We’ve already examined and defined a carbon footprint, but have you ever heard of an ecological footprint? An ecological footprint compares human demands on nature with the Earth's ability to regenerate resources and provide services.
Ecological footprints are ever changing because of advances in technology and a three-year lag for the UN to collect and publish statistics. However, it is a standardized measure that begins by assessing the amount of biologically productive land and sea area necessary to supply the resources a human population uses. This is then contrasted with the planet’s ability to absorb associated waste and ecological capacity to regenerate. Think of it like how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity given an average lifestyle. In 2007, humanity's total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.5 planet Earths. This means humans are currently using ecological services 1.5 times quicker than Earth can renew them.
William Rees was the first academic to publish about an ecological footprint in 1992. He supervised the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel who outlined the concept and offered a calculation method. Rees penned the term ecological footprint in a more accessible manner than the original name of “appropriated carrying capacity” after a computer technician described Rees’ new computer as having a small footprint on the desk. Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth in early 1996.
The implications are dire according to Rees who wrote in 2010, “…the average world citizen has an eco-footprint of about 2.7 global average hectares while there are only 2.1 global hectare of bioproductive land and water per capita on earth. This means that humanity has already overshot global biocapacity by 30% and now lives unsustainabily by depleting stocks of ‘natural capital’.”
We’re definitely overspending the planet’s resources. Just take a look at man-made global warming and climate change. We need to continue on the path to seeking a sustainable lifestyle, and do it on a global scale. All of us working together can reduce the amount of the earth’s resources that we consume. Start with yourself and get creative with how many ways you can save energy and recycle. What’s great about beginning with energy efficiency is that it can save you money too. Then there are cost effective ways to offset the rest such as by contributing to Carbonfund.org’s development of renewable energy technologies and carbon emissions reduction projects. The important thing is to get started right away.
In what is easily the best environmental action in a generation, this week, the Obama Administration announced new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for cars and light trucks (think minivans and sport utility vehicles). By 2025, these vehicles will be required to average 54.5 miles per gallon (MPG).
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates CAFE standards and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency measures vehicle fuel efficiency. An agreement in support of acceptable standards was made between the government, automakers and their unions, and environmental organizations.
The stage for these historic fuel economy standards was set by an energy law enacted in 2007 under President George W. Bush. Additionally, the 2009 federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler were tied to better fuel efficiency.
Fuel-efficient cars and trucks were the U.S. auto industry’s saving grace. It makes good sense on multiple levels to continue these efforts. For one, 570,000 new jobs can be created by 2030. Not to mention saving consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reducing U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels. This also translates to strengthening national security by lessening the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
What about fighting man-made global warming? The new standards will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025. This reduces emissions by 6 billion metric tons, which is more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010. We thank President Obama for his leadership on combating climate change, pollution prevention and national security.
Starting in 2017, the standards will be phased in over the course of eight years. New fuel-saving technology is projected to increase the cost of new car or light truck by $3,000 on average. This means consumers will pay a little more when they buy the vehicle, about $50 more a month over a five-year loan, but they’ll more than make up for it at the pump with expected gas savings per vehicle between $7,000 - $8,000. And that is good for the environment and our wallets.
Undeniably, the vehicle fuel-efficiency standards represent an unbeatable combination of protecting the environment and strengthening the economy. They’re also the nation's single largest effort to combat climate-altering greenhouse gases, but we can’t stop building our carbon-reduction portfolios now. Wonderful news like this should push us to continuing to find more ways to reduce our carbon footprint, as individuals and a nation. Now let’s go invest in some renewable energy projects!
Just when we were about to succumb to the gloomy picture that is global climate change, a ray of hope breaks through the clouds. A technical report released this month by the U.S. Energy Information Agency calculated that energy related U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, which account for about 98 percent of total CO2 emissions, for the first four months of 2012 decreased to around 1992 levels.
The dramatic decrease is attributed to a switch from dirtier burning coal to cleaner natural gas. Almost everyone in the energy and environmental industries believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.
Scientists didn’t predict the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. falling to its lowest level in 20 years in part because the decrease is not attributed to legislation limiting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The switch to natural gas was driven by the market.
The state of the economy, increasing efforts for energy efficiency and a growing utilization of renewable energy are certainly aspects that contribute to lowering U.S. carbon emissions. However, at the moment, the lion’s share is due to the current low price of natural gas. There has been an upsurge in shale gas drilling in the northeast, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, which has made natural gas more affordable than coal per unit of energy generated. Gas production is on the increase because of the modernization of the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, where highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals are inserted to fracture shale rock which releases natural gas.
While natural gas is a cleaner-burning energy source than coal, it is not emission-free. There is still some carbon dioxide emitted and drilling can have environmental impacts such as contamination of ground water, air quality risks, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, and surface contamination from spills and flowback.
There are also concerns that the rise in use of natural gas could stall renewable energy efforts. The ultimate goal should still be a mix of increasing energy efficiency and clean energy with the balance kept to a minimum of natural gas.
So the upshot is that the U.S. energy picture is far from perfect, but the news concerning a drastic decline in U.S. carbon dioxide levels is welcome and positive because it reminds us that there is still time to turn around the fate of the planet’s climate.
Last month it was revealed that a diverse group of stakeholders with political ties that cover the entire spectrum from left to right have been holding secret meetings about climate change with the support of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington D.C.
Climate change is an unavoidably, politically charged issue. These meetings are an attempt to discover ways to approach global warming in a politically viable manner. The July 2012 meeting was the fifth of such meetings, which are held secretly and speakers not revealed in order to facilitate true brainstorming, an open discussion where all sides could offer solutions without fear of reprisal.
The agenda for the most recent meeting, which was leaked online, was titled, “Price Carbon Campaign / Lame Duck Initiative: A Carbon Pollution Tax in Fiscal and Tax Reform”. However, participants claim putting a price on carbon emissions was not the only item of discussion, and neither was focus limited to the short-term.
Proponents of a carbon tax put it forward as a less complex method to begin pricing carbon emissions than cap-and-trade. Legislation for cap-and-trade collapsed in 2010 in the nation’s capital and preceded these meetings.
At the moment tax increases, carbon or otherwise, are unlikely to get off the ground, but the long-term view is that taxing CO2 could win support over taxing income. Furthermore, there is potential to use a carbon tax to tackle both global warming and the deficit.
So the question as to whether we can deal with climate change in a politically viable manner is still unanswered, but the future is looking brighter with the news that open discussions are occurring among bipartisan groups.
More than a couple of our past blog posts have covered how increasingly extreme weather is the product of climate change. However, have you stopped to ask yourself what that really means? How will climate change affect us and future generations? What things that we currently enjoy will be unavailable to our children?
A recent article covers some things that global warming is likely to ruin for our kids; things such as coffee, chocolate, strawberries. And the list isn’t limited to agricultural food items. Say goodbye to blazing fast Wi-Fi. Also your favorite vacation spot or even your home may be underwater in a few, short decades time. The country you live in may disappear. The article has some shocking images of Greenland melting away.
So what’s it going to take to help preserve the Earth as we know it? Global carbon emissions need to be reduced 80% by 2050. The U.S. has already pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by approximately 17%. Eventually legislation will be enacted increasing the goal to a 30% reduction in 2025 and a 42% reduction in 2030, with the ultimate goal of reducing emissions 83% by 2050.
Do your part in reducing carbon emissions and getting us closer to meeting the goals outlined above. Start by switching your Internet browser to www.envirosearch.org. Your regular, daily Internet search activities will begin contributing to renewable energy, reforestation, and energy efficiency projects. Then go to www.carbonfund.org for ideas on how to reduce your carbon footprint and offset carbon emissions. By working together, and each doing our part, we can change the fate of the planet.
A recently published study out of the University of Michigan examined Generation X’s views on climate change and found them to be largely unconcerned with the issue.
The Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY) releases a quarterly research report and has followed the same 4,000 people for 25 years. Originally, in 1987, 5,900 students were selected from a national sample of 7th and 10th graders in 50 U.S. public school systems.
Generation X now comprises 32-52 year olds who are the most well-educated and scientifically savvy generation in U.S. history. However, the LSAY shows dwindling interest in climate change as it is a complex and long-term issue. The study compared responses from 2009 and 2011 and found that a scant two percent of those aged 37 to 40 follow climate change "very closely". This was a 50 percent drop from 2009 results. Over half said they follow climate change "not closely." More than 40 percent say they have only a "moderate concern" about global warming.
The most disturbing part of the report points to a disregard for future generations. Most do not see climate change as an immediate problem that requires their attention to address. A large percentage, 66 percent, said they aren’t sure that global warming is happening. About 10 percent even outright deny global warming is actually happening.
Why is Generation X disengaged, disinterested, or even openly disbelieving regarding climate change? The answer is as multifaceted as global warming itself. Disinterest in climate change is surely due in part to a massive and unprecedented disinformation campaign by oil and gas interests and conservative media outlets spanning more than a decade, even as the overwhelming scientific record points squarely to climate change. Some experts theorize issue fatigue may be the cause when a problem is long-standing. Others point to the complexity in understanding the underlying causes and potential solutions for climate change as a barrier to engagement with the issue. Still another potential answer is the distraction by other timely public policy issues. For example, interest in the economy experienced an upsurge following the Great Recession that began in 2008 to the detriment of environmental issues.
Whatever the reason, there is something every person in all generations can do to help save our planet. One easy and fast way to protect the environment is to switch your Internet browser to www.envirosearch.org. You'll be contributing to renewable energy, reforestation, and energy efficiency projects through you regular, daily Internet search activities. Another simple step is to use an emissions calculator to determine your personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Then reduce your carbon footprint, plant a tree, or offset your carbon emissions.
Download and read the entire study here http://lsay.org/GenX-4.pdf.
The Earth is 70% covered by oceans, and stores about 90% of the planet’s heat. This means that ocean warming translates into global warming. Climate change deniers contend that global warming is not caused by greenhouse gas emissions, but rather by natural processes and variations. However, a study released this week proves with 99% certainty that no more than 10% of the observed increase in ocean temperatures over the past 50 years could be accounted for by natural variation.
The Human-Induced Global Ocean Warming on Multidecadal Timescales study is the most comprehensive study ever performed on rising ocean temperatures, and authored by a team of American, Indian, Japanese, and Australian scientists. According to the study, the planet’s oceans are warming at a rate of 0.20°F per decade, which affects global weather patterns leading to increasing weather extremes such as more heat waves, storms, and intense storms. Furthermore, ocean warming affects the ocean ecology itself. A few of the effects we’ve already begun to see are plankton reduction, melting sea ice, and coral die-off.
The study unequivocally points to global warming as man-made. Of course, this has been known, shown and settled for nearly twenty years by the IPCC and climate scientists around the world. But the shift to ocean warming is significant due to its proportion of the Earth and its surface as well as because the vast majority of the people on Earth live very close to rising oceans.
Four or five years ago we shifted from the question of ‘is it happening’ to ‘what to do about it’. Political and business interests have worked hard to shift this debate back again, but the real focus must remain on the numerous solutions to climate change and the dwindling timeline we have to reduce our global emissions 50-80% by mid century.
Download the full study at this link: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n7/full/nclimate1553.html
We can do a lot as individuals to combat global warming. But it is undeniable that governments can do more since they harness the power of the collective. The Obama administration’s strategy is to control global warming emissions through regulation. This week a huge victory was given to both the administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia. The decision was unanimous in upholding the agency’s landmark rulings to control greenhouse gases.
The issue seems like a “no brainer” that the EPA should regulate greenhouse gases. However, dozens of lawsuits from industry groups and 14 states challenged four rules that aim to limit greenhouse gases. The biggest rule is the EPA’s 2009 “endangerment finding” and the foundation on which the other three rules rest. The EPA contended, and was vindicated in this ruling, that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions constitute a danger to public health and therefore could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The three-judge panel acknowledged and gave credence to climate change as a real and legitimate threat to public health and safety. So now climate change deniers have less of a leg to stand on; the EPA based its case on sound science and careful research which stood up to a rigorous judicial review and emerged victorious.
The ruling cleared the way for the EPA to proceed with clean car standards and restrictive permits on power plants and other major industrial polluters. Perhaps now power plants will put increased effort into developing cost-effective and reliable methods to capture carbon emissions, or at least offset them. If not, the future will certainly be in renewable energy sources now that there are stricter limitations on greenhouse gas emissions.
Everyone has heard the saying that children are our future. Well, this week, a child spoke out about climate change and how the path we are on “with the earth warming, emissions and sea levels rising, our future here is questionable.”
Tcktcktck.org, the Global Campaign for Climate Action, offered young people around the world a chance for a Date with History by asking them, “If you had two minutes to tell the world's leaders what kind of future you want, what would you say?” The organization received nearly 200 video entries and thousands of votes. The winner was 17-year-old Brittany Trilford of New Zealand.
This eloquent young lady addressed heads of state from more than 130 nations on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 and spoke for the world’s approximately 3 billion children, roughly half of the Earth’s population, at this week's U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference is also called Rio+20 to mark the 20th anniversary of the initial Earth Summit.
“Our future is in danger. We are all aware that time is ticking and we are quickly running out” said Miss Trilford voicing many parents’ fears.
“The people [20 years ago] at the [first Earth] Summit knew there needed to be change… They made great promises... These promises are left, not broken, but empty.”
“We, the next generation, demand change; demand action, so that we can have a future.”
Watch Brittany Trilford’s moving speech on climate change here http://youtu.be/karQQb-B8Uk and click here to see The Future I Want: her winning entry for the Date with History contest http://youtu.be/hpxsvZ4eqZk.
Climate change mitigation is possible. Carbonfund.org provides a number of ways for individuals to make a difference and reduce their impact on climate change, including reducing emissions by supporting reforestation projects. Get involved now so we can build a sustainable world and ensure our children’s future.
New information is coming to light about the massive collapse of one of the world’s oldest and earliest urban civilizations. The Harappan, or Indus, civilization came into being over 4,000 years ago and existed for about 600 years before it slowly disappeared. Scientists and scholars have hypothesized about its demise. Theories range from regional conflicts to a foreign attack, but some suggest environmental issues may have been the cause.
Researchers recently published an article named, “Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilization” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences outlining evidence that points to environmental factors leading to the end of this ancient civilization. The scientists studied satellite maps and collected field sediment samples, then cross-referenced them with previous archaeological findings to develop a much clearer picture of what really happened to this long-lost civilization.
The Harappan civilization is named for one of its largest cities, and occupied what is now India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and part of Afghanistan. It had a sophisticated indoor plumbing system, gridded streets, a flourishing arts and crafts community, and what appears to be a more democratic society than other large civilizations such as Egypt or Mesopotamia.
The Harappans were largely dependent upon monsoons that dried up leading to the end of their urban environment. They used the rivers and seasonal floods that were fed by these monsoons to meet their agricultural needs. Once the monsoons weakened, people slowly moved eastward away from cities into small villages and towns. The water in the area they moved to was unable to support the large cities of the past.
There are lessons to be learned from the extinction of this colossal civilization. The Harappans were overly dependent on monsoons that eventually disappeared and the U.S. is also largely dependent on somewhat predictable weather, which is now threatened by climate change. Americans need to prepare for increasingly extreme weather, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase energy efficiency, and we need to do it now before we suffer a similar fate to that of the Harappans.