Friday, February 26, 2010

Oil Supply in Atlantic Provinces and Eastern Canada

Review of "Eastern Canadian crude oil supply and its implications for regional energy security"

by Rick Munroe

Authored by Dr. Larry Hughes, an energy security analyst at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Dr. Hughes' study entitled “Eastern Canadian crude oil supply and its implications for regional energy security” was recently published in Energy Policy (Jan. 2010, 8 pgs).

The text of Hughes’ new study is clear and concise and is supplemented by eight tables and six figures which illustrate the various points. Most notable is Figure 5:

This graph clearly illustrates the stunning decrease in imports from the North Sea (UK and Norway), which provided almost two-thirds of eastern Canadian supply in 2000. North Sea decline has forced eastern Canada to increasingly rely on Algeria, Angola and Iraq to fill the gap, all countries with political stability risks.

The rest of the article and links to reports are at the Energy Bulletin.

Behavioural Responses to Efficiency: The Piggy Principle

Efficiency and Resilience: After Jevons Paradox, the Piggy Principle

This is a guest post by Marco Bertoli. Mr. Bertoli has an economics degree from Bocconi University in Milano and a master degree in renewable energy from the Milano Politechnical University.

Energy efficiency is one of the themes most discussed by those who are interested in issues regarding energy and the environment. The key question is how effective these proposed solutions will be. Will these technological solutions labeled as ‘energy efficiency’ (i.e. an increase in power plants generation efficiency, cogeneration, home insulation, more efficient electric motors, cars, light bulbs, etc.) really lead to a decrease in the global demand for energy?

Read the rest of the article at The Oil Drum.

NOTE: In the rest of the article, the economist argues that producer efficiency is affected by Jevons Paradox, while consumer efficiency is affected by the Marginal Utility principle, or the Piggy Principle. The economist argues that we need to lower the point at which people feel satisfied with what they have, in the way that bariatric surgery lowers the point at which an obese person feels full. Ultimately, he argues for taxes that discourage any kind of excess consumption, rather than promoting "efficient" consumption.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Estimating the Cost of Corporate Pollution

What is the environmental cost of industrial production? According to the Guardian's preview of a major UN Report scheduled to be released this summer, the world's 3000 biggest companies are responsible for $2.2 trillion of environmental damage, a figure equivalent to roughly one-third of their total profits.

According to the Guardian:
The biggest single impact on the $2.2tn estimate, accounting for more than half of the total, was emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Other major "costs" were local air pollution such as particulates, and the damage caused by the over-use and pollution of freshwater.

The true figure is likely to be even higher because the $2.2tn does not include damage caused by household and government consumption of goods and services, such as energy used to power appliances or waste; the "social impacts" such as the migration of people driven out of affected areas, or the long-term effects of any damage other than that from climate change. The final report will also include a higher total estimate which includes those long-term effects of problems such as toxic waste.

The report is based on data from Trucost, the company also responsible for Newsweek's rating of the 'Greenest Big Companies in America'.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bill Gates on Energy and Climate

I have an odd love-hate relationship with Bill Gates. Like many, I use Microsoft products and have issues with their design and stability. More personally, I grew up in Washington state and experienced the changes -- both positive and negative -- resulting from the growth of Microsoft and the transformation of the Seattle region that accompanied it. But whatever you think of Microsoft, you have to admit Gates has both an unusually analytic mind and an exceedingly well developed ability to understand the big picture. He also puts evidence ahead of ideology and, as a result, his thought tends to evolve in relation to changing circumstances rather than stay fixed. He first used those abilities to identify a series of opportunities in computer technology and rather ruthlessly grow a business.

But, as he has moved into retirement, he has progressively applied those same abilities to a wider context. Thus in the late 1990's, much to the surprise of his Silicon Valley competitors, he argued that what the developing world needed was not computer technology (which they were pushing) but, rather, innovation in the area of health. Thus, he created the Gates Foundation and proceeded to fund innovation in the areas of vaccines and seeds. Now, in this wake of the Copenhagen debacle, Gates has shifted again, arguing that energy and climate are the central problem. His recent TED talk provides an exceptionally clear analysis of the benefits and, in particular, the technical and logistical hurdles associated with a variety of clean energy solutions. Interestingly, he is now seriously supporting development of a relatively unknown form of nuclear power, the traveling wave nuclear reactor (aka TerraPower). And, irrespective of whatever one may think of him, this is an interesting development in that his pedigree as the world's most successful late-20th century capitalist means his statements and views might reach climate skeptics in ways that others can't.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People

The current issue of Science magazine has a special section on Food Security. The introduction to the section, along with a list of the articles, is available here. One of the most interesting articles, "The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People" (Science 12 February 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5967, pp. 812 - 818 DOI: 10.1126/science.1185383) takes an ecological sociology perspective arguing that "the goal is no longer simply to maximize productivity, but to optimize across a far more complex landscape of production, environmental, and social justice outcomes." In other words, the global food security isn't simply a matter of sufficient food, it involves a number of interconnected problems: 1) Matching the rapidly changing demand for food from a larger and more affluent population to its supply, 2) in ways that are environmentally and socially sustainable and 3) ensure that the world’s poorest people are no longer hungry.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Natural Disasters 1980-2009

The above chart is just one part of an interesting backgrounder put together by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat and available here.

The past decade saw 3,852 disasters globally, killing more than 780,000 people, affecting more than two billion others at a cost of more than 960 billion US$.

While Katrina and other hurricanes in the 2005 season accounted for the single largest economic impact, 85% of all disaster related fatalities over the past decade occurred in Asia.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sustainability Books

The University of Cambridge's Programme for Sustainability Leadership recently asked its alumni – "around 2,000 senior leaders from around the world who have participated in its sustainability programmes over the past decade or more" – to list some of their favourite "sustainability" books.

Here, in alphabetical order, are their Favorite 50. There are most of the requisite classics, but stunningly neither Walden (perhaps not as significant to Brits as to those of us on this side of the pond) nor McKibbon's The End of Nature made the list. The list also lacks any representation of resilience theory. What surprises or omissions do you find?
  • Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the battle Against World Poverty, by Muhammad Yunus1999
  • Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, by Janine Benyus, 2003
  • Blueprint for a Green Economy: by David Pearce, Anil Markandya and Edward B. Barbier, 1989
  • Business as Unusual: My Entrepreneurial Journey, Profits and Principles, by Anita Roddick, 2005
  • Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business, by John Elkington, 1999
  • Capitalism as if the World Matters, by Jonathon Porritt, 2005
  • Capitalism at the Crossroads: Aligning Business, Earth, and Humanity, by Stuart Hart, 2005
  • Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment, by Stephan Schmidheiny and WBCSD, 1992
  • The Chaos Point: The World at the Crossroads, by Ervin Laszlo, 2006
  • The Civil Corporation: The New Economy of Corporate Citizenship, by Simon Zadek, 2001
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, by Jared Diamond, 2005
  • The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, by Joel Bakan, 2005
  • Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, 2002
  • The Dream of Earth, by Thomas Berry, 1990
  • Development as Freedom, by Amartya Sen, 2000
  • The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, by Paul Hawken, 1994
  • The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, by Nicholas Stern, 2007
  • The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, 2005.
  • Factor Four: Doubling Wealth, Halving Resources Use-A Report to the Club of Rome, by Ernst Von Weizs├Ącker, 1998
  • False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, by John Gray, 2002
  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side on the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser, 2005
  • A Fate Worse than Debt: The World Financial Crisis and the Poor, by Susan George, 1990
  • For The Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment and a Sustainable Future, by Herman Daly and John Cobb, 1989
  • Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits, by C.K. Prahalad, 2004
  • Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, by James Lovelock, 2000
  • Globalization and its Discontents, by Joseph Stiglitz, 2002
  • Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, by George Monbiot, 2006
  • Human-Scale Development: Conception, Application and Further Reflections, by Manfred Max-Neef, 1991
  • The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism: The Quest for Purpose in the Modern World, by Charles Handy, 1999
  • An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It, by Al Gore, 2006
  • The Limits to Growth, by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows and Jorgen Randers, 1972
  • Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace, by Ricardo Semler, 1993
  • The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, by Hernando De Soto, 2000
  • Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, 2000
  • No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, by Naomi Klein, 2002
  • Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism, by George Soros, 2000
  • Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, by Buckminster Fuller, 1969
  • Our Common Future, by The World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987
  • The Population Bomb, by Paul Ehrlich, 1969
  • Presence: An Explanation of Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society, by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers, 2005
  • The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future, by Elizabeth C. Economy, 2004
  • Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, 1949
  • Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, 1962
  • The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjorn Lomborg, 2001
  • Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E.F. Schumacher, 1973
  • Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, by Vandana Shiva, 1989
  • The Turning Point: Science Society and the Rising Culture, by Fritjof Capra, 1984
  • Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile, by Ralph Nader, 1965
  • When Corporations Rule the World, by David Korten, 2001
  • When the Rivers Run Dry: What Happens When Our Water Runs Out? by Fred Pearce, 2006

Thursday, February 11, 2010

China vs. the US Take Two

An article in today's Guardian, based on a leaked internal document from a Chinese government think tank written just after Copenhagen, provides new insight into the Chinese view of the negotiations. And what we see isn't pretty. Among the highlights of the document as reported in the Guardian:

  • "the overall interests of developing countries have been defended" by (China) resisting a rich nation "conspiracy" to abandon the Kyoto protocol, and with it the legal distinction between rich nations that must cut carbon emissions and developing nations for whom action is not compulsory.
  • "A conspiracy by developed nations to divide the camp of developing nations [was] a success," it said, citing the Small Island States' demand that the Basic group of nations - Brazil, South Africa, India, China - impose mandatory emission reductions.
  • The paper is scathing about the US-led "umbrella group", which it says adopted a position of inaction.
  • Canada "was devoted to conniving" to convince the world that its pledge of a 3% emissions reduction between 1990 and 2020 is significant, while having no intention of meeting its Kyoto protocol target of 6%.
  • The 'conspiracy to divide developing world' will make future talks harder.

Anyone remotely familiar with Chinese rhetoric (China is great, Tibet is great, China and Tibet together is super great!) recognizes that their statements can't always be taken at face value. But this is an internal document and the Chinese are generally recognized as subtle interpreters of diplomatic process. Thus, it is worrying that they perceive the actions of the SIDS as the product of manipulation rather than what they obviously were -- a last gasp, self interested attempt to prevent their countries from disappearing under a rising sea. This isn't to say that Britain and the US didn't use the SIDS position as a mechanism to put pressure on China, they clearly did. But someone voluntarily changing sides isn't the same as manipulation. All this is further evidence supporting my earlier summary of the real issue that the global community will need to resolve if it expects to get an effective climate change policy.

Global attitudes toward climate change

The 2010 World Bank Development Report focuses on Climate Change. As part of the background material for the report, the World Bank recently released Public Attitudes Toward Climate Change: Findings from a Multi-Country Poll.

The poll provides information from 15 different countries (US, Japan, France, Russia, Iran, China, India, Mexico and a mix of African and Asian developing countries) across a number of different dimensions:

Dimension 1: Level of concern
  • Seriousness of climate change as a problem
  • Climate change as a priority
  • Effects of climate change on one’s country
  • Timing of impacts
Dimension 2: Beliefs about climate change
  • Belief about the status of climate change science
  • Trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Impact of climate change on wealthy vs. poor countries
  • Responsibility and government action
Dimension 3: Attitudes toward international climate change cooperation
  • Effect of one country’s example on others
  • Willingness to commit to emissions cuts in the context of an agreement
  • National responsibility in the absence of an agreement
Dimension 4: Willingness to bear economic costs to support national actions
  • Necessity of higher energy costs
  • Willingness to pay a specified individual amount
  • Willingness to support national steps with economic costs
  • Assisting poor countries with adaptation to climate change
Unfortunately, Canada wasn't included. However, the US stands out for the consistency of its views: broadly speaking, the polls show
  1. the US public as a whole to be less concerned
  2. the US public to be more questioning of the scientific basis of climate change and to believe that, left alone, things will get better. While the vast majority (82%) of Americans think the government has a responsibility to act, the US has a larger percent (17%) advocating no action than any country except Russia and Mexico.
  3. In relation to cooperation, Americans don't see themselves as a climate change leader as they don't believe that action by the US will lead to action by other countries. Moreover, fully a quarter don't see the US as having any responsibility unless there is a global agreement.
  4. the citizens of the US are among the least willing to pay to mitigate the impact of climate change -- either in direct costs to themselves or through the indirect cost of support to other countries.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Risk and Resilience in the shadow of the Globalization Crisis

If, as the previous post suggested, the global socio-ecological systems are now tightly interconnected in a manner that produce unpredictable, non-linear effects, then a key question is: what form of human institutions, on scales from the local to the global, best facilitate adaptation and resilience in such a situation?

A recent report from The Center on International Cooperation at New York University, Confronting the Long Crisis of Globalization: Risk, Resilience and International Order, attempts to address these issues. Here is the abstract:

Globalization has entered a turbulent period. Over the past twenty years, the most significant threats to international security, stability, and prosperity have evolved rapidly. Global systems are now tightly interconnected, with risk proliferating freely across borders. The drivers of change – including population growth, climate change and resource scarcity, a major shift in economic power, and increasing state fragility – produce unpredictable, non-linear effects. Technology continues to diffuse rapidly, while information is corroding traditional hierarchies. Security-related risks have become increasingly asymmetric. Looking across the most important global risks, one sees that the world faces novel challenges (e.g. managing bio-security) and needs to develop both unprecedented institutions (e.g. resilient global carbon markets), and tough mechanisms for enforcement (e.g. for nuclear proliferation or emissions control). Power shifts must be managed both in the short term (economic imbalances) and over the long term (demographic change). There are complex interactions between risks (energy and food security, for example), while insurgent groups have attractive opportunities to disrupt global networks (especially when state weakness and access to these networks coincide). Pressure from these forces builds for long periods with no visible effect, but when released, it triggers abrupt shifts and cascading consequences across interlinked global systems. Shocks, rather than stresses, are the primary triggers of change, as three global crises – the September 11 attacks in 2001, the combined food and oil price spike that peaked in 2008, and the global financial crisis in the same year – have demonstrated over the last decade.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Global change in species interactions of terrestrial ecosystems

There is lots of talk about the impact of climate change on ecosystems such that it affects the distribution of plant and animal species. Thus, for example, we know the production of wheat will move further north in North America and we see the impact of warmer winters on the lifecycle of the mountain beetle that is currently destroying the forests of BC.

Less appreciated by social scientists is the fact that climate change is only one of several major drivers affecting terrestrial ecosystem change. The others are CO2 enrichment, nitrogen deposition, biotic exchanges, and land-use change. In an important recent paper, Global change and species interactions in terrestrial ecosystems, biologist Jason Tylianakis reports the results of a metanalysis of 700 papers about terrestrial ecosystem change.

Tylianakis describes the significance of his work as follows:

Global changes to the Earth's ecosystems are possibly the greatest combined challenge that humanity must face. These changes are often studied independently, but their effects are likely to be interactive, which could exacerbate or even mitigate the effect of each driver in isolation, and have potentially devastating consequences for the structure and functioning of communities and ecosystems. Our paper brings together a large body of research on how these changes affect interactions between different species from different systems, and thus it provides an insight into what we may expect in the future.

There are no longer any ecosystems on Earth that are untouched by human influence. Global environmental changes drive extinctions and alter species distributions, and recent evidence now shows pervasive impacts on a variety of interactions between species. Species interactions are critically important for ecosystem stability and functioning, yet their fragility makes them vulnerable to environmental changes.

Each of the major drivers of global change (CO2 enrichment, nitrogen deposition, climate change, biotic exchanges, and land-use change) have direct effects on species interactions, but the interactions between multiple drivers acting simultaneously hinder predictions of future responses. Summing up these individual changes across entire networks of species interactions yields unanticipated effects on ecosystems and the services they provide.

Thus, much like Charles Perrow's analysis of technological systems (Normal Accidents), Tylianakis has realized that the interactions among different causes create unexpected complications that generate uncertainties.

The paper can be found in Ecology Letters, (2008) 11: 1351–1363 doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01250.x

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Taking urban gardening to new heights

Artists rendering of the proposed renovation of the Federal Building in Portland, Oregon. The building will have “vegetated fins” that grow more than 200 feet high on the western side of the building, a vertical garden that changes with the seasons -- leafing out and providing shade in the spring and summer while loosing the leaves and allowing light in the winter. The end result? An expected savings of $280,000 per year in energy costs.

The project, however, is mired in controversy, partly because of design issues -- a process for irrigating the fins hasn't yet been incorporated into the design -- but mainly because of the cost. The government views it as a demonstration project; aimed at testing the actual benefits of a conceptual idea. That's a legitimate approach, but there then needs to be some way of assessing the efficiency of the design and, if the design turns out to be effective, to diffuse the concept within the design community. This is not unlike the problems with the LEED standards for green buildings in general, where LEED certification is based on the design of the building rather than its operation and, once built, the buildings turn out not to be as green as expected.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Copenhagen .... the legacy

In an earlier post, I laid out my take on the reasons why the climate negotiations at Copenhagen fell apart. An article in today's Guardian paints a pretty gloomy picture, it emphasizes many of the same themes and concludes a global deal is all but impossible this year.

Aquaculture, specialization and resilience

In New Brunswick, where factory farmed salmon have largely replaced wild salmon, aquaculture immediately conjures up an image of unsustainable economic specialization. Over 100 fish farms now dot the coastline, using the Bay of Fundy as a sink for their waste.

In contrast,fish and crustaceans have been farmed sustainably in Asia for at least 3000 years. However, rising global demand for seafood has led to the development of new technologies and culture systems and pressure to for specialized production similar to that found in New Brunswick. But, unlike New Brunswick, there are active attempts to develop more sustainable alternatives. An interesting example aimed at increasing both economic productivity and ecosystem resilience is captured in the photo below of a rice/shrimp farm in Soc Trang province in the Mekong Delta during the wet season. In the dry season the rice fields are filled with brackish water and the farmers produce a crop of shrimps. Early in the next wet season the fields are flushed with freshwater and the next rice crop is planted. This dual crop strategy is sustainable and has positively transformed the economy of the region.

This example is described in detail in Troell, M. 2009. Integrated marine and brackishwater aquaculture in tropical regions: research, implementation and prospects. In D. Soto (ed.). Integrated mariculture: a global review. The abstract of the publication does a nice job of outlining the key ideas involved:
While the concept and practice of integrated aquaculture is well-known in inland environments particularly in Asia, in the marine environment, it has been much less reported. However, in recent years the idea of integrated aquaculture has been often considered a mitigation approach against the excess nutrients/organic matter generated by intensive aquaculture activities particularly in marine waters. In this context, integrated multitrophic aquaculture (IMTA) has emerged, where multitrophic refers to the explicit incorporation of species from different trophic positions or nutritional levels in the same system. Integrated marine aquaculture can cover a diverse range of co-culture/ farming practices, including IMTA, and even more specialized forms of integration such as mangrove planting with aquaculture, called aquasilviculture. Integrated mariculture has many benefits, among wich bioremediation is one of the most relevant, and yet is not valued in its real social and economic potential although the present document provides some initial economic estimates for the integration benefits derived from bioremediation. Reducing risks is also an advantage and profitable aspect of farming multiple species in marine environments (as in freshwaters): a diversified product portfolio increases the resilience of the operation, for instance when facing changing prices for one of the farmed species or the accidental catastrophic destruction of a crop. Yet such perspectives are far from been considered in mariculture where, on the contrary, there is a tendency to monoculture.