US industry: saving energy is good business

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs As someone who is mostly immersed in the world of science and environmental policy, either sharing ecological research related to climate change or tracking congressional efforts (or lack thereof) to develop policy to mitigate and adapt to global warming, it came as an eye-opening and pleasant change of pace to me this week to learn about US business and federal agency actions already underway. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was invited to be a supporting partner of the 2013 Climate Leadership Conference. With the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the headline sponsor, the meeting drew some 500 leaders in business, government and non-governmental organizations to share their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve energy, water, and waste, and think about new opportunities. Too often, I find myself caught up in the frustrations felt by many in the scientific community in regard to congressional non-action in the arena of climate change.  A topic that often comes with some pessimism was instead cast in a much more positive light—well-known industries—Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, IBM, Hershey, Ford Motor Co.—taking positive steps to help address the problem, sharing best practices and ideas to continue to save energy, improving the efficiency of their operations and thereby also enhancing their bottom line. For example, Steve Tochilin, General Manager, Environmental Sustainability, with Delta Airlines, talked about the “elephant in the room for Delta and other airlines,” namely that about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from airlines, a figure that is expected to grow as aviation increases in Brazil, India and China.  “Fuel is killing us,” he said, referring to skyrocketing costs.  Since, so far, there is no viable alternative energy source for planes, every airline is looking to increase fuel efficiency, said Tochilin. Delta is working to reduce how much fuel it uses by some common sense steps to reduce the weight its planes must carry, including: moving to more fuel efficient jets, offering more direct flights (to avoid circling), ripping the “kitchens” out of planes (many routes no longer serve food so why fly around with the extra weight?), installing lighter seats, hauling only the water (water is really heavy) needed for a given flight, etc.  Delta was recently added to the Dow Jones sustainability index. Staples Inc., the office supply store and world’s second largest e-commerce site, has focused on reducing the carbon footprint of its buildings and vehicles, according to Mark Buckley, Staples’ Vice President for Environmental Affairs.  But while it’s had success in reducing its energy use in these areas, Buckley conceded that because the bulk of its carbon...

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New report highlights mercury pollution impacts on ecosystems

Earlier this week, the Ecological Society of America, in partnership with the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute, cosponsored a Congressional briefing entitled: “Mercury and Air Pollution Impacts on Ecosystems: Policy-Relevant Highlights from New Scientific Studies.” The briefing sought to highlight the findings of a recent report from BRI highlighting mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region. The featured speakers included Charles Driscoll, a National Academy member and professor at Syracuse University and David Evers, Executive Director and Chief Scientist at BRI.  Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) kicked off the briefing with some opening remarks noting the detrimental health effects mercury pollution can have on families in the Great Lakes region. According to the report, emissions of mercury to the air (and subsequent deposition) are now the primary source of mercury pollution to the Great Lakes region. Twenty-six percent of mercury deposition in Canada and the continental United States is from the Great Lakes region, with the highest concentrations in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. The presence of methylmercury (inorganic mercury that has been altered by bacteria in the natural environment) affects the entire food-chain of an ecosystem. Plants take up the toxin and are subsequently fed upon by plant-eating insects and fish, which in turn are consumed by insectivores and fish-eating animals, including songbirds, waterfowl and humans. A number of bird species were found to have “high sensitivity” to mercury pollution, including the American Kestrel, the American White Ibis, the Snowy Egret, the Osprey and the Tri-Colored Heron.  The study notes that the U.S.  national bird, the Bald Eagle, is also negatively impacted by mercury, with effects that  include “subclinical neurological damage.” The Bald Eagle was removed from being listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. It was declared a federally endangered species from 1967-1995. The speakers noted that fish polluted with mercury can have detrimental impacts on the local economy and human health. “In recent years, we’ve come to appreciate that pollution from mercury and acid rain affects wildlife health as well as human health,” said Evers. Among 15 fish species in the region consumed by people and wildlife, six species have average mercury concentrations above 0.30 parts per million. The report notes that five states in the region “have issued statewide consumption advisories for mercury in fish from all fresh waters, two have issued statewide advisories for mercury in fish from all lakes, and one has issued advisories for specific water bodies.” According to the BRI study, “sport fishing in the eight Great Lakes states supports more than 190,000 jobs and annually has a total economic impact of more...

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Addressing climate change may foster economic recovery

Several Congressional hearings have been held this year on climate science and potential policy actions such as  federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. There are those in Congress who argue that regardless of whether or not they are convinced that human activity is leading to changes in the atmosphere, the United States  cannot afford to address it amidst a soaring budget deficit and high unemployment. Given these economic concerns, numerous scientists have recently pointed out that addressing climate change and working to create jobs and fuel the economy are not mutually exclusive. One of those scientists is Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer, Director of the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, MI in the center of the Great Lakes Basin. In the latest edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Dr. Nadelhoffer discusses his experience testifying before a congressional committee. During the podcast, he also notes how previous attempts to address environmental challenges  led to new  jobs. “The Clean Air Act created jobs. It created technologies,” he said. “It developed entrenprenuer enterprises that led to new products and improved our effeciencies, so I think the precedent is that we will create jobs” through the implementation of greenhouse gas regulations. In his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee, Dr. Nadelhoffer outlined a series of economic impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes region, which are happening now. He stated that: “The economy of the eight states and Canadian provinces that surround the Great Lakes are the third or fourth largest in the world and in our region, we interact intimately with our natural resources to sustain our economy and our culture, so we pay close attention to what happens around us.” Dr. Nadelhoffer went on to testify that the temperature of Lake Superior, the deepest and largest lake in the western hemisphere and second largest in the world, has risen by 4.5 degrees Farenheit in the past 30 years. He stated that increased flooding associated with climatic changes leads to increased amounts of sediment and fertilizers entering waterways, which are associated with toxic algae blooms that consume oxygen, kill fish, create aquatic dead zones and increase costs of water treatments. He also noted the significant infrastructure cost borne by storm systems that were built 50 years ago in cities bordering the Great Lakes such as South Haven, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin that are no longer able to cope with this increased flooding. Dr. Nadelhoffer had been called to testify partly because of a letter to Michigan’s congressional delegation he helped spearhead.  In total, the letter had 178 signatures from scientists in prominent universities across the state,...

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ESA Policy News: February 10

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: PARTISANSHIP ABOUNDS AT FIRST GOP-LED CLIMATE HEARING House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans questioned climate science and asserted new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules would cost jobs while Democrats accused Republicans of ignoring scientists and human health concerns during the first subcommittee hearing concerning carbon emission regulations and the effects climate change since the GOP regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The focus of the hearing was the “Energy Tax Prevention Act,” legislation jointly sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) that would exempt greenhouse gases from regulation under the Clean Air Act. The hearing was presided over by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee. Waxman references Bush EPA Admin letter Prior to the hearing, Ranking Member Waxman sent correspondence to Chairman Upton, which included a January 2008 letter from former President George W. Bush’s third U.S. EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson. In the private letter to the president, Johnson stated “the latest science of climate change requires the agency to propose a positive endangerment finding, as was agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting in November. The state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research.” The letter was sent six months before Johnson overrode EPA scientists’ determination and announced the agency would continue to evaluate evidence to determine whether a positive endangerment finding was warranted. Subsequently in 2009, current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson finalized an endangerment finding for carbon and other greenhouse gases, paving the way for their regulation under the Clean Air Act. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE REPUBLICANS RELEASE PROPOSED FY 2011 SPENDING CUTS House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) announced a partial list of spending cuts on February 9 that will be included in the upcoming appropriations Continuing Resolution (CR) for Fiscal Year 2011. The CR would fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2011. Overall, the proposed CR represented a cut of $32 billion from the levels enacted in the temporary CR passed by Congress last December, which expires March 4. Republican appropriators were forced to modify their efforts Thursday, Feb 10, after coming under pressure from Tea-Party freshman Republicans to fulfill their pledge to cut $100 billion in spending this year, according to House aides. The spending cuts originally released by Chairman Rogers based its...

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Ecology in videos and podcasts

Oysters proposed for cleaning up New York’s rivers, mall music has a bigger impact than boosting sales, cephalopods advance research in neuroscience and robotics, how gut bacteria might be shaping brain development and behavior and E.O. Wilson discusses a life of research on ants. Here are the remaining links from January. Oyster-tecture: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a study today showing heavy contamination in the Gowanus Canal in New York City. In the above TED video, landscape architect Kate Orff discusses plans to reestablish oysters to the Canal as a way to filter pollution and create habitats for other species. “One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day,” said Orff, “…and they become the bedrock of any harbor ecosystem.” Read more at “Reviving New York’s rivers — with oysters!” Lowering music emissions: Stanford University journalism students put a new spin on the term noise pollution: They calculated just how much energy is used to play background music in malls in the U.S. As explained in the Scientific American podcast 60-Second Earth, “[the students] crunched the numbers on how much energy it takes to play all that pop and came up with a figure of 1.18 gigawatt-hours. Given the present energy mix that means Mantovani adds more than 3,000 metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year.” Read more and listen at “Another Reason to Hate Shopping Sound Tracks.” Cephalopod brains: In a lengthy BoingBoing video, science journalist Maggie Koerth-Baker explains the cephalopod—such as octopuses and squid—brain and how it is used for communication, object detection and predator avoidance. “The secret to the octopus’ success: its brain,” she said in the video. “This incredibly weird structure, from our biased vertebrate mammalian perspective…is the result of an evolutionary process hundreds of millions of years removed from our own, creating an organ that looks on the surface nothing like what we’ve come to expect an honest brain to be.” Koerth-Baker applies these brain functionalities to neuroscience and robotics. Read more at “everybody loves cephalopods.” E.O. Wilson on ants and life: In an Encyclopedia of Life podcast, E.O. Wilson, now 81, discusses his lifelong study of ants—including the red imported fire ant that he discovered at the age of 13 in Alabama—and what drives him to continue his research. “I think my life proves, if you are truly a dedicated naturalist, if you’ve known the joys of exploring  biodiversity, and you’ve become fairly familiar with ecosystems that feel like home to you when you step into them…that it is a source of lifelong pleasure, adventure, challenge and excitement,” he said in the podcast.  Read more and listen...

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ESA Policy News: December 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.

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ESA Policy News: October 29

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Terence Houston.

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ESA Policy News: July 16

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.

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