Hawk Haiku

Hawk soars in the sky

As we watch branches whiten

She alights for now.

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Ubiquity – Mark Buchanan

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Ubiquity

Why Catastrophes Happen

Mark Buchanan

Genre: Physics

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 23, 2001

Publisher: Crown/Archetype

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC


Critically acclaimed science journalist, Mark Buchanan tells the fascinating story of the discovery that there is a natural structure of instability woven into the fabric of our world, which explains why catastrophes– both natural and human– happen. Scientists have recently discovered a new law of nature and its footprints are virtually everywhere– in the spread of forest fires, mass extinctions, traffic jams, earthquakes, stock-market fluctuations, the rise and fall of nations, and even trends in fashion, music and art. Wherever we look, the world is modelled on a simple template: like a steep pile of sand, it is poised on the brink of instability, with avalanches– in events, ideas or whatever– following a universal pattern of change. This remarkable discovery heralds what Mark Buchanan calls the new science of 'ubiquity', a science whose secret lies in the stuff of the everyday world. Combining literary flair with scientific rigour, this enthralling book documents the coming revolution by telling the story of the researchers' exploration of the law, their ingenious work and unexpected insights. Buchanan reveals that we are witnessing the emergence of an extraordinarily powerful new field of science that will help us comprehend the bewildering and unruly rhythms that dominate our lives and may even lead to a true science of the dynamics of human culture and history.

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Ubiquity – Mark Buchanan

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8.3 Billion Reasons to Break Free From Plastic

Ever since seeing the now famous YouTube clip of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose, I?ve made an effort to avoid plastic straws. When I go grocery shopping I take my own bags and I also make a point of eschewing the single-use bags in the fresh produce section (much to the consternation of the person weighing my fruit and vegetables).

I try to buy things packaged in glass, I drink filtered tap water and wear flip-flops made from recycled rubber. There are plenty of zero-waste activists out there who make my efforts seem positively puny, but at least I?m doing something, right?

It?s better than doing nothing, sure, but when you consider that humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment, you realize its time to up your game.

I mean, it?s a little embarrassing to learn that Rwanda has banned plastic bags in their entirety and the campaign to eliminate plastic straws was started by a nine-year-old, when you?re still buying the occasional single-use plastic item just because it?s easier.

As if that wasn?t enough of a wakeup call, I then found out about Break Free From Plastic, a global movement on a mission to stop plastic pollution for good. With The Story of Stuff Project as one of their anchor organizations, members on almost every continent and the likes of Greenpeace joining forces with them, Break Free is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

All the Plastic Ever Made: Breaking Study Tallies 8.3 Billion Metric Tons

There?s literally a ton of plastic garbage for every person on earth. Think about that for a moment and then ruminate on this: of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since the 1950s, over half of it was made between 2004 and now.

We all know that plastic is a problem, but whether it?s the desire for convenience, the fact that we?re lazy or that the problem just seems overwhelmingly large, we?re all acting as if nothing?s wrong. That has to change.

I caught up with Shilpi Chhotray, Senior Communications Officer at Break Free From Plastic to find out how. Her suggestions for effecting change at both a domestic and civic level are more than doable. Literally, we have no excuse not to implement them.

Shilpi isn?t just paying lip service to the movement either. She?s implemented these practices at her own company?Sumudra Skin + Sea?as well. She?started the?skincare line with an ?ocean-first? business model (Sumudra means ‘ocean’ in Sanskrit)?that uses?reusable glass containers?instead of plastic and edible-grade kelp as an ingredient source.

Photo Credit: Sumadra Skin + Sea

How did you come to be involved in the Break Free From Plastic movement?

I’ve been involved in ocean advocacy for a decade and became immersed in plastic waste issues a few years ago through my work in stakeholder engagement with an ocean plastic lens. I took a deep dive, if you will, on the major players (the companies creating it and the organizations fighting against it) and the key research around the issue during this time. In July 2017, I was recruited to take the role as a Senior Communications Officer to amplify the work of the organizations behind the movement.

We?re each drawn to the causes we support for different reasons. What prompted you to focus your efforts on ocean conservation?

It was a study abroad trip to Cairns, Australia, home to the Great Barrier Reef, when I was a college undergrad at Virginia Tech University. Being exposed to the human impacts on the environment, specifically the ocean, sparked a lifelong desire to protect our blue planet. I took my interest a step further and focused my efforts in graduate school on marine protected areas, or creating underwater national parks to safeguard earth’s most precious resources. After being introduced to the rocky intertidal ecosystem (and the magical world of seaweeds), I was inspired to study marine organisms through underwater exploration via scuba (and a human-powered submersible in a later position!).

The stats released in the latest study (8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since 1950) are overwhelming to say the very least. Is it really possible to turn the tide on plastic pollution?

And to add to that, only 9 percent has been recycled since, which sparks two major considerations not being discussed enough: first, the global north (US + Europe) export copious amounts of waste overseas and second, recycling is clearly not a viable solution to the plastic waste crisis.

It’s absolutely possible to turn the tide on plastic pollution and that’s what Break Free From Plastic is all about. By emphasizing source reduction and investing in zero waste solutions at the city-level, we can greatly combat plastic waste ending up in our ocean, roads and waterways.

For instance, one of our member organizations in the Philippines, Mother Earth Foundation, helps cities develop programs to manage their waste. In the city of San Fernando 75 percent of waste gets composted or recycled and they aim to hit 93 percent. Mother Earth’s President, Froilan Grate says, “If you truly want to stop ocean pollution, it starts on land, which means rethinking how we manage our waste.”

What do you say to the person on the street who thinks the problem is too big to fix?

We created the problem in the first place so we can also fix it. We HAVE to fix it because we’ve already reached the tipping point of acceptable levels of plastic pollution. Microplastics (broken down from larger pieces of plastic) are literally everywhere, from fish to seabirds to our sources of drinking water, and even sea salt and beer.

Using a reusable bag and skipping the straw is good place to start, but it’s a terrible place to stop. My colleagues at SOSP for instance, encourage a culture of ?leveling up? by taking these practices to your communities ?your office, your child’s school, after school clubs and even your favorite caf?, to effect widespread change.

Where you go next is to engage at the civic level. Talk to the companies! If you don’t like the business practices, tag them on Facebook, write to them about your concerns. You can also write to city government officials to pass regulations…these are all important steps to effect systems change.

I love this quote from our Campaigns Director, Stiv Wilson: “Our consumer muscles have gotten really strong and our citizen muscles have gotten really weak. Not everyone is an activist, figure out where you can contribute and plug in.”

How can we as individuals make a difference? Can you offer some suggestions (small and big) of changes we can make in our daily lives?

It’s important to make smart purchasing decisions and avoid brands emphasizing a throw away lifestyle (single-use plastics). Break Free From Plastic member organizations in the Philippines recently conducted an 8-day coastal cleanup and brand audit in Freedom Island, a critical area for migratory birds, to identify the most polluting brands. Turns out, six international brands are responsible for roughly 54 percent of plastic packaging pollution found there.

Among them are corporate behemoths like Nestl?, Unilever?and Proctor & Gamble ?parent companies of the brands sitting in your kitchen and bathroom right now. Break Free From Plastic is encouraging anyone doing coastal cleanup activities to combine it with a brand audit, because coastal cleanup is simply not enough. For more information visit Plastic Polluters.org.

There are greener alternatives that are better for us and the planet. Personally, I’ve transitioned to shopping for groceries in bulk, buying less, and a lot of DIY. Even slowing down and dining in can help reduce single-use plastic waste, and it’s more fun too!

What is the one thing you?d really like people to understand about the negative impact of plastic that we might not already know?

Plastic pollution is not just an ocean issue, it’s a social justice issue impacting low income people of color who are often on the front-lines of the crisis fighting incineration (or burning of plastic waste) for the safety of their communities. Many of these communities are also in Asia and being blamed for the waste they didn’t create, the waste coming from the developed world.

At Break Free From Plastic we are shining a spotlight on innovative and scalable solutions created by our Asian colleagues, focusing on zero-waste cities and making sure the responsibility falls on the corporations accountable.

Was being a socially conscious brand on the cards from day one for Samudra Skin + Sea or did the brand?s ethos evolve over time?

Absolutely ?it’s a social venture. We have an ?ocean-first? business model, which means protection for the ocean is the foundation for all aspects of our methods and mission. For instance, we hand harvest the wild seaweed used in our products to ensure the regenerative properties of the plant continue to thrive for generations to come.

We have a zero-waste packaging model which means all of our products are encased in reusable glass jars with bamboo lids and/or compostable boxes certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Our soap bar in particular, created for hair and body, eliminates the need for bottled shampoos and conditioners. We strongly advocate a ?less is more? mentality and repurposing and reusing when possible.

Our mission includes partnering on marine conservation campaigns that benefit people and marine life. The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and 5 Gyres (who is also a Break Free From Plastic movement member) are two fantastic organizations we work with to communicate efforts around ocean stewardship. Personal wellness and ecological integrity need to go hand-in-hand, and Samudra is bridging that gap.

With so many people doing what they can to effect positive change in the world, it?s hard to just sit back and pretend that plastic is someone else?s problem. It?s everyone?s problem. In my own life, I?m definitely going to try harder to reduce the amount of waste I generate. What about you? How will you #breakfreefromplastic?

Related Stories:

5 Human Habits Harmful to Ocean Health

How to Tell if Your Sunscreen is Damaging Coral Reefs
22 Freaky Facts About Plastic Pollution

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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8.3 Billion Reasons to Break Free From Plastic

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You can blame a ‘medicane’ for this week’s deadly flooding in Greece.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, public health researchers in Puerto Rico are limited by the same lack of power, clean water, and infrastructure they are there to study.

Puerto Rico–born José Cordero is one such scientist. In the journal Nature, he describes leading a team through the devastated landscape to collect data on how drinking water contamination affects pregnant women. The scientists have to hurry to finish their work everyday, before night falls across the largely powerless island. Limited telephone access makes it difficult to get in touch with subjects.

Cordero’s project started six years ago to focus on water pollution and pre-term births, but this year’s hurricane has changed both the focus and the level of difficulty of the work. Other researchers have been hampered by hospitals that can’t administer routine tests and hurricane-damaged equipment, making it difficult to collect data on how air and water pollution are affecting health.

Still, Cordero’s team has managed to contact several hundred woman and collect samples of groundwater and tap water from homes near flooded Superfund sites. As he told Nature: “The kind of work we’re doing … has to be done now, because a few years from now, it’s too late.”

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You can blame a ‘medicane’ for this week’s deadly flooding in Greece.

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Nebraska’s Keystone XL decision won’t hinge on Thursday’s 210,000-gallon spill.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, public health researchers in Puerto Rico are limited by the same lack of power, clean water, and infrastructure they are there to study.

Puerto Rico–born José Cordero is one such scientist. In the journal Nature, he describes leading a team through the devastated landscape to collect data on how drinking water contamination affects pregnant women. The scientists have to hurry to finish their work everyday, before night falls across the largely powerless island. Limited telephone access makes it difficult to get in touch with subjects.

Cordero’s project started six years ago to focus on water pollution and pre-term births, but this year’s hurricane has changed both the focus and the level of difficulty of the work. Other researchers have been hampered by hospitals that can’t administer routine tests and hurricane-damaged equipment, making it difficult to collect data on how air and water pollution are affecting health.

Still, Cordero’s team has managed to contact several hundred woman and collect samples of groundwater and tap water from homes near flooded Superfund sites. As he told Nature: “The kind of work we’re doing … has to be done now, because a few years from now, it’s too late.”

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Nebraska’s Keystone XL decision won’t hinge on Thursday’s 210,000-gallon spill.

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It’s OK that Democrats don’t have a national climate policy

More than a year after the election of Donald Trump, the opposition Democratic Party still hasn’t found its voice on climate change.

That’s according to an essential overview of the situation from the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer. Taken at face value, it’s not good news: Despite consistent rhetoric that climate change is among the most important challenges of the century, the Democratic Party has no large-scale cohesive plan to tackle it.

OK, that fact is worrying.

However, while Meyer is correct in his assessment of national politics, he makes one glaring omission: Climate action at the local and state level around the United States is, if anything, healthier and more ambitious than ever before. And it’s more often than not driven by Democrats. After a two decade-long quixotic quest for a unified federal climate policy, party members are finally willing to admit that their climate strategy can’t rest on economy-wide national legislation alone.

“We need to do everything we can to fight climate change,” says Keith Ellison, a congressman from Minnesota and deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. “That means having a bill ready for passage when we take power, and it also means pushing for more immediate wins to lower carbon emissions at the state and local levels by building upon the work of aggressive climate policy in states like Minnesota, California, and New York.”

In city halls, boardrooms, and statehouses across America, what’s (not) happening on climate in today’s Washington is mostly a sideshow. The science is clear, climate-related disasters are happening now, and in most cases, it makes economic sense to take action immediately. So on the front lines of climate change, from San Juan to San Francisco, Minneapolis to Miami, the message is clear: This problem is too important to wait for Congress and the president to get their act together.

Since President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement back in June, more than 2,500 local leaders from all 50 states have signed a pledge saying, “We are still in.” In aggregate, those leaders — mayors, governors, CEOs, university presidents, etc. — represent more than half of all Americans. As an independent nation, they’d rank third in the world in terms of share of total emissions — nearly 10 percent of the global total. But this collective is pushing some of the most ambitious climate policy anywhere on Earth.

And contrary to what you might hear in Washington, pro-climate efforts don’t come at the expense of the economy. In New York City, emissions are down 15 percent since 2005. In the same timeframe, the economy has grown by 19 percent. In Minneapolis, emissions are down 18 percent while the economy is up 30 percent.

Even in red states like Kansas and Texas, bipartisan coalitions are emerging to take advantage of tremendous renewable energy resources in wind and solar. In 2005, Kansas sourced less than 1 percent of its electricity from wind. Now, it’s at 25 percent and, like California, is on pace to get 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources in the next few years. There is now a nationwide job boom in construction and installation of renewable energy.

If you ask Democrats and advocates directly, this kind of progress has changed the prevailing wisdom of what effective U.S. climate policy looks like.

“We know it’s possible because we’re doing it,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement from Bonn, Germany. “The West Coast offers a blueprint: This is how you build a thriving, innovative economy that combats climate change and embraces a zero-emission future.”

Inslee is helping lead a sizeable, but unofficial, U.S. delegation at the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn. Dan Firger of Bloomberg Philanthropies, whose boss, Michael Bloomberg serves as an outspoken U. N. special envoy for cities and climate action, calls it a “shadow climate government.”

“We’re less concerned about a silver bullet bill in Congress than we are about how best to get near-term carbon reductions done,” Firger told Grist, adding that the former New York City mayor believes in “bottom-up climate action.”

Lou Leonard, a senior vice president at the World Wildlife Fund, points to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based approach to reducing carbon emissions among several northeastern U.S. states. Already, one of the largest carbon schemes in the world, it stands to expand after this month’s elections resulted in Democratic victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governor races. Those states are now set to join the initiative.

“We cannot put all our chips in a federal solution,” says Leonard from Bonn, where his organization is helping support the We Are Still In delegation. “That’s not the way the U.S. economy works, that’s not the way politics works, and it’s certainly not the most obvious path to success.”

Still, The Atlantic’s Meyer has a point: Democrats need to be able to combine all these local policy victories into a national and global win. After all, worldwide carbon emissions are on pace for a new record high in 2017. But this inside-out approach has precedents for yielding real results.

Climate change inherently is a problem that requires local action. And increasingly, those working for climate policy have shifted their efforts to support local early adopters. It’s a strategy specifically designed to build an eventual national consensus.

“There’s more happening than many people are aware of,” says Steve Valk, the communications director for Citizens Climate Lobby. “City and state initiatives — as happened with gay marriage — can drive a national policy.”

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It’s OK that Democrats don’t have a national climate policy

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Security firm TigerSwan was paid to build a conspiracy lawsuit against DAPL protesters.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, public health researchers in Puerto Rico are limited by the same lack of power, clean water, and infrastructure they are there to study.

Puerto Rico–born José Cordero is one such scientist. In the journal Nature, he describes leading a team through the devastated landscape to collect data on how drinking water contamination affects pregnant women. The scientists have to hurry to finish their work everyday, before night falls across the largely powerless island. Limited telephone access makes it difficult to get in touch with subjects.

Cordero’s project started six years ago to focus on water pollution and pre-term births, but this year’s hurricane has changed both the focus and the level of difficulty of the work. Other researchers have been hampered by hospitals that can’t administer routine tests and hurricane-damaged equipment, making it difficult to collect data on how air and water pollution are affecting health.

Still, Cordero’s team has managed to contact several hundred woman and collect samples of groundwater and tap water from homes near flooded Superfund sites. As he told Nature: “The kind of work we’re doing … has to be done now, because a few years from now, it’s too late.”

Continue reading:  

Security firm TigerSwan was paid to build a conspiracy lawsuit against DAPL protesters.

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The U.N. climate talks have a gender gap. Women plan to fix it.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, public health researchers in Puerto Rico are limited by the same lack of power, clean water, and infrastructure they are there to study.

Puerto Rico–born José Cordero is one such scientist. In the journal Nature, he describes leading a team through the devastated landscape to collect data on how drinking water contamination affects pregnant women. The scientists have to hurry to finish their work everyday, before night falls across the largely powerless island. Limited telephone access makes it difficult to get in touch with subjects.

Cordero’s project started six years ago to focus on water pollution and pre-term births, but this year’s hurricane has changed both the focus and the level of difficulty of the work. Other researchers have been hampered by hospitals that can’t administer routine tests and hurricane-damaged equipment, making it difficult to collect data on how air and water pollution are affecting health.

Still, Cordero’s team has managed to contact several hundred woman and collect samples of groundwater and tap water from homes near flooded Superfund sites. As he told Nature: “The kind of work we’re doing … has to be done now, because a few years from now, it’s too late.”

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The U.N. climate talks have a gender gap. Women plan to fix it.

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Another side effect of Puerto Rico’s power problems: Scientists struggle to do their work.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, public health researchers in Puerto Rico are limited by the same lack of power, clean water, and infrastructure they are there to study.

Puerto Rico–born José Cordero is one such scientist. In the journal Nature, he describes leading a team through the devastated landscape to collect data on how drinking water contamination affects pregnant women. The scientists have to hurry to finish their work everyday, before night falls across the largely powerless island. Limited telephone access makes it difficult to get in touch with subjects.

Cordero’s project started six years ago to focus on water pollution and pre-term births, but this year’s hurricane has changed both the focus and the level of difficulty of the work. Other researchers have been hampered by hospitals that can’t administer routine tests and hurricane-damaged equipment, making it difficult to collect data on how air and water pollution are affecting health.

Still, Cordero’s team has managed to contact several hundred woman and collect samples of groundwater and tap water from homes near flooded Superfund sites. As he told Nature: “The kind of work we’re doing … has to be done now, because a few years from now, it’s too late.”

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Another side effect of Puerto Rico’s power problems: Scientists struggle to do their work.

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The shipping industry needs to clean up its act. Here’s where it can start.

Just north of the U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany, a group of shipping industry leaders gathered — well, where else? — on the water.

An elegant river cruise ship, the Rhine Fantasy, was transformed Monday into a floating command center, where more than a hundred executives, policy experts, and environmentalists debated how to slash the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Vessels carrying heaps of coal and steel containers glided by the cruise throughout the day. Inside the ship’s ballroom, a giant mural illustrated the event’s central theme: What can the industry do to play its part in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels — the most ambitious goal laid out in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement?

To meet that target, all cargo ships will need to be “zero-emissions” by 2050. That requires ditching cheap, but noxious, bunker fuel and replacing it with promising — though still early-stage — alternatives such as battery storage, sustainable biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells, and wind-sail technology.

To nobody’s surprise, the day-long river summit didn’t resolve any fierce policy disputes or yield unanimous decisions on how to decarbonize cargo ships. But it did illuminate some steps that companies could actually take today to steer the industry onto a cleaner course while messier regulatory decisions are hashed out.

While they’re not radical overhauls, measures the sector could adopt now include:

‘Slow steaming’

Cargo ships can instantly lower their fuel consumption — and thus their emissions — by simply slowing down. As a rule of thumb, a 10-percent drop in speed will reduce power demand by nearly 30 percent.

Shipping companies have used slow steaming on and off for decades in response to rising fuel prices or economic downturns. But the maneuver can require complex mechanical or operational adjustments. Plus, customers want their goods delivered as quickly as possible, so cargo companies often see little incentive to stay in the slow lane when the cost of fuel is low or transport services are in high demand.

By requiring ships to reduce speeds no matter the market, the industry could instantly cut its toxic air pollution — and, potentially, extend the deadline for delivering cleaner vessels, according to the European nonprofit advocacy group Transport & Environment, as well as other proponents aboard the Rhine Fantasy. Unlike carbon emissions, ship speeds are relatively easy to regulate, since individual countries or economic zones can set their own limits in waters they oversee.

Better data and transparency

It’s likely not surprising to learn that the shipping industry isn’t on the cutting edge of data analysis and cloud computing. On many vessels, information about speed, fuel use, and location is still manually punched into computer spreadsheets and sent via maddeningly slow communications systems. Gathering multiple data points and sharing those in real time could enable fuel-saving steps such as helping ships devise shorter routes, arriving when ports are less crowded, and avoiding unfavorable wind conditions.

Tech startups are cropping up to supply ships with data-collecting sensors and to improve the speed and quality of their communications. Mainstream maritime companies are already on board: Wärtsilä, a major Finnish manufacturer, recently acquired the cleantech software company Eniram for more than $50 million. Shipping giant Maersk is partnering with IBM to digitize its supply chain and track the paper trails of millions of shipping containers.

Better data is not just low-hanging fruit for the shipping industry, it could empower businesses that send their goods on cargo ships to learn more about their own supply chain emissions, and to advocate for cleaner options.

New financing approaches

Banks today have little appetite for backing energy-efficient retrofits or cleantech pilot projects. Such endeavors are generally more complicated and expensive than conventional builds and, in the case of newer technologies, there’s a risk companies will lose lots of money. But dirtier vessels are a financial risk, too.

Cargo ships built today will likely eventually have to comply with stringent regulations on carbon emissions and energy efficiency. Those vessels might seem like safe bets now, but what if the owners have to borrow more money to pay for future upgrades? A recent report by the nonprofit Carbon War Room found that the $400 billion in total global shipping debt actually represents “unassessed climate risk exposure” for banks.

Financiers should consider the risk of climate policies when pricing out their loans, which would give an advantage to cleaner projects while adding scrutiny to run-of-the-mill constructions. Government and regional banks can also step in and assume some of the risk if cleaner ships lose money. The European Investment Bank, for instance, is partnering with a private Dutch institution to encourage lending for efficiency retrofits and clean vessel construction.

Local action to drive global change

A big challenge to the zero-carbon shipping movement is that none of the technologies on the table — batteries, biofuels, etc. — have proven to make technical or financial sense at a large scale. To show how alternatives work in real-world conditions, we’ll need more demonstration projects taking place in various parts of the globe for a wide range of ship types.

Local and national governments can support this effort by creating initiatives across entire ports or countries. Norway, for example, has become a hub for battery-powered ferries, in part thanks to funding derived from a tax on ships’ emissions of nitrogen oxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change and a key component of acid rain. In the Netherlands, port authorities are using more biofuels in patrol vessels and have plans to become refueling centers offering lower-carbon fuels.


Maria Gallucci is the 2017-2018 Energy Journalism Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.

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California may use 50 percent renewable electricity by 2020, a decade ahead of schedule.

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California may use 50 percent renewable electricity by 2020, a decade ahead of schedule.

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