Disposable

Disposable

By Nicole Meyers

99cent-andreas-gursky
Andreas Gursky. 99 Cent, 1999

In 2007, Colin Beavan embarked on a mission to reduce his carbon footprint in New York City. In his book No Impact Man, the Manhattanite documents his year-long crusade to lead an urban lifestyle that has impact on the environment. This means no fossil-fuel emitting transportation, no new purchases, no use of disposable items, and no takeout food or bottled water to avoid containers. Above all, this means NO waste. Beavan produced no trash for twelve months— He didn’t even use toilet paper.

In the beginning of his project, one of Beavan’s initial realizations was the amount of plastic waste his former lifestyle created. Between grocery bags, food containers, coffee cup lids, drink bottles, plastic containers and casing is so ubiquitous in our world that it’s very difficult to buy anything not encased in it, nonetheless made out of it. Beavan wasn’t able to buy cheese until he found a farmer that was able to cut off a slice from the original block and wrap it in paper. Bevan switches from plastic petroleum-derived diapers and opts for cotton tissues and cloths instead. He also starts packing a glass jar with him wherever he goes so he can drink tap water without using plastic cups.

If we want minimize our impact on environment, logical and effective sustainable legislation systems need to consider a full life cycle of plastic, from raw material extraction, production, consumption, and disposal. Plastics are made from oil extracted from the ground, which is then chemically processed to create the molded plastic product. Finished plastics are then sent to stores in an infinite variety of shapes depending on the product requested. Once the the product is discarded, then what happens? Oil-based plastics don’t degrade, but many types CAN be recycled. However, whether or not proper recycling occurs is a whole other problem. Single-use plastic products and throwaway food containers is the fastest growing form of packaging and the main source of oceanic pollution. Every year in the U.S., less than 14 percent of plastic packaging gets properly recycled, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The rest ends up in our oceans, where plastic pollution has become one of the largest threats to our marine ecosystems. Published in the journal Science in February 2015, a study conducted by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) quantified the input of plastic waste from land into the ocean. The report concluded that every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans— and the rate is growing exponentially. In 2025, the annual input is estimated to be about twice greater.

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Chris Jordan. Mixed Recycling Seattle, 2004

The United States has one of the lowest overall recycling rates of any developed nation. Our contaminated coastal lines are a testament to our inadequate recycling infrastructure. Several communities don’t have curbside recycling programs, and our fast food industries aren’t held responsible for providing recycling and composting bins for their customers. In contrast, European countries are held accountable for their packaging.

Recycling is required in all NYC apartment buildings, but not all are compliant with meeting recycling requirements. When buildings do abide by regulation, there still needs to be individual participation for recycling to work. Aside from making sure the proper infrastructure is offered, another huge problem is the discrepancies surrounding how to recycle and what needs to be recycled. We need to receive recycling education—a fundamental knowledge that is critical if we want to live in a sustainable society. Sorting plastic from paper recyclables leads to cross contamination between plants. Thus, people opt for “single stream” recycling, which ends up doubling contamination rates. Learning about what is and what isn’t recyclable is geographic, as communities have different rules and standards.

If you aren’t sure about your neighborhood’s protocol, visit www.iwanttoberecycled.org to find your local recycling information and the nearest recycling centers.

The Future of Food – An Actionable Evening with EWG’s Ken Cook and Dr. Frank Lipman

The Future of Food- An Actionable Evening with EWG’s Ken Cook & Dr. Frank Lipman

By Nicole Meyers

food safety

Why, all of a sudden, is everyone is gluten intolerant? On September 13th, Environmental Working Group’s co-founder Ken Cook sat down with functional medicine leader Dr. Frank Lipman, MD to discuss how our broken food system has given way to a fleet of chronic illnesses which society has never seen before. Cook and Lipman use gluten to illustrate the impacts of food production at the crossroads of public and environmental health.

The way we grow, cook, and consume food is inherently tied to ecological and social consequences. The rise of celiac disease is no coincidence, as Cook points out, but rather a product of America’s complex food system, where corporate interests are given precedence over the health and stability of society. Farmers are forced to adapt industrialized growing techniques to meet rising demands and compete with economies of scale. Their answer came in the form of a cheap agricultural input called Roundup, Monsanto’s brand of weed killer that contains glyphosate as the primary ingredient.

Monsanto’s popular herbicide was never reviewed to evaluate the full range of long-term effects on public health or the environment. Our regulation protocol is systematically flawed to benefit corporations, where chemicals of concern are proven safe by a panel of scientists who manufactured them. Meanwhile, a number of former Monsanto employees are now employed by the FDA and other agencies to monitor Monsanto products. This included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which initially determined that the science “does not provide evidence to show that glyphosate causes cancer.”

monsanto

This is where Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes in: to restore consumer sovereignty and “stand up for the health of society when government and industry won’t.” The EWG is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that provides scientific research on environmental issues so that consumers can protect their health.  Cook discussed how EWG’s findings indicated the danger of glyphosate consumption. While toxic farming practices increased, so did the rate of chronic illness and health diseases including obesity, reproductive issues and cancer.

Frank Lipman, a leading expert in Integrative and functional medicine, outlines the ways in which consuming the potent toxin is damaging your health, including reproductive problems, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease and Attention-Deficit-Hyperactive Disorder. However, the big, unanswered question resides in the potential health effect of glyphosate levels over extended periods of time. Studies have found traces of the toxin in umbilical cords of unborn children and even breast milk. While it may be impossible to avoid glyphosate entirely, Lipman challenges you to use EWG’s resources to empower yourself to take control of your health; and while it seems unrealistic to eliminate glyphosate entirely, the bottom line is to do whatever you can to limit the events of exposure.

What can you do? Educate yourself and choose wisely when shopping for food or medications. Environmental Working Group has done extensive research on everything from sunscreen to food additives. Look at their lists here.

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Save the Hors d’Oeuvre!

We live in New York City. We are bombarded every day with pleas from environmental groups to save something – something new or old or small and cute and it is often too overwhelming to contemplate. We live in the human built environment surrounded on all sides by other humans and very little nature. How do we connect with all these asks for saving, support, and urgent action? Stick with what you know.

We go from home to subway or bus or taxi to street to work to meetings to conferences to cocktail hours to networking events to charity events to parties to home. What do the things that come during and after work all have in common? Food!

cocktail party food 1Small, flavorful, bite size bits of food to keep us going to the next stop. And we love them, don’t we? We love hors d’oeuvre! That tiny slice of sirloin on toast with some horseradish sauce? Heaven! Deviled eggs with paprika? Lovely. Sautéed crab cakes with herb remoulade? Sign me up. Mini lobster rolls! Bite size chicken empanadas with chipotle salsa! Baby lamb chops and Dijon mustard! Vegetable summer rolls with that addictive sweet chili dip…what do you mean it’s already 8pm and we have to go? Just one more!

A word on conference cheese. While those piles of orange and white cubes may not be categorized as hors d’oeuvre per se, they can be found at every conference, meeting or reception in town. One can’t help but line up for a stab at toothpick roulette – will I get the hidden spicy Havarti? Is that real cheddar? I think that one is the Muenster! Those little cubes, full of mystery and intrigue, can so easily lift one from their panel discussion stupor and for that they should be praised. conference cheese

Climate change is rapidly starting to become less of a concept and more of a reality and with it the consequences. There is a reason certain foods are grown in certain places. The cycle of seasons and temperatures are at a delicate balance to create this life which sustains us. Fluctuations in these temperatures and cycles not only disturbs pollination timing but also growth and harvest cycles. Everyone is familiar with what happens if Florida receives a freeze at the wrong time. Oranges die and demand outpaces supply and prices rise. That little glass of morning OJ we take for granted just jumped in price and may not even be available.

orange juiceImagine if that happened with every commodity we consume from bread to cheese to kale – heaven forbid a run on kale! Less bread means higher bread prices that make Dean and Deluca look reasonable.

The US supplies more than 30% of wheat, corn and rice to the world. The World. If there is a disruption in weather patterns due to additional carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, extreme weather events will throw off the delicate balance. Droughts, violent storms and floods are a direct example of temperature variability due to increased CO2, which have cost farmers dearly. In 2008 when the Mississippi flooded just before harvest season, it cost farmers 8 billion dollars in losses.

tea sandwich platterWarmer temperatures also come with an increase in pests and weeds causing an increase in pesticides which are then passed on to humans affecting their health. And next thing you know there is a dearth of grains and someone doesn’t get a mini meatball sub then “hanger” sets in and all hell breaks loose. Or, more seriously, someone goes hungry either next door or across the world. Neither is an acceptable option.

This same scenario also applies to corn which is popularly fed to cows. If the cost of corn goes way up due to a reduction in yield, the cost of meat will increase exponentially to the price of feeding them. Additionally, higher temperatures can cause stress on the animals and their milk production, fertility and health. No more baby beef wellingtons! No more conference cheese! No milk with your cookies! What will the kids say at bedtime?

cookies and milkOver-fishing and pollution is only the beginning of the stress on fish populations. Worse is warming water temperatures because certain fish only survive within a range of temperatures and are very sensitive to changes. If we exceed the comfort zone that can lead to reproduction loss, migration interruption and death.

salmon tartareMost familiar is the life cycle of the salmon that consists of all of the above: Once eggs are laid they mature by spring, the salmon grow and swim to the ocean for a number of years, feed, and migrate back to their home stream to mate, spawn and then die. This cycle is very sensitive to temperature, changing of the season, and sun position to be successful. If we do not adhere to this delicate cycle, the supply of salmon will drop, the price will rise, and that amazing salmon tartar in the tiny pastry cup is no longer a staple. Worst case scenario – a moratorium on sushi! No sushi!

You want a reason to get involved in the climate fight? Save the Hors d’oeuvre!

 

 

 

 

Our Legacy – A Human Story

Our Legacy – A Human Story

When considering climate change and the many-sided arguments that accompany it, one must turn to the core of human values to define our ultimate goals. It has been addressed in every way possible; through art, film, documentary, short film, petitions, lobbying, lawmaking, media, social media, news – both print and television, even humorous cartoons. It is certainly not a lack of information that is the problem. It must be the way the message is delivered. It has been spoken about by everyone in every kind of language from scientific, sociological, medical, legal, philosophical, and moral to the day to day practical expressed in plain old everyday English. Every type of person in every kind of setting from the highest court to the most respected of academia to the town square has been addressed. But what of the foundation? What does everyone want at their core? To be remembered.

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CERN Interior

The Higgs Boson particle, a subatomic particle theorized in 1964 and discovered in 2013, is a legacy particle. It flashed into existence for less than a billionth of a trillionth of a second then changed into other particles due to its rapid disintegration.  The only reason it was able to be detected was because scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland were able to measure changes via the particles it became. Had there not been any perceivable shift in its surrounding environment, they would not have known it had ever been there.

The only legacy we all leave behind is the effect we have on others, the changes we create in them by interacting with them, and thus the world. Without these changes, we would not be. The ripple effect of our presence lives on in all to whom we have been close.

This is the purpose of art. It marks time, speaks of when and where we were, how we saw it, what we did, what we didn’t do. Positive and negative actions are of equal weight when marking time and influence. Olafur Eliasson speaks of results in terms of consequences, action and reaction; positive and negative space – actions taken and actions not taken all have consequences – often the latter ends in regret, remorse, self-loathing, and at worst, nothing. At the end of his TED talk he says “This is all I have.” It’s more than enough to fill the coffers of personal and professional curiosity and goad one into action – even if only in personal reflection.

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Olafur Eliasson and his solar light Little Sun
David Hume, Scotland’s preeminent philosopher among other incarnations, speaks to these core values from the inside out. As discussed by Arthur Herman (How the Scots Invented the Modern World):

“Hume quietly pointed out that human beings are not, and never have been, governed by their rational capacities. Reason’s role is purely instrumental: it teaches us how to get what we want. What we want is determined by our emotions, our passions – anger, lust, fear, grief, envy, but also joy, love of fame, love of contentedness, and paradoxically, our desire to live according to rational principles.”

The basic tenant that he speaks of is self interest. We avoid that which is uncomfortable in lieu of what is familiar and easiest, which due to its inherent nature does not equate the effect with the cause. It simply is. “The overriding guiding force in all our actions is not our reason, or our sense of obligation toward others, or any innate moral sense – but the most basic human passion of all, the desire for self-gratification.”

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David Hume’s Home Edinburgh, Scotland

CRED (Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University) says we need to speak to people’s self interest, find the common denominator that moves them. Now that we know that the common denominator is actually self interest, and this is the basis for all decision making, then climate change arguments are included. It’s a vicious circle of selfishness that should by all accounts end in self preservation at the very least.

For all intents and purposes, if the phrase is taken literally, would end in this current generation succeeding at its greatest accomplishment so far – changing the course of history to include reversal of climate change and the development of a way of thinking that supports the health of the earth without sacrificing expansion and growth. Johan Rockstrom believes this to be a possible outcome using our current tools within our current planetary boundaries.

“The planetary boundary research liberates us from limits to growth in a decisive way,” Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, explains in his TED Talk, “It says, ‘here is a safe operating space where we can have unlimited growth.’” True, the existence of the climate boundary means that developed nations must slash their carbon emissions to near zero in just a few decades. “But there is nothing to hinder solar and wind power and higher efficiency,” Rockström says. “The world economy can grow even in a decarbonized space.”

Some remain that humans are meant to adapt and change to survive. However, why take the risk? What we are living through right now is as unprecedented as it is unnatural, making the survivability of it as uncertain as the unpredictability of the climate change itself. Highlighting already documented changes due to chemical saturation, deforestation and ozone depletion and the already documented effects thereof, support of making it any worse is counter intuitive to our fundamental needs, which, again, is our inherent self interest that starts with clean air, water, and food, and expands to include personal comfort and basic safety. That is reason enough to take on the challenge of maintaining our planet in its current state. It will be our legacy.

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Water, water everywhere…

And not a drop to drink according to NASA. Water conservation and backing off on aquifer drilling is a must do right now. There’s no replacing water that is created naturally from rain and snowfall once it is consumed without spending excruciating amounts of money on desalinization plants and treatment facilities. A smarter move would be to recognize the folly of over harvesting and get back to basics – conservation is everything.

New NASA data show how the world is running out of water

June 16

NASA-Scientists-Say-the-World-Is-Running-Out-of-Water

The world’s largest underground aquifers – a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people — are being depleted at alarming rates, according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of vital water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface.

Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period, researchers announced Tuesday. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them into the most troubled category. The researchers said this indicated a long-term problem that’s likely to worsen as reliance on aquifers grows.

Scientists had long suspected that humans were taxing the world’s underground water supply, but the NASA data was the first detailed assessment to demonstrate that major aquifers were indeed struggling to keep pace with demands from agriculture, growing populations, and industries such as mining.

“The situation is quite critical,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and principal investigator of the University of California Irvine-led studies.

Underground aquifers supply 35 percent of the water used by humans worldwide. Demand is even greater in times of drought. Rain-starved California is currently tapping aquifers for 60 percent of its water use as its rivers and above-ground reservoirs dry up, a steep increase from the usual 40 percent. Some expect water from aquifers will account for virtually every drop of the state’s fresh water supply by year end.

[Rich Californians balk at limits: ‘We’re not all equal when it comes to water’]

The aquifers under the most stress are in poor, densely populated regions, such as northwest India, Pakistan and North Africa, where alternatives are limited and water shortages could quickly lead to instability.

The researchers used NASA’s GRACE satellites to take precise measurements of the world’s groundwater aquifers. The satellites detected subtle changes in the Earth’s gravitational pull, noting where the heavier weight of water exerted a greater pull on the orbiting spacecraft. Slight changes in aquifer water levels were charted over a decade, from 2003 to 2013.

“This has really been our first chance to see how these large reservoirs change over time,” said Gordon Grant, a research hydrologist at Oregon State University, who was not involved in the studies.

But the NASA satellites could not measure the total capacity of the aquifers. The size of these tucked-away water supplies remains something of a mystery. Still, the satellite data indicated that some aquifers may be much smaller than previously believed, and most estimates of aquifer reserves have “uncertainty ranges across orders of magnitude,” according to the research.

Aquifers can take thousands of years to fill up and only slowly recharge with water from snowmelt and rains. Now, as drilling for water has taken off across the globe, the hidden water reservoirs are being stressed.

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” Famiglietti said. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

[California’s water woes primed to get worse as groundwater is drained]

The health of the world’s aquifers varied widely, mostly dependent on how they were used. In Australia, for example, the Canning Basin in the country’s western end had the third-highest rate of depletion in the world. But the Great Artesian Basin to the east was among the healthiest.

The difference, the studies found, is likely attributable to heavy gold and iron ore mining and oil and gas exploration near the Canning Basin. Those are water-intensive activities.

The world’s most stressed aquifer — defined as suffering rapid depletion with little or no sign of recharging — was the Arabian Aquifer, a water source used by more than 60 million people. That was followed by the Indus Basin in India and Pakistan, then the Murzuk-Djado Basin in Libya and Niger.

California’s Central Valley Aquifer was the most troubled in the United States. It is being drained to irrigate farm fields, where drought has led to an explosion in the number of water wells being drilled. California only last year passed its first extensive groundwater regulations. But the new law could take two decades to take full effect.

Also running a negative balance was the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains Aquifer, which stretches across the southeast coast and Florida. But three other aquifers in the middle of the country appeared to be in relatively good shape.

Some groundwater filters back down to aquifers, such as with field irrigation. But most of it is lost to evaporation or ends up being deposited in oceans, making it harder to use. A 2012 study by Japanese researchers attributed up to 40 percent of the observed sea-level rise in recent decades to groundwater that had been pumped out, used by humans and ended up in the ocean.

Famiglietti said problems with groundwater are exacerbated by global warming, which has caused the regions closest to the equator to get drier and more extreme latitudes to experience wetter and heavier rains. A self-reinforcing cycle begins. People living in mid-range latitudes not only pump more water from aquifers to contend with drier conditions, but that water — once removed from the ground — also then evaporates and gets recirculated to areas far north and south.

The studies were published Tuesday in the Water Resources Research journal.

Famiglietti said he hoped the findings would spur discussion and further research into how much groundwater is left.

“We need to get our heads together on how we manage groundwater,” he said, “because we’re running out of it.”

 

June 17th – Climate sHeros Event!

Don’t know how you can make a difference on climate change? Get inspired by the launch of the Human Impact Stories “Climate sHeros” series of personal stories of diverse New York women who are leading the way in combating global climate change…and see their stories reimagined through art, live music, poetry and performance. Stay for networking, climate actions, and the announcement of the 2015 Creative Climate Awards selection celebrating #ClimateDiploDay.

climate sheros

June 17th – Climate sHeros Event!

Don’t know how you can make a difference on climate change? Get inspired by the launch of the Human Impact Stories “Climate sHeros” series of personal stories of diverse New York women who are leading the way in combating global climate change…and see their stories reimagined through art, live music, poetry and performance. Stay for networking, climate actions, and the announcement of the 2015 Creative Climate Awards selection celebrating #ClimateDiploDay.

climate sheros

Good news – Check out the Global Apollo Program!

Sir David King calls for £15bn a year R&D spending on clean energy to make it cheaper than coal power globally, in emulation of space race research efforts

D29KB2 Earth rise over the MoonEarthplanetspacemoonorbitglobeexplorationsolarsystemglobalApollo11environmentenvironmentalcosmiccosmosastronomyplanetarysciencediscoveryastrophysicsastrophysicalatmospherecirclerounddesolationNASAimagephotophotographphotographyworldorbitmannedmissionflightspaceshipshiprisingrisesurfacenightuniverse
Earthrise: Famous image of Earth taken from the Apollo 8 mission on 24 December 1968. Photograph: Alamy

A plan to tackle climate change by emulating the race to put a man on the moon is launched on Tuesday, aiming to channel billions of dollars in research that will give renewable energy commercial lift off.

The Global Apollo Programme aims to make the cost of clean electricity lower than that from coal-fired power stations across the world within 10 years. It calls for £15bn a year of spending on research, development and demonstration of green energy and energy storage, the same funding in today’s money that the US Apollo programme spent in putting astronauts on the moon.

The plan is the brainchild of a group of eminent UK scientists, economists and businessmen including Sir David King, currently the UK’s climate change envoy, Lord Nicholas Stern, Lord Adair Turner and ex-BP chief Lord John Browne.

King said green energy already had advantages over fossil fuel power in cutting deadly air pollution and reducing the carbon emissions that drive global warming. But he said making clean energy cheaper was important too: “Once we get to that point, we are winning in all the battles.”

King, who has visited 60 countries in his climate diplomacy role, said many countries were interested in the Apollo plan, including the UK, US, Japan, China, Korea, Mexico and the UAE. In particular, King said Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister and solar energy enthusiast, was keen.

The plan has been discussed by G7 energy ministers and is on the agenda for the G7 heads of state meeting in Germany on 7 June. King said he hoped the Apollo project would launch in November, just ahead of the crunch UN climate change summit in Paris which nations have set a deadline for a global deal.

“Nasa showed how a stupendous goal could be achieved, amazingly fast, if the will and the resources are there,” said Professor Martin Rees, former head of the Royal Society and another member of the Apollo group.

Engineers at work at a floating solar power plant in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan.

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Engineers at work at a floating solar power plant in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan. Photograph: Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media

The moon landings were spurred by cold war rivalries and Rees said the energy challenge would provide its own motivation: “I find it hard to imagine anything more inspiring for engineers than to provide clean energy for the world.”

The Apollo programme aims to double the money being spent globally on research and development of renewable energy, energy storage and smart grids from the current 2% of the world’s R&D budget. Nations joining the programme would commit to spending 0.02% of GDP on the R&D and would get a place on a global commission that would coordinate and direct the research to avoid duplication.

A similar, though smaller, commission already exists to coordinate R&D on semiconductors and has resulted in continuous falls in computer chip costs.

There would be no central Apollo fund and nations would still control how to spend their own money. The UK already spends 0.02% of its GDP on clean energy, as do some other developed nations, but other countries do not and there is no international cooperation to maximise the results.

Lord Richard Layard, an economist at the London School of Economics and member of the Apollo group, said it was barely believable that the world only spent 2% of its R&D money on its “most pressing problem” of climate change and clean energy. He said: “We do not think this problem can be conquered unless we reduce the cost of renewable energy below the cost of dirty energy.”

Stern said that electricity from coal-fired power stations only appeared cheaper because the costs of air pollution and climate change were not included. He noted that the IMF recently calculated that fossil fuels benefit from subsidies of $5.3 tn a year, or $10m a minute, half of which derives from the polluters not paying the costs of health damage from air pollution.

Improving technologies for energy storage is a particular focus as this tackle to problem of intermittency of renewable energy that relies on the sun to shine or wind to blow.

Current levels of renewables can be accommodated on national grids, the Apollo group said. But making electricity 100% renewable by 2050 would require affordable energy storage, both on the domestic scale and national scale. Storage technologies being targeted include better batteries, heat storage in water, soil or molten salt, compressed air, flywheels and hydrogen.

Sir David Attenborough, who recently discussed climate change in a meeting with US president Barack Obama, said: “I have been involved in arguments about the despoilation of the natural world for many years. The exciting thing about the [Apollo] report is that it is a positive report – at last someone is saying there is a way we can do things.”

Prof John Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and former adviser to German chancellor Angela Merkel called the Apollo plan “truly ingenious” and said it “could well be a tipping point” in tackling climate change.

Art for the Planet’s Sake

The Venice Biennale has just opened and to a wave of artwork focusing on the global environmental changes attributed to climate change. As Roberta Smith says below, ‘This is not a time for art as an object of contemplation or delight, much less a market commodity – certainly not in public exhibition whose chief responsibility is to stimulate debate.” Everyone learns differently – today we mark the experience of being in this time of grave change with installations and sculpture by those who have used their talents to open our eyes.

Review: Art for the Planet’s Sake at the Venice Biennale

How California Became a Green Superpower

For all of us who think NYC is the center of the universe, I would like to suggest we take on this challenge. We can’t possibly let California beat us in the green race!

5 Charts That Show How One State Became the World’s Green Superpower

A new study ranks California the world’s No. 2 low-carbon economy, thanks to big investments in renewable energy and efficiency.

wind turbines in front of solar panels

Giant wind turbines in front of solar panels in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

May 18, 2015

 

When it comes to building a low-carbon economy, California isn’t dreaming.

A new report that ranks nations according to renewable energy production, consumption, efficiency, and other factors finds that world’s eighth-largest economy—California—was the second-least-carbon-intensive one on the planet in 2012. In other words, the state has become extremely efficient when it comes to the volume of greenhouse gas emitted per $10,000 of gross domestic product.

“California’s strategic efforts to improve the economy while reducing emissions have shown climate action is possible while also achieving economic growth,” state the authors of the report from Next 10, a San Francisco–based nonprofit research organization.

Such regional efforts are becoming key to averting a climate-change catastrophe, given the two-decade failure to achieve a binding global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The least-carbon-intensive country is France, owing largely to that nation’s reliance on carbon-free nuclear energy to power its economy.

With 38 million people and a $2.2 trillion GDP, California would be the world’s 36th-most-populous nation if it were independent, with an economy on par with Italy or Brazil. Under Gov. Jerry Brown and his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state has set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promoted renewable energy and electric cars with tax breaks and other incentives. And decades of strict energy-efficiency standards for appliances has kept California’s per capita electricity consumption flat even as its population and economy have boomed.

As a result, California ranked No. 1 in energy productivity—GDP relative to energy consumption. The state was No. 2 in the percentage of electricity obtained from renewable sources such as solar and wind in 2012. (Germany took first place.) Last year, nearly a fifth of the world’s electric cars were sold in California.

While California uses more energy per person than the European Union, China, Brazil, and India, the rate of consumption per capita has been falling since 1990.

“With one of the world’s largest economies, California is growing its GDP while shrinking its carbon footprint,” F. Noel Perry, Next 10’s founder, said in a statement. “It is a prime example of the decoupling of economic growth and energy use that is beginning to happen among the world’s most productive nations.”