This is a sustainability-oriented blog. Topics pertaining Energy Efficiency (EE), Telecommuting, Sustainable Health/Wellness, etc., but mainly focus on solutions to non-sustainable practices and trying to address means and methods for resolving them. Sustainability is something that we all have to do, sooner or later! (Low politico please!).
Climate Changes and Sustainability,
with hyperlinks to Wikipedia
Climate Changes and Sustainability, with hyperlinks
We all need to become
more knowledgeable about earth systems. A better understanding of Earth cycles
is critical for us to be better stewards of the Earth that we have come to know
and love (even though we tend to take it for granted). Clear Earth and energy
facts are critical for us all to make better decisions, individually, within
companies and organizations and in governments.
As long as there is a
debate about the actual existence of Global Warming, and if there is any human
contribution to it, there is not likely to be much productive effort made to
address the problems (if any?). (See Scientific opinion on climate change.) Climate
Changes and Sustainability is aWikiBook compiled from Wikipedia articles on
earth systems, power, life cycles and sustainability (Wikipedia). This book
contains some of the best information available. Let’s establish the facts, and
then go about the effort necessary to address non-sustainable practices. Oh, if
you don’t agree with the facts presented from Wikipedia, then simply offer corrections, and check the updates as statistics/research
This WikiBook is created from articles in Wikipedia,
which has some of the best articles in the world on aspects of earth systems
and climate change. The book itself simply links from the table of contents to
Wikipedia articles which are perpetually updated by volunteers. All pages
except this overview are the product of the collaborative environment and open
source licensing of Wikipedia. All of the Wiki pages can be linked together
into a WiliBook which is 400+ pages, but more than half are references and
such. Please read the articles electronically and print only the selected pages
you need. The hyperlinks in the Table of Contents
for this WikiBook at the bottom of this document will take you directly to the articles
Sustainability is a key
to all things related to health, businesses, economies, and earth systems.
Doing things that are non-sustainable cannot go on indefinitely. Hall and Knab
(2012) argue that individuals, companies and governments, must identify
practices that are unsustainable, and develop plans to move toward sustainable
practices. To perpetuate non-sustainable activities is, well, irresponsible.
The consumption of fossil
fuels, and other non-renewable resources, is not sustainable. As easy-to-access
oil and coal start to deplete, peak
oil, the basic scarcity of
economics result in price spikes. Keep in mind that productive oil wells tend
to deplete at about 4% each year, so 4% more new oil is needed each year in
order to maintain capacity. Even with a massive boom of oil from non-traditional
methods (fracing and horizontal drilling) in the United States, many experts
believe that peak oil is near and that the world’s production will start to
taper off thereafter. The production from a well using fracking technology
depletes about 25% in the first year; so you need a new well every 4 years to
keep even in the world of shell-fracking production.
we may not have the luxury of simply waiting for scarcity of economics to
remove non-renewable energy sources from our power-hungry lives. Burning fossil
fuels (combined with deforestation and other factors) are pumping billions of
tons of carbon – mainly in the form of carbon dioxide – into the atmosphere.
That is, carbon that was sequestered into coal and oil some 50 to 500 million
years ago is now getting reintroduced to the earth’s life systems. This new
carbon is above and beyond what earth has become accustomed to processing. The
rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a greenhouse gas that increases
earth’s temperatures. In 2013, CO2 levels in the atmosphere blasted through the
400 parts per million (ppm). (Many scientists believe that we need to reverse
this level down below 350 ppm in order to avoid catastrophic levels of
warming.) Much of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed into
the oceans, resulting in increased acidification. Think systems: warming oceans
and increased acidification result in massive die-off of the world’s reefs,
which impacts the fish that depend on healthy reefs, etc.
What many people don’t
realize is the compounding impact of some of our activities. For example, greenhouse
gases (GHGs). Water (vapor) is a very intense GHG. However, water vapor does not
persist very long in the atmosphere, it drops out in the form of precipitation.
(Although, as the atmosphere temperatures rise, warmer air absorbs higher
levels of water vapor.) Methane is a much more potent GHG than Carbon dioxide
(CO2), let’s say 12 times (although 72 times over the shorter-term of 20 years).
Since CO2 is the most common GHG produced, all greenhouse gases can be
converted to and CO2 equivalent (CO2e). Check out the global warming potential (GWP) of various emissions. Some fluorocarbons, such
as Freon that is being phased out in AC and refrigeration, have hundreds of
times the GWP impact because of the impact on the protective ozone layer of the
atmosphere. Reduced fluorocarbons have been one of the great success stories of
international cooperation during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
What most people don’t
realize is that GHGs remain in the atmosphere for some time, a very long time for some gasses. Nitrous
oxide (N2O) for example, has a mean atmospheric lifetime of 114 years. Carbon
dioxide (CO2) is harder to measure, but should persist in the atmosphere for 30
to 95 years.
Stated differently, all
of the emissions from our grandparents, and all of the emissions from our
parents, and all the emissions from our brothers and sisters, and all the
emissions from my immediate family, over the last 100 years, are still having a
GHG effect today. This is a compounding effect. If we all magically and
instantly went to a zero-carbon footprint, the excess greenhouse gasses that we
have already introduced into the atmosphere will continue to have an impact for
a century… An interesting, but potentially dangerous, experiment.
What a nebulous gift to
our children and great grandchildren: a gift that keeps on giving! When they
open this gift, they will surely say, “What were you thinking? You knew you
were being non-sustainable since 1950, and yet you did nothing about it? You
knew how dire the consequences might be since 1978, and yet you did nothing
about it? If anything, it appears that you went on with business as usual, with
a complete disregard for future generations.”
Human population growth on Earth has been exponential and it is massively
unstainable. The first billion (1B) population on earth was hit at about 1800.
It took almost 130 years to hit the 2B level. Then 33 years to 3B. We have
added another billion to the world population about every 13 years since, now
expected to roll over the 8B level about 2023. Growth is projected to slow down
such that the world population might peak at about 11B toward the end of the
century. In fact, estimates are that some 5% to 6% of the human beings (homo
sapiens) who have ever existed are alive today. Imagine that same kind of
statistic with frogs, chickens or cows… and you would be over the moon in
animals. (Note that most developed countries have reduced to near zero or even
negative population growth. The US is positive because of net immigration.)
Humans have taken over
and changed entire ecosystems and we somehow have come to believe that this
process of “development” is good and healthy. We consume earth’s resources at a
rate that depletes them. Top soil is depleted, so we have to use fertilizer mined
from phosphate deposits. Streams, lakes and aquafers are depleted far below
their natural refresh stage. Oil, gas, coal and metal ores are depleted. There
question is, what is the earth’s “carrying capacity”, so that we do not exceed
that level and deplete the earth’s resources each year. Each year we overshoot
the earth’s carrying capacity, we non-sustainably deplete the earth’s
resources. The “Earth overshoot day”
is the day of the year where we cease being sustainable and all the rest of the
days in the year deplete. This is a visual way to look at the calendar and see
human’s collectively behaving badly. In the 1970s we exceeded the budget of the
carrying capacity of earth. By 1987 overshoot day was about December 19th
of that year. Currently overshoot day is August 2 for 2017, requiring at least
1.5 earths to sustain us. We are on course to requiring 2 earths by midcentury.
The US consumes about 20%
of the worlds resources (down from about 25%-30% during the late 1900s), but we
have only about 4.5% of the world’s population. If the rest of the world
consumes at our rate we would need 5 or more Earths to sustain us all.
Sustainability is a key
to life. We all have to be sustainable, sooner or later. The costs – and
benefits – of doing so today are identifiable and estimatable. In fact, there
are real savings from energy efficiency and wiser consumption. And if everyone consumed
smarter, the combined savings to the economy, the people and the environment
would be massive. Plus, the savings would typically be maintained each year, so
it would effectively be a perpetuity of savings. The costs of being
unsustainable are unpredictable, but likely to be worse – maybe far worse –
than many of us original thought.
As you read through this WikiBook,
let the fact speak for themselves. You make the decision as to how much we
should do about sustainability, Global Warming, etc. Keep in mind that you are
simultaneously making the decision about how much or how little we do today.
A Strong Economy?
Sustainability aims for a
balance of the economy, social issues and the environment. Some of the worst
environmental disasters are a direct result of extreme poverty. The poverty in
Haiti, for example, resulted in complete deforestation of the mountains; then
the rains came and the mud slides wiped out entire villages. The triple
bottom-line of sustainability represents a balance of people (social), planet
(environment) and profits (economic). Hall and Knab (2012) promote an integrated triple bottom-line.
There are a couple areas
that have huge potential as starting places toward sustainability efforts, with
savings for all concerned. We like telecommuting and energy efficiency. The payback from these two
areas alone are far greater than appear on the surface. For example, the
savings for a full-time equivalent (FTE) employee telecommuting could be $20k
for the employer, $10k for the employee and $5k for the environment. Getting in
an accident or the stress of long commutes, plus the lost time, result in a
win-win-win of savings for everyone. Since 60%-70% of employees can telework at
least occasionally, the collective savings could be about $1T per year if 30%
more people telecommuted each day (to work). A perpetuity of savings that could
be initiated within weeks, no years, using today’s technology. Oh, and for
every gallon of gas that goes unburned (a nega-gallon), that’s about 20lbs of
CO2 that didn’t go into the atmosphere.
(especially building efficiency) offers a similar benefit. It requires
monitoring and measuring where you are using (losing) energy in homes and
businesses. Usually the power utility will offer a free energy audit as a place
to start. With a smart meter, a smart thermostat, caulk and duct tape, you
could easily be on your way to saving 15%-25% on energy with the change in your
pocket (payback in a couple months). Then with a little investment each
building could/should get another $25-30% energy savings (payback in 1-3
years). The Watt of electricity, the Negawatt, is the greenest energy there is. Of course, now when
you move to renewable energy, you only have to cover half of your original
energy bill to be at net zero!:-) How cool is that.
Note that energy savings
does not necessarily increase GDP. Changing a refrigerator or a air conditioner
will in the year it is replaced, but the energy savings from energy efficiency
actually reduces GDP (unless the power company raises rates). However, the
savings is a direct increase of disposable income for the resident or a direct
increase in profit (before taxes) for the business. Plus, the energy savings is
a perpetuity of savings provided it is monitored and maintained.
Note that these two
initiatives can be done with today’s technology; they are immediately
profitable; everyone wins; and they offer a perpetuity of savings. No
government “assistance” is required, although government could take actions to
Aspects of Sustainability
There are many, many
aspects of sustainability. Sustainable means enough to survive or maintain, not
necessarily to thrive. The concept of Sustainability in an environmental sense
has to do with all life systems, energy production, nutrition/food, water/sanitation/septic,
drugs and lifestyle. Food issues are not well represented in Wikipedia. Organic foods and farming have multiple definitions.
Genetically modified foods (GMOs) typically mean patented foods that are
Round-up Ready; that is, the entire crop of corn or soybeans can be sprayed
with Round-up (glyphosate)
and the weeds die, but the crop doesn’t. The discovery from a California law
suit against Monsanto – now merged into the monster Bayer corporation – reveals
that Monsanto has influenced the academic research on glyphosate, crop yields,
and more. This would explain why totally independent research seems to have
grave concerns about GMO+RoundUP, while not-so-independent research finds no
Many aspects of farming
and stewardship are included in Wikipedia, and represented well. Organic
farming can have several different
levels. There are different certifications in different countries. It can be a
little fuzzy sometimes. For example, hydroponic farming, may not be organic,
even if it uses organic fertilizer. Regenerative farming
practices seems to be the ideal way to really do sustainable farming.
The disappointment of the
coverage of GMO vs. Organics topics are why they are not included in the Table of Contents. As these topics improve, we will include them.
Well, first, it is free! Second,
Wikipedia is surprisingly up-to-date, because millions of people (volunteers)
update it every day. Also, it is translated into almost 300 languages. Anyone,
anywhere, can suggest changes, corrections and updates. Unlike a completely
open wiki, Wikipedia,
has an editing process to review changes. If a page is weak, biased, or without
sufficient sources, it will get flagged. So an article with a big warning label
notice should be used much more carefully than one without editor complaints.
Also look for the 
notes from editors who question source and reliability of facts.
Wikipedia provides the
ability to create a WikiBook from the existing articles; however, we no longer
build the actual book, we simply provide the table of contents
with the hyperlinks to Wikipedia and a few other authoritative sources. By
using the hyperlink Table of Contents people will always link to the most
recent version of each article. The most recent articles are critical for very
active and dynamic topics like global warming where topics have updates almost
daily and hundreds if not thousands of people monitor changes to an article –
especially for potentially controversial pages (Hall, 2010).
Wikipedia is the most
widely used and most successful collaborative tool of all time (Hall, 2010,
Appendix A: Group Collaboration using Wikipedia).“Wikipedia [has] 30 million articles in 286
languages” (Wikipedia, 2013, para. 1). Wikipedia is the best source for many
things that are actively monitored and followed, such as global warming. And,
if it is wrong, you have the ability to suggest corrections; on an important
topic like Global Warming, you have the responsibility to correct inaccuracies
What if there Really is Global Warming, and Humans are primarily the
If there really is global
warming and, further, humans are a likely a major cause, then you have a moral
obligation to address this, right?
As the cover graphic
indicates, there are 10 or more measures that we could use to determine if
there really is global warming. There are two to five databases to measure each
of those illustrated. Go look at the original data if you don’t want someone
giving a spin on selected pieces of data. A great source is from Skeptical
Science, that backs up with,
well, science (peer reviewed sources). The group(s) who believe that there is
no global warming (which is dead wrong), and those who believe that humans are
not the (primary) cause of global warming all have suspicious ties to oil and
gas companies (or similar conflicts of interest).
Seventeen of the hottest
years on record have been since 2000 (prior was an exception, and el nino year). Starting in 2014 we had a
couple record hot El Nino
years. After the el ninos settled,
2017 should have been a cooler year, but it wasn’t. In fact, for several years,
we have had the record hottest months, or tied, for 4 to 7 months each year. To
put into perspective, it has been 627 months since we have had a single month
that is below average! In March, 2018
we breached the 1 degree Centigrade above average (1.9°F). (However, if
you use the period leading up to 1910 as the baseline, we are already at 2.4°F,
or 1.3°C.Scientist say that we have to
keep below 2°C to avoid a calamity of destructive climate issues.
If you are a manager or
an executive then you even have a fiduciary duty to build plans which include
sustainability assessments and social responsibility reporting. Even small
actions today might make a big difference when compounded over decades.
Likewise, business as usual, will also have a compounding effect for decades.
We are all in this
together, worldwide. We all have the same earth systems. Non sustainable
activities – pollution, overfishing, overuse of water, etc. – affect us all.
This interdependence would lead many people to argue that the best way to
address most worldwide issues is through big government programs including
global organizations such as the United Nations. Please, refrain from making
this immediate connection. There are many possible ways to address global
warming. The first, critical step however, is for people to agree on the facts
and the likely future based on those facts. The remedies for becoming more
sustainable must include the individual and economic engines of the economy, as
well as the environmental concerns. Governments can certainly be part of the
solution, but it will never be the
solution. It could be argued that the less individuals and business address the
issue, the more likely a Big Government solutions will result. Let’s all look
for the win-win-win of full sustainability (Hall & Knab, 2013).
Elmer Hall wrote this document. All of the articles that are hyperlinks to Wikipedia,
however, are directly from the great wiki in the clouds and available with Creative Commons licensing. It cannot be sold, for example.