This Moment On Earth
The day’s dawned bright and sharp here in the hinterlands of Vermont. In cloudless skies, winter’s own thin brand of blue telegraphs all we need to know. That the cold just beyond window etched in swirls of frost is deep and unmovable. And indeed the thermometer reads just 6° at morning’s first glance. It’s shiver-inducing fragment of briefest knowledge magnified by hard-edged north country sunlight rising frigid and unforgiving over the gleaming snowpack. A fine morning day to stoke the fire, uncork the informational bottle, and see what news of this moment on Earth pours out.
Let’s begin on the open seas where a coming U.N. report finds the world’s fast-growing shipping fleet is responsible for about 4.5% of global CO2 emissions, a figure that could rise 30% by 2030 because of zooming rates of international trade. It appears that when transportation-related environmental costs are factored in, goods from overseas aren’t so cheap after all. In fact, container ship ports have been identified as one of the biggest sources of pollution in the U.S. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two largest, have recognized the problem and are taking steps like requiring all ships to shut-down their on-board power systems when docked and banning vessels built before 1989, the year pollution-controls became standard gear on freighters. This is the sort of stuff regular folk like us never think too much about, but it’s good to know someone is. For our part, the lesson here is that the farther away something was made, the more CO2 its shipping generated. As always, sourcing whatever we can as locally as possible is hugely important where the climate crisis is concerned. Buy local!
News like that is why I like this:
It’s the MS Beluga Skysails, a freighter equipped with a giant kite can be used to save 20% of the fuel the ship would otherwise consume. Last week shipper DHL used the wind-driven boat to send 71 containers across the Atlantic in a hopeful sign that perhaps, with a little wisdom and some creativity, we can have our foreign trade and atmosphere, too.
We’ll also make some hard cold cash. According to a new study from consulting firm McKinsey, fully half the cuts in CO2 that the world needs to make in order to avoid a meltdown can be made with a net profit to the global economy. Translation: cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a money-maker. Extrapolate this fact a bit further (albeit crudely), and we see that cutting the other half of our CO2 releases will cost us. Combine these two facts (albeit roughly) and we find that saving the world and everything on it can be done pretty close to the break even point. Half we make money. Half we spend money. Take the money we make and put it toward the money we spend. Simple, really. So anytime anyone says that efforts to rein in CO2 will be too costly to the economy, point ‘em here.
Speaking of making money, two new studies have found that companies practicing corporate responsibility (CR) are more likely to see their worth grow. One study found that those companies whose stock price grew 50% or more were more likely to have made investments in CR than companies whose stock price dropped. The second study surveyed 250 business leaders and found that CR activities lead to more revenue as CR practices open new markets and spur product innovations. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but is not the evidence that doing the right thing is good for business not completely, utterly, and entirely overwhelming at this point? It’s so undeniable that I can only conclude that those still resisting change are suffering from some kind of psychological impairment that prevents them from seeing the obvious. Saving the world saves money and makes money. It’s a profit center for goodness sake!
There’s also the simple matter of self-preservation. According to a team of researchers at the University of Idaho, defects in sperm caused by exposure to environmental toxins get passed along for at least four generations and maybe even the seventh generation and beyond. This is far from the first research to suggest that the damage chemicals can do to us may be passed along to our kids and their kids. It’s simply further evidence that where household chemical products like traditional cleaners and pesticides are concerned, a hefty does of precaution is in order. Because we don’t know which chemicals cause what damage, we should generally avoid them all until safety can be assured. The risks of hereditary damage, not to mention harm to self, are just too great.
Precaution may also be required where cell phones are concerned. This is a tough subject to pin down. For every study that says exposure to the radiation cell phones emit may cause health effects, there’s another study that clears the technology of culpability. Now the BBC is reporting that a study of Israeli cancer sufferers found that those who used cell phones for several hours a day were 50% more likely to have rare salivary gland cancer. Until more is known, my advice is to save the idle chit chat for a land line, limit cell phone calls to essential/emergency uses only, and keep it short and sweet when you do have to dial. Most importantly, don’t let kids and teenagers have a cell phone—their growing bodies are much more vulnerable to environmental hazards than those of fully-developed adults. If cell phone use does turn out to be problematic over time, you’ll be glad you did.