Archive for April, 2007

trim emissions, fatten footprint: how’s that work?

thiniking about more than emissions

Sure, it's great that folks are starting to measure their lifestyle in carbon (via treehugger).

Yet, what if that's not only not enough, but also wrong, at least in some cases?

Take the Prius, for example: Lower mileage, yet huge footprint from nickel (in the batteries) and R&D.

Wot's the point? We need to make sure we're measuring the right thang.

Sure, I'm a disciple of the footprint school, because I share the (increasingly widely accepted) view that the 'ecological footprint' is the most inclusive measure we've got. Very little gets left out.

Published by Ken on April 30th, 2007 tagged Systems Thinking | Comments Off

thrifty food plan: US guidance for cheap eats

thrifty food plan from USDA

Speaking of 'thrifty food', who knew the USDA was deep into research on food guidance?

Could this be another thang they really don't want ya to know about? Prolly not, but ya gotta dig deep to find it.

Says USDA, "the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) is a fundamental part of the U.S. food guidance system and the basis for maximum food stamp allotments." Aha!

Turns out, USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion produces the TFP to provide a "representative, healthful and minimal cost meal plan that shows how a nutritious diet may be achieved with limited resources."

Published by Ken on April 29th, 2007 tagged Systems Thinking | Comments Off

wot’s the cheapest way to eat well?

food system

Got to thinking about another odd aspect of our food system from a systems thinking perspective.

Yes, it's true, our large food processors are focusing on our taste preferences for fat and sweets. And, yes, it's cheaper to eat junk food.

Still, I wanted to know, wot's the least one could spend on a prudent diet?

Perhaps because Michael Pollan is a friend of a friend, or perhaps beause my questions were interesting, Pollan responded. Better, Pollan forwarded my questions to the lead researcher, Adam Drewnowski, who also responded.

Wot did I learn? I was right on all counts.

Published by Ken on April 29th, 2007 tagged Systems Thinking | 1 Comment »

Hawaii greenhouse emissions cap advances

greenhouse cap in hawaii

Sometimes ya win. That's my feeling after news that Hawaii's greenhouse gas cap bill (HB226) has cleared the final legislative hurdle, and Hawaii should have an operative emissions cap by the end of 2011. Yeah!

Most of the screwy parts in the original bill got excised along the way. For example, it's no longer just about electricity, but rather all fuel supplies, and the “ultimate goal” to become the lowest emitter per capita among all states has been dropped.

Of course, it's not all good. It still sets 2020 as the target date for achieving reductions, and it still excludes emissions from air travel.

Published by Ken on April 28th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, HI-specific | Comments Off

can ya back it up? corp sustainability promises

corporate sustainability claims

Just because most companies are talking sustainability these days doesn't mean they're doing much about it.

Wudja believe a survey of Fortune 100 companies found barely half have taken concrete steps to deliver on their promises (via GreenBiz).

Part of the reason may be they're not even employing sustainability metrics, and we all know that what doesn't get measured won't get managed.

Most important, 'greening their supply chain is a crucial step in ultimately being able to deliver on companies' sustainability promises, and this is the focus of a new study from A.T. Kearney.

Published by Ken on April 28th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

heard it all now: hedging on climate change

green hedge funds

Whatever you may think about hedge funds, it's one way to 'win' whatever happens.

Just so with climate change, though it's hard to imagine what the 'win' looks like in our worst-case scenario for global warming.

I mean, so what if you 'win' another fortune betting on companies trying to solve climate change if "it all comes down to smoke and ash"?

Still, there are new hedge funds just for these purposes, and they're ironically called 'hyrbrid derivatives'. Specifically, in this case, 'weather derivatives'.

One such was launched last week by UBS, based on the first 'Global Warming Index' (via financial times).

Published by Ken on April 28th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

global warming’s a fad: 31% of Americans say so

green polls

Now that 60% of Americans think global warming is the most pressing environmental problem, we might hope that the polls would start to show support for climate change action.

Not so fast, says Joel Makower, unless you know something about Americans that he doesn't.

Says Makower, "Americans want clean, affordable, and care-free solutions to climate change and every other environmental challenge. But don't ask most of them to change their habits, spend more, or go very far out of their way" (via two steps forward).

The only good news is only 4% believe global warming is about the coming end of the world or biblical prophecy.

Published by Ken on April 27th, 2007 tagged Climate Change | 4 Comments »

old news: why US lags far back on climate change

hot politics from frontline

Great video here. Frontline's "hot politics" investigates the political decisions that have prevented the United States government from confronting climate change, and PBS has placed each segment online.

Why has the US executive branch failed to join in climate change agreements adopted by much of the rest of the world?

A new bipartisan consensus is emerging, yet for nearly 20 years the federal government failed to take decisive action.

Hot Politics goes behind the scenes to examine the forces behind the inaction, including a well-financed energy industry campaign that challenged the broad scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change in an effort to stall federal regulation.

Published by Ken on April 27th, 2007 tagged Climate Change | Comments Off

sinking feeling: ocean eats less CO2 than tho’t

carbon eating plankton

You should see Vertigo, NOT the movie.

VERtical Transport in the Global Ocean (VERTIGO) is a NSF project to examine how the ocean consumes carbon dioxide (or not).

Turns out, according to initial results released today, not all CO2 does make it into the deep ocean, because various animals and bacteria suck it up so it stays with them in the 'twilight zone'about 300 to 3,000 feet below the surface (via star bulletin).

UH researchers were among scientists from 14 institutions and seven countries participating in the study, which was conducted at Station Aloha and at sampling sites in Japan.

Published by Ken on April 27th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Island Ecosystems | Comments Off

update on monitoring Hawaiian ecosystems

kauai transect for Pacific NEON

Meanwhile, I notice that NEON has promulgated its 'research design' and Pacific NEON has published its proposed 'transects' for each island.

NEON's ecosystem monitoring stations will be located along these 'transects'.

Once this is all up and functioning, then we will have a reliable source of data, as noted in this previous post on PacNEON.

If only we'd started this several decades ago!

Published by Ken on April 26th, 2007 tagged HI-specific, Island Ecosystems | Comments Off

what condition is your ecosystem condition in?

ecosystem trend chart, click for larger

We don't know the answer to this question, and the only good news is that we know we don't know.

Says EPA, "Americans recognize the value of indicators focused on the state of the economy, but no comparable system exists to measure the ecological state of the nation."

Sure, EPA released the "Draft Report on the Environment" in 2003 (amid cries of tampering with the science), while Heinz released "State of the Nation's Ecosystems" in 2005, and "Millenium Ecosystem Assessment" was released in 2006.

So we know more about ecosystems in general, yet we still don't know a heck of a lot about our particular ecosystems.

Published by Ken on April 26th, 2007 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off

recycling with KAB man: remember it’s the 3rd R

kabman on recylcing tips

The folks at 'Keep America Beautiful' have some marvelous new videos about recycling. It's the KAB Man' series from (via celsias).

What they don't have is videos (or anything else) on reducing and reusing...You know, the first 2 Rs.

Which would be OK, except recycling ain't gonna get'r done.

How's that? Turns out that, yes, the rate of recycling has climbed sharply, but not enough to staunch the flow of waste. In fact, recycling accounts for only 2/3 of the increase, so that our net waste continues to rise.

Published by Ken on April 26th, 2007 tagged Island Ecosystems | Comments Off

driving builders to more eco-friendly construction

green building policy in MA

How do ya put greenhouse gases into the mainstream of environmental policy and regulation?

Watch Mass (the state, that is).

They just instituted a new policy for developers that will require an assessment of how their projects contribute to the pollution that leads to global warming (via treehugger).

Mass is the first state to consider greenhouse gases as part of developers' environmental impact reviews.

Effective immediately, private developers will now be required to estimate the greenhouse gases their large-scale projects will produce and reduce them with measures such as energy-efficient lighting, alternative fuels, or commuter shuttles.

Published by Ken on April 25th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Community Initiatives | Comments Off

say it ain’t so: more bird extinctions on Kauai

akikiki may be extinct

When the bird watchers report that two extremely rare birds have been conspicuous by their absence in recent years, we must worry.

Turns out, Hawaii's natural resources agency is sending crews of biologists into the forest areas of Kaua‘i to conduct population surveys of rare native forest birds to understand whether a suspected decline is taking place, and if so, to determine what areas are affected (via common dreams).

Several species that had been seen regularly in recent years seem now to have disappeared, including the endemic ‘akeke‘e, or Kaua‘i ‘akepa and ‘akikiki, or Kaua‘i creeper, whose habitat is the Alaka‘i swamp.

Published by Ken on April 25th, 2007 tagged HI-specific, Island Ecosystems | Comments Off

so that’s where all McLachlan’s money went

sarah mclachlan world on fire video

Right up there with the 'ecological footprint' is our 'cashprint'. Say wot?

Whereas the footprint translates the impacts of our spending into shares of global acreage, the 'cashprint' translates the cash you're dishing on a daily basis into the sustenance you could provide for the world's poor.

That's the point of this "World On Fire" video from Sarah McLachlan (via catalaxis).

Wot a powerful way to think about issues of price and value!

Watching this video helps us think about the very different subjective valuations that can be associated with the very same objective price.

Published by Ken on April 24th, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

rainforest fate: wot do vegetation models say?

vegetation maps with climate change

And you tho't modelling climate was hard...try vegetation.

Answering the question "how much will vegetation change and where will it change most dramatically?" is important not just because human well-being depends on ecosystems, due to the many services they provide, but also because ecosystems sequester large amounts of carbon.

We are likely to witness significant change in the composition and structure of ecosystems, but the precise character of these changes depends on the greenhouse gas emission scenario, climate scenario and biosphere simulation model used.

A team of researchers from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has given it a shot (via carbon balance & management).

Published by Ken on April 24th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

past the crust of cynicism: funny how folks engage

green gets band-wagony

Perhaps 2005 was the year the fate of the planet was the new story swooping onto the news radar, yet 2007 is certainly the year this story got (funny) legs...a bandwagon, almost.
Suddenly, green is the global grist...literally...and everyone's doing it with a grin, from Vanity Fair, Outside, Fortune, and Elle to the New York Times Magazine (via Columbia Journalism Review).

Leading the journalistic green gaggers is Grist, where founder Chip Giller says "humor is an effective way to get people to engage." Rival Outside calls Grist more 'smart-alecked up than dumbed down'. Giller wants Grist to lead the way to where "green won't be thought of as a ‘segment'—but simply part of what's expected."

Published by Ken on April 24th, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives | Comments Off

linking footprints to pollutant damage costs

ecological footprint analysis

Here's a new wrinkle on the 'ecological footprint'. Wudja believe impacts measured in cash instead of acres.

That's right, Fortis has published a footprint calculator that measures impacts in terms of the damage costs of pollutants.

We know that all environmental harm can pose a cost to individuals and society whether it is direct of indirect, now or in the future.

Says Fortis, "our calculator uses damage costs supplied by Trucost, which selects a value based upon a review of relevant research studies."

For example, carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted when fossil fuels are burned, and contibutes to the greenhouse effect.

Published by Ken on April 23rd, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

what goes around doesn’t stop-and-go


Thanks to Pablo, the sustainability engineer, we know that a typical car is about 18.8% efficient at converting fuel energy into constant forward motion (via triple pundit).

Now we know how much is saved by roundabouts versus stop-and go.

In Ask Pablo, he determines the energy needed to overcome aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance at a constant freeway speed of 65 mph.

Yet you require additional energy to get up to highway speed, and how much energy is used in accelerating your vehicle depends on its mass and how fast you accelerate.

Published by Ken on April 23rd, 2007 tagged HI-specific, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

such a deal: conserve biodiversity or else

eo wilson book the creation

There's something about our preoccupation with atmospheric emissions that makes it too easy to depersonalize the climate crisis.

We come to think of the problem as somehow "up there" or "out there".

Yet the real problem is all around us. It's called our ecosystems.

And thank goodness we have EO Wilson to remind us (via common dreams).

Says Wilson, "the irreversible loss of natural ecosystems and species that make up the human life-support system" is the most obvious way that "we are carelessly destabilizing the planetary surface in ways harmful to our own welfare."

Published by Ken on April 22nd, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off