Filed in Sustainability , Waste Management & Recycling , October 4 2017
Imagine that 100 percent of the recyclable materials that are currently headed for landfills are captured and re-processed into new products. This dreamy vision of the future is often referred to as “the circular economy,” and we aren’t there yet. Today, most countries with robust recycling programs have reached only around a 30 percent recycling rate (34.6 percent in the United States).
But let’s say it could be done. Would it really help the world become more sustainable? Johann Fellner and his team at the Technical University of Wien in Austria are skeptical. They calculate that even if the world achieved 100 percent recycling, our total carbon footprint would be reduced by less than 1.6 percent (from 9,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per person annually to 8,856 kilograms). Considering that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “safe” scenario for 2050 requires a more than 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions, this can seem like a drop in the bucket.
Other researchers have similar doubts about the success of the circular economy. Nancy Bocken, a professor at Delft Technical University in the Netherlands, mined 10 years’ worth of press releases from 101 companies listed on the S&P 500 stock index to identify ... Read More
Filed in Agriculture & Food December 7 2016
Few issues capture the complex space millennials occupy better than food and farming. At a time when commodity agriculture is pervasive – regenerative, organic agriculture is experiencing a renaissance spurred on by millennials. Much has been written about millennials, a generation that occupies a peculiar place in history: the systems previous generations created and grew up with are faltering. Climate change is a reality we must address. No matter what else is said about millennials – a generation this author belongs to – one truth is that we face deep existential turmoil. In spite of current and future turbulence, millennials remain optimistic in believing that people have the power to effect change. This is abundantly clear in organic agriculture.
Organic agriculture was just agriculture in the pre-World War II period, signified by a lack of chemicals – industrialized agriculture became the way of the future in the post-war period. Our experiments in industrial agriculture led to increased corporate control of the food industry, a decline in the number of farms and farmers, and much less diversity in agriculture. By contrast, organic agriculture operates on a smaller scale, relies on crop diversity and soil management practices for pest control, therefore prioritizing environmental ... Read More
Filed in Agriculture & Food , Environment & Climate , November 30 2016
To celebrate the recent World Food Day, learn how food production can be transformed from a greenhouse gas emitter to a carbon sink by improving soil biology.
“Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” This year’s message from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for World Food Day is timely as the planet emerges from yet another summer of record heat. With changing climates and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the world is facing real challenges with food production, exacerbated by the declining capacity of soils to hold water, buffer temperature shocks, and supply nutrients to food crops.
Agriculture as a Climate Change Contributor
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, over a 20-year period, agriculture accounts for about 22 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This makes agriculture the largest contributing sector to climate change. In comparison, industry emits 20 percent of greenhouse gases, electricity and heat production 17 percent, and other energy–related activities another 17 percent.
Agriculture as a Climate Change Solution
There is good news, however. Because the agricultural system is a living community, its capacity for greenhouse gas sequestration can regrow organically under management practices that allow the soil ecosystem to recover and thrive.
To do this, farmers have ... Read More
Filed in Construction, Development & Real Estate , Eco-Innovation , Energy , Environment & Climate , September 16 2016
Can a city be sustainable? That’s what our 2016 edition of State of the World investigates. In his chapter, “Reducing the Environmental Footprint of Buildings,” author and project co-director Michael Renner explains what actions cities can take to make their buildings greener.
Buildings are some of the biggest users of materials and water, consume nearly half of the world’s energy, and contribute almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions. With more buildings sprouting up every year and existing ones often being inefficient, cities have begun to tap into their toolkit of policies to help reach sustainability goals.
Four Methods That Work
Tapping into their policy toolkits, municipalities around the world are using a blend of building codes and permits, zoning regulations, building performance ordinances, and other mandates and regulations. Taxes and other financial policies can provide additional incentives. Subsidies can reduce the upfront cost of retrofits and ensure that lower-income residents are not left behind.
Here are four tactics that cities and their residents are using to push toward urban sustainability:
1. Building Certifications
Hundreds of green certifications exist today, ranging from standards for equipment and appliances (such as Energy Star and WaterSense) to certifications for entire buildings (such as BREEAM and LEED). ... Read More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , July 18 2016
Human nature often resists change. We struggle with moving from familiar surroundings to new, unknown territories. Yet, when it comes to the greatest single challenge we face today, our resistance to change will surely cause massive, uncontrollable, and unforeseeable changes.
Climate change is upon us. We know with certainty that our behavior is impacting the planet we inhabit. The last time atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were this high was millions of years ago, long before Homo sapiens appeared. This places us in an entirely new era of risk, for which we have no precedent or reliable benchmark.
Climate change is the ultimate systemic risk. Its potential impacts will be global and will be disproportionately afflicted on the most vulnerable members of our civilization. Its profound disruptions will result in the indiscriminate extinction of species. Those who are most vulnerable to the changes brought on by climate change will be those who have least contributed to it.
Many individuals and organizations are considering divestment of fossil fuel companies in their investment portfolios. New York State Senator Liz Krueger proposed legislation for divestment of fossil fuel companies from its public pension funds, the Rockefeller Foundation announced their intention to divest, and more than 500 ... Read More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , July 18 2016
A Changing Climate
By 2050, the world will consume 61 percent more energy than it does today. This should be good news, for, as access to reliable, affordable energy increases, so does the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people. Energy keeps schools and businesses running, computers working, cities shining, and cars moving. Without the availability of energy, the global poverty rate could not have dropped by more than half since 1990, allowing the opportunity to improve lives across a wide sphere.
Extending Progress to the Developing World
The developed world has seen great progress in renewable energy. Today, in the United States, virtually all new additions to power capacity come from sustainable sources. However, much of the future energy demand in the world will come from developing countries as they continue to grow and add more citizens to the middle class. This is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges that we face today. How can we ensure that the most threatening climate change consequences are avoided, but also ensure equitable access to energy? The answer, of course, is renewable energy, and the attendant electrification of products and services once serviced by fossil fuels.
The Leapfrog Effect
Unlike the United States, many ... Read More
Filed in Environment & Climate , Oceans, Fisheries & Aquaculture , Waste Management & Recycling , Water Quality & Water Pollution , July 12 2016
“I came to the ocean to heal, but found an ocean that needed healing.” That was the realization that inspired artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi to dedicate her life to saving the sea. Her medium? Trash.
When Pozzi suddenly lost her husband, she took time to look for something meaningful and constant. Her search led her back to the Oregon shores of her childhood. There, she expected to find the familiarity and predictability of crashing waves. Instead, her life found new meaning and change.
As Pozzi walked along the Pacific shores, she found piece after piece of plastic littering the sand. Passers-by collected shells nearby, leaving the pieces of trash untouched. At that moment, Pozzi decided that the problem of ocean pollution could not be left ignored. She had been an art teacher—she knew how to motivate and educate. She decided to develop the Washed Ashore project to show that the plastic problem was real.
From Trash to Art
Washed Ashore is a massive undertaking. Pozzi works with a team of only nine people. Over the year, over ten thousand independent volunteers collect scraps of trash along 160 kilometers (100 miles) of the Oregon coast. ... Read More
Filed in Agriculture & Food June 9 2016
In order to understand how we arrived at today’s food system and the opportunity to expand into organics, some history is in order.
Prior to World War II the food economy in the US was typified by organic market gardens and small grocery stores that carried fewer than 500 items. Self-sufficiency was a necessity as the economic grip of the Great Depression remained. The food supply was local and the average farm size was 157 acres.
World War II changed everything, laying the foundation for today’s industrial food economy. With the need to feed millions of soldiers, packaged food production went into high gear. K-rations, a soldier’s staple, were the precursor to post WWII packaged foods. We went from K-rations to TV dinners.
And the manufacture of ammonium nitrate used in making bombs was redirected into making the synthetic fertilizers widely used today throughout our chemical-based system of agriculture.
Organic sales have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to over $40 billion today.
The debate is raging about the safety of Glyphosate (Roundup) and GM foods in general. Research has been mounting about how GM crops and associated farming practices have sickened our soil and contributed to climate change. A new understanding is emerging about ... Read More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , June 3 2016
The energy world is changing fast. Investments in renewable energy are outpacing investments in traditional energy. But both traditional power providers and startups are struggling to find viable business models for an industry in transition.
Among the first to feel the sweeping changes in the energy sector were utilities in developed countries that have a high share of renewables in the electricity mix. But now, more industries that rely on traditional energy sources are feeling the heat.
Shifting Toward Sustainable Energy
The overall business environment is shifting toward a clean energy future. In April 2016, 177 countries signed the ambitious Paris Climate Agreement. In response, companies are beginning to improve their sustainability footprint and are adjusting product portfolios and corporate strategies.
Despite the enthusiasm and well-meaning political support, it still seems difficult for businesses to thrive in this global energy transition. So far, the transition has undermined traditional energy markets without yet having created functioning new markets. Both risk-taking, disrupting pioneers as well as the asset-heavy, path-dependent incumbents are often at a loss.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Existing, large energy companies will find it difficult to succeed in the new energy future. They would have to risk a lot (but what is their alternative?). Yet their shareholders ... Read More
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