Air pollution still serious in UK

The UK Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee has published a new report on air quality. According to the report:

  • Forty out of the UK’s 43 assessment zones are failing to meet EU targets and poor air quality is now found to be shortening the lives of up to 200,000 people by an average of 2 years.
  • In 2008, 4,000 people died in London from air pollution and 30,000 died across the whole of the UK.
  • The health impact of man-made particulate air pollution experienced in the UK in 2005 cost between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year.
  • For 2010 40 of the 43 UK air quality assessment zones did not achieve NO2 compliance.
  • Exceeding WHO guidelines for exposure to fine particulate matter in 25 European cities with a total of 39 million inhabitants resulted in health costs of €31.5 billion a year.

EU limits for PM10 are an average 24 hour exposure of 50 µg/m3 and an average annual exposure of 40 µg/m3. For NO2 the legal exposure limits are an average one hour exposure of 200 µg/m3 and an average annual exposure of 40 µg/m3.

The Report is available at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/news/air-quality-a-follow-up-report/

Two million dollar fine for spying on Greenpeace

The era of corporations spying on environmental groups may be brought to an end by a French court decision against Electricté de France SA. A French court last week ordered EDF to pay a fine of 1.5 million Euros, approximately $2080 thousand Canadian dollars, plus damages of 0.5 million Euros to be paid to Greenpeace, for spying on Greenpeace while it challenged the UK government not to allow EDF to expand its nuclear operations in that country. Potentially more effective than the huge fines: four Company officials, including EDF’s head of nuclear safety and the Company’s second in command of nuclear safety security, plus the head of the ‘security’ firm that EDF hired, were given suspended jail sentences.

It is difficult to imagine a court case that is more damaging to the reputation not only of EDF and the European nuclear industry but also of industries worldwide that allow perceptions of environmental disdain to proliferate.

Greenpeace paraphrased Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they spy on you, then you win”. According to the Internet’s quotedb.com, the actual quote is “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” GallonDaily is inclined to think the difference is minor; we have warned for some years that corporations that choose to engage in unethical practices against their opponents are asking for trouble. The Greenpeace vs EDF case seems to provide support for that perspective.

The news story, from the Greenpeace perspective, is at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/dont-hack-the-hippies-nuclear-giant-edf-found/blog/37768/

At press time the Company side of the story does not seem to have warranted a mention at http://www.edfenergy.com. In the UK, where EDF runs eight nuclear power plants, the media reports an EDF spokesperson as saying “”we make no comments on Greenpeace, nothing at all” and “It’s a French story about the French business, it’s nothing to do with us.” In September the CEO of EDF told the British media that Britain’s biggest energy companies have to work hard to rebuild the trust of the general public. ‘Nuff said!  While an appeal may indeed be pending, the damage to the nuclear industry in the UK is already well past mending.

US EPA encourages use of its environmental data

Instead of working hard to keep environmental data from public scrutiny, as GallonDaily sees from time to time in some Canadian agency or other, the US Environmental Protection Agency ran a contest to encourage designers of apps to make innovative and environmentally worthwhile use of data in the Agency’s files. Some of the winners seem to GallonDaily to be taking approaches which could usefully encourage the greening of business.

Among the winners:

  • Light Bulb Finder finds the most energy efficient replacement lightbulbs for a particular existing residential incandescent application based on economics, fit, appearance, and quality. For each recommendation, the app displays a bulb image, specifications, energy and dollar savings, and CO2 emissions reductions calculated for the zipcode where the replacement is planned to be used.  In the US, phase-in of energy-efficient lighting regulations begins January 1st, 2012. In Canada, energy efficiency regulations for lightbulbs will not kick in until 2014, if not postponed again.
  • Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping provides users with information about abandoned uranium mines and unregulated water sources in the vicinity of a specified location. While incomplete in its coverage of so-called environmental justice issues, it does provide a good indication of where this field is headed. The Ontario government makes users pay to access similar information through a private sector information provider.
  • CGSearch is an app that enables users to review and compare the air quality index, air pollutant levels, energy consumption of various US cities. It is always useful, especially for those of us with respiratory issues, to know the air quality of cities we intend to visit. or to which we are thinking of moving.
  • WeRecycle allows users to find the nearest litter or recycle bin, log or map litter and recycling bins, map temporary litter and recycle bins for large event, and express a need for a litter or recycle bin at a particular location. The app is still in a formative state but GallonDaily thinks it will also have a valuable use in identifying communities and areas that are not bothering to work to reduce litter or encourage on-street or event recycling.
  • Air Quality Data Explorer allows users to explore the data from EPA’s AirNow air quality database covering hundreds of sites.
  • What’s in the Water is an app covering pollution advisories for major bodies of water in the United States and Canada. It is designed for people who go fishing who need to know if they can eat what they catch.
  • toxicSlayar (that’s its name!) is an iPhone app that displays the EPA Toxic Release Inventory database by toxic chemical, by pound and by source. Using toxicSlayar you can hold up your iPhone and see which toxic chemicals were released around you last year, by which companies, and in what amounts. GallonLetter suspects this one could become a real gotcha, far exceeding in degree of challenge to industry the Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s Taking Stock report. The 2011 Taking Stock report is based on 2006 data. toxicSlayar is currently based on 2009 data, reducing the ability of industry and politicians to claim that, as they have frequently done in the past, that Taking Stock was then but now is different.

There were 38 submissions to the Apps for the Environment contest. They are fun, as well as informative, to browse and you can find them all described at http://appsfortheenvironment.challenge.gov/ We have not yet tried all of them but, being among those that see value in the use of information technology for reducing environmental footprints, we’ll be taking a good look at those which have potential for use in a Canadian context.

Emissions from transport: lessons from the EU

A report on emissions from the transport sector issued today by the European Environment Agency serves as a sobering reminder to Canada of the size of the challenge of reducing pollution and GHGs from transportation. Key findings include:

  • Transport was responsible for 24 % of all EU GHG emissions in 2009. The Roadmap states that EU Member States are required to reduce GHGs from transport by 60 % by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Since emissions actually increased by 27 % between 1990 and 2009, the EU must make an overall 68 % reduction between 2009 and 2050.
  • Annual energy consumption from transport grew continuously between 1990 and 2007 in the EEA member countries. While total energy demand from transport fell 4 % from 2007-2009, the upward trend is likely to resume with economic growth.
  • Air quality objectives were exceeded in many areas. For nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which can cause asthma and other respiratory problems, the annual limit values were exceeded at 41 % of traffic monitoring stations in 2009.
  • Particulate matter (PM10) from transport also causes serious health problems. In 2009 the daily limit value for PM10 was exceeded at 30 % of the traffic sites across the EU-27.
  • Almost 100 million people were exposed to damaging long-term average levels of noise from road vehicles on major roads.
  • The share of alternative fuelled cars on the road has grown steadily, comprising more than 5 % of the fleet in 2009. Most of these were using liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), while electric vehicles made up 0.02 % of the total fleet.
  • Roads, railways and motorways are cutting up Europe’s landscape into ever smaller parcels, with serious consequences for biodiversity. Nearly 30 % of land in the EU is moderately, highly or very highly fragmented, restricting movement and breeding of many different species.

A summary and a link to the report are at http://www.eea.europa.eu/pressroom/newsreleases/european-transport-sector-must-be

Australia passes carbon tax

The Australian government’s carbon tax was passed by the country’s upper house yesterday and is expected to be proclaimed very soon. This despite a promise by the Prime Minister in last year’s election not to introduce a carbon tax.

The carbon tax will be imposed effective July 1st 2012 at a rate of $23 Australian (just over $24 CDN) only on the country’s largest emitters. The carbon tax transitions to a cap and trade scheme in 2015.  There will be no carbon tax on fuel for cars but fuel for railways, airlines, and trucks will be included. Compensation will be provided to homes and small businesses to partially, and in some cases wholly, offset the costs of the tax.

The Australian government press release and links to more detailed information can be found at http://www.cleanenergyfuture.gov.au/legislation-passes-senate/

Details of the legislation can be found on the Parliamentary website at http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=BillId_Phrase%3A%22r4653%22%20Dataset%3Abillsdgs;rec=0

A Green Christmas Shopping List

In an effort to encourage the greening of holiday season gifting, GallonDaily has decided to reprint a list of ten low environmental impact Christmas gifts that first appeared in Gallon Environment Letter, V15 n9 on 10 December 2010.

As we approach gift season GL’s editors thought we might share some suggestions for low environmental impact Christmas gifts. Not surprisingly, these are mostly gifts that involve services rather than durable goods – a switch which we see as key to increasing sustainability. So, without further ado (another low impact thing, as far as we can tell),and in no particular order :

  • theatre tickets to a local theatre. We have never seen or done a LifeCycle impact on theatre, but it seems to us that cultural activities such as theatre likely have lower environmental impact per dollar spent than almost any material goods. If you cannot find a local theatre with tickets, or season tickets, for sale, then an alternative may be an educational course for your friends or relatives.
  • museum tickets. With family admissions now often exceeding $20, and sometimes much more, the gift of admission to a museum or art gallery makes a very nice holiday gift. Art will appreciate it too.
  • a season of Community Shared Agriculture. Right across Canada many small farmers are offering CSA programs, where they grow the food and all the members get a share. Many CSA farmers will sell an entire season and, if one share is too big, they will sell a half share. This means that your friend or relatives will get from 12 to 20 weeks of locally grown, often organic, vegetables that will taste better than anything that can be bought in the supermarket.
  • local food products are always a good choice. Food is a necessity and, in GL’s opinion, food production presents one of the most sustainable economic development opportunities for Canada. Depending on where in Canada you live, the following ideas might help you find a sustainable gift: on the east, west, or south (Great Lakes) coasts, look for smoked seafood such as smoked mackerel, smoked trout, or smoked salmon. Many fishmongers can help you choose a delicious local smoked fish product that does not require refrigeration (as far as GL knows, Santa’s sleigh does not carry any kind of refrigerant).
  • garden seeds and planters for growing of food plants. If your friends or relatives are not yet into gardening for food, then a book, a few packs of seeds for vegetable production, or a couple of mini-greenhouses for seed germination can get them started. If they already grow their own tomatoes, then an electric seed starter mat which warms the seed tray from the bottom can help. Search for seed starter mat on Google or Yahoo Search or inquire (by phone, to avoid driving) at local seed supply companies or nurseries. Growing your own food is a pretty sustainable thing to do, and getting the seeds started early can help increase production.
  • transit tickets or passes. All environmentally aware folks know that buses, trains, and coaches are far better than taking you car. Why not encourage you parents, relatives, or friends to use public transit by giving them a bus or train pass. If they are not in a situation where they can use transit regularly, gift them a bus tour or train pass to visit somewhere they would find interesting. Most coach tour operators as well as Via Rail Canada offer short and longer tours to all kinds of neat places. Trains and buses are usually lower environmental impact, and a more pleasant way to travel, than taking your own car.
  • a heated mattress pad or electric duvet along with an automatic turn-down thermostat if they do not already have one. GL is a big fan of electrically heated bedding. At night one can turn down the home heating thermostat by as much as 8 or 9 degrees if one has a warm bed. In most homes it takes far less energy to keep the bed warm, literally only a few watts per hour, than to keep the whole house warm. Yes, we know a hot water bottle might be better but we like an electric duvet, available in the US from bedding retailers but in Canada apparently mostly from EBay – look for Sunbeam brand – but heated mattress pads are also excellent and cheaper than the electric duvet. Your gift recipient will only save money and the environment if they turn down the house temperature overnight so if they do not have one get them an electronic thermostat as well as the heated bedding.
  • a romantic night in a local hotel. ‘Nuff said! But hotels exist and the environmental impact of another occupied room is pretty small! Many people say they never explore their local tourist sites unless they have visitors. For over 40 years, the London Free Press (London, Ontario) has offered a “Shunpiker Tour” which highlights local art, culture, old-fashioned general stores and other places to see and things to do within a short distance away. Staying in a local hotel is a great way to explore the local sights.
  • a gift certificate at a store that you know provides things that the recipient will like. Believe it or not but GL is not a big fan of gift certificates. But we have to say that giving a gift certificate so that the recipient can buy something they will use is far better for the environment than giving them something for which they have no use. So we endorse the current trend towards gift certificates as long as the giver puts some thoughts into the store in which the recipient would find value. If it is an older person or someone who can make good use of the gift of communication, then consider a long-distance telephone gift card. We particularly like the series offered by VOX, which is Bell Canada in disguise, but other brands are probably just as good. The environmental impact of a telephone call is very low and the social benefit seems to us to be very high.
  • trees for the garden or for a public space are another environmentally helpful gift idea. Although it is obviously not possible to plant trees in Canada during the Christmas holiday season, many nurseries and garden centres offer gift certificates that can be used to plant a tree when Spring arrives, or you can just pledge to deliver the tree when the season is appropriate. We don’t recommend giving a potted Christmas tree or garden tree at Christmas time. Even if the tree survives the often dry and hot conditions inside the home it is unlikely to forgive you for the transition to the cool damp conditions that will exist outdoors in the Spring.

Beyond our 10 more sustainable gift suggestions we also recommend the gift of service. If it is someone who lives alone, offer to visit their home, bring and make a meal and join with them in eating together on four, six or twelve occasions during the year or if you are driving, fill up the car and offer a ride to the grocery store. If it is a couple or family, offer to bring a meal or help them with the household chores. If it is a child, offer to play games with them or help them with puzzles or school work on a specific number of occasions and for a specified length of time in the coming year. If you have skills that the recipient would find valuable, offer to teach them, help them exercise, maintain their home, or even babysit for a number of occasions during the year. Give them a number of coupons for the activity you have chosen that they can redeem with you so that you and they will know that the obligation is real and will be delivered. Helping each other has to be one of the cornerstones of a more sustainable 21st Century society.

Above all, enjoy the holiday season and help your friends and family enjoy the holiday season and the year ahead.

Arctic Food Network wins major sustainability prize

The Arctic Food Network is a snowmobile accessed regional network of arctic farms, freezers, and camp hubs. Designed especially to support traditional hunting and gathering, the AFN encircles the large body of the Foxe Basin, north and west of Iqaluit, in Nunavut.

Using existing snowmobile trails between the far-flung communities of the region, the AFN is proposed to comprise of a network of easy to assemble and subsequently permanent small camps that provide for food storage, small scale agriculture, data connections, and shelter for hunters and gatherers, hence providing support for a traditional lifestyle in the far North.

The AFN has recently won the North American Gold Award for 2011 of the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction. The Holcim Foundation was established by the global cement and aggregate company of the same name but is now run independently of the commercial interests of the Company. Prototype network hubs for the AFN will be tested at three sites in the region in partnership with the Nunavut Department of Culture, Language, Elders, and Youth. The AFN was designed by Lateral Office / Infranet Lab architects in Toronto and Princeton, N.J.

Information about the AFN is available at http://www.holcimfoundation.org/Portals/1/docs/A11/NAM/A11NAgoCA-poster.pdf

Information about the Holcim Gold 2011 North America Award winner is at http://www.holcimfoundation.org/T1380/A11NAgoCA.htm

Court upholds US West Coast pesticide ban in salmon habitat

Since 2001 environmental and fisher groups have been before the courts in the US seeking a ban on use of certain organophosphate pesticides, chlorpyrifos, malathion, and diazinon, in areas where they might imperil endangered salmon. This week, a US Federal Court judge ruled in favour of the environmental groups and against a pesticide industry coalition led by Dow AgroSciences, LLC.

As a result, and subject to any appeal, the US Environmental Protection Agency, which has been dragging its feet on the issue, will be required to prohibit ground application of these chemicals within 500 feet and aerial application within 1,000 feet of salmon habitat in four West Coast states.

The National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a US federal government agency, filed more than 20,000 pages of evidence in the case. The judge’s decision, a 32 page summary, can be found at http://media.oregonlive.com/environment_impact/other/SalmonRuling.pdf

While this decision was based on the adequacy of the technical assessment carried out by NMFS, there is little doubt that many activists will view it as a victory for the environment in general, and endangered species in particular, over the pesticide industry. Victories often serve to embolden activist environmentalists.

A brief summary of the decision can be found at http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2011/10/federal_judge_backs_rules_that.html

The Tea Party is not the US public

According to a GFK Roper Consulting Green Gauge study, the American public is much better informed about the environment than Tea Party Republican politicians. The survey indicates that knowledge about the environment is rising and that 70 per cent now claim to know a lot or a fair amount about environmental issues and problems, up from about fifty per cent during the mid-1990’s.

In spite of rising economic concerns, Americans still want companies to go green. About three in four (74%) agree ―a manufacturer that reduces the environmental impact of its production process and products is making a smart business decision.

A slight majority are comfortable with a trade-off between environmental protection and economic development, with 52% agreeing that some pollution is inevitable if we are going to continue to make improvements in our standard of living.

Interestingly, Americans say that both financial incentives (49% say this is a major influence) and penalties (49%) have a greater influence on their green behavior than pressure from family, friends and government – with celebrities having the least reported impact on green behavior.

A summary of the report, somewhat incomplete in GallonDaily’s opinion, and a link to the full report, with many other interesting statistics, can be found at http://www.prweb.com/releases/prweb2011/11/prweb8926002.htm

Green economy growing strongly in London, UK

According to a report released by Mayor Boris Johnson, the green economy in London, UK, is growing strongly despite the economic downturn. The low carbon and green economy sector has been growing by four per cent per year and currently includes 9,000 companies employing 160,000 people. The sales value of the sector is estimated to have been at least £23 billion ($36 billion CDN) in 2009-10.

The largest share of the green economy is in carbon finance, with nearly 2,000 companies employing over 23,000 people and worth nearly £6billion. Other strengths are reported to be ground source heat pumps, local heat networks and combined heat and power plants, solar/photovoltaics, and waste management.

The Mayor’s press release is at http://london.gov.uk/media/press_releases_mayoral/new-figures-show-green-economy-london-vibrant-and-bucking-downturn

A summary of the report by Innovas Solutions Ltd. can be downloaded from http://www.london.gov.uk/publication/london-low-carbon-market-snapshot-2011

A description of London’s climate change mitigation and energy strategy is available at http://www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/mayor/publication/climate-change-mitigation-energy-strategy

London’s Mayor Boris Johnson is a Conservative politician first elected to the House of Commons in 2001 and subsequently elected Mayor of London in 2008. London’s population is estimated at about 7.8 million and the economy generates more than $400 billion annually.