Cloud computing: maybe, maybe not greener

Stuart Hibbert, CEO of icomplete.com, a UK software company, was recently quoted as saying of cloud computing “There’s a massive allowance of time that can be saved in terms of nobody enjoys the daily commute into an office, it wastes a hell of a lot of time and also the fuel associated with that. So a lot of it’s very eco-friendly in that respect.”

GallonDaily cautions against such blanket statements. Historically, telecommuting (working from home) has certainly been considered to be an environmentally responsible approach to reducing urban pollution from commuting but recently some of us are beginning to have doubts. Working from home may include:

  • more coffee made in home coffee makers, probably somewhat less efficient than commercial equipment.
  • heating or cooling the whole house, instead of lowering/raising the thermostat to reduce energy use during the 8+ hours that you would have been in the office, likely with no offsetting reduction in office energy use because you still have a desk there.
  • cooking of lunch in a household kitchen, something that likely uses significantly more energy than eating a lunch cooked in a commercial kitchen or eating cold or lightly reheated sandwiches that you purchased or brought from home.
  • buying additional equipment such as printers and scanners that would be one shared among many if you had been able to access the office equipment.

Commuters are certainly using transportation energy to get to the office, though those who use public transportation are generally using much less than those who drive a car without carpooling. Our hunch is that home workers who go to the office just once or twice a week are more likely to take the car, for convenience, than those who commute every day and get used to the transit system.

It is too early to say whether telecommuting (or cloud computing from home) or transit commuting is the environmentally preferred option, and it may not be possible to make a blanket statement covering all situations, but we caution proponents of cloud computing that the advertising claim that it is eco-friendly is almost certainly unproven and therefore illegal in all countries with environmental truth in advertising regulations (which includes Canada, the US, and the UK).

Ocean ngo with influence

An extremely influential group of people are launching a global environmental group designed to promote ocean conservation and to put action on the oceans at the forefront of global priorities. Given their profile, contacts, and resources, GallonDaily expects they will have considerable success. Known as Ocean Elders, those launching the new ngo include Sir Richard Branson, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Sven Lindblad, Ted Turner, and Neil Young, along with others who are very well qualified but perhaps not so well known in Canada.

Part of the idea is that Ocean Elders will serve as a network to enable people to connect, discuss issues, share ideas and solutions, and initiate action. GallonDaily will be very interested to see how that aspect is implemented – in our experience, open discussion of environmental issues tends to draw a significant number of anti-environmentalist nutbars.

We wish Ocean Elders well, will follow their progress and share it with our readers, and encourage prominent Canadians and Canadian companies to get involved. After all, according to Natural Resources Canada, Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world.

Ocean Elders can be found at http://www.oceanelders.org but the website is still awaiting official launch of the organization.

Gulf Oil Spill dispersants include carcinogens

US environmental groups and their consultants have released a report which is likely to enhance public concern over carcinogens in the environment and, perhaps, in common household products.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the environmental law firm Earthjustice and the public interest consultancy Toxipedia Consulting Services have relased a report on the public health and environmental impacts of the 57 ingredients contained in the dispersants used in an effort to deal with the Gulf Oil Spill.

Among the ingredients in the dispersants, chemical cocktails used in an attempt to break up the spilled oil, are:

  • one that is a possible human carcinogen,
  • one that is a likely human carcinogen,
  • one that causes cancer in tests on rats,
  • one that causes cancer in animal tests with unknown relevance to humans, and
  • one that causes effects that can later lead to cancer in humans.

In addition:

  • 33 chemicals are potential, suspected, or known skin irritants and toxins.
  • 33 chemicals are potential, suspected, or known eye irritants.
  • 11 chemicals are suspected or potential respiratory toxins or irritants.
  • 10 chemicals are suspected kidney toxins.
  • 8 chemicals are suspected reproductive toxins or have been shown to cause adverse effects to reproduction in test animals.
  • 7 chemicals are suspected liver toxins.
  • 6 chemicals are suspected neurotoxins.
  • 5 chemicals are suspected to be toxic to the immune system.
  • 4 chemicals are suspected blood toxins.
  • 3 chemicals are associated with asthma.
  • 1 chemical is a suspected to be toxic to the endocrine system.

1.84 million gallons of dispersants were discharged to the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to disperse the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster.

GallonDaily will keep readers up to date on the litigation that is expected to result from this disclosure.

The report is available at http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Oil+Dispersant

under the link Download the report today!

Industry warning over contaminated food in Europe

The website http://www.illegalpesticides.eu looks a lot like an environmental group website but it is in fact a site set up by the European Crop Protection Association, the association of the pesticide industry in Europe. The industry message:

  • The global trade in fake pesticides is increasing year after year, presenting very real dangers to human health, the environment and the economy.
  • 5-7 % of Europe’s plant protection products are illegal. This number is increasing year after year.
  • The annual market of counterfeit and illegal plant protection products is estimates at € 700 million – this might just be the tip of the iceberg.

The European Crop Protection Association categorizes counterfeit pesticides as:

  • Sophisticated counterfeits (packaging and labelling identical to legitimate products).
  • Illegal parallel imported products, masquerading as legitimate but containing inferior materials.
  • Low quality copies, often with plain or no labelling, unregistered and untested.

The industry describe the counterfeit pesticicide industry as follows:

  1. Illegal pesticides are most often produced in Asia. Production operations vary, but in all cases they do not comply with the same strict quality and safety standards as in Europe.
  2. Illegal products are shipped to the EU by air or sea freight. They are usually falsely identified and ignore safety standards for transport and handling. Highly toxic and flammable substances are routinely transported without regard to the safety of crews, handlers or the general public.
  3. Products are distributed throughout Europe by organised criminals, many of whom are involved in narcotics trafficking, smuggling and prostitution.
  4. Illegal pesticides are used on farms around the EU, threatening consumers’ health, the environment and farmers’ livelihoods. They are trafficked through commercial distributors or directly by criminal gangs.

The industry provides no data on how these counterfeit pesticides are used in Europe. However, on a generic level GallonDaily draws the conclusion that if at least 5-7% of pesticides used in European plant-based agriculture are illegal, then it is a not unreasonable assumption to consider that 5-7% of European plant-based foodstuffs, presumably not including organic foods, which are more closely regulated, may contain residues of illegal pesticides. Buyer beware!

Science, politics and business

Observers of the political and environmental scenes in the United States are this week commenting on what may be a mainstream media shift in climate change reporting. One of the most dramatic examples is a column by Glenn Kessler, a staff writer for the Washington Post, that appeared last week. The column, entitled “Rick Perry’s made-up ‘facts’ about climate change”, completely trashes Texas Governor Rick Perry’s position against climate change. Perry is currently considered the leader in the Republican Presidential Primary race.

Until now, the Washington Post, though more accurate on the climate change issue than many mainstream media, has still presented articles that are supposedly ‘balanced’ on the climate change issue. This means that the view of 98% of appropriately qualified scientists, that climate change is real and is human-induced, is almost always presented in the same article or feature as the view of 2% of appropriately qualified scientists and many inappropriately qualified individuals, that climate change is not real or is a hoax. The Kessler column, appearing under the heading of a regular feature, The Fact Checker”, is one of the few times, though not the only time, this venerable Washington newspaper, with a significant national following, has presented a clear position on climate change.

Even more unexpected but welcome is a recent Fox TV show Fox and Friends episode in which Fox host Clayton Morris admits that Fox factcheckers have confirmed that man-made global warming is certainly real. This on Fox TV!

Gallon Environment Letter, our monthly partner, has lost a number of subscribers and readers after they realized that this periodical is one that supports the overwhelming majority scientific opinion that climate change is real. Some of those who have expressed to us their negative opinions of climate change are engineers and similar professionals whose opinions businesses may rely upon for various capital investment designs and decisions. We have no wish to suppress free speech, even when the views being expressed are misinformed, but we do suggest that our business readers should exercise caution when employing these people. If your engineer or architect does not believe in climate change they will likely not take the potential effects of climate change into account when designing whatever it is that you have hired them to do. This could put your company in a position of increased liability should the system, technology, or building subsequently suffer damage attributable to climate change.

To date, climate change deniers have pursued, unsuccessfully, charges of professional misconduct against climate scientists. We may not be too far from a time when climate change deniers who have professional qualifications may indeed be disciplined by their professional certification body because their anti-climate change opinions are  damaging to their ability to provide their clients with properly qualified technical advice.

Kessler’s column, which is well worth reading, can be found at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/rick-perrys-made-up-facts-about-climate-change/2011/08/17/gIQApVF5LJ_blog.html

The Fox & Friends segment, in our opinion not so worth viewing as it is a typical Fox talkshow segment, can be viewed at http://thinkprogress.org/green/2011/08/25/303803/fox-news-facts-are-certainly-on-the-side-of-global-warming-but-it-doesnt-matter/

New clothing may contain harmful chemicals

New clothing, including clothing from some major brands, may be manufactured with nonylphenol ethoxylates, according to a just-released report from Greenpeace International. In the environment, NPEs break down to nonylphenol, a persistent toxic substance likely having endocrine disrupting properties.

The Greenpeace report provides a summary of the test protocols and products tested, which include some well-known major brands available in Canada. The report acknowledges that the clothes themselves likely present no risk to wearers of the clothing but that the use of NPEs in manufacturing is contributing to build up of these toxic substances in the aquatic environment worldwide.  Greenpeace also considers that the presence of these substances is indicative of a careless attitude towards toxic chemicals by many companies in the clothing industry.

The report is available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/Dirty-Laundry-2/

GallonDaily has not verified the Greenpeace data and is reporting it with no guarantee of the accuracy of the statements made by Greenpeace International.

Results in coalfield poll out of line with Tea Party positions

Conventional wisdom suggests that people who live in coal mining regions support coal mines and oppose environmental regulation of mining but a new poll conducted for Appalachian Mountain Advocates, an environmental ngo based in Lewisburg, West Virginia, suggests that people who live in Appalachia may have a better understanding of environment and economy linkages than such simplistic wisdom suggests.

The opinion poll, commissioned by the ngo but conducted by independent pollsters, indicates that voters in Appalachia oppose mountaintop removal coal mining by a wide margin. Over three quarters support strong enforcement of environmental regulations. Even among Tea Party supporters, 67% oppose mountaintop removal mining. According to the poll, 60% of Appalachia voters believe that environmental regulations are either good for the economy or have no economic impact. Fully 75% of West Virginia voters want Clean Water Act protection of lakes, rivers and streams increased. West Virginia is the second largest coal producing state in the US, after Wyoming. According to an article in Mining Engineering journal in 2007, some 30% of the coal mined in West Virginia comes from mountaintop removal mines.

GallonDaily believes that this poll is a fairly accurate representation of public opinion on a range of environmental issues. Conservatives are often strong supporters of conservation initiatives. Despite the economic situation, initiatives for a greener economy are likely to be important election and business issues in both Canada and the United States in the next few years.

Details on the Appalachian Mountain Advocates poll are available at http://www.appalmad.org/?page_id=307

US Wind Energy Industry Booming, But . . .

The American Wind Energy Association has recently reported that 2,151 megawatts (MW) of wind power have been installed in the first half of 2011 versus 1,250 MW during the same time in 2010, up 72 percent. An additional 7,354 MW of new capacity was under construction by July 1, more than at any time since the third quarter of 2008. The U.S. wind industry now totals 42,432 MW of wind capacity, led by Texas with more than a fourth of the total.

The wind sector averaged 3.2 percent of the nation’s electricity over the strong wind months between January and April 2011, according to the Energy Information Administration’s Electric Power Monthly report. For now, wind energy remains ahead of schedule to generate 20 percent of America’s electricity by 2030, the goal identified by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under the George W. Bush Administration.

The Association, referencing a report published by the Vermont Law School and authored by Mark Cooper, endorsed the approach that wind energy today is such a good deal that it helps hold down overall prices for electricity long-term. Cooper asserted that an American utility would be irresponsible not to invest in such a fixed-price source of power. However, it also noted that policy uncertainty, including uncertainty over federal subsidy programs, leaves the industry concerned that growth could stall by 2013.

Stability in U.S. tax policy has helped to increase the made in America content in U.S.-installed turbines from 25 percent just a few years ago to over 50 percent in 2009 and reaching 60 percent domestic content according to a July 2011 DOE report.

For additional information: http://www.awea.org/newsroom/pressreleases/2Q-2011-release.cfm

Britain’s Environment Agency sets example for doing and reporting

The British Government’s Environment Agency is trying to set an example for primarily office-based businesses in environmental management and reporting.

The Agency has set targets for March 2015:

  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 33 per cent
  • Reduce energy usage by 33 per cent
  • Reduce the distance driven by 25 per cent
  • Avoid sending any waste to landfill
  • Reduce water use by 25 per cent

The Agency has also reported on its environmental progress from 2006 to 2011:

  • Office waste reduced by 18 per cent, 66 per cent less to landfill;
  • Mileage reduced by 33 per cent, 19 million fewer miles per year;
  • Carbon dioxide - a 17 per cent reduction in emissions;
  • Buildings – a 15 per cent reduction in energy use;
  • Water – an 18 per cent reduction.

The Agency estimates that the programme has already reduced its costs by more than £6 million a year.

A recent Environment Agency study of more than 500 FTSE companies showed that not enough companies are providing environmental statistics in line with Government guidance and that the quality of information is still very varied and in some cases basic.

UK Environment Agency details on targets are at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/aboutus/122986.aspx

and current reporting begins at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/news/132466.aspx

Newfoundland seeks to lead on climate change

Earlier this week the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, facing an election on November 11th of this year, released two reports: Moving Forward: Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2011 and Charting Our Course: Climate Change Action Plan 2011.  Releasing the reports, Ross Wiseman, Minister of Environment and Conservation, said “The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador believes that our province can be a leader in how to respond to climate change”. Shawn Skinner, Minister of Natural Resources is quoted as saying  “Energy efficiency offers a tremendous opportunity to support economic development and environmental progress in Newfoundland and Labrador. Energy efficiency can lower household fuel bills, strengthen business competitiveness, enhance energy security, reduce air pollutants harmful to human health, and contribute to efforts to tackle climate change.”

While somewhat weak on specifics, the climate change action plan does set some useful goals:
1: Enhance Newfoundland and Labrador’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.
2: Reduce greenhouse gas emission levels in Newfoundland and Labrador.
3: Demonstrate Provincial Government leadership on climate change.
4: Advance action on climate change through collaboration with other governments.

The Energy Efficiency Action Plan similarly sets a series of three goals:
1: Support a major shift in the uptake of energy efficiency.
2: Demonstrate Provincial Government leadership on energy efficiency.
3: Advance action on energy efficiency through collaboration with
other jurisdictions.

GallonDaily commends the Newfoundland and Labrador Government for publishing these two plans and recommends them to others seeking to begin the processes of energy efficiency and climate change action. It has been a long time since the Newfoundland and Labrador government published its Climate Change Action Plan 2005 and it is not clear how much of that plan has actually been implemented. Nevertheless the 2011 plans do provide a framework that should lead to further action in the future.

Both plans are available at http://www.exec.gov.nl.ca/exec/cceeet/