195-3

Today was a historically sad day as POTUS announced he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  I watched his speech announcing this with frustration and anger but am now residing myself that maybe it is for the best.  My frustration and anger stem from the flawed logic and false narrative that are being used to justify the exit.  The primary focus was about the agreement being a bad deal for the U.S., how it is a ‘massive redistribution of wealth to other countries’ and how if the U.S. remained it would ‘become the laughing stock of the world’.  He went on to boast about our existing “natural” (fossil fuel) energy sources and the value of using those to drive our energy needs.  He went on to paint a picture of ‘brown outs, black outs, and businesses coming to a halt if the U.S. were to remain in the agreement’.  Sometimes I think POTUS chooses to undo things his predecessor did or do the opposite of them just to stick it to him and then creates a narrative to support that, as opposed to critically thinking about what is truly best for our country.

In my opinion, if we were not already, we most definitely are now the laughing stock of the world.  We join Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not to be signed on to the Paris Climate Accord.  Ironically, Nicaragua is not on board because they felt the goals were not aggressive enough and Syria has other priorities as you can imagine.  Scott Pruitt (EPA) got to follow on and mentioned how ‘America finally has a president who answers only to the American people and not to special interests’.  Which American people does he answer to when making such decisions?  It is not the hundreds of U.S. based companies who asked him to remain in the accord, it is not the leaders of organized religions, it is not the countless U.S. scientists, and it is not the majority of Americans who support remaining in the agreement.

Consider that in the U.S. the clean energy sector is growing at 10x the rest of the U.S. economy.  The idea of making America great again by reviving the coal industry, fracking, and drilling is short sighted and today marks the most irresponsible act of this president to date in my opinion.  The silver lining is that had the U.S. remained in the accord, we would have been a total PITA for the other nations under the current administration.  Now, they can forge ahead uninhibited as they have declared they will.  As other nations adopt a clean energy economy with a carbon fee and dividend policy, It is logical to assume that the U.S. will at some point in the future face tariffs, sanctions, and taxes on our exports to account for the cost of carbon used to create those.  If we follow the current MAGA mantra, the U.S. is certain to be left behind and let a huge opportunity to be world leader and innovator pass us by.  It is sad that we cannot count on our own government to protect the habitability of our beautiful planet, but perhaps we can get this done via cities, states, and businesses until such a time that we have a leader with common sense and courage.

Advertisements

The human disposition

My wife recently discovered a lump on my body and a closer inspection found a second one. This was a concerning discovery and I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that week. In the days leading up to my appointment I had some internal angst, worried about cancer and various other potential issues. This got me to thinking more about death and I recalled a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency blog I had seen detailing options for ‘dying greener’.

Conventional funerals, burials, and cremations are typically not environmentally friendly. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, cemeteries across the U.S. each year bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid (includes formaldehyde), 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets), 30 million board feet of hardwoods (caskets), 1,600,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults), and 14,000 tons of steel (vaults). Flame-based cremation is typically the best of the three traditional methods but is also energy intensive and little regard is given for the release of mercury and other emissions that come from the process.

Our traditional means of human disposal is not at the top of the list of environmental concerns, but like many things it presents an opportunity to improve. Over 10 years ago The Mayo Clinic created a process called Alkaline Hydrolysis as a means of disposing of cadavers more efficiently. Today that process is becoming more mainstream with progressive funeral homes offering it as a ‘green option’. It is sometimes called bio cremation, green cremation, or flameless cremation. The process places the deceased in to a steel cylinder that is filled with 95% water and 5% alkali which are heated to 350 degrees. This makes complete decomposition, which would normally take about 25 years, only take about 2-3 hours. The end result is nothing but some soft bone fragments and possibly mercury cavity fillings remaining, everything else is dissolved in to a sterile solution. Dexter Morgan could have really benefitted from having access to this technology.

At the doctor, my lumps ended up being nothing to be overly concerned about (lipoma, a benign body fat tumor). Regardless, it is good to know that when my time comes I can be taken to the Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater and boiled in to dust using less energy and emitting 75% less carbon than alternatives. I also saw a video about burial pods on my nieces Facebook feed recently. That is an interesting thought as well and could transform would be cemeteries in to forests.

Sainted: NHL

Over the past 5 years, the National Hockey League has been steadily increasing their commitment to the environment.  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman summed up some of the concerns of the NHL well when he said “Our game originated on frozen ponds. Many of our players learned to skate on outdoor rinks. For that magnificent tradition to continue through future generations, we need winter weather and, as a League, we are uniquely positioned to promote that message.”  As I have witnessed challenges maintaining my own outdoor rink over the years and with city run neighborhood rinks, the outdoor skating season is shortening and becoming less predictable.  In Canada and other countries, many of the youth leagues rely heavily on outdoor ice and they have seen the season shortened by 20-30%.

 

After hiring a Director of Sustainability and doing a significant amount of analysis of everything that is a part of the NHL, they released their incredibly detailed sustainability report.  The report outlines goals and initiatives, details how each of the 30 teams are doing, information from player perspectives, and much more.  In many other professional sports you will hear or see stories about ad hoc sustainability initiatives like a new kajillion dollar stadium reclaiming irrigation water or similar and while there is some merit, stories like that are often more about publicity than actual sustainability.  This is where the NHL really differentiates itself, they have top down support and are outwardly vocal about this problem and their work towards doing their part to resolve it.  Further, the NHL concedes that while they have made some progress, there is much more to do.  They are an organization that is truly committed to lessening their environmental impact and to helping catalyze a larger movement toward a healthier planet.

 

Collecting data from 30 different clubs and their facilities which use different systems from different suppliers and making sense of it is no trivial task.  The NHL has learned that 75% of their emissions come from electricity consumption, about 20% comes from club travel, and the remaining comes from natural gas and other fuels.  At their Arenas they are focused on improving efficiencies with refrigeration, humidification, concessions, HVAC, lighting, water usage, technical display and audio systems.  They are also focused on deploying alternative energy systems including solar, geothermal, biogas fueled fuel cells, hydro and more.  It is not every organization that has taken the time to calculate how many BTU’s per employee are consumed each year, how many gallons of water are used per attendee at each game, or how many pounds of CO2 emissions happen per square foot at each venue.  The fact that they are measuring everything is incredibly impressive, that is a key component of being able to know where to focus efforts and validate accomplishments.

 
The report outlines the efficiencies to date which include significant improvements in rink lighting, solar installations, fuel cell implementations, concessions changes, and more.  What is more impressive is that each club has created their own sustainability goals.  The MN Wild for example, have already reduced their carbon footprint by 35% as they make their way to their 80% goal.  They also already met their initial goal of reducing trash by more than 50%.  In an era where all we often hear about in professional sports is championships, the agony of defeat, and criminal behavior; it is nice to see the NHL making calculated investments on improving their own sustainability.

Keep Off Grass

On a recent solo drive from Minneapolis to Fargo I had nearly 4 hours to let my mind wander. Driving past Otsego, which is home of a new medical marijuana dispensary and has resulted in the town being nicknamed Potsego, got me to thinking about grass. Growing up, the building my dad worked in had signs out front that read “Keep Off Grass”. I am pretty certain that the word “the” was not on the sign purposefully, as it was city hall and it helped emphasize that the sign had two important meanings.

Grass (the type you mow, not the type you blow) has long been the default standard for many geographies. In the suburbs it is often tended to, manicured, fertilized, and watered to near perfection giving the illusion that a golf course groundskeeper might be the home owner. This is slowly starting to change as natural vegetation water gardens and prairie grasses are growing in popularity. One of the core problems with grass is that the way it is maintained generally makes it a carbon source, meaning that it emits more carbon than it can store. To give some perspective, an acre of grass holds about 920 pounds of carbon per year, whereas prairie grasslands hold about 2,700 pounds and an established forest holds about 5,000 pounds. So, once the typical care, fertilization, and maintenance is applied to that acre of grass over a calendar year, it shifts from being a carbon sink to a carbon source.

Even if we assume we are mowing with a rotary hand mower and not imposing fossil fuel based chemicals on the lawn, we can still do a lot better than grass in terms of helping the environment. Grass definitely has its place and is a superior surface for countless sporting events, but that does not mean it is a great choice for everything as the turf industry has conditioned us to think. In the US, we have an estimated 20 million acres of lawns and while I am not trying to put my brother in law out of business; I do think what to do with your property to make it more efficient and beneficial for the environment is a worthy investment. There are many organizations that can help evaluate and aid with these types of projects. Locally, BlueThumb is a well-known one that even offers grants in many cities, counties, and watershed districts.