Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Climate Change Civil War: Ecological vs. Eco-illogical

We live in a time where there is battle between two hemispheres - North versus South. As each of our rich and poor nations make it through each day, the melting at the poles increases. Now industrial North does not want to fully shell up the cash to help the South lessen their emerging carbon impact. Those third world Southerners have HIV, malaria, malnutrition, and sanitary daily threats presently diverting them to invest in the future. The Northerners are just coming out of the worst recessions in half a century where jobs and extra money are scarce. Many of these Northerners are skeptical question whether we need to act in the first place and in investing in carbon trading pollution control measures. This is a time to paraphrase Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “testing whether any nation can long endure.”

In early December, over 60 newspapers each wrote editorials on climate change. Many in the media cite the facts despite the complex science. Humans must act to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years.

Now in the United States, there is another civil war in decision making divided by the red and blue states. Both Republicans and Democrats work the democratic process to get in the short run the best deals to satisfy their voters. Our climate change clock is ticking down fast and alarming us for long term solutions. Not just is our free world in jeopardy but the fate of our natural world we survive on is in question. What is in jeopardy requires substantial fiscal investment of trillions of dollars to abate this planetary crisis. Our global civil war, is a battle field were ecological and eco-illogical must fight it out. For example just the conflict for food and water is already going from bad to worst.

We have fight wars of "poverty", "drugs" and "terrorism" why not on our country's greenhouse emissions? The United States is still on the fence to showing we are really serious player. We want a good environment however our economy is more important. Also there are many doubts of what is best way to proceed.

The decisions of we the people, our President, Congress and American domestic politics is holding the planet in peril. Thus far in the debate we represent the greatest per person users and polluter. Can we clean up our share? Now the rest of the world looks to us to see how we define need from greed in the use of resources and our investment into a green economy. We are in many levels engaged in various civil wars both here and abroad. The question is will we endure finding ways to resolve our conflicts or will this division result in an ultimate loss of our ecological world by eco-illoggical decisions.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

“Copen” or “Hopen” for Climate Change in Denmark?

World leaders are supposedly considering serious emission control measures to combat climate change. However, translating this rhetoric into reality is something of international concern. Little focus has been made on what are the best management strategies that will lessen our dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Also how will monitor and enforce such measures given the magnitude of this crisis?

First the “cap” and “trade” will not best address this problem since a “cap” and “tax” is a more effective combating this problem. Many leading economists and financial experts have voiced the flaws with “cap" and "trade". Also how and who will enforce this measures? For example, governments in India and China — which is the world's biggest carbon emitter — have resisted draft proposals that would allow for international verification of data. Just look at USA’s environmental enforcement measures to see why there should be concerned.

Presently the Obama administration is proposing a 17% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 with levels in 2005. China has pushed a target that would allow its carbon dioxide output to continue to grow with its economy, though at a slower pace. Most European countries have offered more ambitious cuts. However, this will cost trillions of dollars in a global market trading system. And we open the doors for massive corruption, greed and fraud without neutral third party monitoring.

Who is going to enforce any international agreements and how is this going to be measured? Ray Weiss, a geochemist at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He studies atmospheric pollution and says the numbers at the core of the debate in Copenhagen are flawed. Specifically, he says the cuts that countries including the USA are proposing in greenhouse gas emissions are difficult to measure and highly susceptible to manipulation by government officials and companies. In a study last year, Weiss and colleagues took air samples and found that levels of nitrogen trifluoride, an industrial gas 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide as an atmospheric warming agent, were four times above what industry estimates had suggested. He says that monitoring equipment must be significantly upgraded around the world to prevent similar fudging of data if a deal is reached in Copenhagen1.

Bjorn Lomberg, a Danish economist, says the problems reflect a "failed strategy" in the last two decades of international environmental talks."Conferences like Copenhagen allow the politicians to go back home and say 'We've got a deal!' but then the targets are almost never kept," says Lomberg, who advocates more research and development of clean energy sources to solve environmental problems2.

Copenhagen talks have been called “Hopen”hagen for a reason. Are these the best life saving measures for future generations? Please world leaders go beyond your present half measures to get real. Awaken and create a practical future blueprint. Otherwise I am "hopen" and "copen" humankind is not being lead off a cliff.

1Brian Winter, After climate talks, scientists worry about enforcement, USA Today, 12/10/09, http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-12-10-copenhagen_N.htm

Monday, November 23, 2009

Making Green Behavior Happen!

Last week the American Council for an Energy Economy (http://www.aceee.org/conf/09becc) held a conference exploring the behavior and decision making of individuals and organizations and using that knowledge to accelerate our transition to an energy-efficient and low-carbon future.

Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, the conference chair, remarked that personal choices have a huge collective impact on the climate crisis. Home energy use and the use of personal vehicles—that is, the way we live—accounts for about 38% of U.S. energy consumption.

” I just want to say that personal choices are probably the largest contributors to climate change and environmental degradation. I don’t know how one would conduct a study and come up with a percentage, but it would make sense that that percentage would be much higher than 38%".

Last Thursday at a Energy and Environment Study Institute briefing after this conference I asked the panelist about model programs. Karen responded the importance of grass roots organizing to foster green personal choices and I referenced one model leader I know named Annette Mills.

Ms. Mills’ transformed her community from a waste reduction rate of 39% in 1991 to a rate exceeding 65%. Because of her leadership, Falls Church had one of the best recovery rates in the country. For seventeen years, Annette lead the way in recycling and environment improvements in Virginia and the DC region. She enlisted the help of more than 130 citizen volunteers or “Recycling Block Captains.” Her grassroots approach to recycling and environmental education resulted in many successes. Annette’s showed that education through personal contact results in success.

She created a “tipping point” by empowering many to serve as their community’s conservation leaders. In her words, “People who are actively involved are far more motivating than media promotion of general environmental messages or ‘gloom and doom’ forecasts. The most effective models are those people who are actively working together to build relationship with each other and the natural environment”. Her approach is simple, work hard and lead by example, and people will follow! To quote one of the City’s council members, “…many of these programs have resulted in little extra cost and in many cases cost reductions.” Ms. Mills embodies frugality from another perspective. Her City’s solid waste management budget was reduced from 1.05 million in 1990 to $630,000 in 1997. The City saved more than $420,000 by implementing a curbside recycling program and providing a once a year.

Annette’s programs were effective because she both modeled the behavior and made it happen. Ms. Mills dedication was infectious. She inspired people in their personal and professional lives to whatever effort they undertook. One council member called the community volunteers “Annette’s Army” because she brings them out in full force for community programs related to environmental education and stewardship.

Annnette changed people's behavior because she made sustainability enjoyable. Ms. Mills integrated various environmental messages together showing how conserving is connected beyond just traditional recycling into all manners of showing reverence for our environment. Annette simply made saving resources attractive and easy whether it is planting a tree, or restoring wildlife habitats.

Revolutions happen because various individuals gather band together toward a common purpose. I challenge you to explore any major green innovation and the behavior change resulted due to the leadership of select group of individuals.

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Green AT: Celebrating Green Acts That Better Our World

Back in April of 1979 I spent several weeks working full time at ACT 79. This was the first and largest national Appropriate Community Technology demonstration held next to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Appropriate Technology (AT) celebrates positive green actions that conserve energy, preserve the environment, and better people’s lives. Highlighting such measures can and promoting what’s right inspiring others to the many ingenious, creative and artistic ways they can transform their home and community. Appropriate technology directly helps others and improves community by transforming local eco-friendly resources. AT is based in the traditional notion of thrift where there is sensible use of resources- human, fiscal and physical.

Alternative technologies are designed to make best use of local resources. Whether it is reducing, reusing, recycling and composting at home, walking/biking instead of driving, weatherization, greenhouses, solar, wind, bio-fuels, preventative health care and education, integrated best management, solar, wind and a wealth of other community actions.

AT uses people or "low tech" means rather than capital intensive or "high tech" measures. Also AT minimizes waste, cultivates renewable resources by “mending” instead of” ending” materials, people and sense of place. Appropriateness may be defined “is that which wastes least?”

Individuals, groups, and communities all over the world have developed appropriate techniques and technologies that profit from energy conservation and pollution prevention. Ingenious ways to provide better environmental management,and promote local community based decision making. These best management practices are founded on grass roots participation where people have the greatest effect on their life.

The term "appropriate technology" was born in 1970’s when E.F. Schumacher wrote, “Small is Beautiful,” Schumacher promoted practices and devices with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social and economical aspects of the community it is intended for. AT uses fewer resources, is easier to maintain, and has a lower overall cost and less of an impact on the environment compared to other practices.
AT is not about utopian or futurist ideas yet practical and applicable ways we can become more self-sufficent. Developing community to be both interdependent and self-reliant interacting mutuality and treating people equally is.

AT works in such areas as;

• Land use
• Energy
• Transportation
• Health
• Food and Agriculture
• Recreation and Culture
• Community Economic Development

Today AT green action is the tenor of the time. AT or appropriate technology demonstrates that people, resources and community are all interconnected. AT is green action bettering our world for the enjoyment of all.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Biochar- Black Earth Biotechnology

It can be described as a handful of charcoal, but Terra Preta (black earth), an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice, is gaining widespread attention. It is called “Biochar” or “Agrichar” these days, and it offers great potential for our planet. It may play a significant role in addressing issues of climate change, lessening erosion, improving crop yields and other environmental benefits.

Biochar is a process where carbon is drawn from the atmosphere. Biochar stores carbon in the ground for hundreds of years and its potential in reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) is impressive. Biochar diminishes carbon release and reduces the impact from all farming and agricultural waste. Both the burning and natural decomposition of agricultural matter contributes to a vast amount of carbon released into our air. Biochar uses waste as feedstock—products typically mulched, composted or left to rot. Biochar stores carbon in the ground for long periods of time (estimates range from hundreds to thousands of years) and reduces atmospheric GHG levels, including nitrous oxide and methane in addition to CO2. Also there are research that Biochar it increases soil fertility, lessens erosion, increases agricultural productivity and improves water quality.

The third largest carbon pool on the Earth’s surface is the soil. There are various ways we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as minimizing tillage, diminishing or eliminating the use of nitrogen fertilizers, and preventing erosion. By enriching our soil with carbon we can store vast amounts of extra carbon when we bury it in the form of Biochar (biomass heated in a low-oxygen environment).

Roughly 30% of greenhouse gases result from land use practices and exceed the combined emissions of the industry and transportation sectors. Advancing agricultural carbon sequestration is critical to offset global fossil fuel used in food production. When natural ecosystems are converted to agricultural land use, most carbon in the soil is simply lost as greenhouse gas. So exploring how we can capture or sequester carbon due to farming, forestry and other land use practices is a pressing necessity. Sequestration of greenhouse gases so that they are not released into the atmosphere already happens naturally through photosynthesis—it is required to grow and sustain all plant life. Exploring how we can best sequester greenhouse gases in other ways so that they are not released into the atmosphere is critical in the reduction of our carbon footprint.

In addition to reducing CO2 released into the atmosphere, Biochar has been found to decrease methane and nitrous oxide emissions from soil, thus further reducing GHG emissions. Nitrous oxide is approximately 300 times stronger than CO2 in terms of global warming potential, and laboratory studies to date show that nitrous oxide emissions were reduced by 80-90% by land application of Biochar.

Biochar provides significant benefits in addition to carbon sequestration. Studies suggest that Biochar sequesters around 30-50% of the carbon available in the feedstock being used. It allows us to manage waste—agricultural, forest, municipal, wastewater, etc.—in a more sustainable manner. It assists the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon (living biomass microbes & fungus) in addition to the carbon in the Biochar. It reduces nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions; it augments nutrient retention and moderates soil acidity; it increases water retention and productivity.

Biochar can retain up to 50% of the feedstock carbon in charcoal under best conditions. A fine-grained, porous charcoal substance is made when Biochar is produced. When this product is used as a soil amendment, it effectively removes carbon dioxide from the air. Biochar provides a habitat for soil organisms, yet is not itself consumed by them. Biochar holds and slowly releases water, minerals and nitrogen to plants. When Biochar is used as a soil amendment along with manure or fertilizer it greatly improves the soil, its productivity, nutrient retention and availability according to several studies.

It has been concluded by some soil experts that biochar keeps nutrients from running off or leaching out of soils allowing for increased plant growth. Since adding charcoal to soils appears to increase crop production. What’s more is reduces acidity and lessens nitrogen leaching while adding potassium. This reduces the amount of fertilizer required and increases water retention.

Innovations in agriculture provide the best opportunity to remove carbon from the atmosphere by changing the way we grow our food and use our land. Unfortunately, farming over the last 10,000 years has released roughly two-thirds of our excess greenhouse gases. Various agricultural practices have mined out soil carbon, converting it to carbon dioxide.

However, there are a few environmental groups who question the benefits of this biotechnology. They feel it is “dangerously premature”, that most of the claims made by Biochar advocates are unproven, and these critics argue that it has a high potential for causing harm.

Advancing Biochar technologies have significant implications. As this technology evolves so will Biochar best management practices. Apart of this process we will find how Biochar affects and effects our soil, water, air and climate. Researching and developing biochar offers numerous opportunities and challenges. More trials and tribulation will determine whether this black earth will result in greener rewards.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Bridge to Saving

Stephen Moore’s editorial in the WSJ on September 23, “Our $2 trillion Bridge to Nowhere,” addresses a recent Gallup Poll. While American believes that the Feds waste half of our tax dollars. He cites that the government spent nearly $4 trillion dollars this year. However when Mr. Moore compares another recent Gallup poll that American’s believe there is too much government regulation of business and industry as believe as too little (45% to 24%). He goes on to show that today public perception of government waste was lower 30 years ago when Americans thought 40 cents of every dollar was wasted. We Americans are the source and solution to government waste.

Many businesses externalize their waste passing if out to the taxpayer evident by our recent financial crisis. Privatization is another example where sometimes it costs the government more. Both sectors can foster innovation to fully optimize their transfer goods and services with less waste and improved performance. Increasing productivity must become a direct result. Our collective “output and inputs” must balance with increased environmental and social considerations on how the

We must become fully accountable through a new national policy of developing improved performance measurements. These measures must balance flexible environmental partnerships offer, integrated management system and ingenious paperwork processes. Preventing pollution, improving environmental management, and integrating approaches across media will become a new triple bottom line.

We need a middle path where neutral good third-party. Will our financial market not melt down like our environmental concern? American requires close examination of how we can efficiently save. America can champion waste reduction, and so profit from such minimization measures. Such renewal is tied to our nation’s health and safety and public welfare.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Larry Kelly: Silver Lining Specialist

I first met Larry Kelly back in 1989. November 11, the day the Berlin Wall fell, a truck carrying an international cross section of laundry workers from a Southampton New York laundry crossed the road, and hit me head on at 50 miles per hour. There seemed to be no insurance, and my physical therapist recommended an out of the box thinking trial attorney with a local reputation. Larry used Virginia and Maryland law to create new law in New York State, making a silk purse out of what appeared to everyone else as a sow's ear. The law is only a tool, he would say, a tool to find justice.

For many years, Larry would tackle the unpopular cases. He embraced the challenge. His work on behalf of civil rights plaintiffs against law enforcement so impressed law enforcement officers that they retained him to challenge what they saw as the unfair exclusion of cognitive grading on police entry and promotional exams. On 9/11, Larry volunteered to lead the High Income Lead cases for the Cantor Fitzgerald claims before Special Master Feinberg. His work for Trial Lawyers Care led to an initial $5.3 million award for one family, and the acceptance of the program by most of the Cantor families. After his nephew S/Sgt Ryan Kelly was seriously wounded in Iraq in 2003, he created TSGLI, a lump sum disability benefit which has now paid out over $200 million to seriously wounded service members. Larry is a transformer. He assesses a bad situation, and then moves on to finding what good he can bring out of it. Just before he left for Iraq, he introduced the concept of First Contact, a diversion program for military veterans coming into contact with the criminal justice system. After he consulted with their office, most of the New York area District Attorneys adopted the program.

Larry thought there was no reason his 23 year old nephew's work in Iraq should go unfinished while his 53 year old uncle had a chance to make a difference. Just six months ago, Larry visited me in Washington DC as he trained to volunteer to restore Iraq's legal system as part of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team. This kind of mid career opportunity to do national service in the international arena allows out of the box thinking to transform other regions.

When I last checked, he was introducing literacy programs, reopening libraries, introducing case processing systems to the courts, and improving prison conditions one day at a time. He also spent part of a day convincing the visiting Texas Governor Rick Perry that the Estate of one of the Sergeants in the Team's protective detail was entitled to Texas State Crime and Terror Benefits. Because even in Iraq, there's nothing Larry likes better than finding a way to fashion the law into doing justice.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Manage Health Care/Promote Wellness

Manage health care becomes a contradiction in terms when we do not create preventative measures. This is true is so many areas of American culture. Look how me manage our environmental resources? We invested little in preventing pollution however, latter waste billions attempting to clean things up. America will prosper when we fully invest in wellness.

Certainly we do not manage our health care system. Health care premiums have shot up more than 90 percent from 2000-2007. Government involvement is important to regulate need from greed. In the last decade, profits from the largest 10 health care insurers has increased 428 percent.

Besides preventing the escalting costs and increasing competition to make such insurance affordable we must create incentives to conserve. Critical to the health care reform is providing choice. Choice is a key issue for Americans not whether it is private or public insurance. For example, in the early 90's our indemnity insurance vanished. We lost this choice. At the same time take overs, mergers and insuranace consolidations have taken many of our choices away - less competition, less options, higher insurance premium costs

Like many things today in our country we the taxpayers must pay for market failure when either capitalism fails or the government fails to best serve the public. Our Congress now has to walk the razors edge. Yes we must reform health care however do so without substantially change it. Each one us has to become more responsible and be rewarded for our efforts. Prevention will not happen until we stimulate ways that cure.

One idea is to give me greater incentives for maintaing my wellness. While today I get some reduce rates on my insurance these benefits are modest. If I do not drink, smoke and keep my weight down then lessen my premium.

One perfect example is medical cost of treating obsesity-related diseases may soar as high as $147 billion in 2008, according the Center for Disease Control. In 1998 these same cost were estimatd at $74 billion. Obesity rose 37% between 1998 and 2006
and medical cost rose about 9.1%. Obese people spend 42% more than people of normal weight, a difference of $1429. The Wall Street Journal on July 28th documents in the "Cost of Treating Obesity Soars," D3 by Betsy Mckay, that the average American is 23 pounds overweight.

Health care reform will not happen unless there are carrots and sticks. If we do not get people to eat right, exercise then our health cost will continue to bankrupt us. Government and private sector programs must connect the dots and promote wellness if we are serious about caring for our future.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Real Terror: Greenhouse Gases and Politics

There are two sources of dangerous air emissions threatening this planet: the first consists of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse contributory emissions; the second is the gas generated by politicians. Yes, we are truly in the danger zone when it comes to the first category, but even more alarming, is that public ignorance, apathy, and fear is failing to provoke action on the part of our elected officials.

Rarely has the scientific community been more in accord than on the imminence of global warming and our role in bringing it about, but at the same time, our political response has been dismal as evidenced by the tenor of public debate on these issues or by the lack of any debate at all. You would be forgiven for thinking that economic development, energy issues, climate change, national security and health care issues are inextricably interlinked, and you would be right in thinking that, but you would be in the minority. We are masters at failing to connect the dots. Right now as carbon dioxide is being pumped at ever-increasing rates into our air basin—some ten of thousands of times faster than nature can deal with it—the earth’s own refrigeration processes are dying. So are tens of thousands of living things on this fragile plant of ours.

Elizabeth Kolbert writes in her article “The Castrophist” in the June 29, 2009 issue of the New Yorker:

There's no precise term for the level of C02 that will assure a climate disaster, the best that scientists and policy makers have come up is the phrase "dangerous anthropogenic interference or D.A.I...In scientific circles, worries about D.A.I. are widespread. During the past few years, researchers around the world have noticed a disturbing trend: the planet is changing faster than had been anticipated. pg 42

James Hansen, NASA's leading climate expert disagrees with officials that the D.A.I. levels are around four hundred and fifty parts per million:

The bad news is that it's become clear that the dangerous amount of carbon dioxide is not more than three hundred and fifty parts per million.

Presently we are at three hundred and eighty five parts per million, and at current emissions we will reach four hundred fifty parts per million by 2035. Interestingly whatever the D.A.I. levels are, it is a problem, and the political and public response is skeptical and lacking. Just look at our largely failed efforts in the U.S. toward conservation--the most effective and efficient first step is evidence of our public neglect.

With today's economic woes “business-as-usual” is the norm. It seems people care about their future from the perspective of next week or next month-hardly in a few years from now.

Most scientists agree that coal is the most serious threat today, and some are advocating for "no new coal-fired plants," The current challenge is that 50 percent of our energy comes from coal! The recent "American Clean Energy and Security Act" passed by the House of Representatives allows for new coal-fired plants while its stated aim is to cut the country's carbon emissions by seventeen percent in 2020.

Interestingly, the article " The Castrophist," states (p.45):

Hansen argues that politicians willfully misunderstand climate science; it could be argue that Hansen just as willfully misunderstands politics. In order to stabilize carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, annual global emissions would have to be cut by something on the order of three-quarters. In order to draw them down, agriculture and forestry practices would have to change dramatically as well. So far, at least, there is no evidence that any nation is willing to taking anything approaching the necessary steps. On the contrary, almost all trend lines point in the opposite direction. Just because the world desperately needs a solution that satisfies both scientific and the political constraint doesn’t mean one necessarily exists...

(Hansen) As long as we let politicians and the people supporting them continue to set the rules, such that "business-as-usual' continues, or small tweets to ‘business-as-usual' then it is unrealistic. So we have to change the rules.

You would think if one of the leading climate expert is worried about our earth's future more of us should be also quite concerned.

Finally, Jerome Glenn, director of the Millennium Project, recently remarked how we can best deal with our climate crisis;

There are answers to our global challenges, but decisions are still not being made on the scale necessary to address them.

The times call for people of all walks to be the solution to our collective eco-problems. If we have any hope of addressing our ecological ills; politicians, scientists, business men and women, intellectuals, teachers, doctors and nurses, your neighborhood mechanic and that man walking his dog in your street--in short you, me and all of us--must become aware of the interdependence of all aspects of life and the true environmental costs of our human activities on our precious and threatened earth. By addressing what is head on, we can perhaps avert the worst case scenarios and begin to insure our future on this fragile planet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Never Too Late

I recently read that some experts think that it is too late for us to alter climate change: we’ve done too little too late.

It is never too late. At least, it is never too late to change our thinking, to come to a realization of the fragility of the world around us. An abundance of knowledge coupled with limited wisdom and the propensity of our species for belly button gazing and escalating hopelessness simply feeds more despair. Our way of thinking can cripple us.

In the early days of the American Revolution, the odds against its success were overwhelming, and yet a new nation, one based on democratic principles, was born and has inspired positive change everywhere for the past 250 years despite all the obstacles.

We now number nearly seven billion on this small planet. We, as a species, differ from the other species we share this little dot in the universe with in that we have awareness of our mortality, and never have we been more aware of the possible extinction of our species as we are at this time. We have changed this earth beyond recognition and depleted its resources with alarming and ever-accelerating speed. This realization compels us to ask what we, as a species and as individuals, can do to sustain the delicate balance and reverse the devastating consequences of our own actions.

Only three years ago Al Gore’s seminal film, An Inconvenient Truth, brought international attention to the perils of climate change. As Congress debates today the form of legislation to address this problem, the situation is growing worse minute-by-minute. Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, increasing carbon emissions are the indisputable results of what we perceive to be minor changes in human lifestyle while population, and its inevitable needs and wants, continues to grow.

At the present time, we breathe more carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases than we have in the last four hundred thousand years. Fifty years from now, babies born today will have to subsist on air containing more greenhouse gases that at any time in the past three million years.

Global warming has altered the very chemistry of our oceans. The drop in ocean pH levels in the last fifty years may well exceed anything that has occurred during the previous 50 million years. Currently, nearly a third of the ocean’s corals and amphibian species, along with a quarter of all mammals, and an eighth of all bird species are threatened with extinction. And that is without counting the millions of species that are already extinct: it is impossible to quantify the disappearance of life forms already lost to collapsing ecosystems.

Not only has our population more than doubled in the last fifty years, but also our global economy has doubled every 10 years for the past few years. Between 2003 and 2007, average income worldwide grew at a faster rate than ever recorded in history. Our global economy has grown from $31 trillion in 1999 to $62 trillion in 2008. All you have to do is look at our run-away use of coal and oil—natural resources that required millions of years to form—supplies in the last century to get an idea of the rapidity with which we are killing our planet.

We are barely recovering from a worldwide financial meltdown caused by unbridled human greed. This economic disaster is distracting us from the ominous ecological disaster before us. The shallowness and lack of public debate and dialogue with regard to cap and trade vs. carbon emissions taxation clearly illustrates the general disregard for these fundamental, and infinitely more critical, issues.

In addition to the current economic worries, Americans are faced with a broken healthcare system. This too is an issue of enormous societal implications that diverts our attention from any debate or actions concerning climate change even though, ironically, our health is directly related to our environment.

Yes we live in very complex, stressful and desperate times. Nevertheless, each of us does have a choice as to how we deal with these challenges. A feeble ray of hope perhaps: people of all walks of life everywhere around the world are awakening to our interconnectivity to one another and to every aspect of life on this planet—a fine thread to which our very survival is attached.

It seems at times that our species should be called “bozo sapiens” to reflect our monumental egocentricity and ability to delude ourselves. We are truly on the edge of a precipice. Can we make the right choices? Can we act responsibly and with respect for all? Can we ensure a world for future generations? Or will we doggedly continue to self-destruct? This is our greatest challenge, and each of us must unblinkingly face it with purpose as well as with humility.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hope While Our Climate Worsens

The Associate Press today reported today of the harmful effects from global warming are already here and worsening. This marks first climate report from Barack Obama's presidency in the strongest language on climate change ever to come out of the White House. According to the document released June 16th by the White House science adviser and other top officials global warming has already caused more heavy downpours, the rise of temperatures and sea levels, rapidly retreating glaciers and altered river flows,

The White House document presents a comprehensive and darker picture of global warming in the United States than previous studies and brief updates during the Bush years.

Weeks ago Thomas Berry passed away. This visionary left us with a legacy of earth wisdom. Thomas wrote in “The New Story" from his book The Dream of the Earth, “The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth.

This year Paul Hawken provided profound insights in his commencement address to the University of Portland Class of 2009. He inspired the graduates by saying:

“YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done…
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

Paul urges that the youth connect instead of control and act in a type of Mercy Corps behind the scenes to heal this wounded planet. Hopefully we can form a global movement to defend the rights of yet born. As we plant seeds for the future we can transform our economy. New enterprises will sprout based on healing for our future instead of stealing it. Mr. Hawkins comments that we can either create assets for the future or take its assets: restore instead of exploit. By working for the earth it is a way to be rich not a way to get rich.

Paul’s May 3rd, 2009 final lines in his speech says it all.
Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.
Let’s pray that all of us can awaken and feel so inspired!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Changing the Climate of People’s Minds

Over the past thirty years of my life, I have been amazed at how poorly the U.S. has addressed environmental and energy concerns, especially when it comes to how we invest in our future health and welfare.

America’s top priorities are jobs and the economy, followed by health care, terrorism, budget deficit reduction and energy, while at the bottom of this list comes climate change and environmental concerns.

This reminds of me of the study by social researchers on low income and poverty in the 60s. People were offered three dollars; most opted to get a dollar now rather than wait a day to get two dollars. It appears people have little future orientation when it comes to seriously investing in the long-term.

Over the years there has been a great deal of research addressing the implications of our choices regarding consumer goods and health, and how we spend our dollars. A recent New York Times Magazine article, “Why isn’t the Brain Green”, discusses behavior regarding climate change.

A question occurs to me. If there is a widespread consensus that climate change is the result of human activity, then will people change their behavior to attempt to cool our planet? Changing consumer behavior to lessen greenhouse emissions may become a national security issue as carbon emissions continue to climb even in this recession.

Remember when President Jimmy Carter was laughed out of office for asking Americans to turn their thermostats down? At the other extreme what about Reagan and Bush Jr. preaching to Americans to consume even more? Will Americans today make certain life style changes now, such as expend less carbon in exchange for uncertain climate benefits far off in the future?

One thing is for certain, American environmental communications have been inadequate. Improved environmental messages that engage the public to act are lacking, especially when we educate ourselves about the costs and benefits of what we do. Just take a look at how obesity is being addressed. How we react to danger is interesting if it is the result terrorist activity, but if it is a result of an irresponsible life style then this is another matter.

We prefer immediate gratification to long-term benefits. Maybe this is why McDonalds is doing so well. It is cheap, easy and fast, and in this brutal recession, the fact that it tastes good outweighs what it is doing to our health.

We want what we want now, no matter the future outcome. This represents what, in the 60s, social science termed the “culture of poverty”. If we had the choice to take $100 now to, say $200 in six months from now, most would opt for the immediate $100. Perhaps the human ancestral practice of leaving our world better for future generations may soon become extinct along with the loss of millions of our plant and animal species. Or are we likely to make lifestyle changes in order to invest in the possibility for a safer future climate?

Many of our decisions involve risk assessment. Our county is divided over two key questions: are environmental problems caused by human activity, and can we do anything about it? The majority of Americans underestimate the danger of the melting arctic ice or epic water shortages. When it comes to changing weather that we have never experienced, we have nothing to compare this with.

Certain social researchers think that there is only so much worry we can tolerate. Our loss of financial confidence coupled with increased societal pressures to live well, work hard and enjoy life all take a toll on what people can actually do and focus on. We live in overwhelming and complex times where there are just too many worries to deal with.

Also we live in times where distressing emotional circumstances are constantly being reported by the mass media. Living in a hyper-information society we are continually over stimulated with questionable information, and so, many have grown indifferent and estranged.

Biking, recycling, composting, improving insulation or purchasing more energy-efficient products are all good measures to minimize our generation of carbon. However, many are skeptical since it seems that it may not matter anyway--especially when compared with predicted future carbon emissions for China and India. Cynical?

Doubt is everywhere despite the evidence. You hear from more skeptics as to climate change than from articulate scientists. And how many politicians are willing or able to address issues of long-term change? Media focuses more on the unknown than what we know, and more on what is wrong than what is of benefit. We are becoming characters in the fictional Brave New World where “ending is better then mending”.

At Columbia University, research on group decision making focused on four key variables: uncertainty, time, potential gains, and potential losses. Researchers there are seeking to better understand how group dynamics shape decisions. Various experiments have established the ease of getting random individuals to cooperate.

Community action is activated when there is a significant shared crisis. When local support is solicited, the community itself becomes the decision-making unit. The subjects’ analytical and emotional methods of risk assessment are most interesting in these experiments. One finding was that groups could demonstrate more patience than individuals when considering delayed benefits. Group involvement can change the decision-making process and its results.

America is clearly in its adolescence with regard to understanding the dynamics of human interaction and relationship with the environment. Presently 2 percent of federal financing goes to “human dimensions” research. This is mainly for studies on how individuals and groups interact with the environment. Human-dimensions work has three categories: 1) human activities creating environmental change, 2) impacts of environmental change on people and the earth, and 3) public responses to these impacts.

98 percent of federal financing for climate-change research goes to the physical and natural sciences; this is clearly a metaphor for our present crisis—we are not emotionally comfortable with this subject. Perhaps this represents another tipping point in the acceleration of global warming.

Just how smart is it to spend billions on physical and natural scientific research, while we ignore the human dimensions of decision-making processes? What is tragic is that many Americans consider climate change to be a vastly distant problem. Do we need a 9/11-type environmental shock to realize that it is happening now? How many studies must be commissioned and carried out before we act?

I live part of the time in rural Virginia. Any awareness of the urgency of climate-change issues is rare in rural Virginia because most people see no reason whatsoever to change their behavior—they prefer the immediate gratification of doing things the way they want to do them, or at the least, as they’ve always done them. Yes, it’s the Bible Belt here, and I find it ironic that even familiarity with Genesis 2:15 does not warrant greater environmental responsibility.

It is essential to communicate, effectively and constantly, the feasible and cost-effectives benefits of lessening climate change, but in order to do so, we must become much more skilled in identifying relevant information, useful tools, innovative and responsible products, and sound policy initiatives. Even the use of language itself is critical in this endeavor. Just consider your own gut reaction to the use of the term “carbon tax” when compared to “carbon offset”—even though they both signify measures to finance cleaner energy. A simple shift in semantics can influence views even before any consideration of costs vs. benefits is brought to the table. At any rate, increased debate and dialogue are necessary in garnering public support and active engagement in the effort to address climate change. Open forums, reliable information resources, responsible media and local, regional and national leadership can guide us in the quest to meet the carbon challenge. The challenge is to encourage people to do what they believe is right without feeling they are being manipulated. We must effect a cultural revolution and encourage and enhance communal solidarity in the goal of saving our planet and leaving the world a better place for those who come after us.

There are huge psychological benefits to this: by doing the right thing, we can reduce despair, and indifference and share in a new vibrancy and sense of purpose in life. By reducing our carbon footprint through open dialogue and communal effort, we are ensuring democracy and the very future of freedom. No one can afford to wait another minute, each of us must begin to do what we can now to alleviate our carbon load and diminish climate change.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dealing with Our Excrement

A recent article "Sludge Happens: Recycling sewage into fertilizer might be making us sick. Why doesn't the EPA give a crap," in Mother Jones Magazine (http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2009/05/sludge-happens) came up on my radar. This article is one of many that raises questions regarding the impacts of land application of biosolids.

Land application is the most economical avenue for getting rid of this sludge. Some experts claim that sludge is not good fertilizer and there are numerous health concerns with land application. Added to this problem is that after we invest hundreds of billions to increased biological nutrient reduction pollution controls placed on tens of thousands of wastewater plants, we greatly increase the volumes of biosolids.

EPA should explore greater pollution prevention controls to best address the land application of biosolids. This is warranted since improper sludge application has caused problems throughout the world.

Promoting best management controls for the land application of biosolids is important. Developing greater public dialogue and exploring greater best management responsibilities for safe land application of biosolids can translate into improved health and water quality.

Today over 16,000 sewage treatment facilities serve nearly 190 million Americans (the 72 percent of the U.S. population who are served by sewers not counting those with decentralized septic and wastewater systems). In addition, these facilities serve thousands of industrial and commercial establishments to treat their wastewaters. Roughly eight million dry metric tons of biosolids are produced annually or about 58 pounds per person per year. About 54 percent of the biosolids are land applied as a fertilizer or as a soil conditioner.

Sludge, or biosolids range from 70 percent to greater than 98 percent water. The dry matter in biosolids is mostly inert minerals (i.e., sand and silica) or biological materials comprised of fat, protein, fiber and carbohydrates. Biosolids also have trace amounts of heavy metals and organic chemicals. And, biosolids contain varying levels of pathogenic organisms, vector (e.g., insects and rodents) attractants and odor causing substances. These metals, organic chemicals and pathogens pose a threat to human health unless the biosolids are sufficiently processed and properly placed in the environment.

Part 503 Biosolid Rule allows land application (spreading) of sewage sludge (also known as sludge) needs to be updated. Today there are three main options (each with limitations) to dispose of sludge: landfilling, incineration, and land-spreading. Incineration requires high capital investment, and is limited because of potential air pollution and the production of toxic ash. The science for land applying biosolids is many decades olds when in 1993, the EPA published the 503 Sludge Rule setting standards for the use or disposal of sewage.

EPA’s standards have generated controversy in the scientific and agricultural communities, as well as with the general public. Although the 503 Sludge Rule establishes minimum quality standards for biosolids to be land applied many citizens question the adequacy of these standards. Land applying sludge requires more stringent standards, additional source separation and greater pretreatment of contaminants. Scientists and citizens have expressed concerns about the effects on humans from contaminants concentrated in the sludge during treatment.

Several years ago the EPA Inspector General found: “EPA does not have an effective program for ensuring compliance with the land application requirements of the 503 rules. …While EPA promotes land application, they cannot ensure the public that current land application practices are protective of human health and the environment.”

The National Academies of Sciences in 2002 released a paper called, “Biosolids Applied to Land: Advancing Standards and Practices." They cited their uncertainty about the potential adverse human health effects from exposure to biosolids. Essentially, there is a need to update the scientific basis of the 503 rule so to review the current. exposure and health information on exposed populations. Also the risk-assessment methods need to be updated as does the outdated characterization of sewage sludges.

Educational tools are needed to assist local citizens and local officials with the various implications of land application. This would allow users to identify environmental concerns and to give field assistance to the analysis, maintenance and accounting of sludge land applications.

Finally, what I have observed are the inadequate programs to ensure compliance with biosolids regulation and lack of resources devoted to EPA’s biosolids program. We need innovation to overcome the institutional barriers often imposed by land applying biosolids. There are many challenges including jurisdictional, political, and governmental boundaries when dealing with the hydrogeological and geographical facets of dealing with sludge. In closing I have watched in the Shenandoah Valley hundreds of millions of dollars invested in water quality improvements and very little expended to address the safe management of biosolids. It time we Americans deal with our excrement or pay for the consequences.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Change the Climate Before It Changes Us

Are we supposedly responsible for destroying the planet with our high standard of living? What are the real truths about climate change and energy rationing agendas? Everyone from the Competitive Enterprise Institute to the United Nations have a different perspective. The challenge is that climate change can be caused by natural events on this fragile planet. While there are 30 different greenhouse gases including water vapor. Eighty percent comes from carbon dioxide. Before industrialization carbon levels were about 225 parts per million while today carbon levels are at 385 ppm. CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels, forest fires, transportation, deforestation and other human activities.

While most scientists agree that large amounts of man-made carbon dioxide is causing problems while many Americans question are skeptical. The situation of grave concern is between what science observes and what the public perceives. We have two sides; the alarmist hard left environmental lobby opposing growth and capitalism and; the hard right preaching anti-regulation and stimulating new free markets.

According to the American Geophysical Union, 80 percent of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1700’s has occurred in the 20th and 21st centuries. Also the Pew Center on Global Climate Change cited that the 1990s were the hottest decade in the last 150 years.

In 2006, Winds of Change, Eugene Linden charts how public and scientific opinion diverged from 1988 to 2005. Scientific community view has gone from indifference to alarm with a general consensus while the public view has been indifferent except for a brief alarm in the late 1980’s. In a Pew Research poll in 2006 only 41 percent said this was due to human activity. In a University of California 2005 study Dr. Naomi Oreske did a random sampling of 928 peer-reviewed journal articles on global warming revealed that 100 percent agreed with the view that humans affect climate change.

Now various economist estimate costs to contain present emissions, the Pew Center for Global Climate Change determined the benefits to prevent the doubling of greenhouse gaseous between $55 billion and $140 billion dollars and that US greenhouse gas emission increased 12 percent between 1990 and 2001. In 2006, the Stern Review on the Economic Effects of Climate Change estimates stabilizing these emission would cost about half a trillion dollars.

In my life, science has documented how this earth has rapidly increased in temperature while human population has doubled in size. I have witnessed many forms of humans ecological destruction. The debate will continue whether humanity is causing some form of climate catastrophe as we Americans argue for some official policy on climate change. When will we imposed mandatory carbon standards on American emissions? Can we afford to further speculate?

The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Stevens, commented on April 2, 2007 in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency;

A well documented rise is global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Respected scientists believe the two trends are related.

Recent 2009 scientific studies indicate that climate change is increasing due what is called positive tipping points accelerating arctic ice loss and other warming effects. However, many Americans still oppose the ideas we are responsible for this and our global economic crisis has delayed immediate consideration of this concern.
Alternative energy is controversial, costly and takes time to be developed.

We have spent roughly a trillion on terrorism and tens of trillions of dollars on our financial crisis. Can we ignore investing in our earth’s balance? Hopefully debating climate change will make us more energy efficient and Americans rally for our international security. Are we wise enough to invest in lessening our greenhouse emissions? Future generations will be our ultimate judges whether our actions today made their life better. If we do not leave a legacy for our children then how can we look at ourselves truthfully in the mirror?

Beyond the Paradox of Thrift

Is it not ironic that more we individually saved we decreased economic growth? You would think be thrifty would make things more prosperous. America is the individual largest consumer and thus the leading polluter. As we spew increasingly amount of carbon dioxide we need to face the fact that we can no longer make excuses why we can not lessen our climate changing activity. Otherwise we must accept that we are each responsible for destroying future life.

Our environmental and financial problems are linked by choice between need and greed. Unfortunately we have not evolved to the developed skillful boundaries that when we allow for certain economic activity it also impacts our future on this fragile planet.

In the last hundred years humans have pressed the pedal to the metal in the use of our fossil fuels. What has taken tens of thousands of years to become, oil, coal and natural gas. The consequences for lightening use and depletion of these natural resources upon our eco-systems are evident. We have tripled our population and caused massive lots of species and natural habitat. If the earth is an organism then we must address the various forms of cancer if we wish to survive.

The thing is that we have not valued things that matter most. Water, energy and eco-systems are all vital if we wish to have a healthy future. By allowing these vitals to become inexpensive we have borrowed against the equity on our future since this is truly our homes.

As the arctic ice melts at accelerated rates and polar bears perish we have to face the music. We spent trillions of dollars to battle terrorism and tens of trillions evaporated over financial blunders what have we invested in lessening our greenhouse gases. Just because now we have more efficient homes and cars increase use or more people create another paradox of thrift. I have seen this first hand in increasing agricultural conservation measures. We created such things as alternative watering so that cows would not drink from creeks and then farmer crowd more on limited land.

We require tough love so when we succeed in conserving it does nothing from people developing other ways to impact our earth even more. Our global recession has lessen carbon output, however if we truly are going to prosper learn to develop market based and other measures to prevent greed and promote need. A national dialogue is required if we wish to become greener. Americans are still too shortsighted and unable to face the piper.

There is a form of terror that threatens our country and world. It is a form of self delusion and culture of entitlement. Shortly we must address the most serious crisis facing us since if we can not foresee or forestall our carbon footprint we may suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs. There is much in balance and much to despair if we do not honesty address what is happening. We all will feel better once we fully explore how we can prosper from lessening climate change. Let’s transcend any paradox of thrift to deal our present of paradox of life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Allocating for Climate Change is a Future Investment

For over thirty years I have worked on various environmental endeavors always in conflict with short run economic thinking. Environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Fund must be "mindful" that they are walking in a economic "minefield."

In mid January the U.S. Climate Partnership announced their plan for a cap-and-trade system for a 42 percent cut emissions by 2030. However many economists and executives are skeptical with me included. Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson called this a “stealth tax” cap-and-trade system endorsing a tax on carbon emissions that are more transparent and predictable. While there is widespread support for a cap-and-trade system, however, such measures create enormous volatility in the price of permits and ways for gaming the system according to financial experts.

This national carbon tax bill would be phased-in and revenue-neutral. Leading economists have recommended for enactment of a carbon tax as the simplest, easiest to administer and most transparent approach to carbon pricing, despite the conventional wisdom that a "cap and trade" regime is key to a political consensus. Indeed, there have been numerous cap and trade bills introduced in the Congress, including the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill that was brought to the Senate floor for a vote late last spring.

This raises the question for me, “is environmentalism failing”? The polluter has really never paid in our country for their pollution. So it is hard to profit from this prevention until we as nation wake up and smell the coffee. We the people are all guilty since we as a society have hidden some of these costs. An alarm clock of safe carbon emissions is crying out loud, “Tomorrow is today”. Simple, we can not afford to procrastinate any longer.

We are now at 385 ppm past the maximum 350 ppm. Of vital concern is how America is addressing a national climate change program. Many towns, cities, counties and states are dealing with how we develop a sustainable energy future however what Congress does is fundamental.

Ironically, how in American we have allowed massive financial market failure alter our way life and how our government is responding is case in point. Can we as a nation get practical and real in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? I challenge you to survey the existing science of today that documents how serious our world is in peril.

The key question is that if our government continues to be wasteful or boastful it will be disaster. Change can only happen by looking at the facts of this crisis and not deny that transformative action is required. We have to avert future collapse by forming new alliances, democratic processes and technologies. If this is a race not to the moon but “from a form of doom” we have to reinvent capitalism where market failure is not covered by the taxpayers but factored in as the cost of business.

We have spent trillions on a “war on terror” and now we must prevent even a great terror, future despair. Investment, innovation and entrepreneurship creating new economic prosperity for sustainable and sufficiency. Discovering how to regenerate natural capital is just another opportunity. For example resource productivity can happen once we redefined how we can profit from pollution prevention in our 60 trillion dollar ouput economy. Currently we are suffering from the trillions of dollars of toxic financial paper and derivative type instruments impacting us worldwide.

On the other extreme corporate pressure on policy makers has allowed for lax regulation, standards, and poor enforcement with little oversight. Economic growth would prevail at the expense of environmental pollution. In 2003, the Congressional Research Service estimated that U.S energy subsidies were between thirty-seven billion and sixty-four billion dollars and increased by two to three billion dollars annually by the provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2003.

Look at lobbying in Washington DC. Thirty years ago there were less than a thousand lobbyists. Today there over 35,000. Political action (PAC) spending has in this time gone from $15 million to over $250 million today. The largest is the US Chamber of Commerce, followed by trade associations and 92 corporations. To get some idea of corporate might just look at ExxonMobil which is larger than 180 nations.

Further debate and examination of by all Americas is critical to address climate change. If we wish to make bold investments in a clean energy economy wise dialogue is a vital investment for future generations.