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Friday, 22 March 2013 13:43

The Psychology of Climate Change

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Regular readers of this blog are all too aware of the dangers that are starting to manifest regarding global warming.  Given the reality of 2012 being the hottest year on record, and other climate change related disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, why isn’t more being done domestically and globally to avert this crisis?  The answer is in our psychology as humans.

Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and a Research Scientist at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, specializes in human behavior, in particular the psychology of risk perception and decision making as it relates to global warming.  He is an expert on U.S. and international perception of climate change risks, support and opposition for climate policies, and willingness to make individual behavioral change.  Leiserowitz points to humans’ needs to tangibly experience phenomena in order to connect with it on a deeper level.  The first problem with the issue is that we cannot see carbon dioxide.  Perhaps if we could see blue smoke, for example, billowing around us we would be more motivated to immediately tackle global warming.

The climate change problem is further complicated by its faceless nature.  There isn’t one country or person we can point to as causing global warming.  We are all responsible on a daily basis.  Then add to that there’s the fact that climate change is not an immediate threat.  It’s certainly becoming one, but it takes time for the planet to heat up and we are fast approaching the point of no return.

Many people do not understand how a few degrees one way or the other will make a difference to the planet.  Leiserowitz likened it to a fever in an episode titled, “Encore: Ending the Silence on Climate Change” this month on Bill Moyer & Company.  “People often will say, ‘Wow, you know, four, five degrees, that doesn't sound like very much. I mean, I see the temperature change more from night to day.’  But it's the wrong way to think about it. I mean, think about when you get sick and you get a fever, okay. Your body is usually at, you know, 98.7 degrees.”

He continued to say, “If your temperature rises by one degree you feel a little off, but you can still go to work. You're fine. It rises by two degrees and you're now feeling sick, in fact you're probably going to take the day off because you definitely don't feel good. And in fact, you're getting everything from hot flashes to cold chills, okay.  At three you're starting to get really sick. And at four degrees and five degrees your brain is actually slipping into a coma, okay, you're close to death. I think there's an analogy here of that little difference in global average temperature just like that little difference in global body temperature can have huge implications as you keep going. And so unfortunately the world after two and especially after three degrees starts getting much more frightening, and that's exactly what the scientists keep telling us. But will we pay attention to those warning signs?”

My next blog post will discuss how to effectively communicate about climate change to overcome some of the psychological challenges humans face outlined in this post.  There are ways to get the public to pay attention to, and in fact, engage on the issue of global warming.  However, there is an art to it.

The enduring premise of the CarbonFree® Business Partnership program, and key to the program’s ongoing success, is the simplicity of the commitment:  recognize and measure the annual operational emissions of your business, do what you can to reduce those emissions, and then support carbon reduction projects to mitigate the negative impact of the business emissions you can’t yet eliminate.  

Hundreds of businesses around the world have joined the program, and many have maintained a long-term commitment to remaining CarbonFree®.  It fits easily within their business strategies, environmental commitment and operational budgets.

A great example is Gaia’s Delights, a CarbonFree® Partner for the past six years, following its founder’s focus on the environment as underscored by the company’s name.  Gaia was the goddess of Earth in ancient Greek mythology, and Gaia means “Mother Earth”.  Gaia’s Delights is the parent company for a number of businesses known for their commitment to fair trade practices and to small independent herbal farms and farmers. Keith Cleversley started the company in the late 1990′s while at the peak of his record production career.  With the resources that Gaia’s Delights has gathered over the past years, the company now devotes much of its time to helping worthy causes, doing important research, and engaging in activities that help to preserve and improve the world’s environment.

"When searching for more ways to enhance our efforts to help to save this beautiful planet of ours, Carbonfund.org was the obvious choice and a shining example of what grass roots determination can accomplish," explains Keith.  His ongoing devotion to developing enterprises that provide healthy products from the herbs and extracts found in nature, while supporting local farmers and communities and maintaining fair trade practices, demonstrates Keith’s continuous commitment to environmental sustainability that exemplifies our CarbonFree® Partners.       

Could the United States reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80% from 2005 levels by 2050?  A new report released this week says yes by assessing the potential for reducing petroleum consumption.  The National Research Council report, “Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels” found that by the year 2050, the U.S. may be able to reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80% for light-duty vehicles (cars and small trucks) through a combination of more efficient vehicles, the use of alternative fuels such as biofuels, electricity and hydrogen and strong government policies.

The most logical starting point, offering an economical and easy-to-implement approach, is improving the efficiency of conventional vehicles.  However, improved efficiency alone will not meet the 2050 goals because the average fuel economy of vehicles on the road would have to exceed 180 mpg; a scenario the report says is extremely unlikely given current technologies.  This is not to say that improved efficiency doesn’t play a role.  “To reach the 2050 goals for reducing petroleum use and greenhouse gases, vehicles must become dramatically more efficient, regardless of how they are powered," said Douglas M. Chapin, principal of MPR Associates, and chair of the committee that wrote the report.  Fuel efficiency measures center around decreasing the work the engine must perform, including: reducing vehicle weight, aerodynamic resistance, rolling resistance, and accessories as well as improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine powertrain. 

The report examined current capabilities and estimated future performance and costs by vehicle type, including: hybrid electric vehicles (e.g. Toyota Prius), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (e.g. Chevrolet Volt), battery electric vehicles (e.g. Nissan Leaf), hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (e.g. Mercedes F-Cell, slated for 2014 introduction) and compressed natural gas vehicles (e.g. Honda Civic Natural Gas).  Non-petroleum-based fuel options, also called alternative fuels, which could significantly contribute to the GHG reduction goal, were also analyzed, including: three biofuels (corn-grain ethanol, biodiesel and lignocellulosic biomass), electricity, hydrogen and natural gas.  Although natural gas was considered, its greenhouse gas emissions are too high for the 2050 goal.

There are pros and cons to each of the scenarios that combine various alternative fuels and vehicles.  For example, the study committee analyzed corn-grain ethanol and biodiesel biofuels, but found much greater potential in lignocellulosic biomass, which includes crop residues like wheat straw, switchgrass, whole trees, and wood waste.   The beauty of this alternative fuel is that it can be used without major changes in fuel delivery infrastructure or vehicles.

Electric powered vehicles do not emit greenhouse gases, but the process of generating electricity often does so the report stresses the importance of successful carbon capture and storage.  The additional load on the electric power grid is also a factor that must be considered.  Furthermore, the batteries essential to these vehicles may limit the use of all-electric vehicles to local driving because of their close range and long recharge times.  Serious technical challenges await advanced battery technologies under development.

Next the report considered using hydrogen as a fuel cell in electric vehicles.  The pro is that the only vehicle emission is water; the con is that greenhouse gases are emitted during hydrogen production.  There are low-greenhouse gas methods of making hydrogen, but they are currently expensive and require further development to become competitive.  Another pro is that fuel cell vehicles do not have the same limitations as battery vehicles, but the con is the cost and difficulty entailed in revamping the current fuel infrastructure to fuel cells.

"Alternative fuels to petroleum must be readily available, cost-effective and produced with low emissions of greenhouse gases. Such a transition will be costly and require several decades. The committee's model calculations, while exploratory and highly uncertain, indicate that the benefits of making the transition, i.e. energy cost savings, improved vehicle technologies, and reductions in petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions, exceed the additional costs of the transition over and above what the market is willing to do voluntarily," said Chapin.  So to address the barriers to implementation of these technologies, the report suggested adaptive policies such as investment in research and development (R&D), subsidies, energy taxes or regulations to achieve the desired reductions.

The report cannot tell the future, but the best approach is to promote a portfolio of vehicle and fuel R&D.  Both industry and government must support efforts to solve critical challenges.  Meanwhile, evaluation should be ongoing to see which technologies emerge as the most promising and cost-effective.

For many of our CarbonFree® Small Business Partners, it’s important to balance their intentions to provide sustainably-produced products to customers while minimizing their operational impact on the environment.  These goals often require careful choices and thoughtful decisions in order to achieve the right equilibrium and stay true to the mission and goals of the business.  New CarbonFree® Business Partner Just Skin Food struggled with this balancing act until they reached the right approach.       

Just Skin Food offers handmade organic and naturally synthetic-free “skin food” products that support, nourish and heal.  All of the herbal oils, salves and balms are made by hand, by using various infusing methods of organic herbs with unrefined, steam-distilled and cold-pressed ingredients.  Most products are vegan, and all products are cruelty free and GMO-free.  

Just Skin Food was started by Gabriella Calvi-Rooney.  When she first launched Just Skin Foods, she chose NOT to sell anything online – she felt that generating a larger carbon footprint through packaging and shipping small quantities of her products was counter-intuitive to the healing that she hoped her products would accomplish.  As a result, her products were offered locally in the Cape May, NJ area or hand-delivered by Gabriella when she traveled to other areas.    

In a very short time, customer demand was so great that Gabriella felt compelled to create a website to enable customers to order her herbal products online.  Now Gabriella had to decide how to minimize the carbon footprint for shipping such small items. 

The CarbonFree® Business Partnership program was established to help businesses like Just Skin Foods address their impact on the environment.  The program provides a simple, affordable means through which products and services can be delivered to customers while neutralizing operational emissions and supporting carbon reduction projects around the world. 

Joining the CarbonFree® Business Partnership program was an easy and affordable solution that neutralized carbon emissions from Just Skin Food's operational activities and projected product shipments.  Gabriella also established a minimum online order size, reuses shipping boxes from vendors, and only ships twice weekly to reduce carbon emissions associated with post office trips and shipments.  In addition, she chose to use organic freshly popped popcorn as packaging material, which can be fed to the birds.

If your business is re-evaluating its social and environmental responsibilities and needs to its reduce operational impact, consider the example of Just Skin Food and the solutions we provide through our CarbonFree® Business Partnership program. 

 

Monday, 18 March 2013 10:53

Dangerous Global Appetite for Fossil Fuels

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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.

A basic tenet of business leadership is to lead by example, “walk the walk and talk the talk” and “practice what you preach.”   CarbonFree® Business Partner AQS Management Systems leads by the example of “practicing what they teach” in the area of environmental sustainability.

AQS Management Systems, Inc. provides a broad range of consulting, ISO training, coaching, and project assistance in support of organizational improvement programs and implementation of international management system standards.  As part of their training platform, AQS provides training on Environmental Management Systems (ISO 14001) to organizations throughout the country and world.

AQS knows that it is important to “practice what they teach”, and to do what they can to be good corporate citizens by diminishing wasteful activity and encouraging other businesses to do the same.

For the past five years as a CarbonFree® Business Partner, AQS has supported Carbonfund.org’s energy efficiency projects with donations that equate to neutralizing the electricity consumption from ten average US households during each of those five years.

"I did a lot of research and thought that Carbonfund.org looked like one of the most reputable organizations in the area,” states Ben Ames, Vice President of AQS Management Systems.  “It was important to us that the money we paid was used responsibly and we felt that the 3rd party audits and other corporate clients of Carbonfund.org were a good sign."

Carbonfund.org commends AQS for their continued commitment to the CarbonFree® Partnership program and to environmental sustainability as part of their overall mission to provide excellent training to other businesses in the area of environmental and organizational improvement strategies.

As we continue to celebrate fifth and sixth anniversaries with many of our CarbonFree® Business Partners, new businesses are joining our partnership ranks as part of their environmental commitment. 

New CarbonFree® Business Partner Beautycounter launched with its skin care line on March 4, 2013. Beautycounter’s mission is to educate families about the need for safer chemicals and beauty care products, and to be a part of the solution by creating safe and effective skin care and beauty products in a socially and environmentally responsible way.  Beautycounter was founded by a team of social entrepreneurs who believe in using the power of business and strategic partnerships to move in the right direction.

One of these right decisions was joining the CarbonFree® Business Partnership and CarbonFree® Shipping Emissions programs, neutralizing all annual carbon emissions from general business operational and from shipping their products to customers.  Through the CarbonFree® programs, Beautycounter is supporting Carbonfund.org’s energy efficiency projects around the world.         

“In order to be successful in business and in our social mission, we have to reject the short-term thinking that got all of us into the current environmental crisis,” explains Mia Davis, Vice President of Health & Safety.  “Beautycounter recognizes that we can’t do it alone—strategic partnerships are absolutely necessary to create meaningful, lasting change. We’re proud to partner with Carbonfund.org to offset our carbon emissions, and for guidance on reducing our overall footprint.” 

Beautycounter maintains an extensive list of chemical ingredients that will never be used in their products, which contain no hidden fragrances or preservatives.  Beautycounter also prohibits testing of their cosmetics on animals, makes every effort to use FSC-certified paper and post consumer recycled content in both paper and plastic materials, and sources plastics that do not leach toxic chemicals and that are recyclable in most communities.

These comprehensive initiatives demonstrate Beautycounter’s forward thinking approach to entering the beauty and skin care industry as a responsible leader in environmental sustainability, and Carbonfund.org is pleased to be a partner in their efforts.

 

Friday, 08 March 2013 13:43

Global Energy Focus on Renewables

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Those of us living in the United States can easily get wrapped up in the domestic energy picture, but it is important to stop and take a look at how renewables are doing in other countries too.

If you peruse a list of countries by 2008 emissions, the top emitter of carbon dioxide is currently China, followed closely by the U.S.  China accounts for 23.5% of world emissions, and the U.S. is responsible for 18.27%.  However, the good news is that China’s renewable-energy industry is currently on the upswing due to supportive government policies and generous subsidies; so much so that they’ve achieved the height of the world’s wind and solar industries.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “Everything is made in China.”  The U.S. does import many goods from China, but a report released this week titled, “Advantage America” analyzed trade between the two countries in solar, wind and smart-grid technology and services in 2011. 

The analysis, by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Pew Charitable Trusts, showed $6.5 billion in renewable energy technology and services traded between the U.S. and China.  But the U.S. sold $1.63 billion more to China than it imported. 

It’s good to see both countries making such strides in renewable energy.  Oftentimes, the countries are perceived as being in competition with one another, but a more accurate picture would be that they are interdependent.  The bottom line is that both countries should be doing as much as possible to focus on renewables, especially considering they’re the top two carbon dioxide emitters on the planet.  And the global interest and investments in renewables doesn’t stop there.

Saudi Arabia, a country with the world's second largest oil reserves, is beginning a green revolution.  This week, Saudi King Abdullah revealed ambitious plans to develop renewable energy programs that will produce 54,000 megawatts of electricity by 2032 as part of a strategy to save 1.2 million barrels of their oil per day for export.

King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-Care) is a strategy paper set up by King Abdullah in 2010 to develop alternative energy sources so the country won't have to burn millions of barrels of oil a year on power generation.  KA-Care outlines the preliminary phases of the kingdom's agenda for its energy future and focuses on thermal solar, photo-voltaic solar, wind, geothermal and waste-to-energy.  Much of the desert landscape in the Persian Gulf is well suited to solar energy production; a fact that has not escaped the Saudi’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

The UAE, with 8% of the world's proven oil reserves, has also embarked on a major renewables program, which focuses on nuclear and solar energy production.  By taking a look at the global energy picture, we see that even those countries with vast fossil fuel resources recognize the finite limitations of their reserves and the importance of investing in sustainable energy projects, which is great news in the fight against climate change.  Every country on the planet contributes to global warming, and every country will have to do their part in order to pave the way to a sustainable energy future.