Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

In a story in Wednesday’s New York Times, I write about how Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm, ran a successful successful fundraising campaign to help the climate change-endangered American pika by using Foursquare and location-based advertising:

SAN FRANCISCO

IN a city passionate about the environment and technology, commuters are using their smartphones to check in at a popular social networking service to help keep a critter threatened by climate change from checking out.

“What does it take to help save the endangered pika? About 20 seconds,” read ads from Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, that line San Francisco transit stations and feature the cute rabbitlike American pika in its Sierra Nevada mountain redoubt. “Check in now at Foursquare at ‘Earthjustice ad.’ Every time you check in, an Earthjustice donor will donate $10 to protect endangered species.”

Foursquare, a rapidly growing social network, lets people use their mobile phones to announce their location to friends. When they arrive at a restaurant, bar or another site, they “check in” and can broadcast their whereabouts through other social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The Earthjustice campaign appears to be among the first to let people check in at a physical billboard, a tactic that has proved successful for the firm and could be attractive to other advertisers, according to industry analysts and Foursquare executives.

“Tying in location allows the advertiser to see which particular ads are more successful at prompting responses,” said Noah Elkin, a mobile marketing analyst at eMarketer, a New York research firm. “Plus, checking in allows each person to share what they think is important about the ad campaign. If they post their check-ins to Facebook and Twitter, you’ve reached a much broader audience.”

Earthjustice’s foray in location-based fund-raising began after the group was offered free ad space to run public service announcements at several Bay Area Rapid Transit stations.

“Foursquare was becoming very popular, especially here in San Francisco, and the BP oil spill had happened not too long before, so it was this perfect storm,” said Ray Wan, the marketing manager for Earthjustice, which is based in Oakland, Calif. “A lot of the time people are standing around BART checking their phones as they wait for their train, so it was a no-brainer to use Foursquare as way to get them to engage with the ads and support our work.”

Earthjustice persuaded one of its donors in the Bay Area, whom Mr. Wan described as “very progressive” but who wished to remain anonymous, to pledge $50,000 toward the experimental campaign.

Human Ideas, a Minneapolis firm, created the wall-size ad featuring the pika, which many biologists consider the animal most at risk in the continental United States from global warming. Earthjustice represents the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that is fighting to place the pika on state and federal endangered species lists.

The pint-size mammal lives mostly in mountainous areas in the western United States and Canada, and even a small spike in its body temperature is fatal. As temperatures have risen, pika populations have vanished from lower elevations, while other populations have remained stable. In February, federal officials declined to give endangered species status to the pika.

The ad for the pika is just one of three that Human Ideas has created for Earthjustice. Another ad, squeezed between billboards for banks and insurance companies, shows an offshore oil rig and declares, “Use your cellphone to drill the oil industry.” A third ad pictures Lake Tahoe, admonishing commuters, “Don’t just stand there. Stand there and help keep Tahoe’s water clean.”

“We want donor dollars to go to causes that are meaningful to Californians,” said Mr. Wan. “When you’re standing around in this urban environment, all the ads are for Starbucks or banks, so to see the pika staring at you turns your head.”

Commuters have checked in at the ads more than 5,700 times, meeting Earthjustice’s $50,000 fund-raising goal.

Many of those who use Foursquare automatically post their Earthjustice check-ins on their Twitter and Facebook pages, further spreading the group’s message.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

Have the Texas oil companies backing Proposition 23 surrendered in the fundraising battle over the ballot measure that would suspend California’s global warming law?

Since Thursday, the No on 23 forces have raised more than $7.3 million as the Silicon Valley-Hollywood-environmental-industrial complex revved up for the final push before Election Day on Nov. 2.

The Yes campaign’s take since Thursday? $10,000.

The No on 23 campaign now has raised $25.8 million to the Yes effort’s $9.1 million as money from the petrochemical industry backing Prop 23 has all but dried up in recent weeks, according to California Secretary of State records.

The tsunami of cash flooding into the No campaign indicates the breadth of support from California’s establishment for the state’s global warming law, known as AB 32, which requires greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 1990 levels by 2020.

Avatar director James Cameron attracted the most attention with his $1 million donation on Friday. But Gordon Moore, the legendary co-founder of chip giant Intel, also dropped $1 million into the No coffers that day, and so did Pacific Gas & Electric ($250,000), California’s largest utility and a leading proponent of climate change legislation. Google co-founder Sergey Brin also donated $200,000 on Thursday, and an organization of Silicon Valley tech companies contributed $125,000.

On Tuesday, a group of some 66 investors controlling more than $400 billion in assets are scheduled to hold a press conference to announce their opposition to Prop 23.

In the meantime, national environmental groups and non-profits continued to pour cash into the No campaign last week. The National Wildlife Federation contributed $3 million on Friday. ClimateWorks Foundation, a San Francisco non-profit, gave $900,000. New York’s Rockefeller Family Fund kicked in $300,000 on Thursday and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a top No on 23 donor, added $300,000 more Friday.

Environmentalists are also starting to focus on Proposition 26, a little-noticed California ballot measure that would reclassify environmental impact fees as taxes and require a two-thirds vote of the state legislature to impose them rather than a simple majority. Green groups and AB 32 supporters fear Prop 26 could cripple efforts to levy fees to implement the global warming law.

The oil, alcohol, and tobacco companies backing Prop 26 have so far raised $13.6 million while opponents have managed to collect only $2.8 million, according to state campaign records.

Still, a spokesman for the No on 23 told the Los Angeles Times that the No campaign would not redirect its cash to the Prop 26 fight, saying the battle over the global warming law has yet to be won.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Lori Eanes.

In a piece I wrote for Yale Environment 360, I interview the new executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, about what’s next for the green movement in the wake of the defeat of federal climate change legislation:

In March, Michael Brune took over as executive director of the Sierra Club, the oldest and largest environmental organization in the United States. The Sierra Club doesn’t change leaders often — he’s only the sixth executive director in its 118-year history — and in selecting Brune, the group’s board chose to go with a young outsider with a track record of campaigning in the streets and confronting corporations to effect environmental change.

Brune, 38, previously ran the Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based group whose slogan is “Environmentalism with Teeth.” With a small staff and modest budget, Rainforest Action has extracted agreements from companies such as Home Depot and Citigroup to abandon environmentally destructive practices.

In moving four blocks from Rainforest Action’s offices to the Sierra Club’s national headquarters, Brune — who started his environmental career as a Greenpeace campaigner — is now leading an organization with 1.3 million members and 400 chapters.

His ascension to one of the top jobs in American environmentalism comes at a turning point for the green movement. The decade’s best shot at imposing a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions has failed in the U.S. Senate, despite years of effort by groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council to forge a coalition with Fortune 500 companies to pass climate change legislation.

“I think we need to a do a very honest and candid reflection on why various iterations of cap and trade legislation have failed,” says Brune, whose soft-spoken manner belies a reputation as a hard-nosed negotiator. “Millions of people have written e-mails, called their senators, demonstrated in the streets, taken actions in a variety of different ways, and still we can’t even get 50 votes, much less 60” in the Senate.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Brune sat down in his office at Sierra Club headquarters with writer Todd Woody to talk about the future of the environmental movement, his plans for the Sierra Club, and the next front in what author author Eric Pooley calls the “climate war.”

Yale Environment 360: With the failure of climate legislation, where does the environmental movement go from here?

Michael Brune: The first thing we need to do is a good assessment of what went wrong. We should not try to do the same thing and expect a different result. We need to rethink what the best way is to build momentum to fight climate change. Just as it was clear that one single bill wasn’t going to stop climate change, it’s also clear that there are many different avenues that we can take.

e360: What would be some of those avenues?

Brune: I think clearly right now focusing on administrative actions, regulatory actions, and perhaps more narrow but stronger legislation that would focus on reducing oil consumption and increasing the inventory of clean energy that is available. There’s a lot that can happen through the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to protect the public health that Eight years from now we could have a third of the coal fleet replaced with clean energy.” will accelerate a transition away from dirty coal-fired power plants.

The Sierra Club over the past three or four years has been focused on stopping new coal-fired power plants from being built, arguably one of the most effective things we’ve ever done. Along with a broad coalition of grassroots groups, we’ve been able to stop about 131 new coal plants from being built.

That work is going to be evolving over the next several years to not only focus on stopping new plants but on retiring the biggest, oldest coal plants and replacing them with clean energy. So by supporting the EPA’s efforts to protect public health and tighten the controls on particulate matter and air toxins like mercury — there’s a whole series of regulations that are coming down the pike — we feel like we can achieve dramatic reductions and significantly decarbonize the power sector. We feel eight years from now we could have a third of the coal fleet be retired and replaced with clean energy.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Read Full Post »

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

As global warming accelerates, the world will become not only hotter, flatter, and more crowded but also thirsty, according to a new study that finds 70 percent of counties in the United States may face climate change-related risks to their water supplies by 2050.

One-third of U.S. counties may find themselves at “high or extreme risk,” according to the report prepared for the Natural Resources Defense Council by Tetra Tech, a California environmental consulting firm.

“It appears highly likely that climate change could have major impacts on the available precipitation and the sustainability of water withdrawals in future years under the business-as-usual scenario,” the study’s authors conclude. “This calculation indicates the increase in risk that affected counties face that water demand will outstrip supplies, if no other remedial actions are taken. To be clear, it is not intended as a prediction that water shortages will occur, but rather where they are more likely to occur.”

Those conclusions are based on climate modeling, predicted precipitation, historical drinking water consumption as well as water use by industry and for electrical generation.

It’s no surprise that states in the hot and dry West faces the highest risk of water shortages. Arizona, California, Nevada, and Texas top the list, though the study also finds that part of Florida could find itself tapped out.

“As a result, the pressure on public officials and water users to creatively manage demand and supply — through greater efficiency and realignment among competing uses, and by water recycling and creation of new supplies through treatment — will be greatest in these regions,” the report states. “The majority of the Midwest and Southern regions are considered to be at moderate risk, whereas the Northeast and some regions in the Northwest are at low risk of impacts.”

The forecast relies on the continuation of business as usual — i.e. the nation does not change its water-wasting ways — and also on federal government data that predicts the U.S. will continue to use thirsty fossil-fuel power plants to generate electricity.

That should whet some appetites for renewable energy sources that use less water and for investment in new water technologies.

Read Full Post »

photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

On Thursday, Yale Environment 360 published a story I wrote about a growing fight over using the U.S. Endangered Species Act to protect wildlife at risk of extinction from climate change:

While a high-profile battle raged over listing the polar bear as a threatened species due to melting Arctic sea ice, U.S. environmentalists were quietly building a case to protect a critter closer to home, one whose existence also seems gravely threatened by a warming world.

A pocket-sized member of the rabbit family with a distinctive squeak and large ears that frame dark eyes and a button nose, the American pika lives on rocky slopes high in alpine mountain ranges from the Sierra Nevada to the Rockies. Sporting a thick gray-brown coat, the pika does not hibernate and so maintains a high internal temperature to survive frigid winters. Because it can’t turn off its heater, the animal can die in the summer if its body temperature increases by as little as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 F).

As temperatures have risen across the American West, scientists who study the pika have discovered that it is disappearing from lower elevations. In the Sierra Nevada, for instance, biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that the pika had moved upslope 500 feet to cooler climes over the past 90 years. Another study determined that nine of 25 pika populations in the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah have vanished over the past century, with surviving pikas migrating up 900 feet. Eventually, the tiny mammal will reach the mountaintop and the end of the line, with nowhere left to go if temperatures continue to climb, according to numerous biologists.

The pika has become an indicator species in more ways than one. It is in the vanguard of a growing number of animals and plants that U.S. environmental groups have petitioned to protect as the Endangered Species Act becomes the latest battleground over global warming.

The effort to put a furry face on the abstract phenomenon of climate change is bringing to a head a simmering issue: As scientific evidence accumulates about global warming’s impact on wildlife, how effective can the Endangered Species Act be in cushioning the blow of climate change on various species? But beyond this issue, an even thornier question looms: Can conservation groups use the act to force the U.S. government to use the legislation’s powerful provisions to mandate greenhouse gas reductions to protect wildlife and their habitat?

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

This post first appeared in Grist.

As we know, one of the few beneficial side effects of the Great Recession of 2009 was the decline in global greenhouse gas emissions as our consumer-centric economy sputtered. But that also sent the voluntary carbon markets into a tailspin, according to a new report released Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Ecosystem Marketplace.

Voluntary carbon markets, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange, allow companies to trade carbon credits, usually as part of corporate sustainability programs where they pledge to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions by buying offsets tied to forestry programs, the capture of methane gas from landfills, and other efforts. (Such markets should not be confused with mandatory, regulated markets such as the European Trading Scheme.)

The value of greenhouse gas emissions credits traded on the voluntary markets plunged 47 percent in 2009 to $387.4 million, while the volume of greenhouse gas emissions traded fell 26 percent to 93.7 millions of tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e).

“The economic recession had a marked impact on the number of companies offsetting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” wrote the report’s authors, who compiled data provided by more than 200 carbon credit suppliers and the carbon exchanges. “In response to the global financial crisis, companies cut back on discretionary funding for corporate social responsibility initiatives, including offsetting emissions. At the same time, the prospects for new compliance demand remained uncertain.”

Still, even in a recession the volume of greenhouse gas emissions traded in 2009 was 39 percent higher than in 2007.

Interestingly, the regulated carbon markets powered through the downturn, growing 7 percent with 8,625 MtCO2e traded at a value of $144 billion, according to the report.

The United States became the world’s biggest supplier of voluntary carbon credits for the first time last year, followed by Latin America and Asia.

Methane-related projects accounted for 41 percent of offset credits while forestry programs were tied to 24 percent of credits and renewable energy to 17 percent.

“Survey respondents were highly positive about the prospects for the global voluntary markets and collectively believe transactions will increase to approximately 400 MtCO2e in 2012, 800 MtCO2e in 2015, and 1,200 MtCO2e in 2020,” the report concluded. “Whether this growth will actually be achieved remains to be seen; it does demonstrate a strong sense of optimism for future activity in the voluntary marketplace.”

Read Full Post »

In my new Green State column on Grist, I write about how an environmental justice group in Texas is using a greenhouse gas analyzer from Silicon Valley’s Picarro to detect pollution from natural gas fracking operations in two communities near Dallas:

If you had been driving through North Texas this week you might have seen a white Dodge Sprinter van circling some of the natural gas wells and compression stations that have sprung up around the Barnett Shale belt like boom-time subdivisions.

Drillers tap natural gas by splitting shale through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that injects fluids laced with chemicals into the rock formations. The proliferation of shale gas drilling northeast of Dallas has ignited an uproar among residents, some of whom fear that fracking could be poisoning ground water and polluting the air with carcinogens. But the industry won’t disclose all the chemicals it uses and Texas environmental authorities won’t compel them to do so.

Which brings us back to our mystery van. Inside was a desktop computer-sized analyzer connected to a translucent tube that snaked out the roof of the van. The analyzer is made by a Silicon Valley company called Picarro and it provides real-time measurements of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. By correlating the data with wind patterns, Picarro scientists can pinpoint the source of emissions. Oil and gas operations emit methane, which can also indicate the presence of benzene and other carcinogens, according to Picarro scientists.

This is an image created by a mashup of the methane concentrations recorded by the Picarro analyzer in Flower Mound, Texas, overlaid on a Google map.
A Picarro employee had driven the van to Texas from California at the request of Wilma Subra, a Louisiana scientist, environmental justice activist and MacArthur genius grant recipient. Picarro’s director of research and development, Chris Rella, flew to Texas and joined Subra and activists from Earthworks’ Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project on the hunt for fugitive emissions in the towns of DISH and Flower Mound.

DISH — the name is capitalized because in 2005 the town changed its name in exchange for free satellite television from the DISH Network — is home to about 200 people and a dozen compression stations that push natural gas from wells into pipelines. As the Picarro van drove around DISH, concentrations of methane spiked from background concentrations of 1.8 parts per million to 20 parts per million near the compression stations. As the analyzer recorded the spikes they were automatically plotted on a Google map.

Twenty miles to the southeast in the Dallas exurb of Flower Mound, methane concentrations near natural gas wells literally went off the analyzer’s chart, topping 40 parts per million, says Subra and Picarro executives.

“I see this as very, very beneficial to the environmental justice movement,” says Subra. “It gives you real-time data and you can potentially identify the source as opposed to having to collect air samples and then have them analyzed. You can see the plume on the map and how close houses are to the compressor stations.”

You can read the rest of the column here.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »