The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Environment (Page 1 of 2)

California Urges World Leaders to Move Fast On Climate Solutions

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: globalclimateactionsummit.org

Yesterday, California Gov. Jerry Brown, convened the  Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.  The Summit brought together climate change leaders from around the world in private, government and non – government sectors to focus on action-oriented programs to mitigate the effects of global warming. Just before the meeting started Governor Brown signed into law a goal for the state to be using 100 % electric and renewable energy by 2045.

The conference sponsors focused on urgency in their introduction to the conference:

The Global Climate Action Summit, happening midway between Paris 2015 and 2020, is timed to provide the confidence to governments to ‘step up’ and trigger this next level of ambition sooner rather than later. 

The momentum we generate this year must lead to bending the curve of emissions down by 2020—science advises us that this gives the world the best opportunity to prevent the worst effects of climate change. 2018 therefore must be the beginning of a new phase of action and ambition on climate change.

The Summit will underscore the urgency of the threat of climate change by mobilizing the voices and experience of real people, in real communities already facing real and stark threats. It will challenge and channel the energy and idealism of people everywhere to step up and overcome it.”

The carbonization of our planet is the preeminent challenge of our times, possibly threatening our very existence long term.  World-wide temperature records are being set from Tokyo to Washington as the following heat map for 2018 indicates:

Source: The Washington Post – 7/5/18

About 25 % of the heat is being soaked up by the ocean causing algae blooms which can contaminate water and cause wildlife to die. Scientists in the Pacific Northwest have discovered how certain ocean plants can dilute and mitigate water acidity. There are a variety of solutions being developed by governments and private businesses, yet what we need is a coordinated effort focused on those solutions that are most effective, affordable and can be quickly implemented.

We applaud California leaders for taking the initiative on this critical issue of our times to urge world governments to implement solutions to climate change before the problem goes beyond our ability to cope with the effects.

EPA Relaxes Coal Burning Regulations Endangering People and Economies

 

Image: agriland.ie

The day after that EPA announces relaxation of coal burning regulations scientists announced the first time in all recorded history the ‘last ice sea’ north of Greenland has thawed twice!  ­This assumption that ‘last ice sea’ would not thaw due to climate warming is no longer proving to be true. One scientist described the iconic ice thawing discovery as ‘scary’.

Sources: The Polar Science Center, The Guardian – 8/21/18

At the same time, global warming is causing the seas to rise by 8 inches since 1900 of which 3 inches was since 1993.  Scientists predict the sea level will rise another 3 to 7 inches by 2030. Today, rising sea levels are sending property values in low tidal areas spiraling down. University of Colorado and Penn State University researchers found that homes within just one foot of being flooded from a sea level rise were selling at a 14.7 % discount compared to homes on higher ground. Analysts have totaled property price losses since 2005 for Charleston at $265 million and Miami- Dade County at $465 million. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when considering all the coastal properties in the U.S. – losses are in the billions of dollars.

California has experienced the highest number and most acreage of wildfires in its history. Japan sweltered under hot July summer temperatures making new records. During the summer large areas of heat pressure or heat domes scattered around the hemisphere led to the sweltering temperatures. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation notes the heat is to blame for at least 54 deaths in southern Quebec, near Montreal, which sweated under record high temperatures. The worldwide list of new high temperatures goes on and on.  The chart below shows extremely hot temperatures worldwide in a model at 2 meters above ground.

Sources: University of Maine, The Washington Post – 7/5/18

The relaxation of Obama administration clean air restrictions would possibly kill from 470 to 1,400 people per year the EPA admits.  The policy shift would move enforcement responsibility to the states, and allow them to relax regulations on coal burning plants even when installing new equipment.  Utilities would be allowed to use old standards when installing new equipment without having to meet higher air quality regulations.  The Obama era policies were never enforced because the Supreme Court found in favor of the states who sued to overturn the tighter regulations.

Next Steps: 

Enough is enough, the federal government is here to protect American lives not kill more people as a result of policy.  The government’s position makes no sense, it’s time we as citizens take a stand.

As we have said in a previous post:

“we may need to look to how to make duty more of a core value in our culture and in particular business culture.  As we have observed our country is essentially run by Corporate Nation States, they must change their attitude, behavior and operating practices focused on their duty to all the people not just their executives and customers. Everything a corporation does in some way impacts the Common Good. We are the people these corporations serve, and we should expect nothing less than socially responsible behavior from the executives running these huge Corporate Nation States.”

We would like the executives of these coal companies to think about the people that will get ill or die because they wanted to make more money and be ‘efficient and affordable’.  What if their daughter died?  How would they feel.  It seems that we are back to the point we made in last week’s Common Good post we ‘use people, and love things (money)’. This policy is dead wrong, and should never be implemented.  Instead, these corporations should be coming to us with proposals on how to save people’s lives and speed up the process of reducing climate warming. Maybe, these executives need to look themselves in the mirror and ask ‘who am I serving?’.  Time is running out, people are being killed in the heat, economies are being destroyed.  All these forces will cause civil conflict unless we act now to reverse the course of climate warming, before it is too late. 

EDF Announces Satellite To Monitor Climate Change

 

Image: EDF

One of the major problems facing environmental government and non-government groups is monitoring emissions from locations all over the planet.  Many locations maybe quite remote while others are easily identifiable using land based monitoring systems.  So, having a satellite to monitor emissions world wide is a way to accurately monitor emissions.

Methane emissions are a major component of climate change gases.Here are EPA projections for all climate change gases:

Chart: EPA – 2016

Environment Defense Fund President, Fred Krugg recently announced in a TedTalk, in Vancover, British Columbia that EDF was developing a fourth wave environmental monitoring system. The first wave was the conservation movement led by President Teddy Roosevelt, second came the anti-pollution laws of the 1960s and 1970s. Third, was the use of market based solutions and corporate partnerships in the 1990s.

The MethaneSAT is a Fourth Wave environmental monitoring system, using satellite technology to identify methane sources planet wide.  Readings would be sent to government and non-government groups to identify sources, work out solutions and weigh alternative measures. Methane is a potent gas responsible for 25 % of all global warming. Targeting methane gas emissions is the fastest, cheapest way to attack global warming while other programs continue to focus on carbon dioxide emissions as well, according to EDF.

The launch target for MethaneSAT is 2021, with a focus on specific monitoring areas including 80 % of all oil and gas fields across the planet. Feedlots, agriculture and other methane sources will be monitored as well. EDF has set a high goal of 45 % reduction in oil and gas methane emissions by 2025.  Achievement of this goal would deliver the same 20 year climate benefit as closing one third of all coal fired power plants worldwide.

We are pleased to see EDF take a proactive approach to monitoring methane worldwide, we hope that the U.S. and other countries will work hard to support this effort. The U.S. should not be waiting for an NGO to take the lead, the EPA needs to take the lead and focus on how to gather accurate data to effectively manage climate change initiatives as well as water.

Scientists Discover Plants Can Reduce Ocean Acidity

Image: see.systemsbiology.net

Global ocean acidity has increased by 30 % over the past 200 years and is expected to increase by 150 % by 2099 to the highest level in over 20 million years.  About 25 % of the carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed into the ocean.  For carbon organisms like algae they will grow increasingly prevalent yet for calcifying organisms like oysters, lobsters, clams, sea urchins, corals and others they will lose the ability to grow and reproduce.

Source: WXshift

Three and one half billion people rely on the ocean for food. It is of huge consequence to have the oceans of the world become so acidic that the sea cannot sustain ocean life nourishing billions of people.

So, what is being done to reduce ocean acidification?  Certainly, efforts at reducing global warming are having an impact in the ocean specifically. There are some intelligent solutions being developed that would immediately improve shell organism survival.  The Pacific Northwest has a $200 million shellfish industry for export and shipping to West Coast cities.  Baywater Shellfish, west of Seattle, is having trouble growing geoducks, oysters and clams for market due to increased acidification of the water causing the shellfish to lose nutrients they need to grow and survive.  However, Oregon State University researchers working on an solution have discovered that eelgrass growing near the shell fish farms can lower the acidity in the water through photosynthesis absorbing the carbon, and pulling it from the water. This process allows vital nutrients to become available to the shellfish.  Eelgrasses can be planted in oyster farms or near shellfish hatcheries to provide the necessary lower acidity levels to nourish the shellfish.

The ocean covers 70% of our planet and provides food for 3.5 billion people making it crucial to human existence.  We have a stewardship responsibility to reverse the damage we are causing by human activity to preserve the oceans for future generations.  Cleanup of the ocean is a top priority for all of us and businesses too, as business success in the future assumes access to safe, clean, reliable water supplies and ocean environment.

EPA Abdicates Common Good Responsibility to Ensure Clean Water

 

Photo: commonfloor.com

The Wall Street Journal yesterday disclosed that Scott Pruitt, EPA Director, is working to limit the veto power of the agency over large projects impacting water quality. The agency has used the veto power sparingly – only 13 times since it was given the authority in the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Pruit believes the veto authority has gone too far impeding economic development, “I am concerned that the mere potential of EPA’s use of its… authority before or after the permitting process could influence investment decisions and chill economic growth by short-circuiting the permitting process,”, in a 4 page memo to regional staff.

Why is this clean water common good responsibility so hard to execute?   If a person dumped all his waste water and sewage in the street in front of his neighbors’  house, the neighbor would be upset and rightfully so. So, why do we treat mines, real estate developments, or port development any differently?  Is it because they are trying to make a profit while desecrating the land so it is ok?

Chromium-6 a known carcinogen made famous in the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’ has been found in the drinking water of millions of Americans. The non-profit Environmental Working Group has been monitoring the status of chromium-6  found in 2017 the substance in the drinking water of over 200 million people.  So, there are dangerous substances that still need to be monitoring in our drinking water.

The EPA has not taken in its public stewardship responsibility to the level of other countries, there are thousands of chemicals that can cause pollution and possible health hazards – none have been added to the pollutants list since 2000.  The list is small only 90 are covered in the Clean Water Act out of about ten thousand.  In the European Union they closely track over 2,500 different chemicals.

While the EPA is not as diligent as it needs to be, President Trump a year ago weakened the Clean Water Act requirement that mining companies ensure that water dumped into streams be cleaned to safe water standards.  The policy shift impacts the drinking water of over 117 million people.

Source: Scientific American, – 3/10/17

The GOP Administration continues to undermine protections in place for 40 years to ensure clean water is available to all citizens.  The lead levels found in Flint, Michigan water show that in some areas around the country the job is not getting done. Weakening the Clean Water Act in regard to mining dross and limiting the use of EPA veto on projects are just two examples of an indifferent and dangerous attitude by the agency.

Next steps:

In a Gallup poll 57 %  of the people said they favor ensuring environmental quality over economic growth when a decision needs to be made.

Source: Gallup – 4/2/18

When are we going to get a government that represents the will of the people on issues of our very survival like the environment?  The EPA Director worked as attorney general in Oklahoma relaxing environmental laws and now he is plowing ahead not protecting the public and not steadfastly defending the common good. Congress needs to act to update the Clean Water Act from updates in the 1980s, give the EPA a clear message that protecting the public is the first priority over economic costs.

The Rich View Our Government as A Trusted Rule Keeper, The Common Man Not So Much

Image: Your Little Planet

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison saw the need to frame a government such that ‘forced compromises’ would push political leaders to focus on the Common Good.  The institutions that maintain our common good include the federal government three estates:  The Supreme Court, Congress and The Executive.  In addition, the Fourth Estate, a Free Press is crucial for our citizens to have access to fair and impartial reporting about the activity of government officials and their policies. We have spotlighted the key role Education, as the Fifth estate, plays in educating our people to make critical decisions and understand comprehensively the information they receive from a Free Press.

Trust in our federal government has been falling since the presidency of Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

Source: Pew Research Center – 12/14/17

We noted in our first post on the Common Good that there were two factors contributing to the decline in trust:

We see two major factors for the lack of trust.  One, is that economic inequality has been increasing over the last 60 years to the point where it is at the worst it has ever been since 1929.  Americans expect their government to be the rule keeper of a fair shot at economic opportunity not a bastion for the rich and powerful.  As wealthy donors have taken over control of both major parties, the influence of the average citizen has been reduced to nearly nothing except at the ballot box – but not in legislative policy.”

The second major factor is the change in information access and news viewing habits of our society.

In the 1950s and 1960s families gathered around the television set to watch Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley bring them the news for the day.  These news anchors had teams of trained journalists in how to gather news, provide airing of opposing views and investigation to reveal the facts of the story. As cable news programs became popular people drifted away from central network journalist supported news programs toward popular ‘viewpoint news’ programs like Fox News or CNN.  Then, from 1995 until today, the Internet was a catalyst for the growth of blogging, and ‘friend news’ on Facebook which had virtually no formally trained journalists and limited understanding of the difference between facts and opinions.  Opinions spread virally through the Internet often with no foundation in formal fact gathering or fact finding investigation techniques. Today, we even have presidential spokespersons talking about ‘alternative facts’ to justify their policies or opinions.

Trust gaps by income level are increasing around the world with many developed countries showing double digit gaps between the top income quartile and the bottom income quartile and the U.S. with the largest gap:

In the U.S. incomes for the lower 80 % have been largely stagnant for the past three decades since the Reagan years, higher education costs rising to levels never seen before with student loan debt at $1.5 trillion dollars. In short, lower and middle income parents expect their children to have fewer opportunities and to make less money over their lifetime. This growing sense of hopelessness is in part triggering the populist movements we see world-wide. The top quartile trust government institutions the most because they are getting the benefits, tax cuts, relaxed environmental policies to allow their businesses to make as much money as they can, and continued stock buy backs to make even more money instead of increasing worker wages.  Workers see their votes not making a difference as Congress is at the beck and call of Corporate Nation States who make multi-million dollar campaign contributions and the Executive Branch now run by billionaires.

Little wonder the Common Good is not embraced by all people, for the rich they are on top of the economic pyramid. The rich get the laws they want and aren’t interested in sharing their wealth or time to build the Common Good.

Here is what will likely happen, in the end the rich will need to see that it is in their interest to build the Common Good, by contributing to our institutions of government and common people or they will lose what they already have and probably a lot more.

Wood Project Gives Ex-Offenders New Lives

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: USA Today

The US Forest Services has kicked off a new program to reclaim urban lumber from abandoned homes by using workers from non-profits who had criminal records.  The innovative program attacks two major problems in urban centers like Baltimore, where 70 % of criminal offenders are returned to prison within 3 years, and there are over 16,000 abandoned structures in the city.  Quite often the abandoned structures are hives of prostitution, drugs and criminal activity.

Morgan Grove, Urban Wood Project leader, says “It’s about air quality and water quality.  It’s also about reducing crime and helping people move forward”.  She continued by declaring, “At its core, it’s really still maintaining the mission of revitalizing that the Forest Service has had since the agency was started in the early 1900s.”

The following table outlines the linked issues of high crime, abandoned buildings, high prison rates and the health of communities:

Sources: Justice Policy Institute, Prison Policy Initiative – Maryland, USA Today – 6/11/18

It is interesting to note the issues Baltimore city officials face in reclaiming their communities to return them to being healthy places to live, environmentally, and to redeem the people in the community to a productive life. We see many of these same issues in the rural regions of our country, that have been left behind by losing jobs to other offshore sites, reduced education opportunities, poor health, drugs and slow Internet infrastructure.

As a country we are missing the opportunity to rebuild lives, the environment and the economy unless we support innovative programs like the Urban Wood Project.

Lyft Takes Responsibility for the Environment

 

Image: lyft.com

Lyft recently announced that it will be purchasing carbon offset credits to be used to make riding in Lyft cars carbon neutral. John Zimmer, Lyft, co-founder noted in a Medium post that in 2017 when President Trump announced the US was leaving the Paris Climate Agreement that Lyft was joining many other companies in We Are Still In, to declare as an alliance their commitment  to protecting the environment.  The group started by Michael Bloomberg brings state and local governments, businesses, universities and colleges representing 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the economy affirming their commitment to the Paris agreement.

Zimmer outlines a bold effort with multi-million dollar investments in carbon control or emissions projects near major markets in Ohio, Michigan, and Oklahoma. The $11 billion ride sharing company declares, “your decision to ride with Lyft will support the fight against climate change.” The ride hailing company sees a future where all their vehicles are electric and carbon emission free – as the race is on toward electric cars and possible autonomous rides.

We applaud the move by Lyft, taking on corporate social responsibility for the millions of tons of emissions that Lyft cars are spewing into the air every year.  Some studies show that ride sharing rather than reducing the number of car rides people take, they actually are increasing because using the app is so easy and the cost relatively inexpensive. So, the move and commitment by Lyft to take responsibility for our environment is a key move we expect to see from every company that adds carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

Here are examples of the carbon footprint of various types of cars and transportation systems:

Sources: DEFRA, EIA, EPA, GREET, Shrinkthatfootprint.com – 6/7/18

Clearly the combination of solar with electric cars is promising along with public transit like the school bus or Eurostar rail.  We need to make carbon emissions emitted by all businesses a priority in government policy transparency to show consumers and investors how businesses are contributing to carbon emissions and what they are doing about the problem. The Lyft Green Cities Initiative demonstrates the commitment by Lyft to take responsibility for our environment that we expect to see from every business as they all contribute carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

Ocean Cleanup Takes on the Plastic Environmental Challenge

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: The Ocean Cleanup

We have noted in recent discussions the environmental disaster lurking in our oceans from tons of plastic.  Now there is a company that is doing something about this problem with unique technology to pull the plastic out of the ocean.  The non-profit, The Ocean Cleanup Foundation headquartered in the Netherlands with its first operations center in Alameda, California in the San Francisco Bay has developed an innovative passive system with a floater, a solid screen floor and sea ancho causing the system to move slower than the plastic and guide the debris into a collection system.

The Ocean Cleanup prototype has been tested over the past several months in the ocean outside the Golden Gate. The environmental group plan on launching the first operational system in June to begin removal of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Northern Pacific. Founder, Slat Boyton, estimates their system will collect up to 50 % of the garbage or 40,000 metric tons can be collected in 5 years.

Sources: NOAA, Woods Hole Grant, BBC – 2014

It is critical to clean up the existing plastic as it takes 450 years to degrade completely and prior degrading can sometimes be in micro plastic pieces easily stuck in the digestive systems of ocean wildlife.

Ocean Cleanup plans on bringing the plastic back for recycling and sale to plastic reuse companies. While recycling economics may not allow for a break even business, the UN estimates the value in damage to the marine ecosystem at $13 billion.  Regardless of the cost, plastic pollution at the magnitude it is now destroying wildlife, will eventually cut a key link in the life food chain and hurt us all.

We are pleased to see Boyton and his team take on this huge environmental threat to our oceans, the wildlife that lives there and our own existence in the end.

Activists Push Environmental Corporate Reform at McDonalds

 

Image: thepeoplesconvention.org

We believe corporate behavior will most likely only change when shareholders demand change through corporate reform.  While some farsighted companies are moving to all sustainable materials for their packaged goods McDonalds has been slow to make it happen.

McDonalds says it is willing to move to eliminate plastic straws by 2025 – seven years from now.  That timeframe is just too late.  There are plastic straw substitutes like biodegradables are available now made from starch, corn or bamboo. The giant restaurateur has been dragging on making shift.  Plastic in our oceans is a huge problem, destroying habitat for ocean creatures and fouling their food sources multiplying each year by 8 million metric tons.

Source: The Ocean Conservancy – 5/24/18

We applaud the plastic straw proposal by SumOfUs, corporate reform activists, obtaining 450,000 signatures to qualify for a shareholder vote.

Corporate decision making must continue to be monitored, and when a decision is making our planet more uninhabitable it must be changed to make our life here sustainable.  The reality is that those profits are not going to matter in a planet where our environment is destroying the world we live in placing people world-wide in jeopardy of shortened life spans.

Unfortunately, today the plastic straw proposal only received 8 % of shareholder votes.  The vote of major shareholders and institutions against the proposal shows there is still work to be done to in corporate reform.   We are pleased to see major institutions, like Blackrock, where CEO Larry Fink has demanded that companies they invest in get more engaged in environmental issues and ‘how’ they make money not just make money. When CEOs at major companies see that it is in their interest to move the paradigm of environmental protection ahead then we will know that they are listening to us, the people, rather than Wall Street. Corporations and the wealthy control Congress so we need to go directly to Corporate Nation States to bring about real change.

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