Archive for the ‘Express 168’ Category

What a Wonderful World!

Posted by Ken on June 12, 2012
Posted under Express 168

Twenty years from the first Rio Earth Conference – and 50 years since Rachel Carson’s landmark environmental exposure – is the earth any better for it? Do we have the “Wonderful world” that Louis Armstrong so gloriously expressed? We have to ask ourselves: is there progress to report and are there lessons to be learnt? This column and this issue have words of hope and reports of enterprise and sustainability. Mostly about good deeds and words of wisdom. Along with some of the usual culprits of the not so encouraging acts or misdeeds. – Ken Hickson     Read More

What a Wonderful World!

Twenty years from the first Rio Earth Conference – and 50 years since Rachel Carson’s landmark environmental exposure – is the earth any better for it? Do we have the “Wonderful world” that Louis Armstrong so gloriously expressed? We have to ask ourselves: is there progress to report and are their lessons to be learnt? Genuinely, there has been some significant changes for the better and certainly greater awareness of the value of the environment, but it is more likely a case of two steps forward and one step back – or even worse than that in some minds. But we must take time to celebrate the v environment. Celebrate the achievements of so many who have worked tirelessly for a better place, often fielding criticism and even hate. Let’s mark this year as a stocktaking one. Weigh up the losses and the gains. Has the earth and the environment profited from human’s at work and play? The greatest lesson over the past 50 years is that we cannot leave it to nature. Man and his machines have such a major impact on all things. The environment and the atmosphere can be destroyed by humans or saved by humans. It is over to us. No longer can be attribute disasters to Acts of God. More and more are directly attributable to the dirty deeds of people on earth. So the future is in our hands. The environment begs us to be responsible caretakers. Nothing more and nothing less. This issue have words of hope and enterprise. Good deeds and words of wisdom.

Profile: Rachel Carson

Posted by Ken on June 12, 2012
Posted under Express 168

Showing how everything in the natural world was linked, Rachel Carson showed how humans were part of it too, and how human interference could wreck it, could wreck the balance of nature built up over billions of years. It is appropriate to recall on the eve of Rio+20, that 50 years ago this week a book appeared which profoundly altered the way we view the Earth and our place on it: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Read More

Rachel Carson: The green revolutionary

Fifty years ago, few people cared about pollution, deforestation or whaling. Then a remarkable book came along.

Michael McCarthy  in The Independent  (11 June 2012 ):

50 years on and the DDT debates continue

The book that changed the world is a cliché often used but rarely true, yet 50 years ago this week a book appeared which profoundly altered the way we view the Earth and our place on it: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

This impassioned and angry account of how America’s wildlife was being devastated by a new generation of chemical pesticides began the modern environment movement: it awoke the general consciousness that we, as humans, are part of the natural world, not separate from it, yet we can destroy it by our actions.

A middle-aged marine biologist, Carson was not the first to perceive this, to see how intimately we are bound up with the fate of our planet; but her beautifully-written book, and the violent controversy it generated, brought this perception for the first time to millions, in the US, in Britain and around the world.

Down the centuries many people had expressed their love for nature, but Silent Spring and the furore it created gave birth to something more: the widespread, specific awareness that the planet was threatened and needed defending; and the past half-century of environmentalism, the age of Green, the age of Save The Whale and Stop Global Warming, has followed as a natural consequence.

When it began serialisation in The New Yorker on 16 June 1962 (it was published in full the following September) Silent Spring revealed to a horrified America – or at least, to those who did not know already – that its wildlife was being wiped out on a staggering scale by use of the new generation of synthetic pesticides, compounds made in the laboratory rather than from naturally occurring substances, which had followed on from the forerunner of them all, the chlorinated hydrocarbon DDT.

In particular, the songbirds of America’s countryside and small towns were everywhere falling silent. They had been killed by colossal pesticide spraying programmes, usually from the air, sanctioned in the 1950s by the US Department of Agriculture, individual states and local authorities, and aimed at insect pest threats which turned out to be largely illusory.

There was no need for them; their real driver was the American chemical industry which had managed to convince US agriculture that its bright new range of deadly super-poisons, organochlorines such as aldrin and dieldrin, organophosphates such as parathion and malathion, were just the wonder drugs that farming needed – in huge doses.

Even now, it is hard to read Rachel Carson’s account of these mass sprayings without incredulity, like the 131,000 acres in Sheldon, Illinois, sprayed with dieldrin to get rid of the Japanese beetle. “It was a rare farm in the Sheldon area that was blessed by the presence of a cat after the war on beetles was begun,” she wrote.

Tens of millions of acres were covered in poison in campaigns against the spruce budworm, the gypsy moth and the fire ant, none of which succeeded in eradicating their targets, but all of which exterminated countless other wild creatures – the American robins on suburban lawns, the trout in forest streams – to the bewildered dismay of the local people watching it happen around them.

Carson’s achievement was to bring the situation to national notice in a remarkable synthesis of dramatic reportage and deep scientific knowledge, explaining exactly what the new pesticides were, how their catastrophic side effects were occurring, and how senseless were the mass spraying campaigns (although she recognised that agricultural pesticides were necessary and did not advocate banning them all). To a reader today, her account is compelling and entirely convincing.

Yet it produced an explosion. The US chemical industry, and parts of the US scientific establishment, lashed out in frenzy against this presumptuous upstart holding them to account, with a long and bitter campaign of criticism and personal denigration; and it seemed as if what aroused their ire more than anything was the fact that their opponent was a woman – “An hysterical woman”.

A professional biologist from Pennsylvania who had worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, she was 55 when Silent Spring appeared. Unmarried and childless after a life spent looking after her mother and her young nephew, she had found emotional solace in a deep friendship with a neighbour at her Maine holiday home, Dorothy Freeman, about which there has inevitably been speculation; certainly, they were very close. Yet Carson was more than a scientist, she was also an acclaimed author, having written a trilogy of highly-praised books on the marine environment, one of which,The Sea Around Us of 1951, had been a best-seller.

Thus when Silent Spring appeared, she already had a substantial audience, and the furore stirred up by the US chemical industry only served to boost it a thousandfold; by the end of 1962, three months after full publication, the book had sold half a million copies, and public opinion was solidly behind her. (It did nothing to hinder her cause that President John F Kennedy took her side and referred Silent Spring to his Science Advisory Committee, which the following year vindicated her stance.)

So the madness of the mass poison sprayings came to an end, and the robins and their song returned to America’s spring; DDT was banned for agriculture in 1972 (although it remained in use for malaria prevention), and bans on dieldrin, aldrin and other substances followed.

Rachel Carson did not live to see it: she died of cancer in 1964. But her achievement was much more than to end a crazy and murderous assault upon nature, enormous though it was.

What she introduced to a mass audience for the first time, in explaining how the catastrophe was happening, was the idea of ecology, of the interconnectedness of all living things, of the connectedness between species and their habitats.

The pesticide falls on the leaf, and the leaf falls to the ground where it is consumed by worms, who also consume the pesticide; and robins consume the worms and consume the pesticide too, and so they die.

In showing how everything in the natural world was linked, she showed how humans were part of it too, and how human interference could wreck it, could wreck the balance of nature built up over billions of years.

That is a commonplace insight now, but in 1962 it was a new one. It was truly radical, because it implied – for the first time ever – that scientific advance and economic growth, closely linked as they were in America, might not be endlessly a good thing. There was the Earth itself to consider. And that perception has been at the heart of the movement that Silent Spring inspired, which is 50 years old on Saturday.

Spreading death: the new pesticides

Insecticides made from natural products, such as pyrethrum from chrysanthemum flowers and naturally occurring arsenic, had been known and used for centuries, before the more powerful effects of synthetic lab-produced pesticides became apparent during the Second World War.

The first was dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – DDT – synthesised in the 19th century but whose insect-killing properties were only discovered in 1939. DDT was used with success in disease prevention during the war and was followed during the 1940s and 1950s by a family of similar organic chemicals.

However, the new organochlorines and organophosphates were not just more deadly, they built up in body fat and the accumulated dose could be passed on. “One of the most sinister features of DDT and related chemicals is the way they are passed on from one organism to another through all the links of the food chains,” Rachel Carson wrote.

The deadliest of these chemicals have now largely been banned, but controversy over pesticide use and its effect on wildlife has not gone away. It now focuses on the neonicotinoids, one of which, thiamethoxam, was banned by the French government last week after research showed it affected the homing ability of bees.


At 400ppm, Your Number‘s Up

Posted by Ken on June 11, 2012
Posted under Express 168

The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant. Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. Years ago, it passed the 350ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. Read more

By The Guardian (1 June 2012):

The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant.

Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn’t quite a surprise, because it’s been rising at an accelerating pace.

Years ago, it passed the 350ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.

So far, only the Arctic has reached that 400 level, but the rest of the world will follow soon.

“The fact that it’s 400 is significant,” said Jim Butler, the global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab. “It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this, and we’re still in trouble.”

“The news today, that some stations have measured concentrations above 400ppm in the atmosphere, is further evidence that the world’s political leaders – with a few honourable exceptions – are failing catastrophically to address the climate crisis,” former vice president Al Gore, the highest-profile campaigner against global warming, said in an email. “History will not understand or forgive them.”

Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the industrial age, levels were around 275 parts per million.

For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.

It’s been at least 800,000 years – probably more – since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.

Readings are coming in at 400 and higher all over the Arctic. They’ve been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and even Mongolia. But levels change with the seasons and will drop a bit in the summer, when plants suck up carbon dioxide, NOAA scientists said.

So the yearly average for those northern stations likely will be lower and so will the global number.

“It’s an important threshold,” said the Carnegie Institution ecologist Chris Field, a scientist who helps lead the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It is an indication that we’re in a different world.”

Ronald Prinn, an atmospheric sciences professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said 400 is more a psychological milestone than a scientific one. We think in hundreds, and “we’re poking our heads above 400,” he said.

Tans said the readings show how much the Earth’s atmosphere and its climate are being affected by humans. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels hit a record high of 34.8 billion tonnes in 2011, up 3.2%, the International Energy Agency announced last week.

The agency said it’s becoming unlikely that the world can achieve the European goal of limiting global warming to just 2 degrees based on increasing pollution and greenhouse gas levels.


Not So Cool to be Nuclear or Coal Dependent

Posted by Ken on June 11, 2012
Posted under Express 168

Warmer water and reduced river flows will cause more power disruptions for nuclear and coal-fired power plants, as coal, nuclear and gas plants turn large amounts of water into steam to spin a turbine. A study by a team of European and U.S. scientists focused on projections of rising temperatures and lower river levels in summer. Read More

By David Fogarty for Reuters (4 June 2012)

Warmer water and reduced river flows will cause more power disruptions for nuclear and coal-fired power plants in the United States and Europe in future, scientists say, and lead to a rethink on how best to cool power stations in a hotter world.

In a study published on Monday, a team of European and U.S. scientists focused on projections of rising temperatures and lower river levels in summer and how these impacts would affect power plants dependent on river water for cooling.

The authors predict that coal and nuclear power generating capacity between 2031 and 2060 will decrease by between 4 and 16 percent in the United States and a 6 to 19 percent decline in Europe due to lack of cooling water.

The likelihood of extreme drops in power generation, either complete or almost-total shutdowns, was projected to almost triple.

“This study suggests that our reliance on thermal cooling is something that we’re going to have to revisit,” co-author Dennis Lettenmaier, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a statement.

Thermoelectric power plants supply more than 90 percent of electricity in the United States and account for 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater usage, says the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

In Europe, such plants supply three-quarters of the electricity and account for about half of the freshwater use.

Coal, nuclear and gas plants turn large amounts of water into steam to spin a turbine. They also rely on water at consistent temperatures to cool the turbines and any spike in river water temperatures can affect a plant’s operation.

Disruptions to power supplies were already occurring, the authors noted.

During warm, dry summers in 2003, 2006 and 2009 several power plants in Europe cut production because of restricted availability of cooling water, driving up power prices.

A similar event in 2007-2008 in the United States caused several power plants to reduce production, or shut down for several days because of a lack of water for cooling and environmental restrictions on warm water discharges back into rivers, the study said.

In the past few months, large parts of the United States have suffered record heat, with March being the warmest on record for the contiguous 48 states, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study projects the most significant U.S. impacts at power plants inland along major rivers in the Southeast.

“Considering the increase in future electricity demand, there is a strong need for improved climate adaptation strategies in the thermoelectric power sector to assure future energy security,” the authors say in the study.

They also point to U.S and European laws enshrining strict environmental standards for the volume of water withdrawn by plants and the temperature of the water discharged.

Adaptation strategies include placing new plants near the sea or building more gas-fired power plants, which are more efficient and use less water.


Rio+20 Points to Consequences of Stresses

Posted by Ken on June 11, 2012
Posted under Express 168

Recent UNEP report warns that the earth’s environmental systems are being pushed to the brink of their limits and catastrophe may soon follow. Despite the multitude of agreed upon goals and objectives for sustainable management of the environment, little or no progress has been made in recent years to meeting them. Read more

CBS News (6 June 2012):

Humanity speeding down “unsustainable path”

RIO DE JANEIRO – A United Nations report warns that the earth’s environmental systems “are being pushed towards their biophysical limits” and that sudden, irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes are looming.

The UN’s Environment Program says that climate change, the depletion of the ozone layer, plummeting fish stocks and the mass extinction of animals are among the most worrisome environmental threats.

“The world continues to speed down an unsustainable path despite over 500 internationally agreed goals and objectives to support the sustainable management of the environment and improve human wellbeing,” a press release for the report states.

The 525-page report released Wednesday said little or no progress has been made in recent years toward meeting international targets for reducing environmental destruction.

The report calls on policymakers to take urgent action. Achim Steiner is the UN program’s head and he says the UN’s mega-conference on sustainable development to be held in Rio de Janeiro this month would be the ideal forum to take the steps needed to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

“If humanity does not urgently change its ways, several critical thresholds may be exceeded, beyond which abrupt and generally irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur,” a press release on the report states.

Some key facts and figures from the report:

Under current models, greenhouse gas emissions could double over the next 50 years, leading to rise in global temperature of 3 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century.

Indoor air pollution from particulate matter is responsible for nearly 2 million premature deaths annually – including 900,000 deaths in children under the age of five.

Outdoor particulate matter may be responsible for around 3.7 million deaths annually.

Ground-level ozone is responsible for 700,000 respiratory deaths, over 75 per cent of which occur in Asia.

Global economic losses due to reduced agricultural yields caused by air pollution are estimated at US $14-26 billion annually.

The extinction risk is increasing faster for corals than for any other group of living organisms, with the condition of coral reefs declining by 38 per cent since 1980. Rapid contraction is projected by 2050.

Though catches more than quadrupled from the early 1950s to the mid-1990s, they have stabilized or diminished since then – despite increased fishing. In 2000, catches could have been 7-36 percent higher were it not for stock depletion. This translated into economic losses to the value of $4-36 billion.

Water quality in at least parts of most major river systems still fails to meet World Health Organization (standards.

More than 600 million people are expected to lack access to safe drinking water by 2015, while more than 2.5 billion people will lack access to basic sanitation.

By 2030, an estimated $9-11 billion will be spent annually on additional infrastructure to provide sufficient quantities of water, especially in developing countries.

The number of flood and drought disasters rose by 230 per cent and 38 per cent respectively between the 1980s and 2000s, while the number of people exposed to floods rose by 114 per cent.

The cost of coastal adaptation to climate change is estimated to reach between US $26 billion and US $89 billion by the 2040s, depending on the magnitude of sea-level rise.


US Faces Unpredictable Weather Related Crises

Posted by Ken on June 11, 2012
Posted under Express 168

The United States National Research Council has come to the disturbing conclusion that the nation’s system of Earth-observing satellites has been deteriorating, with drastic consequences on its ability to produce accurate weather forecasts. With weather pattern becoming more unpredictable due to climate change, the nation will be inadequately prepared to face weather related crises, leading to severe economic and life losses. Read more

Clouded Forecast

By Heidi Cullen in New York Times (31 May 2012):

Our ability to forecast the weather is in big trouble.

Last month, the National Research Council concluded that the nation’s system of Earth-observing satellites is in a state of “precipitous decline” and warned of a “slowing or even reversal of the steady gains in weather forecast accuracy over many years.”

This worrisome development puts all of us in harm’s way and should particularly trouble us as the annual six-month hurricane season begins today.

Gathering timely and accurate weather data is, of course, vital to saving lives. The deadliest hurricane ever to strike the United States hit Galveston, Tex., on Sept. 8, 1900, killing as many as 8,000 people. Scientists had lacked the tools to predict the storm’s severity.

We have made tremendous progress in the accuracy of our hurricane forecasting (and overall weather forecasting) since then, much of it a result of government-owned satellites that were first launched in the 1960s and now provide about 90 percent of the data used by the National Weather Service in its forecasting models. Satellite and radar data and the powerful computers that crunch this information are the foundation of the weather information and images we get. Thanks to these instruments, for instance, the five-day hurricane track forecast we get today is more accurate than the three-day forecast from just 10 years ago.

These satellites also monitor volcanic eruptions, rising sea levels, melting ice sheets, the depletion of stratospheric ozone and ocean surface temperatures. Emergency beacons from aviators and mariners in distress can also be pinpointed by these satellites. Scientists who study the atmosphere and the ocean need continuous weather data to track large-scale climate variations (like El Niño) and long-term environmental trends like global warming.

Weather observations even bear on national security. Accurate wind and temperature forecasts are critical in deciding whether to launch an aircraft that will require midflight refueling.

But those capabilities, and our overall ability to monitor the planet, are slipping. The causes identified by the research council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, are many: technological failures, cost increases, changes in Congressional and administration priorities and — above all — the failure to devote adequate resources. For example, the annual budget for NASA’s Earth Science Division has fallen to below $1.5 billion from about $2 billion a decade ago, far below what scientists agree is needed.

The new report found that the number of actual and planned satellite missions could decline from 23 this year to only 6 in 2020, reducing the number of Earth-observing instruments in space from 90 now to about 20 in 2020.

To make matters worse, in the last three years, two Earth-observing satellites costing more than $700 million failed to reach orbit and crashed into the ocean.

In its May report, the council warned of a “coming crisis” in which “our ability to observe and understand the Earth system will decline.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service, expects a data gap of at least 12 months, beginning in 2017, between the time one satellite crucial for accurate weather forecasts and warnings stops functioning and its replacement is up and running. Without such data, the Weather Service would have been at a serious disadvantage sizing up the dangerous snowmaggedon blizzard of 2010 that paralyzed the East Coast. Forecasters would have underestimated the snowfall by 10 inches, according to the Weather Service.

We live on a small planet with increasingly big problems. Extreme weather, climate change, population pressure and the depletion of our natural resources are all expected to worsen in our lifetimes. This is not the time to take our eyes off the planet we call home.

Heidi Cullen is a scientist at Climate Central, which communicates scientific findings to the public.


Greener Economy to Lift Millions Out of Poverty

Posted by Ken on June 11, 2012
Posted under Express 168

With recent report finding that up to 60 million additional jobs can be generated over the next two decades by shifting to a greener economy, United Nations agencies and trade unions are urging governments to turn this potential into reality. This will have the effect of reversing recent job loss trends as well as lifting millions out of poverty while promoting a more sustainable growth. Read more

By Business Green Staff(4 June 2012):

Shifting to a greener economy could generate up to 60 million additional jobs over the next two decades and lift millions of people out of poverty, UN agencies and trade unions said recently, urging governments to use the Rio+20 summit to turn this potential into reality.

A new report finds the transformation of key sectors such as agriculture, energy, construction and transport has already created tens of millions of jobs and will eventually affect at least half of the global workforce, equivalent to around 1.5 billion people.

It says the renewable energy sector now employs close to five million workers, more than doubling the number of jobs from 2006 to 2010, while energy efficiency is an important source of green jobs in the construction industry, which is among the hardest hit by the economic crisis.

Three million people are employed in the US environmental goods and services sector, while government figures show the equivalent figure in the UK is just under one million.

In the EU alone, 14.6 million direct and indirect jobs exist in the protection of biodiversity and rehabilitation of natural resources and forests, says the paper, published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC).

Net gains of 0.5 to two per cent of total employment are possible in developed countries with a shift to low carbon technologies and practices, but these are dwarfed by the potential in emerging economies and developing countries, which can leapfrog to green technology rather than replace obsolete resource-intensive infrastructure. Brazil has already created just under three million jobs, accounting for some seven per cent of all formal employment.

The shift is also likely to benefit women as well as the poorest and most marginalised people, the report says, adding employment gains will more than offset job losses in carbon-intense industries.

It notes only around eight per cent of the workforce in industrialised countries is employed in the 10 to 15 industries that generate between 70 and 80 per cent of CO2 emissions, so only a fraction are likely to lose their jobs if policies are adopted to green existing enterprises and to promote employment.

“Environmental sustainability is not a job killer, as it is sometimes claimed,” said Juan Somavia, ILO director-general. “On the contrary, if properly managed, it can lead to more and better jobs, poverty reduction and social inclusion.”

However, the report stresses getting the right mix of policies is crucial. It recommends governments promote and implement sustainable production processes, particularly among small-and-medium-sized enterprises, as well as expanding skills training and facilitating effective social dialogue between employers and trade unions.

The forthcoming Rio+20 summit will see countries gather to discuss how best to incorporate sustainable development into growth plans, and Somavia urged nations to seize this “crucial moment” for progress.

“The current development model has proven to be inefficient and unsustainable, not only for the environment, but for economies and societies as well,” he said.

“We urgently need to move to a sustainable development path with a coherent set of policies with people and the planet at the centre.”


“Intelligent Efficiency” Could Cut Energy Use by Up to 22%

Posted by Ken on June 11, 2012
Posted under Express 168

A new way of thinking about energy efficiency could lead to major savings in energy consumption. By implementing energy efficiency measures on a systemic manner, as opposed to component-based, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates that up to 22 percent of current US energy use can be saved. Read more

Alexander Frank for American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (5 June 2012):

WASHINGTON, D.C.—America now has a major new source of energy that could rival the contribution made to the economy by natural gas, coal, and nuclear power, according to a report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which concludes that up to about a quarter (22 percent) of current U.S. energy consumption could be replaced by what experts are calling “intelligent efficiency.”

The key to understanding the rise of “intelligent efficiency” is to stop thinking about energy efficiency simply in terms of individual devices (e.g., autos or refrigerators) and to start thinking about it in terms of complex systems (e.g., entire cities, transportation systems, and other networks) connected through Internet and computer technologies.

As the ACEEE report concludes:  “System efficiency opportunities produce energy savings that dwarf component-based efficiency improvements by an order of magnitude. System efficiency is performance-based, optimizing the performance of the system overall—its components, their relationships to one another, and their relationships to human operators. One of the cornerstones of systems-based efficiency is information and communication technologies, such as the Internet, affordable sensors, and computing capacity that are the foundation upon which systems efficiency are built…If homeowners and businesses were to take advantage of currently available information and communications technologies that enable system efficiencies, the United States could reduce its energy use by about 12-22 percent and realize tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in energy savings and productivity gains.”

R. Neal Elliott, associate director for research, ACEEE, said: “This is not your father’s device-driven approach to energy efficiency. A large portion of our past efficiency gains came from improvements in individual products, appliances, and equipment, such as light bulbs, electric motors, or cars and trucks. And while device-level technology improvements will continue to play an important role, looking ahead we must take a systems-based approach to dramatically scale up energy efficiency to meet our future energy challenges. Through intelligent efficiency, utility systems, interconnected cities, transportation systems, and communications networks can become the new normal across the United States and will undergird national and regional economies that, even in the face of increasingly scarce resources, grow and thrive.”

“There is resounding agreement that information and communications technology can make a huge impact in addressing the twin challenges of energy security and climate change,” said Stephen Harper, global director of environment and energy policy, Intel Corporation. “This new work by ACEEE should help both industry and government better understand ‘smart policies’necessary to fully realize the potential of technology in this arena.”

“ACEEE’s report highlights that communications and digital technologies are transforming how efficiently we use energy, from appliances in customers’ homes, to cars and roads in transportation systems, to the power lines and generators in the electric system,” said Larry Plumb, executive director, Verizon. “It’s well understood that digital communications has boosted economic productivity. Now people are recognizing this technology also has a big role to play in addressing society’s long-term energy challenges.”

“As devices get smarter and the communications networks that connect those devices become more ubiquitous, the potential for efficiency gains that save energy and save businesses and families money are increasing,” said Arkadi Gerney, senior director for policy, Opower. “And, as this report shows, truly unlocking the potential of intelligent efficiency systems also depends on engaging energy consumers with smarter behavioral strategies and advanced analytics that turns an avalanche of data into actionable insight.”

“Johnson Controls has many real life examples where intelligent efficiency solutions have dramatically reduced building energy use, most notably at the Empire State Building,” said Clay Nesler, vice president, global energy and sustainability, building efficiency, Johnson Controls.  “This practical and effective approach to improving and managing building energy efficiency can be cost-effectively applied to both new and existing commercial buildings.”

“This report is further evidence of the real revolution happening in our industry, the convergence of energy management and information that’s allowing companies to achieve significant savings of 30 percent or more,” said Paul Hamilton, vice president, government affairs, Schneider Electric. “It’s time for businesses and government to get involved and engaged in the partnerships and programs that will make this more of an everyday reality.”

Emerging Models of Intelligent Efficiency

Residential Case Study: Smart Refrigerator Controls, Links to Electric Grid.  Home appliances are increasingly making use of technology-centered efficiency such as smart controls and communication technologies to improve their efficiency levels. Some products, to meet upcoming federal efficiency standards for residential refrigerators, are making use of technologies such as variable speed compressors and fans that use sensors and controls to optimize operation, which may shave at least 5 percent from the device’s energy use.“Smart” appliances such as refrigerators will be able to communicate with the electric grid by receiving a real-time price signal from the utility and adjust their operations in response, opening up new opportunities for energy savings.

Institution Case Study: Department of Defense (DOD).The Department of Defense has identified energy efficiency in its military installations, which account for about 25 percent of DOD’s total energy costs, as a key strategy to reduce energy costs, decrease the impact of fossil fuel price volatility, and boost installation energy security. DOD’s energy efficiency efforts are ramping up to achieve 30 percent energy savings by 2015, as required by Executive Order, and DOD has turned to several examples of people- and technology-centered intelligent efficiency to help reach this goal.

Manufacturing Case Study: Plant-Wide Optimization.  Manufacturing plants are full of complex systems, and managing energy consumption requires both a detailed understanding of real-time information about what the systems are doing and how these systems interact. New information technologies and advanced sensors and controls—examples of both people- and technology-centered intelligent efficiency—can improve system efficiencies and integrate controls across multiple, interacting systems. Both Schneider Electric and Rockwell Automation, for example, offer services to manufacturing firms to improve plant-wide optimization and increase both energy efficiency and productivity; they anticipate seeing as much as a 40 percent drop in the use of electricity and a 35 percent decline in oil and gas usage.

Public Transportation Case Study: Priority Lanes, Dynamic Messaging, and Telecommuting.  To relieve congestion on major highways, the Twin Cities metropolitan area (Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota) is implementing a toll system using priority lanes with differential pricing, dynamic messaging about traffic, and information about public transit options (all examples of people-centered intelligent efficiency) and telecommuting (service-based intelligent efficiency). The dynamic message system communicates with drivers in real time about the availability of lanes, toll rates, travel speeds, and public transit alternatives. The eWorkPlace initiative focuses on getting employers to encourage the use of telecommuting and flexible work arrangements, which helps relieve traffic congestion while also reducing energy consumption.

Community-wide Case Study: Envision Charlotte.  Through a collaborative partnership, Duke Energy, Cisco, and Verizon are working on a project to dramatically raise energy awareness in Charlotte, North Carolina, by enabling people-centered intelligent efficiency. The initiative calls for interactive video monitors installed in the lobbies of downtown office buildings that display, in near real-time, the collective energy used by buildings in the city’s core. The monitors give tenants the information they need to better manage energy consumption in the offices, providing information about energy usage, energy efficiency ideas, and tales of the most efficient “energy champions” in the building. Duke Energy anticipates that the project will produce a 20 percent drop in power use by 2016.

The full ACEEE report is available online at

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors.


Go for Zero Waste to Cut Land, Water & Air Discharges

Posted by Ken on June 11, 2012
Posted under Express 168

Waste is one of the major threats impacting the health of the planet and all life on it, but even the various strategies which have been implemented to manage it produce adverse side effects on the environment and people. Zero Waste has come to be touted as the solution to a more sustainable way to treating waste by taking a cradle-to-grave approach in managing resources. Read more

Ken Hickson looks into the status of Zero Waste as an approach and as a solution. At the same time, drawing attention to CleanEnviro Summit Singapore 1-4 July which is exploring issues and opportunities to deal  with waste, pollution, recycling and environment problems globally.

Is Zero Waste a pipedream or is it the approach all countries and cities must take to deal with the global health and environment problems associated with mountains of waste?

Questions like this are being asked in many countries round the world and at global forums in Rio and Singapore.

“Dream, the impossible dream” might well be the words on many lips even with the mention of the term “Zero Waste”.

Surely, such a concept is beyond the realms of possibility and practicality. The world is too far mired in the mess of waste to seriously consider eliminating it.

Yet many believe in it and many more are putting into practice Zero Waste programmes around the world. Zero Waste is taking hold in Europe (most notably Italy), 30 states and cities in North America as well as in Asia, with Philippines leading the way, followed by Japan and India.

Australia is an early mover for Zero Waste, but coming out ahead is New Zealand which became the first country in the world to adopt a national policy of Zero Waste in 2002.

The vision “Towards Zero Waste and a Sustainable New Zealand” resulted from an extensive, community-led campaign that has so far resulted in 38 of New Zealand’s 74 local authorities adopting Zero Waste targets.

So what is Zero Waste all about?

Simply put, “implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health”, according to the Zero Waste International Alliance.

It is a whole-system approach to addressing the problem of society’s unsustainable resource flows.

It encompasses:

•             waste elimination at source through product design and producer responsibility

•             waste reduction strategies further down the supply chain

•             introduction of cleaner production methods,

•             effective product dismantling, recycling, re-use as well as  composting

Communities that implement Zero Waste strategies are aiming to switch from wasteful and damaging waste disposal methods to value-added resource recovery systems that will help build sustainable local economies.

As such, Zero Waste is in complete opposition to landfilling and incineration.

The Zero Waste International Alliance is pushing for the United Nations to endorse a resolution recognising a universal definition of zero waste during the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, which begins 20 June in Rio de Janeiro.

The resolution declares, among other things, that voluntary recycling goals haven’t cut waste enough. It says that the placement of materials in waste disposal facilities such as landfills and waste-to-energy plants causes damage to human health, wastes natural resources and/or transfers liabilities to future generations.

The alliance is requesting the UN adopt the definition of zero waste that it has developed, which basically calls for “no burn or bury.”

Coming hot on the heels of the Rio Conference is the Clean Environment Leaders’ Summit (CELS), one of the three pillar events of the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (1-4 July), where zero waste is expected to be one of the serious issues and opportunities on the agenda.

The Summit is gathering the world’s top environment leaders from the public and private sectors, international organisations and think-tanks, to discuss and help develop sustainable environmental management solutions.

The Zero Waste International Alliance has been established to promote positive alternatives to landfill and incineration and to raise community awareness of the social and economic benefits to be gained when waste is regarded as a resource base upon which can be built both employment and business opportunity.

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Coal Business More Important Than the Great Barrier Reef!

Posted by Ken on June 11, 2012
Posted under Express 168

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says the Australian state is “in the coal business” and that it comes before protecting the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.  A disturbing turn-around in his stand on climate change,  discounting the scientific findings and undermining his previous efforts as Mayor of Brisbane in making it Australia’s most sustainable city. Read more

By Graham Readfearn (6 June 2012):

Just in case anyone was in any doubt, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman reminded Australia earlier this week that his state was most certainly “in the coal business” and that protecting the Great Barrier Reef wouldn’t come before fossil fuel exports.

But as well as being “in the coal business”, it appears that Premier Newman and his environment minister Andrew Powell are taking their first steps into the business of climate science denial.

Minister Powell repeated a statement he had made to ABC’s Radio National that he was not convinced that humans were having an impact on climate change, a position which immediately puts him at odds with every national scientific academy in the world, the advice from his own chief scientist and the position of the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the United Nations.

While Minister Powell made a point of saying that the environment should be protected (what else could the environment minister say, after all) his boss, Premier Campbell Newman, decided his minister’s view on climate change was “refreshing“. I’d choose a different word.

As reported in the Brisbane Times, Mr Powell said his views were “fairly consistent across a certain percentage of the population,” as if this was a valid excuse.

Fortunately, in this case, the general public are not the ones studying the complex nature of positive feedbacks in the climate system or taking meticulous observations of global temperatures to find we’ve just had the warmest decade since records began as levels of heat in the atmosphere and oceans continues to climb.

The Premier’s “scepticism” comes down to ignorance of the scientific process and entirely unrealistic expectations of the climate science community. Take these quotes as exhibits.

I mean, the sea level rise predictions have changed constantly over the last 15 years… we don’t know what the impacts are precisely. We don’t. The scientists don’t…. But in terms of what the precise impacts will be of climate change, anybody who says they know is having a lend of you, and it’s about time people started to tell the truth… We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here, the scientists don’t know and there’s a lot of scientists arguing about the actual precise impacts.

Newman’s statements might seem reasonable to the majority of Queenslanders disengaged from the climate change issue, but they show an abject failure to understand how climate change science works.

Take the Premier’s mention of sea level rise. Of course the projections have changed in the last 15 years, because the issue of sea level rise isn’t yet a closed book. Few scientific endeavours ever are. Sea level rise projections in the last IPCC report came from research which took place around 2005. Depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, global sea level would be between 18 and 59 cm higher by the end of this century than it was in 2000, but the report had a very important caveat.

The projections do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks nor the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow, therefore the upper values of the ranges are not to be considered upper bounds for sea level rise. They include a contribution from increased Greenland and Antarctic ice flow at the rates observed for 1993-2003, but this could increase or decrease in the future.

In other words, there was still lots of work to be done to give policy makers and planners a better idea of what to expect. And there was still uncertainties that could push the sea level to much higher levels. Today, as the research effort has continued, even the most conservative climate scientists talk of sea level rises of a metre or more.

The Queensland Government’s own Office of Climate Change, which Premier Newman is in the process of closing, outlined the impact of sea level rise on the state in its “Climate Change in Queensland” report two years ago. A half metre rise in sea level would likely increase the chances of extreme events such as flooding from occurring once every 100 years to several times a year. As a former mayor of Brisbane, which experience devastating floods a little over a year ago, you might think the Premier may have taken some interest.

Being the complex system that our world’s climate is, the estimates of how high temperatures will go, how high sea levels will rise, how rainfall will change or how many extreme heatwaves and super-cyclones we might get, always come with an uncertainty range. Anyone who has ever read a peer-reviewed climate science paper knows this.

Hinting that we should be waiting until we’re 100 per cent sure what will happen before we take firm action, is a bit like saying you’re happy to drive your car at double the speed limits because no-one can say for sure that you’ll definitely crash. And while everyone has heard the stories of a grandparent who smoked 50 cigarettes a day and lived until they were 90, most people acknowledge that smoking massively increases your chances of dying of cancer.

Perhaps the Premier’s statements are instead an attempt to offset his own cognitive dissonance – the sick feeling that you get inside when you try and hold two conflicting positions simultaneously.

Because if the Premier does believe, as he also said, that “we’re using non-renewable resources and we need to change our ways” then how can he also proudly declare that Queensland is “in the coal business” while dismissing a UNESCO report criticising the coal and gas export infrastructure being built alongside the Great Barrier Reef, risking its World Heritage status?

In 2009 while then Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman – known as Can Do Campbell – was busily pushing his green credentials, the Labor opposition accused him of being a “climate change sceptic” without providing much evidence.

After all, his council had a “Plan for Action on Climate Change and Energy” and a “Climate Change and Energy Taskforce”. Newman was determined to make Brisbane Australia’s most sustainable city, said the United Nations Environment Programme, by running low-emissions buses, planting trees, having a bike share program and buying renewable energy.

The then Lord Mayor even launched the Green Heart City Smart scheme, with its ubiquitous “I [green heart] Brisbane” catchphrase and branding.

It seems now though, that Mr Newman’s heart is conflicted with coal and climate science denial.

This article was originally published on Graham Readfearn’s blog