Category Archives: ESG

The Blue Economy: Inaction at Doha and the Rise of Dead Zones

This past week, countries meeting in Doha at the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted down a proposal by Monaco and the United States to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna. The species, Thunnus Thynnus, is spiraling toward extinction, and is listed as endangered by the U.N. and every major international conservancy group.

This outcome underscores the need for policy makers and those charged with execution of policy to factor in the serious crisis that the world’s oceans and riverine systems face: our Blue Economy in peril.

Dead Zone Remote Sensing Imagery: Sannich Inlet off coast of Vancouver, British Columbia

A major issue for the world’ s coastal regions are the rise of Dead Zones. These vast expanses of ocean contain oxygen levels that are too low to support life outside of algal blooms. The Gulf of Mexico Dead

Zone is the size of New Jersey, or approximately 22, 608 square kilometers. The hypoxic state of these dead zones is caused by run-off from fertilizers used in industrial agriculture. Some recent informal polling at i-say.com conducted by Fund Balance gives some hope that the issue registers with the public. In addition, Fund Balance learned from several Iowan farm ope

rators about their efforts to reduce their run off: from  relocating feed lots farther away from rivers, to applying buffers made of specific nitrogen loving indigenous plants and compounds of gravel and sand. Many have realized economic gains from reducing nitrogen application to crops and benefited from increased production. Informative coverage on these Dead Zones can be found at Link TV.

Demarcation from living to dead zone off the coast of North Carolina

Such activity makes important steps forward. These actions require increased attention from agronomists, urban planners, policy makers and consumers. Just last week major media expanded its coverage of Dead Zones off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. Such man-made disasters unfold daily in the Chesapeake Bay as well as in within coastal regions across the globe.

Economic, Ecological Concerns Converge

One hears frequently these days that eco-nomic needs trump eco-logical ones in the public mind – especially here in early 2010. But it is increasingly hard to see a difference between the two at all.

Tanya Ott’s recent coverage on WBHM reporting on the challenges the city of Anniston, Alabama has faced is instructive. A large military base, Fort McLellan, closed there in 1995. The city was largely dependent on the revenue this installation created. Then came wide-spread land devaluation as a result of PCB contamination in the surrounding waterways. Next there was national publicity over local resistance to the incineration of deadly nerve gases left over from the military installation.

That was not the last chapter in the story. Ms. Ott notes how arts and humanities-based activities are leading the way toward the revitalization of downtown Anniston. This process also includes uncovering a formerly paved-over creek that runs through downtown.

On the policy front, various campaign officials for local and federal offices insist that jobs matter more than the environment in the vox populi and voting booth.  A recent article in the Demopolis Times on concerns over coal ash disposal indicates that wastewater from coal fired plants might not just be a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue. Rather it may well indicate that yet another zone in the Black Belt is starting to question the long-term cost/benefit analysis of energy consumption that produces toxic water:

“While the Tennessee Valley Authority’s cleanup has removed much of the ash from the river, the arsenic- and mercury-laced muck or its watery discharge has been moving by rail and truck through three states to at least six different sites. Some of it may end up as far away as Louisiana.

At every stop along the route, new environmental concerns pop up. The coal-ash muck is laden with heavy metals linked to cancer, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering declaring coal ash hazardous.

“I’m really concerned about my health,” said retiree James Gibbs, 53, who lives near a west-central Alabama landfill that is taking the ash. “I want to plant a garden. I’m concerned about it getting in the soil.” Gibbs said that since last summer there has been a “bad odor, like a natural gas odor.”

After the spill, the TVA started sending as many as 17,000 rail carloads of ash almost 350 miles south to the landfill in Uniontown, Ala. At least 160 rail shipments have gone out from the cleanup site, said TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci.

Since the EPA approved that plan, unusually heavy rain – including about 25 inches from November through February – has forced the landfill to deal with up to 100,000 gallons a day of tainted water.

The landfill operators first sent it to wastewater treatment plants – a common way that landfills deal with excess liquid – in two nearby Alabama cities, Marion and Demopolis…”

Birmingham’s Green Building Focus, mentioned in last week’s blog for their Green Industrial Real Estate Project, has just announced their second Green Building Focus Conference and Expo to be held in Birmingham, Alabama this August 24-26. Such activity exemplifies economic opportunity emerging from ecologic planning.

A Call for Holistic Climate Policy

by Leland Lehrman

This cartoon, from the front cover of the February 2010 issue of Funny Times, describes the Fund Balance position with respect to Climate Change. We acknowledge that there remains uncertainty in the scientific community about the extent to which anthropogenic CO2 emissions drive global temperature increases. We also regret the polarization of the discussion and the slide into judgmental invective that has accompanied the debate on both sides.

However, we cannot deny the observation that modern mankind does have adverse macroimpacts on the environment. The evidence on this subject is not open to question. From the Pacific Garbage Patch to acid rain to Chernobyl to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, human pollution has damaged Mother Earth in catastrophic ways. It is not difficult to understand global climate change as the emergent property of the various regional macro changes that are already well-known.

Therefore, as the cartoon suggests, the issue of CO2 and anthropogenic warming may well be an esoteric, even moot point. The precautionary principle will require most well-intentioned people to acknowledge the need to restrict global pollution, and not just CO2. Furthermore, the principles guiding the global environmental community, vulnerable as they may be to subversion, are good in and of themselves, and do not require scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming to warrant action.

It is regrettable that the international scientific community has chosen to focus on CO2 to the exclusion of all the other major impacts of modern techno-industrial civilization. The overemphasis on this one often innocuous molecule has allowed the proponents of global climate action to appear simplistic, propagandistic and even self-interested. Those who overly focus on a cap and trade system that would personally enrich themselves must be recruited to a more holistic regulatory and capital markets strategy that is based on holistic science and balanced capital markets incentivization. Such a system would include taxes, policies and accounting rules on an equal footing with capital markets strategies like cap and trade.

To this end, we call upon the international political, financial and scientific community to reframe the global climate change debate in more holistic terms. A successful regulatory regime will adequately account for the role of other global warming gases, other toxins and other adverse aspects of human ecological impact. Only a holistic approach – which also acknowledges the impact of solar cycles – will achieve a scientific consensus and produce the kind of international system which takes into account all externalities. All “externalities” must be put back on the balance sheet of global industry and investment,  such that capital and trade flows move naturally towards truly clean and green businesses.

Climate Issues, Sustainability Cross Party Lines

magnoliaThere are more signs recently of the climate crisis, sustainable industry, and ecosystem repair issues crossing party lines and effecting change in Red States and rural areas. Tanya Ott reports from WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama about “tree-hugging conservatives” in Magnolia Springs, the reclamation of a wetlands and a burgeoning eco-tourism industry.  Read the story or listen to podcast here.

Writing in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman quotes Senator Lindsay Graham: “I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate. It’s a value. These young people grew up with recycling and a sensitivity to the environment — and the world will be better off for it. They are not brainwashed. … From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them.”

In addition, the Times reports on a natural gas power plant in Indiantown Florida integrating an array of solar panels within its infrastructure. To quote the Times “It is an experiment in whether conventional power generation can be married with renewable power in a way that lowers costs and spares the environment.” It’s an interesting report addressing the challenges involved in scaling clean renewable supply along with issues of storage and transmission.

Articles

Managing Partner Walter Borden
Managing Partner Walter Borden

Fund Balance articles can be found under the “Articles” tab in the menu at the top of the page. These articles, selected and written by Managing Partner Walter Borden, range over some of the key issues of our time, issues which must be faced and solved using the best our spirit, science, finance and love have to offer. Drawing on his deep scientific background and years of experience at the intersection of technology and biology, Walter’s articles take you on a tour of key policy and business areas we will focus on as we build our company. Join us.

Green Computing: An Economic Imperative

Fund Balance sees Green Computing as an essential component in economic planning for the coming decade and beyond. Many rare earth metals required for key components  of workstations, laptops and smartphones are growing scarce. China possesses the most significant deposits of these essential rare earth metals. The PRC government is actively buying up rights to deposits in Africa. It also has the most developed capacity to extract and deliver the ores, from mine to manufacturing floor.

We noted at Fund Balance recently Chinese government signals to trading partners and sovereign funds of its inclination to halt exports of rare earth metals. It is also worth noting in the areas of Energy Technology that China has near monopolies on key elements for Wind Turbines, Neodymium, and the batteries in the Prius, Lanthanum.

We urge all consumers and producers of networked, digital media to consider the economic consequences of failing to plan ahead for these contingencies now. So critical actions items:

— Supplies of many of the rare earths can be found in Alaska and Canada, lets lay out sustainable plans and methodologies now to protect the air and water of these ecosystems once mining for them begins.

— Accelerate investment in solar, thermal and even kinetic (powering your cell phone while you ride your bike)

— Encourage certifications, much like the LEED certifications, for software and hardware design and engineering praxis

We have tremendous faith that such scarcity will drive industry and academia to innovate in the areas of materials science, optical switching and other methods for powering computational and information technology obviating much of the need for rare earth metals. And indeed Physorg.com covers some exciting work in the area of nanotechnology and near-threshold computing.

But in the meantime lets plan for sustainable industrial action.

HP opens a new energy efficient data center within existing infrastructure

HP has opened a data-center Wynyard, United Kingdom. A so-called Green data-center, it is a retrofit of an overhauled distribution center. This is a great example of how energy efficiency works within basic business balance sheet environments: it can cut costs both through improvement of energy efficiency by utilizing existing infrastructure and by lowering operational costs for new capacity as it comes on line. Not mention the very meaningful signal of corporate responsibility that it sends.

And in general we at Fund-Balance want to see the net costs of our blogging both for the earth as well as on our bottom-line lower and more sustainable.

China outspends major powers in 2010 federal stimulus funding on smart grid projects

We have been covering China’s intensive and substanstial focus on Green Technology, Smart Grids and non-petroleum-based energy sources and supplies here at fund-balance.com since our launch in October 2008.

Now that a picture of national stimulus spending is emerging for 2010, its no surprise then to see that China will outpace the United States in this area, as detailed by Zprýme Research and Consulting. The report also notes that the U.K and France have roughly double the smart grid capacity as the U.S. and major U.S. industrial concerns such as IBM and Hewlett Packard are busy deploying these projects in China. Basically we can see that China has leapfrogged the west in the last two years. An example of what Thomas Friedman calls their “Green Leap” forward. –W.B.

Clean water and air in conflict with greater access to coal and electricity

Over the past few weeks we have seen communities increasingly turn away from unchecked development and new electricity access, especially from coal burning plants, in the name of preserving clean air and water supplies. Even if it means that short-term economic gain may be traded for a greater quality of life.

For example in two of the reddest of Red States, Alabama and Idaho, we have a number of stories citing how local citizenry are questioning and rejecting new coal burning electricity sources in the name of clean-air and water. Two pieces from the Birmingham News note how high rates of particulate amounts of pollutants in air discourage outside businesses from relocating and increasing investment. For example, where it reports: “According to Randall Johnson, director of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission, both conflicts result from a collision of trends.” These reports stand in contrast to the late 20th century argument that environmental protection impedes business activity and economic opportunity – as John Archibald points to in his column in the  Birmingham News.

The New York Times covers Idahoan rejection of greater abundance of electricity, and curiously how such abundances have brought price increases.

One trend that emerges to my mind is that people across the socio-economic spectrum are settling on a common notion: a willingness to accept less extravagant (or perhaps simply more judicious) living in terms of gadgets and electricity, in order to maintain their environs and sustain the eco -systems and -nomies they inherited.

From the Fund-Balance perspective the above calls up three important points:

We must move to encourage new energy sources with fiscal and monetary policy as a nation, not as a discrete set of political parties and factions

New industrial and intellectual capital formation is demanded to power the United States.

And lastly, there is no green-magic bullet, some degree of re-alignment of lifeways in our always on society is required.

Chinese and Indian policy-makers looking ahead while many in U.S. look to the side

Over the last two weeks, a substantial amount of journalism has covered stories that converge on a basic theme: China and India are planning for a world where a) Green Technology drives economic activity, and b) the need for Energy Technology, however “Green” will conflict with available natural resources and drive rapidly increasing investment outside of their borders, and equal demand for innovation on both sides.

For example, China is moving to take large amounts of solar generated power from California. Over the last three years, China’s share of the California market, in terms of supplied megawatts, has risen to 46 percent, from 2 percent, according to a preliminary report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and consulting firm.

At the same time, the share supplied in California by American companies has declined to 16 percent, from 43 percent.

And while sunshine is abundant in California, already we see the construction of large solar arrays impinging on endangered habitat. It might just be Tortoises now, but how long until it impacts agriculture, or water rights?

And while many indulge in arguments about whether Climate Change is real; China and India are already planning on its impact on their ability to produce food and as covered recently by Thomas Friedman, Technology.

Technology that will drive significant amounts of capital formation for the foreseeable future.

More Ominous Signs from PRC Government, Californian Lakes Warming, Cap and Dividend

My top three stories this from this week. — WB

The Chinese Government is moving to restrict and in some cases completely block, supplies of Rare Earth Metals (REEs). These metals, such as Neodymium, are critical to building wind-turbines and ultra-efficient motors. I have heard fearful commentary concering their virtual control over REEs in metal and minerals circles this past year. Certainly, when Green technology begins to consume scarce resources, and requires the opening of new mines, it is fair to ask, where’s the Green?, so to speak. Yet it is well known that Chinese mining and natural resource extraction/investment practices domestically, and in Africa and South America are completely hands-off when it comes to human rights and sustainable industrial practice. So I agree with Paul Krugman, that while Chinese mercantilism/currency manipulation might blip brightest on most political radars for 2010, their Pollution footprint may prove to be much more important. And its worth considering what the impact that their  “Command Capitolism” brand of commerce might do with monopolies in key minerals, until innovation away from REE-based approaches occurs.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/concern-as-china-clamps-down-on-rare-earth-exports-1855387.html

Number 2: The overwhelming majority of Organic farming operates in Arizona, California and Oregon. So news from today’s Sacramento Bee that California Lakes are warming more quickly than the rest of the nation is worth a close look.

https://digg.com/d31EPd2

Number 3: A posting form CNNMoney.com on a Cap and Dividend is before the Senate. The post reports concerns that “…critics fear the bill may stifle innovation. By limiting Wall Street’s role in the trading of carbon credits they fear new technologies will die on the vine, missing out on needed capital from the investment community.” Wow. Are we living on the same planet as the people that have these concerns? This is the Wall Street whose “innovations” brought the global economy to its knees. The Wall Steet that sold out Main Street in order to make bonus schedules to a few hundred people.  It is my hope that our collective memory will be long enough to keep Wall Street on as short a leash as possible as Carbon Trading Markets and built.

https://digg.com/d31EP2W

Earth’s genetic trust fund, the internet’s carbon footprint, and secretive skeptics

Protecting our genetic trust fund, the impact of software on electricity consumption and climate change skeptics make my list of most interesting stories from this past week.

An article from today’s San Francisco Chronicle notes that a wave of extinctions, comparable to the one that eliminated Dinosaurs from earth is tracking. Solid science indicates that human driven climate change is a major, if not the major, cause.

A point not mentioned in this article per se, but one that bears noting, is that for all the fear-mongering over how legal and policy based agreements limiting carbon emissions will damage the U.S. (or for that matter the not-so-longer-emerging Chinese) economy, how about the damage to medicine and pharmacology? Most medicines are based on ecosystems. What is the cost of losing all this bio-diversity to the process of 21st century Medicine?

https://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2009/12/19/MNVS1B6E4C.DTL

— Social networking uses PHP and other languages, and as many have long suspected, due to how they run on servers, they use more electricity. Fascinating post below from Slashdot.

https://developers.slashdot.org/story/09/12/20/1433257/The-Environmental-Impact-of-PHP-Compared-To-C-On-Facebook

— Heavily publicized, but not so apparently heavily peer-reviewed scientist/lab at Duke University, refuses to turn over software used to support his results and assertions:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18307-sceptical-climate-researcher-wont-divulge-key-program.html

Acid oceans: the ‘evil twin’ of climate change

During this week of noisy coverage on Copenhagen I worried that an important component of the sustainability signal would get lost — the crisis in the world’s oceanic and riverine ecologic and economic systems. From this morning’s AP wire. –WB

By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer John Heilprin, Associated Press Writer Fri Dec 18, 5:35 am ET

MONTEREY BAY NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY, Calif. – Far from Copenhagen’s turbulent climate talks, the sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters reposing along the shoreline and kelp forests of this protected marine area stand to gain from any global deal to cut greenhouse gases.

These foragers of the sanctuary’s frigid waters, flipping in and out of sight of California’s coastal kayakers, may not seem like obvious beneficiaries of a climate treaty crafted in the Danish capital. But reducing carbon emissions worldwide also would help mend a lesser-known environmental problem: ocean acidification.

“We’re having a change in water chemistry, so 20 years from now the system we’re looking at could be affected dramatically but we’re not really sure how. So we see a train wreck coming,” said Andrew DeVogelaere, the sanctuary’s research director, while out kayaking this fall with a reporter in the cold waters.

Nothing in the treaty negotiations specifically addresses the effects of carbon absorption in the oceans on marine life, which studies show is damaging key creatures’ hard shells or skeletons.

Oceans absorb about 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere from human activities each year, says a new U.N. report released at the Copenhagen talks this week. That helps slow global warming in the atmosphere, the focus of the Copenhagen talks.

But carbon dissolving in oceans also forms carbonic acid, raising waters’ acidity that damages all manner of hard-shelled creatures, and setting off a chain reaction that threatens the food chain supporting marine life, including the lumbering sea mammals along the 276-mile coast of the California sanctuary and the rest of the U.S. West Coast.

By 2100, the report said, some 70 percent of cold water corals — a key refuge and feeding ground for commercially popular fish that also are food for the seals and otters — will be exposed to the harmful effects.

Ocean acidity could increase 150 percent just by mid-century, according to the report by the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

“This dramatic increase is 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years, giving little time for evolutionary adaptation within biological systems,” it said.

The average acidity of oceans’ surface water is estimated to increase measurably by the end of the century and will affect marine life, according to Peter Brewer, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

“The total quantity of carbon dioxide that we’ve put into the oceans today is around 530 billion tons,” Brewer told journalists on a fall fellowship program with the Honolulu-based East-West Center. “Now, it’s going up at about 1 million tons an hour. You can’t keep doing that without it having some impact.”

And Brewer, a member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning U.N. scientific panel on climate change, said that’s only part of the story.

“The trouble is, there’s more than one thing going on,” he said, citing other effects of climate change that bring, for example, “milder winters, so the deep ocean is getting less oxygen down there.”

Given the importance of marine life — some 1 billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein — climate experts and researchers at the treaty talks have sought to draw more attention to the problem. They call it a particularly important — but largely overlooked — reason for nations to agree on a new climate accord.

In Copenhagen, Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the sanctuary, said global cuts in greenhouse gases are needed to limit the “blue” carbon absorbed by oceans.

She said the Copenhagen talks have focused on other types of carbon — the “brown” variety from industrial warming gases released by fossil fuel burning, the “green” carbon from burning and chopping down tropical rainforests — but there has been little focus on helping the oceans.

“It’s important to recognize that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also being absorbed by oceans, and that makes oceans more acidic,” Lubchenco told AP.

“I call this ocean acidification climate change’s equally evil twin, if you will,” she said. “And part of the need to reduce carbon emissions is to both slow down the rate of climate change but also to start repairing the damage that is being done to oceans.”

Lubchenco pointed to the harmful effects of carbon absorption in the oceans as decreasing the amount of calcium carbonate that can be used by marine creatures to construct shells or skeletons.

“As the oceans become more acidic, it’s harder for corals, oysters, clams, crabs, mussels, lobsters to make their shells or their hard parts, and they dissolve faster,” she said.

“So ocean acidification, which is a relatively unappreciated problem, is as important as climate change. It’s one that most people haven’t heard of. Another way to think of ocean acidification is as osteoporosis of the seas.”

World’s Top Polluter Emerges as Green-Technology Leader

China is the World’s leading emitter of Carbon Dioxide. It also has, as usual, a very independent, some would say obstructive, agenda at Copehnagen. The article below from the rapidly deteriorating Wall Street Journal, provides some clues as to why.

By SHAI OSTER

BEIJING — Xu Shisen put down the phone and smiled. That was Canada calling, explained the chief engineer at a coal-fired power plant set among knockoff antique and art shops in a Beijing suburb. A Canadian company is interested in Mr. Xu’s advances in bringing down the cost of stripping out greenhouse-gas emissions from burning coal.

Engineers led by Mr. Xu are working to unlock one of climate change’s thorniest problems: how to burn coal without releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

China’s Push for Clean Coal

ReutersA laborer searched for usable coal on the outskirts of Changzhi, Shanxi province, China, Oct. 27.

Mr. Xu is part of a broader effort by China to introduce green technology to the world’s fastest-growing industrial economy — a mission so ambitious it could eventually reshape the business, just as China has done for everything from construction cranes to computers.

China looms large over the global climate summit in Copenhagen, where Chinese officials are pressing the U.S. and other rich nations to accept new curbs on their emissions and to continue to subsidize poor nations’ efforts to adopt clean-energy technology. China is the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions. Less understood is the way China is now becoming a source of some of the solutions.

China’s vast market and economies of scale are bringing down the cost of solar and wind energy, as well as other environmentally friendly technologies such as electric car batteries. That could help address a major impediment to wide adoption of such technologies: They need heavy subsidies to be economical.

The so-called China price — the combination of cheap labor and capital that rewrote the rulebook on manufacturing — is spreading to green technology. “The China price will move into the renewable-energy space, specifically for energy that relies on capital-intensive projects,” says Jonathan Woetzel, a director in McKinsey & Co.’s China office.

CO2 by Country

Compare carbon emissions world-wide, per capita and per dollar of GDP

Advancing Emissions

Track the rise of carbon dioxide emissions.

Continue reading World’s Top Polluter Emerges as Green-Technology Leader

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch — In the central North Pacific Gyre, pieces of plastic outweigh surface zooplankton by a factor of six to one

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch — as covered by firstaffirmative.com

By Sara Laks and Steve Schueth

Why is it so important to be a conscious consumer and a responsible investor?

Here’s a reason for today:  The Island of Garbage swirling in the Pacific Ocean, also known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, North Pacific Gyre, Trash Vortex, and Plastic Graveyard.

garbage patch 1

This mass of plastic waste and debris is estimated by scientists to be anywhere from twice the size of Texas to twice the size of the continental U.S.  And the impacts for the environment and society are potentially just as colossal.

Captain Charles Moore, who discovered the patch in 1997, warns of the mounting implications of our floating pollution explaining:  “In the central North Pacific Gyre, pieces of plastic outweigh surface zooplankton by a factor of six to one,” according to a report based on Moore’s research.

“Ninety percent of Laysan albatross chick carcasses and regurgitated stomach contents contain plastics.  Fish and seabirds mistake plastic for food.  Plastic debris releases chemical additives and plasticizers into the ocean.  Plastic also adsorbs hydrophobic pollutants like PCBs and pesticides like DDT.  These pollutants bioaccumulate in the tissues of marine organisms, biomagnify up the food chain, and find their way into the foods we eat.”

So what does this mean for us investors and consumers?  It means that everything comes full circle.  Where we buy our goods from, where we invest our money, where we throw out our trash—it all matters.  The negative ramifications of not paying attention to the impacts our consumer and investor behavior produce are all too visible in places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Even if you live thousands of miles away as waste works its way up through our food chain, the problem looms closer and closer to home.  No one can afford to ignore it.

One of the most powerful strategies for change as an individual is supporting companies that have the most environmentally conscious products and services.  The more the public becomes aware and shows support for green companies the more incentives there are to make a difference on a larger scale.

Why is it important to be a conscious consumer and investor?  For the simple reason that if we don’t pay attention now we will pay for it later.

Steve Schueth, President

steveschueth@firstaffirmative.com

Sara Laks, Assistant to the President

saralaks@firstaffirmative.com

The beginning of the end of framing Climate Change as a partisan issue or topic for debate in undergraduate classes/cable talking head programs

The Governor of California said an international agreement at Copenhagen will usher in a new era of renewable energy and economic growth through manufacturing green technology.

Even if a deal cannot be done between nation states, he said cities and regions such as California are moving forward in transforming their industries and individual lifestyles.

And he offered to host a summit for “sub-national governments” such as California and London to make sure climate change is tackled on a regional level.

Speaking in the Danish capital, Mr Schwarzenegger said the world could take inspiration from the both the city’s “carbon conscious lifestyle” and its heritage as the home of story teller Hans Christian Andersen.

“There is a statue of the Little Mermaid in the harbour based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, but when I was a boy in Austria my favourite tale was the Ugly Duckling because it was a tale of transformation that spoke to me inside. I have always believed in personal transformation,” he said.

“The desire and hope and desperate need for planetary transformation is what brought me here. Is it a dream, a fairly tale, a false hope? If not how can we make it real?”

The self-styled “climate action hero for the globe” said a deal in Copenhagen should not only make the world “more liveable” but help poor countries who have done the least to cause climate change to fight floods and droughts. He said the conference was in danger of “talking grandly” but failing – much like another Hans Christian Anderson tale, the Emperor’s New Clothes.

But even if national governments fail to agree, he said the rest of the world must take action at a “sub-national level”.

“I believe technology and economic focus will overtake the politics and regulatory efforts of national governments,” he said. “We are beginning on a historic great transformation, a new economic foundation for the 21st Century and beyond.”

He said the states like California are already moving forward. “We in California do not wait for Washington or Beijing or Kyoto . We are moving forward and making great progress.”

The Governor said the world could continue even if the summit fails and offered to host a summit for the UN in California for “sub-national” governments to take climate change policy forward.

“The world’s governments alone cannot make the kind of progress needed on global climate change, they need everyone working. They need the cities, the states, the, the provinces and the regions. They need the corporations, the scientists, the individuals to create the determination and action for movement.”

Mr Schwarzenegger, who is originally from Austria, also joked about being back in Europe. “I love giving speeches here. I am not the only one who has an accent – this is a good place to come,” he said.

And he ended with his trademark quote from the film The Terminator “I’ll be back”.

Upcycling: Using plastic to make batteries

Waste plastic from “throwaway” carrier bags can be readily converted into carbon nanotubes. The chemist who developed the technique has even used the nanotubes to make lithium-ion batteries.

This is called “upcycling” – converting a waste product into something more valuable. Finding ways to upcycle waste could encourage more recycling: for instance, bacteria can convert plastic drinks bottles into a more expensive plastic.

The carrier-bag-to-nanotube technique was developed by Vilas Ganpat Pol at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and converts high or low-density polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE) into valuable multiwalled carbon nanotubes.
Bag baker

Pol made the nanotubes by cooking 1-gram pieces of HDPE or LDPE at 700 °C for 2 hours in the presence of a cobalt acetate catalyst and then letting the mixture cool gradually. Above 600 °C the chemical bonds within the plastic completely break down and multiwalled carbon nanotubes grow on the surface of the catalytic particles.

A lot of catalyst is needed to get good results – about a fifth of the weight of the plastic being converted – and it cannot easily be recovered afterwards. But Pol says this is still one of the cheapest and environmentally friendly ways yet found to grow nanotubes.

“Other methods generally require a vacuum to avoid oxygen interaction with the catalyst as well as with the system,” he says. “In my new reaction there is no vacuum – the formation of oxide is inhibited due to the presence of a continuous reducing hydrocarbon atmosphere at 700 °C.”
Nanotube nuggets

Individual pieces of the catalyst become trapped inside forests of newly grown nanotubes. But Pol has shown the nanotubes can be used as is without further processing to cut them free.

“I have used the as-prepared cobalt-encapsulated nanotubes as an anode material for lithium-ion batteries and they work fantastically,” he says. “The specific capacity of my carbon nanotubes is higher than commercial nanotubes.” He thinks that might be down to slight imperfections in the usually-regular structure of the nanotubes, created by the reducing atmosphere during fabrication.

The cobalt impurities also make the nanotubes suitable for use in lithium-air batteries, because the cobalt is converted to cobalt oxides that perform as catalysts to help the reactions of ions in the battery that let current flow, says Pol. He has patented the use of the cobalt-containing nanotubes in both lithium-ion and lithium-air batteries: “The cobalt is not an impurity, it is an asset,” he says.
Recycling jigsaw

Geoffrey Mitchell at the University of Reading in the UK is an expert in recycling plastic. He thinks the new technique is an “interesting part of the jigsaw” of recycling plastic waste to make high-value electronic materials.

But he thinks the use of relatively expensive cobalt as a non-recoverable catalyst might be problematic if the system is ever to be scaled up. Pol agrees, but adds that the type of batteries he proposes using the nanotubes for are already recycled for their cobalt, so the metal would ultimately be recovered.

From this week’s New Scientist:

Leaving the catalyst out of the process altogether yields another carbon product of potential value, though: carbon spheres between 2 and 10 micrometres across that can be used in printer ink, says Pol.

Fund-balance covers the Blue Economy: As oceans fall ill, Washington bureaucrats squabble

WASHINGTON — Off the coast of Washington state , mysterious algae mixed with sea foam have killed more than 8,000 seabirds, puzzling scientists. A thousand miles off California , researchers have discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling vortex roughly twice the size of Texas filled with tiny bits of plastic and other debris.

Every summer a dead zone of oxygen-depleted water the size of Massachusetts forms in the Gulf of Mexico ; others have been found off Oregon and in the Chesapeake Bay , Lake Erie and the Baltic and Black seas. Some studies indicate that North Pole seawater could turn caustic in 10 years, and that the Southern Ocean already may be saturated with carbon dioxide.

A recent bird kill off the coast of Washington state came without warning, said Jane Lubchenco , the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . “There will be more surprises than that,” she said.

The danger signals are everywhere, some related to climate change and greenhouse gases and others not:

— Every eight months, 11 million gallons of oil run off the nation’s roads and driveways into waters that eventually reach the sea, the Pew Oceans Commission said in 2003. That’s the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez-size oil spill.

— Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the oceans have absorbed 525 billion tons of carbon dioxide. They’re now absorbing about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide a day. As that happens, the oceans become more acidic, threatening the marine food chain. The acidity could eat away the shells of such animals as the petropod, a nearly microscopic snail with a calcium carbonate covering that’s eaten by krill, salmon and whales.

— More than 60 percent of the nation’s coastal rivers and bays are moderately to severely degraded by nutrient runoff from products such as fertilizer, creating algae blooms that affect the kelp beds and grasses that are nurseries for many species of fish.

Even that doesn’t tell the entire story, as competing uses for the sea multiply. Traditional ones such as fishing and shipping are competing with offshore aquaculture farms. On the energy front, it’s no longer just oil and gas drilling. There are plans for deepwater wind farms and tidal and wave power-generating projects.

As the grim news mounts, a storm is brewing in Washington, D.C. , over who should oversee oceans policies. A White House task force has recommended creating a National Ocean Council that would develop and implement national ocean policy and include the secretaries of state, defense, agriculture, interior, health and human services, labor, commerce, transportation and homeland security.

It also would include the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget , the administrators of NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency , the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission . Plus the president’s advisers on national security, homeland security, domestic policy and economic policy. The chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy would head the council.

However, NOAA, the nation’s primary ocean agency, which includes the National Ocean Service, the nation’s premier science agency for oceans and coasts; the National Marine Fisheries Service, which manages living marine resources; the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research , which studies climate, weather and air quality; and the National Weather Service — is missing from the task force’s list.

“I am mystified why NOAA has been exempted,” said Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe , the top Republican on the subcommittee.

“It was a surprise,” Sen. Maria Cantwell , D- Wash. , said in an interview. “I didn’t know it would be this sensitive.”

Cantwell chairs the oceans subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee . Her panel held a hearing on the issue last week.

“NOAA is the nation’s primary ocean agency,” NOAA administrator Lubchenco told the subcommittee. “Our name says it all.”

Created in 1970, NOAA does everything from issuing daily weather forecasts and severe storm warnings to monitoring the climate and managing fisheries. It includes a satellite office and a research arm. It operates two geostational satellites that monitor the Earth and a fleet of research ships that monitor the oceans.

Instead of being a freestanding agency like NASA or the EPA , however, NOAA is part of the Commerce Department . The commerce secretary would be a member of the National Ocean Council , but Cantwell and Snowe said that wasn’t good enough.

“It’s not the same,” Cantwell said, adding that the commerce secretary has far broader responsibilities than just oceans.

In recommending the creation of a National Ocean Council , the White House task force noted the web of federal, state, tribal, local and international regulations and interests and found a need for “high-level direction and guidance from a clearly designated and identifiable authority.”

The nation’s oceans, coastline and Great Lakes are regulated by 140 laws administered by 20 federal agencies, in what’s been called a “Swiss cheese” of overlapping authorities and sometimes conflicting missions.

The task force made its proposal for a National Ocean Council in an interim report released in September. A final report is due early next year.

Whatever its composition, one challenge for the council will be what’s called “marine spatial planning,” ocean zoning, or the marine equivalent of urban planning.

“It’s going to be a difficult process,” Nancy Sutley , the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality , said during the Senate hearing. “We need to do it from the bottom up.”

Native American tribes and groups such as those that represent sport fishermen warned that plans have to be developed regionally because a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

A recent example of marine spatial planning involved the Coast Guard , NOAA and other agencies working to reroute shipping lanes near Cape Cod to minimize the chances of vessels colliding with North Atlantic right whales, but even that came with an unexpected twist.

“We were going to move the lanes into a site where there was an application for an offshore LNG plant,” said Adm. Thad Allen , the Coast Guard commandant, referring to liquefied natural gas.

Facebook Opens Green Data Center

SAN JOSE, CA — Fortune Data Centers’ San Jose facility earned the prestigious LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council last week, six months after opening the green facility.

With the certification, Fortune Data Centers has joined a very small number of LEED-rated data centers; the company estimated that it is one of only five such buildings in the United States.

The eight-megawatt data center can also brag a gold-star tenant: internet phenomenon Facebook confirmed that it is leasing some of the floor space in the facility, part of an ongoing expansion for the website, all of which has gone to green data centers, according to Data Center Knowledge.

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Fortune Data Centers’ facility earned kudos from not just the USGBC: San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed also lauded the company for helping the city meet its Green Vision goals, which include building 50 million square feet of green buildings, reducing the energy used per capita by half, and switching the remaining energy used to renewable energy by 2022.

Among the features of Fortune Data Centers’ San Jose facility that helped it earn LEED certification include:

• a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.37 at full load, far lower than the industry average of about 2.0;
• Diverting 96 percent of construction waste from landfill, leading to the recycling or reuse of over 1,100 tons of materials;
• Setting energy efficiency guidelines for procurement of uninterruptible power supplies and other hardware within the building.

“We believe companies shouldn’t have to pay extra for energy efficiency, rather they should realize a reduction in costs,” John Sheputis, CEO of Fortune Data Centers, said in a statement. “Fortune and our tenants are collaborating to maximize efficiencies, and our tenants receive 100 percent of the cost savings that result from saving energy.”

Fortune Data Centers previously made news for earning a $900,000 rebate from its electric utility for the energy efficiency of its facility. The award came as part of an incentive program from Pacific Gas & Electric’s High-Tech Energy Efficiency program.