Uh-oh, Earth Could Cross 1.5℃ Warming by 2024
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports that the planet could cross the critical 1.5℃ warming threshold, albeit temporarily, by 2024, Phys.org writes. We should take this as a warning that climate change is accelerating and as a call to double-down on solutions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The report finds CO2 emissions are falling but GHGs are on the rise — methane use, in particular, needs to be capped and reduced immediately. The WMO projects that an El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific could be the culprit that tips the world over the average increase in temperature compared to the pre-industrial era. If Western wildfires feel like the end of the world today, they could be much larger in only a few years.
Nature Offers a Recipe for Natural Recovery
Losing biodiversity on the planet imperils every life, not just the species that are dying out, Nature reports. “[A] bold and integrated strategy is required immediately” to reverse biodiversity loss, and the solution starts with rethinking human food supplies. Comparing the loss of species to the COVID-19 curve, the team at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, suggests we “bend the curve” back toward sustainability with investments in conservation, which will preserve natural solutions — still undiscovered — to human challenges, and reinvent our food supply to preserve wilderness while increasing protein available to humans. These efforts must coincide and be managed on an integrated basis, the authors explain.
Tracking Carbon Emissions in Complex Supply Chains
Here’s the myth that drives markets: People make choices based on complete knowledge. But when it comes to choosing sustainable products, consumers have little information available to use when deciding on one, say, case of toilet paper versus another. Investors are in the same predicament. Zengkai Zhang and a team at the College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University in China, studied the supply chains of multinational companies and found that while developed-world emissions peaked in 2011, China and other developing economies continue to increase emissions. Zhang and team suggest an approach to accounting for carbon footprints across national boundaries because many multinationals appear to be exporting their emissions rather than reducing them overall. With that basis in accounting, companies, investors, and customers will be better informed and, we think, armed to make sustainability changes across the economy. This is just one step, but with the other developments in finance reported this week (see below), an important corner could be turned soon.
Tracking Deep Carbon Cycles Aids Climate Change Insight
Scientists at several U.S. and Chinese universities reported this week that they have cracked the problem of monitoring the deep-carbon cycle on Earth, Phys.org reports. This is the long-term process of carbon emissions from volcanoes and other natural sources, followed by sequestration of the released carbon in the Earth’s mantle, and its release again after sinking below the crust. They found that the planet may contain up to 10,000 times the CO2 in sequestered form that is in the atmosphere now. With this information, human CO2 contributions can be more precisely measured (it does not suggest that human emissions are irrelevant) and we can potentially prevent the release of Earthbound carbon by avoiding practices that could disrupt the natural carbon cycle, such as mass release of CO2 from permafrost. In related but separate research, Science writes, a team found that the Earth’s climate can now be modeled reliably for the past 66 million years, providing a benchmark for use of the new deep-carbon data.
Your Leftovers Are Part of the Food Waste Problem
As Americans cooked more food at home, their longstanding food waste habits got worse. Too often, we make too much food and store the leftovers without ever actually consuming them, Scientific American reports. Researchers at Ohio State University found in a recent study. “Leftovers were most frequently vegetables, cheeses, and meats, and most frequently selected on Mondays and for lunch,” the team reported, which offers a good guide to how to reduce our food waste: smaller portions over the weekend to reduce early-week leftovers combined with a meatless or fasting lunch on Monday. That suggestion comes from Earth911, not the research team.
Western U.S. Perception Shaped by Local Mountains
As a longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, I’ve always known what researchers confirmed in Nature this week: Mountainous landscapes encourage more open-mindedness in people. Just ask anyone who has fallen under the spell of Mt. Rainier. The world feels different after you’ve lived with a major peak on the horizon, or dominating the horizon. Scientific American reports that a small but apparently measurable influence on human personality is the local landscape, and mountains appear to engender greater adventurousness in people. It’s just a small influence but one we can feel. Get out into the mountains to open your mind!
U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission Recognizes Climate Risk
A landmark decision and report by the bipartisan U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee of the Market Risk Advisory Committee acknowledges the pressing need for financial mechanisms to integrate climate risk factors into financial planning. In a nutshell, it recognizes that we have not counted the environmental impact of modern industrial practices and provides a framework for integrating the cost of climate change into accounting systems. Grist hails the report as the moment U.S. regulatory leaders acknowledged the risk to the U.S. and global economy from climate change, though one just needs to look at the news these days to see the costs adding up. The Guardian focuses on the CFTC’s comments in the announcement that link today’s wildfires to immediate and expensive economic impacts. What we are seeing is a society waking to dangers it had ignored or simply not been able to recognize. “The United States has lagged behind other countries in protecting our financial system from climate change,” report author Leonardo Martinez-Diaz said.
Uber Aims for 100% Electric Fleet, With Incentives for Drivers
Easier said than done. That sums up Uber’s aggressive electric vehicle announcement this week, reported by Scientific American. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told reporters and wrote in a blog post that Uber will have a 100% EV fleet by 2030. Of course, that means hundreds of thousands of Uber drivers will have to buy an EV to meet the goal. But Uber may be in a unique position shared by Lyft, Instacart, and other on-demand transportation companies to provide financing for the electric transition. GM will sell Uber drivers a new Chevy Bolt at employee prices. Uber has earmarked $800 million to help drivers switch — the company will pay EV drivers an extra $1.50 each trip and $0.50 for hybrid rides. First up is Uber Green, a service that lets riders request an EV, that will launch in 15 cities this Fall. Uber also released a Climate Assessment and Performance Report that demonstrates that it has reduced CO2 emissions by 6% while ridership grew 36%.
McDonald’s Tests Reusable, Returnable Cups in U.K.
A test of a reusable and returnable McDonald’s hot drink cup will begin in Britain early in 2021, with plans to bring the cup to the U.S. if it proves useful in real-world settings, Fast Company reports. The cup is the product of a partnership with Loop, the Terracycle spinout that pioneered returnable packaging for food and consumer products this year. Based on a deposit system, the recyclable cup will be sold for a small additional fee and that deposit will be returned or applied to another purchase when returned for cleaning by Loop. Environmental Leader explains that the returnable cup “clings with McDonald’s continued investment to test and scale circular solutions for cups.” Let’s hope we see success and that U.S. coffee and mocha lovers will have a new reusable option from McDonald’s soon.
Timberland Products Aims for Net-Positive, 100% Circular Product Line by 2030
The outdoor fashion company Timberland announced a plan to eliminate all CO2 emissions from its supply chain and capture additional carbon to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by 2030, Sustainable Brands reports. Timberland also outlined a completely circular product strategy that will recapture materials for reuse, expanding its sustainable product promise past the Earthkeepers boot it introduced in 2007. Many of the materials Timberland uses can be produced with regenerative agriculture practices, which promises to capture carbon while delivering the same reliable clothing and footwear, even the leather used — the company has supported research on regenerative ranching. The new products will be introduced next year as part of the Earthkeeper line.
GM Aims To Kill Internal Combustion Engines With Battery and Hydrogen Cell Tech
General Motors (GM) briefly took the wind out of Tesla’s momentum this week with a $2 billion investment in the electric semi-truck startup Nikola (inventor Nikola Tesla’s first name). The stock market’s wild correction was largely triggered by concerns that Tesla could lose market share, which is an inevitability as other manufacturers bring EVs to market. However, the big news, CleanTechnica reports, is that Nikola will source its battery packs purchases from GM, choosing the new Ultium EV battery that powers the new Cadillac Lyric. GM is also collaborating with Honda on hydrogen fuel cell technology that will provide both carmakers with a wider range of renewable fuel options than Tesla’s batter-centric strategy.
Walmart’s Supply Chain Eliminated 136 Million Tons of CO2 Emissions in 2019
After launching Project Gigaton in 2017 to reduce its carbon footprint by 1 billion metric tons before 2030, Walmart revealed this week that it eliminated 136 million tons of CO2 in 2019, for a cumulative carbon savings of 230 million tons since Gigaton was announced. Walmart uses its massive buying power to encourage suppliers to embrace sustainable production and shipping practices. It has wrangled more than 2,300 suppliers into the program so far and Environmental Leader reports that 428 suppliers were recognized for adopting Walmart’s comprehensive science-based environmental goals last year. There was also good news on the recycling front from Walmart, which reduced its landfilling and incineration of unsold products by 80% in 2019.
Can Organic Farming Meet Human Food Requirements?
Treehugger digs into the history of organic farming to assess its ability to support future human food needs. They find that, despite higher costs today, organically grown food can be the basis of food resilience, which will require more local organic farms get started to serve nearby towns and cities’ s well as to bring prices down. Treehugger explains out of 1.4 million organic farms globally, 13,000 are in the United States (We have 9% of the world’s organic farms and 4.3% of the people). “Yet despite these gains, organic farms still struggle to match the output of conventional ones — no small detail since there are now about 6.9 billion people on Earth, three times the 1940 population. “ Cost is the pressing issue. Maybe healthier food will remain more expensive but the benefits need to outweigh the costs, and that requires complete transparency about the consequences of chemical pesticides — we think that when people recognize the hidden cost of industrial food, they will switch happily to organic. And as that transition happens, prices will come down.
Maxwell House Introduces Compostable Coffee Pods to Canada
Maxwell House Coffee, a division of Kraft Heinz, has released a 100% compostable coffee pod in Canada, Waste360 explains. It replaces the ubiquitous plastic or metal pods that leave tons of trash in homes an offices annually. Made of plant-based materials, mostly from coffee, the pods break down in a home compost pile. The Maxwell House pods will be tested north of the border and could arrive in the U.S. soon — the company plans to make all its products recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. “We recognize the significant concern packaging waste presents and we are working collectively at all levels of our operations to explore alternative solutions,” Nicole Fischer, Head of Sustainability at Kraft Heinz Canada said in a press release.
COVID Recovery Can Fuel Energy Efficiency Employment
1.3 million jobs that displace 910 million tons of CO2 emissions while saving $120 billion in home and business energy costs — that’s what a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic could deliver according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. The Alliance is calling expanded tax credits for home energy-efficiency improvements and a new credit for building high-efficiency homes to catalyze a green recovery. During the first three years of the recovery, the organization estimates that 235,000 new green jobs can be created. With so many homeowners making improvements during the pandemic, we should be encouraging them to embrace energy efficiency through tax credits that will result in a more sustainable economy overall. The additional job and economic benefits would accrue over the next decade from EV tax credits, new infrastructure initiatives, and changes in transportation.
Is Redwood Materials Creating a Circular EV Battery Economy?
Redwood Materials, a battery startup founded by JB Straubel, former Chief Technology Officer at Tesla, caught GreenBiz’s attention this week. The company is focused on capturing and recycling battery materials to lower the cost of battery production by as much as 50% over the next decade. As Earth911 has reported, EV batteries are currently under-recycled and innovation is needed simply to keep aging batteries out of landfills. We will continue to track Redwood Materials and share their progress.
Coca-Cola Shifting to 100% Recycled PET Bottles in Norway and the Netherlands
While plastic can be recycled only once or twice before losing its useful properties, it is important that single-use bottles be reused to reduce reliance on raw petroleum. Coca-Cola European Partners, the soda giant’s EU bottler will transition its bottles in Norway and the Netherlands to 100% recycled plastic this winter, Resource Recycling reports. Coke will also adopt a deposit program that encourages greater recovery rates, according to Joe Franses, Vice President of sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners. Now if only Coke would do the same for the remainder of the 1.8 billion bottles it sells each day around the world.
Transition Bonds Could Change Industry’s Carbon Game
If you are interested in investing to support sustainable companies, take a few minutes to learn about “transition” or “climate” bonds that finance the conversion of fossil fuel-powered industries to renewable sources. Credit Suisse and the Climate Bonds Initiative have partnered to generate more interest in transition bonds, according to BusinessGreen. The firms recently published a paper about how these financial instruments can support a genuine, not greenwashed, change in the economy. However, it is clear that they are concerned this will be seen as just another attempt to cover up continued bad corporate citizenship. The paper debates now to name the process, for instance. While a productive discussion, the meat of the transition bonds market will be in the details of specific projects. If you are considering bonds as a way to diversify, explore the projects that transition bonds propose to finance and choose those that will really make a difference. Informed investors choosing responsible projects will silence critics and drive greenwashing projects out of the market.
What We’ve Learned From a Decade of Regional Food Resilience Investments
GreenBiz contributor Meredith Storton reflects on here 10-year journey through investing for resilience in regional food systems, and the truth is it is very hard to do. She is the manager of social enterprise lending at RSF Social Finance, which has been making loans to “rebuild regional processing, manufacturing and distribution infrastructure” since 2010. She points out the at the beginning of innovation within food systems, high impact changes don’t produce high returns, but the long-term benefits are tangible and valuable. Consequently, financing must include philanthropic and social investments to support farmers who cannot make changes without placing their livelihood at risk. She also points out that “disruptive” food startups tend to fracture local communities rather than help them reinvent themselves. Food for thought as we undertake the grand transition to sustainability during the 2020s and the future.
Conservation Programs Work: 48 Species Saved From Extinction
First the good news: The Guardian reports that 48 avian and mammal extinctions have been prevented during recent decades, according to a study by Newcastle University and BirdLife International. The figures are estimates because humans still don’t keep good track of all the animals in the world. The losses would have been “three or four times higher” without human intervention. This reinforces the value of conservation programs — and we encourage widespread investment in extinction prevention, as well as supporting the hundreds of thousands of jobs that could be created to protect endangered species. But there is bad news in the next article.
But the World Lost Two-Thirds of Species in 50 Years
Two-thirds of the animal population of the Earth has been lost since 1970, the Living Planet Index found recently, according to Phys.org. That means an average loss of 68% of any species’ population, which sends thousands of animal lines perilously close to endangered status. Central and South America have seen a 94% decline in species over the same period. “It is staggering. It is ultimately an indicator of our impact on the natural world,” said Marco Lambertini, the international director of the World Wildlife Fund, which recently released the Living Planet Report 2020. Here is the question we need to ask ourselves: If we measure our society based on its impact on the planet, can we possibly live with such failure? The “environmental services” provided by nature amount to $33 trillion a year. Think about losing that annual give-away from nature. There goes almost half the world’s GDP.
Government Accounting Office: It Is Time To Acknowledge the Economic Cost of Extreme Weather
Speaking of counting the cost of environmental impacts, the damage caused hurricanes between 1980 and 2020, when 273 climate and weather disasters reached $1 billion, totaled $1.79 trillion, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accounting Office. At a time when extreme weather is accelerating, humanity must prepare to pay an higher dividend to repair damage caused by climate change. Hurricanes Katrina ($170 billion), Sandy ($74 billion), Harvey ($131 billion), and Irma ($52 billion), the worst U.S. storms are representative of what’s coming. There will be more and greater severe weather, the GAO warns. The independent agency also found that the communities hit by those storms are now spending more to prepare for future disasters, which is a kind of good news. “The community’s primary benefit from a resilience action is improved resilience to future natural disasters,” the report concludes — we’re getting better prepared for more bad weather. But the key to reducing extreme weather is lowering the average temperature of the planet’s atmosphere.
Rare Earths Essential to Clean Energy Are in Short Supply
The World Economic Forum recently raised an alert about the importance of rare earth minerals needed for digital technology. Without them, many of the aggressive efficiency goals for global energy production and supply chain optimization will be impossible to deploy. For example, the World Bank has projected that a 500% increase in graphite, lithium, and cobalt are needed by 2050 to keep up with digital technology demand. We’re not just talking about game consoles here, but the sensors, renewable energy generation, and smart networks that will allow us to eliminate the widespread waste that characterizes modern life. Consider the wide-ranging digital technology solutions described by the Alliance To Save Energy in its Sept. 1, 2020 report on “active efficiency.” The shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, are a precursor to general shortages that will be caused by climate change-caused disruptions to supply chains — and there is also the political disintegration of the emerging global economy to contend with. “There’s a risk that the basic building blocks of sustainable technologies will stand in the way of their own goal — that of reaching net-zero emissions in the next 30 years,” the World Economic Forum’s Andrea Willige concludes.
Paint-on Solar Panel Technology Announced
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) announced it has developed a process to apply photovoltaic materials on a surface like paint which supports solar energy production, . If perfected, homes and buildings could offset or replace external power sources and electric vehicles could generate some or all of their own electricity. The research has focused on how the material crystallizes in small applications with success. Now, the challenge is to apply photovoltaic materials on larger surfaces to support commercial applications. “[This study] has contributed to not only raising the efficiency of next-generation solution processable solar cells but also the development of core technology for manufacturing large-area solar cell materials required for commercialization,” Dr Hae Jung Son, the lead research told Solar Daily. Cool stuff. Science rocks!
Libraries Can Play a Role in Sustainable, Just Cities
The library is an almost forgotten public resource in the digital era but it can play an important part in bringing climate change solutions to cities, especially in lower-income areas. In Anchorage, Alaska, the public library has developed its own climate action plan (CAP) with plans to help disseminate information and install renewable energy generation. The report from American Libraries Magazine details library projects in several cities, pointing to the ability to bring sustainability into low-income neighborhoods and support local renewable energy infrastructure with, for example, EV charging stations. The stories of difficult community negotiations should encourage everyone — these are the same debates that have taken to the streets in U.S. cities. There is a civic and civil solution to our differences. It would be great to see libraries take an additional role in life, that of physical infrastructure provider in addition to being the community’s intellectual power grid.
Air Travel Emissions up Almost 100% Since 2000
Grist points out research from the journal Atmospheric Environment that shows airline travel CO2 emissions have doubled in just two decades. The advent of regional air networks and the rise of international travel generally have driven emissions to grow from a baseline that appeared to be saturated at the turn of the century. Air travel is a major polluter but we just financed a $50 billion bailout to the airline industry, Grist’s Zoya Teirstein points out. One research team believes that the share of human-emitted CO2 attributable to air travel is near five percent, another at two percent. Still less than the concrete industry, air travel has become a massive contributor to atmospheric CO2 that each of us should consider before booking travel. The least polluting way to go? By train. But wait, the train tracks run through wildfire country. No one said this would be an easy change.
Teslas Hold Value Better Than Other EVs
Tesla took a beating in the market this week but there are reasons the stock bounced back strongly and one of them is the strong resale value of the Tesla Models S, X, and 3. Based on a recent report from iSeeCars.com, CleanTechnica reports on the surprisingly low depreciation of three-year-old Teslas returned by leasers, which were as much as 10% better compared to other used electric vehicles. I recently drove I-5 from Santa Rosa to Tacoma (with a bow to Steve Miller) and the only type of new vehicle I saw on trucks were Teslas. I saw four 9-car Tesla trucks, which means demand is very high. Inevitably, lower-priced EVs will take market share and resale premiums from Tesla simply by increasing the pool of resale inventory, but Elon Musk has set the bar for now.
Microplastics Are Choking Soil Microorganisms, Study Finds
Here’s why we need to eliminate single-use plastic and generally reduce the use of plastic made from petrochemicals: The Guardian reports that “microplastic pollution causes significant damage to populations of soil-dwelling mites, larvae and other tiny creatures that maintain the fertility of the land.” The numbers are incredible, as larvae production declined among flys (15%), moths and butterflies (down 41%), and ants (down 62%) exposed to high levels of microplastic pollution compared to control groups. Only an active citizenry can eliminate the unnecessary use of plastics through smart buying, recycling, and widespread education about the risks related to petrochemical plastics.
Paper Containing Seeds Start-up Launches in Philippines
Done with that greeting card? Why don’t you plant it? A mission to “Save Mother Earth Twice” drives the Philippine company Silent Beads, which makes paper with seeds embedded in it. After reading a greeting card from Silent Beads, you can plant it in the garden. The company introduced paper and packaging containing popular vegetables that reduce paper pollution — it breaks down and becomes food for the plant — and promote tree and vegetable planting. Just a really fun idea.
Baltimore Suspends Curbside Recycling to Focus on Trash
Recycling Today reports that Baltimore halted its curbside recycling service because it has “become overwhelming for the department and its workers” during the pandemic. This is a tragic outcome, although the city promoted its 14 collection centers as a “community-friendly partnership” with recyclers in Baltimore, we can expect overall recycling rates to plummet without the ease of a blue bin program.
What Really Happens to Recycled Plastic in the U.K.?
EcoWatch took a look at plastic recycling in the U.K. and found many gaps in services and consumer behavior that prevent the vast majority of plastic in the nation from being recycled. Only a third of the plastic collected is clean enough to be recycled, which is common around the world. Yet the government claims that 91% of single-use plastic is captured to be “sent towards treatment” and the World Wide Fund for Nature claims 29% of the material is actually recycled. That last figure compares favorably with the U.S.’ 8% plastic recycling rate. The writers, university professors in sustainability, recommend halting plastic waste exports because most of the material is not recycled but burned or dumped in the destination countries (see below regarding “recycling crime”). Instead, they recommend incineration in regulated British facilities. The same advice can easily be applied to the United States or any other nation.
Asian Recycling Crime on the Rise Following China’s Waste Import Ban
Resource Recycling reports that Interpol, the European law enforcement agency has warned that plastic exported to Asian countries is being dumped illegally rather than responsibly recycled. After China banned contaminated imports in 2018, Malaysia in particular ramped up waste imports but consistently fails to regulate materials handling. The result is plastic dumped in landfills or burned without scrubbers on the incinerators to remove toxic emissions. New regulations added to the Basel Convention on waste shipments will go into force during 2021 will require more disclosure about the handling of plastic but this will not curtail the recycling crime wave. Instead of shipping waste overseas, it is time for developed nations to process plastic domestically. In the U.S., plastic recycling is starting to improve, though COVID derailed some of that progress.
Corrugated Cardboard Piling Up at Homes Around the World
So many packages are headed to homes during the pandemic that corrugated cardboard recycling has been turned on its head. For decades, business dominated the corrugated waste stream — delivering 85% of the material — and recycling organizations worked to improve collection from commercial locations. Now that Ecommerce has become the dominant way to buy staples for the home, cardboard boxes from Amazon and other online retailers are piling up without sufficient local recycling collection and processing. “We know that in the future, it’s not going to be an 85-15 [ratio], it’s going to be somewhere closer to 75-25 or even greater than that,” Rachel Kenyon of the Fibre Box Association told Resource Recycling. “We know we’re going to have to rely more heavily on the residential recycling stream.”Cardboard is paper fiber gold, which drove 90% recovery rates from business, much of which was shipped overseas for processing. It is not clear yet how corrugated cardboard recovery rates have changed but if my garage is anything like yours, the boxes are piling up.
Action You Can Take
NETZERO Is Turning Brewers’ Spent Grain Into Flour
Food upcycling is the new, new thing. Now, your bread could be made from spent brewers’ grain, the post-fermentation waste that has long been thrown out by beer makers, Treehugger reports. A startup, Minneapolis-based NETZERO, has developed a process to turn spent grain into flour and partnered with a group of local breweries to convert it into baking-ready products. You can buy it on Etsy now for $12.50 for 1.5 lbs. per bag.
You Thought It Was Impossible? Plant-based Eggs From JUST Egg
JUST Egg, a San Francisco-based company, is expanding distribution of its plant-based, cholesterol-free egg product that provides five grams of protein per serving, CleanTechnica reports. Made from mung beans and Canola oil, JUST Egg replaces chicken-source eggs in cooking and baking, and is kosher as well as GMO-free. The sustainability results are impressive: on a per-serving basis, JUST Egg requires 98% less water and 86% less land than chicken-laid eggs, it has a 93% smaller carbon footprint, too. Currently available at Whole Foods and will soon be distributed through Walmart, Kroger, Ralphs’s, Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Albertsons. Here’s the JUST Egg product finder so you can try it yourself.
Protect a Newly Born Southern Resident Killer Whale
Two years back, we were all struck by the tragic story of Tahlequah, a Southern Resident killer whale that gave birth to a stillborn calf and carried it on her back for days. This was grief writ large and impossible to ignore. Now, Tahlequah has a new, live offspring that is endangered by the expansion of shipping lanes in their home waters. Take a moment to learn about the Roberts Bank T2 shipping terminal expansion that could lead to the extinction of this 73-whale pod and consider donating to help Friends of the Earth stop the project.