Posts Tagged ‘environmental policy’

Today, four stories displayed next to each other, in the National section of the New York Times:

Boise Region Grapples With Smog, a Growing Threat

After years of growth and suburban development, the region that includes Boise and its suburbs, known as the Treasure Valley, is on the brink of violating federal clean air standards, and experts say the only real solution is one that might seem awfully un-Idahoan: persuading people to drive less.

List of Tainted Peanut Butter Items points to Complexity of Food Production

Tracking how the paste travels through the food supply can be challenging, because several companies can be involved in making the final food. For example, one manufacturer might coat the paste in chocolate and make a peanut butter cup, which is then sold to another company that mixes it into ice cream that may or may not also contain peanut butter. A grocery chain might buy that ice cream and sell it under a private label.

Environment Issues Slide In Poll of Public Concern

In the poll, released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, global warming came in last among 20 voter concerns; it trailed issues like addressing moral decline and decreasing the influence of lobbyists. Only 30 percent of the voters deemed global warming to be “a top priority,” compared with 35 percent in 2008. “Protecting the environment,” which had surged in the rankings from 2006 to 2008, dropped even more precipitously in the poll: only 41 percent of voters called it a top priority, compared with 56 percent last year.

Environment Blamed in Western Tree Deaths

Rising temperatures and the resulting drought are causing trees in the West to die at more than twice the pace they did a few decades ago, a new study has found. The combination of temperature and drought has also reduced the ability of the forests to absorb carbon dioxide, which traps heat and thus contributes to global warming, the authors of the study said, and has made forests sparser and more susceptible to fires and pests. 

A bit much to take, all at once . . . if you are at all concerned with what sustains us. Of course the one bright spot in this otherwise dire picture, is our new Commander-in-Chief, President Obama. I can feel his sense of urgency, and that gives me hope. 

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Al Gore did a fabulous job yesterday, of nailing down the three key environmental challenges facing our country.

First, is the interdependence between climate crisis, economy, and national security.

And it just so happens that the climate crisis is intertwined with the other two great challenges facing our nation: reviving our economy and strengthening our national security. The solutions to all three require us to end our dependence on carbon-based fuels.

Second, is the need to use a multi solutions approach, not forgetting to include conservation in the mix -I would love to think that Al read my earlier criticism . . . 🙂

Instead of letting lobbyists and polluters control our destiny, we need to invest in American innovation. Almost a hundred years ago, Thomas Edison said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” We already have everything we need to use the sun, the wind, geothermal power, conservation and efficiency to solve the climate crisis—everything, that is, except a president who inspires us to believe, “Yes we can.”

Third, is exposing the hold of the big oil and coal interests on the Republican party, and on the media, and the risk we run if we elect another Republican president.

So how did this no-brainer become a brain-twister? Because the carbon fuels industry—big oil and coal—have a 50-year lease on the Republican Party and they are drilling it for everything it’s worth. And this same industry has spent a half a billion dollars this year alone trying to convince the public they are actually solving the problem, when they are in fact making it worse every single day.

Well said, Al!

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No time to blog. I have been taken by the energy of the Democratic Convention, and spent all my evenings glued to the TV. Nervously praying for no missteps. La Marguerite is an environment blog, not a place to share my political views. This time is different, however. I feel the big environmental challenges facing us are political issues. One only need to take a look at the past eight years, to be convinced. Eight years, during which we, the citizens of this great country, have been consistently ‘dis-inspired’, demoralized, and demobilized on so many fronts. Eight years, during which other countries looked up to us for leadership on climate change, and found nothing instead. Eight years of systematic obstruction to hundreds of good environmental proposals. Eight years of special fuel interests pulling the strings behind the scenes and imposing their wishes. Eight years, during which CO2 levels have risen steadily, past the 350 danger zone. Eight years of muffling the voices of climate scientists. Eight long years, that have dwarfed my efforts, and others’ efforts to try to heal nature.

I am ready for a change. Are you?

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News from the G8 Environmental Summit in Kobe, are not encouraging:

The European Union has pledged a 20 percent emissions reduction by 2020, and has offered to raise it to 30 percent if other nations sign on. A U.N.-brokered agreement last December included a footnote referencing the need for cuts of between 25 percent and 40 percent. The United States, however, has not committed to a midterm goal, demanding that top developing countries like China also commit to reductions. Japan has called for emissions by industrialized countries to begin to fall in the next one or two decades, but it too has stopped short of setting a 2020 target.

I read this and I wonder, how old are these people?

Sounds like deja vu to me . . .

Future summits may benefit from the help of a master group facilitator to help address some of the psychological barriers facing our leaders? This one very powerful cluster needs to get moving fast in the right direction.

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Just published by Reuters, the following update from Lord Stern, the author of the now famous 2006 Stern Report. I am reproducing the Reuters interview in its entirety, as this is critical information in my opinion:

Climate change expert Nicholas Stern says he under-estimated the threat from global warming in a major report 18 months ago when he compared the economic risk to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Latest climate science showed global emissions of planet-heating gases were rising faster and upsetting the climate more than previously thought, Stern said in a Reuters interview on Wednesday.

For example, evidence was growing that the planet’s oceans — an important “sink” — were increasingly saturated and couldn’t absorb as much as previously of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), he said.

Emissions are growing much faster than we’d thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we’d thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates, and the speed of climate change seems to be faster,” he told Reuters at a conference in London.

Stern said that increasing commitments from some countries such as the European Union to curb greenhouse gases now needed to be translated into action. Policymakers, businesses and environmental pressure groups frequently cite the Stern Review as a blueprint for urgent climate action.

The report predicted that, on current trends, average global temperatures will rise by 2-3 degrees centigrade in the next 50 years or so and could reduce global consumption per head by up to 20 percent, with the poorest nations feeling the most pain.

Some academics said he had over-played the costs of potential future damage from global warming at up to twenty times the cost of fighting the problem now, such as by replacing fossil fuels with more costly renewable power.

Stern said on Wednesday that increasing evidence of the threat from climate change had vindicated his report, published in October 2006.

People who said I was scaremongering were profoundly wrong,” he told the climate change conference organized by industry information provider IHS.

A U.N. panel of scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), writes regular summaries on climate science and last year shared the Nobel Peace prize with former U.S. vice president Al Gore for raising awareness.

Its latest report in 2007 had not taken detailed account of some dangerous threats, including the falling ability of the world’s oceans to absorb CO2, because scientists had to be cautious and that evidence was just emerging, the former World Bank chief economist added.

“The IPCC has done a tremendous job but things are moving on,” he told Reuters.

“The IPCC’s (cautious) approach to this is entirely understandable and sensible, but if you’re looking ahead and asking about the risk then you do have to go beyond.”

Stern said that to minimize the risks of dangerous climate change global greenhouse gas emissions should halve by mid-century. He said the United States should cut its emissions by up to 90 percent by then.

Will world leaders listen, and take action, quick?


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The bathroom sink seems to be the most propitious place for my ah-ah moments. This morning, as I washed my face, the realization of the water running a bit too long threw me into deep thoughts. What will it take to drive the global warming message home? What will it take for my new habits to become second nature?

I started playing with this notion of first and second natures. First nature for most of us is a world infused with assumptions of abundance and demands of convenience. Second nature needs to become a way of living based on limited material resources and respect for the laws of the natural world.

I wrote before about ‘What’s Bred In the Bone‘ and our propensity to fall back onto our old ways. The best that I can come up with, is that I – we – need help to develop and support that second nature. Help in the form of technologies, sensory/automatic reminders, consequences, practical solutions, consistent messaging, inspiring leadership, and supportive social networks.

Going back to the running faucet example, a simple solution would be to install a timer on the faucet. So that the environment trains me to behave.


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Over the last few months, I have been exploring the possibility of a global communication campaign to mobilize citizens in the war against climate change. The question came up of who should tackle such an effort. It requires money, and people’s time and creativity.

That’s where the Tap Project becomes relevant. An article in today’s Ad Age touts it as ‘one of the biggest cause-marketing efforts yet‘. David Droga came up with the idea of bringing clean drinking water to children around the globe.

‘The initiative, which started last year as a challenge from the staff at Esquire magazine to invent a brand, has blossomed beyond Droga5 into an unusual cause-marketing collaboration between competing ad shops. Via the project, restaurant patrons are asked to donate a minimum of $1 for the drinking water they would normally get for free. For every dollar raised, the proceeds are funneled to UNICEF to help a child in a developing country obtain clean water for 40 days. . . . Nearly 2,300 restaurants nationwide signed on for the “World Water Week” event that kicked off March 16 and wrapped March 22. Participating venues each received a toolkit containing TAP decals to be placed in window and packs of donation cards to be placed with a menu or with the bill.’

Why is the Tap Project such a success? According to Richard Earle, the author of ‘The Art of Cause Marketing: How to Use Advertising to Change Personal Behavior and Public Policy’,

“The best social marketing provokes an immediate and easy-to-execute reaction, . . . In today’s cause-marketing-crazed environment, a common pitfall of such campaigns is to gain sympathy without a clear objective for people to achieve, . . .The Tap Project, “has a very specific and well-defined objective. It is something very easy and clear that people can do to achieve the goals of the campaign. To pay a dollar for a glass of water is simple and ingenious.”

Equally important was leaving agencies free rein to execute the project according to local flavors:

Volunteering agencies were given two basic mandates: to recruit restaurants to participate and promote the Tap Project in local communities. The parameters were otherwise left intentionally loose. Agencies were supplied the UNICEF and Tap Project logo and asked to bring local flavor to developing marketing materials. “Allowing people to make the program their own is the key to the success of it,” said Kim Pucci, marketing director for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.’

I will also add the fact that the cause was given a very human face. Who can resist the haunting image of a thirsty child?

List of top agencies who volunteered to create pro bono campaigns for Tap Project:

Boston: Hill Holiday
Chicago: Energy BBDO
Cincinnati: Empower Media Marketing
Dallas: Publicis Mid America
Los Angeles: TBWA/Chiat/Day, OMD, Tequila and Porter-Novelli
Milwaukee: Non Box
New Orleans: Trumpet
Portland: Wieden & Kennedy
Richmond, Va.: Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter
San Diego: Fishtank
San Francisco: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Seattle: Publicis in the West
South Carolina (Charleston, Columbia and Greenville): Cargo

Here is my question to you. Learning from the Tap Project, which behavior would you want to elicit from people with a climate fight campaign? Think of one single, easy action.

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I had the privilege to attend the last Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment Energy Seminar, featuring Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, for Google.org, the philanthropist arm of Google.

The folks at Google have a plan and it makes lots of sense. They have two major initiatives currently at work:

To develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE<C): Create utility-scale electricity from clean renewable energy sources that is cheaper than electricity produced from coal. For RE<C to work, Google is betting on four arms: R&D, Investment, Policy, and Information Tools.

To accelerate the Commercialization of Plug-In Vehicles (RechargeIT): Seed innovation, demonstrate technology, inform the debate, and stimulate market demand to foster mass commercialization of plug-in vehicles.

Most striking in the Google plan, is its exclusive reliance on technology and policy, not unlike the recent McKinsey recommendations. At the end of his talk, I asked Dan Reicher if Google was considering any people driven initiatives? According to him, Google has just started looking into consumers’ behaviors and their impact on climate change.

In a way, Google‘s emphasis should be of no surprise. Google is a technology company, and they cannot tackle every possible angle of the problem. Instead they are focusing on their core competencies, engineering and technology. Google‘s top-down approach should be considered alongside bottom-up strategies such as David Holmgren‘s Permaculture Project, for instance.

For more on the Google approach to climate change, here is a video of Google.org‘s introductory course for Google employees. The session tackles global development, global health, and climate change, and explores how the three domain areas relate to each other. Well worth sitting for an hour. The bulk of the climate change lecture is towards the end:

Of course, I was particularly interested in the Information Tools aspect of the Google plan. Here is the list of all the Google tools that can be used to further the climate fight, as presented by Dan Reicher during his talk:

If you are not familiar with some of these tools, I urge you to play with them.

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In one of his articles in the WorldChanging blog, Alex Steffen raises the question: ‘Who Will Tell the People? And How?

There’s enormous pressure here in the U.S. on environmental groups, scientists and public officials; pressure to play ball, to support targets that are politically safe, to be moderate. But this is not a situation where such gamesmanship will help our cause. Incremental and limited gains in this situation are in fact disastrous losses.

At the same time, we need to talk with people where they’re at on the issue, not where we wish they were. Somehow we need, in the next couple years, to guide millions of Americans through the progress of emotions — awareness, horror, despair, resignation, engagement, chosen optimism — that most of the people reading this site have gone through… and we have to do it in the next few years.

People are not really ready for this, but we’re not in a position to let that stop us. I’m not sure it’s too much of an overstatement to say that what’s needed is not just some issue education but a national mind-blowing.

I share Alex Steffen‘s frustration and his sense of urgency also. The media and the powers in charge have been tiptoeing around the reality at hand. I keep reading reports about 20 or 30% reduction goals for greenhouse gases in the next decades. Theses reports lead us to believe that things are not so bad after all, and smart technology alone should be able to get us out of our mess. Whose responsibility is it then to deliver the bitter pill of 90% reduction? And what are the strategies to make sure it has the desired effect on Americans’ behaviors?

To the question of who?, one obvious answer involves the media. Andrew Revkin‘s post on DotEarth yesterday, ‘Do the Media Fail to Give Climate its Due?‘, generated quite a lively discussion with the usual cast of characters: naysayers still, moderates, and radicals also. The reason the media have such an important role to play is as educators, and influencers of the crowds, so that the people will be ready to support the drastic emissions reduction policies that are to become an inevitable part of the political future. The objective is for the Most Inconvenient Truth I brought up earlier, to no longer hold.

Alex Steffen alludes to the time element of the process involved in bringing the public around. From personal experience, I can attest to the time lag, between initial exposure to the facts, and actual conversion. From the time when I attended Al Gore‘s presentation of An Inconvenient Truth, back in December 2005 – the first schock to my oblivious brain -, to the time when I finally became willing to make changes in my lifestyle, a good two years passed. Steven Running‘s Climate Grief model is most useful in that respect.

We then need to look at what is meant by the media. Sure, the New York Times, and other national publications, and TV stations have to play their part, but the advertising media should be considered as well. I have been pushing for a large scale, climate fight awareness advertising campaign. Al Gore, of all people should be the one spearheading such an effort. I hear his new book, ‘The Path to Survival‘ will be released next month. That’s good, and it’s not enough. Any good marketer will tell you that PR and the press can only generate so much awareness and persuasion. At some point, one needs to consider taking out the big guns, in this case, advertising. Ask all the presidential candidates!

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Gary Peters was first introduced to me by Jeff Huggins. Since then, I have had the opportunity to read Gary’s comments on DotEarth, and to appreciate his perspective as a geography expert, and someone with informed views about the complex issues facing our planet, including climate change and an exploding world population. For many years, Gary taught geography in the California State University system, first at Long Beach, and then at Chico. He has authored or co-authored ten books, including textbooks on population geography and the geography of California. I asked Gary to share some of his thoughts with us:

Testifying at a meeting of the U. S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works on March 21, 2007, Vice President Al Gore described global warming as “A true planetary emergency”. Neither I nor a majority of Americans agree with that, though I do not for a minute deny that Earth has been warming up.

I do agree, however, with Richard Heinberg, who wrote recently that “It’s not just climate change that threatens us, but depletion of resources including oil, natural gas, coal, fresh water, fish, topsoil, and minerals (ranging from antimony to zinc, and including, significantly, uranium; as well as destruction of habitat and accelerating biodiversity loss–which is exacerbated by climate change, but is also happening for other anthropogenic reasons. In essence, there are just too many of us using too much too fast.

“I would like to offer some perspective on how we have gotten to this point and what it might mean for our future, though I agree with Nassim Taleb that we are incapable of actually predicting the future. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that modern humans, Homo sapiens, can be traced back to an African origin around 160,000 years ago.

For most of those 160,000 years our ancestors lived in small groups as hunters and gatherers. Life expectancies were short and populations grew only very slowly. About 10,000 years ago humans started to practice rudimentary agriculture, mainly because global warming was already occurring as the most recent Ice Age was ending. As Jack Weatherford noted, “Around the world, humans seem to have switched from foraging to farming because of the whole set of changes produced by global warming.” Agriculture increased Earth’s carrying capacity for humans, and as crops and domesticated animals were improved and diffused around the world, population growth accelerated somewhat, but it was still, by modern standards, slow, and it was also sporadic. Populations grew when times were good, then declined when times were bad. Famines, diseases, and wars would take heavy tolls from time to time.By about one thousand years ago the human population had only grown to around 300 million, give or take perhaps 50 million. That is about the current population of the United States, but it represented the end result of 159,000 years of human population growth. Slow growth continued until the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century, raised Earth’s carrying capacity again and set in motion a period of modern population growth that continues today, though at a rate that has slowed considerably from that in the late 1960s.

Around 1830, after 159,830 years, the human population reached its first billion. Since then, however, our growth has been unprecedented. During the 20th century the world’s population nearly quadrupled, from 1.6 to 6.1 billion, and since 2000 we’ve added another half billion or so to planet Earth, bringing our numbers to around 6.63 billion. Currently, we add close to another 80 million people each year.

We might describe this sudden and vast increase in human numbers as “irrational exuberance.” After tens of thousands of years, we suddenly, in less than two centuries, have increased our numbers more than six-fold. As Russell Hopfenberg (among others) has noted, “Increases in the population of the human species, like increases in all other species, is a function of increases in food availability.” As Descartes could have noted, “I eat, therefore I am.”

This rapid growth in our population could only have occurred with a vast and rapid improvement in productivity in agriculture. In turn those productivity increases have come almost entirely from our use of fossil fuels, primarily petroleum. If you looked at graphs of population growth and crude oil production side by side over the last 200 years, you would see enough similarity to convince you that it is not coincidence.

Our rapidly expanding numbers and use of fossil fuels have brought us to where we are today, and leave us wondering about the future. Even as we’ve substantially increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including CO2 and CH4, we seem to have reached a broader threshold. Global warming; acidification of the oceans; overfishing; fresh water scarcity; accelerated species extinctions; disappearing wetlands, tropical forests, and other habitats; the growing possibility that we are at or close to a peak in world crude oil production–these may all be signs that humans have now reached or exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity for our species. As eminent ecologist Garrett Hardin warned us, “The universe may or may not be infinite, but prudence demands that we assume that the portion practically available to humankind is finite.” Iconoclastic economist Kenneth Boulding put it this way, “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” It may be time to see that our numbers, combined with our expanding affluence and constant need to consume more of everything, have become Earth’s real problem.

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