Monthly Archives: August 2010

“Just chuck it in the sun to cook…” Rising temperatures and your food.

Veggie, left-wing, socialist leaning, feminist hippie? Who, me? Yep – I’ll talk about it. Vegetarian is the new green! This blog is on your food and its carbon impact. The Huffington Post (one of the English-speaking world’s 50 most powerful blogs, apparently) published this article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-freston/vegetarian-is-the-new-pri_b_39014.html) by Kathy Freston about a whole heap of UN reports and studies (one in particular by the University of Chicago) about how eating meat, and the meat industry, contributes more than we’d like to think to greenhouse gas emissions. The UN report details that “while animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, it emits 37% of our methane, and a whopping 65% of our nitrous oxide”. And that ‘we’ is not just the US – it’s globally. This is a great read too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_vegetarianism (Wiki).

Speaking of global food issues – today the Royal Society published a report about food production in the face of CC and increasing global population. You can find it here: http://royalsociety.org/document.asp?tip=0&id=8825. The report discusses the need for a sustainable intensification of global agriculture where yields are increased without adverse environmental impact and without the cultivation of more land. Recommendations included: securing funding for more research, increased support for ecosystem-based approaches, and the UK specific problem of reversing a decline in interest in food-crop related subjects.

The chairman of the report, Professor David Baulcombe, says “We need to take action now to stave off food shortages. If we wait even five to 10 years, it may be too late… Science-based approaches introduced alongside social science and economic innovations are essential if we’re to have a decent chance of feeding the world’s population in 40 years’ time.”

Forty years! Goodness, that’s soon. However, there is controversy about the Royal Society’s recommendations. Tom MacMillan, director of the Food Ethics Council, says the Royal Society is getting ahead of itself by demanding more funding for science. “That’s exactly the kind of decision that should be up for wider debate. The money might be better spent tackling social and economic problems.” So even within recommendations of what appears to be a looming issue, there will still be room for controversy! I personally agree with Mr MacMillan – community and political consultation WITH scientists would be best for communities to decide what they want to spend their money on – just like every budgetary round, when everyone puts their hand up with suggestions.

And despite this article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/20/arctic-tundra) asserting that many Russians do not believe in CC, the effects are being directly felt in the icy far north of the country. The arctic tundra’s nomadic peoples, the Nenets, face food issues of their own. Their reindeer, which they rely on for food, transport and warmth, are becoming oddly fatigued and give birth at random times during the year. The native Nenets have also noticed more polar bear encounters and changes in insect life as they wander the icy, wet, tundra. As well, last year they arrived at their regular summer home to find that a lake they rely on for water and fish, had half drained after a landslide. Scientists say “there is unmistakable evidence that Yamal’s ancient permafrost is melting”, and this doesn’t bode well for the Nenets, their food, their reindeer, nor their lives.

Another devastating example comes from Kenya (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/03/climate-change-kenya-10-10) where food prices have doubled and water prices quadrupled in the wake of recent droughts. Mpoke, a Maasai climate change educator working with charity Concern Worldwide, says he does “not understand how people in rich countries fail to understand the scale or urgency of the problem emerging in places such as Kenya. Climate change is here. It’s a reality.” Nomadic peoples have no time to recover in between constant droughts. But in the future, it won’t just be Kenya, the Arctic Tundra, or nomads affected. It will be all of us, before we realise.

Advertisements

I pay, you pay, we all pay for ice-cre… no, wait, CARBON!

Carbon taxing. What in the world? I had to do a bit of reading about this proposed phenomenon to get my head around it. I originally found it by being referenced as a similar idea to raising fuel taxes (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327251.500-better-world-tax-carbon-and-give-the-money-to-the-people.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news), that I’ve blogged about previously.

Proponents suggest a universal carbon tax – energy providers are taxed on the basis of their particular fuel’s environmental damage potential. This means the dirtier the energy, the more they pay. This tax is passed, eventually, through to consumers; however, everyday people get a refund from the government (of this tax), and the government actually keeps very little. What it eventually means is that dirty energy producers pay most, and the wealthiest people pay most because they use the most energy/applicances/flights/consumables and so on. The Carbon Tax Centre, advocating for this stance, has a good set of FAQs that clears up many questions (http://www.carbontax.org/faq/).

Supporters say that a universal carbon tax can be offset and mitigated to protect society’s poorest people, and that it would be much simpler than any cap and trade bills for industry, and also point out the rapid degeneration of the first emissions trading scheme. However, it seems a far-off and nigh impossible idea. James Hansen, a climatologist at NASA, says “”A carbon tax is honest. It takes one page rather than 1400. That doesn’t go down too well in Washington.” We might just not hold our breaths.

I believe this is another example of the lateral thinking that comes out of the Turner crisis. Every time humans think of another angle to deal with CC, they empower each other, themselves and most importantly, fringe ideas that eventually turn into plausible solutions. That’s how the Kyoto Protocol started, after all. No-one imagined that so many countries would eventually come to ratify. Nor did anyone imagine the massive changes everyone would begin to make (plastic bag avoidance, shorter showers, more public transport for purely environmental reasons, eating less meat for the environment) – that seemed left-of-field not long ago – in their lifestyle to effect change in their own corner of the world.

Stories of climate change and the drama of it all.

In this blog, I’d like to talk about some thoughts I had on Turner’s framework of controversy and compare it to an opinion piece from Mike Hulme from New Scientist (5 Sept, 2009). Turner, as you know, talks about controversies as conflicts that erupt sometimes in society and about the dramatic way they’re resolved.

The ‘acts’ in the drama of controversy follow predetermined steps we can track, according to Turner. His book ‘Dramas, Fields and Metaphors’, is available from our very own SS&H library. The first act: a breach of societal practices or behaviours, which is quickly and dramatically brought to the attention of the public. Next, a crisis occurs between the antagonistic parties who have different beliefs about the issue in question. Thirdly, redressive action – that is – society decides (through rules, parties, justice system or the like) who or what is essentially ‘right’. Finally, a new status quo is created when the antagonistic parties resolve their differences. Or this is how it goes in theory.

To jump a little, Mike Hulme (http://mikehulme.org/) in New Scientist (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327241.000-time-to-tell-new-stories-of-climate-change.html?page=1) talks about the stories we use in our heads to understand the climate change issue. Hulme proposes four (these aren’t directly related to Turner’s four dramatic steps):

–          story of Eden: climate is fragile, we need to protect it, we are uncomfortable with our unasked-for ability to irreversibly change it

–          story of Apocalypse: climate change is scary and may kill us all, we have to do something

–          story of Prometheus: we have to control climate change, and might, but may also muck it up

–          story of Themis: climate change is related to environmental justice, we feel urged to do the ‘right’ thing

I wanted to share the way I drew these two ideas in my head together. As per Turner’s framework, I believe a breach has occurred in our society. Not by one act, but by the anthropogenic CC we have caused. The breach is revealed in changes in our lifestyle when disasters occur, when scientists tell us we have to change, when island people are flooded out of their homes, when we have increasingly catastrophic weather and natural disasters. This is what has brought our attention to our unintentional breach (of the natural balance). This is the crisis.

I believe that we are within the redressive, third act, of the framework. And this is where Hulme’s ideas struck a chord. He speaks about CC being a ‘cultural and psychological phenomenon’ that ‘politics, diplomacy, business, law, academia, development, welfare, religion, ethics, art and celebrity’ are transforming with ideas. And not only creative ideas for action, but differing ideas about the call to action. Hulme says that we have a unique opportunity to allow long term impacts into consideration like never before, and that each sphere will respond in its own way to the challenge of CC.

‘These creative uses of the idea of climate change do not demand consensus over its meaning.’ I love that line. How amazing. The redress step has merely branched off into a million ways that society and individuals can decide to work on CC and their behaviours. The status quo may never come – or we could define it as humanity and earth living on, past the next 200 years, past the CC threat.

Here are examples of that divergence of action:

Grassroots consumers are given power and agency: http://www.1010uk.org/people#how_can_we

Industry and innovation: http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,26037953-5019059,00.html

Economic fixes: http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/10/20/the-hidden-120-billion-cost-of-americas-energy-mix/

Underestimating or leaving out the public?

Are scientists and policymakers underestimating the public’s capacity to assimilate and deal with risks of, solutions to, and information about CC?

I was looking at the WHO’s webpage about science to policy and response to CC (http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/summary/en/index11.html). I found it interesting that the involvement of the public and communicating to them was a small paragraph at the end of the document; and that the title of the paragraph was actually not communicating risk or engaging or something similar, but about communicating the results of assessment only. The strategy for involving the public reminded me of the Mother’s Milk Canada and Kyoto chapter – where public understanding (maybe) didn’t take a back seat, but was a vague, small part of the process. Here’s the WHO text. It says all the right things – but I’m unsure if it should say more, considering the guidance it gave on other parts of the CC response.

Stakeholders should be engaged throughout an assessment process. A communication strategy must ensure access to information, presentation of information in a usable form, and guidance on how to use the information. Risk communication is a complex, multidisciplinary, and evolving process. Often information has to be tailored to the specific needs of risk managers in specific geographic areas and demographic groups. This requires close interaction between information providers and those who need the information to make decisions.

Additionally, the CDC’s (American Centre for Disease Control) website, when publishing their plan for responding to CC health related threats, only 2 of the very comprehensive 11 points of ‘action’ involved public communication. You can read them here: http://www.cdc.gov/ClimateChange/policy.htm.

These brief forays into organisations and the way they portray their communication efforts reminds me of a moment in the Hot Air Symposium where the discussion was about CC communication leaving out the public. The potential (and previous) neglect of public communication was because the main policy decisions occurred high up in governmental and scientific organisations, who don’t feel the need to report on the repercussions of their decisions to the public. That their decisions will eventually filter down to the everyday people, or that the media will do that work.

In a paper by Markus Rhomberg, The Mass Media and Risk Communication of Climate Change (http://www.psa.ac.uk/2009/pps/Rhomberg.pdf), Rhomberg looks at why some CC issues get a lot of coverage and some don’t. He finds that “climate change is an interesting topic” until media interest wanes if major issues get bogged down in political decision-making structures. He also asserts that CC issues are mostly of interest for reporting when they are very clear, particularly when they have an element of conflict, and if they linked to important or popular people. This would link in well with previous determinations of journalistic values and what gets reported on. Interestingly, perhaps location is not such a huge determining factor for CC reporting.

But here’s a positive story! Some elements of public risk communication have been documented in WikiAdapt by the ACCCA (Advancing Capacity to support Climate Change Adaptation, http://www.acccaproject.org/accca/) activities for all to see and learn from.

They recommend the following considerations when communicating CC risk:

–          effective two way participatory dialogue

–          knowing local context (they work overseas a lot)

–          understanding local knowledge on climate risk

–          effectively engaging stakeholders in the process of developing risk management

–          combining strategies to target different stakeholders

–          using public spaces and behaviours to fit the risk communication in with the community

–          developing innovative ways to communicate (for example, hands-on workshops)

Other really interesting pages of theirs deal with content for risk communication, particularly in foreign countries (http://wikiadapt.org/index.php?title=Lessons_learned_in_the_field:_thinking_about_the_content_for_risk_communication), and lessons they’ve learnt about communication in the field (http://wikiadapt.org/index.php?title=Challenges_and_opportunities_in_communicating_risk#Learned_lessons_on_challenges). Here’s a bigger, official PDF if you’d like to take a look: http://www.acccaproject.org/UserFiles/File/Risk_communication_Final.pdf.

I wanted to go into this subject more but the post is long enough… I hope that in my out-of-blog research I find a lot of evidence that policymakers and scientists are actively engaging the public at first steps of CC information and decisions.

New blues, old fake greens.

Water footprinting – it’s the new ‘blue’. In a report sponsored by SABMiller (a brewing company) and the World Wildlife Fund UK, water footprinting is touted as another, but equally important way to look at resource use by companies. The report can be found here: http://www.sabmiller.com/files/reports/water_footprinting_report.pdf. Although the report begins with examples of a beer-making company, it has interesting recommendations for other companies where water is a commodity in use.

A quote from their summary follows: “If water footprinting is applied well it can be very useful from a business perspective, helping identify the scale of water use in water-scarce areas and the potential business risks that arise. The key test of a water footprint is whether it helps a business to take better operational decisions concerning how it manages its plants, how it works with suppliers and how it engages with governments, to reduce business risk and improve environmental sustainability.”

But back onto the ‘old’ green.. This leads into something I am very interested in: greenwashing. TerraChoice, [ironically?] an American environmental marketing agency helping sustainable companies grow (http://www.terrachoice.com/), has a brilliant PDF about greenwashing that’s well worth reading (http://www.terrachoice.com/files/6_sins.pdf). I’ve summarised the main six ways to greenwash consumers below. They surveyed 1018 products in North American retail stores, and all but one had at least one ‘sin’ of greenwashing! Recently, a seventh sin has been added to the list. I’ve also included their percentages of products that committed each sin.

1. Sin of the hidden trade-off: eg. ‘energy efficient’ electronics with hazardous materials. 57%.

2. Sin of no proof: no verifiable certification of claims like ‘certified organic’. 26%

3. Sin of vagueness: claims of ‘100% natural’, when plenty of natural things are poisonous, like arsenic. 11%.

4. Sin of irrelevance: eg. products claiming ‘CFC free’, when they were banned 20 years ago. 4%.

5. Sin of fibbing: actually lying about being certified to one or another environmental standard. 1%.

6. Sin of lesser of two evils: eg. ‘environmentally friendly’ pesticides, ‘organic’ cigarettes.. 1%.

7. Added in Apr 2009, Sin of worshipping false labels: products implying (with words/images) that a 3rd party endorses them (falsely). No percentage.

This blog article, Can Coal Really be Clean? (http://environmentalblogging.org/?p=1084) is a brilliant example of examining the claims very closely and exposing them for what they are: rubbish. Some more examples from Wired science blogs: http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/16-11/st_greenmarketing.

A press release about UK big business and green-washers and -winners, based on the first survey of its kind, is here: http://www.chatsworthcommunications.com/documents/PRESSRELEASEFOOTSIE100GreenWinnersandGreenWasherssurvey.pdf. A few -washers and -winners are detailed in the press release but I found this quote very interesting. “Green-fatigue is setting in and companies need to rethink the way they communicate their sustainability programmes. Many opinion formers appear to be losing faith in the real intentions of UK corporates to meet their sustainable objectives and many detect more than a faint whiff of insincerity..”, this from Nick Murray-Leslie, the director of the company who published the press release. I myself feel ‘green fatigue’ when I see endless claims of how petrol companies are trying to be green. Ironically, even if the petrol companies really are making green inroads, this fatigue actually stops me looking because I am expecting greenwashing and lies. Too cynical? I understand that change is very slow, but I think my opinions are mirrored by the survey results in that people wish companies owned up to un-green practices and worked on them, instead of trying to disguise them.

So what does TerraChoice say we can do about avoiding the disguises? They give two general tips for consumers: look for known and trusted eco-labels and also look for evidence of the six sins (they go into more detail, but I think that just thinking hard about a claim you see on packaging could be enough – ‘no chemicals’? Isn’t water a chemical? Smells fishy to me…). Well, Australia’s Choice (consumer choices) site gives a guide (http://www.choice.com.au/viewArticle.aspx?id=106166&catId=100583&tid=100008), Greenpeace has a site devoted to it with news articles and information (http://stopgreenwash.org/) and an even more sophisticated tool comes from the University of Oregon and EnviroMedia Social Marketing (http://www.greenwashingindex.com/). Their page uses consumers’ experiences and asks people to post ads they see, rate them, compare it to others’ opinions of them, and look at other ads posted. The voted ‘most authentic’ and ‘biggest offenders’ are chronicled on the front page of the site.

I don’t know if anyone checked out that art link I posted ages ago, but here’s another one about a greenwashing exhibit (with photos): http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/007931.html. And on a slightly distracting note to end with: an innovative ad about polar bears: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9zolXd1QzE.

Hard choices and very loud voices.

This post comes back to rich countries and companies dealing with hard changes and the outcry that these bring. No theory in this one. Read on, rock on..!

It seems France and Japan are tussling with business and consumer opinions about their latest CC strategies – both countries are on the cusp of introducing carbon taxing and CC targets (respectively), to a vocal chorus of annoyed people. The Wall Street Journal reports (http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/09/08/harsh-climate-france-japan-struggle-with-climate-plans-too/) that even France’s modest (and offset) attempt to tax gasoline has created a public outcry, and Japan’s move towards strict emissions targets is even being resisted by companies expected to benefit indirectly (with new products, for example). Small, unavoidable pieces of legislation by government (like these) seem to me to be a great way to introduce changes – it bypasses some of those ‘waiting for someone else to make a move’ feelings for industry and consumers.

New Scientist carried an article about the disparate capping of the ‘rich’ countries here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16791-cap-the-rich-to-keep-emissions-targets-fair.html. An interesting part of the article was also the mention of more stringent requirements for the world’s heaviest carbon emitters. The Kyoto protocol expires in 2012, which is also the end of its first compliance period for countries. In the beginning, developing nations weren’t required to cap their emissions at all given that they had had no part in creating the CC problem. However, Heleen de Coninck of the Princeton Environmental Institute says that this is unfair because “there are poor people in rich countries who emit next to nothing and very rich people in poor countries that emit as much as the European average”. I notice that this is a slightly different kind of ‘unfairness’ to that mentioned in the reading as one reason the US would not ratify the Kyoto protocol – President Bush said that as long as developing countries weren’t required to reduce emissions, it would be an ineffective plan (Kyoto).

A climate change blog by experts at the Environmental Defense Fund (Climate 411, http://www.edf.org/home.cfm) carried an opinion about the recent American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) here (http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/2009/08/25/api-misses-the-mark-why-refineries-will-do-just-fine-under-aces/), that I wanted to discuss with regards to the Kyoto reading I did. The title is API Misses the Mark: Why Refineries Will Do Just Fine Under ACES, and really sums up the blog post. The premise is that the American Petroleum Industry completed a study that concluded that the act will harm them economically – however, the bloggers contend that the study is flawed in ways that reminded me of the reading (the way economic models neglected some components of the future/innovation). They apparently 1) used a model that doesn’t account for carbon trading and offsets, nor uses of low-carbon innovations, and 2) ignored that the most likely outcome of the model says that petroleum refineries will keep growing anyway.

The other parts of the study the bloggers disagree with API about include crying foul about electricity companies’ emissions allowances (which the companies have to pass onto consumers!), and that America would have to be dependent on overseas refineries. A direct quote to finish:

“EDF did our own analysis of the impact of climate legislation on oil refineries.  Here’s what we found:

  • The expected added cost from a clean energy bill, per gallon of refined gasoline, is less than one cent per gallon.
  • Analysis also suggests that refiners can be expected to pass on the majority of any cost increase to their customers.
  • As a result, between 1.4 and 1.7 percent of total allowances would be enough to compensate domestic refineries – in full — for the added costs associated with reducing their process emissions.
  • Since ACES allocates 2.25 percent of allowances to oil refiners, EDF believes the allocations set out in ACES are more than generous.

Given all this, the bill should not affect the competitiveness of American refineries.”