Green Shift: Can Permaculture Return as Our Dominant Meme?

Take a good look at this infographic and the article below. Consider how it describes a sane, sustainable way of living.

Permaculture PrinciplesVia

Will Permaculture become the new dominant narrative?

The dominant narrative of our culture is that economic growth can continue indefinitely but the realities of resource depletion, peak oil and ecosystem collapse mean this is wishful thinking.

Narratives define our society. Pick any significant issue and it is the narrative, rather than the ‘facts,’ which define it. Narratives have been part of the human experience for millennia and no doubt will continue to do so for millennia to come. They drive how we view the world, the way we live and the decisions that we make.

Narratives do not necessarily reflect reality. Rather they offer a version of reality which suits the group or groups of people that believe in the narrative (or want you to believe).

My only quibble with this idea is that I believe in large measure that we need to return to a permaculture mindset that prevailed for the greater part of human experience.

It’s not a new thing.

It’s the old thing we temporarily forgot how to do.



Green Business: EPA Recognizes Climate Leadership Award Winners

When it comes to Climate Change leadership, is everything being done that could be done? No.

Are businesses adopting Sustainability practices fast enough? No.

But those businesses who are making positive impacts can lead the way and inspire other to match, overtake, and innovate beyond them.

The EPA joined a consortium of scientific agencies in recognizing 20 organizations and individuals for reducing carbon pollution and addressing climate change.

2012 Climate Leadership Award Winners

New Jersey’s own Campbell Soup brought back an Excellence in GHG Management (Goal Achievement Award) to its Camden headquarters:

Campbell Soup Company has reduced its GHG emissions per 1,000 adjusted cases of product by 12% from its 2005 baseline through 2010 in its US operations. Campbell’s also achieved a 5.1% reduction in absolute emissions; both achievements were without the use of renewable energy purchases or offsets.

The intensity-based reductions were achieved through multiple projects to reduce stationary combustion, such as heat recovery, condensing economizers, heat-water recovery, boiler economizer, and a boiler replacement. In addition, many sites upgraded their steam traps and thermal insulation and conducted regular air, steam and water audits.




Green Science: Talking About Climate Change

If you are concerned about climate change and don’t know who or what to believe, here’s an article for you.

William D. Nordhaus is one of the main economists working on climate change models. He is the Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University.

He recently wrote an essay called “Why Global Warming Skeptics are Wrong” that includes a point-by-point response to the Jan. 27 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.”

Nordhaus’ article is worth a careful read for his reasoned discussion and grasp of the climate change conversation.

Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong
March 2012
New York Times Review of Books


Green Science: Debunking as an Essential Communications Skill

Countering deliberate misinformation hasn’t been a big issue for me in 12 years of professional business writing.

Spin? Sure. Advantageous positioning? Of course.

But no outright lying.

Moving into the Sustainability world has introduced me to a new level of complicated. I see fear-mongering, cherry picking, rewriting history, and what looks to me like plain old lying.

Considering what’s at stake, I’m not surprised. The Climate Change conversation combines fantastically detailed subject matter, ferociously entrenched viewpoints, and the howling wind of information overload. There’s a lot of money to be made and power to be retained. Winners and losers.

So what’s a communicator to do? Learn to state a strong case, call bull when I see it, and debunk with civility.


The Debunking Handbook is a guide to debunking myths, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky.

The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.

Green Politics: NJDEP Updates Threatened & Endangered Species List

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection today issued updated finding on the state’s most threatened and endangered species. Bald eagles and Cooper’s hawks are doing better but new bird species join the list.

As this week is all about the intersection of science and policy for me, I noticed that science is the caboose in the press release’s headline. I think that’s appropriate from a communications perspective. I’m just glad to see science made the cut.

DEP Adopts Updated Threatened and Endangered Species List, Revises Species Listings Based on Science <–caboose

Read the press release

The Department of Environmental Protection this week adopted revisions to its list of threatened and endangered species, upgrading the status of several species such as the bald eagle and the Cooper’s hawk to reflect improvements in their populations and adding new species to the list such as the red knot and American kestrel to reflect concerns about declines.

“This update to the state’s lists of threatened and endangered species uses the best scientific methods available to provide us with an accurate assessment of the health of our wildlife,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “The success of our threatened and endangered wildlife is an important indicator of the health of our overall environment.  We have many positive takeaways from this most recent update to the lists, but we are also reminded that much work still lies ahead of us.”

How does the DEP make these assessments?

The Department, which this week also released a major update to its Landscape Project species habitat mapping tool, made the species status changes based on a scientific review that considered population levels, trends, threats, and habitat conditions.

And how does this science inform policy?

The threatened and endangered species lists are important tools in guiding a variety of state, federal and local agencies to make sound decisions on projects and better protect wildlife and their habitats.

So then, how can we help science and policy stakeholders work together? By giving them tools.

As part of its efforts to continually use the best science in managing the state’s resources, the DEP has also released the newest version of its Landscape Project, an interactive ecosystem-based mapping tool that assists government agencies, planners, conservation groups, the public and others in making decisions that will protect wildlife. This tool can be used immediately.

Green Business: How Dow Does Sustainability

Dow Chemical didn’t cause the 1984 Bhopal gas leak that killed tens of thousands of people, but the clean-up became Dow’s responsibility once it took ownership of Union Carbide in 2001.

Big problems need big solutions. As a leading chemical company, Dow can be at the forefront of inventing the new technologies, products and services that will not only ameliorate the environmental degradation caused by its products and processes today, but move the world forward with innovative solutions for tomorrow.

Read this CRSwire post about Dow Chemical’s sustainability strategy and the company’s efforts to incorporate the value of nature to its bottom line.

Dow Chemical: Extracting Business Value out of Sustainability

Our world is facing pressing challenges including water supplies, energy sources and affordable housing. Mitigating the impacts of these challenges and managing our natural resources worldwide requires the manufacturing industry, and in particular, the chemical industry, to play an enabling role by discovering and implementing new technologies.

As part of its sustainability efforts, the company has pledged $10 million in a 5-year partnership with The Nature Conservancy.

The global organizations will work together to apply scientific knowledge and experience to examine how Dow’s operations rely on and affect nature. The aim of the collaboration is to advance the incorporation of the value of nature into business, and to take action to protect the earth’s natural systems and the services they provide people, for the benefit of business and society.

This is a partnership to watch, because the lessons that come out of this research can be of enormous benefit to everyone.

Green Science: Calculating Nature’s Value

“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:


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


Green Politics: Monsanto Pinned for Poisoning

If you sell you something that makes you terribly sick, who is to blame?

Seems like an obvious question, right? Especially if you are applying chemicals that are designed to kill living organisms.

The thing is, it’s often a very hard thing to prove, especially when it comes to illnesses linked to toxic chemicals and pesticides exposure. U.S. agri-giant Monsanto has relied upon this absence of causal scientific  linkage–the proverbial “smoking gun”–to maintain its lack of culpability when people get sick from their products.

Until today. A French judge has found Monsanto directly culpable and responsible for a farmer’s illness after exposure to one of the company’s pesticides.

Via the Guardian:

Monsanto found guilty of chemical poisoning in France

French farmer Paul Francois says he suffered neurological problems after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller

A French court has declared the US biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.

In the first such case heard in court in France, the grain grower Paul Francois, 47, said he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004.

He blames Monsanto for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.

The ruling was given by a court in Lyon, south-east France, which ordered an expert opinion of Francois’s losses to establish the amount of damages.

“It is a historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a [pesticide] maker is found guilty of such a poisoning,” Francois Lafforgue, Francois’s lawyer, told Reuters.

Monsanto said it was disappointed by the ruling and would examine whether to appeal against the judgment.

“Monsanto always considered that there were not sufficient elements to establish a causal relationship between Paul Francois’s symptoms and a potential poisoning,” the company’s lawyer, Jean-Philippe Delsart, said.

Previous health claims from farmers have foundered because of the difficulty of establishing clear links between illnesses and exposure to pesticides.

This “burden of proof” is a really interesting element to the whole discussion of causing harm and assigning responsibility. United States law has traditionally flowed from a risk assessment strategy that favors trade and enterprise over public and environmental safety. Weigh the outcomes, then proceed. Assume the best, deal with the rest.

In contrast, European Union law rests upon a a precautionary mindset. If you want to sell it, you have to prove that it’s not harmful before you proceed.


The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

The problem, of course, with betting on things being OK is that they are–until they’re not. Once illness strikes or a watershed is bespoiled, we all suffer the consequences. There’s no unringing the bell. No matter who was to blame in the right place.  That’s good enough reason to stop throwing dice with our health and our environment.

Green Science: NYC/Metro Clean Water Project

Boating season is a still a few months off, but a new citizen-run water testing program will help make 2012 outings healthier and safer.

Last year’s record-breaking rainfalls caused NYC’s combined sewer system to overflow into the Hudson River and other nearby waterways, creating unsafe and unsanitary water conditions for recreational boaters.

Concerned members of the boating community felt that the City and DEP didn’t do a good enough job of monitoring and reporting on water conditions, so they joined together to create a solution.

From Nancy Brous, via the New York City Water Trail Association:

Last fall, the NYC Water Trail Association partnered with the River Project on a six-week pilot program to measure near-shore bacterial contamination at a dozen popular human-powered boat launches (the Department of Environmental Protection also monitors water quality, but at mid-channel locations far from any sewer outfalls).

This is a great citizen science project with immediate, measurable positive results that benefit tens of thousands of NYC/Metro area boaters.

Learn more, keep updated, and get involved.



Green Business: NYC Pilots First Tidal Plant

Manhattan is an island. An island bounded by tidal waters.

If you want to make it on the island itself, push and never give up.

To survive on the water requires a different strategy: go with the flow.

Recreational human-powered boaters–at least the smart ones–time their travels with the tidal advantage. At peak flow, the current can reach 5 knots per hour. That’s swift enough to bring the strongest kayaker to a standstill.

In a first-ever pilot, the East River’s power will be harnessed to generate electricity.


Verdant Gets License to Build Tidal Plant in NYC Waters

Verdant Power has been awarded a 10-year license for a tidal wave energy plant in New York City’s East River.

Verdant, which has been pushing the project forward since 2002, has tested six turbines there, which is actually a tidal strait between the New York Harbor and the Long Island Sound. The power produced by that demonstration project powered a Gristedes supermarket and a parking garage on Roosevelt Island.

This is the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has awarded a tidal wave license. This “pilot” license will allow Verdant to demonstrate commercial viability, while also determining potential environmental impacts.

Go to article.