Growing Up In A Changing Climate

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Hope For The Next Generation

My children were born in 2009 and 2012. By 2050 my kids will be 41 and 38 years old. By then, they might have kids of their own, and I could have grandchildren. Parenting is full of worries and things to do, so I won’t add to your list. I’m optimistic about the global efforts to curb climate change, but I’m also insatiably curious and maybe a tad bit morbid. I think the best way to solve problems is to bring the dark into the light, so I decided to list a few of the problems my kids might face in 2050 and beyond, and then list just a few of the many reasons I’m optimistic that their future won’t be filled with floods and starvation. Here we go.

Coastal Flooding

“Portions of the East and Gulf coasts have faced some of the world’s fastest rates of sea level rise. These trends have contributed to loss of life, billions of dollars in damage to coastal property and infrastructure, massive taxpayer funding for recovery and rebuild- ing, and degradation of our prized shores,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

120 million Americans live along the coast. That’s about 40% of the US population. The below video shows the effect that coastal flooding is already having on the East Coast.

A couple good graphics…

 

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Image Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

If you’re curious, you can see what your favorite coastline might look like based on different sea level rise scenarios using the Sea Level Rise Viewer from the Office For Coastal Management.

Then there’s food insecurity

When I go to the grocery store I’m overwhelmed by choices, never a lack of them. There’s so much food our society is obsessed with staying thin.  40% of food is wasted from farm to fork in the US.  None of today’s problems seem consistent with food insecurity, but a changing climate can drastically effect farmers abilities to grow the food we eat.

“Climate change is very likely to affect global, regional, and local food security by disrupting food availability, decreasing access to food, and making food utilization more difficult,” according to the Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System report by the USDA. “The effect of climate change on crop productivity is projected to be mixed in the near term, with detrimental effects becoming more pronounced and geographically widespread over the longer term and with higher emissions rate.”

For families this would mean an increase in prices and a decrease in the availability of select foods. A lot of factors go into determining food prices, such as transportation costs and advertising, so only a small percent of the money we spend on food actually goes to the food itself. However, the USDA report states “The continued changes expected between 2050 and 2100 under high-emissions scenarios are expected to have overall detrimental effects on most crops and livestock.” Under such a scenario either consumers will pay more for food, or government will need to further subsidize farmers. Either way, families pay more.

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Image Source: Climate Central

If food insecurity isn’t enough to scare you, how about wine insecurity?

Wine Insecurity

“The changing climate would even shrink the $50 billion Californian wine industry by up to 70% by 2050,” according to the Global Solutions Network.

If the land suitable for growing wine grapes decreases by 25% – 73% that means a big increase in wine prices and a big decrease in wine production. I think we can all agree we need easy and affordable access to decent wine! Seriously. I can’t loose wine!

Extreme Weather

“It is virtually certain that increases in the frequency of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur throughout the 21st century on a global scale. It is very likely, 90 per cent to 100 per cent probability, that heat waves will increase in length, frequency, and/or intensity over most land areas,” according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A 2003 heat wave in Europe caused 35,000 deaths. Heat waves are called silent killers because extreme heat can lead to dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion and is especially dangerous for children. On the other end of the extreme weather spectrum is extreme rain which can lead to flooding, property damage and dangerous driving conditions. Neither scenario is one that I want my kids or grandkids exposed to.

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Image courtesy of Climate Central

The Tipping Point

Then there’s the tipping point. Nobody really knows when a tipping point will occur, but it’s certainly the scariest part about climate change for me.

“Exceeding one or more tipping points could potentially result in abrupt changes in the climate or any component of the climate system,” according to the US Dept of Transportation report on Climate Tipping Points.

So basically, a tipping point can cause a reaction in the environment that is much more intense than the slow increases in temperature and changes in weather pattern that we are currently trending for. A tipping point would be an extreme change that happens as a result of many, many years of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.

“Human impacts on the climate system through greenhouse gas emissions may change the climate so much that it is impossible (or extremely difficult and costly) to return it to its original state – in this sense the changes are irreversible. Some irreversibility will almost certainly occur,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report from 2007.

On to the Hope

Despite all this, I’m optimistic about my children’s future. There’s actually a lot we can do to minimize the impact of climate change and to protect our children and grandchildren. Part two of this article will focus on solutions, but for now, I’ll focus on hope.

In 1965, 42% of American adults smoked. Due to public education, increased taxes and other restrictions on smoking and cigarettes, in 2014 only 16.8% of American adults smoked according to the CDC. It’s not perfect, but certainly a huge improvement.

I have to believe that public education, a carbon tax or cap and trade and innovation can  have the same effect on climate change. (More on this to come).

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Image Source: Climate Central 

In November, 42 US mayors issued an open letter to President Elect Donald Trump asking for his “partnership in our work to clean our air, strengthen our economy, and ensure that our children inherit a nation healthier and better prepared for the future than it is today.”

I won’t worry about whether or not these mayors get the support they’re asking for. What matters is that the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, San Jose and Phoenix etc are all united in their mission to curb climate change and keep their residents safe. That gives me hope.

So I’ll leave you with thoughts of grand kids playing by a clean and pristine coastline, picking shells and throwing rocks into the break. I don’t believe that we are doomed to lives effected by flooding, wine insecurity and an eminent tipping point. I believe there are real solutions to these problems and that the love for our children and grandchildren will prevail.

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Climate Progress Without Support From The Trump Administration

Can We Slow Climate Change Without Government Intervention?

As we look at the next four years with a Trump Presidency, we are unlikely to see Federal support for climate change progress. The International Energy Agency states that we absolutely need government to slow the worst effects of climate change. Unfortunately, for the next four years, that simply might not happen. So how can Americans move forward with climate change progress without help from the Federal government? Nonprofits, business leaders and states will need to lead the way.

Rocky Mountain Institute

Amory Lovins, cofounder and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), offers a compelling argument that we can transform our energy system and slow climate change without government intervention.

The RMI outlines how we can do this through advancing technology in transportation, energy efficiencies and advancements in renewables, greener buildings and industry improvements.

Transportation: “Super efficient autos, trucks, and planes, far more productively used, would need three-fourths less fuel, no oil, and less lifecycle cost,” according to RMI.

Electricity: “Dramatically increased energy efficiency could flatten or even modestly decrease total electricity use, despite a 158 percent bigger 2050 economy and electrified autos,” according to RMI.

Industry: “Just two purposes—running motors and heating materials—account for more than three-quarters of U.S. industry’s primary energy use,” according to RMI. This can be done more efficiently.

Buildings: Buildings use a lot of energy. Through building and remodeling methods developed by organizations such as LEED (developed by the U.S. Green Building Council) and Net Zero Homes, buildings can significantly reduce energy consumption and decrease their environmental impact.

 

Industries Leading The Green Revolution:

These businesses and industries are leading the green revolution and changing how business as usual gets done:

Tesla – Always on top of the green companies list. They make electric cars and energy storage, just in case you hadn’t heard. Soon they will merge with Solar City, the market leader in residential solar power according to PV Magazine.

Vivint Solar – Never heard of this one? I hadn’t either, but it’s the second largest residential solar power provider after Solar City.

Ikea – The worlds largest furniture retailer: “We’re working towards 100% renewable energy – producing as much as we consume in our operations – and sourcing all of our wood from more sustainable sources by 2020,” according to the Ikea website.

Unilever – Their mainstream products such as Axe, Dove and Lipton are not usually synonymous with green living, but they are a global company with sustainability plan.

We believe that business must be part of the solution. But to be so, business will have to change; there is not ‘business as usual anymore’. Sustainable, equitable growth is the only acceptable business model. Our vision is to grow our business, whilst reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.

Low Carbon USA – American companies such as HP Inc. and even Monsanto (a company often under serious scrutiny by the environmental community) have signed the Low Carbon USA pledge and open letter to the Trump administration and members of the US congress:

“Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness. We pledge to do our part, in our own operations and beyond, to realize the Paris Agreement’s commitment of a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius,” states part of the Low Carbon USA letter.

Cities, States and Regions

Although the Trump administration may not be on board with a climate action plan, cities and regions throughout the world are showing their commitment to becoming carbon neutral:

Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance – Lists cities that have committed to cutting greenhouse emissions 80% by 2050.

Under 2 MOU – California, Connecticut and Washington are a few states that have signed on to “The Under2 Coalition’s shared goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 2 tons per capita, or 80-95% below 1990 level by 2050,” according to Under2MOU.

Palo Alto, Ca – Cities such as Palo Alto, California, not associated with either of the above organizations, have long had sustainability plans dedicated to carbon neutrality.

Moving Forward

Although it’s frustrating that the climate action community probably won’t have support from the Trump administration, we can’t loose hope and we certainly can’t give up. It’s just an obstacle, not a dead end. Let’s build on the ideas endorsed by the Rocky Mountain Institute and continue to support companies and communities that are committed to changing business as usual.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

– Archbishop Desmond Tutu

 

Opinion: Trump and The Environment

The Day After

It’s the day after the election and I’m feeling a bit nauseated. Maybe depressed is a better word? Grasping for words today. I’m overwhelmed by the thought of a Trump Presidency and all that it might mean. Saddened that so many people felt compelled to vote for him.

But for me, optimism prevails. I love America. Born in Sweden, I could certainly uproot my family and move back there. But running away won’t solve the problems we face. I will not let fear rule my life. Fear is what got us into this mess in the first place. Fear of other people, fear of other peoples opinions and lifestyles. Fear can not get the better of me today.

So lets move forward and work with what we have

A few key bullet points from President Elect Trump’s website:

  • “Make America energy independent, create millions of new jobs, and protect clean air and clean water. We will conserve our natural habitats, reserves and resources. We will unleash an energy revolution that will bring vast new wealth to our country.”
  • “Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.”
  • “Open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands, eliminate moratorium on coal leasing, and open shale energy deposits.”

As much as I oppose continuing and strengthening an energy policy that is basically business as usual (shale, oil, natural gas and coal) I see why this message appeals to some Americans. Americans want to keep energy jobs in America. I get it. I want energy jobs to stay in America as well. And just for the sake of argument, why not keep getting our dirty energy from American sources instead of importing it from other countries (lets just disregard the environmental impact at this point)? I see the appeal! I know lots of people who agree. Why import what we already have at home? We’re using the energy whether it comes from the middle east, mid west or off the California coast.

Can We All Grow Together?

The question for me becomes, can we keep and grow the business as usual energy jobs that currently exist (cole, natural gas etc) and ALSO grow renewable energy? Whether the Trump administration wants it or not, the solar power industry is booming along with the entire renewable energy industry. So can we all work together to promote green energy jobs while still keeping the jobs that currently exist?

If the Trump administration really, truly wants to “Make America energy independent, create millions of new jobs, and protect clean air and clean water,” then lets do this. Lets all work together to get it done. Democrats and Republicans working together.

Today, I truly hope that Trump will stand by this statement on his own website:

 “We will conserve our natural habitats, reserves and resources. We will unleash an energy revolution that will bring vast new wealth to our country.”

Donald J. Trump’s website

Food & Water

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land,”

– Aldo Leopold

The Best Guides to Making Healthy Food Choices

Guide to Avoiding Pesticides –  The Environmental Working Groups guide to buying produce. Shows the Clean 15 and Dirty 12. Yikes, Strawberries!

Seafood Watch –  Probably the best known seafood guide. Put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

EWG Seafood Guide – A simpler seafood guide.

Mercury in Fish –  Which kinds of fish to buy and what to avoid. Yikes, Tuna! Yay, Salmon!

Water Filter Guide – Features the best kinds of water filters based on criteria you select.

Meat Eaters Guide – How to reduce your environmental foot print by shifting your meat and dairy eating habits.

Good Guide – Guide to buying all kinds of things, but has a good list of foods.

Children’s Cereals – So much sugar in children’s cereals!

Food Scores – Scores food based on nutrition, ingredient and processing concerns.

Guide to Avoiding GMO’s – A good guide if you’re trying to avoid genetically modified foods. (Hint – buy organic).

Good Food Price Guide – How to buy healthy food on a budget.

 

 

 

 

Skin Care

“A cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA,” according to the FDA.

Skin Care – The EWG’s guide to buying less toxic skin care products. Either search for the product you use or click on a cosmetics category to find the best products.

Sunscreen Guide – Sunscreen is essential for keeping your skin protected from the sun, however, a great deal of sunscreens contain toxic ingredients. The EWG sunscreen guide is your essential guide for buying better sunscreens for yourself and your family.

Avoid oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and can disrupt the hormone system. Look for products with zinc oxide, 3 percent avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. They protect skin from harmful UVA radiation,” according to the EWG.

EWG Verified – Look for the EWG Verified logo when you buy skin care products. The list of products is short and most are not commercially available, but hopefully this list will grow so we can find these products at our local stores.

“EWG VERIFIED™ takes the Skin Deep® rating system one step further – by also asking companies to submit significantly more detailed information to help confirm that companies are making full disclosure to their consumers, that their products are adequately preserved and free of contaminants, and that manufacturing processes meet EWG’s rigorous criteria. Before a company is allowed to use the EWG VERIFIED™ mark, it must meet all of our criteria and provide additional information not found on the label – an effort to drive the market toward greater transparency,” according to the EWG.

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A Greener Air Conditioner?

HFC Alternatives Post Kigali Amendment

When the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol passed in October, it set a timeline for the United States and Europe to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s) by 2019 due to their high global warming potential (GWP). So what will todays HFC’s be replaced with and what alternatives are available today?

“Due to different thermodynamic and safety properties of the alternatives, there is no “one size fits all” solution. The suitability of a certain alternative must be considered separately for each category of product and equipment and in some cases also taking into account the level of ambient temperature at the location where the product and equipment is being used,” according to the European Commission on Climate Action‘s report on F-Gas alternatives. (HFC’s are considered F-gases also known as fluorinated gases).

What to do if you are building new or remodeling:

  • SNAP – This is the United States Environmental Protection Agencies list of approved alternatives. This list still includes HFC’s. Use this list when talking to your contractor or HVAC professional if you’re in the United States. Make sure to ask your contractor how your choice will effect your energy consumption. You need to weigh your HVAC or refrigeration choice against its energy efficiency.
  • Cool Technologies – “This website includes a sampling of companies using natural alternatives in a variety of applications. It was created to demonstrate there is already a wide array of safe and commercially proven technologies available to meet nearly all those human needs formerly met by fluorinated refrigerants,” according to Cool Technologies, a Greenpeace and Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) website.
  • Energy Star – Review the Energy Star rated HVAC systems and refrigerators. Most of these will still use HFC’s for now, but they should require less energy to run and are considered best in class.
  • European Commission on Climate Action –  The European Commission offers a guide to buying climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs and HCFCs in Europe.

 What to do with the AC and refrigerator that you currently own:

  • Heat and Cool Efficiently – Energy Star has a list of what you should do to keep your current system running efficiently.
  • Recycle or dispose of it properly once it’s no longer running efficiently. “To reduce energy demand, ozone depletion, and global climate impacts, it is critical that older units be permanently removed from the energy grid and properly disposed of so that environmentally-harmful refrigerants and foam blowing agents are captured and recycled or destroyed,” according to the EPA.

The Next Generation Of HFC’s

Hydrofluoroolefins (HFO’s)

  • Hydrofluoroolefins (HFO’s) are being marketed by Honeywell and Dupont as the fourth generation refrigerant that will be used instead of HFC’s.
  • “Honeywell developed Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) that have an ultra low GWP and are non-ozone-depleting. Today these HFOs are available for mobile air conditioning, refrigeration, aerosol applications, insulating and one-component foams. Soon, new HFOs will be available to serve the high performance thermal insulation and solvent segments,” according to Honeywell.

Natural Refrigerants

Ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, air and water are considered natural refrigerants and are outlined in ASHREA’s position document on Refrigerants and their Responsible Use.

“Some of the natural refrigerants have been used in the market place for many decades although at varying degrees of application. Although environmentally superior favorable, natural refrigerants are not free of other concerns, such as corrosion, toxicity, high pressures, flammability, or in some cases lower operating efficiencies,”according to ASHREA.

 

“If a lower global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant is less efficient than the fluid which it replaces, any direct global warming benefit may be offset by increased energy consumption. ASHRAE’s position is that the selection of refrigerants and their operating systems be based on a holistic analysis of multiple criteria,” according to ASHREA.

“Overall, the opportunity exists for a significant percentage of current HFC use to transition to NIK [Not In Kind/Non-HFC/HFO] alternatives during the anticipated Montreal Protocol phasedown of HFCs,” according to the Center For Climate and Energy Solutions.

“By providing a broader range of alternatives, NIK alternatives provide market and price competition to patent-controlled next generation HFOs, and in some cases offer greater energy efficiency. In addition, NIK alternatives can help Article 5 Parties leapfrog from HCFCs to low-GWP alternatives. Efforts are underway but will require several more years to address changes in codes and standards to ensure a wider range of more flammable alternatives can be used safely,” according to the C2ES.

“Chemically, HFOs are a form of HFCs, but due to the negative connotations that HFCs have acquired, this new class of chemicals is being marketed under a different name. While HFOs have lower GWPs than the earlier generation of HFCs they continue to pose dangers to the environment,” according to Greenpeace.

 

“HFO’s do not provide long term, sustainable solutions. Natural substances are available and technically and economically feasible in almost all cooling applications: domestic and commercial refrigeration and air-conditioning, mobile air-conditioning, industrial processes, insulation foam blowing,” according to Greenpeace.

“As Article 5 Parties consider replacing high-GWP technologies, there is a desirability (and very real potential) to leapfrog from HCFCs to low-GWP alternatives—avoiding a shift first from HCFCs to high-GWP HFCs and at a later date from HFCs to a low- or zero-GWP alternative,” according to the Center For Climate and Energy Solutions.

Kigali Amendment Details

The Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol sets the dates for phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are used in air conditioners, refrigerators, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems and aerosols. HFC’s contribute to global warming and were originally developed as an alternative to chlorofluorocarbon’s (CFC’s)  which deplete the ozone layer. CFC’s were phased out as part of the original Montreal Protocol.

“Following seven years of negotiations, the 197 Montreal Protocol parties reached a compromise, under which developed countries will start to phase down HFCs by 2019. Developing countries will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024, with some countries freezing consumption in 2028,” according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“HFCs are the fastest growing climate pollutants, and they pack hundreds to thousands of times the climate-warming punch of carbon dioxide, pound for pound. Scientists estimate that HFCs could add up to 0.5° Celsius to global temperatures by century’s end if their growth is not checked,” according to the NRDC.

 

Review: Before The Flood

 

Interviews Worth Watching and Solutions To Pay Attention To

“Before the Flood” with Leo DiCaprio is streaming free online until November 7th 2016. Although none of the information in the film was new, it was worth watching for two reasons:

1.) The sheer number of interviews DiCaprio had with prominent politicians, business people and scientist was impressive and worth watching.

2.) The solutions the film lays out are right on and in complete alignment with what I hope   to communicate with this site. We need real progress that goes beyond small steps made by some individuals. We need government involvement, significant business investments and citizens willing to embrace new technology and some life style changes.

The film addresses one of the fundamental arguments I see within the environmental community which is: Consumers need to change their habits and consumption vs Government and businesses need to change their policies and products.

Sunita Narain from the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi argues that America’s consumption is the reason for climate change and the only way to end climate change is for people from the west (mostly Americans) to stop consuming so much.

DiCaprio says to Narain that he agrees that we need to change our consumption, but argues that that’s probably not going to happen (I agree!) He argues that the west must invest in renewable energies such as wind and solar.

An Economy Based on Consumption and Carbon

I absolutely agree that the western lifestyle of consumption and waste is a major driver of climate change. No doubt! But the problem with presenting the idea of reducing or ultimately ending our consumption-waste lifestyle as a solution to the climate issue goes against the only way of life most people in the west know. It goes against every notion of business growth and the social progress we have come to expect in the west.

Everything I see and touch as I write this has come from a carbon producing lifestyle. The computer I work on, the table I sit at, the clothes I’m wearing and the house I live in. I, and I would argue most westerns, feel that we are entitled to a life that has these things, assuming we get educated and have a paycheck and maybe some money in the bank. Very few people want to move backwards to a time when we grew our own food and sewed our own clothes. Humans are wired to move forward, not backwards.

I don’t want trees to be cut down to make my kitchen table or coal to be burned to create the energy that’s needed to make my computers but that’s the reality. Our entire economy is based on consumption. Some things we need, and some things we don’t need but we buy them anyway just because we can. We need food and clothes. We need a roof over our heads. For those of us that have kids we need to buy them all kinds of stuff like back packs and bunk beds and paper and pencils. You can certainly argue that we should all do a better job of limiting our consumption, but most westerns feel these things are essentials and not extravagances. And all these things are produced through energy and right now the majority of our energy comes from fossil fuels which release carbon which causes global warming.

So what can we do so we can still live our lives the way we want to live in the west without frying our planet? Here are the solutions that the film proposes and I agree:

1.) Consume Differently:

  • What you buy
  • What you eat
  • How you get your power

2.) Vote for leaders who will fight climate change by:

  • Ending fossil fuel subsidies
  • Investing in renewables
  • Leaving fossil fuels in the ground
  • Supporting a price on carbon

Although the film does not present new information, the information is presented in an entertaining enough way to keep you watching for the hour and 35 minute run time. The solutions are certainly worth talking about and putting into action. There are certainly more solutions that aren’t outlined in the film. I’ll work on putting together more information on how you can easily implement these solutions in future posts.