Science for Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead

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In anticipation of future environmental science and engineering challenges and technologic advances, EPA asked the National Research Council (NRC) to assess the overall capabilities of the agency to develop, obtain, and use the best available scientific and technologic information and tools to meet persistent, emerging, and future mission challenges and opportunities. Although the committee cannot predict with certainty what new environmental problems EPA will face in the next 10 years or more, it worked to identify some of the common drivers and common characteristics of problems that are likely to occur.

Tensions inherent to the structure of EPA’s work contribute to the current and persistent challenges faced by the agency, and meeting those challenges will require development of leading-edge scientific methods, tools, and technologies, and a more deliberate approach to systems thinking and interdisciplinary science. Science for Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead outlines a framework for building science for environmental protection in the 21st century and identified key areas where enhanced leadership and capacity can strengthen the agency’s abilities to address current and emerging environmental challenges as well as take advantage of new tools and technologies to address them. The foundation of EPA science is strong, but the agency needs to continue to address numerous present and future challenges if it is to maintain its science leadership and meet its expanding mandates.

Environmental scientist uses art to communicate Great Lakes issues

Read the full story in Great Lakes Echo.

A University of Michigan ecosystem scientist uses art to communicate environmental issues to the wider public.

Sara Adlerstein González, 60, studies aquatic ecology at the university’s School of Natural Resources. She is displaying some of her work at an art show called Water Blues through the end of December.

The show has a double meaning, according to Adlerstein. The shades of blue utilized in the art represent the beauty of the Great Lakes but also the love, melancholy and sadness of blues music and environmental degradation.

It is free and available for public viewing at the “Art and Environment Gallery” of the Dana Building in Ann Arbor, Mich.

U.N. Report: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Gap Widening

Greenhouse gas emissions could rise to 58 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020—far above the level that many scientists say is needed to keep the global temperature rise they predict to less than 2°C this century. A new study, The Emissions Gap Report 2012, says that if the world stays on a business-as-usual trajectory, more drastic and expensive cuts will be needed after 2020. The report, released on November 21, was coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Climate Foundation.

Previous scenario-based assessments have concluded that ambitious early action would keep the costs of meeting the two-degree target as low as possible. In such scenarios, emissions are projected to reach about 44 Gt or less in 2020 on average. However, emissions of warming gases like carbon dioxide are actually increasing each year worldwide. Total greenhouse gas emissions have risen from around 40 Gt in 2000 to an estimated 50.1 Gt in 2010. Delaying action also implies a greater risk of temperature rise exceeding two degrees, beyond which irreversible damage to the environment could occur, according to the report’s authors.

The report noted that that bridging the emissions gap remains possible and efforts to do so should include increased energy efficiency in buildings, improved vehicle emissions standards, and continued growth of renewable energy. See the UNEP press release and the The Emissions Gap Report 2012 Web page.

What’s really killing energy behavior change?

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

For many years, we’ve asked consumers who they most blame for rising energy costs. And for years, respondents have said they most blame either 1) oil companies, or 2) the U.S. government – with utilities much farther down the list. This year, in light of declining natural gas prices, we edited the question, asking who (or what) respondents thought most affects energy costs. With this change, “blame” shifted dramatically to utilities, followed closely by oil companies and the U.S. government.

Most pertinent, however, is who Americans don’t blame – themselves. Only 12 percent blamed energy costs on their own demand, because 80 percent of consumers think they use the same or less energy in their homes than they did five years ago. And we know this simply isn’t true — American residential energy consumption hit record highs last year.

This incredibly strong “it’s not my fault” mentality creates a huge challenge for energy conservation behavior change.  According to social scientist J.B. Rotter, perceived locus of control strongly influences whether behaviors are thought to be “instrumental for goal attainment.” So if the locus of control for home energy bills is perceived to be external, or under the control of “powerful others” (utilities), then individual action is thought to be largely irrelevant. Put simply, many Americans do not believe that energy conservation behaviors will lower their energy bills. And if lowering bills (saving money) is the primary driver for most, then there’s no perceived need or reward for behavior change.

You are the policy leaders we have been waiting for

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

This is an exciting time to be a sustainable and responsible business. The quiet revolution of growth in business sustainability and responsibility has the potential to change our economic landscape for the better.

And yet, we risk remaining a marginal part of the entire economy unless there are significant policy changes in Washington and state capitals across the country.

Over the last few decades, innovative businesses have realigned their principles and developed new practices based on an expanded notion of success. Today, in the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands of businesses are proving that they can succeed and even thrive with a triple-bottom-line approach.

Entering the murky solutions space

Read the full post at Climate Access.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the election, U.S. political leaders including President Obama, Governor Cuomo, and Mayor Bloomberg are directly calling out the need to address climate disruption, both in terms of reducing use of carbon-based fuels as well as preparing communities and individuals to better respond to extreme weather events and other climate impacts.

This is a good sign and I hope it will last with action to match the words. We need the discourse to continue in this direction so we can finally move away from a public debate based on whether global warming is real and whether there is enough certainty to act, to one focused on what leaders, communities, and individuals are doing to address climate impacts and what the benefits are of taking those actions, such as safety, security, job creation and health. Many efforts to reduce carbon and prepare for impacts are underway; however, solutions have not dominated the communications space.

The climate solutions space is currently a murky one and new narratives are needed that focus on security as well as possibility. This task has its own set of challenges that should be considered.