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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

As Storms Get Stronger, Building Codes Are Getting Weaker/Bloomberg

Does this make any sense?  When will we stop kicking the can down the road on good policy that recognizes the threats to our coastline and the people and buildings in the way of surging storms?

  • Officials ignore warnings from insurers, federal government
  • Home builders push state officials to change the rules
The showdown in the Florida statehouse last year had all the drama of a knock-down political brawl: Powerful industries clashing. Warnings of death and destruction. And a surprise last-minute vote, delivering a sweeping reform bill to the governor’s desk.
The battle wasn’t about gun control, immigration or healthcare, but about making it easier to ignore national guidelines on building codes. To the surprise of the insurers, engineers and safety advocates who opposed the change, the home builders won -- in a state that gets hit by more hurricanes than any other.
Three months later, Hurricane Irma smashed into Florida.
report being released on Monday shows Florida isn’t alone in easing up on building regulations even as the effects of global warming escalate. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety examined building policies in 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and found that despite the increasing severity of natural disasters, many of those states have relaxed their approach to codes -- or have yet to impose any whatsoever.
"There’s no longer the automatic assumption that codes are good," Julie Rochman, the head of the institute, said in an interview. "We just have an incredible capacity for amnesia and denial in this country."
That trend leaves residents more vulnerable to climate change; it also puts states at odds with the Trump administration, which is struggling to cope with record disaster costs -- costs that tougher building codes are meant to reduce.
The shift toward less rigorous codes is driven by several factors, experts say: Rising anti-regulatory sentiment among state officials, and the desire to avoid anything that might hurt home sales and the tax revenue that goes with them.
And fierce lobbying from home builders.
"There is an increase in housing costs every time a new code or rule is put upon the builder," said Gerald Howard, chief executive of the National Association of Home Builders, the industry’s trade group. He said states shouldn’t impose mandatory building codes at all, but rather let local officials decide how homes should be constructed.
Florida is the clearest example of the trend. Until last year, the state’s building codes were viewed as among the best in the nation -- largely a response to Hurricane Andrew, the 1992 storm that killed 26 people, destroyed 63,000 homes and bankrupted nine insurance companies.

Andrew’s Legacy

After Andrew, Florida began following the recommendations released every three years by the International Code Council, a Washington-based nonprofit that brings together builders, engineers, local code officials and other experts to translate the latest science into updated model building codes.
By most accounts, the system worked: Homes built after Andrew came through Irma far better than older buildings. But it also rankled the state’s home builders, who argued that many of the changes increased the cost of homes for no good reason, other than to bolster sales for whatever company makes the latest gadgets or technology required.
Rusty Payton, head lobbyist for the Florida Home Builders Association, said his members wanted the state to stop "just making changes because some product guy found a way to get them into the ICC."
So when Florida’s lawmakers met last year, Payton’s group pushed a measure that would turn the state’s policy on its head. Instead of adopting the code council’s updated recommendations every three years, the home builders association wanted Florida to incorporate only the changes that the members of the Florida Building Commission deemed to meet the "specific needs of the state."
Payton said the new system would mean "fewer code changes overall, which hopefully will keep the cost of a home from increasing superfluously."
Groups representing insurers, architects, engineers, firefighters, building inspectors and others fought back. They created a coalition, Floridians for Safe Communities; it was led Craig Fugate, who was head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Barack Obama and before that was Florida’s emergency-management director. "Strong, up-to-date building codes are often the difference between life and death," the group warned.
Even the state’s powerful real-estate industry cautioned lawmakers that the reforms sought by the home builders might "degrade the quality and standards" of building codes, according to Marla Martin, spokeswoman for Florida Realtors, the industry’s trade group. "We were not supportive at all."
None of it worked. Despite failing to make it out of committee, the measure was attached to another piece of legislation and passed at the end of the session. Governor Rick Scott signed it into law last June.
The change "reduces burdensome regulations while maintaining Florida’s gold standard of safety and innovation through an efficient and effective building code process," a spokeswoman for Scott, Kerri Wyland, said in a statement. She noted that, by itself, the law does not remove any requirements from Florida’s current building code.
Fugate explained the home builders’ success by pointing to the seductiveness of their main argument: Cheaper homes means more homes. And more homes means more tax revenue.
"I know of no government in Florida that has yet figured out how to build wealth without building houses," Fugate said in an interview. "It’s one of the screwy things about Florida."

Falling Behind

Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, agrees with the home builders that the new system will mean fewer code changes -- and that’s what worries her. As engineers design better ways of protecting homes from ever-worsening storms, she warned, Florida’s rules won’t keep up.
"The system that has been dismantled in Florida is the system that gave us the successes we had this past year in Irma," Chapman-Henderson said. "It’s an epic communications breakdown."
Florida isn’t the only place where opposition has grown to updated codes despite the growing toll of extreme weather.
In August 2016, heavy rains in Louisiana damaged or destroyed more than 50,000 homes and caused more than $10 billion in damage, the country’s most costly flooding event in a decade.

Record Floods

Yet around the same time as those floods, Louisiana officials declined to adopt the latest model building code that requires homes be built at least one foot above the so-called base-flood elevation -- a measure designed to limit the damage from flooding like what happened in Baton Rouge.
Michael Wich, a building inspector and board member of the Louisiana Home Builders Association, said the decision was a response to pressure from local governments, which wanted to retain the authority to set their own rules about whether homes should be required to be elevated above the flood plain.
If the state hadn’t made that concession to local governments, Wich said, "I think we would have been discussing whether or not we have a statewide building code, period."
A state body approved other parts of the new codes. Then, last June Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed an executive order suspending the adoption of the new codes two weeks before they were supposed to take effect. Edwards argued that residents who were rebuilding from the record floods in 2016 needed "stability" as they repaired their homes, and that imposing stricter codes would hamper the recovery effort.
Even the home builders association objected, pointing out that hundreds of millions of dollars in construction projects had already been planned based on the new codes. In December, Edwards relented and reversed the order; the new codes took effect in February.
“After consultation with local officials in the affected communities and discussion with those involved with residential and commercial construction, Governor Edwards was able to conclude that the adoption of the codes would not slow down the recovery," Matthew Block, executive counsel for the governor’s office, said in a statement Sunday.
In South Carolina, where Hurricane Irma damaged or destroyed more than 16,000 homes, the Legislature is considering a bill that would slow the rate at which the state updates its codes, shifting the cycle from three years to six. North Carolina made a similar change in 2013.
Still other storm-prone states have yet to adopt mandatory building codes of any kind -- including Texas, where Hurricane Harvey damaged or destroyed 200,000 homes last year.
Mississippi and Alabama also have no mandatory statewide codes. Georgia has adopted a six-year-old version of the codes, but lets local officials decide whether to enforce it.

FEMA’s View

States’ reluctance to adopt building codes has worried federal officials, who are stuck paying to rebuild homes that get wiped out by natural disasters.
"Our strongly held belief is that strong and enforced building codes are among the best primary mitigation efforts that can be undertaken," Nick Shufro, FEMA’s assistant administrator for risk management, said in an interview.
As the insurance institute’s report shows, FEMA has had limited success in getting states to come around to that view.
In 2016, FEMA proposed a rule that would reduce the generosity of federal disaster aid for states that fail to prepare for extreme weather -- for example, by imposing mandatory, up-to-date building codes. States lobbied against the idea, and the Obama administration didn’t pursue it.
Fugate, the former FEMA head who led the coalition against Florida’s codes overhaul last year, predicted that even as the effects of climate change worsen, states will continue to favor lowering the cost of construction -- as long as the federal government keeps paying to rebuild those homes.
"The reason states and local governments can get away with crappy homes is because somebody’s always bailing them out," Fugate said. If FEMA really wants to change states’ behavior, he added, it should change the name of the agency’s spending programs.
"I think we should quit calling them disaster funding," Fugate said, "and just call them government bailouts."

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Arab Fashion Council Looks to to Establish a Sustainable Fashion Infrastructure/RNN

We think this is very good news.  Fashion is a place that needs to improve their environmental performance.  Getting a infrastructure together to do that is a great first step--for any industry, in any part of the world.  Good work:

The Arab Fashion Council (AFC), the world’s largest non-profit fashion council representing the 22 Arabic countries members of the Arab League announces that Riyadh will host the first official fashion week to take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
MS LAYLA ISSA ABUZAID, Country Director for Saudi Arabia, The Arab Fashion Council
The AFC is building a strong foundation to establish a sustainable fashion infrastructure that will serve not just the region, but creative economies the world over.
“The launch of the Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh is an unprecedented step for the Arab Fashion Council. This historic move will propel the fashion sector in the Arab world to new heights. Today, we are a step forward towards achieving our goals of establishing a solid infrastructure for our regional fashion industry and providing prosperous opportunities for future generation of Arab designers.”
Arab Fashion Week Riyadh will take place 26th- 31st March 2018 at the Apex Centre, Riyadh’s modern architectural iconic landmark designed by Dame Zaha Hadid.
This historical announcement follows the opening of the AFC regional office in Riyadh and the appointment of H.H. Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al Saud as Honorary President.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

New York Announces Largest Clean Energy Funding of Any State $1.4B/RNN

Investing in green--time, money, resources--is the driver of building a sustainable future.  That is true for individuals, companies, communities and governments.   Here we see a good example as New York continues its strategy of pumping funding into key areas of sustainability, including energy.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, joined by Vice President Al Gore, announced that New York will make the single largest commitment to renewable energy by a state in U.S. history at $1.4 billion, which will advance 26 large-scale renewable energy projects across New York. The competitive awards, driven by the Governor’s Clean Energy Standard mandate, are expected to generate enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 430,000 homes and create over 3,000 short- and long-term well-paying jobs. In the face of a concerted federal assault from Washington, New York is taking aggressive action to protect our environment for future generations.
These projects advance the Clean Climate Careers initiative announced by Governor Cuomo in June 2017. The Clean Climate Careers initiative focuses on accelerating renewable energy and energy efficiency to make New York home to 40,000 new, good-paying clean energy jobs by 2020. With today’s historic investment, New York State will support over 3,000 short- and long-term, good quality jobs in construction, operation and maintenance that are anticipated to pay the prevailing wage for the region.
During the competitive selection process, bonus points were awarded to renewable energy projects that demonstrated a commitment to the creation of good local jobs and the use of locally-manufactured components and content. The rigorous, two-step review process also included non-price criteria to evaluate the applications. The criteria included scoring for the developer’s experience in constructing and financing renewable projects, the developer’s previous project development experience in New York, and the projects development status related to grid interconnection, permitting and site control. Proposals were reviewed and scored by a technical committee of professional independent evaluators. The response by 30 developers proposing 88 projects provided NYSERDA with the opportunity to select the best and most cost-effective proposals....


Friday, March 16, 2018

Billionaire Capitalist Speaks the Truth About Climate Change/EcoRi

 During the past 100 years the relentless burning of fossil fuels has accelerated global warming. (Jeremy Grantham/GMO)

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

WESTPORT, Mass. — The talk was titled “Race of Our Lives: Trying to Live Successfully with Climate Change,” and it was one of the best presentations about climate change, its impacts, its causes and the solutions this reporter has attended.
The speaker, Jeremy Grantham, is a billionaire, has been called a “famed investment manager” and a “legendary investor,” and is a self-proclaimed capitalist. He’s also a renowned environmentalist and philanthropist. He spoke with passion, honesty and frustration, all sprinkled with a touch of profanity.
Despite his affinity for capitalism, the venture capitalist had no problem blaming his favorite economic system for many of the climate-related challenges now facing the world.
“Capitalism is mythically good at everything, but there are a handful of things it doesn’t do well,” said Grantham, noting that it has helped orchestrate a tragedy of the commons. “Capitalism will pollute at will. It will always take the cheap route unless mandated not to. To a capitalist, grandchildren have no value.”
He noted that all but a few corporations are “profit maximizers.” He mentioned Unilever as a rare exception to the rule.
The Westport resident co-founded the global investment management firm Grantham, Mayo, van Otterloo (GMO) four decades ago. Prior to that, Grantham co-founded Batterymarch Financial Management in 1969. That company became a pioneer in quantitative investing.
Grantham has made a fortune for himself and his clients, and 20 years ago he began putting a sizable slice of his own wealth into environmental charities. In 1997, he and his wife, Hannelore, used their shared wealth to create the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. The Boston-based organization “seeks to raise awareness of urgent environmental issues” and believes “climate change represents the world’s primary environmental threat today.”
The husband-wife team launched their foundation to concentrate on climate change and agriculture. Their philanthropy has since expanded its areas of focus to include renewable energy. Grantham’s interest in climate change was forged by global travels that exposed him to masses of clear-cut forests.
Grantham called the intersection of climate and finance a “sparsely populated space.” He’s been writing about the implications of climate change and resource scarcity for several years. His writings are published in his quarterly investor letters. He has given climate presentations to the Untied Nations, the Gardening Club of America and at an MIT Climate CoLab conference. On March 4, he was the featured speaker at the Westport River Watershed Alliance’s annual meeting at Bittersweet Farm on Main Road.
 The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has grown by nearly 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution. (Jeremy Grantham/GMO)
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has grown by nearly 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution. (Jeremy Grantham/GMO)
His climate-change concerns center on the issues of overpopulation and climate emissions/fossil-fuel use. He said overpopulation and climate change have partnered to produce a food-shortage problem that has led to the overuse of fertilizers and the creation of superbugs. He noted that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has grown by nearly 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution.
“In a blink of any eye we added 120 parts per million of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” Grantham said. “We will add another 120 before we are done.”
The parts-per-million stress point, according to scientists, academics and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In 2013, CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history. Currently, the level is at 408.35 ppm.
Humankind’s appetite for fossil fuels has also made us more productive in bed.
“The Industrial Revolution, the use of coal and oil, hurled us into the future,” Grantham said. “Three hundred hours of human labor were replaced with a gallon of fuel. Fossil-fuel power has carried us farther than is sustainable. ... With surplus food, we began to breed like rabbits. Like rats and beavers, we moved up to the limit of the food supply.”
When Grantham was born, in 1938, the worldwide population was 2 billion. In his lifetime, the 79-year-old has seen the planet’s population more than triple. By 2100, the population is projected to reach between 10 billion and 16 billion. He said female education and family planning, most notably in Africa, are a must if the world wants to adequately address this growing problem.
“A more careful population in Africa is needed,” Grantham said. “It’s the biggest problem we face in regards to overpopulation, but it’s hard to talk about in NGO circles.”
Population, climate change and consumption are inextricably linked in their collective global impact. This triumvirate is stressing the planet’s finite collection of natural resources.
The continuing increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, such as methane, are causing a rise in atmospheric temperature, which in turn melts glaciers and ice sheets and raises sea levels.
Grantham said the warming atmosphere holds more water and contains more energy, increasing the likelihood and severity of extreme weather events such as downpours, when an inch or more of rain falls. His PowerPoint presentation showed that the combination of higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns, resulting in more droughts and flooding, is decreasing crop yields.
“The climate is moving much faster than anyone would have expected,” he said.
Grantham noted that humans have been around for 300,000 years and began practicing agriculture some 12,000 years ago. But he points to the past 100 or so years as the time period that has accelerated global warming.
He said he is far more optimistic about technology’s ability to solve energy problems than most environmentalists. But he’s pessimistic about our ability to feed a rapidly growing global population.
“If we froze the population at 1.5 billion from 100 years ago, we would have no problems. We’d be cruising right along. We would have solved global poverty,” Grantham said. “With today’s population at 7.5 billion, if we froze the tech from 100 years ago, we’d be absolutely toast. We’d have no chance.”
Besides placing the blame of runaway global warming at the feet of capitalists and human reproduction, Grantham also took at shot an unexpected group: climate scientists. He said for far too long scientists have protected themselves against the risk of making an overstatement rather than accurately noting the true climate danger the planet faces.
“We're making a dreadful mistake by understating climate science,” he said. “Scientists should say what they honestly believe instead of being so damn conservative.”
He noted that during the past year more scientists have begun to admit that climate change is accelerating.
“We’re not just losing the war, but we’re losing at an accelerated rate,” Grantham said. He noted that “the powers of disinformation fueled by fossil fuels” are a big reason why we are now in this predicament. The gutting of environmental regulations is only making the problem more profound, he added.
“Speaking as a capitalist, we need regulation and government involvement,” he said. “Good regulation is a must.”
Of note: During the March 4 annual meeting of the Westport River Watershed Alliance, Evelyn Wilbur was recognized as Volunteer of the Year and Julie Morotti was named Teacher of the Year.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Scientists Use Artificial Photosynthesis To Get More Clean Energy

Scientists Use Artificial Photosynthesis To Get More Clean Energy

Artificial Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is a process that allows plants to create breathable oxygen out of carbon-dioxide. Also, thanks to photosynthesis, plants develop their own food. This process encouraged scientists to create their own, artificial photosynthesis that might help generate more clean energy efficiently.

Human-induced global warming is taking its toll on planet Earth. Ice shelves from the Antarctica are breaking off and melting, waters are getting warmer, while the global sea levels are getting higher. It doesn’t hurt to mention that the coral reefs around the world, including The Great Barrier Reef, are dying off, with the marine world in them threatened to perish.

Solar panels have done a great job in collecting and storing solar energy. However, although they are quite popular and people turn to solar energy more, they are not as efficient as real plants would be, which encouraged the idea for artificial photosynthesis.

There are also flaws to solar panels. Solar energy is intermittent. Furthermore, there is no option to use them in low-light settings. Still, it’s better to switch to clean energy as opposed to greenhouse gas carbon dioxide which is produced by other power plants. That’s why scientists wanted to find something that would be as efficient as that of real plants.

The researchers revealed their new, breakthrough technology in a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They used a special catalyst which provides a stable version of artificial photosynthesis. To make the effects of the photosynthesis, Dunwei Wang, from Boston College and his team used a iridium catalyst with only two active metal centers, as they are directly capable of harvesting solar energy, and put it into the chemical bonds.

“Our research concerns the technology for direct solar energy storage,” said Boston College Associate Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang as per “It addresses the critical challenge that solar energy is intermittent. It does so by directly harvesting solar energy and storing the energy in chemical bonds, similar to how photosynthesis is performed but with higher efficiencies and lower cost.”

During their experiment, researchers discovered that the catalyst they used has a well-defined structure, which is capable of supporting the future research of solar fuel synthesis. The catalyst also had a high activity towards water oxidation, as water is one of the most essential compounds for real plant photosynthesis. All in all, for photosynthesis, sunlight, water and carbon dioxide are required.

The vast majority of photosynthesis that use catalysts are also using single atom structures. Those structures, sometimes, can’t withstand the long process that they are exposed to. However, the researchers opted for a two-atom catalyst for their study, which allowed the catalyst to endure more strain, which produced more effective results for the process of artificial photosynthesis.

“Experimental and computational results further reveal that the threefold hollow binding sites on the OH-terminated surface of α-Fe2O3 anchor the catalysts to provide outstanding stability against detachment or aggregation,” the researchers wrote in their study published in the March 5 issue of PNAS. “The resulting catalysts exhibit high activities toward H2O photooxidation.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

For Today's Show/EDF Climate Corps

Today at 1p, live, we welcome EDF's manager, Ellen Shenette.  Tune in.

EDF Climate Corps

Accelerate and accomplish your energy goals

Whatever type of clean energy project you’re interested in, EDF Climate Corps provides customized solutions across today’s leading-edge categories.

What is EDF Climate Corps?

EDF Climate Corps is a network of professionals united to advance climate solutions. The fellowship program brings together an arsenal of top talent, resources and expertise in a variety of subject matters and industries to help organizations meet their sustainability and energy goals.
Since 2008, over 400 organizations have enlisted EDF Climate Corps fellows to design customized solutions to challenges involving energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy management strategy and much more. The result: more than $1.5 billion in energy saving projects identified.
  • Fellows are the next generation of business and sustainability leaders. Hosting a fellow is a low-cost and low-risk way to save money while growing your clean energy program.
  • Based on your needs, we pair you with a bright, enthusiastic fellow, with the right experience, training and passion to design customized solutions across a wide array of projects.
  • The fellow provides hands-on help to solve your energy needs and navigate the complex and ever-changing world of sustainability and energy management.
  • Beyond financial returns, you’ll benefit from our 45 years of sustainability expertise and gain access to hundreds of top executives and elite graduate students in the powerful EDF Climate Corps network.

EPA clears the air for polluters on U.S. factory emissions rules/Bloomberg

As always government policy will have a major impact on our lives.  Here we see a shift in the winds from EPA as they tweak regulations of industries and sacrifice the better clean air standards in the process.   A major step backwards--looking at the economic return versus environmental benefit--for a country that has made some progress in restoring good air quality and reducing the health risk of high pollution levels.

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION Administrator Scott Pruitt has issued a new directive concerning a piece of the Clean Air Act that environmentalists believe will allow polluters to function more freely in the future.

NEW YORK – Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has issued a new directive that clarifies a powerful but technical facet of the Clean Air Act, completing a trifecta of high-profile changes to the way EPA oversees conventional air pollution.
Tuesday’s action takes the form of guidance to regulated industries, which include iron and steel, paper, forestry, refiners and manufacturing.
Pruitt highlighted his agency’s work on the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provision during an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg News, stressing it is part of an effort to bring more certainty to companies.
“Here are companies across the country that are wanting to spend, in many instances, hundreds of millions of dollars on improving outcomes at their facilities with respect to emission controls. And they feel like if they spend too much, it triggers new permitting responsibilities,” he said.
When a major polluting facility expands its capacity, the EPA requires that companies analyze whether the work will result in significant new emissions. If it does, the “New Source Review” provision requires pollution controls to help keep the air clean. The EPA’s new guidance resolves what for many industries – for many years – has been a frustration. In short, they contend the calculations required by EPA give insufficient weight to decreases in pollution that may also result from the new construction. The new guidance allows companies to include emission decreases at the same step they calculate increases.
The issue has been simmering for more than 15 years, since the EPA under President George W. Bush issued New Source Review recommendations in 2002. In 2006, his administration proposed something similar to Tuesday’s action, along with two related provisions. But it rescinded the proposal days before it left office in 2009.
Pruitt in December issued a memo clarifying another portion of New Source Review governing how companies make projections of future emissions from an upgraded facility. A second guidance, issued in January, reversed a longstanding EPA practice that prevented facilities designated as “major sources” of pollution from being re-classified as more minor “area sources.”
“Most businesses, most states, most individuals want to do the right thing,” Pruitt said. “They care about the air they breathe, the water they drink. And that we need to see them as partners, working together to ensure good outcomes.”
John Walke, director of clean air programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that Pruitt’s practice of issuing guidance – rather than new regulations – circumvents actual rules that can then be tried in court. Pruitt’s actions ostensibly legitimizes changes long-sought by industry, through memoranda instead of rules.
“The air will be dirtier thanks to industry taking advantage of this new kind of amnesty,” he said.
Eric Roston is a Bloomberg News staff writer.