Have you ever thought about Kyoto?

The Kyoto Protocol is an active treaty that was put into effect on February 16, 2005 as an addition to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The primary concept behind this treaty is to reduce the global production of Greenhouse gases like CO2, which as we have learned in class is a primary concern for the global rise in temperature.  One of the problems with the Kyoto Protocol are that it does not do enough to address CO2 and other Greenhouse gas emissions because it does not establish limits on the output of emissions in developing countries.  While the initial 30 countries that signed the treaty  are needed for the purpose of maintaining or stabilizing CO2 sinks, preventing expanses of emissions in developing nations like China and India is extremely important.   Without such restrictions addressing important topics like Carbon Trading and population growth, effective global regulation is not possible.  Instead, this treaty actually pushes greenhouse gas emissions from one location on the planet to another as businesses have the ability to move high polluting manufacturing processes to countries where developing new sources of pollution would not be highly regulated.  

Additionally, this treaty does not effectively calculate the cost of growing populations, and in fact does not regulate India and China in an effective manner to balance these nations consumption under populations that are growing at an exponential rate.  The fact, these nations which combined population exceeds 1/3rd of the world’s population yet as nations their participation in Kyoto protocols came without binding emission targets.

Many people believe that because the Kyoto Protocol does not do enough to address CO2 and other GHG’s, includes weak measures in regulating Carbon Trading and does not address factors of population growth, this treaty does not bring effective measures that balance GHG emissions on a global level to justify participation by the United States.

Three Main Argument points

The kyoto protocol does not do enough to address CO2 and other GHG Emissions

The Kyoto Protocol, while achieving amazing levels of cooperation amongst nations did not effectively establish Global reduction of Carbon Emissions. In fact, a variety of conditions under which the Kyoto Protocol was established have significantly changed, especially in the areas of manufacturing and pollution discharge.  These increases are in part because these regulations allowed manufacturers to move their operations to these nations where emissions are unregulated.

In order to produce a standard that works on a global level to achieve and maintain a permanent reduction of inorganic atmospheric greenhouse gasses – which include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), , hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs),and other gasses into the atmosphere, all nations must find these regulations apply universally so that manufactures and corporations must fall into equal compliance.   In fact because the provisions allow for carbon trading, the primary methodology behind these provisions is flawed.  Not only will there be financial advantages to trading that will will allow underdeveloped nations to increase their gas emissions, increasing global output, but by ‘trading away’ their emissions, more developed nations could instead shift the location of production and could potentially further increase the overall global output.  

This is not just a fear.  In fact China can be used as a primary example.  

The air quality conditions in China are a primary example of why the current recommendations for carbon offsetting via planting forests to alleviate carbon under the concept of carbon trading is not an effective plan for reducing global carbon in our atmosphere.  While the long term global air quality may be improved because of forest growth, it doesn’t eliminate the problem of uncontrolled pollution at the source.  Even if China cleaned up it’s air quality with strict regulations, manufacturers who find the cost of cleanup to expensive would move their operations to other developing nations where regulations and emissions limits are not established

According the the Dag Hammarskjold foundation, “the most fundamental point to note about carbon offsets is that they increase global emissions rather than decrease them”  The reasoning behind this is that “ even if ‘emissions reduction sold by an offset project developer could be verified as successful, any gain would – by definition be nullified by increased emission allowed to the buyer, delaying the transition to a post – fossil fuel economy elsewhere.  If every project were designed and implemented perfectly, the net result would be to move emissions from one place to another with no net reduction.”  Carbon Trading How it works and why it fails “ Nov 2009    Essentially the concept of carbon trading allows for a major polluter to avoid significant and lasting changes to their facilities.  Instead they are riding the coattails of those who are producing minimized pollution by “buying” the amount of pollution the newer facility didn’t create.  

There are two negative behaviors associated with Carbon Trading.  The primary one,is that high polluting factories avoid cleaning up after themselves by bearing the financial burden and potential shutdown times by retrofitting factories or changing out machinery for less polluting models.  This practice offsets pollution in one high pollution area and credits global areas of the southern hemisphere that are underdeveloped.  In fact, this practice forces nations into a continued poverty based on the need to retain areas of the planet that are still healthy and full of vital life.

A secondary impact of Carbon Trading is the effort to push disruptive and unnecessary projects in communities that may not need them.  One example of such is a case in Thailand where A.T. Biopower wanted to create 5 biomass factories to use rice husks for energy development so Japan’s Mitubishi UFS Securities and Chubu Electric could create Carbon offsets.  In this example the movement of people protected their land, rivers and local need for the proposed alternative use of rice husks which is used for animal beds and a staple of compost to provided needed filler for blending with animal wastes.  

Meanwhile, The United States is establishing amazing standards imposed upon the Green Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s.  Programs like the multiple revisions to the Clean Air act, National Ambient Air Quality Standards (for ozone and particulate matter the Clear Skies Proposal as well as others, are already working.   “In the case of particulate matter (PM), EPA has also been working hard to provide States with appropriate tools and guidance to implement the 1997 air quality standards.   According to Congressional Testimony “ – these standards will define the further reduction and implementation of matter that were not covered in earlier policy like the: the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR), and Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART)  as well as establishing guidelines based on “ reasonably available control measures (RACM); reasonably available control technology (RACT); and a  policy on PM2.5 and precursors such as SO2, NOx, VOC, ammonia, and direct emissions (including organic carbon, elemental carbon and crustal material); “    These standards will continue to phase out unfiltered GHG Emissions that regulate American consumption much more rigorously than standards established by other nations.

In fact the conditions in the US are improving.  “On October 5, 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability, setting measureable environmental performance goals for Federal Agencies.  Each Federal Agency was required to submit a 2020 GHG pollution reduction target from its estimated 2008 baseline to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget by January 4, 2010  Because  President Obama made a commitment to reduce active emissions of greenhouse gases within United States by 28% by 2020.  It is perceived that this will additionally establish future employment opportunities through the construction of new infrastructures and scrubbing technologies.

But does this really make a difference?  As the United States is actively facing areas of drought in major food production areas of the southwest, talk of faltering infrastructures come up time and time again.  Had the United States signed on to the Kyoto Protocol when it was first ratified by the world, how would aspects of our infrastructure remain the same, or change?  Would there be more train stations, would recycling programs be more effectively supported so as to reduce materials manufacturing costs to reduce pollutant contaminants and CO2 emissions?  Would there be more sustainable practice education and access?  Would businesses like coffee shops, gas stations and fast food restaurants charge for the carbon cost of plastics and waste materials?  Would recycling be the law of the land where US based systems processed the materials instead of sending virtually all plastics, precious metals and e-wastes to third world countries?  

We will never know what could have been, but – if you have followed this blog you already know how bad it’s getting.  Just some food for thought.

 

The Midway Atoll – an example of Plastic’s Destructive Power

The oceans make up 70% of the surface area of our planet and support a wide array of life on our planet.  The beauty and splendor of this life has drawn the adventures of the world to seek the areas of greatest beauty.  One type of this beauty is known around the world as corral reefs, the most famous of these is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.  The dangers and damage of human impact has often been a topic of great discussion for many, especially for those in Australia that have watched these changes over their lifetime.  However, not all our corral reefs get such attention.  One example is the Midway Atoll, a circular corral reef that circles Midway Island.  After the end of WWII, where Midway Island was the scene of a week long battle to secure this ‘Midway point’ between Hawaii and Japan, the area was turned into a natural wildlife preserve.  For the Albatross that call this island home, the assurances that man would not be a regular interference must have been a nice change.  According to a recent NPR Article, Albatross are one of the most faithful animals on Earth, taking up to 15 years to decide on a mate and stay mated for life.  According to the same article, these birds also raise young for many years, one of note was raising young at 62 years old!  While this is an amazing statistic, there are some scary things to be concerned about when we examine what this far away location look like up close. https://i0.wp.com/farm7.staticflickr.com/6088/6128493158_24904ca3f3_z.jpg

From afar, the Midway atoll can generate images of beauty and relaxation, the idea of clear waters and sandy beaches could generate images of rest and relation for many.  Unfortunately, things aren’t as beautiful up close as one would prefer – the culprit is of course man made materials that have been carelessly discarded to have a second life as the materials of death for many forms of life.  These materials are of course – PLASTICS.

Plastics, first created in the 1850’s, quickly became a manufactured good that when discarded; entered the waste stream with little concern or flair.  These materials entered, as did much poorly managed waste over the last 150 years, landfills and garbage barges.  These landfill barges, like the ones discussed in this previous blog, took garbage out to sea, sometimes as close as 3 miles out to sea.  What happened next is that these wastes began to travel the world’s oceanic currents.  These gyres, mechanically broke down many of the materials, especially those that were of organic material like food wastes and paper.  Unfortunately, many of the items could not break down in the currents.  These materials travel the currents and travel around the globe.  Some of the plastics break down by photo degradion, the sun and salt water breaking down the chemical bonds.  At the same time these plastics return the favor, releasing chemicals like formaldehyde, asbestos, BPA and DDT into the water.  Additionally, the plastics don’t really go away, they just break down into smaller pieces of themselves much in the way rocks break into particles of sand.  The plastics that don’t break down, they float around the world until landing on a beach somewhere.   This is the case for the Midway Atoll.

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Images like the one above, are often far from the mind of the common consumer as we purchase an ice cold bottle of soda on a sweltering day, leaving the lid of the bottle where it lands in the parking lot.  What we don’t realize is that the sudden rains that come in overnight pick up that bottle cap and deposit it into the storm-water system where it’s carried directly to an outbound water system.  Eventually, it is likely that this plastic will find it’s way into a major river system where it will then travel into the ocean.    The problem is so common that earlier this month an article was written about a theoretical boat being designed by the Dyson family, that would vacuum plastic and other pollutants out of river waters before they enter the ocean.

 

Why would someone want to clean the rivers of plastic?  It is estimated that tens of thousands of pieces of plastic enter our oceans as former land based pieces of pollution or consumer goods on a daily basis.  We know that these estimates are true by viewing studies of both the gyres themselves, and looking at pictures like those here.  Each of these pieces of plastic, containing unknown internal contaminants is bringing its own forms of destruction on the planet.  In far away places like the Midway Atoll, these plastics bring real damage.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) have found that of 1/2 million albatross born in the Atoll- 200,000 die annually due to plastic consumption.  Adult birds may know how to stay in a committed relationship, but the introduction of plastics into the environment did not come with a clear cut instructions not to eat.  What happens is that from the point of hatching, plastic enters the food stream.  All to often this means full bellies with no room for healthy nutrients to develop strong bodies and bones structures.  Photographs like this one from Chris Jordan bring the starteling truth to light.  Unfortunately, the Midway Atoll has been littered wiht such carcases for over a decade.

 

On a recent study of Freshwater Seafarers off the mainland near Tazmania, Australia – Dr. Jennifer Lavers discovered that 16% of hatchlings were fed plastic.  She also hypothesis that these plastics are poisoning the birds with heavy metals and other contaminates.  She also highlights in this blog how she pulls over 400 pieces of plastic out of one Albatross on Midway.  Because these areas of contamination are far from human existence, they are often forgotten about.  Fortunately, there are those who are interested in keeping this, and many other formerly pristine areas of the planet in the best condition possible.  Once such crew pulled over 14 tons of plastic from the Midway Atoll in 2013. You can read more about their efforts here. Upon seeing this much plastic pollution, maybe you will consider making significant changes in your consumption patterns today.  While the average reader will not believe it to be the case, just one refillable water bottle can reduce plastic and oil consumption by as much as one barrell per year!  Other things that you can do to help eliminate this pollution is to learn about your communities recycling regulatons and become an effective recycler of post consumed items and always, always carry a bag with you so you can say no to a plastc one, each and everytime you go shopping!

James Morioka, Kerrie Krosky, Kristen Kelly, Tomoko Acoba, Kevin O’Brien, Kerry Reardon, Edmund Coccagna, Joao Garriques, and Russell Reardon (clockwise from upper right) pose on April 18 atop the large, 13,795-kg pile of derelict fishing gear and plastic debris collected during their 21-day mission at Midway Atoll. NOAA photo by Edmund Coccagna

 

Some thoughts on Storm-water pollution

Water quality in the United States may be one of the most understated concerns facing future generations.  As the spread of human development continues to grow, the concerns and understanding of maintaining a vibrant and consumable water supply chain continue to push their way to the forefront of society and governmental concerns.  As Americans we do many things to put our water at risk of being safe for our planet.   While oil spills, hazardous waste and major contaminants like sewage are items that bring recognition to most peoples consciousness, especially when concerning the impact to drinking water, this is not the case for one of most common daily sources of pollution to our open water sources.  These contaminants, known as Non Source Pollutants (NSP’s), threaten to destroy our lakes, streams and watersheds on a consistent basis.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the direct street to stream aspect of storm-water runoff and is one of the primary culprits of this growing pollution source and education is one of the most valuable solutions for solving this problem.  

Non Source Pollutants are  the wide range of incidental chemicals and elements that end up in natural watersheds through particulate collection of materials by water as it  travels from humanized environs to natural biospheres.  The incidental nature of NSPs are at the core of the dangers they represent.  According to the EPA, “The term “nonpoint source” is defined to mean any source of water pollution that does not meet the legal definition of “point source” in section 502(14) of the Clean Water Act. (EPA, web).  The secondary primary  aspect of this water is that it is not processed by municipal water treatment facilities.  According to Aurora, Colorado Water’s website,  “In an urban setting these (NSP’s)  include: pesticides and fertilizers, automotive fluids from leaks including oil and antifreeze,  as well as a wide variety of chemicals that are leaked or spilled within our communities.” (Aurora Water, web).    These chemicals are generally absorbed by water during precipitation and flow through storm water systems to open source water where the contaminants can gather and have a greater impact on their surroundings.   Additional items considered NSP include bacteria, viruses and trash or litter.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NSP pollution can have negative impacts on the economy through: shipping issues, tourism, and available foodstocks.  

    In addition to liquid chemicals, plastic and other man-made material pollution is being studied in many areas for the chemicals that they can leach into the environment in addition to the problem they pose as litter.   This type of pollution is relatively new in scope as it is a secondary pollutant to water and a direct result of littering, or improperly disposing consumed goods for recycling or landfill.  Examples of this include but are not limited to: grocery sacks,metal food containers, drinking bottles, tires, and shoes.  As these materials are exposed to a variety of climatic conditions they can leach or release chemicals  as water comes into contact with it.  One of the major chemicals known to come from plastics is BPA or Bisphenol A.  It is a highly used chemical in certain plastics that has been proven to mimic estrogen when consumed by humans , According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH), “Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.”  (NIH, web)

    To solve the impacts of both chemical and litter pollution from impacting storm-water runoff directly, governments have established a wide variety of solutions to directly counter the variety of sources that fall under the NSP category.  The internet has become an extensive resource for providing general access to educational resources for a wide variety of community solutions.  These range from ready to print flyers and classroom modules to details of infrastructure improvements and plans that impact collection and capture of water. In addition, special collection days and community activities like litter remediation continue to prove valuable techniques in reducing the quantity of NSP’s in our storm-water systems and natural waterways.  

    As the demand for water increases in urban communities like Aurora, concerns for development of additional water collection are under active consideration.  The Prairie Waters Project (PWP) is an example of one such project.  This project will divert river water from the Platte River where it will be transported and then processed for consumption before being returned to sources downstream or away from the of the collection point.  It is important to note that much of the water will have come from storm-water runoff that is  naturally filling the South Platte River.  It is important to consider that this water will have NPS’s contaminants from farms, forests, animal and rural activity upstream of the collection point. Besides transporting elevated nutrient content and suspended sediments, bacteria and viruses may be in the water being transported.  In the map of the PWP’s infrastructure plans, it is important to note that part of this system includes a storm drain bypass that will feed directly into the Aurora reservoir.  

This presents potentials for elevated levels of contamination as storm-water runoff could contaminate the reservoir itself.  To alleviate these risks, monitoring of water quality at both the Platte River and along the Storm Drain Bypass Extension will have to maintained as well as increased monitoring of potential sources of pollution upstream whose activities could change classification status to ‘Source Point’ pollutants.  In addition, it will be necessary  to monitor the ways that new  NSP nutrients will impact the overall health of the Aurora Reservoir.

    to the varying nature and impact of Non-Source Pollutants on our water system, as well as the wide array of possible initial sources, non source pollutants are a danger to natural ecosystems as well as viable groundwater sources for human consumption.  Their impact on the environment can be hard to directly measure as these pollutants accumulate over time generally on non permeable surfaces and generally accumulate during a precipitation event.  Because these events are varied and are not regulated, the frequency at which they occur and the rates they introduce accumulated pollutants is hard to capture or resolve.  This causes the primary methods of monitoring watersheds, maintaining riparian zones for diffusion of pollutants as well as education processes and active community efforts to limit and control non source pollutants in urban areas necessary practices.  I believe the monitoring of watersheds and potential source points is expected to expand as our society grows.  Understanding how this need will expand or need to be intensified for downstream communities will be a problem that will likely continue to grow.

Works Cited

“Aurora – Prairie Waters Project.” Aurora – Prairie Waters Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

“National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.” Bisphenol A (BPA). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

News Releases By Date.” 10/30/2013: EPA Announces Cleanup Plan for the Ellis Property Site in Evesham Township, New Jersey; EPA Cost of Removal of Contaminated Soil Estimated at $13.6 Million. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013

“Nonpoint Source Pollution.” NOAA’s National Ocean Service Education:. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

Boyan Slat has a great idea, but I don’t believe his claims are realistic

Have you heard that a 19 year old has made a presentation about cleaning up plastic from our ocean? If you haven’t I have to tell you that this Ted talk is worth watching. If there is one thing I hope you walk away with from watching his presentation – its  that you contribute to plastic pollution without thought or intentionality.   His video  a real problem for our planet. I hope that you are so moved by this young mans ideas that you begin to realize how big of a problem we have made by the thoughtless ways we are habitually destroying our planet.

Does Boyan Slat have a good idea?  YES, YES he does.  His idea is amazing, use the motion of our planet’s oceans to clean up the mess we have made.  Sounds good to me.  Is the idea to clean our planet in a manner of 7 years realistic? No, not really.  The first and most basic reason is that the time to build his theoretical machinery could take a decade just to build.   There are some concerns in how machinery could remove plastics that are known to be suspended up to 90 meters below the ocean.  An additional concern for this particular project focuses on the dangers that occur when you add physical materials directly to the ocean that weren’t there to begin with.  In the case of the plastics themselves, we already know that they leach chemicals into the ocean.  How would a new material added to the ocean impact life?  One answer is that life will begin to develop under and around the introduced product.  We know this is true because there are multiple examples of efforts to build and grow habitats using man made structures.  Below is one such example, from attempts to regrow corral reefs in Florida.  This blog from the Scuba Divers Travel Network discusses many areas regarding the efforts of rebuilding the reefs as well as many global concerns for our oceans.

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But the truth is, I don’t believe this solution is the end all be all to ‘saving our planet’ from ourselves. I don’t think that this well intentioned and idealistic man really intended to misrepresent his ideas as an end all solution to plastic pollution in our oceans. Unfortunately, this is what has been happening.  Because I’m into telling people about plastic pollution in the ocean, I often feel that I’m the first person that people run to when they first hear of this concept idea.

The truth is, that it would  take a massive fleet of ships, ones that are stationary – one that are actively moving about our gyres to clean them.  If you have followed my posts you know that there are reasons for Plastic warriors to  unite!  The reality is that all of our planets oceanic systems are being clogged at the arteries with plastic and we are approaching a time when active remediation will be required for life to survive.  These sad truths are represented in studies like this one by Dr. Jennifer Lavers, shows that birds are not only eating plastic, but that they are becoming weak from the leaching of contaminants into their bodies.

As a person who daily preaches the dangers of our addiction to plastic, I have been aware of the problems facing our planet and I communicate them regularly in all I do. I ask the waitress or bartender to not bring straws to the table, or to be used in a beverage delivered to the table. I bring my own bags to the store, or I grab used bags from the recycling bin. In fact there are many times that flat out refuse a bag, or specifically request paper bags.

But that’s my story about my personal activism.   In my experiences, the majority of people don’t really think about how we consume, or what happens when this consumption is over and the materials end up outside in a rubbish or recycling bin.  In an earlier blog I discussed the advantages of setting up a second waste can for recycling.  Those who do find that this one act changes both their awareness and effective recycling rates!

Why do we want to change these rates?  Because materials consumption is at a rate greater than anytime previous in our history.   This poses problems as we are consuming materials at a rate greater than our planet can support.  The cost of industry is pollution.  This pollution comes in the form of CO2 emissions, foreign materials in our water supply, spills and fires from oil.  This trend isn’t going to end any time soon.  This is why it’s so important to recognize that each individual action we take today, impacts the ability for us to fix things in the future.

 

My experience making a video for the 5 Gyres Viking Crew Entry

I entered a contest hosted by The 5 Gyres Institute back at the end of March.  The point of the video was to try to win a 10,000 scholarship to go on an expedition to study plastic pollution on the planet.   I’m not in the running as a top 5 candidate.   I can think of several reasons, one being that I didn’t plan out my video well.  One of the things I keep learning in my business classes at Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado is that no one person is expected to produce all aspects of the business by themselves.  The process of thinking should be based upon the early recognition that operating in a business environment is a team aspect.  With my idea to make a video, one of my weaknesses was in developing a team to help me produce a video of quality.  Instead I attempted to learn a self written script, one that kept formulating along the way and memorized it.  I took a selfie video, something I have never really done before, and practiced live with each clip to become comfortable speaking with the camera on.    This wasn’t an easy process, and quite honestly – my final video took over 200 attempts before I made a copy I was content with.

After that, I began to play with YouTube and learned how to add text boxes to the foreground of the video.  This is one of the places I think I made some of my biggest errors.  I used the free version provided by Google, and it didn’t have many options.  I was only able to write in white.  With time I learned how to make sure all my words were in screen, and that the video didn’t look slopply.  Unfortunately, my experience includes one unfortunate aspect.  The video I uploaded to the contest site was, unfortunately, not the final version I had made.  This was a sever dissapointment as anyone could guess.  Fortunately it was also an exercise in learning!  I didn’t make the best movie, but I am proud of the fact I entered the contest.  Plastic pollution is a global concern that continues to show signs of plaguing our planet.

How do I know this?  It’s not from doing a internet search and just finding the scientific journals of most recent data being done at educational institutions around the world.  While some entities, like The  5 Gyres Institute are able to catch the attention of news media during times of tragedy both mechanical and environmental, the most recent of those being MH370 of course.   The advantage, if it can be called such, is that in an attempt to find anything in our oceans, we become aware of the quantity of pollution that has accumulated in our planetary systems.

Here’s a copy of the video I made

Now, I haven’t given up, I am still seeking votes to occur on a daily basis.  Realistically, I would love to round up the 10k and just pay to go on such an amazing expedition.  Maybe next year.