RL Macklin's Sustainability & EHS Website

Integrated Strategies for Managing Sustainability & EHS

RL Macklin's Sustainability & EHS Website

Integrated Strategies for Managing Sustainability & EHS

RL Macklin's Sustainability & EHS Website

Integrated Strategies for Managing Sustainability & EHS

RL Macklin's Sustainability & EHS Website

Integrated Strategies for Managing Sustainability & EHS

The Unfortunate Balance Between The Economy and The Environment

A recent 60 second podcast from Scientific American (Will Economic Health Align With Environmental Health?: Scientific American Podcast) reports that the 2009 economic downturn apparently resulted in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  Still 2009 emissions were second only to 2008 as the highest ever.

Based on energy consumption statistics from various nations, scientists estimate that global CO2 emissions dropped by 1.3 percent in 2009. But that still made them the second highest ever—just behind 2008.

The biggest drops were recorded in Japan, the UK and Russia while China, India and South Korea continued to emit more than ever before.

The good news is emissions are back on track this year to increase by more than 3 percent worldwide—a sure indication of economic recovery. And the amount of CO2 emitted for every unit of economic activity is no longer shrinking as fast as it once was, thanks to a new boom in dirty coal.

via Scientific American 60 Second Earth

The podcast raises the question of whether it is possible to have a strong economy without damaging the environment and conversely whether environmental protection comes at the expense of the economy.

In reality that is the challenge of sustainability.  How do companies, nations and consumers have sustainable practices and remain economically sound.  These are the earliest days of the sustainability movement and it is likely that the technologies to really answer this don’t exist yet.  It is not unlike the emergence of our current system of distributing electricity.  The first electrical distribution systems in the US were based on direct current (DC).

Each voltage level of DC power must be distributed across dedicated power lines.  So a modern home would need to bring in separate power lines for 100v -110v uses like lighting, television, etc and separate lines for higher voltage requirements like refrigerators, electric clothes dryers and stoves, etc. There is also a loss of voltage with distance therefore with DC it is necessary for the power generation point to be close to the power consumption point.  AC power though distributed at a single voltage can be converted to other voltages through the use of transformers.  Transformers can both increase and decrease voltage making it possible to correct for voltage loss due to transmission distance and to provide multiple voltage levels at the point of consumption through a single connection to the power grid.

After proving in 1896 AC could power industry in the Buffalo area using power generated by Niagara Falls alternating current (AC) power distribution became standard.  Enough DC power had been installed in the early days of power transmission that despite AC being a superior technology for long distance electricity transmission there were DC distribution systems in portions of major cities, including New York and Boston well into the 20th century.  As well a number of industrial and commercial installation existed that still relied on DC power.

Imagine how different our world would be if the AC versus DC battle had played out differently.  It is unlikely that the limitation poised by alternate energy sources today will remain in place over time.  To really start to tackle the imbalance between the economy and the environment we will need to focus our efforts on developing practical alternate energy sources, that don’t result in increased environmental harm.

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Six Months Later and Fallout From Climategate Continues

Both sides in the controversy over whether global warming is real, or if real can be attributed to anthropogenic activity continue to defend their positions in light of November’s “climategate”.  To recap in November there was an unauthorized release of computer documents and emails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia.  The majority of the hacked (stolen) material were emails. TMost were fairly routine and mundane exchanges of information, questions etc. among climate change scientist.  Those involved were all prominent British and American climate change scientist.

The documents that weren’t just routine exchanges however, include ones that were dismissive and/or demeaning of climate change detractors, discuss ways to present data so that gaps and contradictory data are masked.  The most troubling were correspondence in which the scientist discuss and try to come up with an explanation for an apparent failure of the climate change models.  In the short term temperatures have decreased slightly rather than increased.

Additionally, the University admitted that during the 1980′s much of the actual raw data, stored on paper and magnetic tapes was dumped when the CRU was moved from one location to another.

An inquiry into the actions of the British scientist has cleared them of wrong doing.  That the inquiry was initiated by the University has caused some to question whether the findings are truly impartial.

Scientist not directly implicated in the controversy have recently declared “enough is enough”.  They are quick to point out that other data exists to support the claim that anthropogenic?? global warming is taking place. The data they refer to is not related to nor based on the data from East Anglia.

An essay written in response to the continuing controversy was published in the May 7th edition of the journal Science was signed by 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, including  11 Nobel laureates?.  The essay states very plainly the signatories continued belief that global warming is real, a significant threat to the planet and the direct result of human activity. The essay further chastises politicians who have used the recent developments to further their political causes and bolster their stand against climate change legislation.  The full text of the essay can be found here.  As several have noted it is virtually impossible to get 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences to agree on anything.

However, the climate change detractors are quick to point out that they have a number of unfulfilled requests for data, records and information filed under the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA).  Some of the requests, made to NASA are over two years old.  The statute requires the material by within 20 days of the request.  NASA has responded that the volume of data is overwhelming and they are doing their best to gather and supply it.  What records they have turned over have been heavily redacted.

So after months the issue of the data supporting climate change remains somewhat murky.  What is evident is that the scientist researching climate change need to be more transparent.  The transparency is needed not just in response to increased volume of their critics.  The lack of transparency raises suspicion that “they” are hiding something.  It makes it even more difficult to pass the very legislation they themselves advocate.  If there are gaps in the data and other anomalies then theories about what they mean should be given.  Mistakes, if they have been made should be openly admitted.  This discourse however, unpleasant for the scientist is part of the job.  Further discussion on the need for transparency can be found here

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