Groups attack Walmart for not ‘walking the talk’ on energy and climate change

In an open letter several major US environmental groups have attacked Walmart and its owners, the Walton family, for saying one thing and doing another when it comes to climate change. The groups, including Friends of the Earth, Institute for Local Self Reliance, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, and  five more, claim that Walmart:

  • stated publicly in 2005 that it has a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as it can but in fact Walmart self reported that, between 2005 and 2012, its carbon dioxide emissions grew from 18.9 to 21.2 million metric tons annually.
  • has indicated that it expects its CO2 emissions to continue to increase over the next decade.
  • reported emissions do not include international shipping, land development, or manufacturing of the products they sell.
  • continues to support extreme dirty energy, including tar sands oil, dirty coal, and fracking. This means Walmart’s climate change pollution is even higher than the massive amount they currently report.
  • finances politicians who fight action to address the climate crisis, including funding the campaigns of some of the most powerful climate change deniers in Congress.
  • continues to fund organizations that are leading major campaigns to block climate legislation.
  • lags far behind many other retailers in making the shift to wind and solar. Last year, the company’s use of renewable power actually declined.
  • continues to elevate profits above all else and leave devastation in its wake. The company’s business model is built around the idea of hiding the true costs of doing business. Walmart is profitable because it externalizes its costs onto people, including its own workers, and the environment.

The groups are calling on Walmart to:

  • implement a publicly verifiable, accurate tracking of all of their climate change emissions, commit to an overall 20% reduction in emissions by 2020, and end reliance on environmentally destructive energy sources and industries, including dirty coal, fracking and the tar sands.
  • hold its suppliers and business partners to these same standards or sever its relationships with them.
  • stop funding anti-environmental politicians, including those leading attacks against climate solutions built on scientific consensus.

If the group’s claims are true, Walmart appears at least to have fallen into the common trap of failing to deliver on promises of improved environmental performance. That’s why GallonDaily recommends that companies not make promises of improved environmental performance until they can demonstrate that they are delivering on those promises, or at least are so close to delivering that an attack such as that launched this week on Walmart is not credible.

At press time GallonDaily was unable to find a response from Walmart to the groups’ claims. If we receive one we will publish either the full response or our summary of it.

The open letter from the nine environmental groups can be found at http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-climate-letter/

A blog, follow the money, recently reported on financial ties between Walmart, through the Walton Family Foundation, and the major US environmental group Environmental Defense Fund. According to an article in Grist last year, EDF has been working closely with Walmart on its sustainability efforts since 2005, and has opened an office in Bentonville, Ark., where Walmart is headquartered. The follow the money article can be found at http://seeker401.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/environmental-defense-fund-greenwashing-walmart-edition/ and the Grist article at http://grist.org/business-technology/walmart-heirs-quietly-fund-walmarts-environmental-allies/

New poll analysis indicates majority of Americans support action on climate change

A new statistical analysis of polling data from the last decade undertaken by Professor Jon Krosnick, the Frederic O. Glover Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, provides some startling conclusions regarding the attitude of Americans towards climate change in 2013. The data generally repudiate the view that Republican voters are deniers of climate change. The state level analyses includes all states except Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia:

  • at least 75% of Americans in every state believe global warming has been happening.
  • more than 50% of residents in every state but four Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Montana) believe the U.S. government should do more to address global warming.
  • more than 60% of Americans in every state believe past global warming has been caused by humans.
  • more than 70% of Americans in every state but one (Idaho) believe global warming will pose a serious problem for the United States.

However, less than 16% of Americans in every state see the issue of global warming as extremely important to them personally.

The data are available in easy to view map form at http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?q=page/stanford-university-public-opinion-surveys-on-global-warming-2013-us-maps-of-key-survey-finding

Report presents strategy for achieving zero food waste in UK by 2020

A new report from a food waste recycler and a charity that promotes sustainable businesses in the UK includes a number of proposals that may help other countries, like Canada, also achieve zero waste food to landfill. The report also suggests that its recommendations will save the UK economy over £17bn a year by 2020 through the reduction of food wastes from households, businesses and the public sector. The data in the report are specific to the UK, though similar data, scaled for population and food consumption differences, likely also apply to Canada.

The recommendations include:

  • By treating food waste separately, it is possible to move it further up the waste hierarchy, reduce treatment costs and ensure that its true potential is realised.
  • Surplus food that is fit for human or animal consumption sits higher in the food waste hierarchy and should be prioritised by businesses ahead of other means of treatment.
  • Food redistribution takes surplus but edible food and redistributes it to people in need.
  • The livestock animal feed industry is a well-established and regulated solution for handling surplus food. Feedstock for animal feed reprocessors is restricted to former foodstuffs that do not contain animal protein, such as clean bread, flour, biscuits, crisps, dough, grains, fruits and vegetables. Depending upon the volume and type of foodstuff, these materials will have a commercial value and therefore, in most cases, represent a more economically viable solution than landfill or incineration.
  • Likewise, the pet food industry is a strong, growing and well-regulated sector.
  • Rendering is the industry standard technology in most western countries applied to handling animal byproducts. The resultant tallow can be used in the production of biodiesel and meat and bone meal (MBM) can be used as a biofuel to generate renewable energy.
  • The use of rendered products can be estimated to reduce GHG emissions by approximately 70,000 tonnes per annum. This is because they can be used as a direct replacement to soybean in the production of pet foods, palm oil in the manufacture of bio-diesel, and fossil fuels in the generation of energy.
  • Unavoidable food waste is a resource. Food, by its very nature, contains nutrients and energy and therefore solutions should seek to maximise the resource potential in the material.
  • Anaerobic digestion is a proven technology solution and has been widely used in the water treatment industry for many years. AD is a biological process. Food waste is first de-packaged, normally by machine, then pasteurised by being heated to 70°C for one hour to kill harmful bacteria, before passing into large digesters. Here good bacteria, in the absence of oxygen, work on the food and produce methane gas and a liquid/solid fraction called digestate, a low-carbon bio-fertiliser.
  • Energy from waste has a role to play in UK waste strategy, but it is important to safeguard against the loss of crucial resources by avoiding treating a large proportion of our waste in this way.

The full report contains many more details and can be found at http://www.vision2020.info/

US think tank compiles consumer product nanoparticle inventory using crowdsourcing

The Washington DC based Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Technologies is compiling a global inventory of consumer products which contain nanoparticles using information provided by consumers as well as industry and scientists. To date what the Center calls a ‘living inventory’ contains 1638 products. The full list  can be browsed on the project website at http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/

The Project, established in 2005, is dedicated to helping ensure that as nanotechnologies advance, possible risks are minimized, public and consumer engagement remains strong, and the potential benefits of these new technologies are realized. The Center makes clear that it is not an advocate either for, or against, particular nanotechnologies. It claims that it seeks to ensure that as these technologies are developed, potential human health and environmental risks are anticipated, properly understood, and effectively managed. Anyone can register on the site and submit information on a product which uses nanotechnology. Registrants are asked to submit or update information pertaining to nanoparticle function, location, properties, potential exposure pathways, toxicity and life cycle assessment, though many of the products currently listed contain little more than product name, manufacturer, category, and market. Manufacturers of products containing nanoparticles may want to check and update their product listing with accurate information.

This crowdsourcing of information and expertise is a novel approach to documenting the introduction of a family of relatively new ingredients into the marketplace. It will be interesting to follow the evolution of the database. If successful, similar crowdsourcing approaches are likely to be applied to many other issues of public interest, both nationally and globally. Some such initiatives may be organized by supporters or neutral agencies but others will be organized by opponents of certain technologies and products. Extended ‘democratization’ of the consumer marketplace using similar crowdsourcing projects may well be on the horizon.

The Wilson Center, more properly known as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is a memorial to President Woodrow Wilson, the only President of the United States with a Ph.D. that was established by an act of Congress in 1968. It is a highly recognised think tank, with a mission “to commemorate the ideals and concerns of Woodrow Wilson by: providing a link between the world of ideas and the world of policy; and fostering research, study, discussion, and collaboration among a full spectrum of individuals concerned with policy and scholarship in national and world affairs.”

 

Environmental assessment of proposed seawater desalination plant

The California Coastal Commission, an independent, quasi-judicial state agency with responsibility for regulating the use of land and water in the coastal zone, has recently published what amounts to an environmental assessment of a proposed new 50 million gallon per day seawater desalination plant on the site of a soon-to-be-closed power station that is already drawing and discharging ocean water for cooling purposes. The report is an extremely detailed assessment of the proposed project, likely one of the more detailed assessments of a seawater desalination plant ever published.

The plan was to use the existing infrastructure for withdrawal of water from the ocean as an input to the desalination plant. The report by the Commission staff finds that use of the open water intake will result in significant adverse effects to marine life, capturing more than 80 million fish larvae, eggs, and invertebrates each year that originate in areas along about 100 miles of shoreline, including areas within Marine Life Protected Areas. The desalination plant, using a reverse osmosis type of technology, would also discharge effluent with salinity concentrations that are harmful to marine life, and cause adverse direct and indirect effects on wetlands on and near the project site.The report is proposing that a new water intake be constructed below the ocean floor so that marine life is not sucked into the plant. Media reports indicate that the proponent is not happy with this recommendation.

While this assessment report is specific to a plant proposed for southern California, it provides an interesting framework for those assessing projects which involve extraction of large amounts of water from oceans or lakes. In addition to the impact of withdrawals and discharges on aquatic organisms, sections of the report deal with:

  • Wetlands and environmentally sensitive habitat areas
  • Flood, tsunami, and sea level rise hazards
  • Geologic hazards
  • Climate change
  • Public access and recreation
  • Land use – site designation and allowable uses

The report is available at http://documents.coastal.ca.gov/reports/2013/11/W19a-s-11-2013.pdf  The proponent’s website, describing and promoting the desalination facility, is at http://hbfreshwater.com/

Research seeks to characterize the climate change deniers

It is important for government and business to understand those who influence public opinion. Hence GallonDaily’s interest was immediately drawn to a recent paper by two University of Colorado researchers in the journal Celebrity Studies. The 16 page paper is entitled ‘Wise contrarians’: a keystone species in contemporary climate science, politics and policy.

The paper focuses on what it describes as a heterogeneous yet loosely configured set of people dubbed ‘climate contrarians’, who have achieved veritable celebrity status in contemporary discussions of climate science, politics and policy in the twenty-first-century public sphere, often through the guise of public intellectualism. It analyses:

  • the motivations that prop up these contrarian stances, such as ideological or evidentiary disagreement to the orthodox views of science;
  • the drive to fulfil the perceived desires of special interests (for example, carbon-based industry);
  • the exhilaration from self-perceived academic martyrdom; and
  • the more general desire for notoriety.

The researchers conclude that the views of these ‘wise contrarians’ are a reflection of contemporary cultural politics and they will not disappear any time soon.

The paper is available at http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/2013.35.pdf

Poll suggests Ontarians support bees over agricultural pesticides

A poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth Canada and published today suggests that Ontario residents are much more concerned about bee health than we might have expected. Conducted for FOE by Oraclepoll Research in October 2013, and with a margin of error of +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20, the poll results include:

  • 82% said that they would support a move by the Federal Health Minister to suspend the use of neonic pesticides until there is a better understanding of how to manage their negative impact. Only 8% would oppose this and 10% did not know or were unsure.
  • 78% of Ontario voters would support a move by Premier Kathleen Wynne to take action on this issue by suspending the use of neonic pesticides until there is a better understanding of their negative impact on pollinators.
  • 74% of those surveyed are concerned about the future health of honey bee populations, compared to only 5% unconcerned, while 18% had a neutral view (neither concerned nor unconcerned) and 3% did not know or were unsure.
  • 81.3% of Ontario Progressive Conservative supporters, 78.3% of Ontario Liberal supporters, and 88.4% of Ontario NDP supporters agreed that the use of these pesticides [should] be suspended in order to protect honey bees.

Much more data, including more cross-tabulations with voting intentions, are available at http://foecanada.org/en/files/2013/11/FOE_Canada_Honey_Bee_Report.pdf The FOE Canada press release is at http://foecanada.org/en/stop-honey-bee-carnage-say-eight-out-of-ten-ontarians/

Official opposition asks House of Commons Environment Committee to undertake a long list of studies

Megan Leslie, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition and Environment Critic for the NDP has tabled a ‘laundry list’ of resolutions pressing for a much more activist House of Commons Environment Committee. While the chance of the government members of the committee agreeing to undertake all of the studies the NDP is calling for is slim, the resolutions do indicate the key environment topics that are seen as important by some MPs in Ottawa. Ignoring the one resolution that might be described as having purely political content, the NDP resolutions, which may win support from Liberal MPs, are as follows:

  • That the Committee conduct a review of the federal government’s sectoral approach to greenhouse gas regulations, and review the delays in establishing regulations for the oil and gas sector’s emissions.
  • That the Committee commence a study on the national capacity to assess, mitigate and cope with the impacts of climate change, and to assess existing capacity and research, and make recommendations on the development and implementation of a National Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Strategy.
  • That the Committee commence a study on the Great Lakes, to consider the Great Lakes water quality and quantity, including the impact of climate change on water levels, temperature and ecology.
  • That the Committee request a briefing by officials from Environment Canada, Parks Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission on the impacts of the repeal of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act on their operation and on project approvals.
  • That the Committee conduct a study on progress regarding the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring program, including hearing from witnesses from federally and provincially responsible agencies, as well as affected communities.
  • That the Committee conduct a study on the impacts of climate change and resulting new resource development and transportation routes in the Arctic, its environment, species, and ecological balance.
  • That the Committee request a briefing by officials of Environment Canada on the policy regarding communications with the public and media by departmental scientists, including scientists at Environment Canada, Parks Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
  • That the Committee conduct a study on the development of a National Water Strategy for Canada.
  • That officials provide an update to the Committee on the status of the evaluation of environmental consequences of shale gas development, including the departmental study into the environmental impacts of hydraulic gas fracturing in Canada.
  • That the Committee conduct a study on the implementation and funding of the Species at Risk Act
  • That the Committee conduct a study into the impacts of budget cuts on the operation, sustainability, and accessibility for visitors, and sustainability impacts for surrounding communities, to Parks Canada.
  • That the Committee request a briefing by the Official Canadian Delegation to the Climate change convention negotiations prior to the meetings in Warsaw in November 2013 to detail Canada’s negotiating priorities
  • That the Committee invite the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, no later than November 14, 2013, regarding the Fall 2013 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
  • That the Committee invite the Minister of the Environment, the Hon. Leona Aglukkaq and departmental officials, for a briefing on contaminated sites, polluter pay initiatives and progress on reducing environmental liabilities for Canadian taxpayers.

GallonDaily applauds the initiative as one way of putting environment back on the national agenda. We are surprised, however, that the list does not include a resolution on waste reduction and recycling, a topic that Environment Canada used to embrace but which has now almost completely fallen from the Federal agenda. Reduction of food waste, an increasingly important topic, will almost certainly require federal action.

The full NDP press release can be found at http://meganleslie.ndp.ca/mp-proposes-laundry-list-of-environment-committee-changes

Climate summit comes with low expectations but some opportunity for progress

The 2013 edition of the international climate change summit, officially the Conference of the Parties to the International Framework Convention on Climate Change, begins next week in Warsaw, Poland. Expectations for any breakthrough agreement are low, indeed a breakthrough is not expected at this conference, but many observers will be watching the United States to see the extent to which climate change commitments made domestically by the United States are incorporated into the country’s international position. Canadians may also be watching our country to see if movement by the US on the climate change front and the pending free trade agreement with Europe have any impact on Canada’s recent positioning at these conferences as “Fossil of the Year”. As a result of its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, Canada will only be an observer at the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) but will be a full participant in the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC.

GallonDaily review of ongoing international climate negotiations indicates that agreements at this year’s conference are likely to focus primarily on technical and financial issues with particular progress on forestry and land use. Expectations include:

  • frameworks for monitoring of forests and forestry activities in support of the program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and sustainable management and enhancement of forest stocks (REDD+).
  • progress on an accounting mechanism for measurement, reporting, and verification of mitigation actions by developed countries, including accounting for binational and multinational efforts.
  • an international mechanism for assisting the most affected countries to address damages caused by climate change.
  • new commitments (or promises) for a short-term program of financing for climate mitigation and adaptation projects and programs.

As Chair of the Conference, the Government of Poland has set up a website at http://www.cop19.gov.pl/home . Polish government hopes for the Conference can be viewed by clicking on Incoming Polish Presidency of COP19/CMP9.

Garbage is being generated faster than other pollutants

According to a commentary in the current issue of the journal Nature, a business as usual scenario projects that the rate of generation of garbage on a global scale will almost double by 2025 and will triple by 2100. The paper, with lead author well-respected waste expert Dan Hoornweg, Associate Professor of energy systems at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and former Lead Urban Specialist, Cities and Climate Change at the World Bank, includes the following points:

  • Solid waste management is one of the greatest costs to municipal budgets.
  • The waste problem is acute in emerging country cities.
  • Wealthy societies tend to curb their waste. So as living standards around the world rise and urban populations stabilize, global solid-waste generation will peak.
  • As urbanization increases, global solid-waste generation is accelerating.
  • Solid waste is mostly an urban phenomenon. In rural communities there are fewer packaged products, less food waste and less manufacturing.
  • The member countries of the OECD are the largest waste generators, producing around 1.75 million tonnes per day. This volume is expected to increase until 2050, owing to urban population growth, and then to slowly decline, as advances in material science and technology make products smaller, lighter and more resource efficient.
  • Waste reduction and dematerialization efforts in OECD countries are countered by trends in east Asia, particularly in China. Globally, on the current waste generation pathway, ‘peak waste’ will not occur this century.
  • With lower populations, denser, more resource-efficient cities and less consumption (along with higher affluence), ‘peak waste’ could come forward from sometime after 2100 to 2075 and reduce in intensity by more than 25%. The environmental, economic and social benefits would be enormous.

The full paper, which includes a commentary on tools that may be appropriate to reduce and advance ‘peak waste’, is available at http://www.nature.com/news/environment-waste-production-must-peak-this-century-1.14032 In addition to Hoornweg, the authors include Perinaz Bhada-Tata, a solid-waste consultant in Dubai, and Chris Kennedy, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto.