A beak carbon emissions gap, mudslides & monsoons wreaking havoc, a football game ruins Harvard and Yale careers, and more in This Week in Sustainability.
The United Nations Emissions Gap Report
The prospect of a clean and vibrant future for our kids can now be summed up in one word: bleak
Or is it grim?
Either word should suffice to sieze tightly our collective consciousness upon reading the United Nations Environment Program, Emissions Gap Report for 2019 released this week
The report found CO2 emissions grew in 2018 despite the efforts of many, in many countries.
Its imminent threat time, the reports says, and it’s unlikely we can hold global temperatures below an increase of 1.5 (the ‘it’s not going to be an awful world’ threshold).
Deeper and faster emmision cuts required
Unless steps are taken to exponentially cut carbon, our kids are staring at 3.2 degree increase.
Hope is slipping away as the gravity our CO2 addiction weighs down upon our inaction.
At least China is advancing clean energy and remains a signatory to the Paris climate agreement. The United States, under the tutelage of the scorched earther Trump, began to formally pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change last month.
The US is the only country in the world to do so.
Where to now?
Maybe that’s a good thing, the US withdrawal.
The Gap report found emissions standards set in the Paris Agreement now don’t cut it and a new deal is required. A new deal may offer the US a face saving way back into the world community bent on reducing emissions.
I’m not sure that makes me feel optimistic.
But there are positive take aways from the report.
The first is that there is no “plausible deniability” that current efforts are good enough.
The report also found coal power on the decline and that seven countries are on track to achieve their 2020 carbon reduction pledges – Australia, Brazil, China, EU, India, Japan and Russia.
The report also told us that some countries, such as Demark, are punching above the weight of their commitments. So much so, the G20 is on track to achieve its collective 2020 commitments.
Final analysis: its getting serious time.
Five things you need to know about the UN Emissions Gap Report (brought to you by the World Resource Institute)
- The emissions gap is larger than previously estimated.
- Even if countries fully implement their current climate commitments emissions will not peak by 2030 as hoped.
- Unless countries strengthen their 2030 climate commitments, it’s extremely unlikely we will limit warming below 2˚C, let alone 1.5˚.
- Collectively, G20 countries are on track to meet climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.
- Countries must step up implementation and strengthen their nationally determined contributions.
Sustainable Century Bonus Point….
- CO2 emissions don’t go away, they stay in the atmosphere for decades.
PS – What in the world would we do without the UN? Despite their flaccid and bureaucratic reputation, and if we can manage to save this blessed planet, we will owe more than a debt of gratitude to the many thousands of women and men who worked for this oft- maligned institution.
On Mudslides and Monsoons
Heavy rains, really heavy rains killed at least two people in France and wiped out a highway in Italy this week, providing, once again, ClimateCrisis-doubters visceral proof of their misbegotten beliefs.
Rains across Europe forced the cancelation of a marathon, closed airports, caused evacuations of dozens of communities, and, not ironically, swept away hundreds of cars.
#ClimateCrisis raining down everywhere
Folks on the other side of the world are getting hit even harder.
A recent YaleE360 report found that since early July of this year, monsoons in India have taken 1,200 lives and displaced millions.
Farmers who had been waiting desperately for months for the rains, saw torrents of the stuff coming suddenly, but only wash away their crops.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink
These rains, combined this with longer and harsher droughts, is increasing food security in many parts of the subcontinent for the first time in years.
Not surprising, India is quickly getting rid of a lot of coal electricity plants in favor of cleaner alternatives.
PS – Check out a great New York Times piece published this week, India’s Ominous Future: Too Little Water, or Far Too Much
UK Shopping Alert: Sainsbury Shoppers Furious Over Plastic Bags
This week Sainsburys, a UK grocery store, doubled the price it charges for plastic bags.
Instead of applauding the environmentally conscious move, many of its shoppers were furious.
Make sense to me.
Image paying 20 pence or USD 0.17 a bag!
One customer called it “daylight robbery.” Another accused the supermarket of “profiteering from my forgetfulness.”
It’s not like consumers haven’t had time to recover from the criminal 5 pence plastic bag charge imposed by the UK government in 2005!
If USD 0.17 is too low to jog a shopper’s memory, perhaps the government ought to raise the compulsory charge to a dollar or two . Let’s see who forgets then.
How not to be a furious consumer
Maybe cheap plastic bags are the ticket to less fury. But then again, maybe not.
Turns out the fastest way to a happier life as a consumer is to get your full sustainability monty on!
Nancy Bazilchuk, a researcher from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, found folks who participate in grassroots sustainability activities are 11% to 13% happier.
Not just happier, but less carbon too
Her research also found these folks weren’t just happier but also cut their carbon footprint by 43% on food and 86% on clothing-related emissions.
Happy results are also self-reinforcing. That is, happier people together create more happiness (it’s not a net zero sum world after all Mr. Trump).
Happy begetting happy is called emotional contagion, the very foundation of empathy and social functioning.
Virtual cycle of emotional sustainability contagion
People who seek out ‘positive’ tend to find people who share their outlook and mood, according to Dr Gordon Bower, a psychologist at Stanford University making happy exponentially contagious.
To the furious customer who said Sainsbury is definitely going to reduce plastic consumption “as I won’t be shopping there anymore,” I say, good riddance. Go forth, be furious elsewhere.
Plastic bagless Sainsbury shoppers will be all the richer in happiness for it.
Harvard and Yale needs more reason to divest from fossil fuels?
This Week in Sustainability started with a bang as Yale-Harvard activists stormed the annual football duel between the two schools last Saturday in protest of the universities’ continued investment in fossil fuels.
The universities endowments together total around USD 70 billion, each investing in an unknown number of fossil fuel companies, and both with a history of balking, stalling, and equivocating on divestment despite recognizing the science and peril of climate change.
Regretable intruption of careers?
Said Karen N. Peart, a Yale spokeswoman, in the New York Times, Yale stood “firmly for the right to free expression,” adding it was “regrettable that the orchestrated protest came during a time when fellow students were participating in a collegiate career-defining contest and an annual tradition when thousands gather from around the world to enjoy and celebrate the storied traditions of both football programs and universities.”
Does this sound ridiculous? Willfully blind? Or just run of the mill corporate-sycophantic?
Besides, activists only disrupted the halftime show and a small part of the actual game, hardly an inconvenience compared to the universities’ fueling of climate change.
Also, even if just a fraction of the #ClimateCrisis prophesies come to roost, one football game will hardly come to define the collegiate careers of these kids, players, fans or activists alike. Of this, there can be no doubt.
Harvard’s full commitment…
Harvard has long maintained its USD 40 billion endowment is not an appropriate instrument for social change.
This is the line taken by the current president Lawrence Bacow, who said ‘practical concerns’ complicate divestment.
That’s adult-speak for ‘you kids don’t understand.’
Recognizing climate science but still investing
But they do. It’s just they care less about profit taking today, and more about a livable planet tomorrow.
In a statement on Saturday, Harvard said it “explicitly recognize(s) what the science has made clear: the world must move quickly to end its use of fossil fuels,” but respectfully disagrees with divestment activists about how the university should confront it.
Leadership, leadership shouted all around but nary a leader to be found
Apparently, Harvard, “is fully committed to leadership in this area through research, education, community engagement, dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint, and using our campus as a test bed for piloting and proving solutions.”
Bacow has argued it was ‘hypocritical’ to work with likes of Exxon or Shell et al, yet not consider owning their stock.
Even if that is true, it strikes me as ridiculous having 40-billion-dollar sized bat and not even going to the batter’s box with it. Waving that around with a menacing look on your face, Mr. President, would be much closer to a ‘full’ commitment,” in my book.
Don’t they teach you anything about business negotiation at Harvard?
Recognizing a threat: not the same as doing all in your power to stop it
Still, we should be open to Bacow’s rational. And we should take him at his word that he and the university are doing everything that can be done to avert the ‘science based’ future indisputably described by the UN Emission Gap 2019 report.
I am certain, for example, he would love to show us the reams of minutes from meetings and phone calls where he has tried to talk sense into the fossil fuel companies.
Hiding behind purpose
What is worse than Bacow’s own hypocrisy, is Harvard Management Corporation, the body responsible managing the endowment, argument that divesting is “discordant with our mission and with the purposes of the endowment.“
Funny. But not the laughing kind of funny.
Now, I never went to Harvard, but any reading of the endowment mission tells you something about maintaining and expand its (Harvard’s) leadership in education and research for future generations.
If that is true, why would Harvard continue to invest in the stuff that is killing us?
Surely there are other better things to do with the money, like say, massive investments in research, education, community engagement, and using Harvard’s campus as a test bed for piloting and proving solutions.
Harvard’s new brand: followership?
That would be a good investment for future Harvard generations.
It’s also what leadership will look like to my-yet-to-be born grandkids. Staying vested? That’s just a form of following.
As for the 42 protesters charged with disorderly conduct at the game?
Good for them. I wish I was one of them. I wish that for my kids too.
For if there is one thing I can say with certainty, history will show these kids to be on the right side of the charge.
Peace, love, and XR forever.
PS – Check out a lighter side of the football game disruption in a Rolling Stone article which tells of a feisty divestment gal’s social media smack down of her conservative fossil fueler ex.
Bigeyed Tuna: Hope for Salvation
This past week, The Guardian reported that we may actually be able to save the bigeye tuna.
For those who don’t know about this wonderous fish it’s just like the more familiar yellow fin and the larger bluefin tuna. Found in the subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans (sorry Med), this amazing creature can live up to 15 years.
Not only are they a great seafood, they are an invaluable predator in the marine food chain.
Maintain ocean habitats in balance by eating up smaller fish, crustaceans, and squid.
In turn, they are victuals for higher up the food chain predators, including sharks, billfish, larger tunas, and toothed whales.
Lower catch limits required to save the big eye
New catch limits adopted by the International Commission for the Conservations of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) this week, will see the current bigeye tuna quota of 65,000 tons drop to 62,500 in 2020, and 61,500 in 2021.
A lot of scientists wanted a quota of 60,000 tons. Indeed, they calculate a 50,000-ton quota would give the bigeye a 70% chance of full recovery by 2028.
The new rates are ok, but will take 50 years for full recovery, something, I dare say, depends much on a relatively stable ocean habitat which, given all the plastic and carbon we are pumping into our oceans, is not a sure bet.
Enjoy less tuna more, save a species
Yvon Riva, head of the French frozen tuna association Orthongel, said it right when she said the changes are “severe – they are going to hurt us, but they are going in the right direction.”
Sacrifice is necessary. Besides the law of marginal returns apply: if we eat tuna less often, we will certainly appreciate it all the more.
PS – There are a lot of folks and companies, working on sane fisheries. It’s an unimaginably complex issue but if you want a primer see a great Ethical Corp article: Over-fishing a worse threat to oceans than climate change.
PPS – Want more conservation information? I mean the good and meaningful stuff? Check out the World Wildlife Fund, one of the most fantastic planet saving organizations. They even have info on the bigeyed tuna! Sign up for their newsletters and alerts, they give hope and reason to go on!
100% Carbon Free UK within reach
It’s good to know we dont have to wait for any new tech to solve the #ClimateCrisis.
The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) reported this week that a net zero-carbon Britain is already possible, no need to invent a thing.
CAT tells us simple changes to energy use, energy sources, diets, and land use is enough to get energy, agriculture, and industry to 100% carbon free within a decade or so.
So why isnt this happening?
There are, it seems, two missing ingredients for getting to zero carbon: a little political will and changing a few personal habits.
The Last Word in This Week in Sustainability
This week’s last word in This Week in Sustainability goes to former senator Byron Dorga of South Dakota who just released The Girl in the Photograph: The True Story of a Native American Child, Lost and Found in America.
The book tells the story of the unimaginable personal trials of Tamara, a young American Indian woman, and is a “sober and sobering testimonial about the devastating consequences of the United States government’s broken promises to the Native American community.“
Signs of Change November 29
Who is the dinosaur now?
Thanks, and love to all of This Week in Sustainability witting and unwitting contributors:
@Bentler – @nickaster – @LeilaniMunter
If you have some news I missed or have ideas for next week’s edition, let just me know in the comment section or by signing up for our weekly The Sustainable Century updates!
Invest Like You Give a Damn
Want to join the tribe of investors urging dramatic action on the #ClimateCrisis, social justice and equality?
Get your copy of my book Invest Like You Give a Damn….. drop me a line if you have any questions or thoughts!
Have a great weekend.