More CO2 Means Less Water for Plants


Credit: © yommy / Fotolia

A new study on plant water retention from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Washington might rescind some of our assumptions of climate change impacts on agriculture, water resources, wildfire risk, and plant growth. Their findings reveal that water conserved by plants under high CO2 conditions compensates for much of the effect of warmer temperatures, which means more water is retained on land than predicted in commonly used drought assessments. ScienceDaily reports:

The study compares current drought indices with ones that take into account changes in plant water use. Reduced precipitation will increase droughts across southern North America, southern Europe and northeastern South America. But the results show that in Central Africa and temperate Asia — including China, the Middle East, East Asia and most of Russia — water conservation by plants will largely counteract the parching due to climate change.

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Let the Corals Have Their Colors

Partially bleached coral in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Coral reefs worldwide are at risk of damage from the suncscreen ingredient oxybenzone. PHOTO: AP

Partially bleached coral in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Coral reefs worldwide are at risk of damage from the suncscreen ingredient oxybenzone. PHOTO: AP

Corals worldwide are losing their colors, they are getting bleached. We’d discussed how stress due to global warming and climate change is forcing corals to drive out the zooanthellae that give them their colors. And now here’s more evidence on how human lifestyles are affecting life beneath the waters.

New research about sunscreen’s damaging effects on coral reefs suggests that you might want to think twice before slathering it on. Reports about the harmful environmental effects of certain chemicals in the water have been circulated for years, but according to the authors of a new study, the chemicals in even one drop of sunscreen are enough to damage fragile coral reef systems. Some 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions wind up in coral reefs around the world each year.

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Watching the Waters

 Scientists believe ocean currents and natural cycles are temporarily offsetting a sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: Ray Collins/Barcroft Media

Scientists believe ocean currents and natural cycles are temporarily offsetting a sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: Ray Collins/Barcroft Media

Over the past century, the burning of fossil fuels and other human and natural activities has released enormous amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. These emissions have caused the Earth’s surface temperature to rise, and the oceans absorb about 80 percent of this additional heat. As per a recent update from a panel of NASA scientists, sea levels worldwide rose an average of nearly 3 inches (8 cm) since 1992, the result of warming waters and melting ice.

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Thank You, General Mills


Photo Credit: Grist Article

I came across this article on about General Mills’s new action plan to reduce their contribution to climate change. After being called out by Oxfam International,  Oxfam says that General Mills will be, “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term science-based targets to cut emissions.”

With both a mitigation and adaptation plan, I am pretty impressed by this corporations efforts to take responsibility of their role. On the official page of their website describing this policy, they cite the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II Summary for Policy Makers, which suggests to me that they have people on their team helping them make really informed decisions grounded in scientific evidence. I appreciate in the report the full acknowledgement of the IPCC’s call to action:

“Science based evidence suggests we must limit the global mean temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels in order to avoid permanently altering the atmosphere and negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic systems that sustain us – both today and in the future.”

I haven’t seen a big corporation like this that would normally be considered a “dirty business” so blatantly speak to the environmental reality we face. To see a corporation cite this gives me hope that mainstream conversations around climate change are moving towards what we can do and away from whether or not its real. I hope more corporations follow their lead just for the sake of drumming the beat of awareness.

The true colors of this policy will show in how effectively it is implemented, because that will determine whether it is a fluffy ‘greenwashing’ tactic with loopholes built in.

Here are a few of the main points of the policy:

  • Set global targets and track progress related to reductions in GHG emissions, energy, water, transportation, packaging and solid waste.
  • Support the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy commitment to reduce fluid milk GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2020.  Work with smallholder and conventional farmers to strengthen globally sustainable farming practices.
  • Address GHG emissions due to land use change through sustainable sourcing efforts in key supply chains and growing regions.  Our aim is to achieve zero net deforestation in high-risk supply chains by 2020. We will regularly report progress towards the zero net deforestation goal.
  • Ensure responsible governance and oversight of all sustainability efforts, including climate mitigation and adaptation.  Convene the General Mills Sustainability Governance Committee 3 times per year to review and approve strategies, programs and key investments.
  • Report progress against goals – our own as well as those in our broader supply chain – on an annual basis via our Global Responsibility Report, available on the General Mills website

For a more extensive look at the report, click here.

While I raise my eyebrows at some of the vague wording in their initiatives, like “support”, “work with”, and “ensure” that are less concrete objectives, I also see timelines and checkpoints to keep themselves more accountable to this than they had to. I have learned to appreciate initiatives that move in the direction of the ideal, rather than criticizing anything that doesn’t model the most perfect action. While it is good to remain skeptical, I think it is important to acknowledge leadership in the right direction when we see it.


Snowy Owl Migrations

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Climate change has had a significant impact on a multitude of global issues ranging from the environment to even politics; the Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus, is another organism that is feeling the effects of warming temperatures impede on its natural habitat in the northern circumpolar region. Varying degrees of climate change have significant impacts on the apex predator’s prey, which subsequently relocate, thus forcing Snowy Owls to migrate as well.

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Documentary: Shunte ki pao! (Are you listening), the life of a family of climate refugees in Bangladesh

Shunte ki pao (Are you listening) (c) Beginning Production

When introducing his documentary at the Paris International Documentary festival, Cinéma du Réel, director Kamar Ahmad Simon said to the audience: “Thank you for being here. I will be back at the end of the screening to discuss the film with you. I’d like to know your opinion and to answer any questions you may have, whether you liked the film or not, so I can go forward and progress.” If I had to sum up the response from the audience and jury it would be something like: “Please keep going. We’ll follow.”

Click here for the  trailer  of Shunte Ki Pao ! (Are you listening)

Rakhi and Soumen are a beautiful couple, they are young, in love and are the happy parents of little Rahul. You could say they have it all. That’s if their region of the coastal belts of Bangladesh had not been wiped out by the tidal in 2009. Rakhi and Soumen are climate refugees. A couple among  almost a million homeless, stranded under the open sky on an ancient dyke. They now live in a small village named Sutarkhali. Rakhi and Soumen were from the middle-class, today three years after the tidal, they buy fruits by the unit, fish for their meal and line-up on neverending queues for food aid. And life goes on.  Shunte Ki Pao ! (Are you listening) is not about disaster, it tells how people build a life afterwards. Continue reading

From the 2012 Net Impact Conference, Part 2

Continuing on my previous post about the 2012 Net Impact Conference, I want to address some of the interesting and debatable issues that several company panelists spoke about during the conference. I dedicate this post to addressing Monsanto’s climate change adaptation strategies. A very interesting discussion on how businesses have been approaching climate change adaptation included panelists from the World Resources Institute, AT&T, Monsanto, and a few universities. Monsanto’s strategies related to increased crop yield, and its view was that higher production was the clear answer to climate change risk and food insecurity.

Monsanto has experienced a haunted past (and continues to suffer from a poor reputation among environmentalists) with activist groups protesting its GMO seeds and its aggressive litigation against farmers.

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Part-Time Vegetarianism

Always willing to join a conversation about (or over) food, I’ve been reminded by recent posts by Timothy and Crist of an interesting dietary strategy I discovered while living in Singapore: Meatless Mondays. I watched it as a news story over a year ago, around the same time I watched a TED talk by Graham Hill entitled Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian. Both of these programs helped me to find a compromise that reconciles the cognitive dissonance I have as a meat-eater aware of the environmental implications of the livestock industry. 

It’s simple: Eat less meat. Continue reading

The Case Against Red Meat

Are you trying to eat healthier? Then stop eating red meat.

That’s the message that we’ve see in the past few years: dozens of news articles and medical journals tell us the dangers of red meat–beef in particular. The recent scare over pink slime has further increased distaste and caution around ground beef, and the suspicion is beginning to spread to other types of meat as well. Amidst all of the hype about meat in our diets, sustainability- and health-conscious consumers might wonder why scientists are focusing on red meat. Why not chicken, pork, or fish? The answer is two-sided: one relates to health concerns, and the other relates to environmental impacts of cattle-raising. Let’s briefly look at both.

Want to dig in? Not so fast, suggests the results from a study of the Harvard School of Public Health. Eating just a few ounces of red meat every day can increase your risk of colon cancer and heart disease.

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Carbon Emissions Series: Scope 1 for Hospitality

In my previous post, I identified carbon emissions as the significant metric to track for hospitality, and I explained why hospitality is one of the best industries to target for sustainability efforts. Now I’d like to delve deeper into the different types of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and how they relate to hospitality. My goal of this three-part explanation is to provide our readers with a broad understanding of the scopes of GHG emissions and with a general idea of the extent to which hospitality contributes to climate change. Let’s jump right in!

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol defines three scopes of emissions. Our discussion today will focus only on the first scope, as it relates to hotel properties: direct, on-site emissions.

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Europe’s Green Capital

So I’ve left behind the wild, lush landscape of the Costa Rican rainforest and arrived in Strasbourg, France, to find a completely different kind of green.

Costa Rica is one of those countries the climate change debate focuses on – it’s the epitome of natural diversity and everywhere you turn there is some species or habitat that could be gone in 20 years’ time. Or 10 years’ time. From the rainforests I hiked through to the sloth sanctuary my mum and I visited, everything there seems at once so wild and so fragile. The conservation efforts we see there are direct, tackling the specific problems the land faces: protected areas are being designated, turtle-watching programmes are being set up to monitor and protect the species, and the people at Aviarios sloth sanctuary provide education for locals as well as caring for the animals.

Places like the Manuel Antonio National Park have to concentrate on the effects of climate change.

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