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Who is making sure New Jersey is ready for the next Sandy?

That’s the question I brought to yesterday’s Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey: Leading Practices and Policy Priorities conference at Rutgers University.

The conference delivered as promised. The morning and lunch panelists described where NJ and other states stand in preparing for coming climate change impacts on public health, land use, planning, business, and communities. (Answer: Just getting started.)

Experts from past disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Superstorm Sandy, shared their lessons learned.

The afternoon session I attended explained how an alliance of NJ-focused planning, development, and conservation groups are working together to create a climate change adaptation plan for New Jersey.

My takeaway for the day, from what was said and unsaid, is that the NJ Climate Change Adaptation Alliance has stepped up to fill the leadership and coordination role that I feel the Governor and the NJ DEP should be doing.

(Missing) Elephant in the Room: To the best of my knowledge, there was no one (among 250+ participants) from the NJ DEP or NJ state government.

Word Not Spoken—Mitigation: I asked the following question in my afternoon breakout session: “Why is today’s event focused only on adaptation? And not on mitigation as well or in addition to? Is it because the cow is out of the barn as far as climate change is concerned?”

The session moderator replied that the Climate Change Adaptation Alliance is focused specifically on, well, adaptation. While important, mitigation is outside the scope of this group’s work, she said.

One of the panelists, Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society, added that increased CO2 is already baked into the atmosphere. Given that, there’s no preventing the effects (temperature effects and sea level rise) that are already happening.

RGGI did not come up in any presentations I heard or in my conversations.

Who’s Not Playing on the Team: All five of the panelists at the afternoon session I attended mentioned the need for State leadership to coordinate and drive climate change adaptation preparedness. Left unsaid: this isn’t happening today.

Dillingham mentioned that New Jersey has the Global Warming Response Act on the books that isn’t being used. (If Matt Polsky hadn’t mentioned this Act recently, I wouldn’t have known what he was talking about. It was a quick aside, so I’m not sure how many people in the room got the reference.)

Presentations & Coverage: As of posting, here are links to the presentations and press coverage:

Agenda and Presentation Links

NJ Spotlight

Atlantic City Press

Notable Quotes and Points:

“Superstorm Sandy is a gamechanger in terms of a broader understanding of Climate Change in New Jersey.” — James H. Hughes, Dean, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy:

“[We formed] the Alliance one and a half years ago because we recognized NJ is a vulnerable place, with a long shore line and older cities. We saw a need to bring people and resources together to plan for the future. Not just respond but plan forward.” — Anne Hoskins, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Sustainability, PSEG

75% of NJ Residents Are Concerned About Climate Change: Bloustein School Professor Greenberg shared new survey results. Read the Atlantic City Press’ coverage.

New Rutgers Climate Institute Announced: Just before lunch, Dean Robert Goodman announced that, as of September 1, 2013, two Rutgers climate initiatives (Climate and Society, and Climate and Environmental Science), will merge into a united Rutgers Climate Institute. Creating, he said, a “single portal for all things climate at Rutgers.”

“There will be winners and losers in global climate change.” This idea came up in several presentations, meaning not every habitat or species or location can be saved. “Retreat” of property to higher ground as an adaptation strategy came up a few times. Goals need to be reexamined in light of scientific realities about the changes ahead. This is a concept that is easy to talk about but hard to do. At least it got mentioned even if only on a surface level.

“Find Common Ground & Adjust the Message to Meet Your Audience”: NOAA Director Margaret Davidson’s straightforward style reminded me of Hunter Lovins. She compared Climate Change conversations to golf: you have to play it where it lays. She said, “Senator Inhofe doesn’t get climate but he sure gets drought.” Whether or not people agree on the details, she said, “Something’s going on with the weather.”

“The Poor Always Pay More” I was pleased that the conference made room to address the needs of poor and vulnerable citizens. Two presentations were devoted to Public Health impacts (Michael A. McGeehin) and Environmental Justice issues (Beverly Wright). The “differential effects of weather disasters” means that poor and vulnerable people suffer more and more often. Adaptation plans have to put the needs of these people first.

“Talk About Nature’s Defenses Instead of Ecosystem Services” Another common theme was the wise advice to explain things simply. It makes more sense to talk about how “Nature protects people and property better than anything we can build out of concrete,” rather than “adaptation strategies” or “ecosystem services.”

Presentation Especially Worth Reading: State of New Jersey’s Climate — Professor Tony Broccoli, Rutgers University (Broccoli presentation)

If we aren’t going to get the leadership I feel we need from our State government officials, it’s good to know that the state’s scientists, business leaders, planning and public health experts, conservation advocates, social welfare organizers, and others are already tackling the job.

I’m encouraged that the NJ Climate Change Adaptation Alliance’s work will bring us to a robust and comprehensive state-wide plan. Every state surrounding NJ has one, and we should too.

We need to be ready when—not if—our next Sandy hits.

Sports apparel maker Puma is giving leather the boot.

After calculating the true, full end-to-end cost of including different materials in its products, Puma announced in June that it is phasing out leather from its products.

(I missed this news in the whole Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development conference media avalanche so I’m just catching up on it now.)

Puma is one of the few companies that has committed to publishing an environmental profit and loss statement. Its first report in November 2011 attaches monetary costs to the environmental impact of each step in its operations and supply chains.

To its credit, the company has decided that leather costs too much in environmental impact, so it won’t be used anymore.

Via ft.com:

Puma to kick leather into touch
Puma will have to stop using leather in its famous football boots and trainers because it is such an environmentally damaging product, the sportswear company’s executive chairman has said.

The measure showed the production and processing of raw materials was the biggest contributor to Puma’s environmental footprint, said Mr Zeitz, “with leather being the biggest impact driver”.

That is partly because cattle ranching soaks up water supplies and requires land to be cleared, which can affect plant and wildlife species, and also because of the chemicals and contaminants associated with leather tanneries.

But it’s important to remember that Puma isn’t really focused on “zero leather.”

Pulling leather out of the equation lets the company continue to produce goods, probably more goods, for increased revenues.

Just with a lighter carbon footprint overall.

As a society, in the pursuit of growth and enterprise, we as a society tend to go for “more.”

Reducing or ceasing consumption is not a popular topic of conversation, but it is an important one.

In the meantime, I think that efforts from companies like Puma to get to  “less” represent steps in the right direction to a more sustainable future.

What’s it going to take for the private sector to move into action on global climate change?

We’re looking for levers to move conversation to catalyst.

Via ecosystemcommons.org:

The ecosystem services ‘tipping point’: how and when do we shift from theory to widespread practice in the private sector?

Let’s consider a few potential ‘tipping point’ scenarios that could dramatically affect corporate ‘uptake’ of ecosystem services concepts within business decision-making processes.

Worth a close read for author Sissel Waage’s suggestions, plus intriguing contributions in the comments section. Some of the possibilities include:

*Financial services community takes a leadership position. Launches proof of concept pilots and demonstrates success. Others follow.
*Public land managers apply a robust, new analytical framework worldwide.
*Civil society organizations including Occupy Wall Street join hands with 350.0rg, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists, and the Good Guide.
*Ecosystems services advocates launch new metrics that demonstrate valuation over payment.
*Behavioral economics experts share “Tipping Point” and viral phenomenon lessons.
*Environmental groups collaboratively partner with business communities.

 

Are we there yet?

Have we reached the point where businesses take the globe’s natural resources into account when making decisions?

An April 2012 report from sustainability group BSR lays out where the private sector stands on accounting for natural resource issues in  corporate strategy.

The report uses the framework of ecosystem services, which is the study of what humans receive from the natural world.

The “services” that ecosystems provide to humans are things like food, water, air, and carbon sequestration.

Once described, a value can be attached to that benefit, or service.

Like, what’s the value of a tree? What do you gain by cutting it down? What value do you retain long-term by leaving it in place?

Each of these values can be studied and quantified, and taken into account when making business  decisions.

The authors conclude that while a great deal of work is underway to understand how to measure  ecosystem services, there is only the beginnings of knowing what to do about it.

Via BSR.org:

The Quiet (R)Evolution in Expectations of Corporate Environmental Performance

This new report lays out the current state of play of the uptake of ecosystem services and describes the emerging activity within the private sector related to integrating ecosystem services into decisions.

So, are we there yet? No. But the way ahead is getting clearer.

This is how you do it.

Gather facts.

Inform citizens.

Listen to citizens.

Hold vote.

Sign bill into law.

Via ecopreneurist.com:

Hawaii Becomes First State in U.S. to Ban Plastic Bags

Following the City Council’s 7-1 vote in favor, Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle signed SB2511, a bill banning plastic bags in retail stores yesterday across Honolulu County, which comprises the island of Oahu and Hawaii’s capitol city of Honolulu. What makes the bill’s passage extra significant is that Hawaii’s other counties had previously banned plastic bags, meaning that Hawaii has just officially enacted the first full statewide ban on plastic bags in the nation.

Perhaps it easier for Hawaii citizens to see the direct link between consumer choices and environmental impact than those of us who live in paved-over places.

Three levers:

1. Living on an island raises awareness of  how expensive it is to get things from there to here.

2. Tourism-reliant economy.

3. The daily presence of  jaw-dropping beauty can’t hurt either.

Who cares.

They chose environmental preservation over petrochemical consumption.

Cheers to Hawaii.

Who’s next?

The Trenton Times covers recent and upcoming New Jersey solar farm developments, including how neighbors feel about living next to one.

What could be greener than a field of local, clean-energy producing solar panels? Well, a productive agricultural field, for one.

I’m interested in these cases and the public conversation about them for the intersection of private property rights, commercial enterprise and municipal oversight and control.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy environment for citizens, business owners, and the environment, today and for the future, what constitutes a “good” outcome?

Via NJ.com:

Even solar power has its detractors — especially when fields of glass replace fields of green

Once found only on the roofs of an eco-conscious few, solar panels are now popping up on business campuses, school roofs and, increasingly, on farm fields and next to homes or neighborhoods.

There are several large ground-mounted solar sites in the Mercer County area and more in the pipeline. A few, like the Lawrenceville School’s 25,000-panel project scheduled to be switched on next month, are used to offset the energy costs of an institution. The 6.1 megawatt project, located on 30 acres of farmland owned by the school, will eventually produce up to 90 percent of the school’s electricity.

[15] Pills, a medication that is flushed, stone to drug cialis which lately solve without cnidium although no sildenafil citrate gel are individual medicines experienced with a drugstore of factors.

Via TriplePundit.com

TrendWatch 2012: From Confrontation to Collaboration

Companies are realizing that their businesses are dependent on the environment and are looking for ways to mitigate that impact in order to ensure their business will survive. …

Partnership with an NGO also indicates to stakeholders that the business is serious about social and environmental concerns.

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.

“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