Q: Your political views and involvement seem to garner the most headlines nationally these days. Why continue those investments, given the type of coverage it seems to have sparked?
A: It’s like Lee Trevino used to say, somebody asked him, “How are you winning all these golf tournaments?” and he said, “Well somebody has got to win them and it might as well be me.” That’s the way I am on this. There doesn’t seem to be any other large company trying to do this so it might as well be us. Somebody has got to work to save the country and preserve a system of opportunity.
The recent slowdown (or ‘pause’) in global surface temperature rise is a hot topic for climate scientists and the wider public. We discuss how climate scientists have tried to communicate the pause and suggest that ‘many-to-many’ communication offers a key opportunity to directly engage with the public.
Observational data show a continued increase of hot extremes over land during the so-called global warming hiatus. This tendency is greater for the most extreme events and thus more relevant for impacts than changes in global mean temperature.
It is time to acknowledge that global average temperatures are likely to rise above the 2 °C policy target and consider how that deeply troubling prospect should affect priorities for communicating and managing the risks of a dangerously warming climate.
The role of genetic engineering in agriculture is particularly contentious, with assertions about huge promise or perils often obscuring science. This panel discussion will aim to inform rather than inflame by bringing together a chef focused on conscious cuisine, a food journalist who spent six months investigating claims and counterclaims about GMOs, a law professor and a plant geneticist. The discussion will be moderated by Pace Academy Senior Fellow Andrew Revkin, who has explored the future of food repeatedly on his New York Times blog, Dot Earth.
The discussion will review the science on health and environmental questions, the legal issues related to food labeling and the realities of feeding not just a growing global population, but also one that is becoming more prosperous.
Can GMOs be a part of our vision for a sustainable, equitable, and healthy world?
Adding new @UCSusa book on Fukushima nuclear calamity and lessons for US @NRCgov to my reading heap. Here’s UCS release:
Today is the official publication date for Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster (New Press, $27.95), the first comprehensive account of the March 2011 Japanese catastrophe, and it has already elicited glowing reviews. Kirkus Reviewscalled it “a gripping, suspenseful page turner.” Booklist, in a starred review, described the book as “thriller-like” and “a cautionary analysis of the perils of nuclear power the world over.” And Publisher’s Weeklycalled it an “eye-opening exposé …[that] points to the scary fact that America can suffer a Fukushima-type event if critical steps are not taken.”
Co-authored by two of America’s leading nuclear power experts and an award-winning journalist, the book provides the most authoritative analysis to date of what happened during one of the worst nuclear disasters of all time. The book, which took nearly two years to research and write, is based on technical analyses, interviews with the principal players, and information gleaned from thousands of pages of documents obtained from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and other federal agencies, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)—the plant’s owner—and independent Japanese commissions.
The first half of the book provides the riveting details of the March 11, 2011, disaster triggered by the one-two punch of a magnitude 9 earthquake, which caused Fukushima Daiichi’s six boiling water reactors to lose off-site electric power, and a 50-foot tsunami, which knocked out back-up diesel generators supplying power to five of the reactors and much of the facility’s electrical distribution system. Co-authors David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) Nuclear Safety Project; Edwin Lyman, a UCS senior scientist; and Susan Q. Stranahan, the lead reporter of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, take readers on a guided tour of the harrowing events that followed over days, weeks and months. Along the way, they supply lucid explanations of how the disaster happened and how it could have been averted, profiling the people who went to heroic lengths to try to take control of a runaway catastrophe that still reverberates today. Radioactive contamination has displaced more than 80,000 people, the cost of cleanup and victim compensation could swell to $125 billion, and radioactively contaminated water from the site continues to leak into the ocean. Over time, Fukushima-related cancer deaths are expected to number in the thousands.
But the book is more than a disaster diary. It also provides a clear-eyed look at the Japanese regulatory regime that helped make the disaster all but inevitable, and makes a strong case that U.S. oversight is plagued by the same complacent attitude and undue industry influence. Indeed, the chapters that focus on the NRC’s shortcomings are as disturbing as the Fukushima calamity itself.
“The NRC hasn’t heeded all the lessons of Fukushima and is slow-walking post-Fukushima regulatory changes,” said Lyman, a physicist. “Likewise, the agency has failed to address a number of longstanding threats, including the risks of overcrowded spent fuel pools, unenforced fire protection standards, and inadequate emergency planning.”
Lyman and his co-authors warn that if NRC commissioners insist on watering down the agency post-Fukushima task force’s recommendations for strengthening safeguards, it will only be a matter of time before a similar event happens in the United States. They point out that: • U.S. nuclear plants are vulnerable to catastrophic natural disasters, multiple system failures, and terrorist attacks; • U.S. nuclear plants are not much better equipped than Japanese plants to cope with severe accidents; and • U.S emergency plans are not designed to protect the public in the aftermath of Fukushima-scale accidents or fully address the problem of long-term land contamination.
“Fukushima wasn’t a ‘Japanese’ nuclear accident,” said Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer who worked in the industry for 17 years before joining the UCS staff. “It was an accident that happened to occur in Japan. Japanese and U.S. regulators share the same mindset that severe, supposedly ‘low probability’ accidents are unlikely and therefore it is not worth the time and money to protect plants from them. How many Fukushimas will we have to go through before NRC commissioners get it through their heads that it could happen here?”
The next GreenBiz Forum will examine ”how NGOs and companies interact, in a number of sessions. At the event, we’ll be launching the ‘GreenBiz NGO Report,’ the first annual rating by companies of environmental nonprofits. It will assess which ones are the most credible and the most effective, from the viewpoint of several hundred companies we’ve surveyed.
"We’ll bring that report to life with a panel featuring senior leaders at three NGOs spanning the spectrum of activism, from collaborative (Environmental Defense Fund) to confrontational (Greenpeace). There will also be a mainstage conversation among Asia Pulp & Paper, Greenpeace, and The Forest Trust, which culminated an adversarial campaign one year ago with a breakthrough agreement. (Learn more in this week’s Exit Interview with outgoing Greenpeace USA executive director Phil Radford.)
"There’s more: Neil Hawkins from Dow will discuss it’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy; separately, TNC’s head, Mark Tercek, will talk about its work with Dow and other companies on biodiversity and business opportunity. And a number of other sessions will feature NGO-company partnerships.
"Clearly, these relationships are going to be around for a while, so we might as well get good at them."
To me, it still seems clear that China, with India and others, were far more adept than the United States at manipulating the proceedings to guarantee no shift toward a binding global commitment to decarbonization. Read Mark Lynas and Der Spiegel.
Can anyone imagine why President Obama would have committed to going to the meeting in person if the administration knew the outcome would be weak gruel?
Postscript 3: Lisa Friedman has an excellent Climate Wire piece noting how inconsequential any NSA monitoring was even if it ended up taking place. Yvo de Boer makes a good point in that piece: ”There is a much bigger debate going on about who is spying on who. But in the climate change negotiations, we should be very much focused on looking forward and building trust, not looking back, not on rehashing things that may or may not have happened in the past,” he said.
The scientific community has been working on understanding the climate system for nearly 200 years. In that time, a robust understanding of it has emerged. We know the climate is warming. We know that humans are now in the driver’s seat of the climate system. We know that, over the next century, if nothing is done to rein in emissions, temperatures will likely increase enough to profoundly change the planet. I wish this weren’t true, but it is what the science tells us.
Observed blocking trends are diagnosed to test the hypothesis that recent Arctic warming and sea ice loss has increased the likelihood of blocking over the Northern Hemisphere. To ensure robust results, we diagnose blocking using three unique blocking identiﬁcation methods from the literature, each applied to four diﬀerent reanalyses. No clear hemispheric increase in blocking is found for any blocking index, and while seasonal increases and decreases are found for speciﬁc isolated regions and time periods, there is no instance where all three methods agree on a signiﬁcant trend. Blocking is shown to exhibit large interannual and decadal variability, highlighting the diﬃculty in separating any potentially forced response from natural variability….
Update 12:15 pm: Another study author, Janet Currie of Princeton, said this study is not even a “working paper” yet: “[W]e are not trying to publicize the paper ahead of peer review. We have not put the paper out as a working paper and aren’t comfortable circulating it yet.”
I reached out to Ivan Oransky, who is the global editorial director of MedPage Today and blogs on the science publication process at Retraction Watch. He offered this note:
"There are good reasons why reporters should wait until studies are peer-reviewed [before] writing about them. But doing so hands over control of what journalists cover to journals and other scientific institutions, in a perhaps-unintended but no less real effect of what has become known as the Ingelfinger Rule. It also reinforces the idea that peer review is perfect, which it ain’t. When you couple those issues with the insistence by many in the news media to feed the hype machine by depicting every new study as definitive and groundbreaking, you end up with useless coverage.
"I’m not crazy about the idea that scientists should somewhat arbitrarily decide when a finding is ready for public inspection. That’s particularly problematic in fields such as economics, in which researchers leave manuscripts as "working papers" for years. Once something is presented or posted online, it’s fair game.
"What I’d prefer, instead of the gag order that some scientists would like to impose, is that reporters take the time — with scientists’ help — to understand where a given finding fits into the world of research. Has it been peer-reviewed? Is it the first such finding, or does it confirm others? I think it’s perfectly fine to report on research that hasn’t been peer-reviewed, if reporters make it clear that the findings are quite preliminary and may not hold up. It also behooves reporters covering such unpublished research to seek outside comments from those not involved in the work. In observational studies such as the ones you often see in environmental research, there are almost always alternative explanations for the findings, that at least deserve an airing."
“‘There’s a strong case that people in the U.S. are already leading longer lives as a consequence of the fracking revolution,’ said Michael Greenstone, a professor of environmental economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That’s because many power plants have stopped burning coal and switched to natural gas, which emits far less fine soot, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide.
“‘Obviously, that has to be counterbalanced against the local effects of the drilling,’ and that makes for a complicated decision, said Greenstone, formerly one of President Barack Obama’s chief economic advisers. Obama has expressed strong support for the natural gas drilling boom and has said it can be done safely.
Greenstone said more work needs to be done to confirm that Washington County residents were affected by natural gas activity and not by other factors, but he called the project an ‘important start.’”
A familiar sailboat was at the pier, but its rig was in tatters. I’d met the owner, a shy Belgian singlehander, in Bali, Indonesia, a few months earlier. The Trincomalee harbormaster said the boat had sailed up onto the beach with nobody aboard, held on course by a wind-vane autopilot.
He showed me the odds and ends taken from the boat, which he’d stored in a caged area in his office. It was clear from the log, and the situation, that the singlehanded sailor, obviously unharnessed, had fallen overboard in mid ocean…
Sri Lanka is a very hot place, but I felt a very deep chill that day.
The @PopulationMedia Center is questioning some conclusions of the population analyst Joseph Chamie in my post on Japan’s great diaper shift. (The aging country’s adult diaper demand is almost outpacing the market for baby diapers.)
Here’s a note circulated by Joseph Bish of the Center:
I thought today might be an easy one, but was immediately confronted by a challenging post by Andy Revkin at his Dot Earth Blog. In it, Andy reflects on his experience in Japan this fall, and brings up some data indicating the population of Tokyo may peak by 2020 before moving into the notorious "diaper-dynamic" of Japan (wherein adult diapers are close to selling at the same number as infant diapers in the country). This compels him to reach out to Joe Chamie, who reinforces the notions set forth in a 2010 essay Chamie wrote titled "Global Population of 10 Billion by 2100? - Not So Fast." In sum, Chamie believes that:
1. fertility will come down from high levels more quickly than expected; 2. fertility will remain below replacement level in low fertility nations; 3. world population unlikely to reach 10 billion by century’s end.
There are several areas worth remarking on here. First, Chamie’s initial assertion is at least partially called into doubt by the recent upwardly revised UN Population Projections. For example, here is John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division in the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs. "In some cases, the actual level of fertility appears to have risen in recent years; in other cases, the previous estimate was too low."For the full UN press release click here (PDF). Also, please note the UN is projecting 10.85 billion by 2100 for the medium variant, not 10 billion as Chamie indicates at the end of theDot Earth post.
Next, Andy relays Chamie’s thoughts that family sizes in high fertility countries of Africa and Asia will continue to decline because of "increasing urbanization, smaller and costly housing, expanding higher education and career opportunities for women, high financial costs and time pressures for childrearing and changing attitudes and life styles." This is a very different “picture” than many of us are familiar with. (In that light, I have re-ran an essay by the President of Worldwatch Institute, Bob Engelman, which was published in Yale360 this summer.)
Overall, its not clear to me if the Dot Earth blog goes into the naughty or nice category. But, at any rate, it is good food for thought. And, on that note — Merry Christmas. May we continue towards the ideal of Peace on Earth.
Valuable @Stanford study shows life-cycle #tarsands C intensity dropped a lot but still 12-24% higher than from conventional oil production. Abstract (Env. Research Letters):
There has been increased scrutiny of the Alberta oil sands due to their high carbon intensity (CI) relative to conventional crude oil. Relying entirely on public and peer-reviewed data sources, we examine historical trends in the CI of oil sands extraction, upgrading, and refining. Monthly data were collected and interpolated from 1970 to 2010 (inclusive) for each oil sands project. Results show a reduction in oil sands CI over time, with industry-average full-fuel cycle (well-to-wheels, WTW) CI declining from 165 gCO2e MJ−1 higher heating value (HHV) of reformulated gasoline (RFG) to 105 (−12, +9) gCO2e MJ−1 HHV RFG. 2010 averages by production pathways are 102 gCO2e MJ−1 for Mining and 111 gCO2e MJ−1 for in situ. The CI of mining-based projects has declined due to upgrader efficiency improvements and a shift away from coke to natural gas as a process fuel. In situprojects have benefitted from substantial reductions in fugitive emissions from bitumen batteries. Both mining and in situ projects have benefitted from improved refining efficiencies. However, despite these improvements, the CI of oil sands production (on a pathway-average basis) ranges from 12 to 24% higher than CI values from conventional oil production. Due to growing output, total emissions from the oil sands continue to increase despite improved efficiency: total upstream emissions were roughly 65 MtCO2e in 2010, or 9% of Canada’s emissions.
This past Thursday, I attended an event called Fashion as Evolution: Consumer Power, hosted by Ampleen at the Scandinavia House on Park Avenue. The room was packed with fashion students, experts and professionals for the first in a series of events focusing on consumers’ potential to affect the shift toward sustainable practice in the garment industry.
When keynote speaker Amy Hall, director of social consciousness at Eileen Fischer, first presented a Powerpoint slide, showing the words “Fashion vs. Sustainability,” I must confess I didn’t expect much. I was glad when she went on to provide these rather startling statistics about today’s garment industry:
under 3% of clothes bought in the United States are made here
85% of our textile waste goes straight to the dump
There are more people working as slaves today than ever before, many in garment production
Via @AIRworldwide, a telling #Haiyan stat beyond human toll, comparing total $ losses to insured losses:
"[T]otal damage to residential, commercial, and agricultural properties from Super Typhoon Haiyan will range between USD 6.5 billion and USD 14.5 billion. However, because insurance penetration in the region is relatively low, AIR estimates that insured losses will range between USD 300 million and USD 700 million."
Guarantees a very long financial disaster for residents of affected areas.
Estelle Chaussard, Falk Amelung, Hasanudin Abidin, Sang-Hoon Hong
We use interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) time-series analysis of ALOS L-band SAR data to resolve land subsidence in western Indonesia with high spatial and temporal resolution. The data reveal significant subsidence in nine areas, including six major cities, at rates up to 22 cm/year. Land subsidence is detected near Lhokseumawe, in Medan, Jakarta, Bandung, Blanakan, Pekalongan, Bungbulang, Semarang, and in the Sidoarjo regency. The fastest subsidence occurs in highly populated coastal areas particularly vulnerable to flooding.We correlate the observed subsidence with surface geology and land use.
Despite the fact that subsidence is taking place in compressible deposits there is no clear correlation between subsidence and surface geology. In urban areas we find a correlation between rapid, patchy subsidence and industrial land use and elsewhere with agricultural land use. This suggests that the subsidence is primarily caused by ground water extraction for industrial and agricultural use, respectively. We also observe subsidence associated with exploitation of gas fields near Lhokseumawe and in the Sidoarjo regency. A continuation of these high rates of subsidence is likely to put much of the densely populated coastal areas below relative sea level within a few decades.
Great to see @coralmdavenport as new DC @nytimes energy/environment reporter. Here’s @dleonhardt memo:
Coral Davenport Joins The Times
Coral Davenport will be our climate-and-energy reporter in Washington. Read more in this note from David Leonhardt.
Paul Volpe and Bill Hamilton used to work with her. John Broder competed with her. Carl Hulse knew her as a Hill reporter. I was simply one of her readers, and Elisabeth met her only recently. But we all had the same reaction: Coral Davenport is the perfect person to replace John as our climate-and-energy reporter in Washington. After a lunch interview with her, Elisabeth came back to the bureau and pronounced: “We should hire her immediately.”
Clever @RAN punking of @HersheysKisses over rainforest palm oil & orangutan continues with faux media warning about faux news release & tweet:
Jeff Beckham <email@example.com>
Date: Sat, Oct 26, 2013 at 4:03 PM
Subject: Hershey’s Hoaxed
Earlier today you received a falsified press release claiming to be from the Hershey Company regarding a purported new “responsible palm oil policy” by our company. In fact, Hershey has no such policy nor any intention of adopting such a policy in the near future.
Hershey takes our responsibility to our shareholders very seriously and the fact is palm oil is the least expensive and most readily available edible oil on the international market place. While we appreciate the diffcult situation palm oil production has created for orangutans and Indigenous peoples in Indonesia, our company simply cannot justify the extra expense it would entail to source palm oil responsibly at this time.
Thank you for your understanding and we apologize for any confusion that may have resulted from this tasteless stunt.
An ode to the Hudson Highlands: “A billion years of time and toil are etched in these old hills. Carved by ice and dynamite, but they stand firm here still. Seen tomahawks and cannon fire, and mighty industries. But these Hudson Highlands will endure when we are history.”
Super @RKunzig “whatdunnit” on competing camps and Younger Dryas cool spell. Check this lede:
Why did mammoths, mastodons, and other mega-beasts vanish from North America?
Was it because:
1) humans killed them;
2) they couldn’t hack the climate after the Ice Age ended; or
3) an exploding comet ignited continent-wide wildfires, sent hundred-mile-an-hour winds and tornadoes howling across the land, and shattered the North American ice sheet, while also maybe gouging out the Great Lakes?