Saturday, July 15, 2006

Green Building Competition (oh and Mr. Jolie's involved)

Yeah, the title's not the point (although a sad statement about our current administration). Rather it's the concept underlying. Who would've thought our generation's Rat Pack (Clooney, Pitt, etc.) would be so socially aware. Also points to the value of attaching a celebrity to any project you do. Just about guarantees publicity:

...Pitt was in New Orleans to give an update on a project he's promoting — a competition to choose ecologically sound designs for rebuilding neighborhoods.

"There's a big opportunity here," he said, to rebuild the city using energy-efficient building materials and appliances that would improve quality of life, particularly in low-income communities.

Global Green USA, a national environmental organization, is working with Pitt on the design project. Pitt heads a jury of architects, city residents and others who decided Friday on the top five environmentally friendly designs out of more than 100 entries. The designs were submitted by individuals and architect firms.

More info can be found here. And kudos to Mr. Pitt for stepping up and attaching his name to this type of project.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Grab the Sunscreen/Lead Suit


The average temperature for the continental United States from January through June 2006 was the warmest first half of any year since records began in 1895, scientists announced today. The average January-June temperature for the contiguous United States (based on preliminary data) was 51.8 degrees F (11.0 degrees C), or 3.4 degrees F (1.8 degrees C) above the 20th century (1901-2000) average.

Five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri) experienced record warmth for the period. No state was near or cooler than average. The report comes from NOAA' National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Of course, of course, you can't draw inferences from six months of data. Luckily, we've got 15-20 years EASY before we have to start worrying. So that should give us plenty of time for more studies.

A scientific study commissioned by the Bush administration concluded yesterday [May 3, 2006] that the lower atmosphere was indeed growing warmer and that there was "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.


But White House officials noted that this was just the first of 21 assessments planned by the federal Climate Change Science Program, which was created by the administration in 2002 to address what it called unresolved questions. The officials said that while the new finding was important, the administration's policy remained focused on studying the remaining questions and using voluntary means to slow the growth in emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.

We're here...we''re not going anywhere?

Uh-oh. Looks like I need to make a little room on the bandwagon:

Eco-consciousness appears to be hitting the mainstream. For years, it was only the truly committed, the painfully hip and the guiltily ashamed who were willing to stand up in public and say they were willing to do something for the environment.

Now environmentalism has gone way beyond the sandal-ista crowd. We just may be entering a time when everyone from average individuals to giant corporations to politicians of all ideologies agree that the evidence of environmental degradation is so overwhelming that it's finally time to act
And for that, you can thank the loosening of the strangehold that Baby Boomers have had on society for the past thirty years, and start appreciating the younger generations. Seriously, if there was a more selfish generation, I'd like to see it. Environmental destruction? Check. Massive deficits? Check. Elimination of increases in the minimum wage? Check. Elimination of certain taxes for the wealthy? Check. Look, don't get mad at me for pointing it out...who keeps voting the Republicans in? Where's the base? It ain't amongst the kids (or anyone under 35). And shockingly (not), now that all the Baby Boomers have retired and want to ensure their entitlements stick around, they start voting Democrat. Its one long selfish decision after another. Sigh. Rant over. Love you mom.

How to be carbon neutral, though? It turns out it's as easy as writing a check. Various organizations will take your money and then go invest in planting trees, developing wind farms and other activities that "offset" the carbon dioxide you're responsible for creating.

It sounds a little nutty, and there is disagreement as to how well such a system works. But if you think about it, it's kind of a cool idea. Not all of us are cut out for driving Priuses, carrying burlap sacks to the market or putting on a sweater in our cold living rooms.

If not, fine. Paying someone else to do the things you're not willing to may be incredibly bourgeois, but it is in fact good for the environment.
I could be snotty, but anything is an improvement at this stage. And should carbon neutral living ever really sweep the mainstream, there may actually be a chance of change.

Wrapping up with some cool ideas (or maybe just ideas) (and now that I think about it, I may need to change some of the slang I use in writing on this subject):

Panelists at a Brainstorm session on global warming had a few of their own.

Lawrence Bender, producer of Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," told of the big corporation that is getting its truckers to turn off the air conditioning when they are idling.

Carol Browner, former administrator of the EPA, advocates national legislation to reduce carbon emissions that would replace a patchwork of local regulations that dog businesses around the country.

John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, points out that tiny efforts, like educating people to keep the tires on their cars filled, will contribute to better gas mileage and lower emissions.

Fred Krupp, chief of Environmental Defense, wants to see a federal carbon cap along with a system that would allow companies to trade credits toward achieving that cap. (Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman have proposed such legislation that so far hasn't gone anywhere.)

This is an issue that is anything but neat and tidy; even people who call themselves environmentalists aren't in lockstep. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, for example, is a big proponent of forward-thinking ethanol technology. Lester Brown, a noted environmentalist, would far prefer to see the country focusing on wind power. They clashed in Aspen.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Short-termism and sustainability - an investor's perspective

Found a wonderful little speech from Al Gore (what can I say, I'm smitten) that he gave at the Institutional Investor Summit on Climate Risk in May 2005.

He focuses on two themes - the concept of short-termism among investors, and how to value sustainability within a company. Among the highlights:

The average mutual fund turns over its entire portfolio every ten months. I can make a case to you that that is functionally insane. Why? First of all because a long-term investor is supposedly investing in the value of the company. Sixty to 70 percent of the value of the average company builds up over a period of years.

The McKinsey Quarterly came out with a report that found this:...more than 80 percent of executives, said that they would cut expenditures on R&D and marketing to ensure that they hit quarterly earnings targets, even if they believed that the cuts were destroying value over the long-term. Eighty percent.

The practice of looking solely at the financial reports means looking only at a narrow slice of that spectrum of information. Yet the information that lies in a company’s environmental practice, employee practices and the other non-financial factors can also be very important.

Abraham Maslow, the great psychologist, once said, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail.” And in the same way, if the only tool that we use to analyze what's valuable is a price tag, then those things that don't have a price tag can begin to look like they have no value.

You know, there are a lot of companies out there that have been whistling past the graveyard of big environmental risks. And, in fact, 10 of the largest 15 bankruptcies have occurred since 2001. That's partly an accounting artifact of the rising value of conglomerates, but it's also a result of some very large risks that go past the quarterly and the annual time horizon not being adequately analyzed and integrated into the assessment of value.

We're all here filling a kind of a policy vacuum. But...I believe -- we are here at an extraordinarily hopeful moment...I know there are tipping points in the political system also. Globally and nationally. And when GE moved and when Cinergy and Duke moved, that moved us closer to that tipping point.

When the leaders in the business sector begin to make their moves, before the policy vacuum can really be filled, there's one big, final step, and that is, for investors led by those of you who are here who have a requirement to take a long-term view decide to take the businesslike, commonsense, difficult but necessary steps to shift the perspective and integrate the data and start acting in ways that are fully faithful to your fiduciary responsibilities.

Pregnancy linked to global warming

Not trying to be a dick. Just saying, seeing as everything else appears to be...

The increase in the number of large western wildfires in recent years may be a result of global warming, researchers say.

I imagine as the pace of change in our atmosphere speeds up we'll see more and more scenarios of this type - changes in feeding patterns, vegetation, crop diseases, coral reefs, migration routes, etc.
The researchers used the files of the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service to analyze 1,166 fires of more than about 1,000 acres. Their findings are published Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science.

Beginning about 1987, there was a change from infrequent fires averaging about one week in duration to more frequent ones that often burned five weeks or more, they reported. The length of the wildfire season was extended by 78 days.

The researchers said the changes appear to be linked to annual spring and summer temperatures, with many more wildfires burning in hotter years than in cooler years.

They also found a connection between early arrivals of the spring snowmelt in the mountainous regions and the incidence of large forest fires. An earlier snowmelt, they said, can lead to an earlier and longer dry season, which provides greater opportunities for large fires.

Oh well. According to those with their head in the sands, global warming will lead to increased rainfall, so I suppose this will all be a "wash"...(euw)

FYI - The research was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Forest Service and the California Energy Commission.