The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Environment (Page 1 of 2)

Scientists Discover Plants Can Reduce Ocean Acidity

(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.)

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.

High Gasoline Prices Hurt Low Income Consumers Most

 

Image: earthfinds.co.ug

OPEC nations have been reducing their oil output over the past few months, while the US has been increasing its output – to the point where the US has become a net oil exporting country.  Yet, with the US pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement, oil prices shot up even higher.  For a regular gallon of gas, the price has increased 23 % over a year ago.

Source: gasprices.aaa.com – 5/15/18

Prices are highest in the Western states and East Coast where there are more environmental regulations requiring special gas additives and higher taxes for road maintenance. Major gasoline price rises anywhere hit the lowest income groups the hardest, yet even harder in expensive Western and East Coast states.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Morgan Stanley Research, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/15/18

Low income people are already squeezed by higher rents, fewer low cost homes to purchase, rising health care costs, higher health insurance for individuals by undermining the Obamacare exchanges, higher debt, low wages and longer commutes (as often they don’t have the money to live near work).  Longer commutes mean that a gasoline price increases hurt these long commuters harder than other drivers.

Next steps:

We need to get back to a focus on the 80 % and the lower income 10 – 20 % who are taking the brunt of price increases for necessities across our economy.  We need to invest in affordable housing near employment to reduce commutes (reduce as purchases), public transportation in rail, bus and tram systems.  While, reducing environment regulations may help the oil industry to pump more oil, we do so at the cost of our environment and health in the future – where quite often lower income people live near refineries and pollution leaking tank sites.  Investing in renewable energy sources to reduce our need for costly gas offers more alternatives and is an environmentally sound strategy. Plus, corporate employers could help hourly and lower salary workers with public transportation credits to be used to reduce expenses of driving by supporting car pools and using public transportation. Local and State government can offer tax deductions on the matching grants to corporations that offer public transportation and carpooling credits.

California Leads with Solar New Home Requirement

Photo: npr.org

The State of California is the first state in the country to require all new homes being built beginning in 2020 have solar panels.  The requirement applies to all single family and condo units up to three stories high.  The additional cost is estimated to be about $9, 500 added onto one of the highest median prices in the country at $565,000.

Some observers would have preferred that the State focus on building large solar farms rather than residences since the residence approach means that utilities have to deal with power coming up line that may be difficult for them to handle.  Yet, residence based solar panel electricity provides for a more distributed system, rather than a centralized one offering more redundancy, options for homeowners and great self-reliance.

The residence based electricity option basically poses an alternative to central line based power utilities.  Essentially with competition from residences it will spur utilities to cut costs and see how to move into renewable energy quicker to take advantage of lower costs for solar power.

Sources: California Energy Commission, The Wall Street Journal – 5/9/18

The shift to renewable energy sources is crucial to meet objects for climate change as endorsed by 175 countries in the Paris Climate Accord. When we think about the consequences of not meeting the challenge of climate change it is unthinkable how hostile our planet will be to live on – eventually making it uninhabitable.

We call for a national initiative to make renewables the standard for all new homes. As we have noted almost 60 % of the people want to set the environment as a priority even if there is an economic cost.  if the federal government won’t do it then the top 20  new housing states should implement the plan and make renewables as the de facto approach toward home building.

To assist first time buyers, we recommend the State of California offer for homes under $400k an energy credit to be used as a credit on families’ state taxes to help out with the added solar expense added onto the price of a new home.

Let’s get the country moving toward renewable energy as our standard way of building communities and enjoy a climate that we all can live in.

GOP Leadership Not Legislating the Will of the People – Environment

 

Photo: pinterest.com

As the GOP Administration announces a rollback of car efficiency standards set by the Obama administration, the GOP leadership continues to be out of step with the will of the people. A recent poll by Gallup shows a significant shift in the attitude of Americans about the tradeoffs between the environment and the economy.  Now US citizens believe that the environment is the first priority even if it reduces some economic growth.

Sources: Gallup, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 4/3/18

The shift in concerns about the environment over the economy started in 2014 until today where an overwhelming majority 57 % of Americans say the environment is the first priority even at the risk of curbing economic growth.

Next Steps:

The environment is a non-partisan issue actually, if we don’t have clean water, air or land on our planet we won’t be able to survive here.  This administration has taken giant steps backward by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Treaty, relaxing clean water standards for coal producing area streams, allowing energy and mining on protected wilderness lands, opening ocean protected areas to oil drilling and now rolling back car mileage goals. It is time for all Americans to make their will known to our elected leaders in Congress and the White House by requiring our politicians pass laws that reflect the will of the people over the short term goals of energy, mining and car manufacturers who don’t seem to care enough about our survival. We have noted the lack of scientific or intelligent policy making in the recent EPA decision to not use generally accepted research or data to make policy decisions. The EPA positions on our health, the environment and priorities to protect our people are totally one hundred and eighty degrees out of sync with the will of the people and must change – now!

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