Study suggests planted forests sequester carbon in the soil especially while trees are younger

The question of the carbon sequestration benefits of forestry projects through increases in the levels of carbon in the soil has been controversial since the Kyoto Protocol permitted forests as a carbon offset tool. While one study will not put the issue to rest, a recent report from researchers at a university in Yangling, China, suggests that some of the results suggested by intuition do occur, at least in Shaanxi Province, China.

The researchers compared farmland plots to adjacent forest plots that had been established on farmland 18, 24, 48, 100, and 200 yr previously. They found a nonlinear accumulation of total soil organic carbon in the 0–80 cm depth of the mineral soil across time. The carbon accumulated more rapidly under forest stands aged 18 to 48 yr than under forest stands aged 100 or 200 yrs. The rate was also greater in the 0–10 cm depth than in the 10–80 cm depth.

While one study does not make a global proof, the results suggest that more research using a similar methodology could be very useful in establishing more precise guidelines for sequestration of carbon in the soils of planted forests. In addition, they give encouragement to those undertaking afforestation and reforestation projects that the soil sequestration benefits that may be considered part of the project are in fact real and that there is a large potential for sequestration of carbon in the soils of planted forests.

The study is available in the peer-reviewed online science journal PLoS ONE at http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0032054#s3

Green products and toxic ingredients

A report published on line this week in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives reports findings of endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products, including some green consumer products, from US brands. The highest concentrations and numbers of ingredients of concern were in the fragranced products perfume, air fresheners, dryer sheets, and sunscreens. Some of the ingredients of concern were not reported on ingredient labels.

GallonDaily shares the authors’ view that more research on biological activity of these ingredients is needed and that more complete ingredient labelling of these products should be required by governments or demanded by consumers but we do worry about some of the extreme headlines generated by mainstream media from this EHP article. The researchers have not published their detailed findings, suggesting either that they are not confident in their research results or that they are allowing a perceived threat of litigation to cloud their scientific credibility. Not publishing product by product results means that an entire product sector is defamed when likely only a few products in that sector contain the chemicals of concern and it means that consumers have no easy ability to determine whether a product might be of concern to them. GallonDaily considers not publishing complete product by product results as pretty poor quality scientific reporting.

The authors of this paper state that “It appears that consumers can avoid some target chemicals—synthetic fragrances, BPA, and regulated active ingredients—using purchasing criteria.” That reads like the kind of advice frequently provided by governments. Here’s GallonDaily’s advice:

Consumers concerned about toxic substances in household products should consider avoiding entirely or reducing use of some of the products identified by this research.

  • Reputable green household products do not contain fragrances, a known source of certain substances having adverse health effects. Where fragrances are unavoidable, for example to mask unpleasant odours from a product ingredient, natural source fragrances are likely to pose less of a health risk than synthetic fragrances. However, all odours and fragrances are volatile organic compounds, which have an adverse impact on indoor air quality and may be contributors to respiratory problems, and are best avoided.
  • Air fresheners fall into the same category: best avoided if you are concerned about indoor air quality. Air fresheners and dryer sheets are not generally considered to be eligible for reputable green product status.
  • With the thinning of stratospheric ozone levels, caused by human activity and use of refrigerants, use of sunscreens may be unavoidable. However, screening by clothing and by shelter should be considered whenever and wherever possible, and use of sunscreen should be kept to a minimum. There are few sunscreens on the market today that would be considered green by reputable verifiers.

Selection of greener products verified by Ecologo, President’s Choice GREEN, Green Seal, or another reputable ecolabelling organization should ensure significant reduction in a household’s exposure to chemicals of concern from the product categories mentioned in this article.

The Environmental Health Perspectives article does provide detailed information on the ingredients that the authors consider to be of concern. The abstract, full report, and background data can be found at http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1104052

Disclosure: The owners of Gallondaily.com provide third-party verification services to one of the ecolabel brands mentioned in this article. All brands mentioned are trade marks of their respective owners. Trademark owners had no input into the content of this article.

Success in international drinking water goal

It is not often that we can report that international environmental goals are met but this is a good one and it is five years ahead of the target. One of the Millennium Development Goals, agreed at the United Nations in 2000, to halve the number of people in the world without access to clean drinking water by 2015, has been met five years early. according to a just-released World Health Organization / UNICEF report.

The UN estimates that an estimated 89 per cent of the global population now use improved drinking water sources. Despite this enormous accomplishment, 780 million people remain unserved.

Progress on sanitation has not been so good. An estimated 2.5 billion people are still without improved sanitation; almost three quarters of them in rural areas.

A press release and the detailed report can be found at http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2676&ArticleID=9068&l=en

Canada’s ranking on Cleantech Innovation

The Cleantech Group LLC and WWF have partnered to produce a Global Cleantech Innovation Index. The report defines cleantech as embracing a wide range of innovative products and services that contribute both financial returns and positive environmental impacts and outcomes and notes that the term is sometimes used interchangeably with greentech, sustainable technologies, and environmental technologies.

The research places Denmark as having the best business environment for cleantech, followed in order by Israel, Sweden, Finland, USA, Germany, Canada, South Korea, Ireland, and UK as the top ten. At least Canada makes the top ten, but the commentary on Canada is not so encouraging:

Canada scores in the top 10 for both general innovation drivers and commercialised cleantech innovation, but falls below average on cleantech specific drivers. The country has very strong general innovation inputs but lacks strong government policies as well as public R&D funding in support of cleantech innovation. The country has seen strong VC investment, along with a good number of private equity and M&A deals, coupled with good density of public cleantech companies. On the downside, the country’s commercialised cleantech score is held back by below average renewable energy consumption. Canada scores below its immediate neighbour the US.

That is a pretty fair assessment, in GallonDaily’s opinion.

For more details of how Canada and 37 other countries around the world are doing on cleantech, as well as both commentary, examples, and details of the indicators used in the Index visit http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?uNewsID=203662 and download the full report.

HFC refrigerants could be tackled to mitigate climate change

When CFC and HCFC refrigerants were tackled by the Montreal Protocol to address stratospheric ozone depletion many users of refrigeration, air conditioning and foaming equipment switched to hydrofluorocarbons, known as HFCs. Now a Nobel Laureate chemist is proposing that the Montreal Protocol should be used to control HFCs because they are making a major contribution to climate change.

In an article in The Hill, a newspaper aimed at the Washington DC Congressional community, Nobel Laureate Mario Molina and Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development in Washington DC, have proposed that by focussing on reducing emissions of black carbon and HFCs, the world can reduce the rate of global warming in half. Black carbon emissions can be controlled through existing national and state laws while HFC use and emissions can be controlled with the Montreal Protocol. Response of the climate system to reductions in emissions of these two substances would, according to these two scientists, happen very quickly.

Some countries that are at serious risk from climate change are already proposing that the next Conference of the Parties to the Montreal Convention on Ozone Depleting Substances address the HFC problem. While action is unlikely to have immediate effect, GallonDaily suggests that current users of HFCs and companies that want to demonstrate their environmental leadership should begin to plan a path away from these very high global warming potential chemicals.

For more information visit http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-a-environment/210599-how-to-cut-climate-change-in-half

A scientific article on the same topic appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 and can be read at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/10/09/0902568106.full.pdf%2Bhtml

 

Heat is Power Association may be a useful model

The Heat is Power Association is a new US industry coalition formed by almost two dozen companies that are in the business of converting waste heat from industry into electricity. While the concept is not new, the forming of an association is expected to encourage recovery of waste heat, an activity that is generally considered to be as valuable as installing renewable energy systems.  The Association claims that recovery of power from waste heat could produce as much as $3 billion in annual savings for American industry, create 160,000 new American jobs, and generate a significant amount of previously unrealized emission-free electricity.

The Association brings together two aspects that GallonDaily especially commends:

  • an association of companies promoting more sustainable technologies, rather than waiting for government to promote the technology or competing in a way that reduces the effectiveness of each other’s messages [the members of Heat is Power Association are still competitors but are working together on a common theme that energy from waste power is environmentally sustainable and economically worthwhile].
  • industry taking the lead on research and on development of an element of US energy policy that promises to provide jobs and environmental benefits.

Members of the Association include GE Energy, Alliance Pipeline, Guardian, The Smardt Chiller Group, Gulf Coast Green Energy, Hyundai Ideal Electric Co., and more.  Maybe this is an initiative that can be followed by other clean technology industry sectors in both the US and Canada.

 Many more details, including case studies and a complete list of member companies, at http://www.heatispower.org/

UN environment report gains high profile through right wing attacks

A new UN Environment Programme report,  21 Issues for the 21st Century, is gaining greatly increased profile because conservative organizations in the United States, including Fox News, have accused the report, which is only 47 pages long, of being a blueprint for global governance. GallonDaily has reviewed the report and can find nothing in it, except a description of 21 global environmental issues, which can possibly be interpreted in this way. In GallonDaily’s opinion the report’s main value is in helping to organize some of the key environmental issues facing the world today.

The 21 issues were compiled by a panel of 22 scientists with input from 428 scientists from around the world. The issues identified, and briefly described in the report, are, as ranked through scores given by more than 400 scientists worldwide:

  • Aligning Governance to the Challenges of Global Sustainability
  • Transforming Human Capabilities for the 21st Century: Meeting Global Environmental Challenges and Moving Towards a Green Economy
  • New Challenges for Ensuring Food Safety and Food Security for 9 Billion People
  • Broken Bridges: Reconnecting Science and Policy
  • Social Tipping Points? Catalyzing Rapid and Transformative Changes in Human Behaviour towards the Environment
  • New Insights on Water-Land Interactions: Shift in the Management Paradigm?
  • Beyond Conservation: Integrating Biodiversity Across the Environmental and Economic Agendas
  • New Challenges for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Managing the Unintended Consequences
  • Accelerating the Implementation of Environmentally-Friendly Renewable Energy Systems
  • Greater Risk than Necessary? The Need for a New Approach for Minimizing Risks of Novel Technologies and Chemicals
  • Boosting Urban Sustainability and Resilience
  • The New Rush for Land: Responding to New National and International Pressures
  • Potential Collapse of Oceanic Systems Requires Integrated Ocean Governance
  • Changing the Face of Waste: Solving the Impending Scarcity of Strategic Minerals and Avoiding Electronic Waste
  • Shortcutting the Degradation of Inland Waters in Developing Countries
  • Acting on the Signal of Climate Change in the Changing Frequency of Extreme Events
  • The Environmental Consequences of Decommissioning Nuclear Reactors
  • New Concepts for Coping with Creeping Changes and Imminent Thresholds
  • Coastal Ecosystems: Addressing Increasing Pressures with Adaptive Governance
  • Coping with Migration Caused by New Aspects of Environmental Change
  • Managing the Impacts of Glacier Retreat

The report can be found at http://www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/foresightreport/Portals/24175/pdfs/Foresight_Report-21_Issues_for_the_21st_Century.pdf

Profile of environmental justice issues raised by US Government MOU

Last August  heads of 17 federal agencies and White House offices took an important step in the Administration’s effort to support environmental justice by signing a Memorandum of Understanding on environmental justice.  The EJ MOU renews an Executive Order on environmental justice first signed in 1994. Federal departmental environmental justice strategies required by the MOU were released earlier this week.

The new environmental justice MOU is likely to be much more effective than the original Executive Order,  not only raising the effectiveness of federal agency action but also defining US governmental expectations for industry’s relationship with environmental justice issues. While not binding outside of the US, GallonDaily expects that the US effort is likely to scope expectations of sustainability initiatives such as the Global Reporting Initiative and ISO 26000, an international standard for corporate social responsibility, with respect to expectations for corporate social justice activities in both developed and developing countries.

Gallon Environment Letter will be preparing a summary of the environmental justice plans of the US administration and their significance for business. We will be announcing its availability in Gallon Environment Letter later this year. Strategies with business impacts include:

  • Protecting health in communities already over-burdened by pollution.
  • Empowering communities to take action to improve their health and environment.
  • Protecting and significantly improving the lives of workers from health and safety hazards associated with mining.
  • Addressing the impacts of climate change on transportation systems across the country, with a particular emphasis on coastal areas, many of which have low-income and minority populations.
The complete compendium of the US government’s environmental justice strategies can be found at http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/interagency/iwg-compendium.html