Bike culture is finally gaining ground in Manhattan and the boroughs. Bicycle commuting has more than doubled in New York City since 2000, largely due to new street designs that enhance safety. But not everyone sees this as a good thing.
Interviewed for this piece:
Caroline Samponaro director of Bicycle Advocacy at Transportation Alternatives
Ben Fried editor of StreetsBlog New York
Thomas Justice assistant manager at Canal Street Bicycles
Directed by Daniel Lafleche
Filmed and edited by Aki Pagratis
Get more articles and videos on clean mobility and sustainable cities at: http://ecomobility.tv/
From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever. http://storyofstuff.org
In this humorous approach to a serious problem, Brazilian urban space designer, Jaime Lerner puts forth a compelling argument for reinventing our cities.
"I always used to say that the car is like your mother-in-law. You have to have a good relationship with her, but she cannot command your life," he says, addressing a lively auditorium. "So when the only woman in your life is your mother-in-law, you have a problem."
Given that over 50 percent of carbon emissions come from cars, it is time cities rely less on the automobile and more on smart contemporary urban design, he says.
Lerner is a world-renowned urban designer who, by reinventing urban space in his native Curitiba, Brazil, he changed the way city planners around the world see the metropolitan landscape. Check out his complete presentation below.
Get more articles and videos on clean mobility and sustainable cities at: http://ecomobility.tv/
Greenwash (verb, \ˈgrēn-wȯsh\) – to market a product or service by promoting a deceptive or misleading perception of environmental responsibility.
It’s no secret that “going green” has become the next big thing in the corporate world. Riding the wave of consumers’ growing interest in environmental sustainability, companies are launching major ad campaigns to tout their green credentials. But many of their claims are misleading or downright false. The ads are compelling, but how are we to know who’s telling the truth? “Greenwashing” is eroding the credibility of well-intentioned green businesses and turning would-be green consumers into skeptics.
It’s reminiscent of the challenge to hold corporations accountable for their financial reporting. While the recent financial crisis highlighted the shortcomings of our markets and reporting structures, the United States business community is still a leader in financial accounting, reporting and ethics. Our system is sophisticated, consisting of a combination of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), fairly rigorous government oversight, a massive industry of accounting professionals and mature accounting software technologies that keep track of every last dollar.
We must develop the same infrastructure for environmental accounting. The development of Enterprise Carbon Accounting (ECA) software is well underway, with roughly 60 vendors bringing solutions to market. ECA software enables companies to track their carbon footprint and the footprint of their suppliers as well as the impact of customer use of their products. It’s a promising innovation that can help us manage corporate America’s environmental footprint, but it’s still at the early stages of adoption. We need a number of things to happen for the ECA market to mature and develop environmental accounting to the same level as financial accounting.
So what will it take to develop the ECA software market and have the infrastructure necessary to hold greenwashers accountable? We think there are five key requirements to get us there:
• Clear government action on regulations;
• Adoption of carbon accounting principles;
• Expansion of “Scope 3” emissions accounting;
• Better business incentives to go green; and
• Demanding, informed consumers.
Clear Government Action on Regulations
If corporations are to be held accountable for green claims, we need orders from the top. But the U.S. has been relatively slow to pass laws with lasting environmental impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congress are at a stalemate in agreeing upon carbon emission regulations. Legislation often gets caught up in political gridlock – such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would introduce an emissions trading plan not unlike Britain’s CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. The bill passed the House in 2009 but has yet to be addressed by the Senate.
However, steps are being taken in the right direction – like the EPA’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule, which requires companies that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gases annually to disclose emissions information to the EPA. There’s also progress at the state level. California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 aims to reduce the state’s carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The increasing role of government-imposed transparency requirements over the coming years will be a major obstacle to greenwashing.
Adoption of Carbon Accounting Principles
We have GAAP and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as standards for financial reporting; we need similar principles for environmental accounting. These principles make sure that each corporation is reporting apples-to-apples numbers. The current most widely used set of international carbon accounting standards, the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, is still maturing. When a business is required to disclose its carbon footprint according to broadly accepted standards, regulators, investors and consumers will all be able to see who’s truly green and who’s just greenwashing. Companies like Dell, Apple, IBM, and Wal-Mart have already begun to adopt nascent carbon accounting principles.
As ECA and similar innovations arise, carbon accounting will become more widespread and lessen the potential for greenwashing. As more companies face requirements to track and disclose emissions, others will voluntarily do so as the process becomes more standardized and manageable. Once carbon accounting has been adopted by most businesses, disclosure of the company’s carbon footprint will be a prerequisite for businesses to make any sort of claims of environmental friendliness.
Expansion of “Scope 3” Emissions Accounting
Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions resulting from a company’s actions, the sources of which are not owned by the company. An example is the carbon emitted by a company’s suppliers. Requiring Scope 3 in every carbon accounting report would prevent companies from cutting corners to artificially report a smaller carbon footprint. Take Dell’s report of its carbon “neutrality” for example.
In 2008 Dell claimed to have become “carbon neutral,” but estimates had neglected to account for Scope 3 emissions. Intentional or not, Dell was grossly under-reporting its carbon footprint and claiming false credit for distorted reports – a form of greenwashing. With a rigid set of carbon accounting standards, including Scope 3 disclosure, this never would have occurred. In the GHG Protocol, tracking Scope 3 emissions is currently optional. As more companies voluntarily track Scope 3, though, it’s only a matter of time before it’s required and fully incorporated into ECA software – making it nearly impossible to “pull a Dell.”
Scope 3 disclosure requirements will also force wider adoption of comprehensive carbon accounting among related businesses. A viral effect will spread adoption, killing the potential for greenwashing throughout the supply chain. To disclose its Scope 3 emissions, a company often must ask suppliers to track their emissions. With Scope 3 requirements, these suppliers will have to request the same of their own suppliers – and so on. With carbon accounting requirements and a standardized Scope 3-inclusive reporting scheme, the number of businesses with full emissions records will explode – dealing a critical blow to greenwashing potential in the process.
Better Business Incentives to Go Green
Sustainable business practices are more often than not motivated by revenue generation or inherent cost savings. As these incentives increase, truly beneficial green actions will take hold and the need for greenwashing will fade. For example, nearly one-third of small businesses face energy costs as their largest expense. They have an economic incentive to trim these costs, reducing their waste and carbon footprint. When it becomes easier to identify cost-saving opportunities, as with the use of a mature ECA software system, carbon footprints will shrink naturally.
Government incentives are also cost-saving opportunities for businesses with environmental responsibility. Tax incentives are awarded for using hybrid or green diesel for transportation, for example. A global survey this year by workspace solutions provider Regus concluded that 63% of U.S. companies need more tax breaks to accelerate green investments. The government will likely expand financial incentives for green businesses as environmental stewardship becomes more of a national priority. Similar to compliance capabilities in other software systems, ECA software could develop to alert users to new opportunities to take advantage of government incentives. When a cap-and-trade scheme or similar system is finally implemented, the economic incentives will skyrocket, further spreading carbon accounting practices and edging out potential greenwashers.
Demanding, Informed Consumers
As green buyers become more savvy, greenwashers will no longer be able to conceal fraudulent claims. This year’s third annual environmental consumer behavior survey by the National Geographic Society and GlobeScan polled consumers in seventeen countries, determining that they perceived greenwashing as the biggest obstacle to environmental improvement. Consumers are demanding product sustainability information before believing the green hype. Wal-Mart plans to use supplier-provided carbon accounting information to start a system of product labels for customer reference. As detailed sustainability information develops into the new norm, claims of green marketing will fizzle without hard evidence. Greenwashers will obtain ECA software to comply and the resulting transparency will effectively destroy false marketing potential.
What are your thoughts? Are we missing a critical new weapon against greenwashing? Let us know in the comments.
As environmentalists, we know coal as one of the most vilified fuel sources around, mostly in terms of its CO2 emissions. Many of us are skeptical about claims of 'clean coal' as well, and are waiting to see the numbers. But yet another argument is being put forth by the coal industry: When large numbers of the world's poor are still burning wood for energy, is coal a cheap and ready source to be considered?
Peabody Energy CEO Greg Boyce believes that coal is an essential energy source for developing economies. Basing his arguments on the facts that a significant percentage of the world's population is still experiencing "Energy Poverty", Boyce claims that coal is the only cheap and readily accessible way to bring electricity to developing countries. For this reason, he believes that coal will remain a strong element of the world's energy mix for the next 50 years, though efforts will have to be made to burn it cleaner and capture carbon emissions.
Energy2point0 is the world’s first multi-stakeholder platform for exchanges on the world’s energy needs today and tomorrow… This site is designed to serve as the principal social media hub for exchange among energy sector leaders and stakeholders. It serves as a launching pad for informed debate both on the platform and wherever the discussions will be re-broadcast on the social web.
Parents want the very best for their new baby and one way to get started is with an eco-friendly nursery. Incorporating products that are good for baby and good for the environment in the same room ensure a safe and healthy environment. Use the eco-friendly ideas below to guide you when designing and decorating your child's nursery.
Decorating the Walls
Before moving in furniture or hanging baby theme curtains, you will need to decide how the nursery walls will be decorated. There are special, low-odor paints that are gaining in popularity if painting the walls is what you decide to do. Choose environmentally friendly paints to help eliminate allergic reactions and the mother-to-be's exposure to harmful chemical odors. Another option for eco-friendly wall coverings is wallpaper made from linens and natural grasses. These serve not only as wall coverings, but as wall art as well, due to their natural texture and designs. Although you may find it difficult to locate a childish wallpaper design in these materials, a simple solid color will work just as well in the nursery.
Linens and Bedding
Organic is the way to go when designing an eco-friendly nursery. Everything from dust ruffles to crib sheets to crib bumpers can be found made from organic cottons. These natural materials are soft on baby's skin while being good for the environment. Organic cottons are also good if there is a family history of allergies or skin sensitivities, as the material is known to have a low-irritation rate. This natural material also breathes better than other cottons and is usually free of dye or dyed with vegetable based colorants. Organic cotton is a great way to protect your baby's sensitive skin while eliminating the need for synthetic dyes and pesticides.
Accessories and Furniture
Parents have a lot of choices when it comes to nursery accessories and furniture. Now, more than ever, there are products for everything a child could possibly want or need to do in a nursery. The most important thing to remember is that less is more. Less energy consumption can begin with an energy-efficient bulb in a nightstand lamp and insulated curtains on the windows. Natural fibers, fabrics and ingredients should be used as much as possible. Choose a wooden crib that can convert to a larger bed as the child grows to cut down on waste. A changing table that doubles as a dresser is also a more eco-friendly choice than two separate pieces of furniture. When thinking about accessories, choose those that are made of natural materials, such as, wood. If plastic is the only option, be sure that it does not contain harmful chemicals, especially if it may wind up in baby's mouth. Although there are many options for accessories and furniture, the selection of items that are truly eco-friendly is limited. Select items that go with the room's decor, but that also are beneficial for baby.
Designing an eco-friendly nursery is good for baby and the environment. Make smart choices that reflect your desire to preserve the earth's natural resources and create a sustainable environment for generations to come. The merits of green living can be taught through example at even the earliest of ages.
Jessica Ackerman writes for WallDecorandHomeAccents.com where she provides detailed instructions for decorating with outdoor garden wall clocks and tree of life metal wall art.
Energy themed social media portal to launch in early September
On September 10, 2010, Parta Dialogue, the company that produces Alternative Channel, is launching their highly anticipated energy themed social media portal—Energy2point0.com.
Energy 2.0 will become the principle social media hub for exchange among energy sector leaders and stakeholders. It will serve as a launching pad for informed debate both on the platform and wherever the discussion will be re-broadcast on the social web.
To join and contribute to the portal, contact Parta Dialogue’s North American Director, Tom Liacas. Tom.Liacas@partadialogue.com
Vogue Italia’s new stirring 24-page spread titled, "Water & Oil," has caused quite a fuss in recent days. As you can see from the pictures attached to this article, famed fashion photographer, Steven Meisel, managed to create an powerful artistic message that shines a new light on the gulf oil disaster. The session was shot in Los Angeles and depicts model Kristen McMenamy dressed in a tar drenched black dress, sprawled over a rocky shore like a dying crow. But many readers are now wondering, is this valid expression by artistic genius, or a shallow publicity stunt by elite fashionistas?
"The message is to be careful about nature," Vogue Italia’s Editor-in-Chief, Franca Sozzani, told the Associated Press. "Just to take care more about nature. ... I understand that it could be shocking to see and to look in this way these images."
Was that the intended message? Many critics are skeptical.
“I see nothing at all ironic about highlighting the destruction of working-class people’s livelihoods with obscenely expensive clothes designed primarily to enhance the status of elite fashion designers and the rich people who can wear them,” notes Sociological Images blogger Lisa Wade. She argues that although the BP well may have ceased leaking oil into the Gulf, pain is still being felt by those in the area who have lost their jobs, uprooted their families, and witnessed the destruction of marine wildlife.
Taylor Combs agrees. “Creating beauty and glamour out of tragedy seems quite fucked up to us, not to mention wasteful and hypocritical, seeing as thousands of dollars of luxury clothing was flown in, and then subsequently ruined for the shoot,” he writes in an article published in refinery29.com. “Glamorizing this recent ecological and social disaster for the sake of ‘fashion’ reduces the tragic event to nothing more than attention-grabbing newsstand fodder.”
Kathleen Nowak Tucci, the eco-designer who made the seaweed-style necklace worn by McMenamy on the cover (and several other shots) told New York Magazine she did not find the spread offensive. "I thought it was disturbing and thought-provoking and utterly fascinating in its interpretation of the struggle for survival," she said via email. "It is controversial and interpretative, which is indicative of great artistic expression."
Sozzani said the shoot reflects the magazine's effort to "find an idea that comes from real life.There is nothing political. There is nothing social. It's only visually. We gave a message but in a visual way."
What do you think? Was this spread needlessly and selfishly highlighting the destruction of working-class people’s livelihoods? Was it wasteful and hypocritical? Or, was it, as Tucci says, fascinating in its interpretation of the struggle for survival?
See the whole spread here : http://www.vogue.it/en/magazine/cover-story/2010/08/water--oil
One of the most popular additions to the sustainable mobility arsenal has been the personal mobility device. These small, personal vehicles are usually powered by electricity alone and are designed for use on short trips to work or to the store. While the Segway was the first to enter into the public eye, various car manufacturers have been working on their own concepts
Last year, Honda announced it’s new concept personal mobility device, the U3-X. Unlike the Segway that requires the user to stand on a rolling platform, the U3-X is designed as a high-tech unicycle.
Honda engineers worked with the idea of producing a product "in harmony with people". To this end, the movement of the U3-X is designed to mimic the directional movements common to humans. The rider balances on the unicycle, and controls the direction taken and the speed travelled by shifting their body weight. HOT Drive System (Honda Omni Directional Drive System) technology is responsible for this breakthrough. Multiple small wheels adjust the larger wheel in response to commands from the computer interface.
One of the most practical attributes of the U3-X is its portability. It is designed to be lightweight, and has a handle for portability. Foot rests fold up and it can be charged from a home outlet.
A U3-X owner living in an urban environment could potentially use the device to commute to work. The battery charge lasts for 12 miles.
Integrating the use of personal mobility devices into our daily lives would require a fundamental restructuring of our society and our culture. Currently, too many people live more than six miles from their place of work, creating a challenge for anyone attempting to create a battery-powered commuter vehicle. Perhaps embracing new, cleaner technology will also require embracing a new way of life.
Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at onlinedegrees.org, researching areas of online colleges. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.
Many people were rightly outraged at recent reports that coins thrown into a whale pool may have contributed to the death of a baby beluga at the Vancouver Aquarium. Regardless of the cause of one-year-old Nala’s death – or of what one thinks of whales in captivity – it was heartening to see that so many people cared.
But it would be nice to see that much attention paid to the stuff we humans throw into the belugas’ natural Arctic habitat. We’re killing more than just one baby beluga with our irresponsible actions.
Of the seven beluga populations in Canada, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has listed three as endangered, one as threatened, and one as being of special concern. The other two are not at risk. Along with hunting, the whales are threatened by “habitat loss from shore development, build-up of toxic contaminants and disturbance by commercial shipping, ice breaking and whale watching activities.” Oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic could increase the risk.
Belugas aren’t the only ones we’re harming with the way we treat our oceans. We’re hurting ourselves and our children and grandchildren as much as we’re hurting the fish, whales, corals, and other life in the seas. And just as we can refrain from tossing coins into an aquarium whale pool, we can stop throwing our garbage into the oceans and we can curtail some of the other activities that put marine life and our own lives at risk.
Just consider the giant garbage patches swirling in the Pacific and other oceans. All that plastic and debris doesn’t get there by itself. Some of it comes from nets and garbage dumped from ships, but much of it comes from things discarded on land that get washed or blown into the oceans. These plastics and toxins end up in the stomachs of many marine animals, causing great harm including death. Some of the toxins can also work their way into humans, as we eat the fish and other sea creatures. In fact, all of us carry a mixture of human-manufactured contaminants that have entered our bodies through the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the products and elements we come in contact with every day.
Right now we’re also pouring millions of litres of oil into the ocean, in the Gulf of Mexico. This illustrates how everything is interconnected – even our problems. The disaster in the gulf is a direct consequence of our overconsumption and reliance on diminishing fossil fuels for energy. And that in turn is creating problems beyond pollution in the ocean. Our use of fossil fuels is also causing air pollution and is contributing to the greatest threat facing humanity, climate change.
What this should teach us is that all of us can and must do our part to turn it around. We need to drive less, consume less, use fewer plastic products, throw away less, recycle and compost more, and make sure the products we use are as environmentally sustainable as possible. These individual actions can make a powerful difference, especially because, as more people do their part, this becomes the socially “normal” way to live.
Just look at some of the changes we’ve adopted in relatively short time periods: decreased rates of smoking where regulations and information have made the habit socially unacceptable, more people and stores shunning plastic grocery bags, more cities bringing in recycling and composting programs, more people cycling… The list goes on.
Of course, it will take more than just making changes in our own lives. Action is needed in political and corporate realms as well. But remember that individual people wield the power in those institutions, and they must also respond to societal pressure. That’s especially true of the politicians who are elected to represent the interests of all citizens. We must take democracy more seriously, being politically active to make environmental action a major part of the criteria we vote for. We need regulation and taxation to discourage what we don't want and to encourage what we want.
What we do in our lives affects our entire world – its soils, its rivers, lakes and oceans, its atmosphere, and all the living things that share our planet. We must understand that when we do something that harms the beluga, or the grizzly, or the spotted owl, we are also harming ourselves.
Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Species loss is a silent epidemic that threatens our planet
Scientists warn that the twin threats of climate change and wildlife extinction threaten our planet’s life-support systems, including clean air, clean water, and productive soil. Awareness about the causes and consequences of climate change is growing, leading some governments to look for solutions in areas such as clean energy. Species extinction, however, has gone largely unnoticed by government leaders.
In an article in the Guardian newspaper, France’s ecology secretary and the World Resources Institute’s vice-president of science and research argue that “Unlike the impacts of climate change, biodiversity – and the ecosystem services it harbours – disappears in a mostly silent, local and anonymous fashion. This may explain in part why the devastation of nature has triggered fewer alarm bells than a hotting-up planet.”
Sadly, this is true. Unlike the devastating forest fires, deadly heat waves, and violent storms that have ravaged the planet as a result of climate change, the disappearance of plants and animals seems only to get the attention of politicians when it results in serious economic and social upheaval – such as when overfishing led to the collapse of cod stocks in Atlantic Canada, throwing thousands of fishermen out of work.
The unravelling of food webs that have taken millennia to evolve is happening all around us. With every patch of forest cut, wetland drained, or grassland paved over, our actions are destroying wildlife habitat at an unprecedented rate.
Scientists warn that we are in the midst of a human-caused catastrophic wildlife crisis. Of the species we know about, some 17,000 plants and animals are facing extinction, including 12 per cent of birds, nearly a quarter of mammals, and a third of amphibians. Some of the species most vulnerable to human impacts are iconic, well-loved creatures. For example, of the eight distinct bear species that grace our planet, six are now in serious trouble, including sun bears, pandas, and polar bears.
The response of our leaders has for the most part been abysmal. The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. Countries are now reporting on their progress in reducing biodiversity loss as required under an international treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity that most nations, including Canada, have signed. However, the UN has admitted that governments have failed to meet the treaty’s objectives “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.”
Despite our collective failure to meet the 2010 biodiversity target, countries are preparing to negotiate new global targets to slow the rate of biodiversity loss. A flurry of international activity is now underway that will include a special session of the UN General Assembly on the biodiversity crisis in September.
It’s easy to be skeptical about the effect these negotiations and meetings in plush hotel ballrooms will have on protecting life on our planet, given the lack of meaningful progress so far. But one recent outcome of the global biodiversity talks gives us hope.
Government negotiators from around the world just met in Busan, South Korea, where they approved the creation of a new global science body that will act as an “early warning system” to inform government leaders on major biodiversity declines and to identify what governments must do to reverse these damaging trends.
This global Biodiversity Scientific Body will be modelled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which, through science, has catalyzed world-wide understanding and action on global warming.
Despite the efforts of huge multinational oil companies to discredit its work, the IPCC has compiled the best available science on the causes and impacts of global warming, as well as charting the most effective ways for us to solve the problem. In doing so, it has ensured that climate change has remained a priority for governments, and has proven to be an invaluable tool to help the media understand and report on the issue – independent of politics or PR spin. We hope the newly created “IPCC for Nature” will play a similar role in educating, inspiring, and mobilizing policy-makers and the public to take decisive action to stem the biodiversity crisis.
Since BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster begun on April 20, we have all been witnessing how dirty and costly oil can be. Today, however, we will take a look at the leaders ushering in a new worldwide industry—clean energy. According to the Pew Charitable Center, the clean energy sector in some of the world’s largest economies has seen explosive investment growth, since 2005. In fact, it is up 230 percent and is projected to grow by another $200 Billion by the end of 2010. Below is the list of the world’s top ten leaders in renewable energy investment.
For the first time, China, the country with one of the world's most dismal environmental records, leads the G20 in clean energy investments. In 2009, China invested $34.6 billion (USD) in clean alternatives. That makes up 30.5% of the G-20 nations’ total investment in renewable energy. From 2005 to 2009, the vast majority of that investment, 71.1%, was allocated to wind power. Solar energy received only 8% of the investment, but China is still one of the world’s largest solar-panel producer.
The United States
The U.S. came in second, with 16.4% of the G-20 nation’s total investment. Although there is not much manufacturing of alternative energy sources done on U.S. soil, the country dominates venture finance and technology innovation. The United States invested $18.6 billion for clean energy, in 2009. The total U.S clean energy investments included wind power (43.1%) and bio-fuel, with 47m liters of ethanol produced, over the past four years.
The United Kingdom
The U.K., coming in third, has also investing primarily on wind energy and allocated 57.1% of its $11.2 billion 2009 clean energy budget to wind towers. The U.K. intends to procure 20% of its electricity and 10% of its fuel needs from renewable energy by the end of 2010.
The European Union
The EU-27 countries, profiled together, invested $10.8 billion in renewable energy in 2009.That makes up 9.5% of G-20 clean energy investments. Again, the vast majority, 62.9%, of clean energy investment went to wind power.
Spain is ranked fifth with $10.4 billion in the clean energy investment in 2009. Spain went against the wind energy trend and invested 60.6% of its budget on solar energy. Wind energy received (34.2%) of the country’s total renewable energy investment from 2005 to 2009.
Coming in sixth among G-20 members, Brazil invested $7.4 billion in clean energy in 2009. Brazil is still the worlds leading ethanol producer, relative to the size of its economy. Over the past four years, Brazil is reported to have the second-highest investment growth rate. Brazil has the world’s largest ethanol infrastructure, relative to the size of its economy and produced over 30 billion liters of sugar based ethanol in 2009.
Germany came in seventh place with $4.3 billion worth of clean energy investments in 2009. That is up more than 18% from previous years. Germany’s clean energy investments from 2005 to 2009 were divided between solar energy (44.3%) and wind power (31.2%).
In eighth place, Canada invested $3.3 billion in its clean energy sectors. Most of the investment, 60%, went to wind power. Mini-hydro electric power is another leading sector that Canada has been investing in over the past four years.
Coming in ninth place is Italy. The country invested $2.6 billion in clean energy in 2009 and its investments have increased by 110%, in the past five years. Wind power was the key clean energy sector for Italy during the past four years getting 61.6% of all clean energy investments.
India is ranked tenth on the list with $2.3 billion invested in the country’s renewable energy industry, in 2009. Wind power received 59.5% of India’s clean energy investments, from 2005 to 2009.
It could never happen here. That was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s assurance in the wake of the massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which he referred to as “an environmental catastrophe unlike anything we've seen in quite a long time”.
The company behind the spill off the U.S. Gulf coast, British Petroleum, has three licences to drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea in Canada’s Arctic. BP and other companies have asked our federal government to relax environmental regulations around Arctic drilling. And B.C. is still pushing to get the federal government to lift a moratorium on drilling off the West Coast. There’s also a plan in the works by Enbridge to build a pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands to the B.C. coast, where it will be put on oil tankers for ocean shipping. Questions have also been raised about the safety of an offshore well that Chevron has started drilling off the coast of Newfoundland. It will be deeper than the one in the Gulf of Mexico.
We’ve been assured many times that the technology is safe, but the Gulf disaster shows that no technology is foolproof. Can we really afford the risk?
President Barack Obama has halted plans for further oil drilling in the Gulf until an investigation is completed (although, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. has approved 27 other offshore drilling projects since the spill), and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has implemented a similar moratorium on drilling off that state’s coast. Canada, however, has no plans to halt East Coast or Arctic drilling, and the B.C. government continues to push for drilling off the West Coast. When a disaster of this magnitude occurs, we should stop to re-examine the state of our own programs that might have similar risks so that we can find ways to avoid harming our oceans and coastal communities.
B.C.’s coast, which is known worldwide for its rich biodiversity and vibrant tourism industry, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill. A spill would be carried quickly by the nutrient-rich currents, possibly washing up on the mainland, Vancouver Island, and Haida Gwaii coasts. A spill or leak could threaten orcas, salmon, birds, and many other plant and animal species as well as devastating our fishing and tourism industries.
Is this the price we’re willing to pay for a polluting and diminishing source of energy? Oil may seem inexpensive compared to some forms of energy, but if you factor in the costs of these real and potential disasters, not to mention the everyday pollution, it’s not such a bargain.
One surprising response to the spill comes from proponents of the Alberta tar sands who see the Gulf disaster as boon. A cartoon in the Edmonton Journal pictured U.S. President Obama standing in the Gulf with oil on his hands, saying, “On second thought, the Alberta oilsands ain’t so bad…” The tar sands have been linked to ecological, social, and medical problems, including toxic water pollution and excessive greenhouse gas emissions – and none of that is altered by the Gulf spill. The disastrous consequences of ocean oil spills may be more immediately apparent, but land-based drilling can also cause environmental damage. Leaks, spills, blow-outs, fires, and explosions are more common than many people realize.
A more thoughtful response to the spill would be to recognize the huge risks associated with the kind of energy we use and the way we get it. Clearly, the negative costs of tar sands and deep ocean resources should point to the need to work toward a carbon-free energy future.
The problems are only going to get worse as we reach peak oil, when the most accessible sources of oil are all but gone and we must rely even more on the dirtier and harder-to-reach supplies in the deep ocean or tar sands.
We can’t stop using fossil fuels immediately, but we should see this latest disaster as an opportunity to look at the costs of our energy use and where we should go from here. Clearly we must wean ourselves from oil and gas as we make the transition to cleaner sources of energy. If we were wise, we would go more slowly with the resources we do have – in the tar sands, for example – and use the revenues to fund research and development of clean energy.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Alternative Channel merges with Parta Sustainable Solutions Group
We are pleased to announce that Alternative Channel has joined PARTA Sustainable Solutions Group. We believe this partnership will ensure the continued growth of our editorial coverage and strengthen our ability to raise awareness on pertinent sustainable development and social justice issues. By drawing on PARTA’s expertise in E-Learning, Alternative Channel can now better help companies interested in undergoing institutional change by creating platforms that encourage dialogue and open debate. With this new deal, Alternative Channel is bringing sustainable development initiatives directly to institutions and encouraging action.
It looks like streetcars will, once again, be gliding through 22 major U.S. cities in the coming years thanks to a change in the U.S. federal transportation policy.
Last June, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reversed policies of President George W. Bush that favored rapid transit, but made it difficult to spend federal funds on green alternatives. The FTA announced that it would now start evaluating applications on the basis of land uses and the economic development transit projects would bring to a city. Speed and efficiency will no longer be the only criteria. Convenience, quality of life and long term economic benefits will now be the primary focus.
The FTA announced that it would now start evaluating applications on the basis of land uses and the economic development transit projects would bring to a city.
In December, DOT announced that it would make grants of up to $25 million each for ‘urban circulator systems’ such as streetcars and rubber-tire trolleys. It noted that these systems foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed use, high density environments.
“A streetcar does not save any travel time,” said Rick Gustafson, executive director of Portland Streetcar Inc. in Oregon. “Rather, a streetcar makes movement within a city more convenient, and helps build up relatively dense, walkable, mixed use corridors. It also reduces dependence on automobiles.”
In the past ten years, he added, Portland has seen an increase in private investment along the Portland Streetcar line, by $3.5 billion USD. Up to 53 percent of all downtown development has been within a block of the streetcar line.
Who derailed the streetcar?
But if the street car is cheaper to operate, better for the environment and good for local economies, why did it ever disappear? To answer that question we have to look back to the beginning of the last century.
In the early 1920s only ten percent of Americans owned cars. The vast majority of commuters traveled by train, or by streetcar. The streetcar was a reliable and efficient means of travel, the city air was clean, and the streets where less congested. But although this arrangement worked well for city dwellers at the time, it did not work for the country’s largest car manufactures.
“We’ve got 90 percent of the market out there that we can…turn into automobile users. If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars,” Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s president at the time, was quoted as saying in a 1996 PBS docudrama titled Taken for a Ride.
The documentary contends that in 1922, Sloan created a front company called National City Lines, Inc. (NCL), with the intention of undermining the country’s rail-based public transit systems. In 1936, he got other specialized conglomerates on board and reorganized the NCL into a holding company. The defined mission—to acquire all local transit systems in the United States and dismantel them.
"Once [NCL] purchased a transit company, electric trolley service was immediately discontinued, the tracks quickly pulled up, the wires dismantled," noted Edwin Black, in his 2007 book, Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives. He said that GM buses soon replaced the trolleys, and commuters, bothered by the uncomfortable bus ride and toxic exhaust fumes, soon abandoned public transit altogether.
In 1949, GM, Standard Oil of California, Firestone, and others were convicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois of conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products. The verdicts were upheld on appeal. The punishment? The corporations involved were fined $5000, their executives were made to pay $1 each.
The public mood today is shifting. Citizens are becoming increasingly frustrated with public policies that support the destructive behaviour of greedy multinationals. Obama’s sweeping electoral victory is one example of this. People are demanding change—new policies that will take citizens into account, improve our quality of life and foster new economic development. Interestingly, though, sometimes we have to look back in time to put good ideas back on track.
Cities working on plans to construct streetcar lines within a year or two are:
- Little Rock, Arkansas
- Los Angeles, California
- Sacramento, California
- Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Boise, Idaho
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Columbus, Ohio
- Lake Oswego, Oregon
- Providence, Rhode Island
- Dallas, Texas
- Fort Worth, Texas
- San Antonio, Texas
- Salt Lake City, Utah
- Arlington, Virginia
- Kenosha, Wisconsin
- Tucson, Arizona
- Washington, D.C.
Awesome footage of a streetcar traveling down Market Street in San Francisco in 1905.
Who Killed The Electric Streetcar?
Produced for PBS Frontline by the Center for Investigative Reporting