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EarthTalk®

by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss


Dear EarthTalk: What are American businesses doing to help the U.S. meet its Paris climate accord commitments? -- M. Francis, New York, NY

Not every business leader in the U.S. agrees with Donald Trump that global warming isn’t worth the worry. Anyone looking at the facts realizes that climate change is bad for most businesses, except those willing to adapt to new times or those based on sustainable products and processes from the get-go.

According to CDP, a non-profit that helps corporations measure, track and publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, the 215 largest companies in the world are facing almost $1 trillion in risk from climate impacts and some $250 billion in losses due to write-offs of assets over just the next five years as a result of warming-related problems. As a result, many American companies are taking action to rein in their carbon emissions despite the lack of any federal regulation forcing their hands.

One of the biggest coalitions of climate-concerned businesses is the non-profit We Mean Business, which has signed on more than 900 companies to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Obama administration’s Paris climate accord commitments. The coalition’s mission is to mobilize companies to set ambitious emissions-reduction targets—and to give them the resources and connections to achieve these goals at ambitious yet nevertheless attainable rates based on realistic “science-based targets.”

Meanwhile, CERES, another influential coalition of businesses working to build sustainability throughout the economy, on May 19, 2019 organized a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill—the so-called “Lawmaker Education & Advocacy Day (LEAD) on Carbon Pricing”—where 75 major U.S.-based companies leaned on Congress to pass meaningful climate legislation, including putting a price on carbon emissions.

Exelon, Gap, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Levi’s, Nestlé, Nike, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Shell and Tesla were among the 21 Fortune 500 companies participating in the event. Along with these big players, dozens of small and medium sized companies as well as several trade associations spanning economic sectors joined the effort. All told, the companies involved represent all 50 states and more than a million U.S. workers, not to mention combined annual revenues of nearly $2.5 trillion.

Businesses don’t have to be part of one of these coalitions to take a proactive stance on battling human-induced climate change. There are many little things that any business large or small can do to lower its carbon footprint, including transitioning to a paperless office and billing, reducing worker trash and increasing workplace recycling, switching to zero-emission company vehicles, promoting ridesharing and other transportation alternatives, replacing light switches with automatic sensors and requiring suppliers and vendors to uphold similarly strong standards.

American businesses on their own have the collective economic power to help the U.S. meet its Paris climate commitments—and then some—even without the help of the Trump administration. If a Democrat is able to unseat Trump in 2020, businesses can expect a whole raft of new climate-related legislation that they will have to comply with if they aren’t already going down the path to greener profits. Those businesses already ready are poised to succeed in a fast-warming world.

CONTACTS: CDP, cdp.net; We Mean Business, wemeanbusinesscoalition.org; Lawmaker Education & Advocacy Day (LEAD) on Carbon Pricing; leadoncarbonpricing.com; CERES, www.ceres.org

Dear EarthTalk: What are so-called regional climate models and why do we need them given that we already have pretty decent global climate models? -- Rich W., Seattle, WA

Scientists (and economists and business people) love to create models to help predict future outcomes as a way to direct planning and preparedness efforts. Climatologists specifically love to create models of how the planet and its various natural systems and cycles will react with the input of way too many greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Climate science has come a long way since its early days a few decades back, but most of what we think will happen regarding global warming comes from global climate models—that is, predictions based on lots of empirical data about how much global average temperature is expected to rise and by when.

“Global climate models (GCMs) simulate the interactions between the atmosphere, ocean and land to project future climate, based on assumptions about future emissions of greenhouse gases,” reports the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington (UW).

According to ClimatePrediction.net, a volunteer computing and climate modeling project out of the UK’s University of Oxford, global climate models (GCMs) are designed to calculate what the climate is doing (in terms of wind, temperature, humidity, etc.) at a number of discrete points on the Earth’s surface as well as in the atmosphere and out at sea. The points are then laid out in a grid covering the planet’s surface. The more points at play, the finer the resolution (and accuracy) of the model.

Nowadays climate researchers are applying what they have learned thus far to look in more detail on a regional basis, especially given that climate change has not only large-scale but also local consequences. These so-called regional climate models (RCMs) work by magnifying the resolution of GCMs in a small, limited area of interest, typically within a 3,000 square mile radius. Only by creating and analyzing RCMs can we assess the influence of myriad fixed geographic conditions and other local factors such as land height, land use, lakes, sea breeze, mountain ranges and localized weather patterns on climate impacts for a particular metropolitan area, state or country.

“For the practical planning of local issues such as water resources or flood defenses, countries require information on a much more local scale than GCMs are able to provide,” adds ClimatePrediction.net. “Regional models provide one solution to this problem.”

UW’s Climate Impacts Group has been able to leverage its expertise in global and now regional climate modeling to do groundbreaking research into the likelihood of things like floods in the Pacific Northwest, expected moisture flux convergence and ensuing drought in the Southwest, and, even further afield, projected climate change and impacts in Southeast Asia. The analytical techniques being pioneered at UW are being shared with researchers around the world with the hope that more and more scientists will start to run RCMs in their own regions to help planners plan and improve people’s lives despite the warming climate.

GCMs and RCMs are both important tools in figuring out how to cope with the effects of climate change, whether a worst case scenario is borne out or something not quite so cataclysmic.

CONTACTS: ClimatePrediction.net, ClimatePrediction.net; UW Climate Impacts Group, cig.uw.edu.

Dear EarthTalk: Is there any way we could harness the light from bioluminescent organisms for everyday lighting and other practical purposes? -- M. Wilson, Framingham, MA

Bioluminescence—defined by Merriam-Webster as “the emission of light from living organisms (such as fireflies, dinoflagellates, and bacteria) as the result of internal, typically oxidative chemical reactions”—is one of the wonders of nature that just about any of us can witness.

While a few organisms can produce bioluminescent light outside of the oceans (think fireflies), most of the bioluminescence going on is in saltwater. In fact, the vast majority of bioluminescent organisms evolved in order to provide light in deep sea marine ecosystems—either to light up prey or as a warning against predators—far below sunlight’s reach into the water column.

What exactly causes bioluminescence? Other sources of light (the sun, fire, light bulbs) generate energy from heat, whereas bioluminescent light comes from energy released in a chemical reaction: When two organic chemicals, luciferin and luciferase, combine, they release light-based energy as they oxidize.

While the general process is the same across all bioluminescent organisms, the color of the light in each situation depends on the chemical structures of the different life forms involved. Fireflies most commonly light up as green or yellow—and sometimes red—while most of the bioluminescence under water comes through as blue-green or green light.

Humans have been putting natural bioluminescence to work for a while—19th century coal miners would trap fireflies in jars and use them as safety lights (instead of open-flame candles or lanterns that could cause an explosion). But nowadays researchers are hard at work synthesizing the chemical reactions behind bioluminescence for a range of modern-day applications.

Harnessing bioluminescence to help cure disease is a big focus of some biomedical research companies, given the promise of using heat-free organic light to detect metastasizing cancer cells, stem cells, viruses or bacteria within living tissue. The military also has big hopes for utilizing the chemical reactions of bioluminescence to create light that won’t trigger the heat-seeking sensory equipment of the enemy whether on land, at sea or in the sky.

Some other practical applications of bioluminescence, as recently highlighted by Popular Mechanics, include an effort to splice genes from bioluminescent organisms into trees that would light up when the sun sets (as an all-natural alternative to street lights), using bioluminescent bacterium to highlight contaminants in drinking water supplies, and genetically modifying crop seeds to grow fruits and vegetables that could signal their need for more water or other inputs by glowing accordingly.

While none of these “technologies” is yet ready for mainstream implementation, it’s good to know that the future looks bright even if we run out of fossil fuels to power our traditional light bulbs.

CONTACTS: “The emerging use of bioluminescence in medical research,” bit.ly/bioluminescence-med-research; “6 Bright Ideas for Bioluminescence Tech,” bit.ly/6-bright-ideas-bioluminescence.

Dear EarthTalk: I was never keen on tent camping but I hear that the new “glamping” trend takes some of the discomfort out of spending the night in nature. Where are some “glamping” hotspots across the United States? -- Jon Rubinstein, Albany, NY

While traditional campgrounds are great, they don’t always feel like an escape to nature, especially given the dog-eat-dog aspect of scoring a site and the fact that you’ll be living right next to your neighbors. And while the price may be right — you can score a tent site in most state parks for less than $30/night — maybe you’d be willing to pay more for privacy and some creature comforts? If you’re one of the millions of Americans yearning for more outdoors time but don’t want to deal with campgrounds, “glamping” (short for “glamorous camping”) might be just your speed.

Indeed, glamping is one of the hottest trends in the hospitality sector these days and several travel start-ups have risen to this challenge. To wit, Roam Beyond tows eco-friendly, solar-powered, off-grid camping trailers (made in the USA by its sister company Homegrown Trailers) onto various sites in or near different iconic natural areas around the West. Their first two sites are in Washington State (on the Pacific coast and in the Cascade foothills) but the company has new sites in the works at Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, Sedona, Moab, Zion and the Grand Canyon.

Meanwhile, California-based AutoCamp offers guests the opportunity to spend the night in a tricked-out customized Airstream camping trailer in Yosemite, Sonoma or Santa Barbara. While AutoCamp originally sourced and rehabbed older trailers, now it works in partnership with Airstream in the production of hundreds of new customized ones. The company recently raised $115 million in venture capital to expand to several new locations in California and on the East Coast.

New York City isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think glamping, but Collective Retreats is trying to change all of that with its new platform-tent resort there on Governors Island. Yes, you’ll be sleeping in a tent, but inside you’ll have all the amenities you’d expect at a five-star hotel, including plush beds with high thread count linens, bathrooms with luxury amenities, and chef-prepared “farm-to-table” meals. You can also indulge in the Collective Retreats experience at their other properties in Upstate New York’s Hudson Valley on a working organic farm as well as in the Texas Hill Country and at Yellowstone and Vail.

Yet another option is Under Canvas, which operates safari-style canvas tent resorts in eight locations across the country including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Moab, Glacier, Zion, Mt. Rushmore, Tucson and the Great Smokies. You’ll hardly be roughing it in one of Under Canvas’s tents given the en suite bathrooms, king size beds, daily housekeeping and wood-burning stoves.

Of course, these start-ups didn’t invent glamping, and there are still many ways to glamp at one-off resorts and sites across the country. In fact, a quick search for glamping spots in the United States on GlampingHub.com turns up 20,000 listings. And many state parks and private campgrounds are devoting more space to yurts, tipis and even overnight lodging made out of refurbished shipping containers.

CONTACTS: Roam Beyond, roambeyond.travel; AutoCamp, autocamp.com; Collective Retreats, collectiveretreats.com; Under Canvas, undercanvas.com; Glamping Hub, glampinghub.com.

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org. Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org.



 


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