3p Contributor: Eric Justian

Eric Justian Eric Justian is a professional writer living near the natural sugar sand beaches and singing sand dunes of Lake Michigan in Muskegon, Michigan. When he's not wrangling his kids or tapping at his computer, he likes to putter in his garden, catch king salmon from the Big Lake, or go pan fishing with his boys.As a successful blogger his main focus has been energy, Great Lakes issues and local food.Eric is a founding member of the West Michgian Jobs Group, a non-profit organization that evolved from a Facebook page called Yest to West Michigan Wind Power which now has over 8000 followers. West Michigan Jobs Group promotes independent businesses and sustainable industries in the West Michigan area. As the Executive Director of that organization he has advocated renewable energy as both a clean energy alternative for Michigan and a new industry with which to diversify our economy and spark Michigan innovation and jobs.

Recent Articles

American Petroleum Institute Sues EPA Over New Biofuel Mandates

Eric Justian
| Friday October 11th, 2013 | 0 Comments

biofuelIf it was anybody else I might take the objection more seriously, but when an oil lobbying group sues the EPA over the renewable fuel standard, it kind of takes the edge off.  The American Petroleum Institute (API) is raising a legal stink over new rules requiring that biofuels be mixed with good old fashioned unleaded all American gasoline. Incidentally, the API is among many groups that funneled thousands of dollars to Koch backed conservative think tanks.

Dismantling renewable energy standards nationwide has been a high priority for the Koch Brother’s machine, lately. Specifically through the conservative group ALEC.

At least 77 (ALEC) bills to oppose renewable energy standards, support fracking, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and otherwise undermine environmental laws were introduced in 34 states in 2013

Viewed as a one-off dispute between the API and biofuels standards, the lawsuit against the EPA could seem unremarkable. Maybe even borne of legitimate concerns. But when viewed as just one more part of a larger nationwide effort of Koch friendly hyper-conseravtives to roll back all renewable energy progress in the U.S. in favor of a fossil fuel based agenda, one can be excused a certain amount of cynicism regarding the API’s lawsuit. Even if one isn’t entirely sold on biofuels.

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Brits to Buy Solar Arrays with their Ektorp Sofas

Eric Justian
| Friday October 4th, 2013 | 0 Comments

IkeaHold on, I need to look at my list here. I need to buy some Swedish meatballs, a couple chairs, some new food containers (I can never keep those lids around), and of course, solar panels. Can’t forget the solar panels.

By the summer of 2014, British residential customers will be able to march right into one the country’s 17 Ikea locations and buy thin film solar panels at the same place they’d buy their reasonably priced, designer home furnishings. Ikea made the move based on a pilot program at one of its stores which sold one solar setup per day. With new national subsidies and a minimum cost of £5,700  ($9,212), a buyer’s solar setup is estimated to pay for itself in seven years.

Most can’t even say that about a car purchase. The cost of solar panels includes in-store consultation, installation and maintenance. So I’m going to assume that you won’t be getting the standard Ikea allan wrench for this purchase.

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Responsible Corporations Back Intern Bill of Rights

Eric Justian
| Friday September 27th, 2013 | 0 Comments

intern programmersInternships are important. They’re a longstanding and respectable way for new workers to cut their teeth on a trade, gaining real world contacts and work experience. But lately there’s been an overindulgence in the internship economy with class action lawsuits flying around against companies that took undue advantage of cheap labor. Some responsible organizations like CBS and Viacom are trying to get out ahead of the controversy, signing on to an Intern Bill of Rights crafted by internmatch.com.

The bill of rights outlines a clear set of expectations for employers and the rights interns should expect, things like:

  • “All interns should be provided an offer document, recognizing their role within a company.”
  • “The word intern should only be applied to opportunities that involve substantial training, mentoring, and getting to know a line of work.”

Internmatch.com is a self-described “online ecosystem” focused on helping students find internships. They provide resources, intern matches, and help students find socially responsible positions. The organization crafted the Intern Bill of Rights to bring a bit more justice to the internship process.

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FTC Green Guides Report Helps Marketers Avoid the Pitfalls of Greenwashing

Eric Justian
| Thursday September 19th, 2013 | 2 Comments

GM Report Vertical Artwork 091113“Greenwashing” is a threat to environmental responsibility. A new report titled How to Make Credible Green Marketing Claims: What Marketers Need to Know about the Updated FTC Green Guides gives marketers a thorough and illustrative overview of how to avoid the practice and preserve their company’s public image. The report is co-authored by Jacquelyn Ottman of J. Ottman Consulting and David Mallen of the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau.

“Greenwashing,” of course, refers to the intentional or accidental practice of claiming more environmental benefit from a product or service than is true. Not only does it open a company up to liability and class action lawsuits over false claims, it reduces company credibility. It poisons earnest attempts at creating environmentally responsible products, and sows doubt among the general public about legitimate claims and benefits.

As consumers increasingly seek healthier or environmentally friendly alternatives to products, companies work to communicate how their products suit those demands. Unfortunately, according to the 2013 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker poll fewer than half, only 46 percent, of Americans trust companies’ claims about environmental benefits.

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The State of the Earth’s Forests

Eric Justian
| Tuesday September 17th, 2013 | 2 Comments

Muir WoodsMy aunt Margie, at the age of 99, used to marvel at all the trees that had grown in Michigan over her lifetime. Today, Michigan from above seems like a mass of oaks, maples, beeches, hemlock, white pines, and such. Manistee National Forest near my home is about half a million acres, much to the delight of two-trackers and Jeep drivers, and it’s hard to know where it starts and ends – there are just so many trees. But during my aunt’s childhood in the early 20th century, as she told it, trees were few and far between. The whole state was open, rolling farmland with few scrubby hardwoods.

Here’s why. In the late 1800s, the whole of Michigan was clearcut by lumber barons in a frenzied, unregulated dash for wood over the course of a couple decades. Tens of millions of acres were wiped out and sent down the river for mill processing. Now, 120 years later, Michigan has recovered and is a seemingly endless forest again due to natural growth on land unsuited for farming and the expansion of protected state and national forest land.

I bring this up for two reasons – first, to underscore the need for public/private partnerships to work toward sustainable forestry. And second, when thinking about the state of international forests, it’s important for developed nations like the U.S. not to be too smug about our current successes. We’ve been through the trajectory from deforestation to recovery that many developing nations currently face.

With that in mind, how are our international forests doing?

Adrian Whiteman, Head of Economics and Statistics at the Food and Agriculture Organization Forestry Department says, “As an overly simple metric of total forests, we’re still seeing millions of square kilometers of deforestation each year. But that rate is slowing, and there are some very encouraging things going on…we’re  headed in the right direction.” We are indeed still losing 13 million hectares of forest each year. Though that’s down from 16 million hectares of forest per year in the 1990s.

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Michigan Experiments with Social Impact Bonds

Eric Justian
| Tuesday September 17th, 2013 | 0 Comments

9617954178_ce7cef1c30Just a few years ago we saw a dramatic example of privatized gain buoyed by socialized risk when taxpayers ponied up trillions of dollars to bail out big outfits like Goldman Sachs who made reckless investment choices. Remember that? Good times. Arguably it was among the worst examples of private/public interaction.

Today we’re seeing a model for financing social programs called Social Impact Bonds. This strategy tries to turn that around, privatizing risk and socializing gain. To their credit, Goldman Sachs is on board with this one, too. They’ve invested ten million bucks in a strategy to stop young New York inmates from becoming repeat offenders. 

Social impact bonds, in theory, work like this: private investors work with a nonprofit group (or not) to finance a solution to a social problem. If the solution works, taxpayers then pay the investors back plus interest. If it doesn’t work, tough luck for the investors. It’s also called a “pay-for-success” program.

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Climate Change Action as a Conservative Issue

Eric Justian
| Friday August 30th, 2013 | 3 Comments

RepublicanWhile some may cry “deja vu,” there’s another growing movement of Republicans urging cooperation on climate change action. And it makes complete sense.

“Conservative” and “Conservation” share the same root. Conserve: to preserve and manage responsibly. By all accounting, environmental conservation should be right up the Republican alley. Russell Kirk, author of American conservatism said,”conservatism is about preserving the Permanent Things. “ Heck, American environmental roots have their foundations in Republican president Teddy Roosevelt who carved out a hundred and fifty national forests,  eighteen national  monuments, and five national parks.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Rob Sisson, President of ConservAmerica, a conservative group calling for environmental protection. He brought up an interesting perspective which I’d never considered. What is pollution, he said, but a kind of trespassing on another’s property, or on another’s health? Climate change, then, is an ultimate global kind of trespassing. He also brings up the tragic point that 60,000 unborn children suffer methyl mercury poisoning in utero each year as a result of coal-burning power plants.

With that in mind, there seems to be little, ideologically, that would stand between Republicans, climate change action, and renewable energy. It’s part of the Republican history. It fits with the ideology.

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New York Picks Greek Yogurt Over Clean Water

Eric Justian
| Wednesday August 7th, 2013 | 1 Comment

cowsI don’t get the Greek yogurt craze. Sure, I like Greek yogurt as much as the next guy. It’s pretty good. But it’s not ”add another billion pounds of lightly regulated cow manure into our water supply” good. But the State of New York would disagree.

Hosting the first-ever statewide Yogurt Summit, Governor Cuomo of New York brought industry leaders, dairy farmers and “stakeholders” together to come up with ways to help New York’s yogurt biz grow to meet the surging demand for Greek yogurt. As it turns out, that delicious, creamy Greek yogurt takes three times as much milk to produce the same volume as good old classic yogurt. No wonder it’s so good, eh?

On one hand, it’s great that Cuomo is focused on growing diverse industries and jobs in his state. On the other hand, the solution the summit came to basically amounted to “let dairy farmers dump more cow manure into our water with fewer regulations.”

Based on the summit, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation rewrote the definition of a “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)”, more commonly known as a “factory farm.” The change allowed farmers to have larger herds before they need to get special permits or follow tighter waste dumping regulations. The herd threshold went from a maximum of 200 cows to a maximum of 300 cows. A 50 percent increase in the number of cows before tighter regulations need to be followed.

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Small Businesses Especially Vulnerable to Damaging Effects of Climate Change

Eric Justian
| Thursday August 1st, 2013 | 0 Comments
25% of small businesses  don't re-open after a major disaster.

25% of small businesses don’t re-open after a major disaster.

Thirty percent of the small businesses crippled by Hurricane Sandy never opened their doors again. That accounts for about 20,000 to 30,000 companies gone in one disaster. Whack! One day the lights went out and they never went back on again. Severe storms like that take a serious toll on small businesses. On average, about 25 percent of them never open their doors again after a disruptive disaster. Even without the damage or loss to property, equipment and merchandise, the down-time alone is enough to do in a mom and pop shop with an average loss of $3000 every single day.

A recent report issued by the Small Business Majority and the American Sustainable Business Council entitled Climate Change Preparedness and the Small Business Sector highlights how small businesses are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Unlike larger businesses, small businesses tend to be dependent on a single region for their customer base, all their assets are usually in a single location, and they simply don’t have access to the supply chains or capital larger companies do to bounce back from a storm ravaged city.

We all hear it over and over again: small business is the backbone of the American economy, employing half of the American workforce. They are the drivers of innovation, opportunity, and community well-being. Small businesses are a part of our communities in a way no other company can be.

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Chevron to Seize Private Data from American Activists and Journalists

Eric Justian
| Friday July 26th, 2013 | 0 Comments

800px-NewchevrongasstationAdd Chevron to the list of organizations groping through Americans’ personal email metadata. And the reason appears largely retaliatory for testifying against them or protesting some toxic business practices. Chevron, in turn, charges conspiracy and racketeering to justify getting access to the personal information.

The more I learn about public surveillance the more it seems recent news of NSA surveillance is a case of the Federal Government getting for free what other powerful folks have to pay for. In this case, Chevron. The bottom line is that our personal data is too easily had across the board. And organizations are all too willing to invade our first amendment rights to get whatever they want.

Last month a federal judge handed Chevron the rights to paw through nine years of email metadata from people who publicly criticized Chevron for their polluting practices in Ecuador.  Lawyers, witnesses, environmental activists, and even journalists who helped lead to a $18 billion judgement against the oil company are now the subject of Chevron’s spying eyes.

If you were on the list of folks who criticized them, testified against them, or protested them on this matter, they would have nine years of your email metadata including names, email addresses of folks you’ve talked to, phone numbers, billing information, time stamps, computer use logs,  and detailed location data, meaning they can find out the locations from which some emails were sent. Even if you’re an American. First amendment rights and all.

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Climate Change Threatens Electricity Production

Eric Justian
| Tuesday July 23rd, 2013 | 2 Comments
Power plants make up almost half of the 410 billion gallons of water draw in the US every day.

Energy production is responsible for almost half of the 410 billion gallons of water draw in the US every day.

Last week, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station had to temporarily reduce power output by 15 percent in a summer heat wave when homes and businesses needed the electricity the most in order to keep cool. High temperatures were to blame for the reduction of output. Cooling water drawn from Cape Cod Bay got so warm the power plant couldn’t safely discharge it. On the bright side, the power reduction  lasted only 90 minutes. Unfortunately, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station produces a huge percentage of the state’s energy needs and they still have to make it through July and August.

Meanwhile in Michigan, a hydropower plant run by the Cloverland Electric Cooperative experienced a 60-80 percent drop in output in 2012 due to falling Great Lakes water levels. Waters far below the long term average reduced the power plant’s water allocation and also let air into the draft tubes. The power plant has built a dam around the discharge area to raise the water levels to moderate the problem.

This is a growing trend around the U.S.: changing conditions from a warming planet are causing disruptions in our power supply. The U.S. Department of Energy this month released a report showing vulnerabilities to our energy sector from climate change. Here are the basics:

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Making Cities More Resilient in the Face of Climate Change

Eric Justian
| Tuesday July 16th, 2013 | 0 Comments
"New York City is fortifying its 520 miles of coastline as an insurance policy against more frequent and costly storms." -- Obama's Climate Change Address

“New York City is fortifying its 520 miles of coastline as an insurance policy against more frequent and costly storms.” — Obama’s Climate Change Address

Cities around the world, aided by long-sighted business leaders, are working to “future proof” themselves against disaster. Recently, the 4th annual Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation took place in Bonn, Germany where leaders from every corner of the earth came to learn how to prepare for the effects of climate change.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) issued an informational handbook  to help mayors through the process of making a more resilient city, better able to respond to and recover from disasters.

Globally, waves of historic and extreme weather events have been hammering urban centers year after year. We’re certainly seeing the same in the U.S. with an almost annual assault of severe weather events on our cities: Hurricanes, record-breaking heat waves and wildfires, flooding, monstrous and tragic city-flattening tornadoes, and of course, the severe and historic Derecho” straight line winds of 2012.

The latest draft of the National Climate Assessment report warns that “Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, diseases transmitted by insects, food and water…”

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Straw in Hand, Water-Strained City Thirstily Eyes Great Lakes

Eric Justian
| Friday July 12th, 2013 | 9 Comments
More like inland seas than lakes, the Great Lakes contain six quadrillion gallons of fresh water, 20% of the world's above ground  supply.

More like inland seas than lakes, the Great Lakes contain six quadrillion gallons of fresh water, 20% of the world’s above ground supply.

Be careful, Waukesha, Wisconsin. Some lawmakers have actually threatened to cash in their favors to the Michigan Militia to keep aquifer-drained areas from sticking a straw in Lake Michigan to compensate for a drained aquifer like you guys are. Waukesha, faced with a depleted aquifer and rising concentrations of carcinogenic radium in the water, is drafting plans to draw 9 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan. The problem? Even though they’re 27 miles from Lake Michigan, they’re still a mile and a half west of the Great Lakes watershed. They’re technically on the Mississippi side of the sub-continental divide. And remember that bit about the Michigan Militia?

“I would suspect we’d call up the militia and take up arms.” That’s an impassioned  2007 quote from Michigan Republican congressman Vern Ehlers during a national water policy debate that seemed to entertain the notion of Great Lakes water diversions to water-stressed regions of the country. Adding gasoline to the fire, Bill Richardson, presidential candidate and Governor of New Mexico, made the mistake of calling for a national water policy saying “I believe that Western states and Eastern states have not been talking to each other when it comes to proper use of our water resources, I want a national water policy… States like Wisconsin are awash in water.”

Just imagine the blaze of outrage in the Great Lakes states as a presidential candidate seemed to thirstily eye up the Great Lakes while whipping out a large straw.

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House Budget Slashes Renewable Energy, Calls for $500 Billion Mars Colony

Eric Justian
| Monday July 8th, 2013 | 5 Comments

marsYou won’t catch me complaining about an actual congressional bill calling for a Mars colony. In a bizarre kind of “budget-hawkery,” Congress submitted (I’m not making this up) a goal for a Martian base with a price tag of between $200 and $500 billion, while scrapping renewable energy and energy efficiency programs that cost less than $1 billion (then taking that savings and handing it over, plus some more, to oil and nuclear interests).

The new NASA budget also seeks to reduce funding for climate change research.

These contortions to the U.S. budget seem like  a very expensive and unnecessary tradeoff between responsible stewardship of our current planet versus a visionary exploration of another planet that, frankly, could do with a little of the global warming mojo we’re so practiced at.

It’s not all bad, of course. “Mars Base” has the thrilling sort of ring to it many of us have dreamed of since childhood. It’s one of the big things we like to think of our country aspiring to. Heck. It’s 2013, we should already have bases on Europa by now. But, better late than never.

Before anybody gets too excited, however, keep in mind this is far from a “we choose to go to the Moon” moment. The program would be a “pay-as-you-go” sort of plan which would provide funding in fits and starts as the whim of Congress dictates. And boy, does Congress have whims.

So imagine this: NASA is being asked to scale back or even scrap its other efforts, including climate change and asteroid research, and redirect its activities to an ambitious, admirable goal which may or may not be funded.

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Ronald Binz Discusses Disruptive Forces Threatening American Utilities

Eric Justian
| Friday June 28th, 2013 | 2 Comments
Douglas Binz talks utility sector disruptive challenges

Douglas Binz has been nominated by Barack Obama to head the Energy Regulatory Commission

We are in the midst of a systemic upheaval in how our electricity is produced and distributed, brought about by market forces, technological advancements and policy.

“Utilities will need to establish a new set of business models…and current regulations may not be up to the task,” says Ronald Binz, recently nominated by President Obama to head the Energy Regulatory Commission.

On Wednesday, I attended a conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, titled, “How will ‘Disruptive Challenges’ in the Electric Markets Impact Michigan’s Energy Decisions.” The word “disruptive” always turns my head, so I had to go. And the presentation Binz gave, Utility Sector Disruptive Changes, really encapsulated the pressures bearing down on the energy industry, demanding change.

Here’s my own personal take on what Binz said…

Growth in electricity demand is flat

If you’re a utility company, you’re looking down the barrel of very little market growth in the amount of product you’re selling: electricity. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, electricity market growth was over six percent per year. That’s good for business! But now it’s under one percent and is predicted to stay there. Folks are conserving more electricity with better appliances and they’re not going back. Even significant growth of electric car use won’t budge demand much.

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