

For more about how to handle the emotional stress associated with climate fear, read this article.


Monday, May 20, 2019

EU and 18 states agree we should have the right to repair

So many products are designed to be hard to repair or upgrade. It’s easier to buy a new washing machine or phone than to fix it. This leads to mountains of waste. But “Right to Repair” legislation in the European Union and a number of states are driving manufacturers to change designs.


Researchers in Canada estimate that all those smartphones, laptops, and tablets, together with the infrastructure that enables our virtual activities, will be responsible for 3.5% of global CO2 emissons by next year, and 14% by 2040. The smartphone is the real killer: emissions are expected to reach 125 megatons (Mt) of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year in 2020, compared with 17 Mt CO2e per year in 2010. Up to 95% of those emissions are caused by production. So keeping phones in use as long as possible, and then recycling them, is crucial.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Maine bans Styrofoam take out containers

A number of cities have banned expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam is the well-known brand name) cups and clamshell containers. But Maine is the first state to ban them.

The bill bans bowls, plates, cups, trays, cartons, and other containers designed to hold prepared food and beverages. Signed by Governor Janet Mills Tuesday, it takes effect January 1, 2021.
It was probably an easy move since 14 municipalities in Maine had already done so.

This is how change often happens in the sustainability world. One city or town takes an action. Once they prove it’s possible, other like-minded communities have a playbook. Soon industry is whining to legislatures that they can’t handle all the different requirements, and voila, a new sustainability practice becomes the law of the land.

Of course, the affected industries fight back with counter arguments. But this is why sustainability is such a powerful strategic tool for business. If you understand the 4 principles of a sustainable society developed by The Natural Step, you can see the future, where we need to go. The exact timing is unclear but the trajectory is inevitable. Rather than fighting to stay in last century’s industrial revolution, in the long term, businesses are better off if they start innovating to be part of the age of sustainability. I remember when Portland, Oregon banned Styrofoam ... wait for it ... in 1989. The industry has had 30 years to prepare, to avoid this stand off. Why didn’t they? The writing was already on the wall.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Your AC could make jet fuel

One method of getting carbon out of the atmosphere is to build huge fan systems that operate like trees, sucking out the CO2, but running those fans would require energy and it’s hard to imagine building enough of them to make a difference. Some researchers are realizing our society already has huge fan systems...in buildings. What if they attached a filter that grabbed carbon as the HVAC systems circulated air throughout the buildings?

In the paper, the researchers calculated that one large office tower in Frankfurt, Germany could capture enough CO2 to produce more than 600,000 gallons of fuel in a year. Office buildings throughout the city could produce more than 120 million gallons. Large grocery chains in Germany could potentially capture 350 metric tons of CO2 per store each year. The same process could happen on buildings everywhere.

The proper thing to do with that carbon while we have too much in the air is to sequester it: bury it or put it into products where it couldn’t leak back out into the atmosphere. Instead, they’re talking about using the waste heat from air conditioning systems to turn the carbon into fuel like for airplanes. That would spew the carbon right back into the atmosphere. But that’s better than pumping new oil to make the fuel, adding ever more carbon into the atmosphere. All this is still theoretical; the engineers have to figure out how to scale this up.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

One woman earns prize for protecting snow leopards

Mining operations in Mongolia were threatening snow leopard habitat. So Bayarjargal Agvaantseren, who had built trust with local herders through an insurance system to pay for an of their animals lost to a leopard, built political pressure to create a national reserve. All mining contracts are now cancelled. She just won the Goldman Environmental Prize.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Farming carbon along with food

When you think of ways to mitigate climate change, most people think about renewable energy and electric vehicles. Those are important, for sure. But so is changing our farming practices. Tilling the ground after harvest releases carbon, disrupts soil organisms and can result in runoff. Cover crops, perennial crops and sometimes even animal agriculture can be part of the solution.

If farmers across the world turned their farms into carbon sinks, global greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 15 percent, according to a study in Science. The Marin Carbon Project in California, one of the early adopters of carbon farming in the U.S., has been able to reduce 1.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in three years across 65,000 hectares, according to one study. If carbon farming was adopted in 5 percent of California’s rangelands, the authors estimate that it could offset one year’s worth of emissions from the state’s agriculture and forestry industries.

In New York, farmers are offered incentives to experiment with better carbon farming methods.

Besides mitigating climate change, there are other reasons — more selfish ones — that farmers might want to adopt the sort of practices Dobson employs and Barrett is pushing. Healthy soil comes with a suite of ecological services: It reduces erosion and water retention, and also makes for healthier farms overall, helping them “build resilience to extreme weather events,” according to Cornell’s New York State Soil Initiative.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

APS will provide electric car chargers free at workplaces

I wanted to be sure that the AZ businesses and municipalities in our network saw this recent post from the Sedona Chamber newsletter:

Take Charge AZ by APS
On May 3, APS launched “Take Charge AZ” to bring more EV chargers to AZ. With the first pilot, APS are providing EV chargers for free to customers who are interested in converting their fleet to electric or installing chargers in their parking lots for employees and constituents to charge their EVs during the day. APS will handle the purchase, installation and maintenance of the equipment at no charge. The only expense to the customer is the energy used by the chargers. Contact Becky Rudd at 928.443.6657.

Battery storage remaking energy and maybe politics

I avoid talking politics in this blog because sustainability benefits everyone. There’s a lot we don’t agree on in this country, but increasingly there is something we do: clean energy. With battery and wind power costs plunging, installations of renewable power systems are spreading across the country, including rural, conservative states.

Eighty percent of the wind power installed during Trump’s presidency has been built in states he won, and the five most wind-dependent states were all Trump states. And while the storage boom started in blue states like California and Hawaii, it is taking off in Texas, Florida, and the rest of Red America as well. Polls suggest “clean energy” is now popular throughout the country, even though “climate action” is not, and there are now more than 3 million clean energy jobs in America, versus only 50,000 coal-mining jobs.
It’s happening so fast, forecasters can’t keep up.
The storage boom, like so many green trends in America, first took hold in California, but Ravi Manghani, the head of energy storage research at Wood MacKenzie, says it is spreading much faster than anyone expected, ending the era when power had to be distributed and used the instant it was generated.

“Every time we do a new forecast, we have to revise it up for deployment and down for cost,” says Ravi Manghani, head of energy storage research at Wood MacKenzie. “We’ve been proven wrong again and again.”

In the olden days, a few years ago, utilities claimed they would always need fossil fuel plants as base load. No more.

Rew says grid operators used to fret that they wouldn’t be able to guarantee reliability once renewables constituted 25 percent of their loads, but the Southwest Power Pool now routinely handles 50 percent and even 60 percent generation from wind while keeping the lights on without interruption. There was one afternoon last month when California’s grid was receiving more than two-thirds of its power from solar with no reliability problems at all.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Marathon will hand out seaweed pods to runners

You’ve probably seen video clips of marathoners grabbing a plastic water bottle, drinking some of it, pouring some on their heads, and then throwing the bottle onto the ground. Thousands of runners, multiple times during a marathon, with many marathons during a season. That’s a lot of plastic water bottles. Even if they all get recycled, it’s a lot of waste.

Ohoo pods

This year the London Marathon is going to be handing out seaweed pods of sports drink, entirely edible and biodegradable. The seaweed coating is tasteless. The irony is they will likely have to be offered with plastic gloves, but still, it should result in a lot less waste.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Europe just banned single use plastics

Europe has used their regulatory framework to guide progress toward sustainability for decades. They just took on single use items like straws. Outright bans are less popular in the US but voluntary programs like the Sedona Chamber's StrawFree Sedona are catching on.


Saturday, May 11, 2019

US is #27 on Energy Transition Index of nations

The World Economic Forum has released their 2019 report on how the world is progressing on the latest energy transition. Over the centuries,  we’ve transitioned from wood to fossil fuels. Now we need to electrify most everything and switch to renewables.

The ETI (Energy Transition Index) combines three factors: environmental sustainability, economic development and security and access. Click here for the summary report.

Urgent and accelerated measures are required to have a noticeable effect on environmental sustainability. Beyond enabling policies and investments in alternative power generation and electrification of transport, deep decarbonization strategies of economic sectors with higher abatement costs than other sectors, such as aviation, shipping and heavy industries including steel and cement production, need to be pursued through energy efficiency and demand management.22Employing Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies that offer pathways to enhance productivity and efficiency is important for faster progress on environmental sustainability. Negative emissions options, such as carbon capture and sequestration and natural carbon sinks, must be prioritized to buy more time. Moreover, given the scale of the challenge and the urgency of expedited action, a common understanding among policy‑makers and the private sector is required on the priorities and pathways for environmental sustainability.
The US only ranks #27 in the list of nations, with northern European countries at the top.

Back in 2010, I went on a study tour to Denmark and Sweden to learn about their innovations around energy, water, transportation and urban planning. As I said in my 2010 article summarizing my findings,

“I don’t know why everyone keeps talking about [renewable] electricity,” said Anders Dyrelund, Manager of Climate and Energy with Ramboll Denmark. Forty to sixty percent of their electricity load goes to heating. Thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, all energy eventually degrades to heat, so why not capture it and put it to use? They place power plants right in the city that produce both heat and power. Many of these plants burn trash [after the recyclables are separated], which is a more controlled way to manage the pollutants.
Waste heat is transported by insulated closed-loop water pipes that snake around the city. (See my photo above.) With this insight of capturing and using waste heat, poof, roughly 40 percent of their need for electricity disappeared.

Friday, May 10, 2019

How to turn waste into money

Most of what goes in our trash can isn't garbage at all. Most of the materials are able to be recycled or composted. Why aren't we doing a better job of collecting these materials and turning them into value-added products, creating jobs and reducing waste at the same time?

Learn more by watching this short video.

Militaries around the world are planning for climate change

In June, militaries from 29 countries are meeting in Poland to see how to integrate hybrid diesel/solar generators with energy efficient equipment to run their operations. But the real insights may have more to do with a shift in their mission—from fighting to finding the root cause of climate-driven conflicts and addressing it.

These conflicts are already taking shape. Gen. Tom Middendorp, chair of the international military council and a former chief of defense of the Netherlands, said he’s witnessed the issue first hand as a commander in Afghanistan, where despite liberating a village from the Taliban, disputes continued. “In the end, we beat the enemy but we didn’t solve the problem,” he said. “It took us another year to find out why.”

It turned out water scarcity was driving the conflict, he said, by escalating tensions among the people and giving extremists leverage. The military decided to bring in water management experts to find solutions for the predominately agricultural community, and once the fixes were implemented, the conflict finally ended.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Making sense of numbered plastics: the good, bad and the ugly

THE GOOD: The numbers on recyclable plastics don't necessarily mean that the plastic can be recycled now. They only indicate what resins are used. Markets for #1 and #2 bottles and #5 cartons are pretty good these days; the others, not so much. So choose those plastics over, say, milk in cartons or soy milk in shelf-stable boxes.

BTW, when I was at Sedona Recycles, I learned that you should leave the caps on plastic bottles because they can be recovered by the processor in their stage of the process.

Trex recycling poster: What they accept
No matter what the number, don't put plastic bags or films (like the plastic pillow packaging) in with the rest of your recycling because it messes up the machines. Many groceries can accept film plastic with their produce bags (although they don't advertise the fact because they don't want to be swamped; so be respectful). Ask your grocery where they send their bags. Many send them to Trex to make plastic lumber and if so, can find out what Trex can accept here.

THE BAD: If you want to learn more about what's wrong with the other numbered plastics and why you shouldn't include them in your recycling (unless your recycling service specifically says to), this New York Times article explains.

THE UGLY: Surprisingly, according to the article, #3 (PVC) is the real bad guy, even more so than #7 which is the miscellaneous "Other" plastic.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Ford investing in electric pick up start-up

Certainly the number of electric cars is growing but the sad fact is that the sales of cars/sedans has been dropping in favor of less efficient SUVs, cross overs and pick ups. So it’s good news that Ford has just invested in Rivian, a start up working on an all electric pick up that is supposed to have a 400 mile range. Ford is also reportedly working on an F-150 electric workhorse.


Monday, May 6, 2019

UN warns 1million extinctions will damage our quality of life

We shy away from sharing gloom and doom—you likely know it already. But the scope of this latest UN report has not been widely shared by the media. You may have heard of the Extinction Rebellion but our media has been silent on the underlying causes.

The UN report written by 150 scientists from 50 countries says extinctions will affect food, water and aspects of quality of life. But there is still time to act: on climate change, pesticides, family planning and urban sprawl.

Nature’s current rate of decline is unparalleled, the report says, and the accelerating rate of extinctions “means grave impacts on people around the world are now likely.” In a statement, Robert Watson, a British chemist who served as the panel’s chairman, said the decline in biodiversity is eroding “the foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
Scientists have been warning about human-driven extinctions since Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was released in 1962. But humanity has largely stuck its fingers in its ears. La la la la, we can’t hear you. Now we may be facing Silent Spring, Summer and Fall.

“Let’s be quite candid,” Watson said. “Since 1992, we’ve been telling the world we have a problem. Now what’s different? It’s much worse today than it was in 1992. We’ve wasted all of the time . . . the last 25 years.” However, he said, “we have a much better understanding of the links between climate change, biodiversity, and food security and water security.”
So what can you do? Here are 7 ideas.

  • Vote for people and policies that reverse climate change and protect the environment.
  • Donate to charities that address conservation and community needs.
  • Donate to charities that provide family planning and women’s empowerment.
  • Support changes in local land use codes in favor of density, even if you would prefer to live in the ‘burbs. (We moved from 5 acres in the country to the city and I was surprised how much I liked it.)
  • Participate in conservation work locally or through volunteer vacations.
  • Plant native plants and collect rainwater.
  • Reduce the number of meals with animal protein.

How groceries are starting to break the plastic habit

It’s not just the plastic bags that WalMart shoppers pile into their carts. It’s two red peppers wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam tray at Trader Joe’s. Social media did revolt when a grocery started peeling oranges and wrapping them in plastic or cutting avocados and then wrapping them; they come in their own wrappers.

Finally some grocery stores are trying to cut the plastic habit, but it’s not easy. You don’t want unwrapped or unpackaged food to get damaged or deteriorate; then you’d just be trading plastic waste for food waste.

“Like with almost anything sustainability related, the model is both something very new and innovative and also something that draws from things that have been around for a long time,” says Elizabeth Balkan, the director of the food waste program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There have been local health food stores and co-ops around the country for 30 or 40 years that have been placing bulk food at the center of their commerce.”

But there are groceries making some headway, even some big chains like Kroger’s.
Kroger, which operates over 2,700 grocery stores across the U.S., recently began to phase out plastic bags from their various chains. The impact adds up fast, says Jessica Adelman, the vice president of corporate affairs for Kroger. The company calculated that they handed out about 6 billion plastic bags a year, about six percent of the total number of bags distributed annually across the country. That’s the equivalent of about 32,000 tons of plastic, or enough to fill over 3,000 moving trucks jam packed with bags.
Of course, we, the people, are part of the problem. We want individually packaged tea bags, wrapped in plastic or Mylar to protect freshness, when we could just buy loose tea and a tea strainer.

Read this article to learn more.


Check out Litterless, a site where you can find minimal packaging grocery stores by state. But the lists are pitifully short at this point.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Which countries are responsible for the most greenhouse gases?

China may now be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases but that does not let the US off the hook. Cumulatively, the US and Russia are at the top of this list, based on the Carbon Brief’s methodology. Watch the mesmerizing time lapse at the link below. It all started in England with the Industrial Revolution. Reflect on the relationship between CO2 and superpower/military status.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

What happened when a small town went zero waste

What this short video about a town in Japan that changed their waste management practices from backyard burning to recycling everything into 45 different categories. The reactions of the townspeople are instructive. Spoiler: they like it now.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Geoengineering: gosh, what could go wrong?

It’s a sign of desperation and our assumed powerlessness that are driving ideas associated with geoengineering (fighting climate change by capturing carbon or shielding the sun) into the mainstream. If we lurch past a tipping point, we might have to do this, but some form of carbon tax would be a less dangerous way to reverse emissions now.

Why are humans seemingly incapable of stopping ourselves from disaster? Daniel Quinn, author of the wonderful book, Ishmael, has a possible answer. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves teach us that humans are screw-ups. Adam and Eve blew it. Perhaps that’s why, when we’re confronted with our own behavior as the source of climate catastrophe, we shrug. Of course we’re going to mess things up; it’s what we do with our free will.

Brian Swimme and others have talked a lot about needing to change our creation story. Carl Sagan said,

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

That’s a way different story!  We’re not perpetual screw-ups; our consciousness and curiosity are how the universe is coming to know itself. What a responsibility to get it right! That may seem an arrogant claim by a single species on a tiny blue dot on an outlying galaxy. But watch One Strange Rock, a Netflix series with Will Smith and a handful of astronauts, to get a sense of how special we and our planet might be. There’s a good chance there is life elsewhere, but much less of a chance that it has gone beyond single cells, and even less having developed a big brain and opposable thumbs.

We need to protect our planet. We better get our climate under control. What if there’s no one else in the universe to do this work?

You can read about options associated with geoengineering here:


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Calculate how much plastic you use

Many of us are trying to avoid plastic but it's not easy. If you want to get an estimate for how much plastic waste you generate in a year, take a look at some of these apps/calculators:


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Guidelines for measuring social impact

Measuring your organization’s environmental impact is straight-forward compared to social impact. Many organizations struggle with how to measure and account for the impact they are having on people and communities. If you’re not in control of the outcomes (like educational attainment, employment, gender equity or homelessness), what should you take responsibility for and measure? How do you know if your efforts are making a difference? How do you even know if your theory of change—your assumptions around how your actions will lead to results—is accurate?

This new report provides useful guidance, including checklists and tables to help you assess your social metrics and improve them. The image below is an example, their assessment tool to trouble-shoot your metrics. 

This document will be most helpful to large institutions and municipalities but even small enterprises will benefit from reviewing this if they have at least one social sustainability goal.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Best way to ditch plastic bags

Articles like this one are crazy-making. Sometimes what intuitively should be better for the planet isn’t. This article asserts that plastic bags are easier on the planet than paper or canvas. It makes us all want to throw up our hands a give up! Part of the problem is these analyses don’t measure everything. How do you quantify the impact on our oceans, of entire food webs choking on plastic? Or of the aesthetic impact of bags stuck in trees and cactus?

If you want to skip the crazy-making analysis, just go to the last section of the article with this apt header, “Stop depressing me. Tell me what to do.” There are a few useful principles:

  • Fees work better than bans on plastic bags
  • Reusable bags made from polyester or polypropylene are better than canvas.

Even better, make a bag from non-recyclable trash like dog food/bird seed/horse grain bags. They're really tough. See the one to the right that Richard Sidy's crafty wife, Monique, made from my dog food bag and hay-bale twine using techniques easy enough for a first grader. I can imagine retirement homes making a little business out of this, giving their residents something creative and meaningful to do.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Tesla releases solar roof and twice-as-powerful PowerWall

Just in time for roofing season, Elon Musk releases the solar roof tiles, presumably for real this time. (In the initial release, they weren’t operational.) The Powerwall2 is twice as powerful and at $5500, a much better return on investment. See his vision in the video: solar + battery + transportation. He sees rooftop solar not as competition for utilities; we will need both. You’re not going to run a cement plant on household solar. Utilities will have to grow to accommodate the switch of all energy toward renewable electricity.

Video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/4sfwDyiPTdU
Article in House Beautiful: https://apple.news/AEjcJbzlkQ4yf7vhPXippeA

Friday, April 26, 2019

Solar panels charge this car while you’re at work

By 2020, the Sion should be on the market, an electric 5-seat car that can go about 150 miles on a charge. But the solar panels can add about 20 miles to that range. So many commuters could drive home on sunlight.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Worried about water?

Our water supplies are increasingly scarce and polluted. This is a big issue for industries that use water and investors of those enterprises. Ecolab has a cool tool to assess the financial risk to orgs based on water quantity and quality. It’s probably most useful to major water users but I also wonder if it could be used on a citywide or regional basis. You can watch the video on this page to see how it works. It might help build the business case for water reuse.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Congress working on Carbon Capture Bill

Bipartisanship is rare in Congress, especially on the topic of climate change. But even Snowball Inhofe is onboard with this bill.  The USEIT (ie, use-it) Act, if it survives, will spur carbon capture technologies.

The bill starts small by awarding a total of $85 million from the Environmental Protection Agency to developers of new technologies. The legislation includes a prize component for the first company to capture 10,000 tons of carbon from the air at under $200 a ton, orders the creation of two task forces to make it easier to site infrastructure and orders pipeline permitting.

A similar process called the Golden Carrot was used decades ago to drastically improve the energy efficiency of refrigerators. The full name of the Act is Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies.


PEW: Awareness of climate threat has grown

In the US we tend to be a little provincial. The evening news is virtually all about the US—unless the North Koreans launch a missile or India has a train wreck. So it can be helpful to see how our perspective differs from other countries. PEW recently redid their national survey to see how concerned people in different countries were about climate change. The results may surprise you.

Top of the list is Greece, perhaps because of their wildfires. 90% of those surveyed thought climate change was a major threat. Israel is at the bottom of the surveyed countries, probably because they still have bombs lobbed at them.

The US is sloshing around near the bottom but even here, 59% accept it’s a major threat and an additional 23% consider it a minor threat.

The share of people expressing concern about the threat of climate change around the world has grown since 2013, when Pew Research Center first asked respondents whether they see it as a major threat to their nation. In 2013, a median of 56% in 23 countries said climate change was a major threat; in the Center’s most recent Global Attitudes survey, a median of 67% in the same countries hold this view. And in 10 countries, the share of people who see global warming as a major threat has grown by at least 10 percentage points. For example, 83% of people in France say this, up from 54% in in 2013, an increase of 29 points. Mexico has seen a similar increase, from 52% to 80%, or 28 points.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

500+ corporations reporting on climate risk for investors

For years, the Carbon Disclosure Project (now known as CDP because they’re focusing on related issues like water) has been encouraging public corporations to include climate related risks in their financial reports. Now over 500 corporations have agreed to standardize their reporting which will make it easier to compare one business to another. The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) released guidelines late in 2017 which limited how many corporations could integrate them into their 2018 financial reports, but hopefully more will adopt them in future years.

Companies are expected to address climate-related physical risks such as water scarcity or extreme weather events, as well as transitional risks such as changes in policy, technology, market or reputational issues that could create both risks and opportunities for the organization.


Monday, April 22, 2019

How proposed changes to Clean Water Act could affect you

Water is life. So you should be aware of the proposed changes to the Clean Water Act (which has been in place since 1972) will affect your region. This Popular Science article unpacks the threat by watershed. If you don’t want to read the whole article, scroll down to your region.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Elk restoring strip mines and Appalachian economies

What do you do after the coal companies have strip mined and flattened mountains? What you’re left with is something that looks like a WalMart building site: flat, denuded of vegetation, and depleted soils.

Some of these sites are turning into solar farms, but some communities are turning these into wetlands and meadows. Reintroducing elk is restoring the soil and attracting tourists. Elk do have a downside, compacting the soil further where they bed down and eroding the slopes which could expose the toxic dirt below. But birds, bugs and amphibians are enjoying the break in the forest. These efforts could help the region transform from an extractive economy to a restorative one.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Humane prison design leads to less violence

Prisons are both a punishment and a place for reformation. In Europe, they tend to view the lack of freedom—just being in prison—as the punishment. What happens while inside shouldn’t be an ongoing hell that twists minds and makes people more violent. Most will return to society at some point. We want them to come out better than when they went in.

How do you design prisons to be a humane place that provides opportunities to improve? Watch this short video. It’s interesting to see how the campus design forces inmates to get exercise in nature and how the tiny guard stations encourages them to mingle with the inmates, a better way to manage violence.

Obviously you don’t want truly twisted people like Charles Manson wandering around in a place like this. But in the US many people are in prison because of a tough upbringing, drug abuse, discriminatory systems and harsh sentencing laws. These facilities are expensive but if we incarcerated fewer people by using restorative justice and drug treatment, we could afford it. Keep in mind the people working inside the prison are also exposed and twisted by the hostile environment.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

New study shows 100% renewables is achievable sooner than we think

Researchers have run the numbers and figured out how virtually all nations on earth can meet their energy needs with renewables, mostly solar+batteries. It means we CAN stay within the 1.5 C sort-of-safe global warming.

The new study by the Energy Watch Group and LUT University is the first of its kind to outline a 1.5°C scenario with a cost-effective, cross-sectoral, technology-rich global 100% renewable energy system that does not build on negative CO2 emission technologies. The scientific modelling study simulates a total global energy transition in the electricity, heat, transport and desalination sectors by 2050. It is based on four and a half years of research and analysis of data collection, as well as technical and financial modelling by 14 scientists. This proves that the transition to 100% renewable energy is economically competitive with the current fossil and nuclear-based system, and could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy system to zero even before 2050


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Amazon employees force climate resolution

Over 4000 Amazon employees signed a letter asking the company to end its reliance on fossil fuels.

This has resulted in a shareholder resolution. Amazon itself has written a position against the resolution. But if you own any Amazon (the stock or through a mutual fund) you’ll be able to vote on the matter in the next shareholder proxy.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Thailand building floatovoltaic power plant

No, that wasn’t a typo. Float photovoltaic solar panels on a hydropower reservoir and you have a new term—floatovoltaics—but also an elegant hybrid energy system. During the day, you run on solar power. If it’s cloudy and you need more, you spill some water through the turbines. At night you use the hydro power. And if you’re really smart, you use any excess solar power to pump water back into the reservoir.

“Basically, what you do is put the solar modules on rafts on the water and then you feed the power into the grid. That’s all it is. It’s like solar panels on a boat,” says Jenny Chase, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research firm. “Solar’s so cheap now that you want to put it pretty much everywhere you can.”


Monday, April 15, 2019

Plastic Easter

Sometimes I just shake my head about humans. What a weird species we are! Easter is a great example. It’s a Christian holiday but somehow the Easter Bunny bounded into the ritual with the staying power of the Duracell rabbit, complete with disposable plastic eggs (um, bunnies don’t lay eggs) filled with more surgary junk food than we buy at Halloween. Cheap baskets filled with plastic confetti end up in the trash. And perhaps the worst of all, baby bunnies and chicks are bought and soon secretly abandoned to meet their fate at local parks.

Any attempts at ditching the Easter Egg Hunt are met with horror. So what we’re left with are options for reducing the environmental impact. This article mentions more ecological options for indoor and outdoor hunts.


Using gravity as battery storage

I remember seeing a simple design for people in abject poverty to have lights at night: a rock, rope and simple generator. Pull the rock up to the ceiling and then let it slowly come down, generating electricity for about an hour of light.

Now a company is developing a scalable version of this that can power 3400 homes at night. It uses excess renewable energy during the day to stack recycled concrete bricks which can be dropped down the tower when electricity is needed. This version looks ungainly but it works the same way and maybe soon there will be a more elegant model.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Weather Channel produces climate videos

For decades meteorologists shied away from talking about climate change. Some didn’t trust the science; they knew how hard it was to model weather five days from now so how could you trust the models for climate decades into the future? Some worried about putting off some of their denier viewers.

No more. The Weather Channel is producing short what-life-will-be-like-in-2100 segments. This one looks at Charleston SC. The Weather Channel is a great venue for this message; people all over the country, across the political spectrum, watch it, especially the older folks who seem to be disproportionately deniers. (My parents would watch it for hours on end.) My only complaint is the videos don’t end on a what-you-can-do message.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Lithium ion batteries just got 35% cheaper

Improvements in battery technology are outstripping projections. In less than a year, lithium ion battery costs have dropped by over 1/3.
The lower battery prices have big implications for electric cars, too. There’s a key cost threshold of about $100 per kilowatt hour, the point at which electric vehicles would be cheap enough to quickly supplant gasoline. At this rate, we’ll reach that in less than five years.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Burger King launches meatless burger

Are you old enough to remember the TV ads with a cranky old woman yelling, “Where’s the beef?” It was one burger joint making fun of the little patties at another burger joint. Well, now the joke’s on her. Burger King has launched a meatless patty that they say tasters have trouble distinguishing from the bovine version. But if it becomes popular, it could make a big difference to cattle and the climate.


Monday, April 8, 2019

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Small town bike sharing service

I remember Portland, Oregon’s first bike sharing program. They bought a bunch of bikes, painted them the same garish color, and put them out on the streets. Predictably they all disappeared and changed color.

That was before cell phone apps and the technology that locks them down until they are paid for. But till recently, bike and scooter sharing has mostly been a big city offering. Now there’s a company, Koloni, that is offering the service on a much smaller scale.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Mirror, Mirror, Who’s the fairest oil company in the land?

Unless you give up driving and flying, even the most avid environmentalist will still be using fossil fuels for awhile. If you want to buy gas from the most responsible, climate-concerned companies, check out this article.


Friday, April 5, 2019

REBA pressuring utilities for better renewable markets

Over 200 large companies, cities and universities are coming together to pressure electric utilities to develop better systems for companies to source renewable energy. It’s called the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA.)

REBA hopes to flex its purchasing power to support technological innovation and push utilities to offer more green options — calling for changes to public policy where necessary.

It’s really important that cities, representing communities, push to keep the process fair. Otherwise there’s a risk that companies like Wal-Mart could choose the cheapest sources, leaving the rest of us to pay for the more expensive renewable sources.

 Walmart has "a great desire to operate as cleanly and sustainably as possible," he says. "But we also want to operate at the lowest possible cost. With where renewable energy costs have come, we feel that in a number of markets renewable energy is going to be the best cost option.
Citizens, beware.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Foodies: check out these 50 foods that help wildlife

Some foods are harder on the planet than others. But here are 50 foods, some of which you may never have heard of, that are healthy, tasty and support wildlife. So all you foodies out there, experiment with these and then tell us where to get them and what to do with them.

Sometimes you can find the food for free along the road. I was walking with my Thai sister in law and suddenly she leapt into the weeds. “I love these! They’re so expensive in Asia,” she said. Using Google to double check that our variety was also edible, we gathered bags full of what ranchers call pig weed and try to eliminate because eaten raw, it sickens livestock. It’s amaranth. The tender leaves sautéed with a bit of garlic are very tasty, like a mild spinach.


Monday, April 1, 2019

Are you paying extra for coal powered electricity?

Are you paying too much for your electricity and at the same time polluting the planet? If your community gets some of its electricity from a coal fired power plant (you likely do; the percentage has been dropping in the US but it’s still over 25%), check out this series of maps in this article that show whether it would be cheaper to shut them down and replace it with renewables. This is the map for 2018. There’s also a 2025 map if you want to see into the future.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

Can we ever put the plastic genie back in the bottle?

We use plastic because it provides some benefits over other materials. Ironically while they ar usually made from fossil fuels, their light weight may save on transportation fuels. And they are flexible, almost untreatable. Would you really want a glass bike helmet?

But if we want to continue to use them, we must find a way to collect all of it and reprocess it. Here are three interesting efforts.


Friday, March 29, 2019

One vision of how we will become carbon neutral

Just in time for Earth Day Month (April), a positive vision for how we will protect the climate.


If you live in or are coming to the Verde Valley/Sedona area in April, check out www.VVEarthDay.com to find inspiring, educational events and discounts during what we are calling Earth Month. One day doesn’t do her justice!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

These communities have ended homelessness

Homelessness. We’ve become inured to seeing people on the street. It seems unpleasant but normal. But a number of communities have ended homelessness and even more have at least ended it for Veterans. The trick is real-time data.

[Bergen County] created a “command center” that brought together various organizations working on homelessness, and then began using real-time data about each person experiencing homelessness so that everyone could work together to get them housed. Like many places, Bergen County also committed to a “housing first” approach, meaning that people move into permanent housing as a first step before also getting help with finding a job, mental healthcare, or other issues.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

#trashtag is rewarding those who pick up litter

For some people, they’re more likely to do the right thing when they will be noticed and more likely to do the wrong thing if they’re not. Case in point: I’ve never seen someone in our neighborhood not pick up after their dog, but I’ve seen plenty of dog poop.

So #trashtag gives people a way of being noticed even if no one is around. Find a place with trash and clean it up. Take a before and after picture and post it.



Tuesday, March 26, 2019

TV meteorologists now speaking out about climate change

Al Gore was never the right person to be the figurehead of the climate-concerned. I’m sure his heart was in the right place, but just because he was a politician, he politicized the topic. One wonders what  might have happened if he and John McCain had done the Inconvenient Truth speeches together.

For a long time, meteorologists avoided talking about climate change. Some wondered when their weather models couldn’t accurately predict weather a week ahead, how climate models could possibly predict decades in the future (confusing weather with the climate.) Others worried that they might turn off their viewers.

But in the past few years, they have taken on the mantle of explaining climate change impacts to their viewers. It helps that their viewers are asking about it.

"By 2014, we had 100 meteorologists using the [Climate Matters] materials," Maibach said. "From there, we went to 300 in 2016, and now we're almost at 600."
Weathercasters are seen almost as a member of your family. They come into your house (via TV) everyday and tell you to button up your overcoat or grab an umbrella. The public trusts them, so they’re a much better spokesperson to explain which weather events we made worse, why invasive species are growing in your yard. It may be too much to ask, but now they need to start telling people what to do (beyond taking cover.)


Monday, March 25, 2019

What makes a community healthy?

So-called Blue Zones are areas in the world where people live longer, healthier lives. Here's what researchers are learning about how to design communities to make them better for us all.
Go to The Atlantic for an interactive version of this map.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

The antidote to death by fashion: conspicuous conservation

Here’ s a startling fact about the apparel business:

The industry churned out 100 billion pieces of clothing for 7 billion people in 2015. The problem is so bad, some brands are burning unsold inventory. The waste has got to stop.
Fortunately, some brands are making money by selling less...conspicuous conservation vs conspicuous consumption.

Cuyana, whose tagline is “fewer better things,” is one; the company’s founders, Karla Gallardo and Shilpa Shah, believe in doing extensive focus groups and consumer research to create long-lasting and versatile products that respond to a clear need in the market. The brand’s website encourages women to think carefully before making purchases. One email to customers recommends a list of practical investment pieces, while another preaches the value of intentional buying. Sure, these are ways to help customers feel more comfortable about buying a $475 work satchel or $125 wallet. But Cuyana is also promoting “conspicuous conservation,” or the notion that buying less can signal how enlightened a consumer is. 


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Insurance for the new (climate) normal

Insurance companies were among the first to worry about climate change. Bigger, more frequent weather disasters meant bigger payouts. If they keep increasing premiums to pay for them, fewer people will buy insurance, driving prices further.

There are a lot of other problems with their business model. It can take a long time to get paid and the insurance company will try to reduce the size of the payout. One of my colleagues had a serious house fire. She and her husband fought with the insurance company for over a year before any clean up or reconstruction began. They moved out of state and haven’t come back. Last I saw, the house is still empty. It’s been at least three years.

Now insurers are considering parametric insurance: if X happens, the payout is made immediately. X could be a hurricane or earthquake of a specific magnitude or any other measurable trigger.

Until recently, individual consumers didn’t have access to parametric insurance in the US. That’s changing: In October 2018, a company called Jumpstart started offering earthquake coverage to Californians. The trigger is a quake that reaches 30 centimeters per second of peak ground velocity, a measure the US Geological Survey uses to create “shake maps” of intensity.


Friday, March 22, 2019

Where to focus your household climate efforts

Climate change feels overwhelming to many. But this chart, though it’s a few years old, can help you visualize what are your largest sources of greenhouse gases.


The easiest thing you can do to eliminate one of those segments is to buy green power from your electric utility or Arcadia Power. It will cost you around one latte a month.

If you want to know what else you can do to be more sustainable at home, check out our Tip Sheet that organizes actions into Easy and Advanced.

Check out events all April in the Verde Valley at www.VVEarthDay.com, including an OLLI class offered by the Sustainability Alliance called Home Sweet Home (how to make your household healthier and more sustainable.)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Want to get plastic out of your life?

You've probably seen that painful video of vets pulling a straw out of a sea turtle's nostril.  I had to look away. So much of what we use comes in plastic and much of it ends up in the landfill or the ocean.

Dianna Cohen is passionate about getting plastic out of her life. The short video has some good ideas, beyond the canvas grocery bag.


FYI: A friend of mine has recently launched a shampoo/conditioner line that is in bar form (so no plastic bottle) called HiBAR. I really like it. It doesn't get goopy like a wet bar of soap as long as it's sitting on a dry shelf in your shower. And it's great for traveling because it doesn't count toward your liquids baggie.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How sustainable is your toilet paper?

Toilet papers vary a lot in their environmental impact. Many of the super-soft-on-your-bum brands have zero recycled content. Bleaching the paper can also release carcinogenic dioxins.

Most big-name toilet paper brands don’t use any recycled paper in their tissue products — super-soft toilet paper as we know it actually requires fibers that can only be found in virgin timber. So, like some kind of kids’ movie super-villain, companies source wood pulp from ancient trees in the Canada boreal forest. Those forests are home to indigenous communities, tons of wildlife, and stored carbon waiting to be released when logged.
So the Charmin TV bears are hurting wild bears. Ironic.

How sustainable is your brand and what might you try instead? Check out NRDC’s scorecard

Source: NRDC

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Arizona encourages green lodging practices

Sustainable/eco tourism is driving changes in the hospitality business. Arizona has developed a program to help hotels be greener. (This is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient step to being sustainable.)

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association (AzLTA) recently launched a comprehensive update to the Certified Green Lodging Program. Together, with the help of Arizona State University sustainability interns, ADEQ and AzLTA gathered data to expand even more green initiatives in the areas of conservation, waste reduction and overall improvement in sustainability. From application to verification and certification, the process to become a Certified Green Lodging facility typically takes a mere 30 days to complete. And the benefits? There are plenty to be had by all — program members, visitors and residents of Arizona.

Article: https://azbigmedia.com/arizona-hotels-and-restaurants-capitalize-on-eco-friendly-tourism-boom/ 

Fact sheet:  https://legacy.azdeq.gov/function/news/2010/download/120210fs.pdf

Monday, March 18, 2019

How you recycle matters

by Lisa Voss

We all know that we should recycle but HOW you recycle has a big impact on how much actually gets recovered and recycled. It affects the quality of the material and the percentage of the material that can be recovered. In general, the more the consumer separates materials upstream, the better the result.

According to the EPA 2015 Sustainable Materials Management report, over half of the waste stream is potentially recyclable but only about half of those of recyclables are currently recovered, for a “yield” of only approximately 25% of the waste stream nationally. (Note another 28% of the waste stream generated is food and yard trimmings that are almost all landfilled but could be composted). If we want to do better, we must separate materials earlier in the process and we need better markets for those materials.

Recycling approaches contain different tradeoffs; based on the sustainability goals of the municipality, decision-makers must balance between contamination risk, consumer effort/willingness, and processor investment. See the table below.

Full Source Separation
Consumer or business separates recyclables into individual bins
Two bins: fiber (paper/cardboard) and containers (glass/cans)
One bin for all recyclables, separate bin for trash
All waste in one bin, recyclables and non-recyclables together
Contamination Risk (recoverability)
LOW: Main risk is from placing contaminated or non-accepted items in bins (e.g. pizza boxes, plastic film, non-recoverable resins)
LOW-MED: Risk of placing items in wrong bin added to risk of contaminated or non-accepted items
MED-HIGH: Many non-recyclable items placed in bin (“wishcycling”), fiber contamination by container residue and broken glass
HIGH: Large amount of fiber content is contaminated by other waste, broken glass is both a contaminant and non-recoverable
Consumer Effort (adoption)
HIGH: Effort to separate, clean, and transport items
MED: Effort to separate and clean items; move 2 bins
LOW: No effort to separate recyclables
Processor Investment (cost)
Onsite collection bins, remote collection bins & pickup logistics, separation operation
Specialized 2-bin collection trucks, separate trash & recycling routes, “clean MRF” operation
Dedicated recycling collection trucks, separate trash & recycling routes, “clean MRF” operation
Standard collection trucks, single collection route, “dirty MRF” operation**
Local Example in Verde Valley
Sedona Recycles
Waste Management, Taylor Waste*
Patriot Disposal
* Waste and recycling collected by Taylor is currently being processed through Patriot’s facility
** The specific sorting technologies in MRFs can vary widely

For a quick education about the current challenges surrounding recycling, here’s a recent NYT article and a recent podcast that lays out the issues very well: Global Recycling Is A Dumpster Fire. Literally.