Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thin Blue Band

 Buena Pond-Pond 6 between Zilla and Union Gap off Hwy I-82 is stocked with catchable size rainbow trout, as well as crappie, and channel catfish. A state record 36.2 lb cat was pulled from Pond 6 in 1999. If you’ve driven to Pond 6 from Richland, you’ve covered the distance our atmosphere stretches from the earth’s surface to the edge of space. According to NASA, our atmosphere, the unique feature of the planet responsible for life as we know it, is a paper-thin 60 miles in depth.

For the most part, we humans take the planet and its systems and resources for granted. The crux of the problem is that we see ourselves standing apart from our planet’s interacting physical, chemical, and biological systems. That is a natural, but faulty perception of reality. Humans are an integral part of the Earth’s biosphere. As our numbers have grown and our technology progressed, we’ve had an outsized impact on the planet and its climate.

In pictures taken from space we see the atmosphere as a fragile, thin blue band between the Earth’s surface and the blackness of space. Be warned, that thin, blue band is what keeps us alive.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Will There Be Another Ice Age?

By Kara Rogers, Science Friday, April 10, 2013
If Earth's past climates tell us anything, it’s that ice will return. Over the last 2.6 million years, the planet has experienced a series of glacial periods separated by thaws, or interglacials. The next big chill could hit within two millennia—that is, if it weren’t for soaring levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, driven by humans.

“Climate modelers have been warning for many years now that the net impact of human activities would prolong the current interglacial,” says Chronis Tzedakis, a climate scientist at University College London.

A medley of forces influences the glacial-interglacial cycle, including the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth, which is controlled mainly by Earth's orbital shape and axial tilt, the composition of gasses and aerosols and extent of cloud cover in the atmosphere, and the reflectivity of Earth’s surface (for example, the extent of ice and vegetation cover at high latitudes). A reduction in incoming summer solar radiation would be the primary trigger for glaciation, but atmospheric CO2 concentrations—the primary driver of climate change—must be relatively low, too.

How low is “relatively low”? Tzedakis and colleagues compared ice and marine records from previous interglacials and found that, given the current small decrease in summer solar radiation, CO2 concentrations would have to fall to around 240 ppm for the next glacial period to take place.

Since the Industrial Revolution, however, atmospheric CO2 levels have been trending higher and higher. They reached an estimated 395.09 ppm globally in January 2013. So, if business proceeds as usual, with carbon release being driven primarily by fossil-fuel burning, we likely have a long thaw ahead of us. Modeling work by geophysical scientist David Archer has shown, for instance, that burning all potential fossil carbon on Earth—5,000 gigatons—would be enough to delay the next glaciation by 500,000 years.

That kind of hold-up would be a major deviation from the glacial-interglacial cycle that has played out over the last couple million years, in which glacial periods lasted about 80,000–90,000 years and interglacials about 10,000–20,000 years. (The current interglacial began about 11,500 years ago.)

The real question, then, might have more to do with the next “age,” generally, that we face, rather than the next ice age. Some scientists consider the current era to be defined by human influence, what Dutch chemist Paul J. Crutzen dubbed the Anthropocene Epoch, which has its origins in the Industrial Age.

Regardless of what comes next, it’s probably safe to say that we can’t expect a resurgence of woolly mammoths any time soon. Unless we clone them.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Where is the global warming?

As climate change has warmed the Earth, oceans have responded more slowly than land environments. But scientific research is finding that marine ecosystems can be far more sensitive to even the most modest temperature change.

Global warming caused by human activities that emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide has raised the average global temperature by about 1°F (0.6°C) over the past century. In the oceans, this change has only been about 0.18°F (0.1°C). This warming has occurred from the surface to a depth of about 2,300 feet (700 meters), where most marine life thrives.

Perhaps the ocean organism most vulnerable to temperature change is coral. There is evidence that reefs will bleach (eject their symbiotic algae) at even a slight persistent temperature rise. Bleaching slows coral growth, makes them susceptible to disease, and can lead to large-scale reef die-off.

Other organisms affected by temperature change include krill, an extremely important link at the base of the food chain. Research has shown that krill reproduce in significantly smaller numbers when ocean temperatures rise. This can have a cascading effect by disrupting the life cycle of krill eaters, such as penguins and seals—which in turn causes food shortages for higher predators.

Higher Sea Levels

When water heats up, it expands. Thus, the most readily apparent consequence of higher sea temperatures is a rapid rise in sea level. Sea level rise causes inundation of coastal habitats for humans as well as plants and animals, shoreline erosion, and more powerful storm surges that can devastate low-lying areas.

Stronger Storms

Many weather experts say we are already seeing the effects of higher ocean temperatures in the form of stronger and more frequent tropical storms and hurricanes/cyclones. Warmer surface water dissipates more readily into vapor, making it easier for small ocean storms to escalate into larger, more powerful systems.

These stronger storms can increase damage to human structures when they make landfall. They can also harm marine ecosystems like coral reefs and kelp forests. And an increase in storm frequency means less time for these sensitive habitats to recover.

Other Consequences

Warmer sea temperatures are also associated with the spread of invasive species and marine diseases. The evolution of a stable marine habitat is dependent upon myriad factors, including water temperature. If an ecosystem becomes warmer, it can create an opportunity where outside species or bacteria can suddenly thrive where they were once excluded. This can lead to forced migrations and even species extinctions.

Warmer seas also lead to melting from below of polar ice shelves, compromising their structural integrity and leading to spectacular shelf collapses. Scientists also worry that warmer water could interrupt the so-called ocean conveyor belt, the system of global currents that is largely responsible for regulating Earth's temperature. Its collapse could trigger catastrophically rapid climate changes.

Will It Continue?

The only way to reduce ocean temperatures is to dramatically reign in our emission of greenhouse gases. However, even if we immediately dropped carbon dioxide emissions to zero, the gases we've already released would take decades or longer to dissipate.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Paul Polman's Keynote Address at Ascent

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers

Abu Dhabi Ascent
Keynote Address
Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever & Chairman, World Business Council for Sustainable Development
4 May 2014


Secretary General, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
I’m happy to be here with you at this important meeting.
Happy that all of us whether from government, business or civil society can come together, not just to talk, but to put together our plans for scaling up action on climate change.
And while it’s great to be here as a representative of business , it worries me that sometimes you might get the wrong impression about where business is on climate change.
You see the newspaper headlines on climate denial.
Worries about the costs of transition, or the impact on jobs.
Lobbying by vested interests to slow progress of change.
But it is dangerous to assume that this noise represents the majority view of business.
In fact, the idea that there is one single voice of business is nonsense. With 75% of the world economy made up of business that would be difficult to do.
We know there is a loud minority, those with vested interests who know they will lose out in the transition to the low carbon economy of the future.
The clearer the science and the economics of climate change become, the louder these opposing voices get.
We should expect that, and indeed we see it already.
But make no mistake; the undercurrent of business sentiment is overwhelmingly positive.
When even a major oil companies start to demand a price on carbon, you know the world is shifting in the right direction.
And when it comes to action on climate, or on sustainable development more broadly, the groundswell of support is overwhelming.
As a member of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, I had the opportunity to connect with CEOs in every sector and in every region of the world. 
Thousands of businesses representing over 10% of global GDP.
They all said the same thing:
They all want to be a part of the solution.
None of them can prosper in a world of runaway climate change, inequality and poverty.
And they all understand the need for political leadership and business action to work together to address system level challenges, like climate change, which are beyond the power of any one actor to fix alone.
I believe we are at a tipping point.
Businesses are starting to recognise, for the first time, that the cost of inaction is now greater than the cost of action.
The evidence is there for those who choose to see.
In the last decade alone, the world spent $2.7 trillion more on natural disasters than usual.
KPMG estimates that the total profit of the food industry is at risk by 2030. 
The OECD predicts that, by 2050, over $45 trillion of assets could be at risk.
I could go on.
The good news is that more and more businesses have started working this out.
Private capital is starting to flow to low carbon.
Global investment in clean technologies is now up to $300 billion a year. The global low carbon economy is now a $4 trillion reality, growing at nearly 4% .
And it’s proving to be more resilient growth: low-carbon and environment sectors grew robustly through the financial crisis right across the European Union.
More and more businesses see this makes sense and want to be a part of it. Just look at what’s happening:
Over 50 of the top 200 companies have set carbon intensity reduction goals in line with a 6% per year reduction target – necessary to stay within two degrees of warming.5
Many have integrated an ‘internal’ carbon price into their business strategies, in the expectation that you, the governments, will set an external carbon price in the near future.
And the Banking Environment Initiative – some of the world’s largest banks from across the world – mobilising the finance industry to direct capital towards environmentally and socially sustainable economic development.
I know you’ve heard statistics like that before. And you might say, “Yes but isn’t that just the minority, a small slice of the economy?”.
20 years ago you might have been right.
10 even.
But not today.
Today business has a new set of challenges, a new cadre of leaders and a deep desire to contribute meaningful solutions.
75% of the world’s largest companies now have multiple environmental and social goals in place.
And new coalitions are rapidly forming.
The Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, now has over 1000 companies participating in over 60 countries.
The United Nations Global Compact, now 9,000 members, all committed to taking action.
The Carbon Disclosure project is now supported by 722 institutional investors with over $ 7 trillion of assets under management.
And the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, with a global network of over 35,000 national businesses doing the same.
This is no longer about isolated examples or case studies, pilots or pet projects.
It’s about a new wave of investment that we could realise if we want to.
It’s not about philanthropy,
It’s about future-proofing growth.
We now need to scale all these initiatives.
That’s why the newest coalition that brings many of these groups together is simply called 
“We Mean Business”
Nothing could showcase this better than the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Action 2020 platform.
A whole suite of ready–to-go business solutions;
Companies and industries prepared to collaborate at levels never before seen in recognition of both the challenges we face, and the growth opportunities that will be unleashed by a clear change in direction to a low carbon world.
Business solutions addressing:
• renewable energy
• carbon capture and storage (CCS),
• deforestation and reforestation

As well as cross cutting climate solutions for cities and climate resilience.
And yet the power to bring them to scale lies in the enabling hands of governments.
Take an example close to my heart, the Tropical Forest Alliance.
You heard a little about it from Helen Clark just this morning:
Consumer goods businesses, together with leadership from governments of Indonesia, Liberia, the UK, the United States and Norway working together with leading NGO's such as WRI , WWF or Greenpeace, to address a common challenge: eliminating illegal deforestation - up to 15 % of global emissions according to the IPCC.
Committing to action, not in theory but in practice.
Since the TFA conversations began Wilmar, the Indonesian company which supplies around half the palm oil in the world, has implemented its own sustainability standards which look set to transform the industry.
Impossible alone. Possible together. That is the power of partnership.
That’s why, right now, WBCSD member companies are stepping up to lead on both action and advocacy.
They are committing to putting climate risk and opportunity squarely into corporate strategies.
And they are starting to build a united voice.
A voice that speaks ever louder to you, our political leaders.
A voice which says “We are doing this. So can you.”
And we cannot underestimate the importance of that.
Without the right policy frameworks and political signals, even the most determined business action will not reach the necessary scale.
Let me give you an example.
12 years ago we thought it was impossible to refrigerate our ice creams without the use of HFC refrigerants. We didn’t know it then, but they’re one of the most damaging greenhouse gases that exist.
10 years ago we set up Refrigerants, Naturally! with UNEP, Greenpeace and others to set a clear target to change that.
6 years ago we applied to the US EPA to allow the use of alternative, natural refrigerant technology to be used in the United States.
4 years ago the 400 members of our global trade association, the Consumer Goods Forum committed to beginning an HFC phase out by 2015.
And today at Unilever, we’ve already purchased over 1.5 million ice cream freezers. Over a quarter of a million in the last year. Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Red Bull have bought around the same number of drinks coolers.
But this year, you as governments will have the opportunity to commit to an accelerated phase out of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. It is an unprecedented opportunity and I urge you to seize it.
And while there are some quick wins on areas like HFCs, we know that’s just the start.
Governments and heads of state have already committed to keeping global temperature rises to below 2ºC.
Let’s be very clear what this means.
Committing to 2 degrees means taking carbon emissions out of the energy systems of all major economies, within little more than a generation.
We know this is feasible: we have the technologies and the capital. We know what policies we need.
Yet we are on a very different path.
As you all know, current national mitigation strategies only put us on a path to limit emissions rises to between 4ºC and 6ºC - more in some cases.
That’s because not enough countries and businesses have internalised the costs.
• the costs of inaction for their economies;
• the costs of social unrest caused by unchecked climate change;
• the costs of economic stagnation as consumers’ incomes are eroded by the rising costs of commodities, food and water.

And I would ask the government representatives here whether you have estimated these costs;
Whether you have internalised that number into your own decision making about what sensible economic, climate and energy policy looks like.
Some countries have of course. Our friends in the Small Island States see it more clearly. But this isn’t just about them.
It’s about all of us.
And yet this calculation is critical.
It is only when countries do this analysis that they see the benefits of committing to a policy regime that will unlock the trillions of dollars of private sector investment.
The truth is that when you do the sums right, you see there is no trade off between sustainability and growth.
Fortunately it can be done, and after lunch my good friend President Felipe Calderon will take you through the work of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. It’s impressive work and I believe it will shift our collective perception of the climate change challenge. But I will let him say more about that.
If climate action is so good for business, you might well wonder why that point of view isn’t often made more loudly or more forcefully by CEOs at your meetings.
Well let me tell you unequivocally that it’s not because of any lack of appetite for action, or lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issue.
It’s simply that CEOs prefer to work on specific tangible projects with real accountability, action and results. They are less versed in the broad framework discussions.
Business people like to keep it simple.
So let me try to do that:
Business needs three things from the political community: Clarity, Confidence, and perhaps most of all, Courage.
The more of these that the global business community can see, the greater and more transformational will be the business response.
Above all, we are looking for evidence of a commitment to integrate international ambition in domestic legislation:
Legislation that sets clear targets within a common framework;
Targets that deliver not incremental but transformational change;
Targets that will unlock billions of investments to stay within the 2 degrees challenge.
And this is your opportunity; Your prize, if you will.
Business overwhelmingly believes it can do this.
Business wants to do this.
But many are not yet convinced that all of you, the governments are with them.
This is your opportunity to change that.
This is your opportunity to lead.
This is your opportunity to de-risk low carbon investment;
To leverage the power of business to address the challenges we all face and to consider, seriously, the role that a carbon price must play in this transformation.
The global business community has begun to chart a new course.
As you go into your ministerial dialogue this afternoon, I ask you to reflect upon the opportunities that would be unleashed by a step change in our collective ambition;
To recognise the benefits that would flow to the countries prepared to show real leadership;
To see the changes for what they are:
The beginning of the end for the high carbon era
And the birth of a new kind of economy.
An economy in which the new businesses of the future,
And the forward-thinking ones from the past,
Will come together to create a new industrial landscape,
And a better future for us all.

Thank You.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Unilever and its Sustainable Living Plan -- Worth Investing In

From The Economist

Paul Polman, Unilever CEO
Unilever defines sustainability broadly. It includes not just environmental factors but improving the lot of customers and workers—its own and those in its supply chain. It also aims to contribute to society as a whole. These goals are seen as necessary to maintain the firm’s “licence to operate” in an age when, Mr Polman believes, companies will be subject to increasing public scrutiny.

Specifically, by 2020, Unilever aims to: “help a billion people to take steps to improve their health and well-being;" halve the environmental impact of its products; and source all its agricultural raw materials sustainably, meaning that they should meet requirements covering everything from forest protection to pest control.

 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

From: The Secret History of Lead

 by Jamie Lincoln Kitman | March 2, 2000
(This piece appeared originally in The Nation)

When the EPA launched the first of several halfhearted attempts to begin removing lead from gasoline, lead's corporate affinity group fought back with a ferocity that bespoke major arrogance and even greater desperation. No sooner had the EPA announced a scheduled phaseout, setting a reduced lead content standard for gasoline in 1974, than it was sued by Ethyl and Du Pont, who claimed they had been deprived of property rights.

The next time you pull the family barge in for a fill-up, check it out: The gas pumps read "Unleaded." You might reasonably suppose this is because naturally occurring lead has been thoughtfully removed from the gasoline. But you would be wrong. There is no lead in gasoline unless somebody puts it there. And, a little more than seventy-five years ago, some of America's leading corporations--General Motors, Du Pont and Standard Oil of New Jersey (known nowadays as Exxon)--were that somebody. They got together and put lead, a known poison, into gasoline, for profit.

Lead was outlawed as an automotive gasoline additive in this country in 1986--more than sixty years after its introduction--to enable the use of emissions-reducing catalytic converters in cars (which are contaminated and rendered useless by lead) and to address the myriad health and safety concerns that have shadowed the toxic additive from its first, tentative appearance on US roads in the twenties, through a period of international ubiquity only recently ending. Since the virtual disappearance of leaded gas in the United States (it's still sold for use in propeller airplanes), the mean blood-lead level of the American population has declined more than 75 percent. A 1985 EPA study estimated that as many as 5,000 Americans died annually from lead-related heart disease prior to the country's lead phaseout. According to a 1988 report to Congress on childhood lead poisoning in America by the government's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, one can estimate that the blood-lead levels of up to 2 million children were reduced every year to below toxic levels between 1970 and 1987 as leaded gasoline use was reduced. From that report and elsewhere, one can conservatively estimate that a total of about 68 million young children had toxic exposures to lead from gasoline from 1927 to 1987.

How did lead get into gasoline in the first place? And why is leaded gas still being sold in the Third World, Eastern Europe and elsewhere? Recently uncovered documents from the archives of the aforementioned industrial behemoths and the US government, a new skein of academic research and a careful reading of that long-ago period's historical record, as well as dozens of interviews conducted by The Nation, tell the true story of leaded gasoline, a sad and sordid commercial venture that would tiptoe its way quietly into the black hole of history if the captains of industry were to have their way. But the story must be recounted now. The leaded gas adventurers have profitably polluted the world on a grand scale and, in the process, have provided a model for the asbestos, tobacco, pesticide and nuclear power industries, and other twentieth-century corporate bad actors, for evading clear evidence that their products are harmful by hiding behind the mantle of scientific uncertainty.


This is not just a textbook example of unnecessary environmental degradation, however. Nor is this history important solely as a cautionary retort to those who would doubt the need for aggressive regulation of industry, when commercial interests ask us to sanction genetically modified food on the basis of their own scientific assurances, just as the merchants of lead once did. The leaded gasoline story must also be read as a call to action, for the lead menace lives.

Consider:


§ the severe health hazards of leaded gasoline were known to its makers and clearly identified by the US public health community more than seventy-five years ago, but were steadfastly denied by the makers, because they couldn't be immediately quantified;

§ other, safer antiknock additives--used to increase gasoline octane and counter engine "knock"--were known and available to oil companies and the makers of lead antiknocks before the lead additive was discovered, but they were covered up and denied, then fought, suppressed and unfairly maligned for decades to follow;


§ the US government was fully apprised of leaded gasoline's potentially hazardous effects and was aware of available alternatives, yet was complicit in the cover-up and even actively assisted the profiteers in spreading the use of leaded gasoline to foreign countries;
 

§ the benefits of lead antiknock additives were wildly and knowingly overstated in the beginning, and continue to be. Lead is not only bad for the planet and all its life forms, it is actually bad for cars and always was;
 

§ for more than four decades, all scientific research regarding the health implications of leaded gasoline was underwritten and controlled by the original lead cabal--Du Pont, GM and Standard Oil; such research invariably favored the industry's pro-lead views, but was from the outset fatally flawed; independent scientists who would finally catch up with the earlier work's infirmities and debunk them were--and continue to be--threatened and defamed by the lead interests and their hired hands;
 

§ confronted in recent years with declining sales in their biggest Western markets, owing to lead phaseouts imposed in the United States and, more recently, Europe, the current sellers of lead additives have successfully stepped up efforts to market their wares in the less-developed world, efforts that persist and have resulted in some countries today placing more lead in their gasoline, per gallon, than was typically used in the West, extra lead that serves no purpose other than profit;
 

§ faced with lead's demise and their inevitable days of reckoning, these firms have used the extraordinary financial returns that lead additive sales afford to hurriedly fund diversification into less risky, more conventional businesses, while taking a page from the tobacco companies' playbook and simultaneously moving to reorganize their corporate structures to shield ownership and management from liability for blanketing the earth with a deadly heavy metal.
To read how some of the most prestigious companies in America duped the American public and its government into believing that leaded gasoline was a great innovation and harmless to boot, go to the complete article in The Nation. What happened then, has been repeated on other fronts, the latest being fossil fuel and global warming.