Posts Tagged ‘environmental’

Remaining Optimistic Despite President Trump’s Paris Agreement Decision

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

by Katherine B. Preston

As I sit here digesting the news that the Trump Administration has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which in my opinion is a decision that will have negative consequences for the country beyond just environmental impacts, it strikes me that what the U.S. does at a federal level isn’t a deal-breaker on climate.  Despite this unfortunate turn of events, I have reason to be optimistic.

How can this be?  Well, first of all, the feds weren’t really doing all that much to begin with on climate change.  While the Obama Administration accomplished some important initiatives designed to address climate change, such as corporate average fuel economy standards, the clean power plan, energy efficiency standards for federal buildings – I believe the real action is happening in the private sector and at the state and local level.  Motivated states and cities have been doing what the federal government hasn’t been able to do like set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, renewable energy generation goals, and putting resiliency plans into place.  Just ask California, Massachusetts, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, and so many more – too numerous to list here.

According to data from the 2010 census, over 80% of Americans live in urban areas – which means that our collective contribution to climate change and exposure to climate risks is overwhelmingly focused on American cities.  This is GOOD news, because it is cities across the country that are taking some of the most aggressive actions on climate change.   In fact, there are almost 600 U.S. members of the organization ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability taking action on climate change and becoming more resilient communities.  The United States Conference of Mayors strongly denounced the President’s decision and pledged to continue to work towards the goals in the Paris Agreement.  Climate deniers at the federal level can’t stop all that progress at the local and state level.

Sure the corporate average fuel economy standards and the Clean Power Plan rule were important.  But there are seismic shifts happening in sectors of our economy and economic forces in play regardless of what is happening (or not happening) in Washington, D.C.  Renewable energy development is on the rise as costs continue to decrease, and states continue to enforce renewable portfolio standards.  Solar power generation has risen at an exponential rate in the past 10 years, and as costs continue to decrease, this trend will continue.   Hybrid and electric vehicles continue to become more cost competitive and EV ranges are increasing.   Disruptive technologies hold enormous potential to address our collective GHG emissions too.  Autonomous vehicles could potentially realize a significant decrease in fuel consumption because of efficiency gains (humans aren’t really great drivers after all).

And let’s not forget the recent trend of activist boards forcing companies to fully account for the risks posed by climate change (see Exxon, for example).  This is a particularly exciting development, and I look forward to watching as investors and consumers vote more with their wallets to encourage continued progress.

Many industries are taking it upon themselves to act, whether it’s to better manage risk (regulatory, public relations, financial or otherwise), or because they view it as the “right thing to do”.  My own industry is a good example.  Airports across the world are voluntarily participating in carbon emissions reductions programs.  Some are required by local laws, others because of community expectations, some to compete with peer airports, and others because their leadership understands that managing the airports’ contribution to climate change carries more benefits than costs.  The Airport Carbon Accreditation program (just one of several frameworks in use for managing CO2 emissions) has grown to 189 participating airports and resulted in 206,000 tons of CO2 reductions last year alone.  A drop in the bucket compared to global GHG emissions, but it’s a start and it’s growing.

All of this isn’t to imply that there aren’t actions that the White House and Congress could take to push our economy even further in the right direction on renewable energy and energy efficiency.  Of course there are – and it’s too bad that we’re not.  We could reinstate the investment tax credit which helped the solar industry grow exponentially over the past 10 plus years by helping to bring costs down.  We could implement a cap and trade system – or even better a carbon tax and invest the profits in R&D to develop better renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies we could sell to the rest of the world.  We could ensure parity between renewables, biofuels and fossil fuels by giving equal subsidies and tax breaks to producers of these fuels instead of favoring oil and gas.  We could make sure farmers have access to crop insurance for biofuel crops to lower the barrier to entry.  We could implement renewable energy portfolio requirements. These are obviously just a few examples of many different actions that we could take at the federal level that would make a difference.  But as we’ve seen, progress in the private sector, at the state and local levels and internationally will not stop, regardless of the decisions made in Washington.

That is perhaps one final reason for optimism about the decision of this Administration.  There is a gaping opening for other countries to take more of a leadership role.  China and the EU have jointly stepped up to the plate, and India has indicated it will stay in.   Hopefully our hiatus on the global stage is a short one, but in the meantime others will continue to their efforts.  American cities, states, businesses, organizations and individuals will join the rest of the world in addressing climate change.  Though I am disappointed in the decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, there are many reasons to remain hopeful that our collective fight against the greatest challenge of our generation will continue.

Plastic Pollution and Healthy Oceans

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

by Katherine B. Preston

This Earth Day I had the pleasure of volunteering at a community event designed to raise awareness about living more sustainably and reducing our collective environmental footprint.   I serve on the Board of Directors for a local organization, Sustainable Tallahassee, whose mission is to promote environmental stewardship and economic vitality in our community through education and collaboration.  At Sustainable Tallahassee, we have many initiatives, but the one we chose to highlight at Saturday’s Earth Day event was plastic pollution – specifically from single use water bottles.  We found that a lot of the festival goers with single use bottles justified using them because they recycle the bottles (which is great!) but that doesn’t quite negate the impacts.

Did you know that Americans drink around 50 billion (yes, Billion!) bottles of water each year – and that only around 20-25% of those bottles are recycled (according to National Geographic). That means around 38 billion plastic bottles are sent to a landfill each year in the U.S. alone, and many end up in our waterways and oceans.  The environmental impacts don’t stop there, unfortunately.  It takes about 17 million barrels of oil each year to manufacture all these bottles (again – U.S. estimates only), and approximately 3 liters of water to produce 16 ounces of bottled water.  Let’s not forget about the energy needed to transport all these bottles to retailers and homes, and to refrigerate them, and the impact from groundwater pumping.

If the environmental impacts alone don’t convince you to permanently ditch the bottled water, consider that all of this damage doesn’t come cheap either. On average, bottled water costs thousands of times more than tap water, and is no safer than what comes out of your faucet (unless you live in areas with lead pipe problems of course).  I am guilty of grabbing bottle waters at times, and tell myself that since its only once in a while it’s ok (plus I am very forgetful when it comes to reusable mugs and water bottles and have lost so many over the years).  After this year’s Earth Day event, I have made a pledge to do much, much better – and bought myself a new stainless steel water bottle since the last one was left on a plane somewhere in Baltimore…

If you spent time in this costume in the Florida heat educating your fellow citizens of the evils of bottled water, you’d make a vow to never use a plastic bottle again too! HMMH would be happy to send you one of our new HMMH stainless steel water bottles, just for reading this – please email us to order yours!

Recap on EBC Program on Energy and Environmental Affairs

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

by Stephen Barrett, LEED AP

SecretaryBeatonIMG_5408

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion organized by the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC) with Matthew Beaton, the new Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs under Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.  While the Baker Administration took the reins in early January and Secretary Beaton has been on-board since day one, this panel was one of his first public appearances as he has been busy building his team and getting them up to speed.  Some in the clean energy and environmental industries had been concerned that the Baker Administration would roll back clean energy policies and environmental protections, though Beaton emphasized that the Administration was entering office with an open mind and no actions would be considered during an initial three month freeze period on any new regulations or programs.  Renewable energy advocates were happy to hear the Secretary’s announcement at the PV America Conference the previous day that the Administration would continue the Patrick Administration’s commitment of 1600 MW of solar by 2020.  Beaton was asked by the panel about another Patrick Administration proposal – the Clean Energy Standard – which would incentivize the purchase of Canadian hydropower in Massachusetts in an effort to achieve the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.  With the proposed program out for public comment, Beaton only said that he would wait to review public comment, but that he would focus on cost-effective solutions.  The high cost of electricity in Massachusetts due to constrained supplies of natural gas elicited a lot of interest.  While everyone seems to agree that high energy costs are a burden on the economy and that increasing natural gas supply in some manner is the best short-term solution, how to deliver new supply (e.g., new or enhanced pipelines, more Liquid Natural Gas [LNG] deliveries by sea) and how much to deliver given the region’s current over-dependence on natural gas is of much debate.  Beaton did not offer a plan for avoiding price spikes next winter but said it would be a focus of his agenda in the coming months.  All in all, the evening was a welcomed introduction to the new Secretary and the start of a productive dialogue with the environmental and energy business community.

Happy America Recycles Day 2014!

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

by Christopher Menge

recycling logo with the world

In honor of today being America Recycles Day, I put together the following tips to assist with your recycling efforts:

  1. Put your recycling bins next to your trash or near your kitchen.
  2. Remind your family members with “Can you Recycle that?” signs on your trash bins.
  3. Your cereal bags aren’t really “dirty.” Just shake them out or rinse them and then recycle! Recycle the boxes as paper, of course.
  4. Don’t throw away that greasy food container! You don’t need lots of energy-hungry hot water to recycle your greasy plastic take-out food container. Just put in a couple drops of dish soap, and with a sponge, some cold water and 15 seconds of scrubbing, you’ll have a clean container ready for the bin!
  5. Make 90% of those pizza boxes recyclable! Just use your sharp box cutter knife to cut out the greasy spot, and the rest of the box can go in the recycle bin.
  6. Quickly dress up your glass bottles for clean recycling. Just cut off the metal or plastic capsules and rings at the tops of the bottles, and put those pieces in the proper stream.

For more information on America Recycles Day, see http://americarecyclesday.org.

Happy Recycling!

ERAU Is Pushing the Envelope Yet Again!

Friday, May 16th, 2014

by Diana Wasiuk

Graduates of my alma mater, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), have a reputation for ‘pushing the envelope’ in more than one way… The Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) was one of those forward thinking ideas that only a bunch of aviation nuts could come up with and commit to with boundless enthusiasm. And boy did we ever!  Here is an article on another example of ERAU pushing for innovation: developing electric propulsion systems to reduce noise and emissions:
http://daytonatimes.com/2014/05/15/e-rau-to-develop-an-electric-aircraft/.