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 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.
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.
According to a recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund, 58 of the United States’ Fortune 100 companies set goals in 2012 to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or use more renewable energy in their operations. However, oil and gas companies are lagging far behind in this movement. Eight of 11 domestic energy companies on the Fortune 100 have not set internal energy goals.
This is in direct contrast to 68 of the planet’s 100 largest companies who recognize the impact of global warming and are making investments in greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy goals. Sadly, energy companies represent the lowest participation rate of any industry worldwide. The few exceptions are Hess and Chevron who have both set renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, and ExxonMobil who set a greenhouse gas target.
Why have three quarters of the nation's industrial companies voluntarily set some sort of environmental target? There are a variety of potential reasons including: policy pressures, public relations or perhaps even the forward thinking that sees renewable energy’s potential to someday be less expensive than, or at least competitive with, oil and gas.
And why haven’t most oil and gas companies voluntarily set environmental targets? It may be because the very products they put on the market directly contribute to climate change. There is also a lack of urgency to act; little pressure comes from investors or policies. An example of a type of policy that was successful in the past is the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, which worked by making large companies publically accountable for which potentially toxic chemicals they use and where they are released. Then the information is posted on the EPA’s website for anyone to see.
The planet would really benefit from a similar policy focusing on oil and gas company emissions, or better yet, a broader climate change policy such as a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. There are other options that could pave the way towards a cleaner energy future. The federal government could require that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources and offer further tax incentives for wind and solar production. Many companies are setting their own internal goals, but for others such as the majority of the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do anything about increasing efficiency and reducing their carbon footprints until someone makes them.
This year offered several events that shone a spotlight directly on the important and urgent issue of climate change, but the question remains, “Was it enough to bring about meaningful efforts to reduce climate change?”
June of 2012 presented the United Nations Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which disappointed many as international representatives hemmed and hawed instead of establishing true endeavors to tackle global warming. Meanwhile the continental United States embarked on summer heat waves that were some of the hottest in its history.
This year also saw drought cover more than half the country; farmers suffered as their crops and animals died.
Then October of 2012 brought superstorm Sandy, this year’s biggest example of extreme weather and a deadly harbinger of the devastating effects of climate change. Can we continue to sit idly by in the face of all these signs that global warming is making broad changes to our planet? Should we leave these environmental problems for our children to face as we continue down an unsustainable path?
The close of the year is a time to reflect on the previous events of the year and make resolutions for the coming year. Let’s pledge to make 2013 the year where we confront climate change in every possible way. We can all embark on energy efficiency efforts; reducing what we can and lowering our carbon footprints. Every bit helps. Then it is a powerful combination to offset the rest of our carbon emissions. It would be a genuine shame to let the lessons of this past year slip from our consciousness while there is still time and so much that can and should be done to address climate change.
The Earth cannot use words to speak for itself, but if it could what would be on its climate wishlist this holiday season?
Environmental activists and climate scientists have done a good job of communicating the risks of climate change. Part of the issue is that it’s a delicate balance between scaring people so thoroughly that they don’t think there is anything they can do about global warming and encouraging people to make any changes that positively impact the environment, even small ones to start. Perhaps we’ve also underestimated the importance of personal experience.
The facts on climate change alone are not enough. We’ve had solid, scientific evidence for many years that global warming is man-made and happening right now. However, many people need to experience the effects for themselves in order for the light bulb to go off in their heads. Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events are helping people to connect the dots, but now that process has begun the question then becomes, “What next?”
We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the planet. That is what the climate needs and wants this holiday season. There are two main changes that we can undertake to fulfill the planet’s climate wishlist. The first is to lower our carbon footprints. Ask yourself, do I really need to leave my lights on all day at home when I am not there? Can I combine trips in the car to drive less or take public transportation instead? What simple steps can I take to save energy and myself some money as well?
The second change is to offset the rest of your carbon footprint. There are many affordable options to make this holiday season a reality, not just for the planet, but for future generations also. Any positive steps you take are welcome and really do make a difference. Although the planet cannot use words to thank you, reducing what you can and offsetting the rest is a beautiful gift and a wonderful place to start this holiday season.
In a telling and ironic move, coal industry giant BHP-Billiton, is replacing one of its coal export facilities in Queensland, Australia because of its vulnerability to increasingly frequent hurricanes from global warming. BHP-Billiton is an Australian coal company that produces one-fifth of globally traded coal for steel making and is the largest mining company on Earth. The upgrade represents a major investment in planning for climate change. In fact, the company’s coal operations are led by Marcus Randolph, who confirmed they are planning, “to rebuild the facility to be more durable to climate change.”
Readers of this blog already know that increasingly extreme weather events are the result of climate change in addition to the fact that many businesses are planning now for climate change’s effects. Why not a coal company too? The announcement makes it obvious that BHP-Billiton understands that climate change is real and the time is now to begin making changes even if the manufacture of their product contributes to the issue.
Randolph has even warned investors about the implications of remaining dependent on the non-renewable resources of fossil fuels by saying, “In a carbon constrained world where energy coal is the biggest contributor to a carbon problem, how do you think this is going to evolve over a 30- to 40-year time horizon? You'd have to look at that and say on balance, I suspect, the usage of thermal coal is going to decline. And frankly it should.”
When a company that mines and exports coal starts planning for climate change it means the writing is on the wall. Businesses and individuals alike should all be working to decrease carbon footprints and offset the remaining carbon emissions. Let’s give the planet a holiday present and start doing all we can this season to embrace a cleaner energy future.
The issue of climate change has re-entered the public’s conscious in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. In fact, there were accusations of a “climate silence” on the part of the presidential candidates until the megastorm hit the Northeast a week before this month’s election. Now both parties are talking about a potential carbon tax.
Last week a carbon tax was once again the topic of discussion at the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think-tank) and the Brookings Institution (a more liberal think-tank) released a paper on it. The Congressional Budget Office also published a report on potential ways to make a carbon tax less of a burden on lower income people.
A carbon tax works by making those that use fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas pay more. When they are burned, fossil fuels contribute to global warming by producing carbon dioxide, which traps heat. Some experts estimate the price tag of a tax of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions to add 1 or 2 percent to the price of gasoline and electric power. Other pundits view a carbon tax as a tax on economic growth.
Whether or not a carbon tax will have the political backing to make it through a divided Congress is questionable. However, environmental advocates are always interested when climate change is a hot topic. Extreme weather has been linked to climate change. So it’s important to warn people that if we continue on this unsustainable path of dumping 90 million tons of pollution into the atmosphere on a daily basis that the future will include more superstorms with increasingly devastating consequences.
The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is allowing more heat to escape there, and the effects from climate change are dramatic. Over 60 years, mid-winter temperatures along the Antarctic Peninsula have risen 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature rise has impacted annual sea ice’s seasonal duration and offshore bulk by approximately 40 percent.
As you read this you may be asking yourself, “Okay so Antarctica is melting, but how does that impact me?” Well, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives in coastal areas. Since 1980, eight large ice shelves have broken off the Antarctic Peninsula. As the ice shelves separate from the mainland, they make it easier for glaciers to flow into the sea and melt. As they melt, the seas rise and we have more flooding along coastal areas. All coastal areas, not just on the U.S. coastline, are susceptible to the dangers of flooding. The Wilkins Ice Shelf, which is a floating ice sheet several hundred feet thick the size of the state of Connecticut, is currently hanging on to the Antarctic Peninsula by a thread.
And there’s more. Rapid warming is killing off a priceless resource that we’re just beginning to discover. Sponges, soft corals, starfish, and sea squirts can only live at constant low polar temperatures. These Antarctic seafloor invertebrates could offer cures to human diseases such as cancer, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, and infectious diseases. Scientists at the National Cancer Institute have already found one such example. These researchers discovered that a small Antarctic sea squirt contains chemicals that kill melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The Antarctic Peninsula is probably not your backyard, but the losses it’s sustaining from climate change could affect you personally. Take action now. Perhaps start by lowering your carbon footprint. Global warming is having serious, life-threatening impacts and we have to do our parts now to turn the tide.
CarbonFree certification from NSF International and Carbonfund.org Foundation
demonstrate product is carbon-neutral
Sprint, LG Bring Users Carbon Neutral Cell Phone in Time for the Holidays
BETHESDA, Md., Nov. 12, 2012 — The Carbonfund.org Foundation applauded the announcement by LG Electronics USA and Sprint that the LG Mach smartphone with environmentally friendlier features will be available Nov. 11.
LG Mach, available from Sprint for $99 with a two-year contract, has earned the CarbonFree® label under the rigorous product certification program offered by the Carbonfund.org Foundation and NSF International’s Sustainability division.
With the CarbonFree Certified Product program, LG has offset the carbon footprint of the manufacturing of the LG Mach at no extra cost to the customer through the use of third-party verified carbon reduction projects
“Being part of the CarbonFree Certified Product program helps demonstrate LG’s overarching commitment to the environment” said Tom Bruursema, General Manager of NSF Sustainability.
“With its new CarbonFree certified mobile phone, LG is helping to fight climate change and continuing to provide consumers with cutting-edge products” stated Carbonfund.org president Eric Carlson.
The LG Mach is the latest carbon neutral product in a line of CarbonFree certified offerings. LG Electronics was the first in its industry to distribute home appliances, solar panels and other consumer electronics that were part of the CarbonFree Certified Product Program. These CarbonFreeCertified Products represent another step in LG's commitment to environmental sustainability and energy-efficient products and services, including a wide range of ENERGY STAR® -qualified appliances and electronics products.
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About LG Electronics USA: LG Electronics USA, Inc., based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is the North American subsidiary of LG Electronics, Inc., a $49 billion global force and technology leader in consumer electronics, home appliances and mobile communications. In the United States, LG Electronics sells a range of stylish and innovative mobile phones, home entertainment products, home appliances, and air conditioning systems and energy solutions, all under LG’s “Life’s Good” marketing theme. LG Electronics is a 2012 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year. For more information, please visit www.lg.com.
About Carbonfund.org Foundation: Carbonfund.org is a leading nonprofit climate solutions organization, making it easy and affordable for individuals, businesses and organizations to reduce their climate impact and hasten our transition to a low-carbon economy. Carbonfund.org supports innovative renewable energy, energy efficiency and forestry projects globally that reduce carbon emissions and help people. Carbonfund.org has worked with over 2,000 corporate and nonprofit partners. More at www.carbonfund.org.
About NSF International: NSF International is an independent organization that writes standards, tests and certifies products for the construction, food, water and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment (nsf.org). NSF Sustainability (inserted hyperlink) draws upon this expertise in standards development, product assurance and certification, advisory services and quality management systems to help companies green their products, operations, systems and supply chains. Product assessments include testing and certification for sustainable products such as green chemicals and building products. Through its National Center for Sustainability Standards, NSF also develops sustainability standards for products such as carpet, flooring, and other commercial building materials.