On June 25, President Obama announced his administration’s plan for dealing with the issue of climate change over his second term (White House, 2013). The plan is an unofficial response to congressional inaction on the climate change file, particularly in Obama’s first term when cap-and-trade discussions collapsed in a very public display. With legislative carbon pricing approaches off the table, the most effective tool at Obama’s disposal is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation. One of the long-expected key announcements is that Obama has instructed the EPA to pursue a sector-regulation approach for electricity, similar in nature to Canada’s sector emissions limits. The electricity sector is the source of 40 per cent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
On April 16, the Next Generation Science Standards were released, revealing a significant change in the direction of science education. For the first time, the topic of climate change has been included in both the middle and high school science standards.
It’s been two years since the environmental disaster that was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and today we finally have news of a settlement. From the Washington Post we learn that BP has agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter, environmental crimes and obstruction of Congress. BP will also be paying $4 billion in penalties.
“Holder also announced a separate 23-count criminal indictment — including charges of seaman’s and involuntary manslaughter — against the two top-ranking BP supervisors on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig where a blowout occurred April 20, 2010, sinking the rig and killing 11 workers.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 3, 2012
CONTACT: Worldwatch Institute
Supriya Kumar, email@example.com, (+1) 202-452-1992, ext. 510
Time Running Out to Ensure Sustainable Prosperity for All: Worldwatch's State of the World 2012 maps out a new vision of the good life but cautions that accelerating ecological shifts will make this difficult to attain.
WASHINGTON - April 3 - Over the last 50 years, the world's middle and upper classes have more than doubled their consumption levels, and an additional 1 to 2 billion people globally aspire to join the consumer class. The planet cannot maintain such increases in resource demand without serious consequences for both people and ecosystems, concludes the Worldwatch Institute in State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity. The book, the 29th in a series that Worldwatch began in 1984, stresses that we must act quickly to redefine our understanding of the "good life" and redouble our efforts to make that life sustainable.
"The Industrial Revolution gave birth to an economic growth model rooted in structures, behaviors, and activities that are patently unsustainable," says Worldwatch Senior Researcher Michael Renner, co-director of State of the World 2012. "Mounting ecosystem stress and resource pressures are accompanied by increased economic volatility, growing inequality, and social vulnerability. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the economy no longer works for either people or the planet."
Instead, we need to reprioritize basic needs and pursue true sustainable prosperity: development that allows all human beings to live with their fundamental needs met, with their dignity acknowledged, and with abundant opportunity to pursue lives of satisfaction and happiness, all without risk of denying others in the present and the future the ability to do the same. This, in turn, means not just preventing further degradation of Earth's systems, but actively restoring them to full health.
With the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June, this is the year to catalyze a move toward sustainable prosperity. The gathering, more commonly known as Rio+20 for its commemoration of the anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, offers a chance to set the course for an economic system that promotes the health of both people and ecosystems. The themes for Rio+20 are: 1) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and 2) an institutional framework for sustainable development.
"We are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming Rio conference," says Erik Assadourian, a senior fellow at Worldwatch and co-director of State of the World 2012. "But minor shifts in policy and technology will not be enough to save humanity. Rio+20 participants should re-consider the vision that guides their deliberations. If we do not radically change our consumer culture and collectively re-prioritize sustainable living, we will be the agents of our own undoing."
The aspirations of the original 1992 meeting in Rio collided with a set of painfully sobering developments, including unfriendly politics, orthodox economics, and a dominant culture of consumerism. The 20 years since then have made it clear that necessary change is not merely technical, but encompasses changes in lifestyle, culture, and politics.
The report's 35 contributors describe many of the currently untenable social and economic patterns and explore opportunities for creative alternatives on sustainability topics ranging from agriculture, communication technologies, and biodiversity to "green" construction, local politics, and global governance. Specific topics include:
- A Green Economy that Works for Everyone: For industrial, emerging, and developing countries, a green economy will mean different things. But they have in common the need to create green jobs that offer a decent living, and they all can benefit from policy innovations such as a network of cooperative green innovation centers, a standard-setting global "top runner" program, green financing and skills training, and greater economic democracy.
- Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries: Humanity uses 1.5 Earths' worth of ecological capacity, with much of that consumed by overdeveloped industrial countries. Sustainable prosperity will require economic degrowth in these countries. This can be achieved by a mix of tax shifting, shortening work weeks, denormalizing certain types of consumption, and de-marketizing certain sectors of the economy, such as food production and child care.
- Inclusive and Sustainable Urban Development: Urban poverty is pervasive, and absolute numbers are expanding in both the developed and developing worlds: some 828 million people live in slums worldwide. Urban planning needs to include strategies such as explicit and transparent spatial plans, democratic engagement of the poor and community-based organizations, and coordination across sectors, especially affordable housing, transportation, and economic development.
- Sustainable Transportation: Today there are nearly 800 million cars on the world's roads, and in the developing world transportation is the source of up to 80 percent of harmful air pollutants. A sustainable and socially progressive alternative requires a shift toward denser cities that generally require less motorized travel, invest in high-quality transit, and support vibrant, healthy communities by enabling walking and cycling.
- Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs): More than half of the world's population lives in cities, and 90 percent of urbanization is occurring in the developing world. ICTs can help cities become safer, cleaner, and more sustainable places to live, but they are currently underutilized in both the developed and developing worlds. Reversing this trend must go beyond the current public-private partnerships and "smart cities" projects by providing broad public access to data and boosting public involvement.
- Measuring Sustainable Urban Development: Since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, there has been limited progress in developing a universal sustainability indicator system that is scientifically valid and credible. This has been true in the United States as well, but efforts are under way to develop a database of indicators that will inform discussions at Rio+20 about how to measure urban sustainability.
- Reinventing the Corporation: Transnational corporations (TNCs) have evolved over the past five centuries into globally influential entities. They often go unchecked, with no limits placed on their impacts on society, the environment, or the economy. TNCs must adapt if sustainability is to become a reality, including shifts in their purpose, ownership, capital investment, and governance.
- The Global Architecture of Sustainable Governance: Sustainability efforts worldwide will be shaped by the reforms being discussed for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). If UNEP is going to play a valuable and productive role in these efforts, it must enjoy increased authority and financial resources, but above all it must be better connected to other international agencies so it can play the coordinating and visionary role its founders had in mind.
- Population Growth Strategies: In 2011, global population passed the 7 billion mark, and confronting population growth is critical to the future sustainability of the planet. Over time, population growth will end and reverse with no need for "population control" through assuring reproductive health and rights for all, adequate education for girls and boys, and equal economic activity for both sexes with internalization of the environmental costs of economic activity.
- Sustainable Buildings: The construction and operation of buildings use 25-40 percent of all produced energy, accounting for a comparable share of global carbon dioxide emissions. We must aim for the goals of net zero energy use, zero emissions, and zero waste if new construction and existing buildings are going to be sustainable.
- Public Policy and Sustainable Consumption: Combating the rise of consumerism will require government involvement, including advertisement management, tax modification to include the true cost of a product or service, and the establishment of sustainability certification programs.
- Mobilizing the Business Community: Our current economic model does not consider planetary limits, is socially exclusive, and places private interests above public ones. A recipe for a successful 21st-century economy needs to be green, inclusive, and responsible, which will take a combination of business-led voluntary initiatives reinforced by new corporate structures and strong government policy and public oversight.
- Sustainable Agriculture: Almost 2 billion people are fed by produce from the 500 million small farms in developing countries. Yet these small-scale producers are some of the most food-insecure people: 80 percent of the world's hungry live in rural areas. To optimize the productivity and environmental sustainability of small farms, future agricultural policy must combine a rights-based approach with legislation that is localized and culturally specific.
- Food Security and Equity: In recent decades, factory farming has increased meat, egg, and dairy consumption worldwide, particularly in the developing world. But this industrial meat production system has been harmful to human health and the environment. The internalization of costs, restoration of ecosystems, and education of the public----among other strategies----can help create a new food system that is more efficient, equitable, and climate-compatible.
- Biodiversity: The rate at which species are becoming extinct is estimated to be up to 1,000 times higher today than in pre-industrial times. Efforts such as the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services are needed to better understand and reverse the erosion of nature's resiliency.
- Valuation of Ecosystem Services: The human ecological footprint has grown so large that progress is now constrained more by limits on natural resources and ecosystem services than by limits on infrastructure or technology. Ecosystem services help evaluate the benefits derived from ecosystems by assigning a monetary or physical unit to those benefits, which can in turn help to better facilitate natural resource management. Local Governance: Decisions at the local level can be the greatest catalysts for progress because they contribute directly to poverty reduction, job growth, gender equity, and environmental protection. As a result, the development of local democratic procedures that are transparent and reliable is critical to global sustainable development.
"There won't be much point in revisiting the Rio+20 conference in another 20 years to try to figure out what went wrong," says Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. "We know enough right now about the state of the world to see clearly that we have to change the way we live and the way we do business. Working out new paths towards true sustainability will take much more than a conference of governments, though such a gathering can help. The task begins with the recognition that perpetual economic and demographic growth aren't possible on a finite planet. We can work with the hope that ecological stability is possible, along with a good life based on health, literacy, strong communities, and access to 'enough' rather than ever more."
The State of the World 2012 report is accompanied by other informational materials including policy briefs, videos, and a discussion guide, all of which are available a www.sustainableprosperity.org. The project's findings are being disseminated to a wide range of stakeholders, including government ministries, Rio+20 participants, community networks, business leaders, and the nongovernmental environmental and development communities.
The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization recognized by opinion leaders around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Its mission is to generate and promote insights and ideas that empower decision makers to build an ecologically sustainable society that meets human needs.
With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the headline sponsor, the first annual Climate Leadership Conference will be held from February 29-March 1, 2012, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The conference will bring together leaders from business, government and academic institutions, and the non-profit community interested in exchanging ideas and information on how to address climate change while simultaneously running their operations more competitively and sustainability.
Earth Day Network and Partners Launch MobilizeU to Galvanize Campus Activism
WASHINGTON – Scores of college and university campuses from across the world launched an initiative today to implement sustainable change at their institutions and demand international environmental leadership. As international action to address climate change and other environmental issues remains stalled, MobilizeU, a project of Earth Day Network, seeks to amplify campus sustainability efforts and activism to new levels worldwide.
In recent years, there has been growing interest in sustainability-related programs and innovations on college and university campuses. As a result, MobilizeU is not only a movement of youth calling for global environmental change, but an international competition between colleges and universities that encourages students to engage their campus communities in four weeks of environmental activism surrounding Earth Day 2012 and beyond.
“In the face of inaction by international leaders, college campuses are once again rising up – like they did on the first Earth Day in 1970 – and demonstrating that environmental protection and sustainable change are possible,” said Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network. “MobilizeU seeks to empower this new generation of leaders and provide them with the support needed to achieve their collective aims worldwide.”
From March 29 to April 29, 2012, student participants will mobilize their campuses to generate as many “acts of green” as possible by organizing activities like registering new youth voters, reducing their institutions’ greenhouse gas emissions, holding student demonstrations and educating their communities at Earth Day events.
Every act of green will contribute to Earth Day Network's global A Billion Acts of Green® initiative, a call to action that will be presented to world leaders at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June, 2012. Students will also be actively encouraging their college administrations to adopt and implement the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and the Billion Dollar Green Challenge – two high-visibility, multi-million dollar commitments already involving hundreds of campuses.
To implement the MobilizeU campaign, Earth Day Network is partnering with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the United Nations Environment Programme-TUNZA, Second Nature, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Earth Island Institute, Mobilize.org, iMatter, SustainUS, and Recyclemania, among others.
“College students have long been at the forefront of the environmental movement,” said Carra Cheslin, MobilizeU coordinator at Earth Day Network. “Now, with MobilizeU, students across six continents – from Cornell University to the University of South Africa – will have a significant platform to amplify their demands for sustainability both on campus and on the international level.”
The list of participating schools is growing and already includes Dartmouth College, Cornell University, Vanderbilt University, Gettysburg College, Macalester College, Drexel University, James Madison University and the University of Michigan. Internationally, schools such as the University of South Africa, Universidad Belgrano, University of Split/University of Zagreb, and Griffith University in Australia, have signed up.
To learn more about MobilizeU, including how to sign up as a student coordinator, visit the project’s website here: www.earthday.org/MobilizeU. More information about A Billion Acts of Green® can be found here: act.earthday.org.
Earth Day Network mobilizes over one billion people in 192 countries through year-round advocacy, education, public policy and consumer campaigns to protect the environment.
We've become accustomed to seeing people light their tap water on fire thanks to hydrofracking, but what if your drinking water also contained something far more sinister like radioactive waste? The nuclear waste that is leaked into drinking water can cause cancer and genetic defects, says a new report by U.S. PIRG and Environment America.
The report says that 49 million Americans could be at risk because their drinking water is situated too close to an active nuclear power plant. All it would take is a Fukishima-like catastrophe for the drinking water of millions to become contaminated. Actually, even common leaks from nuclear reactors pose a threat.
“With nuclear power, there’s too much at risk and the dangers are too close to home. Americans shouldn’t have to worry about getting cancer from drinking a glass of water,” said Jennifer Kim, Advocate for the US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
“There are far cleaner, cheaper, and less-risky ways to get our energy,” concluded Courtney Abrams of Environment America. “The United States should move to a future without nuclear power by retiring existing plants, abandoning plans for new plants, and expanding energy efficiency and the production clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power."
It’s hard to rally around the term “sustainability” these days. When we consider the record amount of emissions we’re spewing into the atmosphere and the slow pace of change relative to our compounding environmental problems, the term “sustainable” has lost much of its meaning.
At the same time, however, businesses are getting focused on the problem. Many of the top companies in the world are investing trillions of dollars to change farming practices, reduce packaging, make operations more efficient, and deploy renewable energy. These are real, necessary, and positive steps. But they’re not nearly enough.
Last week, GreenBiz released its latest “State of Green Business” report. And it shows a very mixed picture for sustainability practices in the business community. In this post, we feature some of the best charts from the report on energy production, efficiency and corporate accounting.
1. U.S. carbon intensity is flat lining. In 2010, our economy increased emissions per dollar of GDP. That may decline slightly in 2011, but it still shows worrisome stagnation.
In the United States, energy-related CO2 emissions rose 4 percent in 2010 after declining for several years. Early estimates for 2011 show a slight stabilization, with emissions from increased natural gas activity offset by the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants. Don’t cheer quite yet, however: The Energy Information Administration estimates only a 0.7 percent decrease in emissions between 2010 and 2011.
2. Our economy is still very inefficient. Commercial and industrial efficiency is something that companies are taking more seriously. But the fact is, we waste around 85% of the energy produced in the U.S. And we’re not getting much better.
The energy consumed per dollar of gross domestic product grew slightly in 2010, the first increase after steady declines for more than half a century. We should see a small increase in efficiency for 2011, once the data is available, but it’s not likely to be a sizable one.
3. Vehicle emissions are growing slightly. Last year, the Obama Administration brokered aggressive fuel standards for trucks and cars that will increase the average efficiency of the nation’s vehicle fleet to 54.5 mpg by 2025. But even with more consumers thinking about fuel efficient transportation, automobile emissions rose in 2011.
Greenhouse gas emissions per fleet vehicle rose 13.8 percent in 2011, after falling steadily since we first tracked this indicator in 2007. It’s hard to know exactly what led to the per-vehicle emissions increase in 2011, but the total number of fleet vehicles fell from 2010 to 2011, indicating that more miles were put on each vehicle.
4. U.S. renewable electricity is increasing steadily. Renewables like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass still make up only a small part of our electrical mix. But they’ve been growing at steady rate. Assuming consistent tax incentives are in place, that growth looks like it will continue.
Renewable energy installations are still far behind where they need to be to stem the rise of greenhouse gases, but the market is maturing and 2011 saw rapid growth in the sector thanks largely to plummeting prices for photovoltaic (PV) panels.
5. Investors are demanding more social and environmental performance. Sustainability doesn’t have the same “buzz” in the business world like it did a few years ago. According to the GreenBiz report, that’s because the issue is becoming more deeply ingrained in corporate performance indicators.
Forty-eight percent of S&P 500 Companies now report non-financial environmental and social performance indicators, up 4 percent from 2010.
Companies are keeping up with those demands. The KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2011 found that 95 percent of Global Fortune 250 companies are reporting on corporate responsibility.
More importantly, the survey showed that over half of the reporting Global 250 companies said they gain financial value from their sustainability initiatives. Companies in the Dow Jones and Nasdaq sustainability indexes are required to issue sustainability reports and they are currently outperforming non-reporting companies.
When it comes to corporate sustainability, it’s safe to say we’re very far from achieving true “sustainability” — whatever that may mean. And these indicators show us that the glass is neither half empty, nor half full.
For more on what these indicators mean, check out the video below featuring Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz. And for more great illustrations with far more detailed explanations, you can read the whole report here.
In recent years, local governments across the nation have stepped up to the plate, making solid progress in tackling environmental issues ranging from green education and transportation to energy efficiency and sustainability. Arianna Huffington’s call for cities and mayors across the nation to continue to take initiative to combat climate change where the federal government, unfortunately, has not is dead-on.
Localities aren’t sitting back and waiting; they’re taking matters into their own hands.
Conversations at the 80th Winter Meeting of the United States Conference of the Mayors(USCM) this past week further emphasized the federal governments’ inaction. And as the nation prepares for the president’s State of the Union Address, those of us tuned in to environmental issues hope President Obama will recognize the strong initiatives carried out by local governments in times where national leadership was absent and push Congress to act.