Water consumption for power and transportation will soar due to expanding coal power and biofuel production, the International Energy Agency says.
Water consumption for power and transportation will soar due to expanding coal power and biofuel production, the International Energy Agency says.
Innovative nonprofits are taking clean cookstoves a step further by designing them to produce biochar, a byproduct with the potential to fortify soil and fight climate change.
Guest post by Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of EarthShare member
charity Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
This year, 2013, marks a very
significant date – the 35th anniversary of the Love Canal crisis. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.
Entire generations have been born since who may know little or nothing about
Love Canal and how the environmental health and justice movement began. It was
in 1978 when we started the Love Canal Homeowners Association to respond to the
industrial waste dump that was poisoning our community in New York State. Our
work eventually led to the creation of the Superfund program in 1980.
We need to find ways to tell the
Love Canal story so that we don’t repeat our mistakes. One key lesson is that a
blue collar community with few resources can win its fight for justice and open
the eyes of the nation and the world to the serious problems of environmental
chemicals and their effects on public health.
Thanks to Mark Kitchell, an Oscar
nominated filmmaker (Berkeley in the
Sixties), there’s now a compelling film that tells the story of Love Canal
and the history of the environmental movement: A Fierce Green Fire. The film will engage younger viewers who may
have never heard of Love Canal and re-engage those who have spent decades fighting for a
healthy planet. What’s exciting about this film, which includes a prominent segment on Love Canal, is that it demonstrates
that change really can happen when people get involved.
“The main difference between my
film and a lot of other environmental films is that instead of it being focused
on the issues, ours is focused on the movement and activism,” said Mark
Kitchell in an interview. “I feel that telling stories of activists, taking up
the battle and fighting, is the best way to explicate the issues. And that was
my main handle on the environmental subject, doing the movement story”. The
film is narrated by Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Ashley Judd among others.
(Lois Gibbs speaking about Love Canal in A Fierce Green Fire)
As CHEJ moves forward this coming
year, we are partnering with groups across the country who would like to show
the film in their communities and learn how to win environmental
and environmental health and justice battles. Partnering with these groups, we
hope to also bring media attention to local environmental concerns across the country
and raise funds to address these issues. It’s a plan that’s hard to pass up.
group is interested in hosting a local viewing of A Fierce Green Fire, please contact CHEJ. Together we can inspire people to take
action to protect our health and the planet.
Lois Gibbs was
raising her family in Love Canal, near Niagara Falls in upstate New York, when,
in 1978, she discovered that her home and those of her neighbors were sitting
next to 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals.
discovery spurred Lois to lead her neighbors in a three year struggle to
protect their families from the hazardous waste buried in their backyards. In
that fight, Lois discovered that no local, state or national organization
existed to provide communities with strategic advice, guidance, training and
Lois with her neighbors on their own, by
trial and error, developed the strategies and methods to educate and organize
their neighbors, assess the impacts of toxic wastes on their health, and
challenge corporate and government policies on the dumping of hazardous
materials. Her leadership led to the relocation of 833 Love Canal households.
President Obama will soon have to decide whether he will be the “all of the above” president or the “respond to climate change” president.
“We need an energy strategy for the future — an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.”
(President Obama, March 15, 2012)
The operative words are “every source.” Sure, he touts and has funded the development of green energy, but he has also favored a ramp-up in production of domestic hydrocarbons — specifically oil and natural gas. At any number of occasions last year Obama trotted out the fact that under his watch domestic drilling and production were up, imports were down. Similar boasts appear on WhiteHouse.gov as well:
“Domestic oil and natural gas production has increased every year President Obama has been in office. In 2011, American oil production reached the highest level in nearly a decade and natural gas production reached an all-time high.”
While energy was a campaign issue, it was obvious (painfully so for many) that climate change was not. No major policy speeches by either candidate and not a single question in the debates.
But after the election climate change re-entered the president’s ambit. First came his acceptance speech on election night:
“We want our children to live in an America … that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
Then came an inaugural address that got the environmental community all atwitter — climate change receiving more attention than any other single issue? Could it be that Obama was positioning himself to go after climate change in a big way?
But here’s the problem: an “all of the above” energy policy that encourages the development and production of oil and gas flies in the face of a “climate change” pledge to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
And the stakes are too high to ignore. Greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric greenhouse gases are at an all-time high. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. And there is increasing concern that we may be seeing an uptick in extreme weather events as a result of global warming.
Responding to climate change requires that production and use of hydrocarbon fuels be ramped down, not up.
So sooner or later the Obama administration will face a moment of truth — a choice between following an “all of the above” path or responding to “the threat of climate change.” And that moment could be just down the road.
The Keystone XL project would put into place a pipeline system that would allow oil imports to flow from the Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast. (For more, see my post here, this NYT explainer, and this Washington Post Keystone XL interactive graphic.)
It’s been a rallying cry for both the “drill, baby drill” crowd and the environmentally minded, albeit from different positions. For the pro-drillers the pipeline is a no-brainer — a job-creating project that will bring a new, unconventional, (almost) domestic source of oil to American refineries.
There’s also the issue of the pipeline itself. The initial plan had routed it through highly sensitive lands in Nebraska’s Sand Hills, which sit above the all-important Ogallala aquifer — a critical source of drinking water and irrigation for a huge swath of the United States. The potential risk to the aquifer was so grave that Dave Heineman, the Republican governor of Nebraska, urged Obama to deny TransCanada (the pipeline company) the greenlight for the project.
And finally there is the climate concern. While there is still some debate about how the size of the Alberta resource — and how much carbon dioxide would be released if it were completely exploited (see here and here) — there is little argument that on a BTU-to-BTU basis, tar sands oil is about as dirty and carbon-intensive as it comes. And so sure, if you’re an “all of the above” president, you might approve the pipeline. But if you’re a “respond to climate” one? I don’t think so.
The Keystone XL project has had its ups and downs, its starts and stops. (See timeline.) Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the project must be reviewed by the State Department and approved by the president. In January 2012, the State Department rejected TransCanada’s application because of concerns about environmental impacts but invited the company to re-apply with a new route that would avoid environmentally sensitive areas.
TransCanada has now submitted a new proposal whose newly proffered path for the pipeline avoids some — but not all — of the ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska and its surrounds: It still passes over the Ogallala but avoids the Sand Hills.
Gov. Heineman has approved the new plan, with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality finding that the pipeline’s construction and operation along the new route would result in “minimal environmental impacts” and that any oil released “should be localized and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup.”
So now it’s up to Obama and his administration.
The State Department is said to be studying the new plan and a decision is expected this spring. So what will they do? Just-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry was cagey and non-committal on the subject during his confirmation hearings last week, promising only to make “appropriate decisions.” (Hey, at least he didn’t say he would decide for it then against it.)
Ultimately, though, the decision is in the hands of President Obama. That decision will be revealing indeed.
* Oil sands produce bitumen, a thick tarry hydrocarbon that is either “upgraded” into a synthetic blend or diluted so it flows like oil.
The community of Serenbe, a multi-use development outside Atlanta in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, was founded with sustainability in mind. Seventy percent of its 1,000 acres is preserved natural space, and many of its buildings use geothermal heating and water-conserving appliances. But one of its greenest homes might be one that was built specifically as a model to showcase energy-efficient technologies. (See related post: “Energy Efficiency on the Farm and Beyond“)
The Bosch Net Zero home, which is designed to accommodate a family of four with zero annual energy costs, opened to the public last summer and went on the market in September. The details:
Price: $499,000 (unfurnished)
Square footage: 1,650 (three bedrooms, 2.5 baths)
Anticipated energy bills: $0
Typical energy bill for a U.S. single-family home: $2,200
Amount of that typical bill used for heating costs: 29 percent
Estimated savings from the house’s geothermal heat pump: 70 percent
Number of solar panels on the house: 18
Amount of water used per flush with a standard low-flow toilet: 1.6 gallons
Amount used by the Net Zero house toilets: 1.28 gallons
Estimated water savings from the home’s washing machine: 5,040 gallons a year
Another Net Zero home at Serenbe, which was meant to be the original model, was sold before construction was finished. Serenbe is also the site of HGTV’s Green Home 2012, which was given away last year.
Do green features in a home make you more likely to buy? Post your thoughts on the Net Zero home at Serenbe in the comments.
This past week I attended and had the pleasure to speak and debate at the 2013 World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This was the sixth such summit, and the third I have attended.
The stated goal of the meeting is to:
bring together global leaders in policy, technology and business to discuss the state of the art, develop new ways of thinking and shape the future of renewable energy.
For me, the meeting did just that. At each of the past meetings lectures, panel discussions, and extensive exhibitions of energy technologies provided one element of the dialog, and the evolving shape of Masdar City provided the other. Masdar City is intended to eventually house over 40,000 people and be the working environment for another 50,000 commuters, all in a site that produces its own energy and is a platform for the newest ideas of sustainability.
One of the most important ideas to get across to everyone thinking about sustainability issues is that we are failing to live up to our potential to match the scale of the challenges with sufficiently creative solutions.
I was particularly interested to attend the World Future Energy Summit this time because it the first year that the International Water Summit was to be held in conjunction with the World Future Energy Summit. The International Water Summit is, in fact, the only event – so far — that focuses specifically on the water energy nexus and the challenges of this within arid environments. The event will include a political summit, expert conference and exhibition for delegates and water experts from all over the world.
This nexus – energy and water – is part of a growing theme of researchers and research themes that look at the intersection of key challenges. I am particularly concerned that these linkages spread rapidly to other areas to flesh out our understanding of what ‘sustainability’ actually means (Casillas and Kammen, 2010). There are many that we need to explore: energy-water nexus; the energy-poverty nexus; the climate-culture nexus; the biodiversity-resilience nexus; the energy-justice nexus, and so forth.
These are each critical efforts to frame elements of what sustainability science will need to capture. In Abu Dhabi, a place overflowing with both fossil fuels and solar energy, the inclusion of water in the equation is vital. Without it, energy presents no local challenge, as long as linkages – in this case to greenhouse gas emissions and global sustainability, are ignored. Water for Abu Dhabi is provided through desalinization, driven by energy. A nexus.
At the meeting I listened intently at sessions on the energy side where global carbon budgets were discussed, and I listened equally intently at sessions on the water side of the summit where the shortages of water for mega-cities, for the rural poor, and for cooling fossil-fuel power plants were all discussed.
The most telling assessment of the myriad of sessions of our currently unsustainable energy and water practices was that we simply were not innovating and deploying new, superior ideas fast enough. Instead of taking this as a rallying cry for a hugely expanded and accelerated path to finding new and better ways to do things, one headline from the meeting captured where we are today, “If not sustainable, then at least efficient”!
The fact is that we are becoming too good at finding improvements – even significant ones – that are not tipping the balance fast enough.
That new agenda – committing to innovations that truly lead to sustainability – needs to get the political backing and the backing of resources needed to turn the corner on truly new ways of doing things. The search for solutions at in the ‘nexus’ areas is one part of that story, but our pace must accelerate dramatically.
Italy’s attempt to drive growth in its renewables sector has given rise to a new line of business for the Mafia, and the government is trying to crack down, according to a fascinating report in The Washington Post.
Italy, along with many other countries in Europe, has been ramping up the development of renewable energy over the last few years, partly in response to targets set by the European Union. In 2011, Italy led growth in solar power and was second only to Germany in total installed solar capacity. (See quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Solar Power.”)
But that growth offered little price relief to Italy’s electricity consumers and sparked a battle with competing oil- and gas-powered plants. As a heat wave pounded the country last summer, its parliament passed new regulations that cut incentives for renewables while offering new subsidies to fossil fuel plants. (See related photos: “Eleven Nations With Large Fossil Fuel Subsidies” and interactive map: “Fossil Fuel Burden on State Coffers.“)
“Without this decree, [oil-fired] plants would close down,” an official from the state-run utility, Enel, said in a Financial Times report on the new scheme. Italy was forced to activate some of its oil-fired plants last winter, when its reliance on natural gas imports from Russia resulted in a shortage.
The exposure of alleged Mafia ties adds a new layer of adversity for many renewable power projects. The Post account says that about one third of Sicily’s wind farms and several solar plants have been seized by authorities in the wake of a sting that also involved the freezing of $2 billion in assets and at least a dozen arrests. Prosecutors said that the wind and solar industries — new sectors of growth and profit for the country, thanks to government subsidies — became a lure for crime families who strong-armed their way into land leases, elbowed out competition, and bent regulations in an effort to control the industry.
The mob may not be the only entity that was moved to impropriety by Italy’s renewable energy boom. An affiliate of the Chinese solar panel manufacturer Suntech is battling criminal charges that its subsidiaries skirted regulations while building five solar plants in Italy; Suntech is also claiming that it was the victim of fraud in financing its Italian solar projects, and in December said that it would need to revise its financial statements for the past three years, taking a hit of between $60 and $80 million because of a funding guarantee that it discovered “does not exist.”
In Sicily, the Post reports, most new construction of renewables projects has stopped. But a slowdown had been on the horizon already, thanks to the new regulations. In December, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) sent a letter to EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger decrying recent policy measures in a number of countries, saying that “lack of confidence in the support measures heightens the perceived risk in investments in renewables.” Italy, it said in a background paper, has had three different incentive systems in less than two years.
“These sudden changes of legislation [in Italy] have generated many uncertainties on the part of operators and in some cases limited access to credit,” the EPIA wrote. As investigations into the wrongdoing in Italy continue, continued generation of uncertainty seems more likely than generation of new solar or wind energy, for now.
One of the most recognizable environmental symbols is a
green triangle made of arrows representing recycling. You know the one:
The symbol is so familiar that it’s often used as a stand-in
for green behavior. But recycling is not the best we can do. Consider companies
that send old computers and phones for recycling to countries with lax
enforcement of environmental laws, where children
pick through toxic metals. Or the fact that even some recycled plastics can
ultimately end up in a landfill or incinerator, since they become degraded or
unusable after just one recycling.
What if we changed our mindset from recycling single-use products to replacing these products with
those that can be reused or upcycled over and over again, before
biodegrading harmlessly in the environment? In other words, what if we moved to
a zero waste economy?
Companies are already catching on. Some of the most
recognizable brands have embraced the notion of zero waste. In Atlanta, the Hyatt
Regency upcycles its food scraps, helping to cut its garbage bill by
$169,000 one year and creating useful compost as a result. An Epson factory in
the UK ensures that 95% of its products
don’t reach the landfill through an aggressive take-back program.
At Burt’s Bees, employees empty out their trash cans on
“Dumpster Dive Day” to examine their waste stream and explore ways to reduce
And communities are going zero waste too. New Paltz, NY is
one of 13 towns in the US with a zero waste action plan. Their unique “ReUse Center” takes
donations of all kinds of materials from lumber to electronics and hosts regular
educational programs on ways to reduce waste.
A zero waste mindset has to happen at the design end of the
production cycle too. It starts by asking questions like: “What is this
packaging made of?”, “Why do I need to replace my entire computer when it
Remember the milk man from days
of yore, who would hand deliver fresh dairy products directly to people’s
doorsteps? Manhattan Milk certainly
does. The New York-based company decided
to provide milk to their customers the old fashioned way: in reusable glass
bottles that they pick up afterward. Many Canadians and Germans still get beer
in reusable containers too.
Do you want to help your community or company go zero waste?
Check out the EPA’s website and follow these steps:
EPA's 10 Steps to
And stay tuned for Green America’s People &
Business Award winners announcement on February 1st to find out
which companies are at the top of the heap when it comes to zero waste.
issue on zero waste, Green America
is Money Down the Drain – Efficiency Boosts Bottom Line, Natural Resources
Waste Committee, Sierra Club
of chief executives around the world say that sustainability is “critical
to the future success of their companies,” putting such vision into practice
can be challenging. How can strong vision in the C-suite be implemented by the
entire workforce? And conversely, how can green leaders in the workforce get
executives to make sustainable changes?
In the meantime, climate change, biodiversity loss,
pervasive chemical use and other environmental issues are threatening our
future on this planet. We at EarthShare believe these challenges can only be
addressed if nonprofits reach out to companies and their workforces – and vice versa – to form alliances aimed at solving these and other societal
We’ve seen these alliances in action at EarthShare. Thanks
to thousands of workplace donors across the country, EarthShare supports
nonprofit organizations focusing on issues that range from providing efficiency
upgrades for buildings, to building new parks and protecting existing ones, to
working for cleaner air and water in our towns and cities. Companies with a
sustainability vision attract employees and investors, reduce risk and engage
customers better. Employees increasingly want to know that workplace values
align with their own and that their work is doing good for their communities
and the planet.
Part of our job is to develop, facilitate and support these private-public-nonprofit
sector partnerships. That’s why EarthShare is a proud co-sponsor and
participant in the 12th Annual Charities
@ Work Best Practices Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship,
being held from April 2-4 in New York City. The Annual Charities @ Work Summit is
one of the country’s leading conferences on employee engagement. Attendees
include Fortune 500 companies across all sectors of business, each with
philanthropic and employee engagement programs of varying sizes and a
desire to collaborate on best practices.
Speakers will include CSR and other experts, all of whom will focus on discussing ways to produce better companies, better communities, and a better world. Are you a manager who wants to find out how charitable connections can enhance your company’s mission? Request an invitation to the Charities @ Work conference here.
The critical value of water was especially apparent in 2012 as
America faced one of the most serious droughts in its history: crops withered,
barges on the Mississippi were grounded and power plant cooling towers were put
at risk. These were just some of the impacts of a compromised water supply.
With the increasing impacts of climate change, water
conservation will become even more vital in the coming years. Most of us know there’s
a lot we can do
to reduce our personal water footprint, whether it’s plugging leaks, taking
shorter showers, eating meatless meals on a regular basis, etc. But engineers are
helping us use less, too, by designing appliances that sip, rather than gulp,
When you consider that the average U.S. household uses 400
gallons of water per day and that much of it goes unused down the drain, it
might make you wonder how much is consumed by an industry that exists to feed,
shower and shelter many people: the hotel industry.
Enter British-based company
Xeros’ ultra low water cleaning system, which uses 70-90% less water than
conventional machines through the use of polymer bead technology. While a
front-loading washer uses about 40 gallons of water, a Xeros washing machine
cuts water use significantly. The recyclable cleaning beads can be used hundreds of times before they need to be replaced, and they never go down the drain. The cleaning power of the beads also means reduced temperature and less detergent, resulting in less energy and less chemicals used to clean dirty linens and clothing.
To see how this technology works, watch this
time-lapse video that shows the wash cycle from start to finish.
Xeros currently provides its system to in-house laundry
operations for the hotel and lodging industry, as well as retail dry cleaners. The
Hyatt Regency in Reston, Virginia recently started using Xeros machines to launder
their guest room and dining room linens and bath towels using less water, less
chemicals and less energy. According to David Eisenman, General Manager for the
Hyatt Regency Reston, the property is looking forward to reducing its utility
consumption and carbon footprint.
Saving water in other ways saves hotels money, too. The
Proximity Hotel in North Carolina, for instance, saved two million
gallons of water and $14,000 in water bills in one year just by installing
high-efficiency plumbing fixtures. The
cost of these fixtures was $7,000, producing a payback on the hotel’s
investment in only six months.
Developing technology solutions that create these kinds of environmental
advantages has earned the company kudos. Xeros won the prestigious “Best Technological
Breakthrough” category in the 2011 Climate
Week Awards, sponsored by the U.K. government, and WWF in the U.K. called Xeros a
global “Green Game-Changer” in the realm of “consumer goods and services
innovations.” If you think ultra-low water cleaning would be perfect for your resource-conscious lifestyle,
you’ll be pleased to know that Xeros plans to offer their machines to
individual consumers down the road.
For more information
on why EarthShare and Xeros are promoting conservation and
environmental stewardship together, visit our water issues resource section. If you would like to stay in touch with Xeros so you’ll be among the
first to know when they’ll be debuting their technology for home use, connect
with them on Facebook and Twitter.