Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sunscreen under the harsh light of FDA: what to buy?

Recent studies have shown that chemicals in sunscreen don't stay on your skin. They penetrate into your body, with unknown effects.

For years, you've been urged to slather on sunscreen before venturing outdoors. But new U.S. Food and Drug Administration data reveals chemicals in sunscreens are absorbed into the human body at levels high enough to raise concerns about potentially toxic effects.
Bloodstream levels of four sunscreen chemicals increased dramatically after test subjects applied spray, lotion and cream for four days as directed on the label, according to the report. (Source)
The FDA is now requiring that sunscreen manufacturers report on the risks associated with their products.

The agency has set a November 2019 deadline for manufacturers to provide safety data on their sunscreens, including evaluations of systemic absorption, the risk of cancer from the chemicals, and their effect on reproductive health.

But don't stop wearing sunscreen! Instead buy the safest, effective brand you can. Learn more in this article and visit the Environmental Working Group's list of safest sunscreens.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

How to feed 9 billion people without destroying the planet

Sustainability involves seeing the whole system, understanding how things interact, and then finding leverage points that make everything better.

Our food system interacts with land use decisions, water availability and climate change. It’s also driven by diet, population growth and pesticides. And despite the face we waste an enormous amount of food, people are still going hungry.

What is needed are strategies for managing land-use and food systems together. These would consider links between agriculture, water, pollution, biodiversity, diets and greenhouse-gas emissions. Each sector and country can tailor solutions. But global coordination, learning and knowledge-sharing will also be necessary to ensure that the net result is sustainable and resilient, and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

FABLE Pathways Consortium has developed a model for getting our arms around this complex system and make better decisions.
Countries should take into account competing demands for land, including urban sprawl, industry and infrastructure development. And they should examine the impacts of international trade and global supply chains on their own resources. The aim is to find integrated strategies that are balanced across the three pillars. For example, intensifying cattle ranching in Brazil would reduce deforestation locally and internationally, while mitigating global greenhouse-gas emissions7.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Igloo releasing biodegradable $10 cooler

Just in time for summer, Igloo is releasing an alternative to the ubiquitous, cheap Styrofoam coolers that crumble and pollute the ocean. It’s made from paper pulp and paraffin wax. It will hold water for 5 days before it starts to leak and even if it does, reportedly you can let it dry out and use it again.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Cement from desalination water: double benefit

[Source Photo: Anastasia Taioglou/Unsplash]
Cement and concrete have a serious carbon problem. Making cement uses lots of energy and the chemistry of it releases greenhouse gases. "Producing cement accounts for around 7% of global CO2 emissions."

At the same time, desert nations along the sea making potable drinking water from seawater have to do something with the brine that is left over. Usually they pump it back into the sea which can affect sea life, especially if they don't pump it far out to sea.

Some smart folks in Abu Dhabi think they've come up with a solution to both.
This fact [CO2 emissions], Celik says, got him interested in finding a better way to make the material. He and his team already knew that magnesium oxide, a mineral found in salt deposits like lakes and salt flats, could be converted into a type of cement. In the United Arab Emirates, where Celik and his team work, they realized they could tap the over 70 operating desalination plants for access to brine left over from the process of purifying seawater, which would otherwise just be dumped back into the Gulf. Synthesizing the magnesium oxide in brine into a cement-like substance requires much less heat than making ordinary cement. And, Celik says, as magnesium oxide cement hardens over its lifetime, it absorbs carbon dioxide over time to gain strength, potentially making it a carbon-negative building material.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Solar on schools yields multiple benefits

Schools have large roofs, perfect for solar. But schools don’t have the money to buy the solar panels. Instead, they can lease them, saving money on their electricity. This frees up money for classrooms and gives kids something to study. It also reduces air pollution. If they got the money from carbon credits, it could free up billions for education.

Nationwide, the researchers project benefits stemming from an all-out push for solar installations on school buildings could be worth as much as $4 billion per year, if each ton of carbon released to the air is assumed to cost society $40 and the value of a statistical human life -- in the way that regulators and economists calculate it -- is pegged at $10 million. The estimated benefits capture the cost of premature deaths and other health impacts linked to air pollution from power plants.

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 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: