Sustainable Development Goals in the Developed World

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 include clean water and sanitation, an end to poverty and hunger, gender equality and access to quality education, climate action, and good governance. The SDGs are the product of multilateral participatory process and are universal. As such, they are as critical for developed nations as well, and businesses and individuals in developed nations have a great capacity to make progress towards these goals. The UN website provides a list of actions citizens in developed nations can take. Although most people will not be able to implement every action, in countries with large populations and significant resource use, adopting even a handful of new practices can have a huge impact globally.

SDG #17 is “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”. Businesses have a key role to play in re-centering the well-being and the planet as a focus for action and as an action to ensure long-term success. Businesses can take direct action towards achieving SDGs # 1 & 2 “No Poverty” and “Zero Hunger” through fair pay and hiring practices. Individuals can support SDG #5 “Gender Equality” by recommending women for jobs, high-profile assignments, promotions, and job placements. These actions also make progress toward SDG #8 “Decent Work and Economic Growth” since data show that gender parity in the workplace increases profits (DezsÖ and Ross, 2012 and Herring, 2009). Additional actions can be taken by responsible businesses to increase innovation and reduce negative environmental impacts without reducing profits (Illic, Staake, & Fleisch, 2008 and Lash & Wellington, 2007).

Discussions related to some of these issues issue can be found at our website in articles such as Moral Agency & Purpose Driven Business, Water and Agriculture in Colorado and Watershed Health. The full list of SDGS and additional information about each SDG can be found at: http:www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals. You can learn more about the World Business Council for Sustainable Development at http://www.wbcsd.org.

 

Advertisements

Moral Agency & Purpose-Driven Business

The 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) and the twelfth meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) recently concluded in Marrakech, Morocco. More information can be found at the COP 22 website, here.

As we discussed in our article on COP21, COP 21, Sustainable Development Goals & A Step towards Global Thinking, scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Earth Science Data, 2014). At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 measurable goals that range from ending world poverty to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls by 2030. SDG 13, Climate Action, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Our article discussing COP21 provides a summary of the SDGs. Details about individual SDGs can be found here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda.html.

The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has provided support to governments working to achieve the SDGs in efforts to balance what it identifies as the three pillars of sustainable growth: social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection. However, businesses have a large part to play in how well the SDGs are achieved regardless of regulatory framework, government support, or directives. Technologies exist to support companies’ efforts to measure progress towards meeting the SDGs, and these technologies are available to most businesses whether they are based in countries that require such efforts or not.  With the unanticipated paradigm shift that may be happening in the governments of some Western nations, it may soon fall to business to provide the voice of environmental leadership and innovation in the West. This will include integrating the SDGs into the structure of company vision and operation. While these changes will no doubt prove challenging, they may also offer a new opportunity for the business sector to cast a wider net as innovative, integrated and purpose-driven.

Every business model tells a story. A good business model will tell a story that supports a long-range vision and goals for long-term success. Because long-range goals must value employees, clients, and consumers, sound business models cannot be built solely on the motivation for profit. Instead, there must be room for innovative thinking, technical advances, and ethical practice. Practicing business ethically should not be dependent upon regulatory restrictions, but rather be built upon support for approaches that are inclusive of caring about humans and the human condition, with an ability to embrace social and cultural development. All business requires support from humans, as workers, clients, and consumers. And humans are moral beings, with moral agency and responsibility. As such, purpose-driven firms have a mandate to support sustainable development, especially in the midst of moral ambiguity and contradiction. Sustainable development includes socially responsible practices and actions, and environmentally responsible actions are socially responsible actions.

Climate change is the most important environmental issue facing our species, and we must turn our attention to mitigating its effects. Relentless pursuit of profit for its own sake without attention to these issues, in the end, results in no profit, because there will soon be nothing left to profit from.

The strength of the correlation between human activity and climate change is clearly illustrated here: http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world. The data used for these graphs is from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The lack of a control planet against which to assess the data denies us of the final definitive data set; however, we simply do not have a control planet, and so no reasonable arguments can be made to continue down a path that appears to lead toward planet-wide catastrophe. We must become better stewards of our Earth, and we must incorporate actions to those ends into standard business practice. It’s important to remember that we have nowhere else to go.

 References & Resources

Bloomberg the Company, 2015. What’s Really Warming the World? June.

Earth System Science Data, 2014. Global Carbon Budget 2014, Abstract here: http://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/7/521/2014/essdd-7-521-2014.html

Harvard Business Review, 2002. Why Business Models Matter. May.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: http://www.nasa.gov

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) website: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP22/CMP12) website: http://www.cop22-morocco.com/

United Nations Development Programme Website: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html

 

Watershed Health

watershed n.

  1. A ridge dividing the areas drained by different river systems.
  2. The area drained by a river system.

 Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, 1964

 More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water and the natural water cycle provides water to Earth as a recyclable resource. However, Earth’s water supply is not infinite, nor is it infinitely renewable. A powerful graphic on the United State Geological Survey (USGS) website shows how small the volume of water on Earth truly is. In this image, all water on, in, and above the Earth is represented as a sphere. The sphere is not large in comparison to the planet, with a diameter running roughly the distance from Utah to Kentucky. A much smaller sphere represents the volume of all fresh water on Earth. And a tiny sphere represents all of the fresh water in rivers and lakes on the planet. This tiny sphere is the water that sustains us and most of the other life on the planet. You can see this graphic here. This imagery underscores that water is a precious resource. Our local watersheds provide us with the greatest opportunity as individuals to preserve and protect this resource.

The definition of watershed above comes from a dictionary that, as of this writing, is 52 years old. More current dictionaries also include a secondary definition: a time when an important change or event occurs. With rapidly increasing populations creating challenges for meeting and managing urban and agricultural needs, we are facing a watershed moment in protecting and restoring watershed health.

Human factors adversely affecting the volume and quality of water in a watershed include:

  • Creation of impervious land cover, such as parking lots and roads, which inhibit infiltration into the soil, increase incidents of flooding, and decrease water quality.
  • Consumptive use that reduces, and in some cases eliminates, evapotranspiration (Medellín-Azuara, Kyaw, Yufang, Lund, Hart, Kent, Clay, Wong, Leinfelder-Miles, 2015).
  • Extraction and consumptive use creating drought conditions leading to collapse of river and estuary ecosystems (Rosenfeld, 2016).
  • Contaminated run-off from pesticide and herbicide application and chemical lawn fertilizers (Schueler, 2000).

Restoring and protecting watershed health makes sense environmentally, ethically, and economically. Healthy watersheds provide protection from erosion and flooding. Development costs for best management practices (BMPs) protective of watershed health do not increase construction costs while increasing property values (Schueler, 2000). Economic benefit is also derived from protected areas unavailable for land development. Undeveloped areas that provide habitats for wildlife also support recreation such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching and hiking. The State of New Jersey has estimated the value of freshwater wetland services at 9.4 billion dollars per year (Mates, 2007).

Changes in individual behavior can improve watershed health. The increase in household recycling and decreases in littering and oil dumping in the past few decades indicate that environmentally protective changes in behavior can be adopted and normalized. Actions that reduce run-off and actions that reduce the amount of contaminants introduced into the runoff can increase water quality and encourage natural infiltration, which helps protect local watersheds. Conserving and re-using household water where feasible is a good way for individuals to protect the local watershed.

Some other actions individuals can take include:

  • Applying no fertilizer to lawn and/or ensuring chemical fertilizers applied do not contain pesticides and herbicides.
  • Applying pesticides and herbicides to yards and outdoor areas only as a last resort.
  • Inspecting septic systems and pumping them out when needed.
  • Replacing non-native plant cover, such as turf lawns with native fauna, including trees.

The last bullet brings us to urban watershed forestry, which among other benefits, offers an opportunity for municipalities, developers, and individuals to embrace BMPs that protect and increase the quality of local watersheds. The United States Division of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has been working to increase general knowledge on the benefits of urban watershed forestry.

Some benefits of trees to the watershed include:

  • Reduction of contaminated run-off through evaporation from the canopy, water uptake through tree roots, and increased soil-drainage in the root zone.
  • Absorption of pollutants such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter.
  • Reduction of air temperature, reducing formation of pollutants and indirectly decreasing energy use by surrounding households.

More benefits and more details regarding urban watershed forestry can be found at the Center for Watershed Protection and US Forest Service. The US Forest Service also provides guidance to planting trees on residential lawns. Information regarding the many other benefits of urban forestry can be explored at the USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program site.

 References & Resources

2016, California WaterBlog, Comparing Delta Consumptive Use preliminary Results from a Blind Model Comparison, October.

2016, Center for Watershed Protection, Urban Watershed Forestry, -.

2016, Center for Watershed Protection, Watershed Science Bulletin, -.

2016, SFGATE, SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report, October.

2016, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, Urban and Community Forest Program, -.

2016, Unites States Geological Survey (USGS), What is a watershed?, October.

2015, Medellín-Azuara, Kyaw, Yufang, Lund, Hart, Kent, Clay, Wong, Leinfelder-Miles, Delta Consumptive Water Use Comparative Study, -.

2013, Colorado Conservation Board, Agricultural Economic and Water Resources: Methods, Metrics and Models – A Specialty Workshop, July.

2007, Center for Watershed Protection, Watershed Forestry Resource Guide, -.

2007, Mates, Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital: An Assessment of the Economic Value of the State’s Natural Resources, April.

2000, Claytor, Assessing the Potential for Urban Watershed Restoration: The Practice of Watershed Protection, -.

2000, Schueler, The Economics of Watershed Protection, -.

2000, Schueler, On Watershed Education: The Practice of Watershed Protection, -.

2000, Schueler, Watershed Protection Techniques: Understanding Watershed Behavior

Environmental Analyses and Your Project Budget, Part Two

As we discussed in Part One of this two-part series of articles, managing the budget is an important aspect of any project, and with Performance Based Contracts (PBCs), it is critical. In Part One, we discussed streamlining analytical parameters and what to consider when determining when and how to do so. In a previous article, we discussed what your laboratory needs to know to provide you with the most accurate pricing for your project. In this article, we focus on questions about how your analyses will be used and how the answers can further help manage your budget and schedule.

What decisions hinge upon your analytical results? Will you have dig-sites that must be left open as you await the results? Will discharge operations stall while you wait?

In any project where stand-by time is accrued prior to receipt of analytical results, compare stand-by costs to mark-ups for expedited turn-around-times (TATs) for analytical results. Ideally, this comparison is performed while generating your estimate; however, it can also occur during project planning. In almost all cases, the costs for stand-by labor-hours exceed the mark-ups for expedited TATs for results, even at 100% and 200% mark-ups for the expedited TATs. It’s important to confirm that your laboratory can meet your TAT needs and identify any methodological limitations to meeting those TATs (some methods can be performed within 24 hours while some cannot). Sometimes, clients will permit action with preliminary or partial results after an initial wave of full results if results can reasonably be anticipated to be similar for each event. Our article on establishing a relationship with your laboratory  and Part One of this article provide some guidance for communicating with laboratories and clients.

Does your laboratory offer sample pick-up? Can you deliver samples? Does the laboratory offer on-site packing services?

If you subcontract with a laboratory that offers pick-up at your location, compare costs of this service to costs of shipping. Alternately, a local laboratory may make it possible for your field personnel to drop off samples at the end of the day, which can also save shipping costs. Some laboratories also offer sample packing at field sites. It may be worth considering the costs of this service vs. the possibility of burn-out for field staff if you have limited personnel who will otherwise be packing samples after a long day in the field. The potential for mistakes in sample labelling, packing, and Chain-of-Custody procedures increases at the end of a long work day, and such errors can lead to the need to reanalyze or even re-collect samples, thus increasing costs. Personnel turn-over resulting from burn-out can also be costly. While these concerns do not apply to every project, it is worth a forthright, proactive assessment of whether it applies to yours to mitigate the need to solve problems that could have been prevented.

What level of data validation is needed? Is it imperative to wait for final validation or can actions move forward based on preliminary results?

Depending upon the nature and sensitivity of your project, your client may permit action based on preliminary data verification prior to validation, may approved limited validation, or may – if your laboratory and data validation group remain consistent – approve actions based on preliminary data and data verification following one or more rounds of full validation.

It is important to consult with your client and ensure all actions are ethical and support achievement of project objectives prior to taking these actions. In our article about data validation, we discuss how environmental data validation can mitigate risk, including budgetary risk, for projects. We also provide insight on when it is appropriate to perform reduced validation and when validation may not be required at all. Once you have ensured you are performing the proper level of validation, streamlining your analytical parameters as discussed in Part One will result in streamlined validation, further supporting budget and schedule management.

Actions that reduce stand-by time or streamline work by limiting the focus to relevant details will have a positive impact on schedule and budget. Assessing project types for determining when it is ethical and technically sound to approach your client with these questions is beyond the scope of this article. If you are unsure about this for your own work, we invite you to contact us to determine if contracting Oak Services, LLC for a brief consultation regarding these concerns or for other types of Chemistry Program support is right for you.

 

Environmental Analyses and Your Project Budget, Part One

Managing the budget is an important aspect of any project, and with Performance Based Contracts (PBCs), it is critical. PBCs offer greater opportunities for technical innovation and efficiency but can also pose financial risks. In a previous article, we discussed what your laboratory needs to know to provide you with the most accurate pricing for your project. In this article, we focus briefly on questions you should be asking of your team and actions you can take to help manage your budget, streamline your work, and increase client confidence.

At what stage in the Superfund process is your project? Have Contaminants of Potential Concern (COPCs) or Contaminants of Concern (COCs) been identified? Once a Record of Decision (ROD) has been issued, site characterization has been performed, and your contaminants have been determined.

Ideally, you identified your intention to evaluate only COCs during the proposal stage of your project. Your contract award and approval of your project plans subsequently indicate client and possibly regulatory approval of this approach. Alternately, client approval can be confirmed during scoping sessions.

If analyses for parameters other than COCs are planned on a new or on-going project, why?

It is prudent to discuss changing to COC-only analysis and reporting with clients and regulators, but push-back on ROD-compliant actions is rare. Unless there is a compelling reason to perform or continue performing analyses for non-COCs, there is no ethical or legal reason to do so.

Clients are usually receptive to simplifying approaches. If you are managing an on-going project or taking over an existing project, an historical data review may be prudent. Common laboratory contaminants sometimes show up as COCs. Contaminants that have been remediated may be listed. A thorough review of historical data can identify such parameters and determine if removal from the COC-list is appropriate. This requires formal approval from the client and regulators, but it is not usually an onerous task when taken on by personnel with experience evaluating and interpreting analytical data. It is even possible that parameters that are naturally occurring but exceed Federal action levels are listed (example: arsenic in the Western United States). In such cases, identifying background studies for your client or proposing to your client that one be designed and executed is prudent.

If you are conducting site characterization, your work is key to identifying appropriate COCs. Is site history known? Are you narrowing your focus on contaminants that are reasonably expected to be present or are you taking a “let’s do everything” approach? If the latter, is there a compelling reason to do so? Are there data gaps or suspected historical activities? If not, why do what is not needed? Do background studies exist for the site or region? Should you propose one?

Meetings with clients and regulators may be needed to streamline your analytical parameters, and formal approval may be needed, but these discussions show that you are attending to the details of the project rather than going through the motions. Asking your laboratory to reduce your analyte list only to those parameters that are meaningful to your project is a scientifically sound, ethical way to reduce not only analytical costs, but also reduce internal costs by streamlining data review, interpretation, and reporting.

Water and Agriculture in Colorado

“Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain often used in discussions about water rights in the American West, a region where water is scarce and water rights have long been contentious. Another elucidating quote comes from Ralph Moody’s “Little Britches, Father and I Were Ranchers”, a book recounting Moody’s experiences after moving from New Hampshire to a Colorado Ranch in 1906. Moody’s quote is etched into the sidewalk at the Lakewood Heritage Center in Lakewood Colorado and reads, “All you got to have for this ground is water, and God help the man that ain’t got it.”

In our home state of Colorado, the average annual precipitation is less than 15 inches (1981 – 2010). To put this into perspective for other regions of the United States, the annual precipitation for North Carolina is approximately 42 inches and for Wisconsin, it’s about 35 inches. This is not a result of recent droughts. Water has always been a scarce and precious resource in the region and this history of water scarcity affects water management and regulations in Colorado. Settlers coming to Colorado in the late 1850s built ditches to divert water from creeks or streams to irrigate crops and for domestic use. Because of the scarcity of water, however, the water source was often not adjacent to the property and head gates were built to divert the water into ditches and reservoirs. This method of water acquisition evolved into the “first in time, first in right” basis of Western water law, with those who filed for water rights first gaining senior rights. Those with junior rights could not divert water until the senior rights were satisfied regardless of location or proximity to the source. These types of regulations are still in place today.

Water originating in Colorado travels to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with an average of 10,434,000 acre-feet of water flowing out of the state, supplying water to more than 21,000,000 households across the nation (one acre-foot = 325,851 gallons of water) (Denver Water, 2016). Within Colorado, most of the water originates on the Western slope but most of the state’s population lives on the Eastern slope. To address this, water is moved from the Western slope through trans-basin diversions to the Eastern Slope at a rate of about 475,000 acre-feet per year, with more than a third of the volume going to Denver Water (Denver Water, 2016).

With population growth exceeding the national average, the water supply needs for urban areas in Colorado are rapidly increasing. Currently, cities and municipalities purchase water rights from agricultural lands and transfer the rights to the cities. With water rights in Colorado selling for thousands per acre-foot, selling the rights can be too attractive for struggling farmers to pass up. And when the water rights are sold, agriculture on the impacted land also stops. This practice is known as “buy and dry.” Without the benefits of agriculture, community benefits are lost, tax revenue for the water rights may be lost, open space decreases, and the return of water into the water supply is not guaranteed. With water not returned to the watershed, drinking water is lost for the community and for local wildlife, and there is a significant negative impact to tourism and local activities that rely upon a healthy watershed, such as river rafting, fishing, hunting, skiing, snow-shoeing, snow-boarding, wild-life watching, and hiking. Moreover, the need for imported foods and livestock increases and food security decreases. As succinctly stated in the Project Completion Report for the Agriculture Economic and Water Resources: Methods, Metric, and Models – A Specialty Workshop, (Colorado Water Board, 2013): “No Farm, No Food.”

The impact of loss of agriculture can also be measured economically. There are seven river basins in Colorado: The Yampa/White River Basin, the South Platte River Basin, the Arkansas River Basin, the Rio Grande River Basin, the San Juan/Delores River Basin, and Gunnison River Basin, and the Colorado River Basin (see map). In the Colorado River Basin alone, there are more than a million acres of agricultural lands and most of the water from the Colorado River Basin – an estimated 90% – goes to agriculture. Water from the Basin serves approximately 30 million people and is used in irrigation for almost two million acres of land, producing 15 percent of the nation’s crops and 13 percent of its livestock, which amounts to about $1.5 billion in agricultural benefits.

Efforts to achieve conservation goals so that the needs of both agriculture and the increasing population can be met include water sharing between urban and agricultural communities and improved methods of water delivery and application. However, solutions to the challenge of meeting these water needs in a water-scarce state are not simple or easily achieved. For example, micro-irrigation systems, which are the most efficient method of irrigation are also costly. Micro-irrigation systems such as surface drip, subsurface drip irrigation (SDI), and micro-sprinklers offer flexible water application and decrease water loss; however, they can be costly and difficult to maintain. SDI can cost more than $1,000/ acre to implement, plus $120/acre in annual upkeep. In addition to high costs, the equipment may clog and subsurface clogs may go unnoticed until the entire system has been compromised.

Some alternatives include conservation easements to help protect water supplies and farmers leasing rather than selling their water rights to urban areas. However, water managers for the urban areas feel that owning the water rights is the only guarantee of water supply, creating a conflict with agricultural groups’ desires to retain senior rights to support farming. One thing about which water managers and farmers are in agreement is that that long-term solutions are needed to meet the water needs of the State’s increasing population while protecting the farming industry.

The 2013 Specialty Workshop convened by the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance (CAWA) and the Arkansas Basin Roundtable (ArkBRT) included experts and stakeholders (such as farmers) and focused on the economics of water resources used for agriculture. Public‐centered messaging needs identified in the workshop included many of the concerns noted above as well as the importance of understanding that “conversion of agricultural land to other uses is almost always irreversible”. Groups such as the Colorado Ag Water Alliance continue to hold workshops to identify solutions to such concerns.

The Statewide Water Plan was finalized in 2015 but is intended to be a dynamic document.  The plan provides detailed information about water supply and demand. The plan goes on to discuss water management and protection and identifies measurable goals for the future. Conservation, innovation, and education are key. Various experts and stakeholders are working together to ensure future water needs are met for urban and agricultural uses. These collaborative efforts can increase our optimism about the future of agriculture in Colorado; however, with such a scarce but crucial resource and an ever-increasing population, it’s important to remain vigilant and educate ourselves so that we may take personal and professional actions to ensure the future of agriculture is secure and examine how our ever-increasing water needs can be met.

References & Resources

2016, City of Lakewood, Lakewood Heritage Center, -.

2016, Colorado Ag Water Alliance, July.

2013, Colorado Conservation Board, Agricultural Economic and Water Resources: Methods, Metrics and Models – A Specialty Workshop, July.

2016, Colorado Foundation for Water and Education, Buy & Dry in Colorado Agriculture, -.

2016, Colorado River Users Association, Agriculture, -.

2016, Eagle River Watershed Council, The Current, January.

2014, Denver Post, Colorado Girds for Proliferating People and Increasingly Scarce Water, November.

2015, Denver Post, Colorado Shies from Big Fix as Proliferating people Seek More Water, July.

2015, Denver Post, Colorado Farmers Grow More Food on Less Water Amid Rising Competition, August.

2016, Denver Water, Denverwater.org, Water Rights Planning, -.

2016, Google, Unit Converter, –.

2013, Lee and Plant, Colorado College, Agricultural Water Use in the Colorado River Basin: Conservation and Efficiency Tools for a Water Friendly Future, -.

1991, Moody, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers, -.

2016, The Nature Conservancy, A “collaborative conservationist” builds relationships with farmers and ranchers along the Colorado River, -.

2005, State of Colorado, Colorado.gov, Department of Natural Resources Map, March.

2015, State of Colorado, Colorado.gov, Colorado’s’ Water Plan – Final 2015, November.

2016, U.S. Climate Data, usclimatedata.com, -.

Science, Empathy, Collaboration and Sustainability

The title of this article is taken from the theme for the 2016 Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) conference: “Science, Empathy, Collaboration and Sustainability.” The conference will take place on June 8 – 11, 2016 in Washington, D.C. and will show-case the multi-disciplinary strengths of AESS.  If you are reading this prior to 5/22/2106, you can register here.  Suggested topics for proposals can be read here (proposal submission has closed).

As organizations such as AESS support the growth and understanding of sustainability, it is important for those of us in industry to also embrace the full meaning of sustainable development. To perform a project per specifications and make a profit is a meager measure of success. It is no longer enough – was truly never enough – to ensure that we leave a site no more contaminated than we found it. The short and long term impacts to the natural and human ecology must be taken into consideration.

Scientists at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, as briefly discussed in a December 4, 2015 article in Science Daily and as published in Nature Geosciences, conducted experiments indicating that naturally occurring arsenic-releasing bacteria in wetlands and groundwater are ‘reactive’ carbon limited (Stuckey, Schaefer, Kocar, Benner, & Fendorf, Arsenic release metabolically limited to permanently water-saturated soil in Mekong Delta.  Nature Geoscience, 2015).  This means the bacteria do not normally release arsenic into wetlands and groundwater because there isn’t enough carbon available in a usable form for the bacteria to metabolize arsenic as an end-product. The experiment further indicates that land development could stimulate the release of toxic levels of arsenic into the groundwater. In such a scenario in real life, an approach to project execution that includes assessing the microbial constituents in groundwater or wetlands, and further includes interacting with the local populace to determine if there is a history of land development or extreme seasonal events followed by illness and deaths isn’t simply respectful, it’s crucial for avoiding disastrous results.

Research also indicates that localized examples of psychological intervention lead to environmental action, and that small changes in the practices of individual families, as well as local measures and incentives encourage energy conservation and help generate new norms (Ross, et. al, The Climate Change Challenge and Barriers to the Exercise of Foresight Intelligence, BioScience, 2016).

Although a shift is being seen on the industry level, as well as the personal and family level, normative shifts in business practices may not be occurring quickly enough. Scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Queré, et. al., Global Carbon Budget 2014, Earth Science Data, 2014).  Global action and rapid shifts in industry norms are essential.

Limited capacity to focus on community engagement or perform an analysis of usage, costs, and differential impacts to the poor can be an Achilles heel for the long-term success of any project if not recognized and addressed early. An understanding of the natural ecology, as well as the human ecology – inclusive of community needs and concerns – is critical not only to achieve community buy-in but also to the long-term success of any project. It is crucial for economic and social sustainability strategies to have a basis in practical knowledge.

At Oak Services, we strive to align our work with the components of this year’s AESS conference theme. Our combination of scientific and technical expertise, our deeply-held beliefs in the importance of gender-equity, and our ethics- and faith-based motivation drive us to execute all work with what we believe to be the key to such a normative shift: empathy and dignity towards the local natural and human ecology, a coordinated application of a variety of scientific disciplines, and a long-range world view that interprets successful projects as those that improve the quality of life for the current community, as well as the quality of life for the community’s children and their children’s children. Our dedication to a respectful, data-driven assessment of any situation serves as a reminder that no one discipline, organization, faith, or organization can have all the answers and we anticipate learning a great deal from the presentations and research to be shared at this years’ AESS conference.

 About the authors:

Catherine Drumheller is the Principal and President of Oak Services, LLC and a certified Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP) with 18 years of experience in chemistry, environmental science, environmental project management, regulatory compliance and permitting, capacity development, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and 17025.  Ms.  Drumheller holds a BS in Environmental Science with a dual emphasis in Chemistry and a Masters of Theological Studies with an emphasis on Environmental Ethics.

Dianne McNeill is a Proposal Manager and Senior Scientist with Oak Services, with 23 years of experience in the environmental sciences, specializing in developing processes to increase efficiency and manage risk. Ms. McNeill holds a BS in Biology and German. She is the founder and former Chair of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Women Environmental Professionals (SWEP), and is active in her community with an environmental ministry group and teaching chess to elementary school students in support of their developing critical thinking and long-range planning skills.

 References

Gutowski, et, al.  International Technology Research Institute, World Technology (WTEC) Division, WTEC Panel Report on Environmentally Benign Manufacturing, 2001.  Full report here: http://web.mit.edu/ebm/www/Publications/WTEC%20Report%20on%20EBM.pdf

Quéré, et.  al., Global Carbon Budget 2014, Earth Science Data, 2104.  Abstract here: http://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/7/521/2014/essdd-7-521-2014.html

Ross, et.  al, The Climate Change Challenge and Barriers to the Exercise of Foresight Intelligence, BioScience, 2016.  Abstract here: http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/04/08/biosci.biw025

Stuckey, Schaefer, Kocar, Benner, & Fendorf, Arsenic release metabolically limited to permanently water-saturated soil in Mekong Delta.  Nature Geoscience, 2015.  Abstract here: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v9/n1/full/ngeo2589.html

COP 21, Sustainable Development Goals & A Step towards Global Thinking

Scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Earth Science Data, 2014). The agreements on greenhouse gas emissions established in 1997 by the Kyoto Protocol are due to expire in 2020. Moreover, the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol was limited due to obstacles. The Protocol did not come into force until 2004 when Russia passed the treaty, it did not include goals for several developing countries, and it was never ratified by the US Congress.

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) was the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the eleventh meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 11). More than 190 countries were represented at COP 21 with the goal of reaching a new, lasting, global agreement on climate change. COP 21 formally began in Paris on November 31, 2015 and was due to conclude on December 11, 2015. The conference was extended into December 12 in an effort to reach a draft final agreement. There were approximately 20,000 accredited people in attendance and 45,000 participants in total, including delegates, observers, and journalists. Officially accredited attendees had access to the Conference while others participated in debates and attended exhibitions, talks, and screenings.

On Friday, December 4, 2015, Laurent Fabius, The President of COP21 and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasized the need to make progress. “Let me be clear: this is still not enough, “said Fabius. “The text remains too long and complex. Not enough compromises have been reached on unresolved issues.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the conference “is not a finish line, but a new starting point” and that any agreement must take into account the differences among nations, stating, “Countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest.”

President of the United States, Barack Obama, stated in early remarks, “Now, all of this will be hard. Getting 200 nations to agree on anything is hard” before going on to say, “And I’m sure there will be moments over the next two weeks where progress seems stymied, and everyone rushes to write that we are doomed. But I’m convinced that we’re going to get big things done here. Keep in mind, nobody expected that 180 countries would show up in Paris with serious climate targets in hand.”

The efforts of the world leaders in attendance were laudable and COP 21 may mark an important turning point, signaling more effective national solutions to a global problem. However, there are many simple, almost child-like questions that are worth asking: What if, after a week of meetings, a clear, concise legally-binding agreement was in place? What if global interests were consistently a priority? What if it wasn’t hard? What if it was easy?

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, more than 150 world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also knowns as the Global Goals. The SDGs are 17 measurable goals that range from ending world poverty to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls by 2030. The goals are categorized as follows:

  • SDG1: No poverty
  • SDG 2: Zero hunger
  • SDG 3: Good health and well-being
  • SDG 4: Quality education
  • SDG 45: Gender equality
  • SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
  • SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
  • SDG 9: Industry, innovation, infrastructure
  • SDG 10: Reduce inequalities
  • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption, production
  • SDG 13: Climate action
  • SDG 14: Life below water
  • SDG 15: Life on land
  • SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • SDG 17: Partnership for the goals

Details about individual SDGs can be accessed here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda.html

The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight measurable goals which were signed in September 2000. The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has provided support to governments working to achieve the MDGs and will continue to do so with the SDGs. In supporting efforts to achieve the goals, the UNDP works to balance what it identifies as the three pillars of sustainable growth: social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection.

All of the SDGs are inter-related and many of them link back to the goals COP 21. Goal 4, Quality Education, seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities. This goal focuses primarily on literacy, vocational training, and eliminating gender and wealth disparities. SDG 13, Climate Action, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. SDG 4 and 13 are clearly intertwined in that education may lead to development of the technology that averts our planetary crises, but educators and world leaders could seek to further intertwine these goals

What if a basic science education included an introduction to climate science? Or perhaps, more simply, astronomy? While this may seem idealistic and ambitious, great progress has already been made towards achieving the MDGs. The inclusion of one subject into basic education is a small step in comparison to many of these successes. The study of Venus could provide insight into runaway greenhouse effect. The study of Earth’s atmosphere from a purely scientific view could lead to a generation of critical thinkers who prioritize planetary concerns. Planetary concerns are also national concerns; without our planet, nations cease to matter.

At COP 21 this week, Fiji pledged to accommodate the people of the low-lying Pacific Island state of Kiribati if rising sea levels renders their home uninhabitable. Without significant changes, this is likely in the next few decades. Kiribati is not a closed ecological or environmental system. In time, the plight of the people of Kiribati becomes the situation for us all. Given this reality, adding a subject to a basic education with the goal of creating a generation of planetary thinkers seems like an easy thing to achieve. This video made for COP 21 by astronauts from around the planet provides an illustration of the mind-sight we could hope to create for the general populations of the future: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/message-de-la-station-spatiale-internationale-ne-laissez-pas-passer-cette-occasion/

Successes achieved in the past 15 years working toward the MDGs and work still to be done is discussed in more detail here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html

 

About the author: Ms. Drumheller is a certified Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP) with 18 years of experience in chemistry, environmental science, environmental project management, regulatory compliance and permitting, capacity development, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and 17025. Ms. Drumheller holds a BS in Environmental Science with a dual emphasis in Chemistry and a Masters of Theological Studies with an emphasis on Environmental Ethics.

References

Earth System Science Data, 2014, Global Carbon Budget 2014, Abstract here: http://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/7/521/2014/essdd-7-521-2014.html

Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 12, Issue 7, 2009.

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: http://www.nasa.gov

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) website: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/

United Nations Development Programme Website: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html