Monday, June 25, 2012

Chinese and U.S. Companies Sign $3.4 Billion Deal

On June 23, 2012, Chinese and U.S. companies signed $3.4 billion worth of bilateral investment agreements further strengthening economic ties between the two nations.

The companies met in Nanjing and signed contracts on forty-two projects spanning manufacturing, energy, property, logistics, and entertainment industries. Energy development, environmental protection, and cooperation between local governments of the two nations are amongst China’s focuses in the projects.

The Chinese central planners are especially interested in promoting environemtal protection and foreign cooperation in China’s less developed central and western regions. Of the $3.4 billion contracts, two are from U.S. companies promise to invest $527 million in the northwestern city of Xi’an, including one from a U.S. entertainment company.

The Linuo Group Co., a Shandong-based Chinese company with experiences in solar tubes, solar water heaters, and solar PV panels promised to invest in the U.S. to develop a solar energy project.

According to Clean Tech Consulting: Simple payback model used to calculate ROI on the solar industry does not consider the historic cost inflation of power which shortens payback times.

"Even with Federal tax credits, without cost of power inflation, the payback time is over 26 years. However, with historic inflation applied, a more accurate payback is 15 years."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Light Bulb Moment- by Lauren Campbell

When I was younger, I was in all kinds of extracurricular activities: band, softball, French club, national honor society, the list goes on. There were many late nights spent after school for band concerts and exhausting softball games; sometimes I did not get home until 10 pm, long after the sun had gone down. I would go home, shower, and sometimes do my homework. I would sit in my bed room with my stereo softly playing, my bedroom light on, and force myself to finish the last of my math homework for the next day.

I hated math…

Being the young, sheltered, teenager I was, I did not see the benefits of doing math; nor did I see the privilege I was given to be able to study by light after dark. The access to electricity is something that most Americans take for granted, myself included; but not all students on this planet have the luxury of energy efficient light bulbs. Some use candles and others do not get to use anything at all and have to end their studies when the sun goes down.

Although at the time I was sitting in my bedroom doing my math homework late at night, having to stop a sun down seemed like a dream come true. But back then, as a teenager, I couldn't have appriciated the learning that would otherwise been impossible. Having to live and learn by the sun, my education would be slow and limited; my opportunities also limited.

Energy accessibility for everyone on this planet is becoming an ever larger discussion. It is currently a hot topic at the Rio +20 Summit. One of the most important discussions to hit the Rio +20, titled Sustainable Energy for All, is presented by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Ban Ki-moon has been leading the discussion on this topic for the past year, after the UN General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for all.

Secretary Ban Ki-moon has proposed five steps that must be taken in order to achieve modern energy access for all.
  • Modern energy access must be adopted as a political priority and policies and funding must be adapted accordingly. Governments must set goals, define a strategy, and allocate funds for this to be accomplished.
  • Additional investments, above the $14 billion per year assumed currently, to $34 billion. All sources and forms of investment are important and all must grow. The sum is large, but is equivalent to around 3% of global investment in energy infrastructure over the period to 2030.
  • Private sector investment needs to grow the most; however, there are some hurdles. National governments need to adopt regulatory frameworks and invest internally. The public sector needs to use its tools to influence private sector investment and encourage the development of replicable business models. Public subsidies also must be efficiently used to reach the poorest. 
  • Use multilateral and bilateral to fund the most difficult areas of access, which do not offer a quick commercial return.  Operating through local banks and micro finance arrangements can support the creation of local networks and the necessary capacity in energy sector activity. 
  • Make provision for the collection of robust, regular and comprehensive data to quantify the outstanding challenge and monitor progress towards its elimination. 
Read the full report.

Secretary Ban Ki-moon is a big proponent for implementing sustainable development in developing countries, which offers a launching pad for sustainable energy.

These initiatives are great ways to promote sustainable progress and track what sustainable technologies work best in different geographic locations.

In addition to focusing on energy development, access to energy can help many of these countries tackle poverty by increasing education and productivity, providing better healthcare options, and promoting economic growth.

Giving children the ability to study after dark increases their ability to compete on a global scale and helps drive innovation. Basic access to electricity helps prepare creative minds for the challenges of our generation. It’s with this step, the development and implementation of sustainable energy for all, that we will finally begin to understand what ‘sustainability’ really means.

We can empower all children on this planet by providing sustainable energy for all; providing them with the tools necessary to make the most of their education: a light to read by, a home cooked meal to nourish their brains, and clean energy to power them into a bright future. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rio +20 UN Conference: EPA Administrator Jackson Participating

EPA administrator Jackson will be participating in the Rio +20 UN conference from Tuesday the 19th to the 22nd. Jackson has a full itinerary and plans on taking part in discussions surrounding environmental protection, social development, economic prosperity, institutions, and government.

The schedule of events looks promising with such topics as “Re-investing in Our Communities: the U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability” and “Advancing Public-Private Partnerships for Deforestation-Free/Sustainable Agriculture.” 

 All of these events are open to the press and Events at the US Center will be streamed live

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Mathematical Inspiration for a Sustainable World - By Lauren Campbell

Thanks to my husband, I recently spent some time thinking about what sustainability means to me. Through the process I realized how complex it was to explain sustainability. I had to break it down with hopes to put it back together . . . so that I could understand the many different parts of the holistic problem we face. After a few days of reading, writing, and pontificating, this is how I began viewing sustainability.

People, planet, profit . . .

I began thinking about sustainability as an equation:

        [ (Community + Individuals) / Planet ]  x  Profit   =   Sustainability

Community and Individuals are the most important variables in the Sustainability equation. We all impact this Earth and we all contribute to environmental problems. The sustainable movement should bring people around the world together for a single goal. The sense of community that can occur out of sustainability is overwhelming. That community must share with and help one another in order for such large goals to be accomplished. If we embrace our community, share our knowledge, and help one another, we will see large scale changes made simply by our ability to stand together. Our combined efforts, along with having compassion for one another, can have a huge impact in the way our planet is treated. If we focus on investing in our community, we set a good foundation for the community and the generations to come.

Investing into a community is not just for the people, but for the environment and organisms that reside there as well.  We must recognize that other organisms encompass our community. Biodiversity is slowly starting to diminish and this could wreak havoc on the environmental system on which we all depend. Opening our communities to all living things, recognizing the need for them in our lives, and having compassion for how we affect their survival is important in understanding sustainability; this is why the community and individuals are the most important variables.

They are also the variables that must be resolved for the equation to continue. The rules of math require problems inside parentheses to be completed first. This is extremely important in solving the sustainability equation because this is where sustainability begins, with individuals and individuals within their community. This is the rule and each person must be willing to participate for the equation to work. This means every person must be educated, informed, and motivated toward pro-environmental lifestyles and choices. It means we must be responsible for our own actions and we must hold other individuals accountable for theirs. The individual and the environment cross paths in many ways and we must be able to recognize those paths before we destroy them. This can be as simple as reusing plastic baggies instead of buying more or picking up trash along the sidewalk while running with your dog, but it can also be as complicated as engineering more efficient solar panels, regardless, it must be done. The equation must work. Our planet depends on it.

Division is next and tends to be tricky; the numerator can be very buoyant or it can be very hefty. This is why I put Community and Individuals on the top, the magnitude of our impact threatens to suffocate the planet. We must recognize the Earth is alive and we are the parasites that need it to survive. It is up to us, as the inhabitants of this being, to learn to live in a symbiotic relationship; not to divide and conquer.  We must lighten our reliance on natural resources and fossil fuels so we do not heat up the Earth and disrupt the natural balance; like the way the division line balances on the dominator. We cannot let that line divide us. That is why brackets embrace all three variables, helping us hold together; our person, our families, our communities, all of which are dependent on our planet. We must all recognize the need for, and live in, balance for our equation to work.

The last part of the equation is profit. The sum of [Community + Individuals / Planet] is to be multiplied by profit, because that is where our profit must go; in helping strengthen all three of those variables. Multiplication, like that of division, walks a thin line. Multiplication in the right area, i.e. investments in renewable energy, can bring sustainability to the forefront of our lives; however, multiplication in the wrong areas, i.e. increasing our dependence on wood from the rainforest, can send us over a tipping point from which we will never return. The profit variable can make or break this sustainable equation. 

To me, this is what sustainability is. It is using the smallest part in the most efficient way so that the machine runs longer and using the machine to help repair the smallest parts. We must begin with ourselves, the individual, and embrace our community. Then, we must use the strength of our community to change our world. In the process of changing the world, we must not forget ourselves.

This is what sustainability is to me . . .

Friday, June 8, 2012

Phytoplankton Discovered under Arctic Ice - by Lauren Campbell Kong

NASA announced yesterday that scientists have made a huge biological discovery in the Arctic Ocean; comparing it to "finding a rain forest in the middle of the Mojave desert."

During the summers of 2010 and 2011, a NASA oceanographic expedition, ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment), discovered huge amounts of phytoplankton; microscopic marine plants. The phytoplankton are growing under 3 feet of ice, referred to as under-ice blooms. This is the first time under-ice blooms have been found. Scientists on the expedition would have thought it impossible had they not seen it for themselves.

Phytoplankton are the foundation of the marine food chain and are crucial to marine life. Prior to this discovery it was thought that phytoplankton only grew after the Arctic Sea ice retreated for the summer; as it was thought they only grew in open water.  Scientists now believe that thinning ice allows sunlight to penetrate through, accessing the water under the ice, and catalyzing the growth of the phytoplankton. 

Researchers say that the phytoplankton is highly active, duplicating at double the rate of phytoplankton in open waters; these rates are of the highest ever measured in the Polar Regions. 

Researchers are questioning whether or not this has to do with the large increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because phytoplankton are such huge carbon consumers. It was concluded that more research was needed to determine whether these phytoplankton are a new development or have been active for a long time.

The effect these blooms have on migratory species is also still to be determined. If this is just a regular pattern it could mean that phytoplankton are blooming earlier than normal and could cause some migratory marine animals to miss their food deadline; which will shake up the entire food chain.

This discovery is significant to understanding the effects of large amounts of atmospheric carbon and how it effects our planet. It may also be an example of what our planet will do in order to rebalance itself; using other organisms to help off shoot the human footprint. 

Fly Before You Have Wings - A Message From Jin

In memory of Ray Bradbury:

To fly, please remember to jump first and build your wings on your way down.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

UN Environmental Program update - by Lauren Campbell Kong

 The UN is asking nations to intensify efforts toward fighting climate change and other environmental problems. After recently publishing the most comprehensive environmental assessment of the past five years, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) states “The world continues to speed down an unsustainable path.” This no doubt will be the main discussion surrounding the UNEP conference in Rio de Janeiro in two weeks, where world leaders will participate in open dialogue about environmental problems. 

In a report released by the UNEP, a lack of action could have serious adverse effects on human health, agricultural yields, and coastlines; all of which could cost tens of billions of dollars if not addressed.
The report stated that forty of the environmental goals showed ‘some’ progress, including reduced deforestation rates, phasing out harmful substances that affect the ozone layer, and boosted research to reduce marine pollution. 

However, there has been little to no progress made on 24 of the 90 goals and there are actually 8 categories that are worse than what was reported in the 2008 review; 14 goals could not be measured due to insufficient data.

The UNEP climate change goals must be met, if not exceeded. Future predictions made by the UNEP include, coastal adaption to rising sea levels, possible lower agricultural yields due to air pollution, and the need for a new water infrastructure in order to provide water for the growing population; the estimated cost for these things is in excess of 120 billion dollars. 

Another area in need of attention is the use of resources. UNEP, in 2008, stated humans were using 40 percent more resources than the planet could replenish but, in the new report, that number jumped to 50 percent. Our resources are not the only worry surrounding climate change, with about 20 percent of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish under the threat of extinction, conserving biodiversity has never been more important.

These are the topics that must reach into our political system to begin seeing some significant change. The UNEP conference in Rio is a great opportunity for top political bodies to begin discussing what steps must be taken to help combat climate change. The small steps can be covered by you and I, however, the larger steps must also be addressed. The need to set industry standards to help protect the environment and the animals that live in it, must be met, and urgently. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The 'American Dream' - by Lauren Campbell

NPR recently did a special titled “American Dreams.” It’s a series based on the social, cultural, and economic ideals of the “American Dream.” I caught a brief portion of it and got to thinking about our societal obsession with the concept.

The American Dream, as it was coined, is the idea that we all have a fair chance to succeed in this country. There is nothing holding a person back from fulfilling their desires to become rich, famous, successful, or all three combined. However, those who are rich, powerful, and ‘successful’ have the American Dream stamped all over them, yet they fail to travel to some of the poorest neighborhoods in our country to help others fulfill their dreams. This lends itself to the lack of understanding surrounding power and privilege in our country and community - a lack of understanding of the American Dream.
Last summer I worked at a campaign office raising money for a children’s organization. The organization fights disease and educates children and women all around the world, a effort worth standing up for.

All Summer, I stood outside (sometimes in the 90 degree weather) stopping people on the street and asking for donations. It was a very humbling job and a wonderful learning experience (granted, at the beginning, I felt very uncomfortable asking others for money).

It amazes me that in the business district in our state’s capital, the least amount of money was raised. I would stop men in their 3 piece suits and give my spiel, ask for money, answer their questions, and sweat. When I was done with my 90 second real life infomercial, some would say “why don’t those children just go and get jobs…deliver news papers, start a lemonade stand, or farm labor, that’s what I did and look where I am today.”

These privileged American dreamers don't understand that the children of Somalia and of the Sudan do not have the option to deliver newspapers; their options are limited to picking up loaded weapons and defending their family or joining the local militia.

I think that the most hurtful thing I heard was a gentleman who, when asked if he would like to fight child poverty, replied, “I charge 500.00 dollars an hour for my services, if you have 90 seconds worth of pay, I will stop and listen to what you have to say.”

How does one react to that?

How easy would it have been for that gentleman to just stand and listen? What if he would  have said yes to my request and in the process help change a child's life?

I had a professor once who preached “Just say yes to the request and see what happiness you gain or what lesson you learn; don’t dwell on how difficult the task or how time consuming, just do it.”

When I take this advice and apply it to my own life, I realize that the best way to grow as an individual is to be pulled out of your comfort zone and in the process help others. This also means that the more uncomfortable the situations, the less situations are available for you to feel uncomfortable. I think that for us, as humans, we need to focus less on our “American Dream” and more on the dreams of others, in America and abroad; we need to focus more on the human condition globally and less on retirement plans and the deficit locally. 

NPR's story is covering the economics of the "American Dream." We have seen the Occupy movement claim that the "American Dream" is no longer an option.

To me, the American dream has changed over time.

We still consciously recognize that the dream is shrouded in the land of opportunity; however, we have changed what measures that dream. Opportunity, servitude, volunteering, and helping make a difference in our own and other's lives has been replaced unconsciously with expensive cars, clothes, and gadgets. We now longer pride ourselves in donating time to help at the soup kitchen, we now pride ourselves in what type of car we drive to the soup kitchen, if we even go.

This is a dream crumbling. The future of this American dream is crumbling; not from a lack of jobs, money, or 401Ks, but by the lack of time, compassion, and understanding we give (or don't give) one another and our future generations.