Third National Climate Assessment Released

Climate Change Photo Joanna SchroederA draft of the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) has been released by the Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC).  The committee says this is the most peer-reviewed analysis of climate change impacts on the United States. The assessment was written by 240 scientists and other experts from academia; local, state, and federal government; business; and the non‐profit sector. The public can review the draft and submit comments, and the final draft is expected to be released in early 2014.

Several key findings include new and stronger evidence that global climate is changing, extreme weather and climate events are increasing, and that the increase is related to human activities. In addition, the report finds:

  • Global climate is changing, and this is apparent across the US in a wide range of observations. The climate change of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels and is expected to accelerate if action is not taken.
  • Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and there is new and stronger evidence that many of these increases are related to human activities.
  • Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly challenging across the nation throughout this century and beyond.
  • Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, diseases transmitted by insects food and water and threats to mental health. Continue reading

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Steps Down

After nearly four years as the Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa Jackson has announced in a statement that she would be stepping down as President Obama begins his second term. While reports say she gave no specific reason for leaving her position, she said in a statement, “I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction, and ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference.”

Lisa-Jackson EPAUnder Jackson’s tutelage, the EPA approved the use of E15 in vehicles and light duty trucks manufactured after 2001. She also announced in 2009, during COP15, that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas pollutant, and as such, could be monitored. At the time, both of these decisions caused heated debate that still continues.

In a separate statement, Obama said Jackson has been “an important part of my team.” He thanked her for serving and praised her “unwavering commitment” to the public’s health.

In reaction to her departure, Tom Buis CEO of Growth Energy said, “Administrator Jackson has been a dedicated advocate for the renewable fuels industry and her work to reduce our nation’s addiction to foreign oil, while providing cleaner air and a better environment, should be commended.  As Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, she should be applauded for all she has done to advance biofuels and a cleaner, better environment. Growth Energy wishes her well and thanks her for her tireless work during her time at the EPA.”

Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), added, “Administrator Jackson put into action the Obama Administration’s commitment to ethanol and other biofuels. During her tenure, she cleared the way for E15 giving consumers more choice and savings at the gas pump and she protected the progress that has been made in reducing our dependence of foreign oil by recognizing the importance and inherent flexibility of the RFS. The ethanol industry thanks her for her service and looks forward to working with her successor to continue the growth of America’s domestic renewable fuels industry.”

While Jackson has not announced her next move, there is speculation that she may run for Governor of New Jersey. There has been no announcement of who will take her place.

Biofuels – Bringing Sexy Back?

I was recently forwarded an opinion piece on how to promote biofuels and it struck a cord with me. In June 2011, I published an article in Industrial Biotechnology called “Back to basics: Redefining the biotechnology message.” In it, I said the current messages weren’t working – especially when tied to climate change where public opinion is slipping.

The opinion piece, “How to properly promote biofuels,” was authored by Alkol Bioenergy and focused on a new TV advertising campaign running in Brazil. The campaign was developed for UNICA (Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association) and featured images of ethanol being cool and sexy. The op-ed piece points out that this is very different from what is being done in Europe and the USA.

“Truth is that facts such as job creation, national security, global warming, etc., have never proved their value, as they all depend on a previous knowledge about socioeconomic issues people are unaware of or simply do not care, ignoring instead the real motivations for people using something new,” is written in the piece.

While I agree to some level, I do still feel that job creation and economic security are two reasons that work for some, more specifically those who are well-informed about the issues such as our readers. Where I think the messages still struggle is with the average person, who doesn’t really, truly understand why biofuels, or renewable energy or sustainability in particular, is important.

Let me give you an example of what is happening in China. Several years ago there were articles citing the sale of fake solar panels. But the solar panels were not sold and installed only to discover they never worked; they were never intended to work. They were designed to increase a buyer ‘s social standing in the community who couldn’t afford real solar panels.  In China, those who had solar panels on their homes are better respected and maintain a higher social status than those who don’t.

So why aren’t Americans or Europeans, or others in any other country given more respect when they adopt renewable energy or sustainability initiatives? Because in many cases, these early adopters were/are seen as snobs, I am better than you, rather than as leaders of a movement. And this, I think is key. We need to make renewable energy cool and we need to make renewable energy for everyone. And this lies the point of the editorial, where I wholeheartedly agree, biofuels need to be seen as cool, as the UNICA ad portrays.  As Gareth Kane wrote in “Green Jujitsu,” we need to make renewable energy and environmental consciousness sexy.

Book Review – Green Jujitsu

Can you define sustainability? More than likely, but it is also likely that your definition is different than a colleagues, family member or friend. The green movement touts sustainability but how do you actually integrate the idea of sustainability into your business? To answer this question, I turned to the DoShort, “Green Jujitsu,” written by Gareth Kane.

Green JujitsuThe book focuses on how to help businesses become more sustainable and how to make it stick. The answer? Harness the strengths of your employees rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Kane aptly uses the analogy of the martial art of jujitsu. This concept is focused on using your opponents strength, energy and momentum against them and levering into submission. While Kane doesn’t promote bringing your employees to submission, he does promote the idea of bringing people on board with sustainability initiatives by understanding their strengths and weaknesses.

I often struggle with the way the renewable energy industry promotes itself and have come to believe that the industry is not using the right language and stories to gain public and policy support. In some regard, I feel I’ve found an ally in Kane and his message.

He notes that oftentimes, “The green movement has a well-earned reputation for presenting sustainability as the hair-shirt option….We are bombarded with litanies of how we should be ashamed of ourselves as a species….Hand up who wants a guilt trip? The answer is to make it fun; ditch the hair-shirt and make sustainability sexy.”

In other words, make sustainability attractive, positive and compelling.

While this book hits the mark on guiding a business through the process of engaging employees into sustainability practices that will also help to save money, it is also a good lesson in messaging for the industry.  This book should be read by both sustainability leaders and champions, but also by those who are helping the industry to craft its sustainability messages.  Green Jujitsu is a “art” the industry could, and should get behind.

Consumers Take Action on Global Warming

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 1.32.37 PMA new national survey conducted by Yale finds that in the last 12 months, three of of 10 Americans (32 percent) have given business to a company as a reward for their steps to reduce global warming. Twenty-four percent also say that in the past 12 months, they have punished companies for opposing steps to reduce global warming by not purchasing their products. As a follow-up, 52 percent of the respondents answered that in the next 12 months, they intend to reward or punish companies for their action or inaction to reduce global warming.

“Many Americans are no longer content to just talk about global warming, they are doing something about it,” said Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University. “Many are acting individually to save energy at home and on the road and are making consumer choices that support business action on climate change.”

Other major findings include:

  • Americans are more likely to use public transportation or carpool (17 percent) and 25 percent say they “always” or “often” walk or bike rather than drive.
  • A majority of Americans say they “always” or “often” set their thermostat no higher than 68 degrees during the winter (53 percent).
  • Americans have become less confident that their individual actions to save energy will reduce their own contribution to global warming (32 percent, down 16 points since 2008).
  • Americans are also less likely to say that if most people in the United States took similar actions it would reduce global warming “a lot” or “some” (60 percent, down 18 points since 2008).
  • Twelve percent of Americans have contacted a government official about global warming by letter, email, or phone, and 15 percent have volunteered or donated money to an organization working to reduce global warming.

Another interesting finding was that no matter what their personal beliefs about global warming, many Americans say they have friends who have different views than their own. In fact, more are likely to have friends who disagree than agree with them about global warming. For example, 30 percent of Americans who believe global warming is happening and human-caused say “all” or “most” of their friends agree with them, but 42 percent say that only “a few” or “none” of their friends agree with them.

This report is based on findings from a nationally representative survey, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

BioPro EX Gets GRA Endorsement

The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) has endorsed Springboard Biodiesel’s BioPro EX made in America alternative refueling station. The technology converts grease to ASTM standard biodiesel, which according to the California Air Resources Board, emits up to 90 percent less carbon dioxide and 50 percent less particulate matter than regular diesel fuel.

“Innovative technology such as the BioPro EX has made it possible for restaurants to recycle their grease in a simple, cost-efficient manner,” said Michael Oshman, the Founder & CEO of the GRA. “While the average restaurant washes about 15 pounds of grease down the drain for every 150 meals served, restaurants that use the BioPro EX device help both the environment and their budgets.”

The machine is located on site, giving restaurants the ability to convert used grease into biodiesel without having to pay a third party company a fee to come and pick up the used cooking oil for disposal – a requirement for many restaurants throughout the U.S.

“We’re delighted by this endorsement,” said Springboard Biodiesel’s CEO Mark Roberts. “Making a clean burning fuel in an automated appliance and saving money at the same time is a truly great combination of benefits. The BioPro™ enables restaurant owners to both save money and differentiate themselves in the eyes of their customers, who are increasingly valuing green initiatives.”

Restaurants who adopt the technology will earn 2.5 GreenPoints toward becoming a Certified Green Restaurant, based on the association’s certification standards in the environmental category of eliminating waste.

Companies Shifting to Clean Energy

As climate talks begin to wind down in Qatar, a new report, “Power Forward: Why the World’s Largest Companies are Investing in Renewable Energy,” has been released by Calvert Investments, Ceres and World Wildlife Fund. The report concludes that many of the world’s largest companies are not waiting for binding treaties and subsequent polices, rather they are integrating clean energy and lower emissions into their business now.

The report shows that many Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy commitments, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals, or both. While the movement is strong in the U.S., the trend to sustainability is even stronger internationally.

“The companies that are boldly setting either greenhouse gas or renewable energy goals and making progress on those commitments are demonstrating the business case and real leadership on climate change,” said Marty Spitzer, WWF’s Director of US Climate Policy.  “And, in the process, these companies are changing the game — driving significant renewable energy investment globally and pressing for the right policy and market conditions that will allow companies to do even more.”

The report finds that clean energy practices are becoming standard procedures for some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. For example, many companies are shifting from purchasing short-term, temporary Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to longer-term investment strategies like Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and on-site projects, indicating a long-term commitment to renewable energy and reaping the benefits of reduced price volatility.

For some companies, there are still key barriers to achieving sustainability goals including: the fact that in some regions renewable energy is not yet at cost-parity with subsidized fossil-based energy; internal competition for capital; and inconsistent policies that send mixed signals to companies and investors in renewable energy projects, particularly instability in renewable energy incentives; and policies that prevent companies from signing green power purchase agreements.

The report also offers several recommendations for U.S. policymakers, including promoting tax credits or other incentives that level the cost playing field for renewable energy, specifically, extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energythis year; establishing Renewable Portfolio Standards in states that do not have them; removing policy hurdles in states that prevent companies from contracting to buy the cheapest renewable power available and building on-site renewable power generation; and market-based solutions that put a price on the pollution from conventional energy generation.

Movie Review – Chasing Ice

I spent the weekend in the Twin Cities attending several environmental events. The first event was a screening of the documentary Chasing Ice, produced by environmental photographer James Balog who founded Extreme Ice Survey. It is hard for me to put my emotions into words after watching this moving. It was simultaneously incredibly beautiful and yet horrific. Beautiful in that the imagery of the ice was stunning and horrific because the crew caught on film the melting of glaciers.

James Balog, along with several teams, installed 25 cameras in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana and over the course of three plus years, the cameras took photos every 20-30 minutes and as I write this, have taken thousands of photos of the glaciers. Every six months, the teams traveled in oftentimes heralding weather to check the cameras, take additional photos and video and switch out memory cards. The results was stunning time lapse photography – who knew that ice could be so beautiful.

Yet what might have been most amazing, was that his cameras and crew caught what is to believed the largest calving incident ever recorded on film. A portion of a glacier in Greenland broke off (nearly the size of Manhattan) over the course of 75 minutes. It was amazing to watch but then the reality of what you are witnessing takes hold  – watching the disappearance of the glaciers. While glaciers have calved for centuries, they typically stay about the same in size – one piece breaks off while more ice forms. Yet today, these glaciers are not being replenished, per say, they are vanishing.

One element of the film that could be most interesting, was that James Balog began as a climate skeptic and now believes that climate change is real, and a major part of it is caused by human actions. For those who already believe in climate change, or those who continue to be climate skeptics, this is a must see film. And for those climate skeptics who still deny that climate change is real after seeing this film, well then nothing will change your mind.  (I would like to thank the Will Steger Foundation for providing 840 free tickets to see Chasing Ice).

World Energy Trilemma Report Released at Doha

According to the World Energy Council (WEC), the world is far away from achieving environmentally sustainable energy systems. According to the organization’s global ranking of country energy sustainability performance, over 90 countries assessed are still far from achieving fully sustainable energy systems.

The 2012 Energy Sustainability Index, published within the WEC’s 2012 World Energy Trilemma report, “Time to get real – the case for sustainable energy policy,” finds that most countries still have not managed to balance the energy trilemma. The WEC argues that countries must balance the trade-offs between the three challenges of the trilemma: energy security, social equity, and environmental impact mitigation, if they are to provide sustainable energy systems.

The Index reveals that:

  • Environmental impact mitigation remains a universal problem;
  • Providing high-quality and affordable energy access remains a significant challenge for developing and emerging economies; and
  • Countries at various stages of development struggle with energy security.

“The message of the Energy Sustainability Index is clear: all countries are facing challenges in their transition towards more secure, environmentally friendly, and equitable energy systems,” said Pierre Gadonneix, Chairman of the World Energy Council. “What makes the difference is how they set their final goals, how they balance market economics and public policies, and how they design the smartest policies in order to promote efficiency and to optimise costs, resources and investments for the long term. If we are to have any chance of delivering sustainable energy for all and meeting the +2°C goal, we need to get real.” Continue reading

Teaching Biofuels in School

Shane Robinson, associate professor in the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership wants to teach students math and science through green energy and biofuels. He is partnering with the OSU Biobased Products and Energy Center (BioPEC), who has an objective to provide education about biobased products and energy through secondary education.

“A focus of ours is to produce teachers who can teach science, math and technology in the context of agriculture,” Robinson said. “We really feel like our teachers have a unique opportunity to integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competencies at the secondary level through real-life application of their students’ agricultural projects.”

It has been nearly three years in the making and now the National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR) has joined the project. Currently students Marshall Baker and Joey Blackburn, are developing curricular materials for high school agriculture teachers focusing on biofuels and renewable energy. Environmental and energy education has become a primary initiative for teachers around the country, but many need help in developing curriculum and getting access to materials. This initiative is designed to meet this need.

“Everywhere you turn you read about green energy and the need for clean energy,” Robinson said. “We stress the importance of being a lifelong learner to our students. We stress to them the importance of being aware of the current issues of the world we live in and being able to talk about those issues in the classroom. Therefore, it’s important for our pre-service and in-service teachers to be knowledgeable about biofuels and other renewable energies.” Continue reading