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By David Klayton, Environment Issue Analyst

You’ve probably heard the phrase “resource wars,” and you probably usually think of wars over oil that dominated the 20th century. But have you ever stopped to take the time to think about what the phrase really means, and how it pertains to the future of the planet?

As much as we may like to think they are, resources on this planet are not infinite. In fact, we will start to run low on many elements and minerals like copper and aluminum within the next century. Expect a skyrocket in the cost of living by the turn of the 22nd century. But there is one resource being depleted that will affect humanity beyond an increase in the cost of living. People can live without copper, without aluminum, without oil even, but people cannot live without water.

Many say that wars of the 20th century were fought over oil. And many say that wars of the 21st century will be fought over water. It’s pretty simple: when people need something they don’t have, they fight for it. People need water, and more and more people are losing access to it. The evidence is not lacking. Consider this report on the problems that recent water shortages in China have caused. Or consider this article on the relationships between increasing urban zones in Africa and the limited water sources available there. Or considerthis report predicting problems with food insecurity due to decreasing water supplies in nations across the entire globe.

I don’t know how to say it any better than this: The world is running out of water. Large-scale conflict has not yet begun over the depletion of water. Yet. What can be done to prevent any such conflict? Awareness isn’t enough. National leaders need to be more proactive in their understanding of this issue, need to communicate with one another on possible solutions to such a global problem. Right now we live in a world divided. We need to live in a world unified in transnational understanding of such inevitable problems like water depletion.

 

By Moustafa Hassab-Allah, Environment Issue Analyst

There is no wonder that solar energy is the biggest available energy for earth’s needs; it has about 1280 times our electrical energy needs in (2005) (http://www.eia.doe.gov/iea/elec.html), more over it is abundant in more than 60 % of the world lands. The challenge for us is how to get it.

Over the past million years, plants used sunlight to obtain energy for their survival, photosynthesis process is considered a low efficiency process that needs water and soil to emerge.  Solar energy is typically used by humans to provide direct heating of fluids for human use; it is also used to generate electricity directly through photovoltaic cells.

Companies like GE, and Siemens are taking solar energy so seriously that they pumped funds of billions of dollars on solar energy projects.  Big companies have realized the importance of solar, now it is time to spread the idea among people.

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By Kyle Fluegge, Environment Issue Analyst

Imagine giving $100 to a charity that helps people in poverty better their lives regardless of their background circumstances.  A noble gesture on your part.  Then you find out that only $7.00 of your gift actually went to help who it was intended to help. That’s only 7%.  Outraged?  It would have me asking “Why…?”, but not for the reasons you think.

That’s the situation in Haiti right now – 10 months after the devastating earthquake ripped apart the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Only $686 million of $8.75 billion promised for reconstruction has reached Haiti so far.  After the natural disaster, my initial thought was “Pick on somebody your own size.”  After all, isn’t that like a 12th grader bullying a 5th or 6th grader?  The little one doesn’t stand a chance, and neither did Haiti.  And the country is continuing to suffer the consequences.

An outbreak of cholera was confirmed in Haiti on Thursday, October 21. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 5,000 cases of cholera have been documented, and 300 people have died.  Cholera, you ask?  Significant breaches in the water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure used by groups of people have allowed large-scale exposure to food or water contaminated with Vibrio cholerae organisms.  In this case, it doesn’t take a well-reasoned fellow like John Snow to capture the essence of the problem…or does it?

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By David Klayton, Environment Issue Analyst for Water

In today’s rapidly globalizing world, a common debate persists as to whether water should be considered a human right or a commodity. Personally, I firmly believe that water is a human right, as it is necessary for humans to live. However, I will not deny that there is legitimate reason to argue the opposite, that water is a commodity. Instead of putting my opinion up against others’ in this difficult debate, I’d like to take a brief look at how the privatization, and thus the commodification of water goes against its ultimate theoretical goals.

The dominant economic model for the past three decades has been neoliberalism, and the dominant ideal of neoliberalism is privatization. Within the context of neoliberalism, privatization takes on several different goals, from the shrinking of the state’s role in society to the expansion of the free market. While many argue that neoliberal economics support only the upper class and big business, a major tenet of neoliberal theory is that state-shrinking will lead to a significant decrease in taxation, and this decrease in taxation enables the lower class to have more money to spend in the free market as consumers.

However, with such a strong emphasis on the free market under neoliberal economic theory, privatization leads to large corporations owning the rights to utilities and natural resources—water, for one. A major goal of the free market economy is to increase competition, which in turn should decrease costs, but it is not uncommon in a neoliberal economy for single corporations to obtain monopolies on resources. And when a monopoly is reached, the profit-oriented corporations are free to jack up their prices, as their consumers have no other method available to attain the resource in question.

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By Moustafa Hassab-Allah, Environment Issue Analysts on Fossil Fuels/Oil Dependency

The use of renewable energy is not an option for next generations; it is rather a commitment. One prominent energy source is wind, historically wind mills have been used in several aspects in early agriculture in rural areas. Now, it is turning to be a tool for power generation.

Wind turbines are used to serve small and medium electric loads for many deserted and isolated areas in northern Europe and Middle East Sahara like the wind Park located next to the city of Tetouan, Morocco, and Egypt is currently generating 400 MW of power from wind in its eastern desert. Wind turbines provide the advantage of smallest land footprint among other alternative resources; that is why it is vastly used in Texas, Indiana, and California, the 3 largest states in USA using wind power. Some concerns about the effect of the wind turbines on vegetation if installed on shore especially in agricultural areas aroused lately. Calls for offshore wind energy started to spread.

A major trend in the EU is bringing wind turbines offshore, Wind Energy abundance in European seas was confirmed by the European Environment Agency’s studies; that stated that offshore wind power has an economically competitive potential, and can provide between six and seven times greater than projected electricity demand for the EU till 2030.

The attraction of the offshore wind goes beyond this for consumers, they provide a ‘’ not in my backyard’’ advantage rather than other inland energy projects, they do not provide any foot print known of for people. Norway and Denmark are taking the lead to install wind turbines in the North Sea, up to 10 MW capacities per turbine were designed in Norway. In Denmark, 209 MW Horns Rev 2 offshore wind farm was inaugurated in September 2009; increasing the countries capacity through offshore wind energy. Also, in Sept 2010, a Swedish power company started operation of the 300 MW world’s biggest offshore wind park currently in operation in Britain.

Offshore Wind energy still faces challenge in R&D funding, design challenges and market competitiveness, but the good news is that offshore wind turbine market seen nearly doubling in 2010 and expected to account for 8 % of market in 2015 according to MAKE Consulting in Denmark.

This past Sunday was 10/10/10.  Not only is this date celebrated by people who think the date is cool, by numerologists who think the date holds universal significance, and environmentalists who choose the date for a world wide day of climate action.

7347 events in 188 countries took place on Sunday to take community actions like planting community gardens, installing solar panels, and cleaning up parks.  This year’s event beat 350.org’s record of 5200 events in 181 countries, making it the biggest day of action in history.  Some sites have called the global climate movement the biggest social movement in history.  This comes as a contrast to the heads of state response to climate change, which is tepid at best. Climate change is a unifying theme that affects the entire globe, and this past Sunday showed that.

Bill McKibbon, renowned author and founder of 350.org said of the event “Politicians may still be debating climate change, but citizens are getting to work solving it.” With the upcoming elections in the US, it is more important than ever to recognize the reality of climate change and to demand action from our public officials that matches the commitment of the global community.

Check out some of the amazing photos from all around the world at 350.org!

Here is a clip of Ray from Power of One discussing why joining together for action is important for everyone and youth in particular: 

 

Below is from  Julia Rotondo:

Hi! This is Julia, the new Development and Environment Intern, writing. I’m a graduate student at American University studying global environmental policy with a focus on climate change. Because climate change is such an all-encompassing topic, I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me on it again, but I wanted to use today’s blog post to talk a bit about the connection between climate change and cities.

A first thought, it might seem that cities are the antithesis of everything environmentalists fight for; after all, most cities have few green spaces, have so much concrete that they’re often hotter than surrounding rural spaces, and consume massive amounts of resources and energy. However, a recent article from Michael Coren in The Guardian argues that cities are leading the way to a “low-carbon future.”

Coren writes:

“Cities have a unique power to drive immediate change involving issues such as public transportation, but they also can help influence prosaic long-term land use planning (think about all those interminable city council meetings) to realize truly sustainable cities. No futuristic visions of cities are needed. For now, the reality is more mundane: asphalt recycling and better insulation in buildings, timers for coffee makers and telecommuting, light sensors, and water conservation.”

The article also mentions that over 1,000 cities in the United State are working together to adopt greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Coren highlights the actions of Boston, MA (instituting a green building code for private projects), Gainsville, FL (the city pays a premium for solar power fed from private properties back into the grid), and Babylon, NY (where homeowners are eligible for loans to make their homes more energy efficient).

Curious to see what steps my own city (Washington, D.C) has made, I visited DC’s municipal website. After a bit of internet sleuthing, I foundgreen.dc.gov, a great resource for a comprehensive list of environmental issues and services in DC. The site features a mix of the small projects (a five cent tax on plastic bags to help fund the clean-up of the Potomac River) to large-scale climate change goals (Mayor Fenty’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020). Have you looked at what your town is doing?

Last week, Bill McKibbon and the people over at 350.org went on a road trip from Unity College in Maine down to the White House in DC, with the goal of bringing one of the Carter solar panels to the Obama Administration for them to put up on the White House.  Sadly, the White House turned down their offer.

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, he put up solar panels on the roof of the White House — making the White House a symbol of what could be the new clean energy future of the United States.  When Ronald Reagan took over the presidency in 1980, those solar panels came down. Unity College managed to secure both of them and have been using them on their university buildings.  When 350.org’s campaign to Put Solar on the White House started gaining momentum, Unity College offered to give one of the panels to the current White House, saving them the work of finding a new solar panel, and bringing some history back to the White House.

Even with the gift of a solar panel, and hundreds of thousands of supporters, the White declined to put the panel up on the White House, saying that they would continue to deliberate on the idea of putting up solar panels. As one member of 350.org put it “We tossed them a big, fat soft ball to hit out of the park and they just watched it float on by.”

This truly was a missed opportunity for the Obama Administration.  After Obama’s thrilling run and promises of hope and change, his administration has come to be stuck in the mud.  Grassroots organizers who thought that things would get easier with a progressive in office have been disappointed by the administration immobility.  This would have been a chance for the White House to be a leader in the clean energy movement, and to be representative of what hundreds of thousands of young people in the country want: a better, sustainable future.

Make sure your voice continues to be heard by following 350.org’s new campaign 10/10/10 and join a work party to do something for the environment that day.  Just because the White House said no now, doesn’t mean they always will.

Great article by Douglas Kysar over at The Guardian.  Instead of proposing to pretty much keep the status quo and reward those who are already polluting, why not reward those people who are doing something about it?

Posted August 29, 2010 at The Guardian.

Not carbon offsets, but carbon upsets

Cap-and-trade has had the perverse effect of subsidising politically dominant industries. We should try something else.

These days, it’s hard to have inspiring Mr Chips moments when you teach climate change policy. My students at least seem increasingly demoralised by the tepid and technical nature of most climate debate. Which is probably why they recently challenged me to offer a proposal that was not only workable but game-changing. That’s a challenge even Mr Chips would struggle to meet, but here’s an attempt anyway: what if we could use the cap-and-trade system to reshape politics at the same time that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions? We can, if we move from carbon offsets to carbon upsets.

Last year, in a little noticed case, environmental groups and the United States government reached a settlement that will dramatically lessen future greenhouse gas emissions. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank of the US agreed to change the way they evaluate the climate impact of funded projects. But the groups that won the settlement received no credit – literally – and that’s a problem.

Contrast that story with “carbon offset” projects, which receive greenhouse gas reduction credits through some official process like theKyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These financial instruments can be so lucrative that firms actually raise production levels solely to create more pollution which they might then reduce. If that sounds crazy, it should.

In theory, carbon offsets are a way to lower the cost of emissions reductions. Credits are awarded when a project is less greenhouse gas-intensive than it would have been in the usual course. These credits can then be sold to polluters and used to satisfy their emissions reduction obligations which would have been more expensive to undertake directly. In practice critics have pointed to numerous problems with offsets. Most fundamentally, they fail to incentivise the kind of structural transformation toward a low-carbon future that we desperately need.

Here’s where “carbon upsets” come in: Rather than award credits based on development that moves us toward a cleaner but still very dirty future, why not award credits to legal and political actions that have more dramatic impact? For instance, rather than bribe fossil fuel companies tostop flaring natural gas, why not reward indigenous groups that entirelyblock new exploration activities? Rather than transfer money to logging operations for incremental replanting programs, why not award credits to forest-dwelling communities that successfully fight to stop logging altogether?

As with the existing offset approach, financial benefits could be shared in the case of legal and political activities that are “sponsored” by an international partner. Imagine a world in which global financial giants like Goldman Sachs devote themselves not to the exploitation of dubious arbitrage opportunities like HFC-23 capture, but to the identification and promotion of critical political interventions by disempowered voices for sustainability. In that world, the landmark deal recently brokered by the UN development programme to preserve Ecuador’s Yasuni national parkwould become a model of climate capitalism.

The carbon upset approach does not directly promote transformative clean-energy technologies. Instead, it aims to disrupt the political and economic inertia of the status quo. But that’s precisely the disruption we need. Conventional policies such as carbon offsets and allowance giveaways have the perverse effect of further subsidising already massively subsidised and politically dominant industries. Moving to a carbon upset system would open space for more dramatic transformations by empowering groups that stand opposed to the interests of business-as-usual beneficiaries. With the playing field tilted this way, who knows what might be possible?

I have been reading Colin Beavan’s book No Impact Man lately.  The book is about a man, Colin Beavan, and his family who decide to undertake the experiment of living with as little impact on the environment as possible.  This mean no trash, no transportation not powered by a human being, and eating sustainably.  For a family living in Greenwich Village in New York, this seems like an impossible task.  But Beavan does it, and learns some valuable lessons along the way.  

What intrigues most about Beavan is how similar he is at the beginning of the book to myself.  He claims to be an environmentalist, yet thinks nothing of throwing out plastic containers of take out food. He, like myself, claim environmental beliefs, but resign ourselves to the fact that we live in a world that just will not be environmentally friendly not matter what we do.  We talk to anyone who will listen about the need for personal changes to our lives, but go home to our cooled homes and unwrap the plastic from whatever will be dinner that night. In short, we’re not living what we preach.

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