Catholic Church Becomes Vocal on Climate Change

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) is still 200 days away but organizations are not waiting until the event gets closer to encourage countries to step up their climate change actions and policies. One such organization is the Catholic Church, representing 1.1 billion globally practicing the faith. Recently Pope Francis endorsed a Catholic petition calling for bold climate action after meeting with the newly created Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM). The Pope’s move was a visual sign that the he intends to lead Catholics into an active response to climate change. He is planning on publishing his encyclical on ecology this June.

Pope Francis is informed about the Catholic Climate Petition by GCCM representatives (Tomás Insua from Argentina and Allen Ottaro from Kenya). Credit: Fotografia Felici

Pope Francis is informed about the Catholic Climate Petition by GCCM representatives (Tomás Insua from Argentina and Allen Ottaro from Kenya). Credit: Fotografia Felici

“Pope Francis was very supportive of the work we are doing to engage Catholics around the world in a coordinated response to climate change,” said Tomás Insua, co-founder of the GCCM from Argentina. “The Pope even joked that we were competing against his encyclical. His endorsement of our work is extremely important to raise awareness within Catholic circles globally, and to collect more signatures.”

The idea for the petition came as a response to Pope Francis’ call last December: “On climate change there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act.” The signatures will be presented to world leaders in December 2015, when they meet at COP21 in Paris. The Pope has presented GCCM with the book “The Sun’s Energy in the Vatican” as a gift to emphasize the Holy See’s commitment to renewable energy as a means to address the climate change crisis.

“The support of Pope Francis to the petition is very important as climate change is a great and urgent moral issue,” said Allen Ottaro, director of CYNESA based in Kenya and co-founder of GCCM. “Climate change hits the poorest first and hardest, and will leave an unnecessarily dire legacy for future generations. We Catholics need to step up against climate change and raise a strong voice asking political leaders to take action urgently. I encourage all to sign the petition on our website: www.CatholicClimateMovement.global.”

The Catholic Church is becoming increasingly vocal on climate change. Two weeks ago, the Vatican hosted a high-level summit about climate change and released a declaration that stated: “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.”

FIFA World Cup to Feature Biofuels & Solar

FIFA World Cup BrasilThe FIFA World Cup 2014 is underway in Brazil and this year’s event features several renewable energy and sustainable measures never before seen during the event.

Sugar Cane Industry Association (UNICA) is supplying the governing body of the football fleet (known as soccer to those living in the U.S.) with ethanol. Flex-fuel cars from Hyundai, Model HB20 Edition FIFA World Cup, are running the streets and roads of Brazil powered with fuel from cane sugar.

The adoption of ethanol is one of the measures to avoid, reduce and offset emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) released dioxide in the atmosphere, the ‘Football for the Planet,’ according to FIFA’s official environmental program that aims to reduce the negative impact of their activities on the environment. In Brazil, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the 2014 World Cup are putting in place projects that address key areas such as waste, water, energy, transport, logistics and climate change.

Kids play football on the beach as Brazil prepare for the World Cup on June 11, 2014 in Maceio, Brazil. (Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Kids play football on the beach as Brazil prepare for the World Cup on June 11, 2014 in Maceio, Brazil. (Photo by Alex Livesey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

For the consultant Emissions and Technology of Sugar Cane Industry Association (UNICA), Alfred Szwarc, the initiative of the FIFA program is extremely appropriate as sugarcane ethanol compared with gasoline. He cites sugar-based ethanol reduces 90 percent of greenhouse gases that cause climate change when compared to straight gasoline. Reducing global warming is one of focuses of the “Football for the Planet” FIFA campaign.

In addition to biofuels, Yingli Green Energy has provided dozens of solar panels to various operations involved with FIFA and this year the company plans to offset all carbon emissions arising from its promotional activities in Brazil to make the FIFA World Cup Brazil the greenest in history. The company’s efforts included all solar powered stadiums, commercial displays, customer hospitality, media activities, and employee travel and accommodation. To achieve carbon neutrality, Yingli has:

  • Supplied over 5,000 Yingli solar panels and nearly 30 off-grid solar energy systems to help power matches at multiple FIFA World Cup stadiums;
  • Partnered with ClimatePartner, an independent, certified environmental agency, to accurately calculate and verify emissions data for the duration of Yingli’s sponsorship activation in Brazil;
  • Committed to investing in carbon emission reduction certificates that are generated by a local Brazilian project, and that are certified by the Bureau Veritas Certification Holding SAS.

“By becoming history’s first carbon neutral sponsor of the FIFA World Cup, Yingli is honoring its commitment to our environment and to our planet,” noted Mr. Liansheng Miao, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Yingli Green Energy. “As a company whose products and mission are deeply intertwined with sustainability issues, we are dedicated to reducing the ecological impact of all aspects of our business operations, including our highly visible and pervasive marketing activities.”

Argonne Scientists Blast EWG Corn Ethanol GHG Report

A recent Environmental Work Group corn ethanol greenhouse gas report has caused lifecycle analysis experts and economist from Argonne National Laboratory and three universities to lash out and what they call “erroneous conclusions”.

The experts isEWG report Ethanols broken promisesued a scathing 13-page response to EWG’s May report titled “Ethanol’s Broken Promise.” EWG “confused parameters” and “misunderstood” previous modeling results, according to experts from Argonne, North Carolina State University, Purdue University and University of Illinois-Chicago. “…based on an analysis of the methodology EWG used and a comparison of their results to those in the literature, from models, and from other data sets, EWG appears to have overestimated the amount of land converted for corn farming between 2008 and 2012. Second, EWG used emission factors that appear too high.”

More specifically, the experts found the following problems—among many others—with EWG’s report:

  • “EWG confused parameters in GREET with those in an economic model, the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP).”
  • “EWG misunderstood EPA’s GHG emissions for years 2012 and 2017.”
  • “In their report, EWG picked the EPA 2012 GHG emissions for corn ethanol and applied them to the EPA-proposed reduced volume for corn ethanol in 2014 to make the erroneous conclusion that the proposal resulted in 3 million tonnes of CO2 reduction in 2014.”
  • “…the emission factors they applied are high compared to those in other reports and studies that take into account important variations in initial and final land states.”
  • The satellite data set used by EWG is “…explicitly not designed to be used for pixel-by-pixel or localized analyses.”
  • The land use change data used by EWG is “…based on data that is decades old, reflecting wetland conversion over a much longer time horizon.”
  • The report “…overestimated wetland conversion, especially for the conversion of wetlands to corn farms.” Wetlands and grasslands conversion estimates are “…too high when compared with estimates in other studies and data sources.”

The authors also point out that EWG is stuck in the past when it comes to lifecycle analysis. They write, “Since 2009, when EPA conducted corn ethanol LUC GHG modeling…, significant efforts have been made to improve economic models and soil carbon models to better estimate biofuel LUC GHG emissions. EPA and other federal agencies should consider updating RFS LUC modeling so that up-to-date LUC results can be used for biofuel policy making.”

Concern Over Environment Drops in US

According to the most recent article in Gallup’s Climate Crisis series, over the past year concern over the environment among Americans has dropped. Today, one in four respondents of a recent poll say they are “solidly skeptical” of global warming. The poll found Americans are clustered into three global warming groups. “Concerned Believers” comprise 39 percent and attribute global warming to human actions and are worried. “Mixed Middle” comprise 36 percent and the remainder fall into the category of “Cool Skeptics” – a group that is not worried about global warming much or at all.

Gallup Global Warming Opinion GroupsThrough ongoing polling from a special “cluster” analysis of four questions designed to measure belief and concerns about human-induced global warming, Gallup has found that the rate of “Concerned Believers” has varied but today is in line with 2001 results. During the same decade, the members of “Cool Skeptics” have increased while those aligning with the “Mixed Middle” have modestly declined.

According to results, “Concerned Believers” and “Cool Skeptics” are of different mindsets when it comes to how much they worry about global warming. “Concerned Believers” say they worry “a great deal” or “fair amount” about the issue, while “Cool Skeptics” worry only “a little” or “not at all.” “Concerned Believers” also think media reports about the issue are either correct or underestimated, while “Cool Skeptics” think they are exaggerated. One hundred percent of “Concerned Believers” say the rise in the Earth’s temperature over the last century is due to the effects of pollution, while 100 percent of “Cool Skeptics” say it is due to natural changes in the environment. Finally, two-thirds of “Concerned Believers” believe global warming will pose a serious threat to their own way of life in the future, while 100 percent of “Cool Skeptics” disagree.

Those in the “Mixed Middle” hold a combination of views. Some believe humans are the cause of the Earth’s warming, but aren’t worried about it. Some say global warming is a natural phenomenon, but that it will pose a serious risk in their lifetime. In one way or another, those in the “Mixed Middle” fail to line up with the orthodoxy on either side of the climate science issue.

In the past decade, skepticism has increased, while “Concerned Believers” have recovered to pre-Climategate levels and the Mixed Middle has dwindled. So all in all, what the analysis found is that American’s views have grown more polarized about the issue.

USDA Releases Climate Change & Ag Study

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a comprehensive report that synthesize the scientific literature on climate change effects and adaptation strategies for U.S. agriculture. The report, “Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation,” was created a an input to the National Climate Assessment with scientists from the federal service, universities, non-governmental organizations, industry, tribal lands and private sectors contributing to the peer-reviewed study. It is open for public comment until

“These reports present the challenges that U.S. agriculture and forests will face in this century from global climate change,” said William Hohenstein, director of the Climate Change Program Office in USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist. “They give us a framework for understanding the implications of climate change, in order to meet our future demands for food, feed, fiber, and fuel.”

The reports indicate how climate change is affecting U.S. farms, forests, grasslands, and rural communities. The report finds that while U.S. agriculture and resource management have long histories of successful adaptation to climate variability, the accelerating pace and intensity of climate change presents new challenges to be addressed.

nbb-13-vilsack1For example, the report indicates increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, rising temperatures, and altered precipitation patterns will affect agricultural productivity. Climate change will exacerbate the stresses already occurring from weeds, insects, and disease. The report finds that increases in the incidence of extreme weather events will have a greater influence on agricultural productivity. 

In addition the report finds that over the next 25 years, the effects of climate change on agricultural production and economic outcomes for both producers and consumers in the United States are expected to be mixed, depending on regional conditions. Beyond 2050, changes are expected to include shifts in crop production areas, increases in pest control expenses, and greater disease prevalence.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack gave a few remarks about the study during the 10th Annual National Biodiesel Board Conference & Expo. Listen to his remarks on climate change here: USDA Climate Change & Ag Study

2013 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

Chasing Methane Advocates at Iowa Capitol

Chasing Methane TeamDFThere is no age requirement to be an advocate for the environment. During the recent Iowa Wind Energy Day, five young advocates from Chasing Methane, ranging in age from 11 to 13, came to the Iowa Capitol to encourage people to support food waste composting. Why? As Joey Titus, a 7th grader at Southeast Junior High in Iowa City, Iowa said, “Right now the food waste coming from restaurants is going to the landfill which is creating methane and methane is a 25 times more damaging at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.”

When talking about greenhouse gases (GHG), carbon dioxide typically stands center stage, but as Titus points out, CO2 is not near as damaging as methane – a gas created through the decomposition of materials in a landfill.

Titus along with his club members, Andrew Burgess, a 5th grader at Borlaug Elementary, his brother Daniel Burgess, a 7th grader at Northwest Junior High and Ethan Trepka, also a 7th grader at Northwest Junior High, all in Iowa City, formed the group back in August of 2012. Titus’s Dad is the manager of Carlos O’Kelly’s in town, one of the restaurants, along with Applebee’s that participated in food waste audits.

When the Chasing Methane team looked through the trash of two restaurants, they found that combined, they were generating about 2 tons of waste every week, and 75 percent of that waste could be composted, said Titus.

Chasing Methane Team with IA Gov Terry BranstadTitus said his group would like to see a statewide composting initiative and even a nationwide initiative because right now this methane is going up and affecting the ozone layer, which is causing global warming, and its effecting all the weather we’re having.

They were on the capitol advocating for a bill that would allow the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to perform audits at restaurants to determine if legislating a statewide restaurant composting program would reduce methane in the environment. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad listened to the pitch right before the team headed down to the capitol refuse center to conduct a waste audit. Hopefully the findings will impact state legislators to be a leading state in passing a methane reduction bill.

As Titus aptly pointed out, not only restaurants create food waste – we create food waste at home as well. With only 50 percent of food that is produced is actually being eaten, he encourages consumers to join the composting revolution. You can do this by composting, joining a composting program and even by becoming a member of Chasing Methane. All ages from all cities around the world are invited to join.

Listen to my full interview with Joey Titus here: Chasing Methane Advocates at Iowa Capitol

See the 2013 Iowa Wind Energy Day Photo Album.

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

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.

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