Labour MP Barry Gardiner is one of a number of people to have criticised Dow Chemical’s involvement in the London Olympics. It’s argued that a company with strong links to the 1984 Bhopal disaster should not be associated with the so-called “greenest ever Games”.
At an Adjournment Debate on the Sustainability of the London Olympics in February, Gardiner lashed out at Dow’s role as official sponsor of the Olympic Stadium.
“Regarding the site itself, the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) has spent in excess of £1.8m cleaning up the toxic legacy of chemical contamination that blighted this area”, he said.
“The remediation of the site has brought this land back into public use and has been a wonderful focus to improve the environment and the quality of life for people in this part of London.
“What an irony then that this most sustainable of all Olympic Games should embrace as one of its key sponsors a company whose name is inextricably linked with the worst chemical disaster in human history.
“A company that owns the Union Carbide Corporation that was responsible for up to 25,000 deaths that have been directly associated with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India.
“This is a company that has to this day failed to remediate the site to the point where the water table is now so contaminated that children in Bhopal are born with deformities at ten times the rate elsewhere in India.”
Dow’s connection to London 2012 raises yet more questions over the event’s sponsorship selection policies, with oil giant BP’s role as sustainability partner already under the microscope.
The Bhopal disaster of 1984 is widely-regarded as one of the worst industrial catastrophes in human history.
“Large amounts of water entered a tank containing 43 tonnes of Methyl isocyanate (MIC) in Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal, India”, wrote Ingrid Eckerman, in a background paragraph for her book, The Bhopal Saga: Causes and Consequences of the World’s Largest Industrial Disaster.
“A strong chemical reaction started and a big cloud of toxic gases spread over the sleeping town.
“500,000 people were exposed to the gases. 8,000 died within the first week, and 8,000 since. 100,000 have permanent injuries.”
Speaking to Blue & Green Tomorrow, Eckerman added that this one catastrophic event of human tragedy should be ample evidence as to why Dow is an inappropriate company to be a sponsor at London 2012.
“The Olympic Games are supposed to show sport untouched by commercial interests”, she said.
“Doping is not allowed. It is supposed to inspire youth to engage in healthy sports and keep away from less suitable occupations.
“Therefore, the demands on the sponsors must be ethically and morally high. Companies engaged in drugs, pornography, weapons (of all kinds) or pollution, or violating human rights, should not be accepted as sponsors.
“Dow Chemicals is not a suitable sponsor.”
Lord Coe’s promise of the “greenest ever Games” is seemingly undone by opting for a deal with Dow. However, there are two sides to every story and Dow has argued that the Bhopal plant was bought long after the incident, responding strongly to the criticism pointed towards it.
“The people attacking Dow have woefully underestimated our character and who we are”, said its vice-president, George Hamilton, in The Guardian.
“They have underestimated our character, the contribution we’ve made to responsible care and use of chemicals, and they’ve underestimated our stamina.
“We’ve been here for 112 years and we’re planning to go for the next 100.”
The prime minister has also lent his voice to the debate, with The Guardian running with a story titled ‘Dow Chemical deal is fine by me, says David Cameron’.
Despite the condemnation over Bhopal, Dow has drawn plaudits over its environmental policies in recent years. It won the 2006 ACC Responsible Care Energy Efficiency award, mainly because of a 22% energy intensity improvement from 1995 to 2005.
A year later, Dow Agrosciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, won the United Nations’ Montreal Protocol Innovators Award – an award that recognises innovation, investment and commitment to protect the environment.
Then, most recently, in 2008, Dow Chemical won an Energy Star Award, for its continued involvement in energy management.
Dow then at least appears to be taking some steps in the right direction. However, this does not mean that it has successfully offset the pain, grief and damage caused by the incident at the Bhopal plant in 1984.
N. D. Jayaprakash, joint-secretary of the Delhi Science Forum, and co-convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan – an organisation seeking justice for Bhopal victims, tables a compelling argument against Dow’s involvement with the Games for Frontline and Counterpunch. Both are essential reading on the matter.
What is very clear is that large-scale corporations must continually strive to become more ethical and sustainable. One of the biggest ways to drive this change is through sustainable investment.
To get involved, ask your IFA or fill in our online form and we’ll connect you with a specialist ethical adviser who will help you invest your money with companies working towards a more sustainable and ethical future.
Picture source: James Mitchell
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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