The Friday Sustainability Roundup, Quiz Style

For the past five years I’ve written a sustainability tip for my company newsletter. This past week I imitated Paul Slansky, who used to do brilliant quizzes in the New Yorker during, as he calls it, “the Bush coup d’etat.” The column appears below the tiger.

Three interesting quotes came over the transom this week, from interesting sources. See if you can guess where these came from.

1) “We call on all people and nations to recognize the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.”

2) “America is a resplendent, plentiful and fertile land, rich with natural resources, bounded by vast ocean spaces. Together these gifts are ours to be enjoyed for their majesty, cultivated and harvested for their abundance, and preserved for following generations. Many of these resources are renewable, some are not. But all must be respected as part of a global ecosystem that is being tasked to support a world population projected to reach nine billion peoples midway through this century. These resources range from crops, livestock, and potable water to sources of energy and materials for industry. Our third investment priority is to develop a plan for the sustainable access to, cultivation and use of, the natural resources we need for our continued well being, prosperity and economic growth in the world marketplace.”

3) “…the basic idea is that all the CO2 we emit stays around for a long time. That’s a very unfortunate fact, and that leads to the warming. That’s about as clear as anything can be. You can argue over, as the temperature goes up, will it go up even more. There are certain feedback effects that are the subject of a lot of inquiry. But almost no one basically doubts the fact that you’ve got to reduce the CO2 emissions.”

Sources:

1) A Vatican working group of scientists.

2) The second quote is from a paper by Capt. Wayne Porter (Navy) and Col. Mark Mykleby (Marines), called “A National Strategic Narrative.” (PDF). It’s not an official military document, but the two authors are high-placed advisers to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A New York Times story goes into more detail, and quotes Mykleby speaking to the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce: “It’s a strategic liability to keep subsidizing our agribusiness model the way it is for any number of reasons — the decay of our soil, the health of our citizens, because our food is not healthy any more, etc., etc.’ ” he says. “Remarkably, it was very well received in the middle of corn country.”

3) Microsoft co-founder and CEO Bill Gates, who is now better known for the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates gave a TED talk about energy last year, and the quote comes from a conversation about the same issues sponsored by Grist.

In other news:

  • A UK government report concludes that Wi-fi internet access and other communications are at risk from global warming. (Guardian)
  • An analysis of 900 academic papers supporting climate scepticism found that 9 out of the top 10 authors were linked to ExxonMobil.
  • Girl Scouts, parents, and cookie buyers logged onto the Girl Scouts’ USA Facebook page to ask that palm oil be removed from Girl Scout cookies. (Harvesting palm oil destroys tropical rainforest, and has contributed to habitat loss for species such as orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and rhinoceroses). The organization’s response? It simply deleted the comments. (Good write-up about the story and issues from Grist.)
  • A new paper from a Swiss researcher found that singals from cell phones cause honeybees to become disoriented, and then drop dead. (Fast Company)
  • From the Dept. of Read this While Standing Up: Scientists in Louisiana found that people who sit for most of the day are 54 percent more likely to die of heart attacks. There’s also an infographic that spells out this research in more detail.

Orange Juice: C02 in a Glass

I like orange juice. It tastes good, it’s pretty good for me, and it’s an essential ingredient in a screwdriver. Then I did my fortnightly sustainability tip for work about it. What a massive bummer that turned out to be.

OJ has been taking its knocks in the news lately, thanks in part to a new book called Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice. The author, Alissa Hamilton, recently had some revealing things to say about OJ:

“In the process of pasteurizing, juice is heated and stripped of oxygen, a process called deaeration, so it doesn’t oxidize. Then it’s put in huge storage tanks where it can be kept for upwards of a year. It gets stripped of flavor-providing chemicals, which are volatile. When it’s ready for packaging, companies … engineer flavor packs to make it taste fresh.”

“The orange growing is moving to Brazil, which grows the most oranges for juice by far. Land is cheaper, and environmental regulations are almost nonexistent.”

Last month, Tropicana revealed the carbon footprint of its Pure Premium orange juice. Treehugger compared it to Fiji bottled water, which is about the worst of a bad thing.

  • 2 liters of Tropicana Pure Premium (.53 gal) = 3.96 lbs of CO2.
  • 2 liters of Fiji bottled water = 1.1 lbs. of CO2

And that doesn’t even count OJ’s water footprint (story and photo from the Economist)

water

What’s in a Name? The Canadian Election Version

Treehugger ran this photo, of a billboard in Montreal. The Conservative party in Canada is holding elections on Oct. 14 (holding them before the U.S., because if they held them after they’d lose badly —as the U.S., finally, is moving from the right back to the center). Thus, Canadian election signs. This one compares fascist Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who called the Kyoto accord “a socialist scheme,” with Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.

Don’t vote Conservative!! Why not? Slate (an American publication, fer chrissakes!) wrapped it up pretty nicely in a story titled “What’s the Matter with Canada? How the World’s Nicest Country Turned Mean.”

Here’s a snippet:

In June, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that Canada—for years the only G8 country to post regular budget surpluses—was likely to fall into deficit this year, thanks to a reckless cut to the national sales tax. In February, the government proposed denying funding to films and TV shows whose content it deemed “not in the public interest,” sparking cries of censorship from a sector that has historically received public support. In 2007, a member of the governing Conservative Party proposed a bill that would reopen the debate over abortion, a topic that governments both liberal and conservative have avoided for decades.

But nowhere is the rift between the old and new Canada more apparent than with regards to the environment. [They went from supporting Kyoto to "trying to block an agreement that set a target for future cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions."]

Long story short, the Liberal party imploded and the Conservatives ran roughshod for a few years. Voting in October? Vote NDP. Vote Liberal. But unless you Canadians want your country to be as screwed up as your neighbors to the south, don’t vote Conservative.

I’m John Ochwat, and I approve this message. I just don’t approve of Stephen Harper.

The Five Stages of Grief in Environmental Comments

A few of the blogs I follow had environmentally themed posts lately (here’s one about drive-throughs at Starbucks), and I’ve begun to see the same types of comments crop up. They’re tracking along the Kübler-Ross model, a.k.a. the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).

Denial

In the comments on another blog post (about green “noise”), someone complained about “Giving credibility to faulty and refutable science.”

Let’s pick that apart. First, all science it refutable. That’s what makes it science, and not Intelligent Design. Second, to call it faulty is a stretch. Grist did an excellent piece on How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic, that parses out stages of denial, scientific topics, types of argument, and their levels of sophistication. And offers evidence to address each and every one.

My sense is that people who espouse this stuff are believing what they want to believe, and voicing the opinion that best fits, without reading the science. (Hardly the first time that’s happened.) I also suspect that this churlishness stems from a more fundamental urge, which is an outright rejection to have anyone tell them what to do.

Third, it’s an attempt to reduce all our problems to something really complex, like climate modeling. But what’s impossible to deny, without sticking your head in the sand, is the overwhelming evidence of loss of biodiversity, habitat loss, air pollution, water pollution, and the depletion of natural resources. It isn’t just carbon. It’s all the other ways our lifestyle is running roughshod over the earth. I blogged earlier about Mark Bittman’s excellent talk at the TED conference. Watching that is a good place to start.

Anger

Other people are “irked with the hypocrisy exhibited by celebrities.” True, Paul McCartney had his hybrid limo flown to London from Japan, and Al Gore travels in a private jet. But they’re celebrities, and everyone always watches them through lenses tinted green with envy.

Does it really matter if they’re saints? Or are you using their all-too-human behavior as an excuse not to do what you know is right?

Besides, someone like Ed Begley, whom no one could call a hypocrite, gets a ton of flak, because no one likes anyone who’s pious, even if they’re right. (As someone rightly noted, “A zealot is a zealot, regardless of the cause.”)

I was telling someone about the sustainability tip I write, and trying to educate people about sustainability, and how many little, easy lifestyle changes it entails. And he said, “The thing is, you mustn’t preach.” And that may be true, because of the resistance you’ll get from people who reject everything you say just because you’re not perfect.

Plus, anger goes both ways. If you’re going to drive a huge SUV and leave it idling while getting a hamburger at the drive-through, you’re going to piss people off. And rightly so.

Bargaining

This should actually be characterized as “bad rationalizations for bad behavior.” For example: “I suppose we should all stop reading books. I just read in Business Week that the production of one book results in 8.85 pounds of carbon emissions.”

Depression, Acceptance

We’ve spent our lifetime ingraining bad habits. Gas was cheap and US cities are optimized for cars, not people, so we drove everywhere. Then we believed we weren’t safe unless we drove around in behemoths. And because it’s tasty and convenient, we ate fast food, just like corporations wanted us to.

Problem is, all at once we’re starting to realize how ruinous many of these habits are. Which has sparked a dialogue about how we should live. And that means change, which makes people uncomfortable. On top of that, the changes are coming from everywhere, and the information is often conflicting, so people are reacting against changing too fast.

Or that it’s being touted as a “lifestyle,” that green is the new black.

So it’s a mess. But just because there are mixed messages and people in denial, it still bothers me when people think it isn’t their problem too … unless, they think they’re going to stop eating, drinking water, or breathing. Or they’re indifferent to the world their children will inherit.

The Consequences of Being Green

That’s the title of a guest post on the Freakonomics blog by Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas.

The Freakonomics blog is usually interesting, quirky, thought-provoking … all that good stuff. Unfortunately, Hamermesh’s post is poorly thought out and poorly argued exception. Here’s most of it:

The actor Ed Begley Jr. has a widely-circulated OpEd piece touting his eco-friendly activities, featuring a proud announcement that his exercise on his stationary bicycle generates the electricity he uses to toast two pieces of bread.

Now those two pieces give him 200 calories, but he burns at least 100 calories on the bike. So half of his eco-friendly exercise is lost because he needs to obtain additional food from elsewhere to maintain his weight — food whose growth and distribution have environmental consequences too, as does the manufacture of his bicycle.

This illustrates the general equilibrium difficulties of so many pro-environmental activities about which the rich and famous boast.

There should be a rule: before helping the environment in one market, we should be required to think through the impacts on other markets.

Hamermesh is attempting to pick on the extra food Begley needs if he exercises, and the environmental consequences of the manufacture of his exercise bike.

Here’s why that’s a bad idea:

1) Begley is going to exercise anyway. Only a fool would argue that we shouldn’t exercise because it has “environmental consequences.” Thus, the extra bread is a non-issue. And from my admitted environmental perspective, bread isn’t a bad thing to eat, compared to, say, the carbon footprint of hamburgers. Or for that matter, how many volatile organic compounds are emitted to cook them at a fast-food restaurant.

2) The environmental consequences of the manufacture of his exercise bike? Is he smoking crack? By hooking up his exerbike to make toast, he’s taking something used for one purpose (exercise) and making it twice as efficient (exercise + electricity generation).

3) If you’re going to count the environmental costs of manufacturing a bike, let’s note that you can make 100 bikes with the same amount of energy needed to make just one car. Also, if you’re going to count the bike’s “costs” as an energy-generation tool, it’s only fair to compare it to the way that energy currently is generated: think of all the energy and emissions resulting from the mining, transport and burning of coal … and then transmitting it through the nation’s power grid, where 66% of the energy is lost! (Speaking of poorly thought out, there’s a perfect example, non?)

4) Hamermesh: “There should be a rule: before helping the environment in one market, we should be required to think through the impacts on other markets.”

Before helping the environment, we should think through a decision’s market impacts? The environment has always been an economic externality, the part not factored into the equation while CEOs, presidents and economists have been unthinking slaves to Economic Growth. And now we’re seeing that come back to haunt us. So Mr. Hamermesh is flat-out wrong here. Putting the market first is what got us into this mess; we can hardly expect that same thinking to get us out of it.

Yes, we should think through the environmental consequences, and the economic ones. But we should do so by first taking economics and markets out of its privileged place at the top of the decision-making pecking order. Think of it this way:

“Market change” doesn’t threaten the lives of billions of beings on the earth. But that’s exactly what climate change does.

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