Some may think jellyfish are simply a pesky problem when we want to take a swim or snorkel, but they are actually a sign of flagging oceanic health. We think of them as the canary in the coal mine. The difference is the canary dies when there is a problem, but jellyfish flourish in the conditions that global warming wreaks on our oceans.
Climate change heats and acidifies the planet’s oceans. Overfishing adds to the first two major problems. All three contribute to creating an ideal environment for jellyfish to thrive and multiply. So what’s the big deal if there are too many jellyfish?
The issue is that jellyfish take a bad situation and make it worse. They have a unique trait where they’re able to eat up the food chain. This is surprising considering these sea creatures don’t even have brains. However, they actually can consume animals that are bigger, smarter and faster than they are. They damage the ecosystem further by competing with large mammals, such as whales, by feeding on the same fish and plankton that these other animals need to survive.
Marine expert Lisa-ann Gershwin wrote the new book Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. She points to an example where jellyfish wiped out an entire food chain simply by eating from the bottom up.
The jellyfish species Mnemiopsis leidyi was accidentally introduced into the Black Sea in the early 1980s. In just a few short years, these jellyfish comprised “95 per cent of the biomass in the Black Sea”. This means “ninety-five per cent of every living thing was this one species of jellyfish”.
Jellyfish could rule our planet’s oceans as they once did in the Precambrian era. A time when biodiversity was low, the jellyfish commanded the oceans, and mammals and reptiles did not exist. This is a scary eventuality, that our feet are firmly planted on the path towards. We need to heed the warnings that these gelatinous invertebrates provide and begin seriously reducing our carbon footprints and offsetting the rest of our carbon emissions.
Last week our planet reached a scary milestone for carbon dioxide, the most important global warming gas. The average carbon dioxide reading exceeded 400 parts per million at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO) on the island of Hawaii for the 24 hours that ended at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Earth hasn’t had this much carbon dioxide concentrated in the air for at least three million years, which is before human life on the planet.
This should be a wakeup call that major and potentially catastrophic global weather changes are coming and a sign we’re not doing enough to tackle climate change.
We’ve seen carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million in the Arctic last year and even in some hourly readings at NOAA’s MLO. However, this is the first time we’ve seen the average reading for an entire day exceed that level. Carbon dioxide levels do rise and fall along with the seasons. As foliage grows over the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, 10 billion tons of carbon will be pulled out of the air. But it’s only a temporary pardon in a situation that’s becoming direr by the moment.
We simply must invest in alternative energy technologies and begin curbing our dangerous global appetite for fossil fuels. Otherwise, the time will come soon where no measurement of the ambient air anywhere on earth, in any season, will produce a reading below 400.
The official target to limit the damage from global warming is 450 parts per million (PPM), which is generally agreed to be the maximum level compatible with that goal. Our relentless, long-term increases in carbon dioxide emissions are likely get us to 450 PPM in well under 25 years. The time to slow down global warming is dwindling quickly. Twenty five years may seem like a long time, but our planet is huge. It will take more time than that to right the ship.
Not every country has agreed to set binding emissions targets, either. Unfortunately, the United States count among those shirking their responsibility. Now greater efforts are necessary, and are all but impossible without severe economic disruptions.
Can we live on a planet that is warmer and wetter? Probably, but billions of people are going to suffer as we make the transition. It’s a better plan to lower our carbon footprints and speedily move to no and low carbon energy sources. The price is going to be high either way, and it’s only getting steeper as we hurtle towards the point of no return.
Many people have read in the news about how the United States is tapping into unprecedented natural gas reserves through the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, where highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals are inserted to fracture shale rock which releases natural gas. Drilling can have environmental impacts such as contamination of ground water, air quality risks, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, and surface contamination from spills and flowback.
Or they’ve read about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that is seeking approval to move oil extracted from Canada’s tar sands down through the western United States to refineries along the Gulf Coast. There is evidence that extracting oil from the sands are increasing levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes far beyond natural levels.
The latest news in accessing exotic forms of carbon comes from Japan, where their government announced that they’ve successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrates, also called clathrates, buried beneath the sea bed. Clathrates are an ultra-concentrated frozen mix of water and gas. A cubic meter of clathrate contains 164 times as much methane as a cubic meter of methane gas. Extraction of methane hydrates opens up the possibility for a catastrophic release of gas in the form of accidents during the extraction process. Even releasing a small amount of clathrates could contribute significantly to climate change.
Governments and corporations worldwide need to stop spending hundreds of billions of dollars searching for new fossil fuel reserves and discovering ways to extract ever more unusual forms of buried carbon. And we need to stop giving them incentives to do so. Yes, it is hard to want less and do less, but for the sake of our planet’s health we need to curb our global appetite for fossil fuels. Let’s start by lowering our carbon footprints. Then we need to agree to leave fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
According to a detailed estimate, we need to leave four-fifths of global fossil fuel reserves untouched for a good chance of preventing more than 2°C of global warming. The worst part is we have already identified more underground carbon than we can afford to burn between now and the year 3000. Now is the time to implement a low carbon lifestyle. We should do it for our planet, ourselves and for the sake of future generations.
CarbonFree® product certification offers companies a method to quantify, reduce and offset greenhouse gas emissions
ANN ARBOR, Mich., USA and TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Quebec, Canada (February 25, 2013) – Bio-Lub Canada Inc., developer of antifriction treatments and solutions for the ecological and biodegradable degreasing industry, has earned the first CarbonFree® certification in the industry for its bio-hydraulic fluid from Carbonfund.org and NSF Sustainability, a division of global independent public health organization NSF International. As a result, industries that utilize hydraulic processes (automobile, construction machinery, excavation, farming, forestry and others) now have access to an environmentally-friendly, carbon-neutral ISO 46 hydraulic fluid.
Hydraulic systems play an important role in our daily lives. Elevators, forklifts, commercial lawnmowers, garbage trucks, farming equipment, aircraft flight control systems and construction equipment such as loaders or bulldozers all use as much as 100 liters (26.4 gallons) of hydraulic fluid. Some loss to the environment is inevitable. With Bio-Lub biobased hydraulic fluid there will be little, if any, environmental impact. By earning CarbonFree® certification for its BLC 710 bio-hydraulic fluid (in 20-, 205- and 1000-liter packaging), Bio-Lub is helping environmentally conscious organizations reduce their carbon footprint and impact on the environment. The bio-hydraulic fluids are made from vegetable oils derived from a renewable source and are also USDA certified as 96 percent biobased under the BioPreferred® program.
To address its products’ environmental impacts, Bio-Lub Canada underwent a detailed life cycle assessment to measure the carbon emissions produced from its bio-hydraulic fluid products sold worldwide. To achieve carbon neutrality for the products, Bio-Lub offset the per-unit carbon footprint through investment in third-party validated renewable energy, energy efficiency and forestry carbon offset projects. These carbon offset projects are supported through the Carbonfund.org Foundation, a leading nonprofit and developer of the CarbonFree® Product Certification program, the first carbon neutral product label in North America.
“Using environmentally friendly ISO 46 bio-hydraulic fluids such as Bio-Lub’s is particularly important for sensitive environmental applications such as farming and marine dredging. By earning CarbonFree® certification, Bio-Lub is taking its commitment to the environment a step further through offsetting the greenhouse gasses made when producing and distributing the products,” said Tom Bruursema, NSF Sustainability General Manager.
“We at Bio-Lub are excited that our BLC-700 series is the first eco-friendly hydraulic fluid in our industry to be certified worldwide as CarbonFree® by NSF International and Carbonfund.org,” said Michel Cordeau, CEO of Bio-Lub Canada Inc. “Bio-Lub products are designed for superior performance and low environmental impact and Carbonfree® certification is just one more way to validate our commitment to environmentally preferred products.”
How the CarbonFree® Product Certification Program Works
The CarbonFree® Product Certification program uses life cycle assessments (LCAs) to determine the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over a product’s entire life cycle. GHG emissions (expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents) that cannot be reduced or eliminated from the product’s life cycle are offset or ‘neutralized’ with third-party validated renewable energy, energy efficiency and forestry carbon offset projects.
A carbon offset is a verifiable reduction in carbon emissions somewhere in the world other than where the emission is generated. These external reductions offer clean energy transformation (e.g. wind, solar), sequestration (e.g. forestry) and clean technology (e.g. energy efficiency). The projects also offer a range of benefits including conservation, clean water, job creation and innovation. Credits are generated when a project is verified and registered – allowing companies to purchase these credits and offset the emissions produced in the manufacturing and use of their products. These credits are then permanently ‘retired’ on behalf of the product/company.
CarbonFree® certified products earn the use of the CarbonFree® mark along with being listed in the Carbonfund.org online product certification database. The CarbonFree® mark can be found on a variety of products today, including foods, beverages, electronics and apparel.
AboutCarbonfund.org Foundation: Carbonfund.org is a leading nonprofit climate solutions organization, making it easy and affordable for individuals, businesses and organizations to reduce their climate impact and hasten our transition to a low-carbon economy. Carbonfund.org supports innovative renewable energy, energy efficiency and forestry projects globally that reduce carbon emissions and help people. Carbonfund.org has worked with over 2,000 corporate and nonprofit partners. More at www.carbonfund.org.
About NSF International: NSF International is a global independent organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the construction, food, water and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment (nsf.org). Founded in 1944, NSF is committed to protecting human health and safety worldwide.
NSF Sustainability draws upon this expertise in standards development, product assurance and certification, advisory services and quality management systems to help companies green their products, operations, systems and supply chains. Product assessments include testing and certification for more sustainable consumer and commercial products. NSF is also an approved testing laboratory (under ASTM D6866) for conducting biobased testing. Through its National Center for Sustainability Standards, NSF also develops sustainability standards for products such as carpet, flooring and other commercial building materials.
Additional NSF services include NSF Education and Training, safety audits for the food and water industries, nutritional/dietary supplement certification, organic certification provided by QAI (Quality Assurance International) and management systems registrations delivered through NSF International Strategic Registrations (NSF-ISR). NSF-ISR services include ISO 14001 environmental management systems registration and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Chain of Custody (COC) certifications.
This Sunday approximately 35,000 protesters gathered on the National Mall to march past the White House and demand action on climate change. The Forward on Climate Change march was said to be the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Protestors organized by groups such as Sierra Club and 350.org’s aim was to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project and set limits on carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants. Last year, the EPA proposed limits only on new plants.
For quite some time, Congress has remained gridlocked on the issue of climate change. President Obama has promised to tackle the problem on more than one occasion, but perhaps we the people should consider the effect we can have on bringing about meaningful change. Top down efforts are certainly necessary, but we should all be supporting more bottom up efforts as well. After all, that’s how broad changes have been achieved before.
Take for instance the Civil Rights movement. The White House and Congress were encouraged to overcome their extensive political reservations and bring about true change on the issues of racial equality and voting rights only after a strong grass-roots movement led at the local level by activists such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed public opinion and made it politically unacceptable to do nothing.
There are other examples of successful grass-roots movements, but the core message is that we have to begin leveraging our bottom up power. This weekend’s rally was a great start. Let’s build on the momentum and begin organized, local activism, especially in the districts and states of those members of Congress that are hesitant to act on global warming.
We cannot expect President Obama to do all of the work on combating climate change. Everyone can do their part at the local level and even in their own homes. Let’s also lessen the demand for energy. We live in such a blessed country, but using less energy and being more efficient is in everyone’s best interests. Here are some good ways to start reducing your carbon footprint, and then you can also go carbon neutral and offset the rest.
The Carbonfund.org Foundation is honored to receive the support of Forever Cheese for the 6th year in a row. Since 2007, Forever Cheese has supported wind energy, reforestation and renewable energy projects through Carbonfund.org Foundation. In fact, with 2012’s support, Forever Cheese has offset over 1,645 metric tons of CO2 and over 7,099 Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) of green power.
To put this support into perspective, the six years that Forever Cheese has supported emission reduction projects is equivalent to removing almost 1,400 cars off the road for a year or to the electricity that almost 1,000 homes would use in a year. It is also similar to recycling almost 2,500 tons of waste instead of sending it to a landfill. (Source: EPA http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html)
In 2012 Forever Cheese took their support a step further. For Earth Day 2012 Forever Cheese stepped up and set the bar for Carbonfund.org partners by planting 7,500 trees globally. Tree planting projects sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, prevent erosion, protect biodiversity, and provide renewable resources for local communities. Planting trees provides flood control by minimizing runoff and the loss of top soil, provides habitat and nutrition for wildlife and nurseries for local fish populations, and offers alternative economic livelihoods for local communities in the form of managing tree nurseries and planting, assisting with regulation of the water and nutrient cycle.
Co founder, Michele Buster, remarks “We are committed to wind energy as a solution for the future and reforestation as well. We know that we can make a greater impact as a company than as single individuals. We’d like to feel that we serve as a role model in our industry to incentivize others to support renewable energy resources.”
Carbonfund.org is grateful for the six years of partnership with Forever Cheese - a company showing an important example of how business can be part of critical climate change solutions.
About Forever Cheese: Forever Cheese, founded in 1998, is committed to sourcing the finest cheeses and specialty foods from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Croatia. The company represents exclusively the following brands: Fulvi®, Dehesa Cordobesa®, El Trigal®, Drunken Goat®, Ca De Ambros®, Bonati, Italfine, Caro, Cacao Sampaka, Casa Pareja, CARM and Mitica®. Forever Cheese products can be found in the finest specialty food shops and restaurants across the country. www.forevercheese.com -30-
Depending on where in the world you live, it might be easy to forget that the environment is more than just the air we breathe or the land under our feet. It’s important to keep in mind that the oceans also are being affected radically by climate change. The oceanic problems are too numerous to list. However, this week we are taking a closer look at one issue that people in different parts of the planet face, rising oceans as the polar ice caps melt and more saltwater.
Those of us that live in the United States might not be aware how rich we are in freshwater sources as say countries in the Middle East that are very arid environments. Obviously those countries have other resources that we lack, but water is essential to life. Our planet may be covered in a great deal of water, but much of it is unusable to humans in its natural state because of the high salt content.
Did you know that salt is expelled from seawater when it freezes? Although some brine is trapped, the overall salinity of sea ice is much lower than seawater. So the seas are rising as previously permanently frozen parts of the planet melt. This means that not only is there more water, but it’s becoming salty as it melts.
Desalination is any of several processes that remove some amount of salt and other minerals from saline water. Unfortunately, it is quite an energy intensive process. Last week, a new renewable energy desalination project was announced in Masdar, Abu Dhabi, which is in the United Arab Emirates. The project seeks to transform seawater into useable, freshwater on land by building a commercially viable and renewable energy-powered desalination plant by 2020.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region of the Middle East is comprised of the Arabian Peninsula countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. The GCC formed in 1981 and uses about half the world’s desalinated water.
Of course, accessing renewable energy is not the only impediment to sustainable desalination. Another effect of global warming is oceanic acidification that contributes to massive algae blooms. These algae blooms can shut down a desalination plant. There are other unwanted components that might be present in seawater such as radioactive material from warships and nuclear power plants which would need to be removed before the water could be used safely.
Despite other lingering issues, it is still worth asking the question, “Can these enormous desalination plants powered by renewable energy help mitigate some of the issues we face from rising sea levels?” The answer is, “Every bit helps.” But don’t start thinking it’s a magic bullet since none exists. We still all need to do our parts in reducing our carbon emissions and footprints. However, it is good news that desalination can be a sustainable and environmentally responsible industrial solution and worth noting that low cost, low impact renewable energy technologies do exist.
The United States is one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world. What can our country do for the good of the planet with this role?
One thing the U.S. federal government does every few years is engage hundreds of experts to evaluate the impacts of climate change, now and in the future. The resulting National Climate Assessment report, which was recently released, showed that America's current efforts to reduce carbon pollution are too little to avoid dangerous climate change. Last year President Obama announced new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for cars and light trucks such as minivans and sport utility vehicles. Let’s build on this historic progress to limit carbon emissions. There are several ways that the president and federal government can make a real difference in the fight against global warming.
The Clean Air Act is a powerful tool that our nation’s leaders could be leveraging more fully. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with using the Clean Air Act to issue rules to reduce greenhouse pollution. This farsighted law has reduced damaging air pollution for forty years, saving many lives. The EPA has already used it to protect public health and welfare from six extensive and harmful pollutants including: ozone, particulate matter, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and lead. Now is the time to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by setting a national pollution cap for greenhouse gases.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has also proposed higher emission standards on coal-fired power plants. These standards need to be fortified, finalized and implemented posthaste. Why stop with power plants? There are other places where higher greenhouse gas emission standards can be successfully applied to help save our planet such as oil refineries, cement plants, and even the airline industry.
Another way to help the environment would be for President Obama and the State Department to decline approval on the Keystone XL pipeline, which proposes moving oil down from Canada through the western United States to refineries along the Gulf Coast. There are no guarantees that the pipeline won’t spring leaks. Furthermore, there is evidence that extracting oil from the sands are increasing levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes far beyond natural levels. Denying approval would show that America is committed to transitioning away from a dependence on fossil fuels.
Of course, it’s not all up to the federal government. We can all do our parts to speed the transition to a clean energy future. First we can encourage our elected officials to take the climate change actions recommended above. Second we can reduce our own carbon footprints. Consider lowering the heat or air conditioning depending on the season, using a clothesline, rake, hand mower and other manpowered devices, composting, forgoing meat at least one day a week and riding a bicycle. Lastly, we can all find simple ways to be part of the solution such as planting trees and offsetting remaining carbon emissions.
According to a recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund, 58 of the United States’ Fortune 100 companies set goals in 2012 to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or use more renewable energy in their operations. However, oil and gas companies are lagging far behind in this movement. Eight of 11 domestic energy companies on the Fortune 100 have not set internal energy goals.
This is in direct contrast to 68 of the planet’s 100 largest companies who recognize the impact of global warming and are making investments in greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy goals. Sadly, energy companies represent the lowest participation rate of any industry worldwide. The few exceptions are Hess and Chevron who have both set renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, and ExxonMobil who set a greenhouse gas target.
Why have three quarters of the nation's industrial companies voluntarily set some sort of environmental target? There are a variety of potential reasons including: policy pressures, public relations or perhaps even the forward thinking that sees renewable energy’s potential to someday be less expensive than, or at least competitive with, oil and gas.
And why haven’t most oil and gas companies voluntarily set environmental targets? It may be because the very products they put on the market directly contribute to climate change. There is also a lack of urgency to act; little pressure comes from investors or policies. An example of a type of policy that was successful in the past is the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, which worked by making large companies publically accountable for which potentially toxic chemicals they use and where they are released. Then the information is posted on the EPA’s website for anyone to see.
The planet would really benefit from a similar policy focusing on oil and gas company emissions, or better yet, a broader climate change policy such as a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. There are other options that could pave the way towards a cleaner energy future. The federal government could require that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources and offer further tax incentives for wind and solar production. Many companies are setting their own internal goals, but for others such as the majority of the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do anything about increasing efficiency and reducing their carbon footprints until someone makes them.
The Earth cannot use words to speak for itself, but if it could what would be on its climate wishlist this holiday season?
Environmental activists and climate scientists have done a good job of communicating the risks of climate change. Part of the issue is that it’s a delicate balance between scaring people so thoroughly that they don’t think there is anything they can do about global warming and encouraging people to make any changes that positively impact the environment, even small ones to start. Perhaps we’ve also underestimated the importance of personal experience.
The facts on climate change alone are not enough. We’ve had solid, scientific evidence for many years that global warming is man-made and happening right now. However, many people need to experience the effects for themselves in order for the light bulb to go off in their heads. Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events are helping people to connect the dots, but now that process has begun the question then becomes, “What next?”
We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the planet. That is what the climate needs and wants this holiday season. There are two main changes that we can undertake to fulfill the planet’s climate wishlist. The first is to lower our carbon footprints. Ask yourself, do I really need to leave my lights on all day at home when I am not there? Can I combine trips in the car to drive less or take public transportation instead? What simple steps can I take to save energy and myself some money as well?
The second change is to offset the rest of your carbon footprint. There are many affordable options to make this holiday season a reality, not just for the planet, but for future generations also. Any positive steps you take are welcome and really do make a difference. Although the planet cannot use words to thank you, reducing what you can and offsetting the rest is a beautiful gift and a wonderful place to start this holiday season.