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Three new Climate Change articles worth your time.

Nutshell: Where things stand, why,  and what to do about it.

1. Where Thing Stand: Worse than we thought

Via grist.org:

Famed climate economist Nicholas Stern: ‘I underestimated the risks’ of climate change

Published in 2006, the “Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change” suggested that climate change would result in a 5 percent drop in the annual gross domestic product in perpetuity, and that stabilizing the climate would itself cost 2 percent — a massive sum.

Last week in Davos, however, Stern suggested that his conclusions were wrong. They were too optimistic. In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”

“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”

2. Why We Aren’t Doing Anything About It

Via CSRwire.com:

Acting As If Tomorrow Matters: Mapping the Obstacles to Sustainability

Habit-The sheer force of existing unsustainable habits — personal, social, organizational, and governmental — reinforced by both lack of urgency and uncertainty about what more sustainable behavior would entail. Essentially, sustainability requires all of us in all of our roles to do things in different and more sustainable ways. To do that, we need to take the time and effort to change something we have done, probably without much thought, for a while.

Unsupportive or hostile law and governance is the second area of obstacles. As many of us are all too aware, the legal playing field is often biased against sustainable alternatives.  Fossil fuels tend to get sustainable vs unsustainable developmentmore, and more permanent, financial support from the federal government — in the form of tax incentives and subsidies — than renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Politics–Political opposition and the growing influence of other countries. In principle, sustainable development is middle ground because it is does not put the environment over development, or development over the environment, but rather emphasizes both equally. But because it is based on a preference for sustainable development over unsustainable development, fossil fuel interests have funded climate change denial campaigns and political candidates who oppose action on climate change.

In practice, these obstacles reinforce each other.

3. What We Might Want to Start Doing

Via treehugger.com:

Why Environmentalists Need to Talk More About the Basics and Stop Skipping Steps

To Protect Nature, We Have to Be More Convincing
If you consider yourself an environmentalist, or green, or care at all about the life-support systems of our blue marble of a planet, one of the best things you can do to help is to convince others of what must be done. This is simple math. One person, even doing their best, usually cannot achieve as much as a group working together. But bringing others on board can be pretty hard. If you’ve tried before, you’ve probably noticed that people fall into three groups: Those that are already on board on one end of the spectrum, those that for various ideological reasons won’t be convinced even by a mountain of evidence on the other, and a large group of open minded but fairly neutral people in the middle.

 

I wear my PFD every time I kayak.

That’s Personal Flotation Device, more commonly known as a lifejacket.

Even though I am an experienced kayaker. Even in calm water. .

For lots of reasons. It sets a good example for the rest of the kayaking community.

Two, my PFD has pockets for gear and snacks.

Third, if I become unconscious, the PFD will help keep my head above water.

But mostly, I wear it because if an accident happens, I won’t have time to put it on. By definition, accidents are unexpected events.

So I take prudent steps to reduce my risk of personal injury and death. (Sadly, people die every year while kayaking.)

And honestly, I can’t afford not to wear it. My own health aside, I have a family and friends to think about.

On the flipside, I don’t worry or spend money planning for highly unlikely, rare possibilities. You’d never launch if you did.

Which is why, given my bent, I find Jared Diamond’s New York Times essay on risk and personal decision-making such a good read. Daily life has risks. Humans are famously bad at knowing which ones are likely and which aren’t.

Via nytimes.com:

That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer

Studies have compared Americans’ perceived ranking of dangers with the rankings of real dangers, measured either by actual accident figures or by estimated numbers of averted accidents. It turns out that we exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops.

At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control (“That would never happen to me — I’m careful”) and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way.

This nexus of risk assessment and personal decision making plays out everywhere. And not just in personal, individual choices.

Public policy essentially boils down to: How much money are we willing to spend, to manage which risks, to protect and benefit which people?

As a simple example, children walking to school. You need sidewalks in good conditions. Crossing guards assigned to key intersections. Buddy systems. Driver awareness campaigns. Street signs in school zones. Altogether, at some cost to the community, these steps mitigate much potential risk and support healthy walking habits. The benefits outweigh the risks, at a cost that is deemed acceptable and appropriate.

Which brings me to thinking about the risk conversation in the larger world.

At what point (how about now?) will enough people be willing to have conversations about appropriately acting on risks from climate change?

Perhaps once they get over the unrealistic fear of what they will have to give up.

But that’s a false assumption. Being cautious in the shower doesn’t mean Mr. Diamond no longer travels.

Likewise, wearing a PFD does not make my world smaller. In fact, being realistic about risks and planning for what is in my control makes my world larger. It’s so worth it to be able to paddle farther because I’m aware and prepared.

I’m interested in being part of the conversation that shows how climate change action is worth it too. For all the positive benefits: clear air, safe water, nutritious food, prosperous economics, connected communities.

Considering what we have to lose, we can’t afford not to.

Civil, respectful, fast-based discussion. That’s the goal.

So if that’s what we want, why do so many online comment threads get completely out of hand?

Read this thoughtful, realistic article by Bora Zivkovic for some insights.

Via ScientificAmerican.com:

Commenting threads: good, bad, or not at all.

A couple of weeks ago, an article was published in Science about online science communication (nothing new there, really, that we have not known for a decade, but academia is slow to catch up). But what was interesting in it, and what everyone else jumped on, was a brief mention of a conference presentation that will be published soon in a journal. It is about the effect of the tone of comments on the response of other readers to the article on which the comments appear.

Instead of “silent” participation leading gradually to more active participation as one becomes more comfortable with the site, it seems the opposite is happening: mildly active users are now becoming silent users as it is easier to click “Share on Facebook” than to post a brief comment.

But there is another problem here – most of the good, nice, constructive commenters may have gone silent and taken their discussions of your blog elsewhere, but the remaining few commenters are essentially trolls.

 

Uncivil, aggressive comments resulted in quick polarization. Readers, although still not well informed about the topic, quickly adopted strong opinions about it.

So trolls not only stifle discusion, they can drive readers to form polarized opinions that they did not hold previously.

Not a good situation, in my opinion, for helping people come to important decisions.

More and more, I’m finding that this quote attributed to Danial Moynihan is a helpful compass.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

 

I believe in the Big Green Tent.

Meaning, I think that the world’s largest corporations have a role to play in creating a more sustainable world.

That includes chemical companies.

Speaking practically,  giant chemical companies employ a lot of scientists. Smart, educated people. The ones we need to invent solutions to raging global problems.

Clorox is a Big Chem Company. Yes.

Clorox also published their first integrated report this year, putting their financial and environmental results on the same balance sheet.  Did not know that.

Clorox Recognized for Innovative Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting

Another thing I did not know: Clorox owns the Burts Bees brand. A personal favorite of mine.

So, a little research gave me a better, more informed picture of what Clorox is about and what they are doing.

Moving on, agri-giant Monsanto has joined a global business council that is working to achieve ambitious sustainability goals by the year 2050.

Monsanto Company joins World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)

I personally don’t like all of the products these companies produce. Or the way they market them to consumers.

For example, the Clorox Wipes twitter feed is a paean to joyful germ eradication. I’m all for killing flu viruses and food-borne pathogens. Trust me. But overcleanliness is not a virtue.

And Monsanto’s self-branding as a Sustainable Agriculture Company gives me pause. Considering this. And this. 

That said, with the problems we face as a planet, any and all solutions are welcome.

Numbers are neutral.

It’s how we interpret and apply them that gets us into trouble.

When metrics go bad, they can cause good projects to go off the rails. Lose sight of their original goals. Worst case, bad metrics inform bad decision making that leads to human fatalities and environmental catastrophes.

As research for the Greenbiz.com sustainability metrics series I’m writing with Matt Polsky, I keep an eye out for people who think deeply about what, why, and how we measure our impact on the earth. In business particularly.

Well, I’ve got a blog for you.

Management specialist Jonathan Low’s blog: The Low-Down.

I appreciate  how Low marries the science of intangible human behavior with the tangibles of business performance. He talks about how technology, business and public policy interact in ways that get beneath surface appearances.

This post on how measurements can go awry caught my eye:

Measures That Mislead: False Efficiencies and the False Hopes They Beget

In this post, Low touches on the balance between private and public sector responsibility for getting a nation’s business done. Who’s best at what jobs, and why? How is success measured? Who benefits, and in what ways? Interesting stuff.

Low included a  New York Times economics article I’d missed by Eduardo Porter on this issue. Porter’s article examines BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster as a case study of privatization gone wrong.

When Public Outperforms Private in Services

BP’s bumpy ride is recorded in “The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office,” a compelling new book by Ray Fisman, a professor at Columbia Business School, and Tim Sullivan, the editorial director of Harvard Business Review Press. “The Org” aims to explain why organizations — be they private companies or government agencies — work the way they do.

One of the authors’ chief insights is that every organization faces trade-offs — inherent conflicts between competing objectives. The challenge is to manage them. This is way more difficult than it sounds.

Those difficulties include deciding what gets measured. Because what gets measured, gets managed.

When profits count more than safety, for instance, the results can be disastrous for the public.

On the flip side, companies that strive for a balance between financial gains, social responsibility and environmental stewardship have the opportunity to do well in both the public and private spheres.

 

 

President Obama promised Climate Change action.

Thank you, Mr. President.

We’re behind you.

Before the conversation speeds up any more, here are some links that I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle:

*Why did climate change cap-and-trade legislation fail in 2010? Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol dishes out buckets of blame in this much-Tweeted Washington Post interview.

*On this same topic, Professor Skocpol’s 140-page report on this issue is a lengthy and worthwhile read.

*The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication offers thoughts on why a pro-climate position might offer political benefits.

*350.org, Sierra Club and the Hip Hop Caucus are organizing the Feb. 17 Forward on Climate rally in Washington, DC and other U.S. cities.

As President Obama said:

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

 

Hotter. Colder. Wetter. Drier.

Wilder.

Right now.

That pretty much sums up the draft Climate Assessment Report released Jan. 11 by the U.S. Federal Advisory Committee that keeps an eye on climate change.

The report opens with a Letter to the American People.

The news isn’t good.

Via ncadac.globalchange.gov:

Climate Change and the American People

Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.

This report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee concludes that the evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last National Climate Assessment report, written in 2009. Many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience. So, too, have coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation.

Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of 12 extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.

Read the report.

Make a comment (that’s what the draft’s for).

Share with your friends.

Call your legislators. Let them know you’ll support them when climate change, renewable energy, clean energy, and Sustainability issues come up for a vote.

And while we’re at it, you’ll probable need this: How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic

 

 

Morals or Money?

The Sustainability conversation hinges on these levers.

What’s the best way to convince people to change how they live? What they buy? To be more sustainable?

On one hand, we can urge people to take care of the earth because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s the morals case.

This includes appealing to peoples’ sense of fairness and rightness and desires to leave a good healthy world for future generations.

While that is a compelling draw in many arenas, the moral case doesn’t fly in the business world or with all groups of people.

The other hand says that the way to sell Sustainability is to demonstrate that there will be cost savings and revenue opportunities.

That’s the money case.

Convince your CFO that making the supply chain more efficient (and reducing carbon emissions) will save money and speed time to market.

Or show your neighbor that swapping out incandescents for CFLs will lower his energy bill.

So which approach is more effective?

Guardian writer Adam Corner examines the morals-or-money research in this new article and comes out on the morals side.

Via guardian.co.uk:

Moral case for sustainability more effective than economic?

A recent Dutch study suggests that engaging the public in the moral rather than economic case for sustainability might be more effective, with lessons to be learned at policy level

He followed up a few days later another article that applies this research to the real-world roll out of the UK’s new Green Deal energy efficiency program.

Via TalkingClimate.org:

The Green Deal: What happened to climate change
The dangers of using an overly-economic framing for cli­mate change and sus­tain­ab­ility mes­sages are well doc­u­mented.

For one, pro­moting the Green Deal to people in this way will do abso­lutely nothing to make the next big ini­ti­ative – per­haps a big push on public trans­port – any easier. No-one is being encour­aged to think about what cli­mate change means, or how dif­ferent beha­viours (around the home, and when com­muting, for example) might be related. No-one is being encouraged to think about cli­mate change at all.

The exclus­ively eco­nomic framing of the government’s flag­ship public engage­ment policy sends a clear mes­sage: we should take part in the Green Deal because we might make a few quid – or at worst, not lose any.

As Corner points out, the research shows that when incentives disappear, so do the new behaviors. By focusing too much on the money, he argues, the UK government might be missing a huge opportunity to start a game-changing conversation about Climate Change.

The practical, rubber-meets-the-road answer of course, as with any complex problem, is that we need to use all the persuasions available to us. Not morals or money. Both.

The morals case asks us to change our behaviors for the future, and the money case helps bridge the gap to get there.

I believe–and incentives research backs me up–that when you give people the chance to do the right thing, with a full understanding of what’s at stake and how much things cost–more often than not, they will.

 

What a great, memorable, accessible concept.

Think Bright. Not Brown.

“Brownfields into Brightfields” means means transforming unproductive industrial spaces into energy-producing solar power installations.

As a NJ native, I grew up on the concept of brownfields. These are spaces that have already been used for commercial or industrial use. They are “brown” in that they are usually cemented over.  They aren’t green, haven’t been for a long time and they won’t ever be again.

No trees. No shade. Cracked cement. High chainlink fences.

Often contaminated, making them unsuitable for many purposes.

Usually close to densely populated areas, but not in the middle of things.

Which makes them perfect sites for energy-producing, job-creating, renewable energy projects.

The EPA has been on this idea for years.

Via epa.gov:

Brightfields Initiatives

Brightfields is a revolutionary concept that addresses three of the nation’s biggest challenges — urban revitalization, toxic waste cleanup, and climate change — by bringing pollution-free solar energy and high-tech solar manufacturing jobs to brownfields.

The Brightfields approach offers a range of opportunities to link solar energy to brownfields redevelopment and thereby transform community hazards and eyesores into productive, green ventures.

This unprecedented campaign will help our nation put its hundreds of thousands of brownfields back into productive use and at the same time create high-tech jobs in blighted urban neighborhoods, improve air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With thanks to National Geographic writer Christina Nunez, I learned about about a Brightfield project in Hackensack, NJ.

Via theenergycollective.com:

Turning Brownfields Into Brightfields With Solar Energy

Thousands of contaminated tracts of land labeled brownfields by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may eventually provide the valuable real estate needed for renewable energy projects, and New Jersey is at the forefront of using such sites to bolster its status as a leader in solar energy.

The utility PSE&G is installing 4,000 solar panels on a six-acre site in Hackensack, N.J., that was once the home of a gas plant and then gas storage facilities. For this site and many others, cleaning up the land for traditional development is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

This is another one of these private-public-industry partnerships that have the power to actually work.

I wrote about a similar project back in May 2012.

Green Government: NJ Dump Gets New Life as Solar Farm

New Jersey’s newest solar farm is located on a 13-acre closed landfill in Kearny. From fallow to flourishing, the site is expected to power 500 homes.

A key success here in my mind–and hopefully a model for future development–is that this project required a lot of people with their own agendas and motivations to work together. It could not have been easy to coordinate this first-in-class project between a state-regulated public utility (PSE&G), a joint government/business  commission, private industry, and state government officials.

Brownfields seemed like places beyond repair. Turns out they are part of a brighter future.

Greenwashing is good.

Hunter Lovins said that? Hunter Lovins, as in Natural Capitalist Solutions Lovins?

Yes. And she also said this.

Via marketplace.org:

Greenwashing is a Gateway Drug

[O]nce you hold yourself up as ‘green(er)’, increased scrutiny follows. Plus, no one likes to be a hypocrite. Once you say you’re doing it, there’s a tendency to start doing it. In GE’s case, Lovins points out that once GE saw their ‘eco’ products had twice the sales volume of the regular products, “all of a sudden a company without a green bone in its body has one–attached to its wallet.”

Lying as a specific approach? Encouraging superficial actions? Took me a minute to come around. But then I got it.

You don’t throw a non-dancer into the swing of things. You dance with them a little bit at the edge. Let them see how good is.

Get their feet moving. Confidence up.

Before they know it, their friends are watching. Maybe admiringly.

And suddenly they’re dancing. Next thing you know they’ve enrolled in a tango class.

They’re hooked but good.

Classic case of fake it till you make it.

This came to mind when I read that a majority of Fortune 500 companies reported on their sustainability programs, actions and results in 2011. More than doubled from 2010.

Via triplepundit.com:

Record Number of U.S. Companies Issuing Sustainability Reports

G&A Institute states that 53 percent of the 500 companies indexed by Standard and Poor’s issued sustainability reports in 2011, a drastic increase from 2010, when only around 19 percent of the companies reported.

Moreover, this report found that companies that issued sustainability reports enjoyed higher financial returns than their non-reporting competitors.

Does this mean that all these companies have good sustainability metrics? Is there a healthy amount of greenwashing going on? Do the numbers lack context? Are they disconnected from the company’s material pursuits?

Sure. But who cares. They’re in it.

For those who are already on the people-planet-profits bandwagon, these numbers show momentum.

For those new to the party, still mired in short-term shareholder value thinking, this shows a business case.

So I’m seeing the wisdom of bringing everyone to the sustainability conversation. Most of all the skeptics, wallflowers, and foot starers.

Hear that music?

Let’s dance.