Today at streets.mn,, I review models from other regional governments that have addressed climate change in their efforts. The Met Council could use these as models for the forthcoming ThriveMSP 2040 plan.
The investor-owned utilities themselves think that things are about to change dramatically, drawing comparisons to industry disruptions like those faced by regulated airlines, the phone company monopolies and RIM. Mostly these disruptions will be driven by distributed renewable energy, but also by energy efficiency and market changes.
From a report by the Edison Institute, an association of shareholder-owned utilities:
There are important lessons to be learned from the history of the telephone industry. First, at the onset of the restructuring of the Bell System, there was no vision that the changes to come would be so radical in terms of the services to be provided and the technologies to be deployed. Second, the telephone players acted boldly to consolidate to gain scale and then take action to utilize their market position to expand into new services on a national scale. Finally, and most important, if telephone providers had not pursued new technologies and the transformation of their business model, they would not have been able to survive as viable businesses today. So, while the sector has underperformed the overall market since 2000, and as shown in Exhibit 5, even a leading industry participant like Verizon Communications has not been able to perform in-line with the overall market despite its growth, market share and solid profitability outlook due to the competitive uncertainties inherent in the business. However, those telecom providers that have embraced new technologies and addressed the competitive threats they faced have managed to survive and to protect investors from a “Kodak moment.”
At Ensia (formerly Momentum), Bill Chameides tackles compost, or our lack of it.
The thing that really caught my attention was a report on the results of a series of student dumpster dives around campus. After collecting and sorting all the garbage, they found that about three-quarters of Duke’s so-called non-recyclable trash destined for area landfills was compostable—things like food scraps, napkins, paper towels, etc. Based on calculations fromgovernment data [pdf], the national average is closer to 50 percent, but that’s still a lot of compost mostly headed for a landfill.
While I agree with the gist of his post – we should stop sending so much compostable material to the landfill, it makes good dirt – he reaches, what seems to me, a somewhat troubling conclusion (bold emphasis mine):
Right now we send a lot of compostable materials to landfills. If you’ll pardon the pun, that’s a waste. Instead of being treated like trash, compostable items can be converted into organic-rich soil for growing crops. And that could even help slow climate change. The anaerobic decay that occurs in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas that can escape into the atmosphere if a gas-capturing system is not installed. Composting, which is primarily an aerobic process, generates very little methane.
But the real challenge in making a compost economy is moving our compostable trash toward 100 percent. Let’s replace recyclable, petroleum-based plastics with nontoxic, cellulosic, compostable plastics. In addition to making compostable products, let’s make the packaging compostable too.
Now, in that first quote he says half our of current trash is compostable. That seems to me to indicate that our trash is already fairly compostable, and we aren’t doing anything about it. It seems our real challenge(s) is/are:
- Make sure compost collection is available (far from standard across the country, and certainly not in Minnesota).
- Education/coercion (get people to throw it in the right bin). No small task.
- Make sure that ability to process compostable material is available. This is not a minor issue. Consider that in the Twin Cities metro, there is one location that processes organic compost. Many items collected through composting collection regimes can’t simply be thrown on a compost pile, they need specific temperature, moisture and material mixtures to break down properly. Processing needs to expand if we’re going to get that other 50% composted.
My other issue is with Bill’s conclusion: let’s turn all our disposable products into compostable products. This is backwards. If collection isn’t available OR people don’t separate their compostable material properly (and just about universally), the results (for the climate, at least) could be worse.
Consider work done by David Allaway at the State of Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality. They looked at the lifecycle impacts of different water delivery systems (water bottles), including PLA (compostable) and PET (oil-based, recyclable) water bottles. As Bill notes, in a landfill, compostable materials produce methane, which when combined with the upstream impacts of making the water bottle, are worse than just using a regular, oil-based recyclable bottle.
The scenario above, represented by the green bar, shows that even if you’re successful at collecting and composting 62% of compostable bottles entering the waste stream, the emissions from the landfill of the remaining 38% offset any benefits. This includes “upstream” emissions, like making each bottle.
And this assumes a collection regime is in place. Every time I see a Twin Cities restaurant trying to up their green cred by offering “compostable” cups or flatware, I check their waste disposal area. Nine times out of ten there is no “compost” container available.
So, is promoting a conversion of “throw away” products like flatware and packaging to compostable materials a good idea? At best, maybe. At worst, well, it could make things worse. I think much more analysis needs to be done, and certainly more collection infrastructure and a highly-effective education campaign about sorting need to be in place. Of course, composting food waste that’s already in the waste stream is a no-brainer, but let’s take a closer look at compostable products.
A draft of the US National Climate Assessment was released about a week ago, and the outlook for changes headed to the Midwest and country as a whole is not good. Minnpost has a good look at the Midwest section (emphasis mine):
Climate change will tend to amplify existing risks from climate to people, ecosystems, and infrastructure in the Midwest. Direct effects of increased heat stress, flooding,
drought, and late spring freezes on natural and managed ecosystems may be altered by changes in pests and disease prevalence, increased competition from non-native or opportunistic native species, ecosystem disturbances, land-use change, landscape fragmentation, atmospheric pollutants, and economic shocks such as crop failures or reduced yields due to extreme weather events.
These added stresses, when taken collectively, are
projected to alter the ecosystem and socioeconomic patterns and processes in ways that most people in the region would consider detrimental.
Much of the region’s fisheries, recreation, tourism, and commerce depend on the Great Lakes and expansive northern forests, which already face pollution and invasive species pressure – pressures exacerbated by climate change. Most of the region’s population lives in urban environments, with aging infrastructure, that are particularly vulnerable to climate-related flooding and life-threatening heat waves.
Over at MPR, Paul Huttner also has a good overview, highlighting the coming “climate shock” of project 5-degree warming headed to Minnesota.
This magnitude of warming will likely cause some dramatic… and potentiallyalarming changes in our Minnesota Landscape.
Our forests will shift north. Pine forests may dissapear, and transition to hardwood forests in significant sections of northern Minnesota.
Prairies will also overtake areas that are now forested…possibly even the parts of Twin Cities metro.
Increases in the frequncy of extreme rainfall events will create more events like the multiple “500 to 1,000 year” flood events seen in Duluth and southern Minnesota in the past 9 years.
The changes we’re already observing in Minnesota will continue…and the pace of change is likely to quicken in the next 30 years. Our children will live in a very different Minnesota than our parents did.
How are we doing to address this challenge? Haven’t US greenhouse gas emissions gone down recently? Yes, but unfortunately not enough, and we can’t just worry about US emissions. From the report’s mitigation section (emphasis mine):
Even absent a comprehensive national greenhouse gas policy, both voluntary activities and a variety of policies and means at federal, state, and local levels are currently in place that lower emissions. While these efforts represent significant steps towards reducing greenhouse gases, and often result in additional co-benefits, they are not close to sufficient to reduce total U.S. emissions to a level consistent with the B1 scenario analyzed in this assessment.
And remember, hitting that B1 scenario is critical if we want to avoid the most dangerous impacts and potentially runaway climate change. For more on what the world might look like if we stay on the emissions path we’re on, take a look at the World Bank’s most recent report on 4-degree warming.
It was so hot in the South Australian outback town of Oodnadatta yesterday that the local servo stopped selling petrol.
The Outback town has been sweltering through one of its great heatwaves with the temperature soaring above 40 degrees every day this year, reaching a peak of 48.2 degrees yesterday.
“The ground, the building, everything is so hot, you walk outside and you feel it’s going to burn you,” Pink Roadhouse owner Lynnie Plate said.
Mrs Plate said the Roadhouse couldn’t serve unleaded fuel after midday because it was vapourising and wouldn’t pump in the extreme heat.
In one part of Australia, temperatures reached 120 degrees F. Are roads melting and gasoline evaporating an engineering problem, or a wake-up call?
Over at streets.mn, I wrote a piece about the mostly unknown requirement that cities in the metro address solar access in their comprehensive plans, and how we could improve to address the purpose of the requirement.
By law, every community in the seven-county metro is supposed to adopt a comprehensive plan that includes “an element for protection and development of access to direct sunlight for solar energy systems”. This requirement dates back to 1978, when there was anoil crisis and gasoline was $1.30 per gallon (or, close to what it was in 2011inflation-adjusted). In 1979, Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House. Reagan took down the solar panels in ’86 and oil got a lot cheaperthrough the late 90′s.
The requirement remains however, even if few communities have ever done anything related to solar after they developed some language for their comprehensive plan. As we enter this season of plan updates, perhaps it’s time for another look at how solar access, land use, energy and other issues are interrelated, and what are vision is for our energy systems. Solar power is cheaper than ever, and the message is pretty clear on the need to start decarbonizing our energy system.
The Breakthrough Institute has an interesting essay by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus describing the case for “modernization” in our ecological approach versus what they call the traditional view, “ecotheology” which views our modernization as an affront to nature. Here’s a long quote. Be sure to also read the responses by Leslie Paul Thiele and Jon Christensen.
The rise of the knowledge economy — encompassing medicine, law, finance, media, real estate, marketing, and the nonprofit sector — has further accelerated the West’s growing disenchantment with modern life, especially among the educated elite. Knowledge workers are more alienated from the products of their labor than any other class in history, unable to claim some role in producing food, shelter, or even basic consumer products. And yet they can afford to spend time in beautiful places — in their gardens, in the countryside, on beaches, and near old-growth forests. As they survey these landscapes, they tell themselves that the best things in life are free, even though they have consumed mightily to travel to places where they feel peaceful, calm, and far from the worries of the modern world.
These postmaterial values have given rise to a secular and largely inchoate ecotheology, complete with apocalyptic fears of ecological collapse, disenchanting notions of living in a fallen world, and the growing conviction that some kind of collective sacrifice is needed to avoid the end of the world. Alongside those dark incantations shine nostalgic visions of a transcendent future in which humans might, once again, live in harmony with nature through a return to small-scale agriculture, or even to hunter-gatherer life.
The contradictions between the world as it is — filled with the unintended consequences of our actions — and the world as so many of us would like it to be result in a pseudorejection of modernity, a kind of postmaterialist nihilism. Empty gestures are the defining sacraments of this ecotheology. The belief that we must radically curtail our consumption in order to survive as a civilization is no impediment to elites paying for private university educations, frequent jet travel, and iPads…
Putting faith in modernization will require a new secular theology consistent with the reality of human creation and life on Earth, not with some imagined dystopia or utopia. It will require a worldview that sees technology as humane and sacred, rather than inhumane and profane. It will require replacing the antiquated notion that human development is antithetical to the preservation of nature with the view that modernization is the key to saving it. Let’s call this “modernization theology.”
Where ecotheology imagines that our ecological problems are the consequence of human violations of a separate “nature,” modernization theology views environmental problems as an inevitable part of life on Earth. Where the last generation of ecologists saw a natural harmony in Creation, the new ecologists see constant change. Where ecotheologians suggest that the unintended consequences of human development might be avoidable, proponents of modernization view them as inevitable, and positive as often as negative. And where the ecological elites see the powers of humankind as the enemy of Creation, the modernists acknowledge them as central to its salvation.
Modernization theology should thus be grounded in a sense of profound gratitude to Creation — human and nonhuman. It should celebrate, not desecrate, the technologies that led our prehuman ancestors to evolve. Our experience of transcendence in the outdoors should translate into the desire for all humans to benefit from the fruits of modernization and be able to experience similar transcendence. Our valorization of creativity should lead us to care for our cocreation of the planet.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn laid out a massive $20 billion proposal Tuesday to combat the effects of climate change on New York City’s infrastructure as the region continues to assess damage and plan clean-up after Hurricane Sandy…
The plan was framed around two key issues: how to prevent flooding and how to safeguard infrastructure. It includes studies to assess what solutions – from manmade sea walls to natural defenses like sand dunes – could best protect the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
While it’s ridiculous to claim that avoiding the impacts of climate change is merely an engineering problem, it looks increasingly likely some mega-projects could be essential soon.
Market Urbanism points me to this infrastructure seminar on storm surge barriers for NYC.
The seminar culminated in the presentation of four conceptual designs of the storm surge barriers:
- Michael Abrahams of Parsons Brinckerhoff proposed a flap-type barrier for the upper East River with a series of panels across the river that normally rest on the bottom, but are raised when a surge is expected.
- Larry Murphy of Camp Dresser & McKee showed a barrier across the Arthur Kill with tide gates, parallel navigation locks, and a pedestrian draw bridge.
- Peter Jansen and Piet Dircke of Arcadis presented the design of a barrier across the Narrows, just north of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The barrier would consist of a pair of rolling or sliding sector gates spanning an 870-foot opening in the center, adjoined by 16 lifting gates with a span of 130 feet, and two lifting gates with a span of 165 feet.
- Dennis Padron and Graeme Forsythe of Halcrow introduced another concept. They proposed a New York–New Jersey Outer Harbor Gateway, a barrier extending from Sandy Hook to the Rockaways, a 5-mile long system of causeway and gates. A key consideration of the outer barrier system concept is that it would not be intended to completely prevent surge waters outflanking the flood defenses at the extreme ends of the barrier system, but rather it would deflect surge energy and mitigate water levels in the Upper and Lower Bay to manageable levels.
Preliminary estimates of the costs of the barriers by the designers were $1.5 billion for the upper East River site, $1.1 billion for the Arthur Kill, $6.5 billion for the Narrows barrier, and $5.9 billion for the Gateway barrier system.
It will be interesting to see how these cost estimates compare to damage estimates in the coming weeks.