February 14, 2009
Peasant Movement of Papaye
Our congregation, 1st Congregational United Church of Christ, is launching our 2009 Drink Water for Life challenge this Lenten season, hoping to collect another $ 8 - 10,000 to help the Peasant Movement of Papaye provide water for three communities that contain about 15,000 people. Here's some information about the Peasant Movement of Papaye. If you are interested in contributing, please contact me.
Ehrenfield Thinking about Sustainability
John Ehrenfield recently wrote an editorial in the e-journal Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy entitled "Sustainability needs to be attained, not managed" Ehrenfield link Since I am in the middle of a short article about sustainability, I found his discussion interesting:
....Sustainability and its derivatives fall into the same class as a few of the key concepts underlying liberal democracies everywhere—like equality, freedom, and liberty—that are explicitly written into the founding documents of the United States. Such terms have been called “essentially contested concepts” (ECCs), signifying that there is an ongoing, never-ending dispute about both the meaning and the degree to which one can attain whatever is named by the concept (Gallie, 1956). I recall a recent allusion to some 300 or more definitions regarding sustainability. Sustainability is confused or conflated with “green” in many places. It is used more-or-less interchangeably in this publication and others focused on the notion of “sustainable development.”
...All ECCs are emergent properties of complex systems, and are subjective in the sense that they arise through an assessment by some observer looking on the whole system. ECCs are unquantifiable, but can be described via qualities coming from the observer’s assessment [like Justice Potter Stewart's definition of obscenity, "I know it when I see it."] ....The second point about ECCs is that they cannot be managed in the deterministic sense that “management” implies: that a manager operates according to some set of rules describing the behavior of the system being managed, and further that the outcome can be measured according to some quantifiable metric. So goes one of the most famous of management mantras, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” If I push a little here, the system will move to the place I want it to be. This apparent limitation is just that, apparent. The biggest challenge to those who construct or oversee human-made complex systems or oversee natural systems is to make sure that they are producing the desirable properties that make them special.
Sustainability is a much more general concept than is implied in its adjectival use in sustainable development. It is better defined as the possibility that some system that is now producing, or soon will produce, one of these desirable emergent properties will continue to produce it indefinitely. (emphasis added-SLS).....But sustainability, as contrasted with “sustainable development” or any phrase using the adjective sustainable, is very different. Sustainable development is, indeed, all about managing the technocratic process of economic development so that the Earth will continue to support future generations in the same way it has for us. Development is certainly not the objective. But what is? Even the conventional triad—environment, economy, and equity—that accompanies the standard Brundtland definition does not help much. Further, since sustainable development is categorically a continuing process, it cannot, by definition, ever be achieved. .... I begin with a very different way to define and construe sustainability. In a recent book, I define sustainability as “the possibility that human and other life will flourish on the Earth forever” (Ehrenfeld, 2008). Here “flourishing” is the emergent property and the system producing flourishing is the Earth. I chose flourishing as the quality that encompasses all three legs of sustainable development because it conjures up a vision of a desirable future state and, thus, can be assessed as being present or not. It is certainly not going to be easy to get there, but it is not something “that never can be achieved.”
Flourishing is a metaphor for many things, but always connotes aliveness, joy, health and many other qualities related to being. The challenges we face today, as portrayed in the volumes of this journal, are different from those related to managing sustainable development. Our goal should be to attain sustainability because it exists now only in tiny bits and patches, if at all. Even if we continue to disagree on the meaning of sustainability, we are largely in agreement that the present state of the Earth is unsustainable. We can come to terms here because we do define unsustainability in quantitative measures and rules.
Further, virtually everything that has been done in the name of sustainability is rather an attempt to reduce unsustainability. This may sound like a tautology, but it is not. Sustainability is a mere possibility; flourishing is the normative vision. Unsustainability is palpable and can be measured and reduced to the result of calculations. The dominant sustainable development framework, employed by virtually all countries, is some form of technology to improve efficiency.
Ecoefficiency is the rubric applied to new consumer products and commodities: more value for less environmental impact. Energy efficiency aims at providing ever-increasing demands for energy via technology that reduces carbon emissions and preserves the finite supply of fossil fuels....[t]he rebound effect (also known as the Jevons Paradox) (Alcott, 2005)... states that growth in demand will negate the gains of efficiency improvement. This last sentence is not a criticism of efficiency or any other efforts to stem the tide of unsustainability; it simply points to its limitations. Anything done today that will slow down the potential collapse of the planetary and socioeconomic systems that nourish us is important.
However, we cannot confuse these efforts with creating sustainability. Nor can we allow the complacency that is created by continuing to attack the symptoms with technology, rather than attacking the underlying causes. Systems dynamics calls such defocusing on the real problems, instead of addressing the underlying causes, “shifting the burden.” Unsustainability is an unintended consequence of modernity. It has arisen in the normal course of societal activities. The underlying structure of modern cultures fuels the pump of consumption.
Unsustainability will not disappear and make room for sustainability to emerge until the beliefs and norms that drive industrialized economies are exchanged for new ones aligned with sustainability. Cartesianism and the idea of an objective reality, accessing that reality through reductionist science, the standard model of the human as a machine driven to fulfill an insatiable set of needs, plus a presumption that technology will solve virtually all of our problems, are a few key beliefs that are implicated.
The Cartesian way of grasping (objective) reality leads to the notion of absolute truth and thence to domination. Humberto Maturana (1988), a Chilean biologist, says that in the system of objective reality, “a claim of knowledge is a demand for obedience.” Reductionist science places humans outside of nature via the metaphorical microscope with a human eye at one end and the world at the other. Early modernist beliefs about the liberating power of this newly found knowledge and its technological applications saw nature as harsh and alien and sought to establish dominion over it for the perfection of humanity.
The standard rational model of cognition and action leads to a model of humans as possessing a mysterious set of insatiable needs that individuals continually strive to satisfy by basing actions on a maximizing calculus programmed into a computer in our minds. Couple this to a neoclassical, capitalist political economy that must grow or die, and you have a formula for trouble. Finally, the shifting-the-burden propensity to use technology to solve every problem leads us to see the whole world as little more than raw materials for more and newer tools. Humans are transformed from something special to mere potential components for a tightly bound-up system of production and consumption. In the unending quest for tools to satisfy us, we have turned from our flourishing, or being, mode to one of having (Fromm, 1976).
If we are to see the possibility of flourishing realized, we must transform the cultural system at its roots. We can start by exchanging our model of determinate objective reality for one of complexity, accepting that the world and its subsystems cannot be reduced to a set of mathematical or analytic rules. The financial system, a good example of complexity, has been modeled by economists and bankers as a money machine, but what we really strive for is not money, but security and the means to enable us to care for the world, others, and ourselves. The recent collapse of the system did make a lot of money disappear, but what was really lost was confidence, trust, and security.
Complexity brings us a different set of beliefs that should line up better with sustainability: interdependent and communitarian instead of independent and individualist; and organic and holistic instead of mechanistic and atomistic. Seeing us as caring rather than needing creatures brings us other directedness instead of narcissism and concern for fairness instead of drive for efficiency. Beauty is not something that can be bought in a bottle, even though advertisements incessantly bombard us with exactly that message. Philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and psychologists like Erich Fromm recall our origins as being creatures. Being is a holistic concept that emerges when the whole body is working in harmony with all the interconnected links with the Earth and with other people. The sense of responsibility necessary to maintain taking care of the Earth, which has been lost, returns to one’s consciousness.
We slowly become our stories and our actions play out the plot they weave. Vice versa, we create our stories from our actions. We can build these new kinds of models for the world and human life into the tools we use every day and into the social processes we use to make collective decisions. Tools that talk and guide our actions are one way to move. Simple artifacts, for example speed bumps, two-button toilets, or seat-belt alarms, speak to us with messages like: be careful, someone might be crossing; use only as much water as is necessary; or do not gamble with your life. Governance frameworks such as the Precautionary Principle reflect the indeterminacy of the complex worlds on which we depend for flourishing. Accepting that we cannot know how to predict their future states, especially when we suspect the possibility of collapse, of shift to an unfriendly regime, leads to prudence.
Climate Change Likely To Be More Devastating Than Experts Predicted, Warns Top IPCC Scientist
ScienceDaily (2009-02-15) -- Without decisive action, global warming is likely to accelerate at a much faster pace and cause more environmental damage than predicted, says Stanford scientist Chris Field, a leading member of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who will be responsible for coordinating the Work Group II report. Field warns that higher temperatures could ignite tropical forests and melt the Arctic tundra, releasing billions of tons of greenhouse gas that could raise temperatures even more -- a vicious cycle that could spiral out of control by the end of the century. Science Daily
....Since 1990, the IPCC has published four comprehensive assessment reports on human-induced climate change. Field was a coordinating lead author of the fourth assessment, Climate Change 2007, which concluded that the Earth's temperature is likely to increase 2 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius) by 2100, depending on how many tons of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere in coming decades.
But recent climate studies suggest that the fourth assessment report underestimated the potential severity of global warming over the next 100 years. "We now have data showing that from 2000 to 2007, greenhouse gas emissions increased far more rapidly than we expected, primarily because developing countries, like China and India, saw a huge upsurge in electric power generation, almost all of it based on coal," Field said.
This trend is likely to continue, he added, if more developing countries turn to coal and other carbon-intensive fuels to meet their energy needs. "If we're going to continue re-carbonizing the energy system, we're going to have big CO2 emissions in the future," he said. "As a result, the impacts of climate change will probably be more serious and diverse than those described in the fourth assessment."....
Of particular concern is the impact of global warming on the tropics. "Tropical forests are essentially inflammable," Field said. "You couldn't get a fire to burn there if you tried. But if they dry out just a little bit, the result can be very large and destructive wildfires."
According to several recent climate models, loss of tropical forests to wildfires, deforestation and other causes could increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 10 to 100 parts per million by the end of the century. This would be a significant increase, given that the total concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently about 380 parts per million, the highest in 650,000 years.
"It is increasingly clear that as you produce a warmer world, lots of forested areas that had been acting as carbon sinks could be converted to carbon sources," Field said. "Essentially we could see a forest-carbon feedback that acts like a foot on the accelerator pedal for atmospheric CO2. We don't exactly know how strong the feedback could be, but it's pretty clear that the warmer it gets, the more likely it is that degradation of tropical forests will increase the atmospheric CO2."
The ocean is another vital reservoir for carbon storage. Recent studies show that global warming has altered wind patterns in the Southern Ocean, which in turn has reduced the ocean's capacity to soak up excess atmospheric CO2. "As the Earth warms, it generates faster winds over the oceans surrounding Antarctica," Field explained. "These winds essentially blow the surface water out of the way, allowing water with higher concentrations of CO2 to rise to the surface. This higher-CO2 water is closer to CO2-saturated, so it takes up less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."
Climate scientists also worry that permafrost in the Arctic tundra will thaw, releasing enormous amounts of CO2 and methane gas into the atmosphere. According to Field, the most critical, short-term concern is the release of CO2 from decaying organic matter that has been frozen for millennia. "The new estimate of the total amount of carbon that's frozen in permafrost soils is on the order of 1,000 billion tons," he said. "By comparison, the total amount of CO2 that's been released in fossil fuel combustion since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is around 350 billion tons. So the amount of carbon that's stored in these frozen soils is truly vast."
Much of the carbon is locked up in frozen plants that were buried under very cold conditions and have remained in deep freeze for 25,000 to 50,000 years, he added. "We know that the Arctic is warming faster than anyplace else," he said. "And there is clear evidence that these frozen plants are very susceptible to decomposition when the tundra thaws. So melting of permafrost is poised to be an even stronger foot on the accelerator pedal of atmospheric CO2, with every increment of warming causing an increment of permafrost-melting that shoots an increment of CO2 into the atmosphere, which in turn increases warming.
"There's a vicious-cycle component to both the tundra-thawing and the tropical forest feedbacks, but the IPCC fourth assessment didn't consider either of them in detail. That's basically because they weren't well understood at the time."
For the fifth assessment report, Field said that he and his IPCC colleagues will have access to new research that will allow them to do a better job of assessing the full range of possible climate outcomes. "What have we learned since the fourth assessment? We now know that, without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought. If you look at the set of things that we can do as a society, taking aggressive action on climate seems like one that has the best possibility of a win-win. It can stimulate the economy, allow us to address critical environmental problems, and insure that we leave a sustainable world for our children and grandchildren. Somehow we have to find a way to kick the process into high gear. We really have very little time."
February 13, 2009
Here Comes the Sun!!!!
As we approach spring in Oregon, we get more and more desperate for the sun (actually its been a great, cold and sunny winter for the most part, but we've got to complain to keep immigrants out). Here's a welcome story from Andrew Rivkin of the NY Times about significant solar coming on line:
The largest utility in California, squeezed by rising demand for electricity and looming state deadlines to curb fossil fuels, has signed a deal to buy solar power from seven immense arrays of mirrors, towers and turbines to be installed in the Mojave Desert. The contracts amount to the world’s largest single deal for new solar energy capacity, said officials from the utility, Southern California Edison, and BrightSource Energy, the company that would build and run the plants. When fully built, the solar arrays on a sunny day would supply 1,300 megawatts of electricity, somewhat more than a modern nuclear power plant. That is enough electricity to power about 845,000 homes. Mojave Desert plant
The companies acknowledged that several hurdles would have to be surmounted before the first surge of electricity flows from the desert — in theory around 2013 — toward power-hungry cities more than 200 miles away.
First is approval by the state Public Utilities Commission. But more challenging, they said, is a series of permits for improving transmission lines. That process in the past has taken seven to 10 years per project, said Stuart R. Hemphill, vice president for renewable and alternative power for the utility.
“The reality is that renewable projects are very far away from where customers are,” Mr. Hemphill said. “The key is to have transmission built.”
He said he was confident the solar project would succeed, and emphasized that it was part of the company’s accelerating shift toward new energy sources, including recent large contracts for wind turbines, photovoltaic rooftop panels and geothermal power. “What we’re doing is changing the shape of the way the electric system is going to operate in California,” he said.
BrightSource, with investors as varied as Google and the VantagePoint venture capital firm — and with advisers that include the environmental campaigner and lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — has refined a decades-old technology. Thousands of small mirrors focus intense desert sunlight on a central tower, where it generates steam to drive a turbine.
Officials from the utility and plant builder said the cost of the plants and the electricity they will produce could not be disclosed under California law.
The deal is one of many signs that concentrated solar power, after decades of ups and downs, is finding an important place around the world, said Severin Borenstein, a specialist in energy policy at the Haas School of Business of the University of California, Berkeley.
But the technology remains substantially more expensive than coal as an electricity source, Mr. Borenstein said, and further expansion will depend on whether the public continues to support renewable mandates or a rising price on emissions from coal burning. “Everybody’s for reducing greenhouse gases until you start having to pay for it,” he said.
California is imposing one of the country’s most aggressive renewable-power mandates on its utilities. Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric and other providers are racing to meet a deadline of having at least 20 percent of electricity flowing from renewable sources by the end of 2010.
Vanessa McGrady, a spokeswoman for Southern California Edison, said the utility now gets 16 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.
Even with the new plants and other nonpolluting energy options, the state still faces big energy and emissions challenges, given relentless growth in demand for electricity at peak times.
In 2008, Pacific Gas and Electric, in Northern California, entered agreements to buy nearly 900 megawatts of power from BrightSource of Oakland, Calif. BrightSource has installed a pilot plant in the Negev Desert of Israel.
Other designs for plants that concentrate sunlight to generate power are in operation or under development in Spain, the Middle East, north Africa, and elsewhere in the Southwest.
Guns in Parks
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, posted a blog entry last night (post link) about the Bush Administration guns-in-National-Parks rule. The post is featured on
Huffington Post's Environment page today.HP Envt page link The post itself links to government documents concerning the organization's lawsuit to block the Guns-in-National-Parks rule, which underscore how the rule violated NEPA by not even preparing an environmental assessment of the rule.
February 10, 2009
Green companies win: companies with a commitment to sustainability tend to outperform their peers during the financial crisis
A study released yesterday by A.T. Kearney, Inc, titled Green Winners: The Performance of Sustainability-focused Companies in the Financial Crisis, found that in 16 out of 18 industries companies with a commitment to sustainability were the clear leaders in the financial markets. The study examined 99 companies identified by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the Goldman Sachs Sustain Focus List as having a strong commitment to sustainability and compared their performance with industry averages. In 16 of the 18 industries studied, companies committed to sustainability outperformed industry averages by 15% over the six months from May through November 2008. From a market capitalization perspective, this superior performance averages out to $650 million in protected market capitalization per company.
“Our study indicates that the market rewards specific companies,”
said Dr. Daniel Mahler, author of the study. “We find common
characteristics among the leading companies that show that
sustainability goes far beyond the narrow definition of being
environmentally friendly.” These characteristics include:
The study contains discussions of each of the 18 industries studied,
as well as examples of best practices from a variety of industries.
Together with the macro analysis, these case studies provide a map for
companies looking to be proactive in terms of protecting their market
capitalization. While green measures that produce immediate cost-savings such as
reducing packaging material and decreasing fuel use will become
increasingly common in a cash-strapped economy, Sustainability and the Financial Crisis
suggests that investing in sustainability for the long term may be the
best way to protect a company’s value through the months — and years —
ahead. The study covered all 10 industries, and 18
out of 19 supersectors (excluding real estate) as defined by Industry
Classification Benchmarks. These were: The stock price for each of these was
indexed to 100 for the time period analyzed, and were averaged within
each supersector to create a combined Sustainable Company index for the
industry. These indices were then compared with Dow Jones World and
STOXX global indices for these sectors to determine the performance
The study contains discussions of each of the 18 industries studied, as well as examples of best practices from a variety of industries. Together with the macro analysis, these case studies provide a map for companies looking to be proactive in terms of protecting their market capitalization.
While green measures that produce immediate cost-savings such as reducing packaging material and decreasing fuel use will become increasingly common in a cash-strapped economy, Sustainability and the Financial Crisis suggests that investing in sustainability for the long term may be the best way to protect a company’s value through the months — and years — ahead.
The study covered all 10 industries, and 18 out of 19 supersectors (excluding real estate) as defined by Industry Classification Benchmarks. These were:
The stock price for each of these was indexed to 100 for the time period analyzed, and were averaged within each supersector to create a combined Sustainable Company index for the industry. These indices were then compared with Dow Jones World and STOXX global indices for these sectors to determine the performance differential.