Earth911 Reader: This Week’s Essential Sustainability News and Actions You Can Take

In Sustainability

Having Failed on All Climate Goals, Humanity Still Can Make the Turn to Sustainability

Humanity is at a crossroads. The Convention on Biological Diversity, a United Nations entity, warns in the third report within the last two weeks that details the severe damage humanity has inflicted on the environment. In short, humans have missed every target for improvement despite three decades of increasing, but still inadequate action. It did not reach any of the 20 goals laid out by the Aichi biodiversity agreement in 2010. “Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised. And the more humanity exploits nature and undermines its contributions to people’s wellbeing, the more we undermine our own wellbeing, security and prosperity,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, head of biodiversity for the U.N. told The Guardian.

Could Climate Change Be Solved for Less Than COVID-19?

The Washington Post reports on the potential to restore the climate to pre-industrial CO2 levels using carbon capture technology and ocean photosynthesis-enhancing strategies. The article suggests that the project could be completed for less than the cost of responding to COVID-19. That’s not correct because conservative estimates of the global cost of COVID-19 are in the $10 trillion range while the costs for climate mitigation will undoubtedly be several times higher. However, the cost of not acting to stop climate is a decimated global economy, local environments, and direct damage from extreme weather that could exceed $600 trillion. The annual cost of climate responses will be less than the direct economic losses caused by COVID, averaging as much as 2.5% of global GDP, or $2.28 trillion in 2019. Action is the only option but let’s not compare our disasters before they are dealt with. To learn more, watch the Second Annual Climate Restoration Forum, a virtual conference that happened this week.

Longtime Environmentalist Jerry Brown Sees Green Opportunity for Biden

Jerry Brown, former governor of California, has battled for the environment throughout his 50-year political career. He has thoughts about the wildfires and Joe Biden’s opportunity to be a green Roosevelt. In an interview with The Hill, Brown explains that President Trump’s climate strategy has been to solve the issue by pretending it doesn’t exist, a total failure of leadership. Trillions of dollars will be needed to raise sea walls and “hire more firefighters. We have to manage the forests more intensively, more carefully, more scientifically,” Brown said. Biden’s opportunity is to heal useless differences, bringing people together by raising shared goals that can be tackled by citizens collaborating to solve challenges. “I think the moment makes the man, and in this case Biden will be quite fortunate in taking over at this particular time,” Brown said of Joe Biden.

OECD Warns That Global Green Recovery Is Underfunded

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development called out governments for ignoring green project funding during the global economic reboot following COVID-19. Only about 3.4% of the global estimated $9 trillion in recovery funding is directed toward renewable energy, infrastructure and building refitting, or CO2 reduction projects. “[S]o far the balance between green and non-green spending is not favourable in terms of the support towards positive environmental outcomes,” the organization wrote in its latest economic recovery analysis. The report examines both the E.U. and Korea’s “green deals,” as well as widespread rollbacks of environmental, safety and other regulations to make a recovery easier. “[F]or example, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) estimates that G20 countries are providing support to different energy types through new or amended policies with 47% of this directed to support fossil fuels and 39% to clean energy.” It adds up to a return to the status quo, at best, and potentially a decline in environmental standards.

Resilience as a Strategy: Building for the Unexpected Can Save Humanity

“Covid-19 has demonstrated the futility of pretending these things can’t or won’t happen or that they will go away by themselves,” Gary Maryniak of Singularity Hub and the XPRIZE Foundation writes. The pandemic, compounded by extreme weather worldwide, has awakened people to the need for change, he writes. The question is whether we will stick with the decision to change in the face of an existential threat, and Maryniak points to several moments in history when changes happened suddenly to inspire people to innovate. By embracing resilience as a basis for measuring success, the energy infrastructure and economy can be transformed to prevent further environmental damage, he argues. Ongoing space exploration, which he describes as the ultimate investment in saving the Earth, can help us understand our planet and provide paths to new frontiers. Singularity Hub is nothing if not optimistic, and we hope they are right about our potential to change.

Education Is the First Step Toward Sustainability-Minded Generations

Humans will not reach sustainability without a rigorous climate education system, Danielle Fedrigo writes in Campus Times. She points to 2019 data that shows only 45% of parents talk about sustainability with their kids, while a mere 42% of teachers incorporate the topic in their lessons. A few thoughts on the topic: Like civics, which is interwoven in other subjects, sustainability needs to be a cross-disciplinary subject. Since young people will have to live the longest of those currently-living humans with climate change, they are more motivated to create sustainable systems. Without an education that helps them grasp and solve their challenges, like democracy without civics-trained citizens (the U.S. an example in this day and age), the sustainability project will eventually fail. It is the children of today’s youth who will pay the highest price and throughout their lives. As Fedrigo writes, we must not “cripple youths’ ability to secure their own futures.”

CSAs Can Win New Customers Using Delivery and Local Farm Collaboration

The community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement took a blow from COVID and, by adapting some on-demand delivery concepts, is recovering, Civil Eats reports. Several CSAs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, combined forces and started delivering food to homes in the region. The results are almost 100% growth in the number of CSA shares and a collection of up to a dozen farms per week working together to feed their community. The Better Together CSA in Albuquerque is just one example cited in the article that has used the pandemic to catalyze significant change — see, it can happen, you don’t have to just wait for it to go away. In some cases, meat producers stepped into the gap that opened in the U.S. meat supply when industrial meatpacking facilities went into lockdown. Resilience emerges from the circumstances that challenge people. CSAs can emerge from 2020 with a new relationship with their communities, improving food security for all.

 

couple laying on a natural green bed and smiling

 

In Business

McKinsey: Business Must Embrace Sustainability in the 2020s to Survive the Century

McKinsey has Co. has made a fortune delivering high-priced advice to corporations. Now it is telling clients to address climate change head-on. The consultancy developed three scenarios for decarbonizing society, explaining each in easily understood data visualizations. Beginning with a clear explanation of why the 2020s are the critical decade for action, the report lays out three paths that could be followed:

  • an optimal fast transition to renewables;
  • a slower model in which oil-powered transportation endures longer, and;
  • a foot-dragging coal-power scenario for the emerging world

As you navigate between the options, the implications of each scenario become increasingly apparent. What should change, according to McKinsey? Stop deforestation and industrial meta production. Transition to electric energy for all current oil-powered uses, including transportation. Eliminate methane to the greatest degree possible while using digital technology to optimize industry production using electricity rather than coal and oil. Move to renewable carbon-free fuels, including hydrogen and biofuels. Activate carbon markets by tracking CO2 emissions to measure the cost of ongoing pollution, which will make it possible to focus investments for the most sustainable impacts.

Oil Is Ending, Big Producers Preparing Alternatives

Fossil fuel demand could collapse by 80 percent before 2050, B.P. Plc (British Petroleum) has announced. The company now believes that peak oil demand is already in the rearview mirror and has started to look at other business lines, including renewables. It is considering massive investments in up to 550GW of solar and wind projects over the next decade. But, for now, the best to hope for is that B.P. and its peers in Big Oil don’t merely try to dump the remaining supplies at low prices, because profits still come first for these companies (see above for a discussion of stakeholder capitalism that could help even oil producers make a turn to sustainability). Bloomberg reports that some firms could abandon hydrocarbons as early as 2030. What will they do to earn revenue? Perhaps they will generate renewable electricity and biofuels to deliver E.V. and green transportation energy. Still, the CEO of B.P. recently joked about selling coffee, a profitable business for the company in its home country. Exxon is looking at large investments in converting gas stations into charging stations, which require people to sit for a half-hour while their car charges and could support retail or dining businesses. Combined with the air travel shock due to COVID-19, the fuel transition looks like, this time, it may just be for real.

FTSE Russell Introduces Global Green Revenues Index

Triple Pundit reports on the rollout of a new Green Revenues 2.0 Data Model, an index of companies’ access to renewable and sustainable revenue. In business, things count when they can be measured. The FTSE Russell covers 98.5% of the total market value of publicly traded companies worldwide. The new index will provide investors, starting with large institutional funds with billions of dollars to move into sustainable companies, with a benchmark for green investment performance. That can change the shape of business, as green industry currently accounts for only about six percent of the global public company economy. Money is already moving to green instruments. Google’s recent $10 billion green bond offering and $7.32-trillion investment company Blackrock’s commitment to invest in sustainable companies are examples of the green transition in action. The new FTSE Russel index gives everyone in the market a common benchmark against which investments can be assessed.

Webinar To Watch: Forging a Resilient Circular Supply Chain

GreenBiz hosted a half-hour discussion about building a sustainable and resilient global supply chain to support circular economic activity. That system must deal with both manufacturing supplies, distribution of products, and collection of used materials. Hosted by Stephanie Potter, executive director of sustainability and circular economy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the participants include G.E. Digital’s product leader Deborah Dull, George Richter, senior vice president of supply change management at Cox Communications, and James McCall, senior director of global climate and supply chain sustainability at Procter & Gamble. Check out the smart people talking honestly about the challenge of transforming business on a planetary scale.

Business Group: Reinvent Capitalism To Rebuild After COVID

Reset is a campaign to introduce stakeholder capitalism, Inc.‘s Maureen Kline writes. They want to expand corporate responsibility beyond the shareholder, to all participants in a company, including suppliers, employees, customers, and the planet. Launched by Imperative 21, a network of business groups that believes current economic models are broken and causing ever-greater damage to the environment, Reset is working to spread a vision of inclusive, environmentally responsible economics. This kind of discussion is essential to discovering a way to support sustainable and prosperous lifestyles for people worldwide. COVID-19 provided the catalyst for the Reset movement. More than 70,000 businesses began to explore how to rebuild after the pandemic through the organization. Now it is up to citizens to help spread the word.

Business Shorts

Here are a few stories that capture environmental progress or challenges facing U.S. and global business. Click the headline to read the original article.

Plant-Based Meatballs Are on Beyond Meat’s Menu

Google Will Eliminate Its Historic CO2 Emissions, Erasing Its Corporate Footprint

500 Investors Call for Net Zero Emissions Before 2050

Microsoft Raises Underwater Data Center Experiment, Finds Success

Environmental Disclosure Group CDP: Fashion Ignores Water Pollution Impacts

Beware Methane, the “Cleaner” Gas That’s an Environmental Mess

Rare Earths Recycling Investments Critical Because Supplies Could Run Out This Century

In Recycling

New York’s Former Sanitation Commissioner Says Looming Cuts Are ‘Unconscionable’

The impact of COVID-19 on state and local services is only beginning to be felt, and in New York, the crisis is acute. Kathryn Garcia, who led the city’s Department of Sanitation before she resigned rather than implement budget cuts, told Waste Dive the reductions are “devastating, not only for all of the workers who have done such a tremendous job through the entire pandemic, but also for city residents.” The U.S. recovery plan currently ignores state and local budgets that have been decimated by the pandemic. Yet it is down at these grassroots programs that green transformation must take hold and grow. Garcia, who is thinking of running for mayor of New York, said the city’s goal of reaching zero waste by 2030 is not realistic in the face of these changes. It was not succeeding before COVID, she added. Garcia explains that city policies supporting reuse, recycling, and composting have suffered. Likewise, state legislation that would have implemented producer responsibility rules have been shelved to lower barriers to economic recovery.

California Carpet Recycling Saw Gains Before Pandemic, Stayed Steady in 2020

Resource Recycling reports that the California Carpet Stewardship Program saw improved carpet recycling rates in 2019, rising to 19% of discarded carpet in the state from 15% the year earlier. However, that’s still well below the 24% carpet recycling rate that was the goal for 2020. During the pandemic, people staying at home have invested more in improvements, and carpet recycling rates remained at 19.8% during the second quarter. The state has awarded $1.6 million in grants to programs and companies to improve carpet recovery and processing. Unfortunately, the national Carpet America Recovery Effort program that provided carpet recyclers has ended because of poor market conditions across the country. In short, the producers abandoned recycling. It will be difficult to preserve any momentum. We’ll see what comes next for California and national carpet programs.

Domestic Plastic Recycling on the Rise

After China announced its National Sword policy which restricted imports of contaminated plastics in 2017, the U.S. domestic recycling system entered a crisis. After sending as much as 39% of plastics overseas, plastics exports fell to 12% after National Sword, Resource Recycling reports. That translates into a decrease of about 1 billion pounds of plastic exported in just one year. Domestic processors have taken up some of the newly orphaned scrap plastic China won’t take but have not yet achieved the processing capacity to handle all U.S. plastic waste. In total, U.S. plastic processors had added about 300 million pounds of capacity by the end of 2018. New data is expected soon and will tell the tale of U.S. recycling resilience.

In Science

Ice Shelves in Greenland and Antarctica Collapsing, Researchers Report

Two terrible items of news for sea level. The Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glacier in Greenland calved a 42.3-square mile chunk of itself in the massive island’s Northeast region, Phys.org writes. The same week, two glaciers in West Antarctica were found to be breaking loose. The Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers have contributed about 5% of total sea-level rise in recent decades and, if they collapse and melt, could raise sea levels around the world by 10 feet, The Washington Post reports. The Antarctic activity “is a sign that these ice shelves are already preconditioned for further disintegration,” the research team wrote in the study. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seas are rising by about one-eighth of an inch a year — about 1.25 inches a decade. These massive ice reservoirs could transform coastlines and shipping lanes within decades. It is time to invest in climate restoration to reverse the thawing of our polar ice caps. See the next story for more about the Arctic transitioning to a new climate state.

The Arctic Is Becoming Sub-Arctic

After decades of warming, the Arctic is beginning to transition to a new climate state, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) said this week. Phys.org reports that the NCAR team was shocked by the speed with which permafrost and ice have given way to wet ground without year-round snow cover. “It’s a period of such rapid change that observations of past weather patterns no longer show what you can expect next year,” Laura Landrum, the lead researcher, said. “The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago.” Warming also raises the risk of vast greenhouse gas releases from formerly frozen ground, which could accelerate warming even further. The poles are warming far faster than the rest of the planet, and the research model suggests that the Great White North may be ice-free within “the next several decades.” Another research team published in Nature this week warns that Arctic weather is becoming more extreme. Consider that it took wildfire smoke to wake up Australians, Americans, and Amazonians to climate risks. In that case, we could not afford to wait for the effects of the Arctic transition to reach human population centers. If we do not act, we will be stunned by the severity of a post-polar ice world.

Earth’s Soils at Risk, Still Preservable

Researchers at Lancaster University, Chang’an University in China, and K.U. Leuven in Belgium have reported that soil erosion has taken a terrible toll on farmland around the world. Ninety percent of farmland soil is thinning, and about 16% of the planet’s agricultural soil will be exhausted this century. The good news is that projections that suggested topsoil could be lost within 60 years are not supported by the findings. Instead, there is a window in which conservation policies can remediate the problem. “Soil is a precious resource and we can’t afford to lose that much over a human lifetime,” lead researcher Jess Davis of Lancaster University told Phys.org. Reforestation is the “best way” to help extend soil lifespans, which requires a new approach to land management and new methods for plowing farmland in agricultural production. We’ve ignored the loss of soil vitality for too long, not to mention the loss of soil organisms to oil-based fertilizers, insecticides, and weed treatments. Even if the news does not point to an end of productive farming, we need to take the chance to start conservation efforts seriously.

Warmer Climates Means Higher Predation Risks for Forest Wildlife

Imagine a snowshoe hare fleeing a lynx. When there is snow on the ground, the rabbit will often escape because the lynx gets bogged down. But when there is no snow, the rabbit is far more likely to lose the race and die. Researchers at the University of Alberta report in Nature that 33% decreased snow depth over the past two decades put many boreal forest prey at far greater risk. That could throw many food chains into chaos. Predators may lose, too, as other animals that were less effective predators enjoy new climate-provided advantages. Taken along with the announcement that the Arctic is entering a new type of climate, this research is an alarm bell for environmentalists and even hunters, who will see dramatic changes in the species they pursue.

Climate Migration Will Move Middle Classes, Not Just the Poor

This interpretation is driven by my reading, so take it with a grain of sale. Research published in Nature suggests that climate-driven human migration will not merely affect the poor. Looking across data from 30 recent papers, 28 of which dealt with environmental factors that drive migration, the report explains that many factors can trigger peoples’ movement. City dwellers and middle-class households may move to pursue better climate conditions or be driven from their homes and work by rising seas. That will add to the potential for conflict and unrest due to the migration of poor people displaced by the economic and direct weather consequences of atmospheric warming. The political consequences of a middle-class displacement would also devastate already shaky democracies.

 

Action You Can Take

Support Digital Inclusion for Just Sustainability

The Digital Dreams Project provides computers and smartphones for more than five million American children who don’t have a digital device, internet connectivity, or educational support to participate in the digital world. Sustainability is a social and environmental commitment, and digital equity is critical for two reasons: people cannot prosper without access to the network. We need every idea available to solve the challenges of sustainability in the 2020s. Suppose we bring these kids into the digital discussion. In that case, one or 10 of them may become the next Elon Musk, Andrew Yang, or Oprah Winfrey, solving problems and creating communities in wholly unexpected ways. You can trade-in an old phone or computer to get credit toward a new device for simply donate it to receive a tax deduction. Reuse your aging technology and keep it out of the landfill. Visit digitaldreamsproject.com to learn more about this recycling-for-a-good-cause program.

Lease a Chevy Bolt With This Great Costco Offer

The most significant change most people can make to reduce their carbon footprint is switching to an E.V. Costco has a deal that makes the E.V. transition easy. It is offering the $38,245 2020 Chevrolet Bolt lease from $154-a-month. CleanTechnica reports that with all the available incentives toward a lease, the total savings can add up to $8,750. The article also walks through how the $154/mo. price was calculated, and it looks legit. Buyers can save as much as $11,250 by combining Costco and Chevy incentives. How big a difference to your CO2 emissions the E.V. depends on several factors, including how much you drive, where you drive, and how the electricity that powers your car is generated.

Watch ‘From Trash’ To Treasure for Inspiration

In Lesotho—a highland country surrounded by South Africa—an artist named Nthabiseng TeReo Mohanela takes discarded materials and transforms them into clothing and accessories. Teaching young people the benefits of recycling and re-creation, she calls her project “From Trash to Treasure.” Activist filmmaker Iara Lee uses TeReo’s work as a starting point to showcase a broader spirit of reimagination among artists in Lesotho, who use creativity to respond to entrenched social problems: Filmmakers show the need to end child marriage. Musicians write songs about climate change. Farmers collect seeds to protect endangered tree species. Designers use fashion to preserve traditional Basotho culture and challenge common perceptions of Africa. Through profiles of a variety of like-minded innovators, From Trash To Treasure: Turning Negatives Into Positives encourages viewers to take lessons from those who rethink, reuse, and reinvent to promote positive change in their own lives.

An Oyster Mushroom DIY Project

Grow oyster mushrooms in your old coffee grounds to extend your home gardening into the winter with instructions from Modern Farmer. The process takes about a month to produce a crop using a mixture of 70% coffee, 20% straw, and 10% mushroom spawn. You’ll need to boil the straw and find a dark place to store the plastic bags in which the mushrooms grow for the first few weeks, but the instructions are simple, it looks like fun, and the results can be delicious.

Join the Polluter Liability Movement

Fossil fuel, chemical, and manufacturing companies have long treated environmental damage as an “externality,” something out of their control and — most importantly — something they don’t have to pay to repair. It is time to make them pay so that businesses learn to recognize, count, and eliminate pollution as a standard practice. The Liability Roadmap provides a set of tools to use when lobbying local, state, national and global regulators and the courts for action against polluters. The roadmap calls for industry to be regulated actively, without lax “self-regulation” regimes, which have allowed polluters to continue destroying shared environmental resources willfully while claiming to be concerned. It also requires that regional and cultural differences be taken into account when formulating policy and penalties. The liability movement can give citizens the power they once had to influence business using government, which has been under attack since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. Take a few hours this weekend to learn and think about how your community could use liability laws to change the environment for the better.

 

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