Environmental, technological, socioeconomic and political forces continue to disrupt and reshape American and global society, manifesting themselves today in what many see as twin economic and ecological crises. The ability of American capitalism and society to create the number and quality of employment opportunities characteristic of previous generations has been waning.
Coincidentally, the disruptive and destructive effects of climate change and ecological degradation, along with successive military campaigns in the Middle East, have become increasingly apparent and costly, leading growing numbers of Americans to question our continued support for, and reliance on, fossil fuels.
However, public and private sector policies and actions centered firmly on climate change mitigation and adaptation offer us the ways and means to address these twin crises simultaneously. Job creation can address both growing economic inequality and the growing threats to ecological sustainability in American society. Economically viable and socially and environmentally responsible policy options – like job creation – exist, advocates for environmental justice assert. The only thing lacking, they contend, is the sociopolitical will to enact them.
The best of times, the worst of times
Launched in Oakland, California in 2007 by then head of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Van Jones, Green For All zeroes in on realizing the potential for climate change action to address environmental injustice, lift people out of poverty and redress disparities in U.S. income and wealth – inequality that has reached disturbing, historic proportions.
Read the series companion piece to this post, Native Americans, Renewable Energy and Environmental Justice.
Natural resources on Native American lands have been instrumental in the socioeconomic development of cities, suburbs and rural areas across the American West. Native Americans living on tribal lands continue to struggle with a basic lack of infrastructure (water, electricity and transport), public services (health and education), and opportunities to better themselves socially and economically, however. Adding to all this, they live with and shoulder the costs of the resulting long-term and unaccounted for damage and degradation to ecosystems and the essential services they provide.
Looking to turn the tide in their favor, Native Americans, with support from the federal government, are increasingly turning to renewable energy and energy efficiency in a bid to develop and realize the untapped human, as well as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, energy and resource potential that resides on Native American tribal lands. TriplePundit (3p) spoke with two individuals at the center of this movement, one that seeks to address the issues of environmental justice and conservation along with sustainable socioeconomic development.
Around the nation many organizations have zeroed in on the nexus where renewable energy development meets environmental justice – renewables on tribal lands.
Marginalized and struggling to address a range of socioeconomic and environmental problems, the 566 Native American tribes recognized by the federal government as eligible to receive services from the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs are increasingly looking to leverage and capitalize on their green energy resources. And, in contrast to past experiences with energy resource development, they’re looking to exert a greater degree of autonomy and earn a greater share of the benefits in doing so.
Just last week, the Moapa Band of Paiutes announced plans to develop as much as 1.5 gigawatts (GW) worth of solar energy projects on tribal lands in Clark County, Nevada. This time around, they will not only receive lease payments for use of their land, as they do for a 350-MW solar power project – the first to be approved by the Department of Interior on Native American tribal lands, but they are taking a majority equity stake in an initial new project – a 250-MW solar PV facility. Local hiring, direct and indirect knock-on economic effects and revenue from selling power to electric utilities across the Southwest will add additional economic benefit.
Will renewable energy revise the legacy of energy resource development on Native American lands?
The potential benefits of renewable energy development on Native American tribal lands seem clear. Representing two percent of U.S. land, Native American tribal lands hold an estimated five percent of national renewable energy resources, according to a comprehensive study commissioned by the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs undertaken by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).
Internet connectivity is coming to remote communities and fisherfolk in the Danajon Reef Marine Key Bioiversity Area of the Philippines’ Bohol province for the first time, courtesy of TV White Space wireless broadband technology developed by the Philippines’ Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO).
Also known as “Super Wi-Fi,” the new wireless broadband network service will initially be enlisted in support of the Philippine government’s sustainable fisheries and poverty alleviation efforts. Bohol fisherfolk will use the service to electronically and remotely register for permits and send data to the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture as part of government’s efforts to “produce more fish, to feed more people, and generate more jobs,” according to an InterAksyon report.
Home to some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, fishing in the North Atlantic has a long and storied history. The continuation of that tradition and legacy has been put in jeopardy over recent decades as the health, integrity and viability of fish stocks and marine ecosystems have become increasingly vulnerable to a variety of threats, and that just as a rising world population looks to the seas to help meet its growing need for food and nutrition.
With worldwide food demand projected to as much as double by 2050, countries around the world are looking to the world’s oceans as a critical source of food and nutrition, as well as energy and mineral resources. And with wild fish stocks and catches on the decline, aquaculture production has been growing rapidly to account for a larger and larger share of North Atlantic and worldwide seafood production, a trend that’s expected to continue, and even accelerate, in years to come.
Supranational, ecosystems-based governance of fisheries and marine resources has become critical to maintaining the viability of marine ecosystems for current as well as future generations. Establishing and maintaining the institutional frameworks to accomplish this is fraught with tradeoffs and the potential for dispute and conflict, however. In the first case of its kind, the European Union (EU) voted last week to impose bans on North Atlantic herring and mackerel from the Faroe Islands. The trade action was based on the Faroe Islands’ decision to break from regionally instituted sustainable fishing limits and unilaterally treble its herring quota.
The sustainability of fish and seafood stocks continues to be an issue of global concern. Human population growth, overfishing, fast-growing aquaculture production, rising levels of marine and freshwater pollution and coastal property development, and, more recently, the effects of climate change, including ocean acidification – all factor into the local, national, regional and international institutional frameworks that result in fisheries governance and management policies, regulations and practices.
Providing a core, pivotal link in the fish and seafood supply chain, wholesale distributors can have an outsized influence on fisheries management, fishing practices and efforts aimed at enhancing the sustainability of fisheries worldwide.
This past week, six “like-minded” North American seafood wholesalers announced they have joined together to form Sea Pact, “a coalition of seafood industry leaders who strive to advance environmentally sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices and provide the building blocks of a long term and sustainable fishing industry by financially contributing to improve the fishing and fish farm practices from which they procure.”
Cultivating sustainability across the seafood supply chain
Water and energy – we’re using a lot of the former in order to harness the latter, which poses an increasingly urgent dilemma for stakeholders across society. The energy we rely on to maintain our living standards typically comes from burning fossil fuels, which, in turn, not only draws down and degrades our water resources, land and air quality, but intensifies the negative effects of climate change.
Having reached a critical juncture at the nexus where energy and water meet, U.S. society is now faced with a stark choice. Continue to rely on fossil fuels to supply the energy we require or aggressively shift to a more diversified and distributed mix of cleaner, less resource-intensive and less destructive renewable energy resources, while at the same time pursuing across-the-board gains in energy efficiency, according to the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative (EW3) organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
More than doubling the amount of clean, renewable electricity delivered to its customers, Xcel Energy subsidiary Southwestern Public Service expects to save some $590 million in fuel costs over the next 20 years, the result of having signed long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with three wind power farms – one in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma and one in Texas.
Clear evidence of the increasing cost competitiveness and substantial ancillary benefits of harnessing wind energy, the power purchase prices Southwestern executives have locked in, for the most part, come in lower than the cost of electricity from natural gas-fired power plants, an Xcel spokesman told Amarillo Globe-News reporter Kevin Welch.
Venture capital (VC) investments in the solar energy sector surged 50 percent higher quarter over quarter, to $189 million, in 2Q 2013, with investments in downstream solar businesses setting the pace, according to Mercom Capital Group’s “Solar Q2 Funding and M&A Report.”
Mercom recorded a total of 19 transactions valued at $189 million in 2Q as compared to 26, for a total $126 million, in this year’s first quarter. Solar downstream businesses gathered the lion’s share, gathering $128 million of VC capital invested in the U.S. solar energy sector in 2Q, according to the report.
Setting a qurterly record, downstream providers of third-party finance for distributed solar power systems raised a record $1.33 billion in disclosed residential and commercial solar project funds in 2Q. The amount raised by solar leasing companies and other types of third-party finance providers during the first six months of 2013 nearly reached that for all of 2012, Mercom found.
The Americas and Asia/Pacific regions picked up the slack from a slowdown in Europe, driving newly installed solar photovoltaic (PV) power capacity to 30 gigawatts-peak (GWp) globally and driving cumulative capacity past the 100 GWp landmark to reach 101 GWp as of year-end of 2012, according to a report from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA).
Some 16.5 GWp of new PV power capacity was installed across the European Union (EU) in 2012, down a full 25 percent from 2011′s 22 GWp and bringing total EU installed solar PV capacity to just shy of 68.6 GWp, up from 52.1 GWp in 2011. Despite the slowdown, more than 68 terawatt-hours of electricity was generated by PV systems in the EU last year. That’s 50 percent higher and up from 45.2 TWh in 2011.
Newly installed PV capacity in the Americas and Asia/Pacific markets offset the slowdown in Europe, indicative of a ‘passing of the baton’ when it comes to those leading solar PV growth worldwide, according to the EPIA’s latest Photovoltaic Barometer. Newly-installed PV capacity totaled 31 GWp despite painful industry consolidation, sluggish economic growth and government budgetary problems in major markets around the world.
Also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (AEVs) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), use of drones for military and surveillance purposes has been both lauded and lambasted even as the market has gone global and grown exponentially. Though significant obstacles – technological and sociopolitical – remain, developers and end users have only just scratched the surface when it comes to realizing the full range of potential applications.
So-called “eco-drones” are affording a growing number and variety of government, public and private sector groups and organizations a “low-cost and low-impact solution” capable of providing higher resolution images and greater quantities of granular, primary data that should help resolve some of today’s most pressing socioeconomic and environmental issues.
A report in the May 2013 issue of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) highlights the pioneering use and application of drones in climate change monitoring and research, ecosystems management and environmental governance.
This is the second half of a two-part post, beginning with Understanding AC Refrigerant Standards.
The race to find low-global warming refrigerants
Even so, the race is on to find alternatives to HFCs that have low GWPs and don’t deplete the ozone layer. Chemical companies have zoomed in on three alternative refrigerants: ammonia, propane and, ironically enough, carbon dioxide (CO2).
All three have their limitations, Rajan Rajendra, director of Engineering Services at Emerson Climate Technologies, explained. “These three are not viable across the board in all applications,” he told 3p. “Some are expensive, ammonia is caustic, and propane is highly flammable.”
Another proposed alternative are HFOs (hydrofluoro-olefin) refrigerants, such as HFO-1234yf, which is being marketed and sold as a replacement for R134a in mobile air conditioning systems. Other HFOs, Rajendran continued, are “blends intended to create a refrigerant like R404A but with much lower GWP, and given a new mixture, one that can be used widely across all applications.”
Back in 1987, alarm about emissions of ozone layer-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and bromine gases led national governments worldwide to sign the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, a United Nations (UN) environmental agreement in which 197 countries and the European Union (EU) pledged to phase out production and use of CFCs, HCFCs and bromine gases. Though revised, more aggressive reduction targets for new refrigerant standards are being met, subsequent developments – rapid industrialization in large emerging market countries and the growing threats and costs of global warming – have complicated matters further.
Led by the European Union (EU), the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Federated States of Micronesia, an international movement is already underway to ban and find substitutes for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – the group of refrigerant gases now replacing ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs – that have lower Global Warming Potential (GWP). This is causing some confusion and consternation, and is being met with some resistance in industry, the marketplace and on the part of rapidly industrializing countries, such as Brazil, China and India, who are in the midst of phasing out CFCs and HCFCs, however.
The success of the Montreal Protocol to date demonstrates that such broad-based multilateral agreements can be effective in addressing urgent environmental issues on a global basis. On the other hand, the process also highlights the challenges, complexity, uncertainties and nuances involved in drafting and enacting effective and long-lasting government policies and regulations intended to enhance socioeconomic and environmental sustainability without sacrificing too much in the way of economic growth and development potential.
Equitable, broad-based public access to sustainable, sanitary supplies of water is increasingly being seen as a security issue. A growing world population, global warming, growing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions and ongoing, growing disparities in the distribution of wealth and income and business-as-usual political economy – all threaten national, regional and international efforts to assure all members of society fair access to sustainable water resources.
Three high-profile international organizations called on the UN Security Council last September “to recognize water as one of the top security concerns facing the global community.” Support is also growing to include water issues on the UN’s mid-term strategic agenda as one of its Sustainable Development Goals, a strategic framework that is to succeed the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
But just what is “water security?” A lot hinges on the definition in terms of policy formulation and project implementation at the local, national, regional and international scales. Aiming to provide clarity and direction, a team of UN and international water experts will mark World Water Day at UN headquarters in New York City March 22 by proposing a common working definition.
A novel residential water conservation-socioeconomic development project in Mexico highlights the linkages between water and energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation, climate change, and the broad-based social and economic development opportunities afforded by climate change adaptation and mitigation programs.
The first such Water, Energy, & Emissions Efficiency program to be registered with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)-Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Camino Sabio Azul (Cambio Azul) aims to tackle the issue of water conservation and efficiency by training and employing women plumbers to install free, efficient shower heads and faucet regulators in low-income housing, along with service monitoring and reporting for up to 10 years.
In addition to reducing water and energy use and water and power bills, the program is also expected to provide much-needed and sought-after employment to an underrepresented sector of the population. It should also go a long way toward “fostering a long-term cultural shift toward water and energy conservation,” according to Houston-based Investment Technology Resources (ITR)-Equinox Management Solutions, which is coordinating and managing the program through its Camino Sabio Azul S. de R.L. de C.V., a Mexican limited liability company.