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The Secret Environmentalist: tell me something I don’t know

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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability news sources and conferences can be really rather mediocre; an endless stream of non-news and non-learning, mediated though a meaningless media lens of what is “worth” communicating. 

Thus, the likes of me get an endless daily feed of pointless and asinine insights spewing from the mouths of people with little or no experience of any actual sustainability practice.

The archetype of this breed is the Damascene convert.

This is someone who spent most of their career peddling rubbish to the gullible and credulous. Selling pointless bits of plastic perhaps, or flogging poisonous chemicals to depressed consumers by persuading them that the particular mix of borderline-toxicity they are desperate to sell will, once bought, make their children respect them and give them the vital self worth that their ability to wash and wear things would so clearly provide.

The aspiring-to-be-worthwhile member of society spends many years making, marketing and lobbying for the products of their beloved corporation, design agency or other similar agglomerations of worthless human endeavour.

Then, either sudden as a strike of lightning or gradually like creeping terror, they start to realise that perhaps there is more to life than spending it in pursuit of Mammon for themselves and bunch of tax dodging, offshoring, faceless, replaceable suits (though this only tends to happen when a nice, comfy cushion of cash has been safely stashed).

Perhaps, they muse, it is time to “give something back” – possibly one of the most nauseating phrases in any language. Could they use their fearsome skills of manipulation and exploitation for a good cause, the sustainability of the planet and its people?

What a revelation, and what a double whammy! Our putative Saul/Pauline can do what they do best whilst also cleansing their soul of the stains accreted by so many years in the service of systemic environmental destruction and the exploitation of vulnerable humanity’s worst hopes and fears (e.g. your choice of music player makes you an unperson, the beer you drink won’t make you friends that will go into space with you).

And not only that, but said born-again hero can still get his or her ego polished through broadcasting their vacuous “hard won truths and tips” to the sustainability world. An audience who are just so ground down by the pointless treadmill of trying to persuade a suicidal world to step back from the cliff edge that they are either too catatonic to tell our champion to shove their words of wisdom, or are so naive and unworldly that they actually believe that the born again sage-on-stage is actually saying something worth listening to.

It’s bad enough that this happens at all, but then the vacuity is transmitted and amplified in snippet form through a myriad of social media and sustainability news sites: “XXX says sky is blue”, “Conference keynote says: ‘turquoise is the new aquamarine’”, “Conscious consumers will transform tomorrow’s businesses”. Or, the worst of all; “A. Bod, Founder & CEO of Vapid Platitudes Inc says ‘Sustainability is totally last year: CSV/ GrossPositive/ CSR 2.5 is the way and the truth’” (spot the real-ish one).

Of course, news sites would appear rather sporadically if they actually stuck to only publishing things that could be defined as new or interesting. But really! Non-experts pontificating to the gullible through a media lens – it’s not exactly going to build a professional knowledge base or a sustainable world, is it?

No one should be surprised that sustainability contains as much self aggrandisement and ego-polishing as any other part of life. Nevertheless, it remains a depressing and dismal fact that the sustainability movement – the last best hope for humanity’s future – is actively complicit in poisoning that hope with the trivial, facile and irrelevant.

The Secret Environmentalist has been in the business for more than two decades and has worked at all levels of sustainability. They have ranged from the chalk-face of kids’ education and the coal-face of small business support to the nightmare of drinking coffee in some of shiniest boardrooms on the planet. Experienced in the real world of the private sector and the realer one of not-for profits, The Secret Environmentalist is mad as hell, and is not going to take this anymore.

Further reading:

The Secret Environmentalist: things are changing but sustainability is still a pipedream

The Secret Environmentalist: all out for shale gas

Our insane civilisation lacks the wisdom to deal with the problems we face

Climate change: the time has come to become unreasonable

The climate clock is ticking. Normal isn’t working. What should we do differently?

The Secret Environmentalist has been in the business for more than two decades and has worked at all levels of sustainability. They have ranged from the chalk-face of kids' education and the coal-face of small business support to the nightmare of drinking coffee in some of shiniest boardrooms on the planet. Experienced in the real world of the private sector and the realer one of not-for profits, The Secret Environmentalist is mad as hell, and is not going to take this anymore.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

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.

Driver Reduction?

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

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.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

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.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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