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2012 was the hottest year on record.

And wild. And wet. And deathly dry.

Here’s a wrap-up of 2012 climate events crowdsourced by a group of climate change scientists and environmental writers.

Of the several versions of this list that appeared around the web, I like this first version best. Mostly because the comments are relatively troll-free. So, 19 weather events of note.

Via DailyKos.com:

Climate Chaos: Some Key 2012 Events

For those who like their weather news neat and tidy, a more compact version from Wunderground’s head meteorologist, Dr. Jeff Masters.

Via wunderground.com:

Top 10 Weather Events of 2012

So know we know what happened, what’s next?

National Public Radio interviewed 350.org founder and environmentalist Bill McKibben, on this very question.

Via NPR.org:

2013: A Tipping Year for Climate Change?

“We’ve already passed all kinds of tipping points,” McKibben, the founder of 350.org, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden. “The NASA scientist Jim Hansen was saying, ‘There’s no other word for where we are now than planetary emergency.'”

Could this be the year where Climate Change action take off?

I sincerely hope so.

Not attending this week’s Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development conference?

Me either.

So I was especially glad to attend the June 15 Institute for Sustainable Enterprise breakfast seminar at Fairleigh Dickinson University for an informative, engaging conversation with three speakers about what’s happening in Rio and the likely outcomes from it.

The Rio+20 conference brings together participants from government, business and civil society worldwide. The goal is to create “The Future we Want” through building green economies and eliminating world poverty.

Host and ISE Senior Advisor Jeana Wirtenberg welcomed the full  room of attendees by saying that “we have an historic opportunity to get it right” and asking the room to commit to Sustainable action in our personal and work lives.

First up was Ira Feldman, president of Greentrack Strategies. He gave an overview of  what Rio+20 is all about and what key stakeholders bring to the table.

He cited three key reasons UN-watchers and the Sustainable Business community have generally low expectations for this year’s event, compared to the inaugural Sustainable Development conference 20 years ago in Rio and the follow-up meeting he attended 10 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa. These reasons are: the world’s gloomy economic state, the slow and noncommittal progress pre-conference on the policy-oriented Negotiated Outcome Document, and a sense from business and industry participants of weak governmental leadership.

Ira aptly described the challenge of concurrent policy negotiations, 560 side events (which he likened to a World’s Fair), and protests, all packed into three days, as a three-ring circus. The challenge, he said, “Is how do you think about all the Sustainability issues, what is the mental map, with everything in play?”

As a partial answer to this question, Ira explained how Sustainability has evolved in the past 20 years from philanthropic action to a core business strategy, and is now poised to transform into “Sustainability to Scale.” (Ira referenced the World Business Council for Sustainable Development‘s work on this idea.)

Realistically, Ira said, conference outcomes will include negotiated and specific language on GDP alternatives that will be used to guide future discussions.

Next up to speak was Amanda Nesheiwat, who will attend the Rio+20 conference as a UN Youth Delegate representing young people. (Her other hats include being a student representative for the Foundation for Post Conflict Development and a founder of the NJ Sustainable Collegiate Partners.) During pre-conference negotiations at the UN, she said one of her frustrations was repeatedly hearing the words”We cannot commit to…” from delegates.

In Rio, she said she will bring the youth’s perspective that world leaders must move beyond short-term thinking and lack of creativity, commit to “more action, less talking,” and move on Climate Change. I have no doubt she will be a powerful, insistent voice for change in Rio and continue this work when she returns home.

(As a side note, I found it refreshing that Amanda mentioned the need for creating and living with “sustainable consumption.” I personally believe that Sustainability means using less as well as using the world’s resources more efficiently.)

ISE Research Fellow Bill Russell capped the presentations with his thoughts on engaging citizens to meaningful action. He talked about attending the March 2012 Citizens’ Summit to Address Sustainability held at Yale University and his dismay at seeing Old Guard Thinking on stage instead of new participants with new ideas. Bill echoed the low expectations for Rio+20, offering his viewpoint that dominant government players are not working interdependently with business, NGO and citizen stakeholders. His call-to-action for himself and breakfast seminar attendees was to commit to staying engaged.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations, ISE Fellow Matt Polsky touched on Sustainable Business in New Jersey with a reminder about the 2010 policy brief prepared by ISE for the Christie Administration called Developing and Implementing a Sustainable Growth Strategy for New Jersey.

The event ended on a positive note with audience contributions about restoring  equity to the Sustainability conversation; the emergence of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) and sustainable accounting; the work of ecological economist Herman Daly; and innovation as a new mindset.

I was extremely sorry to miss the post-seminar roundtable discussion. Thanks to the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise for hosting this year’s breakfast seminars and I look forward to the series’ return in the fall.

As the United Nations hosts World Water Day 2012 today, the world is reminded that clean water is vital for life and intrinsically linked to food security:

World Water Day

There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. Statistics say that each of us drinks from 2 to 4 litres of water every day, however most of the water we ‘drink’ is embedded in the food we eat: producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres.

In New Jersey, water quality protection is front-and-center as Governor Christie appears to be behind the controversial and sudden firing of New Jersey Highlands Council executive director, Eileen Swan.

Via NJ Conservation Foundation:

Politics trumps water protection in Highlands

The firing is the boldest salvo to date in what appears to be a concerted effort by the Christie Administration to undo the protections of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (the Act), which was adopted in 2004 to secure the water supply for some six million people – over two-thirds of the residents of this state were in.

And right here in Essex County, Rutgers Cooperative Extension offers a highly affordable ($25!) for a professional two-day landscaping course on water-conserving and pollution-preventing Rain Garden Construction.

Via water.rutgers.edu

Attend Rain Garden Training Workshop
April 2 & April 3
Hosted by Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Garibaldi Hall at the Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland
The program is open to all, but tailored for professional landscapers.

A rain garden is a landscaped, shallow depression that captures, filters, and infiltrates stormwater run off at the source. A rain garden removes source pollutants from tstormwater runoff while recharging groundwater. Rain gardens are an important tool for communities and neighborhoods to create diverse, attractive landscapes while protecting the health of the natural environment.

Bid on Artist-Decorated Rain Barrels
The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program is coordinating the “One Barrel at a Time Co-op,” where artists beautify rain barrels to be auctioned off to the public.

“Companies that value and integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into their strategic plans are best positioned for the future by operationalizing sustainability.”–Dow Chemical CEO

We care for things we value.

What a tree worth today? What’s it worth 20 years from now? Which time frame provides the greater financial and human well-being?

A scientific concept called “EcoSystem Services” helps answer these questions by providing tools to measure and consider the value of natural resources long-term when making business, political and social decisions.

It’s a new idea to me to try to put a financial number on what a forest is worth. But now that I’m thinking about it, I can see the value in treating natural systems as capital assets. By assigning hard-cost value to trees and seas and wildlife today, the full long term value of these resources can be considered, replenished and protected for long-term sustainable human and natural success.

Here’s how the U.S. EPA puts it:

Ecosystem services are rarely considered during environmental decision-making, principally because they are not well identified, quantified, or considered in ways applicable to commerce. The Program research results will enable economists, social scientists, environmental managers and others to incorporate an enhanced understanding of value and risk when making decisions about the costs and benefits of using and protecting ecosystem services. To ensure sustainable human and natural systems, the full long term value of ecosystem services must be considered when making decisions.

The best example I can think of in my life is how the Hudson River’s health has dramatically improved in the last 40 years. Thanks largely to the awareness raised by the Clearwater Environmental Foundation and successful polluter litigation waged by Riverkeeper, the water is cleaner.

Fish have returned to New York Harbor in greater numbers. With more food, harbor seals now live and breed year-round on rocky outcrops south of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Dolphins are a common sight. The cleaner water attracts more people who want to live, work, and play on and near its banks. Business, city, environmental and citizen groups profit and benefit from the water in ways not seen since the early 20th century when the city’s piers teemed with ship commerce. Multiple stakeholders have skin in the game to keep the water clean. So they do. (Visit the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance for more on this interconnected, unfolding success story.)

The Ecosystems Services definitions were formalized by the United Nations 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), a four-year study involving more than 1,300 scientists worldwide.

The MEA assigned four broad categories to show the relationships among Ecosystem Services and human well-being. These categories are: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.

MEA: Relationships Among Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being (click to view larger)

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the earth’s resources are  intrinsically linked to our collective well being. They have value. In a way, Ecosystems Services is like a worldwide General Ledger to help us measure, grow and prudently spend from our global bank account.

Ecosystem Services Links:

Wikipedia

EPA’s Ecosystem Services Research

USDA’s Forest Service on Ecosystem Services

Nature Conservancy on Ecosystem Services

Nature Conservancy’s Jan 2012 Partnership with Dow Chemical

 

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

US Recycling Rate Inches Up: 34.1% in 2010

For 2010, the US recycling rate inched up to 34.1%, reports the US EPA.

That’s a slight rise from the 33.8% recycling rate in 2009, but still nothing to get excited about. The amount of garbage Americans produce is also inching down, from a high of 4.57 pounds per person a day in 1990 to 4.43 pounds today.

What’s in your garbage? Mine consists mostly of non recyclable packaging and my dog’s waste in biodegradable bags.

All paper and plastics that come into the house go out in my curb-side recycling.

All organic material goes into the compost bin to feed the worms.

Read the EPA’s Report

All politics is local. So is climate.

The micro-climate of my backyard is a specific growing terrior with its own proclivities and advantages. My garden warms and cools and drains and grows in a way that differs from every other patch of ground on the planet.

That said, trends hold true. I might get lucky with overwintering a rosemary one year out of 10, but overall my Zone 6B location means it’s a heartbreak waiting to happen.

As my local garden grows, so goes our collective global garden.

Whether my rosemary dies or thrives, the time to argue whether the earth is warming (Or cooling. Or melting. Or experiencing extreme weather events.) is over. The worldwide scientific community is in consensus on these facts.

Likewise, there is broad agreement and understanding that human activities are accelerating climate change.*

We can argue till the cows come home as to who set the fire, but in the meantime, let’s work together to put it out.

When I encounter people who want to deny the facts in front of them (see also: Confirmation Bias), my next line is inquiry is to follow the money (see #3).

While there may be short-term financial gains for climate change denials, in the end we’ll all lose.

*Bonus Climate Change Acronym: AWG (Anthropogenic Global Warming, meaning human-caused)

Three links:

1. Via OmniClimate: The Climate Change Consensus – In Five Points

2. Via Wikipedia.org: A starting point for major points, players and positions

Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth‘s atmosphere and oceans, which started to increase in the late 19th century and is projected to keep going up. Since the early 20th century, Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F), with about two thirds of the increase occurring since 1980.[2] Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and scientists are more than 90% certain that most of it is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels.[3][4][5][6] These findings are recognized by the national science academies of all the major industrialized nations.[7][A]

3. Via Treehugger.org:  Leaked Docs,  Reveal How Top Think Tank Turns Oil Money Into Climate Denial

New Jersey’s newest crop might be….gasoline?

Via NJ Spotlight:

Garden State Company Converts Biomass into ‘Green Gasoline’

A Hillsborough company is betting it can convert wood pellets and other biomass into a renewable gasoline.

Primus Green Energy, an 11-year-old company, already has produced fuel samples from a pilot plant located in a three-building complex off of Route 206, just north of Princeton. It now is building a demonstration plant at the facility and hopes to break ground next year on a commercial plant.

A commenter to the story has asked for more detail on where the raw material will be sourced. I’ll update once I know more.

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”–Attributed to Yogi Berra

A new UN report offers a blueprint with specific recommendations for moving best practices for sustainable development into active economic policy.

This is how we get there.

The 22-member Panel, established by the Secretary-General in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity, was co-chaired by Finnish President Tarja Halonen and South African President Jacob Zuma. The Panel’s final report, “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing”, contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development into practice and to mainstream it into economic policy as quickly as possible.

Read “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing”

 

Politics is often compared to sausage-making, for good reason. It’s always complicated and often controversial.

But it’s important.  We elect officials to run our state and represent our interests.

Here’s what’s being discussed today in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee: water safety, school clean-ups, land ownership, storm water run-off, state forestry resources, and renewable energy.

Weigh in on what’s important to you.

I’ll add the transcript once available.

More via Enviropoliticsblog: Energy and Environmental Bills in Committee Today in NJ

 

Here’s the good news: green energy is a complex, evolving, competitive global industry.

It’s also the bad news.

How many times have your conversations about green energy spun out to irrelevant generalities, dead-end roadblocks or inconsistent conclusions depending on who you ask? Or worse, devolved to the dangerously ignorant single data point?

“My cousin in Topeka said that recycling costs more energy than it saves so I’m going to do it.”

I’m on a mission to pin down reliable, relate-able, relevant facts.

Here’s a great 20-pack of slides that help frame the green tech discussion, courtesy of GreenTechMedia.com.

20 PowerPoint Slides that Shook the Earth