Day: August 9, 2012

Rio+20: A Move Towards More Sustainable Transportation

Read the full post at Worldwatch.

Emissions from transportation are the fastest growing source of global greenhouse gas emissions, with emissions expected to increase 300 percent by 2050. Today, emissions from transportation contribute to approximately 80 percent of the harmful air pollutants that result in 1.3 million premature deaths annually.

The largest financial commitment made at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 was a pledge by the 8 largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) to commit 500 staff and to dedicate $175 billion for more sustainable transportation in the coming decade. This unprecedented agreement was facilitated by the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), which brings together 68 MDBs, civil society organizations, UN agencies, and research and industry organizations.

This action promises to begin countering decades of unsustainable investments in transportation systems, such as building high-capacity motorways. But it will require new resources for civil society groups to be able to ensure independent monitoring of impacts and follow-through by MDBs.

If transportation investments and management policies foster walking, cycling, use of high quality public transportation, and smart traffic management, growing urbanization can reduce consumption of scarce resources, protect public health, and deliver happier, nicer cities. These unprecedented MDB financial and reporting commitments present an opportunity to leverage large shifts in domestic and private transportation investment and to build capacity for a paradigm shift.

The Power of Images: California Maps Greenhouse Gases

Read the full post at New York Times Green.

One of the most significant political problems facing campaigns against air pollution these days is this: by and large, you can’t see it. You can track its molecules, watch emergency room admissions go up and down as it waxes and wanes and estimate the number of lives shortened by it. But none of that provides the jolt of, say, a picture of a tornado’s path or a river on fire.

Back in 1948, when killer smog descended on Donora, Pa., it was a visible scourge. But carbon dioxide is odorless and colorless, so the eye is no judge of gauging when pollution is better or worse. That is, until the magic of digital data visualization is used.

That is what California’s Air Resources Board is now offering. This week, state air regulators announced a new online tool that mashes their data on statewide greenhouse gas emissions from the 625 or so largest polluters with images from Google maps. Anyone with a Web browser and Google Earth can “see” how much carbon dioxide or methane or other types of greenhouse gases each facility is sending into the atmosphere.

Teach Us, Trader Joe: Demanding Socially Responsible Food

Read the full story in The Atlantic.

The latter half of the 20th century witnessed a change in the concept of food: American consumers have come to expect a great deal more from their food system — from nutrition and taste to the water in which it once swam. Orange roughy, for instance, is currently an endangered species and also on the Greenpeace Red List for seafood to avoid consuming due to overfishing. Until recently, though, one could buy it for a modest price in any Trader Joe’s grocery store.

In 2010, after taking heat from Greenpeace, Trader Joe’s pledged to sell only seafood products that had been harvested using sustainable practices by December 2012. Since then, it has been on a steady mission to eradicate all non-sustainable products from its shelves, including genetically modified items. This, combined with its boutique-like items and Hawaiian shirt-clad staff, make it one of the most innovative grocery stores around. It offers exceptional products at an affordable rate. That said, though “green-friendly,” its efforts fall short of being categorically “green.”

Factoring in that Trader Joe’s is wildly more affordable when compared to luxury grocery stores such as Whole Foods or Andronico’s, the balance strikes a chord with a new generation of shoppers that expects a lot out of their grocers. But what, exactly — besides environmental activism — contributed to this shift in message? And what do Trader Joe’s recent efforts reveal about the future of food access and consumption in this country?

Game changer? Phase-change products boost building performance

Read the full post at SmartPlanet.

If you are serious about the energy efficiency of your buildings, there’s a game-changing term you’d better get to know: phase change.

Phase-change materials, or PCMs, are being applied to building products at a rapidly accelerating pace. The substances can store and release huge loads of energy as they turn solid or liquid. No, don’t worry; your building won’t melt. The trick is using natural PCMs such as wool insulation, paraffin and clay finishes, which store energy to heat or cool structures a tiny bit across large surface areas. Even better, use super-duper engineered PCMs in concentrated doses within novel building products.

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