26 February 2006

Looking for Socially Responsible Companies?

FORTUNE's America's Most Admired list identifies big U.S. companies that are admired by their peers for social responsibility. Some of the usual suspects are on the list, but also a few surprises. See the complete list here: America's Most Admired

See also Fortune's Global List of Most Admired Companies


24 February 2006

Anti-globalization or Protectionism?

Cait Murphy of Fortune magazine weighs in on the debate surrounding the proposed purchase of a British company by Dubai Ports. The controversy swirls amidst fears of an Arab-owned company operating US ports. But Murphy challenges assumptions, posing the question, "Does anyone out there believe in globalization?"

Worth a read: Murphy's Law

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22 February 2006

A Bright Idea: A Compact on Compact Fluorescents

Sarah Rich of WorldChanging.com reports on the efforts of Kenny Luna, an 8th grade science teacher in Long Island who wants to change the world one light bulb at a time. His idea?
"to give one compact fluorescent light bulb to every child in the U.S., grades PreK-12. To do this, he and his students are asking Oprah for help. On the class blog, Mr. Luna has invited people far and wide to join the effort, and posted instructions for sending a personal email to Oprah suggesting that she help make this happen. According to their calculations, if 50 million kids put a CFL in a lamp at home, we'd achieve $2.3 billion in energy savings. Seems like a wish worth granting."

See WorldChanging for the original post and comments. See Wikipedia entry and the Energy Star website for more information on compact fluorescents. For more on Mr. Luna's Bright Idea visit his web log, which includes updates on his project.

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17 February 2006

Nature, Now Appearing on an iPod Near You...

Podcasting is a fairly new online media channel. Basically, as blogger and media consultant Amy Gahran describes it as, "simply online media content that's delivered via webfeed...Think of it as radio on demand." You download an Mp3 file and play it when you want to on your computer, iPod, or Mp3 player.

The medium is proving attractive and a range of conservation and nature-related content is becoming available, ranging from rebroadcast of NPR's Living on Earth to scientific essays from the journal Nature

Now, even organizations like The Nature Conservancy are getting into the act, with its new "Nature Stories Podcast," produced by Atlantic Public Media (the folks who brought back "This I Believe..."). Check out the first story, about commercial fishermen who turn to poetry "to help soothe the edges of an otherwise harsh career at sea": Nature Stories Podcast. (In the interest of full disclosure, I work for the Conservancy.)

For more nature and environmental podcasts, see the excellent lists compiled by The Directory of Nature Podcasts and The Society of Environmental Journalists.

Can The Green Skeptic™ Podcast be far behind?

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16 February 2006

Google Earth: A Whole New Way of Looking at Our World

If you haven't checked out Google Earth, stop reading this post right now and go immediately to Google Earth and download the free version. It's an amazing experience. How easy it is to zoom around our planet or virtually fly from, say Philadelphia to Jakarta. I've played around with it a bit for my work, and even plotted a trip that I was writing about in a poem to verify the distance and terrain I was describing.

Now, according to the journal Nature, a growing number of scientists are finding it has value for laying "data with a spatial component on top of background imagery — a trick they can repeat with multiple data sets. By offering researchers an easy way into GIS software, Google Earth and other virtual globes are set to go beyond representing the world, and start changing it."

You can even check out the Olympic Winter Games in Google Earth.

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12 February 2006

It's Too Late to Turn Back Now: Climate Crisis at Tipping Point

The Indepedent online edition reported yesterday that global warming may have reached the "tipping point" beyond which there is no turning back, meaning potentially "a rise in global mean temperatures to 2 degrees above the level before the Industrial Revolution."

Scientists recently concluded that the rise over the past century was about 0.6 degrees and there are rising concerns that rapid melting of Arctic ice in summer could exacerbate the problem.

"By that point it is likely that the Greenland ice sheet will already have begun irreversibly melting, threatening the world with a sea-level rise of several metres," writes Environment Editor Michael McCarthy. This could put "up to 200 million more people at risk from hunger, and up to 2.8 billion additional people at risk of water shortages for both drinking and irrigation."

The concern comes a little less than a week after British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned global leaders "we have less than seven years to save the planet" and take action to combat climate change.

Meanwhile, down under, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra conclude, "we are now living beyond the Earth's capacity to absorb a major waste product," referring to greenhouse gases.

"The resultant risks to health," write the scientists, "are anticipated to compound over time as climate change along with other large scale environmental and social change continues," reports the Morning Herald article. This "could lead to an increase in death rates from heat waves, infectious diseases, allergies, cholera and well as starvation due to failing crops."

The article calls for "recognition of widespread health risks" to "widen these debates beyond the already important considerations of economic disruption."

Environmental impacts are linked to health and the economy. And, if they are at grave risk from climate change, should we not, as free-market capitalists, be preparing for these impacts?

Whether or not you believe we should take action depends upon whether you believe the science. Some still do not believe there is consensus in the scientific community and further question the impact on the poor.

Writing in the National Review online last week, Iain Murray, says, "it is acknowledged by every responsible economist that drastic action to reduce fossil fuel use would increase energy costs, which would in turn reduce household income."

"Wealthier is healthier, and richer is cleaner," writes a usually erudite Murray. "Limiting economic activity therefore can have a dramatic impact on quality of life, not least by reducing life expectancy." Despite such skepticism, the costs can be affordable and changes in business practices may be unavoidable.

"Forget the science debate," said CINergy Corporation CEO James E. Rogers, in a Business Week article last month. "The regulations will change someday. And if we're not ready, we're in trouble."

Insurance risks and the threat of impending regulations are causing a change of heart in the business community. According to Business Week, "Bankers, insurers, and institutional investors have begun to tally the trillions of dollars in financial risks that climate change poses. They are now demanding that companies in which they hold stakes (or insure) add up risks related to climate change and alter their business plans accordingly."

"Risk of climate change is real. It's here. It's affecting our business today," says John Coomber, CEO of insurer Swiss Re.

Moreover, some economists claim that economic growth can actually be encouraged by efforts to cut emissions and increase efficiency. "Alternative energies, carbon sequestration, higher efficiency engineering, new lightweight materials for buildings and vehicles, and rebuilding old industrial and energy infrastructure with clean gear," will all require research and development investments, according to Business Week.

Patrick Doherty, writing on Tom Paine.com last month, comments "Rebuilding our communities to use energy more intelligently provides the a powerful and long-term source of domestic economic growth our economists say America is desperate for."

"And shifting to renewables means we can help the rest of the developing world, 4.5 billion people, get a shot at a better life," Doherty reveals. "If we stick to centralized energy, suburban sprawl and inefficient consumption, we'll be forced to subsidize it from a treasury that is already trillions in the red. Preserving the old economy is just not a viable option."

Indeed, it may be folly to stick to our knitting.

"The crossing of this threshold is of the most enormous significance," says Professor Tom Burke of Imperial College in London, in The Independent. "We have very little time to act now. Governments must stop talking and start spending. We already have the technology to allow us to meet our growing need for energy while keeping a stable climate."

Doing so, says Professor Burke, "will cost less than the Iraq war so we know we can afford it."

Can we afford to keep our heads stuck in the sand and continue to question the science? I am surprised more free-market thinkers are not salivating at the opportunities for growth and investment.

"But the news is that many companies are energetically tackling this growing environmental challenge," according to Business Week. "GE, for one, is seizing the moment with its new Ecomagination division. And scores of small companies are bringing new clean-technology innovations to market."

It may be too late to turn back, but that should not stop us from taking positive action now to address the climate crisis and create new market opportunities. We have the know-how and must act.

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09 February 2006

Climate Change: Bhagwati's Climate Bargain

One title that did not make my book list from 2005 is Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization. It should have, but I only got to it this year. Bhagwati's defense is at times a wee bit dismissive of some real concerns about the impacts of globalization, but the book as a whole is a superb layman's guide to this critical issue of our time. His arguments are, for the most part, sound and it is a book that should be read by all who are concerned about globalization's effects -- whether you believe in its promise or suspect its faults.

Professor Bhagwati's take on the environmental impacts of globalization is a little thin -- for a more comprehensive view of both sides of the issue one need turn to World's Apart: Globalization and the Environment -- but he is spot on when he tosses out an idea at the end of his "Environment in Peril?" chapter.

Bhagwati, a renowned economist at Columbia, suggests an idea that I mean to put forth for some dialogue. Let me take the liberty of turning at length to the author's own words:

The United States currently accepts the principle of the Superfund, where companies must clean up past damage to the environment, even -- and oddly, in my view -- when the pollution was not scientifically considered harmful. So the United States can be asked simply to accept internationally what it accepts at home: the damage it did in the past must be paid for, with payments (which should be several hundred billions, for sure) going into an international Superfund.

This fund could be used to finance the use of carbon-free technology in the developing countries and financing to research into new inventions including the carbon-trapping technology that is being developed. Here the fact that the United States leads in such research and therefore its industry can be expected to profit from this arrangement should prove to be a major motivating factor.

At the same time, as far as current emissions are concerned, each country could be charged for its net emissions of carbon minus its absorption of carbon. It would mean buying permits for all emissions -- again, a principle that Americans love because it is market-based. This would also automatically mean that the rich countries would likely pay the largest amounts to be able to emit annually and therefore would have the greater incentive to cut emissions.

Thus, by building the treaty around two principles, the Superfund for stocks/past and permits for flows/present, Kyoto could be redesigned and repackaged in a way that both appeals to current American principles of public policy and generates results for the distribution of cost burdens between the rich and poor countries not greatly dissimilar to what the present Kyoto treaty does.

The point behind Bhagwati's notion is "to indicate that efficient design and distributional fairness are important." He's not calling for a wholesale renegotiation of Kyoto, but essentially a new approach that may be more palatable to the US and other developed countries.

An elegant idea or bunk? I'm hoping my readers will enter into a dialogue on this subject. I have thus far uncovered very little discussion of the matter among my colleagues or fellow thinkers in the blogosphere. I'll keep looking, but hope you will comment herein.

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06 February 2006

Greening the Gridiron: Environmental Responsibility at the Super Bowl and Beyond

The National Football League held its second annual carbon-neutral Super Bowl in Detroit Sunday. Here is my article on the NFL's efforts to tackle environmental responsibility, published today in GreenBiz.com:

Greening the Gridiron

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03 February 2006

Climate Change: Virtual March to Stop Global Warming

Readers of this blog know I am concerned about the climate crisis. In the 20th century, the world's average surface temperature rose by approximately 1 degree F. One degree may not sound like much -- really, do you notice the difference between 64 and 65 on your thermostat?

However, climate models now predict that higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to a possible increase of 3-10 degrees F in the average surface temperature of the Earth.

That will lead to rising sea levels, melting polar ice caps, and more "perfect" storms. These changes have the power to change the nature of the places we care about, break the links in food chains and drive plants, animals, and people from their homes. It may even eradicate species like polar bears. I have said it before, I do not want to be responsible for the loss of polar bears. Do you?

The estimated costs of such "global warming" (a too-nice, comfy phrase for my taste) will have a devastating effect on human lives, especially the poor, but it could also affect your wallet through rising insurance costs and real property loss.

The prudent response to the climate crisis is to take actions to control emissions, adapt to impacts, and encourage scientific, technological, and socioeconomic research into the problem.

It is time to stop global warming by encouraging energy conservation, reducing our dependency upon fossil fuels, and calling for investments in new technologies that will help stem the rising tide

What can you do? Here's one thing: join me and 270,000 others on the "Virtual March," a creative idea started by StopGlobalWarming.org

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02 February 2006

Best Idea Since Sliced Bread: Polluter Pays

Peter Skidmore, an aquatic ecologist and restoration consultant with The Nature Conservancy in Washington State, is the winner of the "Since Sliced Bread" best common sense idea. Since Sliced Bread is "a national call for fresh, common sense ideas. A call for ideas that will strengthen our economy and improve the day-to-day lives of working men and women and their families."

His idea is to "Impose a 'resource tax' on pollution, development, and fossil fuel to pay for development of renewable energy and environmental restoration. Promoting sustainable localized energy industries (solar, wind, hydro, tidal, biofuels) will provide reliable, clean homegrown energy, exportable technologies, and bring energy jobs home. Funding widespread environmental restoration will expand existing industries (farming, recreation, tourism, and commercial fisheries) that are dependent on ecological services and will foster research, design and technology industries."

The "polluter pay" principle has been kicking around for some time. Essentially, it requires polluters to pay for the pollution they generate, thereby internalizing the true social cost of what they produce. Skidmore has translated this principle into a "common sense idea" worthy of note.

You can read more about his idea at Since Sliced Bread: Sustainable Resource Industries.

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