Testing the power of social media

The somewhat activist US environmental group 350 Action has launched an idea that is taking off like, well, wildfire. 350 Action is the non-charitable (ie. political action) partner of 350.org, the environmental group founded by U.S. author Bill McKibben to encourage global action on climate change.

350 Action’s idea is to stop naming hurricanes and tropical storms from a list set up by the World Meteorological Organization and instead to name them after people that 350 Action identifies as climate deniers and obstructionists. 350 Action has published a list of people it puts into that category, all Republican members of the US Congress.

350 Action’s petition might be regarded as little more than an amusing political lark were it not for the extreme support that it is attracting. Launched this week, the first goal of 25,000 names was surpassed almost immediately. The second goal, of 50,000 names by November 30th, was surpassed last night. Now 350 Action is seeking to achieve 75,000 names by November 30th. This target may well be reached by the end of the Labour Day weekend.

350 Action knows full well that the chances of persuading the WMO to adopt its proposal are slim indeed but it is also providing people who want to see action on climate change with a simple mechanism to express that view. GallonDaily would not be at all surprised to see the petition attract a million names by November 30th. And what will the politicians do then?

The petition reads as follows

Petition to the WMO to name extreme storms after climate change deniers.

Since 1954, the World Meteorological Organization has been naming extreme storms after people. As scientific evidence shows that climate change is creating increasingly frequent and devastating storms, and with climate scientists declaring these extreme weather events as the new normal, we propose a new naming system. A system that names extreme storms caused by climate change, after the policy makers who deny climate change and obstruct climate policy.

You can append your name to the petition at http://www.climatenamechange.org/#/petition

California NGO launches lawsuit over cancer risk in personal care products

The Center for Environmental Health, a California-based environmental group, has launched a suit against four companies that sell shampoos, soaps, and personal care products claiming that the products contain a known carcinogen and that they are not labelled “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm” as required by State law.

CEH has published a list of 98 products which contain cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA), used as a foaming agent and emulsifier in many products. Cocamide DEA was listed by California as a known carcinogen in June of last year. Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH, is quoted as stating “consumers need to know that they could be doused with a cancer-causing chemical every time they shower or shampoo”.

The list of products purchased in the San Francisco Bay area that CEH claims have shown positive  for the presence of cocamide DEA in testing by an independent laboratory includes some with such well-known brand names as Colgate-Palmolive Co., Walmart, Target, Alberto Culver USA, Upper Canada Soap, and Toys R Us.

GallonDaily does not know whether similar products in the Canadian market contain cocamide DEA.

The CEH announcement of its legal action and the list of products which it claims contain cocamide DEA can be found at http://www.ceh.org/making-news/press-releases/29-eliminating-toxics/663-lawsuit-launched-as-testing-finds-cancer-causing-chemical-in-nearly-100-hair-care-and-personal-care-products

Canada #7 on one sustainability scoring system

RobecoSAM is an investment specialist focused exclusively on Sustainability Investing. It is also the company behind the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, the widely recognized series of stock exchange indexes which attempt to recognize corporate leadership in Sustainable Development and social responsibility.

It is not surprising that such a sustainability reporting leader would seek to rank countries on their sustainability. In a just published summary, entitled Measuring Country Intangibles, RobecoSAM evaluates 59 countries – 21 developed and 38 emerging markets – on a broad range of Environmental, Social and Governance factors that RobecoSAM considers to be relevant for investors. Within this framework, Canada ranks 7th after Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom but two positions ahead of the United States.

The analysis is interesting because it awards 60% of the ranking to governance, including such aspects as rights and liberties, human capital and innovation,  internal risks and inefficiencies, management of public goods, protection of property rights, democratic participation, corruption, terrorism and political crimes, competition / liberalization, demographic profile, and monetary policy independence. Social aspects account for 25% of the overall ranking and include human welfare education, life expectancy, and number of strikes and lockouts. Environment accounts for only 15% of the ranking and includes emissions, biodiversity, energy use, energy sources, exposure to environmental risks, and risk mitigation. RobecoSAM does not explain the foundation for this 60:25:15 weighting, nor does its summary report provide individual country scores on each of the various indicators.

It is interesting, however, to break out the scores for environmental performance based on the information that RobecoSAM does provide. Whatever the limitations of this kind of ranking, and they are numerous, as even RobecoSAM acknowledges,  Canada ranks 18th in environmental sustainability out of the 59 countries analysed for sustainability by RobecoSAM.

That’s a record of which no Canadian should be proud.

The RobecoSAM Country Sustainability Ranking is available at http://www.robecosam.com/en/sustainability-insights/about-sustainability/country-sustainability-ranking.jsp

The Toxic 100 Air Polluters

The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has published a report, the Toxic 100 Air Polluters Index, that one might be more inclined to expect from an environmental group. PERI, however, has done it better than most environmental groups and the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The Toxic 100 Air Polluters Index highlights the top U.S. air polluters among the world’s largest corporations. The underlying data are from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, in which facilities across the U.S. report their releases of toxic chemicals. However, unlike many other lists of top polluters, which often simply add together the quantities of low toxicity and high toxicity pollutants,  the Toxic 100 also takes into account the degree of toxicity of the releases and the population exposed. This is a fairly sophisticated list.

Among the leaders are some household names:

  • du Pont
  • Bayer Group
  • Dow Chemical
  • ExxonMobil
  • BASF
  • General Electric

and hundreds more. Despite the name the list ranks all companies which report to the Toxics Release Inventory, not just the top 100.

PERI points out that there are quite a few potential sources of error in the data, almost all of them associated with poor reporting by the companies themselves. Potential sources of error include:

1. Incorrect data submitted by facilities.
2. Imprecise data submitted by facilities.
3. Inadequate information on stack heights.
4. Toxicity weights for chemical groups.
5. Lack of toxicity weights for some chemicals.
6. Geographical limits of modeled dispersion
7. Focus on long-term health effects.
8. Products of decay not modeled.
9. Imprecise location of facilities.
10. Releases assumed to be constant over time.
11. No reporting of emissions from mobile sources, such as trucks, automobiles, ships, and aircraft.
12. The chemicals in the TRI do not include some bulk pollutants that pose significant health and environmental risks, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide.

These are the same kind of problems that dog other pollutant release and transfer registries, such as Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory. Why government and industry do not get together to fix the problems is very strange: it seems inconceivable that anyone wins by having inaccurate pollutant release data circulating in the public domain.

Another question might be why a political economy research institute at a respected university is publishing a Toxics 100 list. Apparently the folks at PERI are interested in environmental justice. They calculate environmental justice ratios using geographical microdata generated by the model behind Toxics 100, then match the grid cells to U.S. Bureau of the Census geography, and make links to data on race, ethnicity, and poverty.

It is one of many environmental lists, most of them fingering supposed ‘bad’ companies, about which those with operations in the US should be aware.

The Toxic 100 is fully available, with many explanatory texts, at http://www.peri.umass.edu/toxic100/

Solar power does not eat up a huge amount of land

A new report from the US Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that solar power does not take up as much land as some critics have claimed. In fact, NREL has estimated that if solar energy was to meet 100% of all electricity demand in the United States, it would take up about 0.6% of the total land area of the country. The percentage is lower for Canada because our land area per person is greater. However, current technology does not allow sufficient power storage to advance solar power for 100% of our electricity requirements.

Direct land-use requirements for small and large photovoltaic installations range from 2.2 to 12.2 acres per megawatt with a capacity-weighted average of 6.9 acres/MW. Concentrating solar power installations take from 2.0 to 13.9 acres/MW, with a capacity-weighted average of 7.7 acres/MW. These numbers, which are drawn from actual in-place installations, are useful for landowners and owners of large commercial flat roof space who may be considering a solar power installation.

NREL states that a large fixed tilt photovoltaic (PV) plant that generates one gigawatt-hour per year requires, on average, 2.8 acres for the solar panels. This means that a solar power plant that provides all of the electricity for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres of land. This is reportedly less than the total amount of land used for a similar amount of power from a coal-fired plant using surface-mined coal.

The report also provides data on the land use requirements of various tracking and energy storage technologies designed for use with solar panels. In general, tracking systems generate more energy than fixed-tilt systems but also require more land per unit of capacity. GallonDaily adds that they also substantially increase costs and may increase maintenance requirements.

A press release and a link to the full 39 page report can be found at http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2013/2269.html

Copper and Alzheimer’s: interpreting environmental science sometimes requires careful reporting

Some environmental science reports are easy to interpret but others require much more care. However, it remains GallonDaily’s view that information on emerging issues should be made public and that the public should be helped to understand that just because something is being reported does not mean that it is a fact but it also does not mean that it is necessarily a fallacy.

We are drawn to mention this by a newly published research report in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that indicates that there may be a link between ingestion of copper and development of Alzheimer’s disease, a significant cause of serious dementia in elderly people.

It is early days for this research. The laboratory research was carried out on mice, not humans, and it could be that humans respond differently when exposed to copper. We need very small amounts of copper for our bodily functioning and the effect may only show up at higher levels than we are normally exposed to. The conventional dose-response linkage, the higher the dose the greater the adverse effect, probably does not apply, though recently this supposed linkage has been shown not to apply in a number of other cases. It may be that not all humans respond the same way to copper and, even if we do all respond the same way, it may be that different concentrations produce different results in different people. There may be different types of Alzheimer’s disease and copper may only influence one or several of them. As Alzheimer’s is a disease affecting the brain diagnosis is difficult or impossible until the patient has died.

In other words there is much more that we do not know than we know. However, if we were involved in an industry that uses copper in ways that expose people to it, most likely through drinking water, I would be thinking that this research may be the beginning of something important and that in some number of years I may have to make changes to my product or to its marketing.

The research comes from the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. Researchers there have found that a protein known amyloid-β (Aβ) accumulates in the brain of normal animals dosed with low levels of copper.  The study was looking for the mechanism for this accumulation and found that copper regulates low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein mediated Aβ clearance across the blood–brain barrier (BBB) in normal mice. Faulty Aβ clearance across the BBB due to increased Cu levels in the aging brain vessels may lead to accumulation of neurotoxic Aβ in brain tissue.

The research team speculates that copper-specific chelating agents, chaperones, or antioxidants may reduce copper-induced Aβ accumulation in brain, which should, by extension, prevent Aβ accumulation in brain tissue and improve cognition in Alzheimer’s disease.

An abstract and the research report may be accessed at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/08/14/1302212110.abstract?sid=a85cbc1a-2cfe-4c11-a38e-970d1d0e103e

What will it take for voters to support climate action?

Most observers agree that climate change requires international action and that any set of initiatives will require broad public support to be successful.  An interesting report recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America addresses some of the issues that will need to be addressed to win that enduring public support.

The research was undertaken by means of somewhat large scale internet surveys on representative samples of the adult population in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Findings included:

  • a strong sensitivity to costs: an increase of average household costs from 0.5% to 1% of gross domestic product decreases public support for an agreement by 10 percentage points. An agreement expected to cost 2% of GDP, which corresponds to €113 in France, €154 in Germany, £60 in the United Kingdom, and $213 in the United States per household and month, decreases support among citizens by 25 percentage points on average if compared with an agreement that costs only 0.5% of GDP.
  • perceptions of agreement fairness are determined most powerfully by a polluter-pays principle as opposed to a strong version of the ability-to-pay principle. Distributing the costs of emissions reductions proportional to current emissions increases support by about six percentage points compared with an agreement in which only rich countries pay.
  • mass support depends on how encompassing a global climate agreement is: increasing the number of countries that participate in an agreement from 20 of 192 to 80 of 192 increases support for an agreement by about 15 percentage points.
  • the enforcement structure of potential climate agreements influences public support. Across all four countries, having an agreement monitored by an independent commission—that is, a new international institution—increases the probability of supporting an agreement over the alternative that national governments monitor themselves. The magnitude of the effect is 5–10 percentage points or a 10–20% increase over the baseline.


The report, from researchers at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and Stanford University, provides considerably more depth to these analyses. Both an abstract and the full article are available at http://www.pnas.org/content/110/34/13763.full?sid=885dd472-5ba5-4cf5-b91e-ad3168f7d79b#

How to recycle a “writing instrument”

Users of the office supply superstore chain Staples may have noticed in the Company’s advertisements that it now accepts “writing instruments” for recycling. For such a progressive move GallonDaily cannot understand why Staples chose to use the archaic term “writing instrument”. So we investigated and found that Staples actually collects used pens and similar items for recycling. The actual list of writing items accepted for recycling at Staples stores is:

  • any brand of pens and pen caps
  • any brand of mechanical pencils
  • any brand of markers and marker caps
  • any brand of highlighters and highlighter caps
  • permanent markers and permanent marker caps

Way to go, Staples! And way to go, GallonDaily readers! Now is the time to take all those dead ballpoint and other pens that have been cluttering your drawers to a local Staples store for recycling.  For details, including a Staples store finder, visit http://www.terracycle.ca/en-CA/brigades/writing-instrument-retail-based-brigade.html

Other manufacturer and brandowner recycling initiatives put in place by the recycling company TerraCycle include:

  • cell phones
  • chocolate wrappers
  • cigarette waste
  • coffee bags
  • cookie and cracker wrappers
  • diaper packaging
  • digital cameras
  • drink pouches
  • inkjet cartridges
  • laptop computers
  • chocolate wrappers and personal care and beauty packaging through London Drugs stores
  • Nespresso® coffee capsules
  • sandwich bags
  • Schneiders® Lunchmate® packaging
  • TASSIMO® coffee, tea, espresso, milk and hot chocolate T DISCs

Some of these programs are better suited to points of bulk collection, such as schools and offices, but all are worth reviewing to see how waste recycling can be carried out. In most cases used items are returned by mail, with TerraCycle paying for the postage. Incentive points or charitable donations are associated with some of the programs.

For details on each of these recycling programs visit  http://www.terracycle.ca/en-CA/brigades.html

EU energy policies appear to be working; the conventional electricity industry may not be so enthusiastic

RWE AG, Germany’s second largest producer of electricity, provided some interesting insights in its recent first half of 2013 corporate performance report:

the company has decided to take about 3,100 megawatts of conventional generating capacity offline in Germany and the Netherlands “due to the continuing boom in solar energy” which the Company attributes to EU subsidies.

feed-ins from solar panels and wind turbines are increasingly replacing electricity generated by fossil-fuelled power stations, contributing to the steep decline in prices for EU carbon emissions trading credits.

the world coal market tends to be oversupplied and prices for coal used for power generation are falling.

the company ceased operation of a 1958 MW coal fired power plant in the UK because the plant does not meet current EU emission requirements.

an oil-fired power plant in the UK was shut down for economic reasons associated with the plant not meeting current EU emission requirements.

despite a slight decline in sales volume, the Company’s revenue from electricity sales was up 2% due to price increases.

the operating result recorded by RWE Innogy, RWE’s renewables division, was up 3%.

The RWE Report on the First Half of 2013 can be found at http://www.rwe.com/web/cms/mediablob/en/2011524/data/110822/4/rwe/investor-relations/reports/RWE-Report-H1-2013.pdf

Huge costs incurred from electricity grid failures

A new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers and the U.S. Department of Energy points out the huge costs that result from power outages caused by extreme weather events. The data show that between 2003 and 2012:

  • Weather-related outages are estimated to have cost the U.S. economy an inflation-adjusted annual average of $18 billion to $33 billion.
  • Roughly 679 power outages, each affecting at least 50,000 customers, occurred due to weather events. The aging nature of the grid – much of which was constructed over a period of more than one hundred years – has made Americans more susceptible to outages caused by severe weather.
  • In 2012, the United States suffered eleven billion-dollar weather disasters – the second-most for any year on record, behind only 2011.
  • Since 1980, the United States has sustained 144 weather disasters whose damage cost reached or exceeded $1 billion and seven of the ten costliest storms in U.S. history occurred between 2004 and 2012.

The report describes various approaches to modernization of the grid to reduce the frequency and severity of power outages. It notes that “Continued investment in grid modernization and resilience will mitigate these costs over time – saving the economy billions of dollars and reducing the hardship experienced by millions of Americans when extreme weather strikes.”

Power outage problems in many parts of Canada are almost certainly as severe as those in the United States yet the focus of much industrial and consumer advocacy has been to achieve the lowest possible power rates. As this report shows, scrimping on the maintenance of infrastructure can cause massive costs when system failures occur, substantially in excess of what infrastructure maintenance costs would have been.

A press release and a link to the full 28 page report Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages can be found at http://energy.gov/articles/white-house-council-economic-advisers-and-energy-department-release-new-report-resiliency