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February 24 2014


January 30 2014


The Perilous Contradictions in the President’s 2014 State of the Union Address

Staying within prescribed climate change limits will be difficult under Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy. Although Obama may be the greenest President in American history he is not doing enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. In his State of the Union address, he did talk about the veracity of climate change and the need to further reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions, however his ongoing support for fossil fuel extraction is dangerous and imperils hopes that we can tackle the issue of climate change before we reach irreversible tipping points.

The President made many laudable points during his address including his desire to increase protections for air, water, land and American communities. He quite correctly explained that, “we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods.”

In his state of the union address, Obama touted his The President touted the growth of solar power saying: “[W]e’re becoming a global leader in solar too. Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.”

The President has repeatedly stated his desire to put an end to tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry and use that money for fuels of the future (ie renewables). A point which he reiterated in his State of the Union address.

The President also touted his efficiency efforts including efficiency standards for new cars. He went on to suggest that he will be imposing new fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy weight trucks. However, their is an irreconcilable paradox between efficiency and the expansion of fossil fuel.

The President indicated that he wants to “cut red tape” to help businesses build factories that use natural gas. As he explained, “If [natural gas is] extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”

While natural gas could be made far less destructive if we could eradicate (or substantially reduce) methane leaks associated with extraction, it is easier said than done.

The President made the point that the U.S. has reduced its carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth over the last 8 years. He further indicated that he wants to set new standards for power plants which would tighten restrictions on CO2 emissions.

All of the above – Obama can’t have it both ways

While efforts to reduce GHGs are beyond reproach, his overall strategy conceals an irreconcilable contradiction. Reducing GHGs is at odds with increasing domestic dirty energy exploitation. The simple fact is he cannot have it both ways.

Despite pleas from the leading U.S. environmental organizations to stop fossil fuel extraction, President Obama’s State of the Union address indicates that he intends to move forward with his “all of the above” energy strategy.

The reliance on natural gas and oil may undermine efforts to stay within prescribed scientific limits. The first limit concerns temperature increases, the second involves greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to keep warming below the internationally agreed upon upper threshold limit of 2°C, we will need to stop pumping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It is widely known that the primary contributors of GHGs are fossil fuels.

This is the conclusion reached by numerous studies including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which was published late in September 2013. According to the IPCC report, we cannot add more than another 140 gigatons of carbon globally (500 GtCO2).

If we continue to exploit and burn fossil fuels at the current rate, we will considerably exceed these limits. If we burn only 20 percent of estimated available carbon reserves we will have already reached the upper allowable limit of carbon emissions. If the remaining reserves are exploited there will be no way to stop runaway climate change.

We cannot afford to move forward with planned coal projects or the tar sands, nor can we afford President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy.

In fairness, President Obama acknowledges the veracity of climate change but he is constrained by the Republicans in congress and the general ignorance of many Americans. We cannot appreciate efforts to engage climate concerns without factoring political considerations. Obama may be advancing domestic fossil fuels for political reasons, not the least of which is the impending midterms. If he loses control of the Senate, his efforts to manage climate change will suffer a serious blow.

A Ceres report titled, “Inaction on Climate Change: The Cost to Taxpayers.” sees political factors as a major part of inaction. “[T]he reason for our collective shortsightedness is that the issue of climate change, and what to do about it, has become politicized in the U.S,” the report said.

Despite his considerable efforts (not the least of which is his climate action plan), the President can be faulted for failing to lead efforts to educate Americans. To create the political support we need to see, Americans need to be apprized of the implications of failing to act. Obama’s State of the Union address focused on education and this could be expanded to include efforts to explain the rationale for action and expose the ignorance of climate denying Republicans who control the House.

More than any other single factor, people respond to economic considerations. The focus on the economy and jobs in the President’s State of the Union speech is a reflection of this understanding. He needs to do a better job informing Americans about the price associated with climate change.

The President can do far more to help Americans apprehend the scope of the costs of failing to stay within the prescribed limits. Failing to heed these limits will result in a massive price tag that will cripple the U.S. (and global) economy and ultimately, irrevocably change life on Earth.

The costs of climate change

Evidence for these costs are not just part of some apocalyptic future, they are with us here and now. According to the the Ceres report, Federal and state disaster relief payouts are estimated to have cost every person in the U.S. more than $300. According to the report, the costs of climate change to taxpayers going forward will get worse and ultimately be “debilitating.” A cogent argument can be made for acting now, as one dollar spent on prevention saves four dollars in damages. From this perspective mitigation efforts are a far better investment than adaptation.

“Continuing to ignore these escalating risks may be more comfortable than confronting the challenges of climate change, but inaction is the far riskier and more expensive path,” the Ceres report concluded.

“[T]he debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did,” the President said.

However, “booming” oil and natural gas production is inconsistent with efforts to combat climate change. Reducing emissions while boosting domestic oil and gas production is a contradictory policy position. At a time when we most need the President to lead, we really got nothing new in this state of the Union speech.

The U.S. cannot simultaneously be a leading producer of fossil fuels and at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change. Selling the facts to the American public will not be easy, but it is necessary.

“The the shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way,” the President said. The question is whether he is prepared to make those tough choices.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: scatteredView, courtesy flickr

The post The Perilous Contradictions in the President’s 2014 State of the Union Address appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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January 23 2014


What is Wrong with Star Powered Environmental Advocacy

Environmental advocacy and star power

What harm can there be from celebrities who provide material support, raise environmental awareness and encourage ecological action? We live in a culture of celebrity worship, we are bombarded with their images in advertising, film, television and online. Whether we are consumers of pop culture or not, there is no denying that celebrities hold a lot of sway with the general public.  The fact is that television, movie and music personalities have vastly larger audiences than the most popular climate scientists.

Hanging on every word. Despite their best intentions, does star-powered environmental advocacy run the risk of succumbing to the fickle and shallow tendencies in our society?Many of these stars do more than pay lip service to green lifestyles, they show their concern for the environment by driving hybrid cars, living in green homes or changing their dietary habits. A few have even become stalwart activists.

Leonardo DiCaprio is an environmental advocate who serves on the boards of several environmental organizations. He co-wrote, produced and narrated the documentary film the 11th Hour, in which he called global warming “the number-one environmental challenge”. He has been known to drive electric vehicles including a Toyota Prius, Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma. He has also installed solar panels on his house. He has his own foundation that is dedicated to protecting the Earth’s wild places.  He is a passionate supporter of tigers and he actively works on protecting their habitats particularly in Nepal. In November 2010, DiCaprio donated $1,000,000 to the Wildlife Conservation Society at Russia’s tiger summit. In 2011, DiCaprio joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s campaign to free a tiger who was languishing at a Truck Stop in Louisiana.  He has also advocated for a number of other environmental causes including access to clean water, renewable energy and forest preservation.

Matt Damon is a celebrity best known to environmentalists for his water advocacy. Recently in Davos, the movie star was honored by the World Economic Forum for his work as co-founder of Water.org, a nonprofit organization whose motto is “safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all.” During his acceptance speech he said that Water.org is extending “water credit” to poor families so they can afford to install a toilet or connect their homes to a waterline that for them is “literally a lifeline.”  Water.org has already helped more than 5 million people, and he noted that McKinsey consultants have estimated his organization could reach 100 million by 2020.

Daryl Hannah is serious about her green activism and involvement. In February 2013, Hannah was arrested in front of the white house for protesting against the Keystone XL. Hannah has been an environmental advocate for years. She has participated in many  environmental protests, including two tree sit-ins. In 2012, she spoke out against the fallacy of ‘ethical oil’, ‘clean coal’ and ‘natural gas.’ She is also the founder of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance (SBA), and sits on several environmental advocacy boards such as the Environmental Media Association (EMA), Sylvia Earle Alliance, Mission Blue and the Action Sports Environmental Coalition. Her website dhlovelife.com provides solutions for living a green lifestyle.

Ed Begley jr. is a longtime environmental advocate who lives in a solar-powered home and drives an electric car. Begley and his family are currently documenting the construction of a LEED Platinum-certified home for Begley Street, a television and Web series.

Cameron Diaz is another celebrity well known for her green activism. Her sustainability advocacy even attracted the attention of unlikely publications like Vogue magazine. Diaz also worked with Al Gore to raise awareness about climate change and she is allegedly one of the first celebs to buy an electric vehicle.

Hayden Panettiere has been involved in the fight to protect whales and other marine life since she was 15 years old. She filmed the slaughter of dolphins and the footage appeared in the acclaimed documentary The Cove. She is a spokesperson for the Whaleman Foundation, which works to protect whales and dolphins from the impact of climate change and fishing, and has also appeared before the U.S. Congress.

Edward Norton is very vocal about environmental concerns and he has served as the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity.

Natalie Portman has a long history of ecological advocacy. She is a vegetarian who has designed a line of vegan shoes. She also participated in a documentary film about gorillas.

Sting is a longtime supporter of the Amazon’s rainforests and he has established a charity called the Rainforest Foundation, which is dedicated to the protection of the rainforests and their inhabitants.

Brad Pitt has helped with rebuilding New Orleans by contributing green building materials after the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Don Cheadle has taken action against the genocide in Darfur, and he has also worked with the United Nation on climate change concerns.

Alicia Silverstone owns a home made of sustainable materials, she’s vegan and she has written a book about sustainability.

Pamela Anderson has advocated for animal rights and forest preservation. She has worked with the Inga Foundation which fights the “slash-and-burn” process of clearing land. She has also supported efforts to ban oil tankers off of Canada’s west coast.

Mark Ruffalo is a vocal opponent of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and he co-founded waterdefense.org to educate the public about fracking concerns.

Ted Danson is involved in ocean activism and he even started his own charity.

American actor Robert Redford and Canadian rocker Neil Young have been vocal opponents of Alberta’s tar sands. Redford appears in a video released by the National Resources Defense Council saying the tarsands are “destroying our great northern forests at a terrifying rate” and “killing our planet.” Neil Young put together a concert tour to help the indigenous people who are suffering from the effects of the tar sands in Alberta. He also speaks out against the Canadian government’s unconscionable support for oil interests.

There are a host of other stars who have come out in support of environmental causes including:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Christie Brinkley
  • George Clooney
  • Jessica Alba
  • Jon Bon Jovi
  • Julia Louis Dreyfus
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Sir Paul McCartney
  • Tony Hawk

These are just a few of the many famous people who advocate for the environment. So how could there be anything wrong with stars who support environmental issues?

Even though our culture appears to venerate stardom, celebrities are treated like disposable commodities which are worshiped one day and forgotten the next. The hollow and transient nature of celebrity worship is at odds with the attitude required to foster global action. While the popularity of celebrities is superficial and fleeting, the environmental challenges we face demand that we very seriously take the long view.

We require the type of perspective that enables us to appreciate and act on behalf of that which is most important. Our veneration of people who are famous is a colossal bastardization of a balanced understanding of the fundamentally prescient elements that constitute a healthy planet.

Some celebrities clearly work hard on behalf of noble causes, while others may be involved for more selfish reasons. Celebrity is all about popularity, they engage a phalanx of press agents to advise them on what kind of public statements are the most politically correct for the demographic they are playing to. Few know what they really think. Regardless of what they may actually believe, people who are household names have been co opted by the public and as such, they are deprived of their identity apart from their characterizations in the popular media. They become two dimensional cutouts.

By contrast, our appreciation of climate change and other environmental issues requires that we go beyond glossy exteriors so that we can collectively get our heads around the scope of the challenges that confront us.

While some stars may know what they are talking about, others appear to have a passing interest that may be more about generating good press than genuine concern. That is not to deny that those in the public eye can sometimes help the average person to come to a better understanding of complex issues.

The point is that star worship is a reflection of our own shallowness. We do not really know these people, although we may come to know a two dimensional character they play, or what their publicists feel would be good for their careers.

It is a sad reflection on our society, but our preoccupation with celebrity is born from the same place as the impulse to exploit and dispose of our world. Our values and our priorities are out of balance and the veneration of stardom is a comes from the same mass confusion that created the ecological crisis we now face. Our interest in the lives of the rich and famous is part of the same mindlessness as the environmental nightmare we are perpetrating against ourselves and future generations.

A 2010 national survey by Rasmussen indicated that 84 percent of Adults admit that Americans pay too much attention to celebrity news and not enough attention to news that has real impact on their lives.

Our preoccupation with the habits of celebrities detracts from our appreciation of the issues that are most pressing. We do not have the luxury of willful negligence, nor can we afford to succumb to paralysis if we do pay heed to the most pressing concerns of our times. The fact is that when we feel overwhelmed or hopeless we commonly indulge in escapism which is at the heart of what celebrity worship is all about.

We need to get real and take a serious look at what is happening to the world we live in. How are we to come to terms with the work that needs to be done if we refuse to take a hard look at the facts?

Stars may be well meaning supporters of noble causes, but the way that the general public co opts their identity, artificially elevates them (and ultimately drops them), make them less than ideal representatives for environmental activism.

The cult of celebrity feeds into all that is wrong with our world. It is not that celebrities are inherently untrustworthy, the problem is that star culture exacerbates the valueless and fickle myopia of the public eye.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Gordon Vasquez, courtesy flickr


The post What is Wrong with Star Powered Environmental Advocacy appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 21 2013


Extreme Weather and Existential Reflections on Life in the Anthropocene

Extreme weather is a harbinger of life in a climate-changed worldThe recent spate of deadly tornadoes in the U.S. and the carnage of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines are poignant opportunities for us to reflect on the future of civilization. These events are tangible reminders of the sometimes intangible reality of human existence in the anthropocene. Extreme weather affords an opportunity to come to terms with the evidence that shows how human activities are degrading the Earth’s ecosystems.

While it is difficult to attribute any individual extreme weather event to global warming, when looked at over time, we see an interesting pattern emerge.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), from 1953 to 1983, the U.S. Averaged 26.65 disasters per year. In the last 29 years, the average number of U.S. disasters has risen to 91.4 per year, representing an increase of more than 240 percent.

According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, whether or not global warming is responsible for this increase in natural disasters, it does speak to our future. As stated in the Earth Observatory website, climate change will impact future catastrophes, “changes in climate not only affect average temperatures, but also extreme temperatures, increasing the likelihood of weather-related natural disasters.”

The intense thunderstorms that swept across the U.S. Midwest on Sunday are yet another warning calling us to deal with climate change. This storm follows on the heals of the devastating Typhoon that recently wreaked havoc in the Philippines.

On Sunday, November 17th, a large number of violent thunderstorms and as many as 77 tornadoes touched down in 12 U.S. states. These events killed at least 8 people, wounded many others and left a trail of destruction. Entire towns have been decimated and scores of homes have been wiped off the face of the earth. As terrible as this is, it is nothing compared to Typhoon Haiyan which has killed between four and ten thousand and rendered four million people homeless.

Scientists like Professor Will Steffen, a researcher at the ANU and member of the Climate Council, have linked Typhoon Haiyan to climate change, others describe it as being exacerbated by global warming. The relationship between tornadoes and climate change is more complex and harder to predict than hurricanes (typhoons, cyclones).

Understanding convective available potential energy, (CAPE) may offer us insights into the relationship between tornadoes and climate change as this measure represents the energy that powers storms. It is determined by the combination of moisture and temperature differences between the ground and higher regions of the atmosphere. It is known that global warming leads to an increase in CAPE and this in turn leads to an increase in thunderstorms which can spawn tornadoes.

The relationship between global warming and tornadoes was discussed in a 2007 Scientific American interview with climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. While he predicted more hurricanes due to global warming he also suggested there may be an impact on tornadoes.

“Of course, tornadoes are very much a weather phenomenon. They come from certain thunderstorms, usually supercell thunderstorms that are in a wind shear environment that promotes rotation,” Trenberth said. “The main climate change connection is via the basic instability of the low-level air that creates the convection and thunderstorms in the first place. Warmer and moister conditions are the key for unstable air. The oceans are warmer because of climate change.”

Grady Dixon, an associate professor of geosciences at Mississippi State University who studies tornado climatology also weighed in on the connection between tornadoes and global warming.  ”The most common finding is a warming environment leads to more storms and more intense storms.” Paradoxically, Dixon also pointed out that a warming climate means warmer temperatures in the north which should decrease wind shear and may lead to fewer tornadoes.

Harold Brooks of the National Weather Center recently talked about a condensing effect, meaning more tornadoes could occur on fewer days of the year.  Jeff Trapp, a professor of atmospheric science at Purdue University said the tornado season may be expanded by a warming world. ”We would see an increase in the number of days that could be favorable for severe thunderstorm and tornado formation,” he said.

Trapp also said that the “CAPE increases with time in a globally warmed world, mainly because the temperature near the ground and lower parts of the atmosphere increases and becomes more humid…In a globally warmed future world, that thunderstorm should be more intense.”

Applied environmental geoscience major Derrek Davey said the devastation from the storms has a lot to do with global warming.

“We have measured that we have increased our global temperature 1 degree. This does not seem like much, but it is a huge factor with ice caps melting. More water equals . . . more devastation from storms.”

We know that storms and weather-related events are clearly connected to temperature. “So it should not be a big surprise to find that the rapid average global warming we’ve seen since the Industrial Revolution would affect them.” said Alice Mulder, chair of the Environmental Issues Committee.  “[G]lobal warming does change the base conditions that make some of these events more likely.”

It is important to note that the exact relationship between climate change and tornadoes is still not very well understood. Scientists do not know how global warming will impact the frequency or intensity of tornadoes. However, the absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

In 2011, the U.S. suffered through 1,700 tornadoes which is the second-deadliest tornado season in history. But 2012 and 2013 did not see elevated numbers of tornadoes. However, just as looking at one extreme weather event does not prove or disprove climate change, looking at tornado data over the course of a few years does not necessarily contradict the notion that there is a trend.

Over the course of a few years we can expect to see some variability, science looks at weather trends over much larger time frames. While the nature of science will always entertain a degree of uncertainty, more than 95 percent of climate scientists are in agreement about anthropogenic global warming. They also acknowledge that this will have serious implications for the health of the planet.

It remains to be seen whether seas will rise by 3 feet or by 10 feet, we also are not certain if the average global temperature will climb by 4 degrees or by 7. What we do know is that it is getting warmer and seas are rising. We know that warming is related to extreme weather.

We should leave investigation of the details to climate scientists and the public should be focusing on what we do know and its implications for the planet. The relationship between global warming and extreme weather should not be derailed by the few remaining — albeit powerful – skeptics who try to undermine the veracity of the vast body of climate science by pointing to examples of uncertainty.

These impacts of climate change are catastrophic. This is not some theoretical notion for the distant future, this is a fact here and now. People are already dying due to disease, food shortages, heat waves and air quality. As reported in the Daily Beast, a 2012 Climate Vulnerability Monitor report indicates that global warming is already killing four-hundred thousand people each year.

Anthropogenic climate change adversely impacts the health of humans and many other species of animal and plant life. This is a fact borne out in numerous studies and reports including those published by the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change is the greatest threat the United States faces — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles.

Extreme weather events help people to see what climate change looks like. People in the U.S., even those that belong to the Republic party, traditionally a bastion of climate denial, are coming to terms with the veracity of global warming. As reported in the Guardian, a new study from Stanford University’s social psychologist Jon Krosnick found that “a vast majority of red-state Americans believe climate change is real and at least two-thirds of those want the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether or not Typhoon Haiyan or the tornadoes in the U.S. are directly caused by climate change is not the point. The issue that is highlighted by these phenomenon encourages us to embrace the scientific evidence. We know that extreme weather events are expected to intensify as global warming proceeds.

Violent climatic occurrences are consistent with climate models which predict increasingly severe extreme weather events as the earth warms. While we may not be able to be certain about the attribution of specific weather events, we know the earth is warming, we know that the oceans are rising as well. We also know that a warmer world increases the likelihood of precipitation, storm surges, flooding and extreme weather.

As the Prince of Wales said recently, ‘The devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines should surely have been a poignant and telling reminder of the intimacy and interdependence of man’s relationship with the natural world.”

Despite critics who claim Charles overstated the case, we have good reason to question the ways in which we relate to the planet. Even if we are foolish enough to ignore climate models that predict more extreme weather, we will still be subject to sea level rise and ocean acidification among other adverse affects.

Extreme weather demands that we face the civilization-altering impacts we are having on the planet. The challenge of the Anthropocene forces us to reflect on what it means to be human. This is the great existential question of our times.

To quote the immortal words of Shakespear’s Hamlet:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,”

We are destroying the Earth upon which all life depends, and we must reconcile ourselves to the implications of our actions. As Roy Scranton commented in the Times, “If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.”

Regardless of the causal attribution for Typhoon Haiyan and the recent U.S. Tornadoes, it is no exaggeration to say that climate change poses a threat to life on earth. Extreme weather events offer a glimpse into the future and this provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the choice between accepting our impending death or collectively resolving to change our ways.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Ingo Meironke, courtesy flickr

The post Extreme Weather and Existential Reflections on Life in the Anthropocene appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 14 2013


Climate Finance and Why We Cant Give Up on the UN COP Process

Progress, however halting, in climate finance and other important issues is reason to not give up on the COP processDespite the expectation that we will see progress on climate finance, there are a number of people who are cynical about the outcome of COP 19. Every year around this time, as we settle in for UN climate talks, an army of pundits come out and tell us why we will not see anything of great consequence from the negotiations. They usually end up being right, even if their attitudes are dead wrong.

With current atmospheric carbon readings around 400 parts per million, it is not hard to see why they are so pessimistic. Concentrations of CO2 have increased by 40 percent since pre-industrial times and global average temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud recently indicated that growing levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) mean “our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising.” Given our current trajectory, temperatures are set to increase well beyond the upper threshold of 2C (3.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

The nineteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC convened in Warsaw on November 11 and runs until November 20. According to the 2012 Doha Climate Gateway, the timetable for a universal climate agreement is 2015, but it will only come into effect in 2020.

In the twenty years since climate change became a global policy priority, we have yet to find a way to secure a binding deal on mitigation. It is understandable why so many environmentally concerned citizens feel betrayed by the successive failures to address the climate crisis. However, given the magnitude of the threat we face from the climate crisis, we do not have the luxury of behaving like jilted lovers. The UN climate negotiations are the best hope we have of reigning in climate change and without popular support, we are even less likely to succeed.

No matter how long it takes, we need to tirelessly press our political leaderships to act. The reasons why we must be so doggedly determined should be obvious, we simply cannot afford to fail.

As the most powerful storm ever to make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan graphically illustrates why we urgently need immediate action to reduce climate change causing greenhouse gases.  We need concerted international action that can only come through global negotiations. This is indeed a Herculean undertaking, but as demonstrated by the carnage in the Philippines, we cannot accept the cataclysmic implications of failure.

If we are to succeed, we must stand together as a community of nations, which is a difficult task at the best of times. We are being driven together by a powerful impetus, namely the right of future generations to inhabit an earth that is livable. No one said it would be easy, but it is work that must be done.

A key part of this collaborative effort entails some form of climate finance and here we have reason to be hopeful that we will see progress at COP 19.  Developed nations are mainly responsible for climate change and they are expected to move forward with provisions that will allocate funds for developing countries to help them with mitigation and adaptation efforts.

New institutional support for developing nations in finance, adaptation and technology will include progress on the Green Climate Fund (GCF), loss and damage mechanisms, compensation and adaptation funds. All of which were agreed in 2010 at the Cancun climate talks (COP 16).

Added support for climate finance comes from two reports shared with delegates at COP 19. Typhoon Haiyan also adds urgency and highlights the importance of these finance issues. If all goes well, we will be on the road to seeing these issues finalized at the Paris climate conference in 2015 and developing nations will make good on their $100 billion a year promise by 2020.

Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, reiterated this point, saying that she believes COP 19 can make progress on GCF.

“We must clarify finance that enables the entire world to move towards low-carbon development,” she said. “We must launch the construction of a mechanism that helps vulnerable populations to respond to the unanticipated effects of climate change.”

During the opening session of the Summit, Mr. Yeb Sano, the lead negotiator of the Philippines, demanded real commitments on climate finance.

“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness,” Sano said. “We call on this COP to pursue work until the most meaningful outcome is in sight – until concrete pledges have been made to ensure mobilization of resources for the Green Climate Fund; until we see real ambition on stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations. We must put the money where our mouths are.”

Developed nations should also lead the effort to phase out fossil fuels, adopt energy efficient technology, shift towards renewable energy and prevent greenhouse gas emissions. This is the type of leadership that will help less developed nations move in the right direction.

The U.S. must lead because it is both the richest country on the planet and the biggest cumulative contributor of climate change causing greenhouse gases. President Obama and the Democrats are trying to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For their part, Republicans continue with their denial and they are likely to ignore pleas for action. This effectively precludes any hope for legislative progress before at least 2014.

The urgency of action is supported by reams of science, not the least of which is the latest IPCC AR5 document. However, the sad truth is that those who most need to understand the science are the least interested in the facts.

Nonetheless, we must not allow the heartless self interest of the GOP to undermine our efforts. Quite the contrary, their intransigent partisanship should bolster our efforts to expose them for what they are, an impediment to climate progress.

It is true that we are very unlikely to secure a binding global agreement before 2015, if at all. Global leaders have failed to grasp the urgency of the threat and take immediate bold action. After several years with little progress, many are left feeling understandably hopeless.

Sano challenged this lethargy and urged his fellow negotiators to take a bold stance.  “[L]et Warsaw, be remembered as the place where we truly cared to stop this madness.” Sano said. “Can humanity rise to this occasion? I still believe we can.” To highlight his dedication, Sano is fasting as he awaits a successful outcome.

We may have to settle for another small, but meaningful step forward, but this should not erode our support for the COP process. We are less likely to succeed if there is a widespread expectation of failure. Popular support buoys negotiations while public indifference or outright cynicism  detracts from their ability to get things done.

We must strive to build a better future with an unshakable tenacity. The message that needs to be heard in Warsaw must affirm the belief that we can get this done. However, we must make it emphatically clear that we will accept no more delays and we demand bold movement toward a binding deal.

Because we so desperately need to see results in Warsaw, it is incumbent upon all who have the audacity to hope that we press our elected officials and those at the negotiating table to work tirelessly to secure a deal.

Some of the cynical pundits will be quick to say that there is no chance that we will ever see a comprehensive global treaty. They may be right, but we must not let realism temper our advocacy. We are engaged in the most important struggle our civilization has ever known. The fact that we may not succeed should not be an excuse for inaction. Even if it amounts to tilting at windmills, tilt we must, till the very last.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Karoli, courtesy flickr

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September 08 2013


World Water Week- Access to Safe Water: Takeaways from Stockholm

Access to water and sanitationIn 2010 the United Nations passed resolution 64/292 mandating the basic human right to water and sanitation.

Efforts abound to secure access to safe water for the nearly one billion and  one-billion-plus without sanitation. But still that effort falls short. Too many people struggle every day to find enough  safe – or any –  water for themselves and their families. Too many people, many of them children, die every year because the don’t have the resources for proper sanitation and hygiene.

This is due, in part, to a growing awareness that the standard philanthropic model of charity doesn’t work. Wells are dug, latrines are built, pictures are taken and published in media for the funders back home. Intentions are good but lasting results don’t happen. wells sit abandoned or dried-up, latrines broken and unused. Access to clean water is controlled by a “water mafia” after the well-meaning but ultimately ineffective NGO or charity is long gone.

A common thread in my conversations with Water.org co-founder Gary White and Safe Water Network Sr. VP for strategic initiatives, Amanda Gimble, was the evolution in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector (WASH) toward using local market-based principals that can ensure lasting impact, long after the initial “intervention.”

Market-based solutions to the water crisis

This isn’t necessarily charity-bashing. There will always be a need for standard philanthropic efforts. Charity may be the only way to reach those that have nothing, living at the absolute bottom of the pyramid (BOP) . Many more live near the BOP, but nonetheless have the means to provide at least the most basic needs for their families. In these situation, mechanisms that allow people access  to market-based solutions provides a more sustainable approach to lasting impact.

Two examples of market-based solutions:

  • Micro-lending programs like WaterBank give access to credit for installing water systems.
  • The Safe Water Network uses basic business and marketing principals to build self-sustaining, locally-owned water “stations” that provide a daily source of safe, clean water at affordable prices (about 7 cents buys a 20 liter container of water).

Not enough charity in the world

“There isn’t enough charity in the world to provide a total solution”  White told me. Where charity is the best solution, of course it needs to be employed. But efforts to innovate market-based solutions is the key to making a real, lasting impact.

As Ned Breslin, CEO of Water for People, says in this Thomson Reuters Fund interview, the WASH sector has failed to meet the goal of safe water and sanitation for all people.  I briefly met Ned while at World Water Week. His frank expression of the reality of this failure, and the need to find new ways to forge real change serves as a good synopsis of my takeaways from Stockholm.

Disclosure: my trip to Stockholm for World Water Week was paid for by PepsiCo. Water.org and The Safe Water Network are core partners in PepsiCo’s water stewardship initiatives. 

Image credit: World Bank, courtesy flickr

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August 15 2013


ALEC Must Die

ALEC seeks to thwart open democracy and progress on clean energy and climate actionThere is a sinister force that is corrupting American politics by giving the most environmentally destructive elements of Big Business significant control over state legislatures. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) turns 40 this year. This organization is composed of large corporations and state lawmakers. They draft environmentally harmful model laws that have been adopted in state legislatures across the country.

ALEC describes itself as “nonpartisan public-private partnership” and is registered as a not for profit organization. While the organization enjoys 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, many groups see it as little more than a front for one of the most powerful and influential lobby groups in America.

The threat to America’s democracy from ALEC should not be underestimated as this is a well-funded and well-coordinated organization that has a proven track record of successfully manipulating state legislatures.

According to a new report from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), ALEC continues to hold sway over statehouses across the country. In total, CMD identified 466 ALEC bills that were introduced in state legislatures during the first seven months of 2013. At least eighty-four of these measures have become law.

As reviewed in PR Watch, ALEC’s real mission in state legislatures is, “to allow dirty energy companies to pollute as much as they want, to attack incentives for clean energy competitors and to secure government handouts to oil, gas and coal interests,” says Connor Gibson, a Research Associate at Greenpeace.

Fossil fuel lobby

One of the most egregious threats to the public interest comes from the fossil fuel industry’s involvement with ALEC. “Disregarding science at every turn, ALEC is willing to simply serve as a front for the fossil fuel industry,” says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org.

Corporate sponsors of ALEC include the leaders of the fossil fuel industry. Companies like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Duke Energy, Peabody Energy, BP, Shell, Chevron, TransCanada and American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, as well as industry trade associations and large corporate foundations provide almost all of ALEC’s funding.

ALEC’s goals are clear, they seek to provide financial rewards and protections to the companies that they work with.

According to Calvin Sloan, a legislative researcher with People for the American Way, corporations pay $50,000 each for full membership in ALEC. The purpose of the ALEC meetings is to instruct lawmakers on policy initiatives, which according to Sloan is “a fossil fuels-funded agenda.”

“They [ALEC] have participating corporations like fossil fuel companies drafting legislation that benefits those corporations directly, and then can get that legislation introduced in 50 states within a year,” Sloan said. “It’s part of an overall framework of corporations exerting their will and agenda upon the people.”

ALEC supports some of the most destructive fossil fuel legislation ever tabled including bills supporting coal, fracking and the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  It should come as no surprise that TransCanada Corp., the company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline, is also a member of ALEC. The company even sponsored an expense-paid trip called “ALEC academy” for nine ALEC-member state legislators. Following the trip, some of those in attendance introduced resolutions backing the pipeline in their state legislatures.

According to CMD, 77 ALEC bills promoting fossil fuels and undermining environmental protections were introduced in 34 states in 2013. At least seventeen of these measures have become law.

Climate change denial

ALEC’s activities extend beyond support for fossil fuel interests and encompass climate change misinformation. The Environmental Literacy Improvement Act which passed in at least four states, teaches children that climate change is a “controversial theory.” (The truth is that with 98 percent support, there are few theories that have garnered more support from scientists than anthropogenic climate change).

ALEC is a leading organization that actively denies the veracity of anthropogenic climate change and opposes limits on climate change causing emissions. At the 2013 meeting of ALEC, climate change was one of the items on the agenda.

One of the speakers at this year’s ALEC meeting was Joe Bastardi, he is a leading climate change denier and television weather forecaster who frequently comments on Fox News. He has called human-caused global warming an “obvious fraud.”  This year, Bastardi was the speaker at a plenary breakfast meeting misleadingly titled “A Thoughtful Approach to Climate Science.” In 2011, he spoke about “The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2″ at ALEC’s annual meeting.

As reported in a May 2013 Forbes article, Bastardi says that “blaming turbulent weather on global warming is extreme nonsense.” While many have speculated as to whether he is willfully ignorant, willful, or just plain ignorant, as a meteorologist Bastardi should know better.

Opposition to renewable energy

ALEC does not only work in support of dirty hydrocarbons, it also is working to snuff out renewable energy. “ALEC’s long time role in denying the science and policy solutions to climate change is shifting into an evolving roadblock on state and federal clean energy incentives, a necessary part of global warming mitigation,” says Gibson.

Through legislation called the Electricity Freedom Act, ALEC sought to prevent states from requiring energy companies to increase electricity production from renewable energy sources. Because the Electricity Freedom Act failed to gain the support of state legislatures, ALEC is modifying its plan of attack against renewable energy standards. At its August 2013 meeting, ALEC introduced a bill called the Market Power Renewables Act, which seeks to undermine the Renewable Portfolio Standard or RPS.

As explained by PR Watch, this legislation “would phase-out a state’s RPS and instead create a renewable “market” where consumers can choose to pay for renewable energy, and allow utilities to purchase energy credits from outside the state. This thwarts the purpose of RPS policies, which help create the baseline demand for renewables that will spur the clean energy investment necessary to continue developing the technology and infrastructure that will drive costs down.”

Opposition to emissions reduction

ALEC has drafted laws that seek to oppose state efforts to reduce emissions. This includes a model bill titled, “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives”, which opposes limiting climate change causing carbon emissions.

ALEC bills have not only opposed efforts from state agencies to regulate pollution, they even tried to stop the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In essence, ALEC’s goal is to undermine emissions reduction efforts and to continue our reliance on fossil fuels. Resistance to limiting atmospheric CO2 represents a serious threat to global health as it is widely understood that failure to reign in carbon emissions will have catastrophic consequences.

Control of water, land and information

An ALEC bill titled “Environmental Services Public-Private Partnership Act” would give for-profit companies control over wastewater treatment and drinking water. Another ALEC law titled “Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act” would give states access to resources in federal lands that are protected as wilderness preserves.

In addition to promoting anti-environmental bills, and seeking control over resources, they also craft legislation to control information and help industry escape public accountability. ALEC’s Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act would quash the First Amendment rights of reporters, investigators and videographers by making it harder for them to document issues associated with food safety and animal cruelty.  This is similar to Utah’s ag-gag law of 2012, which led to charges against a young woman named Amy Meyer, who filmed the outside of a slaughterhouse from public land. This ALEC model bill could also criminalize environmental civil disobedience.

Click here to view the full list of 2013 bills from the ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force bills.

Growing resistance

The American public is increasingly aware of ALEC’s activities. As ALEC gathered for its 40th annual meeting in Chicago on August 7, they were met by protesters who marched outside the Palmer House Hotel where the meeting was held. The thousands who demonstrated included environmentalists, union members, civil rights activists, and social justice campaigners. Although this was not the first protest against ALEC, it was the largest to date.

Groundbreaking news coverage has helped to expose ALEC. Some of the most inclusive coverage of ALEC was provided by the CMD in the 2011 piece titled “ALEC Exposed.” Another was a documentary from Bill Moyers & Company titled “United States of ALEC.

One of the ways that ALEC has managed to wield so much power is by virtue of the fact that they have always functioned in the shadows. However, people are increasingly coming to terms with the nefarious ways in which ALEC threatens democracy and efforts to combat climate change.

The normally clandestine activities of ALEC are no longer hidden under a blanket of secrecy. Companies are increasingly understanding that involvement with ALEC is a PR liability.  Already, there have been a number of big multinationals that have withdrawn from the organization. Over the past year-and-a-half, almost 50 global corporations have dropped their ALEC membership and national campaigns are encouraging others to abandon ALEC.

After four decades of covert operations, ALEC is starting to feel the pressure from public scrutiny. Although ongoing resistance can be expected from the fossil fuel industry, public awareness can divest ALEC of its influence over state legislatures.

Shinning a spotlight on ALEC’s activities will kill the succubus that is draining the lifeblood of America’s democracy.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Main image credit: DonkeyHotey, courtesy flickr
Featured image credit: Light Bridgading, courtesy flickr


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August 08 2013


Climate Change Exacerbates Social Tensions and Leads to Conflict

The consequences of climate change will lead to greater conflict, social change and violence. A wide array of research reveals that climate change plays a salient role in social change, violence and war. This research summary is one of the most comprehensive surveys of the social impacts of climate change ever assembled.

Climate change and conflict

The relationship between climate change, social tensions and conflict is well laid out by Kate Johnson. She provides a good overview of many of the ways in which climate impacts human behavior. She explains how climate change has the potential to increase conflict in environmentally and politically vulnerable states.

Johnson does not believe that climate change will necessarily lead directly to conflict, rather, she suggests that climate is a factor in the outbreak of conflict. According to this author, climate change will exploit preexisting ethnic, nationalist and religious divisions.

Johnson does not share the view that climate change is a causal factor in terrorism. She states that, “Climate change in less developed countries is not likely to lead to terrorism, but to conflict.” Climate change will cause inter-communal conflict when communities cannot meet their basic needs as a function of the Earth’s diminished carrying capacity or as a result of competition over specific resources.

She expects competition for water resources to be a major source of strife. With over 200 river basins touching multiple nations, “The potential for conflict over water is huge.” Johnson predicts that we will see “water-wars” as demand from growing populations outpace supply. One example could involve Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan, all of which draw their water from the River Jordan.

Violence may also occur as a consequence of states or groups within a given state who wish to draw attention to life threatening climate change impacts. In eco-terrorism environmental extremists may use violence to demand ecological actions and safeguards.

As resources become more scarce due to climate change, people will be forced to migrate to meet their basic survival needs. These migrations between and within states may increase existing tensions and/or create new ones, potentially leading to conflict. The Bangladeshi migration to India in the 1980′s is a good example of how such movement can cause civil unrest. As far as migrations to Western European states are concerned, racial tensions could lead to racially motivated violence.

International Alert nations at risk

In a 2009 report titled “Climate Change, Conflict and Fragility,” the peace-building organization known as International Alert explores the relationship between climate change and conflict. It highlights the ways in which social and political realities interact with the impacts of climate change.

Policy makers are urged to look beyond technical fixes and to address the interlinked political, social and institutional aspects of the issues.

The report identifies a total of 61 countries at risk from climate change and conflict. However, more recent research suggests this estimate may be low.

AAAS statistical research

According to an August 1, 2013 study titled “Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict” published in The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), there is a clear statistical link between climate change and conflict. This research indicates that increases in temperature and precipitation are correlated with higher risks of social upheaval, as well as personal violence.

These researchers drew on a wide array of disciplines from archaeology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science, and psychology. They assembled and analyzed the 60 most rigorous quantitative studies and document a “substantial” correlation between climate and conflict. These studies explored the connection between weather and violence around the world from about 10,000 BCE to the present day.

The study showed that climate change exacerbated existing social and interpersonal tensions. Extreme rainfall, drought and hotter temperatures increased the frequency of interpersonal violence and inter-group conflict.

Going forward the researchers anticipate more conflict as the world is expected to warm 2 to 4 degrees C by 2050. They estimate that a 2C (3.6F) rise in global temperature could see personal crimes increase by about 15 percent, and group conflicts rise by more than 50 percent in some regions.

Climate change has been specifically correlated with a rise in assaults, rapes and murders, as well as group conflicts and war. These researchers point to the observation of an increase in domestic violence in India and Australia during recent droughts, and a spike in assaults, rapes and murders during heat waves in the US and Tanzania. They also report a relationship between rising temperatures and larger conflicts, including ethnic clashes in Europe and South Asia as well as civil wars in Africa.

It would appear that changes in the economic conditions caused by climate change are one of the main mechanisms at play. There may also be a physiological basis to the relationship between warming and conflict as higher temperatures appear to cause people to be more prone to aggression.

These research findings are succinctly summarized by Solomon Hsiang, one of the scientists that contributed to the research:

“[T]here is a causal relationship between the climate and human conflict…People have been skeptical up to now of an individual study here or there. But considering the body of work together, we can now show that these patterns are extremely general. It’s more of the rule than the exception…Whether there is a relationship between climate and conflict is not the question anymore. We now want to understand what’s causing it. Once we understand what causes this correlation we can think about designing effective policies or institutions to manage or interrupt the link between climate and conflict.”

United Nations Security Council

As noted in Resolution 1625, the UN Security Council is concerned with the prevention of armed conflict. Climate change is increasingly under scrutiny as a salient factor in the genesis of conflict.

In 2007, the United Nations Security Council was meeting to discuss the security implications of climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon talked about resource scarcity, fragile ecosystems and severe strains placed on the coping mechanisms of groups and individuals, potentially leading to “a breakdown of established codes of conduct, and even outright conflict.”

In 2011, the Security Council agreed to a statement expressing “concern that the possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.”

Extreme weather in 2012 added a sense of urgency to UN discussions leading to the following statement, “The impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rises, drought, flooding and extreme weather events, can exacerbate underlying tensions and conflict in part of the world already suffering from resource pressures.”

Information presented to the Security Council earlier this year explicitly made the link between climate change and conflict. A February 2013 Bloomberg News article reviews the research presented by Joachim Schellnhuber to the security Council. Schellnhuber is the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Angela Merkels’ chief climate advisor. Schellnhuber’s research shows the connection between climate change and global security challenges.

The Security Council session was evidence of the increased focus on the link between climate change and global security. As articulated in notes prepared for diplomats at the council’s session, “There is growing concern that with faster than anticipated acceleration, climate change may spawn consequences which are harsher than expected.”

Either rich nations will find a way to supply needy nations suffering from damaging climate effects “or you will have all kinds of unrest and revolutions, with the export of angry and hungry people to the industrialized countries,” Schellnhuber said.

Center for American Progress on migration and security

The Center for American Progress has released a series of reports on how climate change, migration and security factors will play out in different regions of the world. This series of reports examines the relationship between climate change, security and conflict.

A January 2012 report titled “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict,” reviews the growing evidence of links between climate change, migration, and conflict.

An April 2012 report called “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in Northwest Africa,” explores the overlays and intersections of climate change, migration, and security create an arc of tension in Northwest Africa comprising Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and Morocco.

A December 2012 report called “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in South Asia,” analyzes South Asia through the prism of climate, migration, and security. The report details the underlying trends shaping the entire region and elucidates the risks posed by current long-term trajectories.

A June 2013 video titled, “Climate Change, Migration, and Security in South Asia,” shows how climate shifts have the potential to create complex environmental, humanitarian, and security challenges in South Asia.

US Intelligence Community on Security Threats

In the U.S. intelligence communities, there is an emerging consensus that conflicts ensuing from global warming constitute a bonafide threat to American security.

A February 2012 National Intelligence Assessment titled Global Water Security indicates that over the next two or three decades, vulnerable regions (particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia) will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises, and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change.

In addition, the depletion of groundwater in agricultural areas will pose risks to national and global food markets in the next decade, threatening “social disruption.” The U.S. intelligence community has also identified water management, particularly the mitigation of trans-border riparian risks, as a source of major concern in the next three decades.

A November 2012, National Research Council (NRC) report commissioned by the CIA, titled “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis”, found that climate change causes considerable stress to the people of affected areas.

“Security analysts should anticipate that over the next decade, droughts, heat waves, storms, or other climate events of surprising intensity or duration will stress communities, societies, governments, and the globally integrated systems that support human well-being.”

According to a December 2012 National Intelligence Council report titled “Global Trends 2030,” climate change will force migration and exacerbate existing social tensions surrounding resources and other environmental factors, which will in turn lead to conflicts.

The report notes that critical resources of food, water and energy will be adversely impacted. Climate change along with water shortages will impact agricultural production at the same time as increased energy demands may limit the amount of raw materials available to make fertilizers.

Climate change will constrain natural resources, drive migration, and exacerbate tensions globally. The report says that climate change and extreme weather will be key factors fueling tensions over access to food, water, and energy.

“…many developing and fragile states-such as in Sub-Saharan Africa- face increasing strains from resource constraints and climate change, pitting different tribal and ethnic groups against one another and accentuating the separation of various identities. Ideology is likely to be particularly powerful and socially destructive when the need for basic resources exacerbates already existing tensions between tribal, ethnic, religious, and national groups.”

According to the report, the impacts of climate change will be particularly acute in Asia where monsoons are crucial to the growing season. The report further predicts that increasing global temperatures could provoke conflict between Europe and Russia.

A March 2013, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, reiterates the idea that a changing climate and competition for natural resources can fuel tensions and conflicts.

The report reviews how competition for scarce resources (food, water, minerals, and energy) “are growing security threats.” It also explores how extreme weather events can cause a host of problems ranging from disruptions in the food and energy supply, human migrations, riots, civil disobedience and vandalism, all of which can exacerbate state weakness.

Not only can climate change increase the price of food, when combined with population growth it can also increase the risk of conflict between farmers and livestock owners. This is especially true in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. We can also expect to see more disputes over fisheries as water scarcity becomes a growing problem in major river basins, and as marine fisheries are depleted.

The growing scarcity of freshwater due to climate change and extreme weather are expected to combine to harm the economic performance of important US trading partners. As noted in the report,”many countries are using groundwater faster than aquifers can replenish in order to satisfy food demand.”

Global population increases, a burgeoning middle class and an increased proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas will put intense pressure on food, water, minerals, and energy.

DoD, Military and National Security

A number of leading U.S. Defense officials have declared that climate change is a national security issue including Thomas Fingar, the former chairman of National Intelligence Council and Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of Defense.  Another former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said “Over the next 20 years and more, certain pressures-population, energy, climate, economic, environmental-could combine with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to produce new sources of deprivation, rage, and instability.”

Other top military officials that have also directly linked climate change to instability. This includes General Gordon Sullivan, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, General Anthony Zinni, Brig. General Bob Barnes and General Chuck Wald.

Brig. General Steven Anderson, USA (Ret.), former Chief of Logistics under General Petraeus and a self-described “conservative Republican added, “I think that [climate change] increases the likelihood there will be conflicts in which American soldiers are going to have to fight and die somewhere.”

The relationship between climate change and conflict is not new in military circles. A  2007 report titled “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change”  by a U.S. based think tank known as the Military Advisory Board of the CNA Corporation, links climate change and terrorism.  As stated by retired Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, “climate change will provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror”. This statement is based on the premise that greater poverty, increased forced migration and higher unemployment will create conditions ripe for extremists and terrorists.

A 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review report called climate change a threat to national security that “may spark or exacerbate future conflicts.” This report indicated that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world. As reviewed in the report, climate change was expected to cause devastating droughts, crop failures, and mass migrations, all of which will coalesce to create the kind of dangerous conditions that breed violent extremism.

On June 21, 2013, the University of Maryland announced that the Department of Defense (DoD) is providing a $1.9 million grant for a new 3 year research project that will model the relationship between climate change and conflict.

The research is being led by a team of researchers from the University of Maryland. They are at the head of a team of policy experts and scientists that are developing new models based on the relationship between conflict, socio-economic conditions and climate. These statistical models and case studies will identify the best predictors of climate-related conflict. These models will also be used to project future conflict and develop military and policy interventions.

“It’s likely that physical and economic disruptions resulting from climate change could heighten tensions in sensitive areas of the world,” says lead researcher Elisabeth Gilmore, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s (UMD) School of Public Policy. “We hope to develop an integrated model to help researchers and policy makers better anticipate civil conflict under a range of climate change scenarios.”

In regions with ongoing conflicts such as sub-Saharan Africa, additional changes in food and water availability, public health crises, and disruptive migration could further destabilize civil order.

PNAS Research on Africa

The notion that climate change can lead to tension and even war is not a matter of speculation. In Africa, climate already drives armed conflict. What could be described as the world’s first war caused by climate change has already occurred in Darfur, Sudan.

In Darfur land degradation (drought and desertification) as a result of climate change has led to protracted conflicts.  As explained in 2006 by former British Defense Secretary Dr. John Reid, “the blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur.”

These climate conflicts can take a terrible toll on human life. According to UN figures, the war in Darfur has killed 200,000 people and forced two million from their homes.

A comprehensive examination bears out a strong link between climate change and armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. According to 2009 research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), titled “Warming Increases the Risk of Civil War in Africa,” warming causes war.

The report notes that conflict was about 50 percent more likely in Africa in years when it was unusually warm. Overall, this research demonstrates how conflict arises in conjunction with scarce food supplies and warm conditions.

The research revealed “strong historical linkages between civil war and temperature in Africa, with warmer years leading to significant increases in the likelihood of war.”

Over the last two decades, conflicts have increased by 50 percent. Even smaller skirmishes have been linked to food scarcity and warmer temperatures in Africa. The research reveals that even if we see economic development and more responsible governance, we can still expect to see a rise in strife from climate change.

“We were very surprised to find that when you put things like economic growth and better governance into the mix, the temperature effect remains strong,” said Dr Marshall Burke, one of the studies authors.

As temperatures continue to rise on the continent, the research shows that conflicts are also expected to increase.

“When combined with climate model projections of future temperature trends, this historical response to temperature suggests a roughly 54 percent increase in armed conflict incidence by 2030, or an additional 393,000 battle deaths if future wars are as deadly as recent wars.”

Center for Climate & Security on Syria

As reviewed in a March 2012 report from the Center for Climate & Security titled “Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest,” the current conflict in Syria has been linked to climate change. According to the hypothesis put forth by these authors, climate change has caused internal displacement, rural disaffection and political unrest that ultimately contributed to the state of civil war we have today in Syria.

“Syria’s current social unrest is, in the most direct sense, a reaction to a brutal and out-of-touch regime and a response to the political wave of change that began in Tunisia early last year. However, that’s not the whole story. The past few years have seen a number of significant social, economic, environmental and climatic changes in Syria that have eroded the social contract between citizen and government in the country, have strengthened the case for the opposition movement, and irreparably damaged the legitimacy of the al-Assad regime. If the international community, and future policy-makers in Syria, are to address and resolve the drivers of unrest in the country, these changes will have to be better explored and exposed.”

This research cites water shortages, drought, crop-failures and displacement as contributing factors to Syria’s civil war. Syria’s farmland has collapsed due to climate change.

As explained in the report from 2006-2011, up to 60 percent of Syria suffered from “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” In the northeast and the south nearly 75 percent of crops failed. Herders in the northeast lost around 85 percent of their livestock, and 1.3 million people were directly impacted.

Over 800,000 Syrians have lost their entire livelihood as a result of the droughts. A total of one million Syrians were made “food insecure”and two to three million were driven to extreme poverty. Overuse of groundwater is seriously depleting the aquifer stocks which further complicates the issue.

In response to these events, there has been a massive exodus of farmers, herders and agriculturally-dependent rural families from the countryside to the cities. In the farming villages around the city of Aleppo alone, 200,000 rural villagers left for the cities.

The fact that the rural farming town of Dara’a was the focal point for protests in the early stages of the Syrian civil war illustrates how climate change induced drought was a central issue in the initial uprisings.

Of course, there were other factors adding to Syrian instability, they include Influxes of Iraqi refugees which have added to the strains and tensions of an already stressed and disenfranchised population. Over-grazing of land and a rapidly growing population also compounded the land desertification process. However, climate does appear to have been a factor leading to the civil war we see in the country today.

Climate models predict that the situation in Syria will worsen as climate change impacts intensify. Yields of rainfed crops in the country are expected to decline between 29 and 57 percent from 2010 to 2050.


Taken together, these reports provide irrefutable evidence that climatic events can increase social tensions and conflict. From the dawn of human civilization to the present the research shows a clear causal link between climate and strife. Climate change not only fans the flames of social tensions, it is a pivotal catalyst in they dynamics of conflict.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: CIFOR, courtesy flickr


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August 01 2013


Detroit was Killed by Decades of Environmental Abuse

Detroit environmental abuse: a cities left in ruins - socially, economically, and environmentallyThe findings in this post-mortem of Detroit suggest that the city was killed by environmental abuse compounded by the failure to adapt to a changing economic landscape. Understanding the fall of Michigan’s largest city has important implications for cities across America and around the world.

With a population of more than 700,000 people, Detroit is now the largest U.S. municipality to file for bankruptcy. Detroit’s seeming obliviousness to changing economic realities and history of environmental neglect have made the city unsafe. This has crushed the local economy and contributed to one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Although the city recently adopted an ambitious sustainability strategy, it was too late to save the city from decades of ecological insanity.

Detroit environmental abuse

One argument explaining the demise of Detroit is that the city fell prey to rampant pollution and monumental environmental shortsightedness. In April 2013, the Sierra Club Detroit released a report that reviewed the city’s environmental abuse.  The report concluded that more than most communities in Michigan, metro Detroit’s proximity to industrial pollution is an “environmental injustice” that constitutes “human rights abuse.”

According to the Sierra Club assessment, the levels of contamination in Detroit are the cause of inordinately higher levels of asthma, cancer, neurological disorders and birth defects. The report cites statistics from the Michigan Department of Community Health that show that Detroit adults suffer from asthma 50 percent more than the state of Michigan as a whole.

Pollution comes from a wide range of nearby industries including auto plants, steel mills, an oil refinery, a wastewater treatment plant and others. Some of the worst sources of pollution were identified as Severstal Steel plant, DTE Energy’s coal-fired River Rouge power plant, Marathon’s oil sands refinery; EES Coke and Battery

Detroit Renewable Power is one of the nation’s largest solid waste incinerators. The facility is the fourth-largest producer of nitrous oxide emissions in the state, which according to studies, affect people’s nervous, cardiovascular and reproductive systems.

The Great Lakes Works, a U.S. Steel facility, released more than 10.1 million pounds of toxic substances in 2010, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Sierra Club’s study notes that manganese levels at the site were found to exceed residential particulate inhalation standards set by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Detroit Wastewater Treatment Facility is the largest source of discharge into the river with 47 billion gallons of diluted raw sewage released during combined sewer overflows in 2011.

Large corporations have been abusing Detroit’s environment for decades, but one of the city’s most agregious polluters are the Koch Brothers. These two oil barrons are infamous for their three story high pile of petroleum coke in the city near the banks of the Detroit river. The mountain of petroleum coke, a by product of oil production, belongs to Koch Carbon which is owned by David and Charles Koch, the wealthy climate change denying conservative industrialists.

The emissions laden petroleum coke originates from the refining of Canada’s tar sands. The waste byproduct comes from extracting bitumen produced by Marathon oil which as mentioned above, has its own shameful legacy of environmental abuse. The EPA does not allow coke to be burned in the U.S. so it is exported overseas to places like China. There are currently 79.8 million tons of the dirty inefficient fuel stockpiled.

In 2010, residents began complaining of a strong smell coming from their basements and sewers. The fumes were so pervasive that it had discolored painted walls of homes, and prompted the growth of unknown substances on furniture. An examination of the fumes showed twenty different toxic gases emanating from one house while hydrogen-sulfur seeping up from sewers was identified as the main culprit. Marathon Oil hushed up the issue by quietly purchasing thirteen homes in the area.

Detroit and Rouge Rivers

Although we have seen some improvements, decades of environmental abuse to the Detroit’s local waterways have taken their toll. As explained by the EPA, industrial pollution of the Detroit and Rouge Rivers dates back to the end of 19th Century. In the late 1940s, oil pollution started to cause massive winter duck kills. In 1948, the situation climaxed when approximately 11,000 ducks were killed due to oil pollution in the Detroit River.

Even though there were a series of relevant legislative events to address the problem, in 1962, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare reported that oil slicks were still being reported on the Detroit River one-third of the time during the winter and spring.

An International Joint Commission in 1968 identified other sources of pollution in the Detroit River including municipal wastewater treatment plants, government installations, combined sewer overflows, and shipping.

More recent data collected by the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center in 2005 indicated that there are still years in which the total volume of oil and other petroleum products spilled in the Detroit and Rouge Rivers is comparable to the estimated oil releases in 1961. Some of the more noteworthy spills include a 100,000 gallon oil spill in the Rouge River in 2002.

Oil pollution continues to be a serious problem because of combined sewer overflow events and industrial releases. Since 1995, up to 40 percent of all the reported oil spills in Michigan occurred in the Detroit and Rouge Rivers.

A sustainable plan for the city

In December 2012, Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit Works project did make an attempt to address the city’s woeful environmental record. They crafted a 350-page plan known as the “Detroit Future City” report. The 50-year plan includes a number of sustainable ideas like building “blue and green infrastructure” to help address water and air-quality issues, creating new open space networks that incorporate habitat for local wildlife, and diversifying the city’s public transportation modes. The report calls for adding new, large areas of greenspace, but it’s also emphatic about the need to reuse old buildings.

To help finance the plan, the W.K. Kellogg, Kresge, and Ford Foundations collectively pledged millions.

While the Detroit Future City project is laudable, it was far too late to save the city.


The absence of transparency in Detroit has been put forth as a reason contributing to the city’s demise. The issue of transparency is central to sustainability and across the nation and around the world transparency, is being advanced as a bulwark against environmental abuse.

Despite concerns and reservations, businesses are embracing transparency acknowledging that this is the only way forward. At the municipal level, transparency in decision-making processes is fast becoming a central strategy for engaging stakeholders, combating corruption and improving the quality of urban governance overall.

Transparency supports sustainability and good governance. There is no denying that Detroit municipal democracy and local sustainability initiatives could have been improved by a framework that encourages greater transparency.

It is important to have access to public records if for no other reason than to hold accountable those in power. Although local media have been reporting on Detroit, many question the public’s access to information in the lead up to the city’s filing for bankruptcy.

While greater municipal transparency may have helped, it is unlikely that it could have saved the city on its own.

Demographic data

Demographic data is one of the keys to understanding Detroit’s decline. In 1960, Detroit was the richest per capita city in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now, 60 percent of all of Detroit’s children are living in poverty. Almost half of the city’s population are functionally illiterate, a third of Detroit’s 140 square miles are vacant or derelict, and almost one fifth are unemployed.

The city’s unemployment rate has nearly tripled since 2000 and the city’s homicide rate is at the highest level in nearly 40 years. The FBI considers Detroit to be one of the most dangerous cities in America.

In the 1950s, there were more than 1.85 million people in the city, now there are only 706,000 people. Over the last 13 years alone, Detroit’s population has plummeted more than 25 percent.

U.S. 2010 Census data notes that Michigan lost almost half (48%) of all its manufacturing jobs from 2000-2010. This includes high-skill, high-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs, many of which were in the auto industry. In 1970, the EPA was created and the city did not develop a strategic plan to transition to more environmentally responsible manufacturing. Nor did they have a plan to source sustainable energy supplies upon which heavy industry depends.

The auto industry

The fall of the American auto industry was a central factor in Detroit’s demise. The city’s big automakers were beholden to a business model that was way out of step with a changing world.  From this perspective, Detroit was a casualty of the changing global reality and the resultant economic paradigm shift. The Michigan based auto industry did not adjust as demand waned for the wasteful gas guzzling behemoths that defined Detroit in its heyday.

As explained in a Forbes article:

“American carmakers are best at producing muscular, noisy, gas guzzling rides (think GM’s Suburban, Cadillac and Corvette, Ford’s Bronco and Lincoln lines)….the biggest factor [for the demise of Detroit] has to do with the quality of American cars…Put simply, Michigan and its city most known for the rise of the automobile clung to a business – car manufacturing – that was long ago rendered yesterday’s commercial news.”

Part of the reason that Detroit declared bankruptcy can be attributed to the demise of the old auto industry that was the lifeblood of the city. Big auto’s failure to anticipate and respond to economic and environmental concerns helped to divest the city of its tax base and push Detroit into bankruptcy.

The fall of great cities in history

Like Detroit, other cities have fallen due to their unresponsiveness to changing realities. Wanton pollution and unbridled exploitation of resources made Detroit a textbook recipe for decline. Detroit seemed oblivious to the need to develop new business models designed to address growing resource scarcity and climate-change-causing emissions.

Throughout history, once great civilizations have perished due to their failure to adapt. During the golden age of Mayan civilization (250 AD to 900 AD), there were more than 15 million people living in 40 cities. These were some of the most advanced city states in the world at that time. However, like many other technologically advanced civilizations these cities came to an abrupt end.

According to one theory, the Mayans were the victims of their own success. Over-farming to feed growing populations combined with drought and cultural upheavals may have caused the Mayan decline.

Some researchers have suggested that climate change caused Mayan cities to fall. Climate change has also been a predominant theory put forth to explain the abandonment of Cambodia’s ancient city of Angkor as well as the decline and fall of Roman civilization.

What we must learn

There is much we all can learn from Detroit; the fate of the city is a cautionary tale that we all would be well advised to heed. This is not just a theoretical concern for the distant future, climate change is an existential threat faced by many cities today. According to a PNAS study published at the end of July, within a decade, more than 1,300 U.S. cities and towns and ultimately a quarter of Americans could be submerged under water due to climate change.

We cannot afford to ignore the environment and the changing climate. Failure to curtail adverse ecological impacts imperils more than our cities, it is a threat to civilization itself.

We are all called to do what we can in terms of mitigation, however, for many of the impacts of climate change, it is already too late. Like Detroit, we are faced with a stark choice, either adapt or die.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Don Harder, courtesy flickr

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July 25 2013


Renewables can Power the World

Renewable can power the world: Gemasolar is a baseload solar thermal plant, using molten salt storage to run 24 hours per day.We already see strong evidence to support the contention that renewable energy can supply the world’s power needs. As explained in Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013, we need to move beyond fossil fuels before its too late.

“Renewable technologies broke all growth records in recent years,” said Alexander Ochs, Director of Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy program, and contributing author of State of the World 2013.

“In 2011, new investments in renewables for the first time in modern history topped those in conventional energy technologies with clean energy investments in developing countries now outpacing those in many industrialized countries. These promising trends need to be accelerated, with action on all political levels. Science tells us that global greenhouse gas emissions have to peak well before 2020 if we want to avoid the danger of major climate disruptions.”

Despite the fact that we urgently need to transition away from hydrocarbon based energy systems, there are many who continue to deride renewables as an unstable and unpredictable source of power.  In an effort to debunk the myths about renewable energy being unpredictable, Karl-Friedrich Lenz coined the term “unreliables myth”. He was responding to critics who say that wind and solar only offer intermittent energy (the wind is not always blowing and the sun is not always shining).

Describing wind and solar as unreliable is inaccurate. First, photovoltaic solar and wind can be supplemented with storage capacity that enables them to provide uninterrupted power. A good example of a technique for creating storage capacity involves generating hydrogen with renewable energy which can be stored and used at will. Once you are producing large enough volumes of energy you can stockpile it and avoid concerns about intermittency.

Second, even if part of the energy grid uses intermittent renewable energy without storage, as long as there are other energy sources on the grid (ie concentrated solar power, hydro, and geothermal etc) there will be no interruption of supply.  Even if there is a shortage, this can be managed by smart grids, or as a worst case scenario, energy can occasionally be supplemented by hydrocarbons.

Despite these solutions, many continue to be doubtful about the possibility of an entirely renewable electrical grid. The old energy industry would like to have us believe that it will take at least 50 years before we can wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.

However,  this is refuted by the 50 nations that are currently meeting most of their energy needs with renewables. A total of 11 countries are supplying all of their power demands with renewables and some of these have become net exporters of clean energy.

Paraguay is one of those countries that gets all of its electricity from renewable energy while at the same time exporting 90 percent of its production. Renewable energy is not only clean it also provides good jobs.  Albania, which produces all of its electricity with renewables, is looking to create 100,000 green jobs by 2020.

The following list of countries get 60 percent or more of their electricity from renewable energy. It was compiled from data at the CO2 scorecard site. All the data is derived from this source with the exception of nations designated with an asterix, which are sourced from Wikipedia.

  • Afganistan (62%) *
  • Albania (100%).
  • Angola (96%)
  • Austria (73%)
  • Belize (90%)
  • Bhutan (99%)
  • Brazil (88%)
  • Burma/Myanmar (62%)
  • Burundi (100%)
  • Cameroon (77%)
  • Canada (61%)
  • Central African Republic (81%)
  • Columbia (85%)
  • Congo (82%)
  • Costa Rica (93%)
  • DPR Korea (61%)
  • DR Congo (99%)
  • Ecuador (64%)
  • El Salvador (62%)
  • Ethiopia (88%)
  • Fiji (68%)
  • Georgia (85%)
  • Ghana (75%)
  • Guatemala (61%)
  • Iberia (70%)
  • Iceland (100%)
  • Kenya (62%)
  • Kyrgyzstan (90%)
  • Lao PDR (92%)
  • Latvia (62%)
  • Lesotho (100%)
  • Madagascar (66%)
  • Malawi (86%)
  • Mozambique (99%)
  • Namibia (70%)
  • Nepal (99%)
  • New Zealand (72%)
  • North Korea (61%)*
  • Norway (97.11% )
  • Panama (63%)*
  • Paraguay (100%)
  • Peru (60% )
  • Portugal (70%)
  • Sweden (60%)
  • Tajikistan (98%)
  • Tanzania (61%)
  • Uganda (74%)
  • Uruguay (61%)
  • Venezuela (69%)
  • Zambia (99%)

As most of these figures date back to 2008, the percentage has in many cases increased over the last five years. It should also be noted that most of these states get their energy from hydroelectric projects, which although commonly considered a renewable energy, comes with a number of environmental concerns. Further, there are many small developing nations in this list which have limited power requirements. Nonetheless, this list demonstrates the viability of renewable energy, albeit on a small scale.

Developing countries are not the only ones ramping up renewable energy. In terms of developed nations, Germany is a recent standout for producing almost half of its energy needs from solar.  In the U.S., almost half of all new generating capacity installed in 2012 was renewable, and in Q1 2013, 49 percent of all new US electricity generation capacity came form solar.

A number of independent researchers have demonstrated that renewable energy sources can replace fossil fuels and provide for all of the world’s energy needs. This research has also debunked claims that the emissions attributable to intermittent power production from renewable sources offer only nominal reductions in greenhouse gas emissions when compared to fossil fuels.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has conducted research which demonstrates that green energy can affordably replace fossil fuels as the world’s primary source of electricity within 20 years.

The NOAA’s findings add to other studies that also support the feasibility of replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy. In 2011, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which indicates that nearly 80 percent of global energy demand could be met by renewable sources of energy by 2050. Research published in 2009 by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi also supports the contention that renewable energy can replace fossil fuels, as does research published in 2010 by Robert Howarth.

Sandy MacDonald, a director at NOAA said that wind and solar could supply 70 percent of electricity demand in the lower 48 states as soon as 2030.

Together the evidence supports the notion that we can meet our energy needs with renewable sources of energy. This is not just an urgent necessity, it is also a technologically and economically viable solution to the looming threats we face.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Beyond Coal and Gas, courtesy flickr

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July 18 2013


Congress Submits to Monsanto as Consumers Start Growing Their Own Food

Monsanto gets its way in Congress, but consumer are pushing backBy Ellen Henderson

Monsanto’s website declares that the company could not exist without farmers. The public, however, is no longer buying the rhetoric the company has pushed since its founding in 1901.

Monsanto has sued small family farmers, taken small dairy farmers to court, pushed cotton farmers into bankruptcy, and coerced taxpayers into funding their efforts to poison the world with their genetically modified products.

On May 25, millions of people took to the streets, chanting things like “stop poisoning the people.” Dubbed, the “March Against Monsanto,” the protests were largely ignored by mainstream media.

HR 933, known as the “Monsanto Protection Act” to opponents, easily passed through Congress and was signed into law by President Obama in March. Officially called the Farmer Assurance Provision, the Act forbids federal courts from stopping the sale or use of GMO seeds regardless of any health risks that may be discovered in the future. Though research is revealing the potential dangers of GMO food, the International Business Times says the Monsanto Protection Act gives the corporation immunity from any sort of liability.

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has been a vocal critic of the act, which he says forces Americans to eat GMOs whether they want to or not. Vermont is one of few states that have passed a bill requiring food manufacturers to label GMO ingredients. Sanders proposed an amendment to the federal bill that would require all states to have similar labeling laws. The presence of the powerful GMO lobby, which has a lot of influence on Congress, helped reject the proposal in the Senate.  Even at the state level, particularly California, big names in the food industry like Pepsi, ConAgra and Smuckers are fighting against similar labeling proposals.

Disillusioned by the government and lacking the financial resources to fight such massive multinational organizations, many citizens are gathering gardening tools and aquaponics equipment to cultivate their own food. Urban farmers are growing their own fruits and vegetables, with some also producing their own meat, eggs, and honey.

Consumers not only save money by cultivating their own food, but also protect the health of their families. Hydroponic gardening, composting, fish farming and other simple, yet revolutionary ideas present people the opportunity to sustain their families without using a lot of space. The number of people with hunting licenses and permits has increased by nearly 2 million since 2010, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A hunting license and an accurate shot can fill your freezer with meat for the winter, while a Michigan boaters license and a small paddle boat are all you need to find GMO-free fish.

Reaction since the Monsanto Protection Act was passed indicate that consumers aren’t quietly succumbing to the GMO giant. Whether they are lobbying their senators, weeding their backyard gardens by hand or just sitting by the stream hoping for a bite, its clear consumers want safe, GMO-free food with clear labels.


Ellen is a mom and DIY maven. She writes primarily about health, wellness and sustainable living issues.

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July 04 2013


The New Front Lines of the Fight Against Fracking

The fight against fracking at a Manhattan protestThe front lines of the fight over hydraulic fracturing -or “fracking” – are being drawn at the lowest political levels. Fracking involves detonating explosions deep underground and then pumping large volumes of chemical laced water at high pressure into these wells. More than 1,000 chemicals have already been identified as those commonly used in the drilling process.

According to a Scientific American Report, as of June 2012, there were more than 680,000 fracking wells throughout the country. The International Energy Agency reports that by 2018, North America’s daily supply of oil will be 3.9 million barrels higher than it was in 2012.

Polarized Debate

Attitudes towards fracking for natural gas are highly polarized in the U.S. On the one side, there are scientists and the environmentally concerned and on the other, there are business groups and the oil industry. Those who support fracking point to the economic and employment benefits as well as the issue of energy independence.

Those who resist fracking say the limited benefits it offers are trumped by the civilization-ending threat posed by climate change. In addition to methane, fracking releases radioactivity and generates toxic fracturing fluids known as BTEX, which are found to have harmful effects on the nervous system as well as cause birth defects and cancer.

In essence, the debate boils down to job creation and economic growth versus pollution and environmental risk. A large and growing pool of research makes the point that fracking is not clean energy, it is in fact a major environmental problem, in addition to putting significant quantities of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, it contaminates huge amounts of increasingly scarce ground water resources. Due in large part to fracking, the U.S. is emerging as a global fossil leader which has important deleterious implications.

Fracking is also known to cause earthquakes. A British company official admitted that fracking in the UK has caused “a number of minor seismic events,” The U.S. Geological Survey has also made the connection between fracking and seismic events in the U.S., Canada and Japan.


Natural gas is a large and growing part of American exports with many states reaping significant financial gains, this includes states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio. All across America, economic benefits are driving what can only be described as a fracking frenzy.

While some states have outlawed fracking (eg New York, Vermont), other states like Illinois have enacted legislation welcoming the industry into their state.

EPA and the Federal Government

Right now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no jurisdiction when it comes to fracking, thanks to a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act known as the Haiburton Loophole—named after the first company licensed to practice fracking. Although previously cleared, in 2010, the EPA reopened its investigation into fracking.

The EPA has pushed its timeline for release of its study assessing the impact of hydraulic fracturing from 2014 to 2016. This study was initiated by Congress in 2010 and was meant to provide guidance for states. Now that this research is off the table for the next few years, states will have to draw their own conclusions about the safety of fracking.

This means that by the time EPA rules, there will be massive amounts of fracking chemicals in America’s groundwater and vast quantities of global warming causing methane emissions in our atmosphere.

President Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama sees fracking as a bridge fuel. While Obama does support fracking for natural gas, he has indicated that he wants to reduce the industry environmental impacts. While the Obama administration suggested that it would force oil companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the drilling process they are not required to reveal chemicals that are considered “trade secrets.” This is a glaring weakness that must be remedied with full disclosure.

The President’s Climate Action Plan clearly states that, “Curbing methane emissions is critical to our overall effort to address global climate change.” However, his support for fracking does not acknowledge that methane is the chief GHG released into the atmosphere by fracking.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” the President said in his 2013 State of the Union address. “That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.” The President said.

While we may some some minor regulatory oversight, leadership on fracking will not be forthcoming from the federal government in the next few years. Independent of the political wrangling at the federal level, the fight against fracking will continue.

State Governments

In the absence of the President’s leadership and ahead of the EPA’s study in 2016, State governments are charged with the responsibility of regulating the fracking industry.

The EPA has stepped back and allowed state government to assume oversight right across the country including Parker County, TX, and Dimock, PA.

Wyoming’s state government illustrates the problems associated with charging the states to regulate fracking.  Wyoming appears to be whitewashing its investigating of fracking impacts in a development near Pavillion, WY. The state’s Republican governor Matt Mead has been accused of collusion with Encana, the company doing the drilling in that area.

The California State Assembly rejected a bill that would have banned oil and natural gas fracking in the state

A growing number of people are getting involved and taking to the streets to protest against fracking. In New York, more than 3,000 people recently came together to send a message to Gov. Cuomo and state legislators demanding that they reject fracking and lead the nation in renewable energy.

However, as demonstrated by Wyoming, state governments may not be the best place to combat fracking.

Regional and Municipal Politics

In the absence of federal and state leadership, the fight over fracking is increasingly taking place at the regional and municipal levels.

Even at the municipal level, fracking is a highly divisive issue. Boulder County in Colorado has enacted a new moratorium on fracking for 18 months and Dryden, New York, also upheld a ban.

However, some municipalities are so hungry for jobs that they ignore environmental impacts. One such community is Youngstown, Ohio. which is a city that has been hit hard by the collapse of the steel industry. Even two earthquakes which measured 2.7 and 4.0 on the Richter scale did not deter voters from rejecting a proposal to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city. In Illinois Governor Quinn signed into law a statewide pro-fracking bill (SB1715).

Despite the early mixed results at the local level, it is positive that the discussion about fracking is expanding. Being engaged in the discussion at the local level inspires people to get involved and encourages them to be better informed about the issues.

One of the major roadblocks to local decision making on fracking is the fact that in many states, towns do not have the adequate legal authority to deny oil and gas companies. However, environmental lawyers, Helen and David Slottje, have figured out a way that towns might be able to use zoning rules to stop fracking. A May lawsuit in New York state upholds municipalities’ rights to decide zoning rules as they relate to fracking.

New Data

Every day we are seeing more data pointing to the destructive impacts of fracking. NOAA studies show that methane emissions from natural gas development are much higher than commonly assumed. A recent report by U.S. military advisors also questions the value of fossil fuels including natural gas.

A recent report from environmental consultant Jessica Ernst reviewed the contamination of North America’s groundwater sources resulting from  fracking. Food & Water Europe and NGSFacts.com have also provided information revealing the dangers associated with fracking.

While an ORC International survey, indicates that most Americans support domestic energy production, they are unwilling to sacrifice clean water, increased energy efficiency, and expanded power from renewable energy.

It may be that the President is deferring federal action on fracking due to the political climate. In fairness, the President`s new Climate Action Plan does emphasize significant reductions in GHGs and strong support for renewable energy and efficiency. The President must choose his battles if he want to see them succeed.

As the old cliche goes, “Rome was not built in a day” and this is particularly true if we are building for an enduring future and a truly sustainable economy.

Even with the blight of fracking, President Obama`s action plan is moving the U.S. in the right direction.

With the federal government abdicating its responsibilities, the fight against fracking is being waged at the municipal and state levels. To succeed in efforts to minimize fracking, we must not lose hope that the war will be won.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said,

”The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.”

We will bring an end to fracking one town at a time.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Adrian Kinloch, courtesy flickr


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June 27 2013


Reaction to President Obama’s Historic Georgetown University Speech

A group inspired by Obama's climate speechDespite what some detractors may say, the speech delivered by President Obama at Georgetown University will reverberate across America and around the world.  June 25th, 2013 will be remembered as the day America committed itself to act domestically and lead globally on climate change.

It is not overstating the case to say the President’s speech signals an end to the debate on climate change and the beginning of a consorted effort to reign in greenhouse gas emissions.

The President’s ambitious speech has far reaching implications that involve both mitigation and adaptation. “As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act,” Obama said.

Going forward, climate change impacts will be factored into every governmental decision including procurement, land and water management, infrastructure spending, and resource development.

The President’s national climate strategy will:

  • Reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, the transportation sector, and people’s homes
  • Increase renewable energy production on federal lands
  • Enhance efficiency standards
  • Prepare communities to deal with climate change

For a more detailed review of the plan, click here. For the full transcript of the President’s speech, click here.


Republican resistance to the President’s initiatives are as dependable as a Swiss watch.  Even before Obama unveiled his plan on Tuesday afternoon, Republicans in Congress were already on the attack. They declared the plan to be a job killer that would undermine the recovery.

Republicans continue to flog the same ideas knowing that they will gain some traction with the American public. “It’s tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today’s economy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the floor of the Senate.

In a more blatant effort to inflame the public, Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said imposing carbon rules on power plants amounts to a national energy tax.

The President responded to his critics preemptively when he remarked, “that’s what they said every time and every time, they’ve been wrong.” Obama stated that research, technology and innovation are American strengths that will help lead the world in the war on climate change.

Republicans are almost unanimously impervious to reality. They refuse to comprehend that the planet is warming, they seem blind to melting arctic ice and devastating droughts. They will not even acknowledge that extreme weather already causes hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage.

Republicans in the Congress are hell-bent on denying the truth and they seem to exist with their heads perpetually in the sand. While Republicans are disconnected from the facts on climate change, the President has carefully crafted a reality-based perspective. In response to Republican outrage over Obama’s use of his executive powers to circumvent the legislature, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “we’ve seen Congress attempt to deal with this issue, and fail.”

Obama is simply making good on the warning he issued in his State of the Union address. As he said last February, “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

Republicans deride the employment potential from the green economy.  They ignore the current staggering cost of climate change including extreme weather, and they seem oblivious to the fact that the situation is destined to get far worse if we continue with business as usual. Most importantly, they refuse to appreciate that the devastating impacts of runaway climate change will dwarf any costs associated with transitioning to a greener  economy and more sustainable employment. The longer we wait the more it will cost and the less likely we will be to stave off the worst impacts.

In a comment that directly addressed Republican climate deniers, the President mockingly said “we do not have time for the meeting of the flat earth society.” He went on to say he has no patience for those who deny that humans are contributing to the warming of the planet.

As the President said, history will judge the present generation by our success or failure in meeting and surmounting this existential challenge. No matter how many Republicans line up against the national climate strategy, we must do what we can to combat climate change. As explained in a White House statement, “we have a moral obligation to act on behalf of future generations.”


Many environmentalists are heaping praise on the President and lauding his leadership. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defence Council said, “the President nailed it,” and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, “President Obama is finally putting action behind his words.”

Support for the President’s national climate strategy is far from unanimous even among environmentalists.  Those who want to see more from the President need to view his actions from a historical perspective. Obama’s national climate strategy is the most consorted effort to combat climate change in the history of the United States. Even in his first term Obama made more environmental progress than any President in American history, including great strides in renewable energy and fuel efficiency.

Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity is among those who were not satisfied with the President’s speech. He described it as too little, too late.

“What he’s proposing isn’t big enough, doesn’t move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis,” Snape said.

While Snape may even be right, he is still wrong. He and others like him do not understand the politics at play nor do they countenance the limitations of the President’s executive powers. Further, the President has to protect the interests of his party ahead of the 2014 midterms.

Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defence Council is among those who disagree with Snape.

“The country is facing a threat; the President is facing facts,” said Lashof. “Reducing that pollution is the most important step we can take as a nation to stand up to climate change.”

It is understandable that many people are frustrated that the President did not go further. In particular, his apparent support for domestic fossil fuels and fracking in particular was undeniably disappointing.  However, those who wish the President would have done more need to understand that the President is not omnipotent, nor does he operate in a vacuum.

He can expect legal challenges from interests in the old energy economy and by sidestepping Congress he can also expect that lawmakers will introduce legislation to stymie his national climate strategy.  House Republicans have shown themselves to be especially tenacious in their opposition to the President and they will do everything in their power to undermine him and his plan.

Unlike many of Obama’s detractors, Al Gore is a man who understands politics and he applauded the President’s speech. Gore referred to the Georgetown address as “historic” calling it, “the best Presidential address on climate change ever.”

“This action – if followed by skillful and thorough execution of the plan – has the potential to fundamentally alter the course of our nation’s energy infrastructure development and help to promote a sustainable future. On the international front, this action will bolster U.S. credibility and moral authority in negotiations with other countries,” Gore said.

While Gore conceded that more needs to be done, he also indicated that Obama can succeed if he uses the bully pulpit of the Presidency to good effect.

Gore concluded by saying, “I urge the nation to follow President Obama’s lead…to keep fighting. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Obama’s speech vindicates those who have supported the President and who held out hope that he would make a serious attempt to combat climate change.  His detractors, particularly those who call themselves environmentalists, should be ashamed of their lack of support for these ambitious actions. Within the purview of his power, and the realities of the current political landscape, the President is moving boldly forward.

June 25, 2013 is an important day for us and for our planet and it will be remembered as the point in history when America enjoined the struggle against climate change and assumed a leadership role.

Stay tuned for the companion piece to this article on the politics of fracking to be published in Global Warming is Real next Thursday.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: DailyKos, Energy Action


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June 13 2013


Making Green Sexy and Spiritual

A deeper connection to love and spirituality is needed to effectively communicate sustainabiltiySustainability needs a new language that is more accessible and more compelling to the average person. Business, government, and other organizations are making strides advancing sustainability but we need wider involvement and faster growth. Although we are seeing increasing levels of environmental activism, we need to expand the message to reach a larger circle of people.

We must do more than preach solely to the converted.  The number of committed environmentalists is insufficient to induce the required changes.  At present, environmental communications are geared toward an elite group not the general population and for those that do get the message, it often fails to resonate. For those on the outside, the language of sustainability is a confusing jumble of fear-inducing figures that ultimately prove to be both polarizing and paralyzing.

We need government legislation and regulation, but if we are to bring about lasting results, we must augur change by speaking to the hearts and minds of average people. Fact based approaches have not worked and fear based approaches may make matters worse by breeding avoidance and apathy.

Making green advocacy more compelling to larger numbers of people demands new strategies that are based on more than fear, facts and figures. While the logic of sustainability is overwhelming, reason alone has proven insufficient to  change consciousness on a global scale.

Finding ways of communicating the value of sustainability to the masses is one of the most prescient issues of our time. To disseminate the message on a truly global scale, we need to tap into the positive emotional and spiritual elements of the human psyche.

The use of such positive emotional and spiritual communication is far more likely to induce people to act.

What we can learn from branding and marketing

We can learn a lot from branding and marketing experts. Whether or not we agree with the products and services they promote, we cannot disagree with the fact that many big brands have succeeded in changing both attitudes and behaviors. We need to harness this power and put it to work for the planet.

We must do a better job of communicating and marketing sustainability. We need to benefit from an understanding of the effective marketing and communications strategies employed by the big brands. As explained in a May 15 Marketing Magazine article:

“It is officially time to pass on, or at the least share with marketing, the baton of sustainability. It is also time to re-brand that baton. Reducing complex science to simple science in attempts to mobilise mainstream behaviour change has failed to deliver…”

We need to communicate in a language that is accessible to all.  To successfully communicate sustainability to the average person we need to employ language that resonates. As any marketer will tell you, consumers are more interested in what is sexy then what is reasonable.

“[A] sustainable society can be one where people enjoy high well-being and a rich culture, where we can all reach our potential and have an incredible time along the way. We need new and compelling consumer aspirations – ones that can be achieved within environmental limits, of course…The opportunity to frame a future that is sexy (and yes, of course, sustainable) is right here.”

We need to show that sustainability can be fun in addition to saving lives and radically enhancing our quality of life. To do this, we must understand that people are much more likely to respond to communications that speak to universal aspects of the human experience. namely love and desire.

Love and the desire to act

Cultivating love in ourselves and in others may seem like a tall order, but we are all born into the world hardwired with a capacity to love. We already have proof that love works to augur change. Love for the planet and each other is mobilizing environmental activists in unprecedented numbers all around the world. Eco-communities are popping up everywhere as more and more people are looking for ways to express their positive regard and make a difference. These passionate environmentally minded people are motivated by love, they care deeply about the planet and are prepared to act to lessen their impacts on the earth. Love for the earth makes us good stewards and tireless activists. Love endlessly motivates us to take the message out into our communities and into our workplaces.

Love is the most powerful motivation and it can help us to overcome both apathy and materialism. It is easy to feel helpless in the face of the threats posed by climate change. However the best way to combat paralysis is to care. Caring is neither difficult nor complex and it is within all of our grasps. If we really want to forge a better world, even more than the tactics we employ, we need to cultivate the love to make the effort.

Love is an antidote to rampant materialism. Although material concerns rule the day, love ties us into a value system that runs far deeper than money. Being part of a cause greater than ourselves offers a purpose and a sense of meaning to life that material pursuits do not. Acting with an awareness of the planet connects us to our world in a deeply fulfilling fashion.

Although the benefits both personally and collectively far outweigh the sacrifice, making a more sustainable world may entail a decrement in money, power, or position. These types of sacrifices are far more readily made out of love.

Love is a primary motivator that causes people to think beyond themselves and consider the needs of future generations. Without the impetus of love it will be difficult to move beyond self interest.

Accountability through spirituality

Spirituality is a powerful tool to help people be more accountable and this will increase environmental engagement. While organized religion is dying, belief in a higher power remains strong with more than 9 in 10 Americans calling themselves believers. What is even more interesting is the fact that belief is strongest amongst those who are most likely to deny climate change (conservatives and Republicans). The inference here is that spirituality may offer an inroad through the impermeable dogmatism of climate deniers.

It is important to understand that we are talking about spirituality and not religion. Religion promulgates certain fixed beliefs while spirituality in the context of this discussion is about soul-searching and the pursuit of truth. Spirituality commonly transcends the practice of religion. The distinction is important because we need to get beyond the polarization we have witnessed with environmental evangelists on one side and climate deniers on the other.

As explained by Mark C. Coleman, author of “The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Accountability is Essential NOW!,” one of the keys to getting people environmentally involved is fostering a greater spirit of accountability.

“Being accountable by being present and in the right frame of mind for sound decision-making is essential for (1) recognizing our behavior; (2) understanding the impact of our behavior on economy, environment, and society; and, (3) being able to take action through personal accountability to modify behavior to effect change.”

Spirituality is is an ego transcending journey that cultivates a sense of purpose beyond ourselves.

“Being able to think beyond ourselves requires patience, humility, a strong capacity for listening and learning, and an ability to separate ego from our true ‘self’,” Coleman explains. “Understanding that spirituality goes beyond the practice of religion, and that we all are part of a generation living within a context of time and fate which is requiring more accountability from each of us, is a perspective toward how people can begin to embrace sustainability from personal point of view.”

People are suffering from widespread disillusionment. Add to this the anxiety inducing reality of climate change and people are more likely to avoid rather than engage.  People are detached from themselves, from each other and from nature.

“The underlying power of humanity is that we are resilient and can adapt to change. But in the act of being resilient we rely on spirituality, being caring, and finding connections among one another and the world that foster sense of self, resourcefulness, and community.”

According to Coleman the answers to spirituality and sustainability are within us.

“The sustainability of our generation, and the earth, are intrinsically tied to our capacity to delve individually and collectively into spirituality. Individuals have the power within themselves to be the stewards of their behaviors, to set the standard for accountability within society, and represent a generation of enlightened individuals that can not only be resilient, but be a force for creating a better world. The generation living here and now is the Sustainability Generation. This generation will be measured not on its ability to wage war, land on the moon, or build financial wealth…From here on out the Sustainability Generation will seek out harmonizing its relationships with nature, among one another, and with God.”

The convergence of sustainability and spirituality can foster accountability and increase the will to act. Spirituality can also enable us to avoid falling victim to hopelessness and selfishness.

Deep Ecology

A direct offshoot of sustainability, deep ecology includes a spiritual element, and as such, may be a better vehicle to communicate the value of green. Deep Ecology brings together cutting-edge science, philosophy, action and spirituality. It is arguably the most holistic school of environmental thought as it is largely concerned with ecosystems and as such, it is a study of interrelationships.

This environmental philosophy is characterized by its advocacy of the inherent worth of all living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs. It further advocates that societies need to be restructured in accordance with such ideas. It holds that human destruction of the natural world poses a threat to all organisms in the natural order.

Deep ecology’s core principle is the belief that the living environment as a whole should be respected and regarded as having the right to live and flourish.

Deep ecology is providing a foundation for the environmental, ecology and green movements and has fostered a new system of environmental ethics.

A new approach to communicating sustainability must engage people on a spiritual and psycho-emotional level. Ecological awareness must be communicated as a heart-felt mind-set that people embrace and practice everyday.

If the sustainability revolution is to expand and achieve critical mass, it must embedded into our core values.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: AlicePopkorn, courtesy flickr


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March 21 2013


Solutions to the World Water Crisis Requires International Cooperation

This image from International Rivers demonstrates the vital need for international cooperation for dealing with the world water crisisSharing water across international boundaries is a complex international challenge that requires coordinated water policy formulation and responsible governance. To meet global water requirements governments at all levels need to work together to craft clear policies and enact enforceable laws. To address the world water crisis, governments, corporations and other concerned parties need an ambitious mission, long term vision, strategic goals and specific detailed planning.

Water is important for all living organisms. Without water, there will be no life. Entire civilizations have collapsed due to water shortages, therefore the pressing importance of finding international water solutions cannot be overstated.

People have been controlling water for more than four thousand years. The issue we face today is not about whether we should manage water resources, the issue is how this can best be achieved.

Water does not pay heed to national boundaries, as water systems commonly wind their way through many countries. Successfully addressing the problems associated with water, demands local, national, and regional cooperation.

To enable the available water resources to benefit the largest number of people, we need to see more responsible water harvesting, conservation and management. Because water is essential for all life and all sectors of society, we need widespread inclusive involvement to develop workable solutions. Water harvesting and watershed management is everyone’s business from the individual right up to national governments from the local organizations to multinational corporations.

There are examples of responsible water management that improve livelihoods, but more commonly, water is exploited in ways that do not benefit everyone. Historically, powerful actors have used water in ways that are harmful to others and the environment. Downstream users are routinely affected by users upstream due to things like diversion and pollution.

When water is inappropriately allocated, there are widespread deleterious consequences that impact the most fundamental elements of modern society including food, energy, business and governments.

Water and food

Drinking water is essential for life and the key to food security. We are already facing water shortages alongside growing agricultural demands. Burgeoning populations will further tax dwindling water resources. Over the next 40 years, agricultural production will need to increase by 60 percent to meet rising demand for food.

Water and energy

Water is essential for all forms of energy production. The connection between water and energy takes several forms including generating hydropower, agricultural applications to grow biofuels and the cooling of energy generating machines. The absence of water can cause power outages and force some very difficult decisions related to water allocation. Water is also vital to renewable sources of energy like biomass, hydropower, wind-power and even solar.

The natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is another major source of water usage and a source of contamination. A 2009 report on modern shale gas by the Groundwater Protection Council, “Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer,” stated that “[t]he amount of water needed to drill and fracture a horizontal shale gas well generally ranges from about 2 million to 4 million gallons.” The water used for fracking is contaminated with acids and other chemical additives. This extraction technique also releases naturally occurring radioactive elements and carcinogens like benzene.

Responsible energy development requires extensive water management planning, however, this is often absent in national energy infrastructure strategies. A report from the World Resources Institute illustrates the point. This report notes that nearly 80 percent of India’s planned power plants will be located in areas with very poor access to water.

The business case for pursuing water sustainability

Water scarcity and declining quality are widely acknowledged as growing problems that affect businesses globally. In response to this growing awareness, water sustainability is emerging as a strategic priority. Year after year water has climbed the corporate agenda. Corporations are realizing that they need to reduce their water footprint, address water related business risks and opportunities, and ultimately craft water sustainability strategies. Water management is one of the greatest challenges faced by the business community and it is emerging as a critical success factor.

The business community is not doing enough

Water is the new sustainability frontier and while businesses are beginning to understand the issue, they are not acting fast enough. A 2012 Carbon Trust study of 475 senior executives of large companies in Brazil, China, South Korea, the UK and the US, found that only one in seven firms has set a target for water reduction, or publicly reported their water performance. According to an October 2012 analysis by KPMG, 60 percent of the world’s 250 largest companies lack a long-term water strategy.

Mandating responsible water use

As the Earth’s most valuable single resource, governments must mandate responsible usage. This is precisely the conclusion of the Indian state of Maharashtra which is suffering from the ravages of long term drought. According to the business publication Livemint, Maharashtra state government is planning to make it compulsory for companies to adopt measures that include water recycling and rain water harvesting.

UN Water Convention

The UN convention for water provides useful policy recommendations and legal frameworks for the protection and management of local and transboundary water.

In 1992, the UN Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) offered guidelines intended to strengthen national measures for the protection and ecologically sound management of transboundary surface waters and groundwaters.

The Convention obliges parties to prevent, control and reduce transboundary impact, use transboundary waters in a reasonable and equitable way and ensure their sustainable management. Under the Convention parties bordering transboundary waters must cooperate by entering into specific agreements and establishing joint bodies. The Convention includes provisions for monitoring, research and development, consultations, warning and alarm systems, mutual assistance, and exchange of information, as well as access to information by the public.

In 1999, the Protocol on Water and Health sought to protect human health through better water management, including the protection of water ecosystems, and by preventing, controlling and reducing water-related diseases. It is the first international agreement of its kind adopted specifically to attain an adequate supply of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for everyone. Parties to the Protocol commit to set targets in relation to the entire water cycle.

Initially the Water Convention was negotiated as a regional instrument, but in 2003 the Convention was amended to allow accession by all the UN Member States. The amendments entered into force on 6 February 2013, turning the Convention into a global legal framework for transboundary water cooperation. (It is expected that non-ECE countries will be able to join the Convention as of the end of 2013).

The 2003 Protocol on Civil Liability provides a comprehensive regime for adequate and prompt compensation for damage resulting from transboundary effects of industrial accidents on transboundary waters.

A global water agreement is an ambitious undertaking. While the UN Water Convention has provided valuable frameworks, there are numerous obstacles that are impeding implementation.

To succeed governments must coordinate policy and table effective legislation. March 22nd is World Water Day and the theme for 2013 is appropriately, “cooperation.” This year’s theme could not be more prescient. The diverse array of concerned parties must work together to find solutions and agree on implementation strategies. In the absence of global cooperation we will face devastating water shortages and far reaching civilization altering affects.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit:Alison M.Jones for NoWater-NoLife.org and International Rivers (under creative commons license), courtesy flickr



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August 15 2012


GOP VP Candidate Ryan’s Unsustainable Voting Record on Energy and the Environment

Paul Ryan is the Republican Party’s pick for VP and he is also an outspoken climate change skeptic. Representative Ryan is an unflinching supporter of the fossil fuel industry who has a very poor voting record on environmental and energy issues. Although he is touted as the intellectual leader of the GOP, Ryan has cast aspersions on climate science and he has inferred that unusual snowfalls suggest that global warming is not real.

On the Issues reports that as a member of the House of Representatives, Ryan’s voting record earned him very low marks from three separate organizations. In December 2003, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) gave Ryan a grade of only 10 percent, because of his anti-environment votes. In December 2006, the CAF gave him a rating of 0 percent, indicating his opposition to energy independence. And in January 2012, the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) gave him a grade of 13 percent, due to his anti-animal welfare voting record.

Ryan has an anti-environment policy perspective that dates all the way back to the start of his career. In the mid to late 1990s, Ryan worked as the legislative director for then Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. Brownback’s record on the environment can be best summarized as anti-regulation and pro-growth. Brownback has repeatedly voted against regulations, even those designed to protect Americans against dangerous toxins like mercury.

As reported in On the Issues, here are several examples from Brownback’s anti-environment voting record:

  • Against banning drilling in ANWR (Roll Call #52, 03/16/05)
  • For prohibiting an increase in CAFE standards (Roll Call #48, 03/13/02)
  • Against requiring the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (Roll Call #420, 10/30/03)
  • For preventing the government’s protection and acquisition of land for parks and open space (S.Amdt. 3640 to H.R. 2419; #429, 12/13/07)
  • Against protecting fish habitats (table Bryan Amdt. #1588; Bill H.R. 2466)

Brownback’s voting record on the environment was so bad that he earned a 0 percent score from the LCV.

Big oil and right wing social engineering

Ryan was first voted into the U.S. House of Representatives for Wisconsin’s first congressional district in 1989. Ryan currently chairs the House Budget Committee, where he has garnered a lot of attention for his alternative to President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal. Ryan’s controversial budget would support Big Oil, reduce taxes on the wealthy and cut government spending including clean energy investments. His radically conservative views on economic policy are so extreme they have been dismissed by arch-conservative Newt Gingrich who referred to them as “right wing social engineering.”

In addition to his controversial economic views, Ryan is also a climate denier of the first order. As explained in a Think Progress article, Ryan has accused scientists of engaging in conspiracy to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.”

Another Think Progress article explored how his family directly benefits from his stalwart support of Big Oil.  As stated in the article:

“Paul Ryan’s budget, which means austerity for most Americans, turns out to mean prosperity for Ryan and his family.”

Ryans proposed FY 2013 budget provides oil subsidies and tax shelters worth more than $40 billion. In addition Ryans’ budget helps the fossil fuel industry by eliminating billions of dollars of investments in clean energy technologies (CAP, 3/20/12).

According to Ryan’s financial disclosure forms for Congress, he and his wife, Janna, own interests in land leases to oil and mining companies including XTO Energy, a recently acquired subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

Ryan’s close ties to fossil fuels do not end there. He is also an associate of the powerful Koch brothers, two of the most destructive spin masters in the American oil industry. This climate denying duo uses their extraordinary wealth to spread their influence and promote their self-centered pro-oil agenda. Just one of the many Koch founded organizations; known as Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has already spent $27 million on anti-Obama ads.

As reported in an Alternet article, Ryan has enjoyed AFP’s financial support for years. The nomination of Ryan prompted the article’s author, Adele M. Stan to write, “The Republican Party is now officially a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers’ political enterprise.”

Wisconsin is both Ryans’ home state and the home of the now infamous Tea Party victory that aggressively moved that state to the right. With considerable help from the AFP, Republican Governor Scott Walker won reelection after ramming a bill through the state legislature that “all but ended collective bargaining for the state’s public employees.”

Ryan has even received special recognition from the AFP. Walker personally presented Ryan with the Wisconsin AFP chapter’s “Defending the American Dream” award.

A voting record against scientific fact and the future of civilization

Truth-Out calls Ryan a “virulent denier of climate science, with a voting record to match,” adding, “Paul Ryan stands with Big Oil against scientific fact and the future of human civilization.

A succinct summary of Ryan’s voting record reveals his allegiance to oil and his contempt for the environment, efficiency and clean energy. Ryan voted against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to limit greenhouse gas pollution (Roll Call 249, 4/7/11); he tried to eliminate the role of a White House climate adviser (Roll Call 87, 2/17/11); and block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from preparing for climate disasters (Roll Call 448, 6/16/11). Ryan is on record as having voted to end the Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) (Roll Call 55, 2/17/11) while supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline (Roll Call 650, 7/26/11). He even voted to eliminate light bulb efficiency standards (Roll Call 563, 7/12/11).

As reviewed in Vote Smart, here are some more examples that further expose Ryan’s agenda on energy and the environment:

Ryan voted for the following bills:

Ryan voted against the following bills:

A vote for Romney and Ryan in 2012 will bring back the same Republican policies that caused the meltdown of the global economy 5 years ago, it also means four years of policies that invite environmental abuse. Ryan’s vision for America is unsustainable and his anti-environment voting record is deplorable. Americans have to decide if they want to “unshackle Wall Street” or liberate themselves from Republicans beholden to Big Oil.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: DonkeyHotey, courtesy Flickr

August 08 2012


How Morality Can Win the War on Climate Change

Finding a moral imperative to fight climate changeThe climate movement must go beyond preaching economics and explaining science, we must create a moral imperative that compels us to act. To get people involved in the war on climate change we must weave environmental awareness into our codes of conduct.

The reasons why more people are not demanding action on the environment is a glaring moral failing. If we are to see a critical mass of support for efforts to combat climate change, we must understand that in addition to an economic and ecological crisis, we are also facing a moral crisis. To bridge the gulf between morality and climate change we need to go to the places where morality still has value.

Religions are a primary source of ethical conduct, and as such they are an ideal platform for communicating a moral argument. Although governments and businesses have a central role, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship may be the best venues for disseminating the moral dimension of the climate change issue.  We need to tap into the deeply embedded preexisting morality of the vast majority of people who consider themselves followers of religion. (Even those who do not subscribe to religion also respond to moral arguments about the need for action on climate change).

Religious leaders from all the major traditions see action on climate change as a moral imperative. As reviewed in an extensive list of Climate Change Statements, all of the world’s major religious traditions espouse a harmonious relationship between people and the planet.

One group called Interfaith Moral Action on Climate  is a collaborative initiative of religious leaders and groups that are promoting a moral call to action on climate change. This group feels compelled by their “traditions and collective conscience to take action on this deeply moral challenge. [They] believe that a moral voice is essential in inspiring action on climate change, since scientific and economic arguments alone have not moved the United States to adequately address this deepening crisis.”

Interfaith is calling for policies that dramatically reduce wasted energy, support renewable energy and phase-out all fossil fuel subsidies. Despite the radical change they advocate, their message is positive. They seek a “brighter vision” to unite the world around “a set of clear widely held moral principles.”

Their third guiding moral principle is to protect the Earth, they reiterate the aboriginal beliefs that we have a moral obligation to be good stewards of the Earth and all of its creatures and processes.  Interfaith’s vision advocates a moral response to climate change while acknowledging scientific research.

They have circulated their Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, and an Interfaith Statement on Climate Change was submitted by representatives of the world’s religions at the COP17 in Durban, South Africa.

“We recognize that climate change is not merely an economic or technical problem, but rather at its core is a moral, spiritual and cultural one. We therefore pledge to join together to teach and guide the people who follow the call of our faiths.”

In an article titled “Rekindling the Moral Call to Action,” climate change is construed as a “fundamental moral and humanitarian issue.”  The article urges action from leaders and works towards a unified effort to combat climate change.

On July 23rd,  2012, there was a phone conference briefing on “How to Communicate about Climate Action as a Moral Imperative.” The event was co-hosted by Climate Access, US Climate Action Network, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate Change, and the National Climate Ethics. The speakers indicated that we need to create a moral movement that urges people to take personal responsibility and choose sides on the issue of climate change.

Even American Evangelical Christian Leaders have clearly articulated a moral argument for supporting action on anthropogenic climate change. They state that their Christian moral convictions demand their response to climate change. They go on to advocate national legislation in the U.S., requiring emissions reductions through market based mechanisms like cap-and-trade.

As reviewed in a Guardian article, NASA scientist Jim Hansen calls climate change a moral issue on a par with slavery. He is calling for a global carbon tax and sees inaction on climate change as an “injustice of one generation to others”.

Morality is also the key issue in an article titled Why Few Americans View Climate Change as a Moral Problem by Ezra Markowitz. He is a doctoral candidate in Environmental Sciences at the University of Oregon and a research fellow with the Climate Shift Project at American. In a 2012 publication Markowitz points to an absence of strong moral intuitions on climate change.

Markowitz and his colleague Azim Shariff have published research on the moral psychology of the public (dis)engagement with climate change. Their new paper in Nature Climate Change is called Climate change and moral judgment.” In the paper, Markowitz and Shariff explore six reasons why climate change is not a more common moral issue and six strategies that may help to compel us to act.

According to these researchers, the human moral judgment system fails to acknowledge climate change because: Climate change is complex, distant and abstract; it represents an untraditional type of moral transgression where it is sometimes hard to attribute blame; people have an aversion to guilt; they see the future as uncertain and they fail to identify with victims of climate change. Finally, concerns about climate change are not at present core moral values.

To help people engage efforts to combat climate change, the authors recommend that we use existing moral values. They go on to suggest that we should focus on communicating the problems that climate change will wreak upon future generations, rather than on the potential benefits. The idea here is that it is counterproductive to focus on “extrinsic motivators” for action on climate change (i.e. economic growth and jobs). According to the researchers, it weakens moral engagement by deemphasizing intrinsic values and non-materialist motives.

The research indicates that it is more productive to use messaging that generates positive emotions (eg: hope, pride and gratitude), rather than negative emotions (eg: guilt, shame and anxiety). The study reports that we need to expand our group identity, incorporate shared goals, and finally, we need to highlight positive social norms where pro-environmental action is lauded.

“The point I want to drive home is this: truly engaging with climate change as a moral issue—really feeling its moral significance viscerally—is no easy feat” Markowitz said, “regardless of how often we hear about the people and animals that will be harmed or the injustice of richer individuals and nations misappropriating a life-sustaining, common resource.”

We will need to be creative and develop evidence-based approaches that help people to understand climate change as a moral imperative. Despite the subtle psychological nuances needed to effectively communicate the point, the moral argument is capable of unleashing unprecedented activity.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Mal B, courtesy Flickr

July 25 2012


A Carbon Tax is More Viable than Cap and Trade

A carbon tax is a more viable solution than cap-and-tradePricing carbon is the cornerstone of a blueprint to contain climate change as it would provide both incentives and disincentives to reduce emissions. It would also drive investment and research dollars into renewable energy and efficiency. The best thing that governments can do to reduce emissions is to implement a cap and trade scheme or failing that, a carbon tax.

Cap and Trade

Creating carbon markets is among the most expedient ways to address climate change. Cap and trade rewards efficiency and punishes polluters. It would also increase green jobs, lower electricity bills, enhance competitiveness, and forestall a climate catastrophe.

The cap and trade strategy allows governments to set incrementally lower limits on CO2 emissions. Those who emit CO2 could either reduce their emissions to meet the targets, or they could buy emission credits from those who can come in under the targets.

Several economists, including University of Wyoming economics professor Edward Barbier, say cap and trade has the broadest political appeal because it’s a market-driven incentive to achieve emission reductions as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

Although price volatility and scandals have undermined the European Carbon trading market, others like China and Australia are looking to improve on Europe’s failings. Further, a new report on Tokyo’s cap and trade efforts suggests it has been a great success, as has carbon trading in British Columbia.

Early in 2012, BusinessGreen reported that China is getting ready to set up a direct tax on its largest greenhouse gas emitters by 2015. Seven Chinese cities and provinces are already preparing to launch the country’s first emissions trading schemes.

The results of the first fiscal year of operation of Tokyo’s cap and trade validate the city’s groundbreaking initiative to introduce a market-based approach to emissions reductions at the urban scale. Launched in 2010, new reports indicate that there have been collective emissions reductions of 13 percent over base-year figures. Cited as a “world-leading policy” by World Green Building Council (WGBC), Tokyo’s cap and trade program provides a compelling example for other cities to follow.

Nations like Australia are starting with a carbon tax, then transitioning to cap and trade. Australia’s carbon tax went into effect in July and carbon trading is scheduled to come online in 2015. The current Australian government sees the importance of pricing carbon. “The science is convincing, the threat is real, the economic and environmental benefits are tangible, the need for action imperative,” Wayne Swan, Australia’s finance minister, said in 2011.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has predicted the tax would cut Australia’s emissions by 160 million tonnes within a decade, the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road. Right now, the tax affects the country’s 500 biggest polluters and will be followed by a carbon trading program in 2015, which allows companies to meet 50 percent of their carbon reduction targets by paying for offsets.

Australia’s cap and trade program is expected to benefit emerging countries like Mexico.  Cool nrg International is an example of an Australian company that is providing offset projects. They are planning to distribute 45 million energy efficient light bulbs to 6.5 million low-income households in Mexico City. The project is expected to save 33,000 gigawatt hours of energy, equivalent to about a third of Mexico City’s auto emissions.

“Employment continues to grow just as strongly after we put a price on pollution…Our economy will continue to grow solidly while making deep cuts in carbon pollution,” Swan said. The renewable electricity sector is projected to grow by 600 percent by 2050. “But the only way to get these kinds of outcomes in a cost-effective way is with a market mechanism.” said Swan.

Nonetheless, it remains a tough sell with Australian voters. According to a July 23rd survey, Gillard’s Labor party has the support of only 28 percent of voters. However, a new study by the Climate Institute has found that more information could change the minds of voters.

Carbon Taxes

Historically, taxes have been a non-starter in U.S., particularly with Republicans. However, with the failure of cap and trade, many economists and a growing number of business leaders are looking towards a carbon tax to reign in emissions.

The Breakthrough Institute estimates that a carbon tax of as little as $5 per ton could result in $30 billion a year in the U.S. This could be used for R&D funding, project development, and other clean-tech supports, including a potential rebate for consumers initially hit with higher energy costs in some regions.

Business leaders like Microsoft founder Bill Gates is among those who support a carbon tax. In 2010, Gates expressed his support for a tax over cap-and-trade, stating “it’s ideal to have a carbon tax, not just a price on carbon…”

It is clear that Republican opposition makes cap and trade a dead issue in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. However, one prominent Republican claims that it is still possible to introduce a carbon tax.

In July, George Shultz said that his party could eventually support a carbon tax. The former Secretary of State for the Regan administration has called for a carbon tax to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption. Shultz is the head of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on Energy Policy, which calls for boosting energy efficiency, reducing dependence on oil exports to improve national security, and putting a price on carbon.

“We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs,” Shultz said. “For some, their costs are the costs of producing the energy, but many other forms of energy produce side effects, like pollution, that are a cost to society. The producers don’t bear that cost, society does. There has to be a way to level the playing field and cause those forms of energy to bear their true costs. That means putting a price on carbon.”

“We’ve studied a variety of ways to do that, and to me the most appealing way is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. That is, you distribute all the revenue from the carbon tax in some fashion back to taxpayers, so there is no fiscal drag on the economy. British Columbia has a revenue-neutral carbon tax. They started low and increased the tax over five years to a much higher level, so people could adjust. The revenue is distributed mostly to individuals, so it’s popular.”

According to a new report released in June, the Canadian province of British Columbia introduced a carbon tax that has successfully reduced fossil fuel consumption to the lowest in Canada with little economic damage. The study titled British Columbia’s Carbon Tax Shift, produced by the Ottawa-based think-tank Sustainable Prosperity, offers clear evidence that the tax has helped reduce emissions while producing tangible economic benefits.

Economist and Sustainable Prosperity senior director Alex Wood said as a consequence of the carbon tax, “you’re starting to see in B.C. a separation between economic growth and fossil fuel use.” That “decoupling,” he added, would lead to a more “resilient” economy insulated from oil price shocks.

“The B.C. model is simple, it’s elegant; it’s a lot of different things,” said Wood. “You reduce taxes on income, on corporate income, and you promise to be revenue neutral and you make sure that happens.”

Despite controversy, British Columbians are increasingly on board. Wood says the report demonstrates that dire predictions are unfounded and he further claims that B.C.’s carbon tax policy could be easily exported.

Reasons to Support a US Carbon Tax 

A solid rational for a carbon tax in the US comes from a recent book titled, The Case for a Carbon Tax, written by Shi-Ling Hsu, a professor at the University of British Columbia. According to Hsu, a carbon tax is the most effective mechanism to combat climate change and motivate the private sector while raising much-needed revenue for governments. As reviewed by the Energy Collective, here are 10 reasons to support a U.S. carbon tax from Hsu’s book.

  1. It is economically efficient.  An accurate disincentive for using carbon-based fuels could mimic the increment of damage — the marginal damage — caused by each ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. “The simple genius of a carbon tax is that it aggregates disparate pieces of information, transmitting a price signal at every stage in which there is fossil fuel usage . . . no data collection is required and no model is required.”
  2. It avoids creating physical capital that could actually harm the environment — e.g. coal-fired power plants. “The problem with capital is that once we have it, its high cost makes it difficult to dispose of.”
  3. It doesn’t interfere with other regulatory instruments or jurisdictions. “A carbon tax would have the advantage, because of its simplicity, of forming the strongest foundation upon which other policies can stand.”
  4. Government is better at reducing bad actions than increasing good actions. Taxes work better than subsidies.
  5. Incentives for innovation — price effects. It would impact emissions not only from the largest carbon sources such as power plants and industrial facilities but all carbon sources.
  6. Incentives for innovation — price breadth. It focuses new products and services no matter how much money can be saved by using less electricity or electricity from a different source, e.g. renewables.
  7. It is easy to administer. There are no “offsets” as would be needed with a cap-and-trade program. “Awarding an offset for a project that purports to avoid emissions increases rather than actually reducing them is a tricky proposition.”
  8. International coordination is doable. “An international accord based on a carbon tax scheme would avoid the unfortunate appearance of China being allocated some cap amount by an external bureaucracy.” It “would not represent  . . . a binding limit to economic growth.”
  9. It raises badly needed revenue. There is a lot of money that could be raised from discouraging carbon emissions. However, the less carbon emitted, the lower revenues would be.
  10. It avoids the risk of catastrophe. In the long-run, this is the ultimate measure of efficiency from a public welfare perspective.

A carbon tax may succeed where emissions trading schemes have failed because a tax sends a clear and consistent message to the markets with little opportunity for speculative manipulation.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: swanksalot, courtesy flickr

May 09 2012


European Elections and Sustainable Development in America

European voters rejected austerity in favor of growth. What will that mean for sustainable development in the US?In Europe, voters have chosen growth over austerity and this has implications for the U.S. economy and sustainable development. The Greek and French electorate’s rejection of austerity will have a dramatic effect on European spending, including investments in sustainability. These changes can also be expected to reverberate across the Atlantic.

In France, Francois Hollande’s presidential victory has derailed Nicholas Sarkozy’s austerity policies and in Greece, the parties supporting the international rescue package have lost control of parliament. In both countries, voters decisively said no to austerity and yes to growth.

France and Greece Choose Growth over Austerity

Both France and Greece appear to be doing a 180 on austerity. Hollande has been critical of the austerity policies central to European bailout deals. He promises to ease austerity measures and increase taxation on the wealthy. Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European fiscal pact that was signed in December 2011 and he wants to issue common European bonds to finance growth through investment in sectors like renewable energy.

Investment in renewable energy is only one of several commitments that have pleased France’s Green Party (which received 2 percent of the French vote). During the campaign, Hollande promised to diversify France’s energy, including promises to cut the country’s nuclear dependence in half by 2025. He also vowed to increase renewable energy and respect France’s international engagements to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will help France reach and perhaps even surpass its EU-backed sustainability goals of 20 percent by 2020. Greenpeace France notes that the newly elected President of France has called for the EU to increase its GHG emissions target to 30 percent by 2020.

Prior to the election, France’s right leaning Sarkozy government was criticized for doing little for the environment. In an October, 2011 article published in the French daily Le Monde, MPs from the “ecological” wing of the Socialist party derided the center-right’s environmental record. They chided the “environmental passivity of the right” saying that after 10 years of leadership, “France invests nine times less than Germany and five times less than China in clean energy.”  They further drew attention to the fact that there are no French businesses among the top 10 producers of wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. They also pointed out that in terms of wind production per inhabitant, France was in thirteenth place in Europe and the country had no offshore wind developments.

The fate of Greece is much less certain. The results of Greek parliamentary elections are inconclusive, fueling fear that Greece will become the first developed nation to default on its debt.

If a coalition government cannot be formed, Greece will go back to the voters some time in June, but this will be too late for the bailout package being offered by the EU. If Greek political leaders cannot form a government, the country will default on its debt and cease to be part of the EU. This will have a calamitous impact on the economy of the entire continent and the wider world. Whatever the future holds, it is now clear that Greeks have refused austerity.


All of this intrigue takes place just ahead of the Rio+20 conference, which will take place on June 20 – 22, 2012. This is the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972. The summit brings together at least 100 global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world, including corporate executives and representatives of various social movements. Participants will focus on growth, and address specific concerns as they relate to oceans, food, energy, biodiversity and climate. The summit aims to find ways to support sustainable development.

U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki Moon wants to bring sustainable energy to even the most remote corners of the planet and 3,000 scientists will present a new science for Planet Earth at Rio 20 known as the State of the Planet Declaration.

However, some of Europe’s key players will not be attending the Rio Conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend nor will British Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite rearranging the summit’s dates so they would not coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Cameron announced he will not be attending Rio. US President Barack Obama is also likely to stay on the campaign trail rather than go to Rio.

Whatever happens in Rio, the elections in Europe have changed the political map and this has implications for the forthcoming American election.

Sustainable Development in America

Austerity in Europe was not good for the growth of sustainability or the American economy and social unrest born of economic hardship compounded the problem. The end of austerity is good news for advocates of sustainable development and those who want to see more growth in the American economy.

In Europe, government investment to stimulate growth will benefit the American economy. It may also make it easier for the Obama administration to increase its commitment to sustainable development. As should be obvious to all with even a passing interest in American politics, when it comes to sustainable development, the Democrats are the only game in town.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has an economic strategy that has austerity at its heart. Events in Europe may encourage Americans to question the Republican vision for America. According to the European narrative, spending cuts further slow the economy and actually increase debt. This puts Republicans squarely at odds with the new economics sweeping across Europe.

As stated by Richard Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, this should bode well for the Democrats:

“This should be the Democrats’ moment, a time to make political gains in the most honorable way possible: by fighting for what’s right. Today’s radical Republicans want to destroy government and slash the very spending that’s needed to rescue the economy. The GOP is even rejecting the common sense spending on roads and bridges embraced by past Republicans from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. As austerity measures eviscerate Europe’s economy and undermine the political popularity of its leadership, this should be the Democrats’ finest hour. Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders have preferred to echo the austerity rhetoric of their Republican opponents — and of Europe’s embattled leaders. The president’s last debt deal with John Boehner was a milder version of European austerity, and it slowed our country’s tentative growth. And yet he’s reportedly pushing for another “Grand Bargain,” leaving him with a muddled economic message, and Americans in a prolonged state of fear.”

There is reason to believe that Americans may support government spending at least until there is stronger growth and more jobs. Americans may very well follow the French and the Greeks who have chosen to abandon austerity in favor of growth.

The near term fate of sustainable development hinges on governments adopting a policy of growth rather than a policy focused on austerity.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: National Post/Getty Images

May 08 2012


Heartland Institute’s Unapologetic Stance to Enormous PR Blunder Exposes – again – Lobby Organization’s Intellectual Dishonesty

The Great Heartland PR Blunder of 2012It is no surprise that the Heartland Institue would yet again engage in intellectual dishonesty and scare tactics in its ongoing attempt to confuse and manipulate populate opinion on climate change – they’ve been doing it for years. What has startled everyone this time, from supporters to critics like us, is the boneheaded blunder and pointless tastelessness of the short-lived Chicago-area billboard campaign from the anti-science lobby group Heartland Institute.

What began on Thursday morning ended on Thursday afternoon last week, in what Heartland president Jose Bast characterized as an “experiment,” as they prepare for their seventh annual climate change conference – a denial extravaganza featuring some of the foremost voices in anti-science and denialist rhetoric.

“I feel blindsided,” said Donna Laframboise of NoConsensus.org, a scheduled speaker for the conference until she cancelled in protest of the offensive Great Heartland PR Blunder of 2012.

“Suddenly, we were all publicly linked to an organization that thinks it’s okay to equate people concerned about climate change with psychopaths,” writes Lamframboise. “Forget disappointment. In my view, my reputation has been harmed. And the Heartland thinks it has nothing to apologize for?”

A scrolling collection of quotes on NoConsensus includes the very apt question “Should we believe whomever shouts the loudest?”

Heartland's bombast is comicalLamfromboise is just one of several sponsors and supporters that are considering or have already ended their relationship with the Heartland Institute. A Washington D.C.-based arm of the organization involved in insurance reform issues simply up and left, abandoning ship and closing up shop in the wake of reaction from insurance companies and other corporate supporters to the ad campaign.

What also shouldn’t surprise anyone is Bast’s unremitting defiance and refusal to apologize. He needn’t apologize to me. To critics like me that work to expose the Heartland Institute for what it is, such startlingly ill-advised publicity campaigns are a God-send. They do our work for us. Bast should apologize to his supporters, without whom Heartland can claim any credibility to anyone.

Anthony Watts, publisher of the leading climate denial website WattsUpWithThat, claimed that the gaffe is a result of “battle fatigue.”

If that is the case, it is from a battle of the Heartland Institute’s own making.

Additional source:
ClimateWire (subscription required)

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