Wednesday, 23 January 2013 11:00

Rising Sea Levels and Sustainable Desalination

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Depending on where in the world you live, it might be easy to forget that the environment is more than just the air we breathe or the land under our feet.  It’s important to keep in mind that the oceans also are being affected radically by climate change.  The oceanic problems are too numerous to list.  However, this week we are taking a closer look at one issue that people in different parts of the planet face, rising oceans as the polar ice caps melt and more saltwater.

Those of us that live in the United States might not be aware how rich we are in freshwater sources as say countries in the Middle East that are very arid environments.  Obviously those countries have other resources that we lack, but water is essential to life.  Our planet may be covered in a great deal of water, but much of it is unusable to humans in its natural state because of the high salt content. 

Did you know that salt is expelled from seawater when it freezes?  Although some brine is trapped, the overall salinity of sea ice is much lower than seawater.  So the seas are rising as previously permanently frozen parts of the planet melt.  This means that not only is there more water, but it’s becoming salty as it melts.

Desalination is any of several processes that remove some amount of salt and other minerals from saline water.  Unfortunately, it is quite an energy intensive process.  Last week, a new renewable energy desalination project was announced in Masdar, Abu Dhabi, which is in the United Arab Emirates.  The project seeks to transform seawater into useable, freshwater on land by building a commercially viable and renewable energy-powered desalination plant by 2020.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region of the Middle East is comprised of the Arabian Peninsula countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman.  The GCC formed in 1981 and uses about half the world’s desalinated water. 

Of course, accessing renewable energy is not the only impediment to sustainable desalination.  Another effect of global warming is oceanic acidification that contributes to massive algae blooms.  These algae blooms can shut down a desalination plant.  There are other unwanted components that might be present in seawater such as radioactive material from warships and nuclear power plants which would need to be removed before the water could be used safely.

Despite other lingering issues, it is still worth asking the question, “Can these enormous desalination plants powered by renewable energy help mitigate some of the issues we face from rising sea levels?”  The answer is, “Every bit helps.”  But don’t start thinking it’s a magic bullet since none exists.  We still all need to do our parts in reducing our carbon emissions and footprints.  However, it is good news that desalination can be a sustainable and environmentally responsible industrial solution and worth noting that low cost, low impact renewable energy technologies do exist.

The CarbonFree® Business Partnership program is intended to provide a simple, affordable way for businesses of any size to evaluate the carbon emissions associated with their annual operations, take steps to reduce these emissions, and neutralize the remaining emissions by supporting clean air and carbon reduction projects around the world.  The program is also structured so that it compliments broader sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility programs, and helps to promote awareness and recognition for these efforts.

A great example of expanding environmental commitment beyond carbon emissions neutralization is CarbonFree® Partner K.L. Security Enterprises’ annual tree-planting projects through their Safe Environments Initiative.  When not out planting trees, the K.L. Security team helps customers store critical business and personal electronic data, documents, vital records and collections with their custom safes, vaults, fireproof file cabinets and ioSafe rugged hard drives.  For residential customers, services may also include preservation and protection of family photo albums, heirlooms and other keepsakes.

 “For the last 5 years, I’ve been a steward of a diverse ecosystem in Indiana - 48 acres of native forest and prairie that deserves to be protected,” explains Johnny Klemme, CEO of K.L. Security Enterprises.  “With the help of friends and family, we’re teaching others about the importance and power of our local environment, and even more importantly, that you can’t sit back and wait for other people to take initiative; you have to make that conscious decision today to make a difference.”

Check out this video to see Johnny and the K.L. Security team in action.

In the last two years alone, K.L. Security has offset 93 metric tonnes of CO2 through the CarbonFree® Business Partnership, the equivalent of carbon emissions from almost 10,500 gallons of gasoline.  In 2013, K.L. Security plans to complete two additional environmental improvement projects with several other local businesses in their community.

"Our commitment to the environment runs deep, and partnering with Carbonfund.org ensures that every bit of our operational CO2 emissions is accounted for,” confirms Johnny. “Each and every one of our customers across the United States can take comfort that the carbon emissions from every safe and vault that we ship to them are offset through our support of Carbonfund.org’s reforestation, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. We’re doing our part to affect positive change in the world in which we live, work and play and hope our customers value this commitment as much as we do." 

The United States is one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world.  What can our country do for the good of the planet with this role?

One thing the U.S. federal government does every few years is engage hundreds of experts to evaluate the impacts of climate change, now and in the future.  The resulting National Climate Assessment report, which was recently released, showed that America's current efforts to reduce carbon pollution are too little to avoid dangerous climate change.  Last year President Obama announced new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for cars and light trucks such as minivans and sport utility vehicles.  Let’s build on this historic progress to limit carbon emissions.  There are several ways that the president and federal government can make a real difference in the fight against global warming.

The Clean Air Act is a powerful tool that our nation’s leaders could be leveraging more fully.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with using the Clean Air Act to issue rules to reduce greenhouse pollution.  This farsighted law has reduced damaging air pollution for forty years, saving many lives.  The EPA has already used it to protect public health and welfare from six extensive and harmful pollutants including: ozone, particulate matter, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and lead.  Now is the time to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by setting a national pollution cap for greenhouse gases.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has also proposed higher emission standards on coal-fired power plants.  These standards need to be fortified, finalized and implemented posthaste.  Why stop with power plants?  There are other places where higher greenhouse gas emission standards can be successfully applied to help save our planet such as oil refineries, cement plants, and even the airline industry.

Another way to help the environment would be for President Obama and the State Department to decline approval on the Keystone XL pipeline, which proposes moving oil down from Canada through the western United States to refineries along the Gulf Coast.  There are no guarantees that the pipeline won’t spring leaks.  Furthermore, there is evidence that extracting oil from the sands are increasing levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes far beyond natural levels.  Denying approval would show that America is committed to transitioning away from a dependence on fossil fuels.

Of course, it’s not all up to the federal government.  We can all do our parts to speed the transition to a clean energy future.  First we can encourage our elected officials to take the climate change actions recommended above.  Second we can reduce our own carbon footprints.  Consider lowering the heat or air conditioning depending on the season, using a clothesline, rake, hand mower and other manpowered devices, composting, forgoing meat at least one day a week and riding a bicycle.  Lastly, we can all find simple ways to be part of the solution such as planting trees and offsetting remaining carbon emissions.

Most Corporate Social Responsibility programs include Scope 3 employee business travel and commuting in annual operational carbon emissions calculations.  Often, a review and audit of business travel patterns and choices reveal options to reduce the resulting business travel carbon emissions, and sometimes reduce the costs of business travel. 

Since 1978, CarbonFree® Business Partner Topaz International has been a leader of audit and support services to the corporate travel industry, with the mission to deliver world-class customer service to its clients, including over half of the Fortune 1000 companies located in over 80 countries.

In 2007, Topaz International implemented several initiatives to streamline its operations and reduce its carbon emissions.  Topaz became a 100% virtual organization, eliminating all office space and employee commuting, and joined the CarbonFree® Business Partnership program in order to neutralize its remaining carbon footprint and become a zero impact company to the environment.  2013 marks the sixth consecutive year that Topaz International has maintained this commitment to a CarbonFree® environment by supporting Carbonfund.org’s energy efficiency and renewable energy technology projects, and reforestation projects around the world. 

 “This is our effort to make earth a better place to live today and in the future.  Each person and company must do their part to improve our environment for our children and working with Carbonfund.org is a great place to start,” asserts Bradley Seitz, President and CEO of Topaz International. 

A great example of following our motto, “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t™”, Topaz International leads the corporate travel audit services industry by practicing what they preach to their clients and by operating CarbonFree®.

To inaugurate the New Year, CarbonFree® Business Partner Inner Ecology™ is proud to become one of the very first Benefit Corporations in the state of Illinois. Founding Director Amanda Kreiss joined thirteen pioneering business leaders to join this newly-established corporate structure to help forge a more sustainable and inclusive economy. 

Inner Ecology facilitates the responsible sourcing, assessing, and dispensing of East Asian traditional medicinals of whole plant, mineral and animal origin for the benefit of its customers’ environmental and economic health.  Inner Ecology seeks to provide consistent leadership in forging a fresh approach to social entrepreneurship within the field of East Asian Medicine.  

Three years ago, Inner Ecology augmented its environmental sustainability commitment by joining the CarbonFree® Business Partnership program in order to neutralize its annual operational carbon emissions and support carbon reduction and clean air projects around the world. 

“We relish this singular opportunity to demonstrate publicly the level of our commitment to good stewardship and to be held accountable for the high standards we set”, asserted Amanda Kreiss, the Founding Director of Inner Ecology.   “In the longer term, a central aim of our business is to do our part to "green" the profession of East Asian Medicine and support domestic cultivation of our medicinals.”  

Benefit Incorporation revives the tradition of corporate charters from an era when states expected and demanded that corporations serve the public good.  In Illinois, Benefit Corporations are now legally required to include this material positive impact on society and the environment in their articles of incorporation, and to publicly report annually on overall social and environmental performance in compliance with comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third party standards. This offers businesses more freedom in defining success and provides legal protection for those looking to pursue a corporate purpose other than simply maximizing profits.  

Carbonfund.org recognizes Inner Ecology’s leadership, both in its ongoing pursuit of environmentally-responsible operations and its new focus on a broader social commitment to fully accountable reporting on all social and environmental performances.

We all have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint and lessen the impact of global warming. That’s why the 2013 Green Inaugural Ball, aside from “greening” the event, has teamed up with Carbonfund.org to reduce its carbon footprint with two carbon offset projects: The Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Reforestation Project and the New Bedford Landfill Gas-to-Energy Methane Project.

As a green event, we just couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to reduce the Green Ball’s climate impact, and help pave the road toward a clean energy future.

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Reforestation

The Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Reforestation Project, located in Tallulah, LA., is dedicated to restoring native bottomland hardwood forests in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley region of Northeastern Louisiana.

This area was once covered in dense forests, but now it supports less than 20% of its original 22 million forested acres due to decades of land conversion for agriculture. Why are forestry projects important? They help offset the effects of climate change, and help improve the quality of top soil, reduce and control erosion, protect and filter water while reducing the threat of flooding, produce oxygen and nutrients and provide habitats for wildlife.

New Bedford Landfill  Gas-to-Energy Methane Project

This landfill gas-to-energy plant, located in Greater New Bedford, MA., not only produces 3.3 megawatts hours of clean electricity, but also reduces the amount of methane released into our atmosphere. Why is the destruction of methane important? It’s approximately 21 to 23 times more powerful as a greenhouse than carbon dioxide, and a major contributor to climate change. A major concern about climate change is the release of an enormous amount of methane –previously trapped in permafrost in frozen tundra areas like Siberia and Northern Canada – into our atmosphere.

Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Check out this list produced by Carbonfund.org on how you can do just that:
http://www.carbonfund.org/reduce

Haven’t purchased your 2013 Green Inaugural Ball ticket yet? Purchase them here: http://www.nwf.org/2013-green-inaugural-ball.aspx
Heading to the Green Ball? Don’t forget to tweet using the #GreenBall2013 hashtag.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed this week that 2012 was officially the warmest year on record in America’s contiguous 48 states, based on 118 years of temperature records dating back to 1895.  Despite this fact, news coverage of climate change actually declined in 2012.  According to The Daily Climate, worldwide climate coverage decreased by two percent between 2011 and 2012, which represented the fewest number of published stories since 2009.

Last year the US was experience droughts in more than just rainfall.  During the presidential election there were accusations of a “climate silence” until Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast in the days leading up to the election.  In President Obama’s acceptance speech he said, “We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

However, President Obama’s statement has not reassured everyone that he and Congress are going to make any meaningful efforts to tackle carbon pollution and climate change.  In fact, the League of Conservation Voters and a coalition of 70 environmental organizations recently wrote an open letter to President Obama, which encouraged him to spotlight climate change during his second term.  A quote from the letter includes, "Cutting carbon pollution at home and rejecting dirty fuels will establish America’s leadership and credibility, enabling [President Obama] to create clean energy jobs in the United States while forging an effective international coalition to cut global carbon pollution."

Whether or not President Obama and Congress heed the global warming warning signs, the bright spot is that local governments are undertaking real strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change right now.  ICLEI USA, a network of local governments working to address climate and sustainability challenges, recently highlighted 20 communities across the continental US that are leading the efforts to plan for the future and respond to extreme weather.  Some particularly prominent examples by local governments include:

  • Atlanta, GA – Urban heat island effects worsened by hotter seasons. Addressing the problem with a climate action plan, including cool roof/pavement standards and 10,000 new planted shade trees.
  • Chicago, IL – Responding to extreme heat and flooding with the milestone Chicago Climate Action Plan and the most installed green roof square footage in the country.
  • Eugene, OR – Ravaged by major wildfires and mega-dry conditions.  Mitigating these issues by increasing water conservation, reducing hydroelectric power demand and planting drought-resistant trees.
  • Miami Dade Count y, FL – Known as the most vulnerable city in the world to sea level rise as demonstrated by severe flooding.  Urban planning now addresses sea level rise and disaster response, and they’re also investing millions in flood mitigation projects.
  • New York, NY – Suffered $19 billion in damage from Superstorm Sandy.  Taking positive action with a $2.4 billion green infrastructure plan, restoring barrier wetlands, and initiating a climate risk assessment requirement for new developments.

It’s wonderful to see these steps being taken towards a more sustainable future.  It would be even better if federal leadership ensues, taking their cues from local governments.  Media silence or not, climate change is here and further delayed action will only result in catastrophic results.  The time is now to secure a low carbon global economy and thereby the planet for current and future generations.

2013 marks the sixth consecutive year that Flavorus, one of the world’s largest event tickets distributor, has maintained a CarbonFree® Business environment.  With global awareness of the environment at critical mass, Flavorus changed every aspect of its operations to give the Earth its due TLC.  First, they cleaned up their own house: reducing waste, implementing aggressive recycling efforts, replacing incandescent lighting, and a host of other modifications to its daily operational practices.  Then Flavorus asked the same of their clients by promoting their paperless will-call ticket delivery and order placement.  Finally, Flavorus has taken the progressive step to neutralize its remaining carbon footprint for the past six years by supporting Carbonfund.org’s carbon reduction and clean air technology projects around the world.   

"Since its inception 10 years ago, Flavorus has looked for progressive business practices.  We are proud to be the first in our industry to make environmental responsibility part of our identity," explains Todd Sims, CEO. 

Flavorus uses a high volume “Jetstream” application that can process 150,000 tickets in 10 seconds per event.  Clients also can customize their Flavorus event page to match the company’s own website and marketing style, and can embed ticket sales system directly into website with custom widgets. And Flavorus features e-ticketing, which reduces the labor, paper, mailing and costs associated with printing and mailing tickets to buyers.

“Our transformation involved three critical phases: cleaning up our operations, bringing our customers and clients on board, and partnering with a carbon offset organization to help fund environmental projects around the globe,” emphasizes Sims. “With focus and determination, every individual can make a difference and reverse the damage being done to the environment. We only have one planet, and we’re committed to keeping it green.”

Carbonfund.org is thrilled to continue our partnership with Flavorus and encourages every business to examine the steps they can take today to help protect our environment by reducing and neutralizing harmful carbon emissions.