Friday, October 29, 2010

Pollution black list forces big business to act

Large multinational companies and their local suppliers in China have long been receiving criticism over environmental concerns. Part of the criticism relates to the amount of large-scale toxic pollution being created in China so that consumers in countries like Australia can have cheap goods. One man has been particularly effective in his activism and, as a result, both multinational and Chinese companies are seeking his advice on how to get their names off his list.

Ma Jun originally became aware of China's pollution as a journalist travelling around the country. He says about half of China's water systems, rivers and lakes, are seriously contaminated. His office in southern Beijing's Guang Qu Men district houses an unassuming organisation called the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. His website, which simply publishes information from the Chinese government, has been creating waves around world. Mr Ma lists the names of factories which have been fined or shut down by the Chinese authorities because of pollution. He then prints the names of the international companies that buy products from those suppliers.

Chinese companies seek him out and ask what they have to do to get off his black list. Mr Ma then organises independent auditors to check their emissions. If they have cleaned up their production, he takes them off his website. His list of offenders now numbers more than 68,000 and the embarrassment it is causing multinational companies is forcing them to act.

"This database now is being used by some major companies in the world, like GE, like Nike, like Walmart, as a tool for their supply chain management," he said.
"Taking Walmart as an example - every month they are comparing their list of thousands of suppliers with our list of violators and when they identify polluters that have been openly announced by the Chinese government, what they do is they will call them, they will push them to take corrective actions and eventually make a public disclosure about what went wrong and how they tried to fix their problem," he said.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why Cool It, a Film about the Self-Proclaimed "Skeptical Environmentalist," Is a Must-See

The new movie featuring the economist Bjorn Lomborg, who has been a thorn in the side of climate change activists since his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist," is provocative – and not just for the sake of being provocative.

On November 12, the cinemas will start screening Cool It!, a documentary about Lomborg and his contrarian ideas about climate change. Odds are that the runaway train will put more butts in the seats than musings about runaway climate change. No matter. "Cool It!" is not a bad film in an "Inconvenient Truth" sort of way. Like "Inconvenient Truth," "Cool It!" tries to humanize its protagonist by taking a look at his early years - Lomborg laughingly recalling how he angered his stepfather when he dug up the family garden for an experiment, sort of like Gore in his movie sheepishly recalling the time he crashed the family car.

The film could have been an ego trip, and at times, it meanders close to the edge of that cliff, but pulls back sufficiently to focus on what we need to know about Lomborg's ideas and on the work of experts exploring alternative energy technologies, climate change adaptation, and geo-engineering.

Lomborg has long been a bete noire of the green movement, likely because he accepts the reality of human-caused climate change but rejects conventional thinking about fixing the problem. There's nothing that sets off a tribe more than a member of the tribe who likes to pick fights with the family, like the roguish cousin who stirs the pot around the turkey every Thanksgiving.

Unlike a James Inhofe or a Rush Limbaugh, outsiders who are easy to dismiss because of their buffoonish tirades about climate change hoaxes and scientists plotting world domination, Lomborg is not so easily brushed off. Unlike Inhofe and Limbaugh, he has actually thought about this stuff in depth. Too often, he says, the climate change debate has devolved into shouting between two extremes - one proclaiming imminent apocalypse, the other painting sugar-plum fantasies of a greening earth. Better to chart a middle way.

Not that Lomborg's ideas don't have holes in them. They do, but any plan for cracking a nut as rock-hard as climate change will have holes in it. More about that in a bit.

The chronically casual Lomborg - has he ever worn a long-sleeved shirt in his life? - was on hand at a private screening in Seattle last week. During the post-screening Q&A, Lomborg answered questions matter-of-factly in streams-of-consciousness that layered on details and minimized spin and self-referential bloviation. He graciously acknowledged some pointed criticism that the film went overboard in making an argument that individual steps taken now - changing out inefficient lighting, for example - are of little consequence in the broad scheme of things.

So what are the particulars of Bjorn's argument? He asserts that climate activists have wasted time scaring people about climate change. Public campaigns like Earth Hour - everyone turn off your lights for one hour - are feel-good exercises that amount to a whole lotta nothin'. Politicians' promises to cut emissions significantly have come to little. Even if they had, they would have cost too much and yielded too little.

Lomborg says a better approach would be pouring money into R&D to drive down the costs of solar energy, ocean wave power, 4th generation nukes, and biofuels produced from non-edible feedstocks, so that they can compete with oil and coal. Spend money on the unavoidable need to adapt to climate change already in the pipeline - better sea walls, for example. And - many greens hate this - put some dollars into R&D for geo-engineering, just in case climate change takes off at frightening speeds, sort of like Denzel Washington's freight train.

The annual budget for his work program - $250 billion. Spend $100 billion on energy R&D and another $50 billion on adaptation. Spend another $99 billion on development basics for poor countries - clean water, education, and health care - human needs that are immediate and acute. The remaining $1 billion from the kitty would be earmarked for geo-engineering research.

Where to get the money? Charge a carbon tax of $7 per metric ton. Where to get the political will to carry out the plan? That's the question that Lomborg hasn't answered effectively. He makes a moral case for his proposal, which is well and good, but moral cases often don't get money appropriated for big projects in the absence of a compelling driver that is immediately obvious to one and all, even to knuckleheads like Sarah Palin.

For example: Lincoln got the Transcontinental Railroad built as a way to bind up a country in mortal danger of flying apart. FDR spared no expense on the Manhattan Project because the specter of Hitler's Luftwaffe armed with nukes was terrifying. We went to the moon because we feared that a chortling Khrushchev would use space as a platform to flick hydrogen bombs onto the USA anytime he fancied.

Many believe that climate change is just that sort of driver. Many, however, do not. We must change that and/or identify other drivers. And, Lomborg's argument that R&D alone will push cleaner energy sources into the market, in the absence of market signals that tell the truth about carbon pollution costs, is not entirely convincing.
Still, Lomborg has raised some provocative ideas that have added spice to a global debate that has been stuck in neutral since the Copenhagen belly flop last year. He's worth listening to.

Greens should go see "Cool It!" next month. They might find that the skeptical environmentalist doesn't have horns and a tail after all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October is Breast Cancer Month

Pink Ribbon is the name of the international breast cancer awareness foundation and they have named October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The pink that is colouring our lives during the month of October. whether commercial or sincere, shouldn’t cover the reality of breast cancer itself. Worldwide, millions of people, women and men are suffering from breast cancer every day. And each and every one of them feels the pain, the fear, the guilt, the uncertainty, the responsibility, the loss, being thrown back to the core essence of life. And let us not forget our loved ones we lost. May all of this being represented by this vulnerable appearing colour.

However, the brightness of pink at the same time stands for hope and strength of each individual to fight its personal fight. It stands for the community making this personal fight a community responsibility. It stands for all the efforts of people; fund raisers, medical staff, researchers, students, and volunteers worldwide, working together to find the cure. It stands for the industry proving its mature responsibility towards manufacturing processes, ingredients and products. It stands for equal fundamental rights for all breast cancer survivors whether born in richness or in poverty anywhere on mother earth.

Pink Ribbon stands in my view for one thing that makes Pink Ribbon unique, a worldwide solidarity of people and breast cancer organisations to stand together. We therefore dedicate October 2010 to the solidarity of all people. Let’s fight together!

To support Pink Ribbon either by donation or by buying some of the cool stuff in their shop, have a look at their website:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Green Cleaners' Home Cleaning Products Launched!

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How air-conditioning is baking our world

US homes use as much electricity for air conditioning as the whole of Africa, claims a new book by Stan Cox.

When you think of the causes of global warming, you may picture an SUV before you picture a central AC unit. But almost 20 percent of electricity consumption in U.S. homes goes to AC -- that's as much electricity as the entire continent of Africa uses for all purposes. So says Stab Coxin his new book, Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer).

Cox, a scientist and agricultural researcher who lives in Salina, Kansas, doesn't paint AC as the bogeyman. Rather, he makes the point that our world has developed in many unsustainable directions overall, and air-conditioning has been a crucial part of that development. He also argues that making air-conditioners and other appliances more energ efficient isn't going to get us out of this mess. He was interviewed last week about his new book. Open a window, undo a button, and enjoy ...

Q. Why did you write a book on air-conditioning?

A. In the past half-century, a number of big, energy-guzzling technologies have really changed our lives: automobiles, computers, television, jet aircraft. All that time, air-conditioning has been humming away in the background, like a character actor you see in a whole bunch of movies. It's never the star, but it always seems to be there moving the plot along.

When I looked at the doubling in the amount of electricity used for air conditioning homes in this country just since the mid-90s, I thought, we really need to address this, because it is a big contributor to greenhouse-gas release and it's going to increase the likelihood that we're going to have longer, more intense heat waves and hotter summers in the future, and we're going to have to be running the air-conditioning even more.

Q. That seemed to be a theme throughout the book -- that the use of air-conditioning leads to a cycle where it needs to be used more.

A. Yes, the biggest example of that is probably global warming. But there are a lot of ways in which air-conditioning creates need for itself, including by eroding our heat tolerance. Once we've built office buildings and commercial buildings on the assumption of air-conditioning, then we pretty much have to use it. We've created a lot of space that's almost uninhabitable without it. In many buildings, the windows don't open at all anymore.

In the book, I put a lot of emphasis on what's known as the adaptive model of comfort. It's based on surveys of people who are working at different temperatures and asked if they're comfortable. People can psychologically adjust to buildings that are cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer. The comment I've heard most since the book came out is from people who work in offices and complain that their offices are too cold in the summer, and they have to take sweaters or use space heaters, wasting even more energy. Without eroding people's working conditions or quality of life at all, there could be a big savings there.

Q. I thought it was interesting that you linked AC to obesity, in the sense that people are indoors more often and their bodies don't have to work to adjust to the temperature changes during the year.

A. Right, that's one of the hypotheses that a group of medical researchers came up with to explain the rise in obesity -- the slower burning of energy by the body in the comfort range, where it doesn't have to work to either shed heat or generate heat (in addition to the normal explanations that people are eating more and exercising less). Another way AC could be affecting obesity is that people tend to eat more when in cooler conditions. And also, by making the indoors more attractive in the summertime, we've made it less likely that people are going to be outdoors where we're more physically active.

The book, Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer), is available on Amazon.cpm

Monday, October 11, 2010

Three receive prestigious environment award

Three President’s Award for the Environment were given out in Singapore on Friday at the Istana by President S R Nathan.

The recipients are Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (GST) Singapore Pte Ltd, Nan Hua High School, and Singapore Polytechnic.

The award is the highest accolade in Singapore that recognises individuals, organisations and companies for their significant contributions to Singapore’s efforts in achieving environmental sustainability.

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Singapore’s real estate site operations director Tan Puey Hwee said: "We notice that a lot of times the office air—conditioning is very cold, but employees are complaining it’s very hot because they’re all wearing jackets.

"So with support from the management, we have adjusted the temperature over time, so now a lot of employees are not wearing jackets in the office, while the temperature is set at a comfortable level".

The company’s all—round effort has earned it the prestigious environmental award, together with Nan Hua High School and Singapore Polytechnic. This is the first time the five—year—old award is going to a polytechnic. The polytechnic’s efforts in going green include planting more trees, building a block out of re—cycled material, and installing motion sensoring devices that can dim lights. Singapore Polytechnic principal Tan Hang Cheong said: "We are going through a programme of retrofitting.

"Our buildings, many of them are 20, 30 years old, so we are gradually trying to improve. "So when we remodel the classroom, remodel the lecture theatres, we will introduce all these energy—saving devices within the buildings". Next year, the school will also introduce a module on the environment for every student to become environmentally aware.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Money could grow on trees, depending on carbon price

Giving trees a value is one solution for halting deforestation, but deciding how much a forest is worth is proving challenging. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, otherwise known as REDD, offers vast potential for companies, developing nations and native forests. But its viability is threatened by the absence of a liquid market and a clear signal by policymakers on how REDD would be funded.

For now, REDD credits are not included on Europe’s emissions trading scheme, the world’s largest carbon-trading system. And while several REDD projects are getting closer to selling their credits on the voluntary market, those hoping to benefit from the scheme say most investors are not willing to bear the risks just yet.
“We’ve found some buyers that have been willing to pre-pay for credits,” said Todd Lemons, the CEO and chairman of for-profit conservation company Infinite Earth. But despite interest from investment funds that he says have earmarked “billions” specifically for REDD, none have invested in the company’s Indonesia project. Hong Kong-based Infinite Earth is part of the EnVision group, which develops natural resource projects for profit. The company was created in 2008 to develop the Rimba Raya Reserve, a 90,000-hectare peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan.

Lemons said the reserve will serve as a buffer against palm oil plantations encroaching on the neighboring national forest, home to rare flora and fauna, such as Bornean orangutans. An Indonesian company is listed as the project owner.
Since its start, Infinite Earth has pooled more than $3.5 million from international private investors, such as Shell Canada and the Clinton Foundation, to fund the project’s development. They received the first signal that their investment was making headway in August, when Infinite Earth’s method for calculating carbon credits from forestry projects was approved under the Voluntary Carbon Standard.
Few methodologies have lined up to undergo VCS’s approval process, which requires double validation from two separate auditors.

Infinite Earth’s was the first international REDD methodology the VCS fully approved, and on September 22 a reforestation project in Tanzania became the first forestry investment to earn carbon offsets after credits were issued and placed in the VCS registry.

The news is drawing attention from investors reluctant to make the foray into forest-carbon trading. Forestry projects have already been operating on other registries, such as California’s Climate Action Registry, but project experts say VCS is the most credible standard. Once a forestry project begins trading there, it could open the door for REDD to be included in the UN-based compliance market.
If that happens, it could unleash billions of dollars toward climate change mitigation efforts.

The Rimba Raya project alone could create around 75 million credits, or offsets, by avoiding the release of carbon that results when peat swamp forests are converted for agriculture (this is based on the idea that one metric tonne of CO2 equals one credit). Given today’s average UN-certified carbon price at between 10 to 15 Euros per credit, those credits could add up 1.1 billion Euros million in potential revenues.

For now, however, Infinite Earth has pre-sold only 10 percent of its credits, and at a price well below the US$10 a tonne needed to guarantee returns to investors.
And while Infinite Earth has bid its time through the verification process, unclear regulations and the months or even years companies must wait before they can issue offsets have dampened enthusiasm.

Most prefer to wait until the market gains some certainty. Without a formal exchange to publish information about buying and selling, few buyers can determine the true value of an offset, and there is no way to ensure credits are not being sold more than once.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

4 Energy Technologies That Could Replace Oil and Coal

New large-scale projects are revolutionising the energy sector, using sunlight, wind, waves and even trash, rather than oil, coal or nuclear power. This weekend, US President Obama toured the BrightSource project, which will be the largest solar-thermal plant in the world.

Every time there's an energy-related disaster, it boosts the prospects for clean alternatives. The devastating explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine killed 29, and got people wondering if all that ancient coal shouldn't just be left in the ground. And the oil spill from the Deep Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico led to new restrictions on offshore drilling, and rising public sentiment for cleaner alternatives.

The problem is that people's memories are short, and the old arguments – coal is "native energy," offshore oil offsets foreign imports – reassert themselves to reinforce the status quo.
Thankfully, new technology, with the help of investments in renewable energy forecasted to reach $200 billion in 2010, is going to change that and in future, energy will come from mother natures renewable recources: Wind, sun, waves and organic waste.

Wind power:
Wind power has been used by man for ages. With technologies developed by market leaders Vestas and Siemens, wind power is already contributing a large part of the energy consumption in parts of the world. Mainly in Europe where the large windmill parks are scattered off shore.

Solar power:
Many of the biggest projects are either in Europe or involve European companies. Abengoa Solar announced this week that it had started commercial operation near Seville, Spain of its 50-megawatt Solnova 1, which uses parabolic trough solar technology. The plant can power 25,700 homes, or offset 31,400 tons of carbon dioxide.

Wave energy:
Wave energy is still a technology awaiting widespread commercialisation, though costs are coming down rapidly. The biggest problem is cost. These facilities are very capital intensive, ranging from $4,000 to $15,000 per kilowatt. Significant breakthroughs in capital cost would be needed to make this technology cost competitive. Ocean-based systems take a beating, especially since it's roughly true that the rougher the water the more energy they can produce.

Investments in Biodigesters, that converts organic waste to biofuel, are increasing and many projects are emerging around the world. In Singapore, IUT Global has set up a large scale biodigester that will be able to supply the Singaporean and Asian market with biofuel.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cancer-proof your body

The lab researchers (and their test-rats) have spoken. They're saying that these 7 simple life strategies can stave off cancer. Start eating and doing today.

1. Drink Pomegranate Juice
Pomegranate – rich in polyphenols, isofavones and ellagic acid – is a potent cancer buster. Not only has tests shown that it helps to keep your prostate and lung cancer free, new research also points towards staving off Alzheimer's.

2. Eat Blueberries
Ppterostilbene, which is found in blueberries, has colon cancer-fighting properties. Eating blueberries also mean a big dose of vitamin C (14mg per cup), making you 50 per cent less likely to develop pre-malignant oral lesions (according to New England Research Institute).

3. Relax...
Stress and anxiety makes you die younger – its a science-proven fact, says Purdue University researchers. Their studies also show that an anxious and neurotic man is likely to die of some type of cancer. Want to live longer (or at least not die from worrying)?

4. Order Sushi
Our friendly lab-rats also stayed more resistant to skin tumours when they were bombarded with UV rays after being fed brown seaweed, which is low in calories and fat but provides polyphenols, fibre, calcium and iron. Not just that, the polyphenols from the brown seaweed diet actually shrank existing tumours by 43 per cent. For the average guy, the dosage required to reap these benefits is just one or two tablespoons. Eat them dried or roasted for the additional benefits of vitamins A and C.

5. Go Outside
The power of vitamin D as a potent cancer fighter has been confirmed by a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Women who supplemented their diets with 1,000 international units of vitamin D every day had a 60 per cent to 77 per cent lower incidence of cancer over a four-year period than did women taking a placebo. “I don’t think the effect is limited to women,” says Joan Lappe, PhD, the lead study author. “Vitamin D is necessary for the best functioning of the immune system – it causes early death of cancer cells.”

6. Clear Your Air
Here's the truth: There is no safe level of exposure when it comes to second-hand smoke. And the greater the exposure, the higher the risk. A recent American Journal of Public Health study reveals that non-smokers working in smoky places had three times the amount of NNK, a carcinogen, in their urine than non-smoking workers in smoke-free joints had. And their levels of NNK rose six per cent for every hour worked. Thankfully, our new non-smoking rule in public places means we can all breathe easy, even at a pub while you down a vodka with pomegranate juice.

7. Exercise Regularly
A tiny dose of exercise can do a whole lot of good, says a study in the International Journal of Cancer. The research showed that men who exercised just once a week had a 30 per cent lower risk of metastatic prostate cancer than did men who didn’t work out at all. Increasing the frequency, duration, and intensity of the exercise correlated with a further, gradual reduction in risk.

There you have it – even a 15-minute run every Sunday will help keep the big C at bay. What are you waiting for?